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Friday, 12 November 2010

Uganda Part 3 - Pygmy village, Batwa people, Lake Bunyonyi, Red Chilli in Kampala, Adrift in Jinja (again) and the "Soft Power School"

(Continued from Uganda Part 2.)

We left Kisoro on 1st October and made our way to a place called ‘Lake Bunyonyi’. On the way, Chris dropped most of us off with one of his local contacts who had arranged to take us to a traditional pygmy village.

A short hike later and we arrived at the top of some steep hills with a breath-taking view over Lake Bunyonyi itself and the surrounding mountains. We got a brief introduction to the ‘Batwa’ people, their village and village school (which appeared to be the centrepiece) by the English-speaking but heavily accented head teacher. We then got a tour of the place as the school kids danced, jumped, skipped and giggled around our feet, vying for the best view of the musungus/mzungus. So although there weren’t many actual ‘pygmies’ we did get to see a lot of little people.

Looking out over The Shire.

There's Frodo's place!

Jen & Jules with some of the locals - marching up the hill in single file.

The Batwa school kids congregating around the Ugandan flag outside their classrooms.

Mama Kay entertains the kids.

Jen struggles with long division in one of the classrooms.

This wee'un was crying because one of the other kids pushed him out of the way of the camera.

The school/village bell - like all the other ones we've seen throughout Africa.

At the end of the mini-tour, we all reconvened at the front of the school again where we were introduced to the village chief before all of the village adults had their turn to sing and dance for us (with the kids trying to copy them from the sidelines). The dancing involved jumping in time to a simple drumbeat, flailing hands and shrieking and grunting. The energy these guys had for it was incredible...especially that of an old guy wearing a makeshift red hat who seemed to be leading the dance.

This old chap lead most of the dances.

Four of the village elders in full on dance mode - the chief's the guy second from right (third from right if you include the guy with the cap).

As the dance finished, the head teacher stood up and addressed us once more, making a short speech of the village’s appreciation for our visit before asking our "leader" to reciprocate with a speech....


Our "leader"?

First of all, we had no leader. We were just a bunch of ragtag travellers. Secondly, we hadn’t been prepared for this. We all looked at each other blankly or in some cases, tried to avoid eye contact completely – all the while the entire village anxiously awaited our next move. It took about an hour for 30 seconds of procrastination to pass, when eventually Sonya stepped up to the plate and told the story of where she was from, how far she’d travelled (complete with aeroplane impression) and how much we’d enjoyed our tour.

Son: taking one from for the team and doing her aeroplane impression.

This was met with a round of applause which we stupidly followed up by asking if the locals had any questions for us...


...the chief stood up and gave an agonisingly long spiel (translated by the head teacher) about how impoverished the village people were and asked what we could do to help. Before he was sat back down, another elder was stood up echoing his sentiments and before the second fella was finished, a cardboard box had been produced and placed in the centre of the watching crowd for us to put donations in.

The villagers - still dancing, but notice the cardboard box (for donations) now in the middle of everybody.

This was one of the most awkward, cringeworthy moments in my life. Again we all looked at each other in blank astonishment. We were of course extremely sympathetic, but none of us were expecting this and most of us had brought as little as possible along with us as we’d known we’d be out walking in the heat for most of the morning. We’d paid for the trip in advance so most of us left our wallets in our lockers on the truck. We barely even had any food to donate but Kay was first up to the box dropping in half a pack of biscuits and some bananas that she’d brought along as a snack. A few more difficult, empty minutes past before we all looked pleadingly at our guide who had pocketed $15 from each of us for the trip. Could he not help us out here? As a heated conversation ensued between some of the girls and our guide, Son donated the jumper off her back and shoes off her feet. Matters then got worse as the villagers cottoned on to how much our guide was making and how much of it never actually got as far as them.

At this point, I wondered off into the near distance with some of the others: I felt like we shouldn’t interfere. Our guide had probably been doing this for years, and it was only when we were backed into a corner that we put the pressure on him. We were all happy to pay him $15 up-front and not knowing anything about a donation to the village. Why should we suddenly grow morals about where our money was going?

The heated argument.

As we watched from the distance, the argument between our guys, our guide and the villagers abated. Everybody was seperated before making the walk down to the lake. Here a boat would pick us up and take us to the resort where the truck and the other passengers were waiting for us.

We marched down the hillside in file as the local women sang and drummed to the beat of our feet. All was going well; the scenery was still stunning, the sun was blazing and Kay and I were hanging at the back to entertain the local kids. It was then that we heard screeching and looked up to see a commotion further down the hill and a couple of the local female onlookers were crying.

It turns out that, whilst the villagers took it to heart that our guide was effectively ripping them off, one of them (presumably drunk) felt more inclined to do something about it than the rest. In short, he crept up behind our guide and whacked him around the head with a big stick of bamboo. When I got down to where everybody was crowded, Gab and Matt were telling the guy off (Matt’s “You should go and pray for forgiveness!” is actually hilarious in hindsight given that Matt’s not religious whatsoever). The villager was looking threatening with fist-sized rocks in his hands and our guide was trying to pick a fight whilst holding his right-ear which was damned near hanging off.

Stomping back down the hill to the lake.

So peaceful and tranquil (this was before the fight broke out).

Tempers finally cooled and we made sure our guide was at the front of the procession and that the villagers were at the back behind all of us musungus. When we finally reached the lake, we weren’t quite sure if things would kick off again, but thankfully we didn’t have to wait long for our boatsman and he didn’t hang around long enough with us to find out.

Kezza, Ish & Son waiting for the boat on the shore of Lake Bunyonyi.

"Don't pay the ferryman!"

Who is this cool Ghana supporter with the white socks and the denim Converse All-Stars?

I slept for most of the small boat’s hour-long journey across the lake and when we pulled up to the resort (‘Lake Bunyonyi Overland Resort’) we were greeted by the rest of the gang who showed us where the bar was. We chilled here most of the afternoon (didn’t have much choice as the food took so long to come...apparently the norm for this place) and knocked back a few cold ones in the sun. Out on the lake, Berbs, Matt, Pat and Kenji were busy making use of the 8 metre high platform that was at the top of a tree overhanging the water.

Kezza & Son on the boat to the Bunyonyi Overland Resort.

Laraldo took this cool shot...Lake Bunyonyi from the bar at the Bunyonyi Overland Resort on our first night there.

We had the place more or less to ourselves (I think there might have been one “Acacia” truck elsewhere at the resort) so took the opportunity to have a big night. Drinking games kicked it all off with almost everybody getting involved in a game of Fives (as with the Zambezi Booze Cruise, this was simplified to “Ones” so as to appeal to the lowest common denominator!!). Poor old Pat had the smugness rule (i.e. gloat about getting out and you’re straight back in) last time we played but this time around the corners of his mouth failed him 5 times and he ended up losing and doing the filthy combo forfeit shot. It bounced almost immediately and that was the last we saw of Pat that night.

Then we played a game of “Kings” or “Ring of Fire” or “Sociables” (depending upon which part of the world you do your drinking in) which was a rapid downward spiral to depravity. At its peak we were joined by some volunteers at a school on the other side of the lake who canoe over to the bar most nights. Michelle (USA), Nada (Austria), Hendrik (SA), Robert (SA) and Bob (Ugandan) sat down to join us and were happy to tell us that of all the overland trucks they’d seen come and go at this resort, we seemed like the most lively. As they knocked back their vodka ‘welcome’ shots they blended right in. The drinking game lost its way and we eventually moved our tables and turned the decking into a dancefloor with Ish and I taking it in turns to provide the soundtrack to the night. Interestingly, we found out that Robert and Hendrik (Saffer brothers) were both joining our trip north to Cairo from Nairobi.

The next day we all got over our hangovers in the sun on a wee pontoon at the base of the aforementioned platform jump. We entertained oursleves with backflips, somersaults and the now world-famous “Penguin Dives” and as the day went by we were joined by passengers from other overland trucks that had pulled up (about 5 or 6 trucks in total, so the place was pretty busy). As the day went on, we all started enjoying the very chilled, horizontal lifestyle at the Lake: Play cards in the sun, get hot, jump off the platform into the beautifully fresh water then get out and do it all again. We were enjoying it so much that we were all talking about how gutted we were to be moving on the next day and as we did so, Chris came over to ask us how we’d feel about spending another day there. YOU BUCKING FEAUTY!!!

"Bombs over Baghd-Ad."

Me executing a textbook Penguin Dive from the medium height platform.

Homeless takes the plunge from the platform at the top of the tree.

Matt goes for the 360 spin.

Running jump off the gangplank

Backflip from the medium-height board.

Berbs aka Tollie-Man takes time out from jumping.

The group Penguin Dive (head first, no arms). L-R: Son, Jen, Jules, me, Berbs, Matt and Kenji.

Three off the top...Berbs, Matt 'n' me.

Four off the top: Jules, Matt, Berbs 'n' me.

Our final day at Bunyonyi was more of the same chilling and we even broke our record (and very nearly the tree) by getting five people jumping off the platform at the same time. Other highlights of the day include Kenji’s ‘Suicide’ (not the actual act, but the name of a jump) aka The KonTiki Wave (straight from the beaches of Hawaii), Matt’s double back-flip off the top platform, Yoichi’s numerous failures at flips and somersaults and moreover, his impressive perseverance despite face-planting into the water from 8 metres (failed somersault) and finally nailing it.

Kenj gets ready for his "Suicide" aka the KonTiki Wave.

I took this string of photos, but Kenji did the Photoshop handiwork.

Matt goes for his first back-flip off the top.

...and nails it!

Yoich tries a back-flip off the medium-height platform...and fails miserably!


This initial failure didn't stop Yoich going straight for the back-flip off the 8 metre board!


Balls of motherhumping steel!

Perfect landing for the backflip. Forward somersault? Not-so-much. (See below.)

Yoich goes for the forward somersault...

...but forgets the somersault part.

Ouch! Yoich complained of a headache all night after this.

Yoich nails another backflip.

The record-breaking 5 off the top...Ronald, Jules, Matt, Berbs & I

Ronald was the 5th man to help us break the record at the final hour.

The sign says "Lake Bunyonyi is the deepest in Uganda. (Approx. 6,500ft deep.)" but I think the depth stat is a bit optimistic.

Late that afternoon, the Saffer Bros, Michelle and Nada canoed over again this time joined by ‘Delicious’ (the name of the goat that was soon to be spit-roasted for a big bbq dinner for all of us). Whilst they were busy preparing (i.e. slaughtering) Delicious, they let our crew go for a wee ride in their canoe...we failed miserably at paddling and did a small circle in the lake before mooring up again. After dinner, Lara and I had an early night (as did most of the others ) as we had a very early start the next day (5am departure).

Borrowing the Saffer Bros' canoe for a quick spin - L-R: Son, me, Berbs, Laraldo, Matt, Jen, Kerry & Jules.

The view of our tents and the resort rooms from in the canoe.

Jules doing her best to steer us from the back, but there were just too many of us in the canoe.

Saffer Rob & Delicious...she didn't disappoint.

We all needed a good night’s sleep which, sadly, we never got. Chris had warned us that the entire place was like an amphitheatre and the Saffer Bros and Kenji (accompanied by a drunken Australian girl with the most whiney voice in the world – she was from Brisbane I’m told!) let us hear just how true this was...until about 3.30am

Given how packed the campsite was, I’m surprised nobody shouted out “Shut T.F. Up!!” It wasn’t actually until the next day we found out who it was that was making all the noise (Kenji turned up for breakfast stinking of booze, making even less sense than usual and barely able to open his eyes). Apparently the night culminated in Robert and Hendrik arguing and Hendrik trying to row home, falling in the lake (several times) fully clothed and with all his stuff (phone etc) only to eventually give up and walk home bare-foot having lost his shoes. These guys were definitely going to be an interesting addition to our troop of passengers when they joined us in Nairobi.

From the Lake we moved on, crossing the Equator again (south to north) and if we wanted to pay about 5 USD we could see a local guy pour three buckets of water down funnels on either side of, and on top of the Equator (we settled for just photos of the funnels). We finally reached Kampala where we stayed the night at ‘Red Chilli’. There was a good vibe here and there were loads of backpackers from all over the globe chilling out and making the most of the extensive restaurant menu. Chris informed us of a few excursions we could do from here, one of them being visitng a chimp sanctuary but as Lara and I were the only ones interested, the mini-bus fare (fixed fee for a vehicle rather than per person) would have been too expensive to justify it.

Me & Laraldo hanging out at the Equator. (Hilarious pun, AK.)

Southern Hemisphere


Northern Hemisphere.
Cook group for that evening (Berbs & Matt) bought some "tilapia" at the Equator. Short of a fridge, this was the best place to keep them cool in the Ugandan heat.

The following day, half the guys wondered into town whilst the rest chilled out in the Red Chilli grounds, caught up on emails, blogs and photo-editing. If you’re going to Red Chilli, look out for the interesting article on the wall taken from the local paper: Front page headline was something like “Local priest jailed for buggery...young boy tells story of priest’s massive wang”. It might not have been those words exactly, in fact, I honestly think it was more crude...

Moving on from Red Chilli, Kampala and stories of priest’s massive wangs, we returned to Adrift in Jinja for a few nights. The place was much busier than the first time we were there (our first night in Uganda) as there were a few US Peacecorps girls, some independent travellers and a couple of the overland trucks that we’d seen at Lake Bunyonyi. One of which was another African Trails truck so we were kind of like extended family. Like the Af Trails truck we’d met in South Luangwa (Zambia) these guys were heading south too. We’d actually bumped into a few of them back in Karen (Nairobi, Kenya) where their trip was starting.

The next day had been set aside for white water rafting and numerous other adventures but nobody was that up for the rafting: four had already done it on the Zambezi in Livingstone, I’d done it years before and the others just didn’t seem that fussed (it mgiht have had something to do with the fact that as we arrived the previous day, there was a somewhat shaken girl who’d come back from a day of rafting with a swollen mouth, missing tooth and bloodied tissue asking how to get hold of a good dentist).

Lara, Son, Ish, Jen, Jules, Ronald, Matt and Kerry spent the morning and early afternoon doing some voluntary work for the “Soft Power School". My understanding is that they just did whatever they could to help maintain the school (in this case, painting for a couple of hours) whilst the onlooking kids gawped, giggled and gallivanted about the place. Lara said she barely got to do any painting as the kids were so eager to help.

This extra large bottle of Nile beer ended up getting strapped to the top of Ruby after one of our nights on the stuff at Adrift. Still not 100% sure how it got there.

Kez, Son, Ronald, Jen & Jules in the back of the truck that took them off to the Soft Power Education project.

Think this is Jen chilling with the littl'un.

Giving the classroom a Matt coating.

The kids would barely let Lara and Kerry do any of the work!

That's right. You've read it correctly, up to 114 pupils on one class.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, the rest of us were getting stuck into some card games and catching up on emails. I think we pissed off the owner of the place as she kept telling us that the internet was down (supposed to be free wi-fi for guests) but we all have a feeling she was saving the bandwidth for herself in the back-office. Miraculously, when she came out of the office, the internet was back on for us! That morning, Pat booked himself in for the 40m bungy jump that was from a platform just up the river from the Adrift balcony. At 2pm, the bungy guy turned up saying that it was only cost effective to open up for a minimum of two people so Chris put the money down for a second jumper and we all (Berbs, Kim, Kenji, Kyle, Yoichi and me) did a shot of Zappa with the last finisher having to jump. An independent adjudicator (the barman) judged that Yoichi was last to finish...something he was genuinely pretty excited about – he’d always wanted to do a bungy jump but couldn’t afford it.

The 40m bungy at Adrift, over the White Nile at Jinja.

Pat steps up to take the plunge first.

Pat getting dipped!

Yoich dangles in the air after his jump.

You can't really make it out, but he's giving the thumbs up here.

Yoich, lowered into the dinghy and giving the thumbs-up again.

The crew that went to the orphanage returned just in time to watch Pat and Yoich take the plunge from the perfect viewpoint on the Adrift balcony. After this, we got out the cards again and were joined by four US Peacecorps girls who were doing their two years voluntary stint in Rwanda and were on R’n’R in Uganda. It didn’t take long before the card games turned into drinking games and we were all daring each other to climb into the canoe that dangled upside down from the rafters above our heads. If you could accomplish this feat, you were “treated” to a shot chosen at random from the bar which had to be drunk upside down whilst in the canoe. Over the course of the afternoon, most people had a go and usually with messy consequences.

Kimbo climbs into the canoe

...and gets her shot of red Zappa from Ben (one of the passengers from the other Af Trails truck).

Chris - known amongst overland drivers for his loco looks and ability to smoke out of his ear.

Kimbo feeds Chris his shot of blue Zappa.

...which comes back up through his nose!

Good ol' Berbs steps up to give it a go.

Kenji feeds him a shot of red Zappa.

Dangling upside down like a bat and rocking The Lost Boys look.

The drinking continued until the wee hours with Matt, Pat, Kenji, me and the four US Peacecorps girls girls ( Avery, Arielle, Devin and Kerry) staying up to see in my 30th birthday (7th Oct 2010!). I was also obliged climb into the canoe and drink beer upside down as they sung “Happy Birthday” to me. The girls taught us a few new drinking games ( “Welcooooooooooooome to the Wild Wild West!?” - in joke) before we decided to call it a day. (For those that are interested, Arielle’s got her own blog on her time in Rwanda which you can read here:

Seeing in my 30th birthday, drinking a beer upside down in a canoe, in a bar overlooking the White/Victoria Nile in Jinja, Uganda.

With sore heads after another early start the next day, we drove on to the Kenyan border and beyond to Eldoret for my birthday party...

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