Posts Tagged With: jinja

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

DE-NILE

AG

Although this adventure happened a few months back, it’s now readable on Africa Geographic.

Special thanks to the amazing folk at the Nile River Porch Lodge and the Nile River Camp, Jinja, Uganda.

Well worth a visit.

Enjoy.

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

STRINGING UP ART

“So what do you think?” Teresa asked as we stood inside the main room of the restaurant, The Black Lantern, that serves the best pork ribs in Africa – so is the claim. And it was here that our art installation barter would commence. We looked at the walls. Some had spears hanging from them. There were two empty spaces and then another space over the entrance to the porch overlooking the Nile.

“I’m thinking three string art pieces that we could hang on the walls,” GQ envisioned. “Do you have something we could use as a canvas? Wood or something?”

“I’ll have to look,” Teresa replied.

“What about that space in the back?” I asked (which was really the front reception area). A large wall stood bare, yellowish cream painted on it.

“Sometimes we have conferences and we use the wall as a projection screen,” Teresa said.

“What about above the line?” I asked.

“Yes, you could do use that.”

“We’d have to hammer into the wall,” GQ pondered. “Can we do that?”

“Sure,” Teresa nodded.

“We could do a 90 degree angle piece at the end of it,” I started to knock off ideas that were cascading off my rapid-working brain. “And then in the negative space we make three circle mandalas, from small to big, kinda like an evolution thing. No?” I turned to GQ who was nodding along.

I picked up the restaurant’s flyer and stared at the logo of a Grey Crown Crane silhouette (Uganda’s national bird that also appears on its flag) and the writing of The Black Lantern in Kuntsler Script font.

“What if we made the logo?” I suggested. “I mean, just the writing, on the top there? That way, you can still screen on the wall.”

GQ and Teresa looked up, envisioning it.

“We’d have to make stencils,” GQ said.

“Nah, I can copy it, free-hand.” Looking around I saw that it was me who made the claim.

Shit.

As a kid I used to draw, illustrate, cartoon and sketch a lot. It’s in the family genes. It also annoyed my teachers as I wouldn’t pay attention in class (explains a bit). My rebuttal at bullies and anyone that pissed me off would be a cartoon of them in a compromising position. And I’ve drawn on walls before. My childhood bedroom saw me draw a cartoon of a basketball player squashed on the wall behind the door so every time a friend entered the room I’d say, “Watch it, mate. You’ve just squashed him!”

Eventually my years of teacher annoyance paid off and at my high school I was asked to draw on the wall of my class. Something the teachers have yet to regret 14 years later as my mate, who now teaches at the school, sent me a photo with the caption, ‘Remember this?’

Which I didn’t and was surprised when I saw it, barely recalling that I had drawn the clichéd two swans coming together to create a heart in a sunset (I know, I know but I was 17 at the time and not quite rebellious trying to impress girls. That would come years later. The rebellious part, that is. Still trying to impress girls).

Swans

And then there’s the cave paintings I did at Amuka Safari Lodge.img_6648

But I ain’t ever done a font before. And never at 50 times the size of the original (a ballpark figure).

“I like it,” Teresa said.

“Yeah, that could work,” GQ concurred.

 

We got Bingo’s blessing and began to sketch and plan over the next few days while watching a Ross’s Turaco with its striking red wings fly in front of our tent, the song of fish eagles – a pair of which had built a nest in the huge tree in the car park – creating a consistent soundtrack, black and white casqued hornbills buzzing about, the yellow-billed ck8a8633kite raising its young in the nest just off the porch, the red-tailed monkeys and the vervets jumping from branch to branch. The lightening shows in the evening when moon-sized clouds pounded the horizon and the heavy rains that drenched everything.

 

 

And then there are the sunsets.ck8a8098

Oi ve, the sunsets.

At one point we had to move to the Nile River Camp for two nights due to the Nile Porch being fully booked. Luckily, Bingo also owns the NRC (as it is locally known) and we were guided to safari tent number two.

Two nights later we were back at the Nile Porch, this time in tent number 4 with the same incredible view.

THE DOOR

“I noticed there’s a door painted obscurely in the front there,” GQ said to Teresa the next morning. “Do you think Bingo would let us cut it into three canvases?”

“Ah, that door,” Saleem reflected as we watched the sun set over the Nile River. “There’s a story behind it.

That door was used for the house and one night our trusted askari (watchman) came in and stole the door.”

“Stole the door?” I repeated.

“Yes – ” Saleem attempted to continue.

“Who steals a door?” I pressed.

“Bro,” Saleem laid it down, “it’s Africa. Anyway, I went looking for that door. I was asking around, going into the villages and checking every door on every house. I was on the hunt. This kid came up to me and showed me where the door was. It was painted but I recognised my fucking door and I took it from the building. The guy claimed that he bought it for 50,000 shillings ($20 AUD) from my askari.

So I told him to come and find me at the Porch. Meanwhile I had called the askari and told him to come over. I deducted 50,000 shillings from the askari’s pay and gave it back to the guy in front of him.”

“And now we’re gonna chop it up and stick it on the wall,” GQ erupted into laughter as did we.

Speaking of, “Shall we get to work?” I asked.

I sawed the door into three almost-equal pieces and hammered in nails after GQ drew the circles.

She created the first two pieces and had a momentary lapse of sanity when she decided to let me do the, “Pièce de résistance,” on the last canvas.

While GQ strung up the first two pieces I spent my time free drawing the font onto the wall. It’d been awhile since I’ve used my brain to this artistic and engineering capacity so it was a little overwhelming at first.

The fuck am I doing? ck8a8305I can’t fuckin’ draw this shit. And on a ladder? The fuck was I thinking. Who put me up to this?

Oh.

Right.

Me.

Shit.

Self-doubt is a bitch of a dog that just wants to bite you in the ass as you try to hop over the fence to safety. But I whipped around and bit that bitch right back. Add on some encouraging words from GQ, the staff (“Well done.”) and some guests and three days later the font was on the wall, somehow looking exactly like the font on the flyer.

“Jesus,” I said aloud standing with GQ, Saleem and Teresa, admiring the sketch. “That was fuckin’ exhausting.”

But now came the hard part – hammering in 1700 nails.

Perhaps we were caught in the euphoria of seeing the work actually coming to life, or perhaps it was the amazing food that distracted us, either way, we were all unaware that the reason why the nails were bending was because they were wood nails.

Even though I was attempting to drill in pilot holes the drill bit wore down and the nails still bent. Turns out it helps if you use a drill bit for concrete rather than for steel.

“Let me call Joque and ask him if he has any drill bits,” Saleem whipped out his phone. “Concrete-steel nails?” I heard him repeat Joque’s suggestion. “Yeah, we could try that.”

Wouldn’t be my first ‘D’oh!’ moment.

Once we had the nails it took two days to hammer them into the points GQ marked.

“Yessis, you guys have patience, aye?” Bingo said on his occasional visit to see how much destruction we were doing to his wall.

Teresa had overheard him explaining what we were doing to some of the guys at the NRC.

“So the guy asks him, ‘But how do they have so much patience to hammer in all those nails?’ and Bingo says, ‘Because they are artists, bru’.”

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“You spelt Lantern wrong,” said a guest, attempting suicidal humour.

GQ and I began to string up the letters – which also took two days. When we were done, we stood back like proud parents, admiring our creation.

“Looks amazing,” Bingo said.

“It’s fuckin’ amazing,” Saleem concurred.

“It’s very beautiful,” Teresa added.

“Quite chuffed,” I grinned.

“Quite chuffed,” agreed GQ.

Quite.

*Check out the Timelapse video here

 

Categories: Africa, Uganda | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

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 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

UPSTREAM WITH A PADDLE – OR ALEX

IMG_6219“Do you want to go for a paddle?” Alex asked me.

A young lad of 22 from the Musoga tribe, I had met him when I casually walked down to the banks of the Nile seeking adventure.

“Won’t say ‘no’,” I grinned as I stepped into his leaky canoe and  paddled upstream towards the Owen Falls dam. “What do you do?” I asked him as we glided on the still waters of the Nile, close to the bank.

 

IMG_6172A bright blue malachite kingfisher with a long red beak, darted along the banks with us as it fished, resting on the low hanging branches.

“I’m studying in Kampala,” Alex said. “I want to be a doctor.”

We stroked upstream towards a cave where, “There used to be three caves,” explained Alex. “But now there is only this entrance. Because of the dam it made the other entrances fill up with water. See?”

He pointed to the top half of what would appear to be the entry point of one the previous exposed caves.

Dams were a problem on the Nile. They’ve caused tensions between Egypt and Ethiopia regarding the Blue Nile, almost leading to all-out war and also with Uganda along the White Nile. But the biggest concern was not for the existing dams but for the one about to come further downstream, towards the rapids.

It was a controversial idea that the government had approved. Thing is, if they do go ahead with it, it will kill Jinja, a huge tourist town that probably brings in most of the tourism dollars for Uganda. White water rafting is growing in its popularity but without rapids to create the white water rush, it’s just rafting. Which I’m sure might be appealing to some but for the adventure seekers, it won’t cut the gravy. And this approved dam will kill the rapids, destroy half of the nature in the area and the income for the town of Jinja and its people.

The malachite kingfisher continued to follow us as we spooked darters, cormorants, open-bill storks, egrets, herons and sandpipers. We paddled all the way to the dam that also acted as a bridge across the river at the mouth of Lake Victoria.

Back in 1862, John Hanning Specke, along with Richard Francis Burton, set out on a mission to find the source of the Nile. These two were the Bradgalina of their time, in the days where being an explorer of foreign lands was the highest celebrity status one could achieve.

Burton loved languages and immersing himself with the locals. Upon reaching Lake Victoria, the two separated. I could imagine the conversation going something like,

Burton: “Right, I’m going to set up camp here for the next few weeks.”

Specke: “Marvellous thought, old chap. I shall continue on the quest for the source of this damned river (see what I did there?).”

Six weeks later, Specke returned with the announcement that, “I’ve found the source. Named it Rippon Falls. I’ll see you in the Queen’s country.”

Burton had his doubts. Although the two were equipped with scientific equipment to survey the land, Specke hadn’t utilised any of it. Upon their separate return to England, Specke’s celebrity status rose to that of Beckham’s in his hey-day. Burton argued in the press and to the Royal Geographic Society that had funded the trip that Specke was full of it and demanded a public debate. Specke accepted. Legend has it that on the day of the debate, Specke was out hunting pheasant when he ‘accidentally’ shot himself dead.

More than a year would pass until it was confirmed that, indeed, Specke had found the source of the Nile. A plaque was made in his honour and placed at Rippon Falls – until they built the Owen Falls dam and relocated the plaque.

“The name of my village is Bujugali,” Alex said. “It was named for the waterfalls next to it, but the dam you saw? It has killed the falls. Now it is just the river flowing.”

Seems to be a concerning pattern.

IMG_6209The canoe had a major leak in it and between shooting photos of the wildlife, paddling and waving at the few fishermen in their canoes, I found myself to be the water bailer. We U-turned just after the 80-meter bungee jump from an outstretched crane and allowed the current to carry us downstream back towards Alex’s village river bank.

Red-tailed monkeys jumped between the tree branches. Water monitors evaded my camera lens and kids splashed in de-Nile (see what I did there? Thanks Stacey), striking poses.

“Alex, thanks for the adventure,” I hugged him as we parted ways. “I’m playing tonight at the Nile River Explorers camp. Come down and see me, if you can,” I invited him.

Smiling, he accepted my offer.

As I hiked back to the camp I couldn’t stop grinning. I asked for an adventure and there I was provided.

Don’t ask, don’t get.

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

HITCH HIKING IN UGANDA – PART I

© Rohini Das, 2015

© Rohini Das, 2015

Continued from HITCH HIKING IN KENYA – PART VII

“One hundred dollars,” said the immigration officer at the border-crossing.

“What?” My eyebrows orbited. “Since when?”

“Since July 1st ,” she answered.

Up until then, a Ugandan visa was only $50. For some illogical reason, right when they need as many tourists as they can get, they’ve decided to raise the entry fee to a hundred. And neglected to tell everyone. I was stamped in for 60 days and walked through the border town of Mabala, the Mars-red earth dusty like my childhood room. I walked about 2 K’s before Charles, father to six children, collected me.

“I buy second-hand Japanese cars and import them via Mombasa, Kenya,” he explained his ways. “Then I get a driver to drive them to the border where I collect them to sell in Uganda.”

He dropped me off in Tororo, at a bus stop where I met Bob, a mechanic who had been to China and Dubai.

“I didn’t like China,” he said. “Very racist people. And Dubai as well.”

”When people fear something,” I began my two cents, “or don’t understand why something is the way it is – like different skin colour – then that fear is turned into hatred bred by ignorance which then becomes racism.”

He nodded in agreement as we chatted for about an hour before I managed to flag down Andrew and Connie who took me and another Ugandan to Iganga, a hundred K’s down the road.

“We are on the way to a funeral,” said Andrew.

“My condolences,” I said gravely.

Andrew has four kids. “But I want more,” he said, placing his hand on Connie’s. “Connie will give me six.”

Connie looked at him skeptically.

“Does Connie know?” I asked.

“My father had thirteen children,” he said, ignoring my question.

“Thirteen?!?” I exclaimed.

“No, thirty. Three-zero.”

“Thirty?!?” I fell back into the seat.

“My mother gave birth to 16,” he said proudly.

Jesus. Poor woman.

We arrived in Iganga, a busy smallish town as dusty as the Outback. I hiked it, trying to flag down trucks and other vehicles that were not matatus who couldn’t understand why I was brushing them off.

Finally, Samuel took me on board.

“I’m in a hurry,” he said. “So I will be going fast.”

“Fast is good,” I said nervously. “As long as you get us their safely.”

“Always. I hurry but I’m safe.”

“Where are you headed?” I asked.

“To a barrier.”

“A barrier?”

“A burial.”

“Oh, a funeral.”

Hmm, two rides in a row heading to a funeral. Must be something in the air. Perhaps the dust.

He began to give me driving lessons, as though I didn’t know the logics of driving on a road.

“You see this lane?” he said, almost pushing a motorbike out of the way. “This is the fast lane. It is for cars that are going fast. He should move to the left so I, a fast car, can pass him. Then, when I pass him, I will return to the left lane to let even faster vehicles overtake me safely.”

“Of course,” I said, trying not to roll my eyes.

He dropped me on the outskirts of Jinja where I began to walk and managed to flag down Steven who had passed me twice on the road. He dropped me off in the centre of town. I spied a pick-up truck with two young locals just sitting and chatting who had laughed when I was trying to get a lift into town.

Pretending like I didn’t recognise them, I approached the vehicle and excused myself. “You guys know where the Nile River Explorer camp is?” I interrupted.

“Yeah,” Holinise said. “Get in, we’ll take you.”

“Wow,” I said. “Thank you so much. I’m not interrupting you, am I?”

“No, we are just conversing,” Denise, the driver, said.

They took me to the hostel where I met Mark, my contact, and in the afternoon I was on the back of the camp truck heading to the campsite on the Nile River. I met Ross, the manager, was placed in the dorm room and began to set up for that evening’s gig.

Good vibes here. Good vibes.

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

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