February 20-21st, 2015
Our final day in Uganda was spent in and around the capital city, Kampala. I wasn’t sure what to expect of the rest of the country before we arrived but I certainly had a preconception of this place: choking with traffic, noise and pollution.
Returning to the capital from the serenity of the national parks involved driving on a road of varying quality. The main issue was had was a confrontation with a police officer, who pulled Hannah over shortly as we came over the crest of a hill and subsequently claimed we’d been caught speeding on her gun. Her gun which didn’t have any proof of it being our car, ignoring the fact that she couldn’t physically have clocked us before waving us over as she couldn’t see us.
A tense argument ensued, with me mentally calculating how long we could put forward our case without paying a bribe, before the lady decided, this time, to ‘forgive us’. This conveniently happened shortly after her traffic office partner, right in front of us, waved a car in without holding his gun up and then went through the same ‘speeding’ routine.
Driving has been a fascinating experience, often exhilarating and occasionally terrifying. The latter was certainly the case upon driving back into Kampala, where cars, bikes and buses squeeze to transform one lane into several. A large truck joined the major southern roundabout just in front of me and then proceeded to stop. On the roundabout. Pulling out from behind that truck with bikes zooming inches from the car door was slightly nervy, to say the least. The video below is a relatively calm part of our drive back to Kampala.
With a rapidly-growing population which already stands at 1.65 million, Kampala is one of the major hubs of hustle and bustle in this region of Africa. The bus station was an excellent illustration of how chaotic it can be. Somehow this chaos clicks and the buses are able to leave when they are ready. Timetables aren’t generally followed for buses; they tend to wait until they’re full before leaving. Riding in one of these minibuses, called a matatu, is a cramped and bumpy experience. As for trains…they don’t…really…have…any…
Walking around Kampala made me realise a few things. There isn’t really much to see as such here: landmarks are lacking and most colonial-era buildings have given way to the modern, generic kind or to a sprawl of shops clustered on top of one another. There are parks, yet no one is allowed inside them for ‘security reasons’.
Our final meal was fish and chips, Ugandan style. A whole fish caught in nearby Lake Victoria with very thick sweet potato chips. All for 10,000 schillings, which is a little over £2. Some foods are difficult to get here and thus expensive. Things which are locally sourced, including delicious fruits and vegetables, are filthily cheap. We were offered a whole jackfruit, which I struggled to hold, for 5,000. We took a sizeable chunk for the equivalent of 25p.
It’s hard to believe we spent less than a week in Uganda. We’ve seen so much and had some incredible experiences. It is a vastly underrated country; I imagine many tourists opt to venture around neighbouring Kenya and Tanzania instead. Those places may be fantastic as well but I somehow doubt that Uganda is in any way inferior.
The people, and there are many of them (the average age is apparently 15), are delightful. I always felt safe and the locals were calm, jovial and almost always smiling, even in the chaos of the capital.
With many of the less-travelled places, it is obvious that having friends or assistance in the destination makes a trip infinitely better. Rob and Sophie are brilliant hosts and made our time in Uganda truly special.
I’ve mentioned before that I didn’t know what to expect from Uganda. What I will return with are vivid memories of stunning and diverse landscapes, smiling faces, humungous plates of food and playful animals. Most of all, though, I will keep with me the lion, the King of the Jungle, lurking in the distance, standing proud as Mufasa would have done. To me, Uganda truly is the ‘Pearl of Africa’.
Love you all