Exploring the Pearl of Africa

There’s been a bit of a gap since my last blog post because I’ve been travelling! After visa issues, a bout of Covid and my phoneline/internet nearly being cut off, I was ready for a break so was excited to have my family visiting for just over two weeks. My Mum, Dad, brother Tom and his girlfriend Isy arrived late on a Friday night so Saturday morning I drove out to pick them up from Entebbe Guesthouse near the airport, about an hour from Kampala. I’d been in Uganda for three months but hadn’t seen Tom and Isy since Christmas so it was so nice to all be reunited together, to have a hug from family and talk to them in person rather than via a screen (as grateful as I am for technology the last few years!). It was time for them to experience my Ugandan driving for the first time which they coped very well with while I weaved between boda drivers, persuaded policeman we were following the rules or navigated Kampala traffic.

We spent the weekend in Kampala while I showed them as much as I could of my life here, from favourite cafes and restaurants to where I live, work, shop and hang out. I loved being able to share this with them in a more real way than I can describe over the phone, when lots of things are so different to home. They were able to come to my Church here and meet lots of my friends, with many comments on how alike all of us look! For Isy’s birthday present, we went to choose some Kitenge fabric to have a jumpsuit (see photo below for final product). This meant a trip to the market and everyone having a go at haggling while getting used to the large numbers of Ugandan shillings. Another highlight was a visit to the Ndere Cultural Centre to see the Ndere Troupe perform. This was an incredible display of dance, music and singing while taking us through Uganda culture and the traditions of different tribes. We all loved it and were so impressed by the talent from amazing butt shaking to carrying pots on their heads while dancing. Thankfully we were not too intimidated to stop us getting up to join in with the dancing at the end!

They’d all coped well with a jampacked weekend in Kampala as soon as they arrived, but it was soon time to set off on the road and start exploring further afield. On Monday, we set off for our three day trip with Red Chilli Tours to Murchison Falls National Park in the North. This is the biggest national park in Uganda and contains incredible wildlife so we were excited to set off on our adventure. Baboons met us playing on the road as we arrived at the park and we set straight off for a walk to the see the waterfalls. I loved these and they were more impressive than I had expected. It was a beautiful location and standing being sprayed by the falls and listening to the roar as the water went over the top was strangely peaceful. The falls are narrow but the volume of water going over them is huge – Mum and I calculated the equivalent to approximately a swimming pool full of water a second! We crashed for the night after some stargazing and playing cards watching the campfire and despite the warnings, didn’t come across any hippos on the way back to our bandas….. The next morning, we set off at 6am for our game drive which was amazing! We saw so many amazing animals including lion cubs eating breakfast of a recent kill, a leopard wandering over our path, and more elephants, giraffes and buffalo than we could count. All in the most beautiful surroundings, such a special morning. This was followed by a boat ride to see the falls from the river and a lot more animal spotting, including hippos, crocodiles and eagles. The next day we were able to complete ticking off “the big five” by a visit to the Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary. This is the only site of wild rhinos in Uganda after they became extinct during the time Idi Amin was in power. Trekking to see these beautiful powerful animals on foot was an amazing experience, even when we ended up a bit closer to one than expected which had snuck up behind us! It wrapped up a great three days in Murchison with a lot of memorable experiences.

On Thursday, it was time to leave Kampala again for our trip to the South-West of Uganda, known as the Pearl of the Pearl because of how beautiful it is (Uganda was referred to as the Pearl of Africa by Winston Churchill). I was very grateful to have a rest from driving so we had a great driver Herbert help us on our travels. First stop was the equator! All of our inner geeks came out as we were fascinated to see how the water went different ways down the plughole (clockwise vs anticlockwise) in the northern and southern hemisphere, and then straight down on the equator line. Trying to work out what happened to the stars and moon in each hemisphere, and guessing which other countries were on the equator kept us occupied for the next few hours of our journey (feel free to offer guesses/opinions in the comments!). After a long drive, we arrived at Lake Bunyonyi and got a boat to Itambira Island where we would be staying. Lake Bunyonyi is known as the ‘Lake of Little Birds’ and it was stunning. We stayed at the Paradise Eco-Hub in their nests on the lake shore. These didn’t have doors, instead being open at the front, which made for amazing views in the morning and a real experience of being close to wildlife! This felt like such a peaceful place and we all felt so relaxed here, being really well looked after by our hosts too. The colours of the birds were beautiful, so Mum and I got into trying to tick off ones in our East African bird book. And although cold, it was a stunning spot for a lake swim. I even saw an otter swim past!

We were sad to leave this wonderful place but we then drove with a view of the Rift Valley into the Queen Elizabeth National Park which soon gave us another great view to enjoy. We stayed at the Little Elephant Camp which was one of my favourite places I’ve ever stayed. Glamping at its finest with wonderful views of the Rwenzori Mountains from the outside shower, amazing food to BBQ at night and such a warm welcome from our hosts who went above and beyond, even sorting a cake and some fizz for us to celebrate Isy’s birthday in style! The most special part though was when it came to 5pm and we were asked “would you be interested in seeing some elephants?!” True to it’s name, our venue meant were visited each evening by elephants that were walking through the National Park on their way to find water. I couldn’t believe how close we could get to them on foot (protected by a large ditch in between us and them!) and could have spent hours watching them eat, flap their ears to cool down and walk across the landscape. We were able to do a game drive and boat trip here too, and getting close to animals was definitely a theme at this Park!

Time to set off to our final location at the Crater Lakes. We stayed in a wonderful Airbnb outside Fort Portal which was such a peaceful, relaxing place. Dani (our host) made us feel so welcome and the views over the lakes and hills were wonderful. Mum and I loved swimming in the lakes and climbing hills for views, in between reading our books and using the prayer labyrinth (see photo below). It was time for my Dad’s birthday celebration and, after a visit to a local school and a walk round one of the lakes, we were grateful to have spent the evening at Ndali Lodge. Cocktails and a candlelit dinner was such a treat with wonderful views, making for another memorable birthday experience. Another highlight of our time here was chimpanzee trekking. This was the first time any of us had seen chimpanzees in the wild and it was amazing to see them interact, play, eat and communicate. One climbed down the tree in front of us and it took my best efforts to keep in a squeal of excitement!

It was time to return to Kampala, where my family kindly arranged for early birthday celebrations for me as they won’t be here for my actual birthday in August….some could say similar to the queen in celebrating twice! Father’s day wrapped up our trip before it was time for us to say goodbye as they head back to the UK. Very sad to see them go but so grateful to have had them visit and to get to explore more of this beautiful country. The holiday surpassed all of our expectations with so many special memories made through the warmth and hospitality of the Ugandans we met. Would highly recommend for anyone wanting a holiday recommendation!

Kath joined my family as part of my wonderful birthday team 🙂

4 responses to “Exploring the Pearl of Africa”

  1. I’m reading you alright and very thrilled for you all.What an itinerary!! Life will be so boring when you return but driving will be so much easier.♡

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  2. Lovely memories Kate! x

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  3. Oh Kate that must have been lovely to share those memories with your family a talking point in years to come for you all. Keep on enjoying yourself and telling us of your wonderful days x

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  4. So nice to read through and look at the pictures! Forget how much we actually did! Such a special holiday. It feels like so long ago already!!!

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