Uganda-Kampala Area and Ugandan Wildlife-Part 1


Uganda-Kampala area and the Ugandan Wildlife

Part 1

Africa is a continent that always held intrigue for me. We had visited Morocco few years back but that is a different Africa. I have always been waiting to see Sub-Saharan Africa, and the opportunity came last Xmas holidays when we decided to visit my daughter who is working in Kampala, Uganda. We spent a couple of weeks in the Kampala area and then for Christmas and New Year we all headed down south to Cape Town, South Africa. This was another destination I dreamed to go as I had worked heavily with the Anti-Apartheid movement in New York. As the days approached, I was very excited to experience this new and unique adventure into Africa’s cultures and foods.


Sunset on the River Nile

Uganda, unlike Kenya, did not experience much western colonization. After Idi Amin’s reign of terror and dark years, the Uganda government under Museveni has been trying to build its economy and promote international tourism and business with its many game parks and local culture and arts. It has numerous national parks and game reserves, and is source of the Nile River, the longest river in the world, which drains from lake Victoria, Africa’s largest lake, lying mainly in Tanzania and Uganda and bordering on Kenya.


River Nile at Murchison Falls

Uganda’s towering mountains, rolling hills, diverse wildlife reserves and the world’s best bird watching destinations attract many tourists from around the world. But like it’s neighbors, Uganda suffers from overpopulation (about 32 million with a 3.6% annual growth rate), with deforestation and erosion. There has been poaching in its game parks and the discovery of oil has resulted in oil drilling in game parks such as Murchison Falls National Park and Queen Elizabeth National Park. The oil industry


Typical village home in Uganda

Uganda’s population belong to more than 130 tribes, mostly Bantu speaking –the Baganda (17%), Banyankole (9.5%), Basoga (8.5%), and Bagisu (4.6%). Others are Lango (6%), Acholi (4.7%), and those related to the Masai such as the Iteso (6.4%) and the Karamojong (cattle herders, 2%). Asians are about 1% of the population (many left during Idi Amin’s reign). 85% of the people are Christians, while Muslims comprise 12%. Hindus and Bagandans who practice Judaism (Abayudayas) live around Mbale area in eastern Uganda, are the minorities herery reaffirms that they are doing a ‘sustainable drilling’ but locals and environmentalists are not sure that is possible.


Kampala with mosque in background

We arrived in Entebbe (nearest airport to Kampala) via Addis Ababa. Once the capital during the British rule, it is located on the shores of Lake Victoria. It has a more relaxed pace of life than Kampala, with less traffic and better roadways. Geeta’s boyfriend, John picked us up from Entebbe airport and drove to Kampala, going through small towns and congested traffic along roughly paved roads, and trying to escape the many potholes for a bumpy ride. And he took a shortcut through the shantytown area where many Kampalans live as housing is expensive.


Squatter area of Kampala

Riding in my daughter’s large safari jeep felt like I was driving through a safari. With the increase in traffic, Kampala has not created well-developed roads or proper traffic lights to control the chaotic traffic. Locals were walking close along the moving and the boda-bodas (motorcycle taxis) were weaving in and out through the traffic. It felt familiar for me as I felt I was driving in rural India! Finally, we arrived at my daughter’s home, set in a peaceful environment of tropical shrubs and plants with colorful flowers, and birds chirping.After relaxing for couple of days, we drove to Entebbe to take a hike through the Botanical Gardens, walking by some interesting local trees though their signs were missing. So we hired a guide for this hike as we passed by the Frankincense, Musanga umbrella tree (has mouse skin pods), mahogany, cocoa tree, Trumpet flower tree (with its beautiful reddish orange flowers), Cola nut tree, camphor tree, cinnamon tree, and Mazila tree (its bark is boiled and taken when one has a stomach ache).


Colobus monkey, Botanical garden, Entebbe

We also came across a couple of grey parrots, which live on fruits and migrate in packs, and many other birds. We came to its rainforest area where Tarzan movies were made. The crocodile tree, a four hundred year old tree fascinated me with its huge crocodile like-roots above the ground. There were several huge termite mounds ( a common feature throughout Uganda) through the park.Some children from a nearby village walked by, carrying big loads of firewood on their heads.

020There were also many monkeys clustered in groups roaming near us –the black and white colobus monkey with its black fur and long white mantle, and the vervet monkey with a black face and grey body hair. Both are native to Africa. We came across some berries that the locals use to color their lips red…an inexpensive lipstick! Among these berries I spotted a vine full of fiery red bird peppers.

Kampala, known as the ‘city of 7 hills’, has a rolling topography with its city center located on Nakasero Hill. It has nice weather because of its location in higher altitude.


Kampala town

It is not an easy place to walk around with the heavy traffic and motorcyclists everywhere. Locals sit at the back of the boda -boda drivers who drive crazily.


Boda-bodas waiting for customers

So to be safe we hired a car for the day to see Kampala. I was interested in seeing the main fresh market (Nakasero market) and some local points of interest. As we entered south of the city center towards Nakasero market, the busy uncontrolled traffic engulfed us again, with shoppers, hawkers, taxis, hustlers and make shift stalls. Boda-bodas were the main means of transport here and we had to be very careful walking or crossing the street anywhere, to avoid getting hit by some careless drivers.We saw many men selling pineapples on the back of their boda-bodas, bicycles and on a heap, on the ground.


Nakasero Market

We passed these and walked to the outside of the Nakasero market. It was a wonderful sight with women in colorful attire and beautiful headwear surrounded by a variety of fruits and each one calling out to buy theirs. I bought some ginger and garlic, and pineapple and small bananas. As we passed by a few baskets, I thought I saw the contents moving! I went closer and was told they were seasoned yograsshoppers and white ants! Encouraged by a vendor who said they were local snacks, I was tempted to try them. But instead we headed inside…to an amazing sight of colorful vegetables, tubers and leafy greens. We walked all over taking photos and a couple of women actually wanted their photos taken!


Nakasero Market

Different sizes and colors of eggplants, okra, bitter gourds, carrots, tomatoes, bell peppers and a variety of greens were on display. Many approached to buy their vanilla pods as they are a prized item here. As we walked towards the back, there were baskets of red and green chilies, spring onion, coriander leaves, parsley, fenugreek leaves (called by their
Indian name methi) and other herbs.  As a vendor was approaching me to buy his methi, I was shocked to see curry leaves in a basket! He said Indians come to him to buy his curry leaves and fenugreek leaves.304Then I saw a basket of green, yellow and orange habaneros! I didn’t realize locals ate these fiery peppers.


The Hindu Temple

We left the market and walked by the Hindu Temple with its decorative towers. It is used predominantly by North Indians. We went into the temple and did some prayers. Then we went to the balcony and saw the mosque nearby and another Hindu temple further away.  A few men visiting the temple told me there was a South Indian temple outside Kampala on the way to Entebbe in the Triputi shopping area. Then our driver met us and we drove out of this busy congested area heading north. In the car I caught sight of the beautiful Baha’i temple.As we drove to the upper end of the city center, it was less busy with more controlled traffic and better-paved roads with many restaurants and offices. North of Kampala were many hotels with wide avenues lined with flowering bushes and beautiful homes, embassies, government offices and international aid groups. The old Kampala lies west of the city center where the large National Mosque is and further out, the Catholic and Protestant cathedrals and the Makerere University. The Ugandan museum is towards the east. Unfortunately it was closed at that time so we drove to south of city center and passed by the Kibuli Mosque towards Kabalagala and Tank Hill where there are many restaurants, cafes and bars.

Next day after breakfast we walked towards the fun filled Kabalagala area again as it was close to my daughter’s home, to watch the people , see the shops and experience the chaotic traffic by walking. We walked by few vendors along the roadside preparing “Rolex”. A Swiss watch? No…but a chappati rolled with scrambled egg, and often with cabbage, onions and tomatoes. For a higher price, the vendor adds minced meat, and more vegetables. Then the chappati is rolled around a newspaper.1955aPopular all over Uganda, the Rolex was introduced in 2003 and became very popular, especially with students. It is an inexpensive meal for budget travelers as well. Ugandans call it their national snack without attributing the chappati to its Indian origins. Its name comes from the rolled omelet inside it.

There are a few Ethiopian restaurants in this area and I was ready for one! We went for a late lunch at the Ethiopian Village which had a nice thatched-roof huts in a garden setting. Service at restaurants in Kampala area is rather slow and so don’t go to eat when you are real hungry!


Enjoying an Ethiopian meal


Ethiopian lunch

Ugandan cuisine has European, Indian and Arabic influences but there is a strong Indian influence with curries, samosas, chappatis and chai masala as part of a Ugandan meal. The local staples are tubers which are generally steamed or boiled. Matoke (green bananas) is the popular local staple, sold everywhere–markets, back of bicycles and piled high on the ground.

1933aIt is generally cooked, mashed and steamed in banana leaves, posho (made from maize flour), millet and cassava bread, steamed sweet potatoes, yams, young pumpkins, and beans are popular foods.

The wealthy include rice and white potatoes in their meals. Groundnuts (or peanuts) abound and are served with matoke or taken as snacks. Fried or roast chicken is also very popular. I was so surprised to see the small baby dried anchovies that Malaysians call ikan bilis and which are popularly eaten here, smoked and or ground into flour to flavor greens, tubers and beans.

Foods are sparsely seasoned using salt and pepper. There are ready made seasoning mixes and masala mixes for chicken, beef and vegetables. The popular local seasonings are made by American, European and local companies that contain MSG, other additives and fillers and that are manufactured inexpensively.


Typical Ugandan meal


Typical condiments

A simple meal is served with a tuber such as matoke (green banana boiled and mashed) and or posho (maize flour also called ugali), cooked with water to a porridge- or dough-like consistency and served with a stew or sauce of groundnuts (or peanuts), beans, cabbage and carrots, kale or meat (generally beef and goat), chicken or fish. Leafy greens are popular-kale, amaranth, eggplant leaves, cowpea leaves and many others, along with bamboo shoots.256Fruits abound-pineapple, mango, banana that are taken as snacks or desserts. Sim-sim (or roasted sesame seeds and paste), used particularly in the north, is served as a condiment or mixed into a stew of beans or greens, and used as cooking oil. Locals love their locally brewed beer along with sodas and fermented alcoholic drinks and beer from local staples such as banana, sorghum, and millet.

There are quite a few International restaurants in Kampala including Indian, Italian, Turkish, Chinese, Ethiopian, French, Persian, Thai and Korean though their quality is mediocre. The trend for cafes keeps growing in Kampala and fast food places serving peri–peri chicken, samosas, fried chicken, sausages, fish and chips and pizza, abound. There is a growing trend with Irish pubs. And at many towns and stops along major roads, vendors serve ‘chicken in your face’, which are cooked chicken, beef and liver on sticks (skewered-like).

270When your car stops at these joints, men and women rush up to your car, right up your window, holding the skewers inches from your face, trying to sell them.

Thus the term ‘chicken in your face” came about, a term I was told, was coined by the westerners. The first time this happened to us was when we were returning from the Haven lodge at the source of the Nile and we stopped at a little outdoor market to take some photos and experienced ‘chicken in your face’. It was not one or two sellers but a multitude of them leaning against the car on all sides with their goodies until the driver bought few sticks of beef for himself. This scene was a little intimidating for me. Another popular fast food is the slow- roasted seasoned chicken on a spit which is shredded and mixed with a salad of shredded cabbage, carrot, sliced tomatoes and onion, cilantro, and pieces of avocado, dressed with lime juice. It is then wrapped inside a chappati.

The next day we decided to scout some art galleries and handicraft centers in Kampala.We found a few small art galleries not far from each other, Tulifanya gallery, Afriart and Mish Mash. The first art gallery had ceramics and jewelry and other handicrafts along with paintings.

273aAt the second art gallery, we met an artist who was promoting his art and which made our visit even more interesting. His vibrant art depicted all about the daily life of his people especially in the squatter section of Kampala and people on boda-bodas.

He said he actually stayed in a squatter for a while to create his paintings of them. It was lunchtime and we went to Mish Mash, a café and art gallery. The back of this place looks very artsy and colorful but since some construction work was going on here we sat out in the front garden. We ordered sandwiches and juice. Many local and foreign workers and tourists have lunch here. It has a craftstore and a few small art galleries which we checked out after lunch.


Sugar cane vendor on Kabalagala area

There are many cafes, western style, where westerners (or “muzungus” as they are called locally) who work here and expats, come for business meals or for a Sunday brunch with families and friends, or simply hang out and relax, reading international newspapers and magazines. Many of these cafes serve breakfasts, snacks and offer sandwiches, pizzas, salads, pastas, burgers and fries, ice cream and sweet goods with coffees and teas and selection of their local beers. One Sunday brunch my daughter took us for brunch at such a café. We had egg Florentine and it was tasty with a local twist using local greens and avocado.After brunch we drove to the Banana Boat store at Lugogo mall which had some of my favorite African crafts. We bought some placemats and cushion covers. Then we went to the open crafts market at National Arts and Crafts center, behind National theatre.


Local craft center

There were many stalls with beautifully designed hats, bags, pillows and hangings made from bark cloth (pounded bark of fig tree), basketry, and soap stones and drums. We bought a few souvenirs here too. One evening my daughter and her boyfriend took us to an Indian meal at Haandi. It was a pleasant surprise for me and I enjoyed the meal. Many Ugandans were here as well as foreigners frequented this restaurant. It appears that Indian foods are popular with Ugandans as there has been a history of Indians living here. We also passed a vegetarian South Indian restaurant serving dosas and idlis!

Categories: Africa, Featured, Journeys, Tastes, Traditions, Uganda


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7 Comments on “Uganda-Kampala Area and Ugandan Wildlife-Part 1”

  1. maria mercedes bejarano
    February 10, 2013 at 1:47 pm #

    BRAVO ¡¡¡ GRACIAS ¡¡ Sushee ,reading your post , I want to be there , smell , see and ¡¡taste all that color and food ¡¡ specially the fresh fruits ..
    We’ll do that in Colombia , sometime in our near futures :)))
    Love , maria

  2. rema
    February 10, 2013 at 3:57 pm #

    wow!what a nice way of learning about their
    food,cultures,art ,markets etc.The food is the best.Looks delicious with fusion of Indian ,Arabic .Wish i was there.Love the market stalls and the veggies ,fruits etc.
    Very interesting and exciting.

  3. Carmen
    March 19, 2013 at 6:50 pm #

    Thank you for sharing your adventures of kampala, you make Africa feel accessible. The colors of the foods are amazing , warm and inviting. Wow.

    You are the Rick Steves of Asia and now Africa. Keep traveling and keep sharing your adventures with us.

    • March 20, 2013 at 8:32 pm #

      You are welcome! I am glad you enjoyed reading them as i enjoy sharing my travel experiences.

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