|Uganda! What an experience. Trying to put into words the first week in Africa will be impossible. I will try to give you a glimpse of what we have experienced.
We arrived to Uganda and met up with our friend Heidi at the airport. She lives an hour away in Kampala. Heidi had emailed us that we would be busy if all went as planned. She arranged for me (Drew) to trek with the Gorillas in western Uganda.
We quickly got back to Heidi's and immediately started strategizing our next three days. To get to western Uganda we will need to catch a 6:30 am bus the next day. I have at this point convinced Jen to come along and we called it a night.
We arrived at the bus station just around dawn to make sure we had a seat on the bus. Heidi made arrangements with the driver and explained where we are supposed to be going. This is a local bus. For those of you in San Francisco think of the MUNI with cushioned seats, just not as nice. There are a total of four white people on the bus (including us). Jen and I are feeling like fish out of water... So we wait around for the 6:30 bus to leave at 7:30. As we leave we get a quick glimpse of the hussle and bussle of Kampala (to be explored later). I look at Jen and can see the tension rising in her eyes, I heard (at least I recall) "I don't know if I can do this...". The bus ride will be eight to ten hours if we have no breakdowns or problems. After we get moving we both nap a little bit. We are sitting in the two of the three seats of our row. A woman in her 50's is sleeping next to me. She awakes I say hello and we begin to talk and talk and talk. Flavia is a native Ugandan who has lived abroad in Germany and travelled Europe extensively. She is going to see her mom in the "upcountry" (outside of the city). Thank goodness for her, she has took us under her wing. Flavia thinks we are making good time and says we should make our destination of Butogota about an hour after she gets off. Boy was she wrong. Jen and I are all excited... she was about four hours off. The ride was broken up into 5 ½ hours of paved road and 4 hours of dirt road (for those in NY think of Fields Lane in the late 80's after a big rain storm). At about 4 pm Jen is getting worked up!! I can see tension, she takes a "wet wipe" to clean her face and hands off. This is when she loses it! The wipe is all dirty and I see Jen with tears streaming down her face under her sunglasses. Oh Boy! After a few minutes (and a little pep talk) she calms down (we will later laugh about this extensively). Finally we get to Butogota about 4:45 p.m. or so.
At this point I have been making friends and chatting with a whole bunch of the locals. The bus conductor has set us up with his friend (maybe brother) to drive the remaining way to Bwindi. I pile in the back of a pickup with the two other white guys from the bus and a handful of locals. Wild ride. Another 17km to Bwindi Impenetrable Forest.
A quick note about Ugandan's (& East Africans) they find it incredibly rude if you do not say hello and ask how you are. This is not a quick process and usually leads into another conversation about your family, place of origin and travel plans. Jen and I both agree that we would be hard pressed to find this many friendly Americans traveling on a bus (or any mode of transport).
The next day I trekked with a group of seven others to reach the gorillas. The trackers had picked up their trail close to where they were the previous day. The group is made up of nine gorillas total. There is a dominant male (silverback), several juveniles and a mother with her two-week-old baby. The gorillas are limited to spending only one hour per day with human contact. An amazing experience. We head back to the camp and eat a packed lunch along the trail. Most of us are chatting away about the interaction. Jen opted to not trek with me and decided to visit the village called Buhoma Community. She wend with a guide and an armed guard. Uganda Wildlife Association (UWA) provides a guide and armed guard for the all tours (including the gorilla trek). Armed guards are now required after eight tourists were killed in 1999 by DR Congo rebels. After we are both back we head back to Butogota. There is only one bus per day back to Kampala (which leaves at 5:30 am). We definitely experienced an interesting night at the Green Tree Hotel. One Jen wishes to never repeat in her lifetime!!!
After our long ride home (11 hrs) we arrived at Heidi's to recoup and get ready for a quick dinner. Amazing how a hot shower can make you feel like a human again.
The next day we are up early again to head for Eldoret, Kenya. There is a family that Heidi knows there and we will spend the weekend with them (see pics). Eldoret is a about seven hours by bus including border crossings. When we arrived to the Kenyan border Heidi exchanged some money so we were able to get food, drinks etc.. Everything happens by hard negotiation! Heidi handed me some local currency to get snacks... long story short, I was used to Ugandan currency and made a little kid very happy by purchasing six bananas for the equivalent of $12 USD (I at least had the sense to bargain him from two to six)! We had a wonderful day and a half in Kenya and headed back Sunday night.
We had the opportunity to raft the beginning of the Nile river, but it required another two hour bus trip. We opted out and decided to take it a little bit easy. Done with the bus rides! We have spent 35 hours on a bus over a five day span.
The next two days we spent walking around Kampala, visiting the clinic where Heidi is doing malaria research and just hanging out. There is much to see and eat in this city.
We are off to Tanzania for SAFARI!!!