Published: April 2nd 2010March 5th 2010
I arrive late in Kabale, slap bang in the middle of a power cut. I find out later that the shortages have been going on for five days! Not too impressive for one of Uganda's larger towns. My chosen hostel, a cosy little place called the Home of Edirisa and recommended by the LP is, surprisingly, not full and I grab a good night's sleep before packing a ton of biscuits and plenty of water and heading down to the nearby Lake Bunyonyi (my reason for stopping in this area). I've timed my visit to coincide with the market days of Rutinda - the lakeside village where I can catch a canoe transport across to the island retreat Byoona Amagara - which facilitates cheaper public transport to the lake. There are a ton of people at tiny Rutinda but barely any stalls. Somehow an abundance of produce is wheeled out from nowhere, as if pulled forth from a magicians hat, and made to fill the many vans and cars that have journeyed here.
Byoona offer a free lift by canoe so in I hop to be ferried slowly, peacefully, for almost an hour across the lake. Upon arrival I find
the least muddy patch available to erect my tent in the camping area. My options are limited not so much by the terrain on offer but by the necessity of pitching up by a tree. Since Kampala the uncompromisingly insolent back pole of my tent has been utterly unusable and I am now forced to attach the rear guy-rope to some supporting structure to prevent the rain cover from sagging and getting me soaking wet in one of Uganda's endemic showers.
I head straight for the bar/restaurant/chill out area. The place is not overly busy, but there are a fair few people floating about and it's easy enough to get socialising in this chilled out environment. This is essentially all there is to my stay. Idle chit chat, varying amounts of beer per day and plenty of lounging around. I barely leave the communal area. The relaxed vibe of this retreat brings a steady stream of interesting and engaging backpackers and it's a real pleasure to have continuous, personable company again. By the time I leave I actually feel like a bit of an old hand having watched a number of people come and go. I had planned to
utilise the renowned library on the island - a disappointing rarity in Africa - and am finally able to swap a couple of my more chunky books. However, in five days I only get through Animal Farm, such is the quality of the conversation to be had with like-minded fellow guests. In fact it's hard to find fault with the place and there's pretty much nothing I don't enjoy; from the beautiful views in the showers right down to the radioactive ketchup-jam that is served with the food.
With the sun bursting imperiously forth for a couple of days I take a break from my strenuous activity to go swimming, enjoying the childlike pleasure of simply jumping in the cool, fresh water and unashamedly showing off to the others my horrendous farmer's tan and pasty torso that's so white it's almost translucent. On the final day I also go for a proper exploration of the island. It takes barely an hour to fully circle. I realise how small the place is yet my feelings throughout have been of blissful freedom, not confinement.
Back in Kabale Edirisa is buzzing, having filled up with backpackers. Also present is Dr. Chameleon,
who is apparently a big music star in Uganda. I've never heard of him but find it funny when I mention that he is here to an American peace corps volunteer who almost breaks down with joy. Apparently she's a big fan! To help embolden her against being star-struck I go up and ask for my picture with him as he leaves and have a brief chat. When the whole entourage return later they socialise with the rest of the hostel. I find it funny that they choose to hang out in this place and try to picture an equivalent celebrity frequenting a lowly backpacker ghetto back in England. The group have the affected swagger of ganstas, with plenty of bling, shades, caps, suitably baggy clothing and waistlines hugging their ankles. I can't help but chuckle when one stops to politely ask one of the hostel staff if he can be allowed to smoke inside. Everyone follows Chameleon's crew to see his concert that night, into which we are escorted for free - being white still has many unearned but irresistible advantages in Africa. Though it's cruel to laugh at other cultures I find the show hilariously funny, partly I
suppose because I don't understand half of what's going on. The Chameleon strut's around stage bellowing incomprehensibly into the microphone in imitation of any generic American rapper. The crowd go wild, yet the place has been laid out as if for a classical concert in a park and most people are sitting down in front of a stage that would be more at home as the tent of a rustic French country fete. Despite the comical incongruity of it all I still thoroughly enjoy myself and even feel a touch rock and roll when the big man spots me in the crowd and gives me not one but two shout outs during the show. I think perhaps I'm the only one whose name he remembered through the haze of hashish at Edirisa.
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