Wednesday, January 16, 2008

African Adventure Part I

Friday, 4 Jan 2008 Ha’Burkura Lake Lodge, outside of Kebala, Uganda. Our original plans had been to fly into Nairobi on Jan 2, stay in Nairobi for two days and then fly to Kigali, Rwanda, on the 5th of January. Because of the unrest in Kenya, on Monday, Dec 31, I was able to re-route us to Entebbe, Uganda. I left Memphis on a flight to Detroit, meeting TC there. My flight was a bit late, waiting for a gate. TC was waiting at Caribou. We ate at Jose Cuevera Tequiliaria. The appetizers were good, but the main course was not particularly good. We then boarded our flight to Amsterdam. We had to wait a bit for de-icing and then we were off. I had not gotten a boarding pass for the AMS-EBB let, though TC, who had checked in in Cleveland at the same time I had checked in did get his. When we arrived at AMS, there was a huge line at the elite counter for transfers. I thought that I would try the self-transfer kiosk. There appeared to be only one open seat. TC and I had been give an aisle and a middle on an interior four seat row. As people finished boarding, I noticed that all of rows 10 and 11 were vacant. I moved to row 10 B (a bulkhead seat). No one came. In fact, the flight attendant moved a couple to the interior bulkhead and said to another flight attendant that he was surprised no one had moved in. I suppose I should have waited in the transfer line and tried to get assigned a seat in row 10. The food on KLM continues to be abysmal. Lunch was tasteless chicken with some sort of equally tasteless sauce. Salad was covered in mayonnaise. Dessert was a foamy thing on top of a thin layer of chocolate cake. The snack before landing was soup (tasteless) and another mayonaiseey salad. There is a reason most airlines don’t serve soup in coach. We arrived in Entebbe about an hour late. My bag arrived fairly early, but TC’s two bags did not show up. We had arranged for the hotel to pick us up at the airport and drive us to Kampala. I decided that I should go out and make sure they were waiting for us. The representative was anxious about the shuttle leaving . Finally, she arranged for a taxi for us (at twice the price of the shuttle). Neither of TC’s bags showed up. He filed his claim. We finally arrived at the hotel just before midnight. I had been traveling 31 hours. We ordered room service, not very good.

We learned as we were waiting for baggage that there was a fuel shortage in Uganda. The unrest in Kenya had halted deliveries of petrol to Uganda and Uganda had neither developed its own refining capacity (there is oil here) nor had they begun to work with other countries for alternative sources. Sudan has refining capacity and there is the possibility of delivering fuel through Dar es Salaam Tanzania rather than through the port of Mombassa. There had been no deliveries since Monday. Being the anxious person that I am when I travel, I conjured up all sorts of possibilities of being stranded in Kampala and not being able to go the 20 km to the airport at Entebbe. I began to work on alternative plans. We could fly to Addis Ababa or fly back to Amsterdam and rent a car and drive through Europe. The fact that it was 30 degrees in Europe and that I had clothes for the equator and TC had no clothes was one hitch in the Europe plan. I finally went back to sleep.

On Thursday morning, we got up and had breakfast. The hotel has a lovely second floor balcony with tables. We ate out there and began to notice storks. These birds are HUGE. They stand probably four feet tall or higher; the wing span must be close to eight feet. Looking up in the sky, I thought I was in Jurassic Park watching the huge birds fly with their legs tailing behind them. After breakfast, we walked to our travel agent. I had taken a risk on a local travel agent because the price for the exact same tour was about two thirds the cost of going with an American or British tour company. I had sent them cash up front, so I was concerned that they were not some sort of scam. (The agency is African Pearl. They were written up in both Bradt and Lonely Planet. I asked them for email references and got four very happy references from folks with US?UK email addresses, so I was reasonably comfortable). At any rate we finally found the office. They were wonderful. The trek was still on, they had enough petrol to get us where we were going and had an alternative for us to get to Rwanda. We could leave on Friday and stop in Kebala and arrive at Gorilla’s Nest on Saturday as originally planned. The only additional cost for us was the night’s lodging on the way. We then wandered off to KLM to find out whether they knew where TC’s luggage was. Nope. But, they did hand over a crisp hundred dollar bill for clothing. We then had lunch at an Indian restaurant, Hannadi.

The food was wonderful. We had pakoras, a shrimp in a tomato, ginger curry, spinach with peas and garlic naan. The restaurant is on the second floor. About our eye level were the tops of the trees in the median of the street below. In a jacaranda tree were four huge storks and a nest with two babies in it. Of course, you could hardly call these birds babies. They were the size of geese with long beaks. One stork was taking branches (branches) off a neighboring tree and using them to reinforce the nest. It was amazing. The branches were about three feet long with smaller branches and leaves coming off the main branch. It was amazing to watch this huge bird stand on a small limb and say through a branch with his/her beak.

We stopped in the Kenya Airways office to see if I could get a refund on our tickets from Nairobi to Kigali. There were fifteen people in front of us. After a few minutes, we decided to leave. We had earlier found some stores with men’s clothes. We acquired two shirts and then from a guy on the street, socks. Prices in Uganda are not cheap. I don’t know if it’s because the dollar is in the toilet or if things are always that pricey. Shirts were $15. Socks were $10. The socks on the street were $2 a pair. We then walked back to the Kenya Airways, and were told that we needed to see the accountants. We finally found him. He said we needed to email someone in Nairobi but to copy him on the email. Then we walked back to the hotel. Before we got there, we decided to ask our travel agent to recommend a place to get the rest of the things TC needed. She recommended a shopping mall about three quarters of a mile away. And so, off we walked. It was downhill.

The mall (Garden City) looks like a three story American mall. We entered through the parking lot and found a large supermarket/discount store with food, clothes, towels, etc. We found all the stuff TC needed. We wanted to find a few other things and so we wandered through the mall. We took a taxi back to the hotel and rested. Unfortunately, we went straight to sleep at 5:00.

This morning, we got up a bit early, packed and had breakfast. Our driver met us and we began a long drive to Rwanda. It took about an hour to get through morning traffic in Kampala. The landscape is lush and there are rolling hills. It is quite lovely. There were huge cattle with horns. Some of the horns were about 30 inches long and curved upward in two semi-circles. I have never seen cattle quite like those. The other amazing sight was that of men with bicycles loaded with bananas. Each bicycle had at least three stalks (which must have weighed at least 50 pounds) tied to it: one across the back and one hanging down beside each side of the rear tire. Many bicycles were loaded with even more stalks. The men were pushing their bikes, The hills were fairly steep and I was amazed that any could make it to the top of the hills as laden as the bikes were. There were people everywhere carrying jerry cans for petrol.

We traveled through lots of small villages. There were shops on either side of the road. They carried advertising along the roofline, but the advertising didn’t seem to be related to the items they carried. Most of the shops were freshly and brightly painted. In some of the villages, there were large trucks. I think that the men were selling their bananas to the guys with the large trucks. We stopped for lunch in a nice restaurant and had mostly Indian food. We finally arrived at the dock for the hotel we are staying at around 4 pm. We found the men from the hotel and finally got our bags loaded in a boat and motored over to the island. The hotel is clean. We are staying in a two bedroom cottage with its own patio. The cottage has a central room. The shower consists of a hand held shower mounted on the wall and a large dishpan on the floor. The hot water is heated by solar panels and so I expect a fairly cold shower in the morning.

We walked around the island and were fascinated by the birds We saw a crested crane fly by. TC spotted some birds which he thought might be kingfishers. There was a small bird with a divided tail that was about three times the length of its body. Dinner will be at 7:30 and we will see what it is like.

The lake is beautiful. The green, terraced, volcanic hills come down into the shore of the lake. Dugout canoes ply the waters. It is cooler (about 6500 feet in elevation) which is quite pleasant.


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Boy waiting at the docks

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One of the islands