Last week my two girls (12 & 10) & I concluded an 8 days & 7 night’s safari trip with Stir safari. From the start, its managing director Mr. John Paul Aporu was very keen on making things work. It took over two weeks of constant adjusting & tweaking to cater for ever-changing destinations. At the same time, I was also connected to more known companies in this board but were quickly eliminated for either the very high prices or trying to sell me something I did not want. At the end, Stir safaris won.
When we landed, I was surprised to see John Paul himself receiving us. It is the high season & everybody is out showing visitors around. He paid for an MTN line with 2.5 GB data along with the taxes. I was impressed as we never discussed this & he never charged me for it. During the next week, he paid for many other things that I wanted along the way starting with fruits sold by the side of the road or simple tips to street performers.
The thing that confirmed his professionalism is his determination to make things work. He would enlist what should be done the next day at dinner in detail then arranging for breakfast & lunch the next day. Waking us up & making sure we had breakfast & being the first one on the game drive. We saw two leopards 10 minutes apart while the whole hotel saw none in 2 weeks.
He would also unfold his map & details routes, estimated time & what can be done during the “African massage”. If you do not know what that means then imagine an ever-bumpy washboard road with speed breaks alternating with very deep potholes for 5-7 hours!
John Paul made sure we found an excellent view for packed lunch & a clean bathroom on the highway. His knowledge of wild life & birds made every moment interesting. Upon one day, we fell asleep during the African massage but he stopped for few minutes until we awoke to show us a landmark I had asked about before. I totally forgot about it but it was in the itinerary that he followed to the letter. He also made frequent stops by the road to show a monument, a cultural event & photography breaks (with tea plantations & several other farms).
Every time we checked into a hotel he would stay until we were shown around making sure it’s up to standard. He also paid for a room dinner because we arrived late beyond the usual buffet hours. I knew from the ignorant staff that presented the recite that it was not in the package. The next morning he settled the bill as the manager apologized for we were not supposed to know about it. He also arranged for a surprise birthday cake & celebration after dinner for my daughters.
On the very last day, he took us to a craft village & we chose what we wanted while he haggled to give us the best price & told us to wake away if he felt it is too expensive. He then took us to three supermarkets to shop local items we saw during the trip. The same day he treated us to huge ice creams from Café Javas, which were not in the package just because the girls wanted some.
The Balloon & the horse riding were to the bare minimum price mentioned in the internet & forums without any haggling at all. John Paul also took about 450 photos on his cell phone when we were not looking to document our trip. He has good artistic photographic skills but resultant quality was the best his phone could muster. We handed our mirroless camera on several occasions & he used it with ease.
All accommodations were more than adequate, clean rooms with hot showers. The only exception was the Murchison Tree House, which I specifically asked for. Two lodges had no AC but we felt fans were more than enough.
Here is a concise summary over what was done & the lodges used for reference
Day 1: Pakuba Safari Lodge
• Pick up from Airport
• Drive from Kampala to Murchison Fall National Park (5 hours)
• Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary
Day 2: Pakuba Safari Lodge
• game drive
• boat cruise to bottom of the Falls
Day 3: Murchison Tree House
• sunrise Hot Air Balloon
• Cross with the Ferry to the South
Day 4: Kyaninga Lodge
• Drive from Murchison National Park to Fort Portal (8 hours)
Day 5: Mweya Safari Lodge
• Bigodi Swamp
• Amabere Caves
• King’s Palace
• Burrial Tomb
• Drive to Mweya Safari Lodge in Queen Elizabeth National Park (6 hours).
Day 6: Nshenyi Cultural Village
• Drive to Rwandan border (6 hours).
• Farmers life tour
Day 7: Mestil Hotel and Residence
• Cattle keepers life tour
• Mountain honey
• Pygmy potters
• Drive to Kampala (7 hours).
• Horse ride
• Boat ride to the source of the mighty River Nile
• Crafts Center in Kampala
• Entebbe Zoo (UWEC)
• Tour around Enteebbe including three supermarkets, two cafes & one restaurant
• Drop at the airport at 12 midnight.
You may have noticed that roads are brutal so make sure you spend at least 2 nights in one destination. Research how many hours it takes to reach any point or national Park e.g. Ishasha is two hours’ drive from the entrance of Queen Elizabeth National Park gate! In one instance; I asked how long until we reach destination? He said; 7 km to the gate then 10 more to the lodge; that is 45 minutes! It took 50 minutes exactly. Also avoid rainy seasons for the muddy road will tax you extra. Consider flying if you can’t bear the bumpy roads.
At the last day of the trip, I came to know that John Paul is a lecturer at the Business School of Makerere University in Kampala! Which explains him being very passionate about his country, culture, tourism & on making sure you see his country & nation to the best he can. John Paul ended the trip as a dear friend.