Saturday, November 19, 2011

Guide to Kampala

A guest post by a visitor to the exotic land of Museveni and Matoke!

There are several airlines flying daily to Entebbe (the international airport is an hour’s drive from Kampala) and these include Fly540 and Kenya Airways which cost about $250 and $300 respectively for a round trip. There is also Air Uganda which just celebrated its fourth anniversary this month.

Getting There: Entebbe Airport was fantastic, well organized, manned, signed, and even though we landed at midnight, it put JKIA to shame. The best thing I like about it was that there were no forms to fill!. The taxi was $35, but I think we got taken for a "ride" - we were approached by the official airport taxi guy and shown those rates, but were sat in another taxi and he didn't even give us a receipt! Maybe we were easy targets as the last people leaving the airport that night.

Getting Around: Most locals walk and take matatus and boda bodas. Boda bodas are popular because the traffic is so horrendous. We got around in a car provided by our clients, and our driver was the owner of a car hire company that our clients use often. He drove a Rav4 and said it costs about 60,000 Ugandan shillings per day to rent, which is about $25. I'm guessing this does not include the cost of fuel.

Kampala was very secure, I walked around in the evenings too , and there were army and police guards everywhere. However, many have really bad attitudes and are clearly on power trips. Also, I didn't venture into the kind of places that might be more prone to crime.

Hotels: Serena was overbooked and bumped us! So we paid $150 at Imperial Royale for a single B&B, which is just behind Serena. The hotel was nice, spacious and clean, but they didn't have hand towels which was weird. I didn't have time to shop around and ask about other hotel rates. There were a few power cuts everyday I was there, but I didn't pay attention because I was in places where they had generators.

Communications: I roamed with my Safaricom (linked to MTN Uganda), and the reception was terrible. Incoming text messages came in days late and I went hours with no reception at all. My colleague got a local number while he was there and it wasn't better at all. I'm not sure about costs. Internet speeds at the hotel we stayed at and at the offices and even with a 3G Orange SIM card in an iPad were slow.

I used English because I mostly interacted with professionals, but I took a small taxi and the driver spoke to me in Swahili. The local English newspaper was a joke! - clearly censored heavily by Museveni's cronies and full of shallow stories.

Bars & Restaurants: The local dish is MATOKE, MATOKE, MATOKE! People eat Matoke for all 3 meals! There is a dish called Luwombo Lumbwana (I think) that is delicious - it is chicken, fish, or beef wrapped in Matoke leaves (surprise, surprise!) and slow cooked with groundnut sauce. The groundnut sauce is also served with most meals and it quite delicious and healthy. I didn't have the opportunity to drink a beer.

I was surprised that they spoke a lot about Museveni. Most people complain about the kind of things we complain about (in Kenya) - roads, corruption and unemployment. However, I think Ugandans are tired of fighting and war, so although they complain, they have resigned themselves to the fate exerted by the rich and powerful. This might explain why Uganda didn't join the Arab uprisings wave after Museveni stole the election.

Sight-SeeingI think Gorilla trekking is getting popular. There is a small hotel called Casia Lodge that someone recommended highly, as a gorgeous place. It's alright and the view is nice, not stunning. Kampala is a green city and the lake is huge, so all the fixings of a nice view, I guess.

Biggest Surprise: Sooooo....there is an interesting place called Honey's Pub near Pride Theater, if I remember correctly. Now, I don't know how to even begin describing what I saw there! Some Ugandan tribes have girls who, from an early age, certain parts of their bodies are stretched. A lot. More than you can imagine. I'm not talking about breasts. It was freaky! So many of them become exotic dancers (which you and I both know is just a euphemism for "strippers"). It was definitely something a lot of businessmen, especially from Europe, were keen on seeing and were floored by!

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