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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)

Lost at last

Rachel

A new country with new money, personalities, language, shapes and sounds.

Not too much to report from Damascus because we spent two days just wandering around the souks and streets of the old town. the main covered souk is wide, dark and cool with quite modern shops lining the sides - at night, after ramadan fast is broken this street is heaving with interesting looking people - arabs in robes and tea towels, families, nomads, tourists. There are hunderds of tiny lights in the roof that look scattered and random just like stars, a very pretty sight that looks like a design feature until you read that they are bullet holes made by french fighters in the 1925 war. After walking along this long arcade you are greeted by crumbling roman arches, an enormous marble floored mosque and the entrance to the old town via streets shaded by overhead vines.

The streets in most places look to me like medieval english cottages straight out of shakespeare's day or the old streets of York with their narrow streets of plastered mud walls and overhanging first floors supported by diagonal wooden struts. I was always on the look out for a washer woman throwing dirty water out of the top window. Other architecture in the old town looked to me like spanish or italian design with ornate balconies and decorated window arches. Many of the cafes and hotels, and the tranquil little art gallery we stopped in at, had cool central courtyards with fountains and vines. This is the first time we've been able to get tea during the day! and we had our first beer in a month!

After being properly lost in the streets (this made us very happy, after failing to ever get lost in venice, morocco or yazd - those places that tell you to get lost in their streets but somehow you never really can) we rewarded ourselves for this achievement by sitting for a few hours on the streets of the old town listening to the old story teller inside banging his stick on his table of tea (apparently he was telling a story about an Arab champion who was captured and fought bravely to escape...we have to await tomorrow to find out the end and start the next tale) while we drank lemonade, tea and smoked our ever-replenishing shisha and chatting to shock-of-all-shocks *actual* tourists. We havent seen any of those in a long while. It's very nice to talk at last to other travelers and exchange stories and tips for onward countries, yet at the same time we all seem to look and act the same and it has actually felt very, erm, exclusive(?) to be in a country where you cant spot the travelers a mile off.

Although we both loved Damascus we have decided not to spend too much time in Syria because we'd rather spend more time in Lebanon and Jordan so we're in Beirut now, although it's pretty quiet on the streets because it's Eid today so imagine walking the streets on Christmas day and that's what it feels like. I like the feel of this city though, and there's supposed to be a music festival in the university district over the next few days so maybe things will pick up tonight. I'll report back later.

Posted by rachndave 05:15 Archived in Syria Tagged walking travelers Comments (1)

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