Monday, 31 August 2009

A Luxury Weekend at Jacana Lodge

Jason and I had our first experience of proper Ugandan luxury the other weekend, as we went to a safari lodge in Queen Elizabeth National Park, to celebrate my 30th birthday (I am now officially 'old'!).

Swimming Pool overlooking the Crater Lake

Jacana Lodge is a couple of hour's drive from Mbarara, in the Maramagambo Forest, which is in the southern sector of the park. The lodge is built on the shores of a crater lake, and each of the log cabins has a fantastic view. Everything about Jacana was fantastic: the accommodation, peaceful setting, staff, food, was so different to the hustle and bustle of Mbarara. The first morning we were there, we got woken up by chimpanzees calling to each other, which was an amazing sound. We also saw vervet monkeys in the trees as we were eating our breakfast, very cute indeed.

Our Chalet on Stilts!

Celebrating with a glass of pink fizz

Amazing view from our window

After lounging by the pool all morning, we wandered down to the park's visitors centre in the afternoon to go on a walk with a ranger. Jason wanted to go on a walk to see a bat cave (complete with resident python!), but it was out of bounds due to the possibility of contracting Ebola and Marburg virus from the bats - I have to say I was quite relieved we couldn't go, as I think I would have been slightly freaked out! It was also very unnerving that the visitor's centre was full of American researchers in full 'Outbreak suits', whereas we were just dressed in ordinary clothing with no protection from Ebola whatsoever.

In the end, we opted for a forest walk. We walked all the way around a small crater lake, and managed to see some wildlife, even though it had been raining heavily. We saw red-tailed monkeys, black and white colobus monkeys (which can jump 30 metres between trees!), fish eagles and cormorants. Apparently there is a hippo who lives in the lake, but fortunately we did not run into him (hippos kill more people than crocodiles do). The walk was very pleasant, and took a couple of hours to do. Because it was so damp and dark in the forest, I kept forgetting that I was in Africa - it was very like walking in the Lake District or something (but with monkeys in the trees).

View of the Crater Lakes

Jason had arranged a birthday treat for me when we got back to the lodge - dinner on the 'Captain's Table'. This is a motorised raft that the lodge will hire out to you for cruises, drinks or dinner. Our personal waiter, Lawrence, drove us into the middle of the lake, put down an anchor, and then proceeded to serve us a wonderful three course, candle-lit dinner. It was quite surreal being in the middle of a lake, in the dark, eating dinner - but it was an experience I would definitely recommend.

Beautiful Sunset over the Lake

Dinner on the Captain's Table


Our waiter Lawrence was lovely, although we felt a bit sorry for him at first - it must be really awward being stuck on a raft with 2 tourists! We started talking to him, and had some very interesting conversations about Ugandan traditions.
We told him that my parents are coming to visit over Christmas, and he said that it is not allowed for the bride's family to stay at the son-in-law's house (so, Mum and Dad, I'm afraid you'll have to camp in the garden!). He also said that Jason cannot eat at the same table as my Mum, and cannot really have anything to do with her. On the other hand, whenever I meet Jason's parents I am supposed to kneel down in front of his Dad to show my respect. I am also apparently allowed to sleep in the same bed as Jason's Mum! How bizzarre.... When we got married, Jason's Dad should have really given my Dad anything between 10 and 15 cows as a bride price - if Jason ever wanted to divorce me, he would have to return me to my parents' house along with the cows. Some urban families don't keep cows any more, but they still decide the bride price in 'cows' and then convert it into Ugandan shillings using the current market value for a Friesian cow (apparently they are more valuable than Ankole cows).

Jason and I celebrating my Birthday
with a cake made for us by the chef at Jacana

We were sad to leave Jacana the following day, as it was so peaceful there, and it felt like we were on holiday. We've decided that weekends away are definitely a good idea, and we have a couple of trips planned for the next few weeks. We are going to Lake Mburo this weekend for a VSO cluster meeting, and then we're off to Lake Bunyonyi the following weekend for a relaxing break.

Vervet Monkey in the tree

Amazing multi-coloured Lizard

So peaceful!!

Sunday, 9 August 2009

Plants, Puppies, Golf and a Michelin 2 Star Restaurant

Weeks have gone by since our trip home to the delights of Blighty. It seems that our visit in the brilliant heat wave was followed by weeks of rain, rain and more rain.

Here it is still dry season, although we have been assured that on the 15th August at 4pm it will rain and keep raining. It seems as if the rains have already come to most places apart from our region, and many are thankful as a few people were beginning to struggle.

We have been busy at work, but no Blog-worthy events have really occurred, unless people really are interested in the fact that we re-organised our Server room and Anna has been on the timetable committee for her faculty. She is hoping that the third and final meeting is going to get them somewhere, especially as the promise of “break tea” will kick her colleagues in action (the term starts in a weeks time too).

Out of the office we have been busy, we planted some of our seeds, pictures enclosed of planting and progress. This event kept us happy for a few hours as it was like making mud pies as a child. Unfortunately I don’t think either of us will have careers as garden experts when we finally return home as progress has been quite slow.

You will all be interested to know that our compound nearly turned into a war zone a few weeks ago. This is due to the birth of 8 puppies to a stray dog who was befriended by one of the other people who lives on our compound.

Now as a bit of background, Ugandans do not really keep pets and typically dogs are guard dogs and that is all. Many are scared of dogs, and of course 99% of dogs are not domesticated.

The dog gave birth to her puppies in a storm drain next to one of the Ugandan Doctors houses and proceeded to bark at every Ugandan walking past, day or night. This of course caused a little bit of annoyance and it was threatened that they would get her put down.

As the lady who had befriended the dog was leaving and due to the proximity of the dogs to the compound’s road and other houses, we decided to help in the construction of a little dog kennel near our flats, as two of the other English doctors had taken to the dog as well.

This solution worked for a while, however any Ugandan visiting others in our block of flats was barked at and hassled again and again, we had to rescue people from the stairwell at least twice, which of course was not a nice experience for the recipient of the barking.

Once again this understandably has caused threats of putting the dog down, therefore our neighbours have now tied the dog up so that she can tend to her puppies but does not harass anybody else. Once the puppies are old enough to fend for themselves she will be released and her future is unfortunately in her own hands.

As Mbarara does not have a bowling alley, cinema or theme park, we are typically restricted to swimming, eating at acceptable (?) restaurants and drinking beer.

For a change this weekend we decided a game of golf was in order. Surprisingly Mbarara has a 9 hole golf course, which although some holes are flagless is actually quite good.

Myself (left handed), Anna (a novice golfer), Sofie (another novice golfer) and Meg (having last played 7 years ago) visited the club house to negotiate fees etc. This in itself was an adventure as on arrival we were surrounded by children offering to be our caddies who of course were helpful but we could have had 4 caddies each.

The clubhouse itself was being managed by a lady who did not seem to bothered whether or not we (paying customers) wanted to play golf of not. After a little persuasion and we were informed that the cost would be 5000 Ugandan shillings (UGX) each, however we would have to pay for the bag hire and a caddy, which was fine.

I asked many times if they had any left handed clubs but as this lady only seemed to have enough energy to maybe even fill out a receipt in the next hour or so, we thought it best for us to accept just the right handed clubs offered to us, which we had to hire for 20000 UGX between the four of us, which is not bad seen as we negotiated that we would only pay for two rounds of golf as we would play in pairs due to them only have two golf balls anyway.

After our initial harassment form 1000 “caddies” the young boy who we took as a caddy, was very good and patient, he knew his stuff and told the girls how to swing and hold a club etc. My golf at home is acceptable and I can definitely hit a ball quite nicely, however playing right handed was a struggle, therefore lets just say we were all very evenly matched. It was a pleasant enough round of golf and even though we played a lot of shots and only 5 of the holes as we were all being burnt to a crisp it is something we will do again. Anna and I even won 3 holes to 2.

We were even invited by a Ugandan to the tournament the next day, and offered free beer and goat. He even assured me that they had left handed clubs and we would always be welcome on the course.

Following our round, again I pressed the women on left handed clubs but after taking 30 minutes to calculate the bill for 3 Coca Colas and 2 waters I gave up.

Michelin 2 star restaurant

After our high brow game of golf, we had been invited for tea at Shivauns (another VSO’s house). Of course we know she can cook, but I can categorically say she is the best chef in Uganda by far.

The setting helped the occasion, as her compound overlooks the river and has an outside terrace with a Pizza oven (minus the grill bit to actually make pizzas), so instead I made a fire, which of course is a job no man can refuse.

Home made, Bruschetta with plum tomatoes, aubergine cannelloni stuffed with tomatoes, feta, black olives and garlic followed by home-made coconut ice cream with pineapple and sparklers, you can’t complain about such cuisine in England, never mind in Mbarara.

Good red wine and a laugh, of course finished off the evening especially as our normal special (mini cab driver) was unavailable, so we had to take another guy who is noted for being what the Ugandans call shy, his love of Mariah Carey and the “Arsenal”. This was funny because I don’t think he knows he is shy and proceeds to call all women “sister” in a high pitched voice.

I am sure we will have some more to write next week as I shall be going to Lake Bunyoni on a curriculum workshop with my department and Anna is going to Jinja for a VSO meeting on the Health Project area Plan.