David: I Survived!

Those who know me will understand the title. When I first agreed to go to Uganda, it was with some apprehension. It wasn’t the Leopards, the Nile Crocodiles, or even the Tree-Climbing Lions which concerned me. It was the insects!

I have this animal (or, should I say, insect) magnetism and can attract flying bitey things from the next county. So what chance did I have with equatorial mozzies? But, having decided to go, all I could do was prepare.

On the 2nd September I boarded my plane at Terminal 5 (the first time I had seen T5 – in fact ,there were a lot of firsts on this trip), and put my trust in Brigden Tours Ltd (and a gallon of DEET 100%).

From the moment I landed everything ran like a dream. I was met by Mayo and our driver for the week – another Dan (now called Driver Dan). First stop: the Haven in Jinja, and an amazing experience overlooking the Nile – even from the shower! Then off to play golf (why wouldn’t you?) in sight of the source of the Nile. Special mention should be made of Local Rule i):

On the green if a hippo footmark interferes with the lie of the ball or the line of the putt, the ball may be lifted and placed not nearer the hole, on the ground that avoids these conditions.

I could see that this was going to be a holiday with a difference!

Then it was back to Kampala for an overnight at the Brigden residence. Dan (with his outdoor office), Grania (so close to work, but a million miles away), and Alice (the real centre of attention) have a wonderful place overlooking the city from on high. Visited by mousebirds in the morning, and sunbirds all day, kites overhead, and sounds all around, why would we leave? But we did.

On to Fort Portal, and another amazing lodge – Kyaninga. All constructed of wood, and perched on the rim of a crater lake, it is both impressive in itself, and also provides mystical, changing views throughout the day – starting with the misty dawn, through to the orange-red sunset.

The walk around the crater rim was spectacular, although the path was not always obvious. The highlight came when Dan (and Alice) stopped all the people working in the field. They couldn’t believe their eyes, and laughed fit to burst. They had never seen a mzungu male, carrying a baby, walking several steps behind his wife! This will go down in local folklore.

Kyaninga was also where we celebrated my birthday with a spot of bubbly (carefully nursed over bumpy roads), and a cake (produced by the lodge without prompting – a nice touch!). As our cases were approaching the BA maximum of 23Kg, I was not looking forward to carrying them up the many steps to our hut, but the girls working here had no trouble- on their heads!

Having softened me up with some luxury living, Brigden Tours now had a surprise for me. Grania announced that she, Alice and Dan would not be staying with us at Ishasha (because Alice might frighten the animals – or something like that), but Driver Dan would take us. “Oh, and by the way, you will be living in a tent by the river!”

Having dropped the Brigdens off at “baby-friendly” Kingfisher Lodge, off we set along the murram road to the DRC (Congo to me), passing a steady stream of trucks in each direction. Apart from the potholes, and a couple of “abandon ship” moments as a tsetse fly dropped in, we made good time and arrived at Queen Elizabeth National Park, and then Ishasha. It was then that I saw the word “wilderness” and realised I may be in trouble. This was the home of the Tree-Climbing Lions, after all!

Actually, after the first night, my mind (and body) adjusted. I still got my shower – although it was delivered in a jerry can and poured into a roof cylinder. The outdoor loo – open to the world, and “guarded” solely by a vacant/occupied sign, was an instant cure for the trots! The food was delicious (not a fried grasshopper in sight). And the Nile beer by the campfire somehow belonged.

I haven’t mentioned the birds. At all stops, and throughout the trip, I was spotting new (to me) birds, and ticking them off in my Birds of East Africa book – a very thoughtful birthday present from Grania and Dan. Every day, and every trip, there were a number of new “spots”.

Just as I was getting used to living under canvas it was time to move on. Reuniting with our fellow travellers at Kingfisher, and after doing an evening’s babysitting, off we set again to Lake Mburo National Park.

Mihingo Lodge is another wonderful location, built into a ridge (outcrops in the shower!), overlooking a valley of game, centred on a waterhole where there is a constant flow of animals. This was the land of the leopard – but for once they failed to follow the script and kept themselves to themselves.

Our stay at Mihingo culminated in a dusk boat ride at Lake Mburo to see wildlife from the water, surrounded by hippos!

And then it was time to set off for home. Of course, we had to prove we had crossed the equator…

So, lasting memories?

  1. I have never seen so many different things carried on a bike (motor or peddle), like six huge bunches of bananas, a double bed (collapsed of course), several 8ft planks (sideways!), or even a whole family (father, mother, three children, and a PIG!)
  2. The people are so friendly – genuinely pleased to see you, and to show off Uganda.
  3. The lodges we visited were all special. Any one of them would have been an experience, but to visit five was amazing.
  4. … and the DEET worked!

So thank you so much, Grania and Dan (and Alice of course), for arranging such a memorable trip. It will take me ages to review and sort out my pictures, but I will never forget the mental images.

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