Let’s play a game.
Guess how many people you can fit into the following vehicle:
The answer is below, just after the video of the car.
So, following on from the previous entry, after my second foray in Rwanda’s Kigali, I went to Musanze. This town was my base for gorilla tracking. I had no plans to go gorilla tracking before I arrived in East Africa, but became seduced by superlative stories people told me once here. The problem is that it is notoriously difficult to obtain a permit to do this: in Kigali, the tourist office told me that I would have to wait until the end of September.
A few days earlier in Gisyeni, however, I was told that a last-minute cancellation permit was available for the 22nd. It was for this reason that I returned to Kigali since I had nothing to do in the intervening period.
So, in Musanze, after a four day wait, I called up ‘Mr. David’ who was my fixer for the permit. Once we agreed upon a meeting point, he told me he would be there in five minutes. Three-quarters of an hour later, he turned up and ushered me into his car.
“How are you, Peter.”
“Very good, Mr. David.”
“I have bad news.”
“What is it?”
“How flexible are you with time?” he asked me.
“I have booked a bus to Kampala for tomorrow evening, so not at all. Why?”
“You see, when I told you I had a permit, I did. But then before you paid, I sold it on.”
This was despite the fact that I sacrificed a day arranging the payment in Gisyeni.
The conversation concluded with him advising me to go to the Volcanoes National Park in the morning and hope that he was there with a permit.
Exasperated, I returned to my room. TIA, I thought: This is Africa. However, to Mr. David’s credit, he called me at 8pm and told me he had found a permit. Game on.
That evening proved more interesting than I anticipated. Somebody who worked at the guesthouse I was residing in had helped me book the bus to Kampala and arrange a shared-jeep to the National Park. For his efforts, which I thought were solely altruistic, I offered to treat him to dinner.
The conversation over dinner was initially pleasant enough. Shortly after we had finished, however, he dropped the bombshell. His sister was ill, I was told, and he needed money.
“Not much, but you are a muzungu and are therefore rich.”
After I politely told him that $1000 is a large sum of money, his temperament developed into something between anger, despair and disappointment. C’est la vie.
Gorilla tracking was predictably tremendous. I was designated the Umubano group whose towering ‘Silverpack’ patriarch, Charlie, dominated above the rest of his large family. If you are interested in the group, search for them on Google.
It may be clichéd to state this, but the most momentous aspect of the experience was witnessing how human the gorillas appeared. When we initially discovered Charlie and one of his offspring, I was no more than two metres from them. The baby gorilla tried to reach out to us, but the guide bellowed out a ferocious roar to deter him.
Shortly afterwards, Charlie and his child staggered over to a more open expanse where the rest of their family were nestled chewing a tree bark.
The experience only lasted an hour, excluding an approximate 90 minute trek each way to reach them, but it was unforgettable. As-per-usual, you can see pictures below and they will depict the experience better than my words. For the meanwhile, here is a video of when we first saw Charlie and his child:
Back in Musanze, my $1000 friend approached me again, reminding me about the promise I made him. Curtly, I told him that no promise was made and that a muzungu is not a walking wallet. I soon left for Kampala, the capital of Uganda.
Despite how I had been previously told that Kampala is a small and accessible city, I found it unduly large and fairly sprawling. It was fairly interesting to walk around and witness, but the interminable traffic and asphyxiating fumes certainly mitigated its appeal. Nonetheless, it was fun traveling around on a ‘boda-boda’ motorcycle taxi – notably, one of them, just for the hell of it it seemed, decided to head straight for the potholes rather than glide around them.
I met an interesting cohort of people at the Red Chilli Backpackers I stayed in. For one, a missing piece of the backpacking jigsaw was now complete: The Israelis had landed. Those pieces of travelling furniture who seem to traverse the entire globe had hitherto eluded me on this trip. I met three groups of them at Red Chilli. Additionally, I was kept occupied on a couple of nights by picking the brains of Luke, a PhD law student from Belfast who was specialising in Ugandan Criminal Justice. It was a far-cry from any Carbolic Smoke Balls or Brown v Brown (law banter, sorry). I have an extensive reading list for when I return home.
The following day I took a day trip to Entebbe with Dahlia, one of the Israeli’s I had met. Considering that this was once the capital of Uganda and also was the venue for the notorious plane-hijacking incident in the late 1970’s, it was ostentatiously placid. With Lake Kivu engulfing its coast, it was a lazy and lugubrious day, but nevertheless pleasurable.
My next stop in Uganda was a Muzungu-must: white-water rafting in Jinja. My rafting guide was Geoffrey who was part of the Ugandan national kayaking team. It was an enjoyable experience, but not as exhilarating as I expected: the eight rapids were intermittently dispersed and they each lasted no more than a minute each. I guess that I prefer being smacked over the head repeatedly rather than just the occasional blow.
That evening, I resided in a hostel Bujugali Falls which picturesquely overlooked the Nile. There, I met Alex and Nicola, two friends (or rather, friends of friends) from the College of Law.
From there, I took a bus East to Mbale in the morning.
Arriving at 1pm, I feared it was too late for me to attempt to travel to nearby Sipi in order to climb its resounding waterfalls, so it was a lazy day. Despite this, it proved to be one of my most pleasurable. After acquainting myself with the city, I sat outdoors by a café, shaded from the sun, and updated my diary. A man then approached me.
“How are you, sir?”
“Very good, thank you. Yourself?”
“Not at my best. I am ill.”
Following my experience in Musanze, I regrettably retorted that I had no money to give him. As it materialised though, Weyusya did not want anything in particular from me. He was articulate and had travelled to England (Bristol of all places) in his capacity as a social worker.
So he sat down, and we spoke. And he enlightened me about several aspects of Ugandan culture and its prospects for future development. He told me how he had twelve children and regretted this number since the quantity meant he could not provide them with the quality of life he would have liked, despite his relative wealth. Weyusya also had two wives – by Ugandan standards, he told me that this was actually relatively restrained: some of his friends have over a dozen wives each. One can only imagine what that entails:
Mbale itself was nice enough, but, as Weyusya warned me, there were an upsetting number of street children hungrily roaming around in the evening, with no shelter or family.
The following morning, I sat in what I thought – and was told – was a taxi. Four people, including myself, were inside it. We were going to Sipi. Magically, however, five minutes into the journey, four turned into more, and more turned into something ineffable. Here is the video:
So, in answer to the question at the beginning of this post, ELEVEN PEOPLE were crammed into that car. It became even worse for me towards the end of the journey though: see the fat man dwarfing the driver in the video? For a reason unbeknown to me – perhaps he just wanted a change of scenery – he decided to change seat:
Sipi’s waterfalls were beautiful. Despite having seen the colossuses of Niagara and Iguazu Falls, I still found Sipi remarkable. Almost because Sipi’s waterfalls were a bit more contained and I could stand right next to them, their force and might seemed more tangible. The only problem was that I had inadequate footwear so the final part of the trek for the last waterfall largely consisted of me rolling down the muddy hills like tumbleweed. It was worth it though.
Back from Sipi, I took an overnight bus from Mbale to Kenya’s capital, Nairobi. As far as such journeys go, it was fine, although the bus’s flashing disco lights which turned on at nightfall were at once both psychedelic and terrifying: these people are psychopaths I thought.
Nairobi was not as dangerous or as daunting as I had been led to believe. Generally, I felt safe walking around the leafy city centre which, like a lightning locomotion, was incessantly teeming with people. One evening , alongside Anna Starling (a friend from university) and two of her friends I was treated to homemade Kenyan cooking by my friend Gath, also from University too. It was delicious. Later on we went to ‘Electric Avenue’ where all the muzungus go for a party – it was a Thursday night, but as the UN has a half-day on Friday, Thursday is their primary partying night.
Near Nairobi, I also took a day’s excursion to Hell’s Gate National Park which is unique inasmuch that you are able to walk or cycle around it. There, I saw zebras and lots of them. There were also a few warthogs and wildebeest. No lions unfortunately. It was an enjoyable day, mired only by the fact that my bike made me do all the work for it – in fact, it was easier and more efficient to walk than peddle that fragile paperclip.
That evening I took a night-bus to Mombasa which led to the chain of events leaving me without my passport, my debit and credit cards and only $21 to my name.
The bus journey was debilitating. It was cramped with bellowing intrusive music playing throughout the night. I arrived in Mombasa at 6:30am and the bus drove off without offloading my rucksack. Distraught, I directed a tuk-tuk to follow the bus. Finally catching it at a petrol station, I grabbed my bag from the boot. However, someone followed me from the bus back to the tuk-tuk and made a swipe at my bag. Shouting in disdain at him, the tuk-tuk driver then intervened and started quarrelling with the assailant. Soon after, as we were driving off, the latter brought out a knife and began ominously flailing it in the ever-increasing distance. In retrospect, the incident could have ended up much worse.
So, I went to a hotel. And after looking at the squalid room, I decided that Mombasa was not a place I wanted to stay in. (It also reminded me of India). So, I went to catch a bus to Malindi, which is two hours up the coast and has a strong Italian heritage. I was hustled and bustled by three men as I boarded this bus; halfway there, in Kilifi I was also instructed to change buses. During one of these two instances, somebody swiped my money-belt containing my essentials (wallet, passport) which was in a secret compartment in my bag.
So, from Malinidi I boarded an overnight bus back to Nairobi with the remaining $21 I had. Gath graciously agreed to take me under her wing whilst sorting out my life. I may now return home early due to the impracticalities of travelling without a debit card and the risks fraught with carrying a large sum of cash on myself.
The temporary travel document which the British High Commission will have to issue to me costs £100 – another blow to the wallet. But in what can only be described as an obliteration of my finances, my flight home is with EgyptAir and it is via a transit in Cairo; Egypt is one of the only countries in Africa which will not recognise such a document (even in transit), so I may have to purchase an entire new flight.
It was a matter of time before someone mugged me, and holding out for over four weeks is impressive compared to my previous escapade in South America.
Always look on the bright side of life; Even if it is overcast.
To brighten up your spirits, here are some photographs:
The remaining photographs can be accessed by clicking ‘Africa links’ above, or by following the url below: