Bosman's Bush Telegraph - 15 September 2000
Well, its us again, and after a rather lengthy silence I thought I should bang off a quick telegraph to let you know where we are and to fill you in on our latest adventures. We have also discovered the joys of MTN Uganda which means that we are able (once again) to use our cell phone so emailing from the comfort of our roof tent is possible. Talk about roughing it! (sounds rather pretentious though doesn't it?) In fact, Uganda is turning out to be a pretty civilized spot. We had been told by so many people that Uganda was the new "darling" of Africa and so far this has turned out to be true. Kampala is by far the nicest African city that we have come across and it beats hell holes like Nairobi and Beira by a long shot. As it is perceived to be one of the most politically stable countries in the rather turbulent East African region and as it has recovered from its horrific history amazingly, Uganda has received much international support and a lot of overseas companies have invested here. There is also a strong South African presence, aside from MTN we have spotted Bokomo Uganda, Nandos, Steers and Debonairs Pizza (always a winner with confirmed take-out junkies such as ourselves). There is even rumoured to be a Kampala Pick & Pay although we have not discovered it yet. The best thing about Uganda (so far) is that it seems to be relatively hassle free and so far we have not received the usual muzungu bashing that we experienced from all and sundry in Kenya and Tanzania (including street kids, curio salesmen, money changers, "tour guides", policemen and traffic cops). This may be because the tourist industry is still in its developmental stages here or it could be, as someone put it, that everyone is just more concerned with going about the business of making a living.
The Kenyan leg of our trip was unfortunately taken up with lots of administrative errands. We had held Nairobi out as the last frontier of civilization on our route north and we had decided that it would be the place to get our last remaining visas, have any vehicle repairs done and to stock up with groceries for the rest of the trip. We could not have chosen to visit Nairobi at a worse time! The entire area has been experiencing a very severe drought and the water supplies in Nairobi had run out just before our arrival there. There was literally no water on tap to many areas of central Nairobi and the surrounding suburbs. The water truck would make its rounds every couple of days but for the rest there was no water available. Sanitation left MUCH to be desired to say the least! In addition to this it would seem that there is just not sufficient electricity to power the huge Nairobi metropolis and there were chronic power shortages and many areas only had power at certain times of the day. The worst side effect of the power rationing was that the traffic lights only worked occasionally and as a result the whole greater Nairobi road network was in constant gridlock - enough to totally enrage the most placid driver! We received visas for Ethiopia in lightning speed - it literally took 24 hours! We could not believe our luck as we had expected to have to wait for them for a couple of weeks. We were completely amazed by the efficiency and professionalism of the Ethiopian embassy in Nairobi. We were not so lucky with our Sudanese visas though. The Sudanese gave us all sorts of uphill and strop about not granting any tourist visas for Sudan at present. We were completely taken aback by their attitude but decided not to push the issue as it would have meant more frustrating days in Nairobi and we decided to push on and to try and get the visas in Addis Ababa. Aside from the whole Sudanese visa debacle we spent a couple of extremely frustrating days scouring the back streets of Nairobi in search of cheapish spare parts for the Landi - Nev seems to have become an expert in seeking out the grimiest back street car places. Although, I must add he has turned into an ace negotiator of bargain basement prices with even the dodgiest of parts dealers. We also had our air conditioning fixed which may prove to be our salvation should the Sudanese ever let us in to their desert.
We did manage to have some fun in Kenya despite the dismal week spent in Nairobi. From Nairobi we headed west to Lake Naivasha and the Great Rift Valley en route to the Masai Mara. Lake Naivasha is fascinating - it is supposed to be getting deeper every year and it seems to change character very rapidly from a brilliant, bright piece of water to a moody and quite stormy one. The lake and the surrounding Aberdere mountain area was the colonial "Happy Valley" which saw the very decadent lives (and needless to say the accompanying sexual misdemeanours) of the British colonials that settled in Kenya shortly after the turn of the century. Of course, I was keeping an eye out for the notorious Djinn palace made famous by James Fox's book White Mischief but it was not to be - we did not manage to find it during our stay on the lake. I had to be content with fulfilling my colonial gossip quota with having visited only Karen Blixen's house in suburban Nairobi.
The "Mara" as everyone here seems to call it was absolutely spectacular and is well worth a visit should you be up here at this time of the year. There were literally wildebeest, zebra and buffalo as far as the eye could see. Of course (as usual), our timing was not perfect so the animals were not migrating anywhere (they would seem to return to the Serengeti en masse later in September) but it was quite something just to see them all standing around munching grass. There were just so many of them! The only problem with the Masai Mara (as was the case at the Ngorongoro Crater) is that there are just hundreds of tour operators who bring tourists from Nairobi to visit the park. These operators would seem to have very little regard for the environment or the animals and race around all over the place kicking up clouds of dust. They are also able to communicate with each other via CB radios so the minute there is a sighting of anything decent its like rush hour on the N2 in Cape Town. During our time in the Ngorongoro we had disdainfully kept our distance from these vultures but we caved in at the Mara and started following them around when it was obvious that something important had been spotted. Well, all I can say is that by following this method we almost got to see all 5 of the Big 5. We saw things that we had not seen in any of the other parks that we have visited on this trip including four sleek young cheetahs lounging in the shade, a mother lion with two cubs, a grouchy loan male lion nuzzling the end of a kill not to mention loads of ellies and the migrating herds. The only matter that remained outstanding was the small issue of the black rhino which I have never seen. We camped near the Olalulu gate on the western side of the park and when we were signing in we chatted to the ranger, John, who insisted that there were rhino in the area and that if we got up at 6h30 the next morning he would take us on a game drive and we would be guaranteed to see a rhino. We diligently reported at the ranger station at 6h30 the next morning but found to our annoyance that John had no intention of taking us on a game drive (it turned out that it was in fact his day off - a fact he had not brought to our attention the day before). Instead he sent his colleague Samuel to accompany us on our drive. Samuel hopped into the front of the car with an enormous great rifle which he insisted was for our own safety (very ominous). After about half an hour of driving it became clear that Samuel had no idea where we could find the rhino and was merely along for the ride. His method was not very different from our standard game viewing modus operandi of following the other tour operators. For three hours we scoured the park while Samuel sat in the front seat like royalty and sipped Earl Grey tea from our flask and munched on our biscuits. Needless to say he had the time of his life and we did not find the rhino. Frustrated, hot and tired we returned to the ranger station where Samuel hopped out of the car and waved goodbye to us very cheerily. We were not impressed.
As we were leaving the park we decided to investigate the curio stalls. The evening before I had encountered a gentleman who had introduced himself as the teacher at the local school. He had shown me some authentic (or so he claimed) Masai spears which he was selling. They were superb - heavy, hand crafted and for extra authenticity I was assured that they had actually been used to kill a lion! I was determined to have one. The teacher suggested I trade some old clothes for a spear and I had agreed to search out clothes to trade and to return to negotiate with him the next day. So after our frustrating, failed Rhino hunt I returned to the shop with the bag of old clothes that we had been carting along with us for 6 months. The salesman cast one look at our old T shirts and Nike takkies and raised a sceptical eye. He claimed that the clothes were very old and that the shoes were not his size and that he would require at least another R500-00 on top of the whole bag. Needless to say we were horrified. We spent ages bargaining with him and eventually got him to reduce his price. I walked away the proud owner of an authentic Masai spear and the salesman walked away with two pairs of shorts, a pair of battered Nikes and about R300-00. Curio salesman one Bosmans nil!!!!
Outside the gates we encountered a ragged group of Masai women selling beadwork. Of course I made the crucial mistake of stopping for a look. Within minutes I was surrounded by a whole bevy of Masai ladies all showing me their (admittedly) beautiful beadwork. They all introduced themselves and had amazingly western names like Hannah, Monica and London (go figure!). In the midst of our negotiations one of them asked me how many babies (pronounced bebes) I had. I had to admit that I had none. This seemed to be a tragedy all round and elicited all sorts of sympathetic clucks of pole sana (swahili for my condolences or I am so sorry) from the group. The fact that I had not reproduced was transmitted far and wide and more ladies joined the group touching my arm and expressing their deepest concern for my lack of offspring. I could not believe that I was being pitied by women whose holes in their earlobes are so stretched that they can wrap them Ithe lobes) over their ears! I mean really where I come from they call that civilization and progress. I tried not to be offensive and put this all down to substantial cultural differences although I was steaming inside! To think that by the age of 21 these same women often had three or more babies. As a result of their total sympathy for my awful condition though, I did get some great bargains on beadwork. As we pulled off they all waved sadly at us and shook their bald heads. Poor muzungu chic they were thinking. Poor misguided things I was thinking (very condescending, I know).
From the Masai Mara we headed west to the shores of Lake Victoria where we overnighted before heading into Uganda. The big news is that we have finally crossed the equator! A huge milestone as you can imagine. We spent the last three nights at an absolutely idyllic spot called the Bujagali Falls in Jinga (Uganda) at the source of the White or Victoria Nile. The campsite overlooks the Bujagali rapids and is incredibly scenic. We spent hours watching some nutcases kayaking and rafting down the rapids. The craziest of all are the locals who hurl themselves down the rapids with nothing more than plastic containers as ballast. We also met up with some other South Africans, David and Dorette, who we had first met in Iringa, Tanzania. It was great to have a good yarn about our respective travels thus far. Nev tried is hand at fishing as there seemed to be nile perch to be caught - all he managed to catch however was a 85 kg Bosman (having got his fishhook stuck in his finger) - not a pleasant experience I can assure you. He did display enormous bravery though and ripped it out without any anaesthetic (unless you count beer that is). We are watching the finger closely however to make sure it does not turn gangrenous. The patient is doing well.
From Kampala we head west tomorrow to Entebbe, the Ssese Islands and Kisoro. Will keep you posted on developments though. Hope you are all well - please send emails - they are often very necessary for sanity restoration.
Lots of love
Penny and Neville