Ahhh, good old African land border time again! But surely the exiting of Kenya can’t be too bad?
Just to get to the Kenyan border post we had to overtake/queue jump somewhere between 500 and 1,000 trucks, then when eventually we got within sight of the border, we gently managed to ‘push’ our way into the queue, no body seems to get upset with us doing this as we aren’t commercial, just dumb tourists in a mobile apartment. Then as we settled down to an estimated two hour wait, a “fixer’ appeared and signalled for us to follow him and overtake the remaining 20 or so trucks infront of us. We don’t usually use the services of a fixer at borders, but this guy seemed to know exactly the sort of shortcuts that we needed, so we pulled out and followed him. Running along in front of Colonel K, he signalled for us to follow him down the lane that exited from Uganda, the completely wrong way, oh well “in for a penny in for a pound”. A problem arose when we drove past a guard with a machine gun, he really didn’t approve of us driving the wrong way against the Kenya bound traffic, and even the fixer was telling me to ignore the guard and follow him, I could see the gun carrying guard getting very irate at us, so we pulled over and stopped. The guard caught up, I told him I was following the Fixer’s instructions, he started shouting at the Fixer, and then realised it would be impossible for us to reverse or turn around so ended up waving us through. I would estimate that our little “shortcut” saved us between 2 to 3 hours. The trouble was we now needed to process our paperwork to leave Kenya at the gate where everyone enters Kenya!
We were also told that we owed road tax for the journey from Nairobi to the Ugandan border (we knew this, but thought we could get away without paying it), and in true Kenyan style we couldn’t pay it at the border it had to be paid into a bank. Guess what there is no bank at the border!!!! So we gave our trusty Fixer, Patrick a fist full of Kenyan Shillings, he jumped on the back of a motorbike and went off to the previous town before the border to pay our money into the Revenue Authorities bank account, he was gone ages. Had he run off with our wad of cash? Eventually, over a hour later, he returned with the receipt for the payment and told us the bank was very busy with truck drivers. A crazy system, but its to stop fraud at the border, no cash changing hands. After getting our paperwork stamped and sorted, we drove out of the ‘in gate’, and no one batted an eyelid, apart from the huge incoming trucks that were negotiating the terrible No-Mans Land” track that included a weak bridge that only one truck was allowed on at a time. Incredibly there was no signs to say this, and no police or guards to enforce it, you just knew and did it!
The Ugandan side of the border was a breeze, and a much more pleasant experience, and Patrick came with us (on the back of a bike again), and once again saved us an enormous amount of time, by showing us a different exit gate which only had a few cars there. Of course there are no signs indicating where to go, but we were processed through within an hour, and this included Patrick going to the Ugandan Bank to once again pay our road tax for our 10 tonne truck. We managed to get a decent exchange rate for changing our Kenyan currency into Ugandan Shillings with a money dealer, and paid Patrick about £20.00 for his services. That was money well spent!
Within 5km of the border, we noticed the difference. Kenya is crazy on the road, the traffic is quite heavy, the driving standard is very poor, and the surface is not great (huge potholes in tarmac, and dirt roads very badly kept), but here in Uganda its different. I would estimate about 20% of the traffic volume, and much calmer driving from the Ugandans. And so far the road surfaces are much better, Uganda is looking good.
We were given a tip from an Austrian couple that we met a few weeks prior about a campsite on the River Nile just north of Jinja, so shortly after crossing the start of the White Nile (the main river), as it exits lake Victoria (the Official source of the Nile), we turned off and drove up a series of dirt tracks that run parallel with the Nile for about 30km on the west bank. Eventually, late in the afternoon after a long day, we arrived at The Haven, wow what a place, definitely one of the best places we have stayed at on our Africa trip so far. The view over the cataracts (rapids) below the lodge was breathtaking. They even let us camp here for half price ($7 pppn) as were are long term travellers.
Everywhere was so lush and green, and the noise from the water is constant as it tumbles down through the rocks.
We ended up staying at The Haven for six nights, had dinner in the restaurant a couple of nights, enjoyed the use of their small swimming pool, and generally chilled out. Apart from one day. We decided that we should go White Water Rafting down the River Nile. So after doing a bit of homework about the various companies offering this service (there are about four of them), we booked for a full days trip with “Adrift”, as these seemed the most professional outfit. Our $140.00 per person included collection from The Haven a lunch stop, and beers afterwards, before being driven the hour or so back to our campsite. So it was looking good.
Jac had previously done some White Water Rafting in New Zealand (the adrenaline capital of the world?), and loved it so we were both keen to experience it here in Africa on the Nile, one of the top spots in the world. So after getting fitted out with our ill-fitting crash helmets, very old buoyancy jackets and handed a paddle, we got into the raft. There were a total of eight of us in our raft, Me, Jac, two young Israeli guys, a young Dutch guy, an older Indian fella, and then the Skipper Roberto, and a young trainee. There were also two other rafts with guests, a safety raft, and about six safety kayaks that would help us out if we got into difficulty in the water.
After paddling out into the centre of the river (its about 200metres across here and nice and calm), we jumped out of the boat and were shown how to get back in with minimum of fuss. We were then shown how escape from under a capsized raft, and then how to get it back up the right way, and again get back in it. Thats it a total of 5-10 minutes of health and safety training! Africa style.
Back in the raft, we were the lead boat, and heading for the cataracts below the onlooking gaze of Colonel K, safely back at The Haven, high up on the bank, we were both very excited, and had full trust in the experience of our Ugandan Skipper, Roberto. We had to wait for the other two rafts, and safety crews in the kayaks to catch up, and we rowed over to the sheltered water to the right of the rapids, and were given our instructions regarding paddling, and holding on. The kayaks shot past at an amazing speed in the current, and completely disappeared from view. Was this normal? Roberto then informed us that our first set of cataracts (there were a total of nine sets for the day) was in fact one of the toughest, and is a grade 5 (these are official set grades and are used the world over, they only go up to grade 6), and that it was in fact a waterfall, after a turbulent rocky section we would drop down a 20-25 foot waterfall. We could not see this from The Haven, perhaps Colonel K was smiling at us as we prepared.
What happened next was not expected! Roberto misjudged the top section and we ended up getting spun round, and disappeared over the waterfall backwards. The two Israeli’s and the Dutch guy were thrown out, the rest of us were all over the raft, and we were stuck in the back wash of the waterfall, we had to be thrown a line from the safety boat and hauled out of the churning waters of the waterfall.
Sorry about the quality of the photos, but they were taken from a video that was done at a few of the cataracts that we did during the day.
That was a crazy start to the day, but maybe, just maybe the rest will be easier, ha, bloody ha!
During that first set, Jac ended up with a bruised hand where she landed on her paddle (the paddle had snapped), but apart from that we were unscathed, the rest of the morning was equally tough. Jac got washed out of the raft a few times, the raft completely capsized once (and we all got washed away), and Jacs injuries were mounting up, she now had a cut foot (struck on underwater rocks) a sprained ankle, and a small cut to her chin, and everyone had ended up drinking a lot of Nile water!
That morning we had completed 5 sets of rapids (two grade 5’s and three grade 4’s), we had also had to leave the river and walk barefoot around an unbelievable crazy section that was a grade 6 (we thankfully weren’t allowed to attempt this). Eventually we stopped at the imaginatively named “Lunch Island” in the centre of the river, here we had a buffet lunch, and the first aid kit was brought out for various patching up of the clients. The other two rafts seemed to have fared worst than us, there were cut eyes (from flying paddles probably), cuts to arms, etc. There was also an Australian woman that was in tears, and quite a few shocked faces. What a morning, the river was taking its toll.
After lunch, a few clients had taken to the security of the safety raft, this always takes the easier route through the cataracts, and I think that if Jac had realised that this was an option she would have taken it, but it was too late, and we were heading for our next set of rapids, Jac got washed out and away down stream again! Back in the raft, she asked Roberto if she could now get in the safety raft, but it was too late again, it was already way off in the distance in front of us, Jac was exhausted, and had truly had enough. It’s hard to describe the feeling of constantly being dragged down by the “washing machine” that is the churning mass of the River Nile, as soon as you are up, you grab a breath (and a lot of river water), and then get sucked back under, its relentless.
But next up was another grade 5, called “The Bad Place”, there was an easier grade 4 route, but we told Roberto to take the tougher route (not sure how Jac felt about this group decision).
Bloody hell that was tough, some how I managed to end up mid stream and was washed well down stream, seemingly miles down stream, all the safety kayaks were busy rescuing the rest of the crew, while I was being washed very rapidly down stream, it was impossible to swim across the current to the bank, and the worst thing was, I wasn’t sure what was ahead of me! Luckily the other two rafts took the easy option round the rapids and one was paddling frantically towards me, I got hauled into their raft, and took a few minutes to catch my breath. Everyone from our raft was ok but exhausted, Jac had truly had enough, and was getting into the safety boat, if anyone had argued with her I think she would have punched them! Jac had done eight out of the nine sets, but I was worried about her, she was truly knackered and quite pale and shaking. The Ugandan Asian guy didn’t look any better, and appeared completely shell shocked with the last 15 minutes, but he stayed on the raft.
The last set of cataracts ended up with us going vertical (but not flipping over) but ended up with our skipper being washed out the back with his trainee, so left us to negotiate the last bit on our own, paddling furiously.
It was an incredible day, truly exhausting, both physically and mentally, but I loved it. Jac hated it! We have met other tourists that have done the same section of river as us, and no one fell out of the rafts, or capsized, or got washed away, maybe the river was flowing harder this day (I doubt it), more likely we had a proper hard core day, with some adrenaline junkies, that wanted to scare the crap out of some tourists. It worked! Im convinced that only in Africa could you get away with doing this with paying guests (Jac confirmed that what she did in New Zealand was nothing like this).
We spent another couple of days to get over our bruised and battered bodies at The Haven (poor Jac could hardly move the next day), then we headed for the capital city of Kampala.
Bike wash Uganda style, just ride it down to the River Nile.
Body wash Uganda style, just walk down to the River Nile
Normally we avoid big cities in Africa (this is usually where you are more likely to have trouble, and we don’t usually enjoy them), but we needed to book our Mountain Gorilla Trekking Permits. Whilst staying at Red Chilli Backpackers (we camped obviously), we used their free shuttle bus into the city to stock up on food for the coming weeks ahead, and eventually managed to obtain two permits for trekking in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest for later in the month, these cost a staggering $600.00 each plus booking expenses. Budget blown!
While we were sat outside a coffee shop in Kampala, we experienced how important football is to these people, Uganda were playing the tiny nation of Comoros, and a win will see them qualify for the Africa Cup of Nations for the first time in 38 years. It seemed everyone in Kampala was out on a motorbike (sometimes four people on a bike), wearing a Ugandan football shirt, and had a horn of some kind. The noise and colour was incredible, and seemingly trouble free. That evening we watched the game in a bar and saw Uganda win 1-0, and qualify. Uganda was a happy nation that night.
We are really enjoying Uganda, the people here are very friendly, and the countryside is truly stunning, but as with all countries in Africa, there has to be a downside to the place. In Uganda’s case that downside is blindingly obvious. Everywhere you look its there! As much as I try to turn a blind eye, its there, everywhere! An unhealthy number of Arsenal football shirts! I’ve asked a number of locals about this, and they tell me its the older generation that carry this on from when Arsenal FC were successful. I guess that explains why the are faded and mostly in tatters.
Next we head up to Murchison Falls, this will be as far north as we plan to go on lorrywaydown, before we again cross the equator and back into the southern hemisphere.
Thanks for reading