A Travellerspoint blog

Nakuru, Lake Naivasha & Hells Gate National Park

Leap Frogging

semi-overcast 20 °C

We asked the matatu driver how much it would cost to Eldoret. We laughed out loud when he responed 400 each. That was what we had expected to pay for 2. Three-fifty he asked, a little unsure. When we refused again he asked us how much we wanted to pay. 400 for two. He was taken a back. He started to go through the spiel about fuel prices, maintenance etc. Not interested we started to unload our bags. Eventually he conceded to 250. Still not accepting another driver came over and repeated the spiel about rising prices (inflation is around 12% in Kenya). Eventually we agreed and took our place in the van. I asked the guy in fron how much it should cost, he replied 300. I was amazed that two mzungus had actually managed to get a discount on a matatu. He started collecting money on the way and we paid him the full 300.

When we reached the intersection with route 104, the main highway that runs across Western Kenya, we were transfered to another matatu which drove us all the way to Eldoret. On our way there we saw our first reminder of the post election violence. A sprawling refugee camp on the side of the road. It contained thousands of tents, each bearing the symbol of the Red Cross. The occupants had been living in these makeshift (albeit well-organised) camps for months already. Most of their homes had been burnt to the ground and many of their family members had been murdered by their own neighbours.

We were contemplating staying the night in Eldoret until we reached its suburbs. It was unappealing from the get-go. Because it was the centre of the post-election violence or for other reasons it had a depressing feel the moment we passed the welcome sign. Not wanting to judge a book by its cover I was still willing to give it ago until we reached the matatu stand. Within 2 minutes of unloading someone had already attempted to steal our bags and pick my pockets. We could still achieve what we wanted to in town and get away without spending a night. All we had come for was the cheese factory that rated a mention in the Lonely Planet. Before we even reached the gates the smell was overpowering. I even considered giving it a miss, but we had detoured just to come here. Inside there was a small retail distribution window with a menu stuck beside it. We had only eaten cheese once or twice since coming to Africa so we ordered Brie and Cheddar. He laughed when we asked for the Brie, we somewhat ambitiously substituted it with Camembert, he laughed again. Eventually we found a couple of cheeses they did have, both tasted like cheddar. We produced some money to pay but instead we were given a piece of paper which had our order and the prices written out in full. We took this to another window where a lady wrote two A4 page receipts, each with a carbon copy. We paid her then took these reeipts back to the original window and received the goods. The process was ludicrous but at least we had our cheese. In the order we had also included some ice cream. Sitting on our bags we ate it in the middle of the driveway. It was so good they I went back to order more, casting aside my guilt about the three over-sized receipts that would be written out for a 75 cent item.

Having studied the layout of the taxi stand on arrival we managed to avoid most of the touts and thieves on our way to the correct vehicle. Bound for Nakuru it filled up quickly.

Nakuru was a strong contrast to Eldoret, in our eyes anyway. More developed, more friendly but most noticeably; more at ease. There were several safe looking drinking venues around and loads of restaurants that promised to serve dishes other than chicken and chips dripping with oil. We found a hotel with a rooftop that overlooked Lake Nakuru National Park. The park is known for having a solid rhino population but is even more renowned for the hundreds of thousands of flamingos that live in the lake. I remembered seeing a documentary when I was a kid and we had come to Nakuru in the hope that this was the place. The view the top of the hotel may have been misleading but I couldn't see that many flamingos, coupled with the park fees we chose not to visit.

Nakuru was on the way to our next stop, Naivasha but we didn't want to pass through without doing anything. We hired a taxi to take us to the top of a crater just out of town. From the crater rim we could see down to the very bottom of the caldera. The floor was covered in shrubs, the only vegetation which could grow in the rocky, sulpher infused ground. It was the epitome of the great Rift Valley. There was a viewing platform that offered no real advantage but we climbed it just because it was there. The taxi driver told us he was afraid of it because of the height, I climbed down after only a few seconds at the top because it shook like a maraca in the hands of a Spaniard.

We were dropped at the taxi stand in town. We caught the next matatu heading for Nakuru but paid to go only as far as Lake Elementeita. We had packed the cheese and some crackers near the top of the bag to make it easy for a quick lunch stopover. Also known to host several hundred flamingos but without the entry fee it seemed worthy of at least a one hour break. We called the driver to stop near the lake shore but as is often common he assumed we didn't know what we were talking about. We asked him to stop a couple of times but they just continued on. Resigned to miss out I sunk back into bus mode just before the driver pulled over. He gestured towards the sign reading Lake Elementeita Lodge. With minimal words we told him that we had wanted to stop back there. Not 2km from the lake at the drive way to some overpriced lodge. He drove on to Naivasha and we never paid the difference in fares.

Naivasha town was as described in the book. An agricultural backwater. We paid some scammers too much for our tickets out to the Lakeside. The campsite we chose was called Fisherman's. It was set up brilliantly, there were acres of soft grass to camp on and a massive restaurant/communal area for relaxing. An electric fence designed to stop hippos stretched along the front of the perimeter. Like everywhere else we had been in Kenya it was void of tourists. Fortunately for most of the people in the area the main source of incoming is the flower growing industry that hogs the available waterfront, not tourism.

Happy to have grass under our feet and the tent set up for more than a couple of nights we kicked back in the restaurant with our cheese and biscuits. We added some homemade pickles and a bottle of wine which we bought from the establishment to complete the extravagance. Including a couple of beers and our dinners the bill turned out a whopper.

The guy that had checked us in asked if we were interested in doing some rock climbing in Hells' Gate National Park. Neither of us had climbed since Thailand and the thought appealed greatly. The price was reasonable so we put down a deposit. My knee had been causing me problem over the past couple of days so we elected to climb in two days time.

We were told that the climbing and our riding tour of the park was possible in one day so that left us with a day of nothing, not that we were concerned in such a beautiful area. The monkeys that clambered through the trees around the grounds couldn't keep us amused all day and our pockets couldn't maintain eating at the campground all the time either. The nearest town wasn't far away so we made tracks for that. To our surprise there was an internet cafe. It was too early for lunch so I blogged for about an hour. A couple of doors down was a local eatery. No surprises they served only ugali, chips and chicken. At least it was cheap.

We had just started walking home when the heavens opened up. We took refuge in the internet cafe. Seeing that we weren't doing anything, the attendant asked if I would teach a student how to use the computer. Why not, I sat down for an hour and taught him the most basic computer skills possible. When his lesson was over the youth in charge of the internet cafe asked if would like to go back to his house. With no reason to say no we took a matatu to his house 10 minutes later. He paid for our fares but i insisted on paying him back. His name was Francis, he lived with his family in the KenGen compound. A group of houses provided for employees by the sole generator of Kenya's electricity. A couple of times we had been into people's houses before. As often as not they were awkward occasions. Poor English and/or a hint towards sponsorship usually made things uncomfortable. This visit was not the same. His father was a chemical engineer at the nearby geothermal plant and his mother was trained in computers. They were both very well spoken. It was particularly refreshing to speak to an East African woman who was so well rounded and not in the physical sense as most of them are. We were served some food and spared the usual repetitive banter. After eating we were shown around the outside of the house. The family grew all of there own vegetables and even some fruit. There was not a patch of wasted ground. The pride of their yard was the apple tree. In Kenya apples are the most expensive fruit and are almost impossible to grow. After our tour we were forced to say good bye when the light started to fade and the clouds which had cleared earlier rolled in again. Of course we still didn't get away for nearly half an hour as we hadn't allowed for the mandatory swapping of email addresses and taking of photos with every different permutation of visitors and family members.

That night Francis called at dinner to check that we had made it home ok and again at 11 to say he was going to bed. The early warning signs of another African stalker.

Our guide came to meet us right on time in the morning. A welcome sign of professionalism considering we were going to be in their hands on the rock face. We collected our bikes from the front gate and rode off towards the park. It was no more than 7km to the gates. When we got there we were met with some unexpected park fees for our guide and the bikes but they weren't too bad. We had to hang around for near an hour because our other guide had forgotten to bring one of the ropes and it turned out that he was bikeless.

Our climbing destination was a pillar called fischers tower. It is 45 metres tall and looks like a giant cubist sculpture. Every face of the columns is made up of flat edges that mould togethor to form a surface that resembles the fuselage of a stealth bomber.

The first climb we did took us only half way up the tower. It was pretty easy which was good for a warm up. On the Australian scale it would have been around a 14. Next the other guide man who we had realised was the real climbing instructor lead a route up to the top. After he had summited I climbed up behind him and collected his cams. In parts the climb mutated into a small chimney and for the rest it was open faced. At the top I was given a safety line so I could drop the rope back down to Di. While she prepared herself I took advantage of my position to take in the 360 degree panorama. The park was broken into two levels. The canyon which we were in and the surrounding high lands. The canyon varied in depth between 70 and 300 metres. The vertical walls were a beautiful dark red and dominated 90 percent f the horizon. The floor of the canyon was coloured brown by the dust and dead grass. I thought I could make out a few antelope in the distance but I couldn'e be sure. When Di began to climb my focus shifted to her. I knew she was competent enough to climb the route as long as she didn't let herself worry about the tricky overhang that jutted out around half way up. Amiably she pushed past it and reahced the top with gasping lungs. Our guide asked if we wanted to climb the more difficult route which looked more like a slab climb that anything else. I hooked into the rope and was lowered down the new route. Unlike the previous climbs this one was void of any cracks or jugs. Luckily my shoes were a good fit because this one was all about the feet. I followed the folds of a chimney all the way to the top. It would probably only rate a 19 in Australia but I was acutely aware of my dwindling strength when I came out puffing at the top. Dianne elected to miss the third climb despite my encouraging her to give it a go. I was asked if I wanted to climb the 70m, two pitch face nearby. I was tempted but it was going to cost extra, it would also have meant being caught in the afternoon rains and the grade looked a little too easy to be worthwhile so I decided against it.

We were both lowered to the bottom before our guide abseiled his way down. As we ate our packed lunch at the base of the tower we were met by a courageous rock hyrax. Clearly habitutated to people the cute little critter slowly drew up the courage to take the food that was offered to him straight from our guide's hands. When we had finished up we said farewell to the rock clibing guide and were left with just our middle man. We took to the slightly sandy roads on our bikes. The park is known to contain cheetas, leopards and hyenas but according to our guide they are rarely seen. Instead we encountered antelopes, warthogs and giraffes on our way to Hell's Gate gorge.

Once we had reached the mouth of the gorge we took a short break. A rare African entrepreneur had set up a drinks stand, who, via Dianne made a fair profit on a bottle of coke. The sky near the horizon was darkening so we didn't dwell to long. We walked the final few metres to the canyon and dropped down inside. It was only few metres wide but the walls rose up to 20m at points. The floor dropped one or two metres quite reguarly making it impassable to the older group of tourists who had to follow the path. An old pipe which used to carry fresh water to a nearby Maaii camp had rusted in the sulphuric water was left exposed and served to destroy the ambience somewhat. Along the way there were many streams of wtaer which trickled dow the canyon walls. Some were cool water and others were too hot to leave your hand in. The hot ones were easy to identify as they created the right environment to support algae, which in hot water's presence clung to the walls and floor.

The canyon continued on for a long way, right down to some thermal hot springs at the bottom. Very appealing in a Canadian hot spring they weren't so appealing in the middle of an African dry spell. We climbed out one of the few exit points of the canyon after spending about 20 minutes inside. We looked back down from the top but were encouraged on by the first drops of rain. for us the first drops were the also the last until late in the afternoon. We returned home following the same route we had arrived on.

It would have been easy to push for Nairobi the same day but that was far from our minds. One more day in this serentiy before pushing on towards the city with one of the worst reputations in all of Africa seemed sensible.

Posted by jaredlking 04:51 Archived in Kenya Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Kisumu & Kakamega

The Skin Of Our Teeth

sunny 23 °C

There wasn't much left we could do in Mbale. The ATM wasn't going to suddenly accept our cards and Commonwealth Bank wasn't going to start helping. Keen to get moving again we went to the bank and changed over the money we had reserved for Kenyan visas. We paid off our hotel bill and caught a matatu to Tororo. There we tried the ATMs again. Waiting in line was more suspenseful than a horror movie screening. I had actually been hopeful but like all great thrillers the build up was just a ploy, we left empty handed.

Using the Internet, we found the number for Visa. Di called them up and discovered something called Emergency Cash, essentially a money transfer from your own account but Visa takes care of the details. It was an expensive procedure but unavoidable. We sent ourselves just enough money to get into Kenya. The transfer was probably instantaneous but we took a lunch break to give it time to come through. We collected our payout from the nearest bank and caught a matatu to Busia, the border town.

The rain came down thick and heavy for the last 10 minutes of the journey. Our bags were on the roof, without their waterproof covers. When we arrived in Busia I jumped straight on top of the van and grabbed the bags down but they were already wet halfway through. The street turned from dirt to a river in minutes. We took a break in a cafe and waited for the rain to ease.

It was after five when we showed ourselves again. As we walked to the border we were accosted by dozens of money exchangers. Like usual we changed money with the street guys as they offer a better rate. We changed the little money we had over and crossed the border. We piled into a matatu bound for Kisumu at the other side. When I went to pay for the matatu I realised I had been fleeced. The money changers had made things a little confusing and in the process they'd changed a couple of 1000 shilling notes for 100s. I was pissed that someone had taken us for the last of our money but more annoyed at myself for falling for it, it's not exactly a new trick.

A man that had already been getting on my nerves, harassing us and calling us Americans for a gag continued to bait me. I let him carry on despite my desire to wring his little neck. One thing he said stuck by me for the next few days: "What this country needs is another major uprising". He was referring to the post election violence. I wondered if things were really back to normal or did he express the views of other citizens, after all many of the other passengers had just laughed when he said this.

It was around 9pm when we arrived at the Kisumu bus station. Doing our best to avoid the touts we found a tuk-tuk that gave us a fair price. During the negotiations he had been fixed on a higher price. We said, with seriousness that we were going to walk then. He dropped his price and we left. On the way to a possible hotel he asked why we were going to walk, we could be robbed. I said at this point we have nothing to lose. When he said except your life I realised that we were going to have to be more cautious in Kenya. The first hotel we tried was full and the second beyond our means. We could see two more from where we stood. They weren't far so we decided to walk. The first of these was also full but the security guard accompanied us to the other one, they had a vacancy.

In the morning, dreading the prospect of another money transfer we walked to the ATM with our fingers crossed. I typed in my PIN and waited, a few seconds later the joyous sound of flap, flap, flap came from the internal money counter. The transaction was approved and we were back in business.

Nothing was really keeping us in Kisumu but being Kenya's third largest city we couldn't pass straight through. We walked the streets aimlessly. The riches of Kenya, or their mirage anyway, were present in nearly every aspect of the city. The streets were well paved, the roundabout landscaped and the people well dressed. When lunch time came around we strolled down to the lake front where numerous restaurants resided inside open, shed like structures. Each of them sold exactly the same thing for the same price. Freshly cooked tilapia straight from the lake. Ignoring the pleas of other shop owners we went into the first door. The atmosphere inside was really enjoyable. I had ugali (a maize based staple), spinach and fish stew (with a whole fish). For entertainment we watched the local car and truck wash. People drove into the lake via a slippery, muddy track, had their cars washed in dirty lake water and drove away no cleaner than when they arrived.

I had really enjoyed my lunch in Kisumu but there wasn't much else to keep us there. Without much ado we caught a matatu to Kakamega. A dusty little town renowned for not much at all, we used it simply as a launching pad for Kakamega Forest. One thing that did set Kakamega apart was the friendliness of the people; they were helpful and even more remarkably they weren't pushy. When we were walking the streets in search of a hotel I got my first glimpse at the other side of Kenya. There were as many street kids in this little town as I had seen in all of Uganda. They were drinking a thick, brown liquid from 150ml bottles. I assumed it to be cheap alcohol until I saw one fill his from the litter ladened gutter. It was a pitiful sight. I am not sure why but there were no girls amongst them. I wondered if their fate was better or worse.

Kakamega was void of entertainment and healthy food. We tried to back up our photos but like everywhere else we had been before, we were limited to old computers without USB 2.0. The fluctuations of the transfer timer suggested that the process would take between 23 and 143 hours.

The hotel staffed moved us to another bedroom in the morning. They maintained it was much better but I couldn't see a difference. Not wanting to offend we moved anyway. I could hear some unsettled chickens outside the door so I went to investigate. There was a pile of about 50 chickens and a man brandishing a knife. Systematically he severed their heads and dropped them into a large bucket whilst the others watched on. It was no surprise really, the front to our hotel was a chicken shop. I couldn't help but feel a little for the chickens who knew their fate but were powerless to stop it. Regardless I probably ate one later.

We hoped to finish our walks in the forest by the time the afternoon rains came so we got away pretty early. A matatu dropped us no more than 1km from the park gates. The entry fee was a hefty 20 USD, it turns out even forests in Kenya are under control of the park authorities. We began walking down the main road reading the signs that marked the walking paths that peeled off here and there. We stopped to check out some particularly playful velvet and colobus monkeys.

We came to a major junction in the road, left to the waterfalls and right to the lookout hill. According to our map it was possible to do a circuit which incorporated both. At around 10km this suited us fine. We took the left hand path. Rather than cutting through the lushness of the forest it skirted around the outside. We passed by the rangers' station and continued in the direction of the waterfalls. As the signs had dried up and we had not taken a step under the canopy of trees for a couple of kilometres we assumed ourselves to be lost. We asked a couple of farmers how to get to the falls. In perfect English they described the route we needed to take, we had been going the right direction all along. The falls were no more than a creek washing over a 1m drop but the way the light shone into the water was beautiful enough to compensate.

None of the trails were marked on our map, well not accurately anyway so we took the most major looking option. We followed the creek down a little valley for more than a couple of hours. We were considering turning back when we came across another path that was not marked on our map. At least it was going in the right direction. It took us to a major road which no doubt lead back towards the gate. Regardless of the route it took the road was exposed and dusty. We returned to the start of a path we had encountered just a few hundred metres back. We followed that for another hour or so through semi-forested grounds until the path disintegrated into a series of mud bogs. Taking any which pointed in roughly the right direction we eventually came back out near the falls. Di was tired and I wasn't far behind so when the opportunity to visit the hill lookout arose we passed it up. Back at the main gate we stole a glance at the maps that they had for sale. We could see exactly where we had been. It hadn't been a long walk, around 15km but the state of some of the tracks amplified that figure in our heads. We had beaten the rain. A matatu picked us up before the skies even threatened to unleash.

Tired of wasting nights away I convinced Di that we should go out for a drink. We went to a little drinking hole across the road and ordered a couple of beverages. Immediately I regretted being there. We were the only clients in the whole place that didn't have glassed over eyes and Di was the only female who wasn't a hooker. I couldn't even finish my horrible black concoction passed off as Guinness. We made a quick retreat and decided to avoid such places in the future.

Posted by jaredlking 02:30 Archived in Kenya Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Mbale & Sipi Falls

The start of a saga

all seasons in one day 19 °C

It was dark when we arrived in Mbale but the streets were swarming with people. All sorts of makeshift shops and restaurants lined the pavement. Coming from sleepy Bujigali it was like entering Vegas. The town itself was not very big but it had a lively atmosphere for the time of night. We found a nice hotel and ate at the Indian restaurant downstairs.

The next morning we tried to get some money out from the ATM but it wasn't accepting any of our four cards. We had been successfully using the same bank throughout Uganda so we assumed that the international lines were down. With most of our remaining money we decided on a short trip out to Sipi Falls to allow the system to recover.

We caught a matatu out to the two bit town called Sipi. There were at least two cheap campsites to chose from. Each offered the most fantastic view of the gorge and the main drop. The falls are made up of three distinct sections but the last is what you come to see. A stream of water plunges 100m to the depths of the gorge below. With ocher coloured rock as the background and a gaping cave running behind the waterfall it looks like a scene from an Enid Blyton book. The gorge is a mixture of red cliffs and green pastures.

The sky was as black as soot when we were setting up our tent. We decided to delay our walk to the bottom of the falls until the next day. We organised lunch at the hotel's restaurant. I specifically asked what the quickest meal would be, the answer was categorically spaghetti. Not my ideal choice but we knew that these places could be slow to deliver. We played cards on the deck whilst we waited for the spaghetti to cook. The eccentric German come Ugandan manager sparked up a conversation with us, his mannerisms were frustrating and the topics even worse. His personality grew on us by the end of our stay but he was undeniably different. We had been waiting for two hours for our food to arrive when we saw someone walking up the road with a packet of pasta. They had only just bought the ingredients.

For something to do in the afternoon we trotted off in the opposite direction of the falls, towards a small hill that sat just behind our campsite. Along the way we passed a local communal area, by the time we had passed through we had a dozen or so children in tow. We had planned to go to the top of the hill to watch the sunset but the children led us to a series of caves pocketed into the side of the hill. The view was fine but any chance of seeing a sunset was thwarted by the arrival of rain. We explored the caves as an alternative. Like most cave systems they were far bigger than the entrance suggested. I would have loved to explore more than we did but the fading batteries in my head torch meant that spelunking would be too risky. On the way out I bumped my head on the ceiling, it send a reverberating thud around the cave. Instinctively my hand felt for the spot I had hit, a bump had already began to form and a small spot of blood transferred to my finger.

We waited for the rain to settle under the canopy of the cave. We sat on a rock looking out over the ever fading landscape. The kids all wanted to climb up and sit with us, we took a few photos their satisfaction. When it came time to leave the smaller children were stranded on the rock so I assisted them down. Jealousy amongst the bigger kids meant that I had to carry them as well. Some of the more eager ones climbed back up the rock so they could have two turns.

We had dinner by kerosene lamp in our neighboring camp. It had been burnt down a few months prior so the restaurant which was probably used to catering for tourist had become a locals' eatery.

The next day we decided to walk down to the falls unguided. We had very little cash left, actually we had exactly what we needed for entrance ($1 each), a matatu to town and the equivalent of 50 cents left over. The path was made up of slippery mud sections and even slipperier ladders. The path veered away from the falls but we assumed it would switch back. A local farmer approached us and said that we must be lost, news to us. Without asking he assumed the role of guide. We told him that we had only enough money for entry but he seemed undeterred. After negotiating on the entrance fees we continued to the base of the falls. Fog had rolled into the valley over the duration of the walk. By the time we reached the falls we couldn't really see anything. Regardless of the conditions I played around on the rocks that stood in the terminal pool. The wind carried the spray from the falls for over twenty metres, slowly soaking everything in range. It was the cause of lush vegetation but meant that I needed to move on for the well being of my camera and phone. Our guide took us back to the top and we gave him the last of our local currency.

We were forced to pay the hotel in US which resulted in a poor exchange rate but we had anticipated this from the start. We didn't have to wait long for a matatu because it was the local market day. To make things faster we caught a matatu towards the market and then a second matatu into Mbale. When it came time for the change over the driver of the second van opened the back for us to put our bags in. Wedged in between the door, the seats, boxes and bags was a passenger. He looked like a tetras piece just filling in his part of the puzzle. I thought his legs might disappear if someone completed the bottom line. I had seen many crazy things in Africa but the smile on the guys face when the door was opened kept me laughing all the way into town.

We went back to the ATM but it would still not accept our cards. The locals' cards were working so we knew that it wasn't the ATM specifically. We changed $30 odd dollars into Ugandan Shillings, saving $100 for Kenyan visas. The first thing we did was call the Commonwealth bank. The lines kept cutting us short but they were less than helpful. They couldn't fix the problem or call us back. A little desperate we decided to send ourselves a Western Union money transfer. Just as we were looking it up online the power cut out. We had no more Internet that day. Di organised a credit arrangement at the hotel and the restaurant downstairs until Monday. Due to the close of banks (it was Saturday afternoon) we couldn't even change the last of our money over.

I wasn't too concerned about wasting a day in Mbale because I could work on some online job applications but power outages all day meant that we got no more than 30 minutes on the computer. I used this precious time to try and organise a money transfer. We needed a reliable local contact number for confirmation. We couldn't provide it so we abandoned that idea until we had exhausted our other options.

Posted by jaredlking 01:03 Archived in Uganda Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Jinja & Bujigali Falls

Eskimos in Uganda

sunny 30 °C

We plunged head first into the New Taxi Stand in Kampala. It could compete with Mecca as the most hectic place in the world. Thousands of mini-vans with no more than 10cm between anyone of them were crammed into an area about the size of a football pitch. Carrying our huge backpacks with mattresses strapped onto the side made it almost impossible to navigate the continuously changing labyrinth of vehicles. It took at least 15 minutes to walk 50 metres. When we finally found the Jinja matatus they were right next to another gate. Even still it took the van ten minutes to reach the road. I felt sorry for the taxis in the middle which would need at least an hour to break free.

The trip from Kampala to Jinja should take around 1-2 hours depending on traffic in the capital. It took us nearly three. The highway had been washed away during the storms we had watched from the comfort of our hotel a week prior. This meant that all of the vehicles plying this major route needed to find another way. There were a series of worn, dirt tracks criss-crossing the country side to give access to the surrounding farm lands. Our driver took his pick, somehow after subjecting the van to much torture we were back on sealed road, past the damaged tarmac.

We hoped to organise our river activities in Jinja that day so after a quick lunch we went in search of Internet. We found an access point and took down the prices and details of the different rafting and kayaking companies. It was probably going to be easier to sought it out in person so we hired a boda-boad (motorbike) to take us to the falls. The first place we visited was Kayak The Nile, At $100 per day with instruction, equipment and lunch it was the maximum price I had allowed. After asking some satisfactorily answered questions we walked down to a campsite which sat right above the falls. Their kayaking and rafting prices were much cheaper but I had to wonder why the others cost so much more. A little skeptical we asked to speak to the organiser. He was not available until the next day. We decided that instead of rushing ourselves we would set aside the following day to select our operator. We set up our tent near the shore of the river just above the falls. It would have provided a great view of the Nile at its most powerful if our tent had windows. The falls are more a string of seven or more impressive rapids than a typical waterfall. They range from grade 5 to 6 and served to get me very excited about the next few days.

Our campsite was swarming with school kids on an excursion which broke the serenity no end. To escape we went for a walk to find a good dinner place. We ended up eating at the place where Prince William had stayed during his visit. It may sound impressive but it was actually a very basic campground that served a few good meals.

The next morning as we set of in search of a good deal for kayaking we were approached by a local guy. Without introducing himself he said "I was told there were two mzungus who wanted to learn to kayak". We assumed that to be us and asked what a five day itinerary might be. When he told us that we were going to learn to roll in the morning then do the rapids, pointing to the grade fives and sixes in front of us we told him we'd think about it. After going to all the offices for all the companies we discovered that our only real option was Kayak The Nile. We got free dorm accommodation thrown in at the Nile Explorers campsite when we signed up for three days, looking to extend to five. We had planned on doing a Nile Breweries tour that afternoon but it was touch and go with time so we ended up just milling around Jinja. On our way back to Bujigali falls that night we were stopped at a road block. There were dozens of people standing on the side of the road carrying Ugandan flags. A car emerged from a near by driveway. It was the president of Uganda. He was standing in an open roofed car waving proudly to his constituents. In return they jumped and screamed fanatically. It reminded me of footage from The Beatles tour of Australia, just on a smaller scale.

That night, in an attempt to avoid the ridiculous food prices inside the camp we found a little stall called The Bujugali Chapatti Company. Run by a young, budding kayaker named Shaffi. It served a variety of vegetarian, chapatti based wraps for genuine street prices. We ran a tab with him for the remainder of our time there and consumed nearly forty chapattis.

We met our instructor at nine in the morning. His name was Ibra. He was 6 foot something and more ripped than a hobos t-shirt. As a professionally qualified local who had been kayaking the same river for near ten years he instilled confidence. After introductions we kitted ourselves out with a skirt, boat, helmet, life jacket, paddle and water bottle. We spent the morning in the flat waters near the camp. There we learnt several different stroke styles and got used to the hyper sensitive movements of the boats. Following the basics we practiced T-Rescues, one of us tipped upside down and with assistance of the other persons boat we righted ourselves. It was simple enough but difficult to do properly. The idea was to use mostly our hips and just a little assistance from the hands. Whilst useful in its own right it was used as an introduction to eskimo rolls.

We were fed well for lunch with homemade sandwiches and a handful of assorted snacks. After letting that settle we were taken by truck to the base of the dam wall. We quickly recapped all of the morning lessons. Then we moved on to rolls. To begin with Ibra guided our paddles into the set up position for us. Di managed to get upright on the very first try and backed it up the second go. It wasn't so easy for me though and I took three attempts. Without paddle guiding it was a little more difficult, we got it sometimes and not at others. When we were tired of the flats and ready for the real thing we took off down the river. There were several grade one or two rapids between us and the camp. These were separated by flats where we could practice the basics again. The Nile is renowned for its high volume and thus large standing waves so even though we never exceeded a grade two there was still a 1m high wave to tackle. Di flipped on the final rapid and nearly ended up swimming down Bujugali Falls. Luckily Ibra came to the rescue, after taking her to the shore he drained her boat and then towed her back up the river. We both had an absolute ball in the afternoon and our improvement was bolstering. Before we stopped for the day I practiced my rolls again with varying levels of success.

For the second morning we learnt about ferry lines, a fancy way of saying how to cross rapids without being pulled too far down. At first we tried crossing water which didn't even rank, then we moved onto grade ones and eventually twos. It was harder than I expected as you need to lean in the counter-intuitive direction, down stream. We certainly didn't master the art that morning but were capable of crossing the grade twos on occasions.

Again in the afternoon we ran the dam section of the river. This time we incorporated our ferry lines into the run. I even tried a little wave surfing in the grade ones. This in turn provided numerous attempts at rolling in the rapids. Again it was touch and go if I got them or not. One time I rolled so intently that I rolled right over until I was back upside down.

By the time day three came around, seven hours a day of paddling had taken its toll on Di, she was exhausted.Until lunch time we re-ran the same trip as the afternoon of day two. This time we took on some slightly more tricky lines at the bottom but it was mostly for practice.

The afternoon was a big step up. We took a forty minute truck drive to the access point for a rapid called Superhole. Ibra didn't tell us but in order to get to Superhole we either had to portage or run a grade three rapid. As we approached the rapid we could see nothing but a big drop and jets of water being shot up from the turbulence below. Instead of heading straight down we pulled over at a rock near the top to scope it out. There was a massive drop with a pit at the bottom. The water was being thrown back in over and over again. I considered that some of the water may have been trapped there so long its long service leave was due. This pit was called the 'death pit' and I deemed its name to be accurate. Between the death pit and a rock riddled path to the left was a small section of green water which was the easiest route. Ibra pointed out a hydrangea that was going where I was meant to go. Di chickened out and I decided to run it. The rapid was a grade three but 50cm either side was a grade 5.

My nerves were racing when I came in. I avoided the two standing waves at the top and rode the step hydro-chute down the two metre drop. At the bottom I clipped the edge of the wave responsible for the death pit. Despite hitting right on line I was still greeted by a metre high foaming wave of white water. I was flipped immediately and managed to roll back up almost quickly. I threw my hands up with pride and was tipped again by the next wave for my sin. This time I couldn't roll. Ibra came and we did a T-Rescue. As I waited for Di I saw the hydrangea again. This time it was torn into dozens of pieces. It sat in an edie at the bottom of the falls surrounded by other vegetation which had suffered a similar fate. So much for a good line. Di portaged down but could not ferry across the rapid. She flipped and took off down the river. Ibra went after her and I was left to ferry across it by myself. Luckily I managed it ok. When we were all upright and back together we found ourselves at the wrong side of the river. We ferried across five rapids to get to Superhole. Di flipped twice on these. By the time we were finally where we wanted to be Di was fatigued. Whilst she waited on the bank I tried many times to surf the grade three wave belonging to the Superhole rapid. For the first few attempt I couldn't even get in. After much practice and lots of flips I managed to get enter the wave. Now the challenge was staying upright, it was many more flips later that I finally started to get the hang of it. Whilst I couldn't manage the somersaults that Ibra was pulling I was happy just to be in there. I had about three good rides but i was wearing out, I was no longer capable of rolling and we were running out of time. We paid a local to carry Di's boat back to the truck and headed home.

In the hope of Di recovering we took a break the next day. Except for using a bit of free internet and taking a trip into town to get out some money and to have a change of flavour we didn't do much at all. Night time was as horrible as usual. we were sharing the camp with a group of professional kayakers, the kind that make the movies. They were absolute cocks, throwing things, breaking glasses and carrying on like they owned the world.

When it was time to return to the water I was by myself. Di was more than happy to stay and read her book. Not only was she getting tired but the force of the rapids we were taking on were somewhat intimidating for her. In order to resuscitate my recently acquired skills we repeated the day three rapids. This time with a lot more aggression and success. In the morning I could ferry everything on the dam section without any drama and my rolls were coming off without fail. In the afternoon I even managed to get down the monster drop and past death pit without flipping. We ran Superhole from the top and took off from where we finished the last time we were there. Being the only student in the class and having worked so hard already I wore out very quickly. That being said I still managed to get a few surfs in, at the mercy of the wave. On the other hand my rolls were deteriorating rapidly.

I was very happy with what I had learnt over the four days I had been instructed but for the final day I just wanted to run some big waves and drops. With that in mind Ibra took me to some distant rapids. Usually run as the second day of a kayaking trip. We carried our kayaks down a steep face and dropped them into a pool at the bottom. I had only a 2 by 1 metre pool to warm up in. We had just portaged past a massive grade six and began at the bottom. Within two strokes I found myself in a long series of big waves which made up a grade three rapid. The tiniest of pools at the bottom fed straight into a long grade two and then calm. I put it down to freshness that I got through this upright. The remainder of the trip was made up of some killer grade threes and fours. Some of which extended for over 100m. The names of some included Vengeance, Hair Of The Dog and Kula Shaker. I can't remember which was which but i distinctly recall running a big grade four. It began with some monstrous 2 metre waves. I managed to pass through these and avoid the most horrendous looking pit/whirlpool. Nearing the bottom of the rapid I passed Ibra who was caught in a wave. As I was watching him I got caught in another wave myself. I was flipped, I waited for some calm water to right myself but it never came. Out of patience and out of air I rolled where I was only to find myself exactly where I had gone over, still in the wave. I didn't have long to take in the scenery before I was thrown back down into the pit. This time I was forced to pull my skirt. Ibra came and grabbed me and my boat. With no chance to get back in I was forced to swim the next 150+ metres of rapids until we hit the pool at the bottom. fortunately I had fallen at the last big wave but I was disappointed to miss out on kayaking the rest.

I had conquered nearly all the rapids of the day and was feeling mighty proud of myself when we reached the heralded Nile Special. A grade 3-4 wave which brings the world's elite for an annual freestyle competition. I was expecting just one wave with some meager rapids behind but was greeted by an entire train of hormone taking waves. That said I was able to get through without much difficulty and it was certainly easier than some of the other rapids. The challenge was to actually get in and surf the wave. Rather than go headlong into such an adventure I decided to take some lunch. My arms were like jelly from five days of paddling and my rolling had declined into a pitiful state once again. I watched Ibra and a couple of safety kayakers flip and spin on the wave. It was getting on a bit and I readied myself. The run into the wave was treacherous enough without having to ferry in and then turn around (or go down backwards). I didn't even get close. I tried half heartedly to roll but it was all over. We paddled to our waiting truck via the Hairy Lemon Island. Determined to go out on a positive note I practiced my previously perfected rolls in the final pool. To my utter frustration and Ibra's bewilderment I couldn't get up. I took my boat to the edge and drained it. At least forty litres of water flowed from my already 14kg boat. The next time I tried I rolled five times in a row, almost effortlessly. It was a perfect day to finish a great time at the Nile. Whilst it hadn't been cultural it had been fun.

After collecting Di and our bags from the camp we organised the truck to take us into town. Before we said our final good byes i ran to grab a couple of chapattis for the road. We had become close to Shaffi over the duration of our stay and he gave us an avocado as a farewell present. It was funny but touching. He doesn't have much money compared to me and what he does have he works 14 hours a day to earn. To give any sort of present to a wealthy foreigner is a big deal. The bus dropped us at the taxi stand from where we caught the last matatu to Mbale.

Posted by jaredlking 01:50 Archived in Uganda Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Kampala (2)

A ghastly reminder.

overcast 22 °C

The only difference between the trip from Kampala to Masindi and the reverse direction was the order of events. Five hours of potholes and one hour of speedbumps instead of vice-versa. Di and I told ourselves we had to look for a cheap room this time due to a small hike in fees at the old favourite. It wasn't until we were pulling into town that I said "Let's be honest, we're going back to the Astoria". Di laughed, she'd been thinking the same thing.

Perhaps in the hope of recreating ou last stay in Kampala we hired another DVD player and a few movies. We also bought jelly crystals again and some soft drinks. That night we had a great night in and retired relatively early. I was woken from sleep by a drunk couple passing through the corridor. Their door closed and I tried to get back to sleep. I thought I heard a slapping sound but then nothing more came of it. I was just begining to nod off when I heard the noise again followed by a sound of anguish. I asked Di what she though it, she assumed they were just rough lovers. I waited a bit but the sounds kept coming. I went down to get the staff, they dismissed me. So blarze were they that I assumed they were regulars. A rich guy with a night's entertainment. I went back to be and slept. Around an hour later the noises started up again but the distress was evident this time. Street worker or not this was now abuse. I went down stairs to get the guard to help. He was asleep in his chair, twelve gauge unattended beside him. I woke him up but he wouldn't help. Instead I got the desk attendent to accompany me. On my way down I had seen the guy involved. A solid, skin headed man of aryian stock. Desperate for some sort of equaliser I wrapt my belt around my knuckles, buckle out. I told Di to lock herself in the room. The desk attendant wanted to wait for assistance by the cries from behind the door couldn't wait. I knew the police would take forever to come, if they did at all. I called out "Mr? Sir? Could you please come out here for a minute." The noises behind the door stopped. I called him again, then threatened to call the police. The woman had a shiny swollen face but did not look as bad as I expected. She told us to go away and shut the door. It was a surprise to me but I insisted the guy come outside. She opened the door, he was mostly disrobed and she had his pants to stop him running away. His eyes flashed down to my hands and he started talking.

He told me that he was glad we had come because he'd been trying to leave but that his girlfriend (a Kenyan) would not let him. I told him that I wasn't interested. I wanted to know what the sounds had been. She blurted out, "He's been beating me. OK." Obviously it wasn't OK and I said that I should call the cops. The guy was surprisingly resigned to the idea and said that if I must then that was OK. I got my phone from the room when the hotel attendant said that they would just take a bribe and leave. He was right and I was stumped. I stated without a doubt that this was not the first time. They both said that it was not, but that it was the worst time. I announced that that was preciseley my concern. Each time these incidents occured they would be more and more severe. It was disgusting to hear him complain that she had called him names or that she could defend herself. I thought about if it was some of my friends in the situation and not me, he would have been a bloody mess on the floor. I decided to act as a mediator offereing less than professional counselling, trying to convince the two to seperate. She swore that nxt time something happened it would be over but most importantly, for the now they had calmed down. There would be no more violence for the night. I went to bed horrified. There was nothing I could do to stop it happening again. I had even heard him confess that it was likely. I went back to Di and we fell asleep.

I had hoped to fill in some more job applications via the Internet the next day but chronic power outages in the internet cafes meant that I achieved very little. Instead Di and I kicked back (like we had been working hard and needed a break.)

Posted by jaredlking 07:47 Archived in Uganda Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

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