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Uganda – beyond the wild


Uganda is gaining a reputation as a popular tourist destination in Africa especially for those travellers seeking an “off the crowded tourist circuit’ experience. Arguably, the most famous tourist attraction to Uganda is Mountain Gorilla tracking, however, increasingly popular is bungee jumping, quad bike riding or White water rafting at the source of the River Nile now famously referred to as ‘Africa’s adventure capital’.

Pic: Jack Barker

The main interest for many tourists visiting Uganda is to see wild animals; some even think that lions and elephants are roaming the streets and will be right there to welcome you when you alight from your plane. Sadly for them, this is not true but Uganda still boasts of a profusion of wildlife in its national parks including lions, elephants, leopards, buffalos, hippos, chimpanzees, hyena, countless species of antelopes, and an even higher count of bird species; over 1,000!, including the prehistoric-like Shoebill stock.

I presume, judging by the array of wildlife, you will probably agree that Uganda is a worthy wildlife tourism destination. However, being Ugandan, I think many tourists who visit Uganda miss out on quite a tad of what the country has to showcase, and which if included in your itinerary, would greatly enhance your African adventure. Most tourists visiting Uganda are driven from park-to-park focusing on only wildlife and veiled from the ‘real Uganda’ in five-star safari lodges. The tourists are whisked past countless colourful road-side markets bustling with verve and character, scenic crater lakes tucked away in the tropical forests along the tourist circuits, they do not visit down-town Kampala with its famous “Old taxi park” that is renowned for being the most organized chaos in the world. Also, while at the safari lodges, tourists are served ‘intercontinental cuisine’ missing out on Ugandan culinary delicacies which in themselves can be quite an adventure! Most famous are Rolex (grated garden cabbage and slivers of succulent fresh tomatoes pan fried with organic eggs and ‘rolled’ in a chapatti). Or, the crispy on-the-outside, and soft on-the-inside Nsenene (pan roasted grasshoppers); you get the taste of what you are missing? I know travellers generally play it safe. However, I ask the question; why come all the way to Uganda not experience the ‘real’ Africa? Well, there are safe and tested ways to do this. Ask your travel agent and they will point you in the right direction.

Pic: Jack Barker

One of the tourists experienced the real Uganda and when I talked to him immediately after his African Village experience, these were his words “ ”; yes, you guessed right, he had no words to describe his experience! I suppose that’s the kind of reaction you will get when you have just had an experience of a lifetime. Here is a glimpse of the African Village experience; sleeping in a grass thatched mud and wattle house; the walls plastered with cow dung and decorated with a cacophony of colours, bathing under the moonlight in the village lagoon, joining the herdsmen as they take the animals out to graze in the vast savannah plains, sharing a meal with your hosts “traditional African style”; you take a morsel of doughy millet bread and mould it into a ball, you then thumb in a depression which you use to scoop some smoked fish in peanut butter sauce before tossing it deep into your watering mouth and washing it down with freshly made mango juice served in a calabash. Or, you could be sitting under the starry night around the evening bonfire and listening to countless African myths and tales of valour; the eyes of the children brighten and widen as their imagination brings the stories to life in their minds, watching through the plume of dust as traditional dancers pound the earth and sky to the rhythm of the African drums, letting yourself lose to the melodic folk songs; your pulse racing as your wild inner self struggles to emerge only to be tapered by your conscience, drinking kwete, a local heady beer brewed from hand-picked, sun-dried sorghum and drunk warm out of an oven-baked clay pot using a three-meter straw imaginatively crafted from thin hollow branches and adorned in painted grass blades weaved around its entire length and ending at the tip made out of the shaft of an ostrich feather.

Pic Jack Barker

The best part, for me, is that the village experience is a renewing experience. It is far-off from the modern world as we know it; you are literally in the middle of nowhere, no electricity, no television, no telephone network, and no internet. Just you, surrounded by the tranquillity of unrefined Africa, interrupted occasionally by the clack of free range chicken perched on your bedstead; oops, sorry, there are no beds!

And that’s not all folks; have you ever paddled an African dug-out canoe on a 900 feet deep Crater Lake? Well, I will tell you more about this next time. In the mean time, when you visit Uganda, take a chance – GO BEYOND THE WILD.

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