It didn’t take too long for my trip to take an unexpected detour. Day 2 found Loes and I wiping the sleep from our eyes at 8:30am as our stomachs growled in unison. We sat at a small round table shoveling freshly cut fruit into our mouths and thunder clapped in the background. Our eyes met and a sense of worry bounced between us. Our plan had been to take the four hour boat ride to spend a few days on the Ssese Islands on Lake Victoria before we headed into Kampala, the capital city that didn’t have the best reputation, for a day. But with rough waters awaiting us, and the fresh memory of Loes’ seasickness in South Africa on the mind, we were hesitant to commit. However, Loes wasn’t giving in. She mustered up the courage to go as long as our first stop was to the pharmacy to buy some motion sickness pills.
Easier said than done. Both Loes and I managed to break the first rule of backpacking; travel light. With a bag weighing 50% of her body weight, Loes deserves a gold medal (or perhaps an icepack) every time she manages to maneuver her gear onto her awaiting shoulders. I’ve tried my best to carry her bag for her, but she rarely gives in, and there is no way I’m arguing with a woman who can carry something that heavy.
We slowly struggled down a red dirt road with a clear light blue sky above us (the storm passed!), wondering where all those damn boda-bodas (taxi motorcycles) we saw the day before had disappeared to. Finally we hailed a mokoro, a white taxi van used by locals to get pretty much anywhere. Similar to Southeast Asia, no seat was left unfilled. We asked to be taken to the city center for the pharmacy and hopped in. We peered out the windows and watched the world rush by. Smiles were exchanged and we were both excited to be moving. There is something about the movement of travel that affects me in a way I can’t explain. It both calms and excites me.
We struck up a conversation with two Swedish girls working a social services internship in Kampala. We exchanged stories as the clock ticked on. Fifteen minutes. Thirty minutes. After about forty minutes we realized this mokoro wasn’t taking us to the city center of Entebbe. Nope, it was taking us to the city center of Kampala. Opps. No worries though. We resolved the problem with a simple shrug of the shoulders and an “I guess we’re going to Kampala”.
Kampala and Entebbe might be geographically close, but in style they couldn’t be farther apart. The relaxed atmosphere of Entebbe was a distant memory when we pulled up into Old Taxi Station. The mokoro doors opened and the chaotic nature of the city assaulted every one of our five senses. The boda-boda ride to the hostel was interesting, too. Loes finally let me wear her backpack and as I basked in my gentlemanly victory, I slowly realized what I had gotten myself into. My driver darted in and out of traffic and as he took on some steep hills, I felt that death trap of a bag pulling me backwards. I leaned forward, pressing my face into my drivers back, forgoing all sense of personal space. Each hill was met with “Oh god” and I clung to my driver. Somewhere in Kampala, there is a jacket with my face imprinted on it. Hopefully the style catches on and I can get some royalties out of it.
Once unpacked, we headed out with a whole new city to explore. Two hours was spent walking in no direction in particular. If we saw something we liked, if we had a “feeling” about a street, we just went with it. People were friendly enough, often striking up conversations in broken English. Salesmanship was out in full force, and we were offered the expected (sunglasses, shoes, pants) to the unexpected (mattresses and pigeons).
(Above: My hostel bed. So comfy!)
(Above: With nothing else to worry about, the Kampala police are focused on illegal parking.)
Want to know something interesting? When you travel in no direction in particular, you often end up lost. Very lost. We pulled out our Lonely Planet (tourist alert!) and garnered the help from roughly six or seven different good Samaritans until we found the way back to the main street, just in time for the Kampala City Festival. Music, floats, food and thousands of people flooded the streets. We walked amongst the sea of smiles and often got more attention than the parade itself. We saw maybe a handful of other foreigners in our five hours of exploring, so it’s still a novelty to see tourists in the city.
In fact, I was even mistaken for the Ambassador of Spain. Ok, maybe mistaken isn’t the word for it. To get to the festival, we had to go through metal detectors. The men and women were separated, so there I was, no Loes, in a pulsing mob of Ugandans pushing towards the entrance. To my left I hear “Let us in, I’m here with the Spanish Ambassador!” as the guy next to me is pointing in my direction. Others started yelling out “ Yes, yes…we are his bodyguards”. This might just work, I thought, so I went with it. I began yelling out whatever Spanish words I could recall from my days in high school. I must have said something about his madre, because the guard in front of us was none to pleased. Thankfully, everyone else seemed to enjoy it as the joking kept on until I got through safely.
(Above: The difference between these two children’s lives is pretty clear.)
The evening ended with some much-needed Indian food and 30 minutes of people posing for pictures with us (let’s be real, they were mainly posing with Loes).
(Above: Even using all of her charm, the police officer wouldn’t Loes wear his beret. No fun, that guy.)
(Above: I look cool, right guys? Guys?)
(Above: I should have worn my Uganda flag t-shirt)
Tired and happy, Loes and I made it back to the room for some much needed rest. Tomorrow will be more Kampala, including a trip to the Ugandan Wildlife Association building to arrange a trek with mountain gorillas. Just another full day to be had.