I had decided to fly from Addis to Uganda. This avoided what on the map looked like a couple of days of slow busses through the pretty sparse southern Ethiopia, northern Kenya and northern Uganda. In talking to others that did the trip, it was more likely a couple of weeks of some of the worst roads around. Furthermore, the NZ govt dept of Foreign Affairs travel advisory seemed to think the Kenya/Ethiopian border was ‘extreme risk’ as was northern Uganda. Having talked to others who have been through there, I’m not so sure that the safety issue is such a concern. They state The Lord’s Resistance army, and their hoardes of child soldiers which they had enlisted/brainwashed, which had controlled large parts of northern Uganda. However, Joseph Kony, their a psychopathic leader has long been driven away, now residing in the Central African Republic I think. The army was disbanded some time in 2005 and multiple westerners who I met who worked and lived in the north found it to be safe as.
The international airport for Uganda is Entebbe, lying about 40kms from downtown Kampala, also adjacent to the huge Lake Victoria. I could now put on the map the airport I had read about as a kid when reading about famous special forces missions. It was the site of one of the more daring missions ever performed. Palestinian terrorists had hijacked an Israeli jet, and flown it to Entebbe airport, as at the time Uganda was controlled by Idi Amin, a dictator that had no intention of playing friendly with the west. However, the Israelis landed a C-130 on the runway, with a black executive merc on board, complete with flags of the office of Idi Amin, and one of the soldiers dressed up to play the part. It allowed them to get past the local guards and go on the ruthlessly deal to the terrorists and rescue their hostages.
Hijacked planes have been replaced by commercial airliners and a big presence by the UN. Cargo jets and small passenger jets with the UN ensign were on the runway apron. There were also some seriously big choppers, big enough even to change George Giddings mind on his classic conundrum of what is better out of planes and helicopters.
Straddling the equator, it shouldn’t have been surprising how much more humid and green the country was than Ethiopia. The place seemed a lot more alive, with busy and bustling streets, and people who were generally gave off a more friendly vibe. Getting in to Kampala, I perched up at Red Chlli backpackers. The back packers was started by an English couple, Steve and Debbie in the early 2000s. However, the husband had gone to the assistance of a couple of kiwis and a Brit who were trying to complete the first ascent of the Nile from the Mediterranean to the furthest source though to lie in the mountains of Rwanda. Penny my twin sister had given me a copy of their book for Christmas two years ago which unfortunately was still in the ‘to read’ pile back home. The group whilst being assisted by Steve had some under attack by LRA teens brandishing AK-47s. The rest of the team had made a largely unscathed escape aside from one who had a bullet graze his head. Steve unfortunately was hit in the chest and killed. Debbie continues to run a tight ship and use profits from the backpackers to support the aftermath of the period of terror that LRA inflicted on the north.
First port of call after ditching my gear was attempt two at the Rwandan embassy. The transport for getting around outside of main routes is dominated by the Boda boda. Whenever you walk outside, half a dozen are fighting for your few thousand shillings (approx 2000 USh to the NZD). A request to go at a sensible speed still resulted in a few white knuckles but all is well that ends well. Getting to the embassy late in the arvo on the Friday, I was told that coming back on Monday would be better. Despite plans to leave Kampala on Sunday, things like visas are quite important to sort, so I guess it was a chance chill out for a couple of days.
I met a couple of Scottish guys, Iain and Stuart, who were in the country to write an article about Nodding disease, which we had heard about on the diploma. Found in parts of Uganda, Tanzania and Sudan, this syndrome is seen in kids, resulting in mental retardation and seizure like activity characteristed by nodding motion, and eventually death. Of unknown aetiology, it does share the same geographic distribution as onchocerciasis, the filarial infection causing river blindness, although this is only an association not a proven causative relationship at this stage. I managed to convince Iain in to joining me to go rafting the next day. One of the kiwis from the Ascend the Nile expedition had set up a rafting outfit on the Nile, which I had first heard about when I met his dad in a pub in Honiara, Solomon Islands, a few years back. It sounded like a thing we should do whilst nearby. On jumping off the bus, I was soon greeted by a classic New Zealand twang, coming from the head guide, who was sporting an epic mullet. Not surprising on finding out he was from Parongahou, a place in the Hawkes Bay that would be complementing it by calling it a backwater. Iain and myself were bundled in with a bunch of Aussies who were in the country on a volunteer project for a couple of weeks. The boys were keen for hardcore rafting, but the girls and one of the guys mums who were also there weren’t so sure.
It wasn’t long until we were in denial (…get it) – on the second rapid, we were upside down in the white water, surfacing somehow about 30m from the boat. With plenty of safety kayackers to drag you to safety we were soon back on board. The section that is rafted is a mix of grade 4 and 5 rapids. There are grade 6’s (the highest on the scale) but on seeing the raging torrent churning away, I could see why the guides said the typically suck you under for about 45 seconds when you flip (not if you flip). I was happy to stick to 5s which were hairy enough. The highlight (if it is right to call it that) was a rapid called ‘The Bad Place’. After portaging around the grade 6 section, our enthusiast team opted for the ‘definitely flip’ line in the rapid, rather than the ’50/50′ line. With life jackets on, you don’t stay down for long, but it does get problematic if you pop up under the raft. I’m sure a couple of gulps of the Nile is good for you. With four sets of rapids each before and after lunch, somehow we managed to flip 4 times. Spending some time in the water was a welcome relief to the punishing sun and the way it was turning my knees from a pale cream to a deep rosé, despite a couple of applications of SPF50.
Once home, it was into the aftersun lotion that had stocked up in Given it was Saturday night in Kampala, of which I had heard good things from my local contact Jeff (my DTM&H classmate), I allowed myself to have my rubber arm twisted and checked out Bubbles O’Leary. Yes, Irish bars have permeated to Kampala as well. There was a stack of English and Swedish medical students at the backpackers, and I was happy to just chill out with some other muzungus after barely seeing any at all in Ethiopia.