Wednesday, December 15, 2010

my clicks..........

through Cairo streets..............

What is this?  No horn-playing in Cairo streets?  Not that you could hear yourself play, anyway.

Let me just say this.  I really like Cairo.  I think there’s an energy about the city that’s a lot of fun.  I love walking along the street while cars whiz by.  I love random people screaming out, “Welcome to Cairo!”  I love the closeness of everything.  And, in the future, I might blog at length about all that.

But after what I’m about to write, you might think I detest the city.  You’ve been warned …

In our introductory meeting, our tour guide told us that he grew up close to our hotel — about 45 minutes walking distance … or 1.5 hours driving.  No joke.Would YOU want to drive through that?

Traffic in Cairo is a problem.  A big problem.  A few years ago, our guide told us that the government made it much easier to make payments on cars.  All of a sudden, people who previously couldn’t afford cars … well, they took to the streets en masse.  Considering that Cairo’s population is 18 million strong, that’s a lot of cars.

And traffic, as you can imagine, is on the wrong side of chaotic.  A few notes.

• For the most part, there are no lane dividers.  And whatever dividers there are serve as mere suggestions.  Cars routinely straddle two lanes, only taking up one lane when someone honks.

And honk they do.  You know how, in the states, we honk as a last resort?  You’ll almost never go two seconds in Cairo without hearing a honking horn.  It’s constant.

• Get out of the way of an ambulance?  It’s a nice thought, but don’t bet on it.

• Signals and even headlights?  Those are pretty much optional.  You haven’t lived until you’re riding shotgun with no headlights through downtown Cairo with a cabbie on his cell phone.  After dark.

• Tailgating is the rule, not the exception.  I can’t count how many times I said a silent prayer just as the cabbie braked in time to avoid a collision that would send me through the windshield and into the car in front of us.  (Most seat belts didn’t work, so this scenario never seemed implausible.)

• If there’s an opening small enough to putt a golf ball through, you better believe a cabbie will gun for it.  And he’ll probably succeed.

• Every single car has dents, scratches, dings, scuffs, broken bumpers … you name it.  Even the nicer BMWs and Mercades.

• Traffic is so packed throughout much of Cairo, speed limits seem like “ideal world” suggestions.  Traffic is rarely light enough to get through the streets without stopping and starting several times.• The sidewalks in Cairo are very crowded.  Because their shops are small and without air conditioning, many shopkeepers pull up a chair on the sidewalk and chill in the shade.  So the sidewalks can be quite cumbersome.So mostly, as demonstrated in the above photo, you walk in the street.  You stay close to the parked cars (and sometimes, there are two lanes of parked cars), and if you veer too far into the street, a car will honk its horn at you as it passes.

• Traffic signals?  What are traffic signals?  Cars don’t pay attention to them; neither do pedestrians.  I asked our guide how to make sense of lights and signals.  He said, “Do me a favor.  If you can cross, cross.”

Many times, this means walking out while cars are still whizzing by.  Sometimes you walk out far enough to let a car go behind you, and you stop to let another car go in front of you.Yes, standing in the middle of the street as cars fly by at speeds of up to 40 mph is a sensible solution.  Sometimes, on busy streets, it’s the only solution to get from one side to the other.

• One final story about Cairo traffic.  Coming back from the mall on one of our final nights, a cabbie cut off a bus to pass another bus in our lane.  I looked back at the crew in the back seat, and figuring the cabbie knew no English (most of them didn’t), I said, “I hate you guys so much” for making me sit up front.  I mean, I didn’t want a front row seat for the carnage and chaos of Cairo traffic.

But the cabbie laughed and said, “You need this?,” pointing to his seat belt.  “It actually works?” I asked.  “It never works!”  He laughed as I put it on.  He waved his hand and arm back and forth above the steering wheel, saying, “Cairo traffic is like a cobra.”  The point was, you have to slither back and forth, in and out of traffic, just to get through.  What a pleasant thought!

Friday, December 3, 2010

Buhoma: There are plenty of guesthouses around for all the budgets, but don't expect any very good deals, as to me they all seem overpriced.
There are a few day hikes that you can do in the forest, without going to see the gorillas, and one of the nicest one is a trip to the waterfalls.
Anyhow, the small village is full of handicraft shops and there are a few cheap restaurants that cater to guides and locals, so if you watch your wallet, just ask around or watch where the guides go to eat, as those places don't have a name/sign :)
There is a nice cafe shop that sells some simple pastries as well with some of the proceedings that go to the local pygmies tribe. They can organize some tours around the area, including a visit to a pygmies village. 
I've chosen NOT to visit any of those places in Uganda for personal reasons, but some people might like the feeling of a "human zoo". 

I walked to Buhoma from Nkuringo, but getting out of here proved to be quite an experience :)
My plan was to go through Queen Elizabeth Park(all the way to Kasese), without paying the park fee and maybe to see some animals.
On the map you can see a road that goes almost diagonal through most of the park, so it made sense to try it!

First step was to get to Kihihi, which can be done by hiring a private car, or by boda-boda. I c housed the later, as the car was too expensive, and I must say that it was one of the most memorable experiences in Uganda.
I had almost a 10 min discussion on the previous night with the boda-boda driver about how he should drive, so in the morning I had no trouble getting on the road very early(6am). The road he took, on portions, was not suitable for cars so this made the whole trip even more interesting:)
I won't get in to more details, but after 2 hours were safe and sound in Kihihi, where a shared taxi was waiting(you must get there quite early as there are NOT many cars during the day!!!) for passengers to go to Kasese.
For those that have used shared taxis for long distance, this is not news, but they cram about 10 people in a car that can take only 5: don't ask HOW, but somehow they do it!
I had to pay double(around 20000) so I can have the front seat for myself.

Passing through QEP on this road proved to be worth it, as I saw a lion crossing the road, quite a few elephants and some impala. The road is quite bad and dusty, so expect to be totally covered in dust at the end of the 2h drive!

Rwenzori mountains: I went from Kasese, without stopping at all in the city, to Nyakalengija, at the foot of the mountains. You first must go to Ibanda, using the usual matatus.
I stayed at one of the nicest places in my trip: Ruboni Community Campsite, in a very nice banda for 25000(they have cheaper options, but the bandas are quite nice!!).
The guesthouse benefits the local community and they can organize guides for some short walks around the area, without entering into the park. The views from the restaurant(a bit overpriced and not that good, so bring some food with you!) area or even higher, from the tent area, are quite stunning!
The park entrance is quite $steep$, and it was not in my budget, so I've skipped this time, but the day-hike I did on top of the local hills was well worth it and cheap: 15000. Try to convince the guide(for some extra $ , of course) to take you back along the park border, combining your hike with another walk they have on the normal "menu". It might a long day, but it is worth it, as you can see the very nice chameleons they have there!

Crater lakes: I've planned to stay in Fort Portal area for a few days, and the Crater Lakes fit the bill for some relaxing time.
I've stayed at Lake Nkuruba Nature Reserve Community Campsite and I have to reckon that I had only good time there:)
You could rent mountain bikes to explore all the lakes around(allow around 8h for this, if you plan to go all the way to lake Kasenda) or you can get a guide for some local hikes. The food is quite good but you have to order a few hours before. The lake itself is very nice and bilharzia-free(at the time of my visit) and the monkeys that are all around make the place feel quite surreal!

The bike ride around the other lakes is highly recommend it, as you get to see some simple villages along the way, that are not spoiled by tourists, and at the end of it(Lake Kasenda-Ruigo Beach) it is quite a nice place to recharge your batteries! You don't need a guide for this, just follow the road and ask the locals if you get lost:)

My original plan to go to Murchison falls didn't work, as the only budget place in the park (Redhotchilli Campsite) was full for the next 2 weeks or so. From Fort Portal I went directly to Jinja, without staying in town at all, as I am not fan of developed towns...

Jinja: I stayed there for 1 day and I can say that the place crawled with muzungus. The town itself is nothing to talk about it, although there is very good coffee,pastries and indian food!

Hairy Lemon: reading the LP review of the place I though to give it a try, as it is quite a short matatu ride from Jinja.
The place is very well run, with a lot of options for sleeping, but be warned that is overrun by white-water kayakers! 
This place seems to be on everyone's best top 5 places to kayak in the world! I've met people that spent 1 month in this place, doing only kayaking and nothing else; seeing nothing else in Uganda but this place and Bujangali Falls. 

Bujangali Falls: I've relaxed here for 4 days, recovering from a small injury, and the place has a good vibe but it is probably the most touristy place in Uganda.
There is enough stuff going around to keep you busy for a few days, and anyway, Jinja is 15 min. drive away.
The whiter-rafting on the Nile proved to be amazing(although highly overpriced for Uganda), specially that I've done it in a double kayak! 

Eden Rock Resort has tons of options for sleep, and it seems to be quieter than Explorers Campsite, although it doesn't have the nice views...
You can grab good food(very cheap pancake stuff outside the park gates) at quite a few places around but one special mention needs to made about Nile Porch's restaurant: they have very good wine by the glass!

Sipi Falls: My last place in Uganda, before crossing the border in Kenya, proved to be quite spectacular!
A matatu or shared taxi can take you quite fast from Mbale to Sipi, just mention to the driver which lodge you want.
There are plenty of nice places to stay in Sipi, and I've chosen one that usually was not on my budget range before: Lacam Lodge. Their 3 bed dorm was 50000, including full board, and they had probably the best food from my whole trip!
At the time of my arrival and during my stay I had the whole dorm for myself, but in the high season this is not the case and prices might rise! 
The whole lodge area is quite nicely landscaped and they have an amazing view of the main waterfall. Being away from the main road and not catering to rowdy teenagers gives you an incredible night-sleep!
You can do a couple of trips around the area, with one of the most popular being the 3-water hike. Just ask at any lodge about a guide and haggle hard about the price, as they tend to overcharge you! 

This was my last place I've visited in Uganda and I must say that I've ended the trip on quite high note: Sipi Falls and Lacam Lodge rule! 

From Sipi Falls, back to Mbale and then onto Malaba is quite simple to find transport. The border crossing is very simple and should be uneventful. 

Safe travels everyone!


The Baganda are the largest ethnic group in Uganda and comprise approximately 18% of the population. Individual ethnic groups in the southwest include the Banyankole and Bahima, 10%; the Bakiga, 8%; the Banyarwanda, 6%; the Bunyoro, 3%; and the Batoro, 3%. Residents of the north, largely Nilotic, include the Langi, 6%, and the Acholi, 4%. In the northwest are the Lugbara, 4%, and the Karamojong, 2%, occupy the considerably drier, largely pastoral territory in the northeast. The Basoga, 8%, and the Bagisu, 5%, are among ethnic groups in the east. 

Uganda's population is predominately rural, and its population density highest in the southern regions. Until 1972, Asians constituted the largest nonindigenous ethnic group in Uganda. In that year, the Idi Amin regime expelled 50,000 Asians, who had been engaged in trade, industry, and various professions. In the years since Amin's overthrow in 1979, Asians have slowly returned and now number around 30,000. 

When Arab traders moved inland from their enclaves along the Indian Ocean coast of East Africa and reached the interior of Uganda in the 1830s, they found several African kingdoms with well-developed political institutions dating back several centuries. These traders were followed in the 1860s by British explorers searching for the source of the Nile River. Protestant missionaries entered the country in 1877, followed by Catholic missionaries in 1879.

In 1888, control of the emerging British "sphere of interest" in East Africa was assigned by royal charter to the Imperial British East Africa Company, an arrangement strengthened in 1890 by an Anglo-German agreement confirming British dominance over Kenya and Uganda. In 1894, the Kingdom of Buganda was placed under a formal British protectorate.

Britain granted internal self-government to Uganda in 1961, with the first elections held on March 1, 1961. Benedicto Kiwanuka of the Democratic Party became the first Chief Minister. Uganda maintained its Commonwealth membership. A second round of elections in April 1962 elected members to a new National Assembly. Milton Obote, leader of the majority coalition in the National Assembly, became prime minister and led Uganda to formal independence on October 9, 1962.

In succeeding years, supporters of a centralized state vied with those in favor of a loose federation and a strong role for tribally-based local kingdoms. Political maneuvering climaxed in February 1966, when Prime Minister Milton Obote suspended the constitution, assumed all government powers, and removed the ceremonial president and vice president. In September 1967, a new constitution proclaimed Uganda a republic, gave the president even greater powers, and abolished the traditional kingdoms. On January 25, 1971, Obote's government was ousted in a military coup led by armed forces commander Idi Amin Dada. Amin declared himself president, dissolved the parliament, and amended the constitution to give himself absolute power.

Idi Amin's 8-year rule produced economic decline, social disintegration, and massive human rights violations. The Acholi and Langi ethnic groups were particular objects of Amin's political persecution because they had supported Obote and made up a large part of the army. In 1978, the International Commission of Jurists estimated that more than 100,000 Ugandans had been murdered during Amin's reign of terror; some authorities place the figure much higher.

In October 1978, Tanzanian armed forces repulsed an incursion of Amin's troops into Tanzanian territory. The Tanzanian force, backed by Ugandan exiles, waged a war of liberation against Amin's troops and Libyan soldiers sent to help him. On April 11, 1979, Kampala was captured, and Amin fled with his remaining forces.

After Amin's removal, the Uganda National Liberation Front formed an interim government with Yusuf Lule as president. This government adopted a ministerial system of administration and created a quasi-parliamentary organ known as the National Consultative Commission (NCC). The NCC and the Lule cabinet reflected widely differing political views. In June 1979, following a dispute over the extent of presidential powers, the NCC replaced Lule with Godfrey Binaisa. In a continuing dispute over the powers of the interim presidency, Binaisa was removed in May 1980. Thereafter, Uganda was ruled by a military commission chaired by Paulo Muwanga. December 1980 elections returned the UPC to power under the leadership of President Obote, with Muwanga serving as vice president. Under Obote, the security forces had one of the world's worst human rights records. In their efforts to stamp out an insurgency led by Yoweri Museveni's National Resistance Army (NRA), they laid waste to a substantial section of the country, especially in the Luwero area north of Kampala.

Obote ruled until July 27, 1985, when an army brigade, composed mostly of ethnic Acholi troops and commanded by Lt. Gen. Basilio Olara-Okello, took Kampala and proclaimed a military government. Obote fled to exile in Zambia. The new regime, headed by former defense force commander Gen. Tito Okello (no relation to Lt. Gen. Olara-Okello), opened negotiations with Museveni's insurgent forces and pledged to improve respect for human rights, end tribal rivalry, and conduct free and fair elections. In the meantime, massive human rights violations continued as the Okello government murdered civilians and ravaged the countryside in order to destroy the NRA's support.

Negotiations between the Okello government and the NRA were conducted in Nairobi in the fall of 1985, with Kenyan President Daniel Moi seeking a cease-fire and a coalition government in Uganda. Although agreeing in late 1985 to a cease-fire, the NRA continued fighting, seized Kampala in late January 1986, and assumed control of the country, forcing Okello to flee north into Sudan. Museveni's forces organized a government with Museveni as president and dominated by the political grouping called the National Resistance Movement (NRM or the "Movement").

A referendum was held in March 2000 on whether Uganda should retain the Movement system, with limited operation of political parties, or adopt multi-party politics. Although 70% of voters endorsed retention of the Movement system, the referendum was widely criticized for low voter turnout and unfair restrictions on Movement opponents. Museveni was reelected to a second five-year term in March 2001. Parliamentary elections were held in June 2001, and more than 50% of contested seats were won by newcomers. Movement supporters nevertheless remained in firm control of the legislative branch. Observers believed that the 2001 presidential and parliamentary elections generally reflected the will of the electorate; however, both were marred by serious irregularities, particularly in the period leading up to the elections, such as restrictions on political party activities, incidents of violence, voter intimidation, and fraud.

A Constitutional Review Commission (CRC) issued a report proposing comprehensive constitutional change in December 2003. The government, however, took issue with many CRC recommendations and made counter-proposals in September 2004. A July 2005 national referendum resulted in the adoption of a multiparty system of government and the subsequent inclusion of opposition parties in elections and government.

In February 2006, the country held its first multiparty general elections since President Museveni came to power in 1986. The election generally reflected the will of the people, although serious irregularities occurred. Ruling NRM candidate President Museveni was declared the winner with 59.3% of the vote, giving him a third term in office following the passage of a controversial amendment in June 2005 to eliminate presidential term limits. Opposition FDC leader Kizza Besigye captured 37.4% of the vote, while the remaining contestants received less than 2% of the vote each, according to official figures from the Electoral Commission.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

its raining in kampala