White water rafting down the mighty Nile, Bungee-jumping the Bujagali falls, tracking Gorillas in the mist…to name just a few of the things we did not do in Uganda!
It was a last minute decision we made to venture west out of Kenya and cross the border into Uganda. A 30 hour bus journey with armed gaurds, some random shooting, and a bus that smelt like vomit and we arrived in Eldoret. We had come from the northern desert so were dressed for the scorching hot sun yet were greeted with heavy downpours. As we dragged our now blackened backpacks from the bus we dashed to find a lift to the Ugandan border. Several lifts later and we reached immigration and were brought through on the back of the bicylce. Next, we hopped on to speedy little mopeds, 2 more mini buses and eventually after days of travelling arrived in the wonder that is Kampala.
Unprepared for the sudden change in weather, change in language and currency switch we could have easily been in a very sticky situation! It was dark and we were in a strange capital city that would not accept our credit cards or travellers cheques and, to make matters worse, our Kenyan mobile decided to die on us! Luckily an old friend I had met in Zanzibar 2 years previously, Philip, came to the rescue, picked us up and brought us to a dingy hotel next to where he was staying with a local family. Never in my life have I been so relieved to see a rat-infested bedroom, leaky bathroom and a squeaky smelly bed! Full of prostitutes and dirty old men knocking on our door all night -but hell, we had a bed at least!
Phil came to collect us in the lovely Hotel chez Johnson the next day and brought us to meet the family he was staying with. Never have I come across a more welcoming family in all my years of travelling. These amazing people welcomed us into their humble abode with open arms and took us in as if we were part of their already large family. Within minutes of meeting them we were fed the most delicious home made Ugandan dinner, which we ate alongside our new brothers and sisters. No matter how many family friends arrived without notice it seemed there was always a little food left for the latest addition.
After dinner our new brothers took us out to experience the much hyped-up Kampala nightlife. We were far from disappointed! Steak Out was an outdoor Disco/bar/club with Funky local tunes such as Chameleons ‘Bamboclass’ and 2Faces ‘African queen’! The atmosphere was wired. Everyone just stood up and danced anywhere and everywhere. At no time was alcohol a huge factor. Whether you were drinking or sober, everyone had an amazing time and the party continued all night long. We were introduced to all of Godfrey, Jordan and José’s friends in no time- all Ugandan basketball players, may I add! Many more days and nights like this were to be had, and our planned 3 day trip to Kampala dragged well into 2 weeks!
Beth and I ventured down to Jinja, on Lake Victoria one day to see the source of the Nile. Getting there, like everywhere in Africa was half the fun. We had to catch a cramped mini bus taxi which banged along a dodgy road at 5 miles an hour to Jinja. Once there we had to bargain hard with the local Boda Boda drivers (Moped taxis) to fit both Beth and I on one bike and bring us to the falls.
It was one of the most spectacular sights I have ever seen. Watching all that water gushing over the Bujagali Falls as locals risked their lives by surfing the falls on jerry cans, the hair on the back of my neck stood up and sent a shiver down my spine. It is moments like this that never fade away; Sitting by the water’s edge, drinking a locally brewed Nile special beer, sunset creating an orange somewhat dreamy atmosphere and us with not a worry in the world. A few more crazy nights out in Kampala visiting Rouge with its comfy red velvet couches, Ange-noir where one must avoid the scowling prostitutes as well as a trip back to the Legendary Steak Outs ‘Super Tuesday’ and we were all clubbed out.
We were told about an Island on Lake Victoria not mentioned in Guide books. A secret hideaway one can only visit if recommended by someone who has already been there and few people have. Our instructions from Dominic,Only 1km by 2km, it is owned by Dominic, the eccentric British Kenyan “owner were clear; catch the yellow fishing boat at 5pm and NO mini skirts!
As always we were the only white people, so we drew quite a bit of attention to ourselves. We were too mesmerised by the surroundings to take notice or care. What was so fascinating was the fact that the driver was following the Milky Way all the way to the island. 4 hours later our boat came upon a small island surrounded by glowing lights and candles with a bonfire guiding the boat to safety. This was our stop.
We were welcomed onshore by a Spanish hippy called Gemma and Dominic, “The Lord of the Island”. Days and nights drifted together into one and to this day I still have no recollection of exactly how long we spent here. Our diet comprised of home grown pineapples, Nile perch caught daily and The Lord of the Islands’ jungle juice (cannabis tea!!!) We talked to Gemma, the other guest on the Island, and questioned her about her trip. When asked how long she had been on the island she replied, “I know I got here in Febrauary… but I don’t know what year!” I guess it’s the type of place you go for a few days, but end up never leaving!
On Beth’s birthday the Lord of the Island offered us magic tea which we gratefully accepted. An hour later as we were in the lake swimming, and my muscles ceased to work. Beth became unbelievably paranoid and we confirmed each other’s nightmares by believing that everyone on the island was trying to kill us. We struggled out of the water and passed out on the beach, only to wake up exactly 24 hours later on the beach sun burnt from head to toe -a very scary experience. We waited days for a boat to come and when one eventually reached us we were happy to be going back to reality!
Back on the mainland, we were again welcomed back into our adopted family who seemingly had missed us just as much as we had missed them. In such a short time I had made amazing friends, I had a family, and I had fallen in love with the true pearls of Africa: its people. These people had shown us more warmth, friendliness, generosity and- most of all- love than we could ever have dreamed of. I recommend anyone planning a trip to Africa to spare a few days, but more likely a few weeks, to visit the Pearl of Africa and let the people touch your heart the same way they touched mine.