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Published: April 2nd 2009
It may not be everyone's idea of fun, but my birthday this year was perfect ... for me!
We had asked at the taxi park the previous day about the frequency of minibuses to get to Budong Central Forest Reserve as we wanted to walk 'The Royal Mile' (which is supposed to be excellent bird watching). Why did we believe people who were keen not to disappoint? In the end, having explored different options, and after some hard bargaining by me (I haggled to reduce the price by 1000 shillings each - a total saving of a US dollar), we hired two boda-boda motorcyle taxis. The drivers assured
us that they knew the place.
The ride, itself, was fun, apart from the clinging red dust thrown up by the dirt road passing through huge sugarcane plantations. After about 45 minutes, it became apparent that we were slightly lost so we stopped at a forestry college to ask for directions. Disconcertingly, Barry's boda-boda rider had told him that he didn't trust my guy (who seemed OK to me) but we never did find out why.
Arriving at the reserve, our way was blocked by a barrier and a teeth-sucking
guard. Barry and I were both aware of a large sign in English stating that it was forbidden to enter without a guide and a receipt for the fee (payable in some other place). Of course, we had neither! Some smooth talking from Barry, and we took our third 'illegal' act in as many days.
The boda-bodas took us about a mile down a straight track (should have been a clue there), over a small river, past a sign ('no unauthorised entry') and to a forestry camp where a project vet told us that the mile from the barrier to the river was THE Royal Mile. Rashly, we told the drivers that they could drop us at the river and leave (now ... having seen the lack of traffic down a rural road that ends at the park barrier, an enterprising boda-boda rider would have waited at the gate and charged us double to take us back. Our guys left us there). We regretted this within 20 seconds as we were engulfed by thousands of nasty, biting flies who had been hanging around at the river for such a perfect opportunity. We did see several birds, but as there
was no way we could stand still, given the flies, we did the Mile in record time, frantically wavng fronds of bracken around our heads. Mercifully, the flies left as we exited the barrier.
We started the long walk up the road - no shade and no traffic, hoping to reach the next trading centre and transport.
A lone motorcyclist dropped his passenger at the park and then picked us up on his way back. He took us, via a narrow path through crops that brushed our knees, to a small town on the Masindi to Butiaba road where we had a welcome drink and joined the other hopefuls under a tree to wait for a ride. We had a long wait.
Eventually, by Barry literally throwing himself in front of a car (such determination!) we got a lift to a junction town where we were assured that we would be able to get a minibus taxi to Butiaba, our goal. It was just getting to the time that we had set as a limit (to make sure of being able to get there and return to Masindi) when, the taxi arrived. After a slight argument with
the conductor about where we would sit, and more of a wait, we eventually set off. The guide book describes the views as stunning (hmm!) as we wound our way down to Lake Albert.
Butiaba is a small, dusty fishing village on the lake. We walked down the main street, registered with the police, looked at the lake, paddled for a few seconds and managed to get the same minibus out of there and back to the junction. From there, it was a shared taxi to Masindi.
For dinner, we returned to the Masindi Hotel (having scrubbed up rather well, in my opinion) knowing the food would be good, even if the service was a little murky. The waiter did come up with a novel excuse about the delay to our dessert arriving (something about trying to get the ice cream out of the freezer) but it turned out that Barry (who held my head in a vice-like grip so that I didn't see its approach) had arranged for a slab of cake with a candle to be brought to the table by three singing waiters.
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