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Masaka and the Ugandan Equator

Halfway on the Kampala-Masaka highway I asked my matatu driver to let me off as we had reached the equatorial line dividing the Southern and the Northern Hemisphere. There was not much to see there other than two circular monuments with a line going through them, but there was a local these showing me how the water swirls in opposite directions depending on which side of the line you were-just like on my visit to the equatorial museum in Ecuador.

Reaching Masaka I was met by my couchsurfing host Med (short for Mohammed) who was working for a company distributing micro loans with short terms and high interest (20%), he explained me how it all worked (which was really interesting and different from how it works at home!) and introduced me to one of the customers who had started a wood carving workshop and to the other Sserembas; the family that would host me the next few nights.

Meddie was from a family of nine, but in the recent years they had taken in another ten young orphans, so when I was there the house was full of people, and chicken which his brother raised in the backyard. Like most other hosts in Uganda Meddie insisted on sleeping on the ground while I used his bed. His mother had also prelared traditional Ugandan meals for us like smoked matooke(banana) and cassava with groundnut sauce and tiny whole silverfish. We would spend the evenings in dark talking about everything between heaven and earth and then walk around and talk even more in the day and when I left I felt that I had gotten a true Ugandan friend who I would very much like to visit again in the future.

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Ssese Island Trip Report

I don’t like to write blog posts with lots practical info, but as there was virtually no information online about how to independently get to Ssese Island from Masaka I thought I should put some up there.

From Masaka to Kalangala town you could either catch a matatu (minivan) costing 15000UGX/4USD ride that takes you all the way or you could catch a shared taxi for 7000UGX/2USD (a five seater Toyota Carina where they squeeze in nine people) taking you to Kachanga where the ferry leaves from and then catch a boda boda motorcycle taxi from the other side for a couple of dollars.

I went for the latter and after one hour in a overcramped taxi I arrived the ferry terminal to discover that the half hour ferry ride was completely free!

On the other side I was quick to go for an African Bush shower in Lake Victoria. Water in the village where I stay costs 6 cents for a small jerrycan (3cents if they would walk all the way to the public pump) and I didn’t want to ask to spend money on washing. There were lots of locals swimming in the lake, so I guessed bilharzia was not very common there.

The village of Bugoma, right next to the ferry pier was also the first place that Europeans stepped on land in Uganda so they had raised a church which there which was still standing tall. By the time I had reached the church I realised that I would not have time to visit the island capital city Kalangala so I just hung out by the ferry terminal for a while, where a local told me he had seen chimpanzees in the nearby forest so I joined him on a jungle walk without seeing other than green trees and mosquitoes before heading back to Masaka. Ssese island was a good day trip and much easier to reach than I first thought when I stepped out of the bed this morning!

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Staying with a shoemaker in Entebbe

While waiting for my visas to South Sudan and Burundi to get ready I headed to the city of Entebbe, which is where Kampala Airport is located, less than an hour away from the Ugandan Capital.

Unlike Kampala, Entebbe is full of expats and tourists (aka “Mzungus”) probably for its reputation for being safer but also more quiet, laying conveniently next to Lake Victoria. I spent half a day relaxing at the Imperial Resort Beach, watching massive birds and locals swim in the lake, probably not even knowing that there was a risk of getting the deadly bilharzia/schistoaomiasis/snailfever, caused by a parasite living in many sub Saharan freshwater lakes.

During my days there I stayed with a shoemaker called Brenda in a village in the between Kampala and Entebbe. She had lost her father in the war and her mother in a car crash when she was 12. She had been taken in by her aunt but was now living by herself, as she had found a way of making her living by making sandals.

I got to watch and learn the whole process of making sandals which takes two days. She will make all types on demand and her biggest dream is to go to the market fairs in bigger East African cities like Nairobi and Dar es Salaam, which I want to help her to achieve, so I will try to sell sandals for her online- more info on that in my next blog post.

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Griffin Falls Camp in the Mabira Forest Reserve

So far in Uganda I had only visited cities like Kampala, Entebbe and Jinja, so when my friends asked me if I wanted to tag along to the Griffin Falls Camp in the Mabira Forest I happily accepted and Saturday morning we were on our way.

A red tail monkey looking for breakfast

The camp is quietly located two hours drive from Kampala, by a small village called Wasswa, close to Jinja. There was not much to do there other than walking through the village, hiking to the Griffin Falls and the main activity which was ziplining. Costing 80usd I skipped the zipline(last time I did it it only cost 3usd in El Salvador), but I had a couple of nice walkes to the black water falls and got to see some beautiful birds and some red tailed monkeys which apparently are quite rare. The evening was spent playing cards and drinking Nile beers before going early to bed in my bivvy bag.

My Bivvy bag is super small and easy to set up!

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The Ugandan Capital Kampala

Normally I prefer to just pass by capitals when I have to change buses or fly in to them, but this time I had to arrange visas to Burundi and South Sudan which both took a couple of days, so I ended up staying with a local family in a nearby village called Kisimbiri for a couple of nights, before I found out that I had a friend working at the Norwegian Embassy in Kampala who I could stay with.
I got to join the weekly waffle and brown cheese party at the embassy and explored the markets and the tombs of Burganda kings which was closed for reconstruction, but the security guard kindly took me in and explained the interesting history of the site.

The Burganda King’s Tombs under construction

Kampala felt like a really safe city, probably because if someone steals here, the local people sometimes beats the thieves to death. Literally. When we me and my local host was walking out of a shopping center there was a Sudanese store owner who apparently had shouted “thief”. What happened next was that women were rushing away and young men were rushing in to beat the man up. After a few minutes there must have been almost a hundred people around, shouting and beating the man. My local friend just told me that by the time the police will get here, the thief is probably dead and no murderer will be identified and arrested as so many would have contributed to his death. A harsh reality, but my host told me that there were very few thieves in the city because of the risk they would be taking. After spending four days in the city I was ready to get out and see what the country side had to offer.