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What resident of this planet does not dream of visiting Africa? For example, several elephants and giraffe were surrounding the runway when our plane landed on a dirt strip in Kenya’s Masai Mara park, yet by the time my trip to Kenya and Uganda concluded, I realized that those animals were some of the least remarkable things I had witnessed.
A Kenyan Vacation
On this trip with my father, we had three reason for visiting Africa; vacation, adventure, and philanthropy. Kenya, our first stop, was truly a vacation. We stayed in Governor’s Camp Il Moran, a luxury safari tent camp in the heart of the Masai Mara National Park. Of course, when sleeping in a tent, you must contend with noise. In our case, the noises came not from the other guests, but from dozens of hippopotamus who make their home in the river just a few feet from where we slept. On a previous visit to this lodge, my mother had been woken up by an elephant just a few feet from her tent.
During the day, our driver took us in an open topped Range Rover through the park, where we viewed animals such as lion, leopard, cheetah, rhinoceros, ostrich, cape buffalo, impala, and countless other species. While the safari roads were fairly rough, each morning a few of the guests paid extra to ride in the ultimate safari vehicle, a hot air balloon.
A Uganda Adventure, and Aid
Uganda holds some of the most incredible sights in all of Africa including Lake Victoria, the continent’s largest body of water, the 15,000 foot Rwenzori Mountain Range, the tallest in Africa, and one of its most astounding waterfalls, Murchison Falls. But perhaps its greatest natural spectacle is the endangered Mountain Gorilla, of which fewer than 1,000 remain. While we looked forward to seeing these stunning sights, the ultimate purpose of our visit was to help bring clean water to a village that had none, and to donate bicycles to transform the lives of some of the residents my father had met on his last trip to Uganda. To that end, he had started the Clean Water Foundation, a small non-profit foundation.
Our Uganda adventure began near Murchison Falls, where the Nile squeezes through a 23 foot wide fissure and down a 140 foot drop. Ironically, it was the nearby village of Pandinga that faced a severe shortage of clean water. We were stunned to learn that we were the first westerners to ever visit there, and upon our arrival, we were greeted by hundreds of residents who had gathered to greet us. In an elaborate ceremony, they demonstrated their intense desire for clean water, and expressed their gratitude for our assistance. My father and I were truly humbled by the experience, and we are excited to commission at least one well there later this year.
The adventure continued in the Bwindi Impenetrable Park in Southern Uganda, three days drive from Murchison Falls. There, we trekked into the hills to view the rare Mountain Gorilla. At one point, we found ourselves witnessing a giant Silverback during the process of mating surrounded by a dozen others in his group. In between Gorilla treks, we had the opportunity to present new bicycles to several of the people of Buhoma, a village adjacent to the park. Far from an object of recreation, the bicycle is a critical tool for travel to work and to transport food and water.
Long after returning home, I am still trying to grasp the meaning of this trip. We had tremendous fun on safari in Kenaya, and seeing mountain gorillas in Uganda, but it was our interaction with the people of Pandinga and Buhoma that really affected us. Taking an epic trip offers the potential for excitement, relaxation, inspiration, but when you visit East Africa, prepare yourself to experience all of that and more.
How We Chose Our Accommodations
In the urban areas that we flew through, such as London, Nairobi, and Kampala, I was able to find western chains such as Hilton, Sheraton, and Crown Plaza hotels for reasonable prices between $100-$200. On several occasions, we found budget hotels in small cities in Uganda that we chose simply by driving past them. In the rural safari camps, it was harder to find low prices. Although Governor’s Camp Il Moran could not be considered budget accommodations, some splurging felt in order. Our tent camp in Buhoma was also pricey, although the Buhoma Community Rest Camp nearby is much less expensive. In choosing the lodging in Uganda, we relied on our driver and guide, Owingi Milton.
Travel Tips To Stay Safe And Avoid Scams
For the most part, we found that the merchants and people we met were very honest, and almost all of the difficulties we encountered stemmed from poor communication. Note that credit cards are not universally accepted in Uganda, especially in the rural areas. For that reason, you should take plenty of cash with you and all necessary precautions when carrying it. Fortunately, there are ATMs in most cities. As with any overseas trip, it is best to consult your travel physician to determine what diseases you will be at risk for and how to avoid them. The International Society of Travel Medicine has a list of travel clinics in your area.
The Best Time Of The Year To Visit
I visited in January during their dry season, but heavy rains occur from March to April and from September to November. The roads were in good shape but visibility in Uganda was low due to dust. Between July and October, the Great Migration of wildebeests can be seen in the Maasi Mara.
Gear To Bring
We took with us a small netbook, but with an aftermarket 12 hour battery. Likewise, we had a professional quality camera and lenses, as well as a small pocket camera and video camera. Savvi members looking for great travel gadgets, such as these, check out your local and online discounts. Cell phones are of little use unless you plan on renting a local SIM card. Two essentials are flashlights and bug repellent. Although the bugs weren’t too bad in the dry season, a little bit of replelent went a long way. A small, inexpensive LED flashlight with a few extra batteries is essential in a country with little reliable electricity.
Traveling to Africa can be a once in a lifetime experience. What’s on your travel ‘bucket list’ ?