I, Ryan, am still not feeling well today and I’m probably blowing my nose more today than yesterday but I have a little more energy so we’re moving on out of this paradise to another. I did sleep through the night thanks to some magical cold pills that Amber gave me, thanks Amber. We were up early around 7 and after a quick shower we headed out. We saw Amber waiting for breakfast when we went to check out and said goodbye. She has decided to go to Kampala and possibly go on the tour we’re trying to get in so we’re expecting to see her again in about 5 days or so. Currently we’re heading to Lake Bunyoni in Uganda, more specifically Byona Amagara a little camp on an island that sounds blissful. Lindsay and I have now developed a strict no eating and drinking policy when we’re about to travel for more than 10 hours so we skipped breakfast; snacks on the bus and a few gulps of water here and there are allowed but only to keep us alive, no more.
After calling a few motos they took us to the bus and we just made the 9 am bus by minutes so we grabbed the last two seats, which fold down into the aisle, and crammed ourselves and bags in. Thankfully, after a few stops some actual seats opened up and we snagged those. Meanwhile, a little while later the white couple behind us in the back seats asked us to open our window as the two women directly behind us had thrown up – awesome. We opened the window all the way and prayed that whatever was back there would not move forward on the downhill stretches. 2.5 hours later when we disembarked in Kigali we were glad to find no puke on our shoes or bags.
We then went in search of a bus to Kabale, which is just over the border in Uganda. We were hoping to catch a Kampala Coach bus, one of the big coaches, that goes directly there so we wouldn’t have to take a sequence of transport while crossing the border as it seemed simpler. The bus was full. The next one for all the companies wasn’t leaving until 5 pm and it was only around noon, so not wanting to arrive at night, again, we looked for alternatives. The alternative was a beautifully beat up and small minibus/matatu/dolla dolla depending on what country you’re in. After asking around we were led to one that was going to Gatuna, which is on the border, and was where we needed to go. Problem was there were only 5 or so of us wanting to go at that time. At home not a problem, here a problem as the bus will not leave until it is full and I mean full. It took about 1.5 hours to fill the bus and get on our way. The van/bus should seat comfortably 7-9 people but in actually leaves when somewhere between 12-14 people are inside, and some luggage. Our bags managed to get crammed under the back seats, barely, with some potatoes. I was crammed in the middle of a seat next to a Rwandan guy that I did know the name of…and Lindsay was hanging off the edge in the aisle with one but cheek on. She was not comfortable and I was doing everything I could to make it so my stitched up left knee was not hitting the seats infront of me on every bump. That of course meant that my right knee took all the damage. We were crammed in tight, can you say claustrophobia. Every once in a while you would get some relief when a few people got out, but almost always new people crammed into their place.
The trip, well the times we could see out the windows, were beautiful again. Rwanda is so green and hilly and is just nice to look at. Part way through we stopped and then waited on the side of the road. For what I wasn’t sure. The one girl in front of me kept talking on her cell phone, rather animatedly, and we waited. After 5 minutes we started driving backwards down the road, since we don’t speak the language we could not figure out what this was for. Then we stopped again. More talking on the cell phone, some more backing up, near the edge might I add, and then finally we met up with some guy who handed the cell phone girl a plastic bag full of something. Apparently we were shipping something for/to her, who knows. We got going again. For the last few kilometres of Rwanda you pass a massive tea plantation which is amazing to see as it weaves between all the hills in what little valley exists. I’d have taken some pictures but that would have been impossible with how I was wedged in. 2 hours or so later we got to Gatuna.
We arrived in Gatuna, the border town, and walked down to the “official” buildings. Rwanda’s exit terminal could be anything but we found it and filled out the customary exit visa, then walked down across another bridge into Uganda. At least I think we were in Uganda at that point, there was no sign but after another 100 metres or so we found the immigration building for Uganda. As we walked up a taxi driver came over and asked if we would like a special hire to Kabale for what seemed like a decent price so after mulling it over, taking into consideration the time of day and the fact we still had a ways to go before dark, we agreed, he would wait for us while we got our visas. Getting the Uganda visas was the easiest border we entered on our entire trip. The custom officials were quick, effecient, super friendly and over all a great experience. We were asking them how to say some things in L’Ugandan, another new language to try, and we learned thankyou – Webale – and then he wouldn’t give us back our passports until we remembered how to say it 🙂
The whole procedure took less than 6 minutes and we were off in the taxi heading towards Kabale. Glad we did as it was barely a 20 minute drive and waiting for a matatu would have taken longer than the whole trip. Our cabbie cranked the tunes while we were driving – country. Africans really seem to love country music, sad, I was hoping the whole tribal drum thing would give them better taste 🙂 Once in Kabale we had the taxi drop us off at the Barclay’s bank, which was the last bank we had used and worked for us in Tanzania. It didn’t work. Crap. There is nothing like being stranded in a foreign country with no money. We walked to the other side of town, 5 minutes, and went into the Stanbic bank. No money for us. Crap. Those were the two British banks that should work as the African ones do not work at all. We walked outside and tried to figure out what to do. The bank securtiy guard standing there with his AK47 heard what we were talking about and asked if we had punched in 250,000 for withdrawl. We had not. The limit on the machine, as it tells you, is 400,000 ($155ish). This is not true, in actuality the limit is 250,000 but it does not tell you that anywhere but everyone just knows. So we went back in and sure enough we could take out 250,000. Great but also unfortunate as we need a lot more than that while in Uganda and we’re paying around $8 in fees each time we withdraw from ATMs, it does not end up being good math. With 500,000 in our pockets, we have multiple bank cards, – thought ahead on that one this trip – we headed back outside to grab some motos, called Boda Bodas here, to the Lake.
While walking back towards the bus station side of town we managed to flag down a boda driver, who then in turn flagged down another guy so we could each have a bike necessary with carrying our bags. We struck a price, which seemed quite cheap, I’m liking the boda prices, and we were off to the lake. There are no boda laws here like Rwanda where we were really introduced to this mode of travel. No helmets, seats weren’t quite as nice, but they’re still zippy and have a nice view. Lindsay apparently read somewhere that in Kampala, where we’re heading after the lake, 5 people die every day in a boda accident. Luckily not here though, right? The ride out was bumpy. The road going out of town is ‘paved’ for a while but we spent more time dodging pot holes than driving on the road proper. Once out of town we hit a dirt road that we were going to take to the lake. My driver was quite skilled at driving and we were doging rocks here, and twigs there, ruts, bumps, you name it. I was in mountain biking mode and it was quite fun. That was until my legs started to cramp as the bike was a bit to short for me and I had to hold on quite tight to not fall off, Lindsay fared about the same until the hill.
Halfway down the dirt road my driver leans over and tells me there’s a mountain we have to go up then down to get to the lake. Amber had told us about this hill but I wasn’t quite prepared for the steepness factor of the road. Neither was Lindsay’s boda apparently. My boda slowly chugged its way up this large hill until we were around a corner looking back down on the dirt road from about 100 metres higher. We stopped because neither I or the driver could see or hear Lindsay’s boda. It didn’t make it. We watched down far below as the ant sized Lindsay and her boda driver stopped on the road. Lindsay told me later that her boda had started smoking coming up the slightly inclined dirt road and was overheating. When they hit the bottom of the actual hill there was no way the bike was making it up that hill. The driver stopped and said “this is a big problem”. She tried to find out if she should walk up the hill but his English was poor and he didn’t understand her. Another boda came down the hill and they struck a deal for the new guy to take her the rest of the way but at the same time a car pulled up. As we watched below my driver told me how the other guys bike was not powerful enough and he shouldn’t have accepted the trip out here. Eventually Lindsay sorted it out, paid her boda guy something and we watched as she got in to the car with her stuff. Turns out the car had two dutch folk in it that were heading to the same place as us so they gave her a lift.
My boda driver and I continued on to the actual top of the hill where there is a gas station and we stopped for gas. While filling up Lindsay made it up in her new white taxi and stopped to tell me she was there, little knowing that I had watched the whole scene unfold below. I told them to keep going and that we would meet them at the parking lot. On the way down the other side of the hill/mountain my driver and I struck up a good conversation and he told me all about his desire to learn more English and how hard that was and how it cost a lot of money. I tried to teach him some and he tried some Luganda teaching but neither of us were very successful.
Eventually we made it to the parking lot in time to catch the boat to the actual Byona Amagara “camp/island retreat”. It was just before 6 so the free dugout canoes you can take with a guide were already gone and the guides would not be coming back. That left us with the only option of taking the motor launch out to the island. It was 20,000 UGX which when we split with the Dutch folk was only $4, so well worth it. The cruise out there was about 15 minutes long and was beautiful. There were little islands all around rising up creating amazingly green, or sometimes red hills. Every once in a while we would pass some locals fishing in their dugouts or kid on the shore, goat farmers, etc. The closer we got to the island the more we realized how nice the few days out here were going to be.
We docked at the island and were met by Peace, one of the lady receptionists and she toured us around so we could look at the different room options. When we got to the geodomes, which Amber had told us about, we knew we wanted to stay in one of those. So did the Dutch folk. Turns out there was one more to look at, the deluxe geodome, so we told the Dutch couple to take the “basic” dome and we headed over to see the deluxe one. It was quite deluxe and for what ended up being $8 more it was well worth it. It was an open faced hut in dome form that looked out over the lake with its own private bathroom and hot water (solar) shower. This was amazing for africa and even more amazing being on this island paradise in a secluded lake and being $32 or close a night. A splurge for us backpacking, but well worth it. Lindsay and I moved in and stayed on our dome deck until it got dark enjoying the view and the relaxing since we were only able to stay the one night as it was booked for the next two.
Once it got dark it was of course dinner time and we headed to the main dining room. The whole complex of buildings here, domes, cottage, dorms, tent spaces, library, dining hall/bar, benches all over, is quite amazing. It was apparently built by a New Yorker and you can see that he went to lengths to make sure it has western touches and more importantly western expectations of quality and service. This is a place you should visit if ever in Uganda. Lindsay and I have decided to come back and spend a month or two here someday in the deluxe dome when we decide to write our books we keep talking about… The food here, although mainly vegetarian, is very good and made us quite sleepy after our long travel day, so we gratefully crawled into our lovely mosquito netted bed ready to sleep and enjoy the sounds of the island.
No squatties yet, they have compost toilets here (really good smelling outhouses essentially)