Sunset at Sipi Falls.
After two weeks in beautiful Rwanda (see previous post), Mathieu and I crossed the border into Uganda!
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Uganda, officially the Republic of Uganda, was called “the pearl of Africa” by Winston Churchill because of its beauty, color, and profusion of brilliant life . This landlocked, east African country is situated at the heart of the African continent in the Nile Basin. Given its history as a British colony until gaining independence in 1962, English, along with Swahili, are official languages . Similar to our experiences in the east African countries of Tanzania and Rwanda, people were very friendly and very curious.
After the border, we passed more terraced hillsides planted with potatoes, bananas, tea, coffee, etc…and enjoyed stunning views of distant mountains and volcanoes. After a night at a mountain campground, we drove to Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, most famous for it’s mountain gorillas. While gorilla trekking was out of our budget, we had a wonderful drive through the forest. We passed a few baboon troops and imagined what it must be like to trek through the dense forest to see the mighty gorillas. Amazing, I’m sure. Along with baboons, we also saw vervet and L’Hoest monkeys. We’d seen these species before, but are always happy to see them again. Despite the rain and the slippery dirt road, it was a stunning, and free, scenic drive through the forest.
The next day was my birthday! Mathieu treated us to a night in a hotel so we could take hot showers and so I could wake up in a large comfy bed. After a leisurely breakfast, we started the day’s adventure with a drive through Queen Elizabeth National Park (QENP). Since we were on the national road traversing the park, it was a free safari through the savannah. We saw buffalo, giraffes, elephants, antelope and some beautiful birds along the road. It as amazing. As we continued north, we turned onto an unnamed road that appeared to lead to some interesting geologic formations. We ended up on Crater Drive (part of QENP), a scenic route that took us past several huge craters, some with water and some dry. It was an interesting area, and since we’d accidentally accessed it from the ungated “backdoor” it was another cool, and free, scenic drive. We then drove through a small fishing village to the shores of Lake Edward and chatted with some of the fishermen as they cleaned their nets from the morning’s fishing trip. While As dipping our toes in the lake, we saw hippos! Some were floating in the water and others were sleeping on the lake shore. You know how much I love hippos, so seeing them was a wonderful birthday treat. After hanging out with the the fishermen, the hippos, and the local kids, we continued north to Rwenzori Mountains. The views of the mountains as we got closer were breathtaking. We arrived to the campground just as the sun was setting behind the high, jagged peaks. Perfect. Later that night, Mathieu sang happy birthday to me as we toasted cold beers. It’d been a really wonderful day.
The next day, Mathieu treated me to a birthday hike in Rwenzori Mountains National Park. With Ambrose, our guide, and Joseph, an armed park ranger, we spent the day hiking through the thick forest up to Lake Mohama. Within 10 minutes of starting the hike, it started to rain and it didn’t stop for the next few hours. We were prepared for rain but this was an absolute downpour! Despite the trail becoming a muddy river and our feet being thoroughly soaked, we had a great time with Ambrose and Joseph, and the views over the river valley and of the high mountains were gorgeous. Fortunately the rain stopped as we got to the lake and we were treated to a stunning view and a clear reflection of the mountains on the surface of the lake. It was a wet, muddy, wonderful day hike in the forest.
The next day, after washing our muddy clothes and gear, and enjoying the amazing views a bit longer, we hit the road again. We spent the day on the road, passing through not-so-interesting landscape (as happens sometimes). At the end of the long driving day, we camped in the parking lot of a restaurant (our typical type of cheap “campground”) then the next day, drove to Kampala. As soon as we got into this large, capital city, we were stuck in traffic. The chaotic jumble of cars and boda bodas (moto-taxis) was a shock to the senses. It was horrendous! Thankfully we found a hostel that was paradise (thanks iOverlander!), and it was close to the mechanic. Yup, Wily needed more repairs. There was oil leaking down the rear wheels again (for the 3rd or 4th time!). In addition to new wheel bearings and seals (for the 3rd or 4th time!), various other seals needed to be replaced. While Wily got freshened up, we chilled in the garden and on the rooftop deck of the hostel, relaxed, and hung out with our fellow travelers. While in Kampala, we also went to the Shoprite. This is noteworthy because we hadn’t found a large, well-stocked supermarket since Lusaka, Zambia (over a month ago). We were like kids in a candy store.
While at the hostel, we found out about the Nyege Nyege Music Festival taking place that weekend on the shores of the Nile River in the nearby town of Jinja. Neither of us had heard of it but apparently it’s well known among festival goers. Most of the people at the hostel were there for the festival, having traveled from near and far. One couple were DJs who’d traveled from France to perform at the festival, and another couple came all the way from Russia. The excitement in the air was contagious so we bought tickets and drove to Jinja.
For the next two full days, we went stage to stage checking out the various artists. The music was mostly house, electronica, techno, and reggae spun, mixed, created, and pumped out by the various DJs with a few percussion groups banging out amazing traditional and contemporary African beats. We danced our butts off, drank cold beer, ate festival food, and hung out with our new friends from the hostel. We also cruised around the festival grounds to check out the artwork, and did a lot of people watching. The festival was a 3-day event but after two full days of fun and very little sleep (the campgound was next to the all-night music stages), we decided to skip day three and drive north to the mountains to find tranquility.
After a blissfully quiet night at the campground, we woke up to an amazing view of Sipi Falls. The sun was shining, the sky was clear with just a few patchy clouds and the view and sounds of the nearby fall9s was wonderful. And it was Mathieu’s birthday! We spent the day relaxing, Mathieu in his cozy hammock, at our amazing spot overlooking a deep valley on one side and the massive falls on the other. At sunset, just as a huge storm passed around us, I surprised him with an aperitif of some of his favorite snacks (i.e, good cheese and chocolate) and a bottle of wine (thanks Shoprite!) to toast his birthday. It’d been another really wonderful day of celebration.
The next morning, with our local guide, Fred, we hiked to the three falls, Upper, Middle, and Lower, that make up Sipi Falls. We walked through thick forest and small farms of banana and coffee trees and met a cool, bright green chameleon named Mary. After standing in the spray of the massive Lower Falls, the largest of the three, we returned to camp where we ended the day sitting at the edge of the cliff watching a stunning sunset. It was a perfect end to our two weeks in Uganda.
I’ll let the pictures and videos illustrate the beauty of the landscapes and people of Uganda.