The day after hangover day, we really were going rafting. Now I wasn't entirely convinced that I actually wanted to do this but kind of booked before I had really processed exactly what it meant to go. The area around Jinja is essentially world famous for it's class 5 rapids so white water rafters and kayakers flood here from across the world. I have been on several rafting trips before, up to class 4 but usually what this means is that you have many class 2/3 rapids mixed in with a class 4 or two so I figured I'd be the same kind of scene but with class 5 rapids occasionally. And I was encouraged about what I read prior about there being harder and easier routes through so your guide will go through based on what the people in group indicate they are comfortable with. And all of the companies operate based on international safety standards having a trained guide, a safety boat that takes the easy lines and carries all the first aid gear and stuff and several safety kayakers. Sounds manageable.
We got picked up in this massive, massive truck that rumbled it's way for 1.5 hours towards the rafting put in point.
We passed through your classic African highway village scene, dirt road lined with concrete buildings spattered with colorful advertisements for MTN, Airtel cell companies or Sadolin company, I'm still not sure about what they do but have advertisements and jugs everywhere, aaaand some soap company, the vibrant, fresh, new paint of the advertisements always in startling contrast to the rest of the weathered everything. Then we pretty well went off-roading through the bush, past tiny, very, very basic villages and single homes buried deep in the forest, the first time we experienced what real rural Uganda (Africa?) looked like. Some lucky people in these villages had concrete homes with corrugated roofing where the less fortunate had homes literally constructed of stick scaffolding and mud packed in between with thatch roofing. Along the way, I saw a group of 3 children ages 1-5 playing excitedly along the roadside...with machetes. And I saw one later hanging out with an axe. The same kids waved at us and were so excited to see foreigners cruising through their parts of the world. Welcome to Africa!
We arrived at the put in spot and Bridger, of course, chooses to sit in the very front and me, uneasy as could be, climbed up front so that he could at least be beside me.
Bad move man. We all jump in and row out into a calm part of the river to talk about the safety skills associated with rafting, how to paddle and the commands he will yell and what they mean/practice those. This was good for me...slow, calm and preparative. And dry. Until the guide barked "get out!" and we all had to jump in the water and rock through safety skills like floating on your back keeping your feet up and other skills on the milder end. And then shit got intense. No sooner did he start talking about how we might have to flip the raft over in the water and how sometimes when the raft flips you might be stuck under it but don't worry, there is an air pocket you can breath in... when he literally threw the raft upside down and it comes crashing down on top of my helmeted head, the vision my compressed spine dancing in my mind. Good start. Then he barks at us to get under it and breathe. Fine enough if you are in the middle/back where the compartment is pretty big, except in the front the compartment is half the size and there is two heads in it, leading my non claustrophobic self to start feeling really fucking claustrophobic. And then he starts demonstrating how you should grab and hold on with the safety kayaks should they catch you after you fall out of the boat and careen down the river solo human. And then he starts explaining how these are big rapids and basically the river is full of whirlpools and undercurrents so if you fall out of the raft, "be prepared to be sucked under water for a minute or so but don't panic because eventually it will release you and your life jacket will do its thing and float you to the surface". How reassuring. And then he said in a semi-panicked tone, "get in, get in, we're getting really close to the first rapid!". At this point I had already decided that I didn't want to go anymore but tough luck because we were headed steadily into the first rapid and there was no option to get out now. Oh my gosh I'm going to puke. I should also tell you that we had 5 of us plus guide in the boat but one of the people spoke native French and a little bit of English. And her friend spoke zero English and she had to translate everything anyone said into French for him. During our conversations prior, she had exclaimed that she was feeling good about her English skills in the last few months while living in Tanzania until she started talking to Bridger and I and kept apologizing that she didn't understand so much of what we said and she guesses she is actually not as good at English as she thought! We laughed and assured her that between our accents and fast talking, we were among the hardest English speakers to understand. Anyways, several times during safety training the guide spoke and she quickly turned to me to slowly interpret what he said because she didn't understand and then she explained to her friend in French. Which needless to say, all takes time that most of the time, you just don't have in the middle of the rapid. So as much as they were both absolutely lovely people, this did not help my confidence. At all.
I just find the whole rafting thing a little panic inducing. Everything is calm and then all of a sudden the guy is screaming "paddle hard!!", "Back paddle!!!", "harder!!!", "get down!!" over the roaring of the waves so I can barely if at all hear, while you're trying to follow the direction, furiously paddling, but also trying to listen and follow the next direction as quick as possible because sometimes you have one second before you're screwed. And I'm entirely certain the French people had just thrown in the towel on even listening...I would have. So it's all just very frenzied and I really just wanted to do everything right so we could stay in the raft and not have to deal with legs up floating, being sucked under for a minute and holding on the safety kayak! As it turns out, unlike all my prior experiences, this experience was literally class 4 or 5 rapid after class 4 or 5 rapid, interspersed with one class 6 rapid where everyone had to actually get out and walk around because it was too dangerous to go through! I think there was 8 class 4/5 rapids in total...which I counted down diligently so I knew how much more I had to survive before the end.
Every time we approached a rapid, to the credit of the guide we were debriefed really well on what to expect.
It usually sounded something as optimistic as this: "there are lots of rocks here so if you fall out on this rapid, make damn sure you lift your feet up"; "on this rapid if you fall out, it goes on for a little bit longer so you need to swim like hell to grab ahold of the raft again"; "if you fall out here, the raft will probably flip over. If it does, do NOT grab hold of it because it will get stuck. If it stays upright, grab hold and hold on tight" or the ever exciting, "if you end up out of the boat here, you will get sucked under so hold your breath. When it spits you up, you'll come up but do NOT take a breath yet because you're about to get smashed in the face by the next big wave and you'll go under again so keep holding your breath until the second time you come up". As if you can plan anything in your behavior as you're swirling down the river in a totally disoriented, slightly panicked state but whatever.
When the big rapids came, we pretty well nosedived into them, usually dropping like 5 feet directly in.
And Bridger and I were in the front meaning we were the very first to make it there. Between my helmet always pushing forward, involuntarily and reflexively closing my eyes as soon as we hit the waves and being utterly buried by water, I pretty well visually processed none of it. We made it through the first two rapids inside the boat much to my contentment. On the third, we ended up in what they call "The Bad Place" and completely flipped.
Between my helmet covering my eyes and my eyes closed, I was just in the boat and then out of the boat, in a total fury of swirling around up and under the water, couldn't catch the raft so freely floating down the river away from it, focusing hard on "feet up" while coughing up a storm and not being able to catch a breath even when above water because I was, I'm quite convinced, actually choking on water because I couldn't inhale in order to get some cough propulsion, while scanning frenziedly for the safety kayak which luckily was somewhere up in front of me so I grab ahold upside down and backwards and awkwardly stare up at the kayaker, feet from my face and sheepishly say "thanks!". Sure enough a minute later, Bridger shows up beside me, also holding on upside down and backwards to another safety kayak. The two fronties, tossed out of the boat like popcorn! As much as it was kind of terrifying in the moment, once we were safe and rescued, it was actually alot of fun and amazingly exhilarating!
Each rapid was usually followed by a long stretch of perfectly calm water that we had to paddle through to get anywhere.
At one point the raft ahead of us had a bunch of people in the water swimming and our guide commented that maaaybe they shouldn't be because there is a small possibility that freaking crocodiles could be in this area! Wtf?! Later on he told us we could get in to swim because this part of the river was croc free. Not totally convinced that you could peg nature into 100%s like that, but we swam anyways because it was an awesome thing to do, swim in the Nile.
At lunch time we were informed that the afternoon rapids were a little different than the am rapids because where am had a big rapid followed by calm, the pm rapids often had several big waves in succession so if you fell out and couldn't grab the boat, you would have to ride the waves free floating until the end. But you know, don't panic. Sure enough, on the last massive rapid we flipped again and also once again, both Bridger and I were out of the boat before we even knew what hit us. I tried to swim as hard as I could to the boat but as I swam on my front, my life jacket floated forward around my chin, pushing my helmet down over my eyes so literally couldn't see a thing which is not awesome fun in rapids. To my relief I finally made it to the boat and grabbed on and became somewhat aware of the French girl grimacing and telling the guide that there was something wrong with her arm. In an amazingly short period of time he had the raft flipped over the proper way and was pulling everyone inside as the boat drifted into calm. Sure enough, the French girl's shoulder was grotesquely out of place and she was white as a ghost. Like a boss, our guide had her take off her life jacket and sit in the middle of the boat while he calmly talked to her keeping her calm and conscious and tried to reset her shoulder. He attempted a few times with no success while she continually and faintly tried to explain that she was seeing black and was going to pass out to which the guide calmly told her that she wasn't and to stay awake. Until she totally passed out, body limp, head lolling backwards. He shook her to wake her up and gave one more attempt at reseting the shoulder which luckily, this time worked. Also luckily for her and for me we were 5 minutes away from the take out point, because God knows if I had another rapid to get through after that injury, I would have had a panic attack and may have jumped out of the boat and swam to shore before making it there! On shore the guide put her shoulder in a sling. I guess dislocated shoulders happen quite commonly rafting because people end up grabbing the raft rope with only one hand instead of two and the force of the raft and water moving sometimes is just too much for your body to handle. Glad I found that out after it was over.
Bridger absolutely loved rafting and thinks it is one of the highlights of the trip for him. Basically I enjoyed the rafting experience mostly only once it was over. I spent the entire day counting down the rapids until the last one where I pretty well breathed an audible sigh of relief. Happy to do it, never doing it again. After several rafting adventures in Canada, Costa Rica, Panama and now the most intense of all, Uganda, my rafting career is firmly over. I recognize that I am NOT an adrenaline junkie at all. I don't thrive off it, it doesn't excite me and I continue to do stuff like this only because it is challenging for me and feels good to overcome it. But truly enjoy it I do not...until it's over, then it seems kinda fun.
There was a gal named Majd on our rafting trip who was staying at the same camp as us. Majd was Palestinian and had incredible insight on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict so we spent hours asking her questions because she was such a rich source of information having grown up directly in the conflict zone. Seriously, over several convos with several different people from all walks of life on this trip, Israel does not seem to come out as overly commendable as a country. But that's another story. In this story, we all decided to rent bicycles and ride from Bujagali into Jinja. The bikes were in a bit of rough shape so it took awhile to get going, but when we did, me and my helmet were cruising! How I feel about helmets is much like my rationale of seat belts...if there is one in the land of there so frequently not being one, use it! What can I say, I love my brain. We rode through little dusty villages of wooden shack shops and kids gasping to see us, screaming and pointing at us "muzungu!!!". In Africa, muzungu is a word that means "white person" and you will get called it all the time. Based on my understanding, it is not derogatory or anything, just a neutral label and a way to refer to you, especially as you pass on by. I'm surprised that kids care about us because there are so many muzungus that travel this route with the rafting camps up there, but nonetheless, all the young kids would literally gasp, grab their friends in a moment of high intensity, point to us and shout "muzungu!" like they had just seen a celebrity. Not exactly sure what the expected response is because they don't say anything else after they've labeled us so we just wave and smile which seems to make them happy!
We rode through the lovely suburbs of Jinja town, enjoying the scenery along the way. Then we got to chaotic main street and had to manage riding bikes while sharing the road with other bikes, bodas, trucks, cars and matatus who pinched by each other with inches to spare, including us. Being a non-bike rider didn't help but also the cars all drive on the opposite side of the road as Canada here so you have to retrain yourself which direction to look before crossing any road so I did not enjoy this part at all! It was so chaotic and I afforded myself a very conservative margin of error when moving around any car much to the frustration of the other less cautious two who sailed on by rolling with the traffic no prob. I guess they have a silent faith in Ugandan drivers not crashing into them, which to my mind, seems highly misplaced but I digress. We continued to cruise along with no real agenda on where we were going but just enjoying the getting there. Eventually we found ourselves out in the thick of Jinja's "true Ugandan" part of town with dusty roads, congested streets, raggedy shops and the bus park. Ah the bus park. In my experience, if you ever want to feel totally overwhelmed and overstimulated while traveling, just find the bus park. That'll do it! It was clear by the way that even the adults (usually adults are pretty indifferent to us, it's the kids that shout) shouted "muzungu come here!" that they didn't see too many foreigners rolling around these parts...equal parts energizing and nerve racking. I felt like maybe this wasn't a part of town we should be in and was eager to move on out. Then we tried to ride down the historical spot where the first explorer stood identifying this as "the source of the Nile river" but were met by a gate and a sign outlining prices...10 000 shillings for each of us adults to go down, half price for children and foreign residents. Bridger rolled up and joked " 3 children please!", the humor of which was lost on this man who likely spoke English as a second language, who neutrally informed us: "30 000!". Bless Bridger who made another joke and again, the humor was not received. At that point good old Majd stated definitively "don't joke, it doesn't work here"...another valuable piece of advice for the road that we know but don't follow like ever... don't joke with subtle language with people who speak English as a second language ;) We opted not to pay and continued on our bicycling journey to the ATM. We only went to 5 banks before finding one that would accept our card and then, once again being the total pain in the ass to both of the others, I did not want to bicycle back to Bujagali with my purse which I already was uneasy carrying through rural areas as well as that much money on me so decided to drop the bikes in town and take a boda back. But not before slipping into the bathroom of the hostel where we ditched the bikes and hiding half the money in my shoe. By this point it was getting close to dark and I was itching to get home. We got on 3 bodas and instructed them to stick together. My guy and Bridger's guy stopped to get gas and Majd's guy waited, good. Then we all started driving away and my freaking guy stops to take a phone call while they motor away without me. At this point, it's getting darker and I'm all strung out and entirely convinced that he's separating me, the only one with the purse, from the group so he can kidnap me to an isolated place and rob me and all my stowed cash. He didn't...he just took his call and continued on. Obviously.
Seriously, there are SO many moments here that we want to document with pictures, especially while moving through the villages and towns because it is such a different world than anywhere else we've been and it's all very novel. The side of the road is always dotted with concrete shops with big steel doors with padlocks or little 4 by 4 foot wooden stands selling everything from fruits and veggies to cell phone charging services (many homes do not have electricity) to animal carcasses hanging from hooks. People are always milling about. Children of all ages walk down the side of the road in their school uniforms, common practice here. Women walk by carrying sticks, leaves and jugs on their heads. Bodas drive by carrying anywhere from one to 6 people on one motorbike, it's incredible! People ride by on bicycles with 3 huge rice sacks strapped to the back. Clothes for sale dangle from every second shop ceiling, advertising their best items. You could easily fill a book with these incredible images of these incredibly resourceful resilient people! But it has been quite difficult to actually take pictures of the incredible scenes we see and experience every day. For one, it feels shitty to pull out your fancy phone/camera in areas where most people could never afford it. For two, depending on where you are, it might not be the safest thing to advertise your valuables. Third and most importantly it just feels completely inappropriate to casually start snapping pictures of people going about their day, like their life is a tourist attraction for you or like some sort of a weird poverty tourist or something. It just doesn't feel right so we don't. It is a shame because you miss so many beautiful moments and can't fully share with people the world that we experience every day.
While relaxing around camp one day, there was a Ugandan guy who introduced himself and said he teaches yoga at the camp that evening for a whopping price tag of...5000 shillings= like $2, the cheapest price tag yoga class I have encountered anywhere on this trip. Not a total fan of yoga but I decided that it was cheap, I didn't even have to leave my accommodation and I've not formally exercised in 6 months so nothing to lose. I also told my new friend Serena about it and she said maybe she'd come. By the time the class started, I was the only one there so this was looking like a solo class. Oh man, I suck at yoga, I have no idea what I'm doing and now I'm the ONLY one in the class!
As myself and the instructor Ivan were sitting around waiting to see if more people showed up, we got to talking. Turns out he was from Gulu in the North of Uganda, the place that put Uganda on the map for me as I started learning about the rebel army up there that committed absolutely atrocious crimes against civilians and abducted children to be child soldiers. If you've been in my life long enough, you might remember me participating in or even you may have participated in some of my fundraising, screening documentaries, doing the "Gulu walk" and writing letters to President Museveni of Uganda as I tried to do what I could to raise awareness and support the people in the north of Uganda in my mid 20's. So as you could imagine it was a pretty surreal moment for me not only to be in Uganda but to be sitting in a yoga class with my yoga instructor having lived there speaking the words that I've read about for years. We spoke for awhile about the conflict and he had very interesting insight and opinions. He was part of an NGO that focused on teaching breakdance to youth, though felt that the organization eventually began taking advantage of people for their own funding needs and not actually helping (an unfortunately common story as we would move through Africa). He got involved in yoga (I believe through another NGO) because he felt it was therapeutic for those who experienced trauma and eventually got his instructor certification. It was quite angering to hear him speak of the stigma he and others from the North experience from the rest of the people in Uganda, as if they have not been through enough. He explained to me that the government has done nothing to end the war but has taken all the credit and felt that the government is threatened by people of the North because they are strong and speak their mind. He also explained that the general attitude towards child soldiers these days in the North is one of forgiveness and welcoming them back to the community because people recognize that the things they did were not their fault and that they are victims. A very enlightening and unexpected conversation before yoga and I appreciated his perspective and him speaking with me about an obviously very contentious topic. Much to my contentment, as we were about to start the class, Serena showed up making this a class of two.
I continue to suck at yoga but it felt good to actually do something that is good for my body and I was feeling pretty zen. That is until I overheard a conversation with an angry guest and a staff member at the camp...guest was upset about his dinner because it went, I kid you not, something like this: "I am in this industry and a piece of chicken is supposed to be 300 grams and this was 250 grams!!!!". You've got to be kidding me. I think this guy forgot where he is. To the credit of the staff member, he was incredibly calm and gracious towards this man when I think anyone else would have stuffed a shoe in his mouth.
That night we also got chatting with a South African couple who had been self-driving around Africa camping out in the sticks. They were a quirky twosome and had clearly not spent much time around other people in a long time because bless them, they talked incessantly for hours. Literally didn't even pause. Luckily they had really interesting stories about what African travel could look like, everything from their ride in a 15 people stuff-in a Toyota Corolla share taxi (the way they described it, every seat was two people layers deep, the trunk was full of people and there was a young girl sitting on the car door, one leg inside the car, one leg outside the car draped over top of the side mirror) to chasing a thief down in the suburbs to get their money back to hitching a ride on a local boat with the bottom compartment full of goats...which the boatmen began slaughtering before hitting land. Woah! Haha as much as they were amazing stories, there comes a point where you just need to freaking say something too. Funny because Bridger and I know each other so well that as much as this convo had convinced us that our next trip will be buying our own vehicle and self-driving through Africa, we could read each others minds that we needed a break from these hilarious fast/incessant talking people.
We somehow got sucked into Jinja/this camp for far too long, not because we absolutely loved it but to be honest, I think because the thought of leaving and having to figure out Ugandan transportation was just too much to handle at that moment. We had NO idea what to expect or even what our options were for getting around. And we didn't know where to go. And we were a little nervous both for our personal safety and the wellbeing of our stuff to take public transportation in Africa. And there was also the fact that my mom was coming to meet us soon so we couldn't go too far. The camp owner kept making reference to the camp being some sort of a "Hotel California" where people check in and never check out. We didn't want to rain on his parade that it wasn't so much the incredibility of the place but our failure at knowing how to traverse Uganda that made us stay. Honestly, after the first 3 days, there was something nagging at me that I didn't love about the camp but at that point, I just couldn't put my finger on describing what it was. Later after awhile traveling around Africa for longer, I realized that what it was that I didn't love was that it just felt too "compoundish"...the kind of place where a bunch of white people are locked inside saying they've "been to Africa" but never actually experiencing anything African besides other white people who have also "been to Africa". But at that point as much as I felt an uneasiness that I couldn't quite explain yet, I was admittedly also reassured about being "safe inside the compound" so, ya know. Anyways, alas, we kept saying ok just one more day for about 4 days too long as we ended up staying at the camp for a full week.
Soooo so far we've not been able to find a computer here, the only charging stations are in the bar area so you cannot charge any of your devices in your room as you sleep and having power is not a given at any particular time! It seriously goes in and out constantly often leaving several hours with no power. As a general rule from what I've gathered...if it rains, forget power. Ok then. We've experienced power outages along the way this trip but this is a new level. Wifi is also either not there, totally sketchy or there but not actually there because the power is out. I expected it to be a bit spotty generally but figured in tourist places it would be the norm but not so. Best case scenario seems to be you can get it but need to go to one very particular spot where the signal actually comes through. Anyways, this made it very inconvenient to try to stay in touch with anyone or figure out our destination plan for Uganda. It made it even more difficult to figure out the problem of good old credit card fraud on our joint visa! Oh ya, one day $2500 worth of charges showed up from a fancy hotel in Heathrow, London...from what we figure, a treat from the old credit card airport Starbucks visit in Istanbul. Try figuring out credit card fraud with no internet and no phone. Luckily I had unlocked my phone prior to leaving so could get a Ugandan SIM card for my phone and could buy 3G data to send an email to my bank, who despite its boastful claims of advanced fraud protection, did not clue in that we have never been to London. Sidenote, I would argue that a local SIM is absolutely essential in Africa, more so than anywhere else I've been. Between no power and no wifi, it has been the only reliable access to internet. Anyways, we are now one credit card short because Bridger's has been completely deactivated (like dead, done, cut it up, we'll mail you a new one) and mine has a temporary hold on it until they can sort everything out. And because we are moving, there is really no place to mail a new card despite the bank's insistence that we just give them an address to send it to. And we are getting emails from all those companies that we've set up automatic payments on our credit cards that our payments are bouncing. Fun times up in Uganda!
Hey, forget street lights around here. After dark, everything outside your hotel/camp is literally just blackness which we are obviously not used to. Most places that we have visited in the world have either street lights or restaurant lights or other people or otherwise something that guides you and makes you feel ok walking around at night. Not here! Blackness. I guess a young volunteer a few days ago was going from our camp to her host home a few minutes away and was using her cell phone as a flashlight. Too bad someone, disguised in darkness, swiped it directly out of her hand as she was using it and took off. Bye phone! Because of the lack of lighting, we have made it general practice to be home before dark regardless of what we are doing. But we almost got caught in the night the other day because we went to a neighboring camp through the secret pathway through our hotel/trees instead of going outside the compound through the village from front door to front door. Since we were going for wifi we loaded up the backpack full of GoPro's, iPads, phones...basically everything valuable we had. We puttered there for awhile and as it was starting to get dark we headed back to our camp. Too bad the secret door was now locked so we couldn't get through. I started to mildly hyperventilate thinking we'd have to walk the 20 minute journey between camps through the villages in the dark with my backpack full of valuables. Until Bridger, ever the problem solver, figured we could maybe climb the wall back to our camp. So truly, in the end we actually scaled a wall, walking along the top of it and then jumped back into our camp. What motivation will achieve! Though that experience didn't fare me too well later that evening when I couldn't sleep until 12 and then woke up at 3 am after a restless sleep to what sounded like, I'm certain violent rattling of a metal gate. So of course in my half sleep, half delirium I had convinced myself that people were trying to break into our compound through the gate or through our newly discovered hopping of the fence, because they knew it was full of "rich foreigners" and once they got in they could just cut a hole through our tent and rob us and I, while Bridger snored away, immediately felt so vulnerable that I took my passport and cash out of our backpack and stashed it safely under the bed while promising myself that in fact I would never camp in Africa in a tent or my vehicle in the middle of nowhere. It was perhaps the longest night of my life (outside of the Dubai layover incident).
So we've been here for loosely two weeks now and still can't really figure out what "Ugandan food" is. Everywhere else the food has been pretty distinct where here, all we can see is western food anywhere. Burgers, chips (i.e. fries) and pastas seem to be the norm. To the point where I wonder if maybe African food IS western food?! But interestingly, the western food here is freaking delicious, like a tie with food binge Phnom Penh. I maaaay be rescinding my prior claim that western food sucks abroad because so far everything we have eaten here has been incredibly delicious. And the bacon...ahhhhh the bacon, it's back!
When we finally did decide we had to leave Jinja, we had really hoped to catch a tourist rafting shuttle from the camp back to Jinja town where we would catch a taxi/matatu back to Kampala. No such luck, no rafting that day which meant we were once again, taking on the treacherous roads on a boda with everything we own. Shit.
Now remember what Ugandan's call "taxis" (matatus) are those old VW hippy vans that have 3 seats across but constantly stop and start, picking up and dropping off people all along the side of the road, squishing like 6 across the 3 seats. They are known to have a rather dubious safety record and exist in various states of disrepair driven by various degrees of maniacs. Everyone we have talked to has told us that we should always keep our bags with us on any public transportation, especially taxis and never, ever put your bag on the roof (in the roof rack that has a remarkable ability to carry anything and everything). Ok got it. We jump on the bodas to go from camp to the bus park where we'll catch a taxi. Instead they took us halfway there and dropped us on the side of a road outside of town where there happened to be a taxi stopped and told us to get on here because "it is easier". It was an unexpected turn and the whole thing was all rather frenzied we were left to wonder who exactly it was easier for, us or the boda drivers who did not need to go all the way into town. So here we were on the side of the road in Uganda with all of our stuff, being abandoned by our boda drivers at an unexpected location, people everywhere grabbing at our stuff to load us on the taxi that wasn't labeled in any way with regard to its destination or its legitimacy before we had even agreed to get in. A little uneasy and unsure about why this rando taxi was here and not at the taxi park and why they were so insistent that we get it...but after being assured this taxi did in fact go to Kampala taking "one hour" and with no more transportation options in sight, we resigned ourselves to come what may and get in, hoping we weren't being scammed or kidnapped. The driver opened the back door and tried to shove our packs in the back under the back seat but with flashbacks of people saying "keep your bags with you", we absolutely insisted that "we'll keep them inside with us". The driver kind of gave a suit yourself look and we walked to the side open sliding door to get in this machine. Now this whole "keep your bags with you" is a mystery to me because I do not understand where this is supposed to happen! The entire taxi is stuffed full of people already, about double capacity, plus all their stuff and we are the last to get on so it's not like there is floor space/under the seat or basically anywhere to put our 70-80L packs. All the unsmiling people stare at us as we try to climb in with our massive luggage...tough crowd. The driver directs us to sit in the front seat instead. So we do. The two of us climb in, put our small bags in the teeny tiny patch of floor under our feet and our big packs on our laps leaning up against the front windshield. Driver doesn't like this so he reefs them around to a different orientation. We essentially can't move but we're thinking no problem, we can manage this for an hour. Forget seat belts. So there we are sitting in the front seat clutching our bags for dear life and the driver finally gets in to start this one hour journey that evidently is going to be very, very uncomfortable!
Driver climbs into his seat and fastens his seatbelt by pulling it around him and securing it...by wrapping it around the emergency brake handle. Ok then. We drive away and immediately the horn honking and shouting out the window starts. Honk, Honk, "Kampala? Kampala?" Honk, Honk, Honk, Honk, "Kampala? Kampala?"...This goes on steady, with no word of exaggeration, for the entire ride save a few ten minutes stretches here and there where we were driving through forest with actually no possibility of picking up more people. Outside of those times we were constantly stopping and starting, picking up and dropping off people. Sometimes we wouldn't even get 20 feet before we were stopping again! At one point the conductor could barely close the sliding door. As much as the weight of my pack was crushing me and my knee was turned at an abrasive angle, jammed in whatever orientation it needed to be to avoid my small pack while still supporting my big pack and not jabbing into the driver, I was thankful to be in the front seat with the window open avoiding whatever was happening behind me that I couldn't see because there was no way I could turn around anyways. Again, more times when having a picture would have been really freaking awesome.
At one point on our journey Bridger pointed to these giant birds in the treetops and said "are those cranes?!" (he's on a quest to discover cranes, I'm not sure why) and I said "no dear, I think those are vultures". Cute.
We weren't exactly sure where we were supposed to be dropped off in Kampala or how we would know it was time to get off. So when we took a detour into what looked like a scary slum and in my experience bus parks are known to be in pretty dodgy places, I just prayed this wouldn't be the end of the line. Luckily it wasn't. The taxi eventually just parked and said get out so we took it as a cue that this was the bus park. The absolute insanity in the pit below confirmed it. I have never in my life seen anything like this. The guidebook description of "Kampala now boasts the two most chaotic taxi parks in East Africa" didn't even do justice to the chaos below...the entire lot was like taxi tetris, a mess of hundreds of taxis jammed in so tight it is a wonder anything could ever get in or out. Once again, a picture would have been fabulous but I definitely wasn't going to go pulling out my camera in the middle of what is likely one of the dodgiest places in Kampala (after being here for much longer, I have changed my mind and want to go down there just to take a picture!). Truly mind blowing anyways.
We (I) most certainly were not going to be taking death bodas in Kampala with all our gear so we were left to wander the streets in the heart of Old Kampala with all our stuff in pursuit of a special hire taxi. Where do we find a special hire taxi, i.e. a car with no centralized imagery indicating it is such...dunno. What does it look like...dunno. How much...dunno. We wandered the all very overwhelming chaos down here for awhile until, like well trained children, we found a police officer in full uniform and a big gun who we solicited for assistance! He directed us to a guy in a random white car with a removable sign that said "taxi" on top who quoted us a way too high price but we couldn't walk away because now the policeman had arranged it for us. Price agreed, he pulls the white taxi sign off the roof and drives away leaving us to wonder if he is in fact, no longer a special hire taxi? Like I said, totally do not understand Kampala transportation! We obviously got hosed because when the guy dropped us off and we paid the agreed on price, the driver genuinely and profusely thanked us haha.