A Travellerspoint blog

July 2009

Timewarp transport

I felt like I was back in, well, lets just call it somewhere from a previous life and move on. Some travel experiences you love, others you are happy or content with, still others you just accept. Beyond that, there are certain experiences which are vaguely unpleasant, but you put down as a factor of travel and live with it (or, occasionally, pay obscene sums of money to avoid). Sometimes you can even find excitement in them when they are infrequent or new occurrences.

But certain experiences you just dislike: sometimes irrationally, sometimes not. In said previous life i had spent several periods in countries where shared taxis (knackered saloon cars, normally) are a fact of life and frequently overloaded. For reasons that are vaguely irrational, I have never been desperately bothered by minibuses or trucks which are crammed beyond belief, but have intensely disliked shared sardine taxis.

It was in just such a situation that i now found myself again, bringing back those memories - including the memory of how much I disliked them - and (despite being the youngest person in the car) instantly thought 'i'm just too old for this sh1t now'. And so there we were, in an ancient Toyota Corolla, which no longer starts without being pushed, has no suspension to speak of and with bits falling off &/or scraping along the road, barreling along at typically obscene Ugandan speeds on a bouncy road with plenty of obstacles – potholes, cyclists, pedestrians, chickens; that sort of thing – and several sheer drops just to add to the likelihood of death.

I later discovered there were 6 large men on the back seat, plus 3 children and some bags, but at the time i had no way of finding out. It was impossible to turn my head far enough sideways to look. I was sharing the passenger seat with a fellow idiot (a middle aged gent), 3 children and a goat, whilst there was yet another passenger squeezed between me and the driver on the drivers seat, making gear changes memorably jerky due to the number of extra knees and legs in the way.

In my younger days, such journeys were an exciting novelty until that novelty value rapidly ran out. Now they are the sort of thing I dread and will happily pay extra to avoid if i know about it in advance: call me old fashioned, but i've long believed that the driver should have a seat to himself. Especially when he is driving.

Posted by Gelli 06:22 Archived in Uganda Tagged transportation Comments (0)


Going through some old photos a few days ago just for the heck of it, I stumbled across this:


I had completely forgotten that I had taken it, and don't know why i did. But it turns out that the world in its constantly mysterious ways might have known what was coming and convinced me to do so. For this picture was taken at Kuomboka whilst I was chasing the Lozi king through the flood water around his Limulunga palace as he headed for his boat. And whilst in itself that may not be of any relevance, I am 98% certain that it was on this day and probably during this very chase that i managed to pick up the damned parasite which has since ruled my life.

And I just thought i would share it with you.

Posted by Gelli 06:21 Archived in Zambia Tagged health_and_medicine Comments (1)

One night in Kampala. Plus a few more.

After years of people complaining that i didn't put up entries often enough, now people are complaining that i'm putting up too many. I just can't win. But in my defence, i've had a lot of free time on my hands in recent weeks and so have used some of it keep you all bored. When i resume my normal lethargic attempts at keeping up to date (eg: i don't), you can assume i am either healthy again and don't have the time, or that Hamish has won.

I spent 10nights in Kampala, but even now i'm not really sure why. Apart from the inevitable chores and recovery I didn't really seem to do anything. And as for achievement...? Erm... nope. Don't be silly. Though i wandered around town quite a bit, I didn't even make it to the Kasubi tombs, probably the biggest tourist 'attraction' in the city. Why? Erm... Again, I don't know. In fact my biggest impression of Kampala as a city is the fact that every 3rd person seemed to be wearing a security uniform of some description, and carrying a large gun.

Life pretty much revolved around the hostel, and certain patterns developed. I would have breakfast in the restaurant, sitting at the same small table where the same chicken would invariably come and join me in the chair opposite. After making a fair racket for the next while, it would lay an egg on the cushion, and then quietly wander off to amazed looks by recent arrivals. I would also engage in discussions about the obscene size of one of the hostel dogs, and the curious state of the goat who was very obviously pregnant despite the lack of, well, any other goats, leading to the slightly worrying conclusion that one backpacker who passed through was either extremely drunk or extremely desperate. Or both.

The old matatu park in Kampala. the new one is even bigger and messier (though without a nice place to look out over it and marvel at how anybody has the faintest idea of what is going on)

As it is now coming into tourist season – lots of students are suddenly filling up East Africa, bringing with them rising prices and swine flu amongst much else - I would also wonder at the constant stream of overland trucks coming through: Only one night was without any, whilst 2 or 3 a day were not uncommon and 5 arrived on one crazy day. It just seemed very strange that there were so many in Uganda, almost all fairly full, and especially as most of them are so cunningly designed that it's pretty much impossible to see anything out of them at all! And I also wondered at the sheer moronic-ness, ignorance and down right rudeness of the hoards of 18/19year olds who passed through at weekends. One night was so bad that – quite honestly – if i had had instant access to a machete or shotgun at around 4am, I would now be doing some serious time as a notorious mass-murderer. Why are these people let out, is what I want to know, let alone how are some these allegedly intelligent human beings (the horrific group in question were young American law students interning at the Rwanda War Crimes and genocide tribunal in Tanzania, for crying out loud).

I was curious as to exactly what changes at 6pm, but didn't stick around to find out

I had entertained vague plans of a few day trips as well, but the only one i undertook was to Entebbe, 35km away on Lake Victoria, home to Uganda's main airport and the former capital city. It was certainly pleasant enough, though it was a slightly odd place: there didn't seem to be anything even vaguely resembling a centre. We wandered for a couple of hours around it's main attraction, the Botanical gardens (where, local legend has it, some of the original Tarzan films were made, though it seems unlikely) which were certainly very pleasant and a relaxed way to spend a day, but it was more in the way of a grassy park with trees or even an arboretum than a garden. Of flowers, which I would have thought would be an integral part of any botanical garden, there were none. There were some monkeys and plenty of birds though, which seems a pretty decent trade off to me.



Some trees in the Entebbe Botanical gardens, and some boys standing on a submerged rockand fishing in Lake Victoria

Eventually I headed south. I didn't have much in the way of a plan, to be sure, but south was there, i hadn't seen it and i had some days. Besides, the Northern hemisphere was boring me again. And thus I ended up in Kabale near the Rwandan and Congolese borders in an area of beautiful landscapes and terraced hills that looks in places like England, Slovakia, St.Helena and China. Pretty much anywhere, in fact, that is not African. The town wasn't much, but the surroundings pleasant, and it had obviously been of importance in previous times judging by some of the large colonial villas dotted in the hills. The standards have degenerated though, as i, a grotty looking and dodgy sounding backpacker was greeted warmly at the White Horse Inn one afternoon, whereas in years gone by VS Naipul had been banned, and Paul Theroux kicked out.

I was pretty much as south as I could be and as I was sadly unable to visit the mountain gorillas – the price of permits is horrific, whilst shared genes means that anybody who is sick is not allowed to visit anyway – i figured I may as well keep going. The Rwandan border is just down the road, and it seems silly not to cross it.

A view of some of the terraces in the hills around Kabale

Posted by Gelli 06:14 Archived in Uganda Tagged round_the_world Comments (1)

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