The journey time between Murchison Falls and Kibale National Parks, was said to take 10 hours on poor roads, so we broke the journey with a night at Hoima Cultural Lodge.
Several smiling ladies welcomed us warmly with chilled passion fruit juice and completed paperwork before showing us to our room, one of 12 semi-detached, colourful, circular bungalows with thatched roof. They were arranged around an immaculate garden with shady trees, colourful flowers and a lawn dotted with chairs and tables under natural thatched umbrellas. Each bungalow had a name beginning with A, ours was Araali, and we learned they were all ‘praise names’ with historical connections.
Our room was simply furnished with double bed and mosquito net, seating area, a rack for two suitcases, desk and chair. There was no hairdryer, fridge or safe but bottled water was provided. We didn’t miss the absence of either AC or fan in the night, despite high daytime temperatures. Wi-Fi was available in the large communal area next to the restaurant, but the signal wasn’t great.
Behind the bed, was the bathroom which meant easy access regardless of the side you slept on. It was spacious with a walk-in shower but no curtain and although the water had a good temperature, the spray attachment had to be handheld as with the pressure, it wouldn’t remain in the holder.
Our small round veranda had two comfortable chairs and a table, surrounded by a net that would have made it an enclosed space, but a large part of the net was not fixed to the bungalow.
All the places we stayed at in Uganda provided full board, which usually meant three course meals at both lunch and dinner. The lodge was the only place during our three week stay which offered simple sandwiches and salad for lunch, although it did arrive with unrequested fries, and was followed by fruit salad.
Dinner was a hefty affair of pumpkin soup and garlic bread with a choice of tilapia and rice or beef casserole and mustard mash, accompanied by a medley of carrots, courgettes and beans. It was all delicious, but the platefuls were huge, especially when we were brought a Ugandan speciality of boiled plantain, known locally as matoke, with a pink groundnut sauce. The banana fritters nearly finished us off.
At breakfast there was a jug of juice on the table and having seen the size of the fruit platter with watermelon, banana, pineapple, and mango, managed to head one off at the pass. We then had scrambled eggs on toast, a flask of good coffee and jug of hot milk.
Our visit included either a town or village walk escorted by Richard from the centre. We thought the former might be interesting bearing in mind the Bradt guidebook referred to a quadrupling population and emergence as an economic hub due to the discovery of oil under the nearby Lake Albert. We passed the library and university with nearby roadside stalls piled with trays of eggs and guys making rolex, a Ugandan speciality of a thin omelette rolled in a chapati – ‘rolled eggs’. In the purpose-built central market we saw in one section fruit, vegetables, dried goods, chickens and fish and in another clothes, but at all times being mindful of the floor with its unevenness and huge random potholes. The most interesting area was two guys making flip flops from old car tyres. Back outside, we walked onwards where in an open-air shop, several women treadled sewing machines whilst an older guy crooned gospel songs to them. They were obviously amused, but we’re not sure whether it was by the white ‘muzungus’ or the singing. We spotted one woman having her hair braided as she treadled. At a furniture shop we were amazed by the size of the sofas and armchairs, wondering who could afford a house to accommodate them. Richard said very little, but in truth, there was probably not a lot to say: to us, it appeared to be another dusty low-key town where sadly the only attraction of note in Bradt, the Karuziika Palace, was closed. However, it gave us chance to see a town which we would not have really felt safe walking through on our own as we saw no other tourists during the two-hour tour.
Another activity included in our stay, was an evening performance of cultural dancing. By this stage, we’d ascertained we were the only overnight guests, and secretly hoped it would be cancelled. However, at 6pm the fire pit was lit, and guys arrived carrying plastic chairs which we assumed were for other non-resident spectators until we realised they were for the musicians. There were eight dancers and eight in the band. After an hour of energetic dancing and lively music, the show was over. However, we were then introduced to different instruments which were all made from natural products: three drums of varying sizes with skins, guitars and other smaller violin type instruments, and a pipe made from varying lengths of bamboo. The outfits were also explained with the bells on the legs of the men, being made from hollow fruits filled with seeds to make them rattle like bells. Both men and ladies wore skirts of grasses which were dyed in parts – those of the men were thicker and rustled when shaken vigorously whilst those of the women were finer. Bearing in mind the numbers of people involved and the length of the show for just the two of us, we rapidly changed the 10,000-shilling tip (£2.50) for something larger.
One immediate impact of the oil development has been the building of a tarmac road that covered most of our originally scheduled 10-hour drive. This has been more than halved, so the overnight stop may not now be required, although it did give us a cultural break in our mainly safari-based trip.