Having survived the trek, had an open shower and witnessed measles made of chilli powder, Uganda is quickly becoming a home away from home.
UGANDA: WEEK 2
Day 8 (Tuesday 7th July): No words can describe this day – the moments of claustrophobia in the jungle, the childish pleasure of a picnic lunch and the rise and fall of both morale and mountains. The most impressive thing about this trek was the ability of the view around each corner to restore your spirits and keep you pushing: upwards, downwards, whichever direction. This was undoubtedly the hardest but most rewarding day, and I was incredibly proud of my volunteers – those that had the strength to admit they were struggling and get the bus to save themselves for the rest of the week and those that had the strength to plough through in equal measure. Guttingly, my camera was dead, so I will have to get photos next time – both of Ugandan ‘gumboots’ (wellies used to cross the swamp) and Rwandan volcanoes.
Day 9: A flatter day, walking along main roads to the town of Kisoro and a restaurant called the coffee pot for lunch, before carrying on to Mutanda Island, a practical paradise. A shot up police car and hordes of cute children later, we reached Kisoro, and our first chance at wifi – I was somehow glad that my iPhone was still dead. After a conversation about getting the bus and a volunteer using chilli powder to try and pretend they had measles (before rubbing it against their eye), we finished our journey, passing by a funeral on our way through. It was an odd experience: the town was flooded with people but silent: we passed through as quickly as we could. Mutanda – David’s – island greeted us in the early evening, and most people went swimming in the lake before settling round a campfire, for scary stories involving monkeys and avacado trees (another story for a later day).
Day 10: Motorboating across Lake Mutanda, we came to a cave that our guide, Clement, discovered. Telling us that up until 1940, Ugandans on Western islands would often fear to bury their dead in case it somehow ruined the land, so instead they found places to… Store them. This cave was one such place – no larger or wider than a few square metres. Those of us that dared venture in were greeted by one full skeleton near the entrance, and a few other bones on the surface elsewhere, the rest buried further or decomposed. We left relatively quickly to find our way (via a steep hike) to Chameleon Lodge – a very muzungo (Western) hotel at the top of chameleon hill. Having met the owner – Doris, the most successful unsuccessful person I’ve ever met, who aimed to set up a dog sanctuary and somehow ended up with a hotel – we moved through the rest of the day downwards, heading to Nshongi camp and the end of our trek. We arrived and went to bed early, people fearing the 5.30 wake up call.
Day 11: Waking my volunteers with a rendition of “In the Jungle”, I heard one of them shout that I’m “not their real dad” before they turned back to sleep. It wasn’t too hard to get people up, despite the cold & the dark – the excitement of gorillas worked it’s way through the group and got everyone moving. Having split up the groups into teams of 8, I waved them goodbye at the briefing point and headed back to camp – my permit being for the next trek, not this one. A long, comfortable nap and an open air shower later (possibly the nicest shower I’ve ever seen, where the water is warm and the wildlife stretches out around you), my volunteers came back in groups, tired but ecstatic. That night, Miha of the tour company rejoined us, put together a slideshow of some of our best photos (featuring 2 of my selfies) and told us the story of how he came to live in Uganda. Technological development seems to draw many people here, but the country itself is what keeps people.
Day 12: 14 hours of coach journey from Rushaga back to Jinja with story telling, singing & sleep. Fell very much ill with only minutes of the journey to go and had to stop the bus to be sick. Arriving at the campsite, I handed over to the ever incredible Emily and found myself asleep in a tent minutes later, looked after by some of my kindest volunteers, willing the motion sickness and indigestion away.
Day 13: With my volunteers off on extension trips for 3 days – either a safari or kayaking the Nile – I chilled at the campsite all day, nursing a poorly stomach and recovering head. I met Stu – the Ugandan country manager – properly for the first time and couldn’t shake how much he reminded me of someone, without being able to work out who. I rang home for the first time and embraced a chance at wifi, meaning my day consisted mostly of food, Facebook and a phenomenal view of the River Nile before heading back to the EAP house, greeted by the EAP dog, Gracie and the strange cat that keeps finding it’s way into the house, Rabies.
Day 14: Attempted to take Gracie for a walk along the train tracks to the Kingfisher pool, but was greeted by a brushfire about half way, and Gracie broke off her collar and bolted. Half an hour of chasing her chasing chickens ensued, then I got her home, taking instead to reading for pleasure for perhaps the first time in three years. The other interns and Laura got home and we headed to moti’s, a curry house in Jinja, and ate incredible food – all the while trying to work out how to fill my time the next day. It occurred to me that knowing Uganda whilst volunteers were around with a strict project to follow and knowing Uganda were very different things, and I’d have to try and do the latter before I left – amidst open days and trekking and whatnot.
Till next time,