Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Baby, this ain't no zoo.

Murchison Falls National Park is the largest conservation area in Uganda, nestled in the north-western region of the country, and bisected by the Nile. This was my first time camping, ever. Having your first camping experience in Africa is definitely recommended. Now I can not only confidently assemble a tent, but can also accurately differentiate between the snort of a warthog and a hippo (both frequent night visitors to our campsite).
Photo op with Pumba

Hint: you can tell the grunt is that of a hippo when your tent vibrates with the sound...and you suddenly lose all willingness to make a midnight run to the latrines.

Our trip to the park took place over three days and consisted of two early morning game drives, and two boat safaris along the Nile(this made for some up-close and personal encounters with Nile crocodiles and hippos), all of which were spectacular. Eye-to-eye with some of East Africa's finest.
It was 'spa day' for the Buffalos
Oh hey there Beautiful!
Another one of East Africa's Finest. Too many of these were consumed over the course of this weekend, but it was justified in my opinion- a Nile on the Nile...be rude not to!

Now that's a lotta wata'!
My favourite part of the weekend was the trip to the Falls; these make Niagara look like a leaky faucet. It took us two hours with our boat, the aptly named 'African Queen', to reach the mouth of the falls  where only the first half is visible. You then have to hike for about an hour the rest of the way up to get the full view of where where the falls divide into two breathtaking plunges of mist (Murchison Falls and Freedom Falls). The sheer volume of water that flows through these narrow gorges is mesmerizing, to say the least.

Our safari 'Dream Team' consisted of two Americans, a Canadian, a Dutchie, a German, an Australian and a Ugandan; was a bit of a cultural safari if you may. I especially enjoyed having an Australian with us as I feel like it brought relevance to my Steve Irwin-inspired comments of "CRIKEY THAT'S A BIG CROC", which I shouted perhaps a few too many times while on the African Queen

The Murchison lands were ravaged under Idi Amin's rule in the 70s. He closed the doors to the park, and majority of the animal inhabitants were poached by his troops for skins, meat, and ivory. The park is now starting to regain its former numbers in terms of wildlife, though rhinos are still being re-bred in a small sanctuary in the south of the park and won't be released for another 30 years.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

A while on the Nile

Finally returned to Jinja, this time atop Tuskin (whom I affectionately nicknamed Seabiscuit), the oldest horse at Nile Horseback Safaris. Also the slowest. And the hungriest. I didn't think we'd ever make it to Bujagali Falls between my steed stopping every couple of seconds to gnaw the bark off a passing tree or uproot a bunch of appetizing weeds (in hindsight, perhaps Seabiscuit wasn't the most fitting of nicknames. Should have gone for something less 'racy'...like Old Yeller). In true Ugandan fashion, it rained cats and dogs and horses for the first hour of the ride, but the views were still spectacular, and if anything, the rain helped me out massively with my allergies. I am severely allergic to horses, which has proven to be a bit of a hindrance to my cowgirl aspirations. Usually even after doubling up on the daily recommended dose of meds, I still come off the horse looking a little more a like a blowfish than a human. But magically, the rain seemed to suppress the horse dander, so I was able to nuzzle into Tuskin/Seabiscuit's mane relatively carefree!
Bujagali Falls behind me, a very wet and grumpy horse under me
Don't let the name fool you; Bujagali Falls are not falls at all, but rather a 1km chain of raging rapids in the Nile. They nonetheless still make for a pretty picture, and the Falls are said to be one the best whitewater rafting destinations in the world. The second hour of our trail meandered though the villages along the river; I kept an eye out for the Bujagali Doctor but he was probably off smoking his pipe.
Carolin and I post-ride, keepin' it classy

Monday, 14 November 2011

Pioneer Games

From the 26th to the 30th of October, I had the immense pleasure of attending the East African Pioneers Conference, bringing together 250 of the wildest, party-hardy AIESECers across Uganda, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Kenya and Tanzania. Five days of leadership, AIESEC training, dancing, waragi...then some waragi-induced-dancing. 
"one region, one vision"
The conference opened with 'Global Village', where each attending country had a table to showcase any cool cultural artifacts/food/clothes, etc. Since I neglected to bring maple syrup or poutine with me to Africa, I decided to show off my new Ugandan persona, and so I donned an authentic Ugandan shanana.  Much to my disappointment, everyone just assumed it was a sari. After some time I grew tired of correcting everyone and just let them take their pictures with the girl from India.  

Another failed attempt at fitting in.
Had the honour of being nominated for East African Queen at the banquet on the last night. The winning Queen had to perform a bendover-esque lapdance on stage for the winning King (have never been so relieved to be on the losing side).
Wrong arm Ru. Obviously lacking the Prom Queen essentials of poise and grace.

The anthem of the conference, listen and fall in love:
Play this upon my return to Canada and you'll be treated to 4 minutes of intricately choreographed pure gold.

Monday, 7 November 2011

Buffalo Soldier

Contrary to popular belief, in Africa lions&giraffes&elephants are not as free-roaming as the polar bears that crowd the streets of Toronto. Those who wish to hang with Simba and his furry friends have to go on safari…or to the zoo. Since I was desperate to get out of the city and only had a day to spare, the zoo won. 
The Uganda Wildlife Centre is located in Entebbe, a pretty little town on Lake Victoria, about 45 mins outside of Kampala. Not too many differences between this zoo and the ones back home, other than perhaps the fact that the Ugandan version is noticeably more lax on security. The camels and some particularly unfriendly monkeys were just hanging around, cage-free, and the only thing separating the buffalos from the public was a knee-high hedge (note: my knees aren’t too far from the ground). The North American in me kept wanting to scream "LIABILITY" wherever I looked...and the African in me was all "Hakuna Matata dude". 
Taunting the tortoises

Buffalo Soldiers...and Pumba, their trusty sidekick

Pretty Lake Vicky
Bonding over oats

Pam, trying to coax out another egg?
Highlight of the day was hearing Pamela, upon approaching each fence, exclaiming how delicious the meat is of the animal inside. After the third cage I had to ask her to keep her voice down in case there was a PETA activist lurking in the bushes. Game meat is a delicacy here, and Pam is lucky enough to have tried hippopotamus (!!!), gazelle, crocodile, ostrich egg (one of these bad boys can apparently feed a family of ten), and warthog (her favorite). 

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Practically a local.

I was cleaning out my 'quarantine unit' the other day and stumbled upon a letter my friend Nia wrote to me before I left. She had very sweetly researched 20 important facts about Uganda, and reading it now, I really wish I had studied it more thoroughly the first time around...would have saved me a great deal of confusion and embarrassment during my first couple of weeks here. Have taken some of Nia's list, and added some commentary of my own, to produce what I believe is a fairly comprehensive list of the best quirks of Ugandan culture:

Ugandans apparently like to know what business you will be dealing with the toilet. When you ask where the toilet is they ask you if it is for a long-call or short-call, basically do you need to go #1 or #2.
Imagine me repeating "No sir, I'm looking for the toilet, not the telephone!"...embarrassing.

Pick-pockets in Kampala are beat to the ground, then stripped naked in public as punishment.
I've witnessed this mob-justice mentality twice now. In Uganda, petty theft 'aint so petty.

Boda Boda's (motorcycle's for hire) are the scariest thing ever.
Bodas are essentially motorcycle taxis. During rush-hour (which never really seems to end in Kampala) they're far faster than the mini-buses since they can weave through even the tightest congestion. However, literally every second spent on the back of one feels like it might be your last. Speeds of 120km/h + pot holes that would be better described as craters + thick black exhaust fumes impairing your vision and oxygen supply= final destination. Even scarier is the manner in which some chose to ride the bodas. ie. One woman was sitting side-saddle with a baby in one hand, and a chicken in the other.

Ridin' Dirty

Chameleon, one of the most famous Ugandan rappers, is NOT the same as Chamillionaire.
Took me a month to figure out why nobody knew Chameleon's hit song "Ridin' Dirty".

Uganda has many banana plantations and you can make many products from bananas including banana wine. Matooke is a staple in Uganda.. and its basically cooked Banana.
I've been told that there are about five varieties of banana you can buy here varying in size, color and taste. I've yet to try Banana wine, but if it's anything like the Sugar Cane liquor I tried the other day, it's guaranteed to burn a hole straight though my liver.

Peanuts are known as "Ground Nuts"
G-nut sauce is served on everything; rice, beef, chicken, fish, matooke, ect.

Winston Churchill once called Uganda "the pearl of Africa".
And Kampala is called the City of 7 Hills (though has over time grown to cover about 10 hills)...the Hollywood of Africa. In town if you ask for directions, you'll often get instructions of 'up' or 'down' rather than right or left.
Hill after hill after hill = some spectacular views, and tight glutes

1 $US = 2850 Ugandan Shillings.
Easy to feel like a baller when your wallet is lined with 10,000 dolla bills.