In greenest Africa
I went to Africa with my mind made up about stuff I knew nothing about.
In other words all the newscasts and news reports I’ve ever seen or read about the continent had manifested itself in a series of preconceived notions.
I assumed Uganda would be a barren and scorched land. I was sure I would feel threatened and unsafe many times during my stay and I was sure I would be constantly exasperated by lazy people.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
True I spend some of my time living a pampered life in Kampala and on a lovely trip to Murchison Falls National Park. But I did also see quite a bit of west central Uganda.
Uganda is a beautiful green, fertile country with very diverse landscapes and stunning flora. In the capitol Kampala which is an admittedly dusty and bustling and often dirty city on every vacant lot or tiny piece of perhaps city owned land someone had set up a nursery and amazing flowers where lined up ready for buying.
All together I spend three nights in Kampala two on arrival and one right before flying back home. On all three of them I had some very nice dinners.
One was especially fine: Dinner at Khana Khazana in Kololo. A beautiful Indian restaurant with a central water feature that undoubtedly adds a bit of coolness during the hot months. This evening it was the background to the song of a thousand frogs ;)
The restaurant served some of the best Indian food I’ve ever had. We were three people and got a variety of dishes, rice, bread and chutneys.
In Kampala I also had sushi. It’s not the best I’ve ever had – that price goes to Stick’s and Sushi right here in Copenhagen – but it was ok. And let me tell you, it was a bit surreal to sit that far inland eating fresh raw fish.
It had been flown in that morning from the Indian Ocean. Fish from Lake Victoria is apparently not sushi grade.
The same surreal experience hit us when we went for afternoon cappuccinos at Kampala’s Café Pap you’d be hard pressed to tell the difference between that café and anyone in a European capitol – and it has free wireless internet service something many first world places hasn’t figured out yet will pull in people.
For a long weekend of wild animals, pampering and rough living my friend had booked us a trip to Murchison Falls National Park.
We took the scenic road down the rift valley escarpment to Lake Albert, made a stop in a small city to talk to a man my friend works with. He invited us home to lunch and his wife served us a meat and liver stew with chapattis and soft drinks.
I suspect the meal cost them more than a days wages and felt bad that we couldn’t wiggle out of it. But such is the customs in Uganda, as the used to be here and in most other countries I suspect: Even when you can afford it, you feed you guests good things.
So we where quite humbled by there generosity when we set off for out destination:
Paraa Lodge – a lovely two storey building high on a bluff overlooking the Nile river. In fact we had to cross in a little ferry to get there. The Lodge was rebuilt in the 90’s. The original one was visited by Hemingway in the 50’s and in fact he has a plane crash right nearby that meant he had to recuperate at the lodge.
We had a lovely first floor room with a balcony facing the river and the pool area. The décor is fantasy safari – lots of leather and canvas. Our twin beds had individual walk in mosquito nets.
A room comes with full board and that makes a stay a bit of a bargain – compared to other nice hotels in the world - but obviously it’s very expensive compared to Ugandan prizes.
The food was nothing memorable – standard hotel food. There was a choice of a three course dinner and the same with the hot lunch. My friend told me that on a previous stay every meal had been served buffet style.
The Lodge is the perfect starting point for a game drive in the park and for a boat trip up the Nile to visit the amazing Murchison Falls where the Nile narrows from 40 meters wide to pass through a 7 meter gorge and falls about 40 meters. The roar of the water is amazing.
On the two trips I saw an amazing amount of birds from tiny king fishers to the mighty fish hawk. I saw giraffe, buffalo, elephants, baboon, hippos, crocs and too many different antilopes and buks.
I did not see any bog cats and out ranger who guided our game drive was sorry about that but it just wasn’t lion or leopard weather and I was not overly disappointed.
The second night in the park we stayed at Red Chili Rest Camp
We stayed in a banda – a round hut with straw roof – much like the traditional huts in Uganda that has dirt walls – this had a round room with two beds and a bathroom with a toilet and cold running water.
After Paraa Lodge it was a bit of a cultural shock, but a nice experience to snap me out of luxury living.
And the huge open restaurant was a fun place to spend the evening drinking gin and tonics, beer and listening to backpackers and aid works from abound the world.
For the price the food was decent, hot and very plentiful. And they had the added attraction of French Press coffee.
The main purpose of my stay was to simply visit my friend who has a 9 month contract with a Danish development organization. She’s there to help Ugandans build sports organizations and perhaps develop skills that can be income generating.
While this sounds nice on paper, I personally found it surprising that money is spend on that kind of help when many communities still don’t have access to clean water.
I followed my friend in most of her daily work and we drove to many tiny places to deliver newsletters and just to touch base with the people of the organization she works for.
So many times we encountered women and children carrying huge cans of water – walking along the dusty, red clay roads. Or on a couple of occasions washing and drawing water from the banks of the Nile or the banks of Lake Albert.