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Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Uganda Part 1 - Adrift in Jinja, the White Nile and the Virunga Hotel in Kisoro

Thankfully, as with most of the border crossings we’d been doing recently, the process on the Ugandan border was painless (bar one local geezer pushing in the queue in front of me and refusing to budge as people in our group were smoking cigarettes, which he found offensive). From immigration we jumped back into the mini-bus and took of for Jinja where we’d be staying at campsite/hostel called ‘Adrift’. Chris had phoned them in advance and told them of our driveshaft plight and the fact that we’d needed to keep moving forward if we wanted to make the gorillas in time. The guys at Adrift knew Chris and were sympathetic enough to not only give us a discounted rate on a dorm room (seeing as we had to leave the tents in Ruby as there was no room for them in the mini-bus) and lay on a buffet dinner for us too...all of which came out of our ‘local payment’ (money we’d all paid up-front to Af Trails at the start of the trip). In short, no extra expenses for us!
Adrift was a really cool campsite with a well-stocked bar overlooking the White Nile. Most people on the truck seem to judge each camp by the shower facilities, and in this case, they were excellent: water so hot it could actually scold you if you let it and for some, this had been the first such shower since Cape Town. Interestingly, we were given a dorm room (as we’d been told) but it was literally ALL of us in one dorm (bar one or two that opted to pay for their own room). I think there must have been 16 beds in the room – all piled in bunks four beds high. I thought this was great; it reminded me of some kind of adolescent Scout summer camp that I never had. Unfortunately, it wasn’t to everybody’s liking and there were a few groans (mainly amongst the girls) about how claustrophobic the whole room was. I was on the bottom bunk and didn’t mind the three people snoozing away above me, nor the fact that I probably only had about 6 inches of space between my body and the bottom of the bed immediately above me – no room whatsoever for "manoeuvre" (ahem!).

The view over the White Nile from the Adrift bar balcony.

Looking down the White Nile.

The 16 bed (iI think) dorm room - not to everybody's liking.

No room for "manoeuvre" at the bottom.

Plenty of room to chill out at the Adrift bar.

Who's that geek sitting on his own at the bar? He must updating his blog.

The next morning, we made ourselves at home around the bar and made the most of the powerpoints to charge our cameras, phones and laptops. (Sad to say it, but technology has even caught up with the traveller crowd in the heart of Africa – gone is the romantic gesture of handwritten airmail letters that take 6 months to get home!) One other bonus about staying at Adrift was the free wi-fi – which again we milked, and I think the owner of the place/manageress got more than a bit pissed off with this as we A. Took over the bar with cables and B. drained the bandwidth. Fortunately, this time around there weren’t many other guests so we had free-reign...not such joy when we returned a few weeks down the line...more on that later.

We spent most of the morning here as we waited for Chris and Kyle to catch us up with Ruby. They arrived just in time for lunch only to be told that the kitchen was closed. Instead of hanging around, we jumped straight on the truck and took off on a long drive for Kisoro (where we’d base ourselves to start our gorilla treks). We drove and drove and drove (and drove) before finally stopping off at a spot just off the road. Here Chris proposed we get some grub (courtesy of Son and Jen on cook group that night) before driving on some more.

As dinner was being cooked up, Berbs and me were joined by Yoich on one of our first official ‘bush missions’ (i.e. heading off into the African bush, in the dark, looking for scorpions, snakes, spiders and any other interesting wildlife). On this occasion, we were lucky enough to stumble across a bat-eared fox before it darted off into the undergrowth.

Back at camp we ate a hearty dish made up of some ‘shrooms the girls had bought on the side of the road earlier that day. After double-checking to make sure nobody was hallucinating or giggling like Girl Guides we jumped in the truck again and took off along the road once more.

We were still on the truck at midnight aka 0000hours on 28th September when Jules turned 33. Despite all of us being in a dozy state (you know that feeling; like a wee’un being driven home by their parents at night and then pretending to be asleep in the back of the car so as to be carried to bed) we belted out a rendition of “Happy Birthday” and before it was over, I was already on the truck stereo getting Stevie Wonder’s Marting Luther King tribute version on. Good times.

As the little hand hit 1 and the big hand hit 12, we reached a police checkpoint and, after “bribing” them with some leftover food we had on the truck, they let us camp in the open grassy area next to where they were stationed. After only about 5 hours of sleep we got up and hit the road again to make good progress towards “Kisoro” (somehow Jen found time to put up some “Happy Birthday” decorations for Jules in the truck).

Birthday girl Jules with the decorations Jen put up.
After a minor breakdown, passing through miles and miles of beautiful scenery and waving at innumerous locals with Cheshire Cat smiles we reached the sleepy town of Kisoro about mid-afternoon and pulled into the Virunga Hotel. This was the place we’d be based for our highly anticipated gorilla treks. The first of our group was due to go on their trek on 28th Sept but fortunately, to buy us time, Chris managed to get this moved back to the 29th (with the second group going out on 30th).

Passing by a Ugandan school with the kids in their colourful uniforms. 

The long and winding road through the beautiful Ugandan countryside.

Chris fixes the minor truck issue on the way to Kisoro. The gods were still trying to come between us and the gorillas!

Ish & Jules enjoying the view on one of the toilet stops en route to Kisoro.
 Everybody made use of the showers here and got stuck into the crates of Primus that Chris had the foresight to organise for us (this is the highly-rated Congolese beer that we’d already sampled coming down through Congo on the West Coast part of the Trans).

Bodies washed and beer-thirst sated, we sat down in an open area at the front of the hotel and were entertained by some kids from the local orphanage. We were all pretty humbled by the singing and dancing they did for us and Jules even had the honour of having Happy Birthday sung to her again...this time by voices slightly more angelic than those of her rowdy co-passengers.

The musungus got involved with the dancing kids!

Ish showing his new dance move - it's called the "oh my god, there's a mouse" reaction.

The kids came right up to us, singing "My name is ....and I love edge-a-cashun."

Ish, Jules & Berbs with kids and staff from the orphanage,

After the kids left, a cork went flying, candles were lit and blown out, cake was eaten and champagne (or at least a close relative of it) was drunk. We then spent a couple of hours entertaining ourselves with ‘scenario shots’; this is where the person with the camera names a scenario and everybody acts it out in three photos ...

Jules about to blow out the awesome candles on her birthday cake.

Looking sober. L-R: AK, Son, Kerry, Lara, Jules & Jen

The start of the scenario shots: Awaiting the Oscar announcement.

We won and can't believe it!!

Oh, the announcer made a mistake. We didn't win.

Trying to look honourable in defeat. Congratulating the real winner.

New scenario: About to be given news about tomorrow's gorilla trek...

It's on...and there's loads of gorillas in the area.

We get there and can't see any gorillas...

...then a big silverback comes out of nowhere and mauls us...

Another scenario (only got one photo for this one): your tent buddy wets themself in their sleep.

Jen & Chris looking merry.

No idea about this one. L-R: Lara, Ish, Jules, Chris. Matt, Kerry, Berbs & me (AK)

Again, no idea...but this time Sonya's joined us (she's the one on the floor).

Sorry. Still no clue about this one. Can't even remember it being taken. Check out Jules and Son flaunting their chests on the left though!!



Still nothing! But who cares? Check out my Guns of Navarone! (Not sure why Jules is looking down the back of her pants.)

There were plenty of other "scenarios" from that night but I don't think I'll be putting the photos up i.e. 1. Need toilet, 2. Find toilet, 3. No loo roll.

On that note, we could all sense that there was something in the air that night...

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