Daily Archives: December 19, 2009

Safari Journal Day 2: Police station drama and Safari drive

We woke up stiff and bruised but optimistic. We were ready to finally start our vacation and we knew that once the police and car towing was dealt with, the worst would be over.

Until you have spent 31/2 hours in a remote Uganda police station, you have not really been to Africa. The room was dusty and it smelt like ancient body odour. The calender that was stuck, slanted to the wall, read September and the paint had peeled and faded to some shade that may once have resembled yellow. The window was splattered with suicidal mosquitos and the roof was made of tin. The phone numbers of all the police officers were chalked onto the walls. Sitting amidst this was a traffic officer wearing the crispest and whitest suit you can imagine. To protect the seat of his super white pants he sat upon a handkerchief and with tongue in his cheek, like a school boy concentrating on his penmanship , he carefully wrote down what had happened. He was polite, yet slow and we waited patiently for the report to be filed. The commanding officer who had been on the scene the night before had the key to the car and we had to wait some hours before he arrived to hand it to us. The towing truck that was arriving , at great expense, from Kampala, would need that key to deliver the car back home and the car would not be released until the report was correctly filed and paid for. So there were steps to follow and no amount of wishing, pleading or hoping would speed this situation up.

The men responsible for the electricity pole that I had unfortunately hit turned up to get their compensation and we discovered that despite paying for the police report it would not be handed to us until the car was officially inspected in Kampala. Email addresses were exchanged with fingers crossed in hope that we would eventually see the report and once the midday sun was starting to roast us, and we thought we had seen quite enough of Kihihi police station for one life time, we were finally allowed to go. Dave, the hardy and patient manager of the wilderness lodge where we were staying picked us up and drove us away.

The lodge is a tented yet exquisite set of structures nestled amongst the trees on the banks of the Ishasha River. We were presented with an oasis of calm and serenity after the past 20 hours of scary and painful hell. Within minutes we could feel our troubles and the memories of the Kihihi police station melt away. It is called a wilderness camp for good reason and with 25 staff for 20 guests, every need is met and catered for. The sound of birds and running river accompanied our delicious lunch, eaten outside, with fine linens and china. The Princess Camper within me beamed. This was perfect. We were the only guests and once lunch was over it was only the four of us, with Dave, who piled into the Safari truck. By 4pm we were driving through the park looking, as far as the eye could see, at fig trees, savannah, Kob, Water Buck, Warthog, Buffalo, Topi, Eagles and the almighty elephant.

Ishasha is famous for its tree climbing lions. They hunt at night and sleep all day in the thick branches of the fig tree. There are only 28 lions spread over  the 18,000 hectares of the park and it is sheer luck to see them. The park is only a few kilometers from the Congo and often the lions wander over there and can’t be seen for many weeks. At one point on the drive we stopped by a river that shall forever, in my memory, be known as Hippo Soup. The Congo was near enough to wade to, were it not for the large and cumbersome Hippos wallowing within it.

We couldn’t find any lions despite some long drives around the favorite fig trees. Still, when we drove back into the camp, were were happy, lucky and spoilt.

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Filed under Travel, Uganda

Safari Journal Day 1: Bad luck and flipping cars

Maybe it was because it was the 13th, maybe it was because we hit a bird as we were leaving Kampala (“ that is a bad sign,” my husband said when the crow flew into our windscreen as we drove across the equator), maybe it was simply bad luck. One minute we were driving along, happily singing and laughing and 30 seconds later we were climbing out of a heap of mangled metal, wondering what on earth had happened.

The day did not start well. After weeks of anticipation and excitement, we awoke at 6:15 am bright eyed and bushy tailed ready for an early departure for Ishasha, the southern tip of Queen Elizabeth Game Park, over 9 hours west of Kampala. Unfortunately the gods had other plans in store, as we were to find out when the Beast would not start.

“The Beast has died,” I explained to two forlorn looking daughters.

“We need to find another way to get there.”

Various texts to friends and panicked phone calls to car rental offices later ( there is very little one can do at 7 am on a Sunday morning in Kampala) we found a solution. A driver would transport us for the entire week for the royal sum of $700 US.

At this point, with cries of “you should never have bought that bloody car!” hurled across the kitchen, a divorce seemed more likely than paying a driver that much money. With tempers flared and tears springing from eyes the trip was looking very grim and very expensive.

Luckily a friend appeared at the 11th hour with an offer to lend us his car.

“My Hero” I wrote in a thank you text to him as we finally drove out of our gate 3 hours later than planned.

It all went so well. We loved the car, so much better than our crappy Beast, traffic was minimal and we were making good time. We had a packed lunch and snacks aplenty, songs were sung and everything was looking splendid. Shortly after the half way point where we stopped for gas and a highly unpleasant visit to the pit toilets behind the petrol station, I offered to take the wheel.

7 hours into the journey the roads had become treacherous. We climbed up a steep and rocky incline where we were presented with a stunning view of a valley below. The villages we passed were remote and the people we passed kept holding out their hands and shouting “Money!” as we drove pass. The contrast between the bitter attitude of the locals who saw us as simply a ticket to free money and the stunning view was shocking. We discussed at the length the disparity between their desire for a charity handout and our belief that these people with fertile farmland in which to grow food, schools in which to become educated and all limbs secure in which to work were more than capable to make their own money and not look to the rare white foreigner as their meal ticket.

4 km before the town of Kihihi we were all laughing in the car at the sound of the name. Didn’t it sound just so much like a giggle? Within seconds ( and I have played this moment back over and over in my mind with no ability to remember a thing) the car had spun out of control. One second we were laughing and driving, the next second the car had careened across the road, driven wildly out of control towards a house and finally      had tipped over. After we climbed out of the front of the car, where the windscreen had been, I realized I had hit an electricity pole, narrowly averted a house and some chickens and had flipped next to a thorny patch of green. The car lay on its side, steaming, dripping and groaning. Broken glass litered the ground, apples were strewn everywhere and the girls were white and shaking. Both girls were fine, but Trooper had a nasty cut on her elbow that was bleeding and what appeared to be a sprained wrist. We were all alive.

Moments later a crowd appeared and over the next hour and a half the crowd grew and moved closer. I am convinced that nothing quite as exciting had ever happened in that small village. Bodas appeared, cars parked and people came out to gawp. When it was time to turn the car over, in order to assess the damage, no one would help without an offer of money. The onlookers were more concerned with whether or not they could get their hands on the apples then finding out if we were okay. It was the most disgusting display of humanity.

In the end, the car was able to be driven to the police station and we got a ride to a nearby hotel. Shaken, we assessed our bruises and prepared for bed, knowing that the next morning we would be back at the tin roofed police station to file a report. The car would need to be towed back to Kampala, we would need to hire a driver to take us home and we were looking at spending some time in bureaucratic hell.


Filed under Uganda, When the rose tint fades