Hard to believe, but this past weekend was my last one in Uganda. To commemorate the occasion, Kristen and I took a trip to Jinja that we had been talking about doing for months. We’d been interested in taking a boda trip somewhere, and once we found out that there was a “shortcut” to Jinja that avoided going through Kampala and involved travelling along backroads, we were sold. Yosam, one of our regular boda drivers, was a natural choice for who to call – he’s been one of the highlights of my time in Africa – always friendly and entertaining, and we trust him. After working out the departure and payment details, Yosam and his brother, Patrick, arrived outside our house, ready for the 100km trip to Jinja on Friday morning. Apart from one flat tire shortly into our adventure, we made it without any problems, and treated Yosam and Patrick to lunch at the Nile River Explorers Camp. Kristyn, the other Shanti volunteer, opted to take matatus to Jinja instead of joining us on the bodas, and so met up with us shortly after we arrived. It was a beautiful way to get to a beautiful spot in Uganda, and certainly only added to my desire to get my motorcycle license when I return to Canada.
Last weekend, since I was heading to Entebbe anyways to pick up a new Shanti volunteer, I decided it would be an opportune time to call up Kristen’s hairdresser, Richard, and have him put braids in my hair, similar to the ones that Kristen had when I first arrived in Uganda. After a few crossed wires as to where exactly the appointment was taking place, I managed to meet up with him, and we headed to a store near the taxi park to purchase the extensions that would be braided into my real hair. With many bags of hair in hand, we took a boda to a salon in town and started the incredibly time-consuming process of plaiting. Each braid was done using only a few strands of my own hair, which were then woven with the extensions to create a braid that goes nearly a foot past my shoulder – far longer than my hair has been for many years.
Despite the fact that we’ve been back from Rwanda for nearly two weeks, it’s only now that I’ve managed to get my head around writing about our visit to the Kigali Memorial Centre. Since Kristen had gone there during her first trip to Rwanda earlier in the year, and Sune had already boarded a bus to Tanzania, it was just Ido, Jessica, and I who took bodas to the genocide memorial on Monday morning. The three of us ended up purchasing the audio tour, which provided more information about each area and exhibit that we travelled through. The tour began with the memorial gardens outside the main building, each designed to represent particular elements of Rwandan society prior to, during, and following the genocide. It was quite jarring to be confronted by the contrast between the blooming flowers and greenery of the gardens and then the mass graves and wall of names located in the same area. All told, the gardens hold the remains of more than 250,000 victims. The scale of loss that the country suffered in 100 days is practically incomprehensible, especially considering that the bodies located at the Kigali site account for only a quarter of the total estimated Tutsis and moderate Hutus that were killed in 1994.
Although our plan originally had been to take a bus from Rwanda back to Kampala on Sunday, the delays with visas meant that there was no way for us to visit the Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre before Monday. Since it was important to us to be able to go there during our time in Rwanda, we decided to take a night bus back to Kampala on Monday instead. The extra day allowed us the opportunity to take a day trip to Kabuye, another lakeside town about two and a half hours outside Kigali. Sune, a Danish traveller who was a few months into a year and a half of travel, had plans to head onto Tanzania and so wasn’t able to come, but the other four of us boarded a bus Sunday morning and endured a very windy trip through hilly countryside. As had happened to Kristen on previous bus trips on Rwandan roads, the person next to her wasn’t such a fan of the twists and turns and ended up vomiting on the floor of the bus. Needless to say, we were very happy to reach our destination shortly after that.
My apologies for the silence on the blogging front. After spending a completely fantastic week and a half in Kabale, Kisoro, and Rwanda, Kristen and I returned home to no power (still), no internet, and, as of today, no water. Seems that the water tank for our house is completely empty – dry season has certainly arrived! Needless to say, this trifecta has thrown a few wrenches in our work here.
It’s hard to believe it was over a week ago, but last Tuesday, after spending most of the morning recuperating from our hike the previous day, Kristen and I took bodas to the border and went through the rigmarole of exiting Uganda. Rwanda recently started imposing $50 visa fees for Canadians (previously it had been free for us to enter the country), which meant that we needed to complete an online visa application form before arriving at the border. The website had not been working for most of the previous week, though I’d been lucky enough to have been able to submit my form during a small window when the site would open on our slow internet connection here. Kristen, however, as well as a group of three other travellers we met while at Lake Bunyonyi for Christmas, had not yet gotten a response from the Rwandan authorities, and so were all turned away when they tried to enter the country. While they spent another night in Kisoro fruitlessly trying to get a hold of someone in immigration, I made my way from the border to Gisenyi, a beautiful town on Lake Kivu, just a few kilometres from the DRC. Vanessa, one of the previous Shanti volunteers who had travelled to Rwanda during her time here, had left very detailed information about her trip so it was a breeze for me to figure out which buses to take and how to find the cheap accommodation in town. I spent a quiet day and a half in Gisenyi, exploring around the town, walking by the lake and getting to see the the border with some tour guides I acquired along the way. Kristen and Jessica, Sune and Ido arrived late on Wednesday night, after finally getting some good luck in the form of a man who phoned immigration for them and talked with the official there until he agreed to issue the visas.
After taking a canoe off Itambira island, and catching a special hire from the “taxi park” (such as it was) in Kabale, Kristen and I headed off along the very twisty, but extremely beautiful road to Kisoro. We arrived late in the afternoon, and were dropped off right at Hotel Virunga, where we were staying. I headed over to the Mgahinga National Park office to double check our reservation for hiking the following day, and to arrange another special hire to pick us up before and after the hike. We could have taken bodas for a little cheaper, but given the state of the road there and the fact that we were likely to be completely exhausted at the end of the day and not really in any state to be having to hold on the entire trip back, it seemed like money well spent to just get a car.
I’m writing this from the main lodge at Byoona Amaraga, a lovely spot on Itambira Island, in southwestern Uganda. We travelled here by bus from Kabale yesterday morning. What was supposed to be a six-hour journey ended up being more like eight, which isn’t too bad by Ugandan standards. The scenery was gorgeous along the way, and we took the bus with a couple of Australian travellers that Kristen met on her shuttle ride back from Jinja. We arrived in Kabale just before the last canoe to the island was supposed to depart, so we called the staff on the island to make sure they arranged for one to stay for us. We took a taxi along an incredibly bumpy road to Rutindo Market and met up with our canoe guide, Justice. It was about a 50 minute trip to the island, in a hollowed-out tree canoe. We had a great time helping with the paddling and chatting with Justice, who was mainly fixated on wanting to meet a Mzungu girl that he could marry.
I’m definitely eagerly anticipating our arrival at Lake Bunyonyi. If all goes according to plan, we should get across to the island around dinner tomorrow – assuming our bus trip from Kampala to Kabale, the boda ride we’ll take to get to the Byoona Amagara departure point, and the canoe crossing all go smoothly. I’ll be crossing my fingers… I arrived in Kampala last night, and promptly trekked over to the bus station to reserve our tickets for a Friday morning bus. I slept in one of the dorms at our usual hostel, Tuhende. The room that I was in had beds for eight people, but I was the only one staying there. Although it made for a very quiet evening, and meant I had my own bathroom and shower for the day, I wouldn’t have minded running into a few fellow travellers.
After a busy week at the centre, spent running the teen girls group and helping with the other projects and activities taking place there over the past few days, Kristen and I headed to Entebbe on Saturday to relax. We also wanted to see Ali, one of the Shanti volunteers, who was flying back to the US after nearly a year in Uganda. Ali and her boyfriend, Dai, arrived late in the day on Saturday, so we caught up with her briefly at our hostel that night, and then had a chance to do the formal goodbyes and to give her a parting gift on Sunday, just before she headed to the airport. Originally, we were going to meet up at a restaurant in town for lunch, but the previous day Kristen and I had spotted what looked to be a gorgeous pool at a hotel not far from where we were staying, and were determined to get in a little swimming somewhere we could be assured the water wouldn’t make us sick. The pool was fantastic, and we spent a very relaxing day swimming, reading, and enjoying pizza at the poolside restaurant. Definitely the swankiest thing we’ve done since my arrival in Uganda – and all for only 10,000UGS (less than $5 Canadian) for the whole day.
This past weekend, while Kristen stayed in Kasana to get ahead on some projects, I headed to Red Chilli Hideaway in Kampala, a hostel that is linked in with Nile River Explorers, the company that I was going rafting with. I stayed at Red Chilli Friday night and took advantage of their free internet, and then boarded a shuttle to Jinja Saturday morning. We arrived at the Backpackers hostel there mid-morning, ate a free breakfast and listened to a brief talk from the rafting trip leader before boarding trucks that took us through town and to the shores of the Nile. Once everyone was equipped with lifejackets, helmets, and paddles, we got into our rafts and started heading towards the rapids. The first three kilometres were more or less just flatwater, so we did our safety discussion and demonstrations right on the water. My boat consisted of our guide, Alex, four German volunteers a couple months in to a year-long stay in Uganda, a man who just finished teaching at a school near Masaka, and his girlfriend, who was in the country visiting him from Nairobi, where she works with an organization working to protect and promote the human rights of women. In between the massive waves we encountered, it was nice learning a little more about each of them.