A Travellerspoint blog

Uganda

Several sources of Nile

sunny 34 °C

I actually kind of feel guilty about how little of Uganda I have seen. I don't really know why, but I just kind of worked out that way. For a while, I seem to have developed a kind of traveling apathy, probably brought on by my constant need to return to certain establishments, and so preventing freedom of thought and hope. I think that has only just been worked out of my system by the Western fringes of East Africa. And yet there is so much of note to see here. And now I have no time left to see it. Lake Bunyoni, for example, is somewhere I really wanted to see, and I was barely 8km from it when I was in Kabale, yet i didn't realise that until too late in the day to make a trip really feasible.

And now, coming back from Rwanda I am due back at a wonderful Nairobi institution (yes, sarcasm) in only a couple of days so don't have time to stop off there. But I did manage to stop in Jinja. It was as much to break up the journey from Kigali to Nairobi as anything else, I spent a night there. It also slightly helped offset the fact that I had to pay 50usd for another Ugandan visa and didn't want to essentially spend that just to sit on a bus bouncing across the country.

Jinja's main claim to fame is as the source of the Nile (although even that is disputed: Whilst Jinja certainly has a source of the Nile, and the most impressive one in terms of scale, Burundi claims a source further south, and Rwanda claims the longest and so true source), but to backpackers it is home to some of the best white water rafting in the world. And after arriving late at night and having a boda-boda rider try and con me mercilessly, the following morning i watched with amusement as vast hordes of mostly very young looking, excited and hungover white people headed off to drown, before leaving me with a hostel pretty much to myself.

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Above, me at the source of the Nile, although i couldn't tell you why i seem to look so unhappy. Below, what many backpackers take to be the true source of the Nile...

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Jinja is actually a very pleasant if slightly odd town. Granted it was a Sunday so many things were shut, but it was one of the few places I have been where there has been no hassle at all (well, if you ignore boda-boda riders) - nobody tries to sell you things, and there are no beggars around. Astonishingly, this was even the case in the small area of tourist shops and curio sellers, who apart from the occasional 'hello' ignored all the daft mzungu's who were looking around. Being allowed to browse curio shops without hassle and strong selling is so strange and such a novelty in East and Southern Africa, that it is pretty much outside of my comprehension.

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Looking downstream from the source of the Nile. The really impressive – and kind of unexpected thing – is that this is taken 200m from the source of the worlds longest river, and look at how flippin wide it already is!

The town is built on a kind of small peninsula between the end of the River Nile and Lake Victoria, so you are surrounded by water, and I ambled happily along the long wide residential roads, dotted with spacious if generally sadly dilapidated looking colonial style houses, and it was all very pleasant. I wandered down to the Lake, went and overlooked the source of the Nile and even found a little cafe with a great book swap. And even came across one of our 3stalkers from Southern Africa, Leslie (the boys were off doing energetic sounding things on Mt. Kenya), for the first time since Lusaka, and w happily caught up (since we had last crossed paths, amongst much else they had played on a swanky Zimbabwean golf course, been in a bad auto accident whilst hitching in Mozambique and had a bag stolen on a Malawian ferry).

Though wishing i had more time to explore the outskirts, including some apparently beautiful waterfalls only a few km out of town, I was quite happy with a lazy day of walking, and more than happy that i had decided to split my journey there. There was was an element of sadness, and pretty much all it has done is reinforce my thinking that I have not done Uganda justice, and thus must return.

I haven't put up any signs for a few posts no, so i figured it was about time I did. The first one is, obviously, right next to the police station (Tway, and other grammar Nazi's note that a far as I am aware, George W. Bush's war on terror did not extend to spelling terror), whilst the shop below was selling cleaning products, and whilst I'm sure Jesus was a believer in hygiene, I don't think he mentioned Domestos during many of his most famous speeches
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Posted by Gelli 02:11 Archived in Uganda Tagged round_the_world Comments (3)

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)

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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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)

A Boda-Boda Bouncy-Bounce

sunny

AS I bounced off the tarmac for the second time, everything suddenly went into slow motion.

Almost Hollywood style, in a way, and I became suddenly, unusually and acutely aware of my situation and I seemed to have hours or even days in which to ponder the future. Not that there was much to ponder: I was bouncing across a road, no longer on the boda-boda motorcycle taxi that I had been on less than a second earlier, and could see a metal pole rapidly approaching from one direction (absolutely typical – I somehow seem to be on a collision course with the only directional road sign in the whole of Uganda!) and a matatu bearing down on me from a different direction. And, of course, the tarmac also approaching me yet again. Pretty much all i had to ponder is what I would hit first (or, rather, second, as hitting the tarmac again first seemed a no-brainer). Oddly enough, the overriding thought I remember going through my head was “I don't care what he says, but i'm not f****** paying him after this!”

I'm not entirely sure what happened after that. The next thing I remember is being half wrapped round a pole trying to work out where I was, why I was there and what on earth had happened to my shoulder which was somewhat more painful than i remembered it being in the recent past and i'm sure hasn't always been at that angle. I then vaguely remembered having been on a boda-boda and almost in abstract wondered what had happened to it and the driver: Looking across the road I was suddenly aware of a crumpled lump of metal wrapped against a tree on fire. Hmmmm. This was probably not a good sign, and I concluded by thinking that i really DEFINITELY was not paying him now. Oddly, of the driver, there was no sign at all.

I was in Kampala, and for no specific reason except that after moaning about having to stay in Nairobi, I had managed to arrange with my Nairobi doctor to see one of his colleagues in Uganda as a once off, which gave me an entire 2weeks away from Nairobi. I had left pretty much as soon as possible on the first departure to anywhere I hadn't already been. Still lying on the floor in pain and a pool of blood - still wet, but both amazingly and scarily, it seemed not to be mine - I wryly remembered that I was due in the hospital tomorrow anyway, so I didn't have to make an extra trip to get my new injuries looked at. And just before it happened, i had been sent this great little cartoon about how my parents seem to think of me. It was almost perfect timing.

I stood up slowly – or tried to – whilst attempting to work out/remember what had happened. And promptly collapsed right into the metal sign post, and onto my newly bad shoulder, whereupon I got a millisecond of the most intense pain, heard a crunch sound and then all of a sudden had much less pain. Apparently I had popped my shoulder back in without even realising that it had dislocated. I tried to stand up again, successfully, and took stock: there were a few curious bystanders or cars watching, but in general very little attention was being paid to me or the now seriously burning tree, whilst the driver was still nowhere to be seen. I looked in the wreckage, the ditch and the tree, and definitely no driver. I still have no idea (or recollection) as to why we crashed. Realising there was not much else that i could do, I half shrugged, dusted myself off and gingerly limped down the road for a couple of hundred metres until i came across the next boda-boda, whereupon I negotiated a smaller fee with its driver, and continued on my way.

Posted by Gelli 06:04 Archived in Uganda Tagged transportation Comments (0)

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