Crossing the border from Kenya into Uganda, we attempted to change a £20 note, and were given an exchange rate with a 25% commission. A couple of boys selling soft drinks at the truck door told us their local newspaper informed them that the Queen of England is a blood sucking devil worshiper who turns into a snake. Guess that’s why pounds aren’t so welcome in these parts.
Our first stop in Uganda was the ginger town of Jinja. Seriously living up to it’s name, everything here is covered in a fine layer of orange soil and dusts. The houses, the cars, even the people. As you can imagine Sarah, being a ginger, felt right at home. Our home for the next four nights was Nile River Explorers, perched on the edge of the mighty Nile River about 7km from the centre of town.
Walking down to the riverbank we passed a couple of showers, each with different themes and open to the elements with great river views. There’s also a couple of concrete chutes which you can ride down in a small wooden toboggan on loan at reception. The haze of mosquitoes and slightly stagnant water was not inviting, so instead we watched a dozen pied kingfishers perched on the zipline wire taking turns dive bombing for fish.
Once an excellent spot for white water rafting, a newly constructed dam has changed the river, and apparently it’s now less extreme. With most of us continuing on to Vic Falls and the mighty Zambezi, we took the opportunity to relax instead, enjoying the views and the red tailed monkeys which leapt through the treetops above us whilst being chased by the local dogs.
After a few days on the doxycycline, we realised that not only does it stop malaria but it’s like a sunbed in your mouth, as the increased sun sensitivity had given us both a quick tan. Following a few lazy days of riverside yoga, reading and a massage (made less relaxing by the World Championship Freestyle Kayaking being broadcast on TV at full volume), we thought it was time to do something useful, so along with the rest of the group we signed up to help paint a local school with Soft Power Education. The charity focuses on improving the lives of rural Ugandans through educating and empowering them to improve their communities.
A short walk from the campsite sees us at the Amagezi Education Centre. Amagezi means ‘knowledge’, and people are encouraged to come to the with knowledge to share or to leave with it when they go. A drama room is being used to help tackle issues such as abuse, family planning, budgeting and sex education etc. There’s also a library and a small gift shop with jewellery, paintings, knitted purses and key chains among other things, made by local adults and children.
A 15 minute drive in the back of an open pick up truck sees us arrive at Bugawi School where we’re handed rollers, paint trays and huge amounts of cream paint and sent on our way with a couple of locals to help out. With no extension poles for the rollers the locals had made do with sticks, and in no time we’d got the hang of it, finished all five rooms and were taking a break for the first coat to dry. Joining the local pre-school kids who were also on a break, a couple of us joined them in some playground antics, including Sarah pretending to drive a bus and picking up quite a crew.
After a short break we finished up the second coat, where inquisitive kids kept popping up at the windows to ask our names, giggle or just watch us paint. After a huge lunch of ugali, rice and vegetables provided by local women, the smell of rain was in the air and we piled back into the pickup truck and headed back to camp just as the rain arrived.
While there’s a decent restaurant at the campsite, there’s also a couple more options close by. The budget option is right outside the campsite gate where you’ll find a number of small wooden shacks selling freshly made chapatis. With prices ranging from 500 shillings for a plain chapati to 2,500 shillings (about 50p) for a filled one (choose from meat, eggs, avocado, peppers, tomato, onion and cabbage) you can fill your stomach at rock bottom prices. On the other end of the budget is the Black Lantern restaurant, within the grounds of the Nile Porch guesthouse (right from campsite then right just after the power pylon).
With menu options including tilapia wrapped in banana leaves and a huge plate of ribs for under £10 each, it’s an upscale option at a reasonable price. How Matt managed to finish his plate of ribs is beyond us, but even the owners were impressed enough to buy him a shot on the way out.
As mentioned above, the World Championship Freestyle Kayaking was currently being held, this year in Ottawa Canada, and the bar at Nile River Explorers had become THE place for locals and expats alike to watch the competition. With kayaking a big sport in the region, a team of Ugandans had fought visa rejection twice before the Canadian media got involved and a crowdfunding campaign raised some money and support. In the end a team of four guys and one girl, including a couple of Jinja locals, made it to the competition with one guy Sam Ward ranking 6th in the men’s overall. Well done Uganda!
With time up in Jinja, it was off to hunt for hippos in Queen Elizabeth National Park.
For more pics of our time in Uganda check out Flickr!
Tips for Jinja
- Nile River Explorers is about 7km from the town of Jinja, you can easily get a motorbike/taxi from the campsite gates.
- Be careful wandering too far from the campsite in the dark. There are a few ‘local’ bars in the area and people have been mugged here not far from the gates.
- Volunteering with Soft Power Education was well worth it, everybody enjoyed the time and we felt that the work being done is really benefiting the community. Be aware that a donation is required to help pay for necessary equipment such as paint, brushes etc depending on what activity is required at the time.