Backpacking Uganda Part 1

Uganda Travel Blog

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The Nile

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.

I was a bit stunned and I held him in front of me and smiled at him; that baby gave me the meanest look I have ever seen. He continued glaring at me even after I handed him back to his mother who was chuckling when she saw his expression. Also interesting about the child, was that he never made a sound during that hellish ride. After two hours of constant head cracks against either the back window, side window or ceiling, it was probably more likely that I would burst into tears before that baby ever would.

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.

Canon ball tree flower


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.
canon ball sign
It felt a lot longer. At one point, the infant had stopped wailing and I looked to my left to see the woman breast feeding. I felt embarrassed and kept my head down. The little girl -- apparently no longer in awe of me -- seemed to take great joy in hitting me in the side of the head with a plastic bottle she was holding. I didn't mind so much, as it was the one side of my head that hadn't taken a beating from the previous matatu ride. By the time we finally arrived in Jinja the little girl had fallen asleep with her head buried in my ribs. She left a nice drool stain on my shirt.
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.
Dragon Spider
I had been looking forward to coming to Jinja for a long time.

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.

Fish Eagle
There were about twenty people going on the river that day and they split us up amongst three different rafts. The six people on my raft were a Belgian guy named Ben, four Irish nurses and the guide, Morgan from Wales. They turned out to be a good bunch, but one of the other rafts had six gorgeous Swedish girls on it and one happy guide. I wouldn't have complained if I had ended up on that one. Instead, I end up with four Irish girls who
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.
Vervet monkeys
By the end of the day I was completely fearless paddling into tsunami size walls of water knowing that a flipped raft would just add to the fun. We flipped twice during the run and I got separated from the raft once and pulled back by the safety kayaker. All in all a very safe and fun outing.

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.
Jinja house
Ben works for the UN and is a peace keeper in the Democratic Republic of Congo; he spun several yarns about his travails in the Congo and spoke passionately about months he had spent traveling in India and Nepal. Morgan was living in Austria as a ski instructor before coming down here for the summer to work as a river guide. Virgin ski slopes in Kashmir were his possible next venture. I talked about my travels in Latin America.
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.
backpackers
Kampala was great. As a matter of fact, all of Uganda was great. To be honest, my time in Uganda was the first time I've felt consistently safe while in Africa. In Kenya, the streets empty out as soon as the sun goes down and, quite frankly, it's scary as hell walking around. In Kampala, it's much more like a normal city where there are still heaps of people walking around in the city center after dark. One of the funniest things I've noticed about Africa so far is the fact that Africans love American country music. American music generally exports very well. You would be hard pressed to go just about anywhere in the world today
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.
to showers


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.
overland trucks
There are plenty of good restaurants around. I've eaten some fantastic Indian curries and had a very nice Italian meal. I also picked up a couple of books in a great book shop. The people are very friendly and getting around is a snap as you just hop on the back of a boda boda (motorcycle) and you're whisked to wherever you want to go; usually for less than a dollar.

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

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The Nile
The Nile
Canon ball tree flower
Canon ball tree flower
canon ball sign
canon ball sign
Dragon Spider
Dragon Spider
Fish Eagle
Fish Eagle
Vervet monkeys
Vervet monkeys
Jinja house
Jinja house
backpackers
backpackers
to showers
to showers
overland trucks
overland trucks
Jinja Girl
Jinja Girl
Jinja hut
Jinja hut
Jinja Boy
Jinja Boy
rafting river
rafting river
Jinja sunset
Jinja sunset
sunset
sunset
sunset riverview
sunset riverview
Rafts
Rafts
accomodations
accomodations
buffalo
buffalo
Buggala Island
Buggala Island
Lake Bunyoni
Lake Bunyoni
warthogs
warthogs