I read a quote the other day that said, “The only man I envy is the man who has not yet been to Africa; for he has so much to look forward to.” As my eyes scrolled over these words, images of giraffes, triangle trees, and vibrantly colored fruit flashed through my mind. It is true what Richard Mullin said, “for he has so much to look forward to.” The first time I went to Uganda, I really did not know what to expect. Questions like, will there be lions and zebras walking around, and how many times will I be able to sing the Lion King theme song before it is no longer socially acceptable, came to mind. (Pro tip- the song is always acceptable.)
My first trip took place in 2013, and since then I have returned twice. During trips one and two, I stayed in Hotel Olympia, which was an old set of buildings hidden on one of the side streets. To be fair, most things were on small little side streets because let’s be honest, we were in Africa. If you ever travel here, go prepared to have an interesting experience no matter where you are- bedroom, bathroom, jungle, the bush. The reason I say this is because I am a firm believer in soaking in any and all experiences that you can, and taking every inconvenience, setback, and uncomfortable moment as an opportunity to learn and a story to tuck away for later. And thank goodness for this thought process, because y’all- I took up a lot of tucking away space just in the hotel. One of the stories I will share with you happened before I ever set foot outside. When I took my second trip in 2014, I was rooming with a good friend. We had just arrived in Entebbe, and made it to our hotel. At that point, we had been traveling for over 40 hours, and so we decided it was time to shower so we could rest clean before we started our first full day. I gathered my things, and went into our bathroom. What I saw I never would have guessed. There was a huge, green iguana laying underneath the well-loved bathtub I was getting ready to step into. A word of advice- let the iguana be. Luckily the iguana was as unsettled with having a shower mate as I was, so he crawled out and we encouraged him to check out the view from our balcony. The point to me telling you this story is not so that you will be waiting for a giant lizard to join your travel group, but to stir up thoughts about what could happen while in a place like Uganda. Traveling in Arica is nothing like Europe or the United States. Water really is scarce. Animals really do walk across the streets (no they don’t sing..it’s sad I know). And the experiences really are wild.
If you are going to Africa, these are four things you must try.
Uganda is home to some of the wildest fruits, and crazy awesome veggies. While you are there, try getting your hands on the mango. Since trying it in Uganda, it has been my favorite fruit. However, like any perfect thing, it is hard to settle for anything less than that. Fruit number two is pineapple! This bitter-sweet treat is very common, and arguably better than Hawaii’s claim to fame- though I may be biased. But, the fruit that you must try is jackfruit. It is big, green, and looks like it has goose bumps (surprising since it is so hot there). Keep in mind that this fruit to be eaten in moderation, otherwise your stomach will be upset. But, it tastes like bubble gum. The kind of bubble gum you get at baseball fields- pink, sugary, and so so good.
Next on your food list should be chapati. Chapati is like a spongy tortilla that is made on a heated iron covered in oil. (Scroll to the bottom of this post to check out the recipe) My personal favorite is pairing it with potatoes, goat meat, and beans. Trust me. You’ll like it.
[If you feel a little on the wild side, walk along the streets and find the people that sell crickets and grass hoppers. I won’t lie they are pretty tasty, but the antennas are hard to get past.]
As some of you may know, Africa is the mecca of coffee, and certainly something you do not want to miss. If you are out in the bush, you may get to experience it the way coffee started- coffee leaves soaked in hot water. But, if you are near Kampala, be sure to check out 1000 cups. It is a cute little shop that rests on the side of the main street of the city. When you walk in, there are roughly 10 bags of beans proudly displayed for you to choose from. The varietals are unreal. This little shop is ranked 2nd in Africa, and produces around two-million of bags of coffee each year. If you get the chance, ask about their roasting process. They have different categories of roasting- traditional country and coffee safari. Traditional country coffee is roasted in clay pots in open fires. This causes the bean to be irregular and golden in color, and almost always an earthy flavor profile. The coffee safari classification is when you see the Mukono District farm beans in a modern roaster. Although I have never been, 1000 cups started a new tour of their farms. In this tour, you will walk through the entire coffee process (check out our post Coffee Processing for more information.)
Visiting the street markets is a must do. This is where you will find all of the stereotypical souvenirs, but also some really great cultural items. This is where bartering skills are key. Almost always the shop owner will go down in price, and if they do not, odds are the store next door sells the same thing. Be sure to look for the black wooden crosses, which are specific to Uganda. (Ask about the story behind them.) Another thing to check out are the parachute pants. You would not believe how comfortable they are. Then be sure to look for the colorful stuffed animals, paper beads, and tire-soled shoes. This is also a great way to interact with the people, and understand their customs.
One of my fondest memories is from the safari I went on. It was incredible. We, in the flesh, saw a lion, many giraffes (my favorite wild animal), elephants, and all of the things you could hope for. If you decide this is something you want to do, try staying over night. When I was there, we went to the Nile River and stayed in Safari Tents. Have no fear, they also have cabins and indoor plumbing. The last story I will share involves hippos. On my second to last night in Uganda, we were heading to the tents from our campfire dinner. But, when we stood up to turn around, there were three massive hippos. For those of you that do not know, hippos are one of the most dangerous animals. I thought I was about to be a part of a live action hungry, hungry hippos game and immediately regretted singing “I want a hippopotamus for Christmas” all those years.
Have questions about packing lists, food and water preparation, or just want to hear more stories? Leave your questions and comments in the space below.
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