Stories

 

Uganda


From the 26th of March to the 17th of April, 2016

A dozen of curious kids silently gathered around us right after we were taking our chairs out of the car. Very shy at first, they happen to speak good English. The Ugandan immigration officer had left for an emergency and took the visa stickers with him. Refusing to pay 100 USD (for a simple stamp) which would end up in Madam's pocket, we decided to wait. Today, tomorrow, after tomorrow, who knows... We spent the day entertaining the kids with the limited resources we had. Playing with a ball and showing them pictures. It doesn't take much to fascinate them. At 4pm, our visas finally arrived. The time to distribute some pencils before to hit the road. What a nice Easter Friday!

    

At the foot of Mount Elgon, the mud houses along the dirt road are surrounded by their little piece of fertile land. During the rainy season, the dirt road becomes so muddy that moving with a vehicle becomes nearly impossible. The power lines didn't yet make it that fare and the only source of power are the few huts offering mobile phone charging out of their solar panels. Kids are greeting us and running after the car shouting muzunguuuu (foreigner). We made it to Africa, hum? Too late to reach a village, we decided to sleep along the shoulder of the road overlooking the Ugandan plains. Before we even parked the car, the first kids left their job aside. I took a big breath and started cooking in front of about 20 silent kids. In normal times, I would describe "plain boiled potatoes" as the dish of the poor, but that night, I felt guilty of having such a luxurious dish in front of them.

The following day, we reached our first point of interest. Located on the cliff, the camping offered a beautiful view on the Sipi Falls. For a closer look, we hiked to each of the three falls and their natural pools, following a trail crossing banana and coffee plantations. I particularly enjoyed the water curtain and the lush green forest of the 2nd fall.

    

In the northern part of Victoria Lake, the Nile starts its 6650 kilometers journey to the Mediterranean sea. We joined a few other adventurous travelers for a rafting day going through eight rapids of grade 5. 1 raft, 1 guide, 8 crazy tourists and 3 kayakers taking care of our safety. After the briefing, we could row and help each other to get back on board. All we needed to face the white waters of the Nile. The first rapid was the most technical and messing it up was not an option. After a few paddle strokes, we were taken by the current. Hold tight, everybody down! At pretty much the first wave Raphael decided to let himself being catapulted out of the raft. Within a second, our party caught him by his lifejacket and hauled him back on board. Just in time for the next wave. Ouff, we made it! Chicken or lion way for the 2nd rapid? What a question, the lions of course! Hold tight, everybody down! The raft capsized and the entire team was ejected in the swirls and I got trapped underneath the flipped raft. A moment of panic which got me a few sips of Nile water. As the following rapid was reserved for the experts, we walked our way around the main drop and went back on board for the last part. Chicken or lions? One more time, the raft catapulted all of us into the tumultuous waters. I kept by breath few a few seconds hoping that the washing machine would stop. I finally had a fraction of a second to take a wet breath before to be taken by the following wave. One of the safety kayakers reached for me and got me out of hell. Next rapid, chicken or lions? Huuum, lion always means capsizing? Yessss. Nothing wrong with chicken, right? It is difficult to determine where the line between a kick of adrenalin and fear is. Click here to see the video of this exciting day!

    

In northern Uganda, we met the Nile in a completely different context. Late afternoon, women walk in line to the river. In the water, some branches are forming a fence supposed to protect of crocodiles while the girls are filling their containers. Not used to have visitors, they left their duty aside. There was a lots of curiosity behind their timidity. They looked at my long hair, my green eyes, my light skin and pointed at my earrings, my bracelet and belt. In Africa, women are in charge of the water supply. From their childhood, they are used to carry up to 20 liters of water on their head. On the way back, one of them handed me over her extra 10 liters container. I was only carrying half of what that 8 year old girl was carrying and I could already feel pain in my spine after 5 minutes. We don't realize how lucky we are not to have to walk for kilometers for each drop of water. And the water quality? They are drinking the brownish Nile water while we are flushing our toilets with drinking water. Most of the kids have big round bellies caused by malnutrition and sanitary issue. In the area, they have very little food diversity. We looked for fruits and vegetables in all the surrounding villages, but apart from kasava (a root vegetable), there wasn't much on offer. And for more contradiction, in that same village, eco-lodges are serving western dishes to the tourists.

On a little boat, we sailed up the Nile and admired the fauna and flora of the river's banks. So many hippos. On the shore, huge crocodiles waited for their pray while others were hiding in the water, watching their freshly hatched babies. In the high grass, warthogs and antelopes grazed side by side. Despite the raining season, we were very lucky to spot a big male elephant. After two hours, we reached the point of interest of the national park where the mighty Nile is squeezed into a gorge only 7 meters wide. From the top of the fall, we admired the powerful waters of the Murchison Falls.

    

In the south of the country, primates are the stars of Kibale national park. Accompanied by a ranger, we penetrated the forest on the lookout for chimps. Guided by their shoutings, we found a group which we followed for about 2 hours. The females and their cubs were rather shy and distant, however the males didn't bother having some company. Some were picking fruits in the trees while others were comfortably lying in the grass with a meditative look. It was fascinating to discover positions, mimics and characters which are so similar to ours. What an amazing moment!

We continued our journey through the crater lakes region. A very green area covered in banana plantations. "Licodo Community Development Organization" is a community project dedicated to give a future to orphan kids. In the early 90's, 14% of the population (30% in rural areas) was contaminated by HIV. After they started fighting the infection rise, the numbers went down to 8% in 2001. Sadly, the consequence of this pandemic is a high number of orphans. To help this organization, you can sponsor the education of a child or make a single donation. More information can be found on their website www.licodo.weebly.com. The profits from the Lake Nkruba Enfunzi Camp (offering camping, rooms and tours) are helping this project. Overlooking the lake and the forest, this place is a monkey paradise to Red colobus monkeys, red tailed monkey, black and white colobus and verevet monkeys.

    

On the way to our next destination, we drove through the savanna of Queen Elizabeth national park, passing by some elephants, buffaloes and antelopes. As we approached Bwindi national park, the landscape became greener with hills covered in tea plantations. For two hours, we hiked a humid and escarped track leading to the heart of the Bwindi forest. Hidden in the bush, we spotted a patch of black fur. A few meters away, a silverback (dominant male) looked me right in the eyes. Around him, his females stuffed their mouths with leaves and branches while the clumsy youngsters played together. We were side by side with a family of mountain gorillas. About ten adults and three cubs, all not too bothered by the tourists group presence. About half of the world population of the critically endangered mountain gorillas are in Uganda. A total of about 880 heads spread between Uganda, Rwanda and Congo. In order to generate funds to protect the species from complete extinction, a few families have been habituated to human presence in their natural habitat. Being looked right in the eyes by such a creature was an incredible experience.

    

The landscapes which we crossed on our way to lake Bunyonyi were gorgeous. The hills were covered in different shades of green. Bananas, corn, tea, coffee, pine or eucalyptus forests. The sad part of the story is that apart from national parks, there are no more untouched forests. Whatever is not protected is transformed into charcoal. The lake and its fjord like arms were the cherry on the cake. In order to have a closer look to the little islands, we rented a canoe. Paddling in a straight line with narrow paddles in a canoe carved out of a huge trunk proved to be a task not to be mastered by us!

One of our last night in Uganda was wild camping again. This time at Lake Bunyonyi, just like when entering Uganda at Mount Elgon, a crowd of silent spectators gathered around us. But unlike back then, we already grew kind of accustomed to be the center of attention, with dozens of people watching us. We learned to accept our faith to act as entertainment to bystanders.

Click here to read the following story about our journey through Tanzania.

Album "Uganda - March-April 2016"

Video : "Uganda"
Video : "Rafting the Nile"