Life on an island and beyond

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February 3rd 2009
Published: February 17th 2009
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Leaving Kampala, I stopped off in Entebbe for a couple of nights. Entebbe feels and looks like a seaside town, but with Maribou Storks drifting overhead rather than gulls. During the afternoon I walked around the botanical gardens and visited the Wildlife Centre - better than most zoos I have visited - where all the animals have been rescued.

The following afternoon I took the ferry to the Ssese Islands. My guidebook doesn't mention this route, but luckily the friends I stayed with in Kampala had a different book. The ferry takes 3 hours. Arriving in Kalangala, I had planned to stay at a different resort, but was seduced into staying at the Hornbill Camp by a guy holding a sign as the ferry docked (Hornbill was my second choice anyway). I followed him along the lake edge and through some scrub to reach the camp. Initially I thought I had made a big mistake staying there as it seemed like a full-on-traveller type of place. I took a beer and went to sit on the beach for a while to gather myself. It is the kind of place where there is a communal meal in the evening. The other guests turned out to be fairly normal so I decided to stay.

The next day, after breakfast in the rain, I went for a walk through forest, stopping for lunch at another resort, mainly to shelter from the rain. There is a reason Uganda is green! I then walked up the hill to Kalangala village; a lovely walk through forest, but very uphill. The following morning dawned bright, so I headed along the lake. The walk took me along sandy beaches, through scrub and eventually into trees. I turned round when I started being bitten by ants, and decided a relaxing afternoon back at Hornbill was in order.

Yesterday (2nd) I decided that although it would be easy to stay in the Ssese islands for longer, it was time to start heading towards Bwindi Inpenetrable National Park for my date with some gorillas. It was the sort of travelling that makes you happy to arrive where you are going.

I had been told that there was a minibus taxi to Masaka that leaves Kalangala at 10am, so I intended to take a boda-boda (motorcycle taxi) up to the village. I knew I could ask Tina, the owner of Hornbill, to organise transport, but I didn't want to disturb her so early and decided to take my chances. I ended up walking uphill to the village, cursing myself for my diffidence every step of the way. I sat waiting for the taxi for half an hour (I was there by 9.45) before someone told me that it had already gone and that I would be better to take a boda-boda to the ferry. So, Patrick (the rider) balanced my rucksack in front of him and off we went down a mud road made slippery by heavy rain in the night. No helmets, of course, but I figured that Patrick had a vested interest in keeping us upright. 45 minutes later, and glad of my waterproofs and walking boots, we arrived at the dock. I had missed one ferry (and we had not paaed a taxi going the other way, so I was pleased I was not still waiting in Kalangala) and settled down to wait. Then, I was persuaded to join some Ugandans - largely by the fact there were children on board - on an open fishing boat, like a large canoe with an outboard motor. 5 minutes out into the lake I was beginning to question my impulse as I was wet from bucketsful of water being thrown at me (not literally, you understand) and it felt like being on the sea. Then I noticed the black clouds. I spent most of the crossing debating whether I would be able to swim in my waterproofs and walking boots and if I could swim to shore, should I try to save my small rucksac containing passport etc as well as myself! We did overtake the ferry, which was potentially good news as I hoped to be able to join a minibus taxi from there to Masaka. In the end, one of the people from the boat got me onto a bus. The conductor used the same strategy for packing luggage and people - adults first and then small children used to fill the spaces. In the row where I was packed, there were 4 seats; 5 adults, 4 children and a baby shared them. I had a girl placed on top of me - by the end of the journey, she was a dead weight on my bladder. It was only after the bus was packed that the driver decided that we did not have enough fuel to get to Maskaka. By this time, my legs were aleady dead! Eventually, someone brought fuel and we set off . The bus actually stops at a juction town, from where I had to get another boda-boda to Masaka. From the taxi park, I took a shared taxi to get to Masaka Backpackers, where Joseph the owner greeted me. Luckily, he also had cold beer and food available - in that order!

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