The range of adventure in Uganda is wide and hair-raising. Activities include game viewing, fishing trips, water fall cruises, silverback gorilla safari treks, white water rafting, African rainforest camping, chimp trekking and swamp walking. So having two days off to enjoy the country, of course I, chose the sedate activity of cruising down the Nile.
Day one was spent travelling 2 hours outside of Kampala to the River Nile. The car journey showed the poorer side of the country. Ramshackle corrugated iron huts, wooden roadside stalls, dusty dry hot roads, the toil of the land by both men and women, churches, mosques, kingdom halls, produce and groceries sold at roundabouts, all juxtaposed to make a buzzing, thriving, happy roadside community.
We arrived at the Jinja Nile Resort late afternoon, and enjoyed a drink and pizza in the treetop wooden bar house, overlooking the cross-section of the Nile and Lake Victoria. The menu of English breakfast, pizza and beer options mingled with really loud European dance music and Rihanna hits isn't what one expects as culinary and audio delights that accompany this experience. At a sight this majestic, surely tourists would prefer a wider variety of food options- at least a healthy salad to be at one with nature. Music could be authentic to Africa or classical, but European chart remixes really spoilt the nature and wildlife's ambience.
We instead focused to our left, from where we could hear regular screams of jubilation as bungee jumpers threw themselves off the sky-high platform overlooking one of the greatest sights in the world.
The sunset Nile cruise was everything you imagine. An experience where you could practically hear David Attenborough describe the fascinating range of squawking, multi coloured birds that inhabited all the trees lining the river. Mini mangroves acted as giant speakers, as we sailed past their choir of crickets chirping and wildlife anthems. A variety of exotic water birds, akin to skinny meerkats, dipped their necks in and out of the river, surrounding our boat as if giving us nature's most beautiful escort along the Nile. Randomly scattered troupes of monkeys scurried around in the trees as we filmed them.
Suddenly, we spotted; slap bang in the centre of the river Nile- a store. Not bankside but dead in the centre of the fast flowing water! A craft store that sold tourist knick-knacks. Jumping out of our boat to explore, we found Uganda football shirts, wooden crafts, sentimental tourist gifts and more. Proof that you can shop anywhere these days!
En route back home to Kampala, a local suggested we stop off at the Mabira Rainforest Lodge, off the main highway between Kampala and Jinja. He had described it as a dwelling like a village in the forest. Not expecting much, we peered with trepidation into the dark night, as our van took us deeper into a dark, quiet, wild forest. Suddenly, once again, we were surprised to find a grand surprise!. A huge, colonial style, tree house hotel -restaurant -bar, which was quiet, tranquil and akin to an oasis in the centre of wilderness. The formal waitress served us from an adventurous menu. We didn't want to spoil the reputation of the safe, boing Brit, so tried the cream of beetroot soup and pots of spiced tea, as we talked late into the night. As the whole venue is open air it's very easy to watch the endless parade of butterflies, birds, monkeys pass by. The forest itself is gorgeous: lush and dense and packed with all of the creatures you'd want to see. A magical end to a magical day.
The next day we checked out the hotel facilities at the very opulent Serena Kampala. After a tour that showed us just why this hotel is said to be the best in the city, (with its bar that stays open until the last guest is ready to leave, U shaped bedroom suites, a pool that's straight out of a tropical holiday brochure and the biggest and best gym/dance studio ever seen in any hotel globally), we fancied a deep tissue massage.
The spa is a lush Moroccan themed oasis that's tranquil and up to date with the latest treatments, which are sold, at extremely reasonable rates. Each spa room is named after a flower like lavender, lilac, mimosa, rose. I was led to my private room aptly named jasmine. My masseuse Hanifa, really had the strongest most inquisitive hands I'd ever experienced. The heated pillow was out of this world too. Every single muscle in my body was given its due and proper attention leaving me a blissful, jellylike splodge on the heated massage table at the end.
The brunch was as decadent as its surroundings with fresh cuts of lamb, fish, beef, a turkey roast and the most delicately, tender spiced minute steak. Whilst our taste buds were kept happy with the feast like spread, our aural senses were treated to an in-house band, which performed soothing African covers and made the whole experience just perfect. Guests seemed a mix of high-end families, movers and shakers as well as businessmen and loved up couples. The classic location for a vacation or business!
For now, Uganda remains a best-kept secret for western vacationers. But I predict, not for much longer!