2 - Welcome to Uganda
Updated: May 4, 2022
Then off to find our driver, somewhere outside past all the drivers promising “cheap!” (read: expensive) tourist fares into town. And we were immediately introduced to the chaos that is Ugandan traffic (human and vehicular). Even in the parking lots it’s barely-controlled chaos — to foreign eyes — cars jockeying within millimetres to park or reverse. But I quickly sensed the flow to it all, everyone playing by the same set of rules, and as long as nobody made a sudden movement I could see why no paint was traded.
Numerous guards patrolled outside the airport, all with machine guns, but none the same; an M16 here, a small HK5-style sub machine gun there, an AK47 with a heavily scarred wooden stock standing beside our van. It was as if each soldier had to pick from a random supply bin before going out on duty. And just outside the airport gate was a nest of hay bales protecting a heavy 50-caliber machine gun. The weapon and gunner were obvious, and slightly intimidating (likely the desired impact).
The poverty was soon also obvious, with women walking along the roadside, sometimes deftly balancing large loads of fruits or boxes atop their heads, and folks bent at the waist waving short straw brooms across the dirt in front of small shops or homes…basically sweeping dirt off of dirt. The children often wore very serious expressions, which along with their big eyes made them seem much older than their years.
The need for security is made obvious by the walls; almost every building has its own wall. If you have money, the wall is tall. If you have real wealth, razor wire is strung like sad Christmas lights along the top. Older buildings make due with old-fashioned barbed wire.
Once off the paved road, with its impressive potholes, the red dirt roads amaze with their deep gullies and even larger sinkholes, like traps apparently dug to capture elephants. But once through our guesthouse gates an immediate sense of calm and peace pervaded. Tall exotic trees, a colonial-style (in the truest sense of the word) main building, and across a small courtyard the single-story motel-style rooms, with a long tiled porch running the length of the front, shaded by thickly intertwined vines producing gorgeous fuscia blossoms. And the wild bird calls completed the subtly glamorous scene. The scene and feeling I’d been waiting a long time to sense again.
I love that feeling.
We unpacked and, surprisingly not tired, made arrangements to visit the Botanical Gardens.
While at first glance a little rough compared to North American gardens, this place has a wonderful charm. Massive termite mounds dot the grounds like sandcastles left by giant children, and huge black-and-white hornbills thrashing the air above our heads added the welcome sense of exploration and the New. Alex our garden guide showed us the Tarzan Jungle (where movie scenes were filmed, understandably), explained how female hornbills are imprisoned in a hollow for three months every year to lay eggs and tend to the young, fed through a narrow opening by multiple males, pointed out a 500 year old mahogany tree, predicted when the calabas monkeys would take a death-defying leap across a large sky-filled gap to the vines below and then took us down to Lake Victoria where he waved a hand at hundreds of shells belonging to a variety of snails that will enter the human body through the foot and then wiggle up to attack the liver.
I’d prefer meeting a Nile crocodile.
We got to see golden orb spiders with webs spun thickly side-by-side to easily capture the clouds of ever-present gnats.
And in the next bush a much smaller relative, purported to be one of the most venomous spiders in Uganda. Then off for a walk through the jungle. I jokingly asked if the forest cobras he’d mentioned earlier would be nearby and he replied “yes. When snake researchers come from Australia, this is where they come to find the forest cobras.” He pointed to a copse of small trees directly in front of us. And then nonchalantly brushed past them.
All in all a great walk around a poorly funded but beautiful botanical garden. Nathan climbed up a termite mound taller than him for a photo opp.
Spoke with some locals while awaiting our driver. Very friendly. Good vibe.
Back to Guesthouse for a pleasant dinner outdoors, with oil lanterns gently banishing early evening shadows.
After dinner we met Levan, our driver, guide and guardian angel for the next couple weeks, and we promised to be ready to hit the road by seven o’clock the next morning. Then to bed. A good day, until the dogs started barking. There were only a few, but damned loud, too loud to sleep more than an hour or so.
Slept through our alarms, scarfed down breakfast while Levan waited patiently, then we set out to Kampala, the capital city.
Jet lag: 1. JR: 0