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Country the Second

Uganda

sunny 85 °F

So where did we leave off...?

New Year's I think.

Originally I was going to leave Kisumu on Friday and I DID have a ticket but Dixon had written to say that he was running behind and I know he'd wanted to show me the fruits of his labor so I transferred the ticket to Saturday night (31st). I was still feeling a bit poorly piping-wise so a delay was fine by me. Saturday evening I met up with the new businessman and we hashed out a few numbers. This after I gave him a crash course in math and percentage. Which devolved into a crash course on how to use a calculator.
There is still no shop as yet. I know a few of you are looking forward to the pictures but I think Dixon was a bit optimistic with his timeline. There were land use permits to get, vendors permits, wood for the shop etc. He promises to send pictures of everything when it's completed though. As yet most of our communication centers around unexpected costs and visits to Western Union. I'm trying to roll with it and hope for the best. The plan is sound as I understand it. Slow, but sound. He also makes sandals out of tires. I have convinced him that that is precisely the kind of thing tourists would like to bring home and that he should charge a stupid amount of money for them when they happen by.

So after another ticket change due to a foul up on the office side (they were sending me to Nairobi instead of Kampala) I ended up on a 2am Easy Coach to Uganda. New Year's was toasted solo on a rooftop after buying the security guys and staff a round for themselves.

The ride was blessedly uneventful until we got to the border. Lord, how I've come to dislike border crossings. Especially in the wee hours when the staff are the dregs and wholly unenthusiastic about the job. There was the typical nonsense of having no change and trying to get you to believe that your dollars are worthless because they have a crease or some writing on them. Inevitably a $50 visa will cost $60 without anyone batting an eye. The bathrooms always cost money in a currency that you don't have hoping you'll change some money with the ever present money changers. ATM's will always give you a better exchange rate so there are never ATM's...lol
After begging 500 Ugandan shillings off of a fellow passenger (there were bathroom activities that simply had to happen) I lit up in an open outdoor area. About a puff later a wee man walked up and said "Sir I am a police officer, please come with me". I said I had no intention of going with him. He told me smoking is not allowed. I asked where the signs were and he just kept telling me to come to his office. I told him I am going to speak to the driver first and this is when he got irate and handsy. I shook him off, told him I knew exactly what he was doing and since I'm tired I'll give him $20 if he just fucks off. He said I need to give it to him in his office. This is normal. Away from the public and cameras. Sigh. I went to his office, gave him the cash and told him that's all he's getting and don't talk to me anymore.
The same passenger who lent me the shillings and his friend were outside as well and witnessed all of this. He put up a protest and was giving the guy a hard time. "You all come to my office too!" They were having none of it...lol

I went back to the bus and continued talking with the Samaritans. They assured me there was no law against what I was doing and that I should feel free so I figured I'd buck the system and try again close to the buses. This time it took two puffs before another police man showed up with the same drill..lol At this point as he took my arm I just laughed and told him his mate had already bilked my for $20 so I'm not going anywhere. As he was pushing me along the same passenger came up. Turns out he's a teacher and the second cop was his student. It was great. He started berating the cop, telling him he's there to guide not to make money and all that. I was then encouraged by the driver to close up my big backpack, which had been searched without my knowing and left open, and to get back on the bus. I felt this was wise. I was not impressed with my first experience in Uganda. I know smoking is baaaad m'kay...I'm working on it. But jeez...lol And yes, I have since learned that you are to be very pleasant and courteous with officers and simply say "Oh let's not do that, please allow me to just give you something for lunch!". But I was tired and runny and cranky and had no Ugandan shillings. Should really only have cost me a couple bucks.

Turns out that was a singular event and everyone I have met here after has been quite polite and helpful :-)

We made good time to Kampala and I checked in to the ICU Guesthouse, a Dutch-run hostel with an odd concentration of do-gooders and thesis worker-oners. Also mostly Dutch. There was a 25 year old Dutch girl (Selena) working on sanitation, an elderly Dutch farmer (Mathew) working to increase local crop yields, an older Dutch lady (Astrid) working with a local orphanage and two Aussie ladies who weren't working on anything at the moment but had been stationed in South Sudan with the Catholic church helping out with children before the crap hit the fan and they had to leave.
I felt completely useless and lazy...lol

The Aussies (Sue and Sharron) invited me to join them on a city tour the day after I'd arrived. Splitting costs into thirds is always a good thing so I went along. The tour included one of the King's palaces, parliament, Idi Amin's torture chamber, the man-made lake where he dumped all the victims, a national theater, a natural history museum and the Gaddafi Mosque.

The palace was okay. Mostly just a building. We were not allowed to go inside. The torture chamber was a re-purposed armory and was sufficiently eerie. There is still a watermark you can see along the bottom of the walls made from the water they would pipe for means of electrocution. People have written many things on the walls, everything from God Rest Their Souls and Never Forget to the ubiquitous and succinct Fuck You.

The lake is a very pretty and relaxing spot in the city. It was not MEANT to be a mass grave. I cannot remember which king had it dug out but I do recall that every country member was expected to lend a hand. Since the "bad time" they have removed as many bodies as they could and there are plans to build a floating hotel there. Considering Amin killed upwards of 27,000 people (according to the guide) I have to believe there are still quite a few bones down there. We were told that the better part of the younger generations have no idea what it was used for. They don't really teach about that time in school. If any of you are unfamiliar with the exploits of Idi Amin I suggest you wiki the bloke. Him a piece of work.

The Gaddafi Mosque was the highlight I'd say. I was told it is the second largest Mosque in Africa next to the one in Morocco. The foundation was laid during Amin's rule but funding went away after the breakdown. Muammar Gaddafi, another polarizing figure, was asked by the Muslim Society to chip in and he footed the whole bill. The Mosque was completed in an impressive three years after he got involved. Nothing here gets done that fast! If you look closely at the walls and carpeting you can see the price of quick work however. Still, the place is beautiful and well worth a visit.
It was built using craftsman from all over the world to add a sense of unity and the work is striking.

The museum was informative if a bit lackluster. They've done a fine job putting together what they can with what they have. Lot's of pottery and weapons. A small wing for fossils. Examples of bark cloth (a very cool use of fig tree bark to make clothing and such).
You can tell the guide how long you wish your tour to be. We settled on 30-45 minutes and I think any longer would be a bit redundant.

The national theater reminded all of us of our schools' stages. A small affair but culturally important round those parts. Not important ENOUGH I gather as it is to be razed and replaced at some point in the future.

We ended the tour at some craft shops. I picked up a couple do-dads for folks and we headed back to the hostel.

Sorry to say that so far this has been my main outing in Uganda to date...lol I bummed around town a bit and attended a party Astrid had put together for the orphanage. I was in a bit of a stymie as far as what to do or where to go next. This happens on extended trips. At least to me. Flurried activity for a bit...a dry spell...sticky points and eddies. Sometimes it's best to just wait and chill until the wind picks up and blows you somewhere. I caught a small breeze and headed for Jinja based on suggestions. This is where I am writing from now...on table at the Jina Backpacker's hostel. No wifi but I got another phone and it seems to be working as a hotspot. Praise MTN service over Safaricom.
Jinja is one of those places a nomad has to be cautious of. The kind of place one can get "stuck" for a good stretch. The bartender here (a proper South African) came here to build a boat for someone 18 years ago and never left. I've met two other ex-pats that own or work at other guesthouses with similar stories. It is a laid back town with a colonial feel (though Uganda was a Protectorate). Easy to navigate and free from touts and pushy vendors. Sometimes it's hard to willingly push yourself back into the fray...lol

My ever-so-tentative plan as yet is to speak to a guy that a guy knows about renting a SuperCustom. A sort of van I gather. I've been assured it is a simple process and should cost me about the same per day as a hostel. I would then be able to tool around at my leisure and see some of the parks at a much more economical rate. Trips really are pricey here. The Gorilla trekking is right out I think and other package tours run easily into the $400-$1800 range. That's all fine if you're here for a couple weeks but for me even bungie jumping is a bit hard to validate ;-) EDIT: I spoke to the guy of the guy and it's on. Pick up SuperCustom on Sunday.

I DID get off my ass yesterday to visit the source of the Nile river. This is about a 30 minute walk from my front door. The signs all say the Historical Source of the Nile. So if anyone gets bent about details or true origin I'll leave that to you and refer you to the signs...lol There used to be a falls there (Rippon Falls) to make it a bit more impressive a sight but they were blown out and covered after a hydro-electric dam was built upstream.
Now there are a few stones to mark the sight, a few craft shops and a bar/restaurant. I caught the sunset there and headed back.

So far days are spent rather idly and the evenings are spent indulging in copious amounts of Club pilsner with Jaco (pronounced Yawcko) the S.A. barman and whoever ends up showing. Usually other guesthouse workers/owners or fellow guests here. Last night we were joined by Ben, an English agro-major working with locals to increase yield and decrease waste and soil degradation. We all solve the worlds problems and trade tall tales. It reminds me of the part in The Adventures of Baron Munchausen when they end up inside the whale and just play cards for an eternity before he receives the impetus to move on. To that point I've taught Jaco how to play Cold Turkey. He feels it is a great game to keep his mind sharp for blackjack ;-)

So that's the A to Z of things at the moment! Pray for a stiff wind folks....lol

Cheers and love,

Shane

Posted by sbinnell 02:19 Archived in Uganda

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Comments

Well done. I am excited to hear how the SuperCustom works out. Sounds like a style I could get behind!

by Braden

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