Saturday, 18 April 2009

Mbarara-Kampala-Mbarara an interesting journey

Sometimes when you travel you have an adventure, most times it is quite straight forward, I had both types of trip, which is nice...

Due to a member of staff leaving the department just prior to my arrival and an "oversight" regarding the purchase of a power supply for the new fibre network there was a need for a business trip to Kampala.

The initial plan was to all take a truck to Kampala as the aforementioned ex-colleague had some stuff he needed taking. Of course getting a vehicle is not straight forward, therefore we had to borrow from one of the deans of faculty, however he choose to travel also and thus there was 1 space too little in the truck.

The Ugandans debated who should travel by bus, all making the comment that I would get lost, however as it became clear the time they were planning to set off was undecided, I volunteered to make my own way to Kampala. This was the best decision ever as even though the roads are bad, big buses go over pot holes better than little trucks and even though the bus station is not a gleaming palace finding a bus you want is very easy, especially as they set off when they are full and if you don't know where you are going somebody will always help.

The journey to Kampala was hence uneventful and I arrived in time to visit VSO and purchase an ice cream from the cafe of the Italian supermarket (we are deprived in mbarara of fancy stuff like ice cream). Anna of course is not happy that I had ice cream but hey she can have some next week. The task of getting from the bus park to VSO and the ice cream place is of course another story. Remember, there are no trains here, taxis are called specials and are expensive, buses are little mini buses called matatus and take ages and the most dangerous but fastest way of getting around a big city is the boda, which technically we are not allowed to get unless we have a helmet on (note: for legal reasons of course in all boda stories please assume a full face crash helmet was warn). The price of a special was extortionate, the matatus take ages so of course I asked a boda to take me. This was indeed an experiance as the traffic is grid locked, the boda drivers are mad and people don't understand my accent sometimes. So the boda driver set off in completely the wrong direction and I had to stop him and type into my phone the destination, once the communication problems were completed we proceeded to drive at 50mph through static traffic, weaving inbetween other bodas and cars pulling out on you. Next was the roundabout, a massive one a bit like the madness we see in Paris but road users are more insane. My boda of course went flying onto the roundabout without pausing, then proceeded to stop at traffic lights but edge forward into oncoming juggernaughts. at this point I told him to not kill me today and be patient about the lights, at that time of course a juggernaught missed another of his boda friends by inches. we got to within reach of VSO and a soon realised my driver did not now know where he was going, so I had to initiate the debate I knew where to go and to go up the big hill, this then started the debate that how could I know where I was going, which he finally realised I did better than him as we arrived at the destination. phew...

my overnight stay was uneventful as I stayed at helen and duncans mansion (2 other VSO's), and was provided with good food and real coffee.

In the meantime my decision to travel on my own was found to be the best option, as my colleagues did not set off until quite late and arrived in Kampala very late in the evening.

The next leg of our trip was to visit various companies and do a little bit of PR work. Our first port of call was the provider of our switching equipment. we needed a power supply for the switches which costs an extra $1000. In the UK we would definately not rock up to a big IT company and get a very good deal. Here we met our account manager, who accepted that they had miscommunicated the contents of the equipment they had provided and we appologised for not realising the cost of the switch was cheap, we therefore agreed to meet the cost 50/50 and were presented with a big hunking power supply for us to carry around all day! Now as this power supply was heavy and we had other errands my colleague decided we had to leave it with somebody. Nobody we knew was in the vicinity so the plan was to leave a $1000 piece of gear we had just taken away for half price and actually not paid for with some random. My reaction was of course are you really sure that is a good plan. I was assured that it was and it was left in a little sudanese cafe we were passing by...

The rest of our treck involved visiting the main telecoms supplier in Uganda, where of course the cabling and trunking for cables was attrocious, the account manager didnt seem to realise we paid a lot of money for a 1mb connection only realised we were serious about improving service when we starting pushing him about other suppliers, discounts etc... after him looking completely flumoxed we visited the ISP who was a screechy indian man who would have been great in a skectch show. Finally we returned to the cafe for our package and thankfully it was there, phew for a second time. Maybe I am too mistrusting but supposedly things dont disapear much in Kampala, although they do over the border in Nairobi.

The last leg of our trip was the bus home, all started well, we got to the bus park boarded a bus and were off by 3.30pm (a 5 hour trip and it gets dark art around 7.30). just before dusk a noticed the driver was really pushing the coach, then i also noticed that the light did not come on in the coach as it got darker, neither could i see any headlights on... we continued and as it got darker there were a few comments from other passengers, we were driving blind... Next we stopped as the driver decided it was too dangerous, there was even somebody who asked if people had torches so they could be fastened to the bus. Not to worry a geneorous matatu driver said we could follow him so the big hunking bus with no light careered through the night following a little mini bus. this worked well until the police saw the coach and sensibly stopped the driver and told him to wait and call for another bus. we decided to pile of the bus as a coach on an unlit bumpy road is a recipe for a massive crash (just to note, of course were were in the middle of a national park at the time with real live game somewhere around). we had got so far but i was residing myself to a long wait, comment were coming from my 2 colleagues saying i bet this does not happen at home. I said to be honest the lights might not fail but if they did or we broke down it would be a long wait on a hsard shoulder. i of course was not perturbed as although things in africa may seem less ordered they are sometimes better. of course another enterprising matatu stopped by the coach and i negotiated a lift home. i was home by 8.30 probably on 30 mins later than expected and had a little adventure too.

anna is also happy as i brought some nutella back from kampala for her. as i type though she is doing a presentation about setting up a pharmacy or something. she was panicing last night as she was the first person i am sure she will be fine... she write about it herself though.

Monday, 13 April 2009

Easter at Lake Bunyoni

We travelled to Lake Bunyoni on Friday for the Easter weekend, and we had an absolutely fantastic time.

Bernadette, who is a VSO working in Kasese, came over to Mbarara on Thursday night. We had a bit of an adventure trying to meet each other in the bus park. I got lost on the way (!) and was late getting there, and then it turned out that Bernadette was in the taxi park and I was in the bus park, which are two separate places (luckily not too far from each other). We went out for the evening to a bar near our flat, called Peers Bar, and had some food. I'm a bit worried that we're going there slightly too often, as the waiter knew exactly what Jason was going to have - Pork Muchomo (which is roast or barbecued pork). There is not a great choice of veggie food at Peers, but they do make the most amazing chips - kind of English Chippie style - so I was happy.

We got back to the flat and decided to open a bottle of wine, using the new corkscrew which I found in a local supermarket. Unfortunately, the quality of kitchen implements here is worse than useless, and the corkscrew snapped in half. Still, we were determined to get some wine, and decided to hammer a knife through the cork instead...this seemed to be working fairly well until the side of the wine bottle shattered!! Luckily we managed to salvage some of the wine, and drank it after we had passed it through a sieve to filter out any shards of glass!

The following morning we set off on our journey to Lake Bunyoni, which involved two stages - getting a bus to a town called Kabale and then a taxi from there to the lodge we were staying at. Jason and I had not yet ventured onto Ugandan public transport, so it was a bit of an experience. We went to the bus park, thinking we would be able to get a coach to Kabale, but were instead directed to a little minibus - known as a Matatu. Public transport works very differently here compared to the UK - you get on a Matatu or a bus and have to wait until it completely fills up before the driver leaves - there are no timetables as such. So we sat in the Matatu for a hour, while it was steadily filling up with more people. The 'official' capacity is 14 passengers, but our driver managed to fit 20 people in.

Once the Matatu had filled up to bursting point we started on our long journey along the extremely bumpy roads, and ended up in Kabale about 3 hours later. The journey was very uncomfortable, as we were packed in like sardines, so it was a real relief to get out of the Matatu in Kabale. Then we got a taxi (or 'special' as it's called here), and arrived at our lodge about half an hour later.

We stayed at a place called Crater Bay Cottages, which was really beautiful.

Jason and I had booked a little thatched cottage with an en-suite, while most of the other people we went with camped in the grounds. The lodge had it's own jetty, which we could swim from. The water was lovely, although a little bit cold, but it certainly refreshed us after the journey. We only stayed in Crater Bay for one night, as we had booked accommodation at Byoona Amagara for the other two nights, but I would really love to go back to Crater Bay sometime soon.

Jason went across to the island by dug-out canoe, but it seemed a bit too much like hard work to me! I got a motor boat across the lake to Itambira Island, where the Byoona Amagara Island Retreat is. It is a very popular place, run as a not-for-profit organisation, and donates all its profits into the local community for schools etc. There is no electricity on the island, but there are a few solar panels dotted around the resort, and this generally provides enough electricity to keep the place going (depending on how much sun there is). Due to its popularity, we had only been able to book a room with a bunk-bed in it, but it was clean and comfortable (despite the fact that it looked like a shed from the outside!).
We swam in the lake again on Saturday afternoon, and were hoping that Easter Sunday would be nice so we could get a canoe and paddle around. Unfortunately, it rained ALL DAY! It wasn't too much of a hardship though, as it was just lovely to stay on the island and relax reading a book (the resort has its own library) or playing cards.
On Monday we had to leave Lake Bunyoni and make our way back to Mbarara. It seemed such a shame to go back home, as the sun had finally decided to come out and we would have liked to have spent the day swimming or canoeing. We will definitely be going back to Lake Bunyoni soon, it is such a perfect place to chill out and enjoy the beautiful scenery.

Friday, 3 April 2009

Stanley the Marabou Stork - he lives in our skip