BORDER TO KAMPALA
Today we decided to push on to Uganda as we could not see the value in another USD 170 in the National Park, which does not even have water to flush the toilets. As we drove further west towards Uganda the road deteriorated dramatically and so did the Police road blocks. (100 shilling gets you out of any fine) Clary took some pictures of a bitumen (tar) road that looked more like a sand track on Fraser Island off Queensland. We crossed the Equator again and this time we were at 3000 meters (9100ft). The border was the usual hassle and cost USD100 for a single entry visa and USD80 for road tax. Welcome to Uganda – they do not accept their own currency so you have to pay in USD. Further to this, there are no banks at the border so as usual you have to use the illegal fixers/money exchange guys. As they say THIS IS AFRICA. The rich get richer and the poor get poorer. I am still trying to work out what happens to all our foreign aid. That is except for all the brand new 100 series Landcruisers with Unicef-UN etc logo clearly displayed. Our first stop in Uganda was Jinja this town is where the source of the Nile River is. As we drove into a perfect campsite overlooking the Nile River, the sun was setting and the view was like a dream. As usual the African welcome was warm and the people fantastic. We visited Bujagali Falls, just about next to our campsite. We could hear the roar of the water falls all night. We also headed to the source of the Nile, just North of Lake Victoria. This is where the Nile starts its epic journey through Uganda-Sudan and Egypt. During the next part of the trip we will cross the Nile River numerous times and ultimately we will see it flow into the Mediterranean at Alexandria next year when we travel around Egypt. After this we watched orphans sing and dance for us. Yes a little touristy but the money is well spent (they asked for a donation). Then as we crossed the Owen Dam we were stopped by the Military as we took some photos of the dam. But a friendly smile and taking the pictures off the camera was enough to satisfy them.
Kampala, like Dar es Salaam, a city of maniac drivers, traffic jams and pollution that has to be seen to be believed. But it has its charm and it is Africa. We did some shopping, soaked up the atmosphere, got lost and got lost again, and then got lost again! The GPS had the wrong location and as we kept asking for directions, a little mini bus stopped next to us and I asked “You going to Red Chilli?” He replied, “Yes mate, follow us”. In Kampala that is easier said than done, in the first place he was pointing south and we were pointing north. But as we now know you just push the truck in front of other cars, do a 8 point turn in a main street (block the whole street), wind the windows up so you do not hear the beeping, and just continue. The next 10 minutes looked like James Bond as we tried to follow the speeding minivan with our large truck (including driving on the wrong side of the road). But we made it and we have another story to tell. I wonder how we will cope with Traffic Rules when we get to Europe. The Iman came past last night and again this morning. Funny how some people need loudspeakers to send a message. Hence we were up early. Never mind as we wanted to beat the traffic and Kampala`s maniac drivers. By 10am we were out of the city and heading north, but not before a few traffic jams and potholes, which will swallow a Toyota Landcruiser. Last night we met some Australians who work in Uganda and they gave us the following report from the Embassy. Really what Clary wanted to hear!
Civil Unrest/Political Tension in Uganda
“We advise you to exercise a high degree of caution in Uganda because of the threat of terrorist attack, civil unrest and criminal activity. Bomb attacks occurred at two locations in Kampala. The attacks took place at crowded public venues in the areas of Kabalagala and Lugogo, causing a number of deaths and injuries. Foreign nationals were among the dead and injured. You should exercise caution when travelling in Kampala, follow the instructions of local authorities and avoid the areas where the bomb attacks occurred. There is a high risk of terrorist attack against Western interests in East Africa, including Uganda. In planning your activities consider the kind of places known to be terrorist targets which include, places of worship, marketplaces, outdoor recreation events, shopping malls, bus terminals, Ugandan government buildings and tourist areas. You should avoid protests and demonstrations as they may become violent. Northern Uganda and areas bordering Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC): We strongly advise you not to travel to northern Uganda (particularly the Nebbi, Arua, Moyo, Yumbe, Adjumani, Apac, Gulu, Kitgum, Lira and Pader districts) and areas bordering Sudan and the DRC (including Lake Albert and Murchison Falls National Park) because of the serious risk of attacks and abductions by rebel groups, including the Lord`s Resistance Army (LRA), and the risk of banditry in these areas. The LRA is no longer active in Uganda but continues to operate in the DRC, Central African Republic and southern Sudan. There is a high military presence in north western Uganda, especially the areas bordering southern Sudan and the DRC. The LRA is believed to be responsible for several attacks that have killed or wounded foreign aid workers in the past. Further attacks could occur. North-eastern Uganda: We strongly advise you not to travel to the Karamoja region of north-eastern Uganda (particularly the Kotido, Moroto, Nakapiripirit and Katakwi districts north of Kate Kyoga), because of the risk of banditry and inter-tribal clashes. Clashes between tribal groups occur frequently with no warning. Far south-western borders with the DRC: We strongly advise you not to travel to Uganda`s far south-western borders with the DRC, including Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and the Mgahinga Gorilla Park, due to the risk of banditry and cross-border attacks by rebel groups. We strongly advise you not to take gorilla trekking tours that cross into the DRC. The situation over the border in the DRC is extremely unstable and attacks can occur with no notice. Security personnel are usually required to accompany tourists on gorilla trekking visits.”
Crime “Theft from vehicles which are stationary in heavy traffic or stopped at traffic lights occurs frequently. You should ensure valuables are out of sight and that vehicle windows are up and doors are locked. There is a risk of armed robbery and carjacking when travelling outside the capital, Kampala, particularly to the east and in areas around Lake Victoria. Isolated incidents of violence have also occurred in urban centres, such as Kampala, Jinja and Kasese. Residential burglaries have turned violent. Security risks are heightened after dark. When visiting Uganda`s national parks, we strongly recommend the use of reputable, registered tour operators. A foreign tourist was shot dead in Mt Elgon National Park. Incidents have occurred in other parks and security circumstances can change with little warning. There is a history of armed attacks in the Murchison Falls National Park. Local Travel the Ugandan Government periodically closes tourist areas considered to be at risk of rebel activity. You should seek local advice about the current situation prior to travel. Driving in Uganda can be hazardous due to poor road conditions, the low standard of vehicle maintenance, bad driving habits, excessive speeds and poor lighting, especially at night. Traffic accidents are common and pose a significant risk to tourists. Long distance bus travel is also hazardous and accidents have resulted in fatalities.” – Report ends.
KAMPALA TO LAKE ALBERT
Despite all of the above, we still felt safe and continued north towards the Sudan/Congo border and Murchison Falls National Park. On the way to Murchison Nat Park we did some road-side shopping (very cheap) and we mingled with the local Ugandan people. What a friendly bunch. The road to Masindi was a brand new bitumen road so we cruised along at around 80-90km per hour. After Masindi, the road became clay capped with two wheel tracks in the middle, which was perfect until it started raining. Slip sliding and sliding off the road in ditches became a regular occurrence, particularly when traffic came by from the opposite direction. As we had already learnt that UN staff do not seem to care about their company vehicles, we made sure it was they who had to go into the ditch. As we had the bigger vehicle it never became an argument. That was until a grader turned up and he would not change his direction so here we went into the ditch and with a lot of manoeuvring and low range we got the 7000kg back on the road. At 4pm we arrived at the Nile River to be told that no boats would go to the Murchison Falls tomorrow morning. Problem solved, we hired a private boat from a local and we went out to see the number one attraction – The Murchison Falls.
I checked the boats fuel tank before we left so we would not run out like we did in Zimbabwe. The falls were featured in the Audrey Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart movie “African Queen”. As it turned out, the guide was very knowledgeable, and he told us about the war and the LRP who only left the area 3 years ago. He said he lost many relatives and bus attacks were common in that time. We crossed the Nile River. The Nile divides Murchison Falls into 2 parts. The park has many animals and in particular giraffe, elephant, buffalo, hippo and the Nile crocodile. The park covers 3893sq km. The Delta is the lowest part of Uganda at 625meters. It is also the lowest altitude we have been at for the last few weeks. The temp climbed well above 35 degrees and the humidity was around 95% after the rain. We kept hugging the border with Congo today and Lake Albert. This is the far western side of Uganda and as far of the tourist track as you can get. The people are so friendly and so helpfull and no-one yells out for money or sweets in stark contrast to Kenya and Tanzania. Uganda seems to be on par with Malawi. What a friendly country despite all the hardship they have been through. As the rain settled and the mud made way for a bit firmer surface, Clary became a little more relaxed. Because we travel on our own, once we get stuck it is the two of us who have to get the truck out. But lucky Uganda is well populated and many hands are available – but the truck is heavy! That night while writing this blog a huge lightning show is going on around us. And more rain. I am sitting here overlooking Lake Albert and the Congo across the lake. At around 10pm we heard people shooting! No idea where it came from but it maybe Congo rebels crossing the river. We turned off the light and hoped for the best. The rest of the night was uneventful and we woke up to a perfect African Sunrise. Lake Albert is located in the center of the continent, on the border between Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly Zaire). Lake Albert is the northernmost of the chain of lakes in the Great Rift Valley; it is about 160km (100 mile) long and 30km (19 mile) wide, with a maximum depth of 51m (168 ft), and a surface elevation of 619 m (2,030 ft) above sea level. Lake Albert is part of the complicated system of the upper Nile. Its main sources are the Victoria Nile, ultimately coming from Lake Victoria to the southeast, and the Semliki River, which issues from Lake Edward to the southwest. The water of the Victoria Nile is much less saline than that of Lake Albert. At the southern end of the lake, where the Semliki comes in, there are swamps. Further south looms the mighty Ruwenzori Range, while a range of hills called the Blue Mountains tower over the northwestern shore. Heritage Oil and Tullow Oil have announced major oil finds in the Lake Albert basin, with estimates that the multi-billion barrel field will prove to be the largest onshore field found in sub-Saharan Africa for over twenty years.
LAKE ALBERT TO RWANDA BORDER
Not a lot of sleep after the gunfire that night. We still have no idea what was going on. Congo is across the lake only a few km away, and as we were in the bush we had no armed guard. Then at midnight a huge thunderstorm arrived and the wind kept blowing all night. As we left our camp-site around 9.30am, we realized that the roads got a pounding and the red soil had become as slippery as an ice skating ring. As we climbed into the rainforest the first hill was a challenge and Clary was hanging on for dear life as the drop at one stage would have been 500 meters. As we progressed further into the forest it became worse and worse and the pelting rain did not help either. 10km took us over 1.5 hours. The clay roads in Uganda are very good in the dry however in the rain it is a different story, all roads are build sloping on the left and the right hand side to let the water run of, so you drive in the middle. That is until you meet another car coming in the opposite direction. Anyway we were very lucky that we never saw another car so wherever possible we tried to stay in the middle, After 6 or 7 slide offs Clary got used to the fact that the truck could go sideways and with the tyre pressure down we were able to get out after 6 or 7 attempts or some reversing. But then we had to climb a few long steep hills full of ruts and you guessed it the 7000kg slid in the ruts and it was reversing all the way down (sliding I should say). Clary was not happy. Are you getting a picture? 3km before we were supposedly on a better road, we fell of the track into the embankment and with the truck on a 35 degree angle leaning against the trees and the rain pelting down we became part of the rain forest. Clary was of the opinion if we would stay here 2 days the rainforest would have covered us. Anyway to cut a long story short, we managed to get out without a winch. (The ground was so soft and muddy that we pulled out the trees because the truck was so heavy.) In all, we did 14 km in 4 hours.
But it was the most stunning rainforest I have ever seen. Due to the bad weather we missed all the mountain views. But we did get the taste of the steaming jungle. We felt we had truly experienced tropical rally conditions.The next 70km to Kyenjojo was slow and slippery but as the clay was a mixture of rocks and the road was just done up, we could reach 30-40km per hour. However this road in the dry is supposed to be perfect. From here it was onto the bitumen and Fort Portal where we found a spot in the garden of the Catholic Mission. This mission supports children with HIV/Aids with medicine and nutritional foods. As it is still raining,
Clary does not like the idea of another day of slip sliding and even the Taxi/Banda`s and busses will not drive to Semliki today, so you guessed it – Clary won. It does mean that we are unable to see the Pygmies, but as we are told here at the Catholic Mission tourism has spoilt the Pygmies as they are now living off handouts and they charge tourists phenomenal amounts of money for photos and a dance. We were told that 5 years ago this would be done for free. We have been given one other spot to visit the Pygmy people so we will see. The rainy season is in full swing at the moment and since Murchison Falls we have had rain every day. We visited Forth Portal, did some shopping at the markets, tried to change some money (no luck) before heading south to Lake Edward. On the way we crossed the Equator again and arrived back in the Southern hemisphere. The road was perfect (Clary loved it) and in no time we arrived on the shores of Lake Edward. The Park covers an area of almost 2,000 sq kms and lies between the Rwenzori Mountains to the east and Lake Edward to the west, around 50km south of Forth Portal and a few km from the Congo Border. The park`s wildlife once suffered from heavy poaching, but recent conservation efforts have restored much of the game and it now claims to be one of the best places in Uganda to see hippo, elephant, buffalo, Uganda Kob and a variety of antelope, baboons and chimpanzees and the famous tree-climbing lion. A boat trip along the Kazinga channel between Lake George and Edward is a rewarding method of game viewing. The best time of the year to visit the park is just after the rains, between October and November and March and April when high concentrations of animals roam the whole area. Due to the high cost 120 USD to enter the park plus the boat cruise 60 USD, we decided to give it a miss not only due to bad weather being forecast (lots of thunder clouds around) but also due to having a perfect spot on the lake hoping for wild life to come around. We relaxed and enjoyed the rest of the afternoon after I cleaned all the mud off the truck. We also found an airbag had blown on the passenger side, which we will have to live with until we get to Europe. Today we were back into the Southern Hemisphere, and after shopping at the local markets we arrived at Lake Bunyonyi and Overlander Camp. Lake Bunyonyi has no bilharzia, no crocodiles, no hippos, and due to its altitude malaria is rather scarce – you could hardly find a friendlier body of water in Africa, but at nearly 2000 meters the water temp is really cold. Bunyonyi means “the place of little birds”, and we did see plenty of them. The lawn in front of the lake was nice and green and it was as soft as the green lawns I remember from Holland. Lake Bunyonyi is close to the border with Rwanda. Located at 1,962m above sea level, it is about 25km long and 7km wide. The depth of the lake is rumored to vary between 44m and 2000m, which if true would make the lake the second deepest in Africa. The lake appears on the 5,000 Ugandan Shilling note under the title “Lake Bunyonyi and Terraces”. Tomorrow we are trying to organize a boat so we can explore the lake and also visit the Pygmies who live just a 30 minute walk inland.
THE PYGMY PEOPLE
The Pygmies of Uganda, Congo and Rwanda have been forced out of the forest and are given land away from the National parks. Pygmies are a group of people who live in Africa. Pygmies are short people; adults have an average height of 150 centimeters or less. Due to intermarriage they are now starting to grow taller. There are many different Pygmy peoples – for example, the Bambuti, the Batwa, the Bayaka and the Bagyeli (‘Ba -‘ means ‘people’) – who live scattered over a huge area in central and western Africa, in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Congo (Brazzaville), Cameroon, Gabon, Central African Republic, Rwanda, Burundi and Uganda. In many places they are recognised as being the first inhabitants of the region. The different Pygmy groups speak different languages, mostly related to those of neighbouring non-Pygmy people. However there are a few words that are shared between even widely separated Pygmy tribes, suggesting they may have shared a language in the past. One of these shared words is the name of the forest spirit, Jengi. Pygmy peoples are or were forest dwellers, and they know the forest, its plants and its animals intimately. They live by hunting animals such as antelopes, pigs and monkeys, (gorillas), fishing, and gathering honey, wild yams, berries and other plants. For them, the forest is a kindly personal god, who provides for their needs. All Pygmy groups have close ties to neighboring farming villagers, and many work for them or exchange forest produce for crops and other goods. At its best, this is a fair exchange, but it can involve exploitation of the Pygmies, especially where they have lost control of the forest and its resources. Pygmy people have lost most of their rainforest homes through logging, and have been driven out by settlers. In many places they have been evicted and their land has been designated as national parks. They are routinely deprived of their rights by governments, which do not see these forest-dwellers as equal citizens. In Cameroon, the life of the Bagyeli is being disrupted by a World Bank-sponsored oil pipeline, which is to be built through their land. The Batwa of eastern DRC, Rwanda, Burundi and Uganda have seen nearly all their forest destroyed, and barely survive as labourers and beggars. You wonder what happens to all the money, considering we are now paying 500USD per person to see gorilla`s that are tracked by GPS. For us it was a very interesting day. We mingled with them and through our guide we have started to understand a little more about what has happened to these people.
Pygmies still live in several ethnic groups in Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Central African Republic, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Angola, Botswana, Namibia, and Zambia. On the way back to our campsite we past Punisment Island. The people living in this area used to leave unmarried pregnant girls on an island in the lake either to die of hunger or they would die trying to swim to the mainland. A man who could not afford a bride and dowry could go to the island overnight and take the girl and she would become his wife. This practice was abandoned in the mid 20th century.
BWINDI NATIONAL PARK
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is in south-western Uganda. The park is part of the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest and is situated along the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) border next to the Virunga National Park We had an early start and a drive through the Bwindi National Park, home to tremendous biodiversity, between 1450 meters and 3000 meters.
The forest is extremely old, since most of Africa`s forests were destroyed during the arid conditions of the last major ice age (12,000-18,000 years ago), Bwindi is among a few that remain. As a result, Bwindi`s vegetation has been weaving itself into tangles over 25,000 years, in the process accumulating an extensive species list. This consists of 310 species of butterfly, 200 trees, 88 moths, 51 reptiles, and a tremendous 120 varieties of mammal including 10 primates. The latter are red-tailed, chimpanzee; L`Hoest`s and blue monkey, black & white colobus, baboon, as well as Bwindi`s most famous resident, the mountain gorilla. A stunning area and a perfect drive to our next destination Rwanda.