September 1, 2010
Woke up to the soft light of morning and the sound of one of those birds that are frequently enlisted for atmosphere in jungle scenes.
“This is it,” I thought. “Africa.”
I took another awesome shower and we went to face the day in the form of a full English breakfast.
After breakfast, we met our driver, Dominic Kizito. Dominic is the proprietor of Assured Uganda Safari, a tour company he began two years ago when he obtained a loan to purchase the vehicle for it. He came to us highly recommended by one of Kristi’s colleagues, and I’m happy to say that we will extend the recommendation. Dominic is soft-spoken, sometimes with a kind of relaxed pronunciation (I think of it as a Ugandan drawl) that put me at ease. His mouth was often set in a slight smile, and he was very friendly and engaging. We had hired him for the full time we’d be traveling, so it was important that we got along well. Also important was his 14 years of experience and his knowledge of routes, locations, and people. More on that later.
Dominic’s car is a 4WD Toyota van with seats for 9 passengers (passenger seat, then 3, 2, 3 seats in 3 rows behind) and a top that can be raised for game drives. We sat in the first row behind the driver and set off out of the city.
Uganda is ostensibly “drive on the left”, but it’s actually more like “drive where you damn well please.” Part of this is due to the generally poor condition of the roads. We traveled on a few good roads, but even in the capital city, there were serious potholes, and once you got out of the city, you were lucky if there was even one lane’s worth of pavement, which both directions of traffic would use until a larger vehicle came along going the other way. Cars definitely had the right of way over pedestrians, and trucks over cars. The bigger the truck, the righter the way. Dominic made liberal use of the horn to alert motorcycle and bicycle riders of our approach, and we regularly forced smaller oncoming traffic off of the pavement (or even off of the road entirely, onto the shoulder) even when we were driving on their side of the road. No one seemed the slightest bit put out by this.
We headed south west out of Kampala toward Masaka. The road was bordered by swamps filled with papyrus, which looks pretty much like what dandelions would look like if they grew eight feet tall. There were a few open markets and, at regular intervals, villages, which appeared at first glance to be about 30% cell phone sales outlets. There are several competing cell phone providers in the area, and they will pay building owners to paint the road-facing sides with their colors and logos. Many people agree, and the result is an odd colorful and commercial juxtaposition with the other brick and mud buildings.
We stopped at the equator and took touristy photos, then ate at a nearby cafe. We ordered some veggie wraps off the Mzungu menu, and Dominic ordered some local food. We asked him about it, and they brought us out a plate as well. The food was matoke, which is green boiled bananas. It was served with a light vinegary tomato sauce with a few other vegetables in it. It was pretty good. There’s a little bit of banana flavor, but it’s mostly just starchy, like potatoes.
After lunch we drove another quite long way, through Mbarara, toward Kabale. Before we got to Mbarara, we passed by the Lake Mburo National park, and Kristi spotted zebras! We pulled over, got out, and walked out into the countryside to get a better look. There were eight or ten of them standing around in the shade of some trees, a few of them eating. We took some pictures and watched them for a few minutes, until they decided that they’d rather go be zebras somewhere else, and wandered off. We drove on. We passed a little village a mile or so later, and I couldn’t help thinking: “Look at all these people just walking around like there aren’t zebras back there!”
As we got near Kabale, the landscape became very hilly, and you could see all the terracing of farms on the hillsides. We eventually arrived at the Bunyoni Overland Resort, on Lake Bunyoni. We arrived not long before sunset, and immediately set off on a hike up the hill. We were joined by several locals, first a boy of about eight, and then later two of his cousins, who were about fourteen. One of them introduced himself as Bernard, and we had quite a discussion with him about many things. He was an orphan. His parents both died of AIDS, and he lived with his brothers and sisters with his aunt and uncle. We enjoyed a nice view of the lake, then started down, since it was growing darker. We stopped by at Bernard’s family’s house, and the children did a traditional dance and sang a few songs for us. I took a picture of them, we gave them a little money, then headed back toward the resort. It was quite dark by the time we finally got down.
We went to the resort’s restaurant, and ordered goat curry and goat stew, and a few drinks. After a long while, they brought out some chips, because the goat was still not ready. After another bit, the food came out. The two bowls looked identical, and tasted like the only difference was a bit of chili powder had been added to the curry. The goat was so tough as to be inedible. We ate the vegetables, made a heroic attempt to obfuscate how little goat we’d actually eaten, then went to bed.