A Guide To Kidepo Valley National Park, Uganda

Since the Easter weekend trip to Kidepo Valley National Park in Karamoja, my friends that I meet on the daily hustle normally ask how it went, because apparently, they saw a certain “fire portrait” of me on the timeline with location saying Kitgum or something. Yes. Going on a #KoikoiUg trip means finally having portraits of you that you have never experienced before, and probably won’t, for the rest of your life. You will suddenly adopt “Kodak” as your middle name. People will tell you that you have a Khoisan skin complexion and that you should get on the next “Generations” 2018 drama series. They will also suggest to you that you should get on a modeling career. For them, life decisions are just like that. Easy peasy. That’s what #KoikoiUg does to you, and you internally nod your head…but I digress.

The view of the landscape that welcome to the kidepo national park
Photo credit: Ninno Jack Jr

It was my first visit to the Kidepo Valley National Park, under #KoikoiUg, and I have since recommended that everybody goes to visit, even just for a quick weekend getaway.
Here’s what you definitely need to know about Kidepo when you get round to planning that trip;

LOCATION:

The national park is located in the Karamoja Sub-region of North-Eastern Uganda in Kaabong district, approximately 11 hours away from Kampala. What I mean is, you have to prepare yourself for an 11-hour drive, and that includes the “bathroom” breaks, the lunch, the stretching, and a smooth and responsible drive for the rest of over 500 kilometers. The park is mostly rugged savannah with a few trees littering the flat landscape and lots of shrubs.

GETTING THERE:

I just feel the need to warn you of the bitter-sweet feeling of arrival at the park; you will keep seeing signposts, but relax and sit tight because you still have a 30-minute ride. At some point, you will even drive through the actual National Park gate, but again, wait some more. By that time, it will be (at the earliest) 6:30/7:30pm if you left Kampala early enough, and I would advise that you start looking out through your window because that my dear, would be your first game drive via the Park’s marram road before you can reach the Uganda Wildlife Authority Campsite about 15 minutes later.

It is a long journey but you will enjoy everything the park has to offer.
Photo credit: Ninno Jack Jr.

ACCOMMODATION:

On your way in, you might go past one or two guest houses; but for the ultimate experience, you can book accommodation from the main accommodation area inside the park. The Uganda Wildlife Authority Campsite, being that Kidepo Valley National Park is managed by the Uganda Wildlife Authority. Everyone there is English speaking, so you should be comfortable communicating.

Accommodation is mainly in small cozy huts called Bandas; most of which are self-contained, so if you book early, you might have no problem travelling with your whole family. Cost varies, such that if you are on a budget, there are rooms that are not self-contained. If you are the extra adventurous type, you can carry along your camping tent. There’s plenty of ground for those!

Karen being one with the wild. – Talk of untamed beauty. Photo credit: Ninno Jack Jr.

This particular campsite gives you the ultimate experience because it is literally surrounded by the park and the animals. Warthogs cross your paths, and if you go a little further away from the Bandas, you might see a couple of Kobs, or Buffaloes in the near distance. Every night, there’s a huge campfire that burns all night that can accommodate campers with warmth and storytelling moments.

ACTIVITIES:

There are two activities you can do at Kidepo; the game drive, and everything else in between. I say in between because the best time to view game, according to the park guide, is either early in the morning, or later in the evening from 4 pm. You can book a game drive vehicle if you are a small group. This is the ideal option since it’s an open vehicle and allows for the better viewing experience. If you are a large group, or if you came with your own car, make sure everyone on board can access the windows. (If you want to catch sight of some lions, look out for vultures, and the Lions could be a few feet away!)

Look out through the window and snap a moment. Photo credit: Diamond Karen 

During the day, you can make a mid-morning visit to the Karamojong local community and experience a day in their life. One of the community leaders will take you through the rich K’Jong cultural norms and practices through narration. Only a couple of people there can speak English; otherwise the locals speak aKarimojong. Later, you can participate in different organized K’Jong dance performances by the youth. Everybody loves some dancing!
Remember to carry some money such that you can take back some beaded or copper iron jewelry/souvenir with you.

Travel far, learn the language, live the culture and snap the moments.
Photo credit: Ninno Jack Jr.

The other activity you could do during the day is to make a visit to the Ik people who live on the mountains. The Ik are an ethnic group of people who were displaced to the mountains in order to create Kidepo Valley National Park. They were no longer able to hunt the wild animals, so they suffered famine in the mountains and their population kept dwindling. The hike to the Ik tribe in the mountains is about 4 hours, so warm up!

FOOD:

You will mostly dine with food from the kitchen at the national park. There is a small eating area around the kitchen, otherwise, food can also be eaten at the campfire that is burning all night. You will basically find local meals, apart from matooke and groundnut stew. A few fries on the side as well, depending on the menu. The food is actually great. In the morning, you can have yourself a Rolex or, a chapatti with an omelet. You can travel along with your additional choice of snacks for breakfast. There’s a bar too, for those that like their drink. Teetotalers are catered for as well!

 

About the author:

The first thing Karen 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.

5 Things You Should Know Before Heading To Kidepo Valley National Park

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;

The road to Kidepo Valley National Park.
Photo Credit: Nze_Eve

“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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
    Anne getting away from her life Phot
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
    Our driver on the wheels.
    Photo credit: Ninno Jack Jr.
  5. 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.
    See lions or don’t leave.
    Photo credit: Joel Jemba


    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.

Here Are 5 Reasons Why You Should Visit Lake Mburo National Park, Uganda

It is the nearest national park to Kampala. It is only 240km away from the city and in comparison to other national parks you can set off, depending on how much time you spend taking pictures of your self at the equator or stuffing up on chicken in Lukaya you can be one with the wild of Lake Mburo in 4 hours. It’s also not too far away from major towns in Lyantonde and Mbarara district

Zebras. Lake Mburo is home to most of Uganda’s Zebras. There is an entire zebra track after the Nshara gate in Lake Mburo National Park. It is like after paying your park entrance fees, herds of them come to welcome you to their territory.  Zebras are beautiful and from their demeanour, they love to have their pictures taken.  Someone joked that the zebras have been trained by UWA to work their angles and show their good side, whenever they see a camera.  You may not come out of Lake Mburo with the answer to whether zebras are black with white stripes or white with black stripes,  but you will see enough of them to choose a side to this argument and defend it.  For example, I think they are brown with cream stripes.

The Zebra welcoming you to Lake Mburo National Park.
Photo Credit: Pipes | Kreative Adkit

A leopard. Not leopards but one leopard. We did our game drive in the morning and according to Immaculate our guide, we had zero to none chances of seeing a leopard because they are nocturnal. (Just a fancy word for they feed at night). She didn’t lie about that. However later in the evening while we drove out of the park, we saw one. Chilling by itself below an anthill probably aiming for its dinner.

The leopard in the Lake Mburo National Park, Uganda
#KoikoiUG Photo credit: Nze Eve

The bus got excited.  Fingers started being pointed. Yelling at the driver to; stop, reverse a little, go slightly ahead all at once ensued until everyone caught a glimpse of this big cat with spots (If you have no idea what I am talking about, at least you have seen leopard print fabric.) Cameras were aimed at it and all the wows and “did you see it(s)” managed to scare it away, or as I like to think we saved an animal from being dinner.

The Lake. First of all the UWA boat is new. All the life jackets are still intact so are the seats and paint so it gives a false sense of safety like crocodiles give a damn about, seats paint and inflated orange jackets but that’s not the point. The point is we love water or at least most people do. If you don’t believe me, ask anyone who stopped going to the beach why they did and I will bet that the answer will be they were too crowded.  Taking pictures on the water with your shades on gives “life eater” bragging rights,  plus the breeze is refreshing.  A welcome change from Kampala’s sewer filled air ( especially if you don’t live or work in Kololo).

The Aerial view of some part of Lake Mburo
Shot by Mu | Mugasha Arnold

On Lake Mburo, you will see hippos and maybe two crocodiles and several birds. You will make jokes about whether falling off the boat will scare the crocodile away or send it running towards you piece of meat.  You will take several pictures while you are posing and others while you stare at the waves. The kind that you will put on Instagram with long “deep” captions about reflecting on life and how it’s like the waves or if you are me,  something about God being a genius. You will hardly hear anything, Rebecca, the guide, and her megaphone will say about the lake unless she is thanking you for being a lovely crowd and telling you to get the hell off her new boat. You will have spent 1 hour and 30 minutes on the lake and that will make you feel things. Good things.

Joanne and Jeddy on the #LiveThe4GExperience plan, next to Lake Mburo.
Photo Credit: Pipes | Kreative Adkit

There is nothing wrong with being a tourist. Maybe if we all gathered some Shell fuel Save and our favorite people every few months and became local tourists the people in charge will stop giving us rates in US Dollars. And when you do, load some Airtel Data Blasta and share your authentic Ugandan story. There are not very many out there.

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.

Koikoi Delicacy: Color. Taste. Variety.

Uganda is so rich in the variety of food on offer, ranging from fresh food to processed food. One might live all of their life in Uganda without ever having to consume processed food. This variety and depth of the offering is what #KoikoiDelicacy themed week sought to capture.

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FLUENT UGANDAN

I came across this video on Facebook today about this girl who speaks “fluent American.” Basically, she was talking to this guy in the UK about something she wanted him to buy for her. She literally put the gold in gold digger, and it’s not in the way you think. On explaining to the guy that what she wanted, he said it was too expensive, “an entire 15 pounds” he said. She however could not understand why he was telling her how heavy it was instead of how much it cost.  As I said, pure gold right? This got me thinking though, what do people think of Uganda in “fluent American,” or “fluent German” or “fluent French?” What shapes their vocabulary about our country?

Very recently the dictionary was updated. They added words like ‘side-boob’ and ‘amaze-balls,’ words for so long that were not considered acceptable in the English language but now can be used in a PhD thesis. These words were being used so much that the snobbish aristocrats who decide what is and what isn’t English had no choice but to let them into their circle of acceptable lingual.

So the snobbish aristocrats of fluent American, or fluent French might think we live in trees, own giraffes or that Idi Amin is still our president, and maybe that is all the section on Uganda in their dictionary says. We however can’t tell the world so many stories about this country that they have no choice but ti expand their vocabulary. We can put 1 million photos of this beautiful country on the internet, on Instagram and by extension Facebook. We can make the world a little wiser. We can shout #koikoiug from the roof tops.

Ps: In case you are still wondering the application of the word ‘amazeballs,’well;

A.maze.balls /əˈmāzbôlz/ : extremely good or impressive: amazing.

Uganda is amazeballs. Tell someone about it using the hash tag #koikoiug.

Side boob is self-explanatory, unless of course you are six.

#KOIKOIUG: IT IS BIGGER THAN ANY ONE OF US. IT TAKES ALL OF US. WHAT IS IT?

An honest, balanced depiction of Uganda. That is what #Koikoiug is supposed to be. That’s what we at Kafunda Kreative want it to be, all three of us so far. But then there is what the cold feet want it to be. “Oh you have no sponsorship they say, you won’t be able to pull it off.” “Oh you have no incentives; people won’t participate if you are not giving them something.”

It has been a scary couple of months trying to make #koikoiug work. Countless meetings, postponements, waking up in cold sweats, prayer, knocking on doors, begging, you name it, we have done it.

Cold feet say, “what if it doesn’t work out, what if no one comes, what if no one participates?” And every day we have pushed on, saying, “ what if they do?” What if Ugandans stand up, get together and minus all the gimmicks and flash put 1 million photos of Uganda out on the internet? What if we tell 1 million stories? What if Ugandans shout out Koikoi? What if we manage to put out Uganda’s first crowd sourced ad? Can we tell a story about this country, our country that will stop the world in its tracks?

That story starts this weekend, Sunday September 13th, as we do an Instawalk around Kampala, starting at the KCCA Katale and ending at the Gadhafi mosque capturing the pulsating urban culture of our countries capital. After which, all through to the 20th of November, we shall have a weekly photo challenge with themes like Landmarks, Independence, Innovation, Night out, Proudly East African and so many more. And at the end of those 10 weeks, all this will put into a series of ads reminding the world, that Uganda is still The Pearl of Africa.

How do you get involved? Well, show up for the Instawalk this weekend. Be a part of the 10 week photo challenge. If you are a business, get in touch, give something, support the team that’s doing this. Otherwise spread the word, share this blog post. Follow Kafunda Kreative on twitter, facebook and Instagram, and share the weeks themes, tell a friend, whatever you can do, do it. Just don’t sit it out.

An honest, balanced depiction of Uganda, for Uganda, by Ugandans. We cannot do that without Ugandans. We cannot do it without you.

WHATS BLUE, DOESN’T EXIST, AND COMES ONCE A WEEK TO TORMENT US?

I have the coolest job in the world, or so I think. I don’t have to be in the office at 8 am and that means I can sleep in, I work four hours a day and I can wear shorts and flip flops on a Monday. I should be the last person to complain about the blues.  (ok, save for mattress tester who is literally paid to sleep. Yes, mattress tester is a real job) Everything should be rosy, but it isn’t. Like the majority of people, I dread Mondays, and the funny thing is, like the majority of people, I do not know why. Do you know why you hate Mondays? Oh, you are some sort of super human who doesn’t succumb to the whims and desires of us mere mortals? My bad! When you think about it, there is no reason to hate Mondays, unless you hate you job, and in that case the problem isn’t with Monday but is with your current employ. Also when you think about it, succumb is such a funny word, sounds very made up. Like more made up than other made up English words. I know, it is one of those ones you want to say over and over again. Succumb! Succumb! Okay, now its no longer just in your head, you are now vocalizing, and in comes that dumb childish grin, and wait for it, the full on chuckle. Stop it, people might actually think you are crazy.

Sad thing about the world though, is we don’t find the belief in the existence of Monday blues crazy. The belief in the existence of some imaginary nemesis, with a cloak made out of paper work whose sole purpose is to make the beginning of the week suck. How is that not crazy? We encourage imaginary friends now? Oh! Okay. Like most things, Monday blues are another lie we have sold to ourselves, and not until you stop buying it do you realise how much it affects you way of life.

Yes, you guessed right. I am going to switch up this nicely crafted tale about the blues and make it about KoiKoiug, because that was always the plan; to draw you in with some almost funny commentary on blues and then bam!!!! Koikoiug.

We are what we believe. And those beliefs affect how we see the world and inherently our quality of life too. If Monday blues are your beliefs about Mondays, then your start of the week is going to suck. Now this doesn’t mean that shitty stuff doesn’t happen on Mondays, it sure does., but the blues ensure we stay with that pants down, toilet like feeling even when there is nothing toilet like happening. Same thing about country. Are you having the blues for your country; A persistent toilet like feeling about your motherland even when there is nothing toilet like happening? What do you believe? Koikoi!!!

PS: A couple of friends and I (@kafundakreative) are wondering why blue? Shouldn’t they have been Monday greys? Coz blue is such a nice, calming color.  Follow us on Facebook, twitter and Instagram to start a petition to change that. Also there is another petition to do something about that toilet feeling we have towards out country called #Koikoiug, we hope you sign up.

I hope you read that in an Obama voice, because then it sounds cooler and exponentially more inspiring. Ok bye.

#KOIKOIUG: THE PEARL OF AFRICA

“How does your program highlight the plight of the women? How can your initiative be used by the youth to discuss issues affecting them? “Questions like this are the daily bread of interviews, and honestly it gets tiring to hear them over and over and over again. Now this is not because we are insensitive to the plight, we are very much are aware of the sick, the poor, the ailing systems and infrastructure you name it, we live with it every day, but from taking a moment to stop and take it all in, we realise, that maybe without knowing, the plight has begun to define us. Has that become all we see when we look at our country? Think about it for a second, isn’t one of the problems with this, our Pearl of Africa, our vantage point? Do we hurry to point out what is wrong, but are hesitant to acknowledge when things are right?

Come on a journey with us will you, to the year 1908. Tribes were at war with one another, men were being traded for salt and mirrors, communication took days, roads networks barely existent, hospitals a dream, education for the lucky few, and yet during this time Uganda was baptised the Pearl of Africa. There have been many theories as to why Churchill called Uganda the pearl, but let me give you mine.

Have you ever researched on how a pearl is made? It’s fascinating really. When a foreign object like a grain of sand makes it way through the shells of an oyster, in order to protect itself, it builds a mass around it, which mass becomes the pearl. That is the short version really but you see how magnificent this is, don’t you? From the ‘plight’ of the oyster comes the pearl.

Churchill looked at Uganda, he looked at the sickness, the pain, the war, but he also looked at the magnificent scenery, the beautiful culture in our 50 plus tribes, the wildlife, and despite he saw the mass, the beautiful mass that formed around the plight and decided to call us the Pearl of Africa. What could change if we looked at our country the way he did?

The oyster build a large beauty, a pearl, around a grain of sand. We seem to have built a large grain of sand around our pearl. If we chose to “protect”( read show the world) our pearl, wouldn’t we attract more tourists, better investors and thus create more jobs and more stability? If we chose to tell the full story, how many minds could we change, how many stereotypes could we break?  Isn’t the root of our problem, our vantage point?

That’s is the riddle that needs to be solved. Koikoi.