Posts Tagged With: hitch hiking in uganda

HITCH HIKING IN KENYA – THE FINALE

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© Unbound Ether Photography, 2015

“What’s plan B?” the Gypsy Queen asked.

It was getting dark and we had only reached Kericho on our way to Kisumu where our friend, Toto, was willing to host us for the night before we’d continue to the border and hit Jinja.

Just like the last time we hitched to Kisumu, this town seemed to not want us to reach our destination, resulting in us pitching our tent in the AP barracks (Administrative Police).

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The day had started late. We had joined Jonathan, Camilla and Aleks to camp in Hell’s Gate National Park on the outskirts of Naivasha, to celebrate Aleks and Jonathan’s birthdays. After leaving the park we found ourselves on the highway by 13:00.

Our first hitch took us to Nakuru where the driver dropped us on the outskirts of town. From there we progressed slowly on a truck that bounced us to a point where GQ couldn’t handle it anymore and we got off in the middle of a tiny town. Another ride took us Kericho as the sun disappeared behind the mountains. We hiked outta town and took the road heading up to Kisumu.

Not a single car was stopping and the Gypsy Queen again asked, “What’s plan B?”

“There is no plan B,” I said, grumpy from the day’s slow progress. “We reach Kisumu. Full stop.”

A pick-up truck appeared and passed by slowly, the driver indicating that he had room for just one.

“He’s slowing down,” GQ said, following the truck.

“He’s only got space for one,” I said, keep my attention to the lack of oncoming traffic.

“I think he’s stopping,” she said.

I turned back and saw that brake lights were applied. It appeared that he was contemplating on whether or not to take us. Finally he pulled over and I ran up to him.

“Kisumu,” smiled Stephen when asked about his direction. “OK, let’s go,” he grinned, motioning his 11-year-old son, Michael to hop to the backseat.

We threw our gear into the tray and, breathing a sigh of relief, indulged our driver with our story of hitching, bartering and today’s struggle.

“Where are you staying in Kisumu?” he asked.

It had been five hours since we messaged Toto and he had yet to respond.

“We figure we’d just show up at his doorstep,” I said.

“Well,” Stephen began, “I’m staying at a hotel in town. If he doesn’t answer, I am happy to provide you with a room, dinner and breakfast.”

I blinked, staring at Stephen in the darkness before swiveling to face GQ who couldn’t believe the words coming out of our driver.

“When I was in Switzerland,” he regaled, “a stranger helped me out on the road. I feel like this is my chance to give back through helping you.”

Indeed, Karma works in mysterious ways.

By the time we hit Kisumu we had lost all contact with Toto. Something was up but we didn’t know what (we’d later find out that even though Toto was doing worthy work in Kenya through his NGO, Cheap Impact and building a dome house to help out with an orphanage and fund raising, the Kenyan government was deporting him for the above ‘crimes’).

“Stephen,” I turned to our happy-go-lucky driver, “I think, if it’s alright with you, that we’ll take you up on that offer.”

He grinned. “Not a problem,” he said.

At the hotel, he organised a room for us. “Let’s meet in an hour for dinner.”

At 21:30 we chowed down on tilapia, caught fresh from Lake Nalabulu (aka, Lake Victoria) on which the city of Kisumu sits. The city became world-recognised when it was discovered that President Obama’s step-grandmother lives in a village on the outskirts.

An hour later we were in bed.

The next morning we met Stephen and Michael for breakfast. After the meal he took us out to the Kisumu Airport where we parted ways.

“Your father is a great man,” I said to his son.

GQ and I still had some smokeables with us so we decided to roll a small one and walked down the highway. When we finished and were in a comfy high, we crossed the road and hitched a ride about 20 Ks out of Kisumu with a young couple. We hiked through the small village and hitched a ride that dropped us in the middle of nowhere. Lush green fields and banana trees surrounded us as we found a mango tree that provided some shade from the baking sun.

We rolled another happy stick and puffed it out before hiking down the desolate road.

“No cars,” I pointed out. But we were in high spirits and were happy to continue to hike.

We came upon a shady corner where we figured, “May as well roll that last one,” GQ suggested. No point crossing the border with arresstable excuses.

We sat down and smoked, keeping an eye out for vehicles. Three trucks passed and by the time we finished smoking all we saw were some bodas. Until a car pulled over. Tinted windows greeted me as I crashed through the roadside bushes to reach the passenger side window.

“Where you going?” I asked the two shady looking characters.

“Busia,” answered the passenger, giving me a suspicious look. I instantly became wary and my sixth sense kicked in.

After explaining our penniless ways, they agreed to take us to the border town. I ran back to grab my packs and GQ. The passenger had stepped out to water the bushes and upon seeing the Gypsy Queen suggested I sit in the front seat so he could sit with her in the back.

I instantly went to Delta Orange and as I grabbed the handle of the back door said with the confidence of someone about to voluntarily wrestle a bear, “It’s OK –” motherfucker – “I’m good in the back,” and shut the door as he reluctantly sat in the front.

He laid out all his attention (and intention) on the Gypsy Queen while I sat quietly observing his every move and the driver. Both seemed to be street hustlers and I noted the position of the hand brake should things go haywire.

“You are very quiet,” the passenger turned to me after about 20 minutes.

“I’m just tired,” I lied, trying not to giving him a death stare, alert and ready for anything.

An hour later they dropped us by the border without incident. We hiked past the harassing bodas and got stamped out of Kenya.

“I gotta feeling the Ugandans are gonna give me some bullshit issues about getting an East African visa,” I said to GQ.

The East African visa costs $100 USD and lets you have multiple entries over three months to Rwanda, Uganda and Kenya. The Ugandan visa is at the same cost. But I’ve heard stories from the Ugandan side where they refuse or cause hassles claiming they can’t issue the visa because they don’t want to share with the other two countries the hundred dollars.

It was just after lunch and the 24-hour border post was empty. I stood in line with GQ who, as a Kenyan student, had no issues getting her interstate pass.

And then my turn came up.

“Hi,” I smiled. “I’d like the East African visa.”

“You cannot get it here,” said the customs officer behind the glass. “Get it in Kenya.”

“But the Kenyans said I can’t get it there,” I tried to remain calm. “They’ll just send me back here. You’re not gonna play ping-pong with me.” Asshole.

“You cannot get the East African visa,” continued the officer. “You will abuse it.”

Abuse it? How the fuck can anyone abuse a visa? “It’s my right to get an East African Visa and you must, by law, give it to me.”

Meanwhile, a busload of overland tourists had lined behind me.

“Step aside,” said the officer.

I did as told while GQ tried to calm me down.

“Motherfucker,” I hissed. “I know he’s gonna give me the visa but why do they have to put me through this fucking hassle and waste our time?”

The overlanders were also refused the visa, told that they had run out of the visa stickers. I approached another officer who took my passport and tried to come up with excuses for not issuing me the visa.

“Look, I’m not getting a Ugandan visa,” I tried to contain my anger. “You’re gonna give me the East African one anyway so why are you creating this hassle?”

The overlanders stood to the side and suddenly another officer came in with a fresh booklet of stickers. The officer I was talking with finally placed my passport under their pile.

When I was finally stamped in I said, “You guys are useless. Instead of welcoming foreigners you have to cause chaos. Schmuks,” and I walked away with GQ to hit the road.

It was almost three PM before we finally got a ride to Jinja on a truck. The driver pulled into a weigh station that had a queue of trucks a mile long. After we got through the driver announced that there was a problem in the truck so GQ and I hightailed it to the highway where we waved down a car that took us to Jinja.ck8a8098

We caught up with our old friends, Teresa and Saleem at The Black Lantern where we had been invited back to create another art installation.

“Need a smoke, a shower and a hug from your kids,” we said as we settled into the banda prepared for us. The Nile River welcomed us with a magical sunset as the long day on the road came to a slow end.

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Categories: Adventure Travel, Africa, Hitch Hiking, Kenya | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

HITCH HIKING IN UGANDA – PART IX

“Name’s Harley,” said the heavily bearded Kiwi as we shook hands in a break I took between songs.

I was strumming on Ol’ Red by the fire at the Nile River Camp with the Gypsy Queen, Teresa, Saleem and a couple of Austrian girls with their German friend. Carlos the Mexican buzzed around and the Nile River was silent with a lightening storm on display over the horizon.

Harley and his Swedish partner, Emmelie, were driving from Cape Town to Stockholm in their Land Rover Defender, nicknamed Chewie.

“After Chewbacca,” Harley grinned. “Been on the road for about seven months now.”

“We have two months to reach Sweden,” added Emmelie. “We have to reach a wedding in Canada from there.”

A Dutch couple, Nico and Youska, had met the couple driving through Namibia and had bumped into them here and there over the African continent. They too were at the camp and enjoying my music (not to brag or anything). I was chatting with Harley while GQ chatted with Emmelie, both asking the same questions simultaneously.

“Where ya headed next?” we asked.

“Tomorrow gonna head to Sipi Falls and camp there for the night,” they answered separately, “then we gotta get to Karen in Nairobi and get the car serviced before we head off to Ethiopia. Gotta leaky fuel tank.”

“You’re heading to Nairobi?” I confirmed, turning with raised eyebrows to GQ who just received the same news from Emmelie.

Well, this was a blessing. GQ and I were going to hitch to Nairobi the next day. I still had a day to spare on my visa so, “Would you be willing to take on a couple of grubby hitch hikers?” I asked.

Harley looked at Emmelie and they both nodded. “Yeah, not a problem mate. We can squeeze you in.”

“You know what,” I grinned, “even though you’re a Kiwi, you lived in Perth so lemme playa AC\DC in reggae.”

Harley grinned and I strummed Highway to Hell, the thought of seeing Sipi Falls and riding with our two new friends sparking some fire on Ol’ Red. Just after midnight GQ and I thanked the folks at NRC and headed up to the Nile Porch where we sat in front of our safari tent overlooking the still waters of the Nile River chatting with Saleem. At four in the morning we went to bed.

We were meeting Harley and Emmelie at tennish so we had a few hours to sleep. After heart-felt goodbyes and promises of our return in January to install more art pieces, we hit the road with a breakfast stop in Jinja at a place called The Deli.

It was here we parted ways with the Dutch couple and headed off to Sipi Falls, travelling on broken roads that seemed to have been washed away in the El Nino rains covering the region. We drove past Mbale where GQ and I, squashed in among our packs, pointed out Wanale Falls and told our story of climbing it in the rain.

We arrived at a recommended campsite, Crows Nest, that overlooked the majestic Sipi Falls that came off the foothills of Mt Elgon. On the other side of the mountain lay Kenya.

We pitched our tent opposite the falls so the first thing we’d see in the morning as we unzipped ourselves from our mobile home would be Sipi Falls. Harley and Emmelie set up their rooftop tent and later joined us on our ‘balcony’ as we observed our green, watery surroundings.

We later conveyed for dinner at the bar, bringing together our grilled sandwiches (courtesy of The Black Lantern restaurant) and soup in a cup powder that Emmelie boiled up. The manager of the bar happened to be the owner of the property, Brian, so I went to barter with him for the night.

“I’ll write up something about Crows Nest and you’ll be mentioned in our hitch hiking video (coming soon),” I explained to him.

“No problem,” he said. “I will give you my email in the morning so you can send me the information.”

“Sweet as!” I grinned at GQ who was grinning back.

The next morning, after a shared breakfast of toast and some jam GQ got from The Black Lantern, Harley and Emmelie thanked us. “I think they thought we were involved in the barter so they wouldn’t let us pay,” Harley grinned.

It hadn’t rained during the night and Nico had warned that the road was very bad. Brian had said, “It’s very tough.” A local at the bar had shook his head and simply said, “Good luck.”

But none of that deterred us as we tackled the dirt track and drove around Mt Elgon towards the smallest, ramshackle border post I had ever come across.

“Your visa expires tomorrow,” noted the Ugandan immigration officer.

“Yeah, that’s why I’m leaving,” I said, sadly.

I was stamped out and while Harley and Emmelie were sorting out the paperwork for their car GQ and I walked over the border to Kenya where I asked if they, “Issue an East African Visa?”

“No, you have to go to Busia for that,” answered the immigration officer.

Merde. My outline was to get the EA visa which would allow me travel to Uganda, Rwanda and Kenya over a period of three months at a cost of a hundred dollars (the Ugandan visa on its own is the same price).

Now I’d have to get my second tourist visa for Kenya at $50 and get my EA visa when I returned to Uganda with GQ in January.

Ce la vie, no?

Having been easily cleared by the officials on both sides of the border we trucked on. We were hoping to reach Karen, on the outskirts of Nairobi that night.

“My friend Lucy is having a Pope party,” GQ read the invitation off her phone. “We’re all welcome. She lives in Karen.”

The illustrious Pope was visiting Kenya the next day. A man of his stature causes the entire shutting down of an African city. When President Obama came for a 2-day trot, Nairobi was under siege by security forces. Roads were closed and now with the Pope, the city’ll be shut down for his 3-day stroll. In fact, the Kenyan government declared a public holiday for the Pontiff’s arrival the following day.

We drove down the A104, stopping for lunch in Kitale with the great timing of the rains pouring down while we ate. As soon as we finished, the rains stopped. Chewie had issues aside from the leaky fuel tank. Its door locks, the stereo and the critical windshield wipers that died on us upon entering Eldoret just as the sun disappeared behind the bank of clouds that unleashed their wet fury on us were just a few.

“Was it your intention to buy a broken car?” I asked as the couple laughed.

The idea was to reach a campsite in Iten (pronounced, ‘Ee-ten) that overlooked the Great Rift Valley. But with dead wipers and darkness fast approaching and another 80 K’s to cover, GQ suggested we stay the night in Eldoret.

On my hitching to Uganda two months prior, I had arrived in this same city on Africa’s slowest truck and had bartered a night’s stay at Hotel Horizon where the manager was taken by my travel stories and choice of lifestyle.

“Hi Hilda,” I called her up from the hotel as she wasn’t working there that night. She remembered me and gave us directions to a small guest house she was operating somewhere in downtown nowhere of Eldoret. Blinded by the rain with heavy traffic we somehow made it to Lavilla Guesthouse, sliding on the muddy road on the way. We were warmly met by Hilda and Kip, son of Chris, Hilda’s Aussie brother-in-law who I met when I had spent the night at Horizon.

At 19, Kip had a wealth of life experience having grown up in Canberra, “Sorry mate,” I said upon hearing that. He has lived in Dubai and was schooled in the UK. I couldn’t manage a barter but I did negotiate a hefty discount that all parties involved where happy to accept.

The next morning we parted ways with a group photo and a, “Say ‘hi’ to your folks,” to Kip.

We took the back road to Nairobi, up and down and through the Great Rift Valley in an area that not only had I never been before, but even GQ, who has travelled extensively around Kenya in her six years of living here, hadn’t been.

The Great Rift Valley stretches between Mozambique and all the way up to Syria along the Syrian faultline (although, it’s not Syria’s fault to be on that line). An impressive sight with waterfalls cascading over dominating cliffs. We pulled up at a lookout point where  an entry fee of 200 Kenyan Shillings was stated on the sign – only it was for vans and tour buses.

“We’re a private car,” Harley said.

“You can’t charge for a view you did not create,” I threw in.

“How can you charge for something that god created?” challenged GQ. The poor guy, having been used to dealing with tourists and not travellers (the difference? Tourists see, travellers experience) backed up.

“OK, OK,” he said. “At least support us by buying a soda.”

“We don’t drink sodas,” I countered as we admired the view for a moment and figured we’d get a better, free one further down the road.

We weren’t disappointed when we pulled into a broken glass-ridden car park and graced our eyes with the ever flowing plains of the Great Rift Valley. We continued on, trucking past sisal plantations. As we were making our way to Nakuru, I suggested that, “We could do lunch at my mate’s camp, Punda Milias.” A place GQ and I had bartered and spent four days with Danny and his then fiancee-now-wife, Queen.

“Sounds good,” Harley and Emmelie agreed.

I called Danny to warn him of our arrival once we crossed the equator in Baringo, with the lake of the same name glistening from the valley floor on the horizon.

“We’ll be here,” he said.

An hour later we had introduced all parties to Danny and Queen who showed us their new toy, a 1974 FJ Landcruiser. “Original owner,” Danny beamed proudly.

“Its only had one owner since 1974?” I said, shocked.

“Yup,” Danny grinned.

We ordered lunch and after Danny showed us around Harley said, “I think we might bunk here for the night.”

Danny upgraded all of us from pitching our tents to using the Punda Milias bandas. We planned to hit the road the next day but a long night of drinking had laid out Danny and Harley.

Danny had shuffled into the bar in the morning after going to bed at three am. “You’re not allowed to bring any more of your friends over,” he grumbled jokingly (I hope) at me, blaming Harley for his hangover which was instantly cured with a ten o’clock beer.

And with the Pope’s arrival and Nairobi being shut down we had no choice but to stay another night.

“Besides,” he continued, “it’s Thanksgiving. I’ve got a 12-pound turkey in the oven, chef’s making sauce, stuffing, the works. So you gotta stay.”

I looked at GQ who had grown up in Canada and has done the Thanksgiving thing. “Never thought I’d come to Africa and have my first ever Thanksgiving,” I shook my head in wonderment as the TV showed the Pontiff’s addressing of the Nairobian crowd.

Two million people had squeezed into the city to see the man with the pointy hat.

2,000,000.

For sunset we headed over to the Sunbird Lodge to take on the view of Lake Elementatia before we finished the night by the fire at Punda Milias.

The next day we hit the road with fresh spirits (aside the tequila shots Danny and co had partaken in) and after four days with the amazing Harley and Emmelie, we parted ways at the turnoff to Karen. Since the Pope was leaving for Uganda that afternoon, the roads were opening up.

After we parted ways and the couple continued on to Karen, GQ and I hiked down the road where I managed to flag down a car. GQ knew Nairobi quite well so she took over the conversation with the driver who just happened to be going in the direction and into the very neighbourhood we needed to reach Atah’s place where we were bunking up for the week, writing up all our adventures in Uganda.

“What do you do?” I asked him.

“I’m a taxi driver,” he said. “But I don’t mind helping you.”

Twenty minutes later we were dropped off and hiked the 2 K’s to Atah’s house.

My previous single hitching record was two days on a truck from Iringa to Mwanza in Tanzania covering a distance of 941 kilometers with three truckers that barely spoke English. Now it was broken with four days from Jinja to Nairobi, covering 880 kilometers in a car that had a Kiwi, a Swede, an Aussie and an Indian. It was one of the best hitches I’d ever had thanks to our new friends, Harley and Emmelie.

Expect nothing, always get something.

Categories: Adventure Travel, Africa, Hitch Hiking, Uganda | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

HITCH HIKING IN UGANDA – PART VIII

“I’m almost tempted to drive you to Jinja myself,” Nabifo said as she pulled into the petrol station as far out of town as she could go.

“So let’s go!” I said.

“Yeah, come with us!” GQ threw in.

“I’m expecting a large group,” she said sadly.

 

 

We hugged as we parted ways, setting up shop just outside of the petrol station (a pump and a shack). After a weekend of an upset stomach and an inner ear infection that had me face my demons and a wet climb up Wanale Falls, GQ and I were finally on our way to Jinja – our last stop on our Ugandan adventure.

A truck pulled up but the driver wanted money. Ten minutes later a bakkie pulled over.

“I’m going to Kampala,” said Frank.

“Are you passing by Jinja?” I asked knowing that he had too.

“Yes.”

“Can we go with you?”

“No problem,” he grinned. “Let’s go.”

Frank was a telecommunications engineer. “I work on the mobile towers,” he said.

“Do you climb them?” I asked.

“Sometimes but most of my work is on the generators,” he shrugged.

“You probably drive around all over Uganda with this job,” GQ added.

“Yes,” he said.

“Gotta favourite place?” I asked.

“Western Uganda.”

“Yeah, that place is phenomenal,” I reflected on our time in Rubuguri.

“I just have to get my co-worker to sign this paper,” Frank said as he turned off the road and headed through a small village to the nearest mobile tower, a menacing metal structure standing at about 60 feet. He called out to his mate who guided him to another tower that then lead us to the third tower where we finally found him.

“Hello boss,” he grinned at me.

I grinned back playing the part. Company vehicles aren’t allowed to have non-company passengers in them. Once the paperwork was signed we hit the road and continued on our way. Frank wasn’t married but had a girlfriend in Kampala, where he lives.

“I plan to marry next year,” he said. “But I have a son.”

Mbale to Jinja is a two-hour drive through green rice fields that line the road and vast papyrus plants and wetlands.

“You have a beautiful country,” GQ said to Frank. She had told this to every driver we had, reminding the locals of what they have. “And Ugandans are so friendly and generous.” Also good to remind them that not everyone is an asshole (unless they’re from Birhalwe).

Before reaching Nalubaale Hydroelectric Power Station in Jinja (previously named Owen’s Dam which submerged Rippon Falls in 1954, named by John Hanning Specke, the first European to reach Lake Nalubaale which he christened Lake Victoria. He discovered the source of the White Nile back in 1859) we passed the big roundabout where the Ling-Ling Chinese restaurant on the highway towards the town of Jinja is located.

It was here that we were to meet Teresa who, along with Saleem, co-manages the Nile Porch River Lodge and The Black Lantern à la carte fine-dining restaurant, a Jinja institute. This barter was all GQ. I just tagged along looking pretty. But I was also throwing in the usual: play a few gigs, write an article and GQ was to create an art installation on which I would be the pretty assistant.

The Nile Porch River Lodge (NPR) is wedged between the Nile River Camp (NRC) and the Nile River Explorers (NRE. Who knew Jinja would be a town of acronyms?) where I had played for food and bed when I first entered this great country.

We were on the lookout for the Chinese restaurant. Luckily, it was built in the Chinese architectural style so it stood out like a kangaroo might in the Serengeti. Frank pulled over and we hopped out just as three boda-bodas made their way over.

“We go?” one asked.

“Sure,” I grinned. “We go – over there to meet our friend. I dunno what you’re doing though.”

They shrugged and biked off. What is it with these bodas? Its as though they’ve never attempted to use their feet other than to change gears on their bike. They seem perpetually glued to the seat of their two-wheels, just hanging around, pouncing on unsuspecting foreigners, scavenging like hyenas.

Perhaps I should carry a sign that would read: ‘Have legs, will walk’.

Teresa was already in the car park when we trekked over. She drove us into town to pick up her carpenter, Ronald, before we headed off to the lodge where I met Saleem and their two incredible kids, four-year-old Kanaya and six-year-old Khaleel.

“You guys can stay in tent 8,” Teresa said, as we were shown around the vast, green property. “Bingo really likes trees,” she referred to the owner as we walked among the tall jack-fruit trees.

“Looks like tree testicles,” GQ remarked.

“There’s a visual,” I grinned.

Teresa laughed. “Bingo planted all the trees here,” she continued. “He was the first one to put a raft on the water when the Bujigali Falls were still falls.”

According to local legend, the falls are the sacred site of the Spirit of Bujabald, embodied in a man, Jaja Bujabald, the 39th incarnation – the spirit doctor – who lives by the falls. The 95-year-old fella (four years ago. May have aged since) protects the community by performing rituals at the falls using local plants and herbs for medicine. There have even been reports that he can walk over the water (hmm, what would Jesus do?).

During the ’94 Rwandan genocide dead bodies dumped in Lake Victoria would float all the way to the Bujigali Falls and were wedged on the rocks. It was Jaja Bujabald that removed and buried them. His prophecy is that many people will have to die and others will fall mad if nature is destroyed and the dam built (enter ISIS).

About four years ago the Ugandan government constructed the dam even though they promised that the last dam would be the last dam. It turned Bujigali Falls – which were the first rapids when you went white water rafting – into a lake.

Next year, the Ugandan government is yet again constructing another dam that will turn the rest of the rapids into a lake and end white water rafting in the region forever and cause irreversible environmental repercussions that would affect the already decimated Lake Nalubaale.

Our tent was a combination of concrete and canvas. We had our own shower, toilet, a choice of double or single bed and even a lounging area.

And then there was the view. Here’s a picture since I can’t really put it into words:img_7938

“Not a bad barter,” I hugged GQ as a yellow-billed kite swooped around looking for prey or that perfect twig to add to its nest it had built in the tree off the porch of the restaurant.

“Quite chuffed,” she grinned. “Our word for pleasure.”

Categories: Adventure Travel, Africa, Hitch Hiking, Uganda | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

HITCH HIKING IN UGANDA – PART VII

© Unbound Ether Photography, 2015

© Unbound Ether Photography, 2015

“Two rides,” I said to the Gypsy Queen. “I predict two rides to Mbale.”

After a loving and warm night with Ruganzu, Grace and the kids, we were dropped off at the bypass on the road towards Jinja by Ruganzu where we parted ways.

Our first ride was on a truck driven by, Charles, a Kenyan heading to Nairobi via Busia, the main border town on Uganda’s side of the sphere. He wasn’t a fan of Ugandans. Or South Sudanese. In fact, he didn’t much like people but something,

“Told me to stop for you.”

He dropped us off at the turnoff for Busia. From there we hitched another ride on another truck that was also on the way to Kenya only this one was going via Tororo, where I had first entered Uganda.

The turnoff he dropped us at was exactly that – a complete turn off.

“It appears to be that we are in the middle of an African version of Fuckville,” I commented.

The only signs of life were the four boda-bodas and two matatus chilling in the shade. I knew we would be harassed but usually I answer their want of taking us somewhere with,

“It’s OK. We’re waiting for friends,” and the matter is left.

But put two idiots in a round room and tell them to find the corner, you kinda get the feel for what we had to deal with in Fuckville. And it wasn’t enough that they tried to get us to ride with them or get in their matatus (who always have the uncanny timing of stopping and harassing right when a convoy of four potential rides fly past), there’s always one that thinks he’s helping us out by trying to stop a vehicle for us.

“Just go, rafikiki,” I strained, my attempt at remaining calm slowly wavering. “We don’t need your help.”

Eventually the two idiots left and before long a car pulled up heading directly to Mbale.

“Missed by one ride,” I said, referring to my morning’s prediction of two rides. We rode with Ouja who was heading to Mbale for a meeting.

“I work for Child Fund,” he said. “We are working in 39 countries. Maybe you can promote us?” he asked after we shared our Footsteps Through Africa adventure.

“We try to target the lesser known NGOs,” I said politically. “If you’re in 39 countries, you don’t need our promotional abilities.”

He laughed as we hit Mbale, taking the detours due to the broken bridges, watching the waterfalls cascading off the foothills of Mt Elgon, standing at 14,177 feet (4,321 meters). We couldn’t see past the foothills due to the cloud cover but you could feel that something large that nature had created was in there.

Somewhere.

Sukali Hostel is just on the outskirts of the centre of Mbale town. From our room we could see Wanale Falls and the plateau that rises up to Elgon’s peak. We were met by Moses, the manager and that evening after a lovely dinner of spaghetti and a drop of whiskey, we called it a night.

Early the next morning, before the sun was even up, something came knocking on my stomach’s door.

‘Dude, we gotta go,’ it said.

“Gimme a minute,” I responded and headed to the bathroom – an action that would repeat itself throughout the day. In fact that evening I spent 40 minutes in the bathroom. I could barely eat or even drink, forcing myself to take on H2O.

By Sunday afternoon I was a bit better and by the evening I was a little worse.

Shit, and not just figuratively.

“If I’m better tomorrow, we can hike up to the waterfalls,” I suggested after my last run.

Nabifo, the owner and mutual friend of Ruganzu’s, had arrived on Sunday and was keen to hike with us. Just a week prior she had hosted Mbale’s TEDX talk with a strong turnout.

That night, although slightly weaker, my stomach felt settled. I attributed it to the whiskey.

“It looked like the glass wasn’t dry,” GQ had said. “And the tap water here isn’t very good for consumption.”

So I finally swore off all consumption of alcohol. It had taken its toll on me – health-wise. Besides, being an Australian I’ve drunken enough for two lifetimes.

But it was the next day that would render me void of a want to live.

Categories: Adventure Travel, Africa, Hitch Hiking, Uganda | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

HITCH HIKING IN UGANDA – PART VI

Mr Rubbs’ driver dropped us on the Kisoro-Kabale road at the carwash. Sure, sounds exotic, a fun place with scantly-clad folk on rollerskates sipping on chocolate milkshakes with Rose Royce’s, At The Carwash playing in the background with everyone groovin’ to it, suds of soap floating all around.

Well in Africa a carwash is any parking spot you find by the nearest water outlet – be it a lake, river, brook or flash flood puddle. Bodas and cars will park, drivers or whoever gets the coin, whip out scrubbers, soap and wash their vehicle with the determination of removing every speck of oil, grease and dirt.

From the serenity of Lake Bunyonyi that was spread out before us, we hiked around a curve. On our left was a fast-flowing brook. Too our right, rising green hills of terrace farms. And on the road?

Nothing.

Nothing but the asphalt used to tar it.

We were about to set up to make a little video when a Landcruiser came ‘round the bend. It was a flatbed fitting three in the single-cabin – places that were taken up by the driver, Herbert and his two companions.

“If you don’t mind sitting in the back,” he said.

Being it quite the desolate road and with rain about to hit us, the Gypsy Queen and I piled into the back. Herbert drove like one who knows the windy, hilly roads of a rural area – fast. We held on for dear life as our driver tested his brakes about a meter before the speed humps. Rain started to pound us as we drove into it. Luckily, Herbert was going fast enough that the cabin protected us from the wet – until he stopped in a small hillside village to inform us that,

“I wish I could give you some protection from the rain but I don’t have.”

“It’s fine, mate,” I said through the rain drops.

“Just keep driving and we’ll be OK,” added GQ.

He got back in behind the wheel and sped us off. All we could do was hold on tight and watch the entertainment the front seat was providing – the two companions dancing along to the music being blasted from the radio.

About forty minutes later we were dropped in Kabale where a street vendor thought that throwing a live grasshopper at me would scare me. I picked it up and threw it back. We walked to the service station on the outskirts of town. After an hour and a toilet break, a truck pulled over.

“I’m reaching Kampala but I can drop you in Mbarara,” offered Izu.

We took him on and his woes.

“Today I lost both my brothers,” he said mournfully. “I am on the way to Kampala to claim the bodies and arrange the burial.”

“Where are you coming from?” I asked gently.

“Congo,” he said.

“How do you stay awake?”

“I take alcohol.”

I blinked and stared at GQ. “Did he just say he takes alcohol to stay awake?” I whispered to her. She nodded.

I turned back to our driver. “What kind?”

“UG,” he said and pointed at the small plastic soda bottle filled halfway with the clear liquid of the local gin.

Izu was completely sober and was one of the better drives we rode with in Uganda. Yet here he was, sipping on pure grain alcohol to stay awake.

“If I don’t drink, I cannot drive. It helps me function,” he said.

Well I’ll be an apple’s core.

Our aim was to reach Masindi via the back roads but the Universe had other plans for us. While we had passed through Mbarara on the way to Western Uganda our then driver, Peter, informed us of a place we might be able to barter for the night.

As it was just before sunset we asked our drunk (yet sober… how?) driver to drop us at Mazizu Gardens. James, the owner, accepted our barter of music for food and bed and allowed us to pitch a tent at the bottom of his garden.

The manager, Anna, upon seeing the Gypsy Queen, exclaimed, “Are you Indian?”

“Yes I am,” she said proudly.

“I love Indians,” Anna gasped. “I love Indian movies.”

While they traded Bollywood names I sussed out the place. A living-room feel as most local bars have in Africa, the highway rest-stop was empty of clients.

“You’ll let me know when to play?” I said after we ate a meal of rice and beef stew.

“Yes,” said Anna.

GQ and I retired to our tent to chill out when, at around 19:00, James came down to visit.

“I cannot let you stay in the tent. It will rain,” he said.

“We have a rain cover,” GQ indicated our fly.

“No, take a room. You don’t pay. We are happy to help.”

We looked at each other and said our thanks as we began to pack everything up. At 20:30 GQ had passed out on the bed. I stayed awake until 22:00 when music was heard being blasted from the bar area but no one came to collect me for playing. In the morning we thanked James and hit the road.

“Weird,” I said aloud.

“What?” GQ asked.

It was a grey-covered day with drizzles of rain. “We didn’t actually barter anything,” I scratched my head looking up and down the road. We were by a speed hump with plenty of room for cars to stop. But none did. I was staring at the map we had and walked across the road to confirm the road with the driver sitting in a large, tinted SUV.

After a quick chat I returned to GQ. “What did he say?” she asked.

I sighed. “When the driver struggles to figure out how to open his own electronic window, you know the guy barely has a clue about the roads.”

There was a weird vibe in the air. For some reason, tension was building up between us. We were snapping at each other for no reason at all. As no vehicles stopped for us I suggested, “We hike through the town and try on the outskirts. It’ll be easier to avoid the boda-bodas.” GQ agreed and we headed down the road.

There was definitely something about the atmosphere of the place. A shift in the energy field. We said, “Jebaleko,” to the locals with a smile but for the first time since I’ve hit the African continent, no one was responding. Instead we were receiving dirty looks.

Ahead of us, a motorbike with a milk churn strapped on its passenger seat suddenly slid out of control and crashed on the road. Unharmed, the driver got up and a local assisted him. I picked up a piece of motorbike and handed it to him.

A car then stopped for us heading to Kampala. After the usual greetings the driver popped the boot. I was just about to throw in my big pack when the tinted backdoor opened.

“You said you don’t use money?” said the passenger, relaying our answer to the driver who threw the car into gear and drove off, the boot still open, my backpack on one shoulder.

“What the fuck?” I said aloud.

GQ stared at me and blinked. “Imagine if you had put your bag in,” she said.

There was something strange about this place. It was starting to feel like a town in a Stephen King novel. We kept hiking. For a small town it seemed that every car that passed was a taxi. With some of the questions we were being asked, it seemed to be a place low on the IQ demands as one fella proved when he pulled up beside us.

“Come, let’s go. You only pay five thousand,” he said.

“We don’t use money,” I said through clenched teeth as the first five times of telling him that hadn’t gone through his skull.

“How many are you?” the driver then asked.

I had to stop and turn towards him to see if he was for real. “How many do you see?” I asked, GQ hiked on to avoid the conversation.

“Two of you? OK, let’s go. You pay only three thousand.”

There’s a point where you start to just ignore people, especially the stupid ones, otherwise your liable to slap some sense into someone. And I didn’t want that kind of responsibility. We passed by a sign that named the town Bihalrwe. As soon as we passed it the energy shifted. Birds began to sing. The sky cleared up. And when GQ laughed I knew we were back in the good energy field.

“That was weird, aye?” I said to her.

“Yeah, there’s definitely some weird energy going on back there,” she concurred.

A bakkie pulled up behind us. Abraham offered us to sit in the open tray. “I have a tarp to give you in case it rains,” he handed over the blue waterproof material. Already a good vibe, we explained to him the road we were seeking.

“I know it,” he said. “I can drop you there.”

An hour later GQ and I were upgraded to the cabin after Abraham had dropped off a few passengers. She turned to me and said, “I think we passed the road.”

I looked at the map and looked at our surroundings to get a bearing. Yup, we were definitely passed the road and were well on our way to Kampala.

“Why don’t we do this,” she suggested, “let’s head to Kampala, stay the night at Ruganzu’s, then head up to Mbale, from there we’ll head down to Jinja and do the art installation. We skip Masindi. We’re back in January. Maybe we can go then.

What do you think?”

Thinking.

My visa clock was running. GQ, being a Kenyan resident, didn’t have a ticking clock. “I guess we can go to the rhino sanctuary then, if they’ll still have us,” I pondered. “OK, let’s go to Kampala.”

We called up Ruganzu who was more than happy to have us. Settled on a direction, Abraham inspired our vibe by buying us grilled chicken maryland on a skewer hawked off by hawkers surrounding the car like a mob at the backstage of a concert.

“Your husband is beautiful,” exclaimed one hawker.

“What did he say?” I raised an eyebrow.

“He said you are beautiful,” GQ laughed. She turned to him. “What about me? Am I not beautiful?”

“You are,” he said. “But your husband is a very beautiful man.”

Abraham was collecting some delegates from the Entebbe airport. But his last passenger, Moses (the front seat being occupied by Abraham and Moses. Yes, yes.), was getting dropped in Kampala where we parted ways and made our way to the University where Ruganzu was teaching.

I talked with his friend, Frida, over the phone. She had, via one of Ruganzu’s posts on Facebook, invited GQ and I to spend some time at her hostel in Mbale, Sukali. I explained our barter and she agreed on it.

That night we cooked an impressive dinner for Grace, Ruganzu and Freddy. In the middle of the night, Freddy had a bad dream and crawled from his crib into our bed. Snoring lightly as the pigs competed with the rooster over who gets to bring up the sun.

Categories: Adventure Travel, Africa, Hitch Hiking, Uganda | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

PARTY AT THE COP SHOP

“Sounds like a party in there,” I smiled at the female officer at the desk. I was referring to the noise coming from the holding cells.

“They are suspects celebrating the primary elections we just had,” she said, smiling back.

Gypsy Queen and I explained our want of pitching our tent somewhere safe and the officer passed the word around. The station chief wasn’t there yet but having made contact with him over the phone we were told that, “He won’t allow you to pitch a tent here. It is not safe due to the primary elections.”

Across the road I spied the silhouette of a church. I’ve never slept in a church and I figured that they couldn’t refuse our request to pitch our tent on their grass. The female officer hiked over on our behalf and came back saying, “The reverend says it is not safe to pitch there.”

“Listen,” I began and told how I’ve been sleeping in, “Police stations from Namibia all the way to Kenya. Never had a problem. We just want to pitch our tent and go to sleep.”

An hour later an officer in a white uniform said we could sleep in the traffic police office. “Even me, I’m sleeping here tonight.”

The room had two desks and floor space for a snail. There were colourful and highly graphic images on the wall of horrific accidents and what a human body looks like after its been run over.

The Gypsy Queen looked at me. “Lovely,” she said.

“We’d really just rather pitch our tent,” I said to the officer.

Ten minutes later the station chief appeared with an entourage of officers. One was in full riot gear and the only officer I’ve ever met who didn’t smile. He looked at us as though we were political prisoners.

“How can you travel without money?” he questioned, pointing fingers accusingly. “I have been in Kampala and have dealt with foreigners but never heard of this travel method.”

He simply couldn’t get it through his thick, riot helmet that our lifestyle was real and able.

“I play music in exchange for food and bed,” I explained for the umpteenth time, frustrated, tired and just craving sleep.

“Prove that you are a musician,” demanded the station chief.

I sighed and pulled out Ol’ Red. As I tuned her we were suddenly surrounded by 15 cops. I looked over at the Gypsy Queen. “What should I play?” I asked. As she pondered it hit me. “Folsom Prison Blues?”

She laughed. “The irony will be lost on them.”

I ripped out a country-rock version of Johnny Cash’s classic which had everyone staring at me with one officer even dancing a bit. Our riot-geared interrogator still wasn’t convinced and demanded to see our passports. Neither he nor the station chief could understand how the Gypsy Queen’s Canadian passport could have been issued in Kenya when in fact, she was originally from India.

“If you went to Australia,” I explained with extreme patience, “and your passport expired, you would then go to the Ugandan embassy to renew it. On the passport it will say, ‘Issued in Australia’. OK?”

He nodded as the riot-gear officer demanded we call Ruganzu in Kampala to prove our existence.

“We don’t have a phone,” I said.

He almost fainted from shock. “How do you communicate?” he asked menacingly.

“Internet,” the Gypsy Queen said and I hoped we weren’t going to have to explain the ways of the world-wide-web.

He continued to interrogate us and even demanded that we call GQ’s parents in India.

“I do not want to bother them,” she said, maintaining an impressive calmness about her. “It is very late over there now.”

“So nobody knows you are here?” his shifty eyes narrowed, a dodgy scheming happening behind them making me jump in with,

“My website has a vast audience. There are more than a thousand people around the world who know exactly where we are.” I stared him down. He was about to say something I probably would have ignored when his commanding officer told him and two other cops trying to intimidate us to get in the car and respond to a call.

After they left I approached the officer. “Listen, its late, we just want to put up our tent and go to sleep. In the morning, we are gone before the sun comes up. Please?”

The officer smiled. He looked at one of his goons. “Search their bags thoroughly, then they can go to sleep in the traffic police office,” he said before he headed off to cool down the post-election celebrations in town. “And keep their passports with Major. They can collect them in the morning.”

If there’s one thing I hate, is handing over my passport. Especially to police. Especially to police in a country run by a dictator.

“Who is Major?” I asked around. A small man in a black leather jacket wearing a police beret smiled at me. “What’s your name?” I asked him.

“Major,” he smiled. “You just call me Major.”

The whole scene was beginning to feel like something out of a bad movie in which our heroes end up thrown in an African jail. I wouldn’t have minded having our bags searched as we had nothing to hide.

Well, except for a small joint. The Gypsy Queen was hiding it, I just didn’t know where. So just when we thought our long day was over, here we were, getting our bags thoroughly searched at 22:30. Knowing what could happen, adrenaline was rushing through me. I was wide awake now.

“Look,” I said, exhausted already from the emotional torment these cops were putting us through. “We just want to get some sleep and go in the morning. You searching our bags is gonna take an hour.”

“30 minutes,” smiled the search-conducting officer. “Please, place your bag on the counter.”

I placed my big, Northridge Nomad 65 pack on the counter and took off the rain cover.

“Please, untie the tent,” the officer continued to grin, “and unpack it.”

For fuck’s sake, “It’ll take forever to pack it back,” I complained.

Never, in the two and a half years that I’ve been on the road, have I been searched by police whenever I’d ask to sleep in the station. Heck, I’ve never even been searched at borders. And it was times like these that I wished I had more than one pair of used underwear for the police to rummage through.

I leaned over to GQ. “Maybe you should go to the toilet?” I suggested, hoping that my meaning would be taken by her. It was.

“No, I’m OK,” she said calmly.

When my bags were repacked, the female officer stepped up. In Africa, a woman is not allowed to be searched by a man. The thing is, our female police officer flipped from the smiling, warm inviting look we were greeted with to something along the lines of the Grim Reaper about to cart off another soul.

With me, only my bags were searched. With GQ, she got the full treatment, just shy of a cavity search.

Sweating.

Nervous.

Nervous sweating.

While she was being searched, the officer who searched me began to beat two prisoners – suspects – that were sitting by the counter. He beat them with a smile on his face.

I was trying to figure out a way that, in case they found the joint, what explanation we could give.

Glaucoma?

“OK, you can go,” the female officer suddenly smiled.

I blinked as GQ gathered her bags and looked at me with, “You coming?” and headed down the hall.

“How?” I began. “I don’t… I mean, how? Where?”

She grinned. “While you were being searched I managed to grab the little pouch and sneak into my underwear. She just missed it when she patted me down.”

I breathed out long and hard. “Jesus,” I reflected on the two close calls I’ve had when it came to drugs in Africa – my arrest in Zanzibar (talked out of) and GQ’s and mine getting an attempted extortion on a rooftop in Nairobi (had to protect the would-be extortionists from GQ). But here? In the cop shop? Nothing is impossible but I’m sure we would have had some extreme difficulty to get out of this one had it gone left instead of right.

I laid out my sleeping bag, then placed our bed sheet on top, then two gamchas that the Gypsy Queen had brought from her recent trip to India, my kikoy, a cotton blanket and we covered up in my Maasai shuka.

Only three mosquitoes bothered us and, despite the unwanted adventure, we slept pretty well.

In the morning we packed up at sunrise, thanked the officers and bee-lined it to the main road in early morning mist. After 45 minutes I spotted a red-plated government car.

“They never stop,” I said to the Gypsy Queen. “But I’mma try.” I sang out for them and suddenly they pulled over.

Thomas and Eddie were conducting a census count and were happy to take us through the windy roads rolling through the greenest hills I’ve ever seen. Terraced hillsides showed where all the locals were farming their food as cows, goats and sheep lined the roadside. We were dropped off in the town of Kabale where the main road was under construction. We hiked a bit, waving off the boda-bodas and I flagged down an open-bed truck.

Turns out that no one in the area has heard of the small village of Rubuguri. We were taken about 10 K’s down the road and dropped off at the wrong turn-off. Having been corrected by the locals we hit the road with a young woman walking along with us.

“Us, we like white man. They always give us something,” she said repeatedly. I knew what she was hinting at and it was pissing me off. She had her eye on Animal. “Why don’t you give me that doll? I can give it to my son. It will make him very happy.”

“Excuse me,” I said, maintaining a forced calmness. “But the only reason you are talking to us is because all you see is the colour of our skin. You think that because we are not African than it automatically means we are walking cash machines. If you want something from me, you have to first be my friend, earn my respect and then, if I feel like it, then I will give you something. But just from asking? No –” fuckin’ “– way.

We are not white and you are not black,” I preached. “We are human. When you accept that, then we can be friends.”

She laughed, a slight embarrassment about her. Then she eyed Animal again. “Why don’t you give me that doll? I can give it to my son. It will make him very happy. White man always gives us something. Make us very happy.”

I huffed as the Gypsy Queen signaled me to ignore her and we plodded on. A car came down the road and, although it was a taxi, was gracious enough to take us to the next village where some men asked us if we were footing it.

“Yes,” GQ said and the men almost fell over themselves with laughter.

“Never gets old,” I grinned as I flagged down the oncoming AMREF Landcruiser that took us to the turnoff to Rubuguri. We had a 20 K hike before us unless a vehicle came along. Within five minutes two trucks rattled up behind us.

The blue one took us on in the open tray which we shared with four guys.

“Are you on your way to work?” GQ asked them.

img_6921

They nodded and smiled as we bounced along the red track, valleys, terraced hillsides and pine trees escorted us to where we were dropped off, 7 K’s from Rubuguri. Shaken, rattled and rolled we began to hike along the dirt track. Within 15 minutes a young American couple drove up and took us to Wagtail lodge where we met Gordon and Ben, the two guys who help Jo and Erin with the NGO Footsteps Through Africa.

We were to become their first volunteers.

 

 

Categories: Adventure Travel, Africa, Conservation, Uganda | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

HITCH HIKING IN UGANDA – PART V

“Oh no,” Ruganzu, after being roused awake to assist in the collection of the Gypsy Queen from the bus station, passed me his phone to read the message she had just sent:

Just crossing the border now. Bus is late. Should arrive by one.

“Merde,” I said aloud. “I had a feeling.” It was nine am and we were on the bypass to reach the pick-up point where the 12-hour bus ride was expected to arrive by ten.

But now that we had a few hours to pass we ended up driving to the museum to collect more empty bottles, taking back roads that even Ruganzu had never come across before.

Kampala basically means Seven Hills, on which the city was first built on. Now it’s spread across 13. It’s a city surrounded by lush green hills, giant land marks like the Gaddafi mosque (second largest in Africa) and various high rises.

IMG_6539

It also has worse traffic than Nairobi, but that’s just one nomad’s opinion.

At about midday the El Niño rains exploded over Uganda’s capital providing a wet welcome for the Gypsy Queen who arrived an hour later. The streets had turned from paved roads to mini-rivers, almost demanding that we accessorise with paddles.

I hadn’t seen GQ for a while as she had been in India visiting family and friends. After squeezing her into a hug I then squeezed her into Ruganzu’s tiny yet classy Nissan and we drove off to pitch our tent in his garden.

“What happened?” I asked, as Ruganzu navigated the river-like streets of the city.

“So,” she began, “we had already left Nairobi and had been driving for two hours when the bus turned around to pick up some passengers that had arrived late on their connecting bus.”

I shook my head in the, ‘I’m-not-surprised’ kinda way. “TIA,” I grinned. The rain subsided by the time we reached Kira Town (pronounced Chira) where Ruganzu lives. I pointed out the pigs, the neighbours I had met the day before, prepared her for Freddy’s addiction to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and to Grace’s warm hospitality.

Casqued hornbills flew in that evening to greet the Gypsy Queen. The next two days we spent going around Kampala with Ruganzu, checking out the art classes where he teaches in the university, meeting the Norwegian girls and sleeping in our tent to the sound of pigs that would have you thinking that perhaps you’ve pitched a tent next door to a CIA torture chamber. A rooster tried – repeatedly – to tempt the sun to come out from 2 in the AM, only satisfied when the great yellow star finally rose at six.

The Gypsy Queen, being an artist herself and having brought together an art collective under the name of Osotua Creative Collective, gave Ruganzu some ideas for his eco-art studio like creating a roof-top terrace, a fire-pit with leftover tiles and other ideas.

Ruganzu is also Kampala’s TEDX Talks curator. It’s like the main TED talks only focuses on local stuff. “You guys should come and do a talk in January,” Ruganzu invited us. “You can talk about surviving without money and hitch hiking,” he said to me, “and you can explain about mandalas and string art,” he said to GQ.

We both looked at each other with raised eyebrows. “Sounds good,” I said. “Let’s dwell on it.”

“Now we go to visit Mr Kato and his treehouse,” he said.

Mr Kato is an mzee scratching his 70s. “A few years ago I decided that I want to live in my tree,” he explained why he had built a house, a chicken coup and a rabbit run in a tree, hooking up power from his earth-based house. “I love trees and I want to promote conservation.”

To do so, Mr Kato, having worked most of his life in physical labour, now sings and dances for schools and any event that will have him. He basically does a lip-sync to country song, a surprisingly popular genre in Africa, in full country get up.

© Unbound Ether Photography by Rohini Das

© Unbound Ether Photography by Rohini Das

“You play the guitar?” he noticed my six-string.

“Yeah,” I said, taking out Ol’ Red and strumming a chord. I then broke into Johnny Cash which had Mr Kato dancing in his treehouse. I played for about an hour and then GQ and I were given the grand tour. His bed was in the upstairs, a few branches branching in, wasp nests in the ceiling, geckos chasing mosquitoes on the walls.

“Respect nature and it respects you,” he preached to the choir.

The next morning, a Tuesday, Ruganzu took us to the bypass. After our parting we hiked down the escarpment to the tar road where within three minutes Paul stopped for us in his Toyota shuttle van and took us to the junction that would lead us to Masaka, about 130 K’s south.

“My friends and I have started a group called The Mountain Slayers,” he explained. “We are going to try and hike one mountain every year.”

“Where have you hiked?” I asked.

“We are starting later this year,” he said.

Twenty minutes later we were at the roundabout in Busigi on the road that leads to Masaka, the next big town on our way to the village of Rubuguri, just shy of the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park – home to Uganda’s gorillas.

Within 10 minutes Emmanuel had stopped.

“No money?” he blinked in confusion as I explained our bartering ways. He was going to Masaka but said, “I’ll take you to Usiga, ten K’s down the road.”

“Sure,” I agreed and signaled to the Gypsy Queen to hop on. As the transport manager drove us in his Toyota shuttle van we chatted, telling him stories of our nomadic, bartering ways.

“Do you want a photo at the equator?” he asked.

GQ and I looked at each other. “Why not?”

He pulled into the equator town of Lukaya where we took these lovely snaps:

It must have had an effect on him as he eventually took us the full 120 K’s to Masaka and even went out of his way by a further 10 K’s to drop us off on the right road heading in the right direction to Mbarara – Uganda’s second biggest town, 110 K’s away. A car had pulled up as rain-threatening clouds leered from above.

“Where are you headed?” I asked the driver who appeared quite the business type but in a sussed way.

“Kisoro,” he replied without smiling.

The off-road village of Rubuguri lay between the two larger towns of Kisoro and Kabale. Either was about 200 K’s away and perfect for us.

“Can we go with you?” I asked. “We don’t have –” before I could finish he cut me off by holding up four fingers.

“Four thousand each,” he demanded.

“Oh,” I smiled, “we don’t use money. We exchange our art for food and bed and ask drivers for lifts.”

“No money?” the driver frowned, shook his head, put the Pajero in gear and drove off. I laughed, recalling that Pajero in Spanish means ‘wanker’, explaining to GQ the conversation I just had as I wasted no time to flag down another car.

Mark and his father, Tom, took us to their home in a small, off-road village.

“We are on our way to a burial,” explained Mark, a popular local radio news anchor. “This is the house I was born in and grew up,” he motioned to the small building set deep in the bush where we had bounced through on the rough road in his father’s Toyota shuttle van.

I leaned over to the Gypsy Queen and whispered, “Have you noticed how every ride we’ve had so far has been in the same model car?”

She looked around and suddenly concurred before she was squeezed into the back with two wide-hipped mamas and Mark’s brother in the backseat while I shared the front with Mark as his father attempted not to drive us off the road. We dropped Mark’s brother in another village and continued on before we spilled out in the middle of nowhere. Thanking Mark and his family, the Gypsy Queen said,

“Even when they dropped off Mark’s brother you’d think I’d have some room? No, no, no those mamas spread out and squeezed me even more.”

I cracked up as another Toyota shuttle van pulled over.

“I’m going to Kabale,” said the driver.

“That’s great!” I exclaimed. “We are also going to Kabale.” I took a deep breath and said, “Can we go with you?”

“How much you pay?”

Shit. “We don’t use money,” I began before the driver exclaimed in a typical high-pitched, “Ah,” shook his head and drove off.

A few minutes later, Peter pulled over in his Toyota shuttle van.

“What is with all the same model rides today?” I asked GQ as I ran to the passenger-side window.

Peter was more than happy to take us to Mbarara, he’s home town. In fact, the guy was blown away by our travel stories and could barely contain himself during the drive.

“I have a tour company,” he says as he told of his humble beginnings as a poor child with 17 siblings (yup, 17). “There wasn’t enough money to send me to school so I dropped out after my primary years and worked for my brother,” he explained. “He taught me how to drive and I got a special driving permit from the police when I was 16 and became a private taxi driver. Soon, everybody in Mbarara knew me and my business grew. Now I have my own drivers and I take tourists all over the country.”

Peter was flamboyant and wasn’t shy about it. When the good-hearted soul drove us out of his way to the other side of town so that we could continue hitching, GQ mentioned that,

“He couldn’t keep his eyes off you,” she was laughing. “I don’t know if you noticed, he was sitting side ways, staring at you. He barely even noticed that I was there.”

Peter had spoken openly about having a boyfriend in Kampala. I was curious as Uganda was infamous for its homosexuality-equals-death-penalty.

“I have 250 relatives,” Peter said proudly. “And they all support me. My mother,” he paused, hand-to-heart on his chest, “she supports me so much. I love my mother.”Before he dropped us off he gave me his card. “If you guys don’t make it, just call me. I’ll arrange for you a place to stay.”

It was just past 17:00 and if we could get a ride to the next big town of Ntungamo, I figured we’d go to the police station and ask to pitch our tent.

But as soon as we left Peter’s car with the high energy he provided,  dark clouds suddenly appeared . Soon enough we were surrounded by three matatus (taxi-buses) who just wouldn’t let us go.

“Where are you going? Kabale? Kisoro? Let’s go. Get in.”

Get in where? Matatus are always packed with people. Baggage is tied to the roof and the way they drive I’d rather tip-toe on a high-wire across an active volcano without a safety net than ride with these guys.

I was getting pissed off and when one of the drivers called us ‘muzungo’ (which means anyone who isn’t African in appearance in a derogatory way) I unleashed a bit of tension on him.

“Do I call you African?” I pounced angrily. “Do I call you a black man? Why do you label me? If you see a yellow dog on the streets do you say, ‘Ah, look at the yellow dog’? No, you just say, ‘Look at the dog’. Stop labeling people by colour. Ask me my name and then talk to me but don’t –” fuckin’ –“call me muzungo.”

He backed off as the Gypsy Queen maintained the peace. “Don’t get angry with these guys,” she said calmly. “They can easily turn on us.”

The sun was setting behind us, covered by the dark clouds. There were more matatus and boda-boda hasslers than rides until finally, after an hour, just as I was about to suggest we call Peter and take up his invitation to crash at his place, a military Landcruiser flatbed pulled over.

Two soldiers sat in the front with big smiles and offered to take us to Ntungamo. The Gypsy Queen and I sat in the open back of the pickup and covered ourselves with a blanket as we sped the 70 K’s in darkness, a cold wind whipping about us.

We arrived slightly cold and drove past a crowd that seemed to be celebrating outside of a political office.

“Do you know where the police station is?” I asked our driver.

He shook his head, bid us good luck and drove off.

“At least it wasn’t a Toyota shuttle van,” I shrugged.

The Gypsy Queen looked at me. “Where are we spending the night?”

“Let’s find the police station,” I suggested. I caught sight of a police car and we moseyed on over. “Hi,” I grinned. “Jebaleko,” I added in Luganda.

The cops lit up at hearing me speak their language and began to direct us to the station. “It is the safest place for you to put your tent,” they assured.

Just as we were about to hike up another officer appeared, got the rundown from the driver and said to us, “Get in, we’ll take you.”

Categories: Adventure Travel, Africa, Hitch Hiking, Uganda | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

HITCH HIKING IN UGANDA – PART IV

“I’m a Lua from Liru,” Alex introduced himself. He had picked me up from the desolate road outside the Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary.

The last 19 days of volunteering with Amuka Lodge had me looking forward to heading back to Uganda’s capital city as Robert, head of maintenance, gave me a lift to the road from the sanctuary.

Fifteen minutes later Alex stopped for me on his way to Kampala.

“I’m a journalist and a district councilor,” he said of his dealings. Basically, Alex was a politician.

“You know,” I began, “in the Western world, I don’t think its allowed to be a politician and a journalist.”

“I have a share in the paper so I cannot leave it,” he explained.

I, “Ah-huh,”’d and left it at that. We stopped for tea and a rolex at the same place that James, my hitch to the rhino sanctuary 19 days before, had stopped at (and I may have destroyed the religious views of his brother, Pascal).

All was peaceful until a police-assisted two-car convoy attempted to take to the air but failed to reach the 300 K’s an hour mark to actually take off. It rocketed down the middle of the narrow highway, hinting to other cars to get out of the way by forcing us off the road. Alex skillfully drove into the shoulder lane. Not on to it – in to it. A window-tinted SUV sped behind (or slip-streamed in the police car’s Mach 1 wake).

“Jesus,” I said.

“These police are the most dangerous drivers,” Alex tsked, guiding us safely back to the road.

As we neared Kampala he let me use his phone so that I might try to contact my host, Gisa. I had no idea as to where he might be in the city. The call went straight to the voice of the service provider saying that it was switched off. I tried a few more times and even Alex attempted but always the same result.

By eleven I was dropped off not far from the Gaddafi mosque, the second largest in Africa (although, why it was decided to build the second largest mosque in a country that is 84% Christian is a mystery) and as I collected my gear, five ‘parking attendants’ showed up to hassle Alex.

One of them was wearing Spike Lee framed spectacles. He was staring at my rasta-coloured bracelet on my left wrist.

“You rasta?” he asked me.

“Jah mun,” I said as I piled on my gear.

“Give me that bracelet,” he pointed at mine. “I want it. It has rasta colours.”

I straightened up and turned to him with a smile. “And what will you give me in exchange?”

“Nothing,” he laughed. “I have nothing.”

“Well, my friend,” I grinned, “you need to earn it from me. And if you cannot exchange, then you cannot get. Now,” I turned to the heavier set one of the five, “how do I reach the Central Post Office?”

“Let me get a boda-boda for you,” he said.

I stopped him before he summoned a motorbike. “I can walk.” Hearing that, the gentleman beside me let out a high-pitched, “Ah!” as though a bee had stung him. He was, indeed, shocked that I might actually utilise my legs in that crazy concept of placing one foot in front of the other, more popularly known as walking.

I turned to him with a grin. “You have legs?” I pointed to his. He nodded. “I have legs. You know what the difference is between us?”

He shook his head.

“I use mine.”

They all laughed as I headed off in the direction I eventually milked from them. The hot equatorial sun was beating down and hints of possible rain were lurking among the blue patches of sky. I hit the post office and went in to use the internet, see if I could contact Gisa via social media.

I couldn’t. His phone still didn’t ring and he wasn’t responding on Facebook.

Merde.

I figured I’d head on over to All About Uganda, the tour company that Kelley owns. She had hooked me up with the contact for the Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary and she also had a record label. And her office was in the Oasis Mall that had air conditioning.

“You should come see the band tonight at Bubbles,” she invited.

“They kinda let me down last time I was there,” I said. “I just wanted to play and all they had to do was give me a drink (which they did just for my patience) and something to eat. They wanted it to go through so many channels I just gave up.”

“Understandable,” she says. “But come anyway.”

As my reason for returning to Kampala was to meet the Gypsy Queen who was joining The Nomadic Diaries in Uganda (and had much to offer in terms of barter such as photography, videography, building art installations ) and arriving Friday, my mission was too find out where the Modern Coast bus she was taking from Nairboi to Kampala was going to eventually stop as it didn’t say on her ticket.

Kelley explained that the offices of Modern Coast were located, “Just up the road,” so I left my gear with her and trekked up. There was quite a line at the ticketing windows but I noticed some guy by the Staff Only door looking at handwritten numbers in an important looking book. Not having much want to wait in line I approached him.

“Excuse me,” I said slowly with a smile (and articulately as I’ve learned that my occa Australian accent can sometimes be interpreted as anything but English), “hi, how are you? Can you write for me the exact location of the last stop for the bus from Nairobi to Kampala in Kampala?”

“The station in Nairobi?”

Sigh.

If I had spoken any slower I would have been spelling it out. I don’t know how he thought I wanted the station in Nairobi. I think I was pretty clear when I said, “Kampala.”

He pointed up the road. “Just take the boda-boda. They will know.”

“Just write the location for me, please. I’m picking my friend up on Friday.”

“Come to this office on Friday and take the boda –”

“Listen,” I avoided slapping my forehead (and his), “I’m not coming to the office because it will waste my time and yours. I don’t need a boda-boda, I need you to write for me the exact location of where the bus stops in Kampala. Please.”

“I’m very busy,” he says.

“So am I,” I retorted (I wasn’t). “But unfortunately for both of us, your website doesn’t mention anywhere where the final stop is.” I paused for a second and then said, “Do you know where it is?”

“Yes,” he says, continuing to look through his book of numbers.

“Can you write it down for me, please?”

The man next to me was telling this worker to do as I was requesting, practically begging. He repeated himself as much as I did. He even offered the guy a brochure and said to him, “Just write it for him on this.”

The worker didn’t appreciate my having started a ‘Write For Me’ posse and in the end my new recruit turned to me and said, “Ask those guys in the back. They are the drivers.”

I thanked him (which saved a slap to the worker) and went to hassle them, making a mental note to make the guy my head henchman.

“Excuse me,” I said with a smile to the three gents sitting, “hi, how are you? Can you write for me the exact location of the last stop for the bus from Nairobi to Kampala in Kampala?”

“Nairobi?” one asked.

Oi ve.

“Kampala,” I sighed.

“Just take the boda-boda –”

“Do you know where the bus stops?”

“Yes.”

“Can you write it down for me? Please?” I was ready to detonate the building.

He got up to go to the office coming out after a second. “They are writing it for you.”

“Thanks,” I breathed out. I was handed the bit of paper. I was about to walk out when the driver stopped me.

“Let me write for you the number of the place,” he said and added, “It is a Fuel Station.”

“So the bus stops in the Fuel Station?”

“Yes,” he writes down Hassan’s number.

“Thank you,” and I shook his hand.

Back at Kelley’s she let me borrow her phone in the off chance that Gisa was now reachable. He was.

“The power was out and my phone was dead,” he excused.

“No problem.” I explained where I was and he suggested I go wait at the National Theatre around the corner.

“I’m out of town but I will see you in one hour.”

Meaning I had about three hours to kill.

“What are you wearing?” he asked before we hung up.

“Orange T-shirt, mate,” I said. “You can see it from space.”

 

Categories: Adventure Travel, Africa, Hitch Hiking, Uganda | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

HITCH HIKING IN UGANDA – PART III

© Rohini Das, 2015

© Rohini Das, 2015

“Where ya headed?” I asked the driver. He was the first one to pull over after I had walked half the length of Kampala on Bombo Rd to reach Amuka Lodge, about three hours north-west of Uganda’s capital.

“Bombo,” he said.

I wasn’t sure how far that was but if it took me out of this boda-boda-taxi ridden city, I’d be in a better position to hitch a ride.

“Can I go with you?” I asked. “I’m trying to reach Nakitoma.”

“I don’t know where it is,” he said. “But you can come.”

His wife was in the front seat and in the back was another fella. “Have you got room in the boot for my bags?”

He looked at the others, laughed and drove off, leaving me to stand dumbfounded, fighting not to drop my jaw as the amount of CO2 in the area was enough to embarrass China. His tail lights grew smaller into the distance.

Hope you get three flat tires you shitty fucker, I cursed him.

Oddly enough, the morning had begun better than I could hope for. I had left Kibuli (pronounced Chibuli) at sunrise, watching the big orange ball rise steadily in the east, casting an orange hue over the city as I walked downhill to reach the main road.

Behind me I could hear the wheels of a car. I turned to face the red Volvo station wagon and flagged it down. It’s rare that a woman would stop for me. Even rarer when it’s two. But Barbara and June took me to Old Kampala on their way to work.

“I’m just dropping June off at her work,” Barbara informed me. “She manages a hotel. Have you taken breakfast?”

“No, I haven’t,” I said, settling into the backseat.

“Then let me get you some breakfast at the hotel because you don’t know when you will eat.”

“That’s very kind of you,” I grinned, feeling a great start to the day. Even the grey clouds that had escorted the sun’s rising were dispersing.

I was presented with not only a tour of every unoccupied room in Ruhuka Inn (which means, ‘Place to rest’) but also a breakfast of an onion omelette with two slices of buttered white toast and a thermos of tea with milk (I don’t do milk so I passed on the tea).

June figured I’d like to watch some Al Jezzera but the staff member in charge of the TV put on the English Premier league. Not that I follow the football but it’s good to get an update as the majority of Africans practically worship the English league. And it was good to see my team, Liverpool, win it’s game.

I thanked June and hit the road. I predicted a long hike as I passed the jammed traffic lining up all the way to the other side of the city.

When my guitar bag was hit by a boda-boda (motorbike taxi) I got pissed off, cursing the driver. I kept walking, ignoring all the requests of riders wanting to take me. The dusty red-earthed sides of the road clogged my lungs along with all the exhaust fumes of the standing cars as I hiked downhill and then uphill, my shirt drowning me in my own sweat.

Even my pants where absorbing my body fluid.

Another boda-boda clipped my guitar bag, the rider almost getting jousted by the neck of it. I whipped around and said, “I’m not fucking invisible, mate. You can see me from space so open your fuckin’ eyes.”

He appeared embarrassed and sped off, his passenger trying not to giggle behind him.

When the third boda-boda clipped Ol’ Red I was ready to decapitate someone.

Finding cars with open windows that were jammed in the congested traffic I asked for directions to Bombo Road, the highway that would take me to Amuka Lodge and Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary.

“I don’t know it,” said every driver I asked.

I began to doubt whether I was saying the name of the place right. It wouldn’t be the first time I’d mess up the pronunciation of a place (hitching to Kisumu I kept calling the place everything but Kisumu. Luckily, I was hitching with Rohini who took care of the names of places, scolding me lightly).

It was just the day before that I had been emailing with Angie who offered me three weeks volunteer work in exchange for food and bed at the lodge.

‘You’ll be laying cement and doing some other construction if you can handle that,’ she wrote.

‘Sure,’ I replied. Not that I’ve ever laid cement but, ‘I’m a quick learner as long as someone shows me what and how to do stuff.’

It was after what felt like 8 K’s walking in hot, equatorial sun that the car that was heading to Bombo stopped for me and then sped off.

So it’s gonna be one of those days.

I had rested by a service station in order to dry out my drenched clothes. After an hour I picked up my gear and continued to hike at least two more K’s before William, a technician with Aqua Life, a mineral water company, picked me up and took me, “Six miles down the road,” he said. “To Mutungo.”

If it took me outta Kampala, I’d ride a dead camel just about now.

“Do you know where Nakitoma is?” I asked, almost embarrassed to say the word.

“Yes,” he said.

Finally! “No one knows the place!” I exclaimed in excitement. “I thought I was saying it wrong.”

“No,” he grinned, “you are pronouncing it correctly. But it is very far.”

Mate, I thought, I’ve been travelling over land and sea from Australia to here. Mars is far. Three hours outta Kampala? That’s like a walk to the corner shop.

Once we reached Mutungo hitching was a breeze. Within ten minutes of being dropped in the roadside town, I hitched a ride with Tony and Nelson, coffee farmers on their way to a plantation.

“We are headed to Luwero,” said Tony, after he got off the phone. “It’s about 60 kilometres from here. From there, you can catch a lift to Nakitoma.”

“You know where it is as well?” I asked, my eyebrows rising.

“Of course,” he said. “Tell me,” he continued after learning that I was heading to the Middle East after Africa, “are you not afraid of the Islamic State?”

“The Islamic State should be afraid of me,” I grinned as he and Nelson erupted in laughter.

He asked me about the Aborigines of Australia and I informed him how, like in any Western country where the white man has stolen the lands of the indigenous, they have very little rights and access to education and health care. We parted ways in Luwero where I walked through the town. A smiling couple in a VW Golf stopped at an intersection and took me five minutes down the road. It was better than walking in the hot sun.

Thanking them, I walked downhill when James pulled over in his Nissan Navara, hitting the brakes hard.

“I’m heading to Masindi,” he said. “I know the rhino sanctuary. I can drop you there.”

A telecommunications engineer, James is divorced with three daughters. “I want two more children. But I want sons,” he grinned. “I’m getting married in November.”

“Congratulations,” I congratulated him.

He was of the Moyo tribe, from the northern reaches of Uganda. We pulled into a service station in Mijera, a major security hold where I met Pascal, his brother who works with the defence forces.

“What’s with all the security in Uganda?” I asked. “It’s like everyone’s paranoid here.”

“There are elections next year,” he said, “and the politicians are campaigning. And there is also Al Shabab.”

“Is Uganda a democracy?” I asked as James placed a dark black tea before me and a Rolex.

Unlike the watch, a Ugandan Rolex is an omelette fried with onions and tomato (also with potatoes and cabbage, pending on where you get it) and then wrapped and rolled into a chapati. It’s my new food addiction.

Pascal smiled uneasily and looked into the distance, trying to figure out how to answer my question.

“It’s OK,” I said, patting him on the shoulder. “I get it.” Democracy was a loose term in Africa.

“Are you a Christian?” he suddenly asked.

Uganda’s population is 84% Christian. It doesn’t explain why it houses the second largest mosque in Africa – the Gaddafi mosque overlooking Kampala – but that’s the way it is.

“I’m agnostic,” I said carefully.

“What does that mean?”

“I believe in Karma.”

“What is that?”

“You do good things, good things happen to you.”

“So who created the world?” he asked, slightly taken aback.

I love this question. “The earth is 4 billion-years-old, my friend,” I began. “It was created when stars collided creating an explosion that formed gases that created the planet we now call home. The Bible, which is a book with good moral and ethical stories, is just a book. But it claims that god created the earth five thousand years ago, right?”

He nodded.

“Then how do you explain the scientific proof that the Mayans pre-date the Bible? The Aborigines of Australia? Their history goes back 50,000 years.”

Pascal’s jaw dropped as James laughed.

“You are lost, my friend,” Pascal said.

“No, mate. I’m quite found, actually,” I grinned.

“It’s science,” James backed me up.

“Do you know what dinosaurs are?” I asked Pascal.

He shook his head, misty eyed in disbelief.

“You know what a crocodile is, yeah?”

“Yes, of course.”

“So basically, a crocodile is the last remaining dinosaur. These are huge creatures that became extinct 65 million years ago. The crocodile has been around for 200 million years, my friend.”

Pascal leaned back in his chair. He looked to James and then too me.

“Just now,” I was on an unstoppable roll, “in South Africa, a species related to us was discovered. Its bones date back three million years. In Ethiopia and Kenya bones were discovered of our ancestors in the 50s and 60s dating back two million years.

The Bible is just a book with stories.”

He stared at me flabbergasted. “Why do you not tell this to everybody?” he demanded.

“I’m not a preacher, mate,” I said. “If someone asks, then I’ll tell them what I believe in. If they don’t, I won’t force it on anyone. You believe what you want, Pascal,” I put a comforting hand on his arm. “And as long as you’re happy and comfortable, that’s cool. I don’t judge.”

We shook hands as Pascal continued to sit, slightly shocked by having his religous world shattered as James and I walked back to the car.

“I think I disturbed him with my science,” I said.

“He is too religious,” said James.

“You’re not?”

“I’m an engineer. I believe in god but not everything in the bible is gospel.”

We hit the road and a half hour later I was dropped at the Amuka Lodge, James going about 15 K’s out of his way to make sure I made it safely through the bush.

“James, safe travels, my friend,” I shook his hand. “Hope you get those two sons.”

“Thanks for the company,” he grinned as he pulled away.

I was greeted by Jarrad who does T-shirt printing and manages the bar. After putting my gear away in the chalet I had lunch cooked by the talented David and then dived ankle deep into the cement job I had arrived to do.

Four hours later, we finished up, I showered and met Angie and her son, Duan.

“We took over this place about nine years ago,” said the South African native. “We have a stable number of rhinos (numbers are excluded for protection), leopards and cerval cats. We recently discovered that we have honey-badgers too.”

“Oh, those things are ferocious,” I said, recalling a few videos I had seen about them.

“Just when you go to bed,” Angie warned, “make sure you have a flash light as the rhinos do come into the lodge.”

“What do I do in the off-chance that I’m charged?” I asked.

I knew how to handle a predator. In theory, if a predator charges at you, you charge back. Why that freaks them out? I guess they don’t expect it from a puny bi-pedal. But non-predators? They’re more dangerous than predators because if they charge at you, your only option is to run. And non-predators run much faster than us puny bi-pedals.

“Climb a tree or hide behind an anthill,” offered Angie.

Nothing better I like doing at night than climb a tree.

I had dinner of potatoes and chicken wings, a glass of white wine (I was feeling posh) and then I walked back to my chalet with my flashlight on.

It was the longest walk of my life as I turned almost 360 degrees in search of rhinos.

“They’re very quiet,” Angie’s voice echoed in my head.

“The rhinos don’t lift their legs high enough,” Duan had said as I eyed the knocked-over bricks lining the pathway. “It’s a constant job to put the bricks back.”

It’s gonna be an interesting three weeks.

Categories: Adventure Travel, Africa, Conservation, Hitch Hiking, Uganda | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

HITCH HIKING IN UGANDA – PART II

© Rohini Das, 2015

© Rohini Das, 2015

“So you’re a reverend?” I asked Emma, who stopped for Julia and I just before the bridge that crosses the Nile River at its source from Lake Victoria.

Julia, from Germany, was heading to Kampala and I invited her to hitch with me. When hitching with a female companion, it’s best to play husband and wife. For safety and to avoid awkward questions.

So for the next two hours I was married too Julia, answering Emma’s question of, “Are you related?”

“No, she’s my wife,” I grinned as we crossed the Owen Dam bridge over the Nile, the very dam that killed Rippon Falls, where Specke had discovered the source of Africa’s mightiest river.

Kampala, Uganda’s capital, was only about an hour away. We joined the truck that took that morning’s rafters to their white-water activity with Nile River Explorers. The driver dropped us at the roundabout that either leads into Jinja or heads to Kampala.

We walked down the road and were about to set up just past a service station when a para-military officer brandishing a formidable AK-47 appeared outta nowhere and suggested we attempt to stop vehicles elsewhere.

Turns out the Ugandan police don’t like it when you try to hitch outside of their barracks.

We walked down the road and just passed the first section of the bridge I managed to flag down Emma.

“I’m a priest,” he said. “A Catholic priest.”

I’ve always wanted to meet a Catholic priest and ask them a question that had been boggling my mind. It wasn’t keeping me awake at nights but I was curious.

“Can I ask you, as a man of god,” I worded my question carefully, “you’re not allowed to marry and have children, right?”

“Yes,” he said with a smile.

“But doesn’t the bible say that you must pro-create?”

He thought for a minute. “Yes, it does. But to be able to devote myself to the Lord, I must sacrifice having a family.” He then went on to explain that, “In order to become a priest, you have to do medical tests. If it is found that you cannot have children, then you cannot become a priest.”

Wait a minute, “Your ultimate sacrifice is not to have a family,” I pushed lightly, “but if you’re incapable for whatever reason – medical or infertility – then you can’t become a priest?” I asked.

“Yes.”

I frowned. “But if we are all created equal in the eyes of god, then isn’t that discrimination?”

“It is not,” he countered. “To be able to become a priest, to enter the service, I have to sacrifice in order to devote myself to the lord. But if I cannot have children for the reasons you state, then what am I sacrificing?”

Human touch? Love? Going out on weekends? Safaris? White water rafting? Pedophilia? The list is endless. “You choose to devote your life to the service so isn’t that a sacrifice in itself?” I pushed.

“Er, yes,” he stumbled, “in a way but it is not how the church operates.”

“Of course not,” I said. It totally contradicts its own belief, discriminates and goes against the very words it preaches.

Emma focused on driving for a minute before I figured maybe it would be best to change the subject.

“You have siblings?” I asked.

“Yes,” he said. “I’m one of nine children.”

“Nine?”

Jesus, what is it with this country and the amount of kids produced per family?

“Yes,” he grinned. “I’m one of two boys. The rest are girls.”

I contacted my couch surfing host, Michael, who I then passed on to Emma to figure out where to drop us. Julia was staying with a friend and we reckoned we might catch up during the next few days before her flight back to Germany.

“I will drop you at the Centenary Bank,” Emma said. “He will come to collect you on a boda-boda.”

As we entered Kampala, passing the Mandela National Stadium, I quickly concluded that the traffic here was about 12 times worse than in Nairobi or Zambia’s Lusaka. We thanked Emma for the ride and wished him all the best.

“Well,” I said to Julia, “I guess this is where we divorce.”

Laughing, she headed up to the post office which has a cyber café while I waited for Michael, who arrived a few minutes later. We each got onto a boda-boda and I held on for dear life, considering a life of serving the church the way my driver was riding.

Kampala is quite the hilly city. In fact it means,’ Seven Hills’ on which it was built (now spread to 13). After about 20 minutes we made it to Mike’s place where I put my bags down and he explained that, “I’m going to Entebbe to say goodbye to some French friends that are leaving.”

“OK,” I said and 20 minutes later he left me to his pad.

I’m always impressed by anyone who’ll trust me enough to just leave me in their home. It happened to me in Thailand when my host went to a mediation retreat and she left me with not only her hilltop home overlooking the Gulf of Thailand but also her scooter.

I met Julie who lives with her boyfriend in the unit next door.

“If you need anything, she can help you,” Mike had explained. “She also cooks the food.”

Paul, son of the landlord showed up in the evening.

“I play rugby,” he said upon discovering my Aussie roots.

“Sorry, mate,” I said. “I don’t follow the rugby.”

“I also like watching the cricket,” he tried to warm up to me.

“Yeah, I don’t do cricket either,” I said. “I like surfing, football, basketball, volleyball and anything underwater.”

He explained the things to see in Kampala. “There is the Gaddafi mosque, the second largest in Africa, the tombs of the Buganda Kingdom, the old taxi park – also known as ‘Organised Confusion’ – and one of the biggest markets in Africa.” He grinned. “In Kampala, everything is walking distance.”

“Perfect,” I said. “I like walking.”

We were about a degree above the equator and it was pretty hot in the city but still, no better way to get to know a new place than using your own two feet. He wished me well and I made an outline for the next day – find tour operators and see if I could barter a gorilla trek or anything else and perhaps head west towards Murchisons Falls National Park.

Cities just aren’t my thang.

Categories: Adventure Travel, Africa, Hitch Hiking, Uganda | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

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