By Matthias Mugisha
IT is one hour from Zebra Hotel to zebras. The shoebill and Statunga are a stoneâ€™s throw away, the Ssese sunsets beyond the horizon and the Bahima milking their cows a distance away.
Sitting in a plastic chair, at the balcony of the hotelâ€™s second floor, the weary orange sun paints the vast wetlands yonder with its rich shouting colours on its routine journey westwards.
â€œThat wetland is teeming with shoebills and Statungas. It is a pity thereâ€™s no binoculars,â€ Daudi Ameny, the manager of the 36-roomed Zebra Hotel in Masaka whispers.
Located on Baines Terrace, about two minutes from the town centre, the hotel with 35 employees commands a spectacular view of the Masaka wetlands and is a sort of a drawing board for visitors to Ugandaâ€™s prominent national parks and cultural sites.
The wetlands, a paved highway coils through and loses itself beyond a gentle hill on it is way to Tanzania through Mutukula.
As darkness triumphs over the heavenly fireball and miniature electric lights dot the neighbourhood, tender, ambient music filters through from the garden below, where couples are set to devour mouth-watering dishes with candle light painting their faces in exotic colour textures. The dishes, both continental and traditional, range from sh7,000 to sh10,000
Still at the balcony, looking back into the bedroom, the bed seems to be seductively shouting: â€œI am all yours tonightâ€.
Targeting the up market traveller, accommodation ranges from sh35,000 to sh80,000 and the manager says the price is polite.
Until recently, travellers from Kampala and beyond moving westwards have had no reason to have a stop over in the ever boring Masaka town until the hotel opened its doors wide a year ago, with conference facilities as is the norm these days.
The hotel, covering an area of about two acres and with a generous parking lot, is now used as an alternative springboard to Ugandaâ€™s tourist attractions in central and western Uganda.
It is one hour from the hotel to Lake Mburo National Park, three hours to Queen Elizabeth National Park and one hour to Ssese Islands. The hotel is a springboard to Bigo Byamugyenyi historical site in Sembabule to the home of the Ankole cows.
The hotel was my gateway to the weird Musambwa Island in Lake Victoria, a bird sanctuary for migratory birds with bizarre customs. Sex, women, sheep, cows and dogs are prohibited on the Island. â€œThe place is of interest to us,â€ Ameny says of the island where men sleep on rocks in the open.
The Ssese Islands are famous for white sandy beaches, sunsets, forest walks and bird watching while Bigo Byamugyenyi holds rich history about the Bacwhezi.
The hotel is also a gateway to Lake Mburo National Park, the only park in Uganda where impalas and until recently elands could be sighted.
Recently, some elands were translocated from Lake Mburo to Kidepo National Park ,though the former retains the lionâ€™s share.
Other rare species in Uganda found in the park is the Statunga and the Topi. According to the parkâ€™s warden for tourism, Robina Gangiriba, plans are under way to open up a safari walk package that will allow visitors four days meandering in the wilderness.
Other adventures include bird watching, boat rides, nature walks and game drives. But most important is the connection of the park with the hotel. Lake Mburo is the national park in Uganda with the biggest Zebra herds. â€œIt is one hour from Zebra to zebras,â€™â€™ Ameny sums it up.