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!
Wow! Amazing! I’m so glad everything worked out (o and I hate sleeping on the plane or sitting upright! You can never get comfortable and it’s never a full sleep even if you doze!)
I love that you kept to the culture as much as possible! I would have drank all the coffee and the fruit too!
It’s crazy how much we miss in the world when we don’t travel or get to experience another culture. I hope one day I do. My tiny isolated speck in New Jersey is not the only place I want to see my entire life!
Thanks Rebecca. When we were flying back from Nairobi to Schiphol the guy sitting behind us had actually booked 3 seats in a row so he could lie down to sleep. Apparently it was cheaper than booking one of those fancy pods in first class (which we could never afford and it would wipe out any money for the actually holiday and enjoyment part anyway!) that turn into a bed.
It’s a big amazing world out there and Lynne and I feel we have only just stuck a toe into it and so are already saving our money like crazy for the next trip! 🙂
SO COOL. I’m actually pretty good about sleeping in uncomfortable spaces. Partially because I’m pretty small. I always feel sorry for Alex as he attempts to get comfortable. But yeah, it is never a full sleep.
I actually quite like goat as well–we had it often when I lived in Jamaica–the tiny bones, I could do without, but the meat is pretty tasty when treated correctly. I wish Alex and I could travel more–we are restricted due to budget and job, but that is why I have friends like you, right? To allow me to see a part of the world that only ever gets bad publicity, it seems. Thank you so much for sharing this!
Always happy sharing Suz, and always delighted that you enjoy these posts as well as the recipes too. 🙂
You do have to be careful sometimes though of that goat for those bones eh? It’s not like chicken where you can just shovel it in 😉
Now THAT… is pretty freaking epic! And major props to Lady Lynne for being able to take off in a gale! My mom is super fearful of flying as well, and I’ve seen how taxing rough flights can be on her. But oh man… seriously the adventure of a lifetime. I’ve never been to Africa, but it’s definitely on my travel bucket list. I can’t wait to see more of your adventures!!
Thanks Amanda, it’s always a challenging start of our holidays, if we’re flying, for Lynne. So I can understand what your mom must go through too.
I’m glad you’ve got Africa on your travel bucket list, as if you didn’t I’d recommend you to add it! Hope you’ve got Scotland there too 😉
You just made me miss Uganda and mini bananas. <3 And the pineapples there are DELICIOUS. Picking fruit that's ripe, right off the tree, is the BEST way to to do it. There is SO much of God's beauty in Uganda. And all over the world, for that matter. 🙂
Those mini bananas Emily, just HOW GOOD are they? And the pineapples…… it’s hard to accurately put into words the difference in taste from what we usually experience, isn’t it?
You are right though, there is so much of God’s beauty in Uganda, and all over the world if we’re lucky enough to have the time and means to visit. Uganda was such a welcoming country, for those of all faiths. 🙂
Fantastic Post, Neil! I found myself clinging onto every word – I haven’t been to Uganda but I do love to travel and currently most of my travel is done vicariously through blogs I read and I so enjoyed reading this recap of an amazing start to y’alls adventure! I had to click on the link to the Gorilla Village Lodge – the furniture there reminds me a lot of the furniture available in plenty in Sri Lanka! And those same little bananas are in SL in plenty too, and are truly delicious! Sometimes the more we roam (virtually or in-reality), the more we learn about our own home.
So enjoyed this recap! Cannot wait for the other 3 installments – though I wish there was more! LOVED the photos too and I gotta admit, I’m incredibly nosey about family life in places I visit too! 🙂
Happy New Year to you and Lady Lynne! Looking forward to catching up with y’all in 2016!
So glad you enjoyed this first instalment of our recent African adventures Shashi! 🙂
The Gorilla Lodge is brilliant isn’t it? Just such a peaceful, perfect retreat in an often confused world. I could have stayed on their furniture all day just staring into that enchanting forest.
Part 2 coming soon! 😀
Oh wow – what an adventure. I would love to do a trip like this and it’s actually something that my husband and I are thinking for this year. There are just so many places in the world that I want to go.
I love those mini bananas – we bought some at the side of the road in Jamaica the other year.
We are still buzzing with excitement from the trip Dannii, and already saving our pennies for the next trip. Although we haven’t decided exactly where that will be, and it probably won’t be until 2017!
You and Dave would absolutely love this trip. If there’s anything I can help you with, information wise, or anything else you would like to ask about it, please do! 🙂
I wish we had more of those mini bananas here. They should put them at the side of the checkouts in our supermarkets instead of sweets!
What an awesome adventure, it’s a trip of a lifetime! I didn’t even know that bananas can have seeds in them, I had to look it up now 🙂
Thanks Melanie! I didn’t know that bananas normally have seeds in them, but that ours have been removed, either!
WOW! I’m just now getting a chance to take a look at part 1 of your amazing trip. My friend was living there for 6 months and all I got were pictures of monkeys and giraffes lol. Not that I’m complaining, I mean, obviously. I just like how you talked a lot about the culture and took nice photos. I can’t wait to see the rest! 🙂
Ha ha! Lynne and I will be able to bore you and Luke face to face next time we catch up, with our holiday exploits! 😉 (Be in touch about that soon, after Vegan January!).
Yep, there’s plenty of monkeys and giraffes about in Uganda, although we missed those areas. But fear not my friend, I hope to bring you Mountain Gorilla’s soon. 😀
And some more cultural ramblings from me too!
Enjoyable description of your visit to Uganda! Looking forward to reading the rest of your Uganda blogs. Like you, I don’t take milk in my coffee. Also, food and drink of the native culture – wherever you go – is a must. Wow, I could hear your voice in the video -for the first time – and you sound as I expected! Great to see you and Lynne enjoying your travels, with the patience and grace of seasoned travelers. “Seasoned”….hmmm…I guess that sets up for the next installment!
Thanks so much Deb! Great to hear from you, thanks for taking your time to read and comment. 🙂
Yeah, I like to immerse myself as much as possible into the culture and food of the country that I’m in. I think it helps to make the experience a “proper” one.
Ha ha ha, you heard my dulcet Scottish tones then? 😉 Well I’m glad I sound just as you thought I would!
Enjoy the rest of the updates! 😀
Binge reading all these now- I LOVE travel recap posts- What an adventure from the get go (and bloody long flights and all the airport jazz)
That’s the one thing Arman. Yep, the downside can be the long flights! Especially when you’re in one of those uncomfortable airline chairs for 12 hours plus!
I try and just remain focussed, thinking about the destination. And having a cheeky wine or two to pass the time…….. 😉