African adventures pt.1 Glasgow to Uganda. The first stage of a trip of a lifetime to Uganda and then Zanzibar.
Glasgow to Uganda was the first stage of the recent trip of a lifetime that Lady Lynne and I went on earlier in December.
Our main purpose was to go and see the mountain gorillas of the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda and then have some time exploring and relaxing on the beautiful island of Zanzibar.
I’m writting 4 dedicated posts summarising this truly amazing and life enhancing experience. Today is the first of these posts which I hope you enjoy!
Right let’s get started on the first stage of our epic trip, Glasgow to Uganda. 🙂
Pt.1 Glasgow to Uganda
We set off on Saturday 5th December 2015 at 4.20pm.
Above was the view through the window of the departures lounge of our aircraft arriving at Glasgow airport to take us to Schiphol, Amsterdam, for our connecting flight to Uganda.
Yes, we were right in the middle of Storm Desmond. An amber weather warning for Scotland had just been issued, particularly for severe gales.
Let’s just say that Lady Lynne, who at the best of times, isn’t particularly fond of the taking off and landing parts of flying, needed a few more glasses of wine in the airport lounge than usual to “sedate” herself. 😉
Our take off was a little “choppy” but once airborne the flight to Schiphol was pretty normal and we soon landed and connected to our next flight, an overnight Air Kenya flight to Nairobi.
We landed at 7.00am on Sunday 6th after a brief delay. They needed to find some steps for us to get off the flight!
Then we were soon on our third and final flight to Entebbe International Airport, Uganda.
I don’t know about you but I’m not the best one for attempting to sleep sitting practically upright in those airline seats.
So feeling a little tired after nearly 20 hours of sleepless travelling we were glad to be picked up by a rep from our Uganda tour company, G Adventures.
We were then delivered to our hotel, Hotel Sojovalo, in Kampala but only after a further delay at Entebbe airport dealing with lost lugguge!
We’d been sensible to have a back pack each that we could live out of for a few days (albeit mine was stuffed with camera, tablet and other “essential” electrical equipment 😉 ).
This was just as well as our main bags didn’t arrive until 8.30 that Sunday evening. The bags missed the flight we took from Nairobi to Entebbe. They were probably waiting on those steps so they could get off the previous flight! 😆
Still, the people at the lost luggage were fantastic. Lynne and I took it as all part of the holiday experience. We weren’t the only ones, there were about 20 other tourists in the same situation as well.
Only one Westerner shouted and lost his temper. You don’t do that in Uganda. They have a more relaxed way of getting things sorted, in their own time and way. It helps to develop that same relaxed mentality if you’re going to enjoy Uganda.
I was just sinking into an afternoon sleep in our hotel room, when the phone beside the bed rang and a voice told me he had “found a mirror”, and would sell it to me for 120,000 Ugandan Shilling.
Being half asleep and unable to comprehend what was going on, I instantly assumed a random person was trying to sell me a mirror for the bedroom. Confused, I told them sternly I wasn’t interested and hadn’t asked for a mirror!
It was only later, when I was properly conscious again, that I realised the voice had said “wing mirror” and “found a mechanic with a mirror”. Reception must have passed the call to the wrong room.
I do hope the person who needed the wing mirror for his car did eventually get it and was able to continue on their travels. Oops!
Anyway, once rested, we headed to the hotel bar to enjoy a beer (photo above).
Our first of Uganda’s finest brewed Nile Special lager with a bowl of warm, fresh and delicious red nuts. Nile Special instantly became my favourite African lager. Even surpassing Kenya’s Tusker lager!
Dinner was goat saute for myself, which was curried goat with a mixture of fresh sauted vegetables. Lynne had goat stew. Both of our goat courses were served with freshly made chapati breads. Total Yum!
Prior to heading to bed that evening, I checked with reception that the breakfast start time was indeed 6.00 am as stated in our room information pack, which they duly confirmed.
We were being picked up by our driver at 7.00 on Monday 7th for our 9 hour drive to Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. We didn’t want to be late!
I should have remembered 6.00 am doesn’t mean 6.00 am my time, no, it means 6.00 am Uganda time! 🙂
So, on our arrival for breakfast at 6.05am we were greeted with no lights on in the restaurant and no food available.
However, a quick enquiry at reception saw a lot of scurrying about and a hasty preparation of a really nice and enjoyable breakfast.
Cereal, toast, fruit, hot cooked vegetables, eggs and fresh coffee too. My first sampling of Ugandan coffee! 10/10. I was happy. 😀
Paul, our G Adventures driver, picked us up promptly at 7.00 am and we headed off firstly through the bustling streets of Kampala, then into the stunning Ugandan countryside. Our first stop at 10.am was at the Equator (above). Just in time for more Ugandan coffee. Again 10/10!
I was surprised that the main roads we travelled on were so good (above).
I mean you see on the TV pictures of Africa and 4×4 vehicles travelling along dusty sand and gravel tracks with great big holes in them.
In reality the main roads are really well made with hard shoulders at each side for people, motorcycles and carts.
Paul told us that Uganda has been tarmacing all its own main roads over the last 15 years. More recently the Chinese have been continuing this trend and upgrading more of these roads.
The quality of the Ugandan built roads, especially those grinding higher and higher into the mountains puts many Scottish roads to shame. ❗
Anyway sorry this is about Uganda!
So at the Equator we duly had our photographs taken to prove we had been here.
We also had a brief wander about viewing the shops selling traditional Ugandan jewellery, fabrics, wood carvings and other such souvenirs (above).
After our Equator stop, we continued on-wards to our lunch stop at Mbarara.
Here I was able to change currency to Ugandan Shilling. Although Ugandan Shilling is the main currency of Uganda, you can’t purchase it prior to leaving the UK.
Fortunately, just about everywhere accepts US$. But, up in the mountains, and at our lodge, Paul had advised us (rightly) that we needed Ugandan Shilling. And so I was escorted in and out of an exchange bureau. By armed guard.
I’m one of those annoying people on holiday that insists on my food being “locally produced”. I want to truly experience and taste the cuisine and beverages of the country I’m in. Eyes were raised a few times in eating establishments when I refused milk in my coffee, most Westerners apparently requesting milk.
And, when I asked for a traditional dish, ugali, to accompany my chicken stew for lunch, I was asked several times if that was really what it wanted. And yes it was delicious, albeit different.
Viewing orange trees (above) and a lush green farming countryside as we drove further south west that afternoon, it’s hardly surprising that Agriculture makes up the majority of Uganda’s GDP.
Can you see the road in the Valley (above)?
We’d climbed high up into the mountains here, continuing on our way to the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park.
I attempted to photograph some feral goats here, none of which wanted to have their photographs taken. 😮
The roadside stalls and farming lifestyle provide plenty of healthy fruit snacks for these Ugandan youngsters!
nosey interested in how families and people live wherever I go.
I was continually asking our guide Paul, many questions about family lives and in particular what schooling was like.
I learnt that there are state primary schools A basic free primary education is available for up to four children per family.
However in the main education is private. There are better private schools than state schools. Those with the better reputations being more expensive. Families generally choose to pay and to send their children to the best schools they can afford.
Family is very important. Vegetables and grains are mostly eaten as daily staples and meat is for celebrations, like weddings.
Paul’s brother had just got married the previous weekend. I loved hearing all about that huge family celebration of several hundred people attending. Practically the whole of the village where Paul was brought up!!
Lady Lynne and I loved how Paul would pick up fresh vegetables and fruits on our journey to take to our lodge for us to eat.
He kept apologising for doing this and asking if this was okay. For us this was a total thrill and a definite “must see” part of the whole experience. We wanted to see close up the magnificent fresh produce and the amazing people too!
We stopped at areas where there were many fruit stalls. On seeing our 4×4 stopping, the sellers would instantly rush over with their baskets and produce, giving Paul the ardous task of haggling a price and deciding on who to buy from.
We really felt sorry that he couldn’t buy everyone’s produce. Ultimately he had to let some sellers down by not buying their produce.
It really was just luck if your produce got picked. Even if you got to the car with your basket of fruit first! You see, the produce was just outstanding ALL of it such amazing quality.
Check out the table of pineapples above!
We had freshly squeezed pineapple juice most mornings for our breakfast. No added sugar or other additive rubbish here!
Fascinatingly, on the way to the Bwindie Impenetrable National Park it was 10 Pineapples for £1.
But, on our way back to Kampala, inflation must have taken hold as it was 8 Pineapples for £1!
Paul must have seen how Lynne and I were salivating over all of this fresh fruit on offer.
So much so that he picked up a bunch of bananas as car snacks for us.
I can tell you now they tasted nothing like the ones we buy in the supermarkets here.
For a start they were not genetically altered in any way and still had their seeds in them.
As for the taste. A pure natural sweetness. One that had our taste buds dancing in delight!
For the last part of our journey we left the main tarmac road and headed up a steep, sometimes muddy and frequently bumpy earth road.
It was fun bouncing along. After all, this was why we were in a 4×4, with an experienced driver. Exactly for terrain like this. Paul referred to our bumping around in the car as a free “African massage”. 🙂
Late afternoon, just before the rain, and when parts of the earth road can often become difficult to drive on, we arrived at our Gorilla Valley Lodge accommodation in the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. Our home for 2 nights.
Our accommodation blended perfectly into the surrounding rain forest. A neat and basic stone built building. Perched on the side of a hillside with 2 rooms. One with the bed in and the other a stone floor bathroom with toilet, wash basin and solar heated shower.
The accommodation attached to ours (above) next door was empty.
I met and talked with one of the partners of the business the night after the Gorilla Trek and he said it had been a quieter year for tourism, probably with everything that was happening in the world. i.e. terrorism.
There will always be terrorism of some sort or another. Unfortunately fear of visiting places like Uganda takes away the money tourism brings. The money for the people who need it most. But also that fear of travel to foreign destinations in itself deprives us of some of the most life rewarding experiences we could have.
“If you reject the food, ignore the customs, fear the religion and avoid the people, you might better stay at home.” – James A. Michener.
There was no need for any TV, books or indeed any kind of entertainment here.
Nature provided all the TV we needed.
From our balcony we sat with the binoculars to see what kinds of wildlife we could spot.
We saw black and white colobus monkeys playing, swinging from the trees in the distance and many unusual birds we’d never seen before.
There was such a stunning diversity of plants and animals within this 331sq km of rain forest.
It would take me literally hours to write of all the different species of birds we saw.
If you have the ability to go and experience this yourself, then please do.
The Ugandans are fiercely protective of this UNESCO-designated World Heritage Site. Rightly so. It’s a treasure trove of unbelievable beauty.
Not only was it fantastic to sit and watch the abundant wildlife go about their daily lives before us but we also watched the weather. In particular the rain (as Lynne points out in this short video) as it lashed down frequently throughout the late afternoon and evening.
It felt soothing, peaceful and also kind of humbling. What a truly magnificent place to be. 🙂
And so that folks, brings me to the end of this, our first stage of our African Adventures and Pt.1 Glasgow to Uganda.
But, hopefully I’ve set the scene for you, if so, check out African Adventures Pt. 2 – Gorilla trekking in the Bwindi Inpenetrable National Park. Coming soon!
So, don’t forget to come back and check for that post which will have plenty of mountain gorilla pictures and some short videos too!