Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Leaving Uganda

I'm writing this at home in Hamilton, sw Victoria after a busy week packing up the house in Buloba, finishing off some work duties by Jenny and a couple of farewells with our School For Life colleagues.

Packing up was fairly painless and quite fun as most of our stuff was snapped up by SFL teachers at knockdown prices.  Odds and ends were distributed with a draw names from a hat and make a choice system.  Ever reliable Bosco arrived at the house and fitted a typically Ugandan amount of furniture on the back of SFL's small truck.  We made a couple of trips to school with smaller items in our RAV.

Teachers Shamim, Janepher and Christine-Alice

Teacher Emma, Katuuso Facilities Manager Eddie, Teachers Dennis and Geofrey
The Saturday before we left we threw an afternoon party for all teachers at Danma Gardens - our local dining out place in Buloba.  It was a fun party with everyone enjoying the food and sodas and the nice surroundings.  Away from the school environment it was more obvious how young many of the teachers are and they were very busy posing for selfies with each other.  We were particularly pleased with the nearly 100% turnout as some had to come from Kampala and distant villages.

Teacher Rita choosing carefully

Katuuso Facilities Manager Eddie and Head of Tailoring Winnie 
We finished emptying and cleaning out the house on Monday and said a sad goodbye to our ever-reliable askari Richard.  We were his first tenants and we had him to ourselves in our compound for about 4 months before others moved in.  We had just found out his wife Olivia was expecting their second child soon.  It is all too common in Uganda that couples live far apart for economic reasons and we hope our parting gift to Richard will help him see Olivia, Brilliant and new baby more often.

On Tuesday we drove into town.  I was both dreading and looking forward to this.  Dreading it because it was one last chance for a crash and looking forward to it because I wouldn't have to drive in Uganda again (at least until we come back for a visit in a couple of years' time).  As it happened it was a typical drive in with crazy roundabout jams, weird driving behaviour and some swearing on my part.

We had sold the car for a fair price to Roadtrip Uganda.  Regular readers of this blog might recognise that name as the company we used for our Land Cruiser hire for safaris when we had visitors.  Our RAV will be well looked after by their mechanics (they have heaps of RAVs) and will have a hopefully long life as a safari vehicle visiting Uganda's lovely parks.  Roadtrip give their cars names and Jenny suggested they call ours "Sweary Steve".  There was a slight hitch over US dollars v Ugandan shillings but we sorted that out and the car was safely handed over.

We had a final dinner with the Kampala SFL office staff and friends on Wednesday night.  CEO Annabelle was over from Sydney for a week or two so all the gang were there.  The venue was Que Pasa - a Mexican-themed bar/restaurant run by an expat Aussie.  Where else would you have your final meal in Uganda?

These Hornbills watched over us while we packed our suitcases in our Kampala hotel room.
Our reliable taxi driver Charles was ready for us on Thursday morning for the run to Entebbe airport.  "How long does it take to get to the airport from Kampala?" is a common question.  The inevitable answer is "It depends".  It's 40 km and can take an hour (at say 3am) or over 3 hours.  We allowed plenty of time and it took 2 hours.  It would have been longer but at one point we were waved onto the not-yet-open expressway.  Money changed hands, bollards were moved aside and we slipped through onto the near empty new road - mostly on the wrong side of the road.  20 mins later, and three or four more payments for bollard removal, we were back on the original road, well ahead of the jam and with a clear run to the airport.

Two uneventful flights with a night in Doha (40ºC) in between and we were back at my Dad's in Melbourne.  Sunday we collected our car, didn't have lunch with son David (we did try!) and Monday we drove home via lunch with my sister Reagan at her new home in Buninyong.

So our 11 months in Uganda have ended and we are home with mixed feelings.  It is so nice to be back in our house with our great internet, ugg boots, reliable power, tap water you can drink, neat and tidy streets, shops we understand.  We will miss our two schools and will miss seeing their rapid development over the next few years.  We will miss the teachers, the kids and support staff.  We will miss our good friends in the Kampala office.  We will miss the unexpectedly foggy mornings, the sunny, warm afternoons, the torrential rain every few days, the lush green of the farmland and remnant forests, the papyrus swamps, the birds, butterflies, mammals and landscapes of the varied national parks and the lovely safari lodges.  We won't miss the driving!

Where to next?

Monday, August 7, 2017

Mostly birds ...

As the days whiz by and our departure date comes ever closer we are still spending most days at either or both of the schools and I manage a bird walk most mornings.  Jenny had organised a meeting in the city of Masaka about two hours west for Monday 7th so we found we could spend Saturday and Sunday night at Rwakobo Rock Lodge, Lake Mburo NP for our 7th visit to our favorite Uganda park.

The drive down on Saturday morning was 4 hours of the craziest behavior from fellow motorists we have experienced here.  I can't recall any close calls (unusually) but we saw many examples of appallingly bad driving.  We counted 12 police checkpoints on the 200km of the highway and were stopped for paperwork scrutiny twice.  That's one every 16 km or so.  The checkpoints are mostly regular and their location would be well known by most drivers along the highway.  The behavior of drivers (either dangerous or just baffling) in-between is in no way affected by the high number of checkpoints.

The checkpoints can be quite hazardous themselves.  A typical design is depicted below.  Note how both directions of traffic are funneled into a single line.  It becomes a game of chicken as no-one wants to give way to oncoming vehicles.  I'm sure the police manning each checkpoint have tow-trucks on speed dial.

Returning home today the traffic was quieter but more normal - i.e. several near death experiences.  I won't miss driving in Uganda!

I've managed to snag a few nice bird photos lately and I offer them here without comment:

Bare-faced Go-away-bird (Lake Mburo NP)

Little Bee-eater (Lake Mburo NP)

Sooty Chat (Lake Mburo NP)

Trilling Cisticola (Lake Mburo NP)

Arrow-marked Babbler (Rwakobo Rock Lodge)

Klaas's Cuckoo - adult (Rwakobo Rock Lodge)

Klaas's Cuckoo - juvenile (Rwakobo Rock Lodge)

Red-faced Barbet (Rwakobo Rock Lodge)

Grey-chinned Sunbird (School For life - Katuuso)

African Goshawk (School For Life - Katuuso)

African Green Pigeon (School For Life - Katuuso)

Golden-backed Weaver (School For Life - Katuuso)

Afep Pigeon (School For Life - Katuuso)

Great Blue Turaco (School For Life - Katuuso)

Ross's Turaco (School For Life - Katuuso)

Black Cuckooshrike male (School For Life - Katuuso)

Black Cuckooshrike female (School For Life - Katuuso)

Speckled Tinkerbird (School For Life - Katuuso)

Red-tailed Greenbul (School For Life - Mbazzi)

White-browed Coucal (School For Life - Katuuso)

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Safari with Rob and Lou - 5 Murchison Falls National Park and Budongo Forest

From Queen Elizabeth NP we headed back home to Buloba for a couple of nights to do some washing and to have a second try for the Shoebill at Mabamba Swamp.  Then we headed off on the final leg of our safari - to Murchison Falls NP and to the Budongo Forest west of Masindi.  We stayed three nights at Red Chilli Rest Camp and one at the New Court View Inn, Masindi.  

A guest at Red Chilli Rest Camp.

The ferry was in great demand.

Getting up before dawn most mornings had its rewards.

Unlike our previous visit in December 2016, the park was very busy and we were unable to get onto the boat trip the afternoon we arrived as we had hoped.  We booked in for the Falls boat trip for the next afternoon.  Otherwise we drove the tracks on the north of the river - taking the first ferry over each day.

Hartebeest enjoying the lush grass but not the tsetse flies


Rothschild's Giraffe

Nice to find our own elephants on a drive

Rüppell's Vulture

Rock Pratincole (immature)


Red-throated Bee-eater


I was expecting the park to be dry and dusty as Lake Mburo NP was a week or so earlier.  However the wet season had arrived late and good rain had fallen right up to our visit.  Everything was lush and green but there was no mud.  Perfect - except for the tsetse flies that seemed to relish the conditions and the opportunity for fresh Australian blood.  

Grey Kestrel

Black-headed Lapwing

Pin-tailed Whydah

Fishermen in the Victoria Nile Delta

Vinaceous Doves

African Elephant

Dung Beetles doing what they do best.

Borassus Palms and lush grasslands.

By far the best birding was on the morning drive out south to Masindi where we detoured via the track to the top of the falls and the Honeymoon Track.  Unfortunately birding from the car (and the tsetse flies) made it hard to get onto everything and there were a few that went unidentified - we still saw 41 species.

Black-bellied Bustard and Abyssinian Ground Hornbill

Heuglin's Francolin

Yellow-throated Longclaw

Tsetse Flies on the car bonnet

After lunch at the New Court View Inn, Rob and I headed out towards Budongo Forest for a recce prior to the next day’s Royal Mile walk.  It was lucky we did as we encountered a 2 km stretch of road that had been graded but not yet compacted and heavy rain in the morning had turned it to deep mud.  One large truck was stuck midway and we only just managed to get through.  A slide onto either roadside and we would have been going nowhere.  We pushed on to the Busingiro section of Budongo Forest and picked up a few species then headed back to Masindi searching for a way around the bog.  A detour through the big sugar cane farm did the trick.

Next morning we met up with Royal Mile guide Vincent and spent a productive 3 hours walking the road through one of the best patches of rainforest in East Africa.  It was quieter than on our previous visit in December 2016 but I was happy with great views of a pair of Chocolate-backed Kingfishers.  A Marsh Tchagra and a Grey-headed Oliveback were bonuses in a patch of scrub on the way back to Masindi.

Chestnut Wattle-eye (the female has chestnut back, wings and chest).

Blue Monkey

Red-tailed Bristlebill building a nest

Next we drove home to Buloba, had yet another morning at Mabamba Swamp, a night in Kampala and saw Rob and Lou off to the airport on Friday morning.  The whole trip was a great success with all of our objectives met.

Nearing the end of our journey