Sunday, April 26, 2009

Uganda: It was the best of times; it was the worst of times…

It’s been a while since I’ve last posted and a lot has happened.
went Uganda for a week and a half, I spent a weekend in Kibuye, school
has started up again and I saw Paul Kagame speak. Where to start…

As you may have heard, we didn’t have the best first day in Uganda.
We took a coach bus North from Nyagatare, crossed the border and
started off on the dirt road on the Ugandan side. It had been raining
all morning and the road had turned to mud. About 45 minutes over the
border the bus started fishtailing and we slid into the ditch. After
an hour of us standing around in the mud and the rain, they managed to
push the bus back onto the road. As we were filing back on, I made an
innocuous little joke about how long it would take us to go off the
road again. Turned out the answer was about 30 minutes.

Once again, we fishtailed and went into the ditch. This time,
however, the ditch was quite a bit deeper, and the bus tipped over,
the left side slamming into the embankment, leaving us slanted at
about a 45-degree angle. Oh, I forgot to mention that the woman next
to me had been vomiting into a plastic bag earlier, and now, as I
wedged myself against the seat in front of me, holding up both of the
women next to me, that bag of vomit was smacking my arm again and
again. Of course, the main door to the bus was stuck in the mud, so
we had to swing/crawl/climb our way up to the very front and out the
driver’s door, then leap into the mud/road below.

For some reason, until I exited the bus, I held onto some hope that we
could somehow right it and keep going, but I immediately saw that this
was not likely. That bus was not going anywhere. (I actually
wouldn’t be surprised if it is still stuck there.) This left us with
the wonderful option of finding our own way to Kampala, so myself and
a couple of others hopped back onto the bus to retrieve our bags. It
was at this point, when I was standing on the off kilter doorway that
I noticed the truck barreling down the road at us. As it tried to
swerve around the bus, it too lost control and from my vantage point I
couldn’t tell if it would hit the bus (i.e. right where I was
standing) or if it would hit the opposite side of the road (i.e. right
where about 30 people were standing). I fell backwards into the bus
with the door slamming shut on me, and the truck proceed to plow into
the opposite side of the road. Amazingly, no one was seriously hurt!
Everyone managed to leap back into the field behind them, and the 10
or so people that had been riding on top of the truck jumped off
before it head the ditch.

Anyway, with the news of the bus crash, the scene was soon mobbed by
alternate forms of transportation, and we were able to find a matatu
heading all the way to Kampala. It seemed like a good idea at the
time. It turned out to be 8 of the most miserable hours of my life,
as well as the worst bus ride I’ve ever taken, including the one that
had just ended by crashing into a ditch. The dirt parts of the road
were still a sea of mud, the paved sections could only loosely be
described as such, the driver was ridiculously erratic, and I was
sitting in a folding seat with no back support or legroom. There was
one rest stop (where I first tried a Mirinda Fruity (like a Fanta
Grape) which they don’t have here in Rwanda, much to my dismay) and we
finally pulled into the Kampala New Taxi Park after dark. We quickly
found a motel (the Taj Motel) that had been recommended by a VSO, got
a room and collapsed onto the bed. At least the excitement was over
for the night, right? Right? Wrong!

When our hunger finally got the better of our exhaustion (we hadn’t
eaten anything yet that day), we ventured downstairs to the motel
restaurant. Let me emphasize that – we went to the restaurant IN our
motel. We had a great meal of fried chicken and chips, and tried our
first Uganda beers (which are quite delicious, especially the Nile
Special) and decided we quite liked Kampala. Once our hunger and our
thirst were slated, we headed back up to the room, unlocked the door
(yes, the door was still locked!) and walked in. It took a second for
it to dawn on us that the room was not how we left it. The contents
of our bags were strewn all over the floor, obviously rifled through.
We had been robbed! All three of us had our cameras and iPods stolen,
and the other two lost a good chunk of money. My money, which I had
stupidly left on the bed, was untouched. I had thrown a brightly
coloured plaid shirt (my new fav!) over it, and in their haste, the
thieves hadn’t looked under it! I complained to the front desk, but
seeing as the door was locked when we returned, and the windows were
barred, it had to have been either the staff or that the staff had
been bribed for a key. Needless to say, they were a big help.
(Sarcasm! Yeah!) Being too late to find a new place to stay, we
barricaded the door and went to sleep, leaving early the next morning
for a backpackers’ hostel.

First impressions: Uganda = the suck! No camera, which sucked for the
rest of the trip not being able to document any of the cool things we
saw, plus I had some really good pictures on it already! Fortunately,
we ran into some VSOs who let us use theirs for a day, so there might
eventually be some photos of the trip popping up on here. The iPod
wasn’t as bad as a loss, but still not cool. It was extremely nice
for long bus rides and for working out, plus I really don’t look
forward to the 20 hour flight home without one! I had also been
planning on using it in class to play my students music and podcasts.
Alisha had just sent me some mini speakers to use with it and I was
going to start using it this term. So, small request…if any of you
have an iPod that you really don’t need anymore, consider sending it
my way! (Earbuds too?) But let me know first, incase someone beat
you too it. (Oh, and I’m getting a camera sent to me already, so
don’t worry about that!)

The rest of the trip went swimmingly, so I’ll skim through it. We cut
out a couple items due to cost, like white water rafting on the Nile,
and chimp tracking. We spent an amazing couple of days on the Ssese
Islands on Lake Victoria. Our camp (Hornbill) had monkeys, a pool
table, an amazing beach (that I didn’t swim in due to various
parasites that I can’t spell and don’t want) and plenty of beer. We
also checked out the Botanical Gardens in Entebbe, a holdover from the
colonial period. (It was actually very similar to the one I visited
in Ghana, both being created by the British to house plants from all
over the Empire.) It also had monkeys. In Jinja we saw the source of
the Nile and stuck our hands in it. By “source” I mean it is where
the Nile exits Lake Victoria and first takes on it’s name. I’ll say
this, I thought that since it is where the Nile starts, it wouldn’t be
all the big, but I was wrong. It’s freakin’ huge right from the
get-go! We ended the trip in Kabale, just North of the Rwandese
border, which is known (by the locals at least) as the Switzerland of
East Africa. Lots of mountains and lakes, quite pretty!

I’d have to say that one of the best parts of the trip was the food.
Uganda is a lot cheaper than Rwanda, and we ended up eating pretty
well. The fish (carnivorous Nile Perch, mostly) from Lake Victoria
and the Nile were amazing, and in Kampala and Jinja we gorged
ourselves on food we can’t get/can’t afford here in Rwanda: Chinese,
Indian, Thai, Mexican, American, Italian.

Overall, despite the bus crashes and the robbery, the trip was a lot
of fun, and was totally worth it. It did make me appreciate certain
things about Rwanda a lot more as well (not the food though). Kigali
is not a normal Africa city. It is safe, clean and not too crowded.
Kampala is exactly the opposite. It’s considered safe compared to
Nairobi, but it’s extremely dirty, and packed to the brim with people.
The roads are way worse than Rwanda and the motos (boda-bodas as they
are called there) are not regulated – no helmets and the drivers
usually try to cram two passengers on the back to make more money.
(This actually feels quite secure in practice, as you are wedged in
there so tight it’s much easier to keep your balance!).

To sum up: I recommend Uganda as a tourist destination. Just don’t
stay at the Taj Motel!


Camber Carpenter said...

I think it's cool that you're still alive. That fact makes me happy.
I could get you an iPed (like an iPod, but will likely break in 2 weeks) at a market in HK. Just sayin'.

Anonymous said...

Okay, third attempt at this posting, might end up with, what a journey/ should probably be an English teacher..stay safe and away from parasites... love u and miss u..auntie c

Andrew and Amanda in Europe said...

Well, after that story I'm fairly positive that you'll be able to handle Houston. It can be a little scary at night, but I think you've got it covered. You're life is pretty crazy, you definitely win the contest for most adventurous life after SDSU.

PS I miss our gossip fests/study sessions at Cottonwood.