Our land border crossing on the road from Kigali (Rwanda) to Kampala (Uganda) was easier than anticipated. The ceremony of getting processed at customs resembled some South American crossings during my recent trip there: Getting off the local bus, filling out immigration forms no one ever reads, queuing to get the exit stamp in the passport, walk about 500 meters across the border, filling out again customs forms that no one ever reads, bribing my way through the queuing crowd, getting the entry stamp and – finally board the bus again. All in all, this process took Evgeny, Tatjana and me about one hour. We then arrived a few hours later – notably after crossing the Equator – in Uganda’s busy capital city, Kampala.
Readers of this blog know my affinity for countries starting with the letter “U”. It may be a simple coincidence, but for some unknown reason, whenever I enjoy staying in a country, then it starts with that particular letter of the alphabet. As if there is no exception to this rule, I felt very comfortable and happy in Uganda. Although we were very busy arranging our trip to the famous Murchinson Falls National Park further north from Kampala, we found plenty of time to sight-see the capital city and enjoy a very tasty Chinese (sic!) dinner in a posh restaurant.
Although our hostel was very helpful in organizing the upcoming country-side trip, we did not really appreciate the very touristy atmosphere. Some of the backpackers looked just as if they arrived from Europe and needed a hiding place from the African reality. Others treated staff like if they were in a five star hotel at the shores of the French riviera. Luckily, there was a small outside terrace, a bit away from the crowd. Very quickly, Evgeny figured out the Vodka brand and price. Which meant that we went to the dorm really, really late. And getting up very very early next morning to hit the road was a bit of a drag. But our trip to the Murchinson Falls National Park was quite scenic.
However, the ministry of (silly) roads in Uganda must have fallen in love with speed bumps. Never ever have I seen so many sleeping policemen (as we call them back home) on a road. In one instance, the road had hundreds of speed bumps just meters apart, which considerably slowed traffic. We measured 8 kilometers of these bumps, each about 15 meters apart. You do the math. Some of these obstacles had been flattened by the heavy use of vehicles rolling over, defeating their very purpose. Our driver (and most others) seemed to know at which maximum speed and at which angle a car would be able to cross over the bumps. Looking at the traffic in front of our car therefore looked a bit like if cars were dancing a Waltz, shifting from side to side and jumping relentlessly.
Eventually, we reached our destination, the “Red Chili Guest House”, a backpacker lodge near the Murchinson Falls in the center of the National Park. That place was really great to hang out before and after the safaris. But somehow the owners might run into a problem by targeting backpackers as customers, because the overall fees in the park are exorbitant: Entrance US$30/person, boat ride to the Murchinson Falls US$20/person, US$20/car for a park ranger during the safari. But most notoriously, there is a US$10/person ranger fee for a short walk from the boat landing to the top of the falls.
We were given the explanation that these fees would help to cover to maintain the trail, as well as the training for the locals being employed as rangers. However, on closer investigation we learned, that there was no trail maintenance and that that rangers see no return of these fees. Which is not really surprising. Anyhow, this total amount of $86 per day, just to be in that park, is beyond a backpackers budget – so we kept our visit to a minimum.
As for the MurchinsonFalls themselves, we were not disappointed. The force of the water squeezing through a narrow gap of only 7 meters is quite impressive, despite the relatively low height of the drop (45 meters). This part of the Nile river is called the Victoria Nile. Along its shores we saw numerous animals, ranging from Elephants, Rhinos, Monkeys, Crocodiles and various species of birds. On the second day of our stay, we went on a short safari through the park. The early morning sunrise at the ferry landing and the subsequent spotting of animals just waking up and wandering around was absolutely beautiful. Sadly, we had to leave the park a bit early to catch our flight for Kenya leaving from Entebbe that same afternoon. But that’s another story…