We arrived back in Kampala in the early afternoon and walked to a different motel than we had stayed in days before. We decided to get a simple dinner at an Indian restaurant of falafel and hummus. The walk to the restaurant was the most challenging I have had so far in Kampala. It was after sunset and the congestion on the street was unbearable. Each cross walk was a feat of fear management as we scurried through speeding vans and motorcycles, which do not break or dodge, you have to be on your toes and ready to make a move to throw yourself out of the way at an instant. The burning oil fumes barfing out of the back of each van, car, and scooter was stinging my eyes and burning my throat. I was getting weary of Kampala and the city at this point. Finally somehow we reached the restaurant and although, like many places, the service was slow and R&B music was playing painfully loud, the food was good.
Through Marcy’s ever changing schedule at the hands of the Peace Corps and the bureaucratic and wonderfully efficient US Gov., we had to rearrange the first days of my trip over and over again. Once Mar got the word that the meeting that she was suppose to attend was finally on indefinite hold, we decided to go west of Kampala, which was our initial plan all along. We got back to the motel early and crashed out as the hangover from the night before was finally releasing its grip.
We woke early the next morning and hurried to the taxi/bus park to jump on a coach to Fort Portal where we planned to meet another PCV and check out his site. The taxi parks here are something that I will never be able to describe properly; basically they assault all of the 5 senses. Personal space does not exist and over zealous men jostling for commission try and push you onto a myriad of coach buses, regardless of if it is going where you need to go or not.
Marcy is amazing and has a way of stern-fully dealing with the chaos, a well acclimated PCV and public transport expert at this point. I would drown in a sea of dust in a place like this, and know that there is no way that I could even think about trying to figure this place out on my own. I felt helpless without a guide, and it was not a comfortable feeling at all.
But, with Marcy pushing through we found a bus, and got some semi comfortable seats (there is not a comfy seat in all of Uganda…or a comfy pillow by the way) with our bags above us out of the way, and hunker in for the 4 hour drive to Fort Portal.
This was my first experience on a coach bus in Uganda….it would not be my last by far. I don’t think I will ever be able to describe what it is like to move this way, but I can give a few funny clues. I had my feet on top of my bag, and was crammed into my seat (two seats per row on the left, three seats on the right). I was on the isle and had a constant b0rage of asses, elbows, knees, the random rooster wing (seriously), and bags of produce or goods hit me in the head and side. Marcy was crammed in the very back of the bus, in the middle of a row of five, between two very talkative, loud men. Once we settled in, it seemed that no one would just stay put, instead they jockeyed around each other for reasons I still can’t explain. Something that I never got used to in Uganda was the smell of humanity as it was crammed onto a huge metal box with wheels that baked in the equatorial sun. This place ( and most places, some good, some bad) was an all out assault on my nose. Through this I was still calm with the new surroundings and activities, just observing and enjoying the foreign experience. This attitude would change drastically as the month in country went on.
My ass fell asleep 20 min into the drive, my knees ached, and my nose was filled with bad B.O. The roads are in a perpetual state of disrepair and bumpy as hell, exacerbated by bus suspension, and an old one at that. This is pretty much how all bus rides where.
On the way we stopped along the road several times so that vendors from road side BBQ pits could sprint to the side of the bus and try and sell all sorts of cooked meat on a stick, usually beef, chicken, goat and pork. There were roasted bananas for sale along with bottled water (I have decided that plastic water bottles are the new plague upon the planet), some orange drink, roasted g-nuts (peanuts), Chapati (which is almost like a tortilla, but more spongy and oily, and delicious) and Somosas and Mandazi (fried bread). I was really tempted to try some road meat-on-a-stick, but Marcy advises against it, noting that diarrhea on a long bus trip is no fun. I agreed and passed on the meat.
We arrived in Fort portal about 6:30pm. The sun was going down, and we needed to get to our hostel asap as we where meeting the other PCV, Mark for dinner. Our hostel was out of town by about 3k (1.5 miles) and we needed local transport to get there. This was my first experience with a Boda ( this name came because this was the main way to get to cross boarders, hence hailing for the bicycle or motorbike became slanged into Boda, Boda!). Many are motorcycles, little ones, probably 100-150cc. They are everywhere and the main mode of in-town transport. You hope on the back, say hello, exchange niceties and then off you are up the street riding on the back. No helmet, no protection and on roads with more potholes than traffic laws, except the inevitable order of the chaos.
We got to the hostel, dropped our bags, had a moment to shake out the bus legs and hopped back on the Boda, which waited for us and zoomed back into town. We met Mark at a pizza/Italian restaurant of all places (one of the few good pizza places in Uganda) and had a nice dinner and conversation. Mark told me that his parents met as PCV’s and continued doing aid work. They were in Rwanda up until the genocide, Mark was 5 years old at the time. He and his parents where evacuated. This sobered me out of my drunken state of wonderment at this area of the world, remembering that it has had a sorted past.
After dinner we hopped on another boda and head back to our hostel for a good night sleep.
Next morning we found a special hire (private car taxi) to take us the final 60k and our 1 hour drive to Kitogo where our lodge, and Marks site is; his site involves a health clinic, a micro finance and the eco-tourism lodge. We drove through a narrow dirt road that weaves through banana tree plantations. The earth is dark red and rutted. It is like driving on farm roads through orchards back home, but totally different in every way.
Kitogo is an awesome place, the air temp is noticeably cooler than Kampala. There are lush rolling hills that have a perfect view of the Rwenzori Mountain range to the east. The Rwenzori are part of the rift valley, a section of Africa that is along two tectonic plates that are spreading apart, slowly ripping Africa in half. It is a massive range, basically just one ridge that climbs to 5109 m (16,762 ft) and has several snow capped peaks. This area is famous for its geologic activity, and is dotted with crater lakes formed from ancient volcanic craters that have filled in with water. To the south about 100K (60 miles) is the mountainous area in Rwanda that many of the researchers of mountain gorillas are located.
I think the thing that has really caught my eye in Eastern Africa are the clouds. They are huge, towering cumulus storm clouds that ominously float close to the earth waiting to unleash their water payload. I have seen huge bolts of lightning jump and crawl through the clouds, with such frequency that no electric light is needed. These are easily the most impressive thunderstorms I have ever seen, and that is saying a lot coming from the shores of Lake Ontario in upstate NY.
The Eco Tourism Lodge is a really cool set up. We stayed in this great thatch roofed bungalow with no electricity but with warm water, which is always a treat for Marcy and most PVC’s since bathing water is usually cold. The view was amazing, overlooking the rolling hills, banana plantations and tall mountains. At night oil lanterns and candles lit the walkways, and bungalow. Breakfast, lunch and dinner were included with the stay, and we ate 3 squares of amazing home cooked food. The personnel were friendly and Marcy said it was some of the best service she’s experienced in Uganda. I didn’t quite understand this comment at the time, but would fully understand as the month wore on.
We took a long walk to the crater lakes and almost got caught in the rain. Local kids guided us the entire way and acted as guides. It was great to finally get some exercise after so much travel and sitting. The lakes were surreal, round and sunken into the landscape surrounded by steep cliffs and a ridge that ringed around the entire lake. While taking pictures we stumbled upon some local kids and had a little photo shoot.