PRESIDENT MICHEL LAUNCHES ARBORETUM
A vision dating back some 14 years, before James Alix Michel even became President of the Seychelles, came to a conclusion yesterday when he opened the archipelagos first arboretum. Located at Barbarons / Grand Anse on a 17 hectares plot, the new arboretum is as much planned for posterity and for Seychellois to come and see their extensive biodiversity in plants and trees but also for tourists to come and visit as part of their regular tours and excursions across the island.
Seychelles for long has had a botanical garden, equally a tourist hotspot but the more extensive and comprehensive arboretum will go a long way to facilitate research and keeping endangered flora alive and well while also serving as a seed centre to restock other parts of the archipelago with seedlings in the future.
President Michel planted the first official tree, none less than the famous Coco de Mer palm and it is understood that from here on, state visitors and VIP visitors may be asked to plant a tree of their own during their visit to appreciate the efforts of the Seychelles to stay green in all aspects of day to day life.
A regular source from Mahe had this to add: The National Botanical Garden Foundation is now tasked to look after the arboretum and it is foreseen that the private sector from the tourism industry and other businesses will come on board as sponsors of sections of the new park. They can adopt a tree, plant a tree or adopt a certain area and help with the cost to maintain and expand the plant and tree variety. The fact that this is a project initiated by President Michel way before he became President is also significant because it shows that our governments commitment towards keeping our environment clean and pristine is not just a sudden idea but has deep roots. You should come and see yourself when next back in Seychelles and who knows, perhaps even plant a tree.
How intriguing a thought that will be, but if asked will certainly oblige, at the arboretum or anywhere else for that matter. Seychelles, truly Another World.
Archive for June 12th, 2012
PRESIDENT MICHEL LAUNCHES ARBORETUM
SHERATON KAMPALA SET TO HOST CLASSIC CARS SHOW
The Sheraton Kampala Hotels this coming weekend is the place to be for classic car enthusiasts, when the gardens of the hotel will showcase some 40 vintage and classic cars from collectors and motor buffs around the country.
The event has been widened into a society weekend with a jazz concert on Saturday night featuring local legend Isaiah Katumwa, prizes for the best dressed couple in attendance of the show and lots more fun for kids with their bouncing castles, ice cream and other goodies.
An impressive lineup has been confirmed for the show with a range of models dating back to the pre-independence 50s, the post-independence 60s and 70s giving todays Kampaleans, used to eternal traffic jams, a glimpse into past days, when the owners of those cars would majestically cruise through Ugandas capital city, while most others in those days would ride a bicycle to work. Sadly for this correspondent an event to be missed as other duties call in Ruhengeri / Rwanda where on the same day the Kwita Izina Festival comes to its conclusion. Watch this space.
BRUSSELS AIRLINES FLIGHTS TO THE BIG APPLE SAVOIR VIVRE RETURNS TO THE AIR
A contact from Brussels Airlines has made a range of comments and pictures available, received soon after the airline launched their own nonstop flights between Brussels and New York, and only a number of already planned trips into the nearer and more distant region actually stops me from sampling this inflight spectacle myself – but do not give up hope just yet, it is my firm intention to actually fly on this service AND report, connectivity permitting, from the flights and the respective layovers.
And as I responded to the sender, it brings back those fond memories of the erstwhile Savoir Vivre when flying on the venerable B707 of the then SABENA in First Class and being treated like Royalty.
THAT seems to be back in the skies now and when the entire fleet of SN’s A330′s has been retrofitted by later this year with the new cabin product, it will be a choice airline to travel with, from Africa and to Africa.
Watch this space and enjoy the pictorials.
Brussels Airlines new Business Class JFK-BRU
Posted on June 9, 2012 | 3 Comments
Pic: Brussels Airlines entrance at New York JFK Terminal 1 (Jun 2012)
Pic: Lufthansa Senator Lounge at New York JFK Airport (Jun 2012)
On Friday June 1, I joined inaugural flight SN501 from Brussels to New York JFK. I flew economy class and was seated on the first row (14D) in Y. As frequent Brussels Airlines flyer (almost weekly now thanks to their Flydaypromo) and Miles and More Senator, I was upgraded* to business class on the return flight from JFK to BRU. Both the hard and soft product were outstanding. I think my pictures speak for themselves regarding the quality of the hard product. The only two negative experiences I had during the BRU-JFK-BRU journey were out of Brussels Airlines control: A queue of almost three hours (!) at JFK Terminal 1 Immigration to enter the USA and a 1,5 hour queue on the JFK runway before take-off back to BRU. Not sure whats wrong with JFK airport, but I hope they fix these issues soon!
Pic: Brussels Airlines A330-300ER OO-SFM at JFK Airport (Jun 3, 2012)
Pic: Brussels Airlines Business Class Menu introduction (Jun 2012)
Pic: Brussels Airlines Business Class Dinner Starter: Herbed Sliced Beef
Pic: Brussels Airlines Business Class Dinner Dessert: Cheese Cake (Jun 2012)>
Pic: Brussels Airlines Business Class Jules Destrooper Cinnamon Butter Thins
Remark: Ive put quite some effort in providing you with high quality pictures of the new Brussels Airlines hard product. Ive not posted all pictures I made during the flight, if you are looking for a specific detail (e.g. seat control instruction card) feel free to ask in the comments section of this post. Thank you.
a complete new interior thhroughout the plane, award winning business seats with a 180° full flat bed, a 15 AVOD IFE system with connect ability for personal devices like iphones or ipads. The seats are nearly identical to these of sister company Swiss International Airlines but with some nice upgrades (bigger screen, etc ).
The economy passenger can now rely on a 33 seat pitch witch is more then other airlines offer in economy. A new AVOD IFE system, with hours of entertainment with 10 screens has also been installed. The IFE system features an USB port which will load your personal devices like an iPhone or iPad
Actually with the new seats, the AVOD IFE system and the very nice service from the cabin members you can actually say that SN is offering one of the best products on the Atlantic routes. As a frequent United Airlines flyer myself occasionally travelling with British Airways I can say that SNs product in economy is the best around.
SNs offering from BRU to JFK was an African Coriander Chicken or a Fish Ragout after tasting the salad I was quite surprised about the quality offered. It was certainly up to standards I was quite surprised that there were qquite some pieces of chicken in the dish together with a good amount of rice… After taking a bite of the rice and the chicken (which was in a sort of curry sauce)
I was again surprised about the quality offered.
The chicken tasted delicious, it was soft, moist and had a good taste to it. The rice was still moist too and tasted also delicious..
Never thought I would say this but damn, this was a decent quality meal.
flight attendants came by frequently and were very attentive, they would offer drinks on regular times and with a small touch on the call button the were at your seat in less then a second.
I rarely saw such a service, this gets more then 2 thumbs up from me. This level of standard would remain constant throughout the whole flight.
..state of the art IFE system . a quite uniquue system since its the wireless system of RAVE with all the content installed on flash memory build into the system. It features hours of audio The system was loadeed with loads of recent movies and Hollywood hits, thanks to the system one could choose from a couple of languages to have it dubbed or with subtitles. A lot of useful information about Brussels Airlines, the airports, etc was loaded and loads of games were also available.
2. JFK to BRU June 1st
We were so happy to discover that Brussels Airline was child friendly beyond belief and the plane was gorgeous
All the games and toys I prepared for them were unnecessary, Brussels Airlines was 2 steps ahead of me! And that ain’t easy to do!
Zane insisted on the seafood meal that included a piece of fish, rice, veggies, and pasta salad. Alpha Poppa and I had chicken and rice with salad and a slice of cheesecake.
The back of each seat had a touch screen computers that offered movies, games, music, a real time global flight map, service call buttons, you name it… It was on that screen!
MABIRA, THE ENDANGERED FOREST
Writing about forests for me is like writing about life rich, varied, exciting, full of challenges and promises but also fraught with dangers. In recent years I have written much about the forests in our wider region, many of these pieces published in The Eye in Uganda and Rwanda, and while I named Nyungwe as The Enchanted Forest that one truly has a special place in my heart I have to call our own Mabira The Endangered Forest. Embattled by those who want to turn a quarter of it into a sugar cane plantation in the name of progress and development, assaulted by illegal loggers seemingly enjoying some serious protection and eating ever deeper into the core of Mabira, as recent overflights amply revealed, the forest nevertheless still has much promise and holds the key for at least part of Ugandas future, as a green lung and water tower for the sprawling and polluting Kampala metropolitan area, spewing out carbon dioxidewhich the 28.000 hectares forest then helps to absorb.
Mabiras continued integrity is a way of life for those who through the ages combed through it in search of medicinal plants, edible berries, fruits and roots and even fire wood, which if sustainably harvested can provide a continuous livelihood for the communities living at the edges of it and it holds yet more promise as a resource for research, as many answers for questions raised by modern medicine for cures may be contained in it.
But over and above those issues, which could fill a book of course or make for some added dissertations or thesis on this topic, Mabira is, or at least should also be an important source for nature and wildlife based tourism, and that is the focus of this particular article, to show just what amazing biodiversity can be found 60 odd kilometres outside our capital city of Kampala and what attractions the forest holds for tourists and local visitors alike.
Surprisingly few people actually visit the forest, or stop at the Eco Tourism Centre established by the National Forest Authority (www.nfa.org.ug). The figures given by staff vary between 2.000 and 3.000 visitors per annum, many of them school groups for that matter, a commendable co-curricular activity to bring the need to preserve our forests closer to the next generation, but when talking of foreign visitors or residents, the number seems abysmally low. It is understood that NFA was and continues to be lacking in promotional and marketing efforts or capacity, unlike their wildlife counterpart UWA, where PR, marketing and in particular the use of social media has made strong waves, even getting one over the Uganda Tourist Board it seems. Several trained guides based at the Eco Tourism Centre are ready to take local and foreign visitors on to one of the four main hiking trails, or else on one of four cycling trails, the latter requiring some experience with mountain bikes of course.
As the maps, available in hard copy if not out of stock, at the Eco Tourism Centre show, the four trails for hiking are the Red-tailed Monkey Trail, which can be easily done between say 45 minutes and 1.5 hours, while the Buttress Tree Trail, about 5 km long, may take as much as 3 hours to complete, depending how fit the hikers are and how long they prefer to stop to see birds or plants. The Grey Cheeked Mangabey Trail is the longest of the four, 6 kilometres long and it can take as many as 4 hours to complete, at times longer as the guides try to track the famously elusive primates. Those are seen only in about one in three attempts according to Peter Nsubuga, one of the guides I found on site during my visit. The more recently discovered Black Mangabey is even rarer to find and it would indeed take several hikes, even off the regular trails, accompanied by one of the guides with knowledge where these rare primates are actually located on a given day.
A short Picnic Loop, almost not worthy to be called a hike, as it is rather a stroll, of less than a kilometre can be completed in 20 30 minutes and at least gives an insight, a peek really, of what to expect when venturing deeper into Mabira forest and experiencing to be inside a tropical rain forest with all the sights, sounds and scents it has in store for visitors.
The cycling trails, mountain bikers are welcome to bring their own bikes of course, though basic models are available for hire at the centre at a modest cost of 25.000 UShs or about 10 US Dollars for the day, are notably more demanding in terms of time and come from easy, The Blue Trail of 5 kilometres length taking about an hour or so even for novices, over the medium rated Yellow Trail of 12 kilometres, taking depending on skills and fitness between 2 3 hours to complete. The difficult and longer and much more demanding sections of the Red Trail are the most challenging for riders, and this trail has a shorter version of 22 km and a full version of 30 km it in average takes cyclists between 4 -5, and even more hours to complete.
The ultimate challenge is the ride to the Griffin Falls, of late in the news over alleged contamination and pollution from a nearby sugar factory, which is called the White Trail and takes up to 8 hours to and from the centre though can be shortened by driving to near the falls and setting out with the bikes from there, as long as a driver takes care of the vehicle and teams up with the riders at their end point.
Before I moved on to the RainForest Lodge for a bit of luxury and fine hospitality, I obtained a few of the impressive facts from the guides, including an eye-opener when I compared the mammal inventory by Nature Uganda with the official guide books.
312 shrubs and tree species, 287 types of butterflies, 316 species of birds, many of them endemic, 23 species of reptiles, 97 species of moths and according to a Nature Uganda inventory 51 mammal species, whereas the regular guide books only talk of 30. If truly so, this would be a marked improvement over the past and all the more a reason to actually visit Mabira forest and hike it or cycle it. The Eco Tourism Centre also has three bandas for hire, clean and functional, with bedsheets, blankets and towels, but not self contained and not connected to electricity. A kerosene lamp is available for each of them and a basin and scoop are provided for washing outside in an enclosed little shower place and a long drop is set back a few metres. The prices reflect the standards, 8.000 Uganda Shillings for Ugandans and 15.000 Uganda Shillings for foreigners but comparably affordable vis a vis similar locations in for instance the national parks. Meals can be obtained at a very reasonable cost, upon prior arrangements with the visitor centre and comprises local produce, filling, wholesome but hardly a gourmet meal of course.
And then it was a very careful crossing over the Kampala Jinja highway, and be careful as you do because the number of food vendors at this spot at times make it hard to spot the cars, trucks and busses, which zapped by at high speed. Parked cars make that task even harder so utmost caution is required on this accident black spot.
I moved for a few nights to the RainForest Lodge, to enjoy the forest, the hospitality and facilities this award winning lodge offers. Set just about 2.5 kilometres off the main highway, this lodge is the only one within the NFA framework of national forests, a further sign that the commercial side of the NFA has yet to realize that there is actually tourism happening in Uganda and NFA could make quite a bit of money from concession fees, royalties and entrance fees paid by visitors, if only theyd embrace tourism seriously and under a well thought out development plan. Access to the lodge from the main highway is via a good murram track, soon entering the forest proper after leaving the roadside shacks and shops behind and escaping from the vendors trying to proffer roast meats, roast corn cobs and cold drinks through a hardly open window. The mood immediately changes when inside the forest, from the feeling of escape into a sense of anticipation which develops as eyes scan the trees for monkeys, for bright flowers, orchids perhaps, the birds and butterflies, but best not to be taking the eyes off the road for too long as there are some steep hills and sharp blind corners ahead.
Bookings for the RainForest Lodge can be done with ease by email via GeoLodgesAfrica though payment still requires to be processed at the lodge office in Kampala to secure the confirmation and when done all meals are included in the price, which are breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea and dinner. Ugandans and expatriate residents get a special rate for a stay in any of the 20 wooden cabins.
All meals are taken in the main restaurant but above it, almost as perched between the trees, is a lounge and lookout from an elevated vantage point, which permits for bird watching or simply looking into the evergreen foliage while sipping ones favourite cocktail, wine or spirit.
Depending on occupancies, the chef offers either a buffet with a variety of dishes to choose from, starting with a soup all the way to the desert or else meals are served by the waiters, with a choice of dishes also available from the daily tabled hote menu, with freshly baked buns and bread, served hot as it is supposed to be served.
Accommodation is well spread out, the 20 cottages set far apart one from the next, and that allows for total privacy and the quiet, if not silent enjoyment of the forest. This is through and through a silent lodge with no TV or music systems blaring away and guests are equally expected to keep their voices low and use earphones when listing to their iPod music. The walk ways to the cottages are often steep but well lit and to come for dinner and then return to the solitude of ones own cabin securely, staff are readily at hand to accompany guests after dark to and from their rooms to the dining room, if given a time by the visitors in advance.
The eerie calls of the forest hyrax often echo through the night from deep in the forest, surely causing goose pimples to those who hear these screams for the first time, when the guests at the Mabira RainForest Lodge retire to their rooms after their dinner. Whatever this is it makes a sound like in a haunted movie I remember an American visitor say to me during a previous visit before adding, if well remembered in a rather smaller voice there are no ghosts here, surely ?
The best magic in the forest is experienced at full moon of course, and admittedly best with someone very special to share such a unique experience with, sitting hand in hand on the private balcony each cottage has extending literally into the foliage. At new moon the darkness is almost overpowering before getting used to the shadows dancing under the starlight, hearing the various night sounds which emerge from the thickets, crickets, insects, moths flying circles around the balcony light unless it is switched off, or the whoosh of bat wings, the calls of the night owls or the rustling of leaves in the breeze, the hurrying feet of some small animal rushing through the leaves on the ground, to permit a close up experience of sounds and scents of the forest, engulfing those seeking this special solitude and an extraordinary experience.
A resident guide is available during the day to take guests for walks around the lodge and beyond, explaining about birds, the red tailed monkeys, the shrubs and trees and has answers for just about any questions the visitors may throw at him. And for those not wishing to hike, there is a swimming pool and a sauna available for resident guests to use, and many in fact do to take advantage of a visit to the steaming hot sauna, even as outside the evening chill creeps up on the swimmers at the nearby pool, the sun only having a warming effect when directly overhead. Massages too are offered and there are plans to establish a fully fledged Spa at the RainForest Lodge in Mabira to add further services for guests, tempted perhaps to come for a health week with special menus reflecting the use of organic ingredients, spending the a few days on a strict diet of health food accompanied by regular work outs and exercises, Yoga and meditation perhaps at the centre of it all.
The lodge is so near to Kampala and yet it feels so totally removed from the hustle and bustle of the city that it is always worth a visit, for a weekend or a mid week break which will be remembered for long, at the RainForest Lodge inside Mabira Forest or else, for those on a tight budget they can use the basic bandas at the Eco Tourism Centre., do a self catering trip or have some simple meals cooked for them, just as long as you come to Mabira and do visit. The road from Kampala is in reasonable shape, with a few potholes to watch out for of course, or it would not be Uganda, The Pearl of Africa.
In closing two more things are definitely worth mentioning. Last year the lodge staged a music weekend with Evon the Singer and others of Ugandas top performers and it is planned to have later in the year a Jazz in the Jungle weekend for aficionados of good music and good company. With only 20 cottages that will fill the lodge up fast of course, plus the three bandas and camping ground at the Eco Tourism Centre across the main highway, some 3 odd kilometres overall from the lodge, but that event is one to watch out for and not to miss it.
The other thing is one for star gazers. GeoLodgesAfricas Chief Executive and Managing Director Zahid Alam, when at the lodge, always brings his set of telescopes with him and shares his extraordinary knowledge of stars and star formations with guests, who are welcome to take a look into the skies above with stars often so near as to reach out for them. Unsullied from any light pollution which makes star gazing near cities much more difficult, here at the RainForest Lodge the lights are all dimmed at night to start with, or put out in fact when the guests gather around him and he begins to share his profound knowledge of the stars of the equatorial belt. That though is truly either a matter of luck to find him there or else, perhaps he could be persuaded to make it a regular event and not just provide his warm hospitality but also some lectures for new and advanced star gazers.
Enough reasons to visit Mabira Forest for sure now, from the solitude of a 28.000 hectares large tropical rain forest full of great biodiversity to the options for hiking and cycling to the chance opportunity to learn about the stars above, which sparkle down at those looking at them, with hope and aspirations and dreams in their hearts, ready to touch them, so near they often appear. Or else, simply for a romantic getaway, reason enough on its own that is.
Mabira is a star, or should be one and maybe, just maybe I can inspire a few of my readers to join hands in the Save Mabira movement which is dedicated to conserving this magnificent yet highly endangered forest for future generations.