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“We don’t remember days, we remember moments.”

Two weeks in Uganda sailed by in an impossibly fast blur.

Before arriving, I had no idea what to expect. I’d never been to Africa before, and knew only the idea of Africa shown in films or documentaries: wildlife, desert, sunshine. I knew even less about East Africa.

The only thing I knew for sure was that it was a 14 hour flight, and that there would be mosquitoes. And so, with a blank slate and open heart, I boarded the plane.


Good Morning, Makindye

Jetlag greeted me promptly on our first morning in Makindye, Kampala. My body clock shook me awake early, 5:30am. The most magnificent cacophany of noise filtered in through the open window. I blinked blearily, the mosquito net around the bed coming slowly into focus, and I heard the sounds of the dawn.

Crickets were chirping, morning birds twittering. The dogs in the garden were barking, yapping at one another, wishing each other good morning. A cluster of cockerels were doing their cock-a-doodle-doos.

A rumble of traffic sounded somewhere in the distance, a multitude of car honks and engines revving. Then a Muslim prayer broadcast crackled from somewhere nearby, blessing everyone, expressing gratitude for day; the speaker began singing into the microphone.

I closed my eyes again and took it all in, the morning music of Makindye.


Ugandan Spirit

There’s a certain spirit in Uganda, a spirit comprised of family, tradition, and progress. It’s very moving.

It reminded me a lot of the Philippines. The people are happy, lively, musical. They’re ready to embrace whatever changes the tide may bring. There’s such a strong sense of community, of resilience.

In a further parallel to the Philippines, which is nicknamed the Pearl of the Orient, Uganda is known as the Pearl of Africa. In the midst an otherwise baked and arid landscape, Uganda is home to teeming wildlife, vast mountains, abundant vegetation, enormous lakes, fertile soil and wonderful people.

The country was everything I’d imagined, and more. Far, far more.


Making Memories

“It is good people who make good places.”

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What I remember of Uganda returns to me in bright, warm flashes of fondness. The hospitality, the warmth, the love. The beautiful Matthew family. The neighbouring little sisters, Kisembo and Leah. My very own tribe name: Abwoli.

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I remember the smell of hot earth and red dust after the rain. The death-defying swerves of boda-bodas – motorbike taxis – through the militant traffic. I remember the delicious cooking, the lovingly homemade food. Perry crafted the most delicious chicken stews and succulent beef roasts; sweet potatoes and maize; matooke and groundnut sauce. We had breakfasts of small, sweet bananas and flew past rusty trucks full of fresh plump pineapples on the streets.

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Uganda had the craziest, brightest, most colourful flowers. Enormous snails grazed in the gardens. There were wonderful teas, wonderful coffees. Rooftop cafés in the heart of the traffic.

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I will always remember the first time I saw the twinkling nightlights of Kampala. The city came to life after dusk. There were live bands and music. Dancing and beer. We leaped around with strangers to No Woman, No Cry and laughed into the morning with stilettoed Rwandans who communicated with us not in English, but through their hearts.

Munyonyo Resort was good to us. Palm trees and passionfruit juice. Endless blue skies and human silhouettes. The cool navy waters of Lake Victoria. Ripe gardens bursting with life.

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We had endless road trips on dusty, bumpy, winding roads. Pit stops and squat holes. Nostalgic radio playlists and the questionable accompanying commentary: “Mariah Carey’s divorce to Nick Cannon is like Boyz II Men’s latest album – a career-ruiner.” (My response to this latter gem was, and still is: ¿qué?)

I remember the wild, somewhat sinister baboons and their babies prowling alongside our car on the rocky trails. The adrenaline of chimpanzee trekking in Kibale Forest on Valentine’s Day. Families bathing together in rivers, kids who stopped to say hello.

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I will always remember white water rafting on the River Nile. Toppling into raging waters, my lungs screaming for oxygen, becoming truly conscious of my mortal human frailty. I will always remember the infinite views at Nyinabulitwa Crater Lake, and standing awed and speechless on Top of the World.

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I will also remember squatting precariously in a bush on Top of the World, knickers around my ankles, praying that the rubber soles of my flip-flops would keep me grounded from a very undignified death.

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Above all, I will remember the love.

Matthews. Uganda. 2015.

“The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched – they must be felt with the heart.”


A Promise to Return

On my final night in the country, I cried. I felt so grateful, humbled, overwhelmed. Should you ever have the chance to visit East Africa, I urge you to go to Uganda. Its spirit is not to be missed.

Fast-forward fourteen days later. Back at the airport, choking back tears, exchanging tender goodbyes with souls that I’d grown to love.

Dusk fell as the plane gathered speed on the runway. The orange sun disappeared behind the hills. The plane finally took off. I soared into the Ugandan sky with love in my heart and a promise to return.

“Wherever you go, go with all your heart.” (Confucius)


illumelation.com | Fragments of Uganda | Travel Diary
Mel Legarda

Melissa Legarda is the founder of illumelation. She has worked as a travel blogger, creator and writer since 2015, and has collaborated with well-known brands worldwide. She has helped over 1,100+ students improve their travel photography skills since launching her creative courses. Her mission is to encourage and empower others to travel and create more. Find her on Instagram.

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