Road Trips and Hiking in West Uganda
Do what makes you feel good- Hannah Bronfman
Initially I wasn’t sure...but in the last minute, I bought the ticket and made my way to Uganda for a road trip that turned out to be one of the most memorable experiences of 2018. Other than the fact that I made a deliberate decision to be more adventurous this year and the future, sometimes its the smallest things that give you the extra nudge to take the plunge. In my case, it was the song ‘Drive’ by David Guetta and Black Coffee.
Somewhere in Entebbe
Being a wellness enthusiast, I appreciate that travelling is good for your physical well-being. Research has also proved its hugely beneficial to our mental and emotional health. Other than the fact that it promotes happiness and helps take your mind off stressful situations, it allows you to re-evaluate and reinvent your life. Taking a few days to experience a different culture opens your mind to see the world in a different light which forces you to appreciate the small things like having access to a hot shower or wifi! What can I say, I am a full blown urban millennial.
The road trip kicked off with a five hour drive from Kampala to Fort Portal in a Land Cruiser that did us justice considering the rough terrain we would later experience. After hours of driving, we detoured off a beaten track with just enough width for the land cruiser to maneuver. On one side was a steep drop into one of the 54 lake craters of Western Uganda (which are millennium old volcanoes that are now filled with water). On the other side was a hill; in fact one could think of it much like driving at the rim edge of a tea cup in the middle of a night.
For the first time in that leg of the journey, the talkative mood and excitement of everyone in the car had turned into silence as we dangerously looped the crater. We branched off into a beautifully scenic homestead nestled in a canopy of trees called Ayapapa. The lodge is completely off the grid, uses battery and solar power, water from the lake and subscribes to anything and everything unconventional that your mind can comprehend. It belongs to a Polish gentleman named Janusz who practises traditional medicine and has been there for 11 years.
Views from the attic
The eco-friendly cottage was close to none I have seen before hidden in a myriad of trees overlooking Lyantonde Crater Lake. I am still blown away by the sight of the view. Did I also mention that we came across a sign that said “Please don’t interfere with our cobras during mating season”?
On the two days we spent there, we had the pleasure of cooking in a wooden fitted kitchen with Coach Esmile, who happens to be one of the most innovative cooks I have met. We had plenty to eat and drink ending the first night sitting around a perfectly lit bonfire.
On the second day, we went on a morning hike which led to one of us getting stung by a swarm of bees…but what’s an adventure without a little trouble right? We got a chance to see different types of vegetation and exotic lizards; luckily we didn't come across any cobras.
Jack Fruit Tree
We found an abandoned house where I took advantage of the rooftop to practice a few yoga poses. One of the things I am happy I did in 2018 was to invest my time in working on my balance, mobility and flexibility through yoga. If you have never been to a yoga class or perhaps you are intimidated, I am here to encourage you to try it. If I could get to this point, you definitely can!
We hit the road for our second destination to a town called Kichwamba located in Western Uganda, almost bordering the Democratic Republic of Congo. This part of the drive was exciting because we got to see the Ugandan Equator where we stood on both sides of the northern and southern hemisphere. In order to access the accommodation, we had to drive through Queen Elizabeth National Park where we were fortunate to see elephants and impalas.
We had been tipped by locals on a good route to find cubs and lions roaming freely. As we drove through the savanna in search of lions that were unfortunately in hiding due to the heat on that day,instead we came across a remote village where fishing seemed to be the main form of livelihood where I saw a small boy with the most enchanting blue eyes! After doing ample grocery shopping for the feast that would take place that evening, we were escorted by the caretaker to our home for the rest of the day and night.
The Observatory Geo Lodge is a little cottage located on the hills of Kichwamba escarpment overlooking Queen Elizabeth National Park with clear views of Lakes Nyamusingire, Edward, George and the Kazinga Channel. If you look close enough on a clear day, you can spot the Blue Mountains of Congo on the horizon; sadly it was very cloudy on that day so we didn't a clear view.
The top floor consisted of a welcoming pajama lounge where we listened to music, played board games, and could watch movies at our pleasure with bohemian furniture scattered about the floor of the room. As if it couldn’t get any better, the cottage boasts a huge balcony on the upper floor that commands unparalleled views of the entire escarpment.
With binoculars, one could watch live game in Queen Elizabeth National Park with the best view in the house. The balcony comes fit for a queen; fully equipped with a jacuzzi, massage bed and a pair of wicker seetees for the discerning traveler to perch on while star gazing through the large telescope also provided by Geo Lodge in-keeping with its name ‘The Observatory’. The phrase ‘views for days’ is an understatement.
As the evening crept in, we prepared a candle lit dinner for the group and devoured through sweet mashed potatoes, ground nut- goat stew and greens complemented with Ugandan ‘waraji’ (the country’s local gin). Eating clean on holiday is so important to me. Getting a chance to be in the kitchen helping out with the cooking allowed me to be in control of healthy ingredients.
Later, we ended the night with great music (predominantly Mr. Eazi) in the lounge where we played few board games while occasionally stepping out into the balcony to take in the stunning night views. The entire stay at this heaven sent location felt like an out of body experience. The caretaker was pleasant and gave us space to enjoy the space without any reservations! If you ever plan on visiting Uganda, you have to add this spot on your list of destinations.
On the last day at the Observatory, I must say I was a little sad.. I would have loved to stay there for another week!
On our last leg of the trip, we headed to Lake View Resort in Mbarara where we were welcomed with fruit juice and warm face towels at the reception. This was probably the only place where we were not isolated from civilization, meaning we had hot showers and wifi! I didn't get a chance to explore much of the hotel but we opted to have dinner in town where we also got to enjoy the night life since it was my last night with the group.
If you have never indulged in a 'Rolex', you are missing out! Rolex is a breakfast luxury that can be purchased on any Ugandan street corner. Whipped egg is the gold setting accompanied by precious studs of tomato, purple onion and fine strands of cabbage all nestled safely in a soft chapati wrap. Sound ridiculous? Try it! The original name was meant to read ‘Rolled Eggs’, but through the passage of time coupled with the Ugandan accent, it sounded like Rolex and the name stuck! Though the combination might catch you off guard, its definitely worth a try! I utterly enjoyed mine; however, one rolex makes for a filling meal.
The traffic to the airport in Entebbe on that specific day was unforgiving! Eventually, I had to hop onto a boda boda to make it for my flight back to Nairobi which ended up being delayed. What a trip! As a Kenyan, or rather East African, I have realised that I take too much for granted; the natural beauty that lies in Africa as a continent cannot be compared to anywhere else. I would hope to see more of this region and maximise on all the wellness escapes that I will come across.
As we get into the New Year, my wish is for you to travel far and beyond your wildest imagination whilst taking time to discover the freedom that lies in stepping outside your comfort zone.
Let's walk into 2019 with a positive outlook on wellness as a wholesome tool of self-development and empowerment. Let's travel more, read more, cook more, forgive more and most importantly, love more. If you would like more insight on what it means to start your wellness journey, stay close for a special feature which will be published next week. Until then, be safe, stay hydrated, make sure to have a power meal before the New Year celebrations and of course, don’t forget to subscribe below to receive our newsletters directly to your email. See you on the other side!
“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.” – French writer Marcel Proust
Chief Online Editor: Loise Machira
Travel Contributor: Joseph Zziwa
Photography: Loise Machira, Saad Muziransa II, Ismail Ddumba, Simon Katende
Location: Ayapapa, The Observatory, Lake View Resort Hotel