Tuesday, October 19, 2010

photo recap: Alanna + Dogs

Many new friends along the way.

Wild Spirit Lodge, Nature's Valley, South Africa

Amampondo Backpackers, Port St. John's, South Africa

Sugar Shack, East London, South Africa

Shoestrings Backpackers, Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe

Cool Runnings Backpackers, Senga Bay, Malawi

Mayoka Village, Nkhata Bay, Malawi (the saddest, closest-to-death dog I've ever seen)

Rwenzori View Guesthouse, Fort Portal, Uganda

Jinja, Uganda

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Summary: The Rest of Uganda

Hokay! Back on the blog train. Here we go. It feels a bit funny continuing on after Alanna's eloquent conclusion to all that we experienced, but that is the whole we've dug ourselves into, isn't it?

So where were we? Yes, I do recall now! Lake Nkuruba, near Fort Portal, Uganda! Kitchen embarrassments, adorable thieving children... (Aldrin, I totally forgive you).

Lake Nkuruba

Lake Nkuruba is one of Uganda's 'crater lakes,' dozens of which can be found in this part of the country. (I am not up to speed on their history, but an overwhelming amount of evidence leads me to believe that these lakes are in fact flooded craters). Nkuruba is small, round, entirely choked with lush Ugandan forest, and feels about as far removed from everything as one could hope to be. Our daily swims would invariably coincide with visits from assorted groups of local boys who'd appear on opposing shores, hop onto homemade rafts and splash over to our side to swim badly and make a lot of noise. To us, even after four days of lake visits, the kids' varying styles of undergarment remained their sole distinguishing feature.

Thinking back to failed raft-building attempts as a kid. Turns out all I needed to do was buy a plane ticket to Africa and lash some reeds together.

We had two Canadian encounters at Lake Nkuruba: first off, the lake's hefty black-and-white colobus population were paid a visit by a group of monkey researchers from McGill who stood and pointed at a group of monkeys for twenty minutes and then went swimming (hey... does that mean I'm a monkey researcher?!). We also met and spent a good deal of time with a woman from Vancouver who it turns out is on my friend's baseball team! Hi Lisa! (Sorry we didn't take any photos of you!)

If Willie Nelson were a Black-and-White Colobus Monkey

The road to Rwaihumba village, with the Ruwenzory mountain range in the distance. Behind those is the Congo! Spooky.

Packing Avocados in Rwaihumba. This village claims to have the "3rd largest village market in Uganda" (pretty big feat I know) but I assume we were there on a non-market day because, well, there was no market.

Bananas at Rwaihumba.

After a fantastic time at the smallest lake visit of our trip, we caught a bus to Kampala for the third and final time. The trip wasn't so bad, we snacked on grilled bananas and were treated to Celine Dion music videos and the second half of a Thai action film.

Our final stop in Uganda was Jinja, the country's second-most populated city. Jinja is located where the Nile River first feeds out of Lake Victoria (which is a very big deal, because the Nile is a super-long river if you haven't heard). Our choice of accommodation, the Triangle Hotel, overlooked the lake and was situated in a neighborhood of fascinating dilapidated art-deco residences set on spacious palm-lined lawns. The area had evidently been at one point inhabited by wealthy whites – our hotel was sandwiched between a golf course and an abandoned yacht club – but all the homes are now in serious disrepair and likely at quadruple their intended capacity. The walk from the minibus stop to the Triangle had a surreal Palm-Springs-via-Mad-Max vibe to it.

Spot the Man

This hotel was across the street from ours, and is definitely not a hotel any longer, but we were informed this is where Ida Amin stayed when he was in Jinja.

The Triangle Hotel pool. Best pool.

Our hotel, while slightly run-down itself, still sided as one of the more luxurious places we stayed, with poolside bar service, TV, and a private lakeview balcony. The place was giant and well past its heyday: entire wings were closed semi-permanently and the building's only other patrons seemed to be the East Indian owner's large family. But the hotel did have the standing to host an prestigious conference of some kind, because near the end of our stay, after we'd readied ourselves for yet another quiet swim under the ornamental crocodile-arch, we found our usually deserted poolside overrun with large important-looking Ugandan men in military uniform.

One evening we decided to take advantage of room service and ordered butter naan and a scotch. I made a pretty large fool of myself ordering the scotch.

One morning we hired a guide to float us out to the actual specific source of the Nile: a small patch of ripples where, he explained, the water visibly accelerates as it leaves Lake Victoria. Apparently the patch of ripples was a little more dramatic before they built a giant hydroelectric dam downstream and therefore raised the water level. Once again, a small and unremarkable landmark rendered even more unremarkable in favour of providing electricity to thousands of homes. When will it end?

And they say Africa isn't safe.

Our driver, Captain Rasta.

At the source of the Nile! Our guide was not too familiar with exposure settings but I do not hold it against him.

Also on the tour we stopped at a small grubby island next to the 'source' to stretch our legs and engage in photo-ops. While no larger than an average bachelor apartment, the island was home to at least half a dozen fishermen and a small souvenir hut. The fishermen didn't exactly have homes, but our guide led us to a group of miniscule tents – to our eyes indistinguishable from piles of garbage – where they slept when it rained.

Our guide (sorry mr. guide but I do not remember your name!) cutting up some jackfruit for us to taste.

Other valuable sights along the way included an (even smaller) island inhabited by a colony of massive yellow monitor lizards, and a tour of all the niches along the shore where fishermen stash their nets to bypass overfishing laws, as only line fishing is permitted. We passed a few fishing boats, and our guide half-joked that “all fishermen are always in a bad mood” and what with the garbage tents and the fact that their livelihood will probably be extinct within the decade and yet they're still forced to risk crippling fines in order to survive, well, it's not too improbable a generalization. (That said, the lizards seemed fairly content.)

Lake Side View Hotel

Giant marabou storks, each one of these comes up to my chest, they are everywhere. (Insert off-colour reference to Uganda's birthrate here.)

Krest Bitter Lemon, our new favourite Africa drink.

Again with the birthrate thing?

From Jinja we took a bus across the last border crossing of our trip into Kenya and bid Uganda adieu. Whether it was the country's size, its bus network or just that the places we wanted to see were fairly spread out, Uganda was the country we were able to see the most of, which felt good. It gets pegged as an 'in-a-nutshell' African country, and the description was appropriate for us: we did the safari thing, we did the crazy-ass city thing, we drank beer in loud overstuffed hostels and we drank beer among little tweeting birds. While not the first notion of Africa for most, Uganda is a beautiful little package perfectly situated for small-scale tourists such as ourselves, where every corner merits exploration (the exception being the north corner, where the Lord's Resistance Army is doing really, really awful things to people). And I haven't even mentioned that we shelled out $450 to see the mountain gorillas! That's because we didn't! And we still had an amazing time. So there.

Monday, August 23, 2010

"So how WAS Africa?"

We are liars. More accurately, Scott is a lair for promising to keep up with this thing, and I am just lazy for failing to write a single post in almost two months.

We are home. We have been reunited with our families, friends and non-PC computers. We have been acing job interviews, cooking up some mean fried-chicken-free meals, playing every backyard game in the book, and soaking up even more sun (Canadian sun, not African sun – there’s a difference). It’s strange how seamlessly you can transition back to life as you knew it after five months in a world that could not possibly be more different from your own. It’s strange how much you can think about a place before you’ve been, and how little you find yourself thinking once you’ve returned.

But I do think about it. While waiting to cross the street, I am amazed when a car actually stops for me. While reading the Vancouver Sun, I chuckle at a headline that reads “Closing of elementary school forces 8 year old to walk 3.5 kilometers to school”. While sleeping safely in my single bed, I dream of the laughing, hopeful children we met and wake up to realize that some of will not see adulthood. Some may already be gone. It’s not an easy thing to come to terms with, so I push it out of my mind and check Facebook instead.

I want to tell you what Africa meant to me. I want to tell you about the mothers with the babies strapped to their backs, the colours of their kangas, the children in their HIV POSITIVE t-shirts, the ingenious things they could make out of wire and bottle caps, the houses they lived in and how fantastic it felt to be invited into them. I want to tell you about their warmth, their vitality, their faith, despite what seems like such dismal circumstances. I want to tell you about the beauty and the tragedy of Africa, but I’m afraid I’ll come up short; I’m afraid I’m not a skilled enough writer; I’m afraid that regardless of my inarticulacy, words alone aren’t enough.

It seems to me that Africa is a land of inherent contradiction. One day, the people are friendly, the landscapes are indescribable, and minibuses really aren’t that bad. The next, the people are bordering on malicious, the landscapes have turned dismal and you’re on a 14 hour bus ride with a large, perspiring woman literally sitting on top of you. In Africa, very little time is spent in the space between absolute despair and unfettered bliss, and a great deal is spent at one of the two extremes. That is probably one of the only things I can say about Africa with any degree of certainty: you will forget what complacency feels like. Africa draws extreme reactions from people, and, like the maggots that laid their eggs in our bed sheets, it’s tough not to let it get under your skin.

Africa is life intensified. The colours are more vibrant here – the reds of the fertile soil, the greens of the undulating hills, the blues of the sweeping skies. The flavours are sharper – the cinnamon and the coriander and the rainbows of peppercorns. The noises are louder, the going is slower, the journey is far more convoluted and intriguing than it appears. Everything is so pure and in the moment that even the most cautious person will want to launch themselves into the throes of it all and despite the frustrations that doing so sometimes caused, I’m so glad we did.

Everything you have ever seen or heard or read about Africa is true. All of it exists in some measure, and then some. I wish I could tell you that the kids on TV with flies on their faces are a myth, but they’re not. You will see some of that. You will see the victims of landmines hauling themselves around on the ground with whatever is left of their bodies. You will see a lot of white UN trucks, men with guns, and people who act like that’s completely normal. But you will also see laughing, energetic, healthy kids, fathers with steady jobs, mothers learning to diversify their crops, prosthetics, local languages, songs, and feel a prevailing sense of peace. It will shake you to your core. It will make you think. It will make you want to go home and tell everyone you know about it. And ultimately, it will make you want to go back.

We have returned home with memories, experiences, and a renewed enthusiasm for life and what’s important. We hiked amidst the colourful rondavels and maize crops of the Transkei. We survived a night of food poisoning aboard a decaying steamship in the middle of Lake Malawi. We joked with the border officials in Tanzania. We explored the empty ruins of an ancient city. We watched the sun set over Kenya from a fishing dhow. We ate spaghetti and watermelon for breakfast. We took cold showers. We asked for help. We paid too much for taxis. We camped on a cliff. We ate goat. We learned to say “thank you” in half a dozen different languages. We used that one a lot.

I cried over stray dogs and begging children and my faraway family. I laughed at Scott’s Zanzibari haircut, Adam and Aviel’s beauty salesperson spiel, and the disbelief on just about everyone’s face when we informed them that we were neither married nor Muslim. I was excited, anxious, frightened, depressed, ecstatic, hot, dirty, tired and hungry. I wanted to come home on more than one occasion. I also contemplated putting down permanently with relative frequency. I hated it, I loved it, and not once did I feel apathetic towards any of it.

I guess what I really want to tell you most about Africa is that you should go. There is no other way you will understand it. Even then, you might not, and it’s entirely possible that you will return home with even less to say on the subject than you did at the outset. But there is no doubt that it will affect you. Though you can’t pinpoint exactly how, and you can’t explain exactly why, Africa will move you to feel more deeply than you ever thought possible. You will see that this is not a land of rape and lions, but a beautiful, largely peaceful, inspiring place, which is so often misrepresented, ignored and abandoned by the outside world.

What Africa meant to me is not something I am capable of telling you. So just go. See it for yourself. Marvel at all the things that simply don’t translate to words. Try to understand the incomprehensible. See things from a different perspective. Let it challenge you, change you, seep into you. Then come home and tell me about it.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010


Okay, so when I said that we'd 'keep the posts coming' that was obviously a gigantic -- though unintentional -- fib. Turns out when there are jobs to be applied for and apartments to be hunted and decks to be reclined upon, the motivation to hunker down and pump out a post seems to die a little. But we can assure you that there are more posts on their way, because we are going to finish this thing, darnit. So everybody should all keep checking back on an hourly basis for, say, the next six months? We'll get there. Thanks!

Just for fun, here's Alanna and mine's respective reading lists for our five months of travel:

  • The Puppeteers - Renesh Lakhan
  • We Need to Talk About Kevin – Lionel Shriver
  • The Corporation – Joel Bakan
  • 117 Days – Ruth First
  • The Whole World Over – Julia Glass
  • Stealing Water – Tim Ecott
  • Southern Cross – Jann Turner
  • America Wife – Curtis Sittenfeld
  • The Dive from Clausen's Pier – Ann Packer
  • Juliet, Naked – Nick Hornby
  • The Last King of Scotland – Giles Foden
  • The Condition – Jennifer Haigh
  • State of Blood – Henry Kyemba
  • The Constant Gardener – John Le Carré
  • One Day – David Nicholls
  • A Spot of Bother – Mark Haddon
  • The Other Hand – Chris Cleave

  • The Snows of Mt Kilimanjaro – Ernest Hemingway
  • The Big Sleep – Raymond Chandler
  • Papillon – Henri Charrière
  • The Corporation – Joel Bakan
  • Far From the Madding Crowd – Thomas Hardy
  • True History of the Kelly Gang – Peter Carey
  • The Adventures of Augie March – Saul Bellow
  • Regeneration – Pat Barker
  • Juliet, Naked – Nick Hornby
  • The Last King of Scotland – Giles Foden
  • Pilgrim – Timothy Findley
  • Stealing Water – Tim Ecott
  • Never Let Me Go – Kazuo Ishiguro
  • The Constant Gardener – John Le Carré

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Homeland Security Sweet Homeland Security

Well, we are home safely. Alanna and I both arrived at our respective parents' doorsteps on Monday following two plain rides, much waiting, and the frustrating bureaucratic theft of a large bottle of duty-free spirits. With regards to our online adventures we're an entire country behind so we'll keep the posts coming and everyone can just pretend we're still very far away.

you never saw this...