May 2001
Africa Part 3 - Uganda and Bwindi
Jess Posner

Greetings from Kampala, Uganda!

I am writing this email in two installments since I have so much to tell about my week here in Uganda, but due to time constraints I'll stick to one and please bear with me and scroll down continuously.

Anyway, before I begin I'd like to preface the email with two thoughts:

First, some of the titles I thought to name the email were "Another bus? No f*****g way!"; "Buses, matatus, taxis oh my!"; "My butt really hurts"; "Personal space: Who needs it?"; "Valium is available over the counter"; and "Gorillas, chimps, and monkeys oh my!"

Secondly, I would like to mention that many say when you're young you do certain things or bear with things you wouldn't as you get older; such as taking daily bus rides of 10 hours or more with no personal space whatsoever and no bathroom breaks :_) Yes, this is Jessica in Africa.

Lastly, my friend told me a quote he had read before about traveling in Africa: take the amount of time quoted for the journey, add three hours, and then double it. That is the truth!

Anyway, I left Nairobi on Sunday night and was quite happy about that. Besides the fact that the people there were more attractive, or at least the men were, and the internet connection was fast, there was little else there for me. NO one is on the streets after dark, black or white. Kind of scary and you're always on guard. We even took a taxi from our hotel to the bus station and it was four blocks away. Get the drift?

So, a night bus, 13 hours was what was quoted to us to get to Kampala. I went with people from my overland tour, Justin, Joe, and Patricia. We met Chad on the bus, an ex-Peace Corps volunteer from Salt Lake who had been in Zimbabwe for two years. The bus left on time and none too soon. I was ready for Uganda. The bus was pretty nice but packed. Little did I know this would be the nicest trip I would have.

We arrived at the border of Uganda about 8 hours later around 5:30 AM. The border patrol didn't open until 6:30 so we waited. As we headed out, the bus rolled away! No worries though, it was just crossing the border, which we did by foot as the sun rose above. It was already pretty warm, the crossing was done quickly, and we were off again by 7:15 or so I think. We arrived an hour late. Anyway, some of my first impressions of Uganda were as follows: green green green, mud huts both round and rectangular with thatched roofs, lots of people and kids watching the bus go by, speed bumps and no shocks so lots of bouncing. The bus started on a dirt road along the tarmac road where all the people were. Go figure. They wear more dresses and less batiks or wraps too. I was awake to pass the Nile river beginning out of Lake Victoria - quite cool. Then I slept and we arrived 14 hours after leaving Nairobi.

Driving in Uganda is like driving in other countries (other than the US) - organized chaos. I would kill five pedestrians and three cars in five minutes. That they do not collide is only by some stroke of luck. We arrived at the backpackers hostel, left our stuff, got money and found out about permits to Bwindi where the gorillas live. We were excited, but not about handing over the $250 dollars. There's a $15 entrance fee too, and this is for an hour with the gorillas. It turned out that Wednesday, two days away (it was Monday at this time) was the only time we could all go. So, that meant we had to get back on the bus the next morning at 6 AM for 11 hours. Ugh.

Another bus... but this one was not so deluxe as the last one. I'll try and explain the situation: In the front the driver was on the right hand side, then there was a cushion in the middle for bags or people, another long bench on the left hand side for about three, a two-seater bench at the end of the long one on the left, then an aisle, and another two-seater bench. They had four people on the three-seater bench, me and Chad on the two-seater right next to them with NO LEG ROOM, and about 8-9 people on the cushion meant for about 4-5, and three on the other two-seater.

The bus was stuffed and I sat like that for about 11 hours. The ride by car is 5 hours....ahhhghh! And Africans have no problem with sharing personal space; in fact, what is that? So, I had no feeling in my butt or legs after a while. But it was cool to see the country and to mingle with the people. Oh, and no scheduled bathroom breaks either. Fun fun. The only stop was four hours into the ride when the wheel came off the axle, and we had to take a 15 minute break. All the men peed in one area and the women in another. It was quite funny to see. I just dehydrated myself for the rest of the trip.

I learned an important word along the road that my cousin had mentioned to me but hadn't heard until then - "mzungu", meaning "white person". I heard that from every kid on the road followed by their one phrase "how are you?!!!" They yell at you and wave repeatedly. It's really cute and you wave back. I felt almost like royalty except for being squashed in the bus, and the fact that they were really yelling "whitey" to me over and over. After 12 hours, the last four on a dirt road over hill and dale, we arrived in Butogota. Oh and I forgot to mention the day started out by waiting two hours in the bus since it took off an hour and half late. My humor was waning.

Well, now it was dark and we were disoriented but we wanted to reach Bwindi which is a 17 km ride, on a dirt road of course, and you need a taxi. By that time we were seven since we met Katrina, a Swiss woman traveler on the bus. So, we found someone to take us. We all packed into the back of the truck, it was open-air and off we went. Or so we thought. About 8 km into the ride as we headed up the road looking at the stars and lightning bugs the truck coughed and died. Yes, the fuel was bad and there was no gas. You had to laugh at this point. What the f**k were we going to do? In the middle of nowhere with a truck with bad fuel and the next morning we were supposed to see the gorillas?

Tomorrow I will finish this tale.

Take care,

Jess P.

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 4

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