Bones and Susie had recently decided that Kal would be heading no further North, and thus they would be stripping Uganda from their itinerary. Kaz and I on the other hand had had our hearts set on visiting this equatorial nation for some time and were still keen to experience yet another country and culture. Subsequently we planned to push ahead solo.
After climbing the gorillas Bones offered to drop us at the border, and by mid afternoon we'd waved Rwanda goodbye and were welcomed into the unfriendly arms of the Ugandan immigration officer. Unlike his police counterpart he was extremely unhelpful and determined to give us a hard time, and after refusing to give us a transit visa, refusing to accept they even existed, he stripped us of our hard-earned $US cash and set us out amongst the frenzied pack of salivating taxi-drivers hoping to extract the last dollars from our wallets. Everyone was keen to offer us a ride, be our friend, or do us a deal, but fortunately we knew better than to accept a $40 cab ride 12km down the road. The afternoon was getting on, the border was soon due to close but we figured we could do no worse than to sit tight a while and see what eventuated.
It was to be our lucky day, and as we were pestered by the typical undesirables that hang around borders offering their services, a friendly British guy strolled up to check that all was ok. Bar the annoyance all was fine with us, but after realising through brief discussions that our British friend was merely there to eye the border before returning to our destination town, Karen approached him for a lift.
Minutes later the pack of taxi drivers moved away cussing and Kaz and I were on our way to Kisoro with Julian and his local chaperone Dan. The ride was slow and dusty, but if gave us plenty of time to acquaint ourselves with our chauffeurs. Julian was a middle-aged beekeeper from Somerset, and was in Uganda for a month to teach Dan, his young Ugandan protégé, and his colleagues, the finer points of beekeeping and creating a sustainable honey business. In the 30min journey we were educated about the basics of beekeeping, informed of the local attractions and given a short life story of our charitable duo.
When we arrived in Kisoro, Dan used his local knowledge to help us find a great little hotel, and at $10 a night including breakfast for a nice clean double room, The Countryside Guesthouse with its extremely friendly staff was to be one of our best bargain hotels yet.
We had only intended on staying 1 night in Kisoro before catching a bus to the Ugandan capital of Kampala, but adamant that we see some of the surrounding area before moving on, our generous new friends offered us a guided tour of the region the following day. It was an opportunity and hospitality we couldn't refuse, and after setting a rendezvous for the next day we went our separate ways.
We were stoked with how things had panned out in our first few hours of solo travel. Travelling with companions, in their vehicle, and often to a schedule had at times robbed us of our spontaneity, and already we were enjoying the freedom of going it alone.
We took a short wander around town, watching a clear sunset over silhouetted volcanoes before enjoying a local feed and a couple of drinks back at our hotel.
The following morning keen and early, Dan and Julian picked us up at our hotel before heading out of town. The South Western corner of Uganda is famed for its dramatic and impressive landscapes with sheer mountains plunging into deep blue lakes, and we weren't to be disappointed. The mountainous road alongside Lake Mutanda was spectacular, and the steep hillsides terraced to the peaks were an amazing sight in themselves, but together with the backdrop of the Virunga Volcanoes it was a truly inspiring view.
Along the way we learnt more about the local area, but even more interestingly the art of beekeeping - to be honest we never thought there was so much to it. It was great just to sit there and listen to these guys that obviously had a passion for bees. Sure in time it would've become painful as we did not share their infatuation, but at the time it was enjoyable and educational (although I won't be racing out to get my hands on a subscription to "Bee Weekly", yes that's right, there is a WEEKLY publication in the UK). The beekeeper movement has also created a number of charities with catchy names such as Hives Save Lives, which help people in developing nations. It was through these connections that Julian had met Dan, and in a wonderful gesture that followed, flew Dan over to the UK to see how things were done.
Our morning tour had come to an end because as well as being a tour guide for vagrants, Dan was also the local football team manager, and needed to be back in town for his big game in the Ugandan FA cup equivalent. We were invited to lunch at Dans adopted mother Judiths house, and dined with the family on a fantastic meal of matoke (cooked banana that tastes more like potato) stew. In typical African style, the team manager Dan was still sitting down to lunch at home at the scheduled kickoff time of 2pm, but remained unphased, simply stating kickoff was 2pm African time. We arrived at the fields some time before 3, and as expected the game was a long way from starting. What followed was a typical African shambles, and after nearly 2 hrs of debates, discussions, arguments and field changes, and also despite both teams finally being ready to go, the game was called off - apparently because the linesmen didn't have flags and the teams couldn't agree on an improvisation. Instead, we made our way back to the original fields and watched another entertaining game - complete with referees without flags.For me one of the most interesting factors was watching the local police control the crowded sidelines, parading up and down beating anyone or anything that edged over the line by even an inch with their batons or long bamboo canes, be it toes, fingers, legs whatever. It was all done with a smile on their faces and there was nothing too malicious about it which was good, but the swollen local crowd definitely pushed the limits.
The game ended in a 0-0 draw and so went to penalties. Again the crowd of hundreds massed around the goal and needed to be persuaded with a slight beating to move back and give the mostly teenage players some room to take their shots. The shambles didn't finish there and just when we thought it was all over, and people began celebrating the referee called the players back as apparently the keeper had moved off his line too early. In an obvious square up this again happened on the following shot, and then again and again. The Kaiser Chiefs song "I predict a riot" suddenly started playing in my head, as tempers flared from the crowd and players, mostly targeted towards the referee. There was a few small scrambles on the pitch, but the police soon sorted the perpetrators out, chasing them across the field with their bamboos canes held high - it really was quite laughable. It must have been nearly an hr since the normal-time had finished when what I presume was the "mercy rule" was initiated - the final player for the home team embarrassingly missing his third penalty attempt in a row. Game over, to the opposition.
We made our way back to town with the entire football team in the back of the ute. Dan stopped en-route to organise our bus tickets for the following morning. It was generally a 6am departure with a need to be there at 5am to ensure a seat, but a couple of extra bucks buys you a kid to sit in your seat and hold it till you get there, so that's what we did. Dan even organised for the bus to pick us up at our hotel on the edge of town.
In this part of the world the sun rises late, and by 5.30 we were up and waiting in the pitch black on the hotel balcony. It worried us a little that there would be enough organisation at the bus company to remember to come and get us, and when 5.40 rolled round we became even more concerned. Not long before 6 and 2 lights appeared heading our way. The sound gave it away that it wasn't the bus we were hoping for, but instead it was 2 old postie bike moto-taxis. It was relief on one hand but apprehension on the other - how the hell were we going to the 2 of us with both our big back packs, a day pack each and some other bits and pieces on two little bikes, let alone stay upright on the bumpy roads and in the dark? We might have used the word impossible, but Africans seem to have a knack for filling every possible space on transport, and just when you think something is loaded up the max, in they squeeze another goat or chicken. Kaz and I didn't have too much poultry or livestock, but they did manage to balance it all and us on the bikes. With so much weight, and stacked so high (and with stuff all through the handlebars) it was a wobbly old takeoff, but we just held on best we could and hoped a bit of pace would stabilise a little, sort of like on your pushy when balance becomes difficult as you slow down at an intersection or something. It was a short ride but a scary all the same, but at least with all the weight it was difficult to build up any sort of momentum that would've proved too damaging.
We arrived at the bus, with it loaded almost full, but as we had hoped our seats were there waiting for us, just like Dan had said. Some locals did seem a little disgruntled by the fact we had rolled in so late with our seats saved, well that's what we assumed anyway as they grumbled under their breath, as the only word we could repetitively make out was Mzungu.
Not that we needed to be told having travelled on public transport previously, but Julian had warned us of the suicidal, maniacal bus drivers to be expected, and they weren't to make a liar out of him as we took off at break neck speed. Presumably late for a very important appointment, the bus driver threw the vehicle round corners and blindly overtook other traffic, beeping his horn aggressively to clear the road in front of him. To make it even worse, the road was mountainous and extremely windy but fortunately for us it was still dark and we couldn't see the edge (we were to later find out this was the worst stretch of road for accidents and fatalities in Uganda). By the time the sun began to surface, we had almost got used to the driving, Karen had removed her embedded fingernails from my thighs and we preferred to just pretend we were on some type of rollercoaster at an amusement park. The sunrise brought awesome views. The fog filled valleys caught the first rays of morning light, and the silhouetted mountains painted a sinusoidal horizon against the colourful canvas sky. It immediately shifted our focus and lifted us away, although the sharp stench of BO from the bloke next to me soon brought us back to the bus. Why he kept sitting with his hands behind his head, arms raised and elbow in my face I have no idea.
The sun now high in the sky, we descended from the mountains and onto the dry and dusty plains heading east towards Kampala.We had been well off the mark with our pre-conceived ideas that Uganda would be a country covered by lush mountain forests, but the scenery was quite interesting all the same. Longhorn cattle seemed to be the main livestock, impressive animals that truly lived up to their names. Their horns were immense, a metre or more in length at times, but more importantly the meat tasted good. At every stop, in every town, crowds would wrestle each other for a front spot to push freshly cooked beef on a stick through the bus windows. The meat was delicious and a nice change from the regular fish and chicken, even coupled with the wafty BO aroma from old mate next door……………..the barbequed liver on a stick, not so good.