Welcome to Uganda

Today I say good bye to Zanzibar and my driver Michano. On route to the airport, we made a quick stop at our operators’ office to meet all their staff, its always nice to put a face to the name. After a quick visit I was off to the airport for my flight to Entebbe. On arrival, I waited in line patiently as there were few boarder officials to issue visas, the other 6 or 7 agents were watching a soccer match very intensely in the back room. Once through customs, I was greeted by Ya-Ha-Ya, a driver from our local operations who transferred me to the Boma Hotel, with its comfortable country feel.

My time here was short as we left at 6am for my flight to Kasese, where you can go chimpanzee trekking. The flight was very scenic as I flew over Lake Victoria, one of the world’s largest lakes, and mountainous areas covered by lush forest. Closer to Bwindi, you could see the mountains and hills cultivated for farming: mainly corn, coffee, bananas and cotton. Upon landing I met my guide Nelson, who would be with me for the next couple of days. We drove through several smalls towns along the way to Adali Lodge near the Kibale Forest. The drive to was very scenic as we passed through the many villages and farms. One of the cool things I saw was their cows, which have enormous horns. The lodge itself is set on a hill with views of a beautiful lake on one side and the working farm on the other where they produce coffee and cocoa for chocolate. The food here is spectacular and the people are so welcoming. This afternoon, I’ll enjoy the property as I await tomorrow’s chimpanzee trekking so stay tuned!

During my stay I visited the Kyainga Lodge,  another lodge in the area, which was just as nice and set up on a hill looking onto the Ugandan mountains. The owner Steve, originally from the UK, invited me for a sundowner drink where we enjoyed a stunning African sunset. After the sun had gone down, he invited me to the local golf club to meet a few of his friends and see the club (one of the oldest in Uganda). We had dinner at the club and I had a very tasty local chicken stew with fries, which only cost 6000 Ugandan Shilling, about $2 CAD.

Final Day in Zanzibar

My last day on Zanzibar included some down time after seeing and inspecting 21 different hotels in the past 6 days. It was a beautiful day to relax by the pool and enjoy the sun. I would spend my last night in Stone Town, where I made one final stop at the African House Hotel, known for having the best spot to catch the sunset and enjoy sundowners. As the sun was setting in the distance 4 or 5 dolphins came in the bay and performed for us…jumping several times right in front of the hotel. After a beautiful sunset, I went for dinner at this new restaurant, set right on the beach. They had fabulous thin crust pizza and ice-cold beer, a great end to my last night in Zanzibar.

Snorkeling the Reef

Today, Michano (my driver) picked me up early from my hotel and we headed to a town just South of Stone Town for a full day snorkeling trip, with seafood lunch on an secluded Island. The tour started off as we were assigned a captain and dhow. We walked half a km in knee deep water before climbing aboard our dhow called “The Lydia”.

On our way out to the reef, we got to enjoy fresh coconut water and pineapple which was one of the sweetest I’ve ever tasted. As we go to this beautiful reef we jumped in and explored it, surrounded by colorful tropical fish. The water was warm and clear with almost no current, the perfect place for snorkeling. We stopped at 2 different spots as we headed to a private island where staff had prepared a beautiful seafood lunch with lobster and other local dishes. There was a local band that performed African song and dance while we were spoiled with this delicious meal and fresh island fruit for dessert. We were served pineapple, watermelon, oranges (they are green here), mangoes, passion fruit, bananas and my favorite red banana, which is sweeter than the regular yellow kind. After trying all this delicious fruit, we departed to the island lagoon for a swim. It was like stepping into bath water of calm clear turquoise blue. Very picturesque. With the wind in our sail, we continued back to the drop off point where I met Michano and transferred to Essque Zalu, located on the northern tip of Zanzibar.

Jazani Forest

Today we drove to the Jazani Forest, home to several animals including the Red Colobus monkey which is only found in Zanzibar. We walked through the jungle seeing holes which were home to crabs and Speik Monkeys. After half an hour of trekking, the Colobus monkey showed itself, jumping from tree to tree. They didn’t look like what I had in my mind as I was expecting long, hairy monkeys like the Black and White Colobus you find on mainland Tanzania. After watching the monkeys for a while we decided to move on as the guide said they are known for urinating on people who hang around too long.

We continued to the Southeast Coast to visit The Residence Resort, White Sand Villas, Kisiwa and Breezes, where I would spend the night. All were beautiful accommodations with stunning white powder beaches. This time of year is kite surfing season and people come from around the world to master the sport.


Stone Town

Continuing through Stone Town we visited the Old Slave market, one of the world’s last slave markets. Though the history of the trade was interesting, it is sad to think how people were treated. We left to visit to the Fish market, though a little smelly, it was buzzing with life as the day’s fresh catch was auctioned off. The bigger catches and more sought after fish were left until last, bids were going back and forth on a 6 foot meaty marlin. We continued on to the produce and meat market where the stalls were so close together you could hardly fit your shoulders between. The chicken market was something completely unreal to me as there were prepared chickens hanging in the front window and live ones in behind. Those customers looking for a live chicken would take their pick, grab them by the feet and walk out as if they were grocery bags, hanging upside down by their ankles.

The rest of the day was spend walking through old Stone Town, down streets with no names, where you would get lost without a guide. Something I found very interesting was the old doors along each block and their meaning. If the door had a square top, Arabic people lived there while if they had a rounded top Indian people lived there. Each of the doors were symbolically carved specific to the family living inside. Carvings of fish meant they were fishermen or a pineapple meant they were farmers. Many doors were build with heavy, strong materials and had large metal spikes. This idea was brought from India where elephants would knock down doors. Though elephants are not a problem in Zanzibar the spikes were still used.

To finish up the day, I boarded a traditional dhow for a sunset cruise along the coastline with a Kilimanjaro Beer. A nice way to end the day!

Arrival in Zanzibar & the Spice Market

24 hours after departing, I landed in hot and humid Zanzibar (even at 2am), a nice change from what I left in Calgary. I stayed overnight here at an old Sultan’s Palace (a Heritage Site) located right on the Ocean and awoke to the sound of crashing waves, what a great way to start my day!

This morning I met my guide Joseph and we were on our way out of town towards the spice plantations. The drive was beautiful and we stopped at the Maruhubi Palace, which dated back to the late 1800s. The Palace once belonged to the 3rd Arab Sultan of Zanzibar and was the home of his secondary wives and where he hosted visitors from far away lands.

We continued on to the highest plantation in all of Zanzibar (120m above sea level). We tried a number of local spices including nutmeg, cloves (Zanzibar was once the largest clove producer in the world), cinnamon, turmeric and ginger, as well as many different types of tropical fruit. The herbs are grown for cooking but each also has their own medicinal use. Did you know cinnamon root is used in products like Vick’s Vapour Rub?


Packing for Bush and Beach

When it comes to packing for a trip I usually wait until the last minute to throw everything I need into a bag just before heading off to the airport. This usually leads to forgetting something. This time, I chose to do something different and pack several days prior. The experience has been great and I actually have time to buy items I am missing like travel size toothpaste, bug spray and sun screen!

When choosing what clothes to pack, I stick to versatile items that hide the dirt, dry quickly, are multi-purpose (zip off pants), and are warm for those cool mornings. This particular trip has the diversity of the white sand beaches of Zanzibar and the lush forests of Uganda so I packed some specific items such as a snorkel and work gloves to protect my hands from the jungle thistles.

A few of my favorite items: Tripod, Canon 7D with Tarmin 16 – 300 lens, GoPro Hero 5, Selfie stick, binoculars, and noise cancelling headphones (essential for the long haul flights)


How it all began

This trip all began when my beautiful wife was looking at volunteering at a hospital in Uganda. As I started planning I decided while there I had to add one of my bucket list items…gorilla trekking. Having been to Africa ten times I still haven’t witnessed the gorilla families in the wild. With Uganda literally being around the world we thought it best to add on some beach time in Zanzibar to get the most out of the trip. However, my itinerary in Zanzibar is no snooze on the beach as I will be inspecting over 21 different properties around the island, searching for the best of the best. It has been a long time planning and now I’m finally heading out on another adventure!

Small World

This morning was our earliest start to the day yet, with a 430 am wake up to catch a long awaited balloon ride over the Mara. Unfortunately plans can change when relying so heavily on nature and due to the high winds this morning we were unable to take off! A rare incident, however unavoidable on this occasion. Safety always comes first!

Since we were up early we continued on our game drive with Timothy, looking for the more than usually elusive mara giraffe. We had spotted the odd mara giraffe from afar, however it was time to focus on this animal up close and find the feature differences to the Reticulated and Rothschild Giraffe previously sighted. There are much fewer trees in the Mara for them to munch on and in the evenings they would make their way to the comfort of the trees and back to the plains in the morning. Today we had no trouble finding them and we found a “tower” of 21 giraffes! 2 teenage males were practising ‘necking’ the art of giraffe fighting which can sometimes end in death!

After this final game drive in the mara triangle and saying goodbye to Timothy we were delivered to Little Governors where we took their “ferry” boat across the Mara river over to main Governors camp. Not quite like the wildebeest crossing, however an experience none the less! Especially in the rain.

Once we’d checked in and had a wonderful three course lunch at camp it was time to see the other Governors’ properties, game driving along the way of course. This was our first day of rain and everything was a little greener because of it. The dust had settled and the wildebeest were running around with delight. On this side of the river the wildebeest were plentiful! To us they looked abundant across the plains – we can only imagine what 1.5 million of them in September brings to the same area.

While at Il Moran camp, we bumped into a couple of Brian and Dee Keating’s friends from Australia, what a small world! An Antarctic expedition leader, it made perfect sense as to how they knew each other.

Our afternoon game drive took us to see two sister lions playing with each other. Lots of snuggles, playful slaps across the face and the odd pounce while the other one was napping! A little while later a big male lion, (one of the known 6 warrior males of the area) came over to greet the ladies and they approved, he was poa (cool) and could stick around. These same lions reside right by the camp grounds, only metres from the manager’s house. they had hidden their cubs in the thick of the foliage, only weeks old. They would greet all the guests as they set out for a morning drive right by the gate!
Duncan our new guide for this side of the Mara was keen to show us something new. While the rain slowly dampened the dirt, we watched on as a hyena family gathered outside their den also enjoying the cooler weather – a multi generational family of 15, the usual size. Who would have thought the babies could be so cute! At this age appearing black in colour and yet to adopt their spots! We watched them ponder about for an hour learning their behaviour and interacting with eachother. Playing and resting at the same time, depending on their age. The (matriarch) always patrolling the grounds, fascinating and hilarious creatures. As the nature book goes, known as ‘the land cleaner’, it is the 4th animal in line to feed after a lion kill, second is the jackel, third the vulture, and finally leaving only the bones and skin for the hyena.

Tonight we fell asleep to the wonderful sounds of the rain pattering on our tent, the hippos talking and roars of the lion as we were located ideally right by the river.

How does each day bring such reward? Because this is absorbing yourself in nature. Thanks again Africa, time is running short!