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DARIUS’ MEMORABLE SAIL ON MV KALANGALA TO SSESE ISLAND, KALANGALA

They say water is life, BUT to me there is life on water. Just when you see yellowish dirty water on the shores of Lake Victoria at Nakiwogo landing site in Entebbe town, I bet it’s not appetizing, and so was my mood as boarded the MV Kalangala ferry. Okay!

 

I must admit it was my first time to sail on a ferry and for all my years I have been hearing of it in stories from uncle Ben who used to be a District Commissioner ( D.C) in my hey days. So I can’t hide the excitement of stepping on the ferry for the first time and seeing the magnificent thing that carries other boats and cars, goats, charcoal, people and anything that cared to get on board. It flashed my memories of bible times about Noah’s ark. Albeit Uncle Ben’s phone was off to tell him how my dreams came true.

MV Kalangala on Lutoboka docking point

At exactly 1:45 pm the ferry alarms for the first time. We are all lining up to join others onboard already. First you need to have a ticket which is around 10,000 Ugandan shillings and 12,000 Ugandan shillings for Economy and Business class respectively. If you have a car you need to book for space early enough or else you will not get space for it. The ferry carries around 8- 12 cars maximum with some other luggage and people who love sailing on open air. However am different, I want to have a taste of all corners of cabins and since I had gone for a documentary, at least talk to so many guest on board and understand of their feeling was as exciting as mine.

Darius Touring the cabins

MV Kalangala is actually the only vessel which plies Entebbe- Kalangala route and is run by Nation Oil Distributors and was built in 2005, so it has been over 13 years in operational although initially it used to work between Mwanza and Port bell Luzira. Sources say, government is in the late stages of procuring a new vessel that will be 100% carrying passengers without too much luggage and if the process doesn’t go “the Ugandan way”, it will be available this year. This will be taking only two hours or less from Entebbe to Kalangala or vice versa.

At exactly 2:00 pm the captain hoots for the last time and we are leaving. It’s a three and half journey on water. Doesn’t that sound so tiresome? I guess so. But wait, not all journeys are so tiresome. It actually depends on the fun and excitement on board. It was not until the titanic sank that Juliet and Romeo’s journey became so long. Otherwise it was the sweetest journey of all times. To us who did not expect the Titanic story to repeat itself in Uganda, then we had a good travel story.

MV Kalangala has a modern sitting area with full onboard entertainment to keep you busy on your favorite movie or TV station.  Each sitting area for VIP section has comfortable chairs with a sitting capacity of 4 pax on either side facing each other sharing a table. The sitting area that is more like a modern road bus with four sitting lanes divided into two sections with one section on the entrance and the other one towards the stairs to the upper captain lounge. The ferry can carry a total of 150 passengers in both VIP and Ordinary sections, toilets and all facilities for a modern traveler. Am in agreement with Mr. Kit Yahya the logistics manager at MV Kalangala.

MV Kalangala has a well-stocked canteen on board where you can buy a snack or drink. I took stair to go and view Lake Victoria from the top and it was awesome. Few minutes from take off a gentleman approached me to ask if I needed a snack or so. He told me of course on the lake we love to give you fish accompanied by chips and salads which I Okayed and he told me to pay first. Wait, a meal on MV Kalangala is not for the faint hunted. We waited till we forgotten we had ordered for a meal and slept off. Just when we woke up, this man turned up with one plate yet we had ordered for four and he told us to wait for the other three remaining plates with no apologetic face. I can’t recall his name in case he told me but I would possibly advise you to travel with your snacks since it’s allowed on the ferry.

There is no much to see along the way apart from fading sky blue waters of Lake Victoria, magnificent fading views of the islands across to the Tanzanian boarder and few water birds sailing or catching fish. Sometimes the lake is calm and sometimes it’s windy with a lot of waves thus slowing the ferry speed. Wind is too much mostly in dry season. But most important are the different races of people you meet on board. I met almost everyone on the ferry especially Kalangala politicians and business men who are accustomed to the routine. Also on board were tourists who were more like me since it was their first time to go to Kalangala too. But trust me you can always fall sleep if you are not a fan of stories and storytelling. To my shock when you approach the landing site at Lutoboka which is the main docking site for MV Kalangala, you will find people waiting for their guests like it is on any landing site of the world. What do I mean here? Just like it is on international airports. People waiting with Name-pads and many signposts directing guests, vans and all kinds luxurious plus non luxurious cars, with faces looking very excited to meet their guests. Ohm my God!! Alas I didn’t expect this on just a mere ferry docking point. Maybe on Canadian cruise ship lines or on Heathrow airport yes, but not on the lake. That’s fine but here I think it’s not fine and I owe nobody an apology to say this is unusual.

Victoria Forest Resort

When you get close you start seeing many luxurious resorts on the water fonts with white sand stretching beaches and you can cry out of joy asking yourself where you have been. To me it was a memorable start for my trip to Kalangala, Ssese Island. Time check, its 5:30 pm local “Basese-Kalangala” time First check in at Victoria Forest resort that looked like calling me from a distance to come as faster as I can and I will continue my story in my next series about Kalangala.

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Please note that all views expressed in this blog are my own and from my experience. They not the views of my sponsors or my partners. Pictures maybe subject to copyright.

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OFF THE BEATEN PARADISE IN SSESE ISLAND, KALANGALA

Today, Kalangala is one of the most popular destinations in Uganda for first-time safari-goers and safari aficionados alike. This is because it always delivers in terms of incredible nature viewing and wonderful scenery – and on Ssese Island, there’s bags of culture too! It really is a magical place to visit. However, travelers can be put off by how long it has taken anyone to discover this hidden Gem, most notably the famous Ssese Island the home of Ssese flies a notorious small insect that causes sleeping sickness.  Nevertheless, there are places in Kalangala  that get you off the beaten track for a more remote and less busy safari adventure – and there are a number of  favorite authentic Safaris I managed to put together while staying at Victoria Forest Resort.

But well let me disappoint you abit and first tell you about Victoria Forest Resort. Uganda’s Island paradise. Yes it is!!!

Victoria Forest Resort, Kalangala Uganda

A calling in the middle of nature – Uganda’s Island paradise

Just like a yawning man who has returned home from work only to meet a smiling lady is the same way Victoria forest receives you hundreds of meters away as you approach Lutoboka landing site. Infact it’s the most imminent structure you will see with a long stretch of white beach stretching across.  If you have been a  first time traveler to Kalangala you will also testify this.

The ever-expanding Heightsgroup has recently opened this new property and it is, without a doubt, one of the most architecturally outstanding buildings in the whole of Kalangala. Sharp lines and simplicity are at the design core of this hotel, along with a focus on luxury.

Endless views at Victoria Forest Resort, Kalangala

Getting there

When travelling to Kalangala, it is almost inevitable that you use MV Kalangala for about 3 or so hours. An alternative route can be found in Masaka for about 40 minutes on water but you will waste another 2 hours or so, on the road from Kampala to Masaka town, board a ferry and finally dock at Bukakata. But anyways, all you meet is water while In order to get there, one must travel through a float on water. Many travelers opt to use this remarkable ferry at Nakiwogo landing site in Entebbe. Thanks to its unique interior and its staff who allowed me to go close to the captain and have a unique view of the lake and surrounding islands as I enjoyed chills from the wind of lake Victoria.

Green Belt around the hotel

One of the cottages entwined in the middle of nature.

Victoria forest resort is located in the valley is lush with vegetation, multicolored flowers bloom all year and a shy sun keeps the temperature mild. It is also home to a host of hundred of bird species, flora and fauna of all kinds which are all well worth exploring. After a busy few days haggling at the fish markets in Lutoboka or hiking though the forest, it is the perfect location to spend a night or two relaxing.

Food

Victoria Forest Resort has the best and perfect breakfast and buffet through the week for those of you who need something a little easier on the pocket. The buffet spread is smaller than that most other luxury hotels’, but there is more than enough variety to please the palate. Plus, you get a choice of one main course, too – all for less than $30.

The buffet section includes cut fruit, yogurt, hot crisp waffles, a good variety of viennoiserie such as Danishes and croissants, as well as bread with a selection of spreads from kaya to Vegemite. There are also cold cuts, smoked salmon, bacon, sausages and an Asian station with noodles and pau.. If you are a fun of evening lakeside or beach meals then it’s your best place. Setting up on a pawn, soft sand ground and hastaste freshness from the lake to the plate. It’s just unusual.

Accommodation

Immaculate gardens surround this authentic property, which is centrally located in the valley making it a great base from which to explore. The private cottages are spread out in the grounds, all offering supreme comfort, including hot showers with forest and lake views for the highest room category. Elsewhere, an extraordinary collection of artwork is on display in every  room, giving this hotel the edge when it comes to sheer style.

Luxurious room with Lake Views.

Swimming pool

If you still like to be close to small amounts of water in this part of the region, the grounds house a variety of stunning pool area. Personal, private attendants are provided for every guest, a long menu of activities is on offer and with all meals and activities included, there is little that guests will want for during a stay.

Swimming pool with Kids section too.

Sauna and Spa

There is a sauna, steam and spa available for guest use, the ideal place to have a therapy using locally sourced ingredients. Quirky, charming and unique, the Victoria Forest Resort property is certainly not to be overlooked. However by the time I checked in, the Steam wasn’t complete. But I guess it’s now fully fledged for the next guest.

What to see while at Victoria Forest Resort

My guide Lawrence and I on a boat adventure.

The friendly staffs are happy to help organize trips to the surrounding attractions, often giving advice on how best to spend your time. Excellent for families an couples alike, you to spend a splendid day of full board adventure.

Billionaire’s View 

At this point you can see endless views of Islands and play Omweso formerly a game for Jajjas

A few minutes later we drove off and went on a sight-seeing tour of Bugala Island, in the fiery glare of the sun. Our first stop was atop a hill whose name, according to Lawrence, is Billionaire’s View, located about two kilometres south of Kalangala town.

“Why Billionaire’s View?” I enquired. Lawrence didn’t know why, so I deduced that maybe it’s named so because of the great views I enjoyed while standing atop this hill, views of numerous islands – about a dozen or so of them – and the blue waters of Lake Victoria down the valley. But I didn’t have to be a billionaire to enjoy the view.

Kihumuro Cave

Jaja Muwanga the caretaker of Kihumuro cave with me at the entrance.

We left the Billionaire’s View and headed to Kihumuro, a 30-40-metre long cave with a wide entrance and tiny exit. Kihumuro means resting place, according to the Buganda culture aficionados we found here, a majority of them smoking pipes as they prayed to “JajjaMuwanga”, the traditional god of the people of Buganda in central Uganda.

This cave, tucked away in Kalaya village, is steeped in myth, tradition and history, and there are about nine caves of this nature on Bugala Island alone.

According to locals here, the man who first claimed ownership of this island was known as Ssenyondwe Lugamukiro Ssebugala, hence the name Bugala Island.

On his arrival at the island about 35 generations ago (the exact year of his arrival is unknown but locals say the current heir to the Ssebugala ‘empire’ is from the 35th generation), Ssebugala first rested in this cave, and he is the man who named it Kihumuro. His spirit, and the ones of his offsprings, visits this cave quite often, according to locals.

The floor is covered with grass and only the barefooted are allowed inside. We removed our shoes and proceeded to check out the contents of the cave: old spears, calabashes, some tattered pieces of backcloth, and baskets of coffee seeds…

Inside, the smell was close to that of a tobacco store, and I thought: is this a shrine?

“This is what you can call the traditional church of the Baganda,” said one of the ‘worshipers’, a pipe-smoking middle-aged man who had already scared the hell out of me, so much that I couldn’t even muster the courage to ask him to tell me his name.

Yet there were more frightening stuff in store for me: a few minutes later, the man began to breathe rapidly, his eyes wide open as if they were about to pop out of their shells.

My heart told me to sprint out of the cave, but the roof was just about 1.5 metres above the floor so I could only get out the same way I came in: crawling. But Lawrence had stayed put, so I decided to do the same.

But when the man began to speak like a demon-possessed 90-year-old, I felt like disappearing into thin air. Now, this was too much for adventure.

A peep into the caves of Jaja Kihumuro

The ‘possessed’ man now introduced himself as JajjaKiwanuka, greeted his “children” who were present in the cave, and then told me, the foreigner, the visitor, that I had his blessings, that I was going to earn a fortune from whatever kind of work I am currently doing!

I breathed a sigh of relief as I crawled out of the cave a few minutes later. And I was glad I left unscathed. As we left, Lawrence told me that many prominent Baganda come here for spiritual cleansing.

Following in the footsteps of John Speke

Group treks are the best in Kalangala. Darius poses for a photo with other adventurers.

Just few steps away from Victoria Forest Resort we parked at the start of a trail that snakes through the tropical Lutoboka Forest, and walked for about 30 minutes before we reached the dilapidated house that was constructed by John Speke, the famous European explorer whose expedition to this tsetse fly-infested forest was inspired by a burning desire to solve the biggest geographical enigma of the 19th Century: the source of River Nile, the world’s longest river.

John Speke’s house is one of the few relatively untouched treasures awaiting you on the Ssese Islands.

Speke constructed the house in 1863 using mud and stones with the help of locals, but it’s said that he abandoned it as soon as he discovered the source of the Nile in Jinja.

Nowadays within the ruins of his unfinished house, there is a big tree, estimated to be about 100 years old.

As we retraced John Speke’s footsteps, Lawrence told me that Lutoboka Forest is home to a couple of animal and bird species, and common sightings include safari cats, Uganda kob, leopards, monkeys, wild rabbits, snakes, a lone python, shoebills, flycatchers, white cranes, and many others.

I only saw a lone flycatcher.

Nightlife in Ssese Islands

When I returned to my cottage later in the evening a call inviting me to Island Club (this is not a nightclub but rather, a beach bar-cum-campsite) for a drink.

“Come in about an hour,” she said. It was a welcome idea, seeing that nightlife in the Ssese Islands is almost nonexistent. We sat in the gardens overlooking the lake and, between sips of Club Beer, swapped stories of our adventures.

Irish seems to be about 30 years old and she’s visiting Africa for the first time. During our short, yet staccato conversation, I learn that she’s already in love with Kalangala, and plans to visit Africa at least once a year for the next 50 years. What a grand plan, I think.

Unfortunately, our conversation is cut short by the barmaids just shortly after 11 pm. Enough is enough. They want to go to bed, a sign that visitors who fancy staying out late in the night are not-so-welcome to the Ssese Islands.

 Birder’s paradise.

All my friends and partners in this travel crime know am not that much a fun of birds. Actually birding is always the last option on my adventure menu.. So how did I fall in love with them this time? As you wake up early morning at Victoria forest resort its like these flying creatures have been hired to wake you up, sing for you and dance for you. So incredible !! who cannot fall in love with that?

Birding trips can be organised by Virgin Africa Safaris a sister company to Victoria Forest Resort

The Crocodile Island; Virgin Island

A crocodile sunbathing on the shores on Virgin Island.

This sounds like bringing chills down your spine and you are not alone. Much as I know crocodiles are sun lovers like any other reptile. Early morning Mr. Emma a manager at Victoria forest resort broke the news of this indigenous,ecological and cultural island located for about 1 hour ride on a small engine boat and 40 minutes on a speedboat. As usual my guide Lawrence was a man behind the engine boat. On the island we found two men who told us the countless generations they

Weekend sundowners on the beach.

I arrived late evening with MV Kalangala at around 5:30 pm or so. Looking across I would see the sun drowning deep in clouds.By the time I checked in my room, it was dark. Next day I could not make the same mistake. The feeling actually stayed on my mind and couldn’t wait for evening awe and have my own share. Being a weekend I spent most of the afternoon sipping on a glass of wine with the team I had pulled over with. Sunsets at Victoria forest resort at pricesless. You feel like it should stay forever

Incredible sunsets on Lake Victoria as seen from the resort.

Romantic dinners

From one of the hidings in long white powdered sand beach I just found a table set for me. The chef was on standby chopping some meat which I least expected. Being on the lake, I expected a fish related dish on the menu. But he did not disappoint, He gave us a variety instead from vegetarians, to meat lovers and Sea food lovers. It is hard to describe until you go and test your taste buds today.

Beach Life

Ohhhh, i had gone without mentioning beach life. Ohhh God. See this picture and help me caption it.

Please put your own caption

Views expressed in this blog are entirely out of my own experience and not of my sponsors or partners.

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