“Wherever I set foot, I capture the world around me. I am constantly in search of untainted beauty, authentic faces, raw nature, and untold stories with the magic of the lens. Here, I share with the world my stories in personally crafted imagery.
Being a graphics designer by day, I discovered photography later. It was easy to dive into because with my graphics background, I was able to grasp various photography techniques.
My mission on this journey is to show people the undiscovered beauty in and around them, through the work I produce. I intend to reveal personality, character, show people what realness they behold and tell their stories through their portraits. I also present you with an angle of Uganda – my home, and Africa that you may not have seen or experienced before” – Ninno Jack Jr.
Kidepo, that one national park that had eluded me for soooo long. I mean, to begin with, it’s like on the other side of the world. Like those ends of Russia. Next, the place is just troubled. The Kony business, mbu we won’t wait for Karamoja to develop…basically moob negativity. But Kidepo was also the place rumored to be the most exciting national park in Uganda. Gaah, it’s like those flirtations where you fear the opponent because they look like they’ll be bad for you but want them so badly and the intense conflicting emotional extremes just leave you in a rollercoaster state. Yah, something like that.
So, when KoiKoi announced that their Easter trip was to Kidepo, I peed myself a little. I mean, how often do the stars align this perfectly? Check this out, it’s Easter, the longest weekend in the year, I’m coming out of a month of major stress and unreliable health, I’m also finishing my annual lent alcohol fast, I love KoiKoi trips…such great company and vibes…who else would you want to be with to conquer the last remaining national park, Kidepo, a place so far that I could travel to it and let the distance help me forget the woes of adulting!! Like I said, the stars were in a straight line.
So, Friday morning found me caning winter and jumping on a bike before the sun had even come out and rushing to Shell Kira Road, which was the meeting point, to catch the bus. Yeah, baby!! A cursory glance at the rest of the crew made me realize I knew at least a third of the people on the bus already from previous encounters. This Kampala can want to be small. I later learnt from conversations that many were on this trip for similar reasons as I, to escape this shrinking Kampala.
We set off once everyone was locked and loaded and the destressing began almost immediately. It’s guaranteed that if you ever find yourself on a coaster heading out of town with a group of youth and there is alcohol on the vehicle, within 30 minutes of leaving the outcasts of town someone will be twerking in said vehicle. Hi Cindy. I am not ashamed to confess that I have ever been that person. In my defense, I chose dare in a game vs truth and I am not one to back away from a challenge. Also, these trips are an opportunity to let my ratchet side have some easy easy breathing space so if not why not.
We’d been told that the journey would be long but what they forgot to warn us about was the number of times people would want to pee. It’s like we were doing the breadcrumb thing from Hansel and Gretel, but with pee. This significantly increased the duration of the journey. But me I’ve been on a bus for a day and a half nga I’m going to Dar Es Salaam so this was easy. Others though, not so much. The twerking had stopped, sadly, people had dozed off and woken up like twice already, kaboozi had been exhausted, there was a case of the shady looking lunch from Gulu…in conclusion, we were more than ready to arrive. The bus driver was a steady chap and bambi he got us to the cribs properly. Only to find there other people I knew from Kampala who had come to chill like us and also sing Ester tunes with the local population. This Uganda can want to be small. I somehow managed to get myself recruited into the choir but foxed them on the real day of singing. At least we know I’d make a great Judas in an Easter play.
Our accommodation was some two-bed bu modern huts, though some people got into a self-contained VIP arrangement. Lucky buggers. The bu huts were named after animals and mine was that of some creature I’ve never heard of. That made it easy to remember. Next mission was to shower off the fatigue and dirt from the long journey before supper. This is where things got interesting. There were two bathrooms for like 8 bu huts a.k.a. 16 people. That part was kawa. The interesting part was that the bathroom showers didn’t work so we had to fetch the water using some big basins outside and carry it into the shower. But someone had left some water in the basins and the beetles in the neighborhood had decided to use it as their swimming pool. After evicting them, I filled the basin and carried it into the shower. The next problem presented itself. The shower doors had this big rectangular hole in the middle that didn’t close so you would be exposed as you went about your business. As in? This was a bit too much like high school. But I adapt quickly so I closed the door on my towel such that it was covering the hole. Sharpness! I then stripped and bent to scoop water to begin the shower and that’s when I realized the next issue. There was a gathering of even more beetles in the bathroom and they were now giving me this ‘why are you running’ look. But I was already bent over and exposed so I decided I was going to act like this was totally normal. I went ahead with my shower while they continued watching me suspiciously. I must have put on quite a showering show because by the time I was done, they looked more at ease. This is when I realized my next problem. To dry myself, I’d have to remove the towel from the door and leave myself exposed to those on the outside. But I’d just put on a show for a group of beetles so this was not the time to become shy. I removed the towel and dried myself while having a conversation with the people outside that were waiting to shower next. It was at this point that I accepted that I was in the wilderness and the rules were different here.
Supper was on point, we settled around the campfire, took swings at our drinks, shot light bender photos with the incredible Eve and generally had a merry time. Next morning, we early birded and rushed to the edge of the accommodation grounds to get some early morning shots of the sunrise. And boy or boy were we rewarded for our efforts. The sun had gone to Mona studios for a do-over and she emerged from the horizon looking like a million bucks. Katondest! This was it, this was what we came for. We snapped away with our cameras as the sun climbed the sky and went back to our rooms full of life. This was how mornings are supposed to be like, bathing in the sun as it replenishes your spirit and gives you energy for the new day.
The first day’s activities included a drive to a nearby traditional village of the people native to the area code. I have my issues with people tourism, coz of the potentially bad conditioning this put-on-an-act routine can have on the community in the long run and how my private nature cringes at the intrusiveness of these visits, so I kind of zoned out at this part and only switched back on when they started dancing them high jump traditional dances. Yo, there was no way I was going to miss out on that business. I did a few jumps, a couple of 1 -2 steps and signed out early coz my energy levels couldn’t match the locals. I might have left with a wife from there though. It’s hard to tell because I missed out on the part where they were explaining the courting purposes of the dance.
Back at the camp, we chall for a bit, had lunch and then went for the evening game drive. We saw the regulars like buffaloes and antelopes, but the highlight of the trip was the two lions, one male and one female, that were just chilling under a ka tree. We ogled them and snapped away with our cameras while they basically ignored us and acted like we were just boring. Like we weren’t even worth killing. At least ko they could have scared us ko with a roar or something. Nassing. This was one of the worst blows my self-esteem has ever taken. And to think I travelled all the way to get swerved this badly yet I could have achieved the same result by staying in Kampala and attempting to vibe a slay queen with my depleted bank balance. Sigh, this world. Anyway, they were magnificent, we admired them as they ignored us and then we moved on with our lives. The game drive ended with the sun creating a masterpiece of an evening as it’s retreating lights lent the atmosphere a surreal mood only made better by the zebras, giraffes and buffaloes that were also calling it a day and heading to the bar to grab one for the road. We followed their example and went back to our campsite for our final night in the park.
After another night of lit photos by Eve and some hectic dancing with the other group from Kampala, we dragged our behinds out of bed really early to catch our last Kidepo sunset before leaving for Gulu. Seems like the sun had also grown fond of us because it put on a never-forget-me display and I felt a tear slide down my left cheek as I the pain-of-saying goodbye feels kicked in. Even the moon hung out a little longer and was still up while the sun was rising so it could say its farewells too. We set off for Gulu but first, we had a stop at some well-hidden falls. Sweet Jesus, why are all these gems always tucked away in the middle of nowhere? The adrenaline junkies, myself included, stripped to the bare necessities for decency, climbed the fall, stood under the descending water and let it wash our sins away. I swear, I felt like a new human when we came out of there? Like all my debts had been paid, like all my demons had been domesticated, like problems had gone on indefinite leave, like I’d resurrected just like Jesus on that very day, like all my insecurities had been flashed away, like I knew the answer to who killed Captain Alex. To me, that was the highlight of the trip, standing half-naked under that thundering water, feeling it beating all the negative vibes out of my life and basically cleaning my slate so I could start afresh. I was ready to go back to Kampala after that, but we still had more activities to do.
After the falls, we passed through Gulu and went to the Ndere center of those ends where we were treated to more epic traditional dances. Mehn, the organizers had real organized. The combo of a power waterfall shower followed by some live traditional music is a standard combo. After, we took our tired bodies to some restaurant in Gulu where some serious gumere had been prepared for us to demolish and then proceeded to our hotel. There was no beetles and basins this time round and the showers even had hot water. Ah, the joys of civilization.
Guys attacked some night club called BJ’s which is like the place to be while in Gulu. I, on the other hand, decided to take a power nap first before joining them. That waterfall battering had really drained me of energy. I’m growing old. At 12 sharp, I walked out of the hotel and stood by the street side waiting for a boda to take me to experience BJ’s (tihihihihi). After 5 minutes of standing there without a free boda passing, I stopped some guy who was strolling by and asked him how far this BJs place was. He told me it was just around the corner, it’s where he was going and that I should just go with him. Gulu has been peaceful and prospering for some years now so I figured the chances of this dude being a rebel and abducting me to serve under Kony were slim. As we walked, I asked him about himself and found out he was a student at some seminary in town but was home for the Easter break. He’d left the house at 12 to go and party because he was bored.
Nga Gulu parents are liberal! After a few minutes, I noticed there was a girl following us and asked the dude about her. He mentioned she was his friend and I relaxed again but my shadiness antenna picked up a signal when the dude gave me directions and told me to continue alone while he pushed the girl to her home first before coming to BJs. Yeah, right! Kids of these days also, ate a seminary one, ever to be up to no good. At BJ’s the energetic KoiKoi dancers were leaving the floor when I arrived so I decided to skip the dancing and just walk around. BJs is like any Kampala bala, complete with slay queens even. I ended up at the shisha corner where I had to participate in a strange ritual before I could take some puffs on the only pot in the place. The group was not happy with the price of beers that night and were breaking every bottle they would finish drinking from so they could ‘finish their money’. I broke one and was warmly welcomed into their circles. I am getting really good at this when in Rome mindset. I signed out with the remaining KoiKoi crew a few minutes later, passed by a room party in the hotel where I must have popped like two ribs minimum from all the laughing we did at very silly jokes, and eventually made it back to my bed in the wee hours of the morning. I was woken up a few hours later for breakfast and to check out of the hotel.
This is the point where I proper started feeling old. Or rather feeling the effects of overexerting myself. We had a choice of staying at the hotel to rest some more or boarding the bus to check out a cathedral that had some kind of tininess record, and a slavery station from back in the dark days when our ancestors were being haggled over on market day. I should have stayed at the hotel and rested my tired bones but there was no way I was going to miss any activity on this trip. So, I dragged myself onto the bus and off to church we went. Bambi it’s ka pretty and not as small as I’d expected. It even had a ka neat tree area on the side so we made the most of the environment and took album cover pictures. After, we went to the slave market where we were educated on our dark past as a continent. We really have suffered as a people. That did not stop us from climbing the rocks, burrowing into the nooks where the slaves would be bundled and doing Wakanda posses with the striking landscape in the background. Shout out to Idi Amin for restoring this place meanwhile.
Finally, we had to head back to Kampala. And this is my beef with all these escape trips, they always end. Most of us were subdued on the journey back as reality started creeping back and reminding us of all the obligations we’d left behind and were now returning to. By the time we hit Kampala traffic and felt our nostrils being assaulted by the pollution, the fact this was all coming to an end had settled in. Sniff sniff. As the cab dropped me home, the one thought I had on my mind was how necessary this had been, how much fun I’d had and how I needed a vacation from this vacation before I could face the world again.
To KoiKoi, to Airtel and Shell who sponsored the trip, and to the next escape!
About the author Roland is a random badman that identifies as a wannabe hedonist, certified bohemian and occasional sufferer of mephonia.
My friends like to use the phrase “you don’t just wake up…” when beginning a sentence to explain that there are some things you just can’t expect fwaa. So hey, you don’t just wake up and think that you’re going to sign up for a Koikoi trip to relax and or de-stress (if the word exists). My friend, you’re going to a real adventure that will make you collect all your muscle and mental energy for the hikes, climbs, swims, tiring laughter and photo taking stunts. People take pictures while on their knees, or lying on the ground sometimes; ask Joel Jemba. And in all honesty, I can’t think of a better way for anyone to spend their money after a long and hard couple of months slaving away at their jobs. But this not why I am here. Okay, only partly why.
I am now telling my story, and for the longest time, I had no real idea on how to start. I just knew that I needed a big release; I was almost overwhelmed when I got off that bus at Shell Kira Road.
One time, Kafundakreatives tweeted and asked people for what their top Ugandan destinations would be, and I personally remember mentioning that Karamoja was mine. Nowhere in particular, but Karamoja as a region was just a place I wanted to visit again, as the last time I did, I was on a work assignment in Moroto and had had no real extra time to marvel. I described it as “Karamoja and its people are art itself!” it was amazing to see how the town was growing but yet the people continue to hold their culture dearly. They walk the newly paved streets and smooth tarmac town roads dressed in Nakatukoks (the skirts with pleats worn by the Karamojong women and girls) and their shukas, just going on about their daily routine. It is a blend of urban and local so beautifully woven! I had to go back; and thanks to Koikoi, a trip was scheduled on the Easter holiday to the North East, especially to Kidepo Valley National Park and the community!
Almost 800km and or 12 hours later, we were at Kidepo on Friday night. While there, we lived at the Uganda Wildlife Authority Campsite in huts that we were told, are called Bandas. The campsite is literally somewhere in the middle of the park because we were hanging out with warthogs and Jackals on our doorsteps like they were domestic animals; and if you went out a little further beyond the bandas to catch the sunrise, you would be able to see a couple of Buffaloes in the distance grazing away, or a Kob catching and bathing the warm and smooth morning sun. Speaking of suns; the sunrises and sunsets at Kidepo were specially designed to take you on a journey of thought to the ambitious dreams you had since shut down in your treasure chest lest they were stolen; they’d make you fall in love with whatever melted your butter. It was the place to shoot your shot. No matter if it was a person or a picture, you’d just…shot.
Day one found us having a rather “bourgie” Rolex from the campsite kitchen for breakfast, and a few of us checking out the observatory on a very raised platform with huge binoculars from which you could be able to view some animals at a distance. We would be doing the game drive later that evening, but first, we were off to experience the local Karamojong community and join in dancing to the different K’jong dances. They live in nicely organized huts; so neat! The guides shared a few daily experiences with us in words. It really is a rich culture! The dancing later was ecstatic; no one can pass a “jump-dance” haha (because all you have to do is jump real high, higher than your “contender” to win your bride). Even if you weren’t selected to dance, you fell in on it too, because who said there are rules to adventure? Absolutely no one!
The game drive later that evening would be everybody’s highlight. The trip’s highlight; because it already was, to begin with. We set out to hopefully see Africa’s Big Five that include the Lion, Leopard, Rhinoceros, Elephant and Cape Buffalo; and with the help of the guide, we managed to see Giraffes, Zebras (my favorites), Cape Buffaloes, Crocodiles, Antelopes, Kobs, and… wait for it… Lions! I guess if we hadn’t seen the Lions, we were never leaving Kidepo until they were delivered to us hahaha. Seriously though, that majestic pair of the Lion and Lioness just pretty much summed up Kidepo for most of us. The guide mentioned that if you saw a number of vultures on a tree, then the lions were close by. True to his word, Mr. and Mrs. (Smith) were catching a siesta under a shrub shed so peacefully, but we managed to wake them with the sound of the bus close enough to be able to marvel at their glory, and far enough to be able to be out of sight in a minute if the worst happened. Lol. The game drive was concluded under an orange sunset in the horizon, that every photographer on board captured, beyond the Zebras that leisurely just crossed the dirt path (we called it the original Zebra crossing).
Sunday had us back on the road from Kidepo to Aruu falls in Pader, 4 or 5 kilometers from the Gulu – Kitgum highway. Now. I thought I’d had enough at Kidepo. Boy, was I wrong! No one prepared my feelings for this adventure. Aruu falls is a gem in Pader district that every Ugandan needs to visit at least once in their life. It’s a shame that the falls are rarely visited, I came to learn! I mean, just the sight of the water cascading and gushing down those steps of rocks is therapeutic as much as it’s thrilling, unbelievable, and unforgettable. Especially in the dry season when the water intensity is low, and you’re able to hike down to the bottom of the falls, swim in the little pool created at the bottom, and then climb the rock steps right into the falls and have the biggest shower of your life. No one will prepare you for that. The falls are somewhat divided by some kind of vegetation, and one has to cross over rushing streams over slippery rock to see the other side that was almost magical. Less water rushing down the rock steps (due to the dry season – makes it more beautiful and almost unreal), a calmer pool at the bottom, pouring further down ahead to smaller pools made between rocks. Very picturesque.
I can guarantee you that, you will not get this in the rainy season because you will not be able to get close lest you’re washed away, but you might just peek at the mighty roar that the falls become when in their “full function!” Aruu was IT for me. I will be back; not once, not twice. And I will suggest it to everyone!
My bones could not carry me after Aruu, but we had to see more culture in Gulu town, so we went off to the cultural centre. Dance, story, dance, blessings from the elder and more dance! Who said I was tired? I killed it out there on the Larakaraka like I was one of them. Easy-peasy. I was not letting a moment pass me by. No. I did not go 800km for nothing. At 2200 hours, I could not believe my bones, but the night life was not going to experience itself. We were out again, to BJs. I don’t dance, but I play foosball and I can knock your teeth out if you try to go against me. And I did. All those men, I just knocked them out like I’m the national champion. Foosball is my sport. If there are real competitions somewhere in town, let me know. Thank you.
Day 3, Monday took us on a short visit to the smallest Catholic church in Gulu town, St. Joseph’s Cathedral for some of the most beautiful portraits on the trip, a stop at Fort P’atiko of the heart-wrenching slavery tales and lastly lunch, that was giving us our fill to last us the rest of the hours to Kampala. I can’t exhaust my experience enough, but one thing is for sure; you have known nothing yet until you see it.
“#KoikoiNE was nothing short of spectacular,” I said to my friend on arrival, over text. “And I would undoubtedly do this again.”
About the Author The first thing Karen Ihimbazwe likes to say is that she loves God. She is glad to write her heart and mind because she doesn’t speak much. She loves to hug the whole world, eat rice and beans, and is a firm believer in Teetotalism.
It was always unusual for one to stay away from their family during a day like Christmas or Easter in a Christian setting. It was by default, this was a day that society deemed a family time to mix and mingle, catch up and make merry in whatever way. For the stricter families, it was unheard of for someone not to make time and spend the day with family, you would be reprimanded in some way or strongly criticised.
Here we were, a bunch of say “crazy, defiant, adventurous and overzealous” lads and ladies ready to break the societal norm and go far away. To a place known to many but visited by a few. To a place deemed far and yet near us. Kidepo was the subject and was the hurdle that was to be leaped. Many had googled where it was, hyped each other and hearts were paced to journey to a place that far.
One could say why did we choose to isolate ourselves to a location that far when the resurrection of the savior was coming, well Kidepo is indeed Uganda’s most isolated national park but when you brave the about 13-hour journey to get there, you will be ushered to a place distinctively amazing and beautiful.
KoiKoi was upon us and it was yet another plan and excuse to traverse and see what Uganda had to offer. Away from the chaos in town, the banter online, the negative vibes that filled Kampala’s oxygen, Koi Koi North East – #KoiKoiNE was indeed a timely and perfectly planned getaway that one would use as the best excuse to not only go far away but also meet new people with the same mindset.
In the wake of Good Friday, everything seemed to be In a perfect and well-blended plan and while many were sober, I was coming out of the bar but nonetheless, nothing was going to stop me from going to see and tell the Ugandan story much better. In a few minutes within the hour of 7am, we had hit the road and people had started knowing each other, while I stole a few minutes to sleep off the ‘lituation’ that had gotten to my head away.
Conversions evolved, some of the best travel tunes were played from a Bluetooth speaker and at some point everyone sang along, drinks and eats were shared to whoever raised a need and the few that never wanted a sober trip imbibed a few shots of whiskey throughout the journey and gave the best conversations that had everyone laughing.
When everyone seemed to stop asking if the already long distance would end anytime soon until we get to our destination, a few signposts signaled that we were closer and that we had now narrowed down on arriving at Kidepo National Park. When twist and turns were done, we FINALLY checked in at UWA Campsite in Apoka which was a stone throw away from the Apoka Safari Lodge. To reach that far, I was impressed at the power of our coaster and wondered how it was energized to reach that far and alas,I learnt that Shell Fuels were with us all the way.
Everything in this area we had entered seemed to blend in easily for me. I was mesmerized by the jolly and happy lives those people live that side. The cottages were everything a young not so rich and yet not so broke bachelor would wish their honeymoon to be. The campsite Bonfire was goals, it was the perfect place to catch up after the long trip. Beers were chilled, cold and cheap, it was indeed a night to forget the long kilometers we had to endure to get this far.
While the night seemed to have the best of me, my worry and everyone else was if they would ever get up early to see the sunrise in Kidepo and because we were there to tell the Ugandan story and beauty, it was a must to capture this to start a bright story. I missed it, but didn’t miss the breakfast — Guinness.
The trip got to its core when we went to visit the Manyattas -Karamojong community. The Culture of these people is still as strong as the faith of the Pope, they still believe in the barbaric forms of living and hierarchy, but this according to the way they talk with nostalgia about it only shows that they are happy and no one is in protest of how the society is deemed that side.
Although I loved the souvenirs I picked up from this community, having to make them do the Wakanda Pose and take photos with these welcoming and lovely people, nothing will beat the unforgettable local brew that the Manyattas gave me. It was lit, they say.
We seemed super excited at what was going on and we couldn’t stop clicking, filling our memory cards and draining the batteries of our cameras to capture all moments as they unfolded. It was as though every step we took was a paparazzi moment and indeed it was. When we decided to post about our experience, a fine Airtel 4G Internet was our friend to get this done.
The icing on the cake of the KoiKoi trip was yet to come and here we were thinking we had seen it all, NO! The game drive was everything we were not ready for. The animals seemed to also know that we had carried us some positive vibes from Kampala and they came out to play. What got us all excited were the lions that no so many get a chance to see when they travel that Far. We did see the lions, they cuddled right under our noses and before our eyes, it was spectacular.
Hours flew by, we chased Zebras as they are always excited at running, Antelopes stared at us like we were lost sheep, Giraffes bowed they long necks for us to shot and buffaloes acted like shy creatures as they locked horns for us to shot and ogle. It was a day to remember as we documented each and everything. The sunset came racing and while many back in Kampala were preparing to do God knows what, we were dancing right under the sun, making silhouettes and portraits to remember.
The night is all we ever looked forward to, life on the other side of the country is exciting both day and night. The full moon was upon us again on day two and we danced our feet sore, drunk ourselves to happiness, laughed our worries away and we made night shots right under the stars.
In the morning of Sunday, We bid Kidepo goodbye right after Joel Jemba and Fiona Komusana treated us yet again to a sumptuous breakfast and urged us to eat to our fullest because our next voyage wouldn’t be an easy one to which most of us called “FakeNews”. Little did we know what was in store for us. Fast forward, we got to Aruu Falls in Pader district, one of Uganda’s hidden treasure deep in the forests. The falls were tucked away about a few Kilometers from town and it tired most of us. While everyone had the most fan and posed for as many photos, I was busy overcoming my phobia for swimming. It was such a thrilling scenic visit to Aruu Falls. The Acholi culture center in Gulu that we visited seemed to cool everything off as we were treated to some of the finest cultural dances with a distinctive one being the “Larakaraka dance”
While everyone was still talking about the amazing places we had visited, staring at the images we had captured and let the world know about the beauty that is Uganda on Social media, I was waiting for yet another night to fall. To see what a Gulu night would look like and indeed while at BJs ( I honestly tried to ask around what inspired that name but no one seemed to be helpful in my little research), the night seemed to make sense and be the epic fan.
On the morning of Monday, before we hit the road that would see us get back to Kampala, the Kafunda Kreative lads and ladies still had a lot more stocked up for us. Shortly after our breakfast, we made our way to the St. Joseph’s Cathedral a Roman Catholic cathedral in Gulu, Gulu District, Uganda. It is the seat of Archbishop John Baptist Odama, head of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Gulu. It’s a such a spectacular place with one of the finest architecture in the region.
We then hit a few kilometers and went to Fort Patiko a military fort built by Samuel Baker in Patiko, Uganda on December 25, 1872. Sir Samuel Baker’s Fort at Patiko, is located 30 km from Gulu Town in Ajulu parish, Patiko sub-county, Aswa County. Fort Patiko – Baker’s fort Gulu. The primary lessons we had of this place came back to vivid memory as we toured and heard these stories. It was pure seeing Uganda have such untold rich history.
Stories of goodbye set it, faces of worry were worn again on the mere point of heading back to Kampala came swinging back to our minds. A trip perfectly organized, a getaway well suited and targeted surely couldn’t just have ended like that. But like they say, every good thing indeed has to come to an end but for KoiKoi, it was yet another opener to an even greater opportunity at telling the Ugandan story.
When I had a chance to get a height on the bus, I freely made the loudest noise that caught everyone’s attention and while everyone did pay attention, I said never miss a KoiKoiUG trip ever because I couldn’t stand being left out on this kind of fun. At least not during My Youth!
About the Author Pius Enywaru is a jack of all trades, a Ugandan content creator, and blogger with an extra love for tech, lifestyle and travel. He’s also a wannabe kickass photographer and candid lover of Positive vibes and stout.
I’m half present in a 9am class on Easter Tuesday (no, this is not a thing, but I think it should be) when I hear the professor say, ‘Oh my God’ in response to a question. I burst out into laughter. It is a very distinct one which cuts through the room like an unexpected loud fart. Everyone until now has been dead silent in the awkward way people don’t know what to say after not seeing each other for long.
“Why are you laughing,” he asks. And it takes all of my home training to not burst out again. I’m sorry sir, I say with a sheepish smile and he quickly drops it maybe because I don’t look naughty. I’ve been told I have an innocent face. Whatever that means. I’ll need to work on not laughing whenever someone says oh my god otherwise innocent looking faces cannot save you forever.
KoiKoiUg did this to me. There are things I’ll never think about the same way.
You are looking out the window of a moving bus while a house music mix plays on the stereo. This all feels very movie-like. Thoughts. Soundtrack. Other faces on the bus. You don’t want to go back to your ‘real life’. Overdue deadlines. Unresolved fight with a lover. The state of the house. And you forgot to call your mother, didn’t you? You sigh.
Someone is passing around a book for everyone to sign. Very high school-ish, you think. In one of the sections, you have to write what you thought of the trip. There are variations of ‘this was fun’. You settle for;
Why haven’t I done this before?
and pass it on to your seatmate who, after three days, you have learnt is a celebrity on Facebook. In fact, you watched him write his latest post. He does a post every Monday that his followers eagerly wait for. In this one, he knights Pastor Kakande as the man of the week, Edwin Ruyonga as the fool of the week and everything else is about the trip, which for him was made possible by Airtel. The post has 84 reactions in about 20 minutes and a buzzing comments section.
The 7-hour journey back into the city is quiet and cold. All the excitement has left the voices so much that no one complains about the house music. It was a serious riot when you were going. Only Sheebah and Fik Fameika were allowed on the stereo. If we were going to party, we would do it right. Not like white people. Never mind that there is a white person on the bus who also would rather 5 Vinka songs in a row over house music. No, she didn’t say that.
If #KoiKoiNE were a movie, the part where we arrive at Kidepo after 12 (13?) hours on the road would have Who Let The Dogs Out playing in the background. You know, like what happens in The Hangover movies?
We would check into our rooms and jump on the beds in slow motion while the fluff from the pillows flies around in a dreamy way before we begin our misadventures. But we are, well I am, tired and sticky and hungry and oh god have we reached the end of the world? This must be the end of the world no doubt.
I’m finding it hard to breathe through my nose after all the dust and irritated and itchy and ready to sleep. How do people have traveling for a hobby?
There is something to be said about the determination of photographers to take a good shot. My girlfriend says if they had an option to, for example, stay out all day and catch the sun at all its stages, they would. It amuses me. And also um, inspires me? While we sleep, they wake up before dawn to catch the sunrise. Every single day. That’s a beautiful thing, I think. I’d very much rather have all my hours of sleep and look at their photos later thank you.
I catch all the sunsets though. Yay me! My favorite is the one right after the game drive.
You have wanted to ‘go away’ for over two months now. Going away could mean anything really. It is only when your girlfriend asks you to go away with her for an Easter break trip that you realize that yes, this is what you want. What you have been wanting. Exactly what you need. Can I carry my computer, you ask. I have a lot of work to catch up on, you say when she asks why you would do that in a way that makes it seem like a ridiculous question. You don’t carry it and in retrospect, how ridiculous! It would be the proverbial person who sits on a bus carrying luggage on their head they have an option to put down till they reach their destination.
There is some comfort in knowing everyone else on the bus left obligations behind because sometimes you just have to say fuck it, I cannot come and kill myself. Pius, he reminds you of this every time it looks like someone is holding back. Imagine traveling 700km and not having fun. Imagine working hard and not enjoying your money. It could never be me. He, along with Cindy Wright are the life of the party bus.
Being in the middle of nowhere, literally, is a good way to ‘go away’. There is no network signal. No sign of any civilization except for the little cottages just out there in the wild. So the only ‘life’ are the people going away, and the people whose job is to take care of the people going away. Let’s all escape together baby, shall we?
And you do.
You come within 10ft of lions post-coitus. It’s exciting. There are buffaloes every 20m. they make great memes. Their faces. The giraffes stare at you to figure out what you might be doing with those things you put on your eyes and snap snap snap away. They could not be bothered. They walk away so gracefully. You find a crocodile sunbathing. It can see you through the corner of its eye. You can tell. It disappears as soon as someone comes close. You sit at the bonfire and waterbucks and kobs and antelopes pass by whenever. This is living. This should be the living. You have no worries except for what happens when you have used up the solar power. Which isn’t really a worry.
We could get used to this baby, won’t we?
Before I could share it with someone, it looked like other people had thought of it too. Kidepo Valley could be Wakanda! This not because I (finally) watched Black Panther in the same week I went there.
I mean think about it. It is in the middle of nowhere. Or the end of the world. But how self-sufficient it is, my Lorde! I highly doubt they buy food. If they do, they’d have to travel about 6 hours in total to be able to do that. So my conclusion is that they don’t. they grow it. They don’t suffer with UMEME, they use solar power. They have two rivers which is where I think the water comes from. Now, this is in the Park.
The communities around the park do it even better. All I can say is white people really ruined our civilization.
And speaking of white people, how Kidepo came to be gazetted still does not sit well with me. It’s something I need to think about. In short, two people, probably men, were flying over the region and saw lots of animals so they gave the communities who lived there four years to find other places to live so it could be gazetted. Let’s not unpack this today.
Again, if #KoiKoiNE were a movie, the part where you leave Kidepo Valley National Park, the soundtrack would be Digi by Ngoni. The people you got away would have had a party the previous night. They would have woken the animals and stayed up all night. The party would continue as you leave. The Leadership would be thrilled to have finished this part of the trip successfully.
If #KoiKoiNE were a movie, there would be people who have found love, or so it would seem. The one day you spent in Kidepo would have brought them together somehow. And the soundtrack for their ‘moments’ would be Soka Lami by Naava. It would be very cute to watch.
There would also be people who came with the love. And it would be one of the lovers’ birthdays. And Diamond Platinumz Hallelujah would play while you hike down to Aruu falls.
We’re losing it. It’s not a movie.
By the time you get to Aruu falls, you are wondering if there is anything you haven’t seen. You are tired and hungry and just…can we go home, please? But it’s water. Water is good for your soul. Apparently. You go for it.
The guide says it’s a long way step way down and if you don’t think you can handle it, it’s best you stay. You contemplate staying. It does look steep. Really steep. And you can hear your mother’s voice somewhere asking you think of her. How she’ll survive if you don’t make it back up. Remember, the Pius fuck it voice? It’s right there. Imagine traveling to the end of the world and not taking risks? It could never be me.
You join the trek down all the while asking your mother’s ancestors to watch out for her. To think how she would live with herself if you didn’t make it. And they do. You slip several times as if they want to remind you that they are watching over you and nothing bad will happen anyway. You slip several times but you make it down good Lorde, is worth it an understatement? Why do the good things have to be so hidden?
The view is breathtaking. Made even better by half the adrenaline junkies you are going away with stripping to stand under the water. Your ancestors won’t let you do that. Or you think you have tried them enough by just coming down. You don’t join in the madness. It looks like a once in a lifetime experience though.
And for hours you all commune with the water with no worries. Not even what you’ll wear after you leave because all the clothes are wet. Stripping does not make anyone exclaim or look at you with those scary eyes. This is paradise. We could all just be naked and coexist peacefully like this. Imagine that!
Sigh. This won’t end today. The reminiscing I mean. This is a movie. It is ending with the jazz version of Neera.
About the Author Esther Mirembe is a writer and editor. She writes about books and wine here
Hyperbole and all forms of exaggeration are all fair game here if you have had the kind of weekend like my Easter. Also, I am giving free advice so I can do whatever I want. Kidepo Valley National park is already a piece of work. It involves covering 700km, 150km of which is marram and not the smooth kind. You sit until it hurts to breath. You stand until you realize that a combination of a bumpy road and a tired body is a recipe for a fall and you are nowhere close to a health facility if that happens. So you tell your butt to hang in there, give it a few more hours, remind it that it’s strong, African, and it’s capable of resilience. It will be over soon. You fix your eyes on the road for signposts of Uganda Wildlife Authority informing you of how much distance you have left to cover;
“Kidepo valley national park 115km” the first one reads, and about 1000kms later another says, “Kidepo Valley National Park 75km”, after 69900kms, another one reads, “Kidepo Valley National Park 64km” and a billion hours later finally the last one, “Kidepo Valley National Park 20kms”. Hope is on the horizon as well as lights. You are leading a team of 22 people into a jungle you have never been either and your faith is in Betty a person you have exchanged about 10,000 hours of phone conversations with and Chef Sisto another voice at the end of your telecommunication device since January when you started planning this adventure. You called them to confirm that you are indeed going to show up every day of the week leading up the trip. You promised to call when you were on your way to give them a head start but between splitting yourself into 22 pieces for everyone and sneaking in a minute to sip some orange minute maid, you forgot. Anxiety is at an all-time high. Someone at the back is asking why they don’t have network on their phone, another one at the front wants to know what’s for dinner, while photographers are asking what time the sun rises so they can wake up and catch it, and of course the last person to arrive at the bus during departure is so mad about arriving so late in Kidepo.
This is not a narration about my 4 days “womaning” a team of creatives in one of the farthest and most beautiful parks in Uganda, rather it is 5 things you should know before our pictures and stories from #KoiKoiNE dupe you into heading to Kidepo Valley National Park.
Plan, plan and when you are done plan again. We started preparations for our trip in January and even then we were a little late to get the most convenient accommodation available inside the park in Uganda Shillings. Kidepo is one of the most coveted parks to see in Uganda maybe because it is the only park where you have an 80% chance at interfacing with the king of the jungle. If you are planning to visit during the peak season like Easter or Christmas, I suggest you start making your bookings at least 6 months in advance even if you generally suck at planning.
Prepare yourself mentally for all kinds of people if you are travelling in a group. What is it they say, that you don’t really know a person until you sit in a bus for 13 hours? (Of course, I made that up). Even the most patient people tend to lose it after hour 10, plus heat, dust and a disappointing lunch is such a great soundtrack to irritation. On my bus, there was a bit of everyone. The ones so happy to escape their routine that they could have walked to Kidepo if that was an option like Anne who stated, “I am just here to get away from my life. The helpful ones, the party bringers like Cindy, the entitled ones and the quiet ones, whose silence is their presence. My advice if you have the privilege to choose who travels with you to Kidepo, take less of the entitled ones. Your mind will thank you after it’s all done.
Manage your expectations. This is something the Ugandan service industry will generally school and graduate you in but the hospitality and tourism sector will offer you a PHD in. I can almost guarantee that chef doesn’t always mean somebody who can cook great food, neither does hotel mean a place where you can sleep. In Kidepo you have about two option. The Uganda Wildlife Authority serviced place and the “glamourous-300 dollars a night”- Apoka lodge. The UWA conservation area was good to us but it was also overwhelmed by us and 100 other Ugandans trying to see their country in their country’s currency. The food isn’t going to be winning any culinary awards so it helps to carry additional food and a shell gas where you can make something up real quick when Chef Sisto forgets to serve the breakfast you agreed on 4 months in advance.
Get a good driver. Ours was Mzee Nsubuga Paul who knows a thing or 6 about driving on wild tracks and stopping in time for sunrise and sunset chasers to get great shots. He is also gifted with patience a trait you will be grateful for that many hours on the road.
See the lion or don’t leave Kidepo. I have been to almost all Uganda’s national parks. I remember the game drive in Queen Elizabeth when we were told that the lion was hiding behind the bushes and if we waited long enough we would see it. We waited but no lion showed up. But I went to Kidepo with one goal.
TO SEE A LION. And behold the lion and the lioness 10m away from the bus chilling in “after-killing-a-buffalo” bliss. It was surreal. We had a moment. I didn’t even get my phone out to take a picture. It’s like every trip I have ever taken was leading up to that moment. To a staring contest between this powerful hairy being and a little person that could easily turn into its dinner. It’s a feeling you have 80% chance of ever getting in Kidepo Valley National Park, so forget every other thing I whined about above and go, see a lion or don’t leave.
About the author:
Komusana Fiona | Sunshine – She loves to have an opinion but more than that she loves to give it, so she writes. The idea that she gets to express her opinion without looking any one in the face is motivating.