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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)

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)

Community on the waves

Rachel - The Ilala

Hoonnk Hoooooooooonnnnk. The Ilala is the old, Scottish, iron passenger ship that makes a weekly trip north and south, up and down the lake stopping to pick up passengers and cargo, service the islands and take people between Mozambique and Malawi. It’s super important to the trade and lives of people, especially the islanders, and it even takes tourists.

Most of the harbours don’t have a jetty and so people and all their cargo are piled high onto the lifeboats and everything is then passed up through the door in the side of the hull. And there is a *lot* of stuff. Enormous bags and bags and bags of dried fish and maize flour, sheets of corrugated iron, bundles of hand brooms, suitcases and rucksacks and all sorts of things you just wouldn’t expect to see; a bookcase, a double bed, a live goat tied by the legs…. Tales are told of a speedboat that was to be used by one of the high end resorts lost into the water after it was dropped by the winch. Oops.

Once you make it through the doors with your stuff the corridors are full of sacks and boxes that you have to climb over and under to reach the stairs and then fortunately for us the breezy top deck. I was a little guilty to find that everyone on the first class top deck was white and there were only 20 of us compared to the hundreds of people crammed below. And the costs aren’t *that* different. But anyway for the next 24 hours or so we hung out chatting to fellow travelers, playing poker on the floor with bottle tops and daily disposable contact lenses, watching the cargo loading at the stops (each stop being about 4 hours…there’s a lot of stuff to load), and of course drinking beers. All very civilised and a gentle way to travel such a distance. There was even a shower on the deck below although having a shower on a rocky ship is quite a strange experience I must say.

At night we all slept out on the deck under the stars on foam mattresses where it’s breezy and cool. If you pay for true first class you get a cabin but that *is* much more expensive and apparently very hot so no-one really bothers. Lined up on the deck like that it was a bit like a camp out :) At one point I woke up in a mozambique port with the sun rising over the lake and the engine gently throbbing which was pretty special.

Some people were getting off with us at one of the islands, and there’s really only one place to stay on the island, so we all became pretty good friends and have all unexpectedly met up again since which is one of the other nice things about the Ilala; the sense of community that develops.

We’ve heard that they’re taking it out of service for a while for maintenance but there are no plans to replace it with anything, I can’t imagine what would happen in that case because it seems to be the heartbeat of the lake.

Posted by rachndave 23:26 Archived in Malawi Tagged transportation companions Comments (0)

How to recover from a festival


Anna, Jeroen, Lani and Bryan, Dave and I headed in the Landrovers / Toyotas to Cape Maclear, a fishing village cum backpacker chillout destination further up the lake side. When we arrived Dave and I turned out to be sharing a dorm with a couple who had been camped next to us, sharing the same tree shade, at the festival: Mouse (nickname for Fay…fay-mouse…geddit ;)) and Johnny. The eight of us and two others, Nick and Amy who were two VSO workers in Uganda, would be kicking about together for the next 5 days.

We had intended to stay in Cape Maclear for only a day or two to recover from our hangovers but the clear blue water, island view, bars along the shoreline and village distractions were too difficult to leave so we remained there having bbqs on the beach (I think one of the tastiest fish I’ve ever had), snorkling among the brightly coloured freshwater cychlids (these are as renowned as darwin’s finches or the madagascan lemurs as a demonstration of evolution in action), feeding the fish eagles, swimming out at the stunning and dali-esque “otter point”, visiting the other nearby lodges and bars, lying in hammocks with a book and generally pottering about with a beer in our hands. That’s when we weren’t catching up with hand washing etc…which brings me to the picture of that horrible monster you might have seen in the photos Dave uploaded. I was washing some of our stuff, including Dave’s pants and after having mashed the washing up and down or a few minutes I started working through the items to clean them more thoroughly and when I picked up these I found this spider clamped down smack bang in the middle of Dave’s crotch! All I can say is that I’m glad it wasn’t my finger – that thing had massive jaws. *shudder*. We’ve checked a book and I don’t think it was poisonous but I bet it would still have nipped :-s

When sitting on the beach a variety of people would pass by to sell us what they were offering or just to stop and chat. Including a man who would fetch fruit from the trees or make special cakes, the bbq organisers, a man who made greeting cards from recycled paper and using old shoes as print-stamps. The best of all tough were the “Lucky Band”: a ragtag bunch of 10 year old boys with home made instruments made from paint pots, bottle tops and a guitar made from a broom handle, string and a big petrol bottle and they sounded awesome. They had a repertoire of about 10 sings including, oddly, “who let the dogs out” (brilliant). We’d see them touring up and down the beach and in the village.

Anna, who is a spontaneous, inquisitive and friendly soul and she really made the most of the place. She and Lani had replicas made of one Mouse’s dresses using a sarong for fabric and taken to one of the local tailors. She also struck up a small business deal with the man who made the recycled cards but also makes jewelry from strips of old magazines and some varnish. I even had a chance to sit down with him to make some of the beads later when we went to collect a big batch that Anna plans to sell when she gets back home. She and Jeroen also made a sound recording of the Lucky Band and made them a few CDs which they can maybe copy and sell if they wanted. What a lovely thing to do. I hope I can get a copy too when I get home so you can hear them.

One of the nicest things about Cape Maclear is that is a working fishing village so when you pop out for some cold drinks you pass the small markets and fishermen mending their nets and everyone calls out a friendly “helloo, how are yooo”? You also get trailed, the minute you step outside the hostel gates, by a crowd of small children asking for pens or money but will happily stay around and hold your hand everywhere you go no matter what you say to the request. They’re lovely playful kids and the guys working in Uganda say that it’s a nice change to see children having a proper happy childhood which they say often isn’t the case where they’re staying.

Unfortunately Amy brought a tummy bug with her from Uganda and one by one everyone fell to it by the last day but unfortunately we had to get back on the road anyway. So Anna, a poorly Jeroen, Dave and I waved goodbye to all the guys, and the lake, and got back on the road to start exploring Malawi properly.

Posted by rachndave 00:44 Archived in Malawi Tagged lake companions Comments (0)

Lake of Stars


We arrived at the festival on the back of a truck with a mixed bag of locals and backpackers after the minibus unexpectedly stopped short of the final destination - quite normal transport for us now after that initial dry spell - but still the most fun. The lakeside campsite belonged to the luxury lodge next door so it was quiet, grassy, shady, spacious and even had hot showers (but no burger van unfortunately). We put up our tent under a red flowery tree and awoke the next morning to a glittering blue lake and white sand not 20 metres from our front door. This feels like a holiday :)

The festival site was very small by past festival standards: two small stages on the beach, a couple of quiet bars and half a dozen food stalls with its own little bandstand stage. So by the end of the weekend you would recognise lots of people and bump into the friends we made on the bus ride over. So we spent the whole weekend buzzing between the stages and the bar. There wasnt any other entertainment off stage and the crowd wasnt particularly interactive like we’re used to so really there isnt much to report other than seeing a few new names like Aly Kaita (a merenge (xylophone) player) and a spine tinglingly good lady singer called Kheiti. The drummers of Burundi were impressive and energetic but otherwise everyone on stage was pretty groovy although very chilled surprisingly. Eddie Temple Morris did lots of dancehall remixes and was followed by Mr Jamm for the sunrise set. I’d never heard of Mr Jamm but someone says he’s a Radio 1 dj…this explains a lot. He did quite a good 80s dance classics set but for some reason he decided to mark sunrise by playing Phil Collin’s Coming in the Air............ We still don’t understand and people were still commenting on it days later. We caught Mr Jamm another time as well unfortunately and he was much the same. Apologies Malawi.

The only real break in the chilled vibe came on the Saturday morning, Dave woke up to the tent flaps brushing against his chest and when he sat up to close the tent he realised that the tent flap was actually a snake! Eek! A snake! We have to applaud his instinctive reaction to pick it up behind the head and throw it into the group of American peace corp camped next to us. The snake slithered off disgruntled and Dave promptly went back to sleep :)

While grabbing a breakfast veggie curry we sat on the same table as a travelling Aussie girl and Irish guy called Lani and Bryan and we ended up pairing up with them for the weekend along with their friends a spanish/dutch couple called Anna and Jeroen they met on the road. Both couples have invested in a land roving car with a spacious canvas tent that sits on the top while the car includes a fridge and stove, tables and chairs, water reserves and all the home comforts we cant fit in our rucksack. They’re amazing cars. Lani and Bryan are also carrying some footballs which they’re donating to kids that they come across – it’s not an official charity but they were struck by how much money fifa made during the world cup when South Africa made a loss and yet children here are playing football with bundled carrier bags or flat old balls. So if you want to donate some small change to the cause there’s a facebook group and paypal details at “Balls 2 FIFA! Balls 4 Africa”. http://www.facebook.com/home.php?#!/group.php?gid=131207233587674

Anna and Jeroen are going to give their landrover to a friend of theirs in South Africa to hire out to other adventurers after their adventure is done so if I ever come back i’ll definitely be borrowing it. You have total freedom to explore the entire reach of the country and when you’re riding in it everyone seems to smile or wave at you.

We even had the chance to ride in it after the festival when the six of us decided to go to nearby Cape Maclear, further up the lake coast, where there was talk of festival after parties and snorkling. Sounded perfect.

Posted by rachndave 05:44 Archived in Malawi Tagged festival companions Comments (0)

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