We have longed to visit Uganda ever since we befriended some Ugandan security guards in Iraq. Despite our best efforts, we were unable to link up with them, but we did get a chance to spend some time in this beautiful country, stopping at its capital city of Kampala for a few days before heading to Lake Bunyonyi, which is one of the prettiest spots on earth. There, we met a marvelous man named Edison who is doing great things for orphaned children in the region, and it was an honor to meet and spend some time with him and the kids. From Lake Bunyonyi, we jetted over to Jinja, where we faced our fears and signed up for a day of white water rafting Grade 5 rapids on the Nile River. Uganda is a lot of fun, and we enjoyed our time here.
21 Jun: Getting stamped out of Kenya was straightforward and luckily for us, Nancy volunteered to obtain Uganda visas for us ($50 each for a single entry). Nancy scored a bargain on fruit, purchasing jackfruit (a novelty fruit as many folks hadn’t a clue what it was), miniature mangoes, and avocados. Shortly after entering Uganda, we pulled over by the side of the road to have lunch. Unfortunately, it was one of the more unpleasant lunch experiences as we soon had a curious mob of onlookers and the villagers were quite insistent of demanding to get fed. There were two barefoot men who actually stood in line waiting to get fed. One of them washed his hands in our wash bowls and grabbed a plate and Chris quickly stood up to let him know that his behavior was not going to be tolerated. The school children who surrounded us only knew a limited amount of English, and the only phrase they kept repeating is “Give me food” and “I am hungry”. It was an uncomfortable feeling as we only had a limited amount of food to feed everyone on our truck and this was the most persistent group of locals we had encountered to date. Needless to say, everyone hurriedly ate lunch and washed up, so we could get out of there. The girls found a secluded section of bushes to pee in and some of the locals were insistent of watching them. So the girls formed a barrier to block the view of the unwanted onlookers and it wasn’t until they were walking back to the truck that they realized a small group of naughty boys had crept up on the other side of the bushes and had been watching them the entire time! What a horrible first impression of Uganda…we knew that this one isolated experience should not cloud our impression of the country, but it was an ominous sign of things to come. The drive towards Kampala was straightforward, and we passed by the town of Jinja, which is apparently the source of the Nile River. A massive dam project spanned the river and Nancy gave us strict instructions that we were not to take photos while crossing this section. We had expected a massive traffic jam as we entered into Kampala, but to our pleasant surprise, the road conditions were quite good and before we knew it, we were pulling into the excellent “Red Chili Hideaway”. This overland friendly campsite had plenty of space for us to erect our tents and the added bonus was there was free wifi! Becky had cook group duty and her group started preparing for dinner around 5:30 pm, making cheese and mac with corn flour as a substitute for real flour. Since Ally had volunteered to cook in lieu of Matt, he had to take her spot in the cook group today so the group consisted of Becky, Matt and Lydia. While they had been told that corn flour was an acceptable substitute for regular flour, no one had advised that it would make the meal very clumpy and sure enough, the cheese sauce became quite a floury mess. However, the folks that ate it said it was a decent meal and Laura actually ate more tonight than at any other meal (she loves her cheese!). Later that night, a comment was made to Matt about how the group “didn’t put the appropriate effort into making dinner, as vegetarians weren’t catered for” and he became extremely upset, defending himself and the meal (it was a vegetarian meal as no meat was involved and mac n’ cheese has been a truck favorite so how did it become controversial to make this meal all of a sudden?) It was hard to blow off the comments but everyone realized that it was only one person out of the group that was making waves, and the incident was quickly forgotten about.
22 Jun: After breakfast, Robby had to go cook group shopping, so Becky took a hot shower and checked email while waiting for him to return. We had a small load of laundry to wash, and afterwards, headed into Kampala with Lucky, Ally, Luke and Marie (the six of us in a taxi cost 25,000 Shillings). We were dropped off on De Winton road where a bunch of bus companies were located. There, we were able to book with Mash Bus company for an overnight bus from Jinja to Mombassa which cost us 90,000 Shillings (about $37 each), leaving directly after our white water rafting excursion in Jinja on the 2nd of July. There were numerous restaurants on the same road and we were keen on lunch so we found a restaurant offering a lunch buffet for only 8000 Shillings each and chowed down on chicken and meatballs, sweet potato and vegetables on rice. It was great value, and we ate till we were stuffed. Next on the agenda was finding an internet café where we could print out our tickets from Nairobi to Addis Ababa, and afterwards, we had a short walk to the nearby Garden City Mall. Uganda’s best bookstore was our destination, and we all found lots of books that tempted us, but somehow everyone managed to walk out without buying anything! A movie theater was showing “The Hangover Part II” which we wanted to see, but the movie listings were for 7 and 9:30 pm, so we decided to watch a different movie at 4:30 pm instead. It was “Adjustment Bureau” with Matt Damon, which while entertaining, was a weird movie. The movie theater complex was quite strict, scanning our pockets with a wand and inspecting each and every item in our bags. All the cameras were confiscated, but all of our supermarket bought candy was allowed in (although we were warned that strictly speaking, we were not to bring in our own snacks!) A free soda accompanied our ticket (16,000 Shillings each), which made the movies quite a good value. The air con was on full blast, so a frigid two hours later, we thawed out by deciding to walk the 4 KM route back to our campsite. By 7: 30 pm, we were back just in time for dinner (Shepard’s Pie created by Dowelly, Matt and Kendra) and we spent the remainder of the night on internet trying to finalize our Lamu plans. To our dismay, the tickets from Lamu to Nairobi Wilson had already gone up $50 USD since we checked a week ago, and we kicked ourselves for not buying the tickets earlier. Our hostel on Lamu, JamboHouse, confirmed our reservation, and the only outstanding thing to do was to find a suitable hotel in Mombasa. It was a late night as we had lots to research online, and everyone was quite grateful for the free wifi…Red Chili Hideaway rocks!
23 Jun: After breakfast at 6:30, we were packed and ready to go by 7:30 am, having a long drive day towards the town of Kabale. Nancy had briefed us that we would cross the equator today, and Uganda has quite a nice memorial to commemorate the event. Becky snoozed on the beach with Lars and Luke and woke up in time for a few photos on the equator. There were numerous souvenir shops lining the road front, and everyone window shopped, admiring the different items for sale. Since we still had a long drive to Kabale, we didn’t have much time to spend at the equator as Nancy was keeping us on a tight schedule. Our lunch spot was pretty scenic, with long horned cows gathering around to stare at us. It was actually a comical lunch as we are so used to Africans staring at us while we eat, and today we had cows staring at us instead! After lunch, we took down the flaps as it started pouring down rain and mere minutes later, we were all wilting in the heat and wishing for the flaps to go back up! Once we reached Kabale, Nancy bought several wheels of cheese and we pulled up into our campsite for the night, the Little Ritz in Africa Hall. Poor cook group tonight (Robby, Marie and Lucky) had to contend with torrential rains as they tried to keep their fire going. The tarp came out and cook group was soaked to the bone, but the meal came out great (meatballs and vegetables on rice). Becky and Luke were able to exchange some Ugandan Shillings for USD (at a rate of 2480 which was OK) and buy some yummy samosas (priced at only 1000 Shillings for a massive piece). It was a bit risky plugging into power as lighting and thunder was flashing quite frequently and power surges in the building made us fearful that our electronic gear could get fried. By 9 pm, everyone was fed, full and tired, and quite a few people relocated from their soaked tents into the dry sanctuary of the building.
24 Jun: Amazingly, the tent fly kept our gear dry all night, and we slept quite rain despite the constant downpour of rain. Robby was on cook group and he prepared a nice breakfast for us before our 8 am departure towards the border crossing into Rwanda. The town of Kabale is relatively close to the border, so it took us just under an hour to reach the Uganda/Rwanda border.
** Note: From 24 – 27 June, we were in Rwanda, and reentered into Uganda on the 27th of June. The trip log continues below.
27 Jun: The border crossing was straightforward and we were able to exchange our extra Rwandan Francs into Ugandan Shillings with an honest dealer. Our drive into Uganda was quite beautiful, with mesmerizing views as we climbed higher and higher in the hilly terrain. At one point we jokingly remarked that we would tip the truck over if any more people crammed on the side to take photos! The only thing breaking up the monotony of our drive was a stop to chop firewood. Ichiyo really impressed the group with her wood chopping abilities (she gave Robby a run for his money) and two Ugandan boys stopped to help us collect, stack and sort our firewood (Nancy compensated them for their efforts). Our lunch stop was quite picturesque and it seemed that everyone had a camera in hand as the views were simply breathtaking. By early afternoon, we pulled into Kabale, where Becky’s cook group had to go shopping for cook group duty tomorrow night. Robby managed to score some beef samosas from Hot Loaf Bakery (the best bakery in town) while Becky, Ally and Lydia ran around town to get burrito ingredients. They managed to get chapattis from the same bakery, and scored mince, lettuce, avocados, tomatoes, garlic and onions at various stores around town. It was a stressful hour but everything was accomplished on time. From Kabale, we had another 45 minute drive up towards Lake Bunyonyi and sure enough, just as promised, this region of Uganda proved to be spectacularly beautiful. We pulled into Bunyonyi Overland Resort where we had to enter into their overflow parking area (there were already 3 overland trucks in the main parking lot). After setting up our tents, we headed over to the bar for a pre-dinner drink before socializing around the campfire as we waited for dinner. Tonight’s cook group (Sara, Lars and Naomi) made spaghetti Bolognese, and it took forever for the fire to get going, so dinner was rather late, served up at around 8:30 pm. Nancy highly recommended that everyone put on their tent flies as this area is notorious for its rain, and we were glad we heeded her advice as it poured down during the night.
28 Jun: It was a rainy, drizzly morning and we weren’t 100% sure we wanted to go visit the children at the Kyabahinga Orphanage and Vulnerable Children Care center (www.afrikahelp.com) run by Edison (firstname.lastname@example.org) but we had committed ourselves at breakfast and figured we might as well follow through with it. Our 10 am pickup ended up being 11:45 am due to the rain, but deciding to go ended up being a fantastic decision as the entire excursion was well worth it, and everyone who went was happy that they chose to do so. Edison walked us down to the Lake Bunyonyi waterfront where we hopped on a local boat for a short ride to the other side of the lake. From there, we hiked up a steep path that led to a church, and onward up to the village. Since it had been drizzling all morning long, the path was muddy, slick and wet and Robby was our first casualty, falling down while holding hands with a young school kid (who quickly realized being with this muzungu was a dangerous choice, so he went scurrying along after almost getting drug into the mud alongside Robby). Poor Mel was next as she struggled to climb up a slippery path, and ended up slipping down twice. The rest of us quickly caught on and decided to walk barefoot to see if that would give us a better grip than our flip flops! Edison cares for 140 orphans, placing them with various foster families within the community (most of them have lost their parents due to AIDS). He is planning on building a nursery school, barracks for the children to live in, and lodging huts for the volunteers he anticipates will come once the project is completed. He showed us a massive plot of land that belongs to the foundation, and he has already contacted an engineer to assist in the building plans. A woman from Canada (on a previous Oasis trip) promised to fundraise sufficient funds to help build the school (about 13 Million Ugandan Shillings), and he was waiting for the funds to come through. The orphans put on a fantastic performance of song and dance for us, and of course, the kids ended up pulling us in to dance alongside with them. It was great fun and most of the children are extremely gifted performers (especially Carolyn, our favorite of the girls). Afterwards, an amazing lunch of stewed crayfish, chicken, potatoes, vegetables, and rice followed. It was seriously good and we couldn’t believe what an excellent chef Edison’s wife is. After lunch, we walked along a plot of land where Edison showcased his vision for the center as it grows and expands. At the top of the hill, we were pleasantly surprised by a jaw dropping vista of Lake Bunyonyi. The lake truly is spectacular, but you just can’t appreciate it from the ground level…an absolute must is climbing up for a 360 degree panorama of the lake below. This lake seriously tops the list of beautiful sights in Africa…not to be missed! It was already 5:30 pm when we finally returned back to the campsite, and Becky’s cook group had already started dinner preparations. Getting the fire to start was challenging, but thankfully there were only two dishes that had to be cooked (the mince and the kidney beans), so it didn’t take too long for dinner to be ready. Nancy was well on her way in celebrating her birthday (Kendra started drinking at noon and Nancy wasn’t too far behind her), and everyone was socializing by the campfire. The dinner, which consisted of chapattis with guacamole, cheese, salsa, lettuce, mince, and beans with a kick, was a big hit with almost everyone. It was quite spicy and poor Marie could vouch for the potency of the chilies when she recounted how she had helped chop them, and using the same fingers that handled the chili to grab a handful of cheese had resulted in her eyeballs immediately tearing up, turning red, and despite a Smirnoff Ice, two cups of milk, a yogurt, and lots of water later, her mouth was still burning up! After dinner, the party was on and a good representation of us turned out to celebrate Nancy’s birthday by the truck. Lots of music, dancing, and silly photos later, Nancy amazingly made it to midnight (her birthday is actually tomorrow but she wanted to celebrate it today to give her a day to recover before our drive day towards Jinja). It was a great night and everyone had lots of fun celebrating Nancy’s big day.
29 Jun: It was an early morning for Becky who was on cook group. She woke up early to get the fire going and it was an impossible task, as even the pages within the LP Africa book refused to burn! With Damien helping to build a pyramid of sticks and slivers of wood, assisted with a liberal dousing of diesel, the pages finally were lit but the fire would immediately die out without further assistance of flapping. Becky’s poor arms were exhausted from flapping for over an hour, with the fire never truly catching and breakfast taking forever to prepare. At least everyone could munch on some fruit salad while they waited for the water to boil, but after over two hours of solid flapping, it appeared to be a lost cause and the grate was removed, with the large kettle placed directly onto the hot coals. Three hours after breakfast was started, the ordeal was over as everyone eventually was satiated with hot (but not boiling) water for their tea, instant noodles and coffee. A shower was in order after breakfast but unfortunately, since we were at the end of the queue, the water was luke warm. After washing our smoky laundry, we hung it out on our line to dry and since there was a bit of sun today, we hoped that everything would be dry before we departed tomorrow. The rest of the afternoon was spent by the power points where we tried to get caught up with the journal entries for the past few days. For lunch, we decided to eat at the campsite’s restaurant where Becky enjoyed goat and chips (8000 Shillings) and Robby had the fish special with chapatti (8000 Shillings), which was good value. After lunch, Becky finished reading Bravo Two Zero and handed the book to Lucky who was next in the queue. Robby helped split firewood for tonight’s cook group (Dowelly, Kendra and Matt) who were making a delicious crayfish stir fry dinner for us tonight (4 KG of crayfish). Our laundry was semi-dry so we took it off the line as it would probably get more damp overnight due to the early morning mist around Lake Bunyonyi. After dinner, we borrowed Lisa’s Middle East book to help plan our Israel itinerary, and after an hour had come up with a tentative schedule to fill up 2 weeks. Now we just need some internet to finalize those plans!
30 Jun: We had to pinch ourselves twice when Nancy said breakfast was at 9 am today, with a 10 am departure. Wow, a sleep in on a drive day? So we used the extra time to do an intense ab and pushup workout, which was followed by a gloriously hot water shower. After breakfast, we were packed up and on the road, waving to the ever friendly Lake Bunyonyi residents who came out to say goodbye (goodbye Edison, we can’t wait to come back!). Chris maneuvered the truck downhill towards Kabale where the next two cook groups had to go shopping. While Robby headed off with Lucky and Marie to shop for dinner, Becky jumped on internet. The biggest crisis to resolve today was a phone call to Qatar airways as they had flagged our Cairo – Saigon flight as suspicious…go figure. Nancy graciously allowed us to borrow her international cell phone and a few minutes later, all was well with Qatar airways. We ate beef samosas for lunch, and had a long drive day towards a bush camp. Both of us passed the afternoon away reading our respective Wilbur Smith books (we fell in love with his “Shout at the Devil” novel and are now huge fans). Becky started on “A Falcon Flies” while Robby was already on the sequel “Men of Men”. Our bush camp tonight was sandwiched between two houses, and everyone tried to keep a low profile. A friendly Ugandan came up and welcomed us to his land, telling us that we were now “neighbors”. The hospitality of Africans continues to surprise and impress us despite so many months in this continent. Robby’s cook group made a delicious chicken fajita dinner which was well received.
1 Jul: Cook group (Robby, Lucky and Marie) forgot to unhook the chain from the truck so while we were pulling out from the bush camp, the chain snapped in half and Lucky immediately apologized to Chris. The drive towards Kampala and Jinja went faster than we anticipated, and before we knew it, Chris was pulling into the parking lot of a ShopRite/Game for cook group to prepare lunch. Several members of our group decided to buy lunch, which left a lot more of the truck lunch available to the rest of us. Becky ran around trying to exchange Shillings for Dollars and got a fairly decent rate for her efforts. About two hours after lunch, we pulled in to Jinja’s Nile River Explorers campsite, which overlooks pretty Bujagali Falls. While the campsite offered free wifi, it was frustratingly slow and since we needed to be online to finalize some travel arrangements, we hopped onto a boda-boda into Jinja. It cost us 6000 Shillings for the ride to Source Café (3000 a piece) and our boda-boda driver, Mohammed, agreed to pick us back up for a return ride to the campsite after we were done surfing. Becky managed to finalize our repositioning cruise (Barcelona to New Orleans) for only $499 a person for a two week sailing, and we were able to respond to a couple vital messages. The ride back was uneventful and we asked Mohammed for his phone number so we could use him tomorrow night for a ride out to the bus station. Dinner tonight was prepared by Luke’s cook group and it was a tasty chili dinner. The bar was exceedingly lively, with loud music, laughter, cheers and hollering so Robby joined Ally and Kendra for a late night out (crawling back to the tent at 2 am).
2 Jul: Today we are going to white water raft grade 5 rapids down the Nile River! Chris had promised us that breakfast was included in our all day package price (USD $125 for a full day at the rapids) with Nile River Explorers (NRE) and you can imagine our disappointment when we showed up to the reception point to sign waivers and discovered that there was only hot tea or coffee to be had. Since none of us had any breakfast beforehand, we were a bit concerned that we would get no food until the buffet dinner promised at the end of the day. However, we needn’t have fretted as the main coordinator, a woman named Jane, gave us a briefing outlining all the scheduled events of the day, including the promise of a packed breakfast that we could eat on the bus ride out to the launching point. Happily, the breakfast was quite filling, with a chapatti/omelet roll and fruit salad. From Jinja, we had about a 45 minute ride to the launch point, where our massive group (there were tons of clients out for the weekend) was split up into 7 man groups. We ended up with Lars, Naomi, Ichiyo, Matt, and an American girl named Amelia in our group, led by a Californian named Paul who was to be our white water rafting guide for the day. After getting a safety briefing from Jane, who scared us silly with descriptions of keeping our feet up and elevated or else we could get them trapped between rocks and drown as a result, we boarded our raft and went through a couple basic commands with Paul nonchalantly leading the way. Our group was a cohesive one, and we got along well, with Paul quite laid back and hands off, and everyone else quite willing learners. Lars had navigated the Zambezi and Amelia had tackled the Colorado River, while the two of us had been white water rafting in Austria, so our experience level was quite varied. We had a total of 8 rapids to traverse along 25 KM of river, and the first one was quite memorable as our raft plummeted a good 10 feet on a waterfall drop. From the first rapid to the second one, we had to paddle our measly arms off, but it was worth it as we nearly flipped but managed to stabilize the raft, much to our amusement. Becky and Matt were catapulted off the raft on the third rapid, and they quickly recovered as they were able to catch a side of the raft while drifting downstream. After the fourth rapid, we had a short snack of freshly cut pineapples (half a juicy pineapple each!) and the second half of the day was spent with Paul making a serious effort to have us charge through the most challenging bits. We tried our best to flip the raft and only succeeded on rapid 6, where the entire group was sent catapulting into the rapids. Poor Lars nearly drowned though, as he thought he was near the surface when he took a huge breath of air only to find that it was water he was breathing in. In the process of furiously scrambling for air, kicking and pulling at anything within sight, Lars somehow managed to lose a gold ring valued at a couple of hundred bucks. However, he was finally up safe and unhurt, although quite shook up. The very last rapid was a fun one where we tried our best to get the raft to flip over. Paul first directed all of us to sit as far back on the raft as possible and when that didn’t work, he had everyone get onto one side of the raft. When we still didn’t flip, he used his oar to dig in at the ropes and attempted to pull the raft over onto one side. And when that still didn’t work, he simply jumped off and we all followed suit, swimming merrily downstream as it was the last rapid of the day. The kayakers “rescued” us and brought us back to the raft and not a moment too soon as Paul spotted a massive snake carcass in the river. It was a huge, bloated snake and we didn’t want to poke it with our oars to ensure it was really dead! After our rafting excursion, a massive BBQ dinner awaited us, and we chowed down on garlic bread, salad, grilled sausages, beef kebabs and potato salad. Topped off with a cold beer or two, it was a great finale to a fun day. The ride back from the pick-up point to the drop off was about 2 hours, and we arranged it with Jane for our group to be on the first vehicle going back directly to the campsite. Once we returned, everyone barely had time to take a hot shower before we had to finalize packing and head out for our Mash Cool (air conditioned) bus from Jinja to Nairobi. Nancy gave us a briefing just before we left and had us all sign off the truck. The rest of the group hopped into a van, but we called Mohammed and rode out with him to the bus station. In retrospect, it was futile for us to get to the bus station pick up point so early as our bus was over two hours late. It was frustrating waiting for it, and Lucky called our Mash contact (Said) numerous times only to get the message that the driver was “on the way”. Eventually, at 10 pm, the bus finally pulled up and we were loaded into our seats before the short drive to the border with Kenya.