Uganda – Relax day?

Jinja, Uganda

By this time I have been horribly sick for 5 days…
A good chunk of those days on some really long buses…not fun.

Coming from Tanzania on my last safari I had a day to explore the road side village of Mto Wa Mbu which is just outside of Lake Manyara and on route to Ngorongoro Crater. I really liked this town, banana town where I did several runs, fun to explore here. Well I explored BIEN! I quickly found a town boy (like those beach boys) who was helping me buy things that I decided to not buy but of course he carried along with me as I wondered the streets. On the way back to the hotel I noticed something…something drying outside of a house, I asked what it was, he said ¨banana beer¨ I said ¨oh really, I´ve heard about that, can we try it?¨ Of course was the response and in we went for the homemade banana beer. It came in this huge maybe 1/2 gallon cup….his friend thankfully joined us, it was too much for me so I gave some (most, really) to the friend, who was already wasted. From there the town boy explained there was also banana wine…they quickly fetched a bottle…which came in what would be a beer bottle and packaged for sale….it was much better than the beer. I did not finish either…but the drunk friend mixed the two….for a nice kick….fun times! From there we went our separate ways. After this I went for a run, good athletic achievement…ha ha. That same day, for dinner I headed to the main street passing town, not long nor with many options. Randomly I met a German couple travelling on a bike and also looking for dinner. We settled for street food, fries and eggs mixed up and of course with a Safari beer.

Banana bike at border

Any who the next day I embarked on bus for Lake Victoria, to the Tanzanian town of Mwanza….the bus ride was something like 14 hours and I arrived at night…..I felt like I was going to die the whole ride!!!! No clue if it was the beer or the eggs…but I was a wreck (something like fever, severe dehydration, bathroom fun, and horrible stomach ache). At some point the other foreigners on the ride offered me aspirin…that helped for a bit…but still 14 hours…no bathroom on bus…so those 2-3 stops were all I got and I did well preparing myself for them…aka not lots of H2O even though dehydrated :(. In the end I think I narrowed it down to Cholera or Salmonella….on top of this I also developed a cold. Yeah for me, not!

I headed to Mwanza because the plan was to arrive and take a cargo (banana or sugar cane) boat across the lake over night. I thought, cool something new and an easy check off the list of being on Lake Victoria. Well, when I got to Mwanza I took a taxi around to the port, the boat had left the day before, and would maybe leave the next day…yeah and the passenger ferry that takes people half way across to Bukoba (also at night) was broken down. GREAT! Being as new years eve was the next day, I was left with the bus option….another excellent 14 hours. Yippie….WORD OF ADVICE…take a plane from ARUSHA to ENTEBE (only airport in Uganda)…TANZANIA IS HUGE! I was so focused on that cargo boat that it only occurred to me once I arrived to Mwanza and all options failed me. Yup! ADVICE, TAKE IT!

This bus left at 4 AM…making the most of my time even sick I checked into a hotel and went to the fanciest hotel for the Tilapia from the Lake….turns out I chose Nile Perch instead…sounded better…dummy you are headed to the Nile!!! SO WORD TO THE WISE, GET TILAPIA! Food was excellent at the Hotel Tilapia but my head was not there apparently…even the hotel´s name says get that fish…right.

So I arrived early evening to Kampala, Uganda, sick but it was New Years Eve! Yeah! Goal: Get to hostel and meet people quick to go out with! I stayed just out of town in a popular hostel, well for maybe 2 hours. I did just what I planned, I met people quick (even managed a free Nile Beer…I didn´t even feel good enough to drink it but New years and free?, why not) but at the same time I chatted with a friend of a friend from my masters program who decided she was coming to get me and I was staying at her house and her friend was taking me out. She was not going out, but instead to church…about half the population goes to mass new years eve (seriously the celebrations were huge and looked fun…every time we passed one I was like and what is that…church…oh…I always thought it was a huge club)…this is from around 10 pm to 3 am. I almost opted out of partying…remember I was not doing so great…maybe prayers would have been better but I went with Brenda (the friend of my friend´s friend…ha ha)

The biggest celebration in Kampala is at the Sheraton Hotel in the city center. That is where we went and well so was everyone else. We arrived oh some 2 minutes before midnight to the area….walked in no problems…the majority were turned around because no entrance ticket…me either…some $200 ticket…we just walked in like we knew where we were going….stopped and 10…9…8…7…6…5…4…3…2…1 Happy New Year! A nice 15 minute show…maybe better from the streets outside with the crowds….but eh…inside were concerts from popular bands and singers from Uganda…..we turned around and left to find dinner…yes….I finally had to eat something….sick but with appetite.

From there we went to the pharmacy because I was dying…and then to a club (didn´t enter bc of a $5 cover…ha ha ok) and then to another party area with 3 outdoor clubs…cover was $2 for the best one and nope no one wanted to pay that either. Wow….so we were lame, no one drank…me sick, Brenda doesn´t drink, and the other girl who joined wasn´t gonna drink after church….LOL We lasted until 2:30 am and then headed home…freezing on the boda boda (motorcycle taxi)…but we made it safe and he was a nice driver not like the one from the bus to the hostel (backpacks and all) who I thought might kill me driving up the hills…also survived :D.

Boda Bodas are fun but be careful about 5 people die a day on them…avoid younger drivers…get off if they are crazy and won´t slow down if you tell them to, Seriously….and only take them from stands (area where more than one wait) then at night if you must…but truly avoid them at night really because they are known to rape women (especially if not at a stand and if alone)…..we played it safe, no worries.

Next day, instead of rest I went to see Kampala and headed to the spot where the equator crosses Uganda. It was a struggle all day but I forced myself to make the most of the only day I had in the city. Oddly being new years day, even the museum was open….a neat one at that and I fit in parliament (closed no tour, normally yes, add it to my list of parliaments I wanted to enter but for one reason or another I have failed…that would be Chile, Ecuador, Peru, USA…maybe others), independence monument and some other governmental stuff….coffee tasting…some local beans roasted in clay pots…first time using French Press…it was very good coffee (coming from this non coffee expert…)….to the Museum (by the time we got here I had to eat and life became even more of a struggle….sick = no fun) then finally Brenda dropped me off at the taxi park to go to the Equator….like at 4:30 p.m….left by 5:15 and arrived nearly at 7PM…just in time for sunset…mind you it was this burning bright beautiful and ENORMOUS sun on the horizon…ABSOLUTELY BEAUTIFUL…I took it all in (sorry no photo) and it was the only exciting distraction for my horrible stomach. At the equator I took a ton of photos, one really shows how I was feeling. Within 15 minutes I was done (although I really had to walk 600 meters to actually walk across the real equator crossing…funny). Right before complete darkness I waved down a taxi (a van obviously packed, I shared a piece of the seat happily…ha ha….). Day complete and desperately in need of rest!

Next day to Jinja by taxi. This was by far the best transportation hub experience ever. To get to JINJA you need to go to the OLD TAXI PARK. I arrived by boda boda again backpack and all…safe. Once at the taxi park it was super crowded so I went straight to the taxi…of course my taxi was in the middle. Let me tell you I have never seen a bus/tranportation/taxi hub like this. IT was JAM PACKED with these little white vans (the taxis), literally I barely had room to walk around myself and all was a maze but I found the taxi (well someone walked me there, so friendly everyone). Once the taxi was full we were on our way…SIKE! Remember that jam packed thing, there was no road out…it had to be created one car at a time. Unfortunately I was more focused on safety (all possessions with me) and getting there asap that I did not go up the hill for a photo of this incredible hub…it was quite the site. Such organization, huh!?

Arriving in Jinja I was so out of it I decided that I thought this could be my rest day, unfortunately it was my only day to see the town so of course rest day only included a manicure and pedicure at the end of exploring all day…HA. The town was the best I had seen. Very well planned, it had a main street, A MAIN STREET! Also the architecture you could tell had some British influence. Let´s break it down…That British thing…So Kenya and Uganda speak English, Tanzania far fewer people, different settlement! Equally you could get by. Swahili is the official language in East Africa…well that was until I arrive in Uganda and responses to my Swahili were not the same anymore. In Uganda they actually speak Lugandan in the central part, closer to the borders they understand Swahili…in the end I was confused and just used English there.

Any way back to JINJA!

I got to the hostel walking this time because I excitedly saw the sign for it from the taxi and didn´t have to back track and waste time like I did arriving to Kampala. If I hadn´t noticed it would have been a long walk….nice 20-30 minutes as it wasn´t in the center of Jinja. (could have taken that super cheap boda boda too – I think it was 0.10 cents).

Finally at the hostel (Explorers Backpackers) I signed up for the next days activity, White Water Rafting on the Nile River…the whole reason for coming! Then I set off to eat lunch and discover the town, yeah! I made it in time for lunch (boda boda..NOT another 30 minute walk for me, THANKS) but once I got to main street I started shopping…aka buying fabric and having clothing made…I´d given most of mine away and I wanted local unique stuff…I had a pair of pants, a skirt and a dress made. I continued along and also noticed that this town had some heavy western influence, hip coffee shops, restaurants and bars mixed in with the usual African town vibe. I was really enjoying the place and immediately wishing I would have more time. From there I slowly made my way to the post office (end of town)…yeah…some people will get a nice hello from afar…some day…next I stumbled upon a Finnish bakery…very nice place…I was in need of water and a seat…this was how rest day was.

Finally I walked to get a boat from the fishing port next to the fancy Yacht club. The fishing port was super cool, super poor, I gave away more clothes while I waited for a boat to take me to the source of the Nile River (the day´s goal). From here it cost maybe 20$ for a private boat round trip to the source…otherwise it is $50 on tour and didn´t go where I wanted to go…well or some exaggerated price like this.

Most people go to the touristy part on the right side of the river, it is just an expensive restaurant with a party, I opted for the other side where you can walk around a nice park overlooking the river from above with animals (monitor lizards and Vervet Monkeys) and some nice trees…but mainly the monument for the discoverer of the Source, John Speke (1858)….more into history and not wasting money…this was perfect.

The actual source is where the river and lake join…it has a sign, a little tourist hut and some water that ripples…the boat takes you right over the source. It used to have a small waterfall but the damn up the river eventually destroyed it…bummer. The Nile definitely flows upstream and Lake Victoria is flat (still, apparently except for storms, it remains as the 4 most dangerous body of water in world). About 5% of this source of the Nile make it all the way up…I believe the Blue Nile supplies more water, most of the year…the source I saw is the White River and it is the farthest from the actual known Nile River…the longest river in the world at 6,853 km (4,258 miles) long.

From here I returned to town by boda boda happy to have made it despite being ill (but better), tired and in need of rest. Real rest happened once I returned…I was now taking pauses on the sidewalk to sit and rest and had decided that with the new year I should get my nails did. I love doing this in other countries. This time it cost 6$ for both hands and feet and it was done by a guy. Very normal in Africa that men did everyone´s hair and nails (both for men and for women). Plus it was common for men to get their nails done…not painted…obvio (similar to asia…older cultures I guess!) It was so normal in Africa for men to be in the salon that even on the street you could find a mobile nail guy though I never ran into him…bummer…imagine even cheaper!

Before we get to my rafting I must advise about the ROLEX. This is the best food I tried and I am addicted. It is a chapati……this time rolled up….inside are eggs and spices….it was sooooooooooooo goood! It is typical street food that I luckily stumbled upon because I wanted food and it seemed safe because people were waiting around. _As I waited I really had no clue why so many people were around because I really just stopped for a chapati because I was not feeling great (this day was off and on the stomach issues) but once I found out what it was, I remembered I had read about it, and that was that I had to try it plus as I waited it became more and more desirable. Someone said that in LA there is a truck vendor who makes them…either that or I found it through Instagram…random.

Lastly a whole day of White Water Rafting. It had been years since I did it. I think 15 or 20 years. I was never interested to do it again because well I had done it before, that was until my Africa trip when I read you could do it on the Nile…hell yes, sounded great! I was ready for it and that day finally my stomach was okay….well until after I finished the rapids and decided to have a Nile beer on the Nile….why not, no?…I had like 3 or 4….it was a good day! Well beer dehydrates, so I returned back to my dehydrated hating life stage for a bit longer…perfect timing for another bus ride…sweet!

We did 8 rapids all level 4 or 5. I of course was put into the boat that was all Swedish guys ready for adventure, no experience and wanted to flip….yeah…maybe?!? First rapid, a 5, we made it no problem but another boat had a kid dislocate his shoulder…1st rapid great…they couldn´t reset it and decidedly had to take him to the hospital. Eventually we continued on but way delayed awaiting the outcome of the dislocated shoulder. The next rapid was a 4 and we flipped. From there we never flipped again because the boys realized if you are technical and can make it, that is something to be more proud of and allows more time to enjoy the rapid. I was excited but at some point I was too hot and just wanted it to flip but our skills were improving so instead we jumped overboard now and then to cool off….The last rapid was the craziest, it was long, about 1 minute, a 5 and you got pushed and pulled in one spot without advancing it was crazy, I´ve never experienced that before…we made it though…funny here the guide was basically telling us, whatever you do just jump in and enjoy…ha ha we did but after this crazy spot…and floated up the river for a bit…excellent time. The Nile I forgot to mention is very beautiful and has otters and tons of fish…Perch and they are huge! It was very cool to be rafting the Nile. I would do this again but I would try kayaking…this part is one of the best places to river kayak in the world…I´m down to learn!

In the Nile you can swim in but Lake Victoria you shouldn´t. The Nile flows while the Lake is stagnant allowing for some snails to grow there which carry a disease called Schistosoma mansoni/Biomphalaria or maybe not…either way it is curable…but always good to know the dangers.

Well that basically wraps up my crazy 4 days in Uganda! I did not have time for Gorillas nor did I want to spend that kind of money after around $3,000 on tours alone (from Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda together)…Gorillas are about $600 and permits are tough to get (plus you can´t go if you´re sick…imagine if I had purchased a permit…deficit, yikes)…but I hear it is sooooo worth it…gotta save something for nexxt time!

More on East Africa.

More on West Africa.

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