Akagera Safari + Uganda

We recently decided to take a much needed break from the stress of job hunting and building a life in Kigali to safari in Akagera National Park and explore Uganda. Akagera is an interesting park as many of the big animals, including the lions and rhino, aren’t originally from Rwanda (they were imported from South Africa) and there aren’t all that many animals to see. But we went with friends and one of our friend’s two adorable daughters who kept things fun when we weren’t seeing any animals with great questions like, “mommy, why are the monkeys [balls’] blue?” We also stayed in a beautiful and pretty bougie lodge at the top of a hill in the park, complete with tennis courts and swimming pool.

Immediately after getting home from the safari, we boarded a plane to Uganda. Our first stop was a very small village (~40 people), called Kasiisi and located in rural Western Uganda, to visit a friend and do some hiking. Kigali is great and all, but it’s extremely hard to find green spaces and escape the pollution and Kasiisi was exactly what we needed. On our second day in Kasiisi, we went on a 7 hour hike up a mountain with a conservation loving guide, named Daniel. As we trudged up the insanely steep and switchback-less trail, sweating and slipping with each step, we were amazed to see locals of all ages (including one 80 year old woman) passing us as they carried heavy bundles of fruits and vegetables from their village. Every Wednesday, the people in the village at the top of the mountain carry things they’ve grown down to the valley market to sell. At the end of the day, they use the money they’ve earned to purchase sugar and other things they can’t grow and carry them back up the mountain. We asked our guide if they ever have knee problems, but he just laughed and said their knees were very strong. At the top of the mountain, we sat down for lunch of avocado toast and tea and looked out over a beautiful view of the Congo. On the way down, our guide remarked that being tired from this hike indicated you have a small brain. I guess that meant we have very very small brains. He later clarified that people doing the commute from the village to the market would be very tired if they forgot something at the market and had to do the commute multiple times in one day. So people with small brains were prone to forgetting things and having to the hike multiple times.

After Kasiisi, we bussed back to Kampala, the capital of Uganda, to spend a few days in the big city. Kampala is like a much larger and more developed version of Kigali and that definitely has its perks: Uber, really good food, it’s cheap, and you can buy cheese at the supermarkets. Needless to say, we ate very well. I also attended my first Zumba class, which was a lot of fun, but I decided I’m not very good at it. The one big downside to Kampala is that it isn’t nearly as safe as Kigali and you shouldn’t really walk around much, even during the day. But one reason for this is that security is much more relaxed. There are still plenty of security guards at large shopping centers, but, when you try to enter with a large backpacking pack, they look at it skeptically and ask, “is there a bomb in there?”, before poking it and then letting you enter. Oh, and we visited a huge Mosque (second largest in Africa).

To finish up the trip, we traveled a couple hours East from Kampala to a beautiful city named Jinja, which is known for whitewater rafting and bungee jumping and is also the headquarters of many international NGOs. We stayed at a great little BnB, called Source of the Smile, and ate delicious Indian food for dinner every night. On our first day in Jinja, we met up with Moses, the director of a very cool organization called Uganda Development Health Associates, who is interested in hiring Leslie to do family planning workshops and curriculum development! The organization is located in a nearby town, called Iganga, which I’ve heard described as a truck stop, but most people just work in Iganga and commute from other towns. The next day, we booked a kayak trip and spent the morning exploring a dammed section of the Nile and bird watching with a guide who was apparently involved in the production of the movie, The Last King of Scotland.

It was a wonderful trip and we were sad to leave the countryside to go back to the city, but we had to get back to our kitten!

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