Tag Archives: Travel

Visiting the Lofoten Islands – Norway

lofoten

The Lofoten are arctic islands. They are dramatic in every respect. From the jagged mountains that stretch out of the impossibly blue seas, to the never setting sun, right through to the eye watering prices they ask for their locally crafted ales. Incredibly, everyone I meet on these islands seem oblivious to it all, quietly going out to their work which seems to be mainly farming or fishing.

Maybe because of the never setting sun, but these islands hold a timelessness. The islands support some of the oldest mountains in the world that stand as watchman over every day’s activities. Time ebbs and flows intertwined with just the occasional break for dried fish, homemade waffles or, I’m told, the alarming local specialty –lutefisk!

At any time in the never ending day you can glance up in any direction to see mountain peaks. Often they are lit with unworldly pinks and oranges as the sun roller-coasters through the sky dipping precariously close to the horizon before soaring back up to warm this unlikely mild arctic climate.

As you travel along single track roads every house you pass seems to hold the archetype of the Norwegian Grandmother with the smell of waffles wafting through the air by every open window. Step away and this sweetness sits in juxtaposition to the smell of the sea salt mixed with ever present the potent ever present fishing industry clustered around every port.

The coastline dominates both the industry here and the geography. Wherever you are on these small island it seems you’re always close enough to hear the sea perpetually lapping against the shores. The same back and forth that defined these islands for millions of years that offer a reassuring promise that they will do for a millennium to come.

With waffles seemingly cooked continuously and with the sun refusing to set, the need to distinguish between breakfast, lunch and dinner melts away like the soft, sweet brown cheese that melts into the hearts of the freshly cooked waffles. As a visitor, it’s hard not to melt into this routine of existing.

Despite all this, despite the magnificent mountains, despite the crashing sea that stretches out in every direction, despite the spectacular light that shines a warmth gently onto everything we do, despite all this, everyone I meet seems unaware of it. Or at least, only interested only in making sure we, the visitors, are well fed and enjoying our time here.

Dried fish and wet shores, a warm sun perpetually in a cold sky, such massive mountains on such a small series of islands. In a way this juxtaposition of life, land and beauty makes perfect sense. In many ways little seems to make much sense on Lofoten. The one thing you can say for sure though, is that everything on the Lofoten Islands is dramatic and that if you haven’t already, you should visit.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Photography, Travel

Video: ‘This is Uganda’

There are lots of reasons why I love living in Uganda. Equally, it never ceases to frustrate me the distorted and perpetually negative way Uganda is so often portrayed in my home country of the UK.

It is partly because of this I wanted to share this video I have stumbled across. Not because it encapsulates ‘Uganda’ like the title suggests but because it gives just the smallest of glimpses of some of the many wonders that Uganda holds.

If nothing else I hope that it will entice more people by to come and see for themselves everything this place has to offer.

This is Uganda – 2014 from Anne und Björn Fotografie on Vimeo.

1 Comment

Filed under Travel, Uganda

Hidden Gems Travel Tales – An Anthology

Hidden Gems Travel Tales - An Anthology of Travel Writing EntriesOne of my travel articles has been published in the book “Hidden Gens Travel Tales – An Anthology“.

It will be available for free download on the 5th an 6th October 2013. The rest of the time it will cost £0.77 with all income going to the British Red Cross.

To buy the book click here.

Leave a comment

Filed under Travel, Uganda

Driving in Uganda – fun, but not always easy

Rachel (185)The windscreen started misting up as the sun finally disappeared over the horizon leaving the four of us in pitch darkness. Both the wheels on the right side of the car were in a foot deep ditch. The mud that surrounded the car was comparable only by the amount that was inside the car carried in by feet and hands after an unsuccessful attempt to dig and then push the car free from its ditch.

We were sat a few kilometres inside Kidepo National Park in the north-eastern corner of Uganda. Famed for its packs of lions, buffalo and hippos, we could have chosen better places to have got stuck after dark.

We could also have chosen worse though. We had just completed a 12 hour drive through the remote Karamoja region of Uganda from Sipi (in the very south east) up to Kideop (in the north east). The drive had been beautiful but also, at times, very remote. At least here in the national parks there was Uganda Wildlife Authority staff to help us out.

Over the phone:

“Hi, we are stuck in a ditch, could anyone come and pull us out?”

“Of course”

“Great, thanks. How long will you be?”

“Maybe 2 hours, we have to wait for the river to go down.”

“Oh”.

This was first we had heard of any river. Normally I wouldn’t have balked at a river crossing. Truth be told, I actually quite like them. The problem on this occasion was that the windscreen, after 12 hours a shudders and judders now moved about an inch to the left and right and, significantly, about 1/4 and inch back and forth.  Our short term solution, with the kind help of a chap that called himself a mechanic, was to stuff strips of cut up flipflops between the dashboard and the windscreen.

I can tell you now, this is/was a less than adequate solution. When splashed going through puddles, pools of water seeped in to the car. As such the foot wells were soaked.

In short I just wasn’t convinced about going through a river that needed to go down before anything (tractors/army trucks etc) could get through.

The water though remained a secondary concern to the immediate issue of being stuck in a ditch.

Helplessly we sat and waited out the 2 hours until Major Livingstone turned up with 15 soldiers and pulled us free from the ditch. As we departed we asked about the river. Their response:

“There is nothing to worry about, there is no river. Just go straight.”

So, we ventured on through the thick mud. In about 700 meters, we came to a river that in our headlights looked alarmingly fast flowing and had downstream from the crossing a meter or so high waterfall.

Again on the phone:

“We’ve reached the river”

“Don’t cross it”

“We weren’t going to”

“I will get the tractor to pull you through”

“Thanks”

Half an hour later and the tractor turned up. 10 minutes later but over 15 hours from the start of our drive we arrived at the campsite.

The next few days were filled with wonderful safari drives around the park. Lions were spotted and generally a good time was had by all…that was…until…we got a puncture.

Of course, a puncture is a bit of a regular occurrence driving in Uganda and so, eager to be all manly, I jumped out of the car to change the wheel. I pulled the spare wheel cover off to be met with, not the spare that I had checked just weeks before, but a blown out a tyre.

The only explanation I can think of is that someone must have swapped it at a garage when we weren’t looking. As a swore under my breath it was pointed out that a second hand spare tyre might fetch you about 125,000 UGX (just under £30),or to put into context, about half the average primary school teacher’s wage.

So, back on the phone:

“Hi, yeah. It’s us again.”

“Hello”

“We have a flat tyre”

“Sorry”

“And our spare tyre has been swapped for a bad tyre”

“Sorry”

“Can you help?”

“We will send someone”.

Two hours later, some very friendly UWA officials did turn up and then drove us an hour outside of the national park to the nearest trading centre (to the untrained eye it might have just been a small village but we were assured it is a trading centre).

Half an hour and 15,000 UGX (£3.50) later our tyre was fixed and back with us.

As the UWA staff left us, they departed with eternal advice:

“Please try to not get stuck again”

Exploring Uganda is incredible fun and it holds a variety and depth of beauty unmatched by anywhere I have travelled but, and this is a big but, it is not always easy.

Leave a comment

Filed under Travel, Uganda

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

2 Comments

Filed under Travel, Uganda

From war zone to tourism: the transformation of northern Uganda

The people of Agoro in northern Uganda were some of the worst hit by the Ugandan civil war. As the village slowly recovers, Steve Hynd from the Mountain Club of Uganda visits Agoro to explore the surrounding mountains and what role tourism might have in the regions recovery.

The car pulls up next to two piles of red mud bricks. Behind are a handful of thatched mud huts that mark the edge of the village of Agoro. Ahead, beyond the mud bricks , is another collection of mud huts. The latter are UPDF army barracks. The pile of red mud bricks is the checkpoint into the barracks that cannot be passed until ‘clearance’ has been approved.

A smartly dressed soldier appears and waves the car through. The soldier introduces himself as Lieutenant Everest. Dressed in ironed khakis and polished leather boots Lt Everest stands tall with his chest puffed out. His appearance would have been archetypically military if it wasn’t for his curious grin and unashamed enthusiasm.

When the prospect of climbing the surrounding mountains is mentioned, the aptly named Lt Everest describes in some detail the security challenges. He talks about the landmines that line the border with South Sudan and claimed a UPDF soldier’s life in 2011 and countless other lives during the civil war. He also talks though about the ‘potential’ of armed conflict breaking out from over the border.

The village had been spooked recently by reports that Kony, the wanted Ugandan war lord, is being harboured by Sudan.

The village which is two hour’s drive north of Kitgum, the most northerly town in Uganda, has every reason to be on edge. Agoro has been devastated by 17 years of almost continuous civil and tribal conflicts. Many people have been killed or forced into fighting for rebel factions including Kony’s notorious Lord’s Resistance Army.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) have documented wide spread human rights violations including reports of cutting the lips and breasts off women who dared leave the internally displace people (IDP) camps.  Agoro’s children were also hit particularly hard.

The Lord’s Resistance Army, notorious for its use of child soldiers, operated heavily in the area. One 12 year old child from Agoro told HRW how he was beaten until he agreed to kill a civilian. His experience is sadly not unique.

In light of this very recent history, Lt Everest’s opinion that armed guards were a necessity for any mountaineering expedition had to be taken seriously, despite the relative stability and peace of recent years.

Pub 4Two soldiers, carrying nothing but dust covered AK-47s led the way through the fertile fields in plastic wellington boots with the local guide, Jeffery, following suit. As Jeffery walked he pointed with obvious pride the varied fruit and vegetables that flanked the small path that he was walking.

This pride stems from both the villages new 680 hectare irrigation system and, in contrast, the near starvation that many in the village faced just a few years previously. The International Rescue Committee described Agoro’s recent history saying:

“Most of Agoro’s residents had been driven from their homes into a makeshift camp that grew up around the local trading center. These displaced farmers, with little space or incentive to grow their own food, lived on relief rations provided by the United Nations.”

It is no surprise then when Jeffery takes pride in both being able to walk freely through the fields but also being able to reach up and pick some mangoes from near-by trees.

These agricultural fields sit in the bottom of a valley which is encircled by imposing mountain peaks, the highest of which on the Ugandan side of the border stands at over 2,800 meters.

As the agriculture gives way to uncultivated bamboo forest though, so the path soon disappears. The soldiers though march on insisting that they regularly walk these routes for ‘surveillance’. The pace of the walk drops only occasionally to drink some water or to stand for a nervous few seconds as everyone waits for a snake to slither off.

The higher up the ‘path’ goes, the less apparent the ‘path’ becomes.  So, the last hour before summiting is spent scrambling through thick grass up improbably steep slopes. The soldiers who at the bottom seemed at best bemused about why anyone would want to go to the top of the mountain are now clearly enjoying themselves.

Standing on top of the peak the soldiers explain that we cannot go any further in case the South Sudanese soldiers see us. “It might cause problems” says the younger of the two soldiers as he pulls a cigarette out of his shirt pocket.

As he explains this though, he does not look up to the border of South Sudan but instead he looks out over the plains that stretch for miles out to the south. The plains are dotted by the volcanic mountains that hint at the potential for other walks in the area.

Pub 7Just as the agriculture of the plains is booming in this formally ‘no go’ area of northern Uganda, the potential for tourism is also growing.  The Ugandan Tourism Association has documented the so far mainly untapped tourism potential of northern Uganda. There is no reason to think that Agoro could not be at the heart of this tourism revival.

The village of Agoro has seen an unimaginably difficult couple of decades loosing men and women and children in a bloody conflict. This history requires visitors to be sensitive to such loss, but should not stop them from coming.

As we leave Agoro, we say good bye to Lt Everest and thank him for his help. We pull up at the pile of red bricks that mark the entrance to the army barracks and Lt Everest, now in civilian clothing, beams a smile at us and says, “Tell your friends to visit, they too can be our guests.”

Steve Hynd is a freelance journalist based in Kampala and is a member of the Mountain Club of Uganda

5 Comments

Filed under Outdoors, Travel, Uganda, War

Fish and Chips in Uganda

Think you know about fish and chips? Think again. I used to think I knew about fish and chips, that wonderful institution of the British diet, until I visited Uganda that was.  

“This is good, I mean really good”, said my partner glancing up from the massive plate of fish and chips that sat between us.

I however was not wasting crucial seconds with peripheral tasks such as talking; after taking another swig of my ice cold beer I was straight back in, my fingers pushing together the crumbling bits of perfectly cooked Taliapia.

As we scoffed down our freshly cooked food, the smoke from other barbecued fish drifted through the packed restaurant and out into evening sun. We were sat with views out onto the very northern tip of Lake Victoria just outside of Kampala.

The restaurant in which we were sat was lined with charcoal barbeques cooking that day’s intake from the lake. All around us small groups of local guys were huddled around old rickety wooden tables on which large shared platters of fresh fish rested.

We had been lucky, when we arrived after a day’s walking, all the tables were taken. Within seconds of entering into the shade of the restaurant though, what looked like a full table had been rearranged and we had been squeezed onto the end.

We shared our table with three Ugandans, two locals from Kampala and another just visiting from the Karamoja region in the east.

All three of the men sat with that happy contented look on their faces that gave away the culinary experience they had just enjoyed. Looking around I could see this same look on faces of men all around me. Each sat leaning back on their plastic chairs, one hand on their belly and the other around a cold beer bottle.

I struggle to think of an image that better embodies the Ugandan understanding of contentment.

As I ate, I listened to the guys sat at our table chat about how Ggaba had the best fish and chips, not just in Kampala or even Uganda but, so their beer induced conversation went, in the world.

As they spoke I found myself thinking though, “What about British fish and chips – our national dish?”

Then it dawned on me, these fish and chips were, by far, the best fish and chips I have ever had in my life. No country pub, inner city chippy or homemade meal from the UK had ever come close. They were simply delicious and they were supported by the most wonderful of ambiences.

In a conciliatory backlash to my own thoughts, I joined in the conversation with the comment, “these fish and chips are even better than in the UK you know.”

The guy on my left responded, “Really?”

I half joked, “yeah, and we invented the dish.”

My new Ugandan friend from Karamoja, a restaurant worker himself it would turn out, swiftly responded, “ahh, I am afraid that is a common misconception my friend. Fish and Chips were bought to the UK by a Jewish immigrant in the late 19th century.”

I responded dumbly, “oh”.

A later Google search would tell me that there is at least an element of truth in his assertion. Who would have thought that it would take a Ugandan to educate this Brit on his supposed national dish?

I left the restaurant that evening with the sun slipping behind the hills. The air was light and there was a low level of noise in the fruit and veg market that surrounds the harbour.

I don’t think I could imagine a nicer place for a wee Ugandan style culinary master class.

7 Comments

Filed under Food and Drink, Travel, Uganda