Jinja to Lake Bunyonyi

Jinja

We left Kenya to cross the border into Uganda, where our first stop would be the town Jinja, situated on the Nile and famous for its white water activities. At first the border crossing leaving Kenya seemed to be easy and fast, until our driver was informed that he had to go back to a local bank to pay some road tolls. We waited over an hour for him to come back, only to learn that he almost got arrested because they forgot to buy car insurance when entering the country. Luckily he managed to bribe himself out of it.

Finally in Uganda, things worked out fine besides a short wait because the border controls printer was broken. We were glad to move on, but it was still quite a far drive to Jinja, and we arrived around 10 at night, very exhausted after a long day driving. The next day we woke up to the sound of monkeys jumping around in the trees above the campsite. We had breakfast and then wandered around our campsite and the neighbouring one, as we had arrived at darkness and didn’t had time to explore. We were staying at the Nile River Explorers, which turned out to be a very nice campsite, with a good restaurant and direct access to the Nile, where you could swim safely, go kayak, or standup paddle boarding.

NREMonkey
One of the many monkeys jumping from tree to tree above us.

We got a short explanation from the manager about all the white water activities, like rafting or white water kayaking, but we decided against it as we weren’t big fans of white water. Before being able to enjoy the day we took a taxi into Jinja in order to get some money. When we came back one of our fellow travellers took us to a nearby voluntary organization, which offers the possibility of one day volunteering, that he had worked for a couple of years ago.

Softpower Education was founded by a British woman who used to guide overland tours and ended up staying in Jinja in order to help the local communities through education. The organization runs an education center where they are teaching kids from four to ten years old in various topics such as computing, arts, drama and agriculture. They also run two primary schools and a small health center. We walked about five minutes from our campsite to the Softpower Education center, where we greeted by a very friendly employee and offered to be shown around. We were told that they don’t have the resources to build and run enough schools by themselves and also can’t help every school with better teachers, supplies like computers or other material, so they decided to set up the education center as their main base.

Every day a group of kids from another school in the area is invited to spend the day at the center, they get picked up by Softpower buses and get a warm meal for lunchtime. During that day the kids rotate around the different stations of the Education center, where they are taught in a very interactive way. As the majority of the kids come from very poor communities where farming is the main source of income, they are taught at the center how to plant crops and grow their own vegetables. The great organization of the education center impressed us and we were excited to volunteer for them the next day! For a donation of $25 each we would be brought to one of the schools in the area and help out there with painting.

The health clinic at the Softpower Education Center, where locals can get checked for malaria, HIV and others for a lot less money than at a public hospital
The health clinic at the Softpower Education Center, where locals can get checked for malaria, HIV and others for a lot less money than at a public hospital.

We headed back to our campsite where we spent the afternoon relaxing before heading out to dinner at the restaurant Black Lantern, at the campsite next to us. Our friend told us that they serve the best pork ribs there and as it was our anniversary we decided to have a nice dinner out. We pre-ordered the ribs in the morning, so soon after we got our table at their nice terrace overlooking the Nile our food was delivered. We ordered a full rack for the two of us and thinking that might not be enough we also ordered a starter, but the food turned out to be plenty and indeed the best ribs we had ever eaten. After a great meal that we could barely finish and some cocktails that our friends sent over to our table we headed back to the campsite.

At the Black Lantern restaurant, after enjoying some great ribs!
At the Black Lantern restaurant, after enjoying some great ribs!

The next morning we had a delicious breakfast at our campsite and then Aggrey from Softpower Education came to pick us up for our volunteering day. It rained really heavily during the night and the roads were pretty bad, so Aggrey told us that we couldn’t get to the school were we supposed to but instead would walk to one of the primary schools run by Softpower that was close by and do some drawing with the kids there. We were happy to hear that as it sounded better to us than painting walls. This way we would to get to interact with the kids a bit. We walked about ten minutes to the school and were showed around. It had two big buildings with classrooms for the different age groups and even a physiotherapist and special teacher for kids with disabilities.

SoftPower Education
The primary school with the playground.

One of the teachers brought us some papers, scissors and watercolors, so we could paint with the kids. We were sitting in a small room, where two kids at a time from the highest class would come and join us. We asked them about fruits they know and then, after writing their names, the kids were supposed to draw the fruit, cut it out, and paint it with watercolors. The first two kids were very shy and we didn’t know if they even understood us when we asked them to tell us some fruits, but Aggrey talked to them in the local language and they understood. Luckily the next few kids were a little more confident and spoke more English, so we managed without the help of Aggrey. After four groups of kids or so, there was a break, where all the kids would eat a snack and then play outside on the playground. Not all kids took notice of us, as they were clearly used to having white people (muzungus) around, but for some we seemed to be the highlight of the morning. They wouldn’t let go of our hands and begged David ever more to be thrown up into the air. It was great fun and more volunteers would have helped tons.

SoftPowerKids
The kids playing at recess with me in the background.

After the break we had some more kids sitting with us, trying to draw and paint fruits, and by the end of the school day we didn’t get one painting that actually looked like it was supposed to. Aggrey explained to us, that the whole point was more to get them out of the classroom, where they are in a big group and sometimes don’t get as much attention, if they are shy or quiet. They hope the kids learn to be a little more selfconcious  this way. At 1pm we said goodbye to the teachers and kids and headed back to our campsite. We spent the rest of the day working on our blog and enjoying the Nile. David went zip lining on a line the campsite had installed over the river and we went swimming in the Nile, which was very refreshing.

Zipline
David ziplining over the Nile right before he dropped into the river.

The next morning we decided to rent a kayak and go up the Nile on our own for a bit. It was $20 per hour so we booked two hours and headed out. We went upstream first, passing a bunch of little islands in the middle of the river and a few locals on their traditional wooden kayaks. The current was pretty strong, so it took us longer than we thought to go a little ways and we were happy we booked two hours. Suddenly we heard people cheering and screaming, so we looked around to see what it was. There was a bungee jumping station, not more than 50 meters high,  right over the river. We headed there with our kayak, hoping to see someone jumping again, but when nobody seemed to be around, so we started paddling back. Going downstream made things a lot easier! We stopped off at one side of the Nile, where we saw a cave on the way in, and David climbed out of the kayak to explore it. It turned out to be a small cave with nothing exciting in it except for a ton of spiderwebs and a weird basket some local must have left there. We arrived back at the camp and had a quick lunch, before we headed down to the river again, where David went down the zip-line a few more times and we swam in the Nile again. In the evening we went back to the Black Lantern restaurant. This time we didn’t have the ribs, but the food was still very good!

Lake Bunyonyi

The next morning we had a very early start, hoping to get to Lake Bunyonyi. We had been driving for about an hour or so, and most of us were still half asleep when suddenly we heard a loud bang and a shock going through the truck. A small car going the other direction had been overtaking in our lane, so they almost crashed into the front of our truck. Only the quick reaction of our driver moving the truck sideways a little made them crash against the side of our truck. Their car was pretty messed up and one of our back wheels destroyed, but luckily nobody was hurt. We spent the next hour at the scene of the accident waiting for the police and then we drove to the police station to fill out some reports. We couldn’t go all the way to Lake Bunyonyi with only three back wheels so we drove back to Jinja to get it fixed. While the driver was taking care of that we were walking through Jinja a bit and having lunch and coffee while waiting. After about 4 hours, the truck was finally fixed and ready to go, but there was no way we would make it to Lake Bunyonyi today. We drove for about two hours to Kampala, where we would have a stopover at the Red Chilli Hideaway Campsite.

SourceoftheNile
The Source of the Nile cafe was a good spot to wait out the repairs.

The next morning we left early and drove the whole day till we finally reached our campsite at Lake Bunyonyi, the Overland resort. It was a lovely campsite, right on the shore of Lake Bunyonyi, which is the deepest lake in Uganda and has over 20 little island on it. We slept in a little the next morning and then decided to rent one of the traditional wooden dugout canoes. They were really long and had two uncomfortable little stools inside to sit on. You don’t paddle with a normal two sided paddle but a wooden one, which you have to alternate from side to side, unless you are a local then you know better and just paddle on one side. Normally only one person paddles but we tried both of us, with very little success. We basically moved in circles, doing what we read in the Lonely Planet before, a “Muzungu corkscrew”. After a while we gave up and David had to do all the work. We paddled for over two hours and then headed back to the campsite to have lunch. After lunch we spent the afternoon at the lake shore, diving and swimming in the lake and meeting some other travelers. In the evening we watched some rugby with the rest of our group and had dinner.

Lake Bunyonyi
David jumping from an unstable platform in a tree into the lake.

The next morning we headed out to cross the border into Rwanda, where we would go Gorilla trekking at Volcanoes national park and visit its capital, Kigali.

Kampala

We spent 5 days in Rwanda and then came back to Uganda on our way into Kenya again. After crossing the border into Uganda, and having to pay the $100 per person visa fee again, we had a stopover at the small town of Kabale. The campsite looked nice and had a swimming pool, but just when we arrived, it started raining a lot and wouldn’t stop for the rest of the day, so we watched a movie and sat at the bar. The next day we drove on, back to Uganda’s capital Kampala, where we would spend another two nights. We went back to the Red Chili Campsite, where we had some great pizzas the first night and then the next day just stayed at the camp. The weather was great so we enjoyed the pool and played some volleyball. The only interesting thing for us to visit in Kampala would have been an island with a chimpanzee sanctuary on it, but it was so expensive ($100 per person without food) that we decided to skip it. After this very relaxing day we would spend one more night at the camp and then driving back over the border into Kenya to visit its capital Nairobi!

Highlights

  • The town Jinja, next to the Nile river, with great water-sports activities and a nice scenery! There are also some good restaurants and cafes in town and on the riverside.
  • The local and very cheap food Chepati, which is like a pancake filled with omelette or sometimes even Nutella!
  • Red Chillies Hideaway in Kampala, which is a hostel and campsite, with a nice pool, great pizza and friendly people.
  • Lake Bunyonyi, close to the Rwandan border. It’s a lovely lake with tons of islands, surrounded by hills and banana trees.
  • Softpower Education, if you are interested in volunteering or just want to have a new experience!

ADVIcE

  • If possible get the East African Visa before coming to Uganda. At least if you plan to leave and reenter the country, they will charge you twice for the visa ($100), as there is no multiple entry visa!