she said (Uganda): "ASHLEY...IT'S NOT THERE ANYMORE..."
January 27, 2016
At Lake Bunyonyi we had decided to stay at a highly reviewed hostel called Byoona Amagara which is on an island in the middle of the lake. You basically get dropped at the mainland and choose if you want to take the speedboat for a small fee or the dugout canoe for free but takes 45 minutes.
Of course we said the free canoe even though we really wanted to take the speedboat. They later came back and told us the speedboat is going anyways with supplies so we can jump on it for free. Win! Though I'm absolutely certain that had we said we wanted the speedboat initially they would have happily accepted our money even though they were making the journey anyway. At this point we said goodbye to our lovely lodge owner and then had our first experience with the true original squatty potty, the pit latrine...up until this point, never seen anything like it.
And then we jumped in the boat to zoom towards our island.
To be honest, we were a bit disappointed in the scenery that other people had raved so much about. After coming from Bwindi, we really just didn't think it was sooooo beautiful as people say. This impression would unfortunately stick for the duration of our stay. Not that it was ugly by any means but I guess maybe just another classic case of too high expectations.
There really wasn't so much to do on the island (obviously, it's an island) which suited us fine. We ripped out the crib board and played a few solid games of 3 person crib which I was destroyed in despite the fact that I can clean up in two person crib. It was mildly depressing.
The 3 of us were staying in the dorm and as we left for dinner that night, I saw 4 unmistakable hairy spider legs sticking out from behind the light switch...just as I had convinced myself that maybe there really were no spiders in Africa. But I tapped the wall around the legs hard with our indestructible GoPro (good for everything by the way) and it didn't even flinch so I concluded that it was dead and in its rigor mortis (do spiders get that?) it had just fallen in there from the roof. I showed mom which she wished I didn't.
Nights here were really quiet and after watching the lovely sunsets (the one major redeeming factor of this place) most people left the restaurant by about 8 pm.
Not sure what we were supposed to do back in our dorm but we retired back to it anyways for lack of options and otherwise life at the restaurant. We get back in and I'm going about my business when my skin prickles when I hear mom say, "Ashley...it's gone...". I didn't have to ask her what she meant. She meant the dead spider was actually not dead. And now it was in an unidentified location somewhere else in our room. Fabulous! Luckily everywhere without fail in Uganda (and all across Africa) has mosquito nets so we were asleep, with our nets totally tucked under our mattresses, by 10 pm. The next morning we would see the spider out and about in all its hairy glory, much smaller than the Laos spider but still ugly. And then Bridger would easily kill it with my shoe because it wasn't nearly as fast as the Laos spider and then he would move the chair in the room on top of the squashed body and pretend like it wasn't there anymore.
We spent our days pretty well playing crib, eating and hanging out on the dock of the lake. It was kind of warm outside but not warm enough to jump into the freezing lake unless you're name was Bridger, who did.
One evening we decided to take the "speedboat tour" around the lake, a less popular and significantly more costly alternative to the "dug out canoe tour" but we figured one that justified the cost because it would be faster so we could get farther on the lake and see more. Just as we were down at the dock waiting for our tour to start, the manager came down and asked us what we want to do. Not quite sure why he was asking now as the tour was supposed to start now and also not quite sure why he was asking at all...we don't freaking know?! Isn't this a speedboat tour, like isn't there just a regular thing that you do?! This should have been our first clue about the calibre of this "tour". With endless people quoting the outrageous price of fuel in Uganda as reason for higher transport costs here, we should have expected this but we get in the boat and puttered across the lake going slower than we would have in a flipping canoe.
And all our "guide" said was what the name of each island we were looking at was. Actually and he told us the miserable history of one island that was super small with only tall grass on it. I guess long ago they used to send pregnant, unmarried girls to this island where she would either get picked up by a man who didn't have enough money or cows (i.e. dowry) to buy a virgin, or she would die.
Ya, totally depressing. Anyways it became quickly clear to us that, while we expected the two hour tour to include zipping around on the lake, actually that half of the two hour "tour" was supposed to be off the boat. Our guide kept asking us if we wanted to get off at this island or that island (with extra charges fro the most part) to go on the rope swing, to check out the animals on the island "sanctuary" etc.
So it went, guide asking if we wanted to get off, us continually saying, nope, we want to stay on until it was clear the "tour" was over after about 45 minutes and we were in this weird stalemate of guide thinking it's over/nothing left to see/not sure what we want him to do and us bloody certain that we are staying on this boat for the full two hours (even though it was slightly torturous because we were moving sooooo slow!) to get our moneys worth. So we told him we just want to drive around and see more of the lake so he continued to putter around at a pace so slow I'm entirely certain that Bridger would have rather gotten off the boat. The one redeeming factor was the amazing stuff the sun was doing with the clouds that made things really beautiful at times.
And checking out the crayfish trap, the local specialty in Lake Bunyonyi though mom did try something crayfish for dinner and ended up with stomach cramps sooooo I think Lake Bunyonyi just hates us.
I would have a mental breakdown in Lake Bunyonyi because there wasn't wifi in Bwindi and now there was no wifi here either nor a place to buy airtime for my phone for 3G internet and nowhere to go to get wifi on the island and we had to plan the next part of our trip, a safari of some sort, and we (no actually just me because I was the only one that knew anything about it) hit a wall because all of the budget places/tours had completely filled up for the time mom was here. Ugh. So I could never relax because I needed to plan everything and it wasn't working and I had absolutely no tools that would actually help me figure out the next step which needed to happen because we needed to keep moving because we had limited time that mom was here. I tell ya, there is nothing that drives a driver mad quite like working hard but spinning your wheels and getting nowhere. Anyways, we were also supposed to have hot water at this hostel except couldn't even have that because the water heater was broken so the showers were mind numbingly cold. And some days the showers weren't working at all because the water pump was broken. And then I started to get so frustrated and angry because flipping everything in Africa is broken. The water pump is broken, the water heater is broken, wifi is broken, computers are broken, toilets are broken, chairs are broken, floors are broken, generators are broken, buses are broken. Fucking everything is broken. I was totally on edge and miserable. It was another one of those complete "hit the wall moments" that I hadn't experienced to this degree since Turkey. So to date my most depresso moments in Africa. Unlike 100% of other people, Lake Bunyonyi did not do me well and by osmosis of misery, neither Bridger or mom either. So we decided to leave a little earlier than planned.
Crazily, Amanda and James from Fort Portal had turned up at our same hostel the other day and were leaving the same day as us. So we all piled our junk in the speedboat in the am and cruised across the water early am when, for the first time, I thought the lake was so beautiful because the mist had settled over the water. Amazing!
We had to take the bus back to Kampala which meant after the boat we had to take a taxi back to Kabale and stand on the side of the dirt road (seriously there was no roads in Kabale as they'd all been torn up for "paving" so even though we were in the middle of a big town we were waiting on a pile of dirt still) waiting for that Jaguar "Executive Coach" bus again. We got dropped off close to 9 am to catch the "9 am bus" as it passed through from Rwanda onwards to Kampala. As we waited we had the usual scary bus stop toilet episode and also saw a massive cargo truck rear end a car. The drivers got out...then they laughed together and shook hands and went on their way. I'll never understand!
Bus finally comes at 10:30 (so much for the "9 am bus"...don't know why I ever bother to still get invested in times; I guess home habits die hard) and because we are a middle stop between the start and final destination, the bus is flipping jammed with Africans. I'm on the bus first and and feel totally overwhelmed because for the first time in Africa, there is NO way we are going to be able to sit together and I can't even find a seat until a lovely guy asks a lady to move over so I could sit. So Bridger and mom were sitting close at the front of the bus and I was sitting on my own in the middle and James and Amanda were sitting close to each other at the back. Shortly after sitting, this young Ugandan guy tries to get my attention by saying "miss?" but the conversation died pretty quickly because he didn't speak so much English so we couldn't communicate so good. And then I got talking to the guy who helped me get a seat who turns out, was from Rwanda and was a very educated professional with great English who had lived for a period of time in Abu Dhabi. We chatted together for about the first hour of the journey about some pretty interesting, substantial stuff and it was actually a really great conversation that was far better than the usual bus small talk.
In typical bus fashion, this was not a comfortable ride. The guy across from me was puking into a plastic bag so at the first "short call" (bathroom stop in the middle of nowhere) he got off holding this bag full of bright yellow puke. I almost threw up just seeing it. Seriously like 70% of buses we've been on this trip have a puker, it's unbelievable! Thank god for plastic bags!! Though not all travelers are as lucky because a girl we met at a hostel told us a really fun story about being on a matatu with a lady who puked repeatedly all over herself and the floor...no bag. Yikes. Onwards, the lady beside me had pretty well invaded my seat so far that I was half in my own chair, half dangling over the iron bar that they call an armrest into the aisle. And I was so mad!! I'll never understand it...the chairs are well defined, we've each paid for one, why don't I get mine?!?! So I came up with the options. Option A: She is just taking advantage of me because I'm a tourist and she knows I won't say anything. Option B: culturally this is just the norm to spill over wherever you want and the expectation is that I will also just exert myself back against her reclaiming my space and that's how it goes. I hate both options! And I've never experienced such a significant overtake in any country in my life, especially by a woman! Man I was crotchety. And then we stopped at the same shitty trough bathroom, bus break down spot. And I didn't think it could be worse but this time it was worse because not only was it the same trough, no garbage bin, pee on the tiles as it splashed back up all over your legs bathroom, this time imagine that same thing but with blood all over the floor. Right. It was perhaps the longest bus ride ever that seemed to never end. Until finally enough people got off along the way that Bridger and I ended up getting a 3 seater section for the two of us only and expressed significant gratitude that in "regular life" every human gets their own seat on our lovely, enviable Canadian buses. Like when I get home, I actually want to just ride a long distance bus somewhere for no reason other than to just to have my own seat.
Finally after what felt like 2 days, we pull into the bus park in Kampala where we are swarmed by special hire taxis. We needed one to take us to Fat Cat hostel and the driver quoted us a price...this should have been our first clue that things were not going to go as planned because he said 30 000 shillings which is a bit outrageous but he said this: "30 000 because I have to get fuel for 15 000 and then 15 000 for the ride". As our matatu ride from Kampala to Entebbe demonstrated, it is not entirely uncommon (actually it's more common than not) that the driver has to ask you for money in advance to fill up gas. Seriously, everyone here operates all their vehicles on E...if you look over at the gas gauge, that's what it will say. But they all just keep on moving somehow. Anyways, just wanting to be at our hostel after the longest most uncomfortable bus ride ever and not knowing where else we'd get another special hire if we turn this guy down because it's not like they are actually marked as taxis or hang out at a particular place or anything, we give up and agree to 30 000 and pile all of our stuff in. We drive about 5 minutes and then hit an uphill. We drive halfway up until the car literally sputters and stops. In the middle of the city guy reverses backwards down the main road and tried again, this time crawling up the hill at like 1 km/hour until we sputter out again. Obviously we are totally and completely out of gas! This can't be happening! This time we back up down that hill again and park. Driver gets out and lifts the hood and starts manually revving the engine, telling us that there is a problem with water in the engine or something, still not admitting to himself let alone us that, no sir, you are unequivocally out of gas. He gets back in and attempts the hill again for the 3rd time. Again, total failure. So he backs up and parks in an alley. All we want is to just be at the hostel but now we're stuck sitting in a Kampala alley with all the windows and doors open as our driver calls his friend to come get us, because obviously he doesn't want to lose the money he'd already spent in his head. And it's not like we can do anything about anything but just wait for this guy to figure out a new plan for us. So after the longest, most annoying bus ride, we wait some more. Gaaaah!
Basically we had to spend a day or two in Kampala in order to catch another coach bus out to Gulu, our next destination in the north of Uganda. We also planned to use Kampala as a staging area for figuring out everything, going to the internet cafe to blog and update pictures, make calls etc. At one point Bridger, when trying to figure out our options for getting everywhere asked someone, "do we get a muzungu there?" which, to a Ugandan would have seemed like a really bizarre question because it is basically asking "can we ride a white person to said destination". What he meant was "can we get a matatu there" haha, all those M's! Anyways turns out we get to Kampala and it's Sunday and because Uganda is super Christian, typically almost everything is closed on Sunday = once again, a total resurgence of depresso meltdown.
But we made a new plan. Me and mom went for a tour of the mosque in Kampala as mom had never been to a mosque before. Though Christianity is the primary religion of Uganda, there is also quite a sizeable Muslim community and I guess this is the second biggest mosque in Africa (first is in Morocco). It was started by the famed assholeish dictator Idi Amin but never finished until the Muslim representatives in Uganda asked Gaddafi of Libya for help at which point he paid to have it finished. Though we could not make it direct from our hostel to the mosque, we were able to jump on a matatu for 500 shillings each (less than 50 cents) to get half way there. It dumped us into the bus park area of Kampala and then we walked around from there, basically taking whatever roads might get us closer to the towering mosque that we could see in the distance. It felt a tiny sketchy as this is definitely the "old" and dodgy part of Kampala and we are definitely the only white people around but we just kept wandering, pretending we knew exactly where we were going or periodically asking someone along the way until we made it. We were outfitted in proper attire, both wearing hijabs and mom wearing a long skirt as well.
I have put a scarf over my head several times before to enter mosques though this was the first time ever wearing a tight hijab, definitely an experience, though I really don't think a good look for me at all! We met our tour guide and then climbed the 300 plus stairs up the minaret where we were rewarded with spectacular 360 views of Kampala from above as the guide labelled everything from the rich parts to the slums to the markets.
Then he took us for a tour inside the prayer room and graciously answered my millions of questions about everything Islam.
We left the mosque late in the afternoon, not exactly certain how we were going to get home. After not encountering a special hire taxi for awhile (or rather, them not finding us), I figured that we could head back to the area around the bus parks where the policeman got Bridger and I a special hire before. I wasn't exactly sure where this was and I wasn't exactly sure exactly how this would go but with limited options and darkness coming soon, it was the best plan I could think of. Again we're in the heart of downtown Kampala, two foreign ladies cruising around, so mom was a little nervous because "we're in the slum" as she put it (we weren't actually)! Somehow I actually found the taxi park which we cruised through and all of a sudden things started to look familiar and I realized we had made it to where I wanted to get to. Relief! We weren't going to be stuck in the centre of Kampala for the entire night after all. Man was I ever proud of myself. Last time we had paid 20 000 shillings from here to the hostel and he thanked us profusely. This driver quoted us a whopping 50 000 shillings for the same route. I burst out laughing and said we paid 20 000 last time and he insisted on 30 000 because, surprise, "fuel is more expensive now" and I said "it was 2 weeks ago!" and he said "ya it went up". Bugger it did. So ultimately we had walked all over central Kampala to get to this exact point so we weren't about to walk away now so we agreed on 30 000 and went home, relieved that we weren't walking the entire way.
The next day we were headed to northern Uganda to the town of Gulu where existed, in the not so distant past, "the worst forgotten humanitarian crisis on earth" as dubbed by a top UN official. The north of Uganda is finally experiencing its first decade of peace following a loosely 20 year civil war between the government and rebels, both of whom ruthlessly terrorized the civilians there. Even though there is not necessarily a heavy tourist infrastructure in this part of Uganda, I had been quite involved in campaigning for social justice for this area in my early/mid 20's (and my osmosis had dragged both my family, friends and Bridger into my efforts...i.e. many of you might remember the old "GuluWalk"?!) so felt like it was important on this trip to make it up to see in person, the place I had held such a passion for and the place that had kind of put Uganda on the map for me.
But then the night before we left something shitty happened... seven months in to this trip, we've finally had a pretty solid bed bug incident. Ok, well not we, me (of course right?). Earlier in the day I had crawled up to my top bunk and found a few tiny little, shrively bugs on my bed and just brushed them off, not really thinking too much about it because bugs of all kinds fall from all over the place and land all over your room, whatever. Later that night I went to bed for real and was all scratchy so turned on my headlamp and again, found some random unidentified tiny little bugs. At this point I'm putting the pieces together and pretty well figured, even though I don't really know what they look like, my gut said that I've got a case of bedbugs here but really, what are you gonna do at like 1 in the morning but just keep sleeping.
Ya, I did that. Though my sleep was restless. Until at one point at like 3 am I actually, truly felt something crawling on my arm so I brushed it with my fingers and felt, like, actual substance. So I flip my headlamp on at all and without even looking hard for the culprit, I see them...two big ass unmistakable bedbugs crawling around on my bed. For the LOVE!!!! Since I'd never really seen bedbugs before I never really knew what they looked like or how I would know if I had them or not buuuuut I found out that night that it's one of those things that you just know. This is just not ignorable anymore so up I get, out of this bedbug infested bed, and go "sleep" on the couch in the common area under a towel about half my size. So obviously with skin crawling and no blankets I didn't sleep so much...not until about 6 am until a big group of dickheads came through at like 7 am to pick up their bags in bag storage talking at the top of their lungs. Seriously people, you can SEE me on the couch, what is WRONG with you?!?!!?