Even though Kampala is the capital of Uganda, it isn’t the site of the international airport. That honor belongs to the city of Entebbe, which at 24 miles from downtown Kampala might as well be a world away. Whereas Kampala pulses with throngs of activity and the traffic jams for which it’s notorious, Entebbe sits on the shores of Lake Victoria and drifts at a slower pace. Farmers with gardening hoes stroll down dirt roads as birdsong rains from the trees, and children wave and bashfully smile at the sight of a white-skinned mzungu (foreigner). With the distinct feel of a tropical beach town, it’s a relaxing intro for a visit to Uganda which can otherwise be packed with activity.
Arriving to the airport at 3am, we pulled in to the Sunset Entebbe guest house with no idea what time zone we were in (a Hawaii-Calgary-Frankfurt-Cairo-Entebbe flight will do that to you). The staff at Sunset Entebbe were nothing but hospitable (and the location is great), and they even arranged an airport pickup at 3:30 in the morning.
After a filling breakfast of bananas, eggs, and the coffee for which Africa is famous, we set out on foot (which is completely safe) for the beaches of Lake Victoria. While I knew going into the day that the beaches wouldn’t be overly-impressive, what the beaches lacked in tropical luxury they made up for in novelty and intrigue.
At Aero Beach—a private compound next to the UN airstrip where admission is $1 US—the décor consisted of an abandoned aircraft and plastic statues of wildlife. Down on the shoreline, the sand was actually a sugary consistency on par with beaches in Hawaii. The water, however, is another story, as the Bilharzia parasite has been known to be prevalent in this section of Lake Victoria. Burrowing its way through any skin that comes in contact with the water, the parasite can survive in your liver and organs for the better part of a decade. All around the lake there are signs that warn against the dangers of going for a swim, but nevertheless we saw a couple of people gathering water from the lake.
There were also children working on the shoreline gathering thousands of fresh water snails. Washing up on the shorelines like waves of seaweed, the shells are crushed and mixed with corn and used to feed the chickens. Using homemade brooms of bundled sticks, piles of the snails were methodically swept up and transferred into heaping bags. From high on the hillside overlooking the beach, live cattle and plastic zebras presided over the lakeside snail harvest.
In addition to cattle and the ubiquitous goats, there is one other animal that apparently presides in this section of Lake Victoria. Taking a tip from the Aero Beach security guard who directed us to another beach, a muddy trail through a lonesome cow pasture led us to a neighboring shoreline. In addition to women we found doing their laundry and children gathering buckets of water, there was a lone camel who had apparently gone rogue and now patrolled the shoreline.
I’m just going to say that if you’ve never been charged by a wild Ugandan camel—its spastic maneuvers forcing you to run through water which is teeming with parasites—there is nothing like the feeling of wondering if you’re about to get a swift hoof to the face.
The camel aside, perhaps the best part of the town of Entebbe is the throngs of smiling children. Everywhere you go, from cow pastures covered with dung to shorelines covered in snails, legions of scurrying, dark-skinned Ugandans wave with unabashed glee.It’s a hospitable welcome to a friendly country that really welcomes its visitors, and the town itself is a relaxing entry point for beginning your time in Uganda.
All photos provided by Heather Ellison Photography…