Lake Victoria - February 2024

Victoria – Africa’s Great Lake

Trip nine, to Tanzania in 2023 was to be our last as a group. Fred was adamant. “I’m doing this year and then no more. I’ve booked another trip to Kenya and Tanzania and also to Ecuador and then I’m giving it all up,” he explained one evening in Ruaha National Park over dinner. “Elizabeth and I are getting too old for this sort of thing and it’s time to call an end to African safaris.”

So, Fred and Chris went back to Africa in the late summer and then Fred and Elizabeth went to Ecuador in the autumn and I stayed at home, telling everybody that my days of going on grand safaris to exotic locations were more than likely over.

It was clear, however, from correspondence with Fred after his return from Kenya and Tanzania, that he was beginning to have a change of heart. This disease that we have all contracted, this addiction to the dark continent, is very hard to live with and there appears to be no cure. It’s not harmful or fatal in and of itself, but there is no way to just shake it off. I have always admitting to having a pretty bad case of it myself, but Fred seems to have it much, much worse.

Apparently, while travelling with Emmy, our trusty friend and driver/guide from Uganda, the long-discussed, but never seriously considered, epic trip down the spine of southern Africa had once more been on the agenda. Emmy suggested that he needed to make a trip as far south as Victoria Falls on the Zambia/Zimbabwe border and it would be an incredible journey if we drove down from either Uganda or Rwanda. We could take a few weeks to do so and stop at some incredible national parks on the way. I can remember discussing something similar on my first visit to Uganda in 2012.

Fred managed to sound both intrigued and reticent at the same time. Despite the difficulties – or perhaps because of them – it really did sound like an adventure of suitably epic endurance. With the ability to fly directly to Kigali in Rwanda and then fly back directly from either Livingstone or Lusaka, we would only have to make a one-way journey. Emmy, of course, would have to drive all the way back home.

At first glance, it sounds like the perfect epic trip. A chance to go out with a bang and explore parts of the continent we had never visited before. It would also be a chance to revisit some places that had fond memories for all of us. Maybe a month to cover about 2,500 kilometres of reasonable roads and some truly magnificent parks. Fred worked out a potential itinerary and we all pitched in with ideas and suggestions.

Then, the idea started to fall apart. Travelling in the first quarter of the year was really not going to work at all. Half of the parks we wanted to see would be closed because of the rains and the roads would potentially be impassable or dangerous. The almost certain need for detours and delays would make any minor problem into a logistics nightmare and there were going to be several long days of just driving south.

Reluctantly, we all agreed that it was a step too far, at least at that time of the year. Fred, however, seemed to have rekindled his interest in another less strenuous trip. Based on his most recent visit to Tanzania in the late summer, he had a desire to revisit the area south of Lake Victoria. “There are places I want to see more of,” he told me in an email. “There’s great bird-spotting potential at the mouth of the Mara River and on the shores of Speke Gulf for example. That’s close enough to the Serengeti for a day in the park. Also, it’d be nice to go back to Rubondo Island for a couple of days. Then there is a new park in that part of Tanzania: Bugiri-Chato. There is also Akagera National Park on the Rwanda side of the border.”

Yes. I’d been to the Serengeti on my first trip to Tanzania and I’d been on the shores of Lake Victoria in Uganda twice, but I’d not really seen the southern shores of this vast body of water. I’d even landed in Rwanda a couple of times, but never been off the aircraft. It began to sound like a manageable trip that would not be too demanding on any of us. Fred promised to think about it while they were in Ecuador and we’d make a decision on his return in November.

Emails between us move thick and fast. Being aware of my desire to see big game as well as the expected birds force a bit of flexibility and Emmy is soon on-board to drive for us. Kigali in Rwanda seems like the ideal start and end point for the trip, as we can fly directly from London Heathrow, overnight in both directions, for a very reasonable price. By Armistice Day we have confirmation from Fred of tickets for this, heading out on 14th of February and returning overnight on the 9th / 10th of March. Fred promises that the itinerary will be tailored to suit these dates and will follow. He also confirms that Elizabeth will not be joining us this time, leaving it as an all-male trip for the first time in my travels with them.

Once the itinerary is finally settled, I don’t think that any of the three of us have anything negative to say. This is the Lake Victoria trip. We will land in Rwanda and travel east along the southern shore and into the Serengeti with stops on the way. We will then turn back to the west, taking a slightly different route back before ending with a few days in Akagera in Rwanda before flying home. Emmy will cross over from Uganda and meet us at the airport. There will be birds – hundreds of different birds – but there will also be big game in plentiful abundance. Akagera has the big five and I saw my first ever leopard in the Serengeti on my previous visit there, so chances of good sightings are pretty high.

Throw in plenty of elephants, the possibility that I might finally see a sitatunga and the chance of seeing shoebill among the papyrus and reeds and we have the bare bones of what might be a really great trip around the southern shores of the great lake.


I don’t actually have to do very much to get ready for a trip. I’m a light packer and I never feel the need to do much organising ahead of time. For this trip, I needed to renew my passport – less than six months on it by the time we were due to leave. That’s a simple enough process and I now have a nice new Isle of Man passport with all the bells and whistles that modern security requires.

I’ve checked my cameras and all the batteries for them, double-checked memory cards and other storage devices. My DSLR, a Pentax K3-III, is only about 18 months old. I bought it for the last trip, along with a Pentax 150-450mm super-zoom lens and its performance was stunning. I’ve grown accustomed to pairing it with my little Canon SX730HS super-zoom pocket camera. It is remarkably good for the size of the sensor and the 40x (960mm) equivalent zoom on the long end is welcome occasionally. Not great in low light, but more than useable in good conditions and for quick snaps. I then use my phone’s camera for quick panoramas and general wide-angle shots.

I have to admit to a bit of an obsession with making sure that I have enough backup copies of everything that I might gather during the trip. To that end, my DSLR writes to two SD-cards at the same time. I can’t do that with the compact camera or the phone, but they aren’t as important in the great scheme of things. Whenever I get a chance – most usually every day – all the photos are copied onto my laptop and stored for viewing and a little processing.

I also always carry some sort of backup device – usually an external NVME enclosure as a portable hard drive. This I’ll also try and keep up-to-date every day and carry separately. I’m never sure that we will have a good enough internet connection to try cloud-based backups, so I just stick to real hardware and do the best I can. Three or four copies of every photo should be sufficient.

I have also learned to not totally trust SD-card storage media. They really are prone to simply fail for no apparent reason and I always carry a case with sets of spares. It hasn’t happened to me on a trip, but I have had to do recovery for Fred once. They are actually almost cheap enough now that you can write once and then simply store them like that. I don’t do so, but they will probably only ever be written to a handful of times before I consider them obsolete. That even extends to the pair of 128GB ones in the Pentax. I’ll be unlikely to get to more than 30% capacity on them on a trip like this, so they should be good for at least a dozen or more such safaris without issue.

The Writing Process

I’d love to be able to write all of this here at my desk, but I no longer have a good enough memory to be able to do it all once we return. I’ll be taking my laptop with me in any case, for backups and photo viewing, so it makes sense to write as I go. So, for the last couple of trips, I’ve fallen into the habit of writing journal-style after every day or so. If we are taking a siesta in the afternoon, you’ll most likely find me sitting on the veranda with the laptop writing away. I’ve even been known to take a morning off to catch up if we are doing too much bird-watching.

The amount that I write has grown over the years. I’ve grown away from a book that is simply a few hundred photos to something that is much more of a travelogue. The pictures are still the force driving the process, but now the words carry more and more with them. I genuinely enjoy the writing itself and primarily the whole endeavour is something that I do only for myself. I’m always going to be happy if the only copy of the book that ever sees the light of day is the one that I order for my own bookcase.

That having been said, I don’t go about the creative process as if that is the case. Every book is produced to be published and this methodology has also grown over the years. Each original book – and this one will be no exception – is initially produced to be printed and published on All of them are created in the very large 13” x 11” hardback format that shows photographs off at their very best. These are very expensive and somewhat exclusive.

In the last few weeks, I’ve been working on recreating these books in a much more cost-aware format and for a wider audience. I now use to self-publish my novels and they also offer a range of sizes and finishes. All of the previous nine volumes of travel books have now been converted to be printed on demand in an 8” x 10” format. These full-colour paperbacks are much more affordable and the whole series is going to be launched when this book is complete.

The Great Lake

Victoria is the second largest lake in the world and, according to Wikipedia, has a surface area just slightly under 60,000 square kilometres. It is bordered by Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya and its fisheries provide food and employment for many locals.

The lake is relatively shallow and its waters are replenished by numerous small rivers all around the shores. The only outflow is at Jinja in Uganda where a river flows north towards South Sudan, being the first part of the western branch of the Nile that eventually flows to Egypt and the Mediterranean Sea. This northern outlet is the site of a hydroelectric dam that regulates the flow into the Nile.

Being formed by the filling with water of a shallow depression, at the end of the last ice age, the lake has a convoluted coastline with many bays and gulfs, being dotted with numerous islands. Many of the shallow inlets are choked with papyrus and lotus, creating habitat for numerous birds.

Our destination for this safari is the southern shoreline and the associated islands and inlets. Several of our hotels are on the shore of the lake and we are intending to spend two nights on Rubondo Island. This isolated nature reserve is home to elephants, sitatunga and chimpanzee.

We will also spend time in the Burigi-Chato National Park on the western side of the lake and the much more well-known and well-visited Serengeti National Park just beyond the eastern shore.


You could argue, and many people have done so before, that travelling in the winter is always a bit of a wildcard choice. I have to say, however, that in each of my first eight trips, seven of which were in December or February, we have always been verry fortunate to have no major issues. Trip nine, to Tanzania in February of 2023, was an exception, but not because of the weather in the British Isles or anywhere else. KLM managed to make a mess of that without any assistance from the elements.

Despite the chaos of the journey that time, we never actually lost a day. We were tired and grumpy, but we were basically in the right place at the right time despite the difficulties.

This trip is already compromised and we will indeed be losing a day of our safari because of it.

For basically the first time, we had decided that it was possible to fly out of the UK on the same day as we planned to leave the Isle of Man. With a seven-hour layover in Heathrow, we would have plenty of time to cope with minor delays. Sadly, what we found when we got to the airport at Ronaldsway was more than a minor delay. It was a fog-induced cancellation of our flight to London. Airline staff booked us on a flight to Liverpool instead, but not until 6pm. Far too late to even attempt to make a connection to London.

While Fred spoke to RwandAir in London, I searched for an alternative. Our Rwanda flight couldn’t be sensibly altered, so the outbound leg was cancelled and our return flights were re-booked. Chris, already close to Heathrow, would continue on schedule and wait for us in Kigali. We eventually tracked down a good possible alternative and I booked a pair of one-way tickets to Kigali from Manchester, using Qatar Airlines. This would involve two flights with a stop in Doha, but would see us arrive in Kigali only 24 hours later than originally planned.

Eventually, the fog cleared somewhat and the planes started to move once more. We finally boarded our flight and made it to Liverpool. Our taxi driver was excellent and eventually managed to get us to our overnight hotel with only a small amount of fuss. The booking at the hotel seemed a little bit difficult to find, but eventually we all worked out what had done with the first names, second names and surnames and were given our key-cards.

I had a pint and an excellent pizza and then we headed for an early night and the promise of breakfast before heading to the airport. If our previous day had seemed like a long one, then this one was going to be much worse. At least we didn’t have to be at the airport before sunrise, but our connection in Doha was scheduled for after midnight local time and would at least result in tow six-hour long flights instead of one of about nine hours from Heathrow.

Our seats in Economy Plus were in the middle of the plane, but when you’re flying towards the sunset, there isn’t much to see outside. I’ve flown enough now to not really get airsick and usually manage to do my best to zone out and doze through the experience. Actually, the Qatar staff make this quite difficult, with frequent interruptions for food and drinks throughout the journey. It does make the time pass more quickly this way. And, indeed, the food and drinks were excellent, although I shouldn’t drink wine on a flight and absolutely shouldn’t have a gin and tonic either, but it had been one of those days.

Hamad International Airport in Doha, arriving in the dark, is something of a shock to the system. Our arrival was all the way down at the furthest end of the A-numbered gates and we had less than an hour to make our way to a C-numbered gate for boarding. The distance is frankly enormous. Probably more than a kilometre through throngs of fellow-travellers. I’m sure the building is air-conditioned, but you wouldn’t think so when trying to move fast with a very heavy back-pack. Fred, always keen to be at the destination rather than on the journey, set a blistering pace that I honestly struggled to keep up with. Once upon a time, I was the one to set the walking pace that others could hardly match, now I’m the one lagging behind.

We actually made it with plenty of time to spare and were even lucky enough to find seats in the departure area. Called to board after only a short wait, we spent more time on the bus than we did in the lounge. Eventually, however, we made the short bus ride and were once again in our seats. This aircraft was a lot smaller and a lot older than the first, but comfortable enough for a few hours. It was almost full, however, and the seat next to me was quickly occupied by quite a large gentleman.

Luckily, he was able to change seats after take-off to sit with a friend in one of the few spares, leaving Fred and myself to make good use of a three-seat unit for the rest of the journey. Through the miracles – or should that be machinations – of code-sharing, this was actually a RwandAir flight, bringing us full circle for the two-day adventure. Not quite up to the high standards of Qatar themselves, but the meal was palatable and I even managed to fall asleep for maybe an hour or so.

However long I managed to sleep for seemed to be enough, as I woke more refreshed than I deserved to be and the sun was already rising behind us as we crossed the border between Ethiopia and Kenya. We were soon passing into Ugandan airspace, just north of Mount Elgon which was clearly visible far below. Within just a few minutes, we were beginning our approach and descent into the cloudy morning skies over Kigali.

Our electronic visa was pretty straightforward, once over the initial confusion of our intentions to leave the country the same day. I did promise to return later to visit Akagera, and that seemed to suffice. Our luggage took an age to appear in a very crowded and confused reclaim area, but once we had it in our hands, we were out the door and into the Kigali morning. Chris was off to one side waiting for us and I spotted him immediately. In the coffee shop around the corner, Emmy was ready for us and, after the obligatory greetings, we were in the vehicle and off.

Part 2: Kigali to Chato