Our next stop after Lake Mburo National Park was the Ssese Islands, a group of islands in Lake Victoria.1 We didn’t have any activities planned for the islands; it was just an opportunity to relax along the shore near the end of our tour.
After leaving Queen Elizabeth National Park, our next stop was the small town Kisoro, in the far southwestern section of Uganda. Our plan for Kisoro was to spend two nights with a local family in a homestay and visit the wonderfully named Bwindi Impenetrable National Park to track the mountain gorillas.
The drive to Kisoro was beautiful, with countryside covered in a patchwork of fields and populated by Uganda’s national bird, the remarkable grey-crowned crane.
After leaving behind the amazing views at the Top of the World, we drove to Queen Elizabeth National Park. On the way, we crossed back into the Southern Hemisphere and stopped to take an obligatory picture at one of the concrete monuments Uganda has erected along the Equator.1
After we left Murchison Falls National Park, we drove to the town of Fort Portal, where we spent the night before embarking on one of the highlights of our time in Uganda: chimp trekking in Kibale National Park.
Kibale National Park is home to more than 1,400 chimpanzees. Hiking through the rainforest to spot some of the chimpanzees that have been habituated for human visitors1 was near the top of our list of things to do in Uganda, and we were really looking forward to the adventure.
We had been warned that we might have to hike for a good distance before we found any chimpanzees – if we found them at all.2 Nonetheless, almost immediately after entering the forest, we came across a large chimp reclining under a tree.
Although we had suspected that we overdosed on animals in Southern Africa, we were pleased to discover that, by the time we reached our first Ugandan national park, our sense of wonder regarding the animals had returned! Our first stop was Murchison Falls National Park, where we spent one full day and enjoyed a morning game drive, an evening game drive, and a boat ride. Plenty of time for animal-viewing! I’m not going to clutter up these animal photos with extra words, so here you go:
On the morning of the third day of our tour with MGCT, we left Jinga to head up to Murchison Falls National Park in northwestern Uganda. Along the way we stopped at the Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary. Both black and white rhinoceroses are indigenous to Uganda, but a combination of poaching and loss of habitat made all rhinos extinct in the country by the early 1980’s. In 2005, Ziwa was established with the goal of rebuilding the rhino population in Uganda and eventually reintroducing them into the wild.1
After breakfast, we left Sipi Falls and backtracked to Jinga, the second largest city in Uganda, situated along the banks of Lake Victoria and the source of the Nile River.1
Our accommodation in Jinga, the Eden Rock Resort, was located near Bujagali Falls, about 10 kilometers from the center of town. Unfortunately, Bujagali Falls – which had been an impressive series of rapids popular for rafting – has been “drowned” by the rising waters from a recently built hydroelectric dam, transforming this stretch of the Nile into a lazy northward flow. Nonetheless, we were pretty excited, after months of traveling across Africa, to finally be staying along the banks of one its most iconic rivers.
Although I am a fiercely independent traveler, I am willing to accept group travel (albeit begrudgingly) when the practicalities of a given situation clearly point to its advantages (e.g., places that are so inhospitable that one has no business trying to visit them on their own, or locations that are so remote that it makes sense to share costs with others to reach them). Thus (as you may remember) we found ourselves on a three-week camping tour across Namibia, Botswana, and Victoria Falls.
Our interest in securing last minute permits for mountain gorilla trekking in Uganda during the high season, combined with the long distances and lack of public transportation between the other areas of Uganda that we wanted to visit, steered us again into the group travel fold. Seeking out potential tour options, we contacted a few operators, but the clear winner in terms of offerings/price/flexibility was MGCT – a Ugandan company that friends we had made in Tanzania had recently used for a tour and highly recommended to us.2 After a weeklong series of emails with MGCT discussing possible itineraries, and my mother’s subsequent indefatigable efforts to arrange an international wire transfer, we booked a tour that had us joining with a group of three Italians for a 13-day adventure around Uganda.
The first day of our trip began early, with a 5:00 a.m. pickup from our guesthouse in Kampala. Our driver and guide Robert introduced himself and we met our Italian traveling companions – who had just arrived on an overnight flight and been picked up directly from the airport in Entebbe. After a quick breakfast, we were on our way driving east, trying to beat the infamous traffic that clogs Kampala’s roads for large portions of the day.
We are (finally) running out of our we-took-a-bus-in-Africa-and-you-won’t-believe-how-weird-it-was stories. (Relieved? Us too.) But first, here’s possibly the strangest one of them all:
From Gisenyi, we backtracked to Kigali to overnight in the capital before catching a morning bus up to Kampala, Uganda. We boarded a bus in Gisenyi at 6:00 p.m. for the three-to-four hour journey to Kigali.1 The trip was progressing fairly smoothly until, well after nightfall and not far from Kigali, one of the passengers had something of a mental breakdown. He attempted to disembark from the bus while it was in motion, and other passengers had to restrain him to stop him from falling out onto the road. When the bus driver stopped the bus, he leapt off and ran into the darkened woods. The other passengers began looking for him, and, when he was finally located, he refused to get back on the bus. There was a great deal of animated discussion amongst everyone about how to proceed before our bus driver eventually left him in the care of some other people along the side of the road.
We continued to Kigali in a sort of stunned silence. Once in Kigali, we encountered a standard police checkpoint on our way to the bus station. We filed out so that the police could inspect our bags, and someone told the police officer about what had happened with our fellow passenger. The police officer then had us get back on the bus, boarded the bus, and directed us to a nearby police station. There was some discussion, and then we all got back onto the bus to drive to one of the larger, central police station in Kigali, where the police began to take statements from some of the other passengers. It was almost eleven o’clock before we reached our guesthouse.
Luckily, our bus ride the following day on the Jaguar Executive Coach was drama-free. The bus had comfortable 2×2 seating and wifi(!) – although the latter only worked once we crossed into Uganda, and even at that it was pretty intermittent. Perhaps even more notably, the bus stopped only twice over its 12-hour journey: once at the border and once for a restroom/snack stop. Our seats were in the very front row of the bus, which afforded us an excellent amount of leg room as well as a clear view of the road ahead.2 We were surprised at the extremely poor condition of the roads in Uganda – it was like we were traveling on a one-lane road with eroded edges rather than a purported two-lane highway.