Day 13- Getting to Kampala



So it totally did rain in the night- quite hard actually…but the tents held up and nothing got wet! 


We had a 430am wake up with 5am brekky, so it was pretty dang early. Unfortunately I didn’t felt like I slept much at all, but I was glad I could sleep in the truck as we’d be on the road most of the day.


We’d gotten on the road and I asked if anyone minded if I laid down on the front bench seats. Thankfully no one did and I was able to get some sleep- as while I doze when I am sitting up, I really don’t rest unless laying down.


I was starting to come around, not sure how long it had been (as I put a blanket over my head a lot). All of a sudden I heard this crashing sound and thought a semi truck was crashing into another and I sat straight up and yelled, “What was that?!” Everyone laughed at me because I looked so confused and startled and no one seemed concerned. I am not sure what the banging around was but it was a loud ass truck- and not an accident in progress.


The irony of this is that the night before I was telling Mat and some others about our caravan park (campground) stay that scared the crap out of Bryan. We had pulled in late- we had this canny knack for driving just long enough we’d pull in right before the parks closed…so this night we did not see anything around us. 


I was SO tired. Actually we had been driving for a while and I was just thinking how glad I was that Bryan was driving, when he turned a corner, but cut it short- as though he were in the States, not in NZ. I am pretty sure the car at the intersection waiting to turn needed to change their underwear- and it prompted me to order Bryan out of the driver’s seat and I took over. That was one of only two times he made that wrong way mistake…pretty good I think- can’t say I would do better!


So we barely brush our teeth and I am crawling into bed. It was the kind of tired where it’s painful everywhere and all you want is to just put your head down. We slept really well for a while when suddenly it sounded like armageddon!


Bryan woke up with a jolt, arms pinwheeling around and he was yelling, “What the f*&^ is that”?!? I did scare me but for some reason I didn’t wake up with a start, and even had enough time to put together that it was a train- about 10 feet from our heads! The car buttted right up to a hedge that was the only separation between that and the tracks so it really sounded like the world was ending. Bryan thought a plane was crashing down…I told him it was just a train and rolled back over to go back to sleep. I am not sure Bryan slept more at all 😉


Anyway, now it was my turn to do the pinwheeling wake up routine- and everyone saw it. I was still too confused to laugh at first, but after a few minutes I did crack a smile and go back to my seat.


We eventually stopped at a gas station to fill up and we all headed to the bathroom. It was one of the nicer, newer “truck stop” types where it had a little convenient mart inside and were building a cafe. I had such high hopes these bathrooms would be amazing- then they pointed us to the old building around back- never a good sign.


The first warning was a bunch of buckets in the walkway, all haphazard. It would make sense if they were lined up along the wall, but this was like an obstacle course. Some girls had some in ahead of me so two of the 3 stalls were taken. I went to the third and just stood there staring. There was no toilet- nor was it seeming to be under construction. The tile was all laid and there was just a drain in the corner. I wondered if I was seriously supposed to go there, but I just couldn’t bring myself to.


Marina was waiting and she asked me why I didn’t use it, to which I said, “There is NO toilet”. Naturally she looked at me quizzically as she stepped over a stray bucket to check it out. I was still scratching my head and she noted that it looked like pipes were going to be added to the wall at about eye level and that it was a shower in progress…or one that had been broken.


I waited until the girls got out of their respective stalls and double checked there were toilets. The one I checked had the eastern toilet, which made me groan, but again, it was honestly the best for me, especially in my situation.I was feeling better and better each day, and I could NOT WAIT until I has totally well!


We each used one of the buckets to “flush” the toilet and somehow my bucket splashed on me and poor Alma exclaimed she thought it hit her in the face! We both decided just to never speak of that moment again. 


On the way out I noticed the “bathroom cleaning checklist” that was diligently filled out. I asked Marina if she thought there was any irony to the situation and she laughed heartily. Maybe if they clean as diligently as they wrote down they had, things would make sense 😉


By now we were getting ready to cross the border and there was a many mile line of commercial trucks waiting to cross. For whatever reason, some of the trucks end up waiting weeks to cross being told they have the wrong paperwork. We stopped next to one truck where Bryan said the guy in it looked like he’d been living in it for a week! I am really not sure why things can’t be a bit more efficient but this is Africa 😉


The town we were crossing into Uganda was called Malaba. When we got to the gates Alma and Mat marveled at how the building was so nice and new and there seemed to be a system to everything…they said it was a literal sh*%hole before!


There was a public toilet many of us needed to use and this was the first time they made us pay for it. It was the equivalent of about 50 cents if even that, but Bryan and I hadn’t anymore Kenyan shillings left, so we didn’t have the money to pay. Alma kindly let us use some…


Later we found out that we got charged the mzungu rate, as Moses was only charged half as much. This is not surprising, but for the last person that had to go to the bathroom, he got out and told the attendants that person would be getting the local rate- and that was that. It is great to have a local/ native to barter and straighten things out, when we’d otherwise have no real clue, nor way to fix anything.


We headed over to the offices where we’d get stamped out of Kenya, which was fast and then walked down the way to Uganda where we had to buy visas that would be $50 each. 


Here is where things got a little stressful because at one previous customs office they didn’t want to accept the $20’s because they are easier to counterfeit. We had forgotten this- and they they only want crisp bills, so I felt bad when Marina had all 20’s and not crisp ones. Bryan and I had enough for 3 of us and we just hoped they’d take the 20’s either way.


It turns out, Paige and Kristoffer had gotten and East African Visa which would allow them to go to Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania (and maybe the Congo) for $100. They went through a long and tiring process at the airport in Nairobi to do this and they said it might not be worth it, but in the end they did save a few hundred dollars. This is something I am not sure why Mat didn’t apprise us of, but mental note for next time.


They seemed to grill us for a while, took our fingerprints and then made us head to the clerk to pay- and then back to the line where people were waiting to get sent to the clerk in the first place. This means you have to essentially cut all the people waiting in line to show the receipt that you paid and to get the stamp.


We discovered as Dave had gone before us, they did take 20’s so Marina was pretty happy with that and we were glad we wouldn’t be sweating it worrying about her either. We had two crisp 50’s which we paid and saw the guy slip them into his pocket!


I cocked my head a bit and thought, hmmm…I wondered if anyone else noticed.


I mean there are times when we’re at an event and someone will give us a $100 or something, which I am not going to throw into the general donation pot which I also have to tend/ empty) and the safest place is my pocket…but something tells me this wasn’t that. 


I thought maybe he liked our crisp 50’s and wanted to change out some of his not fresh money…we will never know, but we got a visa to show for it!


He gave us a receipt so we could go cut the line we just came from, to wait for our visa stamps. They were relatively quick about this which was nice for once…now we were in Uganda!


Uganda is 241,038 sq km, with a population of nearly 30 million. It is a mostly Christian country- about 85%- and then about 14% are Mulsim. The leader, Musevani has been in power for many years- and is pretty much a dictator, but definitely seems to keep things in order…although Rwanda’s dictator, Kagame has him beat in terms of rules and cleanliness as we would see in a few days.


Uganda’s dollar is pretty weak, with an exchange of 3460 to 1 USD which makes everything pretty cheap for us- although it can be a tough conversion (which stressed Bryan out of course). I just divide everything by 4(thousand) and it’s about that. It is hard though going between a few countries in a few days and having so many different rates- from Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda. Kenya and Rwanda are about 1000 to 1, so just moving the decimal place is easy.


Driving through initially we see more brickmaking than we’d seen previously along with the usual things- the most entertaining of which are the items people fit on motorcycles.


You see the usual three people on a motorcycle, or maybe a large stack of eggs, about 4 feet tall…but there are some really interesting things you’d probably not believe- especially in a large city setting like we’d see in Kampala.


Of the following which do you think is NOT true?

-A family of 6 on one motorcycle

-2 giant stacks of metal framed restaurant chairs at least 15 ft high, towering and teetering almost like a Dr. Seuss illustration

-A passenger carrying a bumper on his head

-The driver with a calf draped over his lap

-A couch

-A passenger with a car door draped over their shoulder

-6 large coffee table sized boxes balanced like a circus act


If you said the 6 boxes you’d be correct because that guy was walking 😉 Pics to come shortly.


Also of great interest are the sayings people paint on the top of their windshields, especially the matatu- the very overcrowded transport vans. This was a thing in Borneo and Madagascar too- and most of the have to do with religion like “Jesus is King”, God is Great and so on. But there are some others that just really baffle the mind.


Kristoffer has officially been keeping track where I only usually make a mental note of some of them. One said “4 missed calls”, “100% easy”, “best option”, “beautiful eyes”, “sniper”, “different”, “perfect target”, “muslim brother hood”, “why not?”, “long lasting investment”, “born lucky”, “the 10 men”, Lord lead us home”, and awesomely, “trump”.


It is a way of personalizing their vehicles since there are so many matatus and they often run the same routes, so I guess this helps if people want to stick with their favorites- but I also wonder how much that matters when you are really just needing a ride. Do people actually pass up one of the vans because it’s not their “usual”? Or maybe it isn’t hard to catch your usual each day…the way time runs here, I would question the last guess.


People aren’t as inclined to wave us here touch if you wave to the kids first, they seem really excited. One guy yelled “mzungu mzungu f&^% you” and then smiled and waved. Not really sure he understood what that meant, or he was just a sly angry guy…but likely the first where he just wanted our attention. 


Kristoffer said in Turkey the vendors at the market shout obscenities at you in different languages until they hit upon the right one. So for example to Paige they would say things like “ I want to f&^* you” until she turned and looked at them and then when she would acknowledge, they’d be like, “come in, I give you good price”.


Not necessarily the nicest way to get your attention or to buy, but for whatever reason that’s their tactic.


Many of the buildings in the small towns are painted to be advertisements- usually for some kind of mobile service like “airtel” or “africell”. Coming in a close second seems tobe laundry detergent or eurofoam mattresses. However, one town really topped it: the entire town was painted red and white by CocaCola.


I was asleep for this but luckily Bryan documented it- almost every building had a Coke ad on it and even the people in the town were wearing Coke jackets and shirts. It was a bit bizarre but when you get paid to have these ads, who wouldn’t, especially here where literally every penny can be the difference between surviving or not.


Our destination today was Kampala, the capital of Uganda. nearly 8 million people live there- and when you see the traffic there, you can imagine that each one of them is out at the same time!


We were stunned and awed by the happenings of the city as we drove through- and frankly, we’re really not sure how Steve can drive this massive beast through the narrow, uneven streets.


Boda Bodas are EVERYWHERE- many have 3 people on them and thy weave insanely in and out of the cars. There seem to be few traffic lights (actually I hadn’t noticed any for a while) but Mat said they can be somewhat optional, which is pretty apparent. Literally, everyone just drives into these giant intersections and just like a loom, they interlace their routes between the others going opposite directions, sometimes from more than 4 ways!

I cannot even imagine what it is like to learn to drive here- and there are numerous driving schools…I wonder what they teach? “Well, this is the law but this is what we do instead”?


Our coming place was a “resort’ called, Red Chilli and frankly it was a bit surprising. First off it was in a really fancy/ rich neighborhood with some nice houses and huge metal gates and barbed wire, but also because it was a bit like a hotel/ dorm where there is a large building with rooms to rent, a pool, bar and generally nice grounds- all enclosed and under 24-7 guard watch.


We pulled in and there were two other overland trucks- one looked like they were packing up (sans tourists, just the staff) and the other was the weird kind with clear vinyl draped windows and there are only two rows of bench seats which face each other, which reminded me of a military plane.


The “old” tents from the campers just gone were laying out and drying in the sun, so we had to set up pretty far away from our truck- and the bathroom. This is definitely one of the furthest distances we have had to go to the toilet, but the bathrooms were nice at least.


I was eager to take a shower and relax with some wine. The shower was not actually very warm- it seems that after the shower is done, maybe it will be getting warm (as Bryan experienced) but mine was just a bit brisk, so it was indeed fast- but man, it was nice to wash my hair! 


To be fair there are more ops to take showers than I actually do- usually because I am pretty sure the water will be cold or I don’t want to sleep in wet hair and so on. I don’t often feel terribly dirty- and this time, due to the more moderate weather, am not sweating much so it hasn’t been a necessity per se…and many of the others do shower daily. Maybe I am a dirty birdy but I am usually either too tired, or too busy/ interested in other things to worry too much about it…and when I definitely need one, I will do it, no matter how cold. I just try to hedge my bets on the hot water situation!


We lounged by the pool with some drinks as Marina, Jillian, Jacquie and Enzo swam. It was a bit too chilly for us to swim, but nice to have a few minutes to just chill and hang out, as much of the time we are on a relatively tight timeline. The wifi sucked here though, so although they had it, no one could log on, so I wasn’t in a hurry to post anything either!


Dinner was mashed potatoes with a green bean/ mixed veggie ‘stew” sauce- and of course a delicious soup to start. I really could live on Shabani’s soups, they are so delicious! We are all trying to figure out how to capture this magic and bring it home with us. 


Tonight we had a plan to “party” in the city of Kampala and Mat had been given a recommendation (by what sounded like a person of questionable taste) to go to the Royal Imperial Hotel for drinks and music. Mat lined up a guy named freddie, who he’d known for many years to take us in a van- though not a matatu, a nicer kind of van- to the city. Let’s just say the ride was more of an adventure than the destination!


If we had thought the streets were harrowing during the day, it was ludicrous at night. There were still just as many people walking (and no street lights), tons of boda bodas and vans all zipping around- on uneven and narrow streets. Most of the time it looked like Freddie was going to mow down each pedestrian we came across- or crash head first into the oncoming van…but nope. he did it all with ease as we ooohed and aaahed like we were on a ride at Disney.


The Grand Imperial Hotel was an Asian themed hotel built in 1923 and was a bizarre place. Apparently every dignitary from anywhere had stayed there at some point, but it seemed far from super fancy for such occasions.


The reception/ lobby reminded me a bit of the hotel from the Shining, which is funny because they had a sign which was held up by 2 bears- and there are no bears in Africa…we were lead into a very typical hotel type banquet hall (with no tall ceiling) and a band was playing a kind of reggae music which also sounded a little mariachi like. The band was staring 9and smiling) at us as we went in and rather than being seated with the very few other patrons we were lead to a different area, kind of a mezzanine behind the band in very bright lights- and we felt a bit on display. The mzungus must sit up here to people can watch us and our strange ways 😉


The waitress, like man, couldn’t have seemed less enthusiastic about her role but eventually brought us menus. They have very few cocktails here- rather they tell you each kind of alcohol they have and what it costs for single or double shot, but I guess you have to tell them if you want to mix it with something basically like I had in Tanzania when I got the vodka shot with the Krest bitter lemon drink)- or I guess people do shots here pretty often?


There were a lot of things on the menu that sounded pretty good, but the odds were great they didn’t actually have half of the items available. For example sherbet was listed a few times- and we SWEAR we saw it in the buffet line when we were coming in, but the waitress said no, they didn’t have it. Maybe they just didn’t for mzungus, is just as likely 😉


It was a hard choice between a drink or ice cream for some of us, I got wine, Bryan got a beer, but Marina, Mat and Dave got ice cream. Mat was so excited because he said he hadn’t had it in a few months- and I was really tempted, but in the end I was just too full…and it was for the best.


When she had finally brought us our food, Mat’s and Dave’s ice cream were mixed up- so they had to trade scoops. Marina got strawberry- and they were all SO excited to bite into it and when they did, the result was not expected. They all made some interesting faces, noting mostly, it didn’t seem/ taste like ice cream at all and that every flavor tasted the same (Mat compared it to bubble gum). I was tempted to taste it but as I am a bit of a germaphobe and also still somewhat on the mend from my recent digestive distress, I chose not to; Bryan didn’t either.


Dave ate his but it think just as he enjoys eating more than he really enjoyed it. Mat tried but couldn’t deal with it- and after one bite, Marina pushed it away. We were really partying it up in Kampala!


We hung out for a while and Freddy came in and sat with us, so marina was asking him about his life. I think there was a tiny bit of language barrier and they had some trouble as Freddy had a strong accent and he seemed to misinterpret some words she said…he was eager to take us out to a REAL club- but we were seriously all really tired. That had been one of our 430am wake ups and it was proving to get the better of us.


We were winding down, but little did we know the party was just heating up! Suddenly some guy in stilts, which made him about 12 feet tall came in and started dancing, super crazy in them!? It was a serious sight to see and people started dancing with him- especially Jacquie, as being brazilian, they really love their samba! We got a few pics and vids and it was hilarious. By far the best part of the night.


Then as suddenly as he came, he left again…right about the time we were leaving too. We thought perhaps he was part of the show there- but jd=udging from how he just walked down the street in his stilts, it seems maybe he just goes from place to place to dance- whether paid or not- and just entertains!


The ride back was still shockingly busy and crazy for being relatively late, especially for a Wednesday. Now we were all pretty tied though and the ride was a little less exciting and more just tedious, but eventually we got back and crashed…tomorrow would be another early day of driving…


And the other trucks had barely gotten there by the time we returned?! We heard they broke down- twice in one day…but either way with so many people it’d be hard to beat us anyway 😉


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