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.


HOLLAND – The capital of Bicycles

I had never seen such many bicycles in my life like those that welcomed me in the Netherlands. Once I got off the airport and connected to the train station to Utrecht I saw so many bicycles like I had never seen  but nothing prepared me for the many I would later see in Utrecht.

I was traveling for work which I always mix with extra days of touring. The destination was Utrecht which houses the Vakantibeurs – a travel expo held yearly in January where Kagera Safaris was exhibiting. This is where several countries and companies come to sell their destinations to travelers found in the Netherlands and the surrounding countries. First shock for me was that it was winter – this has never been my favorite time of travel because my body decided that it thrives better in the tropics. Never mind that I try to convince it by dressing for the weather, alas it continuously chooses not to respond positively. Anyways I still manage to make it through to these areas when i must travel in the winter on certain occasions.

On this particular travel it was difficult because I had two suit cases which were heavy with marketing material. I tried to maneuver to the train station and out and then find the bus which proved to be tricky business. A random man helped me with the luggage until I located my train, then I needed to prepare for the disembarking experience. On arrival at the station, I could not locate the lift ( I still think it was not available) so I had to use the stairs – this was when I missed home because someone could easily help or the use of Bodabodas would come in handy. I simply prayed and wondered how I would make it up the stairs and lo and behold, an African man stops by greets me and goes ahead to help carry the suitcases up the long stairways. This is the kind of hospitality I celebrate over and over as opposed to a culture of individualism where people look away instead of helping. As we exchanged pleasantries we discovered that we were both from Uganda and we quickly switched to speaking Luganda – one of the most common languages spoken in Uganda. I thanked God for bringing that man at just the right time and causing him to be interested in helping me.

Back to the topic…the rest of the week went without much drama. I enjoyed attending the expo. Took time off to tour the town and visit different areas. Netherlands has done a great job of providing walkways for pedestrians but their favorite a certainly the bicycles. I do not think there is a better place to ride bicycles than in the Netherlands. The car drivers are respectful of cyclists and a big population rides to and from work or school. It was quite shocking for me to find a public place where they parked bicycles which is the largest I have ever seen with even double storied parking – bwaahahahaha. All those advocating against carbon emissions from cars should consider giving the Netherlands a medal because they have made it safe and enjoyable for people to cycle.

Djibouti – The unlikely Tourism Destination

If you asked me a year ago if I would consider to go to Djibouti I would probably have said NO. It is the kind of place not on my bucket list except for the fact that in the long run I want to visit every African country and city for that matter but certainly in my priorities Djibouti was somewhere towards the end. However as God has his ways of doing things which sometimes are so different from my mine, he opened a door for me to visit Djibouti which led me to cut short my 25 days of exploring Uganda and instead explore Djibouti.

The journey from Uganda to Djibouti is not that long except that we do not have a direct flight therefore we stopped by Addis Ababa for connection flight after Entebbe since we were flying with Ethiopian Airlines. I hated the timing for the flight at such ungodly hours of the morning but in my travels I have learned to focus on the destination and as much as possible ignore the in between annoyances of airports and flights. What made this trip more manageable is that overall the total travel time is short.

I did not know what to expect while in Djibouti. I had searched some information on google before my travel but I kept it on the minimum so that I am able to enjoy the area with some surprises otherwise I will might end up with too high/low expectations derived from the google search. According to google I needed to prepare for about 35 degrees Celsius but was surprise that the whole time it was mainly over 40 degrees. This was a shocker for me but nevertheless I enjoyed the stay even with the humidity being on another level, I was rather impressed by how quickly the body adjusted to the heat in the coming days.

We had a taste of the culture which was something of interest to me. However I noticed that there is hardly any local food served in the restaurant with mainly French cuisines and continental meals, they had a strong influence of Ethiopian food. The night life was by far the most surprising especially considering that Djibouti is a Muslim country. We loved it and retired early mornings on most nights. The city is easy to walk through both during the day and in the night with wide streets and pedestrian walkways. For those interested you can plunge into the Indian ocean during the hot sunny days with several beautiful beaches, snorkeling, visit the tropical aquarium, lake Assal or Day forest national park.  I promised to be back in Djibouti and explore it even more.

Tanzania – Serengeti national park and Ngorongoro Crater

Whenever I thought of visiting Tanzania 5 places have been of interest to me. The 5 must visit on my list were Zanzibar, Dar-es-salaam, Arusha and the Serengeti national park and Ngorongoro crater. Of these I must say, a visit to the Serengeti always fascinated me and looked forward to that time when I could fulfill this bucket list item.

I booked my tour to Serengeti national park and Ngorongoro crater while at the Karibu travel fair in Arusha. This was after I was unable to find a group to join and I decided to travel alone. With confirmations of the lodging and car, I set off with my tour guide to Serengeti. I was really excited and looked forward to visiting this park and I must say it did not disappoint. We had stopovers at various points of interest as he shared about them and their significance in Tanzania.

The Serengeti has such big numbers of game most seen in big herds welcoming you to their natural habitat. I stayed at Mbugani camps right in the middle of Serengeti where I could not get any closer to nature than I was with lions roaring at a distance away, hippos and Buffaloes crazing in the camp grounds and Hyenas laughing in the vicinity. It is hard to describe the beauty that Serengeti is for those whose main interest is the wildlife. Depending on the season, you will see endless herds of the wild-beasts, zebras, impalas, buffaloes etc.

Ngorongoro crater is another beauty that is out of this world. You enjoy the views of the crater from both up and then drive down to even have a closer look at the animals. We first drove through Ngorongoro crater because it is on its way to Serengeti national park and ended with it, this meant that by the time I visited it my hunger for sighting animals was satisfied and all I needed was to top it up with the Rhinos which we unfortunately missed. However this is as amazing as the Serengeti and is highly recommended.

Nevertheless sighting of a Masai young boy who was probably 8 years old grazing his cows a stone throw away from a group of lions was a highlight for me. I later learned from my tour guide that that is the general age of boys who look after the cows, they are raised up to be tough and warriors and taught how to co-exist with wildlife especially lions. The lions I guess have also come to learn about them by sighting the red suka the Masai prefer to wear. This was high level co-existence between the humans and wildlife.

If you must visit one park in Tanzania for wildlife, I recommend the Serengeti national park which can be visited together with Ngorongoro Crater. It really has big herds of animals and you can last a week just exploring it because of its huge size. If you are thinking safari in Tanzania then these two world class destinations should be on your list.

Tanzania – Exploring Moshi and Arusha

From the time I got interested in travel and exploring the world, I realized that nature travel captures my heart compared to the man made experiences. There is something about seeing nature in all its beauty, from animals, to landscapes, lakes and rivers and certainly the people who co-exit with all this. When I got involved in Uganda’s tourism after starting Kagera Safaris, I traveled quite a bit in Uganda but yearned to learn about the neighboring countries because in the long run I knew that I wanted to add tours to the entire East and southern Africa destinations. Before I sell tours to any location I visit such locations to look out for different issues pertaining to running a tour  This way I am able to recommend it to my clients so that i can advise them accordingly.

My first visit to Tanzania was to Arusha – the host to the East Africa Community offices and Parliament. I liked the town because of its calmness, orderly streets and a lot of green from the numerous trees. It reminded me of the beautiful Fort portal town in western Uganda. This was part of a group tour and we did not stay long but I promised myself to visit it another time. This next time I stayed longer and enjoyed walking through the streets more, taking in the experience and views of Mt Meru on some clear days. I liked the monuments which make the city even more exciting for visitors. It is one of those towns that is good if you do not like the extremely busy cities yet giving you most of the amenities you need. It is also the gateway to the northern Tanzania tourism circuit to different national parks and reserves like the Serengeti national park, Tarangire national park, Lake Manyara national park, Mt Meru national park, Arusha national park Ngorongoro Crater etc.

Moshi on the other hand is much smaller than Arusha but can be a little more busy than Arusha maybe because of being smaller but also because of being the base town to the Kilimanjaro national park which means people stop here for a night before embarking on the the climb. Just like Arusha the town is easy to walk through and explore different areas with good monuments and great views of the peaks of Mt Kilimanjaro on a good day. I even had the opportunity to visit Mt Kilimanjaro national park where I birthed the idea of one day hiking to the summit…maybe, just maybe.

I still hope to visit again and stay longer to explore more of these beautiful places of Tanzania. The thing is that most of my travels are tied to work so I can only manage to have extra few days when I am out on a mission of visiting new places as a way of scouting or marketing endevours for Kagera Safaris ltd.  All in all I do recommend visiting Tanzania.

Day 20 of 25 Days Exploring the Pearl of Africa – Uganda

Today we spent the entire day in the heart of Murchison falls national park continuing on our bird watching safari. We started off from Bakers lodge with a morning boat ride towards the Delta on River Nile in search of the Shoebill in addition to other birds and wildlife. The Delta joins River Nile to Lake Albert and is the lowest point in Uganda at 621 msl. When everyone was on board, we stopped by the Murchison River Lodge to pick up more clients and then officially start the birding tour.

The first part of the journey accorded us the usual water birds like the elegant pied kingfisher, Black crake, Black heron, night heron, cattle egret, long tailed cormorant etc, but everyone’s interest was the magnificent Shoebill.  We continued with the boat ride with sightings of Hippos and Crocodiles. At some point someone claimed to have seen the Shoebill but with closer look it was the Heron to everyone’s disappointment.

We eventually disembarked the boat as the rest turned back and we got into the car for the game drive to bird in the Savannah area. After birding for over 2 hours we decide to visit the hippo pool area again with hope of finding of sighting the Shoebill and voila. We spent several minutes photographing before eventually continuing on with the game drive. We were also treated to a sight of a pair of the elusive Sitatunga feeding in the open next to the papyrus reeds.

Thereafter we continued birding with a new interest of sighting the Leopard and Lions. These are usually more elusive than the other mammals already sighted like the Giraffes, Kobs, Oribis, Elephants, Jackson’s Heart beasts etc. In the evening as we left to catch up with time for the ferry, we found 2 lions by the roadside. One seemed wounded from probably a fight and another faithfully by its side. We spend some minutes photographing before leaving for the ferry.

This marked the end of a beautiful on game drive enjoying sightings of numerous bird species,  mammals and the ever beautiful landscape. Unfortunately I did not proceed to Kidepo valley national park because I needed to travel to Djibouti – a country I only heard of in the news.  This therefore marked the end of the tour for me as the rest proceeded and completed the remaining 5 days.

Day 19 of 25 Days Exploring the Pearl of Africa – Uganda

Today we continued on our birding safari in Uganda by transferring to Murchison falls national park which is partly in the western region and partly in the northern region of Uganda . Ideally we would have used Kichumbayo gate into Murchison falls national park which is a few kilometers from Masindi but we chose to drive via the rift valley escarpment for more prolonged birding and great scenic views of the escarpment, Lake Albert and game reserve.

The journey started early at 8.00 am from Masindi hotel to Murchison falls national park. The first part of the journey was mostly through villages,  sugarcane plantation and different patches of forest that have agricultural land in between. Again our aim today was to continue birding en-route but also arrive in time for the afternoon boat trip on the Victoria Nile after having lunch at Bakers Lodge.

The views via the Rift valley escarpment were amazing as we drove in Buliisa. There was a short birding walk where we were surprisingly rewarded with sightings of the rare beautiful sun bird, Cliffchat, and foxy Cisticola. After about an hours’ stopover we continued on the journey with occasional stopovers birding while in the car.

We arrived at the beautiful Bakers Lodge for our lunch before leaving for the afternoon boat safari to the Top of the Murchison falls. The boat ride was a beautiful 1,5 hours ride and we were dropped off to start hike up to the top of the falls. We got unto the boat right at the pier of Bakers Lodge and went to pick extra clients from the Paraa pier near the ferry crossing point. The boat ride yielded sightings of the Elephants, Buffaloes, Jacksons heartbeast, Crocodiles, monitor lizards, Schools of Hippos, Giraffe, Warthogs etc. and several bird species including Malachite and Pied Kingfishers, bee eaters, Black Crake, The Egyptian, Spur-winged Gooses, Saddle-billed, Open-billed, Black Heron, Goliath Heron, Purple Heron, Great White Egret, Great and Long-tailed Cormorants, African etc. 

We then took on a one hour hike up to the top of the falls. This afforded us great spectacular views of the falls from different angles. We also got to view the falls from up and which is equally spectacular. Today was a beautiful day that ended really well.