Monday, 16 February 2015

Uganda – Day 1: Arrival of the muzungus

February 14th-15th, 2015

Hello everyone!

We look excited because it’s February. These days that means another new, wacky and culturally different destination.
2010 – Thailand
2011 – Sri Lanka
2012 – U.A.E.
2013 – Oman
2014 – Morocco

2015 is again Africa’s turn but this time we are dipping below the vast expanse of the Sahara. Doesn't make it any cooler, though. Not when your destination straddles the Equator.

Uganda isn't a common destination from Prague. Indeed, many people have been asking ask why we've chosen to travel such a long way for a week to…Uganda. Hannah and I are here for a variety of reasons, many of which start with S: sun, Sophie, safari, seeing something strange and new. Fifteen hours and three flights, via Brussels and Kigali, Rwanda (the latter stop we learnt about two days before travelling), led us to the Ugandan town of Entebbe. I knew of Entebbe as being the location of an Israeli-Palestinian hostage flashpoint in 1976; thankfully, our arrival was stress-free, constant hand-spraying for Ebola notwithstanding.

We were collected by Sophie (Hannah’s cousin) and Rob, who live in Uganda’s capital and largest city: Kampala. We will return to Kampala later in the week and I'm sure I’ll have much to say about a place which immediately struck me as being loud, busy and ever-so-slightly chaotic. After a night’s sleep, however, we were heading west for just over four hours to the town of Fort Portal.

Sophie and Rob have a second-hand 4x4, which we have christened as Pumbaa for this trip. Its strength and acceleration definitely resembles Pumbaa more than Timon, which we discovered after escaping the Indianesque capital traffic. After Rob had led us out of Kampala, Hannah and I took turns to drive Pumbaa as we would be borrowing him later in the week.

Driving in Uganda is quite an experience. It can be exhilarating, particularly as overtaking on the other side of the road is often a necessity. Think of all of those tractors you may get stuck behind on a country lane, then reduce their speed significantly and add beds/plantains/any item you can think of on the rear of the vehicle. You don’t want to be stuck behind these behemoths. Avoid the animals too, if you can.

Driving can also be immensely frustrating, mainly owing to the sheer number and size of the speed bumps: the ‘sleeping policemen’. At times it felt as if poor Pumbaa was going to disassemble himself with us inside, such was the level of vibration from bumbling and bopping over these sheer humps.

If you didn't have people with local knowledge by your side, driving here could also be intimidating. About fifteen minutes after I started driving, an official-looking man dressed resplendently in white on the side of the tarmac road (the adjective here may not seem so but is important) motioned for me to pull over. A member of the traffic police. Gulp?

Not so. Turns out the policeman was bored and fancied a chat, and hit the jackpot by pulling over a car of ‘muzungu’: white folk. We talked politely and in a jovial manner about fruit, the weather and England. He then waved us away. It pays to be polite here.

Before arriving at the hillside town of Fort Portal we decided to take a ‘small’ detour to Kyaninga Lodge, a luxurious resort, for a well-deserved cup of tea and a stunning view.

What we didn't expect were colobus monkeys leaping around from tree to tree, their bizarrely long black-and-white tails flicking in all directions through branches and thin air.

We also didn't expect to be able to swim in the gorgeous lake situated hundreds of metres below the resort in an ancient crater. The water was very refreshing; the thought of catching bilharzia negligible. The fact that we could watch colobus monkeys bouncing around whilst swimming in a crater lake was the icing on a magnificent cake.

Speaking of cake, our first full day was Rob’s birthday. This generally means drinks, which means I can report back on Ugandan beer already. It is sometimes delivered in a plastic shopping basket and comes in three main brands: Club, Bell and Nile. The latter is certainly the most drinkable, though that isn't saying much. I guess the Czech Republic has spoilt me.

I'm not going to apologise for the lengths of the blogs that will be unleashed regarding Uganda. There is so much to talk about and show that I'm restricting myself to doing one day at a time, yet there is much I have missed out about our very first day. What I will say is that I have never been anywhere like Uganda before in my life and that I am very, very happy to be here now.

Love you all


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