Amsterdam, Minneapolis, Saskatoon, North Battleford (Tuesday, August 5)

Posted in Airport, Amsterdam, Minneapolis, North Battleford, Saskatoon, Travel, Vacation with tags , , , , , , on August 15, 2014 by Amanda

August 5 was a long day. In fact, it was almost literally endless!

Once we arrived in Amsterdam, we got through immigration very quickly. Finding a train into the central of Amsterdam was more confusing though but once on the correct train it was only a 15 minute ride into the city!

We started out by just wandering around. It was fairly quiet early in the morning. Amsterdam is definitely a very attractive city though there was sure a lot of garbage on the streets at that time.

Amsterdam

Amsterdam

Eventually we decided we’d go on a canal cruise (the cheapest one we would find). The cruise was interesting but it was a bit difficult to stay awake. We maybe should have left the cruise for last or not bothered at all as while we were on the boat the streets became insanely busy. If I ever go back to Amsterdam, it wouldn’t be in the middle of the summer! It seemed like everyone there was a tourist.

We wandered around the Red Light District. In the daytime, the windows were largely empty and those few that had women in them were surprisingly fat and the one woman was truly frightening looking; I literally almost screamed when I saw her!

We also eventually found the Amsterdam sign. It was harder to find than we’d anticipated but as it was so busy, it was clear others didn’t have that issue. There were people everywhere!

The sign.

The sign.

I had thought we’d arrived back at the airport at pretty much the perfect time; we were early enough not to be worried but late enough not to have tons of time on our hands but then our plane ended up leaving two hours late. We should have spent more time in Amsterdam!

I was worried that getting on a plane in Minneapolis might be dicey but we made up about half an hour in the air and then immigration was much quicker than I’d expected. They had a new system where Canadians went in the same line as Americans and answered questions on computers and then simply gave the printout (which included a really bad picture) to the customs person. Our flight didn’t leave until 9:50pm and there were planes leaving two hours later but all the stores and restaurants closed at 9pm which seemed really strange to me.

We arrived in Saskatoon just fine and then headed back to North Battleford which we technically reached quite early on August 6.

Kampala, Entebbe, Departure from Uganda (Monday, August 4)

Posted in Airport, Entebbe, Kampala, Monkeys, Travel, Uganda, Vacation with tags , , , , , , on August 15, 2014 by Amanda

We decided that we’d spend much of our final day in Entebbe which seemed like a good idea at the time. After checking out of hotel in Kampala we were able to get a taxi to Entebbe pretty much immediately and at a very good rate (previously negotiated by our guide). This went pretty smoothly though we suddenly stopped about halfway there and had to change vehicles and drivers which seemed rather odd to us.

We were able to store our luggage at a hotel in Entebbe. The luggage storage location was rather exposed but the hotel was pretty dead and everything worked out fine. We had lunch at the hotel and then went for a walk. We soon found a tree that had tons of vervet monkeys in it. While we were watching the monkeys, we encountered a couple we’d went gorilla trekking with (though we didn’t recognize them at first); they had just been at the botanical garden where we had to go but they said it was mostly just trees with very few flowers. We decided we wouldn’t bother visiting the botanical gardens. Instead, we opted to visit a very new, modern mall. It was a bit on the empty side still but it was the kind of place you could find anywhere; it had a KFC, Nakumatt (a Kenyan supermarket that reminded of stores like Lulu Hypermarket or Carrefour in the U.A.E.), and a frozen yogurt place. Then it started to rain a bit which made us not walk nearly as much as we’d anticipated and ultimately we spent a lot more time hanging around the hotel than we’d anticipated though did get to do more vervet monkey watching.

Getting from the hotel to the airport (which really was not far at all) was a lot more expensive than we’d anticipated. Initially they wanted to charge us as much as we’d paid all the way from Kampala! We got the price reduced a bit but it was still more expensive than it should have been. Airport security was annoying. They kept but our bags through the scanner but eventually gave up. Check in was very slow but there was no line (we were quite early).

Rafting on the Nile near Jinja (Sunday, August 3)

Posted in Jinja, Nile River, Rafting, Travel, Uganda, Vacation with tags , , , , , on August 15, 2014 by Amanda

I was pretty excited about going rafting on the Nile near the town of Jinja. Along with gorilla trekking, it was the one activity I had always wanted to be part of my Uganda trip before I really explored all the itinerary options.

A taxi was supposed to come to my hotel at 7am to take me to a rafting pickup point. At 7:10, I gave up on the taxi coming and took a boda-boda (motorcycle taxi) instead. I really would have preferred not to have taken a boda-boda as they kind of scare me but that appeared to be the only way I’d arrive at the pickup point in time. Luckily, the traffic was rather light at that time of the morning and the driver was quite careful to avoid potholes so it wasn’t nearly as bad of ride as it could have been. In the end, I ended up waiting for a while as the van was late to pick me up.

I didn’t see much of the town of Jinja itself, just the outskirts. We met up with others and took a small bus to the rafting starting point. Once on the water, we practiced flipping etc. which I didn’t do the only other time I went rafting.

There were four rapids in the morning and another four rapids in the afternoon. Some of the rapids were pretty far apart, certainly a lot further than I’d expected them to be. I enjoyed the morning of rafting and most of the afternoon. Lunch was surprisingly good.

Until the last rapid, I managed to stay in the raft though not everyone managed that. However, the final rapid ended up being a frightening experience. We flipped over which was certainly not all that unexpected but it ended up being much scarier than I could have ever anticipated as I kept being pushed back under the water. I ended up swallowing quite a bit of water which hopefully won’t have any long-term effects. Usually I find life jackets annoying but I was really glad I was wearing one here! I was one of only two people on the raft who was able to handle on to my paddle throughout.

I was very happy that we had a generally overcast day. I still managed to get sunburned knees though; I think I would have been really sunburned on a very sunny day. I overheard people talking about how badly burned some people who’d went rafting the previous day were. I also ended up with a pretty bad bruise on my arm but it took a while to appear though I could feel that it was coming.

Pictures and videos were available but expensive. Since other people in my raft weren’t interested in splitting the cost, I decided not to buy any pictures. If you look around online, you can find pictures of overturned rafts and such; these should give you a good idea of what I experienced!

Leaving the rafting finishing point, we passed some children who gave us the finger instead of waving; this was the only place in Uganda I encountered anything like that. It was absolutely pouring as I had to transfer from the bus into the van to head back to Kampala and that of course, made me even wetter. I was very glad to be able to get a ride back right to my hotel.

I think I would have regretted not going rafting but I’m not sure I’ll be all that eager to go rafting again any time soon!

Kampala (Saturday, August 2)

Posted in Bwaise, Kampala, Travel, Uganda, Vacation with tags , , , , on August 15, 2014 by Amanda

We went on a city tour. For some bizarre reason, most of Kampala’s major sites are religious in nature. I know Uganda is a very religious country but it was still strange how so many of the sites were religious!

We began by looking at a very large Catholic church called the Rubaga Cathedral. The cemetery there was interesting as it pictures of the deceased on the graves and a few of the graves were tiled which I don’t think I’ve seen anywhere else.

We then headed to a large Church of Uganda (Anglican) church called Namirembe Cathedral. This church was definitely nice than the Catholic one, at least from the outside. We couldn’t see the inside as they were busy having eight weddings that day. The cemetery was larger and had mostly British rather than Ugandan graves.

We then headed to the Bwaise slum. This large slum is known for being dangerous and it probably is not the best place to venture at night but we encountered no difficulties; in fact, the people in general and especially the children were incredibly friendly! One little girl ran up to me and attached herself to me for a while. It was a very interesting place to wander around; I wish we’d had more time to explore. There was a lot of dirty water around with only rickety foot bridges over the water. So, I really wouldn’t want to trip in a lot of places!

Bwaise

Bwaise

We then headed to the Baha’i Temple. It was located on a hill and as parking was at the bottom of the hill, it was a very quiet, peaceful place. There are only a few of this type of Baha’i temple in the world and it is the only one located in Africa.

Then we went to the Namugongo Martyrs’ Shrine. While I don’t mind taking a quick look at a church, our stay at this place was way too long and became very boring. Who cares that a pope sat in a specific chair? I guess part of the problem is that I just can’t comprehend the whole “martyr” concept. Why should someone be respected for deciding to die rather than renounce their religion? They could still believe whatever that wanted to privately. Apparently, this place attracts an insane number of people (around 3 million in recent years) every June 3 and some of these people walk for up to a month to get there. This place isn’t that big; I’m sure a few thousand would seem crowded!

We then went to what looked like a nice, reasonably priced restaurant for lunch. It ended up taking two hours as the food took forever to arrive and I’d only ordered a veggie burger and fries. We ended up having a strange Ugandan lawyer come sit with us uninvited for a while. He was attending a wedding at the museum which was next door. The interesting thing was that this wedding had 800 guests and that is apparently normal in Uganda as some weddings have as many as 3,000 guests!

Then we finally went to the museum much later than we’d anticipated. I think if the whole lunch debacle wasn’t so tiring I’d have found the museum more interesting. Some parts of the museum appeared to be well-organized while others seemed rather haphazard.

Lastly, we headed for the Gaddafi Mosque which is the largest mosque in sub-Saharan Africa. It was very nice though the clothes they made us wear didn’t match at all. Climbing the more than 300 steps to top the minaret was very well worth it as the views of the city from there were amazing!

The minaret

The minaret

Lake Mburo, Entebbe, Kampala (Friday, August 1)

Posted in Airport, Entebbe, Equator, Hyenas, Kampala, Lake Mburo National Park, Shopping, Travel, Uganda, Vacation with tags , , , , , , , , , on August 14, 2014 by Amanda

This was the last official day of our tour and we had the earliest start we’d had in a while.

We saw more of the same animals we’d seen the previous day. We also heard hyenas at the lodge early in the morning but we didn’t actually see them. I think they were the only animal that we wanted to see that we missed seeing!

We crossed the equator again. We saw similar equator signs to the ones we’d seen around Queen Elizabeth National Park but this crossing had a lot of souvenir shops. There were not many other customers though. We were told that this was because we were quite early in the day and most tourists come through later in the day. Who knows if this is true though? There usually seemed to be less tourists than I’d expected throughout Uganda, especially since we were travelling in high-season. I did buy a good chunk of the souvenirs I bought here though I really didn’t buy many souvenirs on this trip.

I tried to take a bunch of pictures of the towns we travelled through while we were moving. A few of these pictures turned out okay; most of them did not. This is not surprising, of course. The towns always had such interesting signs and buildings. I wish we could have stopped in more of them! I also wish I’d gotten a picture of the caskets for sale out along the highway!

On the pictures taken while driving through some unknown town!

On the pictures taken while driving through some unknown town!

We stopped in Entebbe to drop the other two people on the tour off at the airport. There was a pretty big traffic jam approaching the airport. It turned out that there was a police roadblock there and we had to get out of the van without our stuff and walk through a metal detector. I cannot figured out the point of doing that was. Even stranger, the sign telling people they had to surrender their firearms was located after that roadblock! Another stranger thing about the airport, was that you had to take a ticket to enter the airport; so, you couldn’t simply drop someone off without paying.

We then drove back to Kampala where we stayed at the same hotel we’d stayed at prior to the tour; we were even given the same room we’d had before! Our guide had managed to get us quite a good discount this time! The hotel had a lot of things we hadn’t appreciated so much on our first stay: 24 hour electricity, power outlets in the room, a television (though there wasn’t much to watch) and air conditioning.

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