November 27-28, 2008
Night Bus to Kampala
When Pnina and I traveled in other parts of the world (Peru, Thailand, China, etc.) a very standard thing to do was to take night busses or trains. The logic is that you save money by sleeping on the bus instead of at a hotel, and you save time by doing your transit while you sleep. So far in our trip in Africa we didn’t see any night busses offered anywhere. It was kind of surprising. But lo and behold, here we found a night bus to take us from Nakuru to Kampala, capital of Uganda, some 12 hours to the west. So we jumped at the opportunity.
It turned out to be a bad call. While the road from Nairobi to Nakuru was surprisingly smooth, the road going further west was all dirt and bumpy. Pnina and I and Tim (who was also heading to Uganda) were supposed to have seats somewhere near the middle of the bus, but when we got on the bus those seats were taken, and the people in those seats said “no problem, just sit anywhere”. I made the second bad call — “let’s sit in the back row”. The thing that I like about the back row is that the middle seat has lots of leg room, something I rarely have. But the trouble with the back row is that when there are bumps, the back row feels it more than anybody else. And the road was bumpy! I can’t remember the number of times we went airborne. The first couple of times it was pretty funny, but soon enough it got old. Our plan to sleep through the ride went out the window. If it wasn’t the bumps, it was the creaking sound from the loose luggage rack up above. It was pretty rough. Oh, and if you’ve been wondering whether there are musquitos around here, yeah, we got some musquitos:
At the border everyone got off the bus and went to the immigration office. This is where Tim got his own nasty VISA surprise. He assumed that the Uganda single-entry visa works very much like the Kenya single-entry visa, in the sense that it behaves like a multi-entry visa as long as you don’t exit “east africa”. But he was wrong. Uganda’s single entry visa works like you would expect. So here he was trying to enter Uganda for the second time using the same single-entry visa and they said “no way”. He had to fork up another $50. Sucks.
Tim got off a little earlier than we did, at a town called Jinja. Jinja sits by Lake Victoria, at the source of the Nile River. It’s one of the other adventure centers in Africa. From what we hear the white water rafting there is even more intense than the trip we did by Victoria Falls in Zambia. But since we already went rafting once, we decided to skip it. We continued another two hours to Kampala.
We arrived in Uganda’s capital, Kampala, around 10 AM. Kampala has a couple of backpacker friendly places. We arbitrarily chose the one with the very generic name: Backpacker Hostel. Getting there was a pain. Kampala is one of the most hectic cities we’ve ever seen. It’s the only city we’ve seen on the trip so far to which we really don’t want to return (Johannesburg would be the other, except that our friend Sydney lives there with his family). The unfortunate thing is that we found ourselves having to return to Kampala again and again because to get anywhere in Uganda it seems you have to go through Kampala first. The worst parts of Kampala are the new and old taxi parks. Each is a large field full of matatus, busses, and a billion people. There’s so much pollution and crowdedness, it just makes you want to leave:
Later we noticed that Kampala has nicer areas, so it’s possible that we just had a bad first impression, that we happened to see the worst part first. Also, for what it’s worth, Kampala is one of the safer big cities in Africa – you can walk around at night without worry. Whatever the case, that’s the impression that stuck.
One thing Kampala does have is a Baha’i temple. In fact, it’s the only Baha’i temple in the African continent. Pnina and I have both visited the main Baha’i temple in Haifa. She also visited the other Baha’i temple in Acco, Israel, and I’ve visited Baha’i temples in Chicago, Delhi, and Sydney. What we found is that the temples are always interesting to see, especially the gardens, and that the Bahai are always peaceful and welcoming. So we decided to escape the chaos of central Kampala and head the 7 km out to the nearby hilltop where the temple sits.
At the temple we met two Kiwi gals and one Kenyan gal. All three were visiting the temple as a sort of mission/vacation trip. Pnina and I already learned that the Baha’i now have a pretty democratic system of “governance”. Each local Baha’i community chooses a leader who represents them at the next level, where he and others again choose on leader. On it goes until the top council in Haifa. What we didn’t know is that each election is done by silent vote and no campaigning is allowed. That means that the person who is chosen never actually “ran” for the position and perhaps didn’t even want it. They said that the chosen person can be pardoned if, for example, it’s a mother that wants to stay home and take care of her children, but in general the chosen person accepts. Also, there’s no real power in the position, so it’s not something that is sought in the way that most public positions are sought.
Last King of Scottland
Not long before we left on the trip I happened to see the film The Last King of Scottland, which is about Idi Amin, the dictator who ruled Uganda in the 1970’s. If you haven’t seen the movie, you should. It’s intense, and Forrest Whidaker does an amazing job. Near the end of the film they show the crisis where Amin sheltered some terrorists who hijacked a passenger plane carrying a lot of Israeli people. Israel sent a special commando unit to rescue the passengers and it was a remarkable success. All passengers were saved and only one soldier was killed. The soldier’s name is Netanyahu. His brother later became prime minister of Israel.
Anyhow, Amin was pretty ruthless. He “disappeared” all suspected opponents, prosecuted ethnic groups, journalist, leaders etc. Eventually he was ousted (in 1978) and he died in exile in 2003. At one point during our time in Uganda we asked our taxi driver how people felt about that, when Amin passed away. He said the reaction was mixed; some people were very happy and some were sad. Strange.
Around the World
When we woke up at the Backpacker Hostel the TV was showing reports from Mumbai. Terrorists arrived at the Gate of Mumbai and proceeded to attack several public places around the city: hotels, train stations, and a Jewish center, etc. Reports were still coming in about the casualties, but it was at least 170 dead and more than 300 injured. The Indian commando units were still involved in an active gun fight with the terrorists, and people around the world were starting to speculate about whether they were doing a good job and what this means for the war on terrorism. We contacted our Indian friends and luckily it seems that none of their friends and family in Mumbai are hurt. Still, of course, it’s a tragedy. It’ll be interesting to see how this event will impact India’s relationship with other countries, in particular the US and Pakistan. We’ll be visiting India later on our trip (in March), though we don’t plan to visit Mumbai.
In Thailand protesters took over the Bangkok airports and surrounded the parliament, to protest against the current prime minister, Somchai Wongsawat. After a few days it looked like the prime minister would resign, so the protesters started to clear the airport. We’ll also be passing through Thailand later on our trip (around August), though we’ll go overland.
On a completely different note, our good friends Tyler and Sarah, who are taking care of our cats while we travel, gave birth to their first child. Welcome to the world Stella! We’re looking forward to seeing more of your photos online as we travel, and even more so to meet you when we return.
The Detroit Lions football team is off to their worst season ever, with 16 losses to start the season (all games). I found an article speculating that the team might relocate and become the Los Angeles Lions. If so, I wonder how much Detroit will lament the loss. They’ve been sucking for so long. It’s really hard to be a Lions fan.
Our friends Justin, Tim, and Ann participated in a protest in Seattle. The protest was about proposition 8 in California, which defines marriage as being between a man and a woman, i.e. anti-gay. The proposition passed, which is kind of surprising because California tends to be fairly progressive, especially San Francisco. I suspect it passed partly because of the influx of Mexicans, who tend to be Catholic and anti-gay. But I don’t really know for sure. As far as I can tell there’s no plan for a similar proposition in Washington, but it’s still cool that people in Seattle are stepping out to show support for liberals in California.