We last left you in Nairobi, Kenya. For a few days we were marvelling in all the western amenities suddenly available to us. The biggest thing was a more reliable internet connection, which allowed us to get caught up on all our updates. We took care of a lot of little errands: I got some new glasses and fixed my old, scratched ones, we mailed some things home, visited the US Embassy.
Visiting the fortress that is the new US Embassy in Kenya was rather interesting. As you may recall, our old embassy, which was in the heart of Nairobi, was bombed in 1998. When we rebuilt the Kenyan government required us to build it further outside the city. So, a 15 minute cab ride took us out to the heart of Ex-pat land where all the diplomats live in huge walled mansions. The new embassy is right across the street from the United Nations complex. As you might imagine, security is extremely tight. You can not get near the embassy unless you have a good explanation as to why you have business there. We needed more pages in our passports. You have to relinquish all electronics, cell phones, pagers etc before you can enter the grounds. Once we were inside getting new pages was relatively easy, if not a bit time consuming. We were happy to walk out with 20+ new pages each. That ought to get us through this trip.
After 3 days of running around in Naiobi we were ready to get out of there. It was a great place to take care of errands, but not a place you really want to hang out in for a long time. We bought a bus ticket and headed west to Uganda.
When we asked our overland guides how the best way to see the gorillas on our own (meaning, not with an overland truck or organized tour) we were put in touch with Marky Vine from Nile River Explorers (NRE), a white water rafting company in Jinja, Uganda. We decided to arrange our trip with Marky once we arrived in Jinja. Jinga is a small town about an hour and a half east of Kampala, the capital of Uganda. The bus ride from Nairobi should have been about 10 hours. We had the option of taking an overnight bus, but decided we would arrive in better shape if we took the day time bus. Given how bumpy the road was, we made the right decision. It was a rather uneventful trip until we hit a parked car at one of the rest stops in Kenya. Though there was no visible damage to the car nor the bus we still had to go through a whole police investigation which left us standing by the road for about 2 hours.
Upon arriving in Jinja we met with Marky and arranged our trip with him to the gorillas. See Snow's entry on our gorilla trip for details. Uganda has two activities to draw tourists: visiting the mountain gorillas and rafting the source of the Nile. Lake Victoria, which is over 70,000 sq km, sits on the borders of Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda. From the north side of the lake, into Uganda, the mighty Nile River starts its journey of over 4,000 km north to the Mediterrean Sea. Rafting the Source, as they refer to it in Jinja, is moments of high adrenelin in between stretches of calm flat water. Through the 4 hour journey downriver we navigated 4 Class 5 rapids and I think we only manged to make it through one of them without flipping the boat. Snow got the award to having the hardest time staying in the boat. It seemed as soon as we hit a big wave he was swimming. On our last big rapid, The Bad Place, we managed to surf the wave, only to look down and see Snow being saved by one of the safety kayaks. We successfully made it through the next big wave only to flip on the final big swell. Our wet efforts were rewarded with a yummy BBQ and a few cold beers at the end while over looking the Class 6 rapids we had to portage around to finish our run.
We had run into noticeably few Americans to that point of our trip. In fact, I think we met one in Malawi. So it felt a little strange to have at least 5 other Americans rafting with us that day. Then it turned out that 4 of them were on the St. Lawrence University Semester in Kenya Program. St. Lawrence is my alma mater, so it made a bit of a small-world experience for me.
We really like Uganda a lot. It was one of my two favorite countries thus far on our trip, tied with Namibia. A lot of its appeal to me was its relative newness to tourism. It's still a pretty rough country to travel in in terms of creature comforts, but the people are so friendly and helpful and far less aggressive than their other East African neighbors. It reminded me a lot of Cambodia in its violent recent past and their overwhelming desire to draw foreigners and more tourism in order to further grow their economy. The 70's in Uganda was a decade of tremendous bloodshed and violence under Idi Amin. Over 300,000 Ugandans lost their lives in horrific violence and the country was a total disaster. In the end of the 70's Amin fled to Libya and Dr. Milton Obote took over the country. It quickly became apparent that Obote was looking to complete the distruction that Amin had started. He lasted only about 5 years. The current president, Yoweri Museveni led the National Resistance Army that overthrew Obote. In the past 15 years he as worked hard to curb corruption, build the economy (it is one of the fastest-growing economies on the continent), and encourage the return of a tourism industry. It still has a long ways to go, but it is now the safest East Africa country to travel in--a refreshing change after being in Nairobi, aka Nairobbery. There is very little evidence of the past nightmares and they seem to be very intent on moving forward and building their country. It is country I would recommend to any adventure traveller wishing to get off the beaten path a bit. If anyone is interested, let us know and we can fill you in on the details of where to go and what to do.
After our adventure to the gorillas we returned to Jinja for a couple more days before flying up to Egypt. It was the first time in our two months of travel (yes, we've already been on the road for 2 months!) that we've returned to a place we've been. It was a nice feeling to return to someplace familiar, even just for a couple of days. We found a nice, quiet place to stay a little outside of Jinja on the Nile at Bujagali Falls. Eden Rock, our home for 2 days, was a beautiful oasis that no one else seems to have found. We were the only ones there, except for a British couple living there while volunteering nearby. Consequently, the service was excellent. We enjoyed delicious grilled tilapia two of the three nights we were there. The most unique thing about the grilled fish was that it was actually grilled, not fried. We found that in most parts of the country "grilled" is a euphemism for fried. Eden Rock was across the street from the Nile River Explorers camp where the overland trucks always stay. It was fun to run into our Phoenix guides, Anton and Billy, when they came through with their new group heading to see the gorillas. It was fun to see familiar faces.
We "rented" a moped from a local guy in the neighboring village for the weekend. It was wonderful to have the freedom of our own wheels for a couple of days, especially since Bujagali Falls is about 15 min drive outside of Jinja. It meant we could explore Jinja on our own and even get back to our favorite restaurant from our previous visit--2 Friends, offering wood-fired pizzas and amazing apple pie a la mode. We ate well while in Jinja. We loved Uganda, but were ready to move on to explore new places. So, Sunday night at midnight we jumped in a taxi and headed for the airport for our 4:30am flight to Cairo.
Hope this finds everyone happy and healthy.