A Travellerspoint blog

January 2011

Jinja bells

Rachel - Jinja

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.

Posted by rachndave 12:47 Tagged rivers christmas Comments (0)

(can't thinkof a title for this one...) Kampala

Rachel - Kampala

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…

Posted by rachndave 12:27 Archived in Uganda Tagged preparation Comments (0)

Bonus lakes

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.

Posted by rachndave 23:46 Archived in Uganda Tagged lakes animals Comments (0)

Priced off the mountain

Rachel - Rwenzori foothills

The one thing that had been certain for our Uganda leg of the trip had been some sort of trek, probably the six day hike, into the Rwenzori mountains. It used to be a rival with Kilimanjaro as the mountain you had to climb in Africa, partly because of its views of the cluster of surrounding mountains and its very varied terrain. The lower slopes are forest, parts at the top are very boggy and described as “other worldly” and there’s a glacier at the summit.

But unfortunately they’ve put up their prices so much now – nearly doubled in the last two years - that we couldn’t afford to go anymore. This seems crazy to me, why price interested people out of the market like that? We were very frustrated. Soooo, we skulked off to the internet café to do some research for flights to Ethiopia which you will of course know by now are booked.

Rather than leave the mountains completely we decided to stick to part of the original plan and stay in a hostel at the start of the mountain route and maybe do a walk in the foothills at least. It was a peaceful and cute hostel but rather disorganised. We think they told us that the cheaper rooms were booked so we had to take a pricier room – or at least these mystery guests always seemed to be in town, no matter what time of night or day. And despite an extensive menu they actually had only about five ingredients available (which you’d only deduce after you’d already asked for first, second, okay how about third choice on the menu) but they could turn those ingredients into tasty meals with some ingenuity. Although they would have a conversation with you about how you would like something cooked but would then bring you something totally different, or bemusing (fish stew = a whole breadcrumbed fish and chips with the stew sauce brought on the side five minutes later anyone?), and in the morning they ran out of cooking oil so you could only have something if it was boiled eggs (but they had no bread), oh and they only had one egg left. Fortunately we were more amused than anything since what they did make was usually nice, just not what you had agreed. We often have bemusing restaurant experiences but this has been the most extreme so far so I share it with you.

Also staying at the hostel were the German “family” we’d met in Queen Elizabeth: Two retired parents, and two anthropologist aid worker friends, Annette and Eric. The parents (Eric’s) had worked in the tourist industry and had been to all the adventurous places you could name and more you hadn’t even heard of so they were able to give us loads of advice for Ethiopia.

Annette and Eric and Dave and I signed up for a hill and forest walk the next morning and had a really interesting morning hearing about the work they were doing. Annette’s husband working in renewable energy and is trying to help Uganda set up solar schemes. And Eric is working as a contractor to the UN in the refugee camps in the north of Uganda which is where Ugandan nationals who have fled the Lord’s Resistance Army in the north are now living. He is working with agronomists to train people in the camps to grow their own food again, and also with other Ugandans to learn new methods in seed selection, animal care, productivity improvements etc. After the training Eric manages the distribution of small grants which they can spend however they wish but he says in 80% of the cases they are spending it on productive materials such as cows. And in the vast majority of other cases they’re using the money for medicines or school fees. He had much to say on the failures of the large UN aid agencies but it was reassuring to know that in small scale instances like this aid really does help put damaged people back on track. My faith in the industry is restored a little.

Anyway, apart from the conversation this was a tough yet stunning walk, we had views of the glacier at the peak of the Rwenzoris (which is fading fast due to global warming – a huge concern because the seasonal melt water into the rivers powers and waters much of south west Uganda), and lots of lush forest which occasionally opened out dramatically into views of the lower slopes and towns. Oh and our guide found us another chameleon, this one had horns and its scales look like tiny coloured bubbles – they’re crazy creatures.

That evening the germans had to go back north but we were joined instead by a swiss couple who have set up a bicycle touring company and soon a bicycle sales company to sell affordable geared bikes in Rwanda. The lady was a scientist studying the gases in the lake there and generally, apart from some frustrations, they seemed to like the place. They were going to climb the mountain as his birthday present so we wished them luck, stared mournfully up at the silhouettes of the mountains against the sky and turned in for the night.

Posted by rachndave 23:34 Archived in Uganda Tagged walking companions Comments (0)

Up a tree and down a river

Rachel - Queen Elizabeth National Park

Today was a day of ups and downs. We’d wanted to hire a driver to take us from Bwindi, 60km to Queen Elizabeth National Park, via the area of the park where the tree climbing lions are for an hour or so.

Down = worried about my rash in the hospital waiting area
Up = turns out nothing to worry about
Down = battle with a cab driver who was late, was trying to overcharge us because there aren’t many drivers in this part of town, and then his car broke down
Up = managed to find a new cab driver who was being a little bit more reasonable and promised us it wasn’t too late to drive round the national park
Down = we get to the gate and the driver tells us actually the lions probably have come down from the trees by now so we shouldn’t bother going and by the way he wasn’t going to deduct the price of the game drive from our agreed price, and he also wanted to push on so he could get out of the park by dark
Up = the man on the gate said we could go into the park, for free, for half an hour or so and chance our luck
Up = we were lucky! We saw a real life, male lion - Up. A. Tree! It’s the strangest thing and slightly surreal. It made me think the lion had been picked up by a giant bird and dropped there. The park is really beautiful as well, sunny, green grassy savanna land and the first I’d seen properly in Africa. I loved it and wished we could have spent longer there – it was magical in that evening light.
Down = we arrived at our hotel/campsite, as recommended by the guidebook, to find that they haven’t had a campsite area for two years
Up = The manager kindly let us put up our tent in the very posh hotel grounds.
Up = We had a nice chat with a German family who were also planning to visit the chimps the next day.
Up = Woke up to a beautiful sunrise over the park, the hotel being perched on the edge of an overlooking escarpment we had views of the savanna for miles. I could imagine that doing a balloon ride over the parks would be like this.
Down = The guide for the chimp tracking would not go without a taxi to take them to the edge so we had to call a cab and delay
Up = The walk in the forest was very pretty, with a hairy river crossing over a tree trunk where I didn’t fall in! But…
Down = We didn’t see the chimps because tracking evidence showed that they’d left the national park boundary and there’s no refund of your $50 :( We did manage to bump into the german group to warn them but they were going to give it a try anyway.

From then on though it was all “Up”s. We were camping for the night within the park and planned to go on a river trip. While we were waiting for the trip to begin we stopped in a local pub which had it’s own pub warthog sleeping on the porch, and a humongous stork swooped in for a potter about as well, while we sat in the garden and watched the crocodiles in the river far below.

The river trip was very relaxing, as river trips always are, and we saw some buffalo, monitor lizards, elephants, crocodiles, hippos (including some squeal inducing baby hippos), pelicans and lots and lots of different birds - some of them really pretty which we’d have missed if we didn’t have the guide on board. I think we might be evolving into birdwatchers due to an enthusiastic guide. The guides also managed to pick out a lion lurking under a bush which we could just about make out with binoculars, so heaven knows how they spotted it.

We fortunately had an uneventful night in the campsite, uneventful in the sense that we heard lions calling in the night and there were reports of them in the campsite in the night. Thank heavens we didn’t need the toilet! When we woke up there were dozens of warthogs snuffling in the grass outside our tent and some antelope things. We love warthogs. Particularly how they run – they trot in a way that makes me think that they’ve just called out in a camp voice – “I’m coming!”

Our final “up” is that we managed to hitch out of the park with an overland truck from the campsite which saved us lots of bother and cash. I’ve not been in a touring overland truck before. They have quite an impressive set up with all the cooking equipment and tents and comfy seats. But their schedule sounds relentless. Nice group though and we had a nice hour together in the bus…and they even gave us some pancakes and a cup of tea for breakfast. Good to finish on an “up”.

Posted by rachndave 23:26 Tagged animals boats transportation Comments (0)

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