Sunday, August 18, 2013

Kampala by Day

Africa has a sound to it that is musical. Although it's a noise that to many is deafening; to Africans it is the sound of life: horns honking, boda boda's (motor bikes) revving their engines, Afro beats pouring out of roadside shacks, women selling bananas. Kampala, the Capitol of Uganda, has this unique rhythm that I instantly wanted to dance to. From the moment that I stepped off my 14 hour overnight bus from Nairobi I knew I would like this place.

Kampala, or the city of seven hills, at times has a very western feel to it. If not paying full attention you might believe you were in San Francisco or southern Italy. Although Kampala, and more widely, Uganda's past has been troubled, especially under the watchful eye of Idi Amin, it is a city that has clearly revived itself. The streets are orderly; the buildings have European accents to them; the city feels safe. 

In order to really take in Kampala I decided that I must see it from the back of a boda boda. Although riding on the back of boda boda's can be incredibly unsafe, it is fantastic way to experience and appreciate all that Kampala has to offer. Thankfully there are many fantastic (and safe) drivers to take you around and after a quick inquiry at my hostel I was put in touch with Walter at Walter's Boda Boda tours. 

Within 30 minutes Edi, my driver, arrived. He zipped up, threw me a helmet and said "tugende", Luganda for "lets go". After strapping my helmet on, and telling Edi that I was not ready to die, we took to the streets of Kampala with a vengeance. 

First stop: independence park and the "Beverly Hills" of Kampala where the streets and houses very much resemble those in Southern California. The yards were beatutifully manicured; the houses were ornate; and the views of Kampala: stunning. Home to ambassadors and dignitaries from across the globe, it is very clear why this neighborhood earned its nickname. 

From 90210 we then headed to the heart of Kampala: its city center. Markets, taxis, matatus headed in every direction, and a plethora of bars and restaurants make up this part of Kampala. Driving through the tightly packed streets here requires the attention and skill similar to a neurosurgeon. Dodging left and right we carefully (and rather thrillingly, I might add) made our way through this section of town en route to one of the worlds largest mosques and what is considered to be one of the best views in Kampala.

Taxi stand in the city centre

Completed in 2008, the Gaddafi mosque, named after the ex-Libyian dictator who donated the funds to build it, is a beatuiful building perched atop one of Kampala's 7 main hills. For 10,000 USX ($4) a guide will take you into the mosque and to the top of the spire to take in Kampala from above. Women do not need to worry about wearing appropriate dress because it is provided for you. 

From the mosque we then headed for a traditional Ugandan lunch at 2K. Located close to the mosque, this restaurant is a popular local hangout. Serving delicious traditional delicacies from goat to ground nut sauce and everything in between, it was clear why so many people flocked here: the food was fantastic and worth every bit of my 10,000 USX.

Walter serving up banana beer

With our bellies full we then made our way to the King's palace. With quick detour to grab some banana beer and roasted coffee beans, we then cruised down the "royal mile", the street that connects the government building and palace (yes, it was copied from the Scottish), to the infamous palace where Idi Amin tortured his dissidents in special underground chambers. Even through you cannot enter the palace itself, for 10,000 USX you can tour the grounds and go into the torture chambers where captives were often electrocuted. Our guide was well versed on Ugandan history and more specifically the on goings under the Amin regime. 

King's Palace

A little more somber and still full from our delicious meal we then zipped off to cleanse our souls and find enlightenment at Africa's Ba'hai temple. Situated a top of one of Kampala's outer hills, this temple is a house of worship to just over 100,000 Ba'hai living in Uganda alone. As we quietly sat and watched the sun set over Kampala it made sense as to why so many people congregate here. 

After the sun was a mere streak in the horizon it was time to head back. Flying down the streets of Kampala, with the wind at my back, I could feel the subtle rhythms that makes this city different from the other East African capitols I have visited. It is evident that culture is apart of life here and with every horn blast, engine roar, and hand wave I felt apart of the daily dance that those living here are lucky to partake in.

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