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Home arrow One Man's journey thru Uganda&Rwanda

One Man's journey thru Uganda&Rwanda

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Denise Sargent, Vancouver Sun

Published: Saturday, March 01, 2008

Arriving in Kampala, Uganda, one of the first things I noticed were signs everywhere referring to "CHOGM." The city had recently hosted the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, and many hoped it would put Uganda on the map. The overriding question around town had been "Are you ready for CHOGM?" However no-one seemed to know quite what this meant to the average person.

After a couple of days in Kampala, where I was starting to feel at home, I set off on a three-day organized trip to Murchison Falls National Park. It's a compact park with the Nile running through it, as it spills into Lake Albert.

The highlight of the game drive was seeing a lioness with her cubs, while the Nile boat trip afforded many chances to see hippos and the formidable Nile crocodile, which can grow to six metres! The falls themselves are spectacular, and even more so because they have not been turned into a tourist haven. No barriers or ice cream trucks here. Our accommodation was fixed tents in an open camp, so nipping to the washroom during the night required a quick check to see if any hippos were around, because they "like their space" and I wouldn't argue with that.

Gorillas in Rwanda.

Gorillas in Rwanda.

From this point on I travelled independently using public transport. Buses are regular, cheap and comfortable enough. The driving is always fast, and accidents do happen. Many tourists opt to rent cars, but I wouldn't miss the opportunity to mix with locals.

Heading next to Jinja, 90 minutes outside Kampala, in no time I was in a raft wondering what I'd let myself in for. White water rafting along the Nile consists of Class 3, 4 and 5 rapids -- the big ones.

Our (Canadian) instructor tells us confidently "if you end up in the water, just hold your breath and wait until you surface." Well, I can vouch for this being true, although it seemed to take forever (in reality a few seconds). I wholeheartedly recommend this adrenalin-filled adventure .

Renting a bike is a great way of getting off the beaten track, and around Jinja I travelled through villages that rarely see Mzungos. This is Swahili for "white person," and a jovial word you hear from excited children as they wave.

Eventually it was time to head southwest and overland into Rwanda's capital city of Kigali.

Rwanda isn't called "Land of a Thousand Hills" for nothing, and the spectacular scenery comes thick and fast.

The craziness of Kampala doesn't exist in Kigali. In fact streets are clean, traffic orderly, roads excellent and speed limits are even obeyed.

The Genocide Memorial is a powerful, informative and dignified tribute to the 800,000 innocent victims, and as well to those who have suffered through genocide around the world. It should be on the list of all visitors.

Heading to Volcanoes National Park, the excitement of looking forward to the Gorilla tracking trip I'd booked months earlier was at a peak.

After a 21/2 hour morning trek, the first gorilla came into view. Seeing these creatures in their own habitat and watching their everyday behaviour is a huge privilege you pay $500 US for. Although sometimes just a few feet away, the gorillas showed little interest in us and we felt safe and comfortable around them. This group has a total of 38 -- half of which we didn't see. It also has three Silverbacks, and they are as huge and formidable as I'd imagined.

With a maximum group size of eight, we were allowed to spend one hour with the gorillas, a5nd only one group per day is permitted. Although the numbers of mountain gorillas has risen in recent years, they are under constant threat from loss of habitat, disease, poaching and, as has recently been shown in DR Congo -- rebels. It was an amazing experience I will never forget.

Following a wonderful stay on beautiful Lake Kivu over Christmas, I returned to Uganda for three nights at an island on Lake Bunyoni, which is reported to be deepest crater in Africa. it has a mystical feel to it, and even more so with dug-out canoes being the main form of transport.

Returning to Entebbe for my flight -- a town pleasantly situated on the shores of Lake Victoria -- I could reflect on the many wonderful experiences of the past three weeks.

Signs of poverty were never far away on this trip, and it often strikes hard. At the same time the people have a wonderful spirit, and their kindness and friendliness is truly humbling.

Both Rwanda and Uganda are considered among the safest countries in Africa -- of course using the same common sense you'd apply anywhere. Personally, I felt extremely welcome and safe.




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