We've just been trekking in the Simien mountains for over a week and then straight back into Epiphany celebrations. Both alive and well
Winning, losing and rocking all over the world
We've just been trekking in the Simien mountains for over a week and then straight back into Epiphany celebrations. Both alive and well
Rachel - Jinja, Kampala (and my birthday!)
27/12/2010 - 29/12/2010
Just about recovered from our hangovers we decided to leave the cosy compound and nile view of the backpackers and head into Jinja town for a look around. We needed some exercise after our hog roasts and boozey nights so we chose to walk the 8km or so into town, much to the bemusement of all the taxi drivers. As we were walking we could hear drums and as we got closer saw some people wearing ash and feathers and waving branches in the air. We thought maybe it was a wedding so Dave breached the crowd to ask what was happening. It turns out some young boys were about to havetheir ritual circumsision and the man dancing in feathers was going to perform the operation. The boy and the boy's mothers were the ones in ash and they were touring the village to raise some pennies to pay the "doctor". Two young men described their memories of their own circumsicion which is performed standing up, without anaesthetic...in public. Poor boy. Someone told me that there were supposed to be two boys but one had run away...i wish him godspeed.
The next music we heard on our journey was a version of "My heart will go on" (the titanic song), like a very loud mobile phone tone, played from a the front of a motorcycle on the back of which was an ice box. We had stumbled across the African version of the icecream man! I guess they abandoned greensleves after independence.
We made it to Jinja which is a very nice town - wide, tree lined avenues with indian influenced architecture and a few futuristic looking hindu temples on the skyline. We just pottered about and then decided to try and cut across the waterfront, through what looked like the grounds of a hotel but was actually the sailing club (which bizarrely featured a 8ft stone tyrannasaurus rex). We were just tip toeing past the end of the gardens when we heard a shout behind us...rumbled by a security guard. The guard was a young man who refused to accept our story that we were merely trying to take a short cut and with some affectated moralistic pride he told us we were trespassing and he'd have to hold us in detention until his boss returned...unless we wanted to negotiate. We feigned ignorance about what that might mean and over the next two hours, while we sat on a rock watching and enjoying the sunset over the lake and the hundreds of bats circling above us, tried to get him to call the police, wait for the boss, become his friend, use logic about the legality of detaining us without an arrest, and in the end after we'd waited long enough to show we werent going to pay a bribe we apologised once more so he gave us a lecture about how we should have just apologised earlier and magnanimously decided to let us go. After that he was overtly nice to us, even giving me a hug when dave's back was turned and asking to be my friend, he made sure we were safe in a taxi and promised to visit us the next day for some drinks. A very strange evening.
Just before we went to bed we toyed with the idea of using our half price re-run voucher for the rafting because it was so much fun the first time. With the voucher you got a free nights accommodation, breakfast and evening meal, two free drinks *and* a free transfer to Kampala so really it was silly not to! So we went again on my birthday this time. This time we were paired with a romanian orthodox religious lawyer and holy relic expert and his Tanzanian companion who he was sponsoring through college after meeting him on a previous trip. A seriously nice and holy man who amused us with jokes and stories on the way. Neither of them could swim but they were both up for the hard lines through the rapids, not realising that you are very likely to end up in the water - So we spent most of the training kilometres trying to convince them to get into the water and trusting their life jackets. By the end though they were jumping in at any opportunity and having a whale of a time. I really enjoyed helping these two to get over their fears and watching them at the end with new confidence.
After the rafting we headed straight back to Kampala to meet up with Jonquil and Seb who we'd made friends with over Christmas. They were cycling around lake Victoria and had left a few days before to cycle to Kampala to meet us at the national theatre for a night of spoken word and hip hop i'd wanted to go to. Our transfer was stuck in traffic so we were nearly two hours late but thank heavens (despite thinking we'd stood them up) they'd gone in so we managed to meet them, still bedraggled from the rafting but happy to see them. After the poetry thing (which degenerated into shouty gangster hip hop just as the orthodox christian rejoined us, of course) we went to a few bars, chatted lots, drank lots till our cash ran out. We even found a shisha bar and made easy friends with some ugandans at the end of the night. On the way back we stopped at the "Obama chapati stall" and watched the staff throwing chapati dough back and forth between each other and amused them with our muzungu ways with not a word of english spoken but much chuckling. A great end to a great night out.
When we got back to our hotel there was a man tied up on the floor of the ground floor restaurant, snoring. Apparently he'd been caught trying to break in so they were waiting to decide what to do with him. *shrug*, what can you say to that eh? There's always something intriguing going on. Tomorrow we fly to Ethiopia. I wonder if it'll have the quirks of Uganda. Can't wait to find out.
Rachel - Jinja
24/12/2010 - 26/11/2010
I should have been nervous. Many things on this trip make me nervous: walking down steep hills on unstable paths, walking on anything at all slippery, feeling like I’m intruding on anything that seems private but is nonetheless interesting to us as outsiders, speed… But this time I wasn’t nervous at all. On Christmas eve morning we joined the group of other Nile rafters for a briefing breakfast in a backpackers in Jinja, were given our briefing which was supposed to mock-scare us, but still I was calm. Even when, as a group of people I’d just spent the morning getting to know declared themselves as wanting to go in the extreme boat I decided why not, these seemed like fun people to go down the river with (although this was my first confessed moment of concern about what that might involve). And once we\d pushed off I supposed there was nothing I could do about it anyway. We had helmets and fully functioning life jackets, the river is deep and therefore not too rocky. During our briefing in the first 3 kilometers we were tipped into the water and taught how to help each other into the boat and introduced to the safety kayakers who would fish us out if (read “when”) we ended up flipping the raft or falling out. All of which is why when, after we headed over our first grade 5 rapid all I could think was “weeeeeeeeeeeeee” followed by surprise that we’d made it though intact.
Dave was in a tandem kayak and so had a much closer experience of the river, often right in his face. It was great that the kayaks and rafts came down together so we could watch each other. A few of rapids were a bit too bumpy for novice kayakers I think so Dave even picked up a paddle in our raft for a few trips which was cool.
We took a few tumbles (one in amusing slow motion), I swallowed quite a lot of the Nile, I had a few moments of “argh you want us to go through where now?” But its some of the most fun I think I’ve had (sober). Ever. The guides were awesome, the people in the raft were great fun and up for it, and the views we had while floating on and in the Nile and looking back at the rapids we’d just been over were just, wow. Best of all we made some friends who would be sticking around over Christmas and formed our new surrogate family.
That Christmas eve night we watched the video of the days action in the bar overlooking the river and got increasingly drunk as the guides poured shots down us and we worked through the adrenalin of the day. Lots of that night are a bit hazy and I have no idea what time we all got to bed but there was a swim in the next doors hotel pool at one point and people were saying hello to me next door and assuring me we’d had a long chat the night before. Heheh.
My plans to get up early and to go to church was completely forgotten, that’s for sure. But we did make it up for the scraps of the pancake and fry up buffet, played some cards and awaited the hog roast. As is traditional on Christmas day I still had to wrap and assemble presents and things for Christmas day. By the way, Dave got me a necklace with cute wooden animals on it, a sad lion bookmark (he doesn’t want to go in the book), some replacement porcupine spines (dead thoughtful that, I was sad to lose them in the Mushroom Farm), a wooden bottle opener that they have everywhere here but I really like and something else I’m sure but as is traditional I forget now I’m here writing... He got from me a little plaster gorilla painted in splashes of earthy coloured paint which looks like he’s been rained on so reminded me of our trek, a carved wooden coke bottle cos it’s a necessity for him to have coke at least once a day, some authentic African drumsticks (ie some sanded wobbly twigs tied together with string), and some tickets for a regular amateur evening in a side room of the National Theatre called Percussion Discussion which may or not be interesting.
We all sat down to the hog roast and pulled some crackers I’d knocked up out of loo roll, newspaper, and some random things like lighters I could buy in the bar for presents (apart from mine and Daves which were keyrings in the shape of a flip flop with random kitch pictures of Barack Obama and Jesus). We tucked in, started on the wine, talked about nothing and then became increasingly aware that the large group of sri lankans had started getting more and more raucous and had started playing a drum and singing. So we knocked them up some hats, drank some of their whiskey and joined in the dancing. Dave led a round of “I’m dreaming of a white christmas” and “Jingle Bells” on the drums. Again, I have no idea when we went to bed but it was a brilliant White Water Christmas and everything we could have hoped for.
We’ve stuck around for a few days to recover and have been enjoying chatting with the guides, long term kayakers and hangers on like us in the evenings. I’m sulking a bit today because last night we’d decided at the last minute to go rafting again today and use our half price voucher but this morning it was raining hard and had been since 3am so it didn’t look like it was stopping – being in the raft for the stretches of paddling between rapids and at lunch time would be cold and not much fun. But of course it cleared up by 10.30 so we would have been fine. Damned by jumping to British weather prediction conclusions. So we’ve been staring at the river sulkily and pottering all day which has at least given me a chance to catch up with this blog and Dave has started reading the Ethiopia book. A record for us; starting the research three days in advance of arriving somewhere.
Oh one more thing… there was an earthquake last night! About 1.15am I woke up for some reason and just after that there was a rumbling just like you hear in films, the earth rocked pretty gently but quite decidedly for a few seconds, the rumble went on a few seconds more and then it was over. Apparently it’s pretty normal, rift valley and volcanoes and what not, but still, my first earthquake Dave slept through it.
Rachel - Kampala
22/12/2010 - 23/12/2010
Kampala is a big city. Bigger and more crowded, smoggier, but actually safer than even Dar es Salaam. We got to the outskirts of town in the bus and then sat in traffic for nearly an hour which gave us a chance to see the slightly run down shopping arcades lit up with neon, crowds and crowds of people walking along in the road to avoid stepping on the people selling things on the pavements of the streets. Motorcycles with two passengers zipped in and out of the mostly stationary higgledy piggledy cars. But eventually we arrived and we became one of the crowds walking in the road holding up the cars and avoiding the motorbikes, humming along to the Christmas songs being played by most of the street sellers.
Dave fancied a night out, given that when we’d be back between Christmas and New Year it might be quieter. So we headed to Rock Garden which is described as “one of the definitive stops on the Kampala nightshift, this cool place has a covered bar and … often heaving with people as early as 9pm. Prostitutes hang out here in droves and pick pocketing is often part of the experience”. Bit of a contradictory review that but enough to get us interested. So we spent the first half an hour of the night trying to work out which of the well but skimpily dressed girls might be a professional. I jokingly said that when I went to the loo we’d know by whichever approached Dave. And lo and behold when I got back he was being chatted up by a young girl in a tight sparkly dress and killer heels. I hung back for a few minutes but nothing embarrassing enough was happening so I came over to say hello. Lovely girl she was, we all stayed together for the rest of the evening but even now we don’t know if she was a lady of the night. There certainly were girls there who were but none of them seemed to be trying too hard and it was a nice atmosphere there. The three of us played some pool with all the other girls (those girls are good!) Dave chased them all off the table though so we had to leave
We went our separate ways the next morning to hit the shops and markets. I never made it past the markets really, apart from a really cool little gallery, but by the end of the day I’d managed to pick up some things for Dave’s Christmas presents, and some presents for home. Shopping in the markets is easier when you’re actually looking for something I think and I’ve added some new tools to my bargaining repertoire, I’d say I was now decidedly average which is an improvement
One thing about Christmas shopping is that it does put you in the mood so today was the first day I started to feel in any way festive after picking up some tinsel and a few Christmassy craft ingredients. We still have no idea how the day will turn out though…
Now we weren’t going to be hiking for 6 days we had some time to spare at a very relaxed pace. We had only bracketed the crater lake region on our map as a “maybe see” but we\re glad we made it because it’s a very pretty place indeed. The whole region was formed by a cluster of 20 or so volcanoes which now make for good mountain biking around, and swimming in, the resulting lakes.
When we got to the campsite we found that there was a lakeside cottage in the trees down by one of the lakes for not much more than a dorm bed so we thought why not. It was all a very basic hut with no electricity, a bucket bath next door and the toilet at the top of a hill. We’re used to basic however and the location was idyllic. And we were more than rewarded the next morning by a troop of vervet monkeys scampering and tumbling about the trees and ground right outside our window. We started at the window, then stepped out the door, edged closer and closer and in the end the monkeys were happier about us being close than we were When we were outside amongst them two jumped through the window of our room and one left a little puddle on the windowsill…cheeky monkey!
That morning I saw something I’d never seen before: Dave was down swimming in the lake and came back and pointed out the halo of rainbow around the sun, it was kind of oily looking as well. It stayed there for half an hour or so. Dave, the cloudwatcher, reckons it must have been because there were loads of ice crystals up there. Beautiful it was. Didn’t get a picture though, don’t think it would have come out anyway.
We hired some bikes and did a whistlestop tour of the lakes, followed at every turn by a crowd of children shouting “where are you going?” which is a new one. We ditched the bikes at one point to climb through some fields and up to peer in one of the craters which didn’t have a lake in it (extremely deep, steep sided hole), but the best part was that the sun was setting and through the grass, with the sky made orange by the dust, we snapped some arty pictures.
We’d been up and down dome big hills for a long time now so we were pretty tired, too tired to pedal up the steep hills on the way back so we ended up getting back after dark, with no lights. We really should remember to take head torches out with us We stopped for a refresher soft drink outside a shop playing some local tunes and played a sit down dance version of follow-my-leader with some very easily amused kids. We were a bit reluctant to push on really but they had used up all of our moves. Of course cycling in the dark on dirt roads, even by a bright moon, isn’t a brilliant idea so I took a tip sideways at one point. I’m not sure if I’m doing something wrong or if its just bad luck on dusty roads but if anyone has any words of advice…
We were thinking of seeing if we could make an appointment to see the King of the region of the Bonyoro people but after finding out it was a seven hour trip by minibus – not so much fun if you’re 6ft4 - we wouldn’t have time to break up the journey and still be in Kampala for some Christmas shopping. So we went to visit some wetlands instead. A strange project really; although the swamp is quite unique, from what the guide was saying the nature conservation undertaken was purely to bring money into the community. So the locals planted fig trees round the swamp to attract monkeys from the surrounding national parks and then set up nature walks. He couldn’t really answer many questions about the swamp itself which was a shame. But still it was a pleasant afternoon.
We were out in the sticks a bit and the minibuses stop early at Christmas so we were standing on the side of the road, hoping for an unlikely shared taxi, contemplating the bone shuddering, hair raising, 45 minute motorcycle taxi ride back on dusty roads when a 4 by 4 stopped and offered us a lift back, for free. Woo-hoo! Saved! I’m not a fan of the motorcycle taxis I have to say. It’s not ever the drivers, they’re all pretty skilled especially out here in the countryside where they know the roads well, it’s just the roads are bad.
Patrick, our savior from the motorcycles, was an agronomist working with the tobacco industry, so he drives out to the small scale farmers to help them improve yield and quality so the industry can get a better product and the farmers get a better price. He took a bit of a shine to us and after we’d got into Fort Portal he drove us around to see the place which is quite well-to-do. He ushered us into his favourite posh hotel bar for some drinks and bumped into a mate of his. Then he showed us all round the hotel pool and the gym and the grounds before driving us all out to another hostel he used to stay in to meet the nice American lady who runs the place (she seemed as bemused as we were). Then the four of us got some dinner and more drinks, and then finally went to a bar over the road from our hotel. Dave and I had to call it a night in the end and left Patrick at the bar. Phew!
We had a bus to Kampala the next afternoon so we took a lazy breakfast and were lucky enough to bump into a sweet German lady and her guide who had tried to help us out the day before when we needed a lift back from the wetlands. She’d been worried about us and we had a long chat about her lone travels round the world before had to leave to grab some provisions for the journey. Dave fancied some guacamole so we bought one of the avocados that are almost as big as your head you get out here, some onions and tomatoes and Dave whiled away the delay by chopping and mashing in the bus. Very tasty it was too. One great thing about Africa is that noone bats an eyelid if you do something like that; it’s going to be quite hard to readjust when we get back.