Backpacking Uganda Part 1
Uganda Travel Blog› entry 74 of 80 › view all entries
Heading to the Ugandan border, I got my first experience riding in a'matatu'. Matatus are the primary means by which the local people travel
around and are essentially small vans (mostly Toyotas) that have as many seats as possible crammed into them. They 'should' hold about 15 people, but Africans seem content jamming at least 20 on board. I was stuffed all the way in the back corner of the van for the trip to the
border. From this seat I had the joy of banging my head on, not one, not two, but three different surfaces as we drove way too fast down very bumpy pot-holed roads.
There was a woman sitting next to me with a baby of around one year, I would guess. At one point she was trying to better situate herself in the seat and she handed the baby to me all of a sudden like he was a sack of potatoes.
When we finally reached the border, I got out of the matatu to a swarm of people offering bike rides to the gate. One guy was yanking my backpack out of the back of the van by the time I got around there and I had to snatch it away from him. I walked the short distance to the gate and, after a quick visa purchase, was walking into Uganda.
The border town of Busia looked a bit like something out of an old western. A dusty road with ramshackle wooden buildings lining the main thoroughfare. I asked a few people directions and found the next matatu station that would take me to Jinja about 115 km away. The second matatu ride was worse than the first one. This time I was seated dead center in the middle of the van and everyone stunk. I seemed to be blessed with having young children around me, as the woman seated to my left had an infant and a little girl with braids of around 3 or 4 with her. Unlike the mean faced baby, this baby was a screamer and the little girl just sat, smashed between me and her mother, staring at me.
The ride to Jinja was long, too. It took about four hours over some of the worst roads I have ever seen.
I checked into my hostel feeling as if I had lost a street fight. The road had been so dusty and I was caked from head to toe with red dust. My head hurt and I felt slightly nauseous. I rested for a short while and then got busy trying to get things ready for tomorrow.
Jinja's claim to fame is that it is the 'source of the Nile'. Interestingly, if you follow the Nile south from Egypt it forks into two different rivers in
the Sudan. The Blue Nile originates from lake Tana in Ethiopia and the White Nile from Lake Victoria in Jinja, Uganda. In addition to being 'the source', Jinja is also being billed as the new adrenaline capital of Africa (Victoria Falls being the original). They offer such things as bungee jumping and quad-biking, but the number one draw card is white-water rafting on the Nile and that's why I was in town.
The next day I showed up at a place called Explorer Backpackers having booked a full day run on the river the night before.
could probably drink me under the table.
After the obligatory raft training, we were on the river around 10:30 and hitting serious class 5 rapids in no time. It turned out to be a very fun day and, despite having massive class 5 rapids, very safe. That stretch of the Nile is perfectly suited for rafting, being both wide and deep, with very few nasty rocks around to slam into.
The evening proved to be just as fun as the day out on the river. Back at the Backpackers Hostel most of the rafters gathered in the bar area and we all swapped stories. I spent most of the evening talking to Ben and Morgan who we were calling Captain Morgan after a few cold beers. A few others floated in and out of the conversation, but it was just one of those very memorable nights on the road when you meet extraordinary people who have seen and done so much.
Amidst routine power failures and a fairly boisterous atmosphere we shared stories.
Nights like that one are to be cherished. It's not everyday you get to meet kindred spirits on the road in some exotic place and share memories and experiences that will stay with you forever.
The next day I left Jinja, by the dreaded matatu, and headed for the capital city of Kampala. The ride into the city was pretty uneventful for a matatu, although we did get stuck for a long while in traffic while entering the city.
without getting some exposure to American pop, rock, hip hop etc. Country music is the big exception. Excluding, maybe, Australia, I have never found a place where country music could be heard with any sort of regularity outside the US-- until now.
For instance, after I had checked into my hostel in Kampala, I headed out to a bank to try to get some money from an ATM. On a late Saturday afternoon I walked past a bar across the street from my hostel and I hear, 'If I said you have a beautiful body would you hold it against me' blaring out into the street. Mind you, the bar was packed with ebony skinned Africans jamming to a tune that I haven't heard for years. Now, in case you think this is some sort of a fluke, I got to the bank and hear Kenny Rogers singing 'Islands in the stream' while waiting in line at the ATM. I then return to my hotel and, passing by that bar, hear a Randy Travis song coming out this time. No boots, cowboy hats or big belt buckles yet, but they love the country tunes. Bizarre.
I've spent the last couple of days in Kampala enjoying the city.
I'm actually going to miss this place a bit, but of course, the road is calling. The trip is starting to take on a life of its own -- and that's a good thing. Next up will be Uganda part 2 hiking the Rwenzori Mountains