Accidental Tourist – #Ondaba Episode

By on October 13, 2015

I have never really been the most prolific tourist or traveler for that matter. I don’t even think I would qualify to be called a traveler especially thinking of my friends who are certified travelers. When a friend posts a picture of themselves in Berlin, an update of their escapades in Rio, a picture at the White House or their to-do list for when they go to the Bahamas, I am often in awe. Many times, I will click LIKE, applaud them and tell them I would love to go there too but deep down I am really just comfortable seeing the world from other people’s eyes.

As you read this, there has been a slight malfunction in my system and it appears, I am going to rethink my position and views on traveling and experiencing the world mostly because of something called #Ondaba fronted by the I’m So Uganda team.

#Ondaba is not a political party, a religious grouping or a farmers’ association that is reaping big from the rains. It isn’t a sporting association out to salvage Mourinho’s reputation and neither is it a group of disgruntled Ugandans looking to hack corrupt people to death. The #Ondaba movement is simply a friendly group of Ugandans who have set out to re-ignite the once burning flame of the Pearl of Africa. It is a movement aimed at showcasing and highlighting the beauty and glamour that is Uganda, the Pearl of Africa and thus encouraging people from near and far to explore the magnificence of this country.

Ondaba newOne day I hope to become an Ondaba t shirt collector

Before I joined this movement, there was a bit of murmur about the beauty of Uganda and everyone seemed to be enjoying the cake. A few CNN adverts, some news paper ads and a number of websites went on and on about the Pearl of Africa. I was comfortable just watching on the sidelines. True – my love for Uganda has never been in question. I mean I know who the president is, I pay my taxes and I can sing a good part of the National Anthem. But other than that, I have not really actively participated in saying much about this country or its beauty.

Now I think I also want a piece of the cake. I feel like I want to join the movement as a life long member!

Thanks to the #Ondaba movement, a few days ago, a few of my buddies embarked on a trip to Queen Elizabeth Park and they figured I would give them worthwhile company; if not for the conversation, then at least for a chance to travel out of town and get in a few nice Instagram shots and Facebook pictures for potential LIKES.

I am usually reluctant with my ‘Yes – I will go’ if anything is outside Kampala mostly because of the nature of my job but also because I am a terrible traveler. Most times I am getting sloshed on the journey or simply listening to loud dubstep and heavy metal as I read a book.

So even after saying Yes to this #Ondaba trip, I was not so sure what I was supposed to do on the trip. I could carry along a novel and read it as the rest of the crew enjoyed ‘their’ trip. Also, I could just ask them to drop me off at a bar somewhere in Fort Portal (one of the tidiest towns in East Africa) and have them pick me on their way back to the City. However, Amos the leader of the crew insisted that he wanted me to experience the wild and so requested, nay demanded my presence.

Before we set offThe Ondaba crew just before we left Kampala

The last time I attempted to experience the wild, things did not go so well for me. It was back in Primary School and on the fateful day we visited the Zoo in Entebbe, the girl I had a crush on ended up dumping me before we even started dating. Nothing was quite the victory as much as dating the Class Monitress. She was the holy grail so all eyes were on her. On the day we went to the zoo, as ill-luck would have it,  madam class monitress turned out not to be as fascinated by the Lions as I was. She opted to hang with Kassim, my nemesis who was interested in the Pink flamingo. What a wuss!

Kassim now runs a successful hardware shop somewhere in Mbale. The girl we both crushed on is currently a mother of three with twins on the way.

We both lost .

So anyway, back to the travel thing.

As I was saying, my experience with travel and wild animals in general has not been the most prolific and I cannot say I have been to many places in Uganda. The #Onadaba trip to Queen Elizabeth Park came as a surprise – a pleasant life changing surprise.

When we set off on Friday morning, Belinda the trip organiser had assured me that I would experience the time of my life in the wild. I was so psyched that I convinced one my female friends that I would bring her back a baby monkey as a sign of my new-found understanding and love for the wild. When Denzel and I were discussing our expectations for the trip, he somewhat seemed more the traveler than I was. The rest of the gang seemed to have been to places more often than I had. Kyam for instance proudly showed off pictures of his prior visits to other such places while Solomon and Herbert kept talking about their numerous experiences at other National Parks and tourist sites. Both Flavia and Roger’s travel stories made me think I was in the wrong place.  They had all been to places, seen things and gotten t-shirts to show for it. Even Dibo my drinking mate and Joy seemed to have more miles and tales under their belts than yours truly. Amos as the ‘head of the delegation’ was naturally the don because not only had he been to nearly every corner of Uganda, he had been to nearly every continent.

These people were travelers!

Basically I was the least traveled individual among the lot. I was the weakest link. A fraud. But that was not going to scare me in any way. As a matter of fact, it made me rise up to the challenge and while everyone else had numerous previous escapades, I was ready to make this one count – at least for me and the numerous people I had threatened with loads of pics and stories from the trip.

MeLike this one of me chilling at Mweya Safari Lodge

Nothing quite prepares you for the wild, no matter how many times you have been there. I know this because even when we were enjoying the game drive on Saturday morning, people like Herbert and Solomon who had been to these places more times than I have been to the bar were open eyed. Apparently it is not every day you go into the wild and meet two prides of lions just chilling; one laying a trap for Kobs and the other just enjoying the awesomeness of being in the wild.

LionsLions, just chilling. Not answering my numerous questions about what happened to Uncle Scar from Lion King

Keeping the safe distance from them was proving a challenge and people like Flavia had to be held back from getting in a possible award winning selfie with the pride.

Close enoughThat was the closest Flavia was allowed … despite her hunger for the selfie

By the time we were done with the game drive on Saturday morning and the boat ride later in the afternoon, a number of things were imprinted on my mind. Lions are really gentle and graceful cats – until they are chasing down a kob then all hell breaks loose. Warthogs are super fast animals with tiny little footsteps while Buffalos are strict grazers only browsing when food is utterly scarce. Elephants have a strangely sharp sense of hearing and show emotion way more than so many humans I know. A hippopotamus has a very fragile skin that does not permit it to go out and graze in the open sun so it stays in the water and only comes out at night. Chimpanzees are really brilliant creatures with outstanding memories and interesting grooming tactics.  I also learnt that the Kazinga Channel is probably one of the finest looking places one can ever go to and it is home to one of the world’s largest concentration of hippos. The bird species found at Queen Elizabeth National Park is so massive that it makes Uganda home to half of Africa’s bird species.

And all this stuff is right here in our backyard!

HiposHippos are a very organised group of animals. They always keep their young ones in the middle. They never ship them off to boarding and visit them once a term. They go with them everywhere!

By the time we were doing the Chimp trekking on Sunday morning, I was sure there was nothing that I could see that would blow me away as much as what I had seen on Saturday.

And then we went to Kyambura Gorge. My Goodness!

The gorge is home to The Kyambura River which flows through a strangely thick “underground forest”, 100 meters below the Kichwamba escarpment. It took me nearly seven minutes to fully take in the beatiful sight and another seven minutes to drink in the story of the formation of the gorge – something I had only heard about in my Primary School days when passing P.L.E was the only reason for knowing things.


Our drive back to Simba Safari Camp where we spent the night was delayed by Elephants that were taking an evening stroll from a hard day’s eating.

I was able to physically see the beautiful explosion craters, the serene Kasenyi plains, the spectacular Mweya Peninsula, the picturesque Kazinga Channel, the awe-inspiring Kyambura Gorge, the expansive Kyambura Wildlife Reserve, the very green Maramagambo Forest among other things.

By the time we were set to return on Sunday afternoon, there was little in the way of will to return to the city. You do not just go out into the wild, see Kobs mating, Lions hunting, Buffaloes fighting, chimpanzees grooming and then you are keen to come back to Kampala – no damn way!


20151004_083039 20151004_083349The Gorge – What a beautiful sight!

As the guys and I were talking about how we have all this beauty but somehow don’t have as many visitors, it occurred to me that there is a strange misconception about how much one needs to go out and experience the pleasures of the wild. Originally, I thought, I needed to part with an arm, a leg a few bones and probably lease out my left lung to be able to enjoy one such trip. As it turned out, these trips are much cheaper than I thought. For instance, chimpanzee trekking which should last you about 2 or 3 hours costs just UG Shillings 40,000. Not 400,000 or 4,000,000 but 40,000. The boat ride on the other hand which took us onto Kazinga Channel costs no more than UG shillings 30,000.


Simba 2


And this is where we spent our nights – Simba Safari Camp

The travel plot has now been identified. Get together a gang of buddies, get a few thousand shillings together, fuel a car and head to Simba Safari Camp for a night. Then head out into the wild and enjoy the coolness of the pearl of Africa as seen from Queen Elizabeth National Park – The Medley of wonders!

The Crew

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” ― Marcel Proust

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  1. Solomon Mario Oleny

    October 13, 2015 at 7:31 pm

    hahahaha, Ben the humour in this story deserves a champagne toast.I loved reading it to bits

    • beewol

      October 14, 2015 at 10:28 am

      Thank you for reading it 🙂

  2. Esther

    October 13, 2015 at 9:14 pm

    Wow!! This piece ended really soon. Is thr part two? Welcome back and thanks for piecing this together. Ugandans ought to get out of their comfort zones, go out and explore what Ug has to offer.

    • beewol

      October 14, 2015 at 10:32 am

      There might be a part two. Look out 🙂

  3. RedLipsteeq

    October 14, 2015 at 11:43 am

    I was at Simba Safari Camp in May / June of 2013. I was overwhelmed by the beauty of this pearl… I’m considering relocating to the bundus and be rid of potholes forever!

    • beewol

      October 14, 2015 at 11:58 am

      That place is the definition of time away from the hustle and bustle of the city. A proper holiday destination!

  4. Guulo

    October 14, 2015 at 12:29 pm

    “Hippos are a very organised group of animals. They always keep their young ones in the middle. They never ship them off to boarding and visit them once a term. They go with them everywhere!”…hehehe

    • beewol

      October 14, 2015 at 12:31 pm

      Tis true. Hippos have no need for visitation days and the like. They do not take their young ones to random schools where the young ones are woken up at 5am for Prep.

  5. Annegien Seubring

    October 14, 2015 at 7:39 pm

    Thanks, nice reading and hope you are infected with the travel-virus by Amos! This planet is so beautiful!!

  6. AmSorted

    October 14, 2015 at 9:06 pm

    “I thought, I needed to part with an arm, a leg a few bones and probably lease out my left lung to be able to enjoy one such trip.” Left lung?!*!

    You make me want to reach there today, today hahaha

    • beewol

      October 15, 2015 at 8:42 am

      hahaha. You need to go there. And you need not worry about parting with any organs.

  7. Julie

    October 15, 2015 at 7:49 am

    Wow lovely piece

    • beewol

      October 15, 2015 at 8:46 am

      Thank you Julie

  8. David

    October 15, 2015 at 7:51 am

    This a beautiful piece you have written! I hope more Ugandans shall be inspired to travel and explore this beautiful country.
    My first time to Murchison Falls National Park left me dumbfounded, I could not believe the beauty…having lived in Kampala and spent almost all my life there, I could not imagine there would be any better place in Uganda.

    I have not found a travel piece on Uganda as good as you have written, I hope the #Ondaba people take you for as many trips…we need this staff out there to promote our beautiful country.

    • beewol

      October 15, 2015 at 8:47 am

      Thank you very much David. I am ready to go out there, experience this beautiful country and share the stories. I am now a convert of travel and tourism 🙂

  9. I love the way you describe the characters of the different animals you saw.
    The Kazinga Channel boat ride is one of Uganda’s best ecotourism activities. Here’s my story of all the birds we saw, plus ideas on other activities you can do in Queen Elizabeth.
    I’m so pleased Amos Wekesa “forced you” to go on safari. Great story!

    • beewol

      October 15, 2015 at 8:57 am

      Let me share your story widely. Uganda is so beautiful it is just shocking how people do not know this. I am glad to know we in this together!!

  10. Luyombya Resty

    October 15, 2015 at 8:56 am

    I just love your writing style Bernard. You are my number one blogger in Uganda, nay in East Africa, nay in the world! You make me want to go to Queen Elizabeth Park right now. Great piece.

    • beewol

      October 15, 2015 at 9:09 am

      I am honoured you think so highly of me. Who am I to deserve such plaudits. *blush blush* Do find some time and go to Queen Elizbeth. You will love it.

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