she said (Uganda): "NO YOU ARE NOT GOING THE RIGHT WAY!"
December 12, 2015
Even with our lack of immediate love for Uganda we were excited to explore the area around Fort Portal. Gosh knows I'm not a geologist so really can't exactly understand all the forces that shaped this magnificent area but I guess long ago there were clusters of volcanoes here because around Fort Portal is one of the highest density clusters of crater lakes (in the world I think?). As in most places in Uganda, being in the towns/cities really isn't the biggest draw of coming here so somehow we would have to get out to the crater lakes but really no idea quite how because private transportation is some expensive here. Well we got a gift from the universe because one morning we were eating communal breakfast and got chatting to another young American couple James and Amanda, staying in the room next to ours. I guess his sister used to live in Uganda and set them up with one of her friends who was going to take them to visit "some crater lakes and a cave"...guide was coming to pick them up in like half an hour and they invited us to join. So of course, embracing our spontaneity, we jumped on the opportunity, literally having no idea where we were going or who we were going with!
As it turned out we were going to surrounding crater lakes, the caves aaaaand first running a few errands with Eddy our guide. We drove all the way out of Fort Portal as the road wound through the tops of hilltops looking out over endless of valleys of lush green valleys and terraced farmland. It really is utterly spectacular how people do not need flat land to farm, they literally just grow on the sides of mountains/hills. And there really is no roads up through there and rarely does anyone in the villages own a car or boda so they just walk up and down these fields. It's amazing what people can do. Anyways we were driving and driving and I felt like we were gonna drive straight through to the Congo when we made our first stop...at a Chinese gravel yard where Eddy had to do some negotiation for best price gravel.
So we just chilled out on the side of the road beside a gravel pit chatting away and waited! James and Amanda have lived in a bunch of different places abroad and were just really awesome people and really enjoyable to chat with so I think we all just enjoyed the company and the randomness of the gravel stop by our "tour guide".
After the gravel we did make it to the promised cave tour. Now I've been in some terrifying caves in the world with head sized spiders and 2000 years worth of bats so was honestly not so keen to start with but decided so far Uganda has surprised us with the lack of humidity bugs so gonna go for it. We paid our 20 000 entrance fee, like 7CDN, and hiked through a lovely little forest until we made it to the "cave". Actually not even a cave, just a limestone overhang with a little waterfall.
Underwhelmed, we thought probably we'd get to the main event as we continued to walk through the jungle. We didn't and realized "nope, that's it" as were released out of the forest back into the parking lot where we started, making it the second biggest waste of money rip-off on this whole trip second only the Angkor National Museum of Cambodia.
Luckily there was more after this (though not sure you actually had to pay for this part) because we started walking across the open farm/grassy fields and through a crater field where we passed no other people except for a man shepherding his herd of long horn cattle. These cows are everywhere across Uganda and absolutely incredible to see as some of them literally have horns of 2-3 feet. Then we climbed this disgustingly steep hill that seemed to never end and that I cursed viciously at as it killed me on the climb up...but were rewarded with the most spectacular viewpoint from the top as it looked down over 3 separate crater lakes and endless fields and forests. I honestly didn't realize ocean-less places could be so stunning.
We marveled at the view...aaaand took some selfies, some great, some total failures before heading back down the hill (much more forgiving) and having a swim in the crater lake at the bottom which was far more refreshing than it was actually cold, surprising given the fact that these lakes are so deep.
Worried a teeny bit about bilharzia, a freshwater snail disease that is rife in Uganda in the freshwater lakes, though we were assured this lake was bilharzia free so ultimately decided we'll just take the meds later anyways because apparently they are cheap and readily available here. Done deal. While we were swimming, the guide said he was going to go pick up the car and come pick us up at the neighboring lodge so we made our way over and sat in the grass. Sure enough our guide showed up with the car...and another person in it. Turns out he came back buuuut he now had to drive this guest to town so we just sat there in the grass and chatted until our tour guide came back to pick us up for the second time 45 minutes later. And that's how it goes.
Eventually Eddy came back, we all piled in the car and Eddy said completely out of nowhere busting the silence in the car, "now I tell you a funny story!". This is when Eddy started going on and on aaaaand on telling the story that never ended but in summary went something like this: long ago there was a king who was destined to be killed by his grandson so he cut off the boob and gouged the eye of his daughter to make her ugly so she could not marry so she would never have children that might kill him and that is the legend of the cave because the cave has formations that look like a woman's breast. And just as we're all sitting on the edge of our seats waiting for the punch line as he is telling the story, he stops talking, the story is over. Sooo not sure at what point the story was supposed to be funny...
On the way back Eddy says we're going to take a different way and we did...rattling down a dirt road with mountainous rocks embedded in the ground and 1-2 foot deep trenches that nobody at home would dream of driving their car over, directly through a village where kids at adults smiled and waved to us as we passed...moving through villages never gets old.
Warning, this is a poo paragraph. The next morning we woke up, ate breakfast and were planning what we'd do that day when I started to feel nauseous and soon enough and sure enough, the little old shitty gut fired up again. Not agaaaaain!!! So like days gone by, I spent the entire day hanging out at the hotel, never far from a toilet and periodically being slightly crippled by what literally felt like a spontaneous army of ants running through my intestines for a brief section before spontaneously combusting and being gone. Now this time I was actually freaking out a bit because all times past we could just buy ourselves a few days without moving but not this time. I basically had the next day and after that we HAD to be on a toiletless bus for 5-6 hours back to Entebbe to pick up my mom who was flying in that day but at the rate of the steady stream from my butt at that moment, it really wasn't looking promising! But what is a girl to do but wait it out and pray to the poo gods that they take back this scourge and let me on my happy toiletless bus way to pick up my mama.
What was worse was that for the first time our blasé, fly the seat of our pants, lack of having a definitive plan, adding an extra night of accommodation day by day as we decided to stay one day longer ways kicked us in the butt because as we did the usual "ok give us one more night", we were told sorry your room is booked, you have to move. I was devastated not only because I loved the hotel and didn't want to move but I also didn't want to move on the day I'm shitting alot. Luckily they ended up finding us another budget room with shared bathroom at the hotel. I'm quite certain this was or still is a personal family room as we moved from our cozy quaint log cabin with a nice jug of drinking water room into this room that had an entire closet full of 1960s women's clothing, family pictures all over the wall and a scary porcelain doll on the desktop. But hey, we didn't have to move hotels!
That night at communal dinner was a lively one. There was like 12 travelers at dinner, all with different stories. There was the middle aged German couple who were well oiled safari'ing through the country in their own rented vehicle who by sheer fact of being so, so very German, were hilarious. And then there were the most animated Dutch brothers who had also rented their own vehicle for a game drive through a national park except they made it about half an hour into the park before hopelessly lodging themselves in the mud and calling every person they could to help them get out including the park rangers who would register that they were stuck and needed help and then in true Ugandan fashion, abruptly hang up without actually saying how this would be addressed (no good byes in this part of the world either) until they were eventually so hot in the stalled out car in the middle of the day's heat that they were forced out of the car in a national park full of lions so they were actually scared and nobody was coming to pick them up and they really just didn't know what to do...so, while stuck in the middle of a park full of wild animals in Africa with no plan for how this would end, they called their mom! Haha so, universally, the "call mom when you're in trouble" inclination is a worldwide phenomenon that alas, does not die with age. Eventually after 5 hours of being stranded and right before dark, a park ranger came and dragged them out. And then there were the pompous American film makers who we had decided we hated for the first two days until we actually got to chatting with them at dinner and really enjoyed them, one more lesson (how many does one need in life?!) to just stop f'ing judging people (especially based on eavesdropped conversations!) and talk to them instead. And then there was the Dutch-American expat girl who had been living in Kampala who would singlehandedly shape my experience of Africa for the better.
Basically she became my sounding board for all things Uganda and through our conversations, I could finally get a solid on the ground interpretation of what we could expect out of Uganda, giving some predictability to that unpredictability and uneasiness we were feeling about the thoughts and intentions of Ugandans and what was liable to happen to people traveling around here. We had plenty of conversations about bodas, backpacks under the bus, safety and the friendliness of Ugandan people...all of which she had overwhelmingly positive things to say. And again, I wondered what is wrong with us because we're just not seeing what other people here are seeing! And then she said something that in hindsight is so obvious but somewhere along the way we got carried away with feeling like every minute is a minute we have to remain vigilant to make sure we don't have problems here in addition to feeling on edge because we felt like almost everyone we passed or spoke to hated us or was going to screw us in some way. She said, simply, that she puts out the energy that she wants to receive back. If you walk around putting out scared and mistrustful vibes, then people will read that and you'll have a different experience based on that. I realized like a smack in the face that, oh my gosh, we ARE those people! It is so so simple but somewhere along the way here we not only started to unconsciously create a barrier of protection around ourselves but also an unconscious expectation that the world and everyone in it would just happen to us in a way that we liked and was comfortable with regardless of the vibes we were putting out there ourselves. Honestly, in hindsight it seems so stupid that this would give me such an ah-ha moment but it somehow just kind of broke the paralysis of uncertainty that we were in and my attitude about Uganda entirely changed. And it was so interesting because all of a sudden instead of waiting for people that I passed on the street to be nice to me, I just said "hello, how are you?!" and it was unbelievable how these same stern faced, angry looking people who I had previously chalked up to being totally unfriendly, would immediately light up, smile and greet you back. I would just start having a conversation with the guy at the grocery store and he would light up and chat right back. These weren't miserable people, they were actually really lovely people, you just had to go first in alot of cases! All of a sudden I was having positive interactions with Ugandans everywhere and along with that, felt worlds less vulnerable. It really was a gamechanger for the rest of Africa, the continent that we are misguidedly socialized for our entire, freaking lives to fear deeply!
The next "all of my prayers came true"...I stopped shitting every half an hour and even felt good enough to risk going out into the sticks to hike around another set of crater lakes...with Immodium in my pack just in case of course. As usual, we weren't entirely sure how we were gonna get there. Having cancelled bicycle because we were told the road was too bad and boda because it was too far, we were really hoping that maybe a matatu taxi would be going. So lacking in optimism and any firm plan we decided to basically show up at the junction where the main road branched off to the crater lake road and see what happened. Of course, two muzungus walk up and it's less than a second before a handful of people are asking us where we go, eager to collect us into their vehicle. We said Lake Nkuruba and were immediately ushered into a share taxi, a regular little 5 seater car that they stuff as many individually paying people as possible in, but for 5000 shillings ea (about 2 bucks) and 45 minutes journey they say, sounds like a steal to us. We leave shortly, 4 people in the back with me sitting on Bridger's lap, baking in the heat because all the windows are up because the roads are so dusty, marinating in the smell of BO, periodically stopping to pick up more people along the way until at one point there was 4 people in the front and 4 people in the back. We jumped off the road several times to literally deliver people to their door in a village. African life is village life and it felt pretty surreal to be cruising through "real Uganda". Then and now, it never ceases to amaze me how quickly outside of the cities/towns things become really rural. And before coming here, I always kind of thought that that textbook African scene/life would be deep in the sticks and you wouldn't see alot of that kind of life as a tourist but basically we're in it all the time for one reason of another. For all the pain in the ass of public transportation while traveling, it really is an amazing way to see and experience the heart of a country at a very grassroots level.
Anyways, after 45 minutes has come and long gone, there is that little voice in the back of your head that wonders, as you go deeper and deeper away from Fort Portal whether we are going to actually make it to where we want to go or whether we are going to be dropped off in the middle nowhere or whether we are going to be kidnapped! But nope, as promised, we were dropped off at Lake Nkuruba, only after 1.5 hours, not 45 minutes. It's funny as with the Jinja to Kampala matatu taxi experience, whoever gets you into their car will without fail tell you the "google maps in a proper 4 wheel drive vehicle" time to destination and not the actual "google maps + endless pick up and drop offs in a rickety little car that probably hasn't been maintained for 10 years on shitty roads" time. So do yourself the favor and just add an hour or two and you'll be much more settled.
We arrived at the nature reserve and immediately headed down to Lake Nkuruba, another supposedly Bilharzia free crater lake, surrounded by thick vegetation from rim to bottom. We had plans to swim but it was just too chilly (ya I know, too chilly in Africa, true story) and to me the water looked a little skunky so we had a little sit beside it for awhile. While we were sitting there Bridger saw a solid line of unidentified movement across the lake in the trees. So naturally, we think something along the lines of military (this seems to be a pervasive theme for us!)...but actually it was a huge line of cows coming down to the water to drink haha. We sat there for awhile before moving on to the forest walk/hike of the area around and between the lakes where we saw lots of what I call skunk monkeys, though I think their actual name is black and white colobus.
Based on my interpretations of the guidebook, there was an identified hiking trail around the lakes/through this area but thank goodness for the guy at the nature reserve who directed us a little bit before we left because there was no such thing. The hike was mostly just a narrow trail through the forest after which point we diverged, cut through the outskirts of some farmers field until we merged with and walked along a rural dirt road with the odd boda here or there and otherwise nothing but a few village huts and villagers, adults and children sitting on their porches, cooking, weaving or otherwise doing their thing, all so curious about us having looked like they had not seen much of foreigners about these parts. Everyone was SO friendly, waving and smiling and saying "hello, how are you?" as we walked by. Seriously, walking through villages is where you will find the most warm people and the most smiles. It all felt very freeing and authentic and this is the type of experience that makes us so exhilarated to be doing the kind of independent traveling that we're doing at such a grassroots level because there really was just us and the world with nothing in between.
Sidenote, in Uganda it is SO customary to greet this way and everyone says it all the time and in many cases "hello, how are you?" "I am fine, how are you?" is the only English some people know but without fail, everyone, even in remote villages knows this much English! This is such an ingrained expectation of Ugandan culture that over the course of my time in Uganda I've had endless conversations that either went like this-- Me: "hello" Ugandan man/woman/child: "I'm fine, how are you", leading me to recoil for a split second because they threw me for a loop because I never actually asked how they were (seriously this happens multiple times EVERY day!) OR-- Ugandan man/woman/child "Hello, how are you?" Me: "I'm fine, how are you?" Ugandan: "I'm fine, how are you?" haha. And it could go on like this for a few more turns. It makes me laugh every time but really, I've come to absolutely love this about Uganda because it's sweet and also is a really easy gateway into conversation with people.
Our ultimate goal was to make it to "The top of the world", a viewpoint over the surrounding area/crater lakes. But with only a loose idea of how to get there and a map that is not really exactly mapping this kind of place, we just kept trudging along that dirt road and just kept on waving to the villagers we walked by.
Until one older man who was walking the same direction as us said "where are you going?" and we said "Well we're trying to go to the top of the world but we don't know if we're going the right way!" to which he replied happily, "no, you are not going the right way!" before proceeding to direct us back to the prior fork in the road where we took the wrong turn and walked a km in the wrong direction and even deeper into the village! So we passed all these friendly, waving people again, this time though taking the walk of shame, confirming to everyone that in fact we were never meant to be walking through their village in the first place. As we turned off the main road up to Top of the World,
the obvious point where tourists in the area go, all of a sudden we were surrounded by these very poor village children wearing no shoes, no pants and covered in mud who had their hands out asking for "biscuits" and "Sweets" and also our plastic water bottle. The first two I understand, the last I'm not sure whether they actually wanted the bottle or if they wanted the water inside. We were actually a little blindsided because up until this moment we had really not encountered anyone begging at all in Uganda which was actually quite surprising given that obviously it is a very poor country, yet here we were seemingly in the middle of nowhere and these children were here asking for stuff. Outside of the odd casual and opportunistic requests for money from usually children in school uniforms on their way home, who the impression was that they didn't necessarily expect it but figured they'd give it a crack anyways, we really have not encountered the classic street begging culture that exists so prevalently elsewhere. I figure it is likely because Uganda is not really a classic tourist destination that brings tourists en masse. Ok that's not totally true I guess, it gets it's fair share of tourists though unlike other destinations in Asia or the Middle East where the tourists exist among the locals, many, many here are on package safari excursions throughout the country and are not typically walking the streets, taking local buses or otherwise accessible to those who would be begging, therefore, it's likely not such a lucrative business here. But what was so interesting on this hike was that we had literally been hiking for a few hours and not encountered any such thing until the second we turned onto the road leading up the viewpoint that would have been the only place in the region heavily trodden with tourists on foot. Where there are tourists on foot, there is begging, it's a sad fact. Again, it obviously tears at your heart strings to be faced with a decision whether to give to people, children nonetheless, who obviously are so much more in need than yourselves and it is a battle we've had with ourselves endlessly on this trip so far (I'm sure there will be a future blog post here about the battle). And if it weren't for our blanket rule not to give given the endless reasons why it is ultimately detrimental, especially for children, (seriously look it up), I'm sure we would have given far more in these moments. And understandably so, I'm sure people give all the time, further reinforcing these kids for trying. Someone once said to me that if it works 1% of the time, it is enough to be worth it. We're also a little torn because I think the moment you establish that kind of begging-giving relationship, you've created and maintained a very transparently stratified social order and the possibilities for the future interactions between two groups of people are forever changed. And as backpackers traveling independently, we kind of think it is important to, as much as possible, maintain a natural order of interaction rather than one built on dependence and handouts. Anyways, we ultimately gave them our virtually empty water bottle and continued on our way up to the viewpoint which actually turned out to be a hotel/campsite but a ghost one because nobody was staying there, maybe it wasn't open.
As we approached the gate to top of the world, I was immediately choked up because plastered across the gate, in the unlikeliest of places, was the bible verse "Come to me all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest", a passage heavily associated with a dramatic story from my grandpa about his days in the war. It was a powerful and unexpected moment, giving the sense that even here in the middle of rural Uganda, there are those looking out for you.
We ended up having a guide take us around the property who I kept trying to make jokes with and Bridger kept shaking his head at me because guy just didn't pick up what I was putting down. We checked out the lakes below, all of which are occasionally frequented by the resident hippo of the area, a curious thing considering how far away from game parks we are. As viewpoints tend to be, it was a magnificent sight of the crater lakes and the nature surrounding it. As we made our way back down, we decided not to head back to Lake Nkuruba the way we came from but keep walking through to the "main road" between Fort Portal and Kibale National Park. Thinking that since this was a road leading to a top tourist destination, we figured it would be a decent quality road and relatively highly trafficked and we'd just flag a matatu to get back to Fort Portal. Based on the map, it looked like we could get to a trading center called Rweeteera where we figured because it is a small town, there should be matatus hanging out waiting to fill up before heading back to Fort Portal so guy directed us to take a left and follow the dirt road all the way down. Simple enough.
On the way back down, the same children came out to see us again, only this time they had a string. So I asked with gestures if I could see it and tied both ends together and showed them, with Bridger, how to play "Cats in the Cradle" using only two fingers to make an entirely new design. The kids were fascinated and all smiles. And then out of nowhere all of a sudden grandma warmly comes out and joins all of us on the dirt path where she takes the string and shows us some impressive string tricks of her own to which we applauded! In the end, even in spite of having no common language, we all left with smiles, a lovely, unexpected, organic and joyful interaction between people from opposite sides of the world. And that right there is why I don't advocate for giving stuff/begging because it fundamentally changes the way that people interact in a less than rich kind of way.
So we followed the dirt road, down, down, down through the rural homes of packed mud and sticks, around the endless fields of banana/matoke trees and other crops and through the luscious green hillsides.
We followed that dirt road until it narrowed into two ruts in the road with grass growing between and we followed that until that road got even narrower and more overgrown, all the while consulting google maps, our paper map and asking incredulous locals along the way who confirmed that yes, we were still on our way to Rweeteera.
Now this was really in the middle of nowhere! Not even a proper village on the way, just a scattering of homes surrounded by agriculture and crater lakes. We were equal parts charmed that somehow we had managed to find ourselves off the grid in the heart of Ugandan life while also being aware of the fact that, well, we were off the grid and completely at the mercy of this country! But actually, remarkably comfortable and calm. I'm entirely certain that no tourists have ever walked this way so many children's jaws dropped as we wandered on through this rather isolated area. Bridger is so cute because he always manages to do something silly that has the kids cracking up! All along the way people were always surprised to see us but always warm and friendly.
At one point, the road got reaaaaally overgrown like actually not even a road anymore so we were convinced that this could not possibly be "the road" to this small town and with nobody around to ask, we diverted onto another road to the left that, according to the sign, looked like it headed directly to a crater lake and a tourist camp somewhere around there. So we thought if there is a resorty camp, there MUST be a road from the main road (the one we were trying to get to) and it's probably the safer bet when faced with two grim options of a dirt road to presumably some sort of tourist camp and a not road road going by all intensive looking purposes, nowhere. Sure enough we set down that road and within 100 metres, also metres away from the campy resort, we were set upon by another group of children, who again, unlike all the other children who were charmed and interested by us, immediately asked us again, for biscuits, sweets, water bottles and money. Seriously, stop giving these children money, it's really toxic! We followed this road which looked like it headed directly to our intended road but actually ended up curving around such that we walked parallel to our road for far too long passing many groups of children in school uniforms walking home from school as it was somewhere around 4 or 5:00 and a steady stream of "hi! how are you"s! Eventually this dirt road spit us out onto what our multiple maps would tell us was the "main road", in actual fact nothing but another dusty, unpaved, quiet country road in the middle of seemingly nowhere, 15 some odd km out of Fort Portal. And not only that, we had not made it to the small town of Rweeteera which was several km east of us and the next closest village was another like 10 km to the west of us so essentially we were right by nothing at all with only the odd boda going by. What there was around us was a small brick "store" so Bridger went in and asked a) whether matatus come by and b) does the store have any water. Guy said yes there should be a matatu/shared taxi and held up an empty glass and told us how much a cup that size of water would cost. Now this is where I thank the heavens for Bridger because, figuring this wasn't probably the type of water (i.e. definitely not bottled!) we should be consuming, we declined but Bridger grabbed a beer instead from their other "store" next door, a bar, "warm as piss" as usual but letting us off the hook from declining whatever water was going to be served. As we were standing there waiting for a matatu, drinking warm beer, a very drunk Ugandan showed up and was chatting us up all friendly, but totally wasted. With the nearest town a few km in the opposite direction that we needed to go, assurances that taxis should ply this route and feeling a little uncomfortable just lingering around with the drunk guy, we decided to start at least walking in the general direction we needed to go and flag down a matatu as it drives by on route to Fort Portal. We got about 100 metres down the road before we realized how stupid of a plan this is because if a matatu never does come we are now even more in the middle of nowhere not to mention we are now even farther from our backup plan... the map showed a tiny little tourist campsite in the opposite direction as Fort Portal and again several km down the road but at least it would be something as opposed to sleeping on the road if it came to that.
So we decided to embrace this little roadside store as our bus stop and we walked back to where drunk guy was. He was so happy to see us back and immediately pulled out two plastic chairs (you know those plastic outdoor patio furniture ones) for us to sit on. Bridger, bless him, bought another warm beer as we sat around chatting on repeat conversations in broken, slurry English with this guy. An aside about warm beer... there's no electricity to keep this stuff cold and of interest to us, all across Uganda when you order a water or drink of any sort the waiter will usually ask you "warm or cold?". To us this is absurd, obviously cold, but it dawned on us that in a society with limited and/or inconsistent access to electricity, you would grow very accustomed to drinking warm drinks because refrigeration obviously relies on consistent power. Anyways, so there we were, two foreign people sitting on plastic chairs on the grass in front of a little Ugandan store on the side of the dusty "main road" in the middle of rural Uganda chatting up the super drunk guy, the uncle, as we were told by the rest of the family members that began filtering in. There was the store owner who had initially been quite standoff-ish who was now very happy and chatty who introduced us officially to his drunken brother and his daughters, the two young girls standing in the doorway giggling at the embarrassing antics of their drunken uncle, or Uncle Charles as he would become to us, and teaching us a little bit of Rutooro, the local language, giggling as we failed miserably at it. And then store owner pointed out his father, an elderly man sitting on the porch who appeared to be deep into dementia but obviously, that was not said, only that the was sick. With the entire family there, Uncle Charles became much less "creepy" and much more "goofy" to us with his questions and stories and over the top exuberance and excitement to have made friends with us! He just kept saying how he wants to get some sort of contact information for us so he can get in touch again "when he gets to service" (i.e. town with internet/cell service!). At one point, another young Ugandan guy showed up on scene. And he showed up with a machete in hand and approached, ominously, from behind me which was a little unnerving until he merely came around front, extended his hand and said "hello, how are you?". Future me talking, it's amazing how over time you stop flinching at the sight of people walking around with guns and machetes because it just seems so normal as these really are just tools of regular life here! So all in all I think we sat there hanging out with the family, Bridger drinking warm beer, for about an hour with absolutely no sign of a matatu or a shared taxi and only a few bodas had gone by and a handful of safari vehicles...who knows what they thought about seeing us sitting on plastic chairs in the middle of nowhere! At this point I'm starting to get a bit nervous because it's after 5:00 and the sun was starting to go down becoming pitch black by 7. We still had no idea how we were going to get home. And if we were going to resign ourselves to spending the night in that questionable campsite, we'd better start walking sooner rather than later. At this point some guy in an electrical company car stopped on the side of the road to buy potatoes. Our new friends asked this random guy if he was going to Fort Portal and if we could get a ride back to town with him to which he agreed. So pretty well out of options and time with the alternative possibly being stuck here all night which was worse, for the first time on this trip we hitched, in Uganda of all places. I definitely wouldn't have been as inclined if it wasn't a guy in a legitimate company car and it's funny because it sounds like it could have been scary but it wasn't at all, actually a total relief. It felt even better because the guy was obviously quite well off because as we got chatting with him he told us this was his company and also, he had a tablet, a sure sign of relative wealth around these parts. And ironically, he had just been working all day at the "Top of the World", where we had just been, installing solar panels. The road was, as expected, atrocious on the way back. At one point we had to go on a super diversion because there was a huge lorry stuck in the mud all the way across the road. And then driver guy said he had to stop at a hotel to pick up a worker which we did...so we just sat on the stairs waiting until he was ready to get back in the car and go the rest of the way to Fort Portal where he pulled in to his shop. Bracing ourselves to be extorted because ultimately he could ask for any amount of money after it is all said and done, we asked how much we owe him. His response was "it's ok, I just gave you a ride"!! It's free! Amazing man!!! We thanked him profusely and gave him 10 000 shillings anyways. Based on our later conversations with people, this is a perfect example of why everyone loves Uganda because things like this happen here. By my understanding, in Kenya or Tanzania, the more heavily trafficked and slightly more tourist-jaded East African countries, nobody does anything for you without demanding payment and you can bet in SE Asia there likely would have been a hefty opportunistic price tag attached as well. But here, he just helped us out. Such a wonderful moment to end a really unexpected, unplanned, wonderful day in Uganda. It was to date, by far our most memorable and invigorating day in Uganda and the start of a super love affair with this country which would move from rather indifferent status to being one of our favorite countries of the trip.
That evening I congratulated my guts for their quick recovery (I made it all day hiking with no problems...the next day! I really am becoming very proud of my guts for their resilience!) and we ate our last delicious 3 course dinner at our hotel where everyone was beyond fascinated that we were going to pick up my mom tomorrow...a mom, coming to visit in Africa!!!