The Sights and Culture In North Eastern Uganda | A Koi Koi Story

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.

Before setting off for a 13hours drive, hydrate with whatever hydrates your system.
Photo credit: Ninno Jack Jr.

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 Sunrise in Kidepo, Kaabong Uganda.
Photo credit: Joel Jemba

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 Karamojong community welcoming us and teaching us how to dance.
Photo credit: Payo

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 Kidepo Lions. . .
Photo Credit: Joel Jemba

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”

The hidden treasure in Pader, Uganda – Aruu Falls.
Photo credit: Nze Eve

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.

St. Joseph’s Cathedral, Gulu – Uganda. Shot by Mu

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.

Wakanda forever!
Photo Credit: Joel Jemba

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.

Kidepo National Park – A Koi Koi Story

KoikoiNE was my first trip with Kafunda Kreatives. I have been aware of their work and their choice to take the bull by its horns to change the narrative of Ugandan stories but hadn’t gotten the opportunity to join them yet. The setup of how this is done is something they have proven for a while and have reached a point where they have mastered the art of what works.

We were a group of 22; bloggers, photographers, social media influencers and a few wanaichis like me. We set off at 7am for a 12-hour journey. You never really realise how long a 12- hour journey is until you are in the sixth hour and all the great songs on the playlist are done, the rowdy crew that decided to get lit early in the morning are asleep and you’re tired of reading that book you carried for such a time as this!

Meet some of the bloggers on this #koikoiNE expedition
Photo credit: Joel Jemba

There is something about road trips that take a toll on both your body and mind; you start having short tempers, you get agitated because you’re in this one seat for a whole day. You give side eyes to the people who keep asking for bathroom breaks because in your mind it is 7pm and we should all sit until we get to our destination. Until you get to a turn with a signpost indicating Kidepo is 40km away and it is 7.30pm and you lose all hope!

We got to the Apoka campsite at around 8pm after a couple of wrong turns, irritable but still excited! We were definitely fatigued, there was no doubt about it! It had been a long 12- hour trip with strangers in an enclosed space! Our cottages were basic campsite cottages; two beds, bare room, green toilet paper, but clean and had light! Our night ended with a campfire which set our weary bones back on the wild track we had set off on in the morning!

The campfire at UWA campsite
photo credit: Shot by mu

The days were packed with activity; well-coordinated, very informative and true to the mission of changing our mindset about how we think about other cultures around us; and mostly the ones that are usually presented as primitive by mainstream media.

Learn the language, live the culture and snap the moment.
Photo credit: Shot by Mu

We visited the Kaabong – Manyatta community, we learnt about their history and cultural practices. Some practices didn’t sit really well with our feminist ideals but learning to not engage in situations where nothing will change, is an art I am getting better at. The thing I found amusing though was how it is easy for us to fall back into the ‘modern saving the world mentality” that we accuse our Caucasian coloured friends of! Personally, I don’t understand the point of taking pictures with the children or the local people in the local community! What is the point of that? I believe it is possible to tell that person’s story without you being in that picture. Let us capture them as people and not as an exhibit for how in touch you are with the local people, or how your presence in that picture is giving them a platform to be seen and heard. This could be a projection, but it is so easy for us to fall into the white savior mentality that we are actively fighting against. An example of this is deciding to give the kids money, instead of supporting their parents through buying their artwork. By doing this, we are conditioning these people to a cycle of handouts instead of earning their living.

You should be here learning about this history.
Photo credit: Joel Jemba

The slave stories at Fort Patiko were heartbreaking. It is so sad how our history is so full of mistreatment and callous judgment at the hands of mere humans. I can’t imagine living in an era where my fate is dependent on whether the judge finds me attractive or not. The most heartbreaking part is neither paths was preferable; death or bondage? What would you choose? What I love though, is how we are embracing this dark part of our history and telling it as it was and maybe, just maybe we are learning from this. One can only hope.

I have very many highlights from this trip because everyday’s activities were curated to give you a different experience and perspective, that you just can’t choose one highlight from the whole trip. Dancing Larakaraka dance with the Kaabong – Manyatta community; seeing the Lion a few meters from me on the game drive; watching people have a Wakanda moment at the Aruu falls; dancing with the Acholi community; chasing the sunrise every morning and finally checking out the Gulu night life at a bar called BJs -but why this name? This guy had one job!

Lioness just a few meters away. Kidepo Valley National Park is a Gem.
Photo credit: Shot By Mu

The photographers on this trip deserve their own paragraph, and not just because I am vain and love pictures and got amazing pictures from this trip and maybe my own personal photographer is Joel Jemba J. Not because of the above, not at all J. Eve has an art for capturing moments and feelings and inviting you in to be a part of the subject’s story. Her skill is something to marvel of and not just because she is a woman and I am passionate about supporting work made by women, but because she is beautifully skilled and her pictures are worth more than a thousand words. Ninno and Joel, on the other hand, are the kings of portraits; take one with them and you are sure you have a forever profile picture! Mugasha, I felt was mostly skilled with nature and his photos of the Kaabong – Manyatta community, the UWA campsite, the Acholi community, were pictures to die for, pictures that should have a place in National Geographic or something.

Aerial view of Manyattas – Karamojong community in Kidepo.
Photo credit: Shot by Mu

I am excited about what Kafunda Kreatives is doing in engaging local companies to get on board to sell our tourism industry. Our trip was sponsored by Vivo Energy Uganda and Airtel Uganda ; since we didn’t get stuck on the road, I guess I should thank Shell for fueling us through the four day trip and even if we didn’t have Airtel network in Kidepo (one network had reception), we were able to post on social media about the trip to and fro and make people regret their decision to stay in Kampala over the weekend. I hope we will be seeing more collaborations like these with the ministry of Tourism, UWA and other corporate companies.

Wake up, catch the sunrise, and live like you in Wakanda.
Photo credit: Joel Jemba

Side note:
UWA has done a great job maintaining the roads to these game parks and having affordable accommodation for people while there. The one thing that could be better is the amenities at these camping sites. We were sharing 2 toilets and 2 bathrooms amongst a great number of people and the showers didn’t have running water! I wonder if it is the assumption that since we are in the wild, the amenities shouldn’t be as great but when you visit the privately-owned campsites e.g. Leopard Rest Camp at Lake Mburo, Nyore Hillside retreat in Mbarara and Redchilli in Murchison falls you realize that is not the case at all! We should be doing more!

About the author.

Judith is a lover of wine, popcorn, music, food, and intense conversations. She gets excited about Twitter polls and black Twitter clapbacks.