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3 - Uganda: City Life

Updated: May 6, 2022

Traffic in Entebbe is frenetic. Kampala is on another level entirely. Holy $hit, it’s worse than New Delhi. At rush hour! According to Nathan, Kampala is rated #3 for worst traffic in the world, behind only Dhaka and Manila. I think the ultimate video game could be Kampala Rush Hour; between the diesel trucks with no mufflers belching massive clouds of black soot to the beetle-sized potholes (Volkswagen, not insect) to the insane boda-boda motorcycle riders — less than half of whom wore helmets, with some strapped above headlights like hood ornaments of the retarded — oozing into momentary gaps like rapid flowing mercury, the non-stop event appears like frenetic chaos but there’s a definite flow to the choreographed madness not easily discerned by North American eyes.

Kampala has some traffic lights which were obeyed by the many of drivers, most of the time.

Gaddafi Mosque was worth checking out; the building itself is not that impressive, but Libya paid to construct it after Mohamar’s visit, including the 272 steps up the minaret, which we climbed to enjoy views of the seven hills of the city. Each strategic peak is owned by either a king or a god, with the Protestant cathedral casting a more impressive silhouette than the Catholics’ shade.

We next visited the king’s former palace. Idi Amin’s forces started their revolution here, the king jumping over a wall to escape to exile. The dictator took over, and his Israeli friends immediately built a reinforced bunker into the palace hill to store artillery munitions. Idi eventually used it as a prison, forcing hundreds of intellectuals and political opponents into the three underground cement rooms. We entered the space through the only door after walking down the open-topped tunnel. The entrance is eerie, knowing the pain and suffering experienced by so many inside. Apparently Idi flooded the main chamber with about two feet of water. This not only kept the prisoners always standing, always cold, always uncomfortable, but his creative genius soon added electricity to the mix, alternating on-off-on-off to extend the torture for days, only killing the weak. And they all eventually weakened. Names and messages scrawled into the concrete walls by those about to die are still visible. And quite haunting to read.

Levan shared stories of life under Idi Amin Dada; how hard it was for the educated “elite,” and how little progress the country made during those dark times. Then he talked about the regional kings, how some were good and some not so much, like the king who refused to allow his spear to touch the ground, so when the spear needed a rest he’d command a man to stand beside him and then set down the spear. On the man’s foot. Blade first.

Then off to buy a SIM card, exchange dollars for a shedload of shillings (after a great curry lunch overlooking a garden) then a visit to a local market at Nathan’s behest to buy some African clothing. And, happily for me, the market also hosted some local artists. I started negotiating with a young Picasso and left Nathan to the piranhas. We’d had a brief discussion around the art of the deal in Uganda (start at 50% of the initial price and go from there…) and he ended up doing quite well for himself, scoring a FUFA football jersey and a funky African top (which earned him compliments from the locals the next day).

I scored a wonderful original art, at 60% of the original price (I might be getting soft due to lack of travel…I do love the bargaining process in these more civilized environments).

Then to our adequate hotel in the diplomatic district for an adequate curry meal. Breakfast was ordered for 7:30am.

Levan arrived at 8:00am. We woke up at 8:15 when the concierge knocked on our door.

Jet lag: 2. JR: 0.

It was Sunday, so absolutely no traffic in our area. But it was modified madness in the suburbs, with all the African poverty/small shacks/tiny storefronts I was somewhat expecting to see. The rush hour when they all went to work on Monday would be quite the experience to observe.

And then a magical drive, as the city eventually thinned into countryside.

  • Ziwa Rhino reserve. I assumed we would drive around the reserve in the Land Cruiser. Wrong. We hiked in with a guide, watched over by a couple angels toting AK47s.

(The hairless apes are much more dangerous than the lovely rhinos)

  • We were approx 30 ft away from multiple different beasts. Their horns look MUCH bigger when you’re on their turf. We were advised to hide behind a tree or shrub if shit went south. And if able, to climb a tree, but “make sure you climb up at least two metres, otherwise the rhino will use his horn to assist you.” A killer enema.

We visited Murchison’s Falls, allegedly the most powerful waterfall on the planet. You can feel the fury in the air, then the spray jetting high into the sky, and then the incredible whitewater flow, furiously smashing against rocks and then not just falling but thundering off the cliff to explode into the writhing pool below before slingshotting back up even higher in a thick white cloud of smashed water particles. The energy resonates through your chest, and we were soon soaked as if a rain cloud had just unloaded on us.

Allegedly the most powerful waterfall in the world

Absolutely spectacular.

And we were just getting started…

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