Uganda and Rwanda

Thursday, December 10, 2009 - Jinja - added by Roxy

We finally managed to tear ourselves away from Kenya and get into Uganda. The first thing that one notices about Uganda is that it is incredibly lush, a huge contrast from the parts of Kenya that we had just been in, especially considering Kenya was suffering from the worst drought in 60 years!

We spent our first night in a town called Jinja, at the Nile River Explorers Backpackers, a campsite which has incredible views over a bend in the Nile River, including an amazing shower overlooking the river!

Jinja is a cute town which is well known on the overlanding circuit because it's a super place to go white water rafting. After a couple of days sussing things out, Steve and I decided to give it a try. We woke up early, were given our safety briefing and then headed off to the river. There were 14 of us in total, divided into 2 rafts of 7 each, plus a couple guides and a much needed rescue team. At first it was pretty straight forward, but soon we were hurtling down steep rapids and holding on for dear life. On the 3rd rapid, known as Silverback, the Nile River narrows to a tenth of it's normal width, resulting in an awesome torrent of water rushing through at incredible speed. Naturally we capsized, and Steve and I were pulled under water in a tumultuous wave. It was terrifying! I felt as if I was in a washing machine, and started to panic as I couldn't tell which way was up. After what felt like an eternity, just as I thought my lungs were about to burst, I finally surfaced, and gasped for air, only managing to catch a mouth full of water. By this point I was coughing and spluttering whilst flying down the rapid in a mass of bubbles and spray. Finally I reached the calm waters and was able to breathe properly again. I was very quickly met by one of the rescue team who told me to hold on to his kayak as he towed me back to the raft; easier said than done, because I was shaking like a leaf and trying with all my might to keep myself together!

Fortunately that was the worst rapid for us, although we capsized many more times. The only real injuries that I had were on my hands because I was clinging onto the rope so tightly I made my hands bleed! What a warrior hey? I also managed to smash myself in my face with my oar, so was slightly bruised from that, but just happy to be alive!

A highlight of the day for me was when we were on one of the calm stretches of the river and had to paddle for a few kilometres. We were paddling away when suddenly a huge thunderstorm erupted. The rain was relentless and stung like crazy, we couldn't see even 2 metres in front of us as we paddled like mad. Just as suddenly, the rain subsided and the sun started shining again! It was so beautiful, certainly one of those moments in life when you thank the world that you are alive to experience the sheer power of nature and see such beauty!

Once safely back on land we had a braai together and heatedly discussed the day's events. Everyone really loved the experience, and the staff who ran the day were super professional. I would recommend that you go rafting if you are in that neck of the woods, but do hold on tightly for Silverback!

After a few days we left Jinja and headed off to Kampala. On our way of town we got pulled over by the cops for speeding. We were apparently going 50 in 20 zone. Upon hearing this I innocently asked where the 20 sign was because I hadn't seen it. The truculent cow that I was speaking to responded by asking me if I wanted a fight, to which I surprised myself by saying that I indeed did. Next thing I know I am involved in a shouting contest with a pretty terrifying policewoman, but I stood my ground saying that I hadn't seen any sign, so simply wanted to know where it was. Of course she wouldn't answer my question because there wasn't a sign anywhere to be seen, something I verified when we were in Jinja a few weeks later. However, at the time we weren't certain and stupidly thought the police wouldn't dare mount a speed-trap with a fake speed limit... I fear we've still got a lot to learn about the fickle ways of Africa! Anyway, we were then told that they wanted to impound our truck, but they weren't able to because we were tourists; instead they would have to take our licences from us until we appeared in court on Monday. Naturally the typical negotiation ensued. How much did they want?? At first it was $100, but we agreed to pay them $25. We normally try our hardest to avoid bribes in any form, but the thought of sitting on the side of the road, in the middle of rural Uganda for the next few days waiting to go to court was not a road we were willing to go down.

So after being robbed we went on our way to Kampala, where we stayed at the Red Chilli Hideaway. The following day we noticed a sign in the camp site saying that if you wanted to walk into town you were welcome to take the dogs with you. So, that's how we ended up traipsing around Kampala with Nero and Jimmy. Sadly, Nero is possibly the fattest dog that I have ever seen and he really battled with the exercise. Half way into the walk he was dragging his feet so much that you could hear his nails scratching the tar! Matters were made worse because we were being circled by packs of feral dogs and it was pretty obvious that Nero couldn't outrun them, although I think if he sat on them he'd come up trumps! It got so bad that I was really starting to plan how to get him back to the camp site before he somehow croaked on us. Options that I was considering included:

  • putting him into a local taxi (unlikely that this would be allowed though, since he would probably have scared the other passengers and most certainly would have ruined the taxi's suspension!)
  • put him into a trolley and push him home, quite feasible because there are random trolleys all over the show, although similarly the trolley probably wouldn't survive the journey!
  • or tie him to a (big) skateboard type object, and pull him home (and I mean really big!)

To be fair, it wasn't all bad; Nero was good for our safety because one look at him tended to made the locals laugh. One lady screamed that we shouldn't push him too hard because he may pop, and someone else offered to buy him so that he could eat him!!! Poor Nero, if you're ever at the Red Chilli Hideaway, please take him for a walk, he seriously needs the exercise! Apparently the last tourists to take them for a walk was 7 years ago!

Whilst in Kampala we went to the popular clothing market. The market is huge and heaving, and you can buy anything there, from bras to evening dresses. We spent $50 on clothes and got 4 tops, 2 pairs of jeans, 2 pairs of shoes and a hat! The clothes are all second-hand of course (known locally as dead men's clothing), but by this stage in the trip we don't mind at all, in some things we are getting to grips with the African style! So, if you see me walking around in your old clothes, you now know why!

At the market I did enjoy seeing the young guys who walked around with plastic picnic baskets filled with nail clippers, files, varnish etc. They do a roaring trade, and people don't mind getting their nails done in the middle of the muddy walkway in the hellishly packed and humid market! Another thing that I enjoyed is the humongous puffy sleeves on the ladies' dresses, it is all the rage in Kampala. Very cute!

After leaving Kampala we headed to Lake Bunyoni. On the way to the lake you drive through lush green mountains, which are covered in terraced crops. Subsistence farming is the norm in Uganda, and because of the relatively high population every inch of land is farmed. It's impressive on one hand, but sad on the other because the natural landscape, whatever is used to look like, has all disappeared. We spent a couple days relaxing at the Lake Bunyonyi, a stunning alpine lake. We stayed at the originally named Bunyoni Overland Camp, which was without a doubt the nicest camp site that we came across in Uganda.

The border crossing into Rwanda was an absolute treat. The entire process took about 30 minutes, and no one tried to extort a penny from us. I am not sure if it was because of the heavy anti-corruption campaign the Rwandan government is undertaking, or were just so plainly bored that they couldn't be bothered!

Once through the border, we noticed immediate changes. The first was that we saw commercial farming in full swing, apparently a totally foreign concept in Uganda. The land is green, hilly and just plain beautiful. It is not called the 'Land of a Thousand Hills' for nothing. People looked at us with suspicion though, so I wouldn't say that it was our warmest welcome to a country.

We arrived at Kigali, the capital, and were suddenly in the city centre with NO traffic at all. The place is an oasis in terms of African cities. I wouldn't go as far as so say that it is beautiful, but it is arguably the cleanest city that I have seen on this continent. The public places are green and well kept, and there are even public toilets that in are in use and somehow sparkle in the sunlight. The other noticeable thing for us was that people actually know how to use traffic circles, and they stop at zebra crossings!!!! It is also compulsory for all motorcyclists to wear helmets. This is nothing like any part of Africa that I have ever seen and it was an incredible treat.

Soon after arriving we went to get our permits to see the gorillas, which was easy enough and then went to the supermarket to buy some groceries. We almost passed out when 3 paper bags (plastic bags are banned!) of groceries cost us $160!! Wow!! After studying our receipt we began to get an idea of the prices that we were paying. Steve bought a paperback novel that cost us $25! We learnt very suddenly that Rwanda is not cheap.

No trip to Rwanda should be done without a visit to the genocide museum. The museum documents the frenzied massacre that happened in 1994 in an honest and harrowing way. It was informative and deeply disturbing – and definitely not for the faint hearted. If you haven't shed a tear during the visit, the final exhibition will do the trick. In that section they have pictures up of children who were murdered. Next to the photos they have some information on each child, what their personalities were like, their favourite foods, their last words and how they were killed. When you see a picture of a 2 month old baby that was killed by being thrown against a wall it's enough to make you physically sick! Pray these atrocities aren't allowed to happen anywhere again!

All over Rwanda, in every single village and town, there are billboard reminders of the genocide. The government is making a concerted effort to ensure that the painful past is acknowledged, and that it will never happen again. There is a huge campaign in place the reminds people that they are all Rwandans, rather than members of particular tribes; and when you speak to people they will tell you that they are proudly Rwandan. They could certainly teach other countries a thing or 2 about forgiveness and moving on. I for one, think that it is an incredible country, and well worth seeing for yourself. We printed flags from every country in Africa prior to our trip, and unbeknownst to us we had the old Rwandan flag. Their new-found identity and pride in the new beginning meant they were very upset to see the old flag on Songololo! We quickly tore it off, not wanting to cause any more offence!

A few days later we went off to do see the gorillas. When they say gorilla trekking, they mean 'trekking', literally up the side of extinct volcanoes!

We arrived at the base of the mountains and together with our guide and security guard (Steve and I were the only people in the group) we hiked up the steep mountain-side through dense forest. It was a tough walk, and thankfully we had brought jerseys and long trousers because otherwise we would have been cut to bits. After about 40 minutes of trekking our guide radioed his colleagues (who are out in the bush following the family) to find out where the gorillas were. A few minutes later we found the family, where the young ones were wrestling each other, the females were sitting around staring at each other, and the silverbacks were sleeping. They are clearly used to people and didn't pay too much attention to us. I was really enjoying being so close to such magnificent animals until the first silverback woke up. Holy cow!!!! They are HUGE!!!! I actually got such a fright that the guide had to grab my arm to stop me from trying to flee when I was being eyed out by a huge silverback that must have weighed about half a ton!

After some time all 4 silverbacks were awake and the alpha male started moving down the mountain. The rest of the family followed except one silverback and two females. We started to follow the group until our guide suddenly stopped us in our tracks. He stood silently for a minute and listened intently to a call that the remaining silverback was making. Then he suddenly started moving back to our original spot at great speed. He'd heard a mating call being made by that silverback. This is particularly interesting because the females of the group are only supposed to mate with the alpha male, so what we were about to see was a case of cheating. The silverback in question was chasing the two females around a bush, until one of them reluctantly gave in. He then mated with her while the other female stood about 20cm away and watched, looking as uninterested as her friend was! We, on the other hand, were very interested, and exceptionally lucky to see this rare incident!

Our hour with the gorillas came to an end so we had to head back down the mountain, but on our way we passed the family again. By this point it was clear that the alpha male was agitated and he was heading back up the mountain to find the 3 missing gorillas. It looked like he was picking for a fight, but sadly we can't be sure as our time didn't allow us to see!

After seeing the gorillas we returned to Uganda en-route back to Kenya. In Uganda we spent a couple of days in a small town called Kisoro, mainly because we met a super local guy called Joe who acted as our guide. There's not all that much to see in Kisoro, but Joe was so proud and passionate about the place that we kept agreeing to go and see random things.

On one morning we went to see some nearby caves. After driving for some time we arrived at a tiny village and were surrounded by the 200 or so inquisitive locals, half looking nervous of us and the other half asking us for money. We managed to flee to the entrance of the caves. I have seen a fair number of caves in my time, but these ones where quite something. We literally ended up lying down in the pitch black caves and crawling (leaving your legs flat behind you and pulling yourself with your arms) through tiny crevices in the caves, hoping like hell that you weren't going to wedge yourself into the rocks somehow. It was quite scary and absolutely not for the claustrophobic or very large boned! Nevertheless, once out in the safely sun shine, it was a fun experience.

Later that day Joe took us to see the pygmies. I am not too sure what I was expecting, but the pygmies are very ordinary looking people. They are small yes, but otherwise they look exactly the same as everyone else. Their village was tiny and depressingly poor. They sleep in huts that are made with pieces of wood and plastic bags. Inside their huts are blankets which make up their beds (no mattress or pillow to be see seen), next to open fires that they obviously use to avoid freezing to death, although the fires in their huts will probably be a cause of death later down the line. The pygmies are refugees from Congo, forceably evicted from their home when the Virungas National Park was created in eastern DRC. They are now living in the mountains of Uganda on a tiny piece of land given to them by the Ugandan government. The land is literally only large enough to support their few huts and a tiny number of crops allowing subsistence farming. They have no option of buying land or undertaking larger-scale farming to be able to sell produce in the local market, and are thus dirt poor. That aside, they are super friendly and welcomed us openly. We met the chief who was a born actor, and took a massive liking to our camera, resulting in us being pressurized into taking about 100 pictures of him smoking his pipe!

We also took pictures of the numerous children who are dressed in rags and could do with a tissue or two. One young child in particular had a stomach that was three times the size of his head. He clearly needed to see a doctor, but the reality is that these people are battling to find food to survive, so spending what little they have on one child to the disadvantage of all the others may not be wise of them. It's heart breaking stuff.

We finally left Kisoro, and spent the remainder of the day driving on rocky dirt roads up and down mountain passes, which have sheer cliffs on one side and can only allow one car on the road at most times. It was beautiful, but nerve wracking. At one point we came up to a random barrier in the middle of the road, where we had to wait for a few minutes for someone to unlock the boom. Whilst waiting we enquired as to how much it cost to pass through and we were told that it was 1000 Shillings. True to form, the guy with the key arrived and told us that it was “at least 10000”! Steve had a good laugh at his attempt, at which point the guy then said 2000 Shillings, then suddenly remembered himself and changed it to 5000! Steve wasn't taking any of his rubbish, so we finally paid our 1000 Shillings and left!

Many hours later we drove down a side track and found ourselves in Ishasha National Park without having passed through the entrance gate. This is where the famous tree-climbing lions live. We drove around this alleged national park for some time and sadly the only single animal we saw was the Ugandan Kobe antelope! We'd planned to spend the night in their park campsite, but decided it was not in our interests to enter the park officially and pay the ridiculous charges, just to see a few Kobe! So we continued driving on the road from hell, and ended up sleeping on the side of the road. Once parked up we realised that the ridiculous excuse for a road had caused something in the bathroom to fly about so much it had hit the tap for the shower and turned it on, resulting in the shower having been on for God knows how long? We'd lost all 200 litres in our fresh water tank! Spending the night on the side of the road in the middle of the bush with no water isn't a recommended pursuit! Thankfully, my paranoia ensured we had a small supply of emergency bottled water which just got us through the night.

By this point we were exhausted and in agony from all the flying about because of the bad roads so we decided to give our intended visit to Murchinson Falls a skip. There was no way that we were going to be doing an extra 500km on such horrific roads just to see a waterfall, the odd hippo and crocodile and probably just another few Kobe! One day of rough driving had silenced our call for more adventure!

The following day we went to Fort Portal. The roads were pretty good, except for the inordinate amount of truck-destroying speed bumps. We then came to a campsite called Amabere Caves Campsite. It is only 6kms or so from Fort Portal, but it feels like a private haven that is a part of God's garden. It is truly magnificent. We were in a valley that looks up to a huge mountain range, we could hear a waterfall from where we were sleeping and everything was lush and green. We were completely alone, and at night there were fire flies all about us. Absolutely stunning.

After our brief visit to Port Fortal, we headed back to Kenya where we were due to fly out for my sister's wedding in Oman – an adventure away from our adventure! On the way out of Uganda we were lucky enough to see the famous Ankoli cattle, which we think, for obvious reasons, would make a great candidate for the annual Running of the Bulls ceremony in Pamplona!


1 .
FOLKS - 30 Jan 2010, 2:29
2 .
FOLKS - 30 Jan 2010, 2:29
3 .
Proper humping gorilas!! How hectic!! Wow guys xx Bobs
Robyn Katherine Babb - 31 Jan 2010, 9:18
4 .
Absolutely bloody amazing - WOW. Cant wait to see the pics.
Thorks - 1 Feb 2010, 9:18
5 .
i gotta say, reading your blog instead of doing work is much better fun. Daz
daryl - 16 Feb 2010, 9:13
6 .
goo compilation and work............the only part i dint want to read is where you wrote that........The truculent cow that I was speaking to responded by asking me if I wanted a fight, to which I surprised myself by saying that I indeed did.....Thant is too much insult being written in this beautiful adventure.
Deogratius - 24 Oct 2016, 11:29

Add a comment:

Email: (won't be published)
Are you a robot? What continent is our website about? (all lower case)