Did someone say gorilla trekking? Well, if I must…
We drove to our campsite on the shore of Lake Bunyoni in Uganda, set up our tents and went for a swim in the lake. Next to the platform where you can dive from is a tree with a rickety platform at the top, maybe four metres high. Clemens, the only German on the trip, somehow managed to convince me that climbing and jumping from said platform would be a sensible idea. I put my bravado down to there being girls in swimwear present, or perhaps the general excitement of being in Africa, but it was the one and only time that I jumped from it. Looking back at the platform after my jump, as someone else climbed it, I was witness to the tree shaking like it was being held in an iron vice by Michael J. Fox. Heights are not cool.
The campsite at Lake Bunyoni was my favourite of the trip overall. Staying there for a number of days, we went to a local school project for underprivileged children, played volleyball, swam, went gorilla trekking, played fusball and pool in the bar at night, canoed on the lake and met one of the local celebrities. My brain is fuzzy on the order of events, so if any of my fellow travellers are reading this, don’t leave a comment – you know exactly how bad my memory is &x1F60A
Gorilla trekking had been a much emphasised highlight of the trip that I had chosen to do. It’s fair to say it was expensive, but what other chance would there be to visit these creatures in their natural habitat? This was one of the truly ‘once in a lifetime’ opportunities that occasionally arise, and the first eight of us to go the day after arriving were full of excitement as we considered what we were about to do. The transfer in the minibus took us up winding roads towards the jungle that they lived in. After our brief (including the slightly ominous warning to avoid eye contact and crouch to your knees if they charge you), we began our trek into the jungle. Two minutes in and the humidity was pretty intense, following our guide as he hacked his way through, slipping in the loose dirt and over tree roots. He got the call on his walkie-talkie that let him know where our family of gorillas were, and we were soon treading as lightly as possible as we came across them.
As I am shit with names, I can’t remember the family name let alone the individual names of the gorillas, but the first we saw was bloody large. It was a lazy fellow, halfway between sleep and rest, peering at us out of weirdly familiar eyes. It reminded me of when I overdose on pizza then lie on the sofa watching a film, trying to keep my eyes open, but somewhat failing. Others were there too; a couple of babies, a silverback (I think there were two overall), several others that were looking after the babies as well. One of the babies collected leaves from a tree, the other played on the branches. We all fell silent and just stood around, watching them, taking the occasional photo, but mostly just thinking awesome they were to see and how lucky we were to be there.
Our hour passed way too quickly, and before we knew it we were being told we had to leave their presence and head back. With reluctance, we said our goodbyes. It’s hard to describe exactly what it was like, seeing them there and being with them, so I will settle for saying that it was an amazing experience. If you get the chance, I highly recommend it.
The evening was spent trying not to tell the other four in our group all of the details (they would be heading to see them the next day), having some drinks in the bar and playing a heck of a lot of fusball and pool. My prowess in both was occasionally – often – eclipsed but I was reminded of what I was lacking by South African Anita, and that is that ‘hydration is key’. Sound words if ever there were, I followed her advice and, while my game may not have improved, the amount I cared certainly diminished.
Lake Bunyoni is the deepest lake in Uganda, peaking at something like 2500 metres. That’s 2.5 kilometres, which is deep, very deep, and I hoped that nothing like Nessie lived there as I swam everyday like the fish that I slowly felt I was becoming. We went to visit a school project called Little Angels, set up by a local, that caters for underprivileged and/or orphaned children. We were taken there by our guide and on the way met Freda, an elderly lady that lives in the village and she showed us how she weaves baskets and grinds seeds for their meals. She also showed us how fond she is of touching the bums of everyone white person she sees, copping a feel of Emma, Carolyn, Nicole, Fallon and Anita. I escaped her hands on my buttocks but had been forewarned that she liked men with beards and, as I had not been shaving for some time, felt her adoration towards me. Leaving Freda, feeling both amused and a little confused, we were taken to the school and allowed to sit in a couple of the lessons that were taking place.
The children at the school, and in East Africa in general, are incredibly happy given what little they have. With every question the teacher would ask, all of the kids would volunteer to answer, and the rest of their classmates sang once they had answered the question on the blackboard, regardless of whether it was the correct answer or not. Anita and I were then asked if we would like to sing them a song. My heart sank a little; I hadn’t signed up for this! Thankfully, Anita took charge and belted out a rendition of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star for them after writing it up on the board. I attempted to join in with my melodious tones but kept them fairly hushed for fear of scaring the children. After this, we joined them outside where they again sang songs and welcomed us to their school, then we had a brief kick around with the football while some of the girls were lucky (?!) enough to have their hair plaited. Thank God for baldness.
The school visit was excellent, and showed us two sides of Africa. Firstly, the living conditions and lack of resources available to a large number of the people there. Secondly, the good people who are willing to give up their time and energy to changing the lives of the children there, to try and improve their future and their educations. We were more than happy to make a donation after meeting the founder and headed back to the campsite for a little bit of volleyball, which it is fair to say that some of us were better at than others – just saying!
Nicole and Fallon, Emma and I hired canoes for a couple of hours on the lake, and succeeded in making it across to the other side. Succeeded, that is, after spinning the canoes around and around in ever decreasing circles until we finally, finally got the hang of how to paddle. I fear the locals may have had a smile or two at our expense. We watched some children on the opposite shore sing their hearts out at us, then grabbed a drink from another resort and paddled back with ice cold beers in our hands. Bliss. It was a great way to spend a few hours.
Our final night at the campsite included more pool, but oh dear, where was the cue ball when we got to the table? We searched, high and low, under the table, along the bar, under chairs and in the hedgerow. We called the bar staff and they brought the key. We lifted the felt top off of the table, then the covering underneath. We shone torches into the corridors that the balls traverse, forever calling softly, ‘Here cue ball, here…’ Alas, there was no reply. Forty five minutes of searching, of frustration and broken dreams, of raised tempers and weeping eyes, only to hear the bar staff say, ‘I suppose I’ll get the spare from behind the bar.’ Yes, yes, you idiot, get the spare.
We left Lake Bunyoni and headed to Jinja. Jinja is not to be confused with ninjas. Ninjas are small, flexible assassins that spend way too much time in their pyjamas. Jinja is a location in Uganda from which you can attempt many a sporting activity, such as the white water rafting we were lined up for. The rafting here is purported to be amongst the very best in the world, with grade five rapids included. Strangely, I didn’t feel particularly nervous for the rafting, but more pure excitement, so when we arrived, got our equipment and were soon sitting in the raft on the Nile (the Nile, baby!), I couldn’t wait to get going. We flipped the raft to see what it was like and set off.
Rafting there is fantastic. There are a number of rapids, but stretches of water for twenty to thirty minutes a time in-between, giving lots of opportunity for swimming and general floating along in the water. The rapids themselves were awesome. The first, a three metre waterfall drop, proved to be the most entertaining for the day, as we got stuck right at the top of it. Our guide had to get out to push us, as we sat inside wildly attempting to rock the raft over the edge. It must have looked like a raft full of Rainmen, shaking ourselves wildly as if someone had stopped us from watching Jeopardy, our faces contorted and our limbs tense, screams of frustration piercing the air above the roar of the water. Finally the mental breakdown was over, and we tipped over the edge, falling the three metres before our raft righted itself and a team cheer took place.
The approaches to the other rapids varied, but when you are going through them, seeing walls of water and not much else in front of you, it certainly makes you feel alive. We tipped on one of the harsher rapids – some of the final pictures as we tip clearly showed my hand desperately holding onto the rope of the raft, despite my body already being underwater – but thankfully all made it out alive and regrouped to head to the next one. The excitement was extreme, though I fully admit the initial shock of hitting the water and not knowing which way is up is quite something to experience as well. As an aside, the lunch was also rather tasty. Wraps, chicken, salad, fruit. It made our bellies happy, and we even saw a green tree snake as we ate. Thankfully, we didn’t see any of the reportedly many snakes in the Nile itself.
After floating through our last rapid sans raft, we drifted along before swimming to shore and being greeted with kebabs and beers. Floating in the Nile is quite an experience. I have actually since repeated the exact same activity, and it was just as good the second time around. That night in Jinja at the Adrift campsite we were lucky enough to try out new pizzas that they had placed on their menu. What an ideal day! The night descended into debauchery, and it was suggested that we attempt the canoe-shot challenge. Naturally, we obliged, swinging ourselves up into a canoe that is attached to the roof of the bar upside down, being handed a shot, then attempting to drink it while upside down, and, certainly in my case, ending up with it all over my face and top. Sweet!
And then, the finale. I went to bed, no longer able to function properly, wanting to sleep the deep sleep of drunkenness. But Clemens had other ideas for me. Wrapping his iron like hands around my ankles, I was torn from slumber, and indeed my tent, dragged out of it, across the dirt and then concrete path on my back, unable to vocalise my protest (or thankfully register much pain), back to the bar where it was implied I would carry on drinking. Thank goodness for our kind cook, Joseph, who explained to Clemens the error of his judgement, and placed me back in my tent to finally get the rest I deserved…
Next up – back to Kenya…