A Travellerspoint blog

Uganda

Making waves

Rachel - Jinja, Kampala (and my birthday!)

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.

Posted by rachndave 05:42 Archived in Uganda Tagged parties rivers companions Comments (1)

(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)

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)

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