Qatar, not on everybody’s bucket list but it is gaining momentum on the tourist front especially through layover/stopover offers with Qatar Airways. I have lived in Qatar for over three years and have discovered that people’s perceptions of the country are limited and many people even expats don’t really head off the beaten track. So here are my hidden and not so hidden gems of Qatar!
BEACHES KNOWN GEM
Most people when they think of the Middle East think of swanky 5* and luxury hotels where expats can sun themselves all year long. One of my favourite hotel beaches at the Intercon – you can read about our recent staycation here
Ok so just plane or car but that title is no where near as catchy.
When we knew we were headed towards becoming a family, we decided to have one last blow out holiday to somewhere you can’t take kids. I am all for travelling anywhere with children but my line in the sand is a malarial zones so we therefore chose Uganda and gorilla trekking as our last couple holiday.
When we were initially looking at doing a safari one of the things we found is that if you want to be remote you need to take a small plane. I am not a fan of small planes and one of the big appeals of Uganda was the ability to drive across it. When we announced this most people thought we were mad. That our time would be wasted driving between locations and that the roads would be arduous and really hard going. In reality, nothing could be further from the truth.
The hardest part of our journey was leaving Entebbe, the busiest part of Uganda we experienced. The roads here were congested and I imagine rush hour would have been a nightmare. Fortunately we left after the main morning rush hour so our experience wasn’t too horrific. And actually seeing the city was itself quite interesting. Watching the markets was a fascinating insight into life in Uganda and was interest contrast to the markets we saw in the more rural areas. My favourite part of was looking at the local merchants who were making their products on the street. We saw a local merchant making coffins, pork shops and fabric dyeing stalls. The most interesting however was a demonstration a local merchant treated us to showing us how he made clothes with paper bark. Paper bark clothing is Uganda’s only representation of the UNESCO world intangible heritage list and was truly a delight to see first hand. All this in our first hour in the car!
By driving across Uganda I think we got to see more of Uganda in terms of both people and wildlife. Driving through the villages, it was fascinating to see how each village had grown up around one type of ‘industry’. Whether it was coffee bean drying, tea picking, banana or cinnamon production. We even saw how these products were brought to market where traders came from all directions congregating on one small town to exchange their goods on market day. In some ways it was quite medieval to be driving along the road and seeing merchant after merchant carrying the goods to the nearest market day to sell or trade but gave a real insight into what everyday Ugandan village life is like.
One of the most surprising things I found about the drive was how built up the Ugandan countryside was. I had expected wide expanses where we saw no people but in fact Uganda is heavily populated throughout the countryside and the roads not as bad as I had expected.
Friends of ours who had flown across Uganda said that they found a lot of begging when they left the local airports to drive to their lodges. Whether this was because perhaps areas around the airports saw more tourists and had the expectation or whether we had just been lucky but his not something we experienced in Uganda. The most begging we saw was one girl on the road shouting “Give me Sweeties!”
The other highlight for me of driving rather than flying across Uganda was the wildlife we saw this way. From the road we spotted a variety of birds, to many to name in this post, baboons, several varieties of monkeys, elephants and even lions.
For me the greatest concern about this option was the toilet facilities. However even this was not as bad as expected. Most toilets were squat toilets which as a European I was not use to. On reflection if I did again I might take a she-wee as an aid and additional loo roll but other than that it was for the majority fine.
Some may see the additional time taken to travel between lodges as a downside however the experience for us was well worth it. I think we got a better overview of the social history of the country and the people who live there and truly immersed ourselves in the landscapes and wildlife it has to offer. Overall I have no regrets about driving rather than flying as I feel I have seen more of the country and and would certainly choose to travel overland again.
We booked our tour through Steppes Travel. Again flying was the primary option for travel between lodges but they were more than happy to tailor a driving safari to our needs. More coming up on the lodges, treks and Ugandan experience in future posts