to late July, UGANDA
Bujagali Falls, Kampala, Murchison Falls NP, Mt Elgon
- Sipi Falls
Forget what you have heard about Uganda – Idi Amin and all that sort
of stuff - the place is fantastic! And it's pretty safe too now that
the government is having peace talks with the Lord's Resistance Army
Mid July – To Uganda
We had left Nairobi and travelled north, unfortunately we got stopped
at a police roadblock on the A104 about 20km from the heart of the
city. While the policeman who stopped us was quite friendly and just
wanted to see Ron's driver's licence, Neil unfortunately had a ‘crooked'
cop out for a bribe. He was told he was speeding (unheard of for Neil)
and had to pay 3,000 KSh (about Aus$60) (he had no speed camera or
radar!!!). After Neil trying his best to proclaim he was not speeding,
the policeman said he would help Neil out and not hold him up any longer
than need be and he would pay the fine for him and don't worry about
the receipt. Unfortunately Neil was getting a bit pissed off by this
point and paid the bastard. Later, when thinking things over, there
were lots of things he should have said, like I
don't have the money; take me to your police station and lets sort
this out; or sure fine me and take me to court!!! But hindsight
is a wonderful thing. Neil spent the rest of the day seething and cross
with himself for paying the obvious bribe. It won't happen again –
see below!!! So, other travellers - be warned!!
The road was reasonable to beyond Naivasha and then
got steadily worse for the next 100km or so till we got with 65km
of Eldoret when a much better bitumen road happened. Drove thru' heavily
cultivated fields nearly all day growing an amazing variety of crops
from wheat to corn, bananas to rhubarb. Whenever it got a little drier
the crops gave way to grazing scrub land or the occasional patch of
planted forest – pine or Aussie blue gums, but it was predominantly
crops of some sort. Apart from our sojourns into the national parks
we have been in heavily populated country since we left Dar Es Salaam
a few weeks previously.
We were pretty high most of the day – topped out at 2840 metres (9000
feet plus), which was surprisingly north of Nakuru ,
although we had got nearly as high further south. As we dropped off
the high escarpment of the Rift Valley we could see Lake Elementrita below
us and the bright pink of flocks of flamingoes standing in the shallows
of this lesser known soda lake. With all the development going on around
Lake Naivasha maybe they have moved out to this lake, which sits between
Naivash and Nakuru. Crossed the equator but because of the roadworks
and the mud, etc, we couldn't get to the sign (the same one we stood
beside 23 years ago) so we drove on – a real pity that!
Just before entering Eldoret we turned off on the C54 and headed to
the Naiberi River Campsite, (GPS 00°26'52”N 35°25'20”E).
This camp is set on a side of a hill close to the river in quite green
country about 16km from Eldoret. It is well set up with a pool, a great
bar and restaurant area, while the showers and toilets are probably
the best we have seen since leaving South Africa. Each camping spot
comes with its own shelter shed, braai or BBQ area, while there is
a security guard and five German shepherds along with a motley crew
of smaller dogs – they are friendly though, but nothing moves at night
within the confines of the camp without them knowing about it.
Mid July – Uganda - Bujagali Falls -
Crossed the border into Uganda at Malaba and pushed on, the road busy
with trucks and buses, the whole Ugandan side, like Kenya, heavily
cultivated and populated. The highway degenerated into a series of
potholes connected with a tattered ribbon of blacktop. The amount of
broken down trucks or buses and pranged trucks is unreal. With the
broken down ones they fix them on the spot – no matter the problem
- and we have passed trucks with gearboxes out on the middle of the
road being worked on. With the pranged ones nobody seems to worry about
them too much – the driver goes to sleep under the vehicle and waits
for god knows how long for somebody to come along a turn him upright!
Headed to Speke's Camp at Bujagali
Falls (GPS 00°29'05”N
33°9'43”E) about 10km from Jinja and on the River Nile, while Eden
Rock Camp is on the same access road but set back a short distance
off the river. There's a small restaurant and bar at Speke's Camp and
while the location is absolutely superb with a great outlook over the
river, the toilet facilities are worn out and dirty while the showers
are now non-existent. Still we set up camp here and admired the view.
This is just a few km downstream from where the Nile roars out of Lake
Victoria – the river's major source discovered by John Hanning Speke
Today this section of the river is becoming known as one of the best
white water rafting areas in Africa and on the morning after we got
there we watched as about 30 odd rafts loaded with White tourists headed
thru' the rapids and downstream. The rapids stretch over 30km below
the dam that now controls the river as it flows from Lake Victoria.
Most of these rapids are Grade 3 to 5, making them pretty daunting
and making this stretch of the Nile one of the great white water venues
in the world.
Flitting around each flotilla of rafts were a half dozen canoeists
– most were black guides and these guys act as safety pick-up for when
a raft flips – they paddle in and rescue people and they do a great
job and they are good at it. In fact, so good have they become that
Uganda now has one of the best whitewater canoe teams in the world
- all in the course of 10 years since tourism developed on this section
of the Nile.
The amount of school kids that come here is also unbelievable. At
times there were a few hundred kids around and we were the centre of
attention for much of that. We talked to a few of the teachers and
some of the kids – some of which had good English skills. Most were
primary school students but there was one secondary school and one
University group and while some came from country schools most were
The small acrobatic troupe near the bar, - one bloke who was the ‘acrobat',
three others who provided ‘music' and a beat, convinced me to pay USh10,000
(about $7) to see their act. The acrobat was partly crippled and had
one short leg but his upper body strength was phenomenal while his
joints were like rubber. How he stood a single pole in the ground and
then climbed it was pretty good we had to agree. The school kids quickly
gathered around as well and joined in clapping to the beat. It was
an interesting show and hell, it was a donation to a bloke who wasn't
begging but trying to earn a buck.
Before we headed to Kampala we checked out the Source of the
Nile Gardens which contains the Speke memorial .
Got slugged USh5,000 each plus 2,500 for each vehicle but for that
we got a rehearsed speech from the ‘guide' who with his three notice
boards explained the history of this spot.
Onto Kampala – smog and manic traffic
Found our way to Kampala and then thru the maddening traffic, the
crazy road layout that seems to wander everywhere, even detours included
into the heart of Kampala where we had to stop to get directions to
find our way to the Backpackers Hostel and Campsite run
by an Aussie, John, who once hailed from Brisbane but has been here
for over 15 years. This place is busy! It has a well stocked but noisy
bar and eating area, a large grassy and well treed area that was dotted
and crowded with tents. The toilets and showers aren't too bad but
it's hard getting a hot shower with so many people – 82 or so can be
accommodated in the rooms plus there would have been 30 – 40 tents.
We stayed there a few nights while we sorted out our Ethiopia visas,
and while we also had to get a parcel off to Australia – DHL Express
to the rescue once more!
Onto Masindi and to Murchison Falls
From the bustling capital we took to the road once more passing thru
more cultivated country on roads that were second hand at best. The
country remained heavily cultivated and populated up until the non-descript
town of Nakasongola , where the country became drier
and the population a bit thinner on the ground, with maize,
grazing and forestry taking over from the verdancy further south.
As we headed beyond the small village of Nakitoma we got to a road
junction where we passed thru the second police post of the day. Both
times they were exceedingly friendly and polite and gave us no trouble
wishing us well for our ‘safari'.
Started passing thru ‘ranch country' and even started to see some
cattle – big horned buggers who seemed, when we got out to take photos
of them, very placid. The country was still surprisingly green – well
it is their ‘short rains' season – and there were even puddles of water
on the side of the road. One of the ranches – Ziwa Ranch –
covers 7,000ha and has a rhino sanctuary where the rhinos, including
4 black rhino, are kept within a large fenced area which is patrolled
by 40 rangers.
Got to Masindi and found our way thru the sprawling
town. Took the right road but once more the map wasn't quite right
and we ended up at the village of Kizabu, about 20km out off our way
– geographically embarrassed again! Retraced our steps and found the
right turnoff to Murchison Falls – having wasted an hour's driving.
The main gate to the park is actually located at the boundary of the Budongo
Forest Reserve , which is one of the richest and most ecologically
diverse forests in East Africa and is really an extention of the
great tract of forest that sweeps across central Africa. There's
a host of birds and butterflies as well as a wide range of animals,
monkeys especially including chimpanzees. These chimps have been
studied for years and a camp has been set up where you can enjoy
a walk and a visit to the chimp group. Met an Aussie, Chris, who
is was helping at the nearby Chimp camp and resort – which is also
run by an Aussie – you can't get away from them!
The drive thru the forest was most enjoyable – but we only saw quite
a few groups of baboons – the big healthy males strutting about as
if they own the place. Later the forest thinned out and the countryside
became more open although it was still pretty scrubby with lots of
tall thick green grass to hide anything. Still, surprisingly we didn't
see any animals apart from a few small groups of warthog.
Got to Red Chilli Camp , (GPS 2°16'39”N 31°33'53”E)
which is located just up the hill from the ferry point across the Nile.
It's a large busy camp offering a number of huts for accommodation
as well as tents and camping sites. The bar and restaurant area is
a hectic place each afternoon and evening. Camping costs US$3/head/night
Set up camp and met the group of troublesome warthogs that
call the camp, theirs! Leave a tent open and they will come in especially
if there is food around – as one backpacker found who had his tent
and belongings ripped to pieces. They raid the rubbish bins and have
perfected the art of lifting them out off their concrete container
and tipping them over.
Murchison Fall National
Next day we wandered down to the river - The Victoria Nile -
at 9.30 to wait for the ferry , which is large enough
to take about 6 vehicles and a heap of people.
The river here was about 500 metres or so wide and flowing pretty
strongly and apart from the landing points on each side of the river
remained in a natural state similar to how Samuel and Florence Baker
saw it in 1864. A few buffalo and hippo over the other side of the
river but that was all the wildlife in view.
These two people were great explorers of central Africa who are often
overlooked and Florence's life reads like a movie script – her parents
were murdered in the Hungarian revolution and she was kidnapped to
be sold into a harem in the Ottoman Empire. In 1859, as a 14 year old
at the slave market in Viddin, Turkey, she was bought by Samuel. Set
free she later married old Sam who then dragged her around Africa exploring.
Her story is told in the book, ‘To the heart of the Nile' by
Headed north and then west along the tracks towards Delta Point. The
country away from the rivers and lake was pleasant rolling hills thickly
covered with grass with a scattering of bush and solitary large palms.
It didn't take long and we saw our first Ugandan Kob –
a fairly large and handsome antelope that reminded us of the red lechewe.
As well there were oribi. Over the course of the next few hours, although
it was already late in the morning, we saw hundreds of both these delightful
animals. At one point a large mob of kob were purposely staring in
one direction while some big males up the front were stepping forward
on a mission. Suddenly a lioness walked across the road in front of
us and just a few metres away from the leading kob – it's a trait these
animals have when confronting a lion. The lion quickly vanished in
the thick grass and while the kob kept staring for a few minutes they
lost interest after a while. So did a big old buff that was standing
at a wallow and soon he was lying down in the muddy water to cool off.
We moved on.
We had seen oribi before and these quite small antelope,
of which only the male carries horns about 4-6-inches long, but here
on these grassy plains they were much more common, either in pairs
or in small family groups. A couple of small groups of elephant were
also seen as was a group of about a dozen or so Rothschild's giraffe.
As we got closer to the Nile and the great lake that feeds it the
country changed a little to thick patches of thorn scrub with wide
areas of short grassy plains extending down to the swamp bordering
the river and the lake. Here the antelope were in profusion. Jackson's
hartebeest were also common down amongst this scattered scrub
and shorter grass and again we have never seen hartebeest in such number.
Mind you they have taken the place of the impala and the wildebeest,
aren't in the park.
Buffalo were also common, sometimes in mobs of 50-100
animals and more often in twos or threes. Closer to the delta area
where the Victoria Nile floods into Lake Albert and the Albert Nile
flows from the lake – the division of that being nonexistent; the
lake really just becomes the river – there were lots of hippos\.
Where the Victoria Nile flowed into the lake a few solitary elephants
were grazing the lush swamp vegetation.
Across the other side of a now very wide Albert Nile we could see
some large villages , while on the waters of the lake
come river, were many large narrow canoes scattered across the surface,
all engaged in some form of fishing. These villagers come right up
to the bank of the park, casting their nets and throwing in their fishing
lines. I wonder how many come ashore to poach a bit of fresh meat?
Who could blame them?
Murchison Falls – Boat Trip
Then we headed to the famous Murchison Falls, first
seen with European eyes by the hardy Bakers. At the carpark just above
the Murchison Falls (there's the pleasant Top Camp here
at GPS 2°16'30”N 31°41'22”E), a short walking trail leads to the Falls,
which mightn't be as big as Victoria Falls but the whole bloody Nile
River is slammed, jammed and crammed into a crack just 20 metres or
so wide as the river plunges over these 45 metre high falls. It's quite
For a few hundred metres upstream of the major plunge the river is
churned to white foam by a long continuous rapid and then it is quickly
channeled into a funnel where a small percentage of the flow heads
north along a rocky channel to another fall about 400 metres north
of what is Murchison Falls. The main flow of the river though plunges
over the lip and into the maelstrom of foam and pounding, roaring water.
Then quite quickly the chasm widens a little and the river flattens,
flowing between high walls for a few hundred metres before exiting
and widening out to a few hundred metres where it regains its composure
To see it from a different angle we took a Nile Cruise the following
afternoon – “The light will be better then”. Yeah, well that
would be okay if it wasn't for the dark clouds and tropical rainstorms
that come in around then!
We cruised close to the north bank of the river where most of the
wildlife is congregated. There were small mobs of buffalo out
grazing on the floodplain, as well as quite a few hippo .
Along the stream's edge and in the water were a lot of other hippo
– they were very common and their antics amused all on board. As we
got further upstream crocs became more and more common
and they were some very big ones amongst them. A few black & white colobus
monkeys in the trees bordering the river while a group of baboons were
also seen wandering up a hill. There were also mobs of Defassa
waterbuck scattered along the shores, but no kob, oribi,
hartebeest, or even elephant. A few fish eagles in the trees as well
a saddle-billed crane.
The current increased and as Murchison Falls came
into view we only traveled a few hundred metres further and then pulled
into the lee offered by a small high rocky island that is about 500
metres from the falls proper. It was alright, but the view from the
top of the falls is more spectacular.
Budongo Forest – Chimp Tracking
Heading out of the aprk we stopped at the Budongo Forest ,
where the Aussies - Kylie who runs the tourist camp operation, while
Chris heads the building team are working, establishing an ecotourism
project ‘Kanio Pabidi', run by the Jane Goodall Institute. The chimps
here have been studied for years and the troop of about 40-50 animals
of the 70 or so believed in the group are used to humans.
We set off on our 3-hour Chimp Tracking walk with
our guide, John, and headed into the forest. The forest here has never
been logged (most of the other forests outside reserves have been logged
from 1915) so it has some great old trees, including some African mahogany
trees with one giant reaching upwards about 50-60 metres and believed
to be between 400-500 years old. Also there were some massive ironwoods
along with a host of lesser trees, straggler figs, native coffee, and
Narrow walking trails thru the forest led down into a gulley where
the chimps were being a little vocal. We saw two (one for a brief few
seconds) but only thru the scrub and foliage and then only for a couple
of minutes. One was sitting on a log eating something about 20 metres
from us; he saw us, gave me a lookover at one stage and then moved
off. We heard others on and off for the next hour or so and they were
never more than 30-40 metres away but in the thickness of the scrub,
especially in the gulley, you couldn't see them. That was it!
We had started our walk around 11.30am – way too late really, but
it was the only time we had – the chimps have
usually settled down for the day and are much harder to find, as we
found out – still we took our chances and it was a beautiful walk through
John had spent 4 years as a guide tracking gorillas and he was saying
they were easier to find than the chimps – the gorillas don't spend
much time in the trees, they are bigger and more vocal, move less distance
when foraging, while the chimps move thru the trees as much as on the
ground and they can move long distances between foraging.
Masindi to Mt Elgon and Sipi Falls
Got to Masindi that evening and went to the Masindi Hotel – ‘The
oldest and finest hotel in Uganda', (GPS 1°41'31”N 31°42'53”E)
– which is located at the turn-off to the NP opposite the police
station. The hotel was built in 1924 and was visited by Ernest
Hemmingway after his plane crashes where he was badly hurt
– both times a couple of days apart in 1954! They have a Hemmingway
Bar! The old hotel has been refurbished and is quite good – the best
we have seen for ages. The gardens are large and fenced and very
pleasant with camping allowed on one large section of lawn. Clean
toilets and showers are provided nearby, while a security guard is
also around. A good wirelessinternet connection available in the
hotel so we caught up on some emails. Camping costs about A$7 a head.
In the morning Ron spent a good 15 mins on the phone to Paul, at Outback
4WD in Bayswater, back in Australia, trying to sort out the problems
with the vehicle – no one in Africa seems to be able to fix it!! Paul
is pretty sure that it is more than likely a fuel pump problem, and
we should replace it. As we have one, luckily, we'll head back to Nairboi
after Uganda and try another ‘diesel expert' and get the pump replaced.
We keep our fingers crossed!!
Headed north the next day, on our way across to Mt Elgon, and stopped
to yarn to a farmer – a cattle herder of
the name of Anthony Asiimine (ph: 0772 612936, near village of Kyomya)
– who had about 20 cows (about a half dozen of the big horned cattle
which come from a particular district of Uganda –the same area as the
president comes from!) and a few fat-tailed sheep and some goats. I
admired his animals and complimented him on his cattle. Anthony could
speak pretty good English and we talked for about 15 minutes about
cattle, farming and droughts, which he had gone through, ‘two seasons
back' . His father had passed the stock onto him when he had died
back in ‘76 (or '96, not sure which), but I said to him that they were
now his and he smiled at that. The fat-tailed sheep are ‘sweet' he
reckons and asked me if I had tried them.
He was impressed my middle name was Anthony and kept saying ‘we
will meet again' . I hope we do – he was a nice bloke. We took
some pics of him and his cattle and gave him a packet of smokes as
well as books and pens for his 4 kids, all of which are at school.
He was very grateful and kept saying, “I hope … we will I'm sure,
meet again – and I will take you to my home.”
A young uni student, Akugizibwe Justus, also came along on his bike
and stopped to talk to us and again he was a lovely young fellow. We
really enjoyed meeting people like these Ugandans.
As we got closer to his village we came across kids walking
to school – we gave two young boys a book each and then
when we stopped to give three young girls, little whipper snippers
who had stopped to watch us drive pass while on their way to school,
and as Viv wound down the window, they bolted. They ran passed Neil's
rig and didn't stop for a 100 metres. Mum had probably instilled
in them about the Lord's Resitance Army (LRA) which kidnaps kids
and sells them, uses them as slaves or sells them into slavery.
There's peace talks on at the moment before the government and the
LRA, but as one NGO person said to us who works in the region, the
locals believe that as soon as the Queen goes (a reference to CHOGM)
in November so will the peacetalks and the war will resume. We hope
Heading north the road remained pretty good and we cruised for most
of the time at 80-90kph apart, from when there was a mass of people
around which was fairly regularly. Nearly all the way we were passing
people walking or peddling their bike somewhere – it was a near continuous
stream! They only thinned out where the road acts as the boundary of
the Karuma Game Reserve and one side of the road
lacks habitation or cultivation. Then for a short distance the road
passes thru the eastern edge of the Murchison Falls NP and we were
without people on each and every side for a couple of km.
We crossed the Nile River on a bridge just north
of a major village. When we stopped to take a pic of the Karuma rapids
from the bridge a couple of Army guys jumped up and told us ‘No!' They
were very friendly though and after we yarned and walked back to the
cars the boss came up and said we could take a pic from the bank but
not of the bridge or from the bridge. We did and then headed on.
At Lira we took the Soroti road but it ended up
not being the main highway. We kept on it anyway and took the back
way to Soroti, south towards the waters of Lake Kwania and
Lake Kyoga, both fed by the Nile and a vast shallow sea surrounded
by swamps and marsh country. At Agwata we stopped to ask direction
from a bloke who turned out to be the proud headmaster of the
local school. He has 780 kids there and it was just an average size
school – just one of the many we had passed and continue to pass.
The track turned east near here skirting large areas of water and
reeds that are the backwaters of these great lakes – the water flowing
thru the culverts quite strongly. This freshwater habitat supports
a lot of fishing although the fish are small and it seems a bit of
effort is going into fish farming. An irrigation project is being done
as well and we passed a whole heap of guys building cement pillars
in the swamp and running a waterpipe across them, taking water from
somewhere to somewhere. By the looks they have a lot of water and rain
but not much infrastructure to store or shift it!
We were well off the beaten track and we were followed by stares and
smiles. Near Lwala we stopped at some small intersection
where a small village market was in full swing. Viv got out and bought
some bananas and created a lot of friendly laughter and banter as she
dropped a USh1000 (65 cents Aussie) note down and asked for the required
number of bananas. We got three hands and the lady insisted on taking
them to our vehicle for us, so we gave her another 1000. She was happy!
We got to Kumi, which is a biggish town and quickly headed for the Kumi
Hotel, (GPS 1°29'13”N 33°56'53”E) where we stopped for
the night. This hotel is less than 3 years old by all accounts but
it looks like it hasn't had any maintenance for 10 and, as normal
in Africa, many things remain unfinished! The bar in the restaurant
is a few wooden tables with a table cloth over it; the kitchen is
a couple of bare rooms with a few portable stoves in it, a fridge
or two, and a couple of wooden tables or benches used for preparing
the food, while the eatable rubbish is thrown out the back window
onto the lawn for the chooks to scavenge thru' – they haven't eaten
it all and there is a pile left.
We were the first people they had who wanted to camp so
a bit of a discussion went on with the girls at reception (two sisters,
Ester and Grace, Ester saying she only took five beers to get ‘wobbly'
and thought I needed to learn how to drink as I only drank 2 or three
at night, while Grace had ‘more of the lord in her' in Ester's words
– they were both characters). The discussion with the manager later
in the evening about the cost – he first wanted to charge us USh25,000
each, then after I spoke to him, 20,000, so Neil and I took our receipts
for the past few camps up to him and we left him to make a decision.
Next morning he charged us
a more reasonable
USh10,000 each (about A$7). The large area
of lawn out the back is flat and grassy and made a good campsite. There
are toilets in reception but no access to showers.
Mt Elgon and Sipi Falls
The short drive to the village of Sipi on the flanks of Mt Elgon was,
as normal thru a near continuous stream of densely cultivated farmland
and villages along the flank of the mountain. Got to the Crows
Nest Lodge and Camp, (GPS 1°20'07”N 34°22'09”E) which is
perched on the edge of a steep ridge having an outlook to the north
and east, overlooking the main Sipi Falls and two other lesser falls.
It is quite a view.
The camp is fenced and has a small truck camping area near the gate
while another tent camping area is along a walking track. Toilets and
hot showers are on the go. Small huts perched on the hillside along
with a superbly positioned bar and restaurant make up the rest of the
camp. The menu is pretty limited and localized, but the price is very
good – Ush3000 (A$2.10) to USh8000, while the camping was about A$5
While we had the chance to take pictures of the falls in the late
morning when we'd arrived, (the sun was shining, but not on the falls),
we wanted to wait for the afternoon sun when it was on the falls –
a bad mistake – you'd think we'd know better!! That afternoon it rained
and we got about 3-inches in a few hours. Luckily the bed in our Candy
Camper stayed dry! And we'd deciced to eat at the restaurant – a good
choice!! The pics of the falls you see are thanks to our Israel friend
‘Guy' who we meet at the camp – thanks
Back into Kenya and Lake Baringo
That rain put paid
to our plans of driving around the mountain (the dirt road becomes
impassable), so we headed along the blacktop to the Kenya Border at
Malaba. Backtracking we got to Eldoret and then pushed on to the small
village of Iten, perched high on the side of the African Rift valley
at over 8,000 feet. From there the road winds down into the rift and
is a very spectacular but slow drive. At one stage we were driving
thru pelting rain that turned to hail on the higher slopes.
It was getting towards 6pm as we entered the Lake Baringo Reserve
and paid our entry fee – KSh500 for the vehicle and the two of us.
Headed to Roberts Camp, which is delightfully located
on the edge of the lake – we had been here once before – 23 years ago.
Go to next diary page for continuation of trip from Nairobi north
Return to main Trip diary page