Kampala (+ Entebbe)

From the rhino sanctuary our next destination was Entebbe just south of Kampala, the capital. On the shores of Lake Victoria, Entebbe was once the capital of Uganda during the colonial era. Known as a more relaxed place we thought it would make a good stop before we headed into the city, which is notorious for its traffic.

It was a nice easy drive, hot but with clouds around we passed through a couple of light showers.

The most direct route would have been to go through Kampala but we knew how slow and hard heavy traffic driving that would be so as we got close we took some dirt road detours to skirt around most of the city. They had clearly had more rain there as they were closer to red mud. Single width we didn’t meet much traffic but did drive through some very rural villages with kids with the extended malnourished bellies, forests and sugar cane plantations. Weirdly on one road it was being built into a proper road, big and wide and in the process of being surfaced. However it was being built in sections in seemingly no particular order. Neither starting from the middle nor either end, but it provided a bit of relief from the rough driving. The ‘tank’ as we’ve nicknamed it is built for these roads but its a basic vehicle so passenger comforts are sparse.

When we finally had to go into the edge of Kampala it was manic we were on the bypass was for a short time with a lot more speed than we had experienced previously. The lines of the three lane highway had worn off so it was a free for all and involved defensively taking up as much space as possible without being ridiculous about it. It required renewed attention, but was short lived as the bypass to Entebbe is a toll road so all the traffic disappeared before the payment gate. It was blissfully quiet of traffic on the 2 lane highway all the way, with the toll. What was on it was more expensive cars going very fast.

When we finally reached Entebbe we cruised around to find our place to stay. A backpackers as basic as they come, was no showering and toilet that didn’t flush at all well but our campsite was in their garden which was dotted with trees and rather nice. It was also safe and in a nice quiet area once the blast of praise God sermon had finished.

We made camp and then got motorbike taxis (Boda Bodas) to a lakeside restaurant, catering to tourists it was tasty and overpriced. This turned out to be the only real view we got of the lake as the next morning we explored the rest of the peninsular Entebbe is on and found most of the lake side is taken up by hotels (many did not even look open).

We went back to our hotel via a short walk to a nearby supermarket and then motorbike taxis back.

The next morning after we had tried to explore more of the lake and got very lost down the side streets of the local fishing area we had breakfast at a cafe supporting gorilla conservation and then headed into Kampala. Being a Sunday the traffic was going to be as good as it got. It was heavy but steady and it didn’t take us long to get to the guesthouse we’d booked.

We settled in and put all our laundry in. The guesthouse told us the best way to get around was via Uber. This turned out to be a truly African Uber experience. The first Uber we took it wasn’t even the same car as in the app, just a driver with the app on his phone. But typically the experience went like this – a driver would accept the trip and the next minute would msg saying ‘where are you?’ so you tell them the pick up location you’ve put in the app. The next question is where are you going to? Do the same. Then they would say ‘cash or card?’ so we’d say the app is on card. The next message would say I’ll take you for [twice the app price] cash. It was hard finding a driver that would take card. Though mostly if they hadn’t asked that question in advance and only did once they arrived they’d agree to take you anyway. One trip took us 5 attempts to get a driver that would accept card (we were preserving our cash supplies by then as we didn’t want to withdraw more given we knew we could just get by with what we had).

While the city was at its best we decided to head to the farther away place we wanted to go – the Kasubi Royal Tombs. However when we finally got there and found our way in (the place was deserted) they told us the entry fee was 3 times higher than the website said. The site experienced a major fire a few years ago (though the tombs underneath were undamaged) so there is ongoing reconstruction and online reviews of the compulsory tour were very mixed. The price quoted made it expensive so we declined and went through the hassle of getting another Uber, we didn’t have an alternative place worked out and we were tired so headed back to the guesthouse, had a walk to the supermarket and a nearby restaurant for an early dinner then spent the evening hanging out on the covered deck to our room.

Thunderstorms rolled about the city all night and we had a couple of heavy showers.

The next day our sightseeing in Kampala got off to another bad start when we and the Uber driver failed to find the city Hindu temple. It is not where google or the guidebook says it is, there is just an industrial estate. We negotiated with the driver to take us to the Anglican cathedral instead.

Set on top of a hill it has lovely views and had a fresh breeze. Kampala is traffic smog filled and the fresh air was very welcome. A brick building that has an interesting shape after finding where to pay the entrance fee (the place was near deserted) we were guided inside by an old man that spoke little English. It was nothing special and our guide after suggested we might want lunch because he was hungry.

Our next destination was the Uganda National Mosque. We could see it from the cathedral and decided to walk rather than mess about with an Uber. We got as far as walking down the hill then could see crossing the roads was going to be an issue so we got motorbike taxis when we were touted, the rest of the way.

We paid the entrance fee, which includes a guided tour, and then a woman wrapped us in sarongs and headscarves. Our guide was a young man but very knowledgeable. Most well known as the Gaddafi mosque, it is the largest mosque in sub-Sahara Africa and one of the largest mosques in Africa. It is Colonel Gaddafi of Libya’s legacy in Uganda, it’s construction having been a a gift.

The mosque can hold 25,000 worshippers (around 20% of the Ugandan population is Muslim). It is a lovely mosque and that 3 core design components: it’s wood is from Congo and represents Africa, it’s glass is from Italy and represents Europe and its chandeliers are from Egypt and represents the Arab setting. The mosque also has a very tall Minerate which has 304 steps. The tour includes going up it. It was a stinking hot day and our extra layers while thin felt restrictive. We opted to go to the balcony part way up over going to the top as they have equally amazing 360° views of the whole city and the seven hills that make up Kampala.

Our final stop was the Royal Palace of the Buganda Kingdom. We took motorbike taxis the short distance there, which in the heavy traffic was a rather dodgy ride, but we got there in 1 piece. There is much history to both the palace and the Buganda monarchy. You can only visit on a guided tour and like all the tourist sights in Kampala we found it pretty dead. There were just 2 other people there and 2 more that had signed the registration book for entry that morning. It was hot, though black clouds were forming in the far distance and the breeze was starting to pick up signalling a brewing storm. You can’t go into the palace so basically the guide takes you through all the history while you stand outside in various places. The end is a visit to a torture chamber where thousands are people were tortured to their death. Hand prints in blood remain in one of the rooms.

We were knackered when we got back to the guesthouse with a good local supermarket just a short walk away we had a picnic dinner on our deck.

That night there were huge thunderstorms over the city and it absolutely bucketed it down with rain from late evening until the early hours of the morning. We weren’t sorry to not be in the tent. We’d also discovered in Uganda that our vehicle is very much a desert vehicle, it leaks in multiple places when it rains. The first night we had rain we opened the passenger door and it sloshed! We found a plug at the bottom and pulled it out, half the door must have been full. We figured it had been plugged to stop dust getting in and messing up the lock and window mechanism. There was no getting the plug back in after so dust would no doubt be a problem later (and we hoped now our problem) but we had to get the water out.

At our guesthouse we had parked on a slope and a pool of water gushed out from where it had pooled in the footwell when we opened the passenger door. Though the rain had washed some of the dust off so at least when we touched the vehicle we didn’t get quite so filthy.

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