The next afternoon we decided to leave the walls of our lodge and just go for a walk down the road. Honestly, this simple walk through the Ugandan countryside would end up being one of our top memories of Africa and another reminder that sometimes the simple, unplanned things really are the most fabulous while traveling but also I'm sure, in normal life. The 3 of us walked down the dusty, rocky road, no tour company, no guide, just us and Uganda. It was one of the most freeing feelings to date. We followed the road as it wound back and forth along the hilltops surrounded by homesteads and the richest green-ness you'll ever see and the most magnificent red roads/dirt you will also ever see.
I know I keep talking about this but it truly is one of the most unique and spectacular nature we've ever seen. Bwindi was (and still is) one of the most beautiful places in all of Uganda. On both sides of the road are rural homes, some made of concrete with the classic corrugated roof we've come to know, others made from sticks with mud packed in between.
Goats are tethered everywhere. The roads are conspicuously absent of vehicles but occasionally we pass Ugandan women carrying their baby in on their back in brightly colored/patterned slings and often at the same time, carrying their day's haul on their head or a Ugandan man or young boy shepherding his herd of cattle down the road with sticks to prod them along. Oh and there was one truck (a lorry as they call them here, blame those British colonial roots if you will) full of people in the bed and one guy yelled "FANTASTIC!!!" and that is all as they drove by! We are obviously in the middle of nothing because we just drove 2.5 hours from the nearest major town and here are no little trading centers with their bright, freshly painted advertisements, no little shops and no little wooden "charging stations", just rural Uganda at its rawest. It's hard not to be totally charmed by it all, especially when the Ugandans you pass by on the road or sitting outside their homes are so friendly and genuinely curious about you because this is is package tour safari central around here so I'm sure they rarely ever see white people *gasp*, walking around these parts. One minor black stain on the record was that being so "accessible", we were fair game for the occasional child to yell "give me money!" for some children as we passed by. At one point along our walk we walked over a hump and got the most spectacular view of the rainforest from above, a dense pack of green canopy.
On our way back we saw a group of baby goats playing on the side of the hill together, literally romping onto the side of the hill and launching themselves off or stumbling down. They honestly looked like they LOVED falling down/off, it was freaking adorable. It also never ceases to amaze me how by far, it is goats that are the most prevalent agricultural animal across the world. Not sheep, not cows, not chickens, ok well they are tied with chickens, but goats. It must be because they eat everything so are cheap to keep, I dunno?! And the amount of goat bodies that hang from the roadside butcher shops are also an ever-present reminder that they have really solid meat, equal parts fascinating and totally depressing because I always used to buy goat instead of rabbits for a needy family from the World Vision gift catalogue because I figured they would eat the rabbits and I didn't feel good about buying an animal to send them straight to their death and I thought they would use the goat for milk. This trip has made it so clear...all those goats I bought from World Vision for needy families are dead! Also on our way back we ran into "FANTASTIC!!!" guy again standing around on the grass with a group of men who laughed at his jubilance as he enthusiastically invited us to his organic coffee farm nearby and insisted we take his number. Which I did because as I've learned along the way, is a great exit strategy! Even if you have no intention to ever call (which was not entirely the case in this specific situation), just take the flipping number so everyone is satisfied.
At one point we were standing on a peak looking down when we saw a group of school children in their school uniforms walking home from school. At the same time, even from far away, we could tell that they saw us as well...they pointed, and screamed and immediately started running in our direction.
We eventually intersected and were greeted by a group of children between like 3 to 15 years and a chorus of "hello how are you"s and "I am fine"s. They were as enamored with their interactions with us as we were in our interactions with them. Here we were on this very rural Ugandan road surrounded by Ugandan school children talking loosely in simple question and answers in broken English, giving high fives and essentially just hanging out, two groups of people equally curious about the lives of the others. Of course we wanted a picture to remember this chance event. That is when the most unexpected thing ever happened...Bridger so much as took his camera out of his pocket and these children who had been hanging off our every word, immediately scattered, screamed and ran away. It was utterly bizarre. We expected that they would either make crazy faces and want to see their picture OR decline once we actually made it clear we were going to take pictures so this reaction was way more volatile than expected and so bizarre as he hadn't so much as raised the phone and for all they knew we were just gonna check the time. Once he put the phone back in his pocket, they immediately all came flooding back! However, when we asked if we could take a picture they resoundingly said, "no pictures!" which again, seemed so strange because it was like this was a well rehearsed answer and we wondered how this particularly vehement response came to be? It was actually hilarious though because even though all the kids were super interested in and curious about us 3 whiteys cruising their neighborhood and there were some that were pretty up in our face, there were also several who kept a safe distance and who behaved very wary and tentative around us. And if we moved too quickly and/or unpredictably, they actually became visibly frightened. There were a few times as we were walking forward that Bridger would turn around quickly much to the chorus of laughter to most and the utter terror of a few of the smaller ones who literally panicked, screamed and reflexively hid behind one of the older kids in abject fear! For some, seeing us white people was like a morbid fascination...totally scary but also can't peel yourself away. After we had chatted for quite awhile, one of the oldest boys, the representative of the group, stepped forward and invited us to visit them at their school. How freaking adorable!
We continued on our way marveling at what an organic, incredible experience that was when we ran into yet another, even larger group of uniformed school children, many of whom had been in the "orphan performance" the other day.
We had the same broken convos and did the same silly slapstick actions like me pulling on Bridger's beard as the kids erupted into roaring laughter. Haha so many times during these interactions we were surrounded by these kids who spoke such limited English so we couldn't really converse so well but, they still wanted to be around us so we were surrounded by like these 20 doe-eyed kids who just quietly sat and stared at us expectantly, waiting for us to do something or say something...this can get awkward when you just run out of slapstick ideas haha! Somehow and I honestly can't remember how this happened but we started dancing a little bit and the kids almost immediately and unanimously started calling over this yellow shirted, barefoot kid from waaaay down the street. It was quickly obviously that they called him because he was the dancer of the village as well as, we would find out, just the little street smart, feisty, gangster kid of the neighborhood as well. Somehow we ended up in like a "dance-off" situation in the middle of a circle of like 30 kids with yellow shirt where we imitated each other back and forth. Until one point on his turn, yellow shirt grabbed his "boobs" and did a vulgar move! You've got to be kidding me, is this really happening?! Like a true therapist I neutrally ignored, avoided and redirected like a freaking champ given the circumstances!
As we chatted, played and kept moving, these kids literally changed course entirely and followed us "home". And they were a less camera shy bunch so we were happily able to get a few snaps. At one point mom and Bridger were chatting with a group of the older kids and I, unexpectedly, ended up on the outskirts with another little group of the younger and more tentative kids. So, careful not to move to quickly, I knelt down to their level and very quietly and calmly "chatted" with them. Adorably, they all also squatted down just like me and began to spontaneously and unspokenly do exactly everything that I did. A few minutes later mom and Bridger had gravitated my way as well when this one little girl in a teeny tiny, soft and compelling voice said, "sing a song". It melts my heart to this day because I can still hear her voice. So mom starts singing "Jesus loves me" and in this highly Christian country, several of the children knew it and started singing along as well. As soon as she was finished... "sing another song", they implored us. I sang a few more with actions which the little darlings spontaneously started copying along with me. Seriously, songs with actions transcends all language barriers, it's a thing.
Eventually we had walked, talked and sang all the home to our lodge. We were literally standing outside the gate, still with 30 kids in tow and were starting to wonder how we were ever going to get away! We lingered outside, not daring to walk through the gate for fear they would all just follow us through which I feel like would be something not encouraged, bringing a herd of village school children right onto the property. The security guard was standing around and we literally couldn't make out whether they were mad or charmed that we had led a bunch of children right back to the lodge. So we continued to stand there trying to formulate a good plan that didn't' involve running inside, slamming the gate and holding it closed as children pushed fervently to get in. While we were formulating said plans, all of a sudden we noticed that several of the children had just started to walk through the gate into the lodge property anyways. Uh oh! Bridger, seeing that we've been beat said, "We've been infiltrated!" which was a perfect description for what had just happened. Relieving ourselves of responsibility at this point, we just surrendered and entered the gate, some kids in before us, some kids in after, all surrounding us inside the gate same as outside. And then that same soft spoken tiny girl implored us once again, "dance!". Gosh thinking of dance moves on the spot is really hard! And when put on the spot, where else does your mind go but to grade 2 gym class and the chicken dance. Seriously, why that has made such an impact that it is the go-to dance in the middle of rural Uganda after being demanded to dance is beyond me, but hey, it worked. So me and mom did the chicken dance, sans music, as this eager group of Ugandan kids copied after us and the hotel staff as well as some other unidentified grown Ugandans looked on laughing. Eventually I had the game-changing idea to go and get Bridger's portable speaker and plug it in to my iPad which resulted in a full blown dance party in the lodge compound!
Bridger quickly (and surprisingly!) bailed so mom danced shamelessly for awhile and then it was just me surrounded by 20 some enthusiastic kids. I first put on and danced to some Daddy Yankee...the kids were riveted by my dancing here haha. The odd adorable little gal started replicating my moves but most just stood and stared at me despite my efforts to coax them into dancing with me. Next up, some East Coast music ("What would you do with a drunken sailor") which I started hopping around to, as usual. This was interesting to them for about 1 minute until someone spoke for the rest when she very blatantly and clearly said, "another song!" haha, East Coast, shut down. We tried some Bob Marley but it was too slow and the kids weren't impressed, though it was this point that some of the adult men sitting around gawking at us started making their way out to the dance floor gracing us with their, as expected, wicked dance moves. It was also at this point that two of them turned to each other to comment on the music. They said to each other, "music from the homeland!". It was also exactly at this point when Bridger, now on "music", switched to James Brown, much to my horror because they were gonna think that we were only playing "black music" for them! James Brown was not a hit with anyone so they, I kid you not, asked for some "hip hop" so Bridger busted out the Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg which they freaking loved and started dancing along to with me haha! At one point I was so sweaty that I lifted my shirt off my chest and shook it a few times. To my shock and amusement, the kids imitated this thinking that it was some sort of a dance move haha. So I went with it and starting flipping my shirt to the music and sure enough they all followed this some sort of weird "white girl move"! As if I needed any more reinforcement, one of the little darlings said, "you're a good teacher!". Somewhere along the line, the flipping director from the orphanage performance the other day ended up there as well...not sure how he got wind of what was happening/if he got called in because of the impromptu dance party going down?!
In the end our spontaneous dance party in the yard of our lodge went on for about an hour, all the while the iPod speaker warning, "low battery!". Eventually the kids must have been sent home by any number of the adults around because they and their slumped shoulders and depressed looks slowly started filtering out of the compound. And that was it, the end of sponto African dance party.
The next day we were up super early to catch a drive down those same rocky, rutted roads back to Kabale.
Only this time we were driving in the am and it was absolutely incredibly beautiful because the mist had descended into and was hanging in all the valleys, like true "Gorillas in the Mist" style (a movie also not on Netflix by the way).
Since it was early in the morning, there were also endless children in their school uniforms walking along the misty hills, several km's to get to school. Seriously, with no public transport or school buses in these parts, these kids might walk several km per day just to get to school. It's quite insane and made me realize how much we take school buses for granted. Be glad for school buses.
Along the way our driver stopped to get some airtime for his phone so we just sat in the car on the side of the road in this trading centre. It was quite awkward actually and even more so unnerving when at one point we noticed a bed of the truck full of young guys in front of us clearly staring at us for prolonged periods of time. Until one came up to Bridger's window and just stared and then eventually uttered "money!" to which Bridger, impressively hard as fuck, declined. At which point the guy pressed several more times and Bridger just kept neutrally saying "sorry man". I was so impressed because Bridger has a really hard time resisting pressure in these kinds of situations so I was mind-blown by how he handled it! It all sounds a little ominous by my general impression was less that he was trying to scare/threaten us into giving money and more that he really just didn't speak any English so couldn't really formulate much to say. But honestly, you really can't blame people around here because ultimately the only white people that are coming through are almost all "rich gorilla trackers so the general attitude seems to be "can't hurt to try".
We continued on our way towards our next stop, Lake Bunyoni, a supposedly really incredible, beautiful, tranquil, relaxing spot great for a few days stop after gorilla tracking.