Thanks, Sara and Karl, for commenting on our last post. We weren't sure if anyone would be interested in reading these, but a blog is a really convenient way to write our experiences and let everyone read them if they want to.
It's about 11:30 AM on Sunday, and we just arrived back in Kampala from Murchison Falls National Park. We have had a great three days since we last wrote, and very different from our first day. We did a little bit more of the touristy type things, but interestingly still didn't feel much like tourists. We were with other non-Africans, but they were all people who live and work here, with the Peace Corps. or other NGOs. So it was very interesting to talk with them about their experiences and impressions. We have also made some outstanding Ugandan friends. (This is a very Christian country, and while I sit in the internet cafe writing this, they are playing some very nice Christian music. We have also seen people dressed up for church, so it does help it feel like Sunday.)
We got back from Joyce's village late Thursday night, the night I wrote the last blog and the night of our first day here. We had thought we were free until Monday, but CCF informed us that they felt we needed to take three days to visit Daniel, so we would have to leave on Sunday. (They don't seem to want to drive at night, and after having driven home from Joyce's at night, I don't blame them!) We suddenly felt quite panicked at the idea of only having 2 1/2 days to do a trip, since all of the national parks are quite far distant from Kampala. And because the tourist industry is in its infancy here in Uganda, because of the violence that tore the country apart up through the mid 80's, there are no national buses or city buses or easy shuttles to get out to these national parks. this is not Kenya!
Anyway, our only options for getting to a park were hiring a private car, a charter flight, or trying to find a tour company that would take us. I won't get into the reasons why we hadn't booked this in advance. Anyway, to get to the point, at about 10:30 PM we found this tour company called Red Chilli Hideaway who had a tour to Murchison Falls park including the drive from Kampala. We called them (and they were open that late--everything here is!!) and their trip was full, but we said we would pay the custom trip fair if they would take another van for us to go. We needed to come home early, so we sort of needed a custom trip anyway.
We had to pay double, 510,000 Uganda shillings each (about $275) for three days, but this is still WAY cheaper than any other company we've seen. But of course Red Chilli is owned by a Brit--one of the problems in Uganda is that all the businesses are owned by foreigners. Anyway, after almost no sleep in coach on the flight over the night before, we had to peel each other out of bed Friday morning to make it for the trip by 8:30. We had to "hire a private car" as they call it, which means a guy outside with a car who is happy to take you somewhere for money, and leave about 40 minutes early to get to the Red Chilli. This may sound dangerous to you, getting a car with a stranger, but it's actually something suggested in the guidebooks. Two things you should know about Uganda. One, the people are so EXCELLENT here, they really don't try to take advantage of you for the most parts. The guide books even note this. That doesn't mean your watch won't get stolen if you hang your arm out the window. But people who are selling some thing or some service don't try to get you. IN fact, so far every single price we've been charged has been exactly the price we were told to expect by the book or our trusted friends. And every person, including our "private driver" sTeve, tells you their name and says they hope to meet you again. They say you are "very welcome to Uganda."
The second thing you should know is that DRIVING HERE IS MAD!! There are only two rules: 1. When driving in Kampala, it's a traffic jam. 2. When driving outside Kampala, it's not a jam so drive as fast as you possibly can!! IF you encounter another vehicle, PASSSSSS!!!!! If you encounter a biker or a pedestrian, HONK@!! and PASSS!!!! I'm not kidding--when I looked over the shoulder of our CCF driver, he was going about 110 KM/hr on a two lane country road with pedestrians, goats, cattle, and the kitchen sink (literally). And he's our safe driver! Our driver up to Murchison falls, about 5 hours, went even faster. They do have traffic lights here, but no one pays attention to them. The other night we were caught in a jam where we counted at least 8 different directions that cars were facing. And the taxis . . . oh my goodness. They work like stagecoaches. They are nine-person minivans. The drivers yell out where they are going, or the people yell out where they would like to go, and then people heading in the same general direction get in or get picked up on the way. They SMASH as many people in there as they can. It is hot and smelly (deoderant is not a big seller here) and there may be up to 14 people in there. Then they sit in traffic, drop people off, and wait while the drivers try to squish in more people. YOu can see why when we were in a hurry and had our big backpacks, we chose to take Steve's private car. It was either that or the back of the scooter the other guy was offering us.
But, I digress. So we were thrilled to get on the Murchison Falls trip. We got our own van, with our own driver, Mosa. We drove 3 precarious hours north (seatbelts that work? are you kidding?) to Masindi, where we were shocked to see other white people at a cafe serving some western food. We eventually found out that these people were the other Red Chilli tour group, heading the same place we were. At first we thought we had finally found some tourists. But no, they were all working here, either with Peace Corps or other NGOs. We found a tiny little run down pharmacy with a really nice lady who sold Emily her one old pack of maxi pads. (Lizzie, don't they have a shot to stop periods for a year when you're in a developing country?)Then we were off to the park, another 2 hours north.
Once in the park we saw our first great animals, Uganda Kob (the national animal, a type of antelope), and baboons crossing the road. We spent three days in the park, where we stayed at Red Chilli's rest camp. The first day we saw the falls themselves. They say these falls are the most amazing thing that happens on the great Nile River. The entire river passes through a gap only 6 meters wide. It is different from what you'd expect--it doesn't have a great vertical drop like Niagara, but rather falls slowly put powerfully. It was beautiful. There is a second falls, which has broken off from the first and has a neat story. IN 1962, when Uganda won its independence from Britain, there was a great rainstorm that swelled the river so much that a second, great Falls formed right next to the original one. They call this secondary falls the Ugandan word for Freedom/Independence Falls, because it formed in honor of their freedom.
The second day, we took a 4 hour driving safari where we say beautiful antelope of many different species, giraffes, and elephants. Though we have both seen these before, it was so wonderful to see them in the wild. The giraffes, which may look awkard in the zoo or a small park, looked beautiful and graceful wandering in large families across huge plains. Here the species is the Rothchild giraffe, which is quite beautiful. IT's spots are darker, more copper brown, and stop at the knee. Our ranger guide told us the greatest compliment a Ugandan boy can pay a girl is to say she looks like a giraffe.
After lunch, we then took a 3 hr boat ride where we saw the falls from the bottom, and observed literally hundreds of hippo, crocodiles, and beautiful species of African birds. Dad, I so wished you or Grandpa were here to help identify them. The birds co-existing with the large game were just breathtaking. Heron, eagle, cattle ibis, kingfishers, etc.
Today we had to leave early, rather than see the chimps. But the greatest part about our trip to Murchison was the people we met. While back at camp, we spent much time talking to two amazing young men named Nick and Edward. They are both young Ugandans facing the problems all Uganda faces, such as fathers and mothers who have died of AIDS. Some workers estimate it's over 40% of the population. They work so hard and want so much to go to university. But its a difficult dream. After Nicks dad died, he had to sell his stereo for a bull to finish highschool.
We love it here!
Love em and Steve