Uganda - Kibale, Kasese, Lake Nkuruba, and more
Dec 13, 2004
Misha chastised me for giving no background info for the previous journal entry. He was right. My journal usually describes personal experiences, but a paragraph about the war in Uganda would have helped put the Gulu story in context. I'll add that here.
Southern Uganda is peaceful, quiet and safe. The tourism industry is rapidly expanding. Northern Uganda is a completely different world. It's been enmeshed in war for 20 years. The Ugandan government is fighting a civil war against the Lords Resistance Army (LRA) led by Joseph Kony. Joseph Kony is a charismatic madman, with a vision of setting up his own government based on the 10 commandments. Unfortunately, he is insane. Riding a bicycle on Sunday is technically a violation of the 4th commandment. The LRA punishes people for breaking this technicality by chopping off their legs. The 6th commandment, thou shall not kill, the LRA seems to ignore. When they kidnap kids, they often murder both their parents, so the kids have no where to return to. New groups of kids are usually indoctrinated by being forced to kick runaways to death. The LRA is one of the most cruel and brutal groups in the world.
A few years ago the Ugandan army launched a major campaign against the LRA. The LRA was crippled, but they responded by kidnapping and inducting thousands of new child soldiers. For years, they had been kidnapping kids, but never before in this number. It was after these mass kidnappings that the "night commute" to Gulu began.
The situation is very complicated and difficult for Ugandan government and society. How do you fight a war against an army made up of your own children?
That's the situation in Northern Uganda. Now on to happier stories of peaceful and relaxing southern Uganda.
Arriving in Uganda
The night bus ride to Uganda was terrible. It was dark so I could not see the road, but I imagine there must have been 100s of miles of road construction because it is impossible for bumps to be naturally spaced that evenly. We bounce, bounce, bounce, bounced for hours and I got no sleep. Just before sunrise, we arrived at the border. Then a couple of hours later, we stopped for breakfast at a roadside stand. Unfortunately, I hadn't changed any money at the border, so I couldn't eat. With the lack of food and sleep, the day was not looking promising.
I then looked around, and was amazed by the scene. For months, I'd been in drought ridden Tanzania surrounded by shades of tan and brown. Uganda was amazingly green. The change was drastic enough that my eyes actually had to adjust. Even the truck stop by the side of the highway was beautiful. A hundred birds were hanging out of their nests, chirping loudly. A white bunny rabbit hopped out from under a truck and started nibbling on garbage. I was puzzled by the sudden appearance of the rabbit and was staring at it when another bus passenger tapped my shoulder and pointed at the road. A huge baboon came out of the jungle. He casually strolled across the road, and stopped in the middle of it, hanging out at the police roadblock. Birds, a bunny rabbit, and a baboon at 7am; It was an amazing, bizarre and surreal scene, and almost more than my mind could handle in this sleep deprived state. What a perfect way to enter country number 50.
Kibale National Park
The prices in Africa are difficult to take after years of traveling SE Asia. $5 for a bed in a dorm seems absurdly expensive after paying $1 for nice double rooms. The highlight of Kibale park is the chimpanzees, but the price for chimp treks had just been doubled from $20 to $50, and I refused to pay it. After coming all the way to the park, I felt that I had to see something. I opted for the much more affordable $5 half-day nature walk.
The nature walk started out excitingly with warnings of black mambas and spitting cobras that live in the jungle. But then the nature walk went downhill; figuratively not literally. We saw ferns, and vines, and even a bit of deep, dark impassible jungle. Some of the plants were interesting -- strangler figs that strangle other trees to death, and vines that grow to be hundreds of feet long. But, planets don't get my adrenaline pumping. We saw birds and bugs, but nothing especially interesting. We came across baboon dung and elephants dung, but no animals other than monkeys way up in the trees. After a couple of hours of walking, I was tired and bored and ready to turn around.
Then we heard chimpanzees. The screams of a chimp are unmistakable. I hadn't paid for a chimp visit, but through incredibly good luck, my nature walk happened upon a family of them. A few minutes after hearing them, a chimp scrambled by just a few feet in front of me. We followed him as he joined two other chimps up in a tree. The chimps mostly stayed high up in the trees snacking away, so unfortunately there were no face to face encounters, nor any good photo opportunities. Once, a chimp fell towards me screaming, before grabbing a branch and swinging away. It was exciting, but fleeting. My encounter with the chimps was fun, but not as great as I hoped, or expected it would be. Had I paid $50, I would have been very disappointed.
When I got back to the ranger station, the rangers all congratulated me. It is very rare for a nature walk to come across chimpanzees. Perhaps my karma is evening out. I failed to see lions in the Ngorongoro Crater, but in Uganda, I saw chimps for free.
I left the park and waited alongside the dirt road for a shared taxi. Then, I heard a rustling in the tree across the road, and got excited. It might be more chimps, I thought. Perhaps, I can get a good photo of them this time. I stalked, Elmer Fudd style, across the road and into the jungle. There he was... up in a tree. His black fur was poking out between the leaves. I raised my camera and waited for the perfect shot. The chimp turned and I readied myself to take a picture. His head poked out from behind the leaves. I disappointedly found out that it was a baboon, not a chimp and put down my camera. Apparently, the baboon was at least as interested in me, as I was in him, and he was wondering what I was doing in _his_ jungle. He bared his fangs and charged down through the trees towards me. This caught me completely by surprise. I took off running and didn't stop until I was all the way back across the road.
type, drip, type, drip, type
Mud huts are not the best place for writing - particularly, at night in the middle of a thunderstorm. I scribbled notes for this journal entry late one night in a mud hut in the middle of a thunderstorm. Fortunately, the relatively luxurious mud hut had only a few small leaks. Unfortunately, it wasn't luxurious enough to have electricity. The only light came from flashes of lightning and my headlamp. Working on the journal in the midst of a storm is exciting, but highly unproductive. I was typing to the beat of "drip, drip, drip" which was okay, except I kept getting worried. Every half-sentence I'd have to stop, check the room, and make sure that the laptop was staying dry.
Lake Nkuruba was a lovely spot. I spent 3 days hanging out there. Not much was going on, but the lake was there for swimming. The highlight of each day was "monkey-watching" in the afternoon when a large family of black and white colobus monkeys would wander by.
The nearest village was a mile away and I'd walk there every afternoon for lunch. Women walking down the dirt road had bundles balanced on their heads. Bicycles more often than not carried huge bundles of green bananas. Shared taxis, overloaded with 10 people in a Toyota Camry or 30 people in a minivan, screamed down the road kicking up dust. The scenery all seemed very African with the exception of one incongruous dairy farm - the black and white cows munching on green grass seemed more in place in Wisconsin, than in the heart of Africa.
One day, on my way to the village, a group of ladies with bundles on their heads took a very deliberate detour around something in the road. When I approached, I found a tiny grey snake crossing the road. I decided to also take a big detour around this little guy - I'd learned from the nature walk in Kibale that most of the snakes in Uganda are deadly. The encounter with the snake left me a bit paranoid. Each time a car approached, I had to weigh the danger the danger of stepping into the grass and possibly getting bitten by a poisonous snake against the risk of getting hit by the car. It made the day's trip to the village and back much more exciting.
Uganda is for the Birds
I'm not a bird person. There are over a thousand species of birds in Uganda of all shapes, colors and sizes -- but this doesn't interest me in the least.
However, some of the birds in Uganda are so large, and so bizarre that even I can't help but be impressed. The fish eagles are wonderful - looking not too different than a bald eagle, the shoebills and hornbills are bizarre, and the crested cranes, they're beautiful. It is the marabou storks though, that will remain forever fixed in my memory.
Marabou storks are the pigeons of Uganda feeding off whatever they can find in the cities and towns of Uganda. Though, there are a few differences. Marabous are large enough to carry off a child, and ugly, unbelievably ugly. A single marabou is impressive, overwhelming and shocking enough, but in Uganda you don't find them individually. You might see three of them walking through a downtown park as if they owned the place. A small tree on the center divider island of a road could be over full with a half-dozen of them. Then you'll probably look up and find another dozen marabous circling overhead silhouetted against the sun and looking like long-extinct pterodactyls. One marabou is shocking enough, but being confronted by scores of them is surreal and a uniquely Ugandan experience.
Kasese gets mentioned in other traveler's journals only as a transition point where they spent a night. But, I liked Kasese and stayed for a while. It looked like a small town in the American Old West. Kasese is made up of a half-dozen dusty roads which have little enough traffic that you can cross the street without looking. All of the buildings, except the one two-story hotel, are only one floor and have false fronts. The small stores selling feed or hardware often have an owner sitting out front watching people go by. And the food vendors sell delicious grilled chicken or beef skewers right from the grill for only 2 bits. It almost could have been the Old West, except for the color of everyone's skin, the lack of six-shooters, the occasional NGO Landrover, and of course the pterodactyls flying overhead.
Bunny rabbits, poisonous snakes, chimpanzees, and dinosaur looking birds -- What could I possibly find next in Uganda?
To be continued....
just catching up again on what you've been doing recently, and the pictures of the children who make their evening "Night Commute" are really something.
I admire your willingness to head north and east until you land back here in what we all think of as "west". Keep the updates coming!
Misha - Dec 15, 2004
Your right, that IS one of the ugliest birds ever. I think that if those things were in the US, the government would have wiped them out long ago, probably along with the buffalo.
By the way, what keeps the LRA from abducting kids during the Night Commute?
The LRA sneaks around at night when the can't be seen. If they come out before dark there is a much higher chance of them being seen and shot by government soldiers.
Alexandra Star - Feb 22, 2005
Hi .. I grew up in East Africa, and we used to call the Crested Cranes by the name Kavirondo Crane .. I don't see any references to that name on the internet sites. Has it been dropped, or was I wrong in the first place?
Can you help?
Thanks for having this site.
Sorry. I've never heard of the Kavirondo Crane.
But perhaps someone will find this page by searching on "Kavirondo Crane" and be able to answer your question.
Pommy Sagoo, - Feb 08, 2006
great shots. QE Nat Park, Kibale etc.
I was born in a small town called Jinja. Loved it. Came from a wealthy family and got out when Idi Amin threw the Asians out - I was part of the exodus. Came to Canada. Times were great, place was awesome. i got my PPL when i was 17 and flew all over Uganda in our single engine Cessna 210. I can see you having spent so much time and having a ball.
Great site, Man. keep it rolling!!
Thanks for the compliment.
Do you know anything about Jinja these days? I'm sure that it has changed immensely since you
lived there. Now it is a big party place filled with water-water rafting tourists.
Pommy Sagoo - Mar 21, 2006
we exchanged a emails a few weeks back and i had left a comment. would you be willing to promote my site:
it's a virtual shopping mall. In turn i could promote you on my site.
I've reading up some more on Uganda. Great country, ain't it!!
Robin Lobb - May 11, 2007
Have you heard of couchsurfing.com?
I have indeed and highly recommend it to people.
Though I haven't used it myself. Couches available in Africa are still few and far between. And every time that I go to Europe, but I plan to couchsurf but instead find that I already have friends there that I can stay with.
hannah - Jun 03, 2007
I wish I could come where you people are. I want to see all the pretty animals and all the beautiful people there.