Monday, 23 May 2016

The Sounds of Northern Uganda.

We continue on our amazing adventure after the amazing and incredible adventure on the slopes of mountain Elgon, The sipi falls. 

Having spent a night at the famous and luxury designed Mount Elgon Hotel, we embarked on a journey full of fun and adventure. Through the war torn villages of northern Uganda, enroute the famous Murchison falls National Park, We made a stop at the Nyero rock paintings 7kms away from kumi town. The Nyero Rock paintings are historical architects painted by the karimojong itesots and the batwa ethnic groups dated about 6000, 4000 and 5000 years back. We visited a number of caves beneath the rocks as we made the tour with a site guide. A small story about the tribe here,

The itesots and the karimojong in the early centuries were the same people living in northern
karamoja region. When the area was hit by famine, a section of these nilotics decided to graze their cows south of the karamoja in search of pasture and water for thier animals, However their comrades warned them that they are headed for death disaster. In karamoja language iteso means death, so the area that these members migrated and settled is an area refered to as the death area and that’s how they were finally called the itesots occupying these areas of Kumi and soroti regions.

 As we headed out of the rocks we saw this irresistible scenic view on a rock and being adventurous, we decided to go hike this rock. The great views of the karamoja plains were spectacular and were worth the hike.

We later Boarded our safari land cruiser and headed north through soroti town and later found this seasonal market we couldn’t just pass without a visit. Well this wasn’t part of our program but these are things you don’t want to miss when you travel to Uganda. These markets give you a clear definition of what travel to Uganda is all about and we did spend an hour going through the different sections of the market from foodstuffs, clothes, hardware shops, local restaurants and yes we had a one-one with the local people. Their wish to locally chew the sugar cane was fulfilled as we had the chance to buy, cut, chop and chew the cane. 

After the successful market visit, we then proceeded to lira for some foreign exchange just before we headed to Murchison Falls. Usually this is a recommended stop for refilling gas en-route Murchison even when on a self drive car rental in Uganda or still guided trip. It’s also a recommended place for shopping fresh foods if you are headed for camping to the Murchison falls National Park. There’s a central market you can round up all the shopping you need from fresh to packed. I would personally also recommend doing foreign exchange of the monies here if you will need loose them in the park because neither of the above will you find after you get into the park boundaries.

There are 3 entrances from the northern side into the park and yes the purongo gate is the most common used and the most interesting. The 43km stretch to paraa safari lodge is more less a day’s games drive. You probably will have to encounter almost half of the Murchison falls wild animals on a game drive. The seemingly short 43kms took us about 2 and half hours to cover because of the photographic opportunities we encountered that were irresistible. Very much a good idea to maintain the 40km/hr speed not for the safety of the animals and yourself but also for great chances of sightseeing. The great evening was climaxed with a good treat at the paraa safari lodge with a great dinner and overnight.

Day 4. Game drive and river Nile boat cruise.
We were ready at the vehicle by 6:30am for our morning game drive. It’s quite a good idea to

always start the day earlier and proceed for a day game drive by 6am. Even when you decide on a self drive car rental with Auto Rental Uganda, it’s not just an idea but also a trick if you do not want to use a ranger guide and you probably don’t know the ways or the location for the animals. Animals are usually very active in the morning hours just before sunrise lazy and reluctant during daytime.  So you stand chances of seeing a lot during morning hours and also there are always other safari vehicles on a the same game drive that you can either ask for any sighting or simply follow and what they see, is what you can see.

After an hour’s drive at our pace, almost the last behind taking our own routes, we were lucky to meet a pride of lions which others didn’t see walking on the same track we were driving. We drove watching the lions, following the kings of the jungle for about an hour and left them relaxing just besides a thicket. A lot of other animals were in plenty including the huge elephants and the elusive Rothschild Giraffes.

Our drive led us to the hippo pool on the Albert Nile where the Mighty River Nile joins the Lake Albert as it proceeds up north. This has always been my perfect spot for a spectacular bush breakfast. Overlooking a peninsular and a school of hippos is a great spot for a breakfast. With no time i set up the camp table and the chairs for our bush breakfast. This was a 45mins relaxed breakfast as we watched the elephants across on the lake peninsular and the playful hippos in the pool. When we were done with our nice, relaxed breakfast we proceeded for our second part of the game drive. This took us through the lake Albert view track with a lot of antelopes, bucks, warthogs, buffalos, Giraffes and so many bird species just besides the lakeside. We were blocked by elephants on several occasions as we drove through the woodland area of the southern part of Murchison. This was the same track that led us out and back to the lodge. Time check was 11:30am when we checked-in back to the lodge for a relax and for lunch just so they could get ready for the afternoon boat cruise.

In the afternoon we were down to the jetty to get ready for the afternoon boat cruise.  Number of companies offer boat cruises to the bottom of the falls. The Uganda wildlife Authority, Wild frontiers and paraa safari lodge have different times for boat departures. All have their bookings before the departure. Very much recommended you reserve your boat ticket just immediately you return from the game drive. The ticket for the boat cruise costs $30 for foreign residents and 20,000ugx for east citizens with the UWA boat. Other companies charge $30 irrespective of nationality.

I let Joy and selinah proceed with the cruise as I waited back for them to return. They did love the boat cruise as they had lots to explain about the boat trip. They did see lots of hippos, bucks, elephants, crocodiles, birds and the most spectacular waterfall seen from the bottom falling 45m. They were able to see the second waterfall created in 1962 when the Nile river over flooded and same year when Uganda got its independence. 

Our day ended with a treat of a birthday for joy during dinner time. It’s very much possible to celebrate a loved one’s birthday with the help of the hotels staff if alerted in advance. The whole staff crew will come out of the kitchen and sing, dance and jump singing the birthday melodies. You can order a cake and as you sit having your desert, they are capable of putting a surprise for you or the loved one. 

Join me next time as i continue with this amazing adventure as we proceeded south of the country to the ziwa Rhino sanctuary and the spectacular waterfalls on the top with Auto Rental Uganda, car rental and self drive safaris.

Friday, 20 May 2016

The Sounds of Eastern and Northern Uganda Trip

8 days of un-interupted adventure, 8 days of fun, 8 days of great northern Uganda described by the calmness and breathtaking Scenery. Even if we didn’t go to the far north of the country to visit the hidden treasures in the wilderness, the un-beaten surroundings of the mountain Elgon slopes enveloped in cloudy mist meandered by the incredible waterfall views coupled with the great plains down the mountain escarpment sipping a cup of coffee was just what we needed for a great start.

Having picked Joy and Selina from the Entebbe international airport, after clearing with customs, they were out at 3 o’clock as we headed out to Jinja. As usual before we set off, briefing about the country and the trip is always important and that is exactly what i did before we set off. We drove to Jinja town through the ever crowded Kampala city but I managed to take a bypass through the industrial area towards the eastern loop of Kampala. Through the suburbs of Kampala and mukono towns we managed to cross the mabira forest another forest reserve in Uganda. Usually the the 80km distance from Kampala to Jinja takes about 2hours because of traffic but this took us about  3 and half hours due to the rush hour traffic we encountered on the jinja road. To other travelers on the same journey on a self drive car rental in Uganda trip, the mabira forest is stop by for many travelers en-route Jinja usually for an overnight at the famous Rain forest lodge that blends luxury into nature. The sounds of the forest are just breathtaking and rewarding. However our trip was designed to spend a night in the tourism capital of East-Africa at the Source of the smiles guest house, you probably mistake it for the name Source of the Nile. Well this is one of the many nice hidden retreat lodges designed in magical nature and feels romantic being here. It is also among the many guest houses that offer a magical stay on bed and breakfast arrangement and you definitely have to go out and find a restaurant to have dinner or lunch. I would say $88 for the double was fair enough price for joy and selina at the guest house. As i wondered to a nearby guesthouse to find my accommodation and return back, joy and selina also took a guided walk to a nearby 2-friends Guesthouse for their dinner which i later joined to pick them up and drove them back to the smiles guesthouse. Well i ended the day with a brief about tomorrow and we agreed we could visit the source of the Nile and also needed a walk in the old town of Jinja. 

Day two in Jinja
We started our day at 8am in the morning with a visit to the source of the Nile. The entrance fees to this park are 10000 and the vehicle is 5000 Uganda shillings. This is one of the sources the Jinja municipality collects its taxes. Through the Craft shops which were not open that morning we arrived,  we were at the bank overlooking the point where the longest river in the world starts its 6700km journey. Across the river at this point is a monument standing marking where John Hannington Speke stood as he saw the water bubbling out of the Lake Victoria. However this water bubbling out of the lake isn’t evident anymore because of the dam constructions going on along this river. Apparently this can be seen after a boat cruise north of this original point. You may need to pay an extra $30 to go see this point however Joy and Selina did not want this; they think this was enough of the tour here. It was time for us to head and visit the mahatma Ghandi’s statue an international Hindu peace advocate whose ashes were immersed in the river Nile. After this tour we headed to town where we needed to do a walking through the Jinja town. Here we packed the vehicle in a safe place and started our walk. Through the main streets of Jinja, we ended up in the local central market and mainly the food section is always interesting. Well we did a roundup of the market and headed back to the vehicle as we still had a way to go. Through the sugar plantations of Jinja and the eastern towns of Uganda, we managed to reach the Mbale town in time for lunch at 2pm latest. Well i will call it snack lunch. After lunch we accessed the banks for foreign exchange and loose monies as we proceeded north of Mbale to the mountain Elgon slopes in sipi. We got here about 4 am and we decided we could do a coffee tour that evening so we could have time to relax the following day. 

We were led by one Rasta a site guide working with the sipi river lodge for the coffee tour. We
were led to see how this Arabic coffee is grown in the mountains and all the process they go through to have the coffee trees up. All the local farming is explained that later leads us to Rastas nearby village home for the second processing of the coffee. We locally pounded, roasted, grinded and prepared a cup of the famous mountain Elgon Arabic coffee. The remaining of the coffee beans were parked for joy and selina to take home. This is always one of the most rewarding activities worth a try in these foothills of mountain Elgon. It was approaching 6pm when we checked back to the sipi river lodge , the only high end or mid-range accommodations in this area for tourists. Yes, there are other lodges like the Lacam and Eagles nest but these are very budget lodges. There is an option for camping in this area of sipi however Joy and Selina slept in the locally crafted but luxury cottages of sipi river lodge. They did find their meals nice and delicious as I did not stay in the lodge premises but rather in the next doors Noah’s ark lodge.

Day 3 of the great sipi falls walk.

As agreed the previous day, we embarked on one of the most sought beautiful and fun filling
sipi river walk or possibly call it a hike. The sipi river walk is a combination of authentic local experience all enveloped to form spectacular sceneries. Through the homesteads and village homesteads, we arrived at the first Waterfall always referred to as the first sipi fall estimated 85m making a thunderous bang  into a river stream. The splashes you feel underneath creating a rainbow that surrounds you leaves you with nothing but everlasting memories. From here you witness the fall dropping and into a river stream beneath flows through the gardens underground before they fall to form another thunderous waterfall located just in the premises of the sipi river lodge. We did follow the river and through the locals in the farms is a chance to understand the African way of living. This walk portrays and brings into reality a real African life picture to life. What would I say? It’s all deemed for adventure. We finally get to the second waterfall which has a natural swimming pool and a baby fall on its top. Standing on top of this second is another breathtaking spectacular view and over the endless plains beneath the mountain escarpment.

Descending down this fall into the premises of the lodge to view the fall from below is not an easy and you got to be careful as many will crawl down here. Below the fall is a traditional clean cave maintained by the lodge staff in which was a site for the traditional public male circumcision ceremonies. 

After the spectacular view of this 75m waterfall, banging into a gorge before it descends into a river stream that is visibly seen flowing to its last bang of a waterfall that appears in most pictures representing sipi. As they descended  down the third waterfall to its bottom and enjoy the thunderous bang, I decided to let the site Guide take them down here as I collected the lunch boxes for a surprise picnic at the best viewing point of the 3 sipi falls with a 360 degrees combination view of the karamoja plains.

When they returned with Rasta the site guide, was a well set picnic lunch we had at the top of highest hill with incredible views, the rest is for them to tell.  After our well spent time here we later packed up, cleaned up and drove to the trading center where Joy and Selina needed some more of the coffee beans to take home as souvenirs.  We later left sipi and headed to Mbale with the last views and photo moments of the plains we couldn’t get as we ascended up the previous day.

Our destination hotel in Mbale was the Mount Elgon Hotel overlooking the famous Wanale hill- asteep slope of mount Elgon and a basis for our next day’s journey to the Murchison falls. This is with a say that this trip is very much possible on a self drive car rental in Uganda with the help of travel tips from Auto Rental Uganda.

Join me on my next article as i narrate to you our next journey on this amazing adventure through the sounds of the north.

Friday, 13 May 2016

Murchison Falls National Park - 3 Days trip.

Covering 3,983 in the north west of Uganda lies one of the oldest and
largest protected wildlife reserve. The Murchison is one of the well protected game reserve inhabiting over 76 mammal species and over 451 bird species. Apart from the wildlife and bird life populations, Murchison inhabits one of the most spectacular things that have ever happened to the longest river in the world - The River Nile. Bisecting the park into two forms the southern bank and northern bank to give it a wonderful experience of its own.

When Johan and Chris from Canada working for an international NGO in southern Sudan came to Uganda for work related trip, they had an extra week in Uganda before they could return back home. Here they searched “as I was told” the internet for the best car rental company to handle their ground transportation to the Murchison falls national park like they had decided. No so long did they find us on trip Adviser, the worlds travel site and had to call us directly from their hotel room. On short notice my boss assigned me this trip for the 3 days to the Murchison falls National Park and here is how it all played out.

Day 1 Meeting and briefed them about the trip.
It’s my continued behavior and ethical to brief the clients just before we start a trip. This sometimes feels boring for clientsas they are so anxious of the final destination but forget that the small things we talk about are so much important and are what make a trip a success, I would like to give a full briefing package here but I will reserve that story for another day. After I met and introduced myself, it was/always a weird look. Many clients always mistake me for a young lousy boy and under estimate my age. At 30 years now, many tourists i guide in Uganda always mistake me for a 25yr old. However after a distant ride I believe they must have changed their thinking of age estimation on me. At 8:30am, we managed to get out of the congested Kampala city heading north-west of the country through kawempe and north thereafter.

Our program was laid to drive to the Murchison Falls Park with a visit to the top of the falls with a lunch en-route masindi. However being creative in guiding is something every safari guide must do which others tend to ignore. When we got to masindi at 12:14am, Johan and Chris were not hungry and I had to be creative about this. “How about a fruit/coffee picnic at the top of the falls”? Would sound nice and interesting instead of sitting in a quiet restaurant and eat boringly. 

Along the way we bought some fruits which the two liked so much including the small sweet nice bananas. In Masindi I bought some coffee pack and milk to the list. Through the budongo forest were a wide range of animals including the olive baboons, water bucks, buffalos, antelopes, waterbucks and the native Abyssinian ground hornbill. And because of the bumpy road after the entrance gate of kachumanyobo, made the two hungry and now wanted to eat. In few minutes i set up under a shade of a breathtaking tree a table and chairs for them to sit enjoy.
Surprisingly they didn’t expect this. 

With a coffee plunger we made our Uganda grown coffee, the snacks we had and
made use of all the fruits we bought along the way. Definitely that was more than just enough for a lunch time. As Johan kept surprised at the service, his wife kept reminding him, “Remember we are dealing with professionals sweetheart.”

After the nice river overlooking picnic, we descended down to the main gorge where the placid river bangs. Starting from the northern part, is a 50m wide river that bangs itself in a 6meters river gap and falls 45m down. This rainbow formed placid bang is the most spectacular thing that has ever happened to the longest river in the world. 200m up of the main fall is the Uhuru falls that was formed in 1962 when Uganda got its independence. Uhuru is Swahili word to mean independence. 

After the awesome and incredible visit of the falls, they wouldn’t leave without an audio souvenir of my audio guide about the falls. We later left the falls and headed up to the Murchison falls on the paraa side for the ferry crossing. Paraa is the jetty place and a name that means hippos. At this area of the river Nile are large schools of hippos. Reason for the name paraa. We were late about 10 minutes for the 4 o’clock ferry and we had to wait till 6 o’clock to cross headed for the paraa safari lodge.

The paraa safari lodge is a high end lodge in this park overlooking the Nile River to the south. It blends a uniqueness of luxury comfort and wilderness experience. Johan and Chris were booked in a luxury safari tent that overlooked the river Nile, a self contained tent that provides the greatest comfort of luxury in the wild.

Among our Pre-booked trips on either self dive in Uganda are options for the paraa safari lodge. Check it out and maybe can be useful. Dinner and overnight was spectacular, this is what they told me in the morning as I picked them up for the next day activity.

Day 2. The long waited Game drive and the incredible boat ride.
This was a day to explain the true uniqueness of the Murchison falls National

On the earlier evening when I dropped them at the hotel and handed them to the hotel staff, we had a briefing and shared ideas on how we could make the next day interesting. This is what we decided on as a team. As others rushed to take very early breakfast and rush to the game park for the ride we decided/to my suggestion that we only take a small cup of coffee and a small snack and let’s make this special by having a bush breakfast. It would be awesome, right? 

Before I even finished, we all agreed on that. I did make sure everything was right and all the packed breakfast was ready. As others rushed we took it slow and did our own routes in the park. Because of our “slow but Sure” and teamwork oriented we were able to spot a female lion with its 3 cubs hunting just immediately we entered the park to start the game drive. The female lion with the cubs were doing some hunting session but this needed attentiveness to spot then. 
Chris was a good spotter and there we did see what others didn’t see. I would say it’s the teamwork thing. I always say to the clients I take on, “the trip is not all about me, but it’s all about us”.  As others cars kept following each other in anticipation of seeing what others would see, we decided to take our own track in the park. It wasn’t long that we spotted a pride of other lions besides two anthills and hardly recognized.  As we stood there waiting for any movements of the lions, other safari vehicles came to see what we were gazing at. As more vehicles came up, we decided to leave and head back to the other tracks and see other wildlife. We/i knew these lions at that time would stay there till evening. Lions are very lazy animals. They sleep all day light and usually very active during the night, so basically the hunting is always in the night.

We proceeded to the parts of the park and saw lots of other animals including the tall and stunning giraffes, kobs, waterbucks, Buffalos, elephants, oribis and so many bird species. We docked at the hippo pool on the Albert Nile where there lives a huge school of hippos and fishermen. On the other side of the hippo pool were elephants and buffalos ascending to the river. This is where we decided to set up our table for the bush breakfast thing. That was an overwhelming and exciting breakfast as we sat and enjoyed the elephants, hippos and buffalos in distant. The feeling was just as frightening and interesting but very safe. After the great photo short relaxed breakfast, we did embark to the second round continued game drive. But this time around, we were headed to the end of the game drive and back to the lodge. 

I decided to use the route where we left the pride of the lions on the anthills. After joining about 3 other safari land cruisers and tourists waiting as well, the lions stared shifting in search of good shelter in a thicket. This was our side and here we stand spotting a pride of 1male, 3 females and 4 cubs wagging their tails moving in our direction, passed in between our vehicles and crossed the track road to the thicket behind us. Great shots, great experience and close encounter with the kings of the jungles. What else would we want? As they all entered the thicket, we left and headed back to the lodge for relaxing and lunch just before we headed for the afternoon boat cruise to the bottom of the falls.
At 1:45pm after the great lunch, I picked up Johan and Chris and headed down to the paraa lodge jetty to get ready for the cruise. Great position they got and what happened as they went on the boat cruise would surely be their story to tell. But all they could say is “incredible” experience". I dropped them back to the lodge for their evening relaxing and had their dinner later. As usual we had a team talk and shared ideas how we could go about the next day. We agreed on a relaxed breakfast and cross the Nile with ferry to the southern side by 10pm.

Day 3 - The journey back to Kampala and the Rhino tracking experience.
It clocked 9:30am and i was there at the lounge to pick Johan and Chris for the ferry crossing. The ferry crossing is one experience of its own. Getting on this ferry and the experience you have to balance on the ferry is another interesting one. The feeling of being in the middle of the River Nile spectating at the great sceneries, sunrise and the hippos groaning in the waters is just marvelous.

It takes us about 10mins to cross this ferry to the southern banks. We started driving through the park roadway to the southern gates. Hardly had we gone half way than we found road construction ahead of us. “this isn’t a road, this is a potatoe field” Johan was nervous wondering and joking how we would manage this. This is where the 4x4 land-cruiser or any 4x4WD from Auto Rental Uganda is necessary for such trips. You never know what to expect with the roads. 

However we managed to drive through the constructing and muddy road till we got to the southern gate and here the road was great. We drove for more 1 hour down to the Ziwa Rhino sanctuary to check in for the Rhino tracking experience.

The ziwa Rhino Sanctuary is a huge protected reserve (call it Ranch) sitting on a piece of land. Under the management of the Rhino fund Uganda, 16 Rhinos roam around this sanctuary and are all available for the tracking experience. This sanctuary was started with an intention to re-introduce Rhinos into the Uganda National game reserves that were extinct by 1991 with the last black Rhino poached in the Kidepo valley national park.

We headed to the visitors center and after the $45 per person payment; we had a
guide and headed for the rhinos. On this day, the Rhinos were very far and we had to drive through the thorny shrubs before they started walking to reach them. The experience Johan and Chris had been spectacular. Chris confessed to have been so close to the Rhino than she expected. After the Rhinos, we drove out of the sanctuary and this was about 2pm in the afternoon. “So where do we have our lunch Alex?” Johan asked. With our packed lunch boxes, I just drove, and randomly found a nice tree shed with spectacular view on the roadside, stopped
and set up the tables and chairs. Our coffee accompanied with the lunch in boxes was good enough for our last picnic . After our well deserved lunch, it was time to cut and try the famous Jack fruit that they have never seen before. They were surprised how it looked inside and they absolutely loved the taste. However I must admit, that it was too much ripe to give the best taste ever but it was good for the day. We packed our
belongings back to the vehicle and drove towards Kampala. 

I did drop them to a Hotel in Naguru, I must admit I hadn’t been to this place though it looked a nice one Palace “something”. After getting lost finding it we finally found it. And then it was time for our last farewell briefs. After my last words, this is how it ended; Johan folding his hands like shaking my hands, “this is for you, thank you so much Alex….. Hey, it’s not for the company, but for you, you did a great job”. i quote him saying. You can imagine the smiles on my face. Anyways, it always feels nice to be appreciated.

Well, Did this interest you? Or do you want any similar safari experience, Drop us an email and let’s take you discovering the pearl of Africa.