A Travellerspoint blog

January 2011

Inpenatrable? pah

Rachel - Bwindi

Bwindi Forest National Park is one of Uganda’s main tourist destinations for the INPENATRABLE FOREST and the mountain gorillas that live inside. But because few local people want to go there there is no public transport. But we managed to make a deal with a pickup truck (matatu) driver to take us to a nearby town with everyone else, but continue to Bwindi with just us for a smallish fee.

The matatu drivers are like the cab drivers in that they will pack more people and goods than you can imagine possible onto the back and everyone is made to wait until he’s satisfied. In this case we had several layers of bags of flour and cement which made for comfortable seating at least. Bags and jerry cans were strapped to the side of the truck and with 7 people hanging over the edge on each side, 5 or so at the back, 4 standing up at the front and a wobbling conga line of 5 men in the centre we set off.

Being this close to your fellow travelers you tend to build up some rapport, especially when you’re effectively saving the life of your neighbours by hanging on to them at every corner :) As we got close to the end of the line the crowds thinned out a little, the bottle of banana wine got passed around and everyone was laughing at the man who no matter where he sat or stood for the whole journey ended up sitting on someone’s toes (usually Dave’s). While my job for the journey was to try and keep the cheeky young drivers assistant from bothering the sweet young girl next to me by resting his head on her lap at every opportunity. At one point we had to push the truck up a hill which was also quite bonding. It was a long dusty, bumpy journey but we had a great time.

The forest in Bwindi managed to survive the ice age which wiped out most of Africa’s other rainforest so it’s Old, dense and the vegetation is very diverse. One of the reasons to see gorillas here is that you have a chance to push into the jungle on your way to find them. Dave and I had to settle for a rather more tame 3 hour’s waterfall walk but we still had a flavour of the terrain. Little shards of light can penetrate the canopy and light up the moss covered vines and tangles of ferns and monkeys and bird call from the super tall trees. It’s an atmospheric place for sure.

The last time we were pushing through forest I think I must have been brushed by a plant which left me with a painful blistering purple rash on my neck. At the time I wasn’t really sure what it was and wanted to make sure it wasn’t anything more serious like a spider bite (shudder). Fortunately there was a district hospital within walking distance so I made the trip the next day and was seen by a young English lady doctor who gave me some cream and then we chatted abut the Rwenzori mountains. There are only four doctors serving 60,000 people in five districts which sounds like a phenomenal effort. The most amazing thing is that the hospital was founded by one doctor who raised some funds to build the first clinic and ward and has slowly been built on over the years and now they have a midwifery ward, 2 surgical theatres, a men’s, a women’s and a children’s ward. But still only four doctors. Even so it was a calm and organized place. Even not so nice things like rashes can throw you into some interesting places. (by the way, it’s cleared up now – thank you lady doctor)

Posted by rachndave 02:52 Archived in Uganda Tagged forests Comments (1)

A dome from home

Rachel - Lake Bunyoni

After all that hiking up and down steep hills our muscles were sore and our knees were creaking so we headed to Lake Bunyoni for some R&R (and clothes washing). We were told about a place (hi Dean and Layni!) on one of the islands in the middle of the lake which had open fronted “geodomes” (domed structure made of wood beams and covered outside with grass thatch) that looked out onto the lake which sounded ideal. And because we’d be back down at a lower altitude we might have a chance to warm up a little too – Lots of Uganda is at high altitude so it’s actually pretty chilly here. The domes were cool little structures and we woke up with birds fluttering round in our room (where else could you birdwatch from bed) and an uninterrupted view of the dawn.

The scenery around the lake is beautiful with small but steep rounded, tree covered hills all around. We arrived and immediately went for a swim and it’s probably the nicest surrounding view for a swim I’ve ever experienced. Dave went for a walk round the island (and met some children who caught them some fresh crayfish which is abundant in the lake) but I stayed back to stare some more at the water and catch up with my notes for this blog but ended up instead chatting to two visiting Israeli doctors who were working in Uganda. It sounds like a tough job and quite frustrating to put it mildly.

There were quite a few people staying in the same place which was also a lovely change because we’d been starved of company for a few days, so we played games into the night. The food at this place was delicious and interesting (crayfish stuffed artichokes, pizza with actual cheese, goulash and burrito wraps) so much so that we decided to stay an extra day and so made a plan to take out the canoes the next day with some new friends.

Our plan was to paddle out to another one of the other little islands called “Punishment Island”, so called because unmarried pregnant girls would be taken there by their discraced family and left to die (were there no convents in Africa?). Unless they were lucky enough to be rescued by a man looking for a wife and who couldn’t otherwise afford the bride prices. What a fate eh? We passed some really cool dead trees, one which was covered with large menacing looking birds which against the background of gathering storm clouds looked awesome, but unfortunately we had been warned of rain so we hadn’t brought out the camera. Lucky we didn’t really because it absolutely threw it down on the journey back – it felt a bit hairy out in the middle of a passing storm in a little canoe but as soon as we sighted shore the sun came out to congratulate us for making it.

That night was another real treat because they had a little cinema screen and hundreds of films to choose from so we randomly selected African Queen, grabbed some blankets and wine and settled down in the snug. I really miss films actually, especially when you want to do something but you’re too tired to go out. I’m writing this on boxing day and all of us here could do with a nice James Bond or something…instead we’re boozing again.

Anyway, I think we could happily have stayed another day here but now our muscles were rested we heard the call of the INPENATRABLE FOREST which was too hard to resist.

Posted by rachndave 02:48 Archived in Uganda Tagged lodging Comments (0)

Q. How do you fit eleven people in a Ford Escort

Rachel - Ugandan Border

The Tanzania/Uganda border in the south is a small hut by the side of the dirt road with a very friendly man inside. I think it would have been possible to walk straight across because noone checked our passports when we walked round the simple road barrier.

After the usual border rituals of changing money, dodging a very persistent tout and finding out about transport we decided to take a shared taxi to the next town rather than wait for an hour for the bus. Shared taxis here, as in the other countries we’ve been, leave when they’re full and the car already contained one young man so we thought we’d be off pretty soon – we only needed one more person after all. But we sat waiting for about an hour while they crammed person after person, and their luggage, into every nook and cranny of this averagely sized car. To answer the question raised in the title of this entry you fit eleven people in a car by squeezing seven people in the back sitting on each other’s knees, and four side by side in the front with the driver driving at an angle. We thought this was perhaps because we were in at a border but this is actually the norm in Uganda although we haven’t beaten eleven people yet – the average is about eight passengers. I now try to make sure I sit in the front of taxis because there’s usually two or three people in the front but you get a little bit more air.

All the action in Uganda is focused in the south eastern corner so we left the cab in a buzzy shopping town of Masaka. We had read in the guide book that during the rainy season the place is inundated with grasshoppers which the locals catch and eat. The rainy season was over so we thought we’d miss this treat but by the side of the street people were selling de-legged-and-winged grasshoppers by the bucket load. Not knowing whether they were cooked or not we left them be but luckily in the bus station there was a lady frying them and so we managed to taste a few. They’re crunchy and kind of sweet – not bad at all. I was a bit put off because I didn’t realize they were cooked while still alive - they’re sold in the street without wings and legs because they don’t want them to get away but actually they’re still alive and the lady selling them in the station had a fresh batch so she chucked them into the hot oil with legs and all and they were jumping around in the pan…..eesh. :(

We’d been traveling non stop for over 24 hours now: first the ferry, then a taxi, a minibus, taxi, minibus, sitting on the back of a motorcycle taxi and finally the coach. Not a bad set. Long day, but we forced ourselves out for a beer and a game of pool with some Swedes we’d met on the coach to finish the day with something pleasant. Pooped.

Posted by rachndave 02:46 Archived in Uganda Tagged food transportation Comments (0)

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