Echidna Media Organization project S.N.A.L. (emo_snal) wrote,
Echidna Media Organization project S.N.A.L.

Crossing the Equator and Boating About

Tuesday, November 3rd, Day 31, Kasese, Western Uganda - Have you ever found yourself on the edge of a lake in Uganda surrounded by hostile young men whose loathred for you even extended to your local guide? Well that occurred this day.

   Somehow, I managed to pry my battered carcass out of bed at a relatively early hour the morning after hiking in the mountains of the moon. Alex, my local colleague, found me eating some kind of local dish of (boiled?)(baked?) banana covered in some kind of purple sauce, out on the second floor balcony. For some reason they didn't expect anyone to eat out there, even though it adjoined the restaurant, but it had a beautiful sweeping view of the mountains beyond the city, so I dragged a chair out there myself. Now this banana covered in purple sauce wasn't really so great as the alternative omelettes they'd make were way way too dry.
   Presently three girls staying in the hotel, whom I'd met earlier, came out (one from Norway, one a Kenyan-born mzungu, and one from New Zealand). They were on their way into the Congo to hike the Rwenzori mountaints from the other side. One of them asked the waiter for coffee, and he smiled and took hre order with a little bow .... but half an hour later there was still no sign of it, so she asked him again and he said "oh .. we're out of coffee someoen has just gone to the store to get more." But she had been living in Uganda for a bit and was on to these tricks. "what time does the store open?" she asked, and he looked a little embarrased and said 9, but it was still before 8 so she further pressed him "so... no one has gone for coffee have they" and he kind of smiled helplessly and made the slightest acknowledgement that this was correct.
   As we then discussed, this seems to be a common thing in Africa. Service staff seemingly would rather give you an outright lie then tell you some simple bad news about something not being available. One of the more annoying things.

Alex reported the previous day he had driven two German tourists around to some local sights, I believe only for the price of gas, what a swell fellow. And as it happened, he had gone to the some places I wanted to go to this day. We resolved to go on these adventures as soon as we were done with breakfast.

   So we got in the car and headed south. Not 15 miles down the road we came to the equator, which consisted as a giant line in the sky which was marked on either side of the road with big white circles. I took a bunch of pictures, of which I fortunately uploaded one to instagram so it's still with us.

   Now my other hobby is sailing, and crossing the equator is a big deal if you're a sailor. I asked on facebook if stepping across counted but was told no it does not. HOWEVER, a large lake, Lake George is just to the East of that location, so I've resolved to next time I'm in the area cross the equator by boat, while sprinkling salt in front of me so no one can claim "oh it wasn't salt water" :D

   From there we proceeded south into Queen Elizabeth National Park and after another ten miles or so crossed the Kazinga Channel, a river-like 20 mile strait between Lake George and the larger Lake Edward. It's about 200 yards wide and could be easily mistaken for a river, but I think the current flows sometimes one way and sometimes the other. On the other side we made contact with a tour boat operator Alex had somehow met the other day. For $50 we could go out on a boat down the channel for about two hours, which sounded good to me. Where the boat launched from there were many traditional canoes drawn up on the side, with fishermen assiduously working on their nets and things. The smell of fish was strong in the air. I think someone tipped me off that they didn't like having their picture taken so I kept myself to broad scenery shots ... which might sometimes happen to include them. I also got shown a basket full of various fish and eels and it included two very large and still-breathing lung-fish. Lungfish btw are basically darwin fish, able to survive the complete drying out of their body of water (and has "the largest known genome of any vertebrate," isn't that.. fishy?). The fish waved its fin at me stoically, as if understanding the occhiolism of its position.
   There was a little floating dock here that had one more modern little motorboat moored up at it, and this was our ride. We went aboard and cast off. As we headed slowly down the coast we quickly saw many interesting species of birds. I'd made a list but, you know, lost. I remember there were three kinds of kingfisher, including a piebald kingfishe, and one that was like neon blue. There were also numerous hippopotami all up and down the bank, wallowing with just their nostrels, eyes and ears above the surface. Startedled they'd submerge themselves and all one would see is a swirl of disturbed water. When they'd come up for air I noted it was a very whale-like spouting, as they blasted a tall spout of condensation out, presumably inhaled just as fast, and were back below the surface. They're a great danger to the small local canoes but the locals quickly learn to spot and avoid them.
   We also saw wildabeest and water buffalo on the bank. At one point a large monkey guiltily climbed off a tree that had a huge nest in it and loped off into the shrubbery. I was hoping to see a leopard, the remaining member of the "Big 5" I haven't yet seen, and was informed they can some times be spotted lounging in trees by the bank, but no luck.
   As one can perhaps imagine, the channel was in former times a major barrier, to both people and biodiversity. I learned an interesting fact about how some now-abundant tree used to only be present north of the channel but is now on both .... but that was in my notes.

   I was busy taking pictures but at one point there was a kerfuffle I wasn't really aware of until after. Alex had handed his phone to one of the crew (I think we had a guide, driver, and one deckhand), and when Alex got his phone back he saw he had a message "you have transferred 1000 shillings to [some number]" ... in Africa, where, you know, they are technologically ahead of us in some surprising ways, its very easy to transfer money from person to person with your phone. Having had his phone in custody, the deckhand somehow thought he wouldn't get caught transferring himself 1000 shillings. Which is, by the way, FOURTEEN CENTS.

   By and by we returned to the landing and made our goodbyes to the crew. I think the "captain" (/tourguide) was extremely embarrassed and apologetic about the theft attempt, and made sure Alex got his money back.

this was actually the less crowded part of the landing at the Lake George village

   From there we headed back north, but I really wanted to see Lake George to the east (our little cruise in the channel wasn't long enough to reach either end, it would take several hours), so we struck out on a dirt road for a little village on the lake that showed up in the map. My motives for this were largely to scout out a good location for an equator crossing by boat (you thought I was entirely joking did you?). We came to the village, and got a little lost in it sicne it didn't have clearly marked roads. Children started chasing the car yelling "give me money! give me money!" ... which I think is really really sad that that's all they know.
   Finally we came to the village's landing place, where once again many canoes were drawn up and lots of local young men were working in various capacities on unloading fish loads, repairing nets, repairing boats. One or two boats came in while we were there. It was actually very pretty, and I set about taking pictures, once again being careful to only take general pictures of the scene without appearing to focus on any one person. Nevertheless, shortly a stocky young man with a sour expression approached me and demanded
   "What are you doing??"
   "Just taking pictures"
   "We don't like it. Don't take our picture."
   More or less. There might have been more, his message was pretty clear though. So I went off to the side where I could take pictures of the lake with no people in it to snap a few more. Apparently while I was doing tihs the same youth accosted Alex and asked him how he could work for a mzungu.
   So I think we were going to get out of there pretty quick but then an old man approached me and started asking questions in English in a friendly tone, and very gladly told me how they fish and answered various questions about life on the lake (there are alligators but not many I guess?). It was really surprising to find an old and poor rural fisherman who spoke such good english. As our conversation drew to a close he said "please, I'm really hungry, can you give me something?" Normally as a matter of policy I have a heart like ice and don't just go handing out boons for relatively nothing, but I so much appreciated his kindness in this hostile little spot that I handed him a 1000 shilling note I had in my pocket and he was so grateful you'd think I had just given him a $20! Clearly, 14 cents goes a long way here.

   From there we returned to Kasese. Ate at a little "western style cafe" which had had rave reviews on tripadvisor, but I wasn't really all that impressed. In particular my coffee tasted really weird. It had been specifcialyl noted that they had good brewed coffee, as opposed to the usual nescafe, so I was rather disappointed.

   That evening I went out with Sharon and Maggie, the giggly receptionists. This consisted of some walking about on dark streets at night, but it was interesting, saw the bare little rooms they lived in (in rudimentary little buildings with rooms around a central courtyard, and may have had a guard at the door all night (?). Then we road motorbikes the short distance to downtown, which was funny because a friend from the states called me at that moment and I had to explain I was on a motorbike at night in Western Uganda. Went to a club/bar downtown, it was pretty decent, had a few beers, though I think my stomach was already starting to feel a bit weird. The other interesting observation I made was that near to this club was a large hut that said LIONS CLUB on it. The Kasese Lions Club is literally a hut!! I'd have loved to take a picture but it was too dark.
   The girls had work in the morning and I myself had to get up very early for my plans so we headed back before 1, going by motorbike to the hotel, where the girls made sure I could get in, and then they went back to their places.
   Aaand that night it became apparent that something had destroyed my guts, as I had to run to the bathroom numerous times throughout the night (and the bathroom was across the courtyard!). Since the little western style cafe was the only place I'd eaten all day since breakfast I think it had to be that. I thought about noting a warning to future travelers on tripadvisor, but since it was operated as a women's co-op I didn't have the heart to do something that would hurt their business, despite my guts.

[pictures to be added!]

Tags: east africa, travelogues, travels, uganda
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