74 – Kigali Drowning

Mon 8th Feb, Bellevie Logement, Kigali, Rwanda
Again, i will by the end of the day, and this entry, regret taking the day bus into a new city & country. Today’s plan was to go from Kampala to Kigali, a nine hour bus ride through the Ugandan countryside before emerging into the Rwandan hills.

Kampala Coaches’ 4 seats to a row allowed more room than this one, 5 seats to a row. It was still fairly comfortable though, since the bus was half empty. We passed through some bad roads on the early part of the trip, which delayed the bus by maybe an hour. Include with that the constant traffic police stops, and you have a bus that will reach Kigali after dark.

Clear skies amid rolling hills

The terrain again was lush green leafy trees set against a hillside landscape. Passed by Ntungamo and Kabale, towns which are bases for gorilla tracking. We reached the border at around 5pm. Again, as with all the East African countries so far, border formalities are quick and painless. Visas are available at the border, though i didn’t need one for Rwanda. The money changing touts at the border were all there, but they offered much better rates than the forex back in Kampala. Selling Rwandan francs at 3.4 instead of the forex’s 3.9.

They were showing movies on the bus. However the English movie had been dubbed over with what i think is Kinyarwanda language. They did not dub over each actor’s voice though, instead a narrator said out the whole story. For example: “The big strong guy punched the little guy in the nuts till he keeled over. An action packed movie!”

Darkening skies

The fun started as we got into Rwanda. It started to rain, heavily. The vehicles on the main highway slowed down and by the time we got to Kigali, the town was drowning in rainwater. Ok, i may be exaggerating, but when we got into Kigali, it was dark, pouring and i had no idea where we were. The bus pulled into the bus park at Nyabugogo bus station, 2km away from town. The bus park itself was calf deep in rainwater, and the local passengers were protesting at being dropped off there. I got off, grabbed my bag from the luggage compartment under the bus, and made for shelter, with a horde of other people. The rain didn’t seem to subside, and this was a stupid location in the dark to wait, so i got out my poncho, slipped it over and ran across to the well lighted petrol station.  Here at least there was more room and it’s a better place to ask for directions.

All out assault at the bus station!

My options were to grab a minivan shared taxi to the city centre where all the hotels were, or to take a taxi motor. The latter was out of the question, since most of them were taking cover in the petrol station, not being suited to go out into the heavy rain. So i decided to wait, for a full hour hoping for the rain to subside, before asking for directions to the minivan that goes to town. The problem here was hardly anyone around the bus station spoke English, and even though the signs were in French, no one i asked spoke French either. So i stood  in my poncho in the rain on the side of the road i figured led to the city centre. Do that long enough and someone who could help would come over to help. And that was exactly what happened, true story.

I took the minivan (150 RF) down to somewhere where someone told me to drop off. Actually it was the passenger beside, and the somewhere was in town. I tried to find a landmark with which i can use to orientate myself on my map. I looked for Hotel Gloria, but it had closed down. Instead, a little further down the road was Belle Vie Logement, and across the road from it was the New Modern Guest House. I stayed in the former, a peculiar place behind the restaurant which was closed at night. The place was dark, with only one or two lights, and had 4 rooms in the back corridor of the restaurant. But it was in the centre of town, and at 6000 RF, was probably the cheapest i will get staying in Kigali.

I was too tired and wet to try another place anyway. The rooms were basic but comfortable enough, and since my prerequisite of a working power point was there, i am fine. I set out to boil some hot chocolate and had my last pack of instant noodles for dinner. That one single pack of instant noodles left in my bag from Addis probably saved my life. Warm and contented, i slept.

73 – Red Chilli for extra oomph!

Sun 7th Feb, Red Chilli Hideaway, Kampala, Uganda

Early morning at 6.30am, left for Kampala with the nice couple from yesterday’s white water rafting. I had asked them last night whether i could hitch a ride back to Kampala, saving me at least 3 vehicle transfers and a whole load of hassle.

In Kampala, i took a boda-boda down to one of the two backpacker places, located just out of the city centre: Red Chili Hideaway. This place was different from the hotel i stayed 3 nights ago in Kampala. This was a backpacker haven, fully attuned to the western tourist’s needs. Cheap dorm beds (12000 USH) as well as decent food at the bar/restaurant. There were many people to trade travel tips with, most having come from some safari or other. The decor is pretty quirky, with notices that make you feel right at home. There was also a huge amount of info about travel companies, packages that one could find here. It was a Sunday, they were having BBQ sundays. The free wireless Internet gets a bit dodgy though, apparently only 10 users could get connected at any one time.

Just after lunch, I went out to get tickets on the Jaguar Executive Coaches (25 000 USH) to Kigali, Rwanda. The office moved, LP’s location is wrong. It is up on Namirembe Road hitting east, just before the Total Petrol Station at the Y-junction. Buses depart from here as well. There were a few buses leaving each day, one at 1am, one at 3am, one at 9am plus a couple of others that went the longer route. Since i’ll be blitzing through the countries, i decided to take the day bus, thus i’d be able to see the mountainous terrain as get glances of the national parks and lakes.

I got hungry next and had a full meal at 4pm of a tilapia special dish on some restaurant’s menu (8500 USH). I had a conversation yesterday about how freshwater tilapia was really tasty and figured i had to have some. It was good, but i ended up being too full for tonight’s bbq.

Next was to take out some cash from the ATMs. Rwanda and then Burundi both do not have ATMs with VISA or Mastercard, so i’d have to draw some money now. However, i couldn’t find any with Mastercard, and I did not want to, if i could help it, to use my VISA card. The other thing is that my head is spinning from all the currency conversions. Sing Dollar, US Dollar, Kenyan Shilling, Ugandan Shilling, Rwandan Franc, Burundi Franc, Tanzanian Shilling. The rates for Ugandan Shillings to Rwandan franc at the forex companies looks atrocious. They buy at 2.2 USH and sell at 3.9 USH. I decided in the end to not withdraw anymore USH (i had to use VISA card and the conversion rate was bad). I’ll take the risk and spend less in the next couple places. Remember, in Uganda the banks only take VISA or VISA electron (Barclays and Standard Chartered included). One other bank i can’t recall is on the PLUS network as well.

In the end, i just went back to Red Chili. Take the taxi vans from the Old Taxi Park (the Bugolobi / Kintale vans) or hail then along the western end of Kampala Road (about 800 USH). Sat around and talked with the people in the dorm. The dorm was half full, but with 20 beds in the bungalow, so that was still many travelers in one place. Now typing this out, since i have a huge backlog, and too many people connecting online tonight is not allowing me to upload my entries.

Tomorrow, Rwanda. I’m just blitzing through East Africa aren’t i. =P

72 – “The Bad Place” aka rafting the white nile

Sat 6th Feb, Adrift camp, Jinja, Uganda
Today is going to be a busy day. It started off slow, at 9am, there seemed to be only 2 or 3 people geared for rafting. I asked the staff and they said there would be 39! The bus from Kampala was not here yet, and that accounts for the delay.

Instead, i decided to start the day with my bungee jump! The Nile Bungy is a 44m drop down into the White Nile. (65 USD). It looks pretty close to the cliff overlooking the Nile, and it certainly looks as though you could smash yourself into the cliff. The staff reassured me that it was safe, heh. Then it was time to weigh myself, in preparation for the jump. *DRUMROLL!* I weigh 69.7kg, at least 8kg lighter than before. Best weight loss program ever! Got it written in black market on my hand.

Climbed up to the top of the tower, and tried not to think too much of the height as they tied up my feet to the rope. The jump itself was an exhilarating 2 sec drop before my head dipped into the water. Then my shirt got turned inside out, covering my face, leaving me disoriented while i ping-ponged about. Wooooooohoooooo!

That’s me up there!

I was really high on adrenaline after that and was raring to go on the rapids. The main body came along. I got my group, the miscellaneous rafters, 8 of us, collectively known as Team Mix, which wasn’t too imaginative, so later on we became Team Tutu, after our guide. The rapids were grade 3 to 5, with a couple of flippers, ending in Itanda, which means The Bad Place, a grade 6 rapid which we will avoid by going on land and continuing at the end.

Team Mix!

It was excellent, we capsized once. The most dramatic though was probably when we got hit by a big one, and half the people on the dinghy fell off. I was one of them and got swept away before being picked up by a rescue kayak. No photos though, since there was no way i could bring my camera along with me. Pretty much worth the experience and cost (125 USD for white water full day)

71 – And gingerly to Jinja we go

Fri 5th Feb, Adrift camp, Jinja area, Uganda

Woke up, checked out the “coaster” buses at the Old Taxi Park for those going to Jinja, walked around and got some cash from the ATM (VISA only) before picking up my bags. The trip was 1.5 hours (4000 USH) but included a half hour just to get out of the taxi park. Otherwise, it was pretty uneventful.

At Jinja town, i got some lunch before taking a boda-boda (4000 USH) down to Adrift’s white water rafting base. It was a campsite, with safari tents, some dorms, and proper huts, together with a bar. The thing that drew my attention though was the bungee jump, as well as the Nile below, which can be viewed from the bar.

This place is crowded with foreigners. New Zealand run, you have the overland truck groups, the student volunteers, the church group, those working in Kenya or Uganda, and a smattering of independent travelers.

All dorm rooms were full though, so i was stranded, since my bodaboda left. I inquired about accomodation at the other white water rafting place, but rather than lose a potential customer to the competition, the sorted out something else for me. There were some tents coming in for some other group from Kampala overnighting in Jinja, so they had them bring in an extra tent for me. One of the co owners was a nice bloke who set this up for me and threw in 2 nights of free accomodation in the camping grounds (normally USD 5 per night, while dorms were USD 10)

70 – Kampala, the city with one too many hills

Thu 4th Feb, L’Hotel Fiancee, Kampala, Uganda

Kampala Coach office is just beside the New Kenyan Lodge, so i did not have to wake up too early. And off we went on the 12 hour ride. There were frequent toilet stops along the way, with the bus conductor actually announcing “5 minutes” or “10 minutes for lunch.” Impressive, they were in their red uniforms as well, some with matching caps. The passengers were well dressed Kenyans and Ugandans, some with kids in tow.

It was a long ride, albeit comfortable, with plenty of lush landscapes out the window. The terrain is very much like the region back home, with papaya, banana, jackfruit trees, and greens hills, though more grassy.

Reached Kampala city after dark, and this was because of the jam coming into the city centre. I’ve read that the jams are legendary, but this was ridiculous. Cars were waiting upslope and downslope for their turn to pass. We must have spent half hour waiting in queue. Finally dropped off and tried to get my bearings. There were two places of accomodation of note, namely Backpacker Hostel and Red Chill Hideaway, both traveler haunts. However since both are out of the town centre (about 3km and 6km respectively), i needed to get a taxi there. The shared taxis are minivans that load up to 14 people picking up passengers, but it was too dark to figure out which went where. There were also taxi motors. The best way was to get to the taxi park, based on LP, where signs clearly posted the directions of the taxi vans. Unfortunately, i didn’t realise it would be almost impossible to find  either taxi parks in the middle of night. I wandered around around stupidly, with the heavy backpack, till i gave up and found a hotel near the bus station. The Hotel L’Fiancee is 22000 USH with its own toilet, relatively expensive as far as rooms go.