Uganda has tested me in many ways and 2012 was ‘challenging’ as we say around here – but I’m still here ‘living the dream’ – the lucky muzungu did all this!
2012 ended on a real high, literally – waking up on Christmas Day in a treehouse overlooking Kibale Forest to the sound of chimpanzees and forest birds.
We had a feast! – with “all the trimmings” including bread sauce, crackers, naff jokes, silly hats and Christmas stockings, all imported specially for the occasion.
After Christmas we put the Baby Car (a.k.a. Mimi a.k.a. Chris Baby!) through her paces, our group of twelve 4 wheel driving the muddy marram tracks across heavenly crater lake country, en route to Queen Elizabeth National Park for a couple of days Safari, a luxury overnight in Volcanoes’ Kyambura Lodge (in return for a review to be published soon) and a boat trip on the Kazinga Channel to view Simpson’s first hippos and crocodiles! – and of course the waterways’ incredible birdlife (TWITCH!)
Who bets I can’t keep up with a Landcruiser?
From there Julia and I had travelled to the wide open savannah of Ishasha where we’d jumped in an elephant trench and had a go at maintaining the matooke (banana) plantation – all in a day’s work for the Bazungu! Why I love elephant dung! tells the story.
Back in Kampala after that particular trip, my photographer friend Javi and I rocked up to State House, the President’s office. Javi asked me to collaborate with him on a book about Uganda and we have the makings of a great project – we just need someone to pay for it! And so we’d spent Valentine’s Day sweltering on the veranda as our 10 a.m. meeting got put back and back and back. By 4 p.m. we finally had our slot with one of the President’s Permanent Secretaries, a charming lady called Grace: but alas the answer was NO.
We didn’t get to meet The Man With The Hat (The Big Man) either. Boo, hoo Valentine’s Day, no red rose, no book deal, not nuffink.
September saw the launch of the Uganda photo souvenir map Facebook page. The Uganda map is designed by Andrew Roberts, a UCF Director and co-editor of the Bradt travel guide. Special thanks to ‘Chimp Girl’ Julia Lloyd and Harriet ‘Ebola’ Fowler for commissioning photo maps and for all your support in 2012! Each montage is individually created with your photos and 10% of sales go to the Uganda Conservation Foundation to help fight poaching in the National Parks – now at its worst level in decades.
Poaching is fuelled mostly by the growth of the Chinese middle classes and facilitated by China’s growing networks and investments in East Africa. Check out my friend Anne-Marie’s brilliant article about poaching in Uganda, entitled There is a lot of it about.
In October, I was delighted to welcome fellow Lonely Planet* blogger, Isabel Romano, on her first trip to Africa. After a visit to Ggaba market on Lake Victoria and a relaxing lunch at Cassia Lodge taking in the view, Ronald and I introduced her to a very different view of Kampala: a visit to Namuwongo slum.
My friend Ronald is a professional dog trainer based in Kampala. I love my walks with him, Ivan and De Boys – Baldrick and Percy!
Namuwongo is dear to my heart – the first place I lived in Uganda.
I celebrated my birthday with Red Chilli ‘s at their camp in Murchison Falls National Park, where we partied all week-end to celebrate the camp’s tenth birthday. A percentage of all the camp’s profits go to support the Steve Willis Memorial Fund.
Anne-Marie and I should have known better: as we entered the Park, we opened the car doors in exactly the wrong spot letting vicious biting Tsetse flies loose in the car. We spent the weekend itching, scratching and regretting it!
Tembo Canteen on Mweya Peninsula in Queen Elizabeth is possibly the best location in the world to endure three days of PowerPoint presentations, with Mike Cant’s talk about mongooses being the highlight. Kabinas squashed on hard wooden benches, I loved reconnecting with my conservation friends for UWA’s research symposium: Dianah, Phionah and Richard from NatureUganda, Aggie and Dr Margaret from UWA, Gladys of Conservation Through Public Health, Alex, Erik and Emmanuel from UCF, Alastair and Andy from Wildlife Conservation Society. Poaching, invasive species, climate change and human wildlife conflict are just some of the big issues UWA is challenged with.
The weekend finished with a boat trip on the Kazinga Channel. The eager eyes of a warden even spotted a leopard, a distant dot high up on the hillside! We certainly didn’t expect to see a leopard in broad daylight from the boat, but that’s the wonderful thing about going on Safari – every outing is different.
By the way, if you like birds you might enjoy some of the muzungu’s Uganda birding stories, now grouped on one handy page inspired by attending the UK Bird Fair and hanging out with expert birders Roger, Malcolm, David Lindo ‘the Urban Birder’ and Aussie Chris Watson.
The UCOTA community tourism fam trip was another highlight. We had a lot of fun – can you play the Xylophone? – and got to meet the real people living on the edges of the Park. Theirs is not an easy life.
A wave of patriotism flooded Uganda in 2012 as the country celebrated 50 years of independence. Needless to say it also brought up a lot of discontent, mostly aimed at the current regime’s 26 years in power. My contribution to the party? 50 reasons why I love Uganda.
I felt a twinge of homesickness as I thought of all my friends and family celebrating the Queen’s Golden Jubilee and the London Olympics. British expat friends dressed in the red, white and blue of the Union Jack and gathered round a TV set in Kololo to watch the celebrations along the Thames.
Uganda was delighted to welcome home the Marathon gold Olympic medallist Kipsoro. It seemed to be a typical Ugandan achievement – mpole, mpole ‘slowly by slowly’ – wait until the very last event to win a medal…! Ugandans are rightly proud of this homegrown talent, but what a shame he had to train in next door Kenya.
I know a lot of talented runners. Kampala’s Seven Hills (or is that 22 hills now?) certainly keep us fit! At 1000 m above sea level, rumour has it that if we train here, we return to the rather lower lands of Europe with more stamina. (I certainly huffed and puffed my way up Tank Hill for a few months before I acclimatised).
Regular blog readers will know of my Monday evening antics with the Kampala Hash House Harriers, that have taken me to all corners of Kampala, Jinja, Nairobi and even Ethiopia. I felt a million Muganda ladies sigh (and maybe a couple of Muzungu ones too) as the Buganda Kingdom announced the engagement of our friend Prince David Wassaja. We wish you all de best Federo!
In April we welcomed back the sometimes controversial comedienne Jane Bussman to Kampala for another run of her award-winning show. I was delighted to help her promote a sell-out night at MishMash. All proceeds went to complete construction of a house for ex-LRA child soldiers in Northern Uganda.
Check out the Muzungu with my new friends – the guy looks very cute! Kenya is only a bus ride away and I need to explore the country further!
The two are not connected
The banda accommodation and food are basic and cheap; if you’re happy with cold bucket showers and a kerosene lamp, you’ll love this place. Isla and I hired bikes for a guided tour of the Forest and the Falls and I even saw my first Grey Cheeked Mangabey! Hussein and Peter (tel +256(0)751949368 / +256(0)751955671) are very friendly and knowledgeable about the forest’s birds and trees, under threat from so-called developers. The campsite is a real gem – just looking for a volunteer to help them promote and develop it.
PHEW! Well I’ve worn myself out just reliving all of that lot…! Time for a lie-down now…
So what does 2013 hold for the Muzungu?
2013 is my year – and hopefully Uganda’s too, after National Geographic voted Uganda one of the top 20 places to visit in 2013.
*After four years, Lonely Planet has dropped its links with Diary of a Muzungu and the 100s of other travel bloggers featured on its web site. Farewell #lp we’ve had a good run. We loved being Lonely Planet’s no. 1 destination to visit in 2012 and working with LP bloggers to create a free downloadable book of photography was a personal highlight.
I hope you’ll keep reading, there are lots more developments in store with Diary of a Muzungu, so all comments, suggestions and invitations are welcome!
Diary of a Muzungu now accepts guest posts so if you have a story you want to share with the world, please get in touch! Thanks to my first guest blogger Mark Penhallow for a hilarious blog about Driving in Kampala
If you haven’t visited Uganda yet, feel free to explore my blog or drop me an email for more travel ideas.
Wishing you an adventure-filled 2013!