Another border crossing and more fixers. I don’t know why they are called that because they definitely don’t fix anything. Collectively known as a manure of fixers, although “fixer” should be replaced with another word that also starts with F. As the car is in Jules’ name, she is the one who always has the pleasant task of getting the carnet stamped while I get to do other exciting things like stand in line for passports, or guard the car and fend off people trying to sell us stuff we don’t want. “Would you like to buy some water?”
“No thanks, I have water”
“This water is ice-cold”
“So is my water – I have a fridge in my car that keeps the water cold for me”
“Ok, would you like to buy another bottle so that you have a spare water?”
“No thanks, I have over 40 litres of water”
“Ok, would you like to buy a soda?”
“No thanks, I don’t drink soda” (this is a little white lie)
Next water salesman. This is where I wish I was back at work so that I could write a program that just loops through each person that approaches and automatically says “No thank you”. Instead I have to deal with it the old fashioned way. “My friend, you approached me at the same time as the guy I have just spoken to, with exactly the same products for sale. You already know that I have more than enough water already, and it is cold because as you are aware, I have a fridge in my car and might I add I am extremely fond of it – did I mention that I had ice in my water in Sudan? No thank you, I do not want to buy a soda because for the second time I don’t drink soda” (white lie again).
After a smooth border crossing without the use of any fixers we were in Uganda. Jules was stamped out of the country instead of being stamped in and had to get that sorted out – fortunately not a problem unless you don’t notice stuff like this at the time. Within 10 minutes of driving in Uganda we were stopped by our first Ugandan policeman. “Don’t you maybe have some food or drink for me or some little dollars for a present?” Time to update “Nay Sayer 1.0” to handle corrupt police as well – in the IT world this could be classified as “Scope Creep” and might require a “Change Request”. Oh, do some of you guys who are reading this blog deal with things like this daily? Sorry – didn’t mean to remind you that you have jobs.
When hairdressers start their businesses I wonder if they go through a “this is bloody awful, I know it is physically possible to call my company this name, but should I?” phase, even if they invariably do end up calling themselves “Curl Up And Dye”. I occasionally face the same dilemma, but as you might have noticed I generally just go for it, even if it does mean a complete loss of pride and respect, followed by a “Have you no shame?”, so in light of this, and with a heavy heart, Jules and I had ummed and ahhed about seeing them, but in the end we decided that we couldn’t miss the Sipi falls.
We stayed at a campsite called Moses’s Camp, run by a local family, with abysmal ablutions, a mediocre restaurant and warm beer. For this you pay 7,000 Ugandan Shillings each per night. That works out to under £2, where you are camping with a view of the Sipi falls from your tent. Look a bit to your left and it looks like you can see the curvature of the earth in the distance, with plains and lakes, and a valley of coffee and banana plantations below. You can forgive them for the ablutions and bland food and are almost willing to overlook the warm beer. We have never seen a view like that, and after a few snaps we put away our cameras and sat mesmerised as we watched a storm move across the plains in the distance.
The next day we went for a guided walk to the falls, among coffee and banana trees. For some strange reason our guide was obsessed with circumcision. “I have been circumcised” Announced the guide proudly.
“Uh… Ok” Said Chris.
“With NO painkillers” Exclaimed the guide.
“Uh… OK” Sighed Julie politely.
“Before you get circumcised you have to do a test. A fire is lit in the cave and there is lots of smoke and you have to walk into the smoky cave with your eyes wide open. Then a knife is put in the fire and gets really hot and it is placed on your foreskin and you aren’t allowed to cry.
Then if you have passed the test the next day you get circumcised with NO painkillers and there is a big party and people drink lots of beer. After that you can go and get some paracetemol” Explained the guide vehemently.
“Uh… OK” Said Chris and Julie disinterestedly.
“Women used to be circumcised because the husbands would be out hunting for days at a time and they didn’t want their women to play while they were away. After they have been circumcised there is no feeling. Now only the men are circumcised because the government has made it illegal to circumcise women” Described the guide.
“Those rotten scoundrels” Agreed Chris and Julie.
We also went on a coffee tour at one of the local’s houses with a Dutch couple we had met at Moses camp, Tom and Simone. This basically took us through the whole process of making coffee, from germination to the finished product, with a couple of cups of coffee thrown in. A young lady who lives in the house brought the coffee beans and prepared the fire to roast the beans while we all took turns grinding them with a pestle and mortar. She couldn’t speak a word of English, but kept looking at each of us and smiling constantly. “She has been circumcised” Said the guide conspiratorially.
After the beautiful scenery of Sipi we headed off to Jinja to go white water rafting on the Nile. Julie’s cousin Tim used to be a river guide and when we were waiting to be assigned our rafts there was a “Which of you is Tim’s cousin? Tim said I must look after you.” Death sentence as pictured. White water rafting is definitely the most fun you can have with a blow-up something. Walking around London being humiliated while hand-cuffed to a blow-up something else and wearing a dress on your stag do is apparently the second most fun you can have if you can remember any of it.
Following the rafting we all got skwank (drunk as a skwank) at the pub. This involved having my first funnel since my friend Gavin and I threw a shebeen party when we were at university, which started at about 7 and finished at about 11 because everybody had drunk too much too quickly and peaked too soon. At that particular party one of our guests who shall remain nameless thought she had B.O and used the Strawberries and Cream toilet spray as a deodorant, and I had to climb onto the neighbours roof the next morning at about 8:30 in a hell of a state because one of our other esteemed guests had thrown a beer bottle onto the roof leaving broken glass in the gutters. The night in Jinja after the rafting had some similarities – madness. The driver of one of the overland trucks came in brandishing a panga and threatening one of the barmen about something and had to be forcefully removed from the premises. The naked ninja appeared – one of the regulars who once went to circus school removes his clothes, wraps his t-shirt around his head and then climbs up one side of the pub roof and down the other side. Later on somebody drove his motorbike into the pub and onto the deck that overlooks the Nile. For some bizarre reason I had to pull the gay overland tour guide’s nipple ring because I had commented on the tattoo that covers his entire torso, and Jules for some bizarre reason behaved herself. You’re quite right Nan and Granny – we don’t condone this sort of behaviour either!
The next day was supposed to be a recovery day, but Jules had made plans to meet up with Tim in Kampala because he had missed a flight to Nairobi due to a fire that had burned down the airport. This was not good news for Chris, who was quite comfortable dying in the tent until it got too hot and then went to find some shade under a tree to die in. After the slowest “packing up camp” so far, Jules drove us to Kampala – her first time driving since Turkana. My job as chief navigator was to hold my seat belt away from my neck to reduce the chance of vomiting in the car. I could never be a “mature student” – hangovers seem to grow exponentially as you get older.
That night to my horror and Jules’ delight there was a bottle of champagne from her aunt Lizzie in the fridge. Unfortunately we missed Lizzie as she has been in Australia, but we had an amazing time with Julie’s uncle Keith, who took us on a tour of Kampala, and then to their house on an island on Lake Victoria for the weekend. We went fishing and Jules with plenty of deserved smugness caught a 15kg Nile Perch. I lost my lure, but it is ok, because I drank a Gin and Tonic for the first time, and I am not that bitter.
After a great weekend with Keith and almost ready for the next leg of the trip, Jules decided to catch Malaria. This involved a trip to a clinic to get tested, a couple of days of medication, and a trip to the hospital at 10 at night after she collapsed in the bathroom. The only advantage of malaria is that Jules hasn’t had the energy to veto my shopping trolley. Two trips to the local butcher returning with fillet steak both times, and also able to sneak in a couple of T-bones! Other than that, each day of the past week has been a rehash of the previous day – lying on the couch watching movies. We don’t have the same taste in movies, so other than watching every season of “Breaking Bad”, we had to reach a compromise – I would watch Spud if Jules watched Star Wars. “Why are we starting with Episode 4? That doesn’t make any sense?”
“I can’t watch any more – those stupid robots make me feel tense – the one doesn’t speak, it just beeps, and then the other one answers it. And Chewbacca annoys me too. How do I know his name? Because there was a girl at work that everybody used to call Chewbacca behind her back.”
Star Wars finished and now we watch Spud, a movie about a bunch of boys going to a school called Michaelhouse in South Africa. It even has John Cleese in it, balanced by some horrendous South African actors. I have 2 brother’s-in-law, Julie’s cousin, and a bunch of friends who “schooled there”. One of my friends refers to himself as a Michaelhusian. Julie’s cousin is apparently even in a scene in the movie, although we failed to find him. There is an old saying about Michaelhouse that the movie seems to confirm but I’m not brave enough to quote in full – I’ll start and leave it for somebody else to finish in a comment if he chooses to at his discretion. “You know what they say about Michaelhouse…”
After a week in civilisation with regular things called baths and showers and beds, 3 malaria tests and some cabin fever, it is time to move back into the beast and bumpy roads.