Steering through the heavy traffic congestion along several Kampala roads on a Thursday morning was a real hurdle. Igniting and reigniting the car engine nearly every after five minutes was cumbersome, yet is the only way to drive through the traffic congestion.
After a couple of hours via Kayunga district, we were in Jinja. A renowned ‘mother’ of the longest river in the world, is separated from the Buganda region by a monumental bridge. In this part of the town, nearly all resorts, accommodation facilities among other physical installations are named with a ‘Nile’ prefix or suffix. It is such an iconic feature that sprouts a series of services in Jinja and the metropolitan area.
Big Boys Caravan
A team of tourism enthusiasts and media persons across different platforms embarked on a 12-day trip across the country. Punctuated with stop-overs at different sites for profiling and mapping, the first activity on their agenda was rafting on the white waters of River Nile.
Dubbed “The Big Boys/Girls Caravan,” the twelve-day road trip around Uganda is expected to cover all the key tourism sites, national parks, and water bodies among other physical features in what was termed as restarting tourism.
The trip which began on January 27, made the first stop-over at Kalagala overland campsite in Jinja, to take rafting, off the bucket list.
The big group was ‘split’ into three smaller groups before each was accorded an inflatable boat with inscriptions reading ‘Adrift.’ Guided by one Juma, who had introduced himself as the lead guide, we majestically sloped down the terrain to a starting point from where we were briefed about the dos and don’ts of the game. Juma was cautious enough to inquire about everyone’s health and medical condition before hitting the running waters of River Nile.
A few metres down the river, instructors on each boat started taking us through drills, in regard to what was awaiting us. Jumping from the boats into the water and flipping the boat to immerse all occupants into the river, were part of the drills.
It was at this point that my other colleagues demanded to be taken to the safety boat, or else abandon the voyage. Freaky as it looked to be, the drills and all rafting spree was a big deal.
One by one, each boat rowed down the river past the first rapid. The inflatable boat shook from side to side to wade through the first rapid. It was a thrilling experience which sent shock waves to all occupants of the three boats before stablising in the calm waters passed the rapid.
Knowing that this was the lowest of all the rapids that awaited us, everyone remained numb, not knowing what to do next as there was only one way out of the river- by finishing the voyage.
Such rapids in the form of waterfalls are graded from one up to the sixth level. However, there is occasional variation in these levels that has been brought by the construction of hydro-electric power dams on the river. Juma and other guides described the fun that used to come with high velocity and attitude of each rapid before the construction of the power dams.
Down the river, we paddled our oars until we reached the second rapids. With flowing waters plunging onto the rocks that lay beneath, it created a vapour-like environment with the roaring sound of the waterfall. “Paddle harder,” shouted Juma as we confronted a heavy rapid. Taking cover inside the inflatable boat was a better option by which we saved the
This went on for a couple of other rapids until we passed Itanda and the ‘dead Dutchman’ which are grade six waterfalls and sailor can dare. They’re said to have claimed lives in the past, hence a no-go for tourists. Upon reaching the spots, we amped out of respective boats and walked around the falls ahead to where the waters looked calmer.
As we went about ‘conquering’ other rapids, we could see brown sections of the river, evidently portraying the dump and silting, while other sections were characterised with water hyacinth. Eroded banks of the river, clearly explained the silting as well as the adverse effects of environmental degradation. A couple of times, the boat would flip but having gotten used to it, turned out more pleasurable.
Along the voyage, we came along locals diving with basins and bowels to get sand beneath the river, as they poured into
their wooden canoe boats. On the banks were women and children washing clothes while others were swimming in the silent waters of the Nile. Off, we could randomly jump out of the boats and swim in the calm part of the river. It was a refreshing feeling and mood. We were served with bananas, pineapples among other fruits while discussing how to revamp Uganda’s tourism industry post-COVID-19.
Finally, the five hours-voyage came to an end as the day dusked. We retired back to Kalagala overland camp where we caught some rest in preparation for the second day trip to Kapchorwa for abseiling.
“Marketing Uganda should not be the work of Uganda Tourism Board alone, but rather, everyone’s duty,” urged Isaiah Rwanyekiro, the initiator of the ‘breathtaking’ program under which the Caravan trail is being conducted.
Martin Muggara, the minister of state for tourism said, the sector will help transform Uganda’s economy from a predominantly low income to a competitive upper middle income with per capita income of $9,500 by 2040.
While launching the ‘Destination Uganda’ brand, President Museveni urged the Ministry of Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities together with UTB to put more emphasis on community and cultural tourism.
The President pointed out some unique aspects that highlight Uganda’s tourism potential that he said, ought to be emphasised.
Abseiling with Sipi Falls is a lifetime experienceKAPCHORWA – At the edge of Mt. Elgon national park in Kapchorwa district, eastern Uganda, are a series of three waterfalls known as Sipi Falls.
According to Job Soyekwo, a tour guide working with Mulima Mountain Adventures, the three waterfalls lie at an altitude of 1,179 metres above sea level.
“One of the falls lies at 65 metres with a man-made cave, another at 85 metres and the third one at 110 metres high, from where abseiling is usually carried out,” explained Soyekwo.
With a cold climate that comes with high altitude, the Sipi area is a place to unwind, relax and chill off the bustle of noisy towns and cities.
Plunging on the rocks beneath the cliffs, the waterfalls splash widely, keeping the nearby vegetation moist and green through-out the year.
Continuing with the 12-day trip around Uganda which was named the Big Boys/Girls Caravan, Kapchorwa was the next destination after the White water rafting on river Nile.
We could make several stopovers along the way to have all the sensible photo moments as a return ticket to what would later be a memory.
Part of the plan for making stopovers was to enable the team to map and locate some places on google maps.
Also known as rappelling, abseiling is a controlled descent off a vertical drop, such as a rock face, using a rope.
This is the main tourism activity synonymous with Sipi Falls, in this part of the country.
Adjacent to one of the falls is Rob’s rolling rock- a local outfit trained by Italian climbers, to offer abseiling along the side of the main 110metre Sipi waterfalls. Introduced in Uganda in early 2003 abseiling is a freaky tourism activity but worth doing.
One end of the rope is buckled around a person’s waist and the other part is tied onto a firmly welded metal that is stuck into a rock.
Abseiling is a fun tourism activity that cannot be dared by the faint-hearted.
Whereas it was my second time doing it, I could feel my body produce more litres of adrenaline with every passing second. Watching the waterfall hitting rocks lying beneath the cliff at such a height of over 110meters, and plunging in all directions, clearly explained what could befall anyone whose luck could have run out while swinging on the rope.
One by one, we were each gently lowered down with all the assuring statements from Soyekwo, Shariff and their team who were managing the ropes on the upper cliff. ‘Just stand straight, lean back and breathe calmly,’ were the frequent statements from the guides.
Alongside the roaring waterfall, we were each lowered, hanging our lives onto the rope. It was mind-boggling, scary, freaky, petrifying and spine-chilling.
Being lowered down the rock cliff by the side of the waterfalls, one is not able to clearly see any world around them due to the splashing waters catalysed by the whirling winds blowing into all directions.
However, the view becomes clearer as the descent continues. Opening my eyes to the very beautiful flora around the waterfall, suppressed all the fears and I could hear my heartbeat again. The vegetation beneath the white stream, the hilly topography and beautiful rocks that earlier looked like a death sentence, struck another feeling of life, beauty, and love for mother nature.
We remained mesmerised by Uganda’s breathtaking beauty as we planned for our next stop to Pian Upe game reserve.