The Acholi Youth Traditional Group was as good as advertised; agile, passionate and authentic in their display of the Anyira Acholi dance, with provocative patterns which celebrated tickled kick boxer, Golola Moses.
He smiled and as the tempo rose, he tapped his feet, nodded his head. Finally he gave in to the beat and he went on his fours, hands and on knees, joining the troupe performers in a dancer characterised by a pulsating repetition that follows heavy drums and sound of calabash hit with metallic sticks.
He, like the other dancers and visitors who had joined in, could care less as their faces got covered by dust raised by their energetic foot stamping. Golola was one of the tourism ambassadors on the Tulambule travel caravan.
The Bwola, Rakaraka and Ding Ding dances are only different in name and patterns, but similar in the energy as evidenced by the sweaty lines running down foreheads and chins of young performers, with smiling faces. This is all an awesome sight.
Many of the visitors naturally found themselves joining the troupe to dance along. Travel enthusiast Steven Nyeko and many more went bare-chested, some to reconnect with their roots and the beauty that defines these unique people's cultural endowment.
Group members were happy to hastily give them an instrument or adorn them in dance regalia, typical of the historical Acholi people, who were warriors defined by values and creativity that runs beyond artistry. "It was a great experience. I have to say that the last day was possibly the best. Aruu Falls was beautiful. Having lunch there was lovely and the locals were ever so welcoming," Peninah Wampamba, Miss Uganda UK, explains.
Dance and songs are some artistic traits that define the people from northern Uganda, and certainly something worth looking forward to see when you visit the part of the country.
At that dance sessions, souls came alive. The beauty of travelling in a group is that it enables different personalities to come together, which is good recipe for fun, spontaneity.
The Tulambule (Luganda word for let's explore, travel) tourism caravan headed up north and on board were some of the loudest, hilarious, daring, uptight people, you could name any trait. The composition was of young and largely bubbly social media influencers, television personalities, photographers, journalists, officials from the host ministry of tourism, Uganda Tourism Board (UTB) and organisers, House of DJs. The fusion was as organic as the experiences to some of Uganda's untapped tourist destinations on the northern circuit. Much of the crew was acquainted well; Kampala is a small town where people in the communication and arts arenas are likely to know each other by first name.
Drinks were poured, jokes shared and laughs heard out loud as the group explored the unique tourism offerings on the northern tourism circuit, the home of Murchison Falls National Park.
Lost in the beauty
"We are trying to create awareness and publicity for Uganda's tourism products, targeting the domestic market. We have visited the places and engaged in activities that one could do when they plan to come to Northern Uganda," explains Herman Olimi, a marketing officer at Uganda Tourism Board (UTB), the country's tourism marketing agency. The tourism industry feeds off foreign tourists during segmented times of the year when they go (come) on holiday. There are low seasons when hotels, lodges and tour operators could earn off domestic or regional tourism and therefore the relevance to Tulambule campaign which has recently partnered with UTB to market Uganda through ambassadors, social media influencers, bloggers and journalists to create interest among Ugandans to visit Uganda and partake of its rich tourism destinations and experiences.
Olimi adds that the agency's grand plan is to tap into the regional hub by enticing Kenyans, Rwandans, Tanzanians and Burundians. Tulambule is a tourism initiative that was started by state minister of tourism, Godfrey Kiwanda.
Tourism is a vehicle of development, with a multiplier effect and if well marketed could be the sector to turn to for economic transformation. On Sunday evening, as we took summary of the weekend-long trip, our social media efforts had fruited to a good reward of being number one, two and four on twitter thanks to the trending hashtags of #tulambulenorthernuganda, #visituganda, #pearlofafrica.
The destinations of Murchison Falls National Park, Aruu Falls and Patiko Fort created excitement and despite the shortfall on pleasantries due to pitiable planning and delays here and there, the fun lay in the journeys themselves to the respective tourism offerings. To headline the travel caravan were ambassadors, namely Golola Moses 'of Uganda', a kick boxer who could as well double as a self-styled comedian, radio and television stars Gaetano Kagwa and Marcus Kwikiriza and stand-up comedian Patrick Idringi, alias Salvador.
"My role is to show the beauty of Uganda, to have Ugandans appreciate what we have as a country so that they, too, can go out and understand the beauty that Uganda has to offer, and to also let them know that it is affordable and it is doable. Instead of travelling to outside countries, get to know your own Pearl of Africa," Kagwa explains.
The choice of the quartet was ideal given their social media following and engagement. They were social and impulsive, which created interest on ground, aiding content generation for the 50-member crew who used every opportunity to post images, videos and stories for public consumption.
For example, our first stop at Luweero market drew a crowd to the ambassadors, more so to Golola for his comic antics that tickled fans who gathered to have an up-close and personal interaction with the man whose motor mouth gift and jokes have earned him celebrity status. The plus for the market vendors was the support from the crew who almost emptied stalls as they bought muchomo (roast goat's meat, chicken and beef), gonja (plantain) and drinks, in support of the small scale business community.
Sleepless in Kiryandongo
In effect, their snacks were showcased to travellers on the northern route. The next stop was a healthy break at Shell Kiryandongo and then a long drive that led to Murchison Falls National Park, where a journey that should have lasted half-an-hour went on for some four hours as we got lost. It was the price we paid owing to organisers who overlooked the role and relevance of a tour guide. In Murchison Falls, the first destination was Pakuba Safari Lodge, which overlooks the Albert Nile, and a home to the towering giraffes, graceful elephants, forgetful warthogs, roaring lions and more wild and bird life.
There, your writer, and many more travel enthusiasts, experienced their maiden camping excursion. The fear of having to slumber under the stars but imagining a lion or elephant shelfing the sleeping tent is unbearable.
It is worth the try since it is also an alternative to expensive accommodation at many of the tourist destinations that make it prohibitive for local travellers to explore the Pearl of Africa. The service provider of the tents charge Shs50,000 for each and sometimes at a price lower or higher, depending on the demand, so camping is worth adding to your list of things to do.
We missed taking a cruise to the bottom and top of the falls twice. Nonetheless, the consolation presented in the picturesque scenery that provided a natural backdrop for photographic moments at the docking area of Murchison Falls National Park.
Mubako Local Adungu Community
Group complemented the experience with authentic traditional music produced from the Adungu, the stringed musical instrument. Among the seven- member group was a passionate blind singer whose passion and zeal while plucking the Adungu left onlookers in awe. It was an opportunity to dance off the disappointment.
Paraa Safari Lodge was our next stop, for more photo opportunities. The next day, Sunday, seemed to offer more at the sight of Aruu Falls. For some, it went beyond excitement.
Light bulb moment
It was nostalgic. "This is my first time in Aruu Falls, yet I come from Gulu. It is just a 30-minutes' drive from my town. I have never been to Aruu Falls yet it is a gorgeous place. I am completely blown away. I am asking myself why I have never come here. It is because of perception," Steven Nyeko, a travel enthusiast, explains. He adds, "We think these things (tourism) are for white people.
I understand that it is not part of our culture (to travel) but I believe we have to orient ourselves to enjoy our natural things (tourism offerings) more than people who come from outside. That is the beginning of self-love. That is the beginning of patriotism; to know our country, love it and sell it better. We cannot sell what we don't know."
According to Olima, the best way to sell Uganda is for Ugandans to love and understand it more. He argues that even if someone wrote an article about these beautiful places, they cannot be interpreted to represent the actual beauty. "You need to experience it first-hand. I encourage people to travel," he adds. The Aruu Falls are a beauty to marvel at, thanks to their cascading rocks on which gushing white waters flow at a high velocity. Some daring and adventurous spirits could not simply look at the inviting falls.
They fell in and partook of the water adventure through swimming or simply standing or squatting beneath the white waters to let the waters run all over their bodies. The photogenic lot, ladies and men alike, had a piece of fun behind the cameras, some mesmerizing locals with their poses that were tantalising enough to tickle spectators. At the Aruu campsite, were energetic traditional artists waiting to raise some dust in enchantment.
cap: Champion kick-boxer Golola Moses takes some members of the tour group through his favourite sport's moves. PHOTOS BY EDGAR R. BATTE.
cap: Tulambule northern Uganda ambassador comedian Salvador Idiringi, has breakfast with colleagues.