My first trip to Uganda was for an Engineers Without Borders retreat, an opportunity to catch up with all the Fellows in East Africa for a weekend of professional development and inspiration. Given the occasion to experience another country, my co-worker Alex and I headed to Uganda a couple of days early. A 10-hour overnight bus ride from Nairobi, Kenya brought us into Jinja, Uganda. Jinja is a beautifully lush city surrounded by the wonderous Nile River. It's a popular place for travellers to seek out adventurous activities like white water rafting, kayaking and bungee jumping. We booked a full-day white water rafting tour with Nile River Explorers who I highly recommend! Not only did we get a fun and safe float down the river, but they also served us an amazing lunch with cold beers afterwards. I'm not going to lie, I thought white water rafting was reserved for mountain terrains as the only other place I've done it was on the Kicking Horse River in the Canadian Rocky Mountains, so I was pleasantly surprised! Please don't mind the iPhone photos below but I wasn't prepared to get my camera wet.
Before heading to the retreat we stopped in to visit some of our friends who are working in Kampala. One of the Fellows is working in the Kireka slum, providing safe sanitation facilities for the residents. We ended up having mini-photo shoot with the children who love taking photos. We went to the market that runs along the train tracks, meaning it is set up and taken down every single day (with diligent knowledge of the train schedule of course). In the evening we checked out the Mathura Bas Stage and the nearby Mathura Hawker's Market and Owinu Market. I feel like I've been to some crazy places before, but these areas are top of the list for crazy. It took us a full 1.5 hours just to get out, and this is after having a dress thrown at my face to get my attention for buying. Ground nuts (peanuts) and g-nut butter are a delicacy here so I was in heaven. This was also my first time trying jack fruit, it's a bit difficult to eat given how sticky it is but it's very sweet!
The retreat was an amazing weekend, and quite needed for all of us! It's not the easiest thing, to pick up your life and move to a foreign country with a different culture, language, food and climate to name a few. However, one thing that always helps me get through tough times is sharing experiences with others, because you realize you're not alone in your feelings. The Fellows from this retreat are living in Ethiopia, Malawi, Uganda and Kenya. We also have Fellows in Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire, whom we were missing dearly but it's expensive to fly across Africa so they have their own retreat in the West. We shared skills through Learning Carousels and finished off the retreat with a Night of Inspiration where we shared poems, stories and other hidden talents. I thought the nightlife was crazy in Kenya, but Jinja took me by surprise. I was instantly captivated by Uganda after this trip and could not wait to return. The people are very warm and friendly, greeting you with big smiles, all very interested to know more about you and where you are coming from.
The second trip to Uganda was only 12 days later...I'm not joking when I say I've been captivated by this country! I really couldn't wait to go back and since it was the Christmas season I figured I would make a trip out of it. So I packed up all my camping gear and set out for 1-week in Uganda and 1-week in Rwanda, which I'll write about in the next blog post. I took the overnight bus to Kampala again (although this time it took 17 hours :O) and met up with the other EWB Fellows for Andy's - a Kumvana Fellow - wedding. [If you want to read more about what the different EWB Fellowship's entail, check out the Engineers Without Borders Canada website: https://www.ewb.ca/. I'm also happy to answer any questions that you have about my Fellowship too.] I'm pretty lucky that I got to experience both a Ugandan and Kenyan wedding in one month! The Achuli tribe dancers at this wedding were astounding, and the food was delicious too (as always). Ugandan food is quite carb heavy, typically consisting of sweet potatoes, cassava root, ugali, chapati, roasted pumpkins, potatoes, fries and then some spinach and meat on the side with groundnut sauce drizzled over it...drooool.
It was a really quick stop over in Kampala, mainly to say hi to friends and get some more Rollex in (rolled eggs i.e. omelette rolled in chapati which is the best late night snack invented on this planet and does not exist in Nairobi unfortunately...or fortunately for my waistline?). The next day I embarked on a 10-hour bus journey to Kabale and on to Lake Bunyoni - translating to 'Lake of Little Birds' - where I kept myself entertained for days trying to snap photos of these darling creatures. It is known as the most beautiful lake in Uganda and although I haven't seen any other lakes yet, it lived up to its name in my opinion. It's been compared to Switzerland before due to the hilly backdrops on the lake, and it did give me some dejavu's of my time in Switzerland. I did a nice hike where I got up close and personal with the Grey-Crowned Crane, the beautiful bird found on the Ugandan flag (tap here); I took a canoe ride over to an eco-lodge where I saw my first zebras and impalas in Africa (although they aren't natural to the area so I wasn't feeling very excited about the idea); and went for a refreshing swim in the calm waters. The crawfish found in the lake are the main delicacy and go great with ripe avocados.
From Lake Bunyoni I took another boda-boda ride to Kisoro where I stayed at Nshongi Camp in Rushaga, which lies in the southern part of the Impenetrable Forest in Bwindi National Park. The ride was quite interesting as my driver claimed to know a short-cut, which actually ended up taking twice the time since the road was an unpaved mudslide, but thankfully we both made it on one piece. The next day I took part in the sensational once in a life-time experience of gorilla tracking. There is an estimated 800 Mountain Gorillas left in the world, around 400 of which are in Uganda, and the rest in Virungas (Volcanoes) National Park which borders Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Our group met the Bweza (meaning 'handsome') family, with 3 Silverbacks and 3 babies. I was shocked by how close we were able to get to them, at 200m it was hard to believe this was actually happening! The park rangers visit these gorillas everyday, which overtime habituates them to the presence of humans with the main goal of keeping them conserved in their natural habitats and protected from poachers. The babies were the cutest, they are just like human children, constantly vying for the attention of their peers. One of the babies got up on both legs and started pounding their chest until their own forced knocked them over. Another baby came up to one of the gentlemen in our group and lightly pounded on his thighs, thank goodness it wasn't a full-grown silverback or else that would have broken his legs! Silverback's have enormous muscles and the whole time I was holding my breath, just in case one of them decided to rush at us. It was quite difficult to get good shots of them due to the flies and shrubbery surrounding them, but I hope you enjoy some of my favourite shots below.
I did another hike the following day up to Rushura Hill. I saw the L'Hoest monkey and more birds and got a nice view of the Impenetrable Forest, which is also home to Forest Elephants although we didn't see any unfortunately. The villagers keep bee hives on the outskirts of the forest to keep the elephants inside so that they don't trample the crops like Irish potatoes. I also saw a 3-horned chameleon which was pretty interesting! Another boda ride took me south where I crossed into Rwanda at the Cyanika border. Although not as comfortable as a vehicle, the boda was an incredible way to travel through Uganda because I got to take in every moment of its beautiful, lush, rolling green mountains in the open air and wouldn't have traded it for any comfort in this world. Until next time Uganda, I'm sure I'll be back soon!