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I’m off to Uganda again!

February 25th, 2012 No comments

When I heard that my friend was going to be spending a year volunteering at an orphanage in the town of Jinja, Uganda, I was very excited. I spent a few days in the town a few years ago and loved it just as I did the rest of Uganda. So when it was suggested that I flew out to visit as I would be allowed to stay at the orphanage for free I jumped at the idea.

I needed to get a break away from things so after a few days of searching I managed to find some flights for a very cheap £370 with Gulf Air via Bahrain – even my direct sale flights to Nairobi a few years ago cost more than this so I couldn’t believe my luck. The only downside is the flight arrives into Uganda at 230am but for the price I couldn’t say no. Plus it would fit a trip to my favourite country in the middle of a very busy few months of travelling – less than 2 weeks after getting back home from my Central America trip and a month before visiting Amsterdam to see my favourite band.

Luckily I’m the sort of person that when I travel I check everything twice. After arriving back from Central America I logged onto Expedia to print everything off and then since there was a Gulf Air confirmation code listed I decided to log onto the Gulf Air website to see if I was able to reserve my seat. However upon loading up the Gulf Air site the legs of my trip between Manama and Entebbe were missing – I called Gulf Air and found out that they had cancelled the route due to lack of sales and that I would need to go through Expedia to get a refund. Unfortunately they were unable to help as I called at the weekend and the department I needed to talk to were only open Monday – Friday so it was a tense couple of days waiting to get my refund. I passed the time by looking for new flights but couldn’t find anything for less than £500 although this was via a very interesting route. The route offered would take me to Ethiopia and Rwanda before arriving in Uganda – on the way back I would connect through Ethiopia and Rome and this sounded like a load of fun but I decided to wait for my refund before booking anything.

I’m glad I waited as I managed to find flights for £100 less in a last minute sale with Brussels Airlines that would have be transit in Belgium and Rwanda which I booked without hesitation. I’m all packed, am leaving in a few days, and am really excited!

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I’m back in Uganda!

February 28th, 2012 No comments

I’ve finally arrived in Uganda and I’m really happy to be here, but it has required another very long travelling day – one of the hazards of travel I guess!

Yesterday after travelling to London I checked into the Travelodge near Heathrow which was the hotel I stayed at before visiting Central America and it provided good connections to the airport. Then this morning grabbed an early night bus to the airport so that I would arrive in plenty of time to check my luggage weight – I was carrying a huge bag of toy cars for the kids and a couple of hundred pairs of underwear that was being sent over by my friends family so the bag was a bit on the heavy side but luckily it was still within the limit. I also spent some time doing last minute research about things to do as my new flights arrived in time for me to have a good nights sleep before exploring Entebbe in the morning.

I thought my luck had run out again when we got to the departure gate as we were told our plane would be delayed by at least 30 minutes due to technical problems and with a short connection and terminal change required when I arrived in Brussels I was worried I would miss my flight to Africa. However it turned out connections in Brussels work a lot better than in many hub airports and I arrived at the gate with plenty of time to spare. Brussels Airlines seem to travel to lots of destinations in Africa – I saw flights to Sierra Leone, Togo, Guinea and Ghana on the boards in addition to my flight to Rwanda and Uganda.

The flight to Africa went smoothly and we arrived at Kigali airport in Rwanda for our stopover a little early. It was a shame the sun had already set as it seemed we flew in between the hills of Rwanda and over the city before landing so it would have been a great view. It was also a shame that my arrival in Rwanda was only for a stopover as I really enjoyed the few days I spent there in 2009 and one day hope to return.

Flying from London to Entebbe, via Brussels and Kigali

The view from the plane on the way to Brussels

Stopping to let passengers off in Rwanda

We stopped to change passengers at Kigali Airport, Rwanda

After less than an hour, during which the plane was cleaned by a crew of people that looked like Ghostbusters we departed for my final stop of Entebbe, Uganda. The flight went really quickly and, as the airport is on a peninsula, it was very unsettling to have felt the plane touch down without being able to see land or any lights. I stocked up on supplies while waiting for my luggage before heading out to meet the guy who was transferring me to the Entebbe Backpackers where I’m spending the night. The hostel is ideal for my needs as they have private cottage rooms available for only $25 including transfer from the airport at any time of the day or night. I’m in my room now, and it’s very basic, but has everything I need – a bed with (most of) a mosquito net, a shower, power sockets to charge my phone and seems secure and quiet enough for me to get a good nights sleep ready for an early start tomorrow.

My room at the Entebbe Backpackers

My bed at the Entebbe Backpackers

My bathroom at the Entebbe Backpackers

My private bathroom in Entebbe

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A morning in Entebbe

February 29th, 2012 No comments

As I arrived at 10pm yesterday rather than the 220am of my old flights I was able to get up early enough to be able to explore Entebbe for a while before my friend arrived to collect me for the journey to Jinja. After getting up, repacking my bags and discovering how bad the ants are in Uganda I checked out of the room and headed out towards the Uganda Wildlife Centre to see some African animals. It was to be quite a walk but a guy was waiting near the hostel with a boda motorbike taxi and took me to the zoo in only a few minutes.

Almost every guide book about the region recommends staying away from Bodas due to the risk of injury. The roads in Africa can be chaotic and the traffic laws tend to be used as guidelines more than rules so when combined with the quality of the roads and the lack of helmets there can be a lot of accidents. However when you’re in Africa without your own transport and on a budget they tend to be the only way to get from A to B within a town. TIA after all.

A Lion at the zoo in Entebbe

A Lion at the zoo in Entebbe (Uganda Wildlife Centre)

A Uganda Kob

A Uganda Kob

A Bird Cage at the zoo

The bird enclosure

A Zebra in Entebbe

A Zebra at the zoo

I enjoyed my time at the zoo as I was able to see and get close to so many animals that I missed out on last time I was in Uganda including Lion, Crocodile, Snakes and Monkeys – the latter of which were wild in the grounds and got VERY close on occasions. The grounds themselves were lovely and and extended all the way down to the shore of Lake Victoria and as I was one of the only visitors this morning I was able to walk around in peace and soak up the atmosphere.

While I was looking at the Lions I noticed a jeep pull up near me and a man in a suit got out and started watching me. Originally I thought I was standing somewhere I wasn’t supposed to be but after walking towards him he introduced himself as the manager and he wanted to chat to me just to see what my views were on the zoo. We chatted for a few minutes about his zoo and other zoos I had visited and he asked my opinion on a few things they had done recently – it seemed like they genuinely care about what people think rather than just presenting the animals for you to see like in some other zoos. I was also asked what I thought about the entry price of the zoo and whether I received a receipt but didn’t think anything more of the answers I gave until I got back to the entrance. As I walked out I heard somebody trying to get my attention from the side window of the ticket office – it was the ticket clerk who sold me the ticket wanting to give me my receipt. It seems the manager had a word with him to find out why I didn’t receive a receipt, I assume to stop him pocketing the money himself.

Lake Victoria

A view of Lake Victoria from the zoo

A nice tree-lined avenue at the zoo

Scenery at the zoo

An Ostrich

An Ostrich at the zoo

Wildlife at the zoo

Wildlife looking at me in Entebbe

A monkey having a drink at the zoo

A monkey having a drink in a pond

Monkeys at the zoo

Some of the many, many monkeys roaming free at the zoo in Entebbe

A monkey seeing his own reflection

A Monkey staring at his own reflection

A short, fast Boda ride later and I was back at the Entebbe Backpackers where I chilled with a magazine for a bit while waiting for my friend to arrive to take me to Jinja. I was chilling for maybe an hour before my friend arrived with Job, the Ekisa Orphanage driver of choice, and two kids from the orphanage (Paul and Zeke). The kids were really happy to see me, despite not being able to speak English, and we all sat around having some drinks and snacks in the shade for a while to give them a rest before heading off from Entebbe towards Jinja.

My room at the Entebbe Backpackers

The left part of the building was my room at the Entebbe Backpackers

Entebbe Backpackers

The main building at Entebbe Backpackers

Outside the Entebbe Backpackers

The road outside the Entebbe Backpackers

The journey progressed slower than we expected so we decided to stop in Kampala for lunch at a place near the American Embassy called Le Petit Village. It looked like a really expensive hotel, built in traditional African style, but we stopped for their deli which served a great selection of baguettes. I opted for a nice Salami baguette which definitely filled a gap. I caught up with my friend and interacted with the kids for a while but it was soon on to Jinja.

It was a great feeling when we finally arrived in Jinja and made our way up to Ekisa which is on the outskirts of town near the Adrift campsite I stayed at a few years ago. As soon as I got out of the minibus I was greeted by another one of the kids, Mweru, who came flying through the air and hugged me. I have a feeling this will be the start of a lot of attention from him, but all of the kids were so curious when I arrived and I spent most of the rest of the day relaxing at Ekisa and interacting with the kids. The building has a couple of rooms for volunteers, a few kids bedrooms, two bedrooms for the Emilys, a lounge, kitchen and is set in a great walled compound which allows the kids to run around and have fun in safety.

Driving from Entebbe to Jinja

Driving towards Kampala on the way to Jinja

I’m now relaxing in the room I’ll have for the week I’m here which usually belongs to one of the directors, but she’s in the USA on a fundraising trip, so it’s giving me a chance to get away from the constant chaos that seems to pour through the building.

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A week at Ekisa

March 6th, 2012 No comments

I’m coming to the end of what has been a great week staying at Ekisa – the kids here are great and I really like this town. Much of the time has been spent interacting with the kids at the Ekisa compound but I’ve also spent quite a bit of time exploring the town and surrounding area.

On my first full day here some of the volunteers invited me on a trip they were doing to take supplies to a primary school on the peninsula a couple of miles across Lake Victoria opposite Jinja. We started our journey by catching Bodas down to the lake front where Aaron, one of the guards at Ekisa, organised a boat to take us across the lake. The journey gave us some really good views but we got bombarded by bugs that live on the lake – piece of advice if you take a boat across the lake keep your mouth closed and wear sunglasses and a hat.

After arriving on the peninsula we caught Bodas up to the school we were due to visit, at the top of a hill overlooking the lake. Most people got there without any problems although our Boda had problems getting up the hill and I ended up ripping my trousers in the process so we arrived a long time after the others. We were greeted by the head teacher who invited us to sign the visitors book before giving us a tour of the school. The school was very basic and reminded me of the one I visited in Kenya a few years ago – holes in the wall and lack of facilities. However the children were really happy to see us and after giving out the supplies to the children we were treated to a song and dance presentation in the school hall.

The shores of Lake Victoria

A small fishing enclave on the shores of Lake Victoria

On a boat going across Lake Victoria

On the boat travelling across Lake Victoria

Arriving on the other shore opposite Jinja

Me trying to be artistic with a photo after arriving on the other side of the bay

Inside a school in Uganda

One of the better school buildings - this one had a roof and most of a wall

Once the presentation finished we walked with some of the kids down to meet our boat back to Jinja – it was a steep hill and some of the group had problems walking but the kids just ran straight down with no problems. Eventually we all got to the bottom and walked hand in hand with some of the kids to the town where the boat was due to meet us. When we arrived at the town we were greeted by a large group of kids who interacted and played with us for ages until our boat arrived to take us back to Jinja.

Walking back to our boat

Walking back down to the shores of Lake Victoria

Kids saying hello to us

Some of the kids in the lakeside village saying hello to us

Most of my other trips out from Ekisa were to town but the one thing I wanted to do this time was visit the source of the River Nile as I was unable to get there when I was in town in 2009. We caught a boda there, and I’m glad we visited, although it was mainly a tourist trap with lots of souvenirs so we did what we needed to do before catching our boda to a nearby restaurant called Mezzanine. I highly recommend visiting Mezzanine if you’re in Jinja to see the great views of the River Nile and enjoy great food (I chose the Mr Potato Head Pizza with cream, roast potatoes, onion, mozzarella and rocket).

This week I was able to spend a lot more time exploring the town of Jinja which was great. I picked up a few souvenirs but was also able to check out some of the favourite local cafes and bars such at The Keep, a highly recommended place to chill with drinks and snacks while escaping the inevitable downpours that happen most days. There have been a few other places that we’ve visited including a coffee place called Flavours, a cafe called Ozzie’s and a restaurant called Skewers but The Keep was by far my favourite – in fact I bought a t-shirt to keep the memories going.

Jinja

Jinja town centre

The source of the River Nile

The rapids have been overwhelmed by water, but this marks the source of the River Nile

Gandhi was scattered at the source of the nile

A statue of Gandhi at the source of the River Nile

A Mr Potato Head Pizza at Mezzanine

A Mr Potato Head Pizza at Mezzanine, overloooking the River Nile

The highlight of the week, however, has been interacting with the kids at Ekisa. Despite having so little, and having so many bad things happen to them, they always have such smiles on their faces and I’ll miss them. I spent quite a lot of time playing with the kids but we also took them into town a few times. One of my favourite memories was taking a few of the kids into town on Bodas so they could have sodas at The Keep – I took Paul and he had such a great time it was a pleasure to help him have a great time. There are so many great memories I’ll take away with me that I won’t mention here, although I’ll really miss Jamil and his inquisitiveness, plus Mweru and his energy but I think I’ll miss every single kid here even though I’ve only been here a week. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank Emily for letting me use her room while she’s been away and to Ekisa for showing me a great time.

At Ekisa

Hand painting with Zak and Bridget

Me and Jamil at Ekisa

Me and Jamil at Ekisa

Me, Paul and Zuena

Me with Paul and Zuena at The Keep

Jinja Airfield

Outside the Ekisa gate looking towards the airfield

Hand Painting at Ekisa

Hand painting to raise funds for Ekisa

Me and Mweru

Me and Mweru at Ekisa

Mweru had so much energy

Mweru latched on to me and loved playing with me during my time at Ekisa

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Back home from Uganda

March 8th, 2012 No comments

I’m now home after what has been an amazing week and a bit visiting the Ekisa Orphanage in Jinja, Uganda. The visit was definitely what I needed to get a break from things and I feel it has helped me grow as a person.

The journey back took quite a while, however. I left Ekisa at 6pm yesterday – thinking this would be more than enough time to get to Entebbe Airport in time for my flight. Unfortunately we got stuck in traffic going through Kampala which meant check-in for my flight had already opened by the time we arrived at the airport. Job, the driver, did really well at getting through the traffic in typical Ugandan style to make sure I got my flight on time.

While I was in the airport I was approached by somebody doing a travel survey, which is ironic as that’s my job in the UK at the moment. It was for on behalf of the tourism studies department at a Hong Kong University and they wanted to know about peoples travel experiences in Uganda and I was more than happy to oblige. It helped kill some time between arriving at the airport and getting on the plane.

The flight from Entebbe to Brussels went smoothly and, with the air of my priority ticket, I was able to skip past the security line and transfer straight over to the other terminal to connect with my flight to London. The flight back to London went really smoothly and I arrived back home on time.

This was probably one of the most worthwhile trips I have been on. I had a great time interacting with the kids – memories I have taken home with me and will keep with me for life. Emily and Emily do a great job helping these kids and I hope to be able to continue supporting them for some time to come – and I encourage you all to help out as well. I hope one day to return to Uganda – this trip has secured the country at the top of my favourite destinations list.

Ekisa Logo

I encourage you all to help the people at Ekisa - dig deep they're worth it!

CLICK HERE to visit the Ekisa website and read more about the great work they’re doing.

Ps: Thank you to Emily, Aaron, Simon, Bridget, Stacey, Kelsey, Caroline, all of the Mama’s, all of the kids, and anybody I forgot to list at Ekisa – I had a great time visiting and I miss you all already.

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