The Pearl of Africa

To get from South Africa to Uganda, I had to change planes in Rwanda. At Kigali International airport, I waited on the tarmac for my next plane, and was issued a boarding pass for “Kategre Ndege.” Im still not sure if that was someone else or a rough Kinyarwanda translation of my name…

the shore of Lake Victoria in Entebbe

My east Africa trip started in Entebbe, the international airport town on Lake Victoria which has a huge UN presence. Couchsurfing with a couple of them made me feel like I wasn’t too far from home or that exotic but as soon as I traveled west, the word Mzungu greeted me everywhere I went. Mzungu means “foreigner” or “white person” and thank God we’re no longer seen as colonial devils since children run up excitedly to wave and yell mzungu. In earlier times, from the start of the slave trade and into about the 60’s, children would run away from any white people they saw since it was a common saying for mothers to warn their children, “behave or a muzungu will eat you!”

Its been a whirlwind since I arrived in this beautiful place. It borders magnificent Lake Victoria, boasts the start of the longest river in the world, has snowcapped mountains at the equator, has the highest concentration of primates in the world, and amazing bird watching. Some say Uganda is the pearl of Africa, squeezing in all the African attractions you’d ever want in one, very-safe country. Funnily enough, this hasn’t caught on with backpackers yet, as the infrastructure for traveling around the country alone is pretty minimal (and insanely cheap). There is usually a hostel with a couple other mzungus in the main cities and most touristy places, but most of the tourism is high-end tourism related to gorilla wildlife tracking.

the big boss walking past my gorilla-tracking friend Jon who took this great snap

Gorillas are the biggest driver of wildlife tourism in Uganda, Rwanda, and Congo has recently reopened their parks and begun hosting more gorilla tracking tours. They all cooperate on price (circa $500 for an hour with a group) and work together for conserving their natural habitat since it sits most of the gorilla groups live within the tri-national park. Since the gorillas are free to move between all three borders, its possible that the gorillas all slowly migrate to one or two countries, but so far, their numbers have only been increasing and many groups are totally habituated to human presence, so it looks like the gorilla tracking industry will just keep growing in all three countries. Im hoping it won’t only bring more international visitors to see these primates, but also allow travelers to discover the other hidden jewels in these sometimes misunderstood and underrepresented countries.

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