|UPDATE FROM FRIEND AND FELLOW TRAVELER/ECLIPSE CHASER, KRYSS: 10/29/13
"For a number of reasons that I shall not go into here, I have arrived in Uganda on my own.
Booking the flights, the accommodation and two safaris on the internet was straight forward. The worries only began a few days before departure when a severe storm was forecast close to the time of my flight. As it turned out, the storm was delayed enough for me to make my exit from the UK. Indeed, the only damage was three of our garden fences have collapsed.
I flew via Qatar which resembles an enormous building site surrounded by sand. I changed planes and received my first offer of a lift into Kampala from a lady returning from a vacation in Bali (“the massages are good and cheap there”). I respectfully declined as I had arranged for my hotel to pick me up.
We took off over the sandy and rocky deserts of Arabia with not a tree in sight. I fell asleep and awoke to hilly, fertile and green Africa dotted with lakes.
My hotel in Kampala (JBK Hotel - comfortable safe and clean and central. $50 with breakfast) is one block from the main road with all the transport and banks. In fact there is a Barclays ATM across the road. I am at the edge of the main market area so the streets are busy during the day. It's quiet at night except when a preacher stops for ten minutes to shout about fire and brimstone and damnation.
Breakfast is in the restaurant and consists of a plate of fresh fruit, a juice, a pot of milky coffee and a vegetable omelet with trimmings, some of which are edible.
Less than five minutes walk through the busy traffic ridden streets are two restaurants.
The Uhuru does excellent local food like Pilawo (vegetable rice) with liver or chicken. The chilli sauce is excellent. With a drink this comes to less than £2 and is served in a tray with dividers. Antonio's is run by an Indian family and serves up delicious curries and biryanis with freshly made nan or chapattis. With drink this costs about £3.50.
My first lesson was that many African languages express meaning with prefixes. So with the GANDA civilisation we have Buganda (the land), Baganda (the people), Muganda (an individual), Luganda (the language) and Kiganda (the customs and traditions). Just knowing this and the word for “thank you” pleases everyone I meet.
There are two main forms of public transport in the city. The first are called taxis but are actually public minibuses. There are no signs or numbers but if I stand in the right place, people are friendly and will point me to the right one. A short ride costs about 12p while the longest ride that I had to make while sightseeing in the city cost 25p. Incidentally, what we would call a taxi is called “special service” here.
The second form of transport is called the boda boda and consists of a motorcycle that weaves in and out of the traffic. It is hair-raising and I have not ridden one for two reasons. Firstly I am a coward and secondly, part of the condition for me coming to Uganda by myself was “no boda bodas”.
The only problem I've had is someone trying to unzip my day pack on a minibus, something I spotted and stopped straight away. Vigilance is good.
Kampala is built on several hills and since many of the important sites are on top of these hills, I have had to undertake quite a bit of walking uphill – good training for my gorilla safari trek next week.
The first hill was topped by the copper domed Gadaffi Mosque, started by Idi Amin and completed with funds from Libya. The guides who show people around are deaf and dumb (UK meaning) which made for an interesting session. The interior is full of columns and chandeliers and the views from the minaret were good. Clearly, working at a desk all day doesn't do much for my fitness as the climb tired me.
Another hill took me to the Cathedral. This is a red brick building with a timbered interior. The faithful are called to prayer not by bells but by drums. I met a group of missionaries here from the north of the country.
Next hill was the Buganda Parliament, a building with a traditional style roof. The person who sold me a ticket locked her office and showed me around. I was told that in the Buganda kingdom, there are 52 clans all represented by a totem which is either an animal, a fish or a bird. People inherit their totem from their fathers. They are not allowed to eat their totem or that of their mothers. And they have to marry outside of their clan.
A 500m walk (down a hill and up a hill) brought me to the Mengo Palace, where the last king lived until forced into exile in a military coup. His Rolls Royce is a wreck after Idi Amin's forces finished with it. In the rear is the underground prison where Obote and Amin tortured and killed their victims.
Day 1 was now complete and a minibus brought me to the gridlocked centre – I always have to walk the final 300m otherwise it would take an hour or so.
Day 2 was just two places.
The National Museum contained items of pre-history plus cultural artifacts from around the country. Outside there were examples of houses from around Uganda. I walked around with a teacher who wanted information about the eclipse so he could take his students. This I duly sent him.
The Kasubi Tombs were on another hill and this is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The various kings are buried here and there are portraits of them on bark cloth. The tombs are maintained by the descendents of the kings' wives. They live in houses around the site which has the feel of a small village. Coffee grows here and is dried in the sun.
For day 3, I left the day pack behind and wandered to a couple of the markets. Both were crowded but colourful. In a small area were three Indian temples: Hindu, Jain and Sikh. I was allowed to visit all three and given prasad (sweet halva) in the last one.
Ugandans have been polite and friendly. You always have to greet people before undertaking any transaction like buying a ticket or asking directions.
Kampala has been interesting without being overwhelming. The real fun begins tomorrow when I will be picked up by my driver (called Fred) at 7am for the drive up north to my first national park and a detour for the solar eclipse.
Can't wait...... Kryss
My driver's name was Fred. Well actually it was Niwagaba. He is not a Muganda but a Rukiga from the South of Uganda.
We quickly left Kampala and headed North. The roads were generally good apart from some road works. After a lunch stop we entered Murchison Falls National Park, my home for the next three nights.
At the entrance we were entertained by Olive Baboons. We spotted a pair of Abyssinian Gound Horbills but the landscape south of the Nile was mainly bush and not good for wildlife spotting.
Murchison Falls itself was a spectacular gorge where the 50m wide River Nile is squeezed through a 5m wide forge and falls 45m. The roar and the spay generated have to be experienced to be believed.
A ferry across the Nile brought us to the savanah-like Northern part of the national park. The car roof was raised and I watched out for wild life.
We saw Water Buck, a herd of Giraffe, Oribi (a small antelope with small black horns), the Ugandan Kob (endemic to the park), the ungainly Jackson's Hartebeest and a large herd of Elephants.
The Pakuba Lodge was new and had a few teething problems. I had three rooms over my three night's stay due to electrical problems. The staff were helpful and friendly and were clearly doing their best. There was free wi-fi (Australia please note) but only in the main areas. I was in a wing that was too far. The view over the Nile was magnificent. From these latitudes I can see Venus every night for several hours against a dark sky.
I had to be escorted to my room after dark by an armed guard (“I found a leopard asleep here once”). Breakfast, lunch and dinner are included and were buffet style. I had to pay for drinks.
The second day in the park began with another game drive. We saw many herds of antelope and spotted Warthog, the African Fish Eagle, Pia pia (long tailed birds) and a Heron in a tree.
Patas Monkeys are endemic to the park and one of the few primates to live on the savanna rather than in forests or trees.
Next came a Kite, a Monitor Lizard, Water Buffalo (often with birds picking ticks off their backs), African Wattled Lapwing (with yellow legs), Plovers, and more Elephants.
In a swampy area by the Nile we saw Hippos with Egrets on them and a group of cranes.
On the return we saw a pair of Kori Bustards (that's with a U) and a Hammer Hawk.
The afternoon was taken up with a cruise on the River Nile up to the base of Murchison Falls. There were many eclipse chasers on the boat as excitement mounted.
I saw lots of Hippos. I spotted a couple of Nile Crocodiles. There were herds of Elephants and many Warthogs scurrying on the river banks, The bird life was magnificent. I recognised Pied Kingfishers but many I have still to identify.
Murchison Falls was as impressive from the river as it had been from above.
The lodge was packed for the eclipse. I met a group of science teachers from an international school in Kampala.
The Minister of Tourism was staying and I was introduced to her over breakfast as “our eclipse guru”. I showed her my eclipse photos and maps and a journalist took our photo together.
The lodge was the closest to where the eclipse was going to be total so the drive to the village of Pokwero was quick and easy. There was a festival atmosphere and security was tight as the President was due to see the eclipse from a local school. I was interviewed by Channel 44 Television about the eclipse and why I had chosen Uganda from which to view it.
I watched a bit of dancing and singing and then joined my new teacher friends and one of their 13 year old pupils. We drove 1.7km to the East of the crowded and noisy (but very lively) village to another school playing field.
You see I had received an email that morning from Lukasz. We had met up at previous eclipses but had never seen one together. It was now time to rectify this oversight.
The location was flat, quiet and rural. We were a group of about a dozen with a few local people. The Partial Eclipse began well with the bite from the Sun visible through our special filters. More detail could be seen through a large school telescope that was set up for eclipse chasers and locals to view.
About half way through the Partial Eclipse a large cloud covered the Sun. The Sun did peek out as it moved across but then several clouds combined to block the Sun.
Things looked grim.
As the air cooled with the advancing eclipse, the large cloud shrivelled away and out came the Sun bathing the landscape with the distinctive golden hues of a pre-totality eclipse.
The light dimmed and we could see the Moon's shadow approaching from behind the Sun.
Totality came and thrilled us with a wonderfully bright corona and red flames dancing around the edge of the Sun. The locals gasped with awe. One man was dancing a jig with delight. All too quickly, the Moon's shadow rushed past and a brilliant diamond ring apperared at the bottom of the Sun.
The eclipse was over. Totality had lasted a mere 22 seconds. But it had been darker than expected as the shadow was long in its direction of travel. I had captured the event on my camera. Our 13 year old pupil had managed to get a marvelous diamond ring at the end and I praised him for it.
Someone collected money from the eclipse chasers and I was asked to hand it over to the village elders which I did. I thanked them for their hospitality. They told me they now realised why we had come so far to see the eclipse.
We returned in darkness. The only traffic jam was at the entrance to the national park where some cars were getting stuck in a ford and had to be pushed through.
My 14th total eclipse of the Sun had been a success. The next part of my journey takes me south.
Arrived here at 1:30 having left Jinja at 11:30 but it took almost an hour to get across town to Backpackers Hostel and Campsite where we chkd in at 2:30! The traffic and gridlock in this town are incredible as well as the car exhaust pollution. While here we took the shared taxi/buses into downtown but then just walked everywhere...last eve here we went to eat at Masala Chaat House, Indian food, and it was GREAT and reasonable. Walking at nite was never a problem, the streets are generally very crowded even very late.
The general condition of the central city tends to be a bit down and out i.e. trash here and there, but on the whole fairly well run/clean otherwise. It is going to take a major act of Parliment to solve the traffic situation, however...the worst we've ever encountered on this journey.
Ugandans are somewhat unique in our African experience in that they are not at all aggressive in their selling or panhandling like in almost all other countries both E & W where we've been thus far. They are also quite polite and sincerely helpful, not with any ulterior motive.
The central market is way beyond huge...
Fire in Huge Market