Time travelling in Uganda

Ssese 1There is a generation for whom Goa (circa 1990s) holds a certain reverence – a timeless perception of freedom. The sight of bronzed bodies tattooed with Indian gods bouncing in near hypnotic ecstasy on Goa’s beaches is an image that is engrained onto a generations psyche.

These days are gone though. Today Goa has replaced the hallucinogenics for chilled beers and cocktails. And it is not just the mind altering substances that have changed. So too has the music and perhaps more importantly – the ethos.

The freedom of Goa (circa 1990s) is gone and it is a fool’s game to try and replicate it. It was with hesitance then that I walked into the Hornbill Campsite on the Ssese Islands in Lake Victoria, and my first thought was ‘Goa’.

On first impression, the ‘Goa ethos’ seems alive and well in this run down beachfront campsite.

The German owner sits in a string hammock, his grey hair pulled back into a lose ponytail. He wears ripped jeans and a t-shirt that proclaims the divine nature of cannabis and looks very, well…’Goa’.

Across from the owner a wooden hut’s door swings on its hinges in the afternoon breeze. Inside the hut sits a simple single bed that can be hired for a nominal charge. The outside of the hut is painted with murals of faces that stare out through integrated maps of Africa and are decorated in a psychedelic array of colours.

Ssese 2In the early evening light, the owner’s eyes follow an abundance of wildlife that drifts through the campsite. Birds flitter between tree branches, chickens scratch and peck in the lake-front soil and monkeys rustle in the bushes just behind the bar.

Walking into the Hornbill campsite really does feel like you have time travelled back to Goa circa 1990s.

On closer inspection of this alternative reality though you begin to see that at best, this isolated campsite is a reflection of something that has come and gone.

The hammocks look older than their owner and the murals painted on the wooden shacks are fading in the sunlight.

As the sunsets on this small strip of idyllic beachfront, so what remains of the ‘Goa illusion’ also disappears.

Next door a Justin Timberlake club remix shatters the night’s silence and reminds everyone within the near vicinity that these islands are not just a hippy get away but are also used by a growing group of Ugandan fasionistas.

Sat around the campfire that night, bottles of cheap red wine are passed around between strangers as the conversation meanders over the top of distant music.

Speaking to others sat around the fire it is clear that the Islands get mixed reviews. For some the Ssese Islands are a flashback to an ethos and way of travelling that has come and gone. For others though, this flashback is a faded reflection and the Islands are crying out for new energy, infrastructure and most importantly, investment.

Uganda is not going to be the next Goa, but it has got the most earth shatteringly beautiful Islands perched in middle of one of the biggest lakes in the world that could be the perfect backpackers get away. To utilise this though, something though has to change.

Ssese 3


Filed under Travel, Uganda

2 responses to “Time travelling in Uganda

  1. Awesome.I havent been to Ssese.I have been to Bukakata as I am from Masaka.


  2. Awesome blog! Cant wait to visit again! #Ssese Islands #VisitUganda


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