This is another post about my last trip to Africa. I am grateful that this really is the worse travel experience I’ve had. May it remain so.
We landed in Entebbe, Uganda after a relatively long, arduous but uneventful flight from Vancouver, Canada. It was the first time I tried the jet lag pills and boy did they work! We got to our hostel in Kampala, dumped our stuff and hit the ground running. We zipped into downtown to connect with our guy, Kota, who organized our gorilla trek at the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. Our driver, David, was to pick us up the next morning and I wanted to make sure all was in order. They weren’t. He casually mentioned that he had to change our accommodations for mumbled reasons but assured us that the new ones were equal and possibly, better than the original. Paying the balance of our account caused a bit of stress since we couldn’t use our visas and he insisted on cash. He took us to his bank and it got complicated and drawn out. My first buzz had worn off and all I wanted was the pool and a drink. Finally things got settled and our driver, David, took us back to the Blue Parrot, our hostel.
I loved our hostel. Very basic and clean. Our cabin consisted of 2 rooms on either side of a shared open air bath room. A thatched roof and big lumpy bed finished off the rustic feel. The pièce de résistance was the pool and restaurant/bar. Shut up! That alone was worth the price of admission. Large clean pool beside a charming, sprawling bar overloaded with charm and open on one side to the pool. There was even a bridge over the center of the pool! Drinks and food were excellent. The roughness of the flight and day melted away leaving us all mellow and buzzing with the upcoming visit to the gorillas. This would be my second encounter and K’s first and we were a-tingle with anticipation.
The next morning David was late. Late enough that anxiety had reached an unpleasant level. Finally he arrived and we piled our excessive amount of luggage into the jeep and were off.
It was a long drive to the Forest but fascinating. As we drove through villages and countryside we got to see how many Ugandans lived through subsistence farming which kept them fed but little else. The kids on the side of the road yelling “Jambo! Jambo! (hello) Give me candy! Give me pencils!” was a chorus we were to hear often during our time in Uganda and Tanzania.
The light was fading when we drove up to our hotel. It was horrid, just horrid. Cinder blocks with no electricity, no windows, no bathrooms. I hit red zone within one breath of seeing it. I would sleep in the jeep before I would that place. We had paid $80 a night for this?! Later we learned from one of the kids staying there that it was $15 a night. Obviously Kota decided the difference belonged in his pocket.
I loath being ripped off and I was particularly incensed because K had entrusted me to plan and organized the trip and I felt like I had let her down. Also it wasn’t the most auspicious beginning to our 16 day adventure. I threw enough of a fit that David got on the phone to his boss who contacted the hotel down the road who graciously accommodated us for the night till we got things sorted out.
The hotel was wonderful. The rooms were permanent tents, tricked out with all the comforts including an en suite tent. The dining tent was just up the slope from ours and they managed to whip us up some food even though it was late. They were beyond gracious and showed no hint of the argument they were having with Kota. .
The next morning a group of us hiked up to the gorillas led by a park ranger and I shook off the unpleasant business. We lucked out and found them close to the edge of the forest and spent a quiet 45 minutes with the family. We marvelled at how they are so very similar to us. After meeting them I have no doubt we came from a common ancestor. The babies charmed us all with their antics and mock charges at the interlopers. It was especially endearing how they mauled the silverback, innocent of how ferocious he could be when provoked.
All too soon we had to leave them in peace and make our way back to the village where David was waiting for us.
“I am sorry but the boss wants to talk to you,” he said
“Oh I want to “talk” to him too!” I said.
We piled into the jeep and drove to where we could get reception and David handed me the phone. He was done being the intermediary.
We didn’t so much talk as roar at each other. The rat had been called on his game and by a woman. His pride was at stake and Kota’s tactic was to try to intimidate me with volume. Mine was to match his volume and up the ante with threats of police and government. He had obviously thought we would be easy marks being two women on our own. Yeah, not so much. Poor David and K were quiet and tried to be invisible and wisely offered no suggestions.
Finally I agreed we would pay a bit more so we could stay the night at the same hotel. I wasn’t satisfied but at some point during the screaming match reality reared its ugly head. Here we were, 2 women, in the middle of no-where Africa where attitudes towards women were less than nice. We really were quite vulnerable.
The rest of the trip went swimmingly with nary a bump in the road though there were plenty of those in the actual roads of Africa.
What are your travel bumps in the road that left you bruised and whiny? Did you have one so horrible it keeps you from travelling again?