After the struggles and worries of trying to organise our own self-drive tour of Uganda (read about that here) we finally made it to Entebbe ready for our adventure to start!
We breezed through passport/visa control, with even enough time to pose for a good visa pic, before purchasing SIM cards for the week and meeting a pre-booked taxi to our first night accommodation. We were glad we arranged this as the airport was a little chaotic outside arrivals!
On arrival at our first night at Secrets Guest House, we just went straight to bed in our beautiful cottage; a free upgrade from the standard room I had booked and woke refreshed for a delicious breakfast of traditional ‘Katogo’. A green banana (or ‘Matoke’) stew with sweet potatoes in a tomato sauce. It was really nice and set us up for the long day ahead.
Our hire-car also arrived in the morning, right on time as we had asked. As with our other holidays, we wanted to take control of our own adventure and self drive Uganda. This is quite unusual really since tour groups and safari packages are still the norm in this part of the world, but it seems like the self-drive idea is gaining more traction now and we saw a couple of other people out on the road doing the same. If you want to read about how I went about planning our self-drive you can read my blog post on that here.
We booked our car over emails, after I found the company on google. It was $45 a day for a small 2L 4×4. The company, TriStar African Skimmer Safaris, also booked our gorilla permits, which they also delivered to us in the morning. We were all set for our adventure! Day 1 was to drive to Bwindi impenetrable forest, ready to go on a Gorilla trek the following day.
We took to the road with the petrol light on, so it became a race to find the nearest petrol station. We were warned by the guest house owner to only get petrol from big brand stations (shell, BP etc) because the fuel at smaller places is often low quality and can damage engines. We drove to the nearest BP who told us they had no fuel left! So another anxious 10 minutes passed as we drove to the next shell. They started off by saying the same, no fuel left, but we then saw them filling up someone’s moped, so we argued and ended up getting them to fill our tank! Then, relax, chill, drive and enjoy the view!
Entebbe was a bustling and interesting hub, especially, we think, because it was Saturday. There were lots of street markets for clothes, electronics and food too. We also saw lots of wildlife just outside Entebbe, including Marabou Storks and pied Hornbills, as well as many other colourful birds. We passed food sellers almost continually dotted along the side of the roads the whole way to Bwindi. In fact, almost everything seemed to be centred around the roads. All the towns and villages were directly on the roads, and all the shops faced the main road, with smaller stalls on the roads too. The roads were also full of people. We never drove on a section of road (even when we thought we were remote) where we didn’t see someone walking or riding a bike. Usually loaded up with water or matoke. The amount the people were able to carry defied belief sometimes, along with dreading to think how long they must have been walking, or have to walk to reach their destination. Most of the cars on the road appeared to be safari vehicles, usually with blacked-out rear windows and local a tour guide driving up front. People were often surprised to see us driving up front ourselves and we got lots of waves and smiling faces (mainly from children) and only a couple of middle fingers or outreached hands begging…
As we neared Bwindi, the tarmac roads ended and we set off on a murram or dirt road. It was actually not that bad, but there were some pretty massive pot holes and bumps. Pete felt like a ralley driver as I clung on for dear-life. In the mountains the villages were still along the roadsides, as well as the quarries with people sat making pebbles and the goat/cow herders.
After almost 10 hours on the road, we finally arrived at our guest house in Bwindi forest; Ichumbi gorilla lodge and had a nice chilled evening and early night in preparation for our Gorilla trek the next day.
Our first impressions of Uganda; it was a lot more densely populated than we had thought it would be, although we think this had to do with all daily life being centred around the roads. The amount of people just walking on the side of the roads was incredible, there was never a stetch of road without someone walking.
The landscape was also different to what we had expected, far removed from the African plains and savannah I had imagined, it was lush and green, even near Entebbe and even more so by the lake and entering the forest.
Overall, we felt safe, relaxed and surrounded by incredible natural views.