Exploring the amazing Kigali City

Did you know Kigali started after Dr. Richard Kandt the German colonial commissioner made his colonial outpost there.  His residence is now the home to the Natural History Museum also known as the Kandt house. Walking around Kigali you get a sense of how first things are changing with lots of development and building happening all over the place giving it a look of a first developing city. I like city tours because they give me a glimpse into the city beyond my hotel and conference/expo centre. It is even better if I can explore the city on foot or bodaboda (especially for East Africa) as opposed to the car.

I visit Kigali quite a lot because of the work, sometimes I get to tour around and other times I am unable because of busy schedule but on this particular assignment I was able to. After visiting the Kandt house museum, my next place was the Kigali genocide memorial – this was my first and certainly last visit to this place. I know that I will bring people here but no one will convince me to go through the tour of this place again. Growing up in Mbarara, the genocide in Rwanda is something we heard about on the radio but the most depressing was seeing dead bodies floating in River Kagera that would soon pour into Lake Victoria. For that whole period we were told that fishing was not allowed and therefore no fish was on anyone’s menu. Visiting this place was brought all such memories back to mind but in a more closer way.

I also visited the Belgium’s soldiers monument commemorate the life of the Belgian soldiers that tried to help in stopping the genocide when the French troops and UN decided to leave the area. I did not have a desire to stay long here and instead went to the Nyamirambo women’s center to look at their different materials on sale. They do have excellent work which I recommend to anyone who would like to leave with a piece of Rwanda. They also organize community tours in Nyamirambo but these were of no interest to me. I spent the rest of the day walking in the city, taking photographs. I also went to Mt Kigali and got great views of the city.

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Canopy walk experience in Nyungwe forest, Rwanda

As always I like to take scouting trips to areas I would like to sell in the future and Rwanda being next door to Uganda, I decided it was about time I toured it before I could officially add it to destinations for Kagera Safaris. Rwanda is generally a small country so if you are interest is visiting the major tourism destinations you will accomplish that in a week, however if you want to get off the normal touristic routes, then you will require more time to explore beyond the tourism circuits.

On this tour my first major stop was Nyungwe forest national park found in south western Rwanda. There are many activities one can do in Nyungwe forest ranging from Chimpanzee trekking, bird watching, colobus monkey trekking, hiking and canopy walk. I chose the later because it was the most exciting for me – I imagined ‘walking’ in the tree canopies and seeing the forest from above. Together with the tour guide we started the journey from Kigali down towards Nyungwe with brief stopovers at the Kings palace in Nyanza and the Ethnographic museum in Huye district. We had lunch in Huye and continued to Nyungwe forest later in the afternoon.

The drive to Nyungwe is really scenic with winding roads which explains the famous adage of Rwanda being the land of a thousand hills. The road at some points was covered in mist coming from the forest miles away. I traveled during the rains so the entire place was a green carpet, both the local peoples gardens and farmlands. The roads are winding and steep with sharp corners which can be scary if a truck is behind you. We eventually arrived in Nyungwe later in the evening and went immediately to inspect different lodges that we would likely use in case we included Nyungwe forest on the itineraries in the future.

The next day we arose early and went to the Uwinka briefing point to start the canopy walk. The tour guide I traveled with later handed me over to a ranger guide to take me in the forest for this experience. He was such a pleasant guide and to this day we are still in touch. I learned that his children school in Uganda and we promised to meet when he next visits Uganda, this happened a few weeks later. We arrived at the start of the canopy and walked up to the enjoy the views of the forest from high above. The canopy walk is firm and I highly recommend it unless you are truly scared of heights. The beauty of it is that you get to enjoy the forest learning about the different tree species, birds, history of the forest while on the canopy. The tour of Nyungwe ended and we started the journey to enjoy the views of Lake Kivu which borders with Democratic republic of Congo.

Germany – Exploring Berlin on a walking tour

My work accords me the privilege of traveling quite a bit. Some of it in the form of scouting new destinations for our tours and others for marketing purposes and this one was as such. This can seem obvious because after all that is why I am in the business I am in – the travel world. This trip often happens in March every year where we go to attend the ITB Berlin.

As always I go a few days to the expo or extend my stay to explore a little bit more of the area. I had heard quite a bit about Germany and bits about world war II with Hitler being something else. I had always wanted to visit Berlin and see the famous Berlin wall and the town. I have come to love Berlin because it has such a multi cultural feel to it.  The town is easy to navigate with its excellent public transport and taxis not forgetting the advent of Uber makes it even more accessible. It is not jammed up with impossible traffic but one that is manageable. Thankfully in a lot of places one is able to speak English and get service making it even more pleasant.

A friend told me about a walking tour he had found on the internet which we would join in and explore this city. It run twice a day on particular days of week depending on the weather and how many people confirmed to take it. We choose the morning tour so that I could use the afternoon to do any last minute shopping. Our tour guide was a young lady from Ireland who decided to come to Berlin for work and ended up with tour guiding job, not a formal job but it is a better opportunity for her compared to the work she had back home. The way it works is that the tour is free but you are obliged to tip at the end of it. I found this a good way of getting people to join in and still make money at the end of tour. She had really done her research and shared the history of Germany from her finger tips answering whatever question sent her way.

I enjoyed this walking tour because it afforded us an opportunity to see the city in very real ways and walk through alleys that would not be possible if we were using a tour bus. My highlight was the Berlin wall – not that it was still their but small fractions of it, most of it was a line showing where the wall used to be. I liked visiting the old government buildings and their significance in history. She shared about the role of education and how it had evolved over the years, we also visited the earliest catholic church and Protestant church in this area and how there was tension between the two religious groupings at some point in time. We visited the holocaust monument for the Jewish lives lost during Hitler days plus the area where Hitler was eventually defeated in his bunker underground, it is now a play center for children and has apartments.

Overall my Berlin trips are usually about work but certainly shopping is a big part of the experience. I get to visit several multicultural restaurants and hangout places.

The Maasai Mara delivers

I had heard so much about the Maasai Mara that I could wait for an opportunity to visit. I wondered what would captivate me the most, would it be the landscape and scenery, the large number and variety of game or maybe the phenomenal Maasai people who lend their name to this conservancy. Because the wait was for long, I guess the desire also decreased, this was further caused by an earlier opportunity of interacting with the Maasai in Tanzania in the Ngorongoro crater and en route to Serengeti national park. By the time I visited the Maasai Mara conservancy it was more for curiosity’s sake than an earlier desire which had captured my heart. This is not to say that I did not want to visit it or that I had no expectations but they were watered down a little.

We drove from Lake Naivasha to the Mara triangle to our beautiful lodge in a great location – the Mara Serena safari lodge. First things first, where possible please do not travel by road to the Mara – it was the worst road experience ever, this bumpy ride on a road with stones and everything else was not pleasant at all. I recommend anything else but this drive, however where you have no choice you can take it  and maybe fly out of the Mara. After enduring this bad road experience a paradise of sorts awaited us. The location of our lodge was everything one needs when on a safari. Great views and hospitality from the staff at the lodge crowned with good meals. It is relatively big so not for someone who needs privacy.

The game drives in the Mara were highlight with our passionate guide who knew all the spots to go searching for the game. Most of the people on the safari were looking for the King of the Jungle and we were happy to sight them but from a far off. We later continued on our safari and eventually found some lionesses that were much closer. We then drove to the river in hope of finding some wildebeest crossing but we unfortunately did not find any. I must say the game drive was rewarding for most people. We did not see the leopard and cheetah which would have excited me but I know that seeing wild animals in their natural habitat is a privilege.

After the morning game drive we had a bush breakfast by the Mara river organized by the Serena staff- what a highlight this was. The staff welcomed us with Champagne as we looked to continue exploring the Mara. The Mara Serena Safari lodge also organized a fantastic sun downer that was unfortunately short because of threats of the rain. I think both the bush breakfast and sun downer were great experiences  that topped it for me on this trip.

The real highlight of the trip was a visit to a Maasai homestead just outside the Mara triangle. There was argument that the experience is not authentic and it was staged but who cares – if you expect to find untainted cultural experiences then get back into the stone age. I enjoyed the dances and music plus stories of how they co-exist with wildlife. It was interesting to watch them make fire with no matches just like the Batwa usually demonstrate in southwestern Uganda. I must say for me this was the highlight even after knowing that it is probably staged. For a tour to the Maasai Mara, I recommend a minimum of 3 nights with extended time on game drive perhaps carry a packed lunch to get a maximum experience. I can always visit again but my thirst for the Mara was quenched at least for a while.

Enashipai Resort and Spa – The base to Crescent Island Game park and Hell’s Gate national park

There are number of attractions in and around the Lake Naivasha area and one needs a good lodge/hotel to act as a base for them to explore these activities. Enashipai Resort and Spa is  in a great location and provides great base from which to explore Crescent Island Sanctuary and Hell’s Gate national park. The concept is that of beautiful homes in an estate that is surrounded by nature which gives it the wild experience. I must say it is one of the best family friendly resorts that gives one wild experiences. The ‘houses’ for lack of a better word to describe them provide both privacy individuals and closeness in case of a family.

On arrival, our first visit was to the Crescent Island game sanctuary which for all intents and meanings is surprisingly not an Island, it is a peninsular but this would not rhyme well in its name. Anyways this is privately owned with license to have wildlife on it which then became a  game sanctuary according to our guide. The place is good for walking safaris offering an opportunity to see the animals and enjoy photos with them in the background. With no big cats in the area like Lions and leopards, this has allowed the game to thrive  in big numbers therefore you will find lots of Zebras, Giraffes, wildebeests, Warthogs etc. It is good for a half day visit and then one can take a boat ride on Lake Naivasha in the afternoon.

Hell’s gate national park is another area of interest within Enashipai that we visited for a day trip. First the plan was for people to ride bicycles in the park because it is also generally safe with no big cats to trouble the riders. However on arrival at the park gate, people chickened out and we all stayed in the car and decided to enjoy the park from the comfort of the jeep because of the heat which made it uncomfortable. The highlights for Hell’s gate is the beautiful scenery of the many rocks making it a good place for those interested in rock climbing. Again the game is the more common ones of Buffaloes, Zebras and wildebeests so for me the highlight was the scenery. There is also great hiking opportunities in the hells gate gorge but I did not participate in the hike because I was struggling with fever even though I soldiered on and refused to stay in my room.  We ended the tour with a visit to the geo thermal plants but unfortunately we did not have enough time to enjoy a swim in the warm waters.

Overall the this was a good trip that I recommend for people that love walking safaris as opposed to using the cars. You get opportunities of getting out of the cars and cycling at some points compared to many other safari destinations. I really loved Enashipai resort and spa, it is place where you will be spoiled over and over. There is a Maasai museum, in house bar and dance club, swimming pool, magical spa etc.

 

The Remnant Rhinos of Ol Pejeta conservancy

I needed to quickly make up my mind between visiting Ol Pejeta Conservancy or Nakuru while on my visit to Kenya attending the annual Africa travel Association conference. For me Sweet waters was the easy choice because I find Rhinos fascinating and also compared to other big game, these are not easily seen. I had heard that this is the best place to see them in Kenya.

We set off early from Nairobi to destination Ol Pejeta with a short stopover at the Equator monument for photo sessions and a bit of craft shopping. Because I always cross the equator traveling home from Kampala or even when visiting the national parks south of Kampala, I was eager to see the monument in the Kenyan side compared to the one in Uganda. The sign did not blow me away maybe because I secretly hoped to find something grand but alas it was a mere signpost. Anyways since this was not my destination, after shopping for some crafts we started the journey again continuing on to Ol Pejeta.

We arrived and after clearing us we drove directly to Sweet waters Serena camp before we could start exploring the conservancy. Ol Pejeta conservancy’s flag ship animals are the Rhinos. It is home to the 3 remaining northern white Rhinos and over 100 black Rhinos are protected amidst the high poaching levels for Rhino horns in the world. One of the easily seen Rhinos at Ol Pejeta is Baraka – the blind Black Rhino now living in an enclosure where it is fed and taken care of because of loss of sight. The care taker informed us that Baraka lost his sight due to a fight and then a cataract, this allows one to come closer to a Rhino.

The plight of the Rhinos is a sad one as seen by the increased poaching and extinction of some species. Sad to note is that as of now only 3 northern white rhinos are left in existence, how sad! Ol Pejeta is home to about 112 Black Rhinos which is equally a sad occurrence when you compare them to the other mammals in the conservancy. I personally think the fight has to be taken to the areas where there is a demand for Rhino horns i.e. China and Vietnam. It is sad that human beings can be so short sighted as to bring an animal to extinction because of stupid believes of what a Rhino horn can cure or even for ornamental purposes. What will happens when all is extinct, will they then find another source of medication?

After all is said and done, I enjoyed my time in Ol Pejeta conservancy and highly recommend a visit to this areas which hosts other animals like Giraffes, Zebras, Impalas, buffaloes etc. There is also the Sweet waters Chimpanzee sanctuary where for an extra fee you get to feed the chimpanzees thus learning about them and consequently giving towards their protection. Sweet waters Serena Camp is a great location while at Ol Pejeta for all your excursions in this area with amazing animals sighting while at the lodge.

Antwerp – Belgium’s city of Historical architecture

Antwerp is indeed Belgium’s city of historical architecture. This little town is swamped in so much history with beautiful architecture of old buildings. I decided to prolong my stay with extra days visiting a friend in Antwerp and subsequently attend the yearly Vakantiesalon a travel expo after completion of the travel expo in Utrecht,  Netherlands.  I took some days off in Utrecht after which a friend picked me up for Antwerp.

My friend offered to pick me up from Utrecht and drive me to his house in Antwerp. This worked out well because at this point I did not want a repeat of the train experiences with my luggage. Thankfully it was much lighter because some of the marketing materials had been taken by those interested in travel. The road trip offered me an opportunity to see more of Netherlands outside of Amsterdam and Utrecht. Comparing it to Uganda, the landscape is miles apart when compared to Western Uganda which is all hills and mountains. In Netherlands we drove miles and miles on flat land where you are able to see miles ahead, I was reminded that most of these areas are below sea level as they were reclaimed from the ocean. Another reminder of my geographic classes in high school.

There was no physical border between Netherlands and Belgium where we needed to stop and drive through customs which was of interest to me. Back home, driving from Uganda to Kenya requires several clearances at the border post which usually leads to loss of several hours especially when it involves clearing a vehicle. My friend just mentioned to me that we are not entering Belgium but no major physical feature showed the same. I also learned that in this part of Belgium they speak Flemish which is a dialect of Dutch, something I did not know before. I always thought all people spoke French in Belgium.

I loved Antwerp but I found it a bit more crowded. The roads were generally narrow and hardly any places for cyclists in most of the areas. This I think to an extent explains why the people riding to and from work and school are generally fewer compared to the Netherlands. The old train building and several shopping malls located in old buildings was a highlight for me. I also found the prices for items generally lower compared to Netherlands so I was able shop more here.   I took a day trip to Brussels and was glad I did not stay for more than a day. The crowding there was way out of order even for me who comes from Kampala – with its high population. The roads between shopping malls were really narrow, after sightseeing with a nother friend visiting from Denmark, I took a train back ‘home’ to Antwerp. I enjoyed my time here, had another friend meeting up in Antwerp from Gent which was also special for me. Generally it was a good trip my friend and his family were great hosts and I look to visit them again.