Feb 212015

Woke up feeling a slight bit better, and headed up to the executive lounge to get some breakfast and try and figure out what I was going to do next. Current plan was to head out at 5am the next morning to somewhere on the Turkish flight, but that would mean leaving the hotel no later than 2:30 in the morning. Being a bit sick I really wasn’t looking forward to getting four or five hours of sleep, so looked for other plans.

Saw that Ethiopian also had a flight out the next day, but around 6pm to Addis. It would connect to the Lufthansa flight to Frankfurt, and from there I had a ton of options. Called United, confirmed the Ethiopian flight had business available, and booked (as a placeholder) Entebbe to Addis the next day at 6pm in business, then Addis-Jeddah-Frankfurt in Lufthansa first with a connection to Kiev in Lufthansa business. That would be a good placeholder until I decided for sure where I wanted to go from Frankfurt.

View from the Executive Lounge while I was having breakfast and doing a bit of planning:


So, this would leave me with a solid 30 hours to explore Kampala a bit. Still was feeling pretty rough, so took a short nap and then headed down to the hotel concierge to see what kind of trouble I could get into. He confirmed they had drivers available for hire for only $14 an hour, fuel included. Wow, for a hotel driver that was a bargain! There was a limit on the number of kilometers, but driving around the city he assured me there was no way I would go over. I told him I’d be ready to go, and headed up to my room to research where I wanted to go. Made a list of sites, mapped them out in what looked like a logical order on google maps, and off we go.

First, stopped in the lobby at the ATM for some local currency (decided 70,000 Uganda Shillings – or about $25 – should be plenty), and noticed the hotel had a wall of fame of the Presidents of Uganda since independence:


Met up with my driver whose name was Ahmed. He looked at my list, suggested a few changes to the order, and off we went. First site I wanted to see was the parliament. Walked around a little bit, but taking pics was an absolute no-no, but Ahmed knew how to solve that. After our walk, we drove around the block a few times so I could try and snap a few shots from the car. I liked this guy already!


Our next stop was one of the palaces of the Kabaka of Buganda. Buganda is a sub-Kingdom of Uganda, and home of the Ganda people. Buganda has its own palaces and parliament within Uganda, although the Kabaka (or King) is largely ceremonial these days. However, the King does “speak for the people” to a degree, so members of national political bodies tend to listen to him.

It wasn’t obvious if you could go inside the gates to see the palace, but someone walked up to us and asked if we wanted to go in. Sure, no problem, you can take pictures, etc…all for 20,000 Uganda Shillings (about $7) which includes a guided tour as well as a guided tour of the Buganda parliament about a mile away. Wow…score. The palace:


During the reign of Idi Amin, he had overrun and occupied the palaces for a bit. He was also quite a collector of cars, the remains of several now litter the palace grounds. The remains of (one of) his Rolls Royces. Notice the hubcap:


Of course, there’s also the unpleasant side of Idi Amin’s rule. He is known to have tortured and killed (and rumoured to have eaten) several thousand Ugandans during his rule. Behind the palace was this underground holding cell, which would hold up to 100 prisoners. Note the green line on the bottom of the wall? Once it was packed with prisoners it would be filled with water up to this line, and then electricity would be passed through the water. Maybe for a few seconds if he just wanted to torture people, or for longer if he wanted a mass killing. Chilling.



Unfortunately it was not possible to go inside the palace itself, so after exploring the grounds we got back in the car and drove the approximately one mile down the “Royal Mile” to the Buganda Parliament. Outside the parliament:


At the entrance we representations of the symbols of some of the Kingdom of Buganda’s 52 clans. The clans all have very specific duties in society (for example, the mushroom clan traditionally guards the Kabaka) and clan membership is passed down from the father. It’s prohibited to marry someone from either your clan or your mother’s clan, so there’s quite a bit of mixing. Notice the clan in the middle…our guide referred to this as the “shit clan” and said members of this clan often lie and claim to be from another clan. I don’t know that I’d want to be a member of the rat clan either…


The parliament of Buganda. On the far end is the pedestal where the Kabaka’s throne is placed when he’s there. The benches along the side are for the members. As we were standing in here, the guide gave a great history of Buganda and explained how the parliement works, as well as its relationship to the national government. As he was explaining this to me, two other Ugandan men walked in, came up to us, and started to listen. He then explained that when the Kabaka is here, new members are expected to bring their wives to parliament to introduce them to the Kabaka, since all the women technically “belong” to the Kabaka.

One of the men who’d been listening in spoke up: “you know now that 30% of the members are ladies…do you know what they do when they join the parliament?” I couldn’t resist being a bit snarky and said “I’m pretty sure THEY don’t introduce their wives to the Kabaka.” Totally caught him off guard…but after a moment of awkward silence he broke out in a deep laugh and grabbed my hand and shook it, laughing as he walked out. My poor guide looked stunned, and told me…”um, that was the speaker of the parliament!” Hahahah!


After thanking the guide we got back in the car for the drive to the Kasubi Tombs. This is the resting place of the Kabakas, and all Kabakas since independence from the UK are buried here. Unfortunately, there was a huge fire back in 2010 and the main building burned down, but it is being rebuilt (with a state of the art fire suppression system) now. The rest of the site is still quite accessible, however.


Smaller huts around the main hut, mainly for the wives of the deceased Kabakas as some workers who take care of the site. The hut on the far left is the wine hut, where local wine is made. Our guide said this is her favourite of the huts…hahah!


Behind the main area are the graves of the immediate family members of the Kabakas. The most recent one was less than a month old:


After the Kasubi Tombs, we headed back off to visit theĀ national mosque, also known as the Gaddafi National Mosque, since it had been built and financed by Libya. Shoes off, and inside, where the Imam himself gave a brief tour. We were invited to sit on the floor where he explained not only about the mosque, but about some of the basics of Islam. It was fascinating, but I was a bit embarrassed by a few of the other people there (we were six in total) who sat with the soles of their feet pointed right at the Imam, and one other Germany guy who was there in shorts. Ugh! The inside of the mosque:



The minaret:


Climbed up the minaret, which was a good workout and a few hundred steps, but we were rewarded with an amazing view:




While we were up there, it was time for the evening call to prayer, which was amazing. Asked the Imam if it was alright to stay up there during that, and he said “absolutely – Allah belongs to all faiths.” Wow, if only more world religious leaders had such a tolerant and accepting view!

The mosque from outside:


After the mosque, it was back to the hotel for some dinner. My big dilemma from here was where to go from Frankfurt. I could fly to just about anywhere in Europe, but with a maximum stay of about 16 hours, or I could head straight home. It was tempting to spend a night somewhere, I was thinking Kiev, Berlin, Helsinki, Vilnius, Riga, but in the end decided it wasn’t worth a few hundred dollars in taxes, hotel, meals, etc, and since I was still sick and worn out I decided to head straight home…which was made even easier when Lufthansa opened up the Frankfurt to Chicago flight in first with miles! Sold!

Off to bed so I could enjoy my last morning in Uganda…

Feb 192015

Woke up in the morning not feeling too much better, and knew it was going to be a long day. Grabbed a quick breakfast in the hotel restaurant before checking out and going to meet my driver. I’d offered to my taxi from the day before that he could take me back to the airport if he showed up at 7:45, and he seemed excited for the business. I should have known when he insisted on being paid for the one way up front there was a chance he wouldn’t show… Dar has incredibly bad traffic, but when he still hadn’t showed by a few minutes after 8:00 I had to give up and hire one of the hotel cabs. They wanted the same price, so I wasn’t out anything.

Off to the airport, and saw this sign which made me laugh. Apparently times are tough everyone…Men at Work has become Man at Work šŸ˜‰


Traffic was nightmarish, and it took nearly 90 minutes to make it to the airport. Fortunately, I’d planned for that as a worst case scenario, so everything worked out just fine. Check-in was no problem at all and after immigration and security it was into the departure hall where my flight to Nairobi was till showing on time:


Kenya Airways uses the Tanzanite Lounge in Dar, and it was located downstairs from the departure hall. Fair amount of seating, though I imagine when/if widebodies come through it gets really full really quickly. Not too sure on the food and drink offerings, but there were plenty of outlets for charging up the phone which is all I was looking for for the thirty minutes until it was time to board.

Kenya Airways flight 481
Dar es Salaam, Tanzania (DAR) to Nairobi, Kenya (NBO)
Depart 10:25, Arrive 11:45, Flight TimeĀ 1:20
Embraer ERJ-190, Registration 5Y-KYP, Manufactured 2010, Seat 2A

Offered water, juice, or champagne upon boarding…seriously? On an hour long flight? I’d been interested to try Kenya Airways, since I’d heard even on short flights on regional jets they were doing quite well, and so far I wasn’t disappointed!


Plus, their inflight magazine featured an article on honey badgers, lol!


Wait, MENUS on a short regional flight?!




Decided to go with the beef paprika, which was served with multiple refills of the champagne. It was reasonably tasty, especially for a short, flight, but could have used a small something sweet for afterwards.


Landed in Nairobi over 20 minutes ahead of schedule, and caught an L1011 on the tarmac – been years since I’d seen one. I have fond memories of them from my first ever trip across the pond on Delta from Cincinnati to London:


Remote gate, but there was a bus just for the 10 passengers in business class to the terminal! Excepting the private car Lufthansa provides to first class passengers, this is how a remote gate should be done!

Into the terminal, which…seemed much more modern and nice than I remembered. I knew there was a major fire at the Nairobi airport a couple years back, and I assumed the airport was still more or less under construction from that. Yes, there was still construction going on, but we arrived at what felt like a nearly new and very modern terminal. I was pretty impressed how much of an improvement it was from the old airport. Transfer security was quick and efficient, and it was time to look for the lounge since I had a bit of extra time.

I didn’t have to look hard, because it was maybe 100 meters or so past the security checkpoint and up an elevator. Lounge was very nice compared to the old one, with plenty of power outlets and beverages. I wasn’t hungry so didn’t check out the food options, but there were plenty of drinks including proper champagne on offer. Can’t complain at all! 45 minutes until the next flight, I went down to the gate, only to find out I was the last one to board and they were waiting on me!

Kenya Airways flight 412
Nairobi, Kenya (NBO) to Entebbe, Uganda (EBB)
Depart 12:45, Arrive 14:00, Flight TimeĀ 1:15
Embraer ERJ-190, Registration 5Y-KYS, Manufactured 2011, Seat 2A

Despite having a gate, the plane wasn’t using the jetway, so we walked down the jetway, down stairs, about 20 meters, then up stairs to the plane. I’m guessing the jetways just weren’t working in the new airport yet. Never mind, there was more champagne on offer!

Plus, a menu with some different items:


Left the gate 20 minutes early, maybe a 10 minute taxi, and we were airborne. Decided to go with the Chinese chicken this time which was tasty, probably because it was extremely salty. Still, meal was great except it could have used some dessert.


Landed in Entebbe over 20 minutes ahead of schedule, and taxied by the airplane graveyard where I got this blurry pic:


Into the arrivals hall, where nurses were waiting to take everyones’ temperature before allowing them to proceed to immigration. Quite an efficient operation, not to mention immigration…where you handed over your passport, they asked for $50 for the visa (which just got thrown on the counter with a bunch of other cash) and stamp….I was in Uganda. Piece of cake. Found my driver from the Sheraton to take me to Kampala (the airport is about 90 minutes drive from the capital) and off we went.

My phone finally got data service a few minutes into the drive, and started blowing up with emails and text messages.

I was supposed to be in Uganda for one night, which I’d decided on for a couple reasons. First, the main thing I wanted to do there was wildlife trekking, especially seeing the gorillas, and that would take a good week to do it right, and with the every country quest I knew I didn’t have that type of time right now. On top of that, given the government’s recent homophobia and atrocious human rights record, it wasn’t a place I wanted to spend much time or money. So, I opted for one night, and then onto the next country…Yemen.

But, back to those texts and emails…

Was notified by several friends and colleagues that the U.S. Embassy in Sana’a, Yemen had gone into full “shred and burn” mode and were preparing to abandon the embassy. Now, I’ve visited several countries before where the U.S. doesn’t maintain an embassy, however, news they were preparing to imminently abandon it was definitely a warning sign that things were about to go bad…and quickly!

By the time I got to the hotel, I learned that the Embassy had evacuated, and when they got to the airport the marines who protected the embassy were held by the houthi rebels and had all their cars, weapons, and who knows what else confiscated. Things were going badly quickly, and I decided the trip just wasn’t worth the risk at this point.

So, I mailed my tour contact in Yemen…who quickly replied that things were completely fine and I’d be passing up an opportunity by not coming. Um, ok, thanks, but still not a risk I’m comfortable taking with the information I have.

Next step was to figure out where to go next. After Yemen my next stop was Eritrea, but I still didn’t have a visa! So, that made that a non-starter. I was going to come home from Eritrea via Ukraine, so I could probably still find a way to do that, but what’s the point? At this point I had the chance to go straight home several days early and still enjoy a long weekend. It was challenging.

The Sheraton gave me a nice suite, and so I retired to the Executive Lounge for a beer and to do some planning. None of the options seemed very attractive, and I was toying with if it really wanted to take the 5am Turkish flight out of the country. Instead of Entebbe-Istanbul-Yemem I could do Istanbul-Kiev and still at least enjoy that. But 5am. Ugh. With all that was going wrong what was the point? Maybe I should stay in Uganda for an extra day and see what there was to see. I was tired, exhausted, still a bit sick, and cranky at this point, so I decided to delay it 24 hrs. I booked Entebbe-Istanbul-Berlin 24 hours later, which meant I could at least sleep in the next morning, have a full day in Uganda, and go from there.

Quick room service dinner because I was tired, then off for what would hopefully be a solid sleep. There was much planning to be done…