Uganda

Day 67, 16thAugust 2009

Jinja: 132 miles

Q: As we passed back into Eldoret on the way to the Ugandan border I hopped out and tried to try for the hundredth time to get our deposit back on the crate of Tusker bottles. There was a bar come bottle store which was surprisingly open at 10am (with a few early morning Monday punters who seemed to have been there since six from the racket that was coming from them). Inside was Peter the bar manager who seemed relatively sober in comparison to the rest of the inhabitants of Eldoret and he agreed to take the crate off of us for 300 shillings. 300 shillings is not a lot but this extra little cash ended up being spent on spend on some more Kenyan coffee. The coffee here is good and Angel makes me a cup every morning to put me into a better mood.

Crossing into Uganda was a breeze. There were the usual money changers and insurance brokers hounding you, but on the advice of Raj at Riverside Camp last night, I let Angel get on with the documentation - Kenyan border employees are keener to assist ladies than us guys. It seemed to work pretty well as we were through and onto the Ugandan side just before 12. Pity it was not a few minutes earlier as the Ugandans take a long lunch … except for the loopy customs lady that filled out and stamped our Carnet. She was nuts … nice nuts, but still crazy nuts. It was as relief to finally get on the road again and the drive to Jinja was beautiful. Uganda is most definitely the "Pearl of Africa" … It is so lush and the people are very friendly and kind.

I think we are going to enjoy ourselves here.

A: What a beautiful country with equally beautiful people. My first experience of a Ugandan was at the border. A young boy George was selling biscuits in his school holidays to help his single mum feed and send him and his two brothers to school. He was wearing a tatty t-shirt shoes that must have been over 4 sizes too big and trousers that were so small that they looked more like shorts on him. After little more than a 2 minute conversation with him, I couldn't believe what a sweet nature he had in comparison to most of the other children we have met who simply say 'give me money' . George spent over an hour with us chatting and asking us about our travels and concerned himself with the fact that we might get burnt in the hot sun.

With that I pulled out a bottle of sun lotion and offered him some, he smothered his arms in spf50 and thought it was just fantastic that his arms smelt so good. He was exceptionally intelligent and admitted to studying hard at school. From his sales he got to keep 2000 UGX ( 1 dollar) for himself but the rest went straight to his mum. His school fees were 25000 per term and 5000 for each examination he took. Books were expensive so I gave him two note book and four biros to help him out.

Holding the paper in one hand and the pens in the other he looked at them and smiled saying that I had given him more than enough and he immediately wrote his name inside the books to show us how well he could write. Two of the pens he said he would use now and the other two he was going to keep safe until the others had run out. Another thing I'd not heard from children until now was thank you. George said thank you over and over again, I was sad to have to leave him behind, he was such a wonderful boy.

The drive from Eldoret to Jinja was short so we arrived just after 12 at a recommended campsite called Nile Explorers who were also the organisers of white water rafting trips. On our way down the narrow road to the campsite, we were made to stop by a young a teenaged boy and his fellow side kicks who had strung a rope across the road. When asked what he wanted he explained that they needed money to help dig up and resurface the road!!! Another ploy to rob the gullible Mzungus!! We joked with him and told him we wouldn't give him money but instead gave him and his fellow entrepreneurs a handful of bubblegum and with a cheeky smile, he raised the rope and let us through!

Day 68, 17thAugust 2009

Jinja: 0 miles, 30 miles down the storming white water of the White Nile

Q: Today I was the hero of the White Nile. All I remember is heading down our last rapid of the day which had been named the "Bad Place" (for real .. that s what it is called) at which point the raft flipped. We flipped in the wave that leads up to the swirling part of the last rapid we were running today called the Bad Place … and this is where I saved Angel's life. I reached out, grabbed her life jacket … pulled her closer towards the now upside down raft and was told … "Let go of me, you are pulling me down … ". Eh? How ungrateful … why would I reach out and rescue someone to then force them under the water whilst tumbling through the biggest white water known to man? Please … and for my efforts I was sucked into the baddest place on the planet (as it has been so rightly named) which left me with a blood gushing puncture wound in my right shin that goes all the way to the bone … along with a number of other very painful scratches and bruises. Angel is injury free …

With blood pouring from my leg we paddled to our exit point and climbed up the hill to the truck that was waiting for us to take us back to the Nile River Explorers campsite … No one else had risked their life today on the White Nile. I was the only hero today … and it is all on DVD.

Other than my leg bashing … it was a fantastic day …

A: Now for my version.......We'd completed all but one of the 12 rapids of the day and managed to flip just the once so far. Jessie our expert guide had explained the last rapid in detail and told us at what stages we were needed to paddle and at what points he needed us to get down. All his expert advice soon went down the pan or rapid I should say when we flipped at the first wave which sent us all plunging into the whirlpoool at the top of the rapid. All seven of us were underwater and quickly heading to the 'bad place' somewhere Jessie our guide told us he'd never been and didn't want to visit!! It was at this point Andrew grabbed me so I could get a firm grip of the raft before he set off on another valiant mission to save someone else. He held onto me for a while but while doing so seemed to be pushing me under the water, so in a thanks but no thanks kinda way I told him to let me go!! Jessie had climbed momentarily on to the top of the raft in an attempt to flip it back over but soon got thrown off by another wave on the very edge of the 'bad place'. We rode it out and all ended up in different areas, some of us clung onto the boat while others were being rescued by the kayakers. It was then Andrew drew attention to his wound saying he'd bashed it on the rocks in the rapids....

As the day progressed, so did the story, need I say more......OK so he is my hero and I'm indebted to him forever more........Thank you my brave brave white Knight..

The day all in all was just brilliant and the White Nile rapids are few of the grade 5 rapids that you can raft commercially in the world. Parts were terrifying but that's all part of the fun We all said though even after the last rapid and very close encounter with 'bad place' that we'd do it again in a heart beat it was so much fun and I'd recommend it to anyone and everyone.

Day 69, 18thAugust 2009

Jinja: 0 miles

Q: A super lazy day today after the excitement of yesterday's heroic performance. We managed to wash all our smelly clothes from the last three weeks (including a number of pairs of Angel's pants) and also started to think about getting over to Rwanda to see the Gorillas. First we need to pass through Kampala so that we can change some money into USD as we need to pay up a king's ransom to climb up to see them for a one hour slot. I was also hoping that we can find a replacement zoom lens for the SLR camera as the one we have has been rattled to death and will only work when it feels like it - not great if you are spending so much to see the gorillas and cannot even take a decent picture of them.

Yesterday we met a lovely South African family who are travelling the same route as we are in their Landcruiser back to Cape Town. They headed off to do the rafting thing this morning and I am sure that they are going to come back with really big smiles.

My leg has swollen a lot since yesterday and it seems to not want to stop seeping and bleeding. Nothing feels broken but we have been cleaning it as it needs to heal before we get to Arusha for the 5th of Sept to meet Si, Allan and Dirty to climb Killi. That is a few weeks away … I am sure that I will be fighting fit by then.

Our campsite is really nice. The view of the river from the restaurant is incredible … pity that in a few months time most of the rapids that the rafts go down are going to be covered up as the Ugandan government is building a hydroelectric dam wall a few kilometers downriver which will swallow up most of the river that we went through yesterday. There will still be more rapids to run further down river … so not all will be lost.

A: We had a super chilled afternoon, lazing on my now favourite masai blanket and eating chipati's from the local street vendor. Andrew's leg swelled considerably and was beginning to go a bit red so after some persuasion I convinced him to start a course of antibiotics as the water here isn't the cleanest and we heard that getting a waterborne infection was highly likely..

Patching up my knight's gaping leg wound was about the most excitement I had the whole day....poor thing, it is quite bad even though we play it down. He has a graze on each knee, a hole in each big toe , a scuff on each ankle and the puncture hole to his right shin. I'd be making far more noise than he is if it had been me, it looks really painful. I'm trying to be the best nurse I can to keep him pain free and infection free, a must if we are to climb Killi in a few weeks time.

Day 70, 19thAugust 2009

Kampala: 131 miles

Q: There is one thing that I long for in the mornings when we get up whilst staying here and that is a thing called chepati. The official Budugari Falls International Chepati Company … which has to be the best Chepati company in the world, creates a pancake omelet type thing with avocado wrapped in newspaper dripping in oil which is absolutely scrumptious (it is item 3 on the menu if you ever go to Jinja and end up in this place). So good … and all this for only 1000 Ugandan Shillings. This has to be the best street food we have had since leaving home.

As we came closer to Kampala the traffic got heavier, but it was easy enough to find our way to the Red Chilli campsite. We left Joel and Hannah to save us a camping spot so that we could try and find a lens for the camera plus get some food and change money.

Finally after many hours looking I wandered into a photography studio which had a ton of cannon camera parts for older manual models. From underneath a pile of boxes the guy produced a lens that was a slightly older model to ours but with the same spec and it worked. After haggling the price for a while the guy agreed to sell it to me at just over 80 pounds because he wanted the "Mzungu to be happy so that he comes back to Uganda". I am still amazed that we manged to find one .

A: Being designated driver for the day, I waited with the car while Andrew bartered hard to get the price down on the lens in the nearby shop. I was illegally parked and was soon moved on by a very aggressive mannered policeman. Unsure where to go and unable to contact Andrew I headed down the nearest side street where I got caught in yet another traffic jam.....I began to have visions of him getting lost trying to find me down the streets of Kampala, losing each other forever......then there was a tap on the window, he found me!!

A little earlier on we received a text from Joel to say the bike had fallen over and the brake lever had snapped so Andrew and I spent the next hour or so trying to find a replacement. We had very little luck until we tried one last place on our way back to Red Chillies campsite. A young man called Robert working in an old chop shop with odds and sods off different bikes came to our (Joel's) rescue. He didn't have the part but assured us he'd have it for us by tomorrow. Result!

The campsite had filled to the brim while we were gone and we fought to get past a very badly parked overland truck that took up ten times more space than they needed to a space by Joel and Hannah and the lovely family we met in Jinja, Mum Sasha, Dad Chris, Skyla, Leyla and Rourke. Dad called at the best time possible and got me out of setting up duties so after a good old chin wag and catch up, all I had to do was cook. I've been the mum over the past few weeks not only cooking for Andrew and I but also our adopted Hannah and Joel. They have nicknamed us their Support Crew as a result!!

Time to change Andrew's dressing....the wound is weeping and still bleeding a little so Sasha kindly gave us a great industrial breathable plaster and some hydrogen peroxide to kill any infection that might be festering.

After my duties were over I hit the sack while Andrew stayed up for a while and chatted to Joel over a few more beers.

Day 71 20th August 2009

Masaka via Entebbe: 124 miles

A: Andrew and I had decided to set off early this morning but soon got caught up in doing bits and bobs so didn't in fact get going until 12ish. We set off in convoy, us, J & H and the Family and firstly headed to Entebbe where the Israelis made their daring rescue many years ago. We were sent from pillar to post to try and get clearance to enter the Airport but for some reason nobody could assist us. We had three small children with us and we posed no threat at all but still no luck. It's a real shame no-one was willing to help us out, it would have been very interesting to go and see.

A little deflated by our unsuccessful efforts, we set off to Masaka, a small town en-route to Lake Bunyonyi. It sits just 140 km outside of Kampala but we decided to stop there to break the journey up into two as the stint to the lake would have been over 400 km.

We arrived in darkness into Masaka, driving here in daylight is terrifying enough so by the time we found the camp site we were all completely exhausted. You not only contend with avoiding head on traffic on a blind corner but also grave-like pot holes and kamikaze cyclists....these guys are complete lunatics!! It didn't help that we just couldn't get rid of the smears off the windows so any lights shining in our direction reflected a blinding mist across to entire screen!.......

The campsite is wonderful and the owner Jane was very accommodating. It was late but she still managed to rustle up chipati for Andrew and a plate of spaghetti for me. Within moments of scraping our plates clean, we were in bed …......very tiring day.

Q: My chapati was good … the spaghetti was odd looking. Really glad that we found this campsite as the rest of Masaka looked a little dodge.

Day 72, 21st August 2009

Lake Bounyoyi: 68 miles 

A: We all said the night before that we wanted to get out of Masaka pronto to try and get to Lake Bunyonyi as early as possible. Sure enough everyone was ready and we set off at 9 on the dot. The road wasn't the best , Donkey and the Land Cruiser managed fine but J & H struggled so they slowed down their pace. We headed straight to the Lake when we arrived to a place called Bunyonyi Overland Resort, what an absolute find, it's beautiful here and we heard one man describe it as the most beautiful place in Uganda!

We arrived in convoy with Sasha, Chris and the kids, the latter having made their way into our car for the last half hour of the journey. We were greeted by Alex the manager I had spoken on the phone with yesterday to prebook space for two large vehicles and a two man tent. He was very sweet and once we'd settled in tried to convince Sasha and I to buy gorilla T-shirts from him he had personally designed!! Might buy a few as bridesmaid gifts!!!

One of the kids Skyla had braids in her hair from a trip they had been on over three weeks ago to Lamu so very sweetly she came to me and asked if I would help her undo them all. The process took over an hour but she looked just gorgeous once they were all out. She has beautiful olive skin and long thick hair that wes now resembling that of Dianna Ross. In the mean time the BBQ was well on the way and both Joel and Hannah had also arrived. It was a tough day for them both, the road was terrible in a car let alone on two wheels. Hannah jumped off the bike when they arrived and lay face down on the grass....poor things were shattered but at least they arrived just in time for a chicken supper and a few beers......

Q: This place is really pretty and if we had the time I would love to stay for a few days but we have to get our permits for the gorilla trekking in Kigali before the office closes at 2 tomorrow (it is a Saturday …. ) plus we need to get to the closer to the park gates so that we can be there for 7am on the 23rd. Angel is getting more and more excited as we get closer to the day … I hope that these big gorilla fellas perform well.

Ok ...a few things about Uganda

1] Chipati is good in the morning for breakfast, good for lunch and so good in the evening for dinner.

2] The rapids of the upper white Nile will be missed when the new dam is completed … the Bad Place will however still remain, so don't flip on the way down. You will bleed otherwise.

3] Fuel is just under a doller at 2000 Ugandan Shillings

4] Beers in the bottle store are 1500 Ugandan Shillings but 2500 in a restaurant …

5] It is a beautiful place and certainly worth a visit - it has beautiful lakes, the magnificent mountain gorillas and some of the most exciting rafting in the world.

Day 72, 22nd August 2009

Musanze via Kigali: 125 miles

A: We packed up said our goodbyes and headed for Kigali. The drive was spectacular and the scenery breathtaking, there were deep valleys filled with tea plantations with towering hills above. Every inch of land was being farmed, even the steep slopes on the mountains that you and I would see impossible to reach let alone cultivate. In the distance you can see the faint outline of the Parc National des Volcans where we will be visiting the mountain gorillas tomorrow.

The pick up place for the tracking permits was at the Hotel De Milles Collines the hotel that was the inspiration for the film Hotel Rwanda. At the time of the Genocide, the hotel was owned by the Belgian airline Sabena and the former owner was evacuated and the hotel was reappointed a new manager Paul Rusesabagina who protected fleeing Tutsis from the Hutus. I was very moved by the film so it was quite overwhelming to be sat on the quiet terrace which was once the site of such terrified souls fearing for their lives.

Q: Kigali is the cleanest place I have ever been to. How can you be in an African city where there is zero litter and the place smells like the English countryside. I suppose including plastic packaging as contraband in has really worked - Cairo and Addis should do the same. Everything here seems to be highly regulated - the motorbike taxis have to carry helmets for their passengers plus they all wear a uniform which tells you which zone of the city they are allowed to work in. It's quite cool to see the little green and blue helmets bobbing along.

Whenever we arrive at a new capital city it seems to revolve the same few things … bank, Internet and then food shopping. Good thing that this time the shopping mall next to the hotel had it all under one roof - kinda reminds me of SA again … men with guns protecting the shoppers as they pick up their bread and milk. We sat for a while in the internet cafe to try upload some of the blog, but it was very slow and as we needed to get up to the park gates really early tomorrow morning, so we decided to get out of the city and update everything when we came back in a few days. Good idea … I almost pass out watching the pictures load one after the other.

In Muzanze there is only one place that you can stay the night on the cheap and that is in the parking lot at the Phatima Pastoral Centre. It's not very pastoral as you can stay there all night drinking beers in their bar singing along to songs blasting from the concert ground next door. The concert ended just as I was finishing my last mouthful of pesto pasta that Angel had whipped up … good for energy when looking for rare mountain gorillas.

Tomorrow is going to be a great day … I think Angel is going to wet her pants when we see our first gorilla, so we had better take a few extra pairs with us on the trek up into the mountain.

Day 73, 23rd August 2009

Gisenyi via Kinigi: 63 miles

A: Up at 5:30 to get ready for the big day. I'm so excited, it's been a dream of mine to visit the Mountain Gorillas since the age of 14 when I watched Gorillas in the Mist with my dad on the ferry to Holland. The plight of Diane Fossey who worked to save these endangered animals from extinction still lives on and the money that is made from the day to day tourism is helping protect them from poachers.

We arrived at the Kinigi headquarters at just after 6:30 to get signed in for the trek. The largest family of gorillas are called the Susa group consisting of 35 individuals and they are a good 3-4 hour hike away so we requested to go and see them but it had already been filled by those with a little more cash to splash than us if you know what I mean!!

We were assigned to the second furthest group called Amahoro (meaning Peace) who were a 2-3 hour hike approximately which had 18 family members including two Silverbacks (only one dominant) and 4 babies! Our guide for the day Placid showed us a laminated picture of the individual family members along with their unique nose print so we could look out for them. He told us a few frightening facts about the fast demise of the Mountain Gorilla and what they face in order to protect them. In 2002 here in the Parc National des Volcans the Susa Family were attacked by poachers and lost two members of the group and in as recently as 2007 in DRC a family lost 7 members including the Silverback due to poachers wanting to prove that the rangers had no influence on the lives of the gorillas in that region.

Very sad facts but matters are improving very little with no more than 700 mountain gorillas left in Uganda's Bwindi Impenetrable Nature Reserve and Rwanda's Parc National des Volcans (PNV). A percentage of the cost of the permit goes back into the community which encourages the local people that a world with Mountain gorillas is better than a world without..

At roughly 8:30 we set off in the car to just beneath the base of the mountain where we would begin the trek. The start of the walk took us through beautiful farmland with a backdrop of the mountains covered in an early morning mist. As we neared the base of the mountain we were met by two armed guards who remained with us for the entire day to protect us from elephant and buffalo that we may encounter on the way. The jungle was incredibly dense and Placid went ahead with his machete to clear a path. We passed through thick forest of bamboo which had all fallen giving the impression you were in a cage. The stinging nettles were ferocious and my thoughts go to the chap we saw earlier this morning at the headquarters wearing very short shorts!!!

We walked for almost two hours when we met up with the trackers whom all live at the base of the Reserve and every morning at 5 am set off in search for each individual gorilla family. Here we left them with our backpacks, not too sure why, maybe it's so we can run faster!!! Just as I put down my backpack, one of our group spotted an infant in a tree in the near distance...I can barely contain my excitement.

We headed in the direction of the family and within minutes had our first gorilla encounter. A mother and baby sat playing and eating only a few feet away from us. I couldn't believe my eyes, these animals are truly incredible and their acceptance of us was phenomenal. Gorillas share roughly 97% of their genes with us humans and as we looked upon the little babies playing, you could clearly see them smiling!

We moved to another area just meters away where we sat for some time watching the very big silverback who was keeping a watchful eye over his family He watched us all very closely too and made a throat clearing noise we were assured meant 'all is well, were safe'. Our tracker mimicked the sound to reassure them we were friendly and meant them no harm. We sat with them for almost half an hour when the silverback moved quickly toward us. We were told never to run away and to stay still so after he had calmed we edged slowly backward. Just then one of the mothers with her two babies came and sat only 3 feet away and her youngest who was just 3 months began crawling towards me and was just inches away from touching my hand when the guide moved me back so the little one retreated.

You have just one hour with the family and it was the fastest hour I've ever spent, it went in a flash. They were just beautiful and as the guide notified us of two minutes remaining one of the babies jumped on a nearby tree stump and sat looking at us with his fist in his mouth. What a way to end the hour.

Our photos are just gorgeous and I would do this again in a heart beat. These animals are truly magnificent and I only pray they survive the test of time. We're so so fortunate to have had the privilege to see these beautiful animals, I just hope generations to come the have the same opportunity we've had.

Q: My lasting memories of today will be the look on Angela's face when we stopped to sit and watch the mother and her baby foraging plus the fear that wells up inside when a couple of tons of sliverback gives you a deep stare as he considers what it is that you want. I quickly learned the "it is all ok, I come in peace" gorilla call …

The new lens worked way better than I had expected and we got some really fantastic shots of the gorillas. On the way back down the mountain, we stopped to have some coffee at what looked like a very nice lodge. 10 USD later for two cups of coffee we were off to Gisenyi where we hoped to spend a few nights just relaxing on the beach.

The nearby volcano had better not erupt and the cheeky creature that shared my trousers whilst watching the gorillas had better not come back for more ... it had a feast of the inside of my right leg.

Day 74, 24th August 2009

Gisenyi: 0 miles

A: The hotel that we are camping in the parking lot is called the Paradise Malahide which is a few kms along the lake from Gisenyi.

What a beautiful place to wake up to, the beach a stones throw away and I can hear the water splashing on the rocks below. I could certainly spend a few days relaxing on the beach here. Breakfast was in the very well established garden overlooking the lake which to be quite honest is more like a sea given there are waves. We decided to have a very relaxed day so we spent the best part of the morning on the beach swimming, reading and plotting on the map which routing to take to Tanzania.

Coming to Lake Kivu was a last minute decision but I'm very glad we did we did the small detour from Musanze. The sunsets are spectacular and every evening at 5ish you see the fishermen set out in their boats all singing away to spend the night out on the water.

Q: I never knew there were golden sandy beaches in Rwanda? The wind picked up in the morning and I got quite excited that it may get strong enough to go out for a surf but a DVD and snoozing was also a good idea.

Watching the fisherman sing their way in and out of the bay each day made it impossible not to try the local fresh talapia caught from Lake Kivu and was luckily on the hotel's menu. It is really good but the side bowl of something hot caught me by surprise even after being warned by Angel that it would cook my tongue.

After the local dancers had finished their routine bed started to call. Second early night in a row after a very relaxing day ... back to spanking clean Kigali tomorrow for the night and then off to Tanzania.

Day 75, 25th August 2009

 

Kigali: 189 miles

 

Q: Another beautiful drive through the Rwandan countryside all the way back to Kigali from Lake Kivu. Our first stop on getting into town was the Genocide Museum. It is a gory story but will always be something that you associate with Rwanda (and the Gorillas of course) so you have to go and see. Not many people here will to talk to you about the recent history of what went on during those 100 days of insanity … but why would you I suppose.

 

Joel, Hannah, Chris and Sasha arrived in Kigali yesterday and had found the most incredible place to stay … it is called Car Wash. Car Wash is actually a car washing institution but they have added a few restaurants and a curio shop on the side which entertains the car owners for a while as their car is valeted. At night, it becomes a very popular hangout for locals and ex-pats. The best thing about Car Wash is that camping and internet is totally FREE plus you can enjoy a plate of goat ribs for about 5 USD.

 

Goat ribs are not that inviting when they arrive to your table but I was happily surprised after my first tentative nibble. Not as good as the regular pork or sheep version, but not bad all the same. Next time … I think I will order a half portion - a full portion must have seen the demise of at least 2 goats counting the number of ribs that were on my plate.

 

A: Hannah and Joel stopped off at the supermarket on the way to the campsite and somehow managed to find Camembert cheese! Other than Dairylea which is processed within an inch of its life, we've not had cheese since we left the UK … After devouring the whole thing between the two of us, I went and joined Andrew in the bar to check how the progress of uploading pics to the site was going. It is very slow going, three minutes plus per photo, and his patience was wearing thin so I quickly ordered him another beer from the bar!

 

We head for Tanzania tomorrow.

 

A few things one needs to know about Rwanda:

 

1] The views on our drive around Rwanda took our breath away. It was difficult not to stop every few miles to just take it all in again and again and again and again ...

2] Beers are around 450/ 500 francs each (they do come in a fat 500ml bottle though).

3] Fuel is average at just under a dollar at 520 Rwandan Francs per litre.

4] Rwanda is way too clean to be an African country. There is no litter anywhere and with no smelly toilets to deal with makes this place feel slightly odd in comparison to the rest of our African experience.

5] Watching a monster silverback eye you up and down makes you feel incredibly vulnerable yet it is a wonderful experience all the same.

6] If you are from Rwanda you are not Rwandan you are Rwandese ... seems to be something that they are quite hung up about.