Ugandan panorama after Via Via

Saturday March 21 2020

Dining area at Via Via Entebbe.

Dining area at Via Via Entebbe. PHOTO | RUPI MANGAT | NMG 

RUPI MANGAT
By RUPI MANGAT
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I am super excited to be staying at Via Via in Entebbe, booked by the staff at the New Court View Hotel in Masindi that’s the nearest town from the epic Murchison Falls National Park that boasts the ‘most powerful waterfall in the world’. It’s my next stop.

Landing at sunset, the papyrus-rich shores of Entebbe on Lake Victoria are ready with local fishers setting off to fish for the night. Jumping into the taxi the drive through town is interesting.

Suddenly we are on a murram road in a local neighbourhood without street lights and l am not quite sure if l’ve made the right choice...but the attraction was the Shoebill stork from the time of the Pharaohs that is extinct in its ancient abode as the Pharaohs cleared the papyrus swamps to build their magnificent pyramids.

A gate opens to Via Via and l am charmed by its simple sophistication. The reception is filled with all the community connections around...fashion, art, jewellery, crafts, and of course the Shoebill sail to the swamp, which l now read means hiring a boat and then connecting with the local community guide for a tidy sum of $85 because l am all alone. Gulp!

A quick check-in and l am in my room that overlooks the swamp. Maybe the Shoebill will make a special appearance...but the staff thinks that’s highly unlikely.

Instead at dinner by the garden lit to show-off its lushness and boasting colourful touracos and Silvery-cheeked hornbills, we are treated to a duet by a pair of resident owls.

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After her contract ended in Rwanda, Lobke Vermeulen and her partner Pieter Huybrechts took the time to explore Africa, landing at Via Via in Senegal where they learnt about the world of Via Via. It inspired a Via Via in Entebbe.

After breakfast, nobody had signed up for the Shoebill safari that would help share the cost. So l opt for the Uganda Wildlife Education Centre or simply called the zoo where l saw the Shoebill for the first time two decades ago.

A touch of royalty

The path continues to the chimpanzees ‘island’ circled by water, rescued from the evil trade in exotic pets.

It’s an exciting hour spent watching the antics of the great ape, our nearest relative. Two little chimps swing from the branches, tumble over each other and swing right up the trees.

A few metres away and I am at the enclosure of the prehistoric bird in the company of the Grey crowned cranes — both birds on the IUCN Red List for endangered species.

At first l think the prehistoric bird is coming for me—direct. And it’s almost as tall as l am, opening and closing its beak with a ‘clump, clump’ sound.

And then l see the reason why. The feeders have arrived. The young women toss tilapia into the pond which is promptly retrieved by the Shoebill.

It’s interesting to watch it eat the fish, tossing it into its shoe-shaped bill, bringing it back out all shredded and red, then tossing it back again into the bill.

A taxi from Entebbe to Masindi, via the new northern bypass (avoiding Kampala) is four hours away at $300. From Masindi hire a car for Murchison Falls for $500 and spend a day (plus boat ride) and climb to the top of the falls.

You can do many excursions from Masindi such as visit Hoima the seat of the Bunyoro king and visit the royal tombs before entering Hoima where King Kabalega met Emin Pasha and the Bakers in the 18th century.

Continue to Lake Albert on the great rift, then trek for chimps in Budongo forest at Kinyara then on to Fort Portal, Kasese and Queen Elizabeth National Park to Kampala.