To travel is to discover that everyone is wrong about other countries
- Aldous Huxley

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Uganda - Dan's in the Mist & Rafting the Nile

We arrived in Uganda in pretty quick time, the drive was a little bumpy due to road works and just general bad roads, and we exited the incredibly green Kenya to the just-as-green Uganda. The drive was still long and we passed many huts and stores that aren’t quite up to standards if we were in Australia but the people seemed happy and like in Kenya, the kids loved the bus and were always waving to us.
We made a brief stop to get supplies, in which we bought an air mattress to use for the rest of the trip in the tent. Best $50 I ever spent I think. We headed past Lake Victoria, the biggest lake in Africa, and arrived at our camp for the night before we head to Lake Bunyoni for 4 days.

The trek to Lake Bunyoni is a long one, especially if it is raining and the truck breaks down in the middle of nowhere. However aside from that it is a nice and pleasant drive through rolling hills of green. Among the brief stops for truck breakdown or to rest, gather supplies or to have lunch, the trip took close to 14 hours to arrive to Bunyoni Overland Camp.
Bunyoni Overland Camp is a nice place situated on the shores of Lake Bunyoni with a nice view across the lake. Lake Bunyoni is huge, as we realized on the drive back from Bwindi National Park.

Our first day in Lake Bunyoni saw us waking at 4am for a quick breakfast before a 2-hour drive to Bwindi Impenetrable National Park to track the Gorillas. We met with our tracker who described the rules and the deal with tracking the Gorillas. It was the usual stuff – Gorillas are wild, no guarantee on seeing them etc. – also you’re not allowed to go in if you are sick since it can really affect the Gorillas. Hiding the tickle in my throat we set off at a trek through the rainforest.
The jungle itself is pretty amazing, this being my first time in a rainforest and it was wild and untamed.  
We walked for about 45 minutes through hills, climbing over fallen logs, walking through the barest of tracks following the trackers to where we found one family of gorillas.
The experience itself was worth the price alone, we sat amongst a male silverback, a female and about 4 young ones, including a baby. The gorillas were pretty anti-social, mostly ignoring us except when one of the trackers pulled the tree the male was eating. He pulled it back and gave the tracker a death stare, which was pretty funny.
The Male stayed on the ground for the whole time we were there and the others initially were on the ground but eventually moved up through the trees. We were able to get really close to them, about 2-3 meters though we were told we were only meant to get within 7 meters of them but the trackers were happy to cut a path for us to get closer and in the jungle to us.
After about an hour and a thousand photos we headed back to our initial meeting point and drove the 2-hours back to our camp and my minor cough was getting worse.

We were lucky that our group took only 45-minutes to get to the gorillas, as one of the other groups were trekking for 5 hours to find their group.
The chest infection hit me bad the next day, I woke with a bad chest rattle and spent the day feeling like death. Our cook – Dom – is a marvel, a former restaurant chef could turn cow shit into cuisine, gave me a ginger and honey tea which cleared me up. Feeling better our group sat around the fire cooking marshmallows and talking about anything and everything.

It was around this time I realize how great of a group Danni and I have gotten to know. My biggest concern was getting a group full of Aussies who just wanted to get smashed every night, similar to the group we had in the Masai Mara for the first 3-days but this group has been so great and have met some really nice people and made some really, genuinely good friends.

Our last day in Lake Bunyoni was spent relaxing, admiring the views of the lake and getting all our stuff sorted before we leave early tomorrow morning back to Kampala.

The drive to Kampala was like the drive to Lake Bunyoni, long, bumpy and we couldn’t wait for it to finish. Nothing exciting happened as most were just waiting for it to end so we could get out.
But tomorrow is going to be the fun day: White Water Rafting on the Nile.

White Water Rafting

We were awoken to the sounds of the Ugandan Air Force flying their B-52’s right over our tent, no wait, it was the loudest freaking birds Uganda has, and probably the universe as well.

We packed up our tent and loaded our stuff onto the truck before we were taken in a mini-van to the starting point of the Nile raft. Our guide was actually a young kid from Tasmania, making the number of Aussies I have encountered on this trip a round 10 million.
We had a small breakfast consisting of grilled sausages and battered hard-boiled eggs, yep you heard correctly, battered hard-boiled egg. Surprisingly it wasn’t as disgusting as it sounds.
We kitted up and took our group photo for identification purposes if any of us didn’t make it and headed down some gloriously short steps to the raft. I say gloriously short because we soon raft at Victoria Falls and we may as well parachute to get to the bottom it’s that far.
Embarking from the shore we went through some of the things to do: paddle in unison, paddle backwards, turning the raft around, how to get in the raft if we are washed overboard and how to flip the raft back over if it is flipped. All the usual instructions for rafting.

We hit our first rapid and the fun began immediately: A grade 5 rapid with a 3m waterfall at the end of it, we managed to spin ourselves sideways somehow before we hit the waterfall and fell and yet we didn’t capsize the boat, which looked a certainty.
Celebrating this victory, the next (and all) rapids were about 25 minutes away from each other. The next was a grade 4 rapid in which our ever-so-kind guide – named Big J – flipped the raft. Now getting thrown off the raft or flipping it, deliberate or naturally, isn’t so bad but when you are underwater in the rapid, the first time is quite freaky. When we did it last time in Victoria Falls, I got thrown off and felt like I was underwater for 10 minutes, not 3 seconds. This time I felt ok, I just drank half the Nile trying to get some air as I got stuck under the edge of the raft and not the air pocket.
We managed to gather everyone and get back on the boat, we were all ok except one who was really shaken and felt like she was going to “die”.  Overly dramatic person completely lost it when we hit the next rapid, a grade 6 that we were had to get out and walk around., before jumping in at the end for a grade 5. They broke down in tears and looked like they wanted to run away.
I may sound overly harsh on this person but they also don’t help do the dishes at dinner like everyone is meant to and it really pisses me off.
We passed the grade 5 with ease and settled in for another long wait to the next rapid, passing by a Eagle in her nest and an Iguana swimming across the Nile which was pretty cool to see, even if it looked like a snake initially. We also got the jump in and have a swim.
We successfully navigated our way down the remaining 5 rapids, which were either grade 3 or 4s with ease completing our 22km rafting (against the wind/current) with success at only being thrown off once, and that was because of our guide.

Once we finished we had a kick-ass lunch of chicken wraps with salsa, lettuce and cheese and kebabs as well as unlimited drinks. Making good use of these facilities we hung around for a bit before an hour drive back to our tented camp in Jinja (pronounced Ginger) where we set up camp and as we waited for dinner it rained like we needed to build a boat and get 2 of every animal. Never seen it rain so bad and naturally the tent wasn’t fully closed up so we had some stuff get wet but nothing major so that was a relief.

Tomorrow we leave Uganda for good as we head back to Kenya. It is going to be a long drive and doubly long if it is still raining.

I’ve loved Uganda though, it is a splendid place and seems to be doing well after a sordid history with Idi Amin. They make do with simple exports (coffee, sugar, cotton) and don’t rely too much on tourism as they don’t have a whole lot to offer aside from the Mountain Gorilla’s.
Seeing the Gorillas’ was my favourite aspect of my visit to Uganda, even moreso than the Rafting, which I will always love doing. The country itself isn’t dirty, it’s dusty and gives it a dirty sort of look but, like Kenya, it is not full of tall buildings or elaborately designed cities. It is a simple place with simple structures and they do it to get by. It’s safe and the people are friendly and they have a lot to offer.

That is all that matters.

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