March 25-June 16, 2011
I just spent 3 months in Uganda. 3 months in a country I never planned to go to. Part of the reason of course was that I've been waiting for my camera to be fixed in Nairobi but mostly I just got a bit too comfortable. Uganda is really cheap and safe. Also, "Backpackers" in Kampala, where I spent most of my time, was nice. Its really laidback. The staff are more like friends than staff and there are lots of travellers to hang out with.
After my last blog I spent a couple more days in Kampala then finally left to travel some of the country. First I went to Entebbe a city near Kampala. I just checked out the botanical gardens and met up with a couchsurfer, Oliver. He’s a Mexican working for the UN in Uganda.
The Botanical Gardens
Next I took a boat to the Ssese Islands on Lake Victoria. I wasn’t so impressed. I came on the weekend but I was still pretty much the only other tourist there. The beaches are just ok and it sounds like there’s a good chance you’ll get bilharzia (a disease found in fresh water) if you swim there.
After three nights on Bugala Island I left. I took a combination of shared cars, the boat and some buses to Kabale with a 1 night stopover in the town of Mbarara. Kabale is a town near to Lake Bunyoni. I spent one night there then went to the lake in the morning. I stayed at an "ecolodge" on an island. I really liked Lake Bunyoni. The scenery is really nice and there’s lots of other travellers. You can swim safely anywhere in the lake and for $2 you can rent a dugout canoe and go exploring. On the second day by chance I met up with Cara, the girl I couchsurfed with in Mombasa, Kenya. She was travelling to Rwanda.
The view from the ecolodge
I got stuck in the dark in my canoe. Luckily there was a light at the ecolodge I could aim for.
Cara and me
I came back from Bunyoni, stayed 1 night in Kabale then took 3 different shared cars to Kichwamba a little village just outside Queen Elizabeth National Park. I was convinced by some American cyclists in Kabale that I should do “chimpanzee tracking” there.
A street in Kabale, a typical African Scene
Early in the morning I got a bus the turn off for the chimp tracking and began walking the 2km dirt road. Some guy picked me up and drove me. He said there can be lions in the area! The Americans (with their bikes) didn’t mention that! I paid $80 for the chimp trek and was ready to go with the 7 other people in the group. Then the rangers sprung the surprise that the trek starts on the other side of the nearby gorge and transport is not included in the price. Once again the Americans (with their bikes) didn’t mention that! Five of the people were part of an organized overland truck tour. The other two were a German couple who like me didn’t have transport. We asked the Ugandan overland truck driver for a lift and he said no, “company policy” but he did give a ride to the ranger guide. I think he was paid something not to take us because it turns out the guy who gave me the ride was a friend of the rangers and has an agreement to come and take advantage of desperate travellers stuck without transport. He said $25 to drop us and pick us up at the gorge. We were really pissed off. It was just a dirty opportunistic scam. The German girl wanted to just get our money back and go. We should have listened to her because eventually we agreed on $20 and went on the trek but didn’t find any chimps! Afterwards we got really mad at the driver. Altogether he only ended up driving 15km max. I told him we were only going to pay $10. The ranger was in the car as well. We had a big fight that almost became physical. Finally they threatened to call the police (who were probaly their friends as well) so we paid.
The gorge was nice just no chimps!
I’d paid my park fee for the day so I stayed the night in Katunguru, the town inside the park. I hung around a bridge watching the hippos. Some kids took over my camera and took a million pictures.
The next morning I headed north to Fort Portal, a city in the west of the country. I stayed two nights then visited the nearby “crater lakes” for a day and a night. The lakes were nice and the scenery was good too.
I hadn’t given up on seeing chimps so I went to Karugutu town, about an hour from Fort Portal, to try at the nearby Toro-Semliki National Park where it would cost $50. I went to the ranger station at the park and they basically said maybe I might see some chimps. I wasn’t about to waste another stack of money just to go for another little nature walk so I decided not to. It wasn’t a wasted trip though. There is public transport that goes right through Toro-Semliki and nearby Semuliki National Park so I took trucks/minibuses through both of them and back to the town. The rangers never saw me so I didn’t have to pay the $30 day fees.
Between Fort Portal and the parks
Toro-Semliki National Park
I went back to Fort Portal for one more night then finally got a minibus back to Backpackers in Kampala. I didn’t know how long I would stay before heading back to Kenya. It was nice to be back though. That was the beginning of 43 straight days in Kampala!
It was nice. I made a lot of friends and Sabrina who I’d met in Tanzania was there by chance. I spent a lot of time just hanging out at Backpackers playing pool, using internet (both were free) and just talking with people. About 3 times a day I would walk down the road to “Mengo Market” with people from Backpackers for cheap street food. We would go to the town centre every few days to buy something or show people around. Sometimes we would go out at night and if the weather was nice in the day go swimming.
Backpackers was up the opposite hill on the right and the market was just behind the shell station (left).
The camping field behind Backpackers
The pool room
Rob, an English guy volunteering on his gap year. He was there the whole time I was there so we hung out a lot.
A rolex is a chapati (fried circular bread) rolled up with fried eggs. This night at the market we specially requested an 8 egg rolex.
James and Big James (both from England) on a "boda"
At "Iguana's" in town
Emmet the Irish guy who was trying to go to Congo with Brent from Australia was still in Kampala when I got back. I guess they tried once more to go but because Emmet lost his passport he had no Uganda visa in his new passport but was in Uganda. He had gone to immigration and they assured him it would be fine to leave without a visa but sure enough they went all the way to the border again and were turned away, the fourth failed attempt. They finally gave up and started travelling south. The good news is they ended up visiting Congo via Zambia.
Emmet and Brent
Shortly after I came back there were some pretty serious riots in Kampala over the government. There were tons of gunshots and teargas. On the worst day there were gunshots and they were burning roadblocks just outside Backpackers.
Because I stayed so long a lot of the people working at the market got to know me. One of the guys who sold meat sticks convinced me to lend him over $20 to pay the medical bill for his premature baby. It was a legitimate story but it was a pain to get the money back. It took right up to the day I left.
This was kind of funny. Brent and Emmet bought some newborn chicks at the market as a joke. One day I was letting them out to look for food on the camping field. I was keeping an eye on them because the hawks and falcons were flying around looking to grab one. The Backpackers cat was relaxing at my feet and there was a monkey sitting on the fence post watching. Then I looked over and saw the 2 horses eating grass nearby belonging to the American couple that were trying to ride horses across Africa. All this in the middle of a capital city.
About a week before I left James from England convinced me to go back to Lake Bunyoni with Rob to meet him, Ed (England) and Irina (Finland) for a couple days. I don’t like to go back to the same place twice but it was nice. The one problem was that the day we left I developed a bad case of foot rot and had a bit of a cold. I stayed one extra day to try to do a trek to see the famous mountain gorillas in Kisoro but by the time I got there I could hardly walk because of my feet and they surprised me saying it would cost $50 extra in transport so I decided not to. Its too bad but at least it saved me the $500 it costs to see the gorillas.
Bunyoni Canoe team
Between Kabale and Kisoro
When I got back I made a trip to the hospital for my feet, cold and various other minor ailments. The British doctor said I had stomach amoebas, prescribed some pills for that, gave me some pills for bilharzia to be safe and gave me some pills and powder for my feet. I finally left Uganda two days later on the last day of my visa. I'd phoned the backpacker in Nairobi and they said the insurance was replacing my camera and they should be picking it up shortly.
I stayed one night in the border town Malaba. The kenyan border official tried to tell me my kenyan visa was not valid but after some arguing he backed down but asked me for a “sportwatch”!?
I spent 2 days in Eldoret. My cold was still around and pretty bad so I needed to rest for a bit. Now I’m back in Nairobi. I went to “pick up” my camera only to find that basically little progress had actually been made. Fortunately I met directly with the insurance and they should be paying me soon. In the meantime I’m preparing for my journey north to Ethiopia. I’m trying to get my Sudan visa, reading my guidebooks, backing things up, doing my blog, stockpiling US$ etc. My feet are a lot better and improving slowly. My cold is still around but not serious.
Uganda was nice enough. It's not so touristed like Kenya or Tanzania which was nice. There is lots to see though. The scenery is great. The country is really green. Its definitely safer than most countries. Even in the big city you can walk around without a worry. I think this is because Uganda has some of the most intense mob justice. Once I saw a group of people by the church near Backpackers beating hard on some guy who tried to steal. I guess in Kampala often when they’re done beating somebody they’ll strip him down and make him walk home naked. Uganda is definitely one of the cheapest countries I’ve been to. People are a little more honest with prices too. They don’t try to rip off travelers as much but there are still plenty of dirty tricks and scams. Uganda is one of the most religious countries I’ve encountered. Everyone is religious and really conservative especially concerning homosexuality. They are absolutely disgusted by gay people (for a laugh search “eat the poo poo” on youtube).
If you ask for "food" in Uganda you get a mix of starches like this that you put meat or beans on.
I’m definitely getting a bit homesick and just travel weary in general. I think that’s part of the reason I’ve been getting sick. But I expect to be back by October 1st which isn’t that long and I’m really excited for these last countries. Up until this point the countries have been different but in a lot of ways the same. Similar food (maize meal!), music, landscapes/wildlife, culture and it seems like once you’ve seen one town south of here you’ve seen them all. But next up, Ethiopia, is supposed to be incredibly unique in almost every way. Then Sudan, entering the Sahara desert and Muslim territory. Also, I guess Sudanese people are some of the nicest in Africa. Lastly Egypt, which is hardly Africa at all.
Things I miss about Home
Of course family.
Trust. There are very few people in Africa I would call a friend. It always seems at some point no matter how nice they seem or how long you’ve know someone it always ends up being about getting money or getting to Canada (or for girls something else).
Set (labelled) prices. Pretty much every transaction in Africa is a battle to find the actual price.
Anonymity. It would be nice to walk down the street without someone arrogantly yelling “Hey mzungu!” (white person).
Politeness. Most of all no cutting in lines!
Quiet. Africa is noisy and Africans are noisy.
No more soccer!
Not having religion all over all the time.
Consistent hot showers.
There was a Scottish guy at Backpackers called Stuart. He had been in a Uganda over 8 months. He was really funny and would say all kinds of crazy stuff. Two of my favourite quotes from him were.
"When I first came to Africa I was most afraid of being killed. Now I'm most afraid of killing someone." and
"Have the Travel Itch? Africa is like a steel brush."
Things I will miss about Africa
Feeling rich. Most of all eating out every meal.
The freedom of less rules. Its nice to be able to ride in the back of a truck, buy food from a bus window or ride 4 people on a motorcycle.
Everything is convenient. Whatever I need to buy is on every street corner and the same price everywhere.
Being special. Sometimes its nice to be the focus of attention just because you’re white.
The landscape. Lush green forest and vast savannahs.
Cheap and easy cell phone plans.