Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Home again

At Entebbe we phoned Moses and he came and collected the car.  We weren't allowed into the terminal building until nearer our flight time, so we sat outside in the balmy evening air before putting on some warmer clothes for the flight.

Once in the building we were approached by students doing a survey for the Uganda tourist authority, so were able to give our impressions of the country direct to the people who count - lovely people, terrible roads, fantastic wildlife, terrible roads, excellent national parks, terrible roads, nice accommodation, terrible roads......

KLM woke us at 1am for dinner and then 5am for breakfast.  Thank you.

Home in the cold and wet, only to find that our estate agent has only gone and sold our house that's been on the market for 7 months.  Oh well another adventure begins....

Why don't you use your headlights?

We waited til after lunch before heading off on the long journey home.  The road was pretty good, just the usual mad minibuses and some big trucks with awful emissions.

As we skirted the side of Lake Victoria fishermen would risk their lives by diving in front of the car holding up the day's catch in the hope that we might stop and buy. We were not sure they would keep fresh on the flight home, so we politely declined their offers by swerving dangerously into the oncoming traffic.  The fisherman seemed to have plenty of customers though, as we passed plenty vehicles with fish hanging from their front grilles - I guess to keep the fish fresh and the cars from becoming too wiffy.  I assume that when they get the fish home they just have to pressure wash the dust and oil off.

There is a shortcut from the road we were on that heads to Entebbe without the need to head into Kampala, and we had quizzed our hosts at Mihingo on where to turn off.  Beside a school said somebody, just after a big advertising hoarding said another.  As there are approximately 300 schools and so much advertising that even Saatchi and Saatchi would describe it as overkill, we unsurprisingly missed the short cut and hit Kampala just as the light started to fade.

This was not what we wanted.

I've already described the traffic in Kampala and our experience the second time was just as bad.  You need to keep your eyes peeled for cars, trucks, buses, bikes, motor bikes and I'm sure at one point a pony and trap; which come at you from all angles and appear to be heading to all points of the compass simultaneously.  If you hesitate the road in front of you fills with a mass of metal and diesel smoke, with cows, goats and children throwing themselves under your bonnet.  It is not stress free.  While you try to keep alert to the maelstrom around you it is imperative that you don't miss the one sign post that points to the airport.  This sign is about 3 inches high, stuck on top of a 12 foot post and is partly obscured by a satellite dish; the writing on the sign is grey on a grey background and it looks like the paint is being consumed by the pollution.

Luckily we spotted it and realised we were on the famous Kampala Southern Bypass.  Go and google the images for this - do not be fooled by the first few images, these have obviously been put up by the Kampala city council.

This is what it's actually like

Luckily we were not pressed for time, but we had aimed to reach the airport before dark fell, just so we weren't having to do the most dangerous of African activities.  But like a few of our best plans, this was doomed to failure and we turned down the Entebbe road just as the last of the suns rays disappeared.  We had recognised the mad roundabout from day 1 so at least we knew we were heading in the right direction - there may even have been another signpost!

As the traffic eased the danger increased - we picked up speed, but the vast majority of other vehicles on the road didn't use their lights.  Either they have blown all the bulbs and cannot replace them, or the local drivers have amazing owl like eyesight.  Black cars appeared out the darkness and thick smog at an alarming rate and we reverted to shouting and screaming as a way to keep ourselves amused.

The car following behind us (roughly 18 inches behind us) had lights he could use, because he would occasionally turn them on only to inexplicably turn them off again a couple of minutes later. At times we could only tell he was still following by the light of his cell phone which he was holding up in front of his eyes while presumably texting his friends.  

I have to say this was not a fun way to finish our time in Uganda, but as you can see from the very fact I'm writing this blog, we survived.  

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Mihingo Lodge

Last night was the last night of camping as we approach the end of our adventure.  So with no need for our camp chairs, table, pillows etc we managed to persuade the camp site attendants to take them away.  They seemed pretty pleased with their new donations, and certainly wasted no time hiding them away from prying eyes.  We had some tins and dried food left too, so we gave these to the restaurant to use up.

We explored the park for a few hours before heading for our last night of African luxury at Mihingo Lodge.  This is a really nice lodge, perched high on a rocky outcrop looking out over the park.  It has a smashing wee pool and very good fresh food.  It is currently being run by a fellow Scot - but not sure for how long.

We were given a tented room down by the waterhole - 200 steps down the hill from the main lodge.  The views are great - even when sitting on the loo!

We gratefully had our first showers since Kigali, with some hot water too.  Before heading back up the hill for a swim and a lazy afternoon on the deck looking out over the park.

The luxury continued with sundowners with chips and dip on the deck and an excellent buffet dinner, after which we were invited to meet the bush baby that frequents the lodge after dark.  The guides use a red light to illuminate the bush baby to ensure it isn't startled as it snacks on some fruit laid out for it.  Not exactly wild, but still lovely to see up close.

The only drawback to this place is the fact that all of the business of the lodge is conducted in full view of the customers.  The owners had arrived and commandeered the best tables and sat with the management staff drinking and eating.  I guess this is ok, but is not something we'd ever encountered before.  It was also strange to see the management calling staff and arguing with them down the phone in full earshot of the guests.  This was our only complaint with the place - otherwise it was excellent.

The next morning we were awoken by a waitress bringing us coffee and heart shaped biscuits in a wicker basket.  What a difference to waking up in a tent and having to get up to put the kettle on the petrol stove.
We had more swims and more food before having to hit the road for Entebbe and home.

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Little too close to a hippo

We had hippos come close to our tent in QENP and close to our banda at Red Chilli, but not so close that we could smell them.

That's what happened when we were sitting beside our camp fire having our night cap beside Lake Mburo.  We heard the hippo coming, a sort of munch, munch, munch noise as it crops the grass.  It then passed about 5 metres the other side of our camp fire - and very close to the overlanders who didn't seem to know that it was there.  We sat transfixed, as it munched its way around our fire, car and tent - we were too excited to be afraid, despite the terrible reputation hippos have for panicking and running over anything in their way.

The overlanders seemed to drink too much beer as there was a steady stream of them heading back and forward to the loo through the night.

Thursday, 13 March 2014

Lake Mburo National Park, Uganda

For our first night at Lake Mburo NP, we decided to camp in the campsite beside the lake.  This has good views over the lake, where local fisherman take their canoes out to fish at dusk.  The campsite is pretty basic, but a nice chap comes and lights a campfire for you near your tent.

There is also a lakeside restaurant, which does nice cold beer and food.  Fish and chips for me, and veggie curry and chips for Karen.

Lake Mburo Restaurant

We arrived in the campsite at the same time as an Exodus overlander truck/bus.  So it was a race to see who could set up camp the quickest.  It's a matter of pride that we were enjoying our 2nd beer in the restaurant while the overlanders were still trying to get their tents up.

The lake has hippos swimming around, kingfishers diving and a fantastic colony of weaver birds in a tree beside the restaurant.  The campsite also has a healthy population of over fed warthogs, who spend the whole time raiding the bins for food.  They've learned how to tip the bins on their gimbles to empty the contents onto the ground, they then tear open any bags with their tusks.  The poor campsite warden has to constantly go round tidying up after them.

Crossing the border from Rwanda to Uganda at Kagitumba

We left the Akagera park by a gate some 100kms North of the park headquarters where we had entered.  This seemed to be an unmanned gate, which was wide open so we reckon if we'd entered here we might have saved ourselves $320 in fees.  We tried hard to like Akagera, it could be an amazing place with the right kind of development - but we just didn't feel comfortable in our car, constantly worried about whether it was about to fall to bits.  There are some nice animals (minus the tsetse flies of course) and the rolling landscape is beautiful.  It deserves to be more successful, but then that would bring in the crowds...

We were soon back on the lovely, smooth blacktop of the Kayonza-Kagitumba road.  What a relief after the bone jarring hell of the roads in the park.  We fair scooted up to the border crossing for our second visit to Uganda.

Thankfully all our worries about crossing at this point were quickly dispelled.  There is little traffic here, so there is not the tense atmosphere that we felt at Gatuna.  There is a less formalised procedure here, which seems to involve showing all our paperwork to anyone who wants to look at it, including someone whose clothing suggested he had just woken up in a bush after a few nights on the sauce.

The Rwandans let us leave without a fuss, and we were told to park in no-man's land.  I presented myself to the Ugandan authorities and then spent a happy 15 minutes chatting with various different officials who all wrote out our details in various dusty ledger books.  The third office I was supposed to visit to finish the formalities was empty, but a man sitting in the shade of a tree said the official had gone away so I could happily be on my way.  Karen sat and roasted in the car throughout all of this - stuck between two lots of chainlink fence.  Returning to the car, another man (this time in uniform) unlooped the chain and waved us onto the road.

This being Uganda, the road was indistinguishable from the surface of Mars.

Friday, 7 February 2014

Game in the Akagera

A few pictures of some of the animals spotted in the Akagera NP.