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Emma’s Travel Diary

Monday, 26 Apr 2010

Location: Uganda

MapInitially not much seems to change as we cross the border into Uganda. Women draped in colourful material still carry anything and everything on their heads, vehicles are still ridiculously overloaded and street vendors are everywhere. With time the subtle differences become more transparent.
Kampala is a very vibrant city and unlike the majority of Tanzania where there is a cultural fear of the dark, it bounces through the night and well into the morning. One night we go out to watch a contempory local band. The music is great and the locals are friendly and know how to party. It is easy and cheap to explore the city using motorbike transport known locally as 'boda bodas'. Em does a day’s volunteer work at an orphanage where she changes heaps of nappies and is covered in babies all day long. Outside the city it is rare to see a young woman not accompanied by a baby and we can’t help thinking some of East Africa’s struggle with poverty is a result of the population, which shows no sign of easing. Uganda has the third highest fertility rate in the world at 6.7 births per women!

We depart slowly from Kampala’s transport centre amidst pollution so thick you could chew it. In order to exit the gridlock of vehicles within, the driver must coordinate with others who all inch backwards and forwards countless times.
In Jinja, famous for being the source of the Nile, we stroll though a melting pot of churches, mosques and temples and around the pleasant outskirts dominated by cottages, bicycles and birdsong.

A boda boda, a bus ride and three dalla dallas (minivan) takes us a mere one hundred kilometres to Sipi Falls at the base of Mt Elgon. We pitch our tent on a terrace looking straight over a deep valley towards the falls. We stroll through coffee and banana plantations around the falls and through the village unhabituated by populations whose sanity is mildly disturbed as a result of the local maize brew.
On the way out we catch a ride on the back of a pick-up truck which is detouring through remote villages since it is market day. There are sacks full of avocados everywhere and bicycles are camouflaged by bunches of bananas which they are carrying.

After researching the present security situation we decide to venture north east into the notorious Karamajong region. The Karamajong are a tribe of cattle herders with a reputation of ambushing vehicles for food, money, vengeance and sometimes just for fun. Until recently they refused to wear clothes and were usually armed with AK47s. When the disarmament programme started in 2002 bullets were one of the main currencies.
On the first day the road is in terrible condition and we sleep on the bus half way before our expected destination. Before the recent downpours there has been a severe drought and the poverty is apparent. The usual street vendors are replaced by hoards of beggars. The next day the engine of our bus seizes. Within a few hours the locals barter a ride for most of us on the back of a pick-up truck. Including children, forty of us and luggage manage to squeeze in. Most of the people are Karamajong who are easily identified by a missing bottom front tooth which is wrenched out at puberty. The women bear intricate yet subtle, artistic facial scarring. As the truck skids and bumps along a dirt road we are treated to countless birds flying amongst the endless semi arid landscape and tribal songs that the locals happily sing to pass time. We spend the night in Kotido, a wild dusty town where we half expect Clint Eastwood to make an appearance. Another colourful bus ride and an equally entertaining truck ride later, we arrive in Kidepo National Park.

Endless long grasses are broken by the occasional waterhole, dotted with solitary trees and enclosed with the silhouettes of the distant ranges which are partly located in Sudan and Kenya. We fall asleep to zebras grazing around the campsite and lions roaring in the distance. We arise at dawn and meet our guide Denis, a park ranger armed with a huge white smile and an AK47. We walk for four hours with Denis who impresses us with his incredible knowledge of flora, fauna and tracking. Although it was fascinating observing wild animals from the safety of a Land Cruisers roof hatch, we were detached observers. We found the experience of entering the animal kingdom by foot enriched and somewhat primal.

We return south through the central north region, that until a few years ago was plagued by a horrific civil war. On the back of a huge truck we pass countless refugee camps and terrible poverty. However, Gulu the capital of the north seems to be prospering. The local Acholi people are some of the friendliest we have encountered.

During a quick stop in Kampala we exchange travel stories with other 'muzungos' and savor espressos, before hopping on a night bus to the south west corner. In the Mgahinga National Park we hike through a diversity of vegetation zones full of strange and beautiful plants to the summit of Mt Sabinyo where we are treated with views of Rwanda, DRC and Uganda.
Just out of the park in the Kisoro district, we board a shared taxi which drives us through hills terraced with potatoes, sugar cane, beans and cabbages to Lake Bunyonyi. Presently we are staying on an idyllic island in the middle of the lake. There are many different species of birds, all colours shapes and sizes. Their dawn chorus is deafening but delightful. Today we hired a dugout canoe and rowed for one hour to the local market to pick up some fresh produce. Along the terraced banks, women sing and men beat on drums. Next stop Rwanda...