May 2001
Africa Part 6 - Kisenyi, Banda, and Kampala - 5-29-01
Jess Posner

Hello again:

I say again because I started a nice flowery email earlier today, but in the attempt to save the draft an error occurred and all was lost. I hate it when that happens! But now that I have vented, I will try and remember what I had been writing about.

As of last week I had just returned from Fort Portal, and I was still enjoying the chimpanzee glow and the gorilla glow. I think it has now officially worn off. I was pretty exhausted and it showed, as I ended up getting some bug or another and was laid up with bad cramps and the runs for a day and a half. It was bound to happen sometime, right? So, that meant the river rafting on the Nile was cancelled. Oh well, I think I prefer the toilet to the river.

Anyway, on Thursday I headed to Banda island with Katrina and Chad, my traveling companions since Bwindi. We had heard that the boat trip to the island is not all that memorable but the island itself is very relaxing. Supposedly there is a guest house there, or something, that is only $10 a night and includes all meals and beds. Sounded good to me. And there are a lot of ants there. No biggie.

We took one of the shortest matatu rides there is to be taken to Kisenyi, a nice fishing village 35 minutes outside of Kampala. Only five kilometers of the drive is off the tarmac. How nice. Anyway, we arrived, were herded to the boat and then told by Cassius, a nice Ugandan who helps people to the boats, that there would be a bit of a delay. Ha ha! Where have I heard this before? We arrived at 2:30, a bit on the early side anyway since the boats leave around 3 or 4. Well, it turns out the president of the country was out on the lake with some diplomats, and therefore nobody could embark until he had left. Who knew when that would be? Word had it the diplomats were Indian but I also heard someone mention the Finnish. At any rate, we weren't going anywhere for a while.

At around 5:30 we were told we could head to the boat, which was made of wood, not that big but not that strong looking either. A small motor was attached on the back. Since there is no dock you are hoisted to the boat by men like Cassius. They take your bag from you, or rather whisk it away, and then before you know it you are cradled in their arms like a baby. I was sure they would drop me or get me wet, but not a drop touched my princess skin. They moved with the waves and successfully jumped the ropes, and then hoisted me up and over onto the boat. It was quite impressive. And for that we got to pay them a small tip. Then we waited and waited as the sun began to sink lower in the sky. I thought I'd be on the island to watch the sunset, but I realized it would be on the boat.

Around 6:15 we finally headed off, slightly seasick but trying hard not to think about it. The sunset was lovely, and watching the birds dive and catch fish was pretty entertaining too. Plus I was sitting next to a nice fisherman who told me stories and calmed any worries of sinking. I was told they often go down, which didn't help my somewhat nervous stomach. But enough of the complaining and the sarcasm - the sunset was awesome and the star gazing was even better. It was like looking at a real life planetarium. Plus, you cross the Equator going to Banda, and we entered the southern hemisphere without knowing. I found it very comforting to be so far away from home and yet still be able to point out the Big Dipper and Orion. There were electrical storms around the shore which were cool to watch.

Finally, we arrived in Banda, cold and ready for food and bed. We were in for a treat. The owner, a fellow mzungu, and also fellow African (Kenyan) brought us onto the beach, took us to the tea and coffee and gave us coats to wear. Then after explaining the free nature of the island to us, which he owns, he fed us an amazing pork stew. Yum! It was great. There were flies galore, but that didn't seem to matter with the good food and atmosphere around us.

The owner of the island is Dominic, a colonialist Kenyan who has an opinion on everything from red ants to why Westerners should not be giving aid to Africa. It was quite interesting and educational to talk to him. He's like a character out of some book, and his different stories of the natives and growing up in Kenya are hilarious. His parents own land that was once part of Karen Blixen's farm, (the writer of "Out of Africa") and he was in the movie as well. He drinks and smokes cannabis a fair bit, and lives a remarkably relaxed life on his island. So do the rest of us when we stay there. It was just what I needed after the craziness of traveling from the gorillas to the chimps and back to Kampala.

Two things to note on the island; ants that were in hordes and stung like you wouldn't believe, and the surfboard. The ants, which usually stayed in lines which are easily hopped, would sometimes swell and spread everywhere, and then you were out of your tent, or not going to the bathroom, or who knows what else. Not fun, but led to good storytelling. The surfboard was once a windsurfer, but lacked the essential sail and was now a surfboard that people played on. Katrina and I spent at least 45 minutes a day trying to balance on the damn thing at the same time. We were quite unsuccessful but I don't think I've laughed that hard for sometime. The laughter kept me from balancing, and I would get going and then she'd get going and then we'd fall into the water trying our hardest not to drown. It was fun and good exercise too. The island itself was beautiful and every night we'd eat outside and then watch the stars, play card games, drink some beer, tell stories and just hang out. It was great.

I returned on Monday, going on the boat in the rain which isn't worth telling about. We arrived safely but quite wet. I've been in Kampala since and will be leaving on Thursday for Arusha. I'll arrive there sometime on Friday and then my family comes the next evening.

I've enjoyed Uganda so much. It's so much more relaxing here, the people are really nice and don't hassle you too much. Kampala, while a gritty city, is full of life. Walking the streets last night there was music playing, and people out shopping from the street vendors who were lit by candlelight. It was quite surreal. So much I've seen and so much more I would have liked to see. Maybe another time.

I hope this installment hasn't been too dull or negative. I think I'm ready to get out of the city again, especially after such a nice relaxing vacation. The Ssese islands are a must if you ever come. Also, I won't be rafting tomorrow on the Nile as there were not enough people to go. Oh well, I guess I'll have to try for the Zambezi in July.

Hope you're all doing well and starting to enjoy the upcoming summer months. How time flies.

Jessica P.

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 7

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