2 girls, 1 volcano trekking, 34 “almost traffic accidents”, 15 elephants a leopard and 32 hippos, 3 tailor made dresses, 45 eaten avocados, 67 beers, 1 afternoon speaking Slovenian with the locals, 5 spiders in the bedroom and a whole bunch of happy smiling local kids running after us… – one great adventure, one country, UGANDA! Okay okay maybe some numbers are not quite exact, but you get the point 😉
When: November/December 2010
Visited: Kampala, Gulu, Atede, Packwach, Wanseko, Murchinson Falls NP, Fort Portal, Ndali Kasenda lakes, Kibale, Kasese, Kabale, Bunyoni, Kisoro, Mgahinga Gorilla NP
Stayed in: guesthouses, at friends
DRIVING & TRANSPORT
You can rent a CAR and drive it, you can hire a driver with the car, or you travel by BODA-BODA (motorbike), MATATU (minivan), or BUS. There are regular police controls and people had to step off if there were too many passengers. Buses are comfortable (good seats), you usually have the backpack under the feet as the space below is used for transportation of rice bags and other supplies. There were no AC on the buses but you could always open the window. In cities the street vendors sell food & snacks – you just hand them the money through the window and show what you want. Be at the station long before the bus is sceduled (sometimes it takes time to locate the right one and sometimes they just leave when they are full). I would avoid driving in the night and always set the price before you take off. The bus drivers tend to speed and we felt a bit uncomfortable at times.
We stayed at budget accommodation, usually in huts with shared bathrooms (except once). We normally paid extra for breakfasts. There are many camp sites also with bigger tents to rent. Of course there are also more luxurious options but this time we were avoiding those. All of them had mosquito nets, but we had more problems with spiders than with mosquito. Electricity is often there just during the day, then they turn off the generators. Also warm water is not always a standard thing ;). We called the reception a day in advance to check if they had a free room and it worked out fine every time.
return flight tickets were 530€ (KLM, Munich – Amsterdam – Entebbe)
yellow fever shot 35€
Meningitis shot 30€
- did not eat antimalaria pills (price depends on the lenght of your stay and type of meds)
visa at the airport 50$ (check if you need one)
accommodation 5€ – 10€ per night / per person (shared bathroom)
Murchison Falls NP Entry 30$ per day
bus Kampala – Fort Portal 3,5€ (similar price for other bus connections)
volcano trekking 50$
food and snacks were cheap
Most dishes will include potatoes, vegetables, yams, chicken, pork or local fish and delicious tropical fruits on the side, stews with potatoes or rice are common too. Traditional dishes are also UGALI, a dish made of maize flour, cooked in water or milk until it gets a porridge-like consistency and MATOKE, mashed green bananas. Often taste is rather bland, I was really missing spices & salt and a good coffee at breakfast ;). You can buy some really tasty roasted nuts, chapatis, samosas, meat skewers and fruit for the long rides on the way – if you live off sandwiches, they will be tough to get ;).
Another one you simply have to try is a so-called ROLEX (the name probably comes from “rolled-eggs”) – a chapati filled with eggs, tomatoes, cabbage and onions. Rolex is the most common Ugandan street food. We ate dinners at Ethiopian restaurants a couple of times and cooked on our own while staying in Gulu. Getting fresh ingredients at local markets is no problem – there is plenty of yummy veggies and fruits.
WHAT WE SAW & DID
After spending 5 days in New York City, flying to Munich and switching the suitcase for my pre-packed backpack (which was waiting in the car at the airport garage), meeting K at Terminal 1, flying to Amsterdam and spending the afternoon, evening & half of the night in the city and then flying to Kampala at 6AM – I have to say stepping out of the airport building in Entebbe was a bit of a shock! This was the most crazy plane travel I ever did ;). Kampala greeted us with humidity and music on every corner, one cold beer along the road on the way to our hotel with our friend Danilo who picked us up and we were off to sleep. Lala salama! (which is “good night” in Swahili). Amazingly there was no jet-lag at all the next day and we were ready to explore.
Kampala is a big busy city, where it´s really easy to lose orientation. Already the first day we found a very peaceful bar at the top of one of the buildings close to the main MATATU station – watching this strange organised chaos while drinking a cold Nile beer was quite amusing. Less amusing was actually trying to find the right matatu on the exact same station a couple of weeks later ;).
Although it might seem there is not much to see in Kampala at first sight, there actually is. One of the attractions is the GADDAFI NATIONAL MOSQUE on the old Kampala hill – the views on the city are spectacular and the mosque itself is quite impressive!
We also visited the National Theatre, the Parliament, the Independence Monument and the national museum. There are many interesting streets and areas, full of crafty shops, tailor shops, wood makers sell their furniture along the roads – it´s a very lively city! If you need a break from African cuisine, there are a whole bunch of Western restaurants. As in every big city there are nicer parts and the less-nice parts. I think we saw a god portion of both ;).
We even did a night out in Kampala – we found a JAM SESSION event with musicians from Kongo, Uganda and Sudan, which was super fun. We met a couple of expats, but the place was packed with mostly locals – who all speak good English, as this is also the official language here.
The day before we intended to leave Kampala we had the car fixed. Now, believe it or not, this was almost a highlight of our time in Kampala. Spending around 3 hours at the car repair shop resulted into getting 2 marriage proposals from the owners of a Kongo-licenced car which was being repaired also, eating a fully cooked lunch prepared by the mechanic´s wife (on an improvised stow conveniently made of car parts) and shaking hands with like 50 neighbours.
Finally, the car was done and we were off to GULU! We had to get through the crazy traffic jams in the city but soon we were enjoying the countryside views – everything was so lush and green, amazing. Our only problem was that we were a bit late and we had to drive the last part in pitch dark. Which I would strongly advise NOT to do. Danilo obviously knew what he was doing as he´s been living in Africa for many many years now, but I think K and I were really hoping we don´t end up with a flat tyre ;). People walk on roads and the roads are often in a bad shape at the edges so unless it´s really necessary I would avoid driving in the night. At 9:30 pm we finally arrived to our new home for the next couple of weeks!
GULU & ATEDE
Our time in Gulu was special and we certainly had a very different experience thanks to Danilo. I´ve mentioned his name a couple of times already and in case you want to know who he is, why we went to Uganda in the first place, please click on the button below and read all about it!
In Gulu we met lots of locals, visited churches, schools, hospitals and more – the kids were simply amazing. We also had cheeky little neighbours who turned up at our door every now and then ;). Not that long ago this place was still WAR ZONE and is mostly left out when it comes to tourists visits. Everyone we met seemed to be part of an NGO or some other organisation.
MURCHISON FALLS NP
After our “work” was done, we decided to travel onwards around the country, on our own. So far we really felt like guests and Danilo was taking care of us like we were family ;). He decided to accompany us to Murchison National Park and from there on we were on our own.
We entered the national park at KARUMA FALLS and paid the entry fee for 2 days (60$). Just a few hundred metres after the gate we encountered water buffaloes, antelopes and beautiful giraffes.
To reach the Red Chilli Camp Lodge where we were staying we had to take a short car ferry over the Victoria Nile river. Later on that day we took a boat ride on the river which took us right to the foot of the MURCHISON FALLS. This was well worth going!
Never seen that many hippos at one place and on top of that there were also elephants and buffalo. Amazing! And we only saw one other boat, so it was a really peaceful experience with seeing wildlife from up close.
The waterfalls were not the most spectacular we´ve ever seen, but they were beautiful as the water drops sparkled in the air and we were surrounded by lush vegetation, hippos and that specific loud waterfall sound ;).
The next day we took a bumpy ride to the top of the falls and made a shorter walk on the top – seeing the falls from this perspective was quite interesting also. And there was shiny gold sand everywhere!
We drove through the park to the other side, towards Lake Albert on the border with Kongo. It was so much fun to sit on top of our Land Cruiser while driving and observing the animals for a while – kind of a real feeling of freedom! After seeing the leopard jumping from tree to tree we went back inside the car haha.
Amazing animals, Murchison Falls NP should not be left out of your itinerary if you´re planning a visit.
LAKE ALBERT & WANSEKO
LAKE ALBERT is part of the complicated system of the upper Nile and the 7th largest African lake. Just across the lake we could see DR Congo, as the border runs on the lake. The areas around the lake are swamp-like green fields, perfect for fishing, so there are numerous little villages we passed on the way.
And we decided to stop at one of them. WANSEKO fishing village was a great choice! After observing the fishermen and fooling around with local kids who were very keen on interacting (as always), we had a bite to eat and moved on. Not many tourists come here – that´s why we liked it even more!
MUZUNGU, MUZUNGU! Kids will shout these words at you all the time, so better get used to it :). According to Wikipedia, mzungu is a term for a person of foreign descent and it literally means “someone who roams around aimless” in Swahili language.
Home made cars out of water bottles – tied with a smaller rope on a wooden stick so that they can run around pulling them on the dirty roads. Proudly presented to my camera lens!
I wish I could write where this was, but the truth is – I have no clue. We made a spontaneous stop at one of the really small villages on the way – actually just a couple of houses, traditional round mud houses or better said huts. Making such random stops is great and you really might even be the first muzungu to stop here in a very long time, or maybe even the first one ever. So be prepared for starring ;). Just act normal, smile back and wave, it helps if you know some Swahili words!
Our time in the NP has come to an end – and so did our time with Danilo. On this day we drove past PAKWACH back to Gulu for one last night before we said goodbye to Danilo and promised to meet him in Kampala before our flight.
GULU – KAMPALA – FORT PORTAL
From now on we were on our own, without the comfort of a 4WD car, so we got up really early and took the 7AM bus to Kampala. Bus driving in Uganda is nothing to be looking forward to! The driver was going so fast that even the locals on the bus started complaining and were threatening him with calling the police. He slowed down a bit and we arrived safely to the central bus station around 1PM.
The lovely lady seating next to us helped us getting the next bus to Fort Portal which was quite a challenge. After 20 minutes of asking various bus drivers we found out we had to go to a complete different station. Once we were at the right one and finally sitting on the right bus all what was left was 5 hours driving to Fort Portal. Not an easy travel day – at least one positive thing about a bus without AC is we still did not go to the toilet, since morning! I guess we sweated everything out haha. Luckily we found a decent room not too far from the bus station once we finally got to Fort Portal and went for a beer!
For some reason we didn´t find Fort Portal to be very appealing – we checked the local agencies for possible trekkings or trips but everything seemed to be either too expensive or it would take too many days. So we decided to move on to Ndali Kasenda crater lakes which are next to KIBALE FOREST NP. While waiting for a boda-boda, someone offered to drive us with a car. There was one older lady taking that offer as well, so it seemed pretty legit and safe. Just a short ride and we were dropped off at a guesthouse we found online at breakfast.
We used the extra time in Fort Portal to do some shopping. We also each bought a pair of these cool sandals made of car tyres! The locals found that really funny for some reason haha, but we didn´t mind. They had very nice models for women, and so cheap!
Monkeys are everywhere! Don´t forget to close doors at your hut and hide the food good, otherwise they might smell it out 😉 Same goes for the car doors.
NDALI KASENDA KRATER LAKES
Woke up in the middle of these green hills, dotted with lakes, waterfalls and little villages, we were eager to get out and start walking. We made a deal with a local that he picks us up with his boda-boda when we call him – we could not reach everything on foot in one day.
We spent the whole day hiking in the hills, when it rained we use banana leaves to cover our heads (very practical btw). We did not meet any other tourists the whole day and felt like we have this beautiful countryside to ourselves.
We hiked to MAHOMA WATERFALLS where it´s also possible to swim and visited the following CRATER LAKES: Kifuruka, Nyinambuga, Nyamirima, Nyinabulita and Nyabikere. There is also a cool place called “The top of the world” – basically a hill with great views on the lakes – there are 57 lakes in total.
There is a beautiful lodge called Ndali Lodge, which even has a swimming pool if you want some luxury ;). Our little hut did not have electricity and also no running water (no shower today), but it did have these cheeky monkeys in the trees ;).
THE LOOOONG WAY TO BUNYONYI LAKE
What a day – we were picked up at 7AM by John, whom we just met yesterday and he offered to drive us to RWIMI which is half way between Fort Portal and Kasese. So there we were, John, me and K – the 3 of us on one motorbike including our 2 travel backpacks. For 1 hour! I still don´t know how we did it haha.
In RWIMI we got a car ride (Toyota corolla – 4 persons in front and 4 at the back). We were in Kasese at 8:30 and we were on a hunt for a MATATU which would bring us to KABALE town. We counted, there ware 21 persons in the matatu. We passed QUEEN ELISABETH NP, KAZUNGA CHANNEL and crossed the EQUATOR LINE. There were beautiful tea plantations and we only wished we could just go out here and stretch our legs haha. But no, the journey continued. For some unknown reason we had to change the matatu in MBARARA. From here there were still 2 hours drive to KABALE. We were stopped by police a couple of times and people had to go out of matatu because we were obviously way over the allowed passenger limit. Luckily they never asked us to step out, only the locals. The funniest things was, they were playing Jingle bells and Silent night on the radio- in German! And everyone was singing to it, really strange ;).
Finally in KABALE we had a drink, went to a toilet and really did not want to stay the night so we searched for options on how to continue the way to Bunyoni lake. This time we took each our own boda-boda and drove in rain for about 15km to the lake.
And here we were, after over 10 hours of travelling and 5 different transports we were here! We “splurged” on a good room with a terrace and private bathroom ;). This was necessary now ;). Beers and crayfish masala with chapati, sitting by the fire and chatting to fellow travellers – a happy end to this long day!
The 45km long lake with its islands is beautiful, you can even swim inside or just enjoy the views on the hills surrounding it. We took a PIROGA ride (a small wooden boat, more like a canoe) and visited a few villages around. You should definitely find a hill to hike up on so that you get these beautiful views! We also made some research about how we could come to Kisoro the next day and got a phone number for a guesthouse there.
We stopped by at EDIRISA, which was founded by a Slovenian – that´s why everyone here was so happy to see us, 2 girls from Slovenia. We were left speechless as the local people here could even speak a little bit Slovneian! We taught them a few new ones, I wonder if they still remember ;). This was awesome, we took a peek into the Bufuka Primary school classrooms and bought a couple of things in their Craft Shop.
Inside the classrooms, the teacher got the kids to sing a few songs for us two, they were lovely!
There were some really nice products at the shop, done directly there, with these old Singer machines. Good that we had enough time to chat with everybody as it was quite interesting to see the school – especially after having visited many schools in Gulu, we could make a comparison.
Our wooden pirogas and Alvan – one of the boys who greeted us with “kako si?”, meaning “how are you doing” on Slovenian ;). He was so cool and organised the transport to the other side of the lake for us, from where we continued towards Kisoro.
THE WAY TO KISORO
And off we go – this time on a motorised wooden boat across Bunyonyi lake to MUKO village. We were meeting someone there who promised to take us to Kisoro with his car. It was a plesant drive across the lake with stunning views on the hills, where beans, bananas and sweet potato were planted on steep fields. Also Muko seemed like a nice place to visit.
There were 5 of us in the car and the road was great at first, but started to get really creepy later on. It was being renovated so there was no asphalt, we were going really fast ad there were cliffs on my side of the car – luckily, again, we made it safely to our guesthouse and were very grateful for this car drive as oppose to the bus we would have to take otherwise.
And the views were just “wow”! We could see the volcanoes, amazing. We walked to the supermarket in Kisoro and bought some snacks for the long hike tomorrow – the Indian owner was so pleased with the amount of things we bought that he gave us a special discount ;). The area did seem a bit less developed as the parts around Bunynonyi on the other side.
I remember we went online after 5 days. We didn´t really miss internet at all. We also made a reservation for a volcano trekking the next day. After a wonderful dinner with chilli beans and garlic bread on the side, we crashed into our beds.
MGAHINGA GORILLA NP & SABYINYO VOLCANO
Early next morning we got a ride to the national park VISITORS CENTER and paid 50$ each for the guide and another one who was there for protection. Our goal was to reach the top of Mount Sabyinyo – which as you can see on the photo below, has a few peaks. The highest one (3645 m) is actually a TRIPLE BORDER bewteen UGANDA, RWANDA & DR CONGO and that´s where we were headed. I had no clue how this hike will look like, we basically decided on it the day before as our plan was “lets go and see what they offer”.
The path took us through a swamp, a bamboo forest and again a swamp, so when our feet were already soaking wet the ladders started. Everything was rather slippery and from time to time really steep. We had stick for help, but still, I would say that was quite a serious hike. Once we got to the first peak we were basically walking on the ridge to the second and the third peak. Here we had to turn around, the path ends and there is just Congo´s jungle.
Occasional stops were needed, we used them to drink and take some pictures.
THE ladders! That was really something. I have a slight fear from heights and this was really a test for me. Luckily it was quite foggy at the top and on the ridge – you know, one wrong move and I would be rolling down the hill right.
This is actually one of my favourite photos I ever made. It perfectly captures this insane nature with moss hanging from trees, mysterious fog and then these ladders. Never been to a place like this and the best thing was – we were the only visitors that day!
The hike took us practically the whole day, we were back in our guesthouse when it was already getting dark. It was totally worth it though! I would just strongly recommend taking 2 pairs of extra socks.
We were too late for GORILLA TREKKING – you have to apply for that months in advance + it costs 600$. Which is a good thing I think – otherwise there would be too much people going there. I don´t regret anything and take it as a good excuse to one day visit Rwanda and go gorila trekking there ;).
BACK TO KAMPALA & HOME
The next day we could rest our legs on a long bus journey to Kampala. Enjoying the last amazing views on the mountains, I think we could have easily stayed a while longer ;). We did not even had to change the bus and the whole thing with traffic police stopping us and demanding that people step off the bus repeated itself. I must say I did not expect such police controls and I was positively surprised. Not even that, the police made the driver give the people who had to step off full money back for the paid ticket! Does not matter if they had already driven 200km with it ;).
We were meeting Danilo at a place where we would stay the night, at his friends and we only had the address, but no clue on how where this is and where the bus stations are. Our bus seemed to be stuck in Kampala´s traffic jams and we decided to just get of, take a boda-boda each and let them take us to the address. Even though we gave them strickt orders to drive one after another, they splitted ways and my mobile phone was dead. That was a strange feeling and the driver had no clue where he has to go to find this house so he asked a couple of times on the way and eventually found it. I thlught K would be waiting already and worrying where I was but it seems they had even bigger troubles finding this house haha. So we were first!
Last dinner with Danilo was a nice end to this whole trip which still remains one of the best travel adventures I´ve had so far. This was also the last trip before I moved to Germany two months later ;). We spent the last money on snacks and had tasty wine with dinner on the plane – we landed in cold Munich and made a little trip around the city centre before catching the night train back home to Ljubljana.
TO SUM IT UP (it´s been a really long post I know): Uganda is a great country and there is so much more to it than just gorillas. It can also be done by self-driving, this will give you more freedom. Also for us two, being 2 girls on our own it was no problem at all and we only felt uncomfortable at two occasions, but that could have happened anywhere. We were often the only white persons on the bus, in a restaurant or in a matatu, but everybody was helpful and happy to chat with us. So, go for it before it becomes the next big thing!
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