1/2 Marathons and rafting crater lakes oh my! Volunteer Life, Uganda

Uganda - The Volunteer Life - By Karen Graaff:

1/2 Marathons and rafting crater lakes oh my! Volunteer Life, Uganda

So it has been an even more crazy time than usual recently, thanks to the arrival of my intrepid parentals, and some serious holidaying. So, as always, the shortened version for those of you short on time or attention span…

I ran (though didn’t exactly conquer) a half marathon (more trail run than anything else!!) on 3 hrs sleep and 2 cereal bars for sustenance; met up with the parentals; went white-water rafting on the Nile; braved the Ugandan roads and Kampala traffic in our own rental car on the drive to Fort Portal (and learnt how to drive an automatic in the process); witnessed 4 traffic accidents in a week; was overwhelmed by the most beautiful crater lakes in Fort Portal; tempted fate and swam in a (beautiful) lake that’s rumoured to have bilharzia (Karen Danger Graaff laughs in the face of bilharzia!); hiked some semblance of the Rwenzori mountain foothills (though not the usual route, by any stretch!); drove by some places with less-than-happy histories (including a vocational school near the Congolese border where 60+ students were massacred by Congolese rebels); ate at the most weird Chinese restaurant in Entebbe; and am now back at KACCAD for my home stretch before heading home again in June!

I headed out to Jinja last weekend for a ½ marathon – I had to fork out some obscene amount of money to give to some gorilla charity – apparently volunteers don’t get any special rate, despite all the good deeds we’re (theoretically) already doing! Carried on my pattern of physical exertion on minimal sleep thanks to some obnoxious teenagers who stayed at my backpackers, and played “I have Never” incredibly loudly, directly outside my room until 3am. I now know exactly which of them have had sex, how many times, with who, and where. Clearly, this is knowledge that will enhance my life (and my bad temper). Thanks to my 3hrs sleep, and some minimal breakfast (Karen’s forward planning fell a bit short, and I had the grand total of 2 mini-cereal bars to carry me through) the run was HORRIBLE! Not only was it an insanely hilly and muddy trail run (meaning I accumulated about 7huts worth of mud on my shoes by half way), but I think my 2.5 months of no protein finally caught up to me, and my tendency towards iron deficiencies came back to bite me in the ass. The short version – toughest run of my life, spent half the time walking and feeling completely light-headed, nearly fainted about 5times at the end (fainting being something I’ve never done in my life before), and generally had a pretty awful time of it. I won’t even divulge my godawful time, cuz it’s embarrassing! My only consolation was that, after I finally managed to get myself upright and back into Jinja and a shower, I met up with my folks for a week of travelling and pampering – YAY J

On the Monday, my folks headed out to Mabira forest, and I went white-water rafting with Tara (my former Aussie roomie); Jeanette (my current Peace Corps compound-mate); Lara (a Brit who works with Tara); and Erin (another Peace Corps volunteer). It was a seriously awesome day, made all the more fun by the amount of time I spent out of the boat! In my defence, I only actually fell in once – the other 2 times our raft actually managed to flip completely, leaving all of us bobbing around in some fun Grade 5 rapids. I think the other girls in my raft got a little worried about me, cuz I kept loudly proclaiming how much fun it was going down rapids in the water, not the boat (seriously, it’s pretty cool) so I don’t think they were trusting me too much! They also make a DVD of the day’s rafting, and apparently our raft got pretty much the most coverage cuz our flips were so impressive. If you’re gonna bail, you gotta do it right! But, excessive dampness aside, it was such a fun day, made so much better by good company (including our guide who was a pretty good sport about being saddled with 5girls for the day!), and an awesome braai and cold beers at the end of it!

On the Tuesday, me and my folks braved Uganda’s roads and drivers (and I learnt how to drive an automatic – potentially the easiest lesson of my life), and drove ourselves out to Fort Portal (a good 6hr drive, which includes having to go through – or preferably around – Kampala and its rather legendary traffic.) We didn’t quite manage to avoid the city, but we only sat for 1hr (not too bad, for Kampala); and made it all the way out to Fort Portal in one piece – no small feat, considering we saw 3 accidents on the way out there; and considering the insanity that is Ugandan taxi, bus and car drivers.

I also managed to convince my folks to try some street food on the way – Ugandan street food really is worth it! I conned them into some street meat (super tasty kebabs, basically); gonja (sp? – bananas grilled on a braai) and rolexes (if you’ve never had one, make one – an omelette rolled up in a chapatti, with cabbage, tomato and onion – SO good!!) They were good sports about it, let it be said! Either way, it was all worthwhile.

We stayed at Ndali Lodge, just outside Fort Portal, which is the most awesome place, overlooking the Rwenzori mountains (highest mountain range in Africa, bordering on Congo), and surrounded by the most beautiful crater lakes. The one right next to us is supposed to be 120m deep – a little bit intimidating when you jump in for a swim (as was the sign warning us that there’s likely to be bilharzia in the lake!) I braved it, assuming I’d be OK if I kept out the shallows (not many of those when you’ve got 120m below you!!) But seriously, the crater lakes are stunning – old volcanic craters, with super steep, lush sides, and beautiful clear clear water – as my mom said, it made reading really tough, cuz all you want to do is just keep looking at the scenery! The Rwenzori mountains in the distance weren’t too shabby either, especially when 2 or 3 thunderstorms would roll in and get bounced back and forth for a while for our entertainment – all about the natural pyrotechnics!

We did some beautiful walking around the farm and the different lakes, and also spent a morning wandering around the Rwenzori foothills – there is an actual route there (mom and dad, I promise!), but we didn’t find it. Instead, we basically followed some local kid (erroneously introduced to us as a “guide”) through the village on the slopes of the mountain, and then back down again. We had to pay for his extensive knowledge (“it’s an insect” – thanks Sparky!) but nonetheless, it was a pretty impressive walk. That area has also had its fair share of drama coming from the Congo – as I said, a school in Kichwamba had 60+ students massacred by a Congolese rebel group (their precise political leaning and motivation is apparently unknown) – quite a sobering thought when you go by.

So we spent 3days being revoltingly colonial, eating awesome meals overlooking some of the most impressive settings, then had to (reluctantly) load back into our trusty rental to head back to Entebbe on Friday – my parents were flying out obscenely early this morning! We wandered around the Botanical Gardens a bit (I revisited the scene of my triumphant triathlon from March), and then ate at honestly the oddest Chinese restaurant I’ve ever seen. I’m at a bit of a loss how to describe it really…The guidebook did say it was the most “interesting” place to eat in Entebbe – probably can’t argue with that!

This morning, I reluctantly said goodbye to my folks (the reluctance was only partly due to the grossness of my 5am wake-up call) – honestly, it was an awesome trip (and not only cuz I got to have good meals and a hot shower every night!) and my folks impressed me with their willingness to let me dictate their holiday activities J

I then headed back into Kampala for my last week or so at KACCAD before I also head home at the start of next month – such a crazy thought, and I don’t think I’ve quite grasped it fully yet! But still 10days to get my head around it!

Either way, an awesome week of touristing was done – honestly, I would recommend it all!!! And, as always, apologies if I’ve been out of touch. But will do my best to catch up!

Lots of love to everyone

Written and contributed by Karen Graaff via Global Volunteer Network