It has been two months of planning for a three-day getaway from the hustle and bustle of Kampala. I and 15 others wanted to explore cool tourist destinations in Jinja and celebrate a birthday of a friend.
A WhatsApp group was created and named ‘Happy People,’ days prior to set off. A new contact is added to the group each hour that goes by and at the end, the group has 20 members.
Unfortunately, not all members will be part of what is about to be the trip of the year. The set off day, Friday, arrives and the spirits were high. We were all excited. With a good number of people meeting for the first time, it would be a memorable expedition.
The plan is that the entire crew will be ferried in four cars. By 6pm, all the cars are stationed at Shoprite Lugogo and members of the team begin to arrive one by one. Some have been wise enough and requested for short notice leaves at their workplaces.
The lot has bankers, a doctor, farmers, a procurement officer, an auditor and two lawyers. It feels like a new organisation is being established for adventure. Surprisingly, many of them have not been out of the cusps of Wakiso and Kampala, Jinja will not be a bad starting point for the travel newbies after all.
As we wait for everyone to join so we can set off, the team roams Shoprite and Game stores shopping for all tribes of drinks and snacks needed for a getaway. It is also an opportunity to tick all boxes in preparation for camping and travelling.
A few days to the D-day, the trip organiser posted a camping checklist that included items such as tents, towels, chairs, warm clothes, torches, pillows, tables, snacks along with many other basics.
The journey that was supposed to start at 6pm is an hour late, with the last traveller showing up 15 after 7pm. The last two will be picked from Bweyogerere, a Kampala suburb, and the team will be complete. After the stopover in Bweyogerere, the four car convoy embarks on a journey with people getting to know each other as drinks flow down their throats.
The idea of leaving Kampala by 6pm was to beat the 9pm curfew. Unfortunately, we left an hour later. That extra hour spent waiting for everyone to get to Lugogo would later haunt us just after Mukono District, where we found a stationed roadblock.
More than 10 cars had been stopped for violating the 9pm curfew. It is there that the first test of the escapade shows up. If you have found yourself in Uganda Police’s bad books before, it is a public secret that something small from your pockets can get you out of the mud.
At that point, communication from all the four cars signals a reasonable fee shall be needed to let the men in uniform get us over the barricades. As this is going down, the women are worried of being locked up.
I join a couple of boys discussing whether the Miami Heats will get over the Boston Celtics in game five of the NBA Eastern Conference Finals later in the night. The sports talk stretches to the English Premiership where off colour Manchester United visit Brighton the next day.
Our discussion is cut short after the group leader returns from a chat with the head of the police unit. “He did not ask for any money. He just asked where we are going and coming from. I answered and he said we can proceed,” he told us. It’s high fives and fist pumps before the engines rave again. The journey resumes and most revellers take naps. It has been a long day and about to be a longer night.
Arrival at Nile Nest
At 11pm, we arrive at Nile Nest, a camping site located on the western banks of River Nile. It is under the trees on the green grass, that we shall camp for the next two nights.
At Nile Nest, the chef, who we had given a call a day before, has prepared fish and French fries for dinner.
The meal rejuvenates the tired bodies as everyone carries their belongings into designated tents. Some extend their naps into slumber after supper, while the majority are just getting started for day one.
A camp fire is set up and in no time, a JBL Party Box 300 Portable Bluetooth party speaker with light effect is connected, the music brightens up the night. The drinks start flowing once again, new attires emerge from nowhere and everyone is in sync with the nightlife in a new territory.
A few metres from the Nile, the irresistible breeze sweeps across the party. As the night goes on, the team starts to disappear into their tents one by one. I leave for my tent at 6:45am, after staying up long enough to see the sunrise on the banks. It is a beautiful sight, one that is tattooed on my mind.
By 7am, I can hear the early birds up wondering what the day has in store for them. We kick off the day with a light aerobics session, while others head out for a jog on the dusty road of Bujowali village, where Nile Nest is located.
From that exercise, the group heads down into the cold Nile. It is there that I meet everyone revisiting tales of the previous night. The Nile Nest chef then serves breakfast and at midday, we convene and head for Jinja Town for lunch at Rendezvous Restaurant on Gabula Road, a 10km drive.
A full wing is closed off to accommodate the 16 of us. Within 90 minute, everyone is treated to all mouth-watering nyama choma. Our next destination is a 1.5km drive to Speke monument and Source Garden Hotel.
The team goes on a swimming spree, while some of us are yet to learn the trade and catch the anticipated Manchester United-Brighton game in the lounge. The game ended controversially with United scoring a Bruno Fernandes penalty awarded after the final whistle, thanks to the video assistant referee.
It ends 3-2 in favour of Manchester United, the win gives the trip a better feel. By 7pm, the swimming squad has had enough and the convoy heads back to Nile Nest for the second night of the campfire.
Enroute back to our temporary home, charcoal, pork and chicken are procured for the barbecue. It’s Friday night, all over again with even more energy out there. We get joined by new faces, who have travelled from Kampala.
The drinks, dancing, catching up and games on the second night on the banks of the Nile characterised the night. Everyone gets a chance to play their favourite playlist with some being really awful and booed in the process but we move on.
The barbecue is one to kill for, with very tasty results. As the night grows older, it gets better than the Friday version, with people more daring and familiar with each other. By 4am, everyone is off to their tents to get some rest with Sunday coming with its own activities.
Sunday morning arrives with fatigued bodies. It has been two days of unstoppable action. A cold shower gets everyone going for the last day in Jinja. It is not going to be any shorter with a 17km drive to Busowoko falls.
Breakfast is served before we hit the road with even a longer convoy. It is now six cars with the Land Cruiser navigating ahead, after all it is the car built for the African terrain. The journey to Busowoko Falls sees one car suffer a flat tyre, creating a forced 20 minutes break from the road to replace the tyre.
The bumpy journey resumes with dust all over the place. By the time we arrive at the falls, there is a layer of dust on each one of us. But the dust could not dampen our mood.
The sight of the falls will blow your mind away. The sound of the rapids will make you appreciate nature. It felt like we had saved the best adventure for the last date.
Busowoko falls is a downstream of Bujagali dam and flows profusely. Busowoko Falls is one of the last waterfalls remaining on the upper Victoria Nile. The others have disappeared under its backed-up waters.
As we approach the falls, a group of shirtless young boys offer to guide us to the business end of the rapids. It is risky as the stones have algae which makes it slippery. Slide off the stones and efforts to save your life would be in vain.
We hold hands in a queue led by one of the shirtless boys, as he shows us where to place our feet. Within 15 minutes, we have all crossed and just inches away from the rapids.
It feels satisfying but scary at the same time. Photo moments dominate our stay there with some of us resting on the stones. An hour later, we cross back to board the cars. We want to get back home.
On our way back to Kampala, we stop at Namawojoolo for chicken, liver, plantain and more drinks. The fatigue is now even more visible, the loudest guys are nowhere to be heard and everyone has the talk of Monday blues.
By 8pm, the first lot is being dropped off and everyone is home by 10pm. The next day, has the WhatsApp group buzzing with experiences from Jinja and photos being shared until the group is deleted, after all it has served its purpose.