UGANDA - CHIMPS, RABIES & BACK BREAKING RAPIDS

 

Well, the good news is we are all still alive.  But, our loop through Uganda [and Rwanda] sure did take its toll - the past 2 weeks brought us closer to everything from nearly drowning on the Nile, vicious would-be rodents, life threatening diseases, broken bones, 4 metre high water falls and ham and cheese sandwich loving baboons.

While they were tough, the past 2 weeks were definitely amazing and also brought us closer to luxury hotels on Lake Kivu, chimpanzees, gorillas, the Congo and some new friends.

The spectacular scenery, friendly people and unbelievable wildlife made our Uganda and Rwanda loop one of the most incredible "African experiences" that anyone could ask for. 

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With everything fixed on the truck we were back on the road with a long day ahead of us - trying to get from Nairobi all the way to Jinja in one day.  We knew this was possible, but that it would probably take close to 10 hours of driving.

With Matt out for the count (exhausted from his all night puking), Mike was driving and Cathy was navigating in the front seat.  Matt had fashioned a bed in the back seat out of the cooler bag, Mike and Cathy's sleeping bag (out of the tent to be aired out in Nairobi) and a couple of pillows.  We left the Scott's with only a short scheduled detour to fill up the diesel tanks before heading on our way. Unfortunately, as we pulled into the BP station at the Village Market, we realized we'd left all of our "information books" back at the house.  So, we had to go back.

Only 2 hours after our planned departure, we left Nairobi for Jinja.

The road conditions were dismal, but the scenery that we passed in the Great Rift Valley and near Eldama Rivine almost made up for it. And, not only that, but we pulled over on the side of the road between Eldama Rivine and Eldoret to have lunch on the Equator.

We made it to Uganda and through the difficult Kenyan roads late in the afternoon in the pouring rain.  The border post took us longer than some of the previous ones but only because of the few extra steps required by the Ugandan officials and the frequent to-and-fro-ing that we had to do to pay our road tax.

Luckily it appears as if the road tax has been put to good use in Uganda and the road to Jinja was mostly good - mostly.  Arriving in Jinja in the dark after 10 hours of driving was tough, particularly because we didn't actually know where the campsites were in Jinja. After only a few wrong turns and some challenging night time driving (or should we say collision avoidance) we found the Nile High Resort.

Unfortunately, hotel rooms at the Nile High Resort were out of our price range, but they also had a $2 per person per night campsite that would suit us fine.  And, it just so happened to be right at the base of the Nile High Bungee Jumping Tower AND the Adrift White Water Rafting "Put-In" Point AND the Full Moon All Night Party.  We were in luck and figured 2 nights in Jinja would suit us well.

Organizing white water rafting for the next morning was relatively easy and Mike and Matt were set for a full day of grade 4 and 5 rapid riding with the Adrift rafting company out of Kampala.  Cathy decided to stay behind (for some reason white water rafting is not advised for pregnant women) and she read her book at the campsite while Bobo the cat kept her company.

Mike and Matt are actually quite experienced white water rafters and were pretty excited about getting back on a river with intense rapid shooting opportunities.  Little did we know what the river had in store for us that day.  

Setting out on the river we were accompanied in our boat by Jonah (our guide), Jim (an American engineering professor stationed inUganda), one Scotsman (also stationed in Uganda), and 4 other Americans visiting Jinja for 2 weeks to assist with some community projects.  It was a good boat and we were all up for an intense and challenging day on the river.

The river was angry that day, my friends.

Our first grade 4 rapid of the day tipped our boat upside down and we all went swimming.  That was enough for some of our boat and 2 people made the decision at that point that they would be trading in their full day of rafting for a half day instead.  But, it was still quite early in the day and the rest of the raft was still gung-ho about the big rapids to come after lunch.

Which brings us to "Overtime" (or as Matt and Mike like to call it - Overturn).  Overtime is the 2nd rapid of the afternoon.  A grade 4 rapid explained to us as one of the "more dangerous" rapids on the river because of the many rocks at the start and the 4 meter high water fall at the end.  We were instructed by Jonah to: "whatever you do, don't fall out of the boat at the top - there are too many rocks!".

Well, you guessed it. 

Our entire boat flipped upside down on the first wave and there we were all 9 of us crashing our way through the rocks heading for the water fall. 

Mike and Matt both ended up forced through a series of rock mazes under the water only to pop up just in time to fall over the water fall.  Mike ended up with a few grazes on his hands, knees and feet.  But, Matt ended up landing on a rock at the bottom of the falls hitting the small of his back.  The swelling looked like Matt was growing another ass cheek across the top of the two that he already has and the cuts and bruises definitely showed that a lesser man would not have been able to carry on.  But, Matt did.

Matt and Jim actually ended up getting the worst of the Overtime rapid.  Once everyone was back in the boat, the guides performed some first aid on Jim who ended up with quite a few scrapes and cuts and a banged up knee.  The whole boat and even many people in some of the other boats were a bit shaken up with the situation and many people decided to join the "safety boat" for the rest of the day so they could avoid running any further "rapid risk".  But, Matt, Jim and Mike all decided to keep going.

It was a great day on the water, but certainly a bit too close for comfort for Matt.  He was having trouble walking and decided to sit out the Full Moon Party at the campsite and call it an early night.  Mike and Cathy followed his lead, but enjoyed some great dinner conversation with Jim before turning in. 

The next morning we were off to Kampala to see what we could see in the big city.  Luckily it wasn't a far drive and the roads were good so we made it to Kampala to tour the city - and tour we did.  Finding our campsite turned out to be a challenging mission - but after a few spins around town, lunch, a few more spins around town, checking email, and yet again some more spins around town, we found our campsite.

For dinner we gave Beth a call (see the Tanzania / Zanzibar page for the story of how Mike and Cathy met Beth in Zanzibar) and met her and her work colleague at an Indian restaurant for a good meal.

That evening while bellied up to the bar for a few beers before going to bed, Matt and Mike met Belinda - an Australian traveling by herself through East Africa.  Belinda was debating which way she would head in Uganda.  She was deciding between Jinja for a day of rafting or west to the Kibale Forest.

Since Matt, Mike and Cathy were also looking to head west, Belinda joined us for the drive through Fort Portal to Kanyanchu in theKibale Forest.

Chimp tracking was great.  And, although the chimps were quite high in the trees the day we say them because of the wet ground from the rain, we were able to get some great photos and some great sitings of the chimps eating and playing in the trees above us.  As it was the first time for any of us to see chimpanzees in the wild, it was definitely a successful visit to the Kibale Forest.

Also in Kibale, we met Christian.  Christian is a German special needs teacher taking a year off to travel through Africa and South America.  Christian has an exciting trip planned that will take him a year to complete.  Luckily for Christian, the sabbatical program for teachers in Germany is set up to allow a teacher to bank a portion of his paycheque over a couple of years and use the banked money to travel during a sabbatical year - gotta love that type of progressive thinking. 

After hiking with us to see the chimps Christian joined us for the four hour drive to Queen Elizabeth National Park.  Enroute, we were flagged down to help with our second rescue operation of the trip.  This particular rescue was not as dramatic as righting the overturned Land Rover in Tanzania (see Tanzanian write-up) but was another shining moment for the Land Cruiser nonetheless.  This time we were called on to pull a transport truck out of a large water filled pothole where it had become bogged down in the muck. 

This time, Matt hooked up the tow bar (the only rescue equipment that the truck driver had) while Mike backed the Cruiser into position for the tow.  Within a few short seconds the vehicle was extracted from the muck, handshakes and thumbs-up were shared all around, and both vehicles were back on their respective journeys.

The trip from Kibale to Queen Elizabeth Park takes about 2.5 hours - correction, it should take 2.5 hours, however it seems the entire road is under construction and although it looks finished nobody is yet allowed to drive on it.  As a result, the bulk of the journey takes place on a rough dirt track about 20 yards to the side of the beautifully paved highway and takes about 4 hours.  Despite the added time, we were all content with the fact that if a rough road was the worst thing that happens to us, it was a great day. 

Unfortunately, it wasn't the worst thing on the day.

Sometimes danger in Africa comes from an unsuspected source.  And, as is Mike's way when traveling in Africa, he often finds himself dragged innocently into animal encounters with varying degrees of severity.  As it turns out, this day in Uganda would be no different. As 1 of some 20 other observers watching a group of 12 banded mongoose run (and dig) at the Mweya Tourist Information Centre in the Queen Elizabeth Park, Mike was targeted for a shakedown by one of the more devious critters.  It is important to note that at first glance the banded mongoose is a cute and loveable animal (as far as small weasely animals go) but do not be fooled by this façade.  In reality, the banded mongoose is an evil creature inflicted with endemic rabies and prone to attack innocent bystanding Canadians.  Enter Mike.

Freshly attacked by the banded mongoose with the big teeth, Mike went about cleaning and inspecting the wound.  At that point in time, it appeared to be nothing, but a few chapters of reading in the "Don't Die in the Bush" handbook and rabies became more of a potential reality than any of us would have liked - particularly Mike.

Rabies is 100% fatal and incurable once symptoms are detected.  But, with the correct post-exposure vaccinations, rabies can be beat even after receiving a bite from an infected animal.  Luckily for us, the further away the bite is from the head, the longer the incubation period is for the disease and getting help for Mike wouldn't be a problem - in the meantime, we kept our eyes peeled for any indications in Mike of hydrophobia, muscle spasms or foaming at the mouth (no joke - a symptom of rabies).

Keep on keepin' on is what the sticker says, so that is what we did.

Leaving the north end of Queen Elizabeth Park and on our way to Rwanda we decided to try a side road that would take us through the south side of the park and onwards to Lake Bunyonyi (the Switzerland of Uganda).  Unfortunately, the roads to the south end of the Park were so bad that we decided it would tack on too much time to the itinerary and jeopardize our chances of seeing the gorillas inRwanda.

So, we decided to skip the south end of the Park and keep to the main roads between Kasese and Kabale (Lake Bunyonyi - the deepest lake in Uganda). 

We stayed the night at the Lake Bunyonyi Overland Resort, right on the edge of the lake, with a beautiful setting in the mountains.  And, while there wasn't a single cheese fondue to be seen anywhere it was extremely beautiful and Mike and Cathy couldn't help but imagine themselves in their soon-to-be home Lausanne, Switzerland.

After a shower, a meal and a good night's sleep, we were on our way to Rwanda the next morning.