Monday, August 17, 2015

Omwani Training Cafe in Kyambura

The Omwani Training Café is on the outskirts of the mountain village Kyambura, next to Queen Elizabeth Park. Amanda and Matt had been there before, having heard of it because it was the site of a former Peace Corps volunteer. Omwani trains people on how to work at resorts and hotels. Since it’s so near the park and tourism in Uganda is doing pretty well, there are lots of hotels and resorts around.

It was such a treat for us to stay there because we were the only guests, and Peace Corps volunteers get a generous discount: 50% off everything! They have a big, beautiful compound filled with big trees, flowers, and lots of green grass.

We stayed in the house, but you can also camp if you have the gear. They have a compost toilet, solar hot water outdoor shower, basketball court, wood fire pizza oven, and the best coffee in Uganda. It was really great to sit outside in the shade drinking iced coffee (they have ice!) and chatting with friends, while a flock of tiny chicks peeped by with their mother. It’s a peaceful place. 

At dinner time, they brought out the pizza menus for us to choose our toppings. The pizza was delicious, and I was so happy to eat their homemade sun dried tomatoes—yum! The staff there is really great; they made everything special and comfortable for us. They have the perfect mix of giving you space and getting you what you need. After dinner, I took a hot shower under the stars. I didn’t even need the flashlight because the moon was nearly full. 

We could only stay a couple nights, but I would’ve been happy staying for a week, drinking coffee every morning and eating pizza every night, showering under the stars and falling asleep to the sounds of the crickets. It’s a simple, peaceful, and magical place. Looking back on it now, I’m so grateful we got to stay there. I wish we had something like Omwani close to us in Ethiopia. 

Boat Cruise in Queen Elizabeth Park

The journey to the boat cruise from lunch was FULL of elephants! I wanted to stop and take photos and to watch the elephants along the way for so long that the driver was getting worried we’d miss the boat.

Thankfully, we didn’t miss it and were on our way to seeing many animals. There were hippos, water buffalo, elephants, Nile crocodiles, a little, shy bush buck, a stoic pair of eagles, and many other birds. The tour guide was really knowledgeable and good natured, answering questions from even the smallest children on board. One little boy asked, “What’s male?” which I thought was great.

Enough chatter, let’s let the photos speak for themselves.

After the cruise was over, we met back up with our driver to take us back to Omwani. “Did you see elephants?” he asked me. “Yes! You were right!” I answered with a big, happy smile. 

Safari in Queen Elizabeth Park

We chose to do a safari in Queen Elizabeth Park because it was on our way from Fort Portal—and the epic Fourth of July BBQ—to the city where Amanda is living while serving in the Peace Corps.

We stayed at a lovely place in Kyambura, called the Omwani Training Café. A Peace Corps volunteer lived there in the past and it is set up as a place to help train people to work in resorts and hotels. I’ll make another post about it, because it’s a beautiful compound run by very kind people. Plus, they have excellent coffee, which is hard to find in Uganda.

The lady who runs the place set Spencer and me up with a driver to go on a game drive. He came by the night before to work out the details, and the next day we woke up before the sun to go see some wild animals in the bush. After paying the entrance fees at the park’s office, we were off on our safari. I recently learned that safari means “journey” in Swahili, which I think is lovely. Anytime we go somewhere, I want to call it a safari, just for fun.  

Right in the beginning, I spotted some lions overlooking the plain below. We were the first car there and had them all to ourselves. It was a group of females; I think we spotted 4 of them. They were incredible and almost seemed to glow in the early morning light. Soon other cars of early morning safari goers showed up to see them and we were off in search of other animals.

We saw male impalas battling with their horns, baby impala leaping through the grass after their mothers, and warthogs down on their front knees eating away. We saw massive water buffalo with their dopey looks and drooping horns. There was a short glimpse of a water buck as it disappeared in to the bush, and too many birds to count. I noticed some of the birds were the same or close cousins to, some we’d seen in Ethiopia.

The van we had hired for the day had a sun roof so we could stand up and see all the animals without having to look through windows. It was a beautiful morning, but we still hadn’t seen elephants and I really wanted to see elephants.

While at the office paying the park’s entrance fees, we bought tickets for a boat cruise that evening. All the people we’d talked to who had been to Queen Elizabeth Park had recommended it. The driver kept saying, don’t worry, you’ll see lots of elephants in the afternoon on the boat cruise. I was skeptical, but thought he probably knows best since he lives there, so he dropped us off at a resort for lunch where we had made plans to meet up with Amanda and Matt, her boyfriend.

The resort is called Kingfisher LODGE and it is so beautiful. They have sweeping views of the park, a pool, gorgeous landscaping, and the price to go with it! We definitely couldn’t afford to stay the night there, but lunch was doable. We had some food and hung out by the pool for an hour or so, before it was time to get back in the safari van to go to the boat cruise.

Next up from Uganda: the Queen Elizabeth Park boat cruise.

Monday, August 10, 2015

The Fourth of July in Fort Portal

We started our Uganda trip in Fort Portal, a beautiful and clean city in the west. We got to help out with a world map project at a rural school, where Amanda’s friend, Jenna, lives and works. Amanda’s boyfriend Matt did most of the work, but we got to help a bit and celebrate the finish with the students from the school. The kids were so excited to see so many foreigners all at their school and were shy but sweet as they practiced their English with us. I kept having to hold myself back from speaking Amharic to them, which has become second nature, but would’ve been weird in Uganda! 

Spencer’s 30th birthday was the week before, so we celebrated with a yummy chocolate cake at a wonderful little bakery called Sweet Aromas. It’s run by American expats and has coffee that is not Nescafe (rare to find in Uganda) and really delicious treats. I had a couple different kinds of scones, a cheesecake bite (YUM), a few little cookies, and of course a piece of the birthday cake. There was also wifi, which is highly valued by a traveler and/or PCV! 

We planned our trip to be able to celebrate the Fourth of July in Uganda, where there was a big BBQ planned. We stayed at the YES Hostel on the outskirts of town. It is such a beautiful place, with sweeping views of the countryside and clean and comfortable dorm rooms. The “Fourth Portal” BBQ was held at the hostel and they arranged for the hostel staff to make us lunch.

The day started with Amanda teaching yoga out on the lawn. It was my first time taking one of her classes and I have to say (even though I might be biased because she’s my best friend) that her class was amazing. I especially loved when we did dancer pose in pairs. Spencer took some photos and I think everyone looks so lovely and balanced with hands meeting in the middle.

In the afternoon, everyone got their best red, white, and blue on and the party began! We played drinking games, lounged in the shade, talked to so many PCVs about what life and Peace Corps is like in Ethiopia, ate delicious BBQ food, and had a really great time. The Rachels, two besties both named Rachel, planned the whole thing and they really did an amazing job. From making sure everyone had a place to sleep to negotiating the price of the BBQ per person, everything was taken care of. Those two ladies are queens. Thanks Rachel and Rachel!

The next day we left for our next Ugandan adventure: a safari in Queen Elizabeth Park.