Thursday, May 31, 2012

Aero Beach in Entebbe

It's referred to as "the beach" by the people from Kampala and even though the concept of a "beach" in the middle of a continent has never really made sense to me, I have to agree that it does have a beach feel to it. If you manage to look past the fresh water and the inability to ever get a good surf here, then you might as well enjoy the white sand next to the largest lake in Africa and have yourself a beach party here. 

Entebbe is about 70 kilometers from Kampala. They have a few beaches. My driver pronounces it in his Uganda English as "bitch". He asked me today: "Do you still have that picture when you and I were on the bitch?" I just smiled, I usually destroy incriminating evidence like that. The one where we were on the BEACH I do have, yes.

Today we went to Aero Beach. I thought it was called Aero Beach because it was probably the closest beach to the airport, but when we went through the gate it made more sense. Two huge aeroplanes are on the property. I asked whether they were brought there or if they missed the runway, but he wasn't sure. "They were from Idi Amin's time", he said to me.  I guess they missed the runway then.

The place looks a bit dilapidated, but I was told that this was one of the most popular beaches in Entebbe. Apparently on weekends it is so full that you cannot walk, I was glad it was in the middle of the week. We were hungry, so we decided to get something to eat. All they had on the menu for the day was Fish & Chips. The fish of course Tilapia fresh from the lake. The two meals plus four Cokes and pineapple rings for Desert cost us 24USD. I wonder if the locals eat here, it is quite expensive for them. I see however that on weekends they have a full menu, or maybe I just paid the Mzungu price. Nevertheless, the food was good. 

The Boda-boda Utility Vehicle

A friend of mine noticed in a picture in one of my previous posts the lane splitting abilities of the Ugandan bikers.  I mentioned to him that they are called "boda-bodas" in Uganda and that they are kamikaze pilots with exceptional biking skills. He then posted the picture on the Wild Dogs biking forum. These boda-bodas are like mosquitoes in traffic, but they actually hardly interfere with the flow of traffic. As a matter of fact they are the only ones flowing, and they seem to be the ultimate solution to heavy traffic problems. So I decided to take some pictures of these boda-bodas because there doesn't seem to be any rules when using them. Unfortunately I waited too long, because I took these on my way to the airport. I have seen so many funny uses for these bikes over the past week, especially on my trip to Packwach, but never took pictures. Goats, television sets, 5 people (Mom, Dad, 2 babies and the driver), chickens, dining room tables, mirrors, anything you can think of.  I will for sure take more on my next trip, and even do a test ride to report back. Here are a few that I took this afternoon...

 Timba Boda

Big Bagger Boda

Meat Me Boda

Boda Classic

School's Out Boda

Wacky Waste Boda

School's Out Boda

The Coal Train

Family Friend Boda

Classic Utility Boda

Water Car Boda

The 1-Tonner Boda

Crate Mate Boda

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Don't let the bed bugs bite

I am staying in a rather fancy hotel in Kampala. I won't mention the name, but it is considered a good hotel by most visitors to Kampala who has stayed in it before. Moments ago I just returned from the office, so like usual when I am not staying in a hotel close to beach, I started up my laptop to catch up on more work before I go hunt for food. I heard  a knock on my door and opened it. A member of the hotel staff asked me politely "Can I spray your room sir?"

Yesterday the same actually happened, just a different man. Yesterday I turned him away and said I am fine. I am getting so used to mosquitoes now that I don't feel them biting any more, and besides, I didn't see any other creepy crawlies in my room either. I just keep praying that the mosquitoes don't carry that deadly Malaria virus and then I'm fine.

The gentleman, armed with a spray can of insect repellent, walked in while I was waiting for him to ask me to leave or to cover my face before he started spraying the room. But instead he walked up to my bed, took off the bed cover and sprayed my BED!!! I just sat there in total surprise watching him. WTF? Does he know something that I don't?

Now this is the good part of the story. Last night as I was sleeping I felt all these little itchy bits on my legs and my back. I switched on the light but couldn't see anything. I checked for mosquitoes but they don't usually bite under the covers. This morning I checked for bite marks but there was nothing really alarming, just the marks where I scratched myself last night. Now this happened?

So I am sitting here looking at my bed and asking myself..."Where are you sleeping tonight, IN the bed, ON the bed or NEXT TO the bed?"

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Chobe Safari Lodge - A Photo Gallery

I was fortunate to visit the Murchison Falls Park in Northern Uganda and stayed in the Chobe Safari Lodge, one of three lodges inside the reserve. The lodge overlooks the River Nile (Albert Nile) and has a wide variety of animals and birds with an absolutely stunning atmosphere. Africa at its best.

We All Are One

One thing I like about travelling is the opportunity to take pictures. When you travel even a washed out shoe on the beach sometimes make for a good reminder of where you’ve been. Unfortunately when you travel in Africa taking pictures can sometimes land you in big trouble. That I have learned from a previous experience in Cameroon. I don’t know what it is with my African brothers, but somehow pointing a camera is like an insult to them and you might literally get a rifle pointing towards you if you are not careful.

Yesterday we were traveling from Kampala to Pakwach, a small town situated about 400 km north of Uganda’s capital. I am always very cautious when I take out my camera in African countries; you never know who you might offend. In Cameroon when a colleague of mine took a picture of a dilapidated bridge, we ended up emptying our pockets to get her camera back. The police officer appeared from out of the blue and demanded that we explain ourselves to the “Police Chief” who was apparently sitting in a little shack further back on the road where we came from. When we reached the shack there was no Chief in sight and we eventually had to buy back her camera for 60USD….minus all the pictures that had to be deleted.

Yesterday as we were traveling to Pakwach, I tried to get one or two pictures of the surrounding area. At no point did I deliberately point my camera towards anybody, although in the end I did end up with a few faces on my shots. I took most of the pictures from the car as we were driving and obediently put the camera away when we stopped to take a leak or had biscuits to eat next to the road (no Shell Ultra City stops here). It was when we crossed the bridge near the Karuma Falls where we made the mistake of showing our cameras to any possible observers. The falls are not really that impressive, it is more like impressive rapids. We were more after the “been there, done that” type of pictures, but our driver told us that we were not allowed to stop on the bridge, so we captured them “on the fly”. Strangely enough in South Africa we would’ve constructed a special lookout point for tourists to snap away. In Uganda it’s a different story.

Then it happened….

From out of nowhere a guy in military attire jumped in front of our vehicle. Agreed, with his camouflage suit he was real hard to spot against the green lush background, but he appeared from nowhere just like the guy in Cameroon did. They seem to be masters at this “hide-and-seek” and then “suddenly appear” game. We knew immediately what was about to happen. He spoke in Swahili, clearly showing his disapproval. After about ten minutes of negotiations between himself and our driver, we were allowed to go. Our driver somehow convinced him that we didn’t have money on us and the opportunistic road robber wasn’t armed, so we got off easy this time. Phew, close call.

Our next bridge was the one crossing over the Albert Nile into Pakwach. We crossed the bridge and a police check-point with no problems…and no pictures this time either. The police officers were quite friendly and didn’t really ask any questions. Our driver informed us that we were allowed to take pictures on that bridge, because the last time he crossed the bridge he had tourist with him and they took pictures…no problem. We finished our business in Pakwach and decided that on our way back we would take a picture of the Nile, just for memories’ sake and for my blog of course. As we approached the bridge, we went for our cameras. Man, it was as if Houdini himself made his magic appearing-from-nowhere act, this time with an assistant. From absolutely nowhere TWO military guys appeared next to the vehicle. This time they were armed, so we were a bit more concerned than the first time. They spoke in English, told us to exit the vehicle and to follow them to their “Commanding Officer”. He took the camera from my hands before I could even shout “go!!!” At first we tried to convince them that we would delete the pictures, but they didn’t want to budge…it was “Commanding Officer or no camera back.”

We got out, we had no choice. I wasn’t going to leave my camera there. Unlike the previous time when the “Police Chief” was just a clever way of getting us out of the car, this time the Commanding Officer was an actual person in uniform sitting on a tree trunk reading yesterday’s newspaper.  They all spoke in English, which made it a bit easier for us to communicate too. With my big mouth I told them that there is no law against taking pictures and that they are just after our money. This upset them a bit. I could tell by the way they were waving their AK47’s in the air. My colleague was quite diplomatic and listened to their long explanation as to “why we should not take pictures without their permission, blah, blah, blah.” In the meantime he was trying to tell me to shut up as I was protesting for being harassed on my own continent which was not really strengthening our case. My approach was one of “we are all brothers from Africa who should respect each other”, while my colleague was using a more sincere apologetic approach for the “clear misunderstanding”. Obviously he could not play the “We are all One”-card as he is originally from the UK, a ex-colonialist returning to a country where his forefathers wasn't welcome in the first place. At least I was born in Africa, so I had a leg to stand on. I learned however today that the “we are all one” approach only works when you are bargaining for lower prices at the craft markets, not when you have an clearly upset rifle-carrying-man in a camouflage uniform in front of you.

We were told that, even though there are no signposts to inform the unsuspected tourist that taking pictures of bridges were a crime in Uganda, you had to ask permission first. This proves to be quite difficult as you don’t see them before it is too late. I think it makes them feel better if you give them the recognition as their country’s asset protectors. On the other side of the bridge there were two more guys sitting, also heavily armed. That is five people guarding one bridge from tourists’ cameras. I don’t know how many bridges there are in Uganda, but it clearly creates quite a few jobs, even if an outdated newspaper is read during working hours. After my colleague’s apologetic approach their angry faces turned into friendly smiles. We asked permission to keep the pictures we took and the Commanding Officer nodded his head. The two soldiers respected their commander’s decision and we were free to go.  

My colleague grabbed his camera and headed straight back to the car. I asked for a group picture but they rejected my request saying it was not allowed either. I invited them to visit South Africa…without their rifles of course….and promised that I would show them around in South Africa without confiscating their cameras. After all…in Africa “We All Are One”.

Friday, May 25, 2012

The "Why?" bike

It is claimed on their web site that "this pushbike is tough. The sturdy YBIKE Original Sports injection moulded construction, which eliminates weak points and offers superior quality and great durabily" was "engineered with safety in mind." I don't know why it is called a YBIKE, but for me it definitely has another "why" connected to it other than its durability or design. My son's YBIKE is in two pieces and despite the company's reluctance to admit that their was a flaw in its design, they did offer me a new one at cost price which I accepted. Admittedly he did get good mileage out of it and he probably would've done so for a year or two more was it still intact.

I can still remember when he got his bike as a present from his grandparents. The concept of pushing forward was still new, so he initially only moved backwards. Later as the confidence grew he started to really enjoy the bike. The bike became part of the family and did regular trips to his grandparents' house and the beach. Some days they were allowed to take their bikes to school. In the mornings he used to race me to school while I followed on my skateboard keeping a watchful eye on him while always making sure that he turned out to be "winner". I can still see how he turned the imaginary key and sometimes pushed the "turbo boost" button. Apparently that "kicked in three engines". One morning he suddenly stopped, got off the bike, walked back and said to me "I am just picking up one of the engines that fell out". The bike went in for regular "services" and had its wash when my bike had hers. Chasing around the house on the terracotta tiles made a huge noise, but he really manoeuvred the bike like a pro and I never complained about the noise.

Sadly that noise is gone now. I am not angry or disappointed any more that the bike literally broke in two. Plastic toys come and go. I am sad because of an era that is over. If there is one "why" after this YBIKE I would like to have  answered then it would not be "Why did it break?" but rather "Why do our children have to grow up so fast...?"

Although being sad at first because of his broken bike, he has progressed onto his bicycle "with no training wheels" now. I am pretty sure that soon I will have to junk that one too and move on to the next toy while his sister does the terracotta race track on her new YBIKE. The fact is that it is just sad to know that you cannot keep them small forever.... 

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Cross out useless words

They say that firsts impressions last. I guess when you plan a trip to a country the "first impressions" you receive from that country is probably the visa application form that you have to complete prior to your departure. I absolutely hate filling in forms. What freaks me out the most is when there is not enough space to fill in what they asked you or when the questions are difficult to understand and you don't really know what they want. Also sometimes you have to choose between four or five options, but none of them really pertains to your situation or they wanted it in black ink and you only have a blue pen with you. The list goes on....

I am planning a trip to Congo Brazzaville. It is not my first trip, so I have seen this visa application form many times before. You can skip this whole form by getting a visa-on-arrival, but they take your passport and only return it a day or two later. To me this is not an option, so I struggle through the form to make sure I don't have to part with my passport at any time. 

I don't think that the visa form for Congo has changed over the last ten years....

I can understand when English is not the first language spoken in a country, but I am sure that you will find professional translators wanting to earn a buck or two and provide you with a more professional looking questionnaire...
"De Father et de Mother..."???

Stating the obvious....
Total confusion....all "useless words"

Then you get the questions where your normal reaction is something like..."are you friggen for real...?"

I guess each country has its reasons for asking certain questions and the way they get this information from you, but sometimes you just have to bite on your teeth and get it over and done with. Like I'm doing now...!