Entebbe and MabambaA more detailed look at the first part of the trip.
These two gentlemen were our bird guides, animal guides, cultural guides, problem solvers, and all round interesting people for the next 13 days.
Johnnie is flipping through the East African bird book - an additional field mark of the Uganda birding guide, just in case we did not twig to the binoculars.
Johnnie and Alfred managed to look this natty through the entire trip, while we continued to look more and more bedraggled.
Alfred wears the safari vest because he has electronic devices in every pocket - tape recorders, microphones, play back machines. Alfred has golden ears - he hears birds preening at 100 metres.
Johnnie knows all the roads in Uganda, as well as about half the people. Certainly, all the guides. Johnnie was able to navigate the ups and downs of the roads with considerable caution, an outstanding achievement given that almost all roads in Uganda are unpaved and many are in need of grading after the recent wet season. A few of the roads we part of the adventure.
We asked for and got an all in trip - we paid only for beer and tips.
Great guides, vast knowledge of their country, and excellent travelling companions. If you want a great guide for any trip in Uganda, but particularly if you are a bird watcher at any level, you should get in touch with Johnnie who can make all your travel arrangements and find the birds, or Alfred who can find birds anywhere in Uganda, but knows the Bwindi area particularly well. Best plan, get them both.Although we had been in transit for 35 hours, sleeping only on planes, it was early in the day so we headed for Mabamba Swamp in search of the near-mythic Shoebill stork.
The vegetation has almost filled in this shallow lake. However, there is a network of canals through which the locals pole and paddle these flat bottom boats (most of which use the number 1 as their identification). There is an inhabited island in the middle of the swamp and these are the water taxis the locals take to the island.
Birding has created a tourism industry which has led to an increase in the number of water taxis and taxi drivers. Locals also fish in the wetlands. Like most of Uganda, the economy runs at a very low speed, with most of the people farming or providing transportation services for people and goods.
These large wetlands are home to an ecosystem of birds, animals, bugs, fish, that are are not found elsewhere. The Shoebill is part of that ecosystem, preferring the solitude of these large marshes. As well, there are gazelles specifically adapted to the floating vegetation.
The depth of water varies with the season. We arrived just after a short wet season, so the water levels were near annual high water. At other times the water level can be several feet lower. Most of the vegetation floats on the surface, moving up and down with the water level.We saw 77 species of birds on our first day, including this distant look at a flying Shoebill. Alas, no sightings in the marsh itself.
Next trip, or we demand our money back.We spent the night in Kampala, one of the few nights on the trip when we had electricity!
We were so tired after the flights that this was a lost night for us. Dinner then sleep. The Holiday Express Hotel was clean and the food good.
We were up early the next morning, ready to head out to the Murchison Falls National Park. While we waited outside the hotel, we watched the early morning business of the town.
Kampala is wealthier than rural Uganda. Even this part of town, a commercial district, has more cars, trucks, vans, and small motorcycles, than other areas.Included in part as a bit of humour, but also to indicate the relative prices in Uganda.
The exchange rate is around 1,500 Uganda Shillings to 1 Canadian dollar.
So it costs just over $3 Canadian to patch a tire in Kampala. It would cost less everywhere else in Uganda, that you could get a tire changed. In some rural areas there are so few cars you might have to hunt a while to find a tire shop. Johnnie has two spares (and used one of them).
The humour is the cost of changing bullet proof tire! Who knew there was such a thing.
In fact, we saw no evidence of crime during our trip and felt completely safe all the time.
Not only did we see no evidence of crime, we saw no evidence of police. According to Alfred, Ugandans take a dim view of crime, administering a severe beating to anyone caught in the act. The punishment usually fits the crime - the beating can be quite severe if the crime is bad enough. We met a British cyclist (far more adventuresome than we are) who had been assaulted by a local (one lucky punch was all) and the locals were on the assailant in seconds, administering a behaviour correcting beating.
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