On the Marina to sail and golf, history and wildlife
Published Saturday Nation magazine 16 September 2017
Above: New golf course at Lake Victoria Serena Resort and Spa near Entebbe, Uganda – copyright Rupi Mangat
“Are you going to Entebbe?” asks the man on the side of the road that’s sandwiched between one of the largest swamps in Uganda that stretches all the way to the north and is home to rare wildlife like Shoebill stork.
Entebbe is derived from the Buganda word for the ‘seat’ of power. It’s where the State House is and the official residency of President Museveni.
The traffic is at a standstill – trucks, matatus, boda-boda, massive 4-wheel drives and people. “Drive this way on the Entebbe Express,” he points. Like in Kenya, there are new by-passes under construction and we whizz past the slums, swamps and tea plantations to reach Lake Victoria Serena Resort and Spa on the Lweeza-Kigo Road – between Entebbe (30 kilometres) and Kampala (15 kilometres) on the shores of Victoria, Africa’s largest fresh water lake. In the boot of our sturdy Toyota Crown Royal Saloon 1985 model nicknamed Mama Safari is the nephew’s golf kit. It’s part of the deal for driving to Uganda – he has to play on the most raved-about golf course in East Africa.
The palatial hotel rich in Roman architecture comes complete with an amphitheatre with columns, fountains, gardens and a swanky marina.
If l had dropped out of the sky into the marina, l might have thought l was in one of those fashionable places in Florida or Spain or Italy. But l’m between the sprawling cities on the hills of Entebbe and Kampala.
Before the good game of golf, we jump into a luxury speed boat where beautiful yachts complete the picture. l feel like a veritable diva – speeding against the waves of Victoria and the greener than greener fairways to reach Paradise Island – a one-time haunt of the brutal dictator – Idi Amin.
The first island enroute called Bird Island is full of birds and has a gigantic monitor lizard – almost 15-feet long that could be mistaken for a crocodile. Our boat captain Patrick Aliaku is a keen birder and points to African fish eagles, African darters, Pink-backed pelicans, Open-billed storks, Long-tailed cormorants with just their heads sticking out of the water like swimming snakes and more. This could be the equivalent of the bird-full twin-islands of Mbasa on our side of the lake.
A few minutes later we’re at Paradise Island, Amin’s once-upon private’ island until it was bombed out. Nothing shows of the lavishness of the dictator that plunged Uganda into the throes of despair while he lived it up. Stepping out of the boat, Aliaku guides us up the hilly island to the ruins. A local fisherman cleans a small Nile perch there. Until a decade ago, the lake boasted of Nile perch that weighed 150 kilograms compared to the one being skinned now – a mere 10-kilogram.
The plan to sail to the Chimpanzee Sanctuary on Ngamba island is forfeited because the golfers tee-off time is approaching fast. The chimpanzees are rescued from the horrendous trafficking in the great apes for the pet trade.
Returning for the Sunday special African buffet at Lake Victoria Serena with a gargantuan appetite, l indulge in the Ugandan dish of groundnut sauce (benyenoa) and bananas (matoke) a dish of the Buganda from central Uganda.
“The secret to cooking matoke is to use little water, boil and mash with a wooden spoon,” reveals Estesa Charles, the chef. “Then transfer onto banana leaves and wrap well.” It keeps the matoke hot and soft.
Well-fed, it’s the nephew’s time to tee off. The championship golf course on the lake shore is a novelty to tee off from. A few balls land in the lake. An open-billed stork is rattled by one. By late evening the last hole is played.
Driving past the Entebbe Airport, it’s a reminder of Operation Thunderbolt – when on 4 July 1976 the Israeli army freed over a 100 hostages following a hijacking by a group of Palestinian and German militia. Idi Amin supported the terrorists – the Kenyans supported the Israelis. Amin threatened to retaliate by killing Kenyans in Uganda – thankfully he was overthrown in 1979 after the Liberation War with support of Tanzania.
7 hours – 350km from Kisumu via Busia
Golfers will love Africa’s newest golf course and for sailors the marina.
Great stopover for safaris to Queen Elizabeth National Park, Semuliki National Park where the Batwa Pgymies still live on the border and Murchison Falls.
Must have for Uganda: log book, yellow fever certificate – East African’s use ID cards.
One stop border at Busia: Easy but the vehicle registration is lengthy – they keep the log book forcing you to return – annoying – if you decide to continue to another country.