VOLANTE Douglas Cruickshank, Kampala-based author of Somehow: Living on Uganda Time, takes readers on Lucire’s first journey to his second home
Photographed by the author
Travel editor’s note: Welcome to our newest contributor, Douglas Cruickshank, journalist, author, former editor at Salon, ex-Peace Corps volunteer, citizen activist and Kampala-based writer. Doug’s experience includes helping to develop business for a 10-year-old coffee co-op of 3,800 farms, 85 per cent of them woman-owned.
The owner and head guide of Engo Tours and Adventures is a 38-year-old Ugandan, Nattabi Ruth, who loves her work as much as she loves animals and the wilds of east Africa; she also happens to be my wife and the mother of our four-year-old son, Mukisa. We call him a Halfrican. Nattabi founded Engo Tours and Adventures to highlight and make more accessible the multi-faceted types of travel on offer in Uganda and elsewhere in east Africa—including Zanzibar, Rwanda, and Madagascar. Few have been exposed to the great range of adventure travel here—from economy to luxury.
Seeing the amazing animals close-up is just one attraction—the gorillas, crocodiles, monitor lizards, elephants, lions and abundance of birds are all eager to have their photos taken. In the case of the birds, there are more species in Uganda alone than in all of North America; and they are extravagantly beautiful to a one. Travel in east Africa is visually arresting and dramatic, fortunately, it also provides for plenty of relaxation.
Start your journey in Kampala, a thriving international city of 1·6 million. Spend a few days enjoying the richness of its parks, hotels, clubs, museums, churchs, mosques, cafés, and restaurants. It is easy to get around using everything from motorcycle taxis (boda-bodas) to matatus (14-passenger vans), full-size buses, and car hires to self-drive vehicles.
After Kampala, continue to Jinja for horse riding, water sports and balloon rides. Not to mention excellent restaurants.
From Jinja, head up to the Rwenzori Mountains town of Fort Portal, perhaps Uganda’s most appealing and picturesque settlement. Fort, as everyone calls it, serves as a base for chimp tracking, high mountain hiking, and hot springs visits.
Next, after a short drive, you’ll find yourself in Queen Elizabeth National Park, for safari drives, boat cruises and extraordinary animal- and bird-viewing. The sunset cruise on Kazinga Channel is not to be missed, delivering sights that are nothing short of glorious. Hippopotamuses pop up out of the water, twirling their ears and snapping their giant jaws at the crocs when they get too close to the hippo babies. Mweya Lodge, sitting on the hill above the Channel is the perfect place to dine in the company of warthogs and their piglets lounging on the nearby lawn. Your other amusing lunch companions will be the many inquisitive mongooses that call the lodge grounds home.
South of QENP headquarters is Ishasa, where you’ll find the famed tree climbing lions, then you'll continue on to Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, to visit the mountain gorillas. A gorilla permit for a one-hour audience with their majesties is easily acquired and the gorilla families, which are habituated to people, are surprisingly hospitable and relaxed with humans.
You’ll typically hike from one to four hours before you reach the big furry lugs. Then, there in the green mass will be huge primates staring at you with their sweet, mournful eyes. Adding to the pleasure of the hike are the guides who you'll hire before you start. They are young locals who will not only provide pleasant and informative conversation, but also push and pull you over the slopes and rough patches. One of my guides told me, ‘My name is Regina—it means queen.’ And she was one. Tip generously (as in US$15–US$20), these young Ugandans work hard and share their knowledge of gorillas generously.
There are several plush lodges at Buhoma, the Bwindi town that serves as a gateway to the gorillas, so a several-day stay is entirely possible and, indeed, recommended. Other activities in the area include visiting the Batwa pygmies and their crafts, and hiking through Bwindi's lush forest to see the many butterflies, non-gorilla primates and miniature antelope—called dik-diks. Yes, really.
Before returning to Kampala drive east to Kapchorwa and spectacular Sipi Falls for great hiking (fuelled by equally great coffee). There are several terrific hotels in the area, so stick around a few days. As you return to Kampala, you can be planning how to return to Uganda, which, after your first visit, you'll surely want to do. •
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