The Most Daring Girl Trip to Kalangala

I have been to Kalangala countless times.  One would expect that I should be tired of going there by now but I love the experience even more every time. Whether it is with a friend, a group of friends or just alone to have some time to myself there is always fun stuff to do and the view is worth a million dollars.

Kalangala is located on the northern shore of Bugala Island, the largest of the Ssese Islands on Lake Victoria, Uganda. It can be accessed through Nakiwogo in Entebbe using a ship which takes about 4 hours. Entebbe is 45 minutes away from Kampala on a day with good traffic flow. Alternatively one can get to Kalangala on a ferry from Bukakata in Masaka. The drive from Kampala to Bukakata is roughly 3 hours and the ferry ride to Kalangala is about 45 minutes.

I took this particular trip with a friend called Herm. We had planned to take the ship whose departure time was 2pm sharp. The weather was perfectly bright and sunny. I had a few out of town errands to run that morning which I expected to conclude way before our 12pm set off from Kampala. To my dismay there were major delays beyond my control and I only managed to get to our meeting point in town at 1.30pm. Nevertheless we were determined to make it to Kalangala that day whatever the cost. We could have easily rescheduled to the following day except that it would have shortened our stay therefore we refused to consider that as an option.

I had been on the phone with Herm updating her on the progress I was making towards reaching the meeting point. We realized it was obvious that we would not make it to Entebbe in time to catch the ship if we drove there as originally planned. Herm had to secure a ‘boda boda’ around the Old Taxi Park that would take us all the way to Nakiwogo. A boda boda is a motor bike that is used as a means of public transport in towns and villages in Uganda. They can be used to reach places that are not easily accessible by other means or when one is in a dire rush similar to ours. Herm did all the booking and bargaining with the rider before I got there so that they were all set for takeoff. It was a crazy day for me considering I had just come about 40km on a boda boda to town and was about to go another 40. Note that this mode of transport is normally used for short distances of not more than 10km and it is considered quite risky. As soon as I arrived I hopped onto the waiting bike. We did not have a single second to lose as we had an unreasonable amount of time left to get to the landing site.

The ride to Nakiwogo is one I will never forget. It was a mix of thrill, fear, excitement, disbelief and many other feelings all at the same time. Being a Friday the traffic was quite slow moving but that was not a problem for us because we had picked the right mode of transport and the right guy. He was determined to prove that he could get us to our destination in record time. Trust me he did all he could. He ran 2 red traffic lights, squeezed through tiny crevices to get past cars, flew over pavements, and I believe he rode at the bike’s maximum speed. When we thought that we would not make it in time he assured us over and over that we would. The wind blew so hard against our faces that tears uncontrollably flew off and we could barely breathe. Thankfully none of us wore a wig because I am pretty sure it would have flown off before we even got out of town.

As we rode down the final stretch towards Nakiwogo with the ship in sight and its horn sounding the last call, the rider literally started flying. Bystanders cheered us on as we held on for dear life and tried as hard as we could not to let our guts pop out. Unfortunately we got to the boarding point just as the ship sailed off. We were so close that we could have just leaped on had we been crazy people. It was at the point that we finally accepted that we would not make it to Kalangala by the ship that day. The boda boda man was disappointed and ranted on about how he almost did it and wished he had ridden just a little faster.

We were not about to give up. It was time to hatch up a Plan B fast. We inquired around and luckily found out that there was a fisherman’s boat, locally called a ‘kinaala’ that would be heading to Kalangala at 3pm. We did not know what a kinaala really was but that was awesome news. We did not have to wait for so long and would eventually get to our destination only an hour later, or so we thought.

Each time we saw any sort of vessel sailing towards the docking point we excitedly wondered if it might be ours. This went on until about 3.30 pm when we started to lose hope. A few minutes later an old boat docked and people and things were offloaded from it. We did not pay it much attention until one of the fishermen that we had earlier spoken to ran towards us and told us that that was our kinaala and it was time to get on board. Herm and I looked at each other as if the same thoughts and questions ran through our minds. The boat was tall, ancient, had bird droppings all over the sides, there was a mix of dirty oil and water swimming on the floor, there were no life jackets, no seats, nothing to hold onto for support and no roof.

The kinaala that made lifetime memories

A man shouted out their final ‘boarding call’ and we made a run for the boat having taken the decision to go in just a split second. There were 3 fishermen and about 10 other people besides us on board. Herm and I said a quick prayer and sent our closest family and friends messages telling them where we were and how much we loved them as the boat set off. We tried for a while to figure out whether it was more comfortable to stand on the filthy slanting floor without being able to see anything outside the kinaala or to sit on the wooden bars across the top of the boat with no support for our backs but with the view of the lake. We eventually kept alternating between both positions since none of them was particularly pleasant.

At the beginning of the journey we talked and laughed about how this was the craziest thing we had done in our lives, enjoyed the cool fresh breeze and the golden sun rays upon our skins. We figured that this would be a bearable fun journey that would eventually be a story to tell. About an hour into the lake the weather suddenly started to change. Heavy dark clouds formed, the wind got fierce and before we knew it the heavens had opened. That was when the real adventure began. It felt as though we were part of a scene in the movie ‘Shipwrecked’.

The rain was so heavy and direct, we did not have anything to shelter ourselves with, and the waves were so strong that they would sweep the boat off the surface of the water into the air as we swayed around the boat, the winds and thunder roared harshly. The lightning colored up the dark sky every few seconds. We were in the middle of nowhere and all we could see was lake and more lake in every direction. There was no cell reception or any other form of communication with the world outside the kinaala in case we needed help. Water started to fill the boat. We all had to scoop it out with whatever container we could find to avoid sinking. All sorts of horrific thoughts ran through my mind during that time. It did not help that the fishermen kept joking they had lost their sense of direction and that we were probably headed towards some place in Tanzania. We were all drenched and frozen. Our luggage was soaked. The storm did not subside until about 2 hours later and by that time night had fallen. There is nothing on this earth as dark as a night on the lake with not so much as a matchstick to give a little spark. Opening or closing our eyes made no difference. I wondered how the fishermen found their bearing. By this time everybody was dead silent. I could not wait to take a warm bath and fall on any sort of bed, which I was not sure would ever happen at this point. It was a bitter cold night. I was so hungry that the insides of my stomach seemed to be gnashing at each other. The fishermen had been telling us for the previous 3 hours that we were about to arrive whenever anyone asked (which was mostly Herm and I). We just hoped we got there safely regardless of when.

We eventually got to Kalangala around 10pm; hungry, tired and beaten down but glad. We managed to get boda bodas to Panorama Cottages where we had booked a room. We had a quick bite, took warm baths and slept like babies. What a day it had been!

I woke up the following day feeling as though I had been reborn. Herm and I laughed a lot about the previous day’s experience as we went about our day. We spent the late morning and afternoon walking on the sandy white beaches and swimming. For lunch we had giant fresh fish that we had picked out ourselves from a fisherman at the market. In the evening hours we enjoyed a walk through the forest, saw quite a number of bird species and pretty butterflies while breathing in the fresh unpolluted air. There was a fire at the beach at night. We met a couple of people with whom we roasted meat, told stories and laughed the night away.

Whether you are going solo, with friends or as a couple Kalangala is a perfect place filled with lots of activities to choose from. They include sport fishing, bird watching, quad biking, camping, nature walks, cultural walks, boat rides, bon fires and chilling at the beach.

There are a number of excellent places to stay at whether you are travelling on a budget or have happy pockets. Panorama Cottages, Mirembe Resort Beach Hotel, Brovad Sands Lodge, Pearl Gardens Beach Resort are some of the great options to explore. One of the pluses for me about Kalangala is that many of the hotels are along the beach or close by so once you get off the ship you can just walk there.  If you are the adventurous kind camping is available as well, though it is not advisable during the rainy season.

Advertisements

How to Have the Time of Your Life in the Amazing Karamoja, Uganda

“Jobs fill your pocket, but adventures fill your soul.” – Jamie Lyn Beatty

Food, nature and culture are the most exciting things for me when it comes to venturing new places. A couple of friends and I recently took a road trip to Kidepo Valley National Park in Karamoja in North Eastern Uganda. The park is located about 700km from the capital city, Kampala

It took us a few months to save up and plan for our long anticipated travel. We hit the road at 6am so as to get onto the highway before the traffic within town got heavy. We used a private car for extra comfort and convenience because we wanted to stop and check out a number of towns and villages along the way. The option of traveling with a tour and travel company is also available for those who prefer that.

We arrived in Gulu town around 5pm, checked into a guesthouse, rested a bit, freshened up and stepped out to get a feel of the night life. We had dinner and then stormed a local club to catch a few drinks and dance. We retired earlier than the rest of the folk because we had to get up early for the continuation of our journey.

Breakfast was served at 6.30am and by 7am we were on the road to our destination. We made a lot of stops at hills, huge rocks, and crop fields to take pictures and stretch our legs. Arrival at Kidepo Valley National Park was at around 3pm. Warm friendly staff welcomed us and got us checked into our cottages which we had not booked prior to our coming. They were allocated to us on arrival. The cottages were a touch of warmth and coziness in the heart of the wild.

Cozy cottages at Kidepo National Park

After a late lunch we took the evening game drive in our car with a tour guide from the park whom we paid a small fee. We saw only a few animals and they were scattered. Our guide, Logwee told us that most of the animals were out and about during the morning hours and went into hiding later on in the day to shelter themselves from the scorching sun. Nevertheless we enjoyed the ones we managed to catch like the zebras, buffaloes, warthogs, bush bucks, dik-dik and some birds. These are some of the common animals that one is likely to find. We were also very lucky to see the breathtaking Kidepo sunset. We returned from the drive a little after 7pm, after which we told stories and had dinner around a camp fire with some of the other residents before we retired. We could hear hyenas ‘laugh’ all night from somewhere in the deep dark.

By 6.30am we were back on the track for the morning game drive with Logwee who had become well acquainted with us by then. It was the most amazing experience. We saw a number of animals, even the ones that are seen only occasionally like lions and leopards, though these were a bit far off from us. We had to use binoculars to be able to see them clearly. The lions were on their morning hunt so we could not dare to go near them lest we featured on their menu.

Giraffes posing for the camera at Kidepo Valley National Park

We met a number of camera shy giraffes though we were lucky to have 2 of them smile at us. A python crossed the road right in front of us at one point and we found a lizard sun bathing on a rock. There were a few crocodiles cooling off in the mud in one of the swamps. Unfortunately we did not see any elephants throughout the drive.

Lizard sunbathing at Kidepo Valley National Park

Dik-dik, bush bucks, buffaloes, zebras, warthogs and various bird species were seen more than once in different places within the park.

Tourists view buffalo carcass at Kidepo Valley National Park

Logwee told us that buffaloes send their elderly away from the herd to live in solitude until they die. We indeed came across one of them that was estimated to have died 2 days earlier.

The zebras seemed to be very intimate creatures. They were often seen huddled together. They are beautiful and graceful too.

Zebras bonding at Kidepo Valley National Park

The warthog is hilarious with its very short term memory. One of them saw our car coming towards it and it started to run away. Hardly had it reached a stone throw away than it made a U turn and started to run back towards us.

Breakfast was served at 10.30am after which we said goodbye to Kidepo. We made a few stops on our way back to Kampala, the notable ones being at a market in Kaabong and at a ‘manyata’.

Shopping at the market in Kaabong, Karamoja

Kaabong is within the Karamoja region. We passed by the market to buy a few gifts for family and friends. There was a variety of items to choose from including blankets, jewelry, shoes, kitenge, African crafts and the like. We also tasted the very strong local brew made out of millet and other concoctions.

A ‘manyata’ is a Karamojong homestead. It is made mainly of reeds, wood and grass. Some of the places within the homestead are a granary, kitchen and sleeping area. We found only the children at home. The women had gone to fetch water and the men were out socializing.

Posing with the Karamojong boys and girls in front of their ‘manyata’

The people we met in Karamoja were very friendly. We were warmly welcomed in the homestead we visited. At some point towards Kidepo when we got lost, 2 men who were busy in their fields willingly pointed us in the right direction. Overall the Karamoja experience is one I would gladly relive and highly recommend for anyone who is looking to interact with rich culture and nature at its best.

Shine On


In this journey of mine called life I have had the privilege of experiencing the good, the bad and oh the ugly days. I do what I have to do with each kind of day, from embracing it to enjoying it to facing it to learning from it to moving on from it or to simply deleting it like it never ever existed.

The recent most perfect day that is in my memory was in December last year while I was on holiday. I lay in the calm clear ocean facing the blue cloudless sky, cool breeze blowing, beautiful sun shining upon my skin, glass of champagne in hand. For those few hours my mind was blank, just taking in all the beauty and splendor around me with no cares or distractions. I remember the whole time the thought that kept ringing in my mind was “I am in Heaven.”

There have been the bad days too when say business did not work out or something tragic happened in the family. A while ago I lost all my hard earned savings in one day due to a bad decision. That is one of the ugliest ones I remember.
No matter what happens in life, you need to stay in control and not let life take control over you. Regardless of what the previous day was like, you need to wake up, make up, dress up and show up with your best smile on. Life will fear you. You have to keep moving and don’t give up. At times the situations seem big, but guess what? You are much bigger than them.

Always make the best of the good moments. Do not just laugh, laugh really hard. Dance till your muscles cramp. Love with all you’ve got. Meet new people, see new places, try new things. Do whatever it is that you love to do and cut out the things that make you unhappy. Also, remember the world does not revolve around just you. Be kind to others, get out of your way to be helpful, make someone’s day. Give compliments, share what you have, smile at someone. You just never know how far that will go. There is joy in creating happiness for others.

When the tough times come face them knowing that they shall pass. You will come out a stronger person. Keep pressing on and keep hope alive. It does get better. You look back in time to come and those situations look like some little things that you went through and overcame. Every obstacle is an opportunity for you to learn and to grow. I am learning that the attitude with which you face them will determine the extent to which they will affect you.

I face more difficult situations now than I did in the past and yet handle them in a more mature way with greater strength than before because I tell myself that I am bigger, that the situation will pass and I look out for the lessons there are to learn. One could easily argue that maturity in handling situations comes with age. I think that’s partly true but it has more to do with attitude. If you maintain the same ‘pity’, ‘give up’ attitude even as you grow older, you will continue to be drowned by the storms of life.

Another thing that I have always found very helpful while going through challenges is a good support system: people I can confide in, count on for encouragement and tangible help. Having such people around makes the load much lighter. Remember to also be there for them when they need you and not always be the one on the receiving end.

I used to tackle issues on my own but it was more frustrating, they took much longer to resolve, drained more energy and just caused stress. I realized that whatever the situation there is always someone who is able and willing to help. There is someone who has been through something similar who can advise you, there is someone who has the necessary resources that you may not have to resolve an issue, there is someone who knows someone that could help you. The interesting thing is that these people are not so far away from you. So you should never have to go through anything alone. Look around you: among your friends, family, workmates, neighbors and so on. There is always someone who can walk with you. All you have to do is reach out and open up.

Life is like a basket full of things; some good and others not as good. When your day doesn’t turn out as expected don’t give up. Keep hoping and believing for a better tomorrow. Don’t let life’s challenges get the better of you. Don’t let them change you (for the worse). Don’t let them make you bitter but better. Always be your best self and shine on.