There are many reasons why travelling to the heart of Africa intrigues the curious from across the globe, and as Liezel van der Merwe narrates, a recent journey to Kyaninga Lodge in the exotic, far-away country of Uganda held quite a few surprises for them …
We were sitting in the international departure lounge early on a Monday morning, sipping a cappuccino. We were flying from Johannesburg to Entebbe in Uganda, and in an effort to wake up my husband and travel partner, I asked: “How far is the lodge from the airport?”
“I am not sure, let me Google it,” he said. The GPS tracking indicated our destination was five hours from Entebbe but in the end, the journey took us six-and-a-half hours.
People visit Africa for adventure. It is like there is something inside of us that makes us want to see new colours, meet interesting people, experience nature, and visit mysterious countries. Our adventure was about to begin.
At Entebbe Airport, George and his Land Cruiser were waiting for us and so our journey through Uganda began. It was a bumpy ride and a self-driving tour is not something I would recommend. With trucks, bikes, chickens, dogs, and people everywhere you have to be a skilled driver to stay on the road (and not run something over).
The atmosphere was amazing. It was another day in Uganda; the small shops were abuzz with customers and at nightfall, the smell of street food invited one to stay and explore the beautiful country.
Uganda is known as the Pearl of Africa, as it was named by Sir Winston Churchill after he experienced the magnificence, vibrant colour, life, birds, reptiles, insects, beasts, mammals, and vegetations of the country. Uganda is also widely known for its agricultural products such as cotton, tobacco, and tea.
We finally arrived at Kyaninga Lodge late evening and were welcomed with a much-needed drink, cold towel and friendly smiles, For me, the real reason Uganda is called the Pearl of Africa, is because of its friendly, good-natured people.
Kyaninga Lodge is the brainchild of Steve Williams. Inspired by the stories of Sir David Attenborough as a youngster in the United Kingdom, Williams visited Africa in search of adventure and after visiting many of the national parks, he told his parents he is not coming home …
Williams met a surveyor in Fort Portal who told him about available land near Lake Kyaninga. When Williams saw that 220 m deep, sparkling clean volcanic lake formed ten thousand years ago, he had a vision. The breath-taking vistas created the ideal backdrop for a luxury lodge overlooking the lake with a truly Ugandan feel. And so he did just that.
How he acquired the land and the money for it, is a story he will tell you when you first visit. He trained the local workforce for two years before the building of the lodge commenced and it was opened four years later, in 2010. All the building materials were locally sourced and over 130 people were involved in the completion of the project.
We stayed in one of the nine luxury cottages overlooking the beautiful lake and waking up to the spectacular view every morning was food for my soul. The cottages, built on stilts, make you feel as if you are living in a luxury treehouse; just magnificent.
Our packed itinerary at Kyaninga Lodge was full of highlights but most unforgettable of all was our meeting with chimpanzees. We found them in the Kibale National Park, an area of about 795 km2, with the highest density of the primates worldwide. It is also home to 60 species of mammal and 335 recorded bird species.
Our guide tracked them through the forest and after about an hour we could hear theirgrunts, hoots, screeches, and whimpers. Not long after, we found them and spent an hour admiring the group of over 30! They stayed up in the trees but just before we left, they started coming down. I felt a rush of excitement and adrenalin witnessing the beautiful creatures up close.
We also enjoyed the guided walks around the lake and Rift Valley and met some locals for a rare experience of local village life. We tasted banana gin at a small shop (it is really strong) and I had the privilege of sitting down with ladies cleaning some beans. Life has its own pace and beauty in Uganda.
A special quality
The activities at the Lodge, from a spa treatment to tennis and badminton, will keep you entertained and of course, kayaking on Lake Kyaninga offers one a rare opportunity to paddle to the middle of this beautiful lake, lay on your back and do some cloud gazing. Soulful!
Then there was the food … Trained by international culinary experts, the Kyaninga chefs surprised and delighted our taste buds daily with three-course meals and freshly baked bread – we could not get enough. Good wines accompanied the meals and local beers rounded off the lazy afternoons spent around the pool. Life was good!
Kyaninga exudes a special quality – kind-heartedness. Steve, owner of the lodge, in 2014 founded the non-profit Kyaninga Child Development Centre to create opportunities for children with disabilities. Disability affects more than 13% of children in Uganda and access to rehabilitation services is limited and costly.
The Centre is supported by people from all over the world, allowing it to grow and touch many lives. Kyaninga Lodge also started the Kyaninga dairy, producing some of the finest cheese, solely to support the Centre. On a local outreach and a visit to the dairy, it was delightful to see the opportunities created for many disabled children. I discovered little money can go a long way. We met six-year-old Kenneth. He was receiving much-needed therapy under the care of his grandmother.
She asked if we could help as she needed a special chair for him to be able to sit up straight. It cost $25, a sum she could not afford. I thought of the money we spend so easily and how little $25 really is. What a privilege to be part of someone’s story for a better life. For Kenneth, a better life is just to be able to sit up straight!
Kyaninga Lodge has stories to tell and adventures to share. It is an experience we will not forget. As we sipped our last glass of wine, enjoying the finest cheeses from the local dairy, and overlooking the lake, I understood why people all over the world travelled to Kyaninga Lodge. It is one of those experiences that will leave you completely satisfied, knowing you have experienced the Pearls of Africa.
Text: Liezel van der Merwe | Images: Kyaninga Lodge