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Uganda holiday report

Here is my holiday blog as promised. I’m not going to to into an incredible amount of intricate detail or anything, just a concise report on what I got up to. If you didn’t already know, I visited Uganda from May 23rd to June 7th with Chris. Chris has been before, as his best friend from school, Hrishi, lives out there, and indeed part of the purpose of this visit was to see him.

General Map

This is a general map of the country. During the first week we stayed just west of Jinja (find Kampala, then look west, Jinja is the country’s second city) in a place called Kakira, which is a huge sugar cane plantation owned by the family of Hrishi. During the second week we spent 4 nights in Semliki (look at to the east on the border with the Congo and find the Semliki river, it’s around there), and two nights in Mweya in the Queen Elizabeth National Park (look for Lake George, I’ve no other point of reference).

Map of Uganda

Map of Uganda

Background

Hrishi belongs to the Madhvani family (of Indian origin), which owns the Madhvani Group, the largest company and the largest employer in the country. We stayed in their house which is part of a small wholly owned town on the sugar cane plantation, and is called “Kakira”. The town also houses many of the employees, and the company also provides schooling, healthcare and recreational facilities onsite to every employee. Compared to many occupations in the country, employees of Madhvani Group get an extremely good deal.

The house itself is called JMM Bungalow, JMM after the man who built it (Hrishi’s grandfather Jayant Madhvani), and “bungalow” is a word meaning “executive house” in India, possibly a colonial origin there somewhere. The house has quite a history, as does the family. The Madhvanis were kicked out of the country along with all the other Asian families by Idi Amin when he came to power in 1971, something which only came about because of the death of Jayant Madhvani, who had by then built up the Madhvani Group (originally started by his father) to be an economic powerhouse. This led to some economic uncertainty and instability, and gave the military dictator the chance he needed to seize power. It’s also rumoured that he proposed marriage to Hrishi’s grandmother, to which she refused, thereby exacerbating the situation, but this is unconfirmed.

Amin was eventually kicked out by the Tanzanians around 1979 after 8 years of terrorizing the people of Uganda and democracy was restored to the country. The Madhvanis were invited back in to the country to resume their businesses, which are essential to the economy of Uganda. However, the Tanzanians left their mark, as they ransacked the Madhvani’s houses for anything of value and used them as knocking shops. Presently Uganda has a stable political system and economy, and its temperate climate and fertile soil means that it’s an extremely prosperous country, especially when compared to some other countries in Africa.

Today JMM Bungalow has been restored, although not updated. It’s stuck in the 60s as far as decor goes, and normally this would be abhorrant, but there’s something about this house that makes it perfectly acceptable. Completely retro of course, but because it’s done to a high quality, it’s lasted a long time, and the period styling is consistent throughout, it’s not as if they’ve been updating certain rooms over time and leaving others. I dunno, it somehow “works”.

Week 1: Kakira

We spent the first week in JMM Bungalow and Kakira doing nothing, by design. Both myself and Chris have had a stressful six months and we deliberately did nothing for the whole week. There was a pool, extensive gardens, and 18 house staff to wait on us so it was an easy week. The food was all vegetarian indian fare, which meant of course I was farting my way through most nights, but it was jolly nice nonetheless. In the evenings we’d go to this backpackers campsite just outside Jinja where there was always a group of people our age from the four corners of the world. It had a great view of Bujugali Falls on the river nile, and they sold cheap beer, so we weren’t complaining, especially as we had a driver to cart us back to Kakira when we’d had enough.

The same bunch of people ran a white water rafting activity, which we did on the Wednesday. We went down 18 kilometres of the River Nile in (and out of) rubber dinghies, through grade 5 rapids. Marvellous fun, and the river was so warm too it was amazing. Bit smelly around the edges though, as is common with warm freshwater rivers. And yes, people really do wash their clothes in it, I witnessed it first hand.

Week 2: Safari

During the second week we went on safari, firstly to Semliki Lodge in the Semliki National Park just a couple of miles from the border with the Congo, and then to Mweya in Queen Elizabeth National Park, owned by the Madhvanis. We were going to stay at a third lodge called Ndali in the middle of all that, but we got there and absolutely hated the place, it felt like a cult and we felt remarkably unsafe there, so we immediately left and hot footed it back to Semliki to spend another two nights.

Semliki

This place was amazing, I mean truly amazing. It was at the ends of the earth, quite literally in the middle of nowhere, a good 2.5 hours drive through bumpy mountain roads to the nearest town (Fort Portal). It was a “tented camp”, which sounds awful but was actually very clever. They had 8 thatched huts (amongst the larger communal structures of the same style), under which they had pitched a large tent on top of a solid wooden floor. At the back of each hut was .. get this .. an ensuite bathroom with running water. There was no electricity, the whole lodge was lit using paraffin lamps. There was a bunch of small solar panels which they used to power the fridge, and they had a gas freezer.

This all sounds like roughing it, but nothing could have been further from the truth. In fact, this place was a full board hotel, with a chef and servants and housekeepers, the works. You just didn’t need electricity, or air conditioning, or even windows. Strangely enough however we got a full mobile signal there. The place even had a fully serviced swimming pool, and while I’m still yet to find out how they kept it clean without electricity, it was nonetheless in pristine order.

We went on a couple of safaris from here, one in mid-morning, another in the evening and finally one at the crack of dawn, in which we went looking for chimps in the rain forest. Unfortunately we didn’t see anything very interesting on any of them, but to be honest the “safari” part of staying in Semliki is secondary, the place was a paradise and we spent most of our time in and around the lodge. I could spend months there, I truly could. Definately one for the list of places to return to. Ironically, one of the owners met Craig last year when he went to Uganda for four months. Small world.

Mweya

This lodge was completely different to Semliki, but by no means comparable. This was the westernized luxury 5 star hotel version of a safari lodge, comfortable in anyone’s books, but you simply couldn’t compare it to Semliki because of the wildly different format. I’d happily spend a week in either place. It was nice to come here to some air conditioning though, as the temperatures on the day of arrival hit 37 degrees C (99 degrees F)! We only spent two nights here, I could have spent a bit longer but we were bound by our flight home. The place was also virtually empty too, so we more or less had the run of the lodge. I’m not sure when peak season is.

The game here however was a lot better than that at Semliki. You’ll see from the photos, we saw more or less everything; lions, elephants, buffalow, hippopotamus, wart hog and dozens of different types of bird. We met up with Hrishi again here (he didn’t come to Semliki because he was working), and drove back to Kakira on the Thursday ready for our flight home early Friday morning.

All in all a splendid holiday/visit. Uganda isn’t for people who want sun, sea, sand and sangria, go to Spain for that. But if you want something a little different, something more adventurous, and if you don’t mind hours of driving over bumpy potholed roads in a 4 wheel drive, then I would recommend it to you. It cost me around £1,500 including pre-holiday vaccinations and Malaria prescriptions (£2.30 a tablet!), but please bear in mind that I had a free week for the first week, so it may well cost you more if you want to go for the same amount of time.

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Make them drive dodgems

BBC News | UK | Plans to charge drivers for jams [Talking Point] – The title is misleading, it should read “Plans to charge drivers per mile on all roads”. Now, I’m an open minded person (most of the time), and I can see how this *might* work. But there are many many issues which are going to make it fail. They propose to scrap the road fund licence, good, but they only plan to cut fuel duty “by between 2p and 12p”. Now, ignoring my general cynicism, that’s more likely to be 2p rather than 12p isn’t it, which means that the overall cost of motoring for everyone is going to go up. Again.

Easing congestion is obviously a good agenda, but the congestion is only there because people have no choice but to be there. There are STILL no viable alternatives (and please, don’t start on about trains, I’ve already covered that), I’ve said this hundreds and hundreds of times, and so have the rest of the damned country, and yet the government just won’t do anything about it. Why? Because they know that if they improve rail services, their revenue from taxes on motoring will plummet.

In addition, just how many drivers do you think are going to accept a nasty black box fixed to their dashboard by the government? That’s right. None. The big brother rammifications of this are tremendous, and from a government that spends all its time simpering over civil liberties, this smacks of hypocrisy. There is no way on earth I am going to let the government know where my car (and therefore probably myself) is at any given time, no way. I’m also not going to let anyone mount an ugly box on the dashboard of a potentially expensive car, that’s something they’ll have to think harder about. A box in the boot, maybe, but that still doesn’t solve the big brother aspects.

Think again, Tony. You’re on the right track, but you need to go away and come up with another idea. With this one, you might aswell give us all dodgems to drive.

I also had to laugh at this one idiot in the talking point, who’s one of those irritating ex-pats who jumped ship and jeer at the UK from their oh-so-much-better home on the continent. He says

I already pay my road tax in Germany – should I pay again in Britain? In which case all UK cars would soon find themselves being charged in the rest of Europe!

Clearly he’s never seen a European road toll booth in his life, which is astonishing considering he lives there. UK motorists do pay road taxes in any EU country they find themselves in, while European drivers come over here and get it all for free, bar perhaps the fuel cost, but even then it’s possible to fill up your juggernaut at Calais and drive to Edinburgh and back without having to even go near a petrol station. What an idiot.

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Brass Eye Special controversy

The controversy over the Brass Eye special is getting out of hand. True, the programme did cross the line, but everyone has missed the point. It was not intended to glorify paedophilia, it was intended to have a go at the media sensationalists that whip up the hype about paedophilia and (for example) cause stupid people to go an attack paediatricians, because they are too ignorant to know the difference between a paediatrician and a paedophile.

The real irony of this show is that it’s provoked just the sort of reaction out of the media which it set out to satirise. The media have played directly into the show’s hands, and I think that’s the funniest thing I’ve seen in a long time. It just proves that the media are completely incapable of seeing past tommorow’s headlines and sensation. Add this to the fact that a lot of the pressure against Channel 4 is coming from the ‘celebrities’ who have been shown up for being unintelligent, self-publicists who are completely out of touch with the modern world. Then the public (the victims of the media) get on their high horses, despite spending the previous 64 days watching intelligence-insulting “reality TV” shows like Big Brother. Exactly how is hours and hours of coverage of the puerile behaviour of ten really quite pretentious, shallow and above all boring people acceptable; while a programme that addresses serious issues (such as the way that paedophilia is handled by the public and media) not acceptable? It’s just another nail in the coffin of any sort of common sense or intelligence in this country. I’ve been saying it all along.

It also had a really good go about how the Internet is mis-perceived and misunderstood by the stupid, simpering liberals that are in control of this country, and in control of the media. The hypocrisy of the people who have written in the newspapers about the programme is amazing, their misunderstanding of the satire is blindingly indicative of their misunderstanding of the issue at all, and it’s quite quite wrong that these people are given a voice. One bloke writing in the Mirror (I believe) actually said “Like most people in the country, I did not see Brass Eye. But this does not disqualify me from having an opinion about Channel 4’s ‘vile spoof documentary’ about paedophilia“. Excuse me?. That’s like Jon Katz from Slashdot openly admitting that he left Jurassic Park 3 twenty minutes into the film, yet somehow he was still qualified to publish an opinionated, misinformed review of the whole film. Unacceptable. Who do these poeple think they are? He goes on to say “And I have a read a full account in the Daily Mail under the headline ‘The sickest TV show ever’“. So, rather than form his own opinions, he’s relying on someone elses. THIS IS HOW RUMOURS AND MISUNDERSTANDINGS START.

I am of sane mind and of course I think that paedohphilia is sick and wrong, but it’s one of those taboo subjects that never gets properly addressed because people don’t like to talk about it, and it’s because people don’t like to talk about it that it’s still allowed to continue. It’s like homosexuality 40 years ago, nobody would talk about it, and as a result people STILL have misconceived ideas about what homosexuality is, what is it synonymous with and how to deal with it. I’m not saying that in 40 years’ time paedophilia will be accepted in the same way that homosexuality is these days, hell no, but there is no room for ignorance in this matter. People need the facts, and the facts are that paedophilia is not “the work of the Internet” or any of the other completely false ideas that the media frequently portrays. The terrible irony of paediatricians (ie. people who help children) being attacked as a result of a media frenzy is illustrative of all this. It’s all wrong, all fucked up.

I say good show Chris Morris. He’s always made me laugh ever since The Day Today. He’s a very very clever man, who is not afraid to confront issues or manipulate those who deserve to be manipulated. If I had a chance to go on the telly and say “Oi, [famous person], you’re a bloody idiot” in a clever, satirical way, I would not hesitate to do so.

At the end of the day, every television set is sold with an OFF button. Perhaps people should learn how to use it.

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