Thursday, April 28, 2005

Malalalalalawi, wowee! (I just couldn't think of anything dorkier.)

I'm back in Kampala, and i've recovered from my vacation. If I was in first grade and I had to write a story on "What I Did On My Vacation", and i was one of those classic six year olds who focus on the wrong-but-most-honestly-true Thing (like those kids in that granola bar commercial where you're supposed to give your kid something chewy to shut them up), my story would probably begin with "On my vacation I went on a lot of busses." Because yes, that is mostly what I did. Incredibly, no wait, make that 'INCREDIBLY' packed buses. Malawian buses should all have a motto painted on the back that reads "50% more people than seats, the whole trip, every trip!" I mean, that would be a great slogan.

So, we start off from Kampala on the cushiest ride of our trip on a Scandinavia bus with a toilet, movies (School of Rock! But then, oh, Jackie Chan movies from 1989!), and free sodas and biscuits.
Bus route from Uganda to Malawi
30 hours (yes, 30 hours! and we're half-way to malawi!) after departing Kampala, we arrived in Dar Es Salaam in Tanzania, where we stayed for the night. By far my favourite part of the journey was the Uganda/Kenya border (you have to go to Tanzania via Kenya) and the children hawking snacks. Normally, i hate border crossings - all the money changers harrassing you, the kids selling hard-boiled eggs and dry cookies following you around relentlessly. But THIS border had kids who had been taught about potassium. When the kids said "madame! madame! you want banana? Banana! With potassium!! Makes you strong and healthy!", I totally cracked up. A couple minutes later a kid tried to sell me chocolate biscuits because "Bazungs like chocolate! You want chocolate biscuits?" (Bazung is the plural of mazungu, which as long-time deannainuganda readers should know means 'white person' or 'foreigner') I mean, those kids can SELL!

So anyways, after a night in Dar Es Salaam, a night where I did not get a chance to eat a submarine sandwich at East Africa's only North American fast food outlet, Subway, we left the next morning on another 12 hour bus ride south to the Tanzania/Malawi border, where we again stayed the night. The following day, we got on some more busses and stuff, travelled through Malawi, the country we had actually been aiming at for the preceding three days.
Our route around Malawi

By night fall had arrived at Nkata Bay's Njaya Lodge, which was awesome and relaxing and beautiful. On one of those bus rides, i don't remember which one, i was so jammed in between other people and their luggage that i couldn't move at all, and emerged with most of my body's blood supply pooled around my ankles. Man, i looked HOT! For those of you counting, that made four days of travel (Sunday afternoon to Wednesday evening) to actually get where we wanted to go. Rock on.

So, two days later we leave Nkata Bay, take a few more buses, spend the night at my friend Darren's house in Lilongwe (Darren is a fellow canadian who used to live in Kampala), and then got on a bus the next morning to go to the town of Monkey Bay and on to Cape Maclear, which once again, we arrived at by night fall. Once there, we did some fabulous swimming, snorkelling and kayaking in crystal blue, warm clean water.

But back to the buses.

After three days relaxing, it was time for me to head back to lilongwe for my flight back to Kampala. Karin and Toby still had some time to spare, and so stayed on at Cape Maclear for an extra day.

So I went back to Lilongwe (the capital of Malawi), and it went something like this (lovely, really):

My trip to lilongwe was, um an 'adventure', as my Dad likes to put things that in fact SUCK REALLY HARD. From the guest house in Cape Maclear, myself and two other travellers (Neil from England, Sara from Israel) hopped into the back of a pickup truck to head to Monkey Bay, the next town over, and where we could pick up transport to lilongwe. Aside from being very dusty, the pickup truck turned out to be the only part of the trip that went well. Okay, so we depart our guesthouse at 6:30 a.m. and get to Monkey Bay around 7ish, and find a bus going straight to Lilongwe, which we don't get on because we'd heard that taking a minibus to Salima, a town midway between Monkey Bay and Lilongwe, and then transfering to another minibus would be faster route than going direct. (The 'direct' bus actually takes a very ciruitous route to maximize pickup/dropoff points.) This route should get us all the way to Lilongwe by around one or two oclock in the afternoon.

That is the key decision that steered the day in the direction of CRAP.

So we find a minibus; we get in and wait for passengers, as minibuses leave when they are full, rather than on a schedule. By 8:30 we are still the only three people on the bus, so we offer the guy some extra money to 'go now', with the condition that he can pick people up along the way, but no more waiting. We give him 2/3rds of the money, and we go, but we only drive for FIVE MINUTES and then we stop again to wait for more passengers. We are still in Monkey Bay. We don't leave Monkey Bay until almost two hours later, at 10:15. We are LIVID. He is a thief. He won't give us our money back, and he won't go, and there's no other minibuses. Finally we go, drive for an hour or so, and stop for a pee/Coke/leg-stretch break. Fine. Then the conductor decides to fiddle with bus, and POURS PETROL INTO THE RADIATOR. Needless to say, that minibus ain't going anywhere. We all sit at the side of the road for another hour or so (it is now about 12:30), when another minibus arrives in town, and our bus driver puts everyone on this new bus, transfering their fare. Everyone except the three of us, that is. He wants the remaining 1/3 of the money we 'owe' him. We refuse to pay, as that extra money was to 'go fast' which we didn't. Since the first bus driver won't transfer our fare, the second bus driver kicks us off and leaves. With one of Neil's bags still on the bus.

So we are still in this little village/town. Neil knows how to fix cars, so starts to work on the petrol/radiator problem, figuring that for his trouble we will get the rest of the ride to Salima when it's fixed. No such logic exists in the minibus driver's head. Finally, infuriated, one of these giant flat-bed truck things arrives, and we get on, along with (literally) about 50 chickens, several baskets of fish, and about 30 malawians who are also heading to Salima. Awesome. Its 2pm, we aren't even at Salima yet; but at least we are moving.

A while later we get to a police check (there are A LOT of police checks in Malawi.) It is 3pm and the driver of the truck begins an argument with the police while we bake in the sun. (We were told by a fellow passenger that there was some bribe being demanded and the driver was refusing to pay it.) I now have a raging sun/dehydration headache. Finally, at 3:45, the driver tries to restart the truck but fails. Why? NO GAS. Some dude (the conductor?) hitches a ride back to the last town to get gas. We wait until 4:30, and then start asking other vehicles to take us please. Nobody wants to take passengers without an official license to do so right in front of a police check. Fair enough. At 5:00pm (WE ARE STILL NOT AT SALIMA. WE HAVE BEEN TRAVELLING SINCE 6:30 A.M.), a German man in a blue pickup comes through the check. Neil RUNS and asks him for a lift; the german guy apparently goes through this police check every week and is 'friendly' with the police, who turn a blind eye while we get in. He drives us (and 8 other malawians) to Salima. THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU. It gets dark at 6pm in Malawi, time is running out. I have a plane to catch in Lilongwe in the morning. Bus stations in large african cities are scary places at night. Again, we are moving.

Then our luck changes as we discover he is going all the way to Lilongwe. He drives us all the way there, dropping me off right at Darren's door, where I am staying for the night. It is 7:30 pm. Only 13 hours to get to Lilongwe! Woohoo! And to think this ride is supposed to take 5 hours! I have the world's most raging headache ever; (wait, i meant EVER) I down a bunch of Darren's tylenol and flop into bed for two hours. I wake up, Darren makes us bacon-and-egg sandwiches, we watch some TV, and the day is done. A good ending to an 'adventurous' day!!!

So yeah. AFREAKA!!! as Darren always used to say. Everything else went fine. I watched a movie before heading to the airport in the morning, how I miss having a television. My flight went as scheduled; I bought a super cute beaded bracelet at Nairobi duty-free, and made friends with the middle-aged South African business man i sat next to on the plane; I think the highlight of his business trip to Kampala was going for drinks with me/katie/kelly at Bubbles Oleary's last Friday night.

Saturday night, totally incongruously, I went to a Passover seder at the American ambassador's house (he's jewish.) The seder was great, I'm really glad I went, despite my usual rejection of all jew-targeted 'social' activities. The house was humongous, thank you American taxpayers. I've never been in a house before where there are 'mens' and 'womens' guest bathrooms with stalls. Somehow his Ugandan staff know how to make really good matzoh-ball soup and gefilte fish. I also want to know why people don't eat eggs in saltwater or make the whole maror-thing outside of passover seders. I love that stuff. Weird to be eating in Uganda, making it all the better.

So yeah, now its back to the 'daily grind'. My employer has finally paid me (they were significantly behind, that's a whole other non-blog-appropriate story), so I joined the gym at the Garden City mall, and am in the process of trying to purchase a laptop computer (no tax on computers in Uganda!). The employer is trying to convince me to become the Director of Marketing for the entire Group of companies (that would be 8 companies... yeesh. I better be able to do some hiring), versus my current position as head of marketing for one of their largest subsidiaries. I'm not so sure i want to do it. I don't think it'll make any qualitative difference to the work experience i'm getting, and it'll probably just up my stress level. Plus, they can barely get around to paying me, i'm not sure i want to increase my investment of time and effort in them, you know? But we'll see. As with most things, it'll probably come down to money.

And to make things complete, here's a map of the trips me/karin/toby took around Uganda. You know all those places I mentioned that you've never heard of and so have no idea what i'm talking about?Hopefully this will provide a bit of a reference point:
trips around uganda
Man, do i have awesome Microsoft Paint skillz! Yowzah!

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Breaking the Break

I'm breaking my blogging break. After a month and a half of either not posting at all, or posting short non-content posts, and after getting a few nice emails letting me know that my intended audience does actually read this (even if they don't comment), I've decided to break the break by summarizing the past few months with photos. After all, with two months worth of stuff I haven't written about, I figure that substituting a few thousand words with a few pictures might not be such a shabby idea. (By the way, almost all the links below will take you to more photos.)

So here, we go, in approximate order of both chronology and least interesting to most exciting (to me, at least):

I signed up for sailing lessons with my friend Karisia:
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Around this time, i got this weird abscess thing in front of my ear. It hurt,but not as much as my hammy expression here would indicate:

I went to a party at Bulago Island. We didn't stay at the resort, but rather were provided with transport in a gigantic green canoe loaded with one hundred people, a complete dj setup and speakers, and crates of beer, soda and water for 150 people, destined for the other side of the island where we camped. Myself and several other people felt like the boat was ridiculously unsafe, and got off before it even left the mainland. We ended up getting a lift with the guy who owns a vacation home on the island. His snazzy speedboat was a definite step up. The party was a fun time, but I don't know where the New Vision newspaper gets its information, as I don't recall it being quite like this.

The party's key educational component involved me learning about how pineapples grow:

To make Educational Fruit an actual theme, i present to you what lemons look like here in Uganda. Yup, they are damn ugly.

At some point in the last month or so, Katie, Steve and Kelly came over for some drinks before we went out. Ever since then, they've been clamouring for the photos I took that night. Well, here you go:

For the following few weeks, things just continued on in a nice uninteresting way. I had a splash of excitement when the Great International Secret Blog Exchange package I put together arrived at its recipient (she liked it!), and when the GISBE package sent by super-cool Stacy arrived for me here in Kampala. She did a fabulous job of reading through my blog and picking stuff I would like: a cosmo magazine, a knitting magazine, Cadbury Cream Eggs, Raspberry Milano cookies, and Burts Bees lip balm. All stuff I can't get here, and all either delicious or fun! Besides, cosmo in uganda is like cigarettes in prison - what I'll be able to barter for with it, I can't even imagine.

And then, THEN, I received the visitors I've been looking forward to for the last several months. That's right, it's what you've all been waiting for: Karin and Toby, two of my favouritest people ever, took a very slow bus from Nairobi and arrived in Kampala a couple Thursdays ago, in time for the Easter long weekend. (While i was waiting for them at the bus station, i got into an animated political discussion with some of my fellow waiting-to-pick-people-from-the-bus-ers, during which i emphatically pointed out that the the key thing hindering Uganda's development is the rampant political corruption. My best example of this is President Museveni's current efforts to change the constition to enable him to rule for a third term, which I drew as a parallel to a dictatorial move, or at least an attempt to move towards dictatorial rule. Gulp. Next time I'm going to make sure I'm not talking to a government MP before i start arguing. If i get kicked out of Uganda unexpectedly, you'll all know why. But I digress.)

So, yes, Karin and Toby are here! The first couple days here were marked with rain and errands, but as the Lonely Planet says, "Kampala's night life is something to savour", and we spent Friday night out at Bubbles O'Leary's and then at Rouge:
We could be anywhere!! (As this photo was being taken, Toby was singing "we could be anywherrrrrrrrre!" and it's true! Look, it's us in bolivia! Look it's us in taipei! Look, its us in Toronto!", but hey, who cares, it was fun!)

Because gorilla permits were more complicated to procure than expected, we killed the day on Sunday by going to the pool at Speke Resort. After we got good and crispy under the sun, we were free to begin our trip:

The next morning, the three of us got on the BEST BUS EVAR and took off for Fort Portal:
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We rotated standing in the aisle because i refused to wedge myself next to the kid with measles or scabies or whatever it was he looked like he had. I'm princess-y that way.

When we got to Fort Portal we had a quick lunch of matoke, rice, and beans. Then we continued on to a guest house in Kibale National Park, where we had headed in order to go chimp tracking the following morning. On Tuesday morning we woke up early-ish, put on the hiking shoes, and headed out to find chimps.
Toby and tree with buttress roots

After a couple hours of hiking, we could here the chimps hooting and hollering - we were surrounded by them, but just couldn't seem see them. Finally, our guide, Gerald, led us towards a group of chimps sitting and swinging in the trees:
chimp in a tree
(What with dense foliage and the chaos of mating season, it was tough to get decent photos. Although I do have short video of two chimps doin' it. "hee hee".)

That afternoon we drove through some beautiful country side towards western Uganda's famous crater lakes. We shared a banda and went swimming in the tiny, breathtaking Lake Nkuruba:

Karin and Toby at Lake Nkuruba

After a couple days at the lake, we split our paths, as I headed back to Kampala, and Karin and Toby headed south to Kabale and then to Bwindi Impenetrable Forest to go gorilla tracking.

The bus ride home was quite a bit more pleasant than the bus ride out, with good scenery
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and the ever popular snack (roasted bananas, chapatis, chicken and goat brochette) hawkers crowding up to the window at stops:
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Karin and Toby are back in Kampala now, and after spending a couple days in Jinja for some rafting on the Nile, we are now planning our trip to Malawi, to depart this weekend.

Til' after Malawi!