Live the adventures of Dan Walker's travels through reading his travel journal. The travel journals are listed below in descending order of date. To search the travel journals, use the keyword search at the bottom of the page.
|Tuesday, December 04, 2001 06:24:24|
Central Africa 2001: 10 - Rwanda & Uganda
Sunday, December 2, 2001 - We had a pretty easy day of it, as our flight did not leave until 5 PM and there is not a whole lot to see or do in Kigali, or in Rwanda for that matter, other than by venturing to the National Parks to look for gorillas. This is not a great idea just now, as there are a whole lot more guerrillas than gorillas in the National Parks, most of which border Burundi and Congo (Zaire)..
The hotel had the fastest email I have encountered anywhere, so managed to get caught up there. The hotel arranged a car and English speaking driver for us - there is a lot more English spoken here, and we headed off to see the city. There are about 600,000 people here, as opposed to about 300,000 in Bujumbura. The genocidal tendencies between the Hutu and Tutsi tribes are common to both countries. Our driver, a Tutsi tribe member, lost both his father and older brother to that era while he was studying in Nairobi, so he cut his studies short to come back and head the family.
This is another pretty city which was much more developed that we had imagined. It is built on a whole series of hills in a mountainous region at an altitude of 5,120 feet, according to my GPS. Each hilltop seemed to have it's own personality and neighbourhood, one was the main market street, another government buildings, others residential districts.
We took a drive out of town to see one of the rivers that flows into Lake Victoria, where the Nile River begins. It seems several towns in this country claim to be the southernmost source of the Nile River's waters, a controversy carrying on from the explorations of Dr. Livingston and the trusty Stanley I suppose. On the way back, we passed a couple of accidents where people had driven off the road and down the embankment. Our driver explained that on Sunday people tend to go drinking, then driving - causing a disproportionate number of accidents on that day.
We eventually concluded our tour at the airport, where the formalities where quickly completed. They made up for the lack of security at Bujumbura by having us go through two complete sets of metal detectors and X-ray machines, all of which worked well. We were trying another regional airline, Alliance, who have a Dash 8. They were 45 minutes late getting going, but the one hour flight was smooth and comfortable with good in flight service.
After a time change it was after 8 PM by the time we landed at Entebbe Airport, of "Raid at Entebbe" fame. Once again customs were very fast and efficient, and we were well welcomed. There were no language problems, as this is and English speaking country. We had reservations at the Windsor Lake Victoria Hotel, overlooking the lake at Entebbe, so taxied there. The travel agent discount rate was $105, so we were expecting great things after paying $90 for the deluxe hotel in Kigali. We were to be disappointed!
When I checked my room, there were two six foot single beds in it - not the sort of thing that at six foot six I fit into very well! I mentioned it to the fellow at reception, so he gave me a key to look at a room with a regular six foot double bed in it. The room was very tiny, but it was OK for sleeping so I took it. After a hamburger and a couple of beer, we headed for bed.
I was up early and went for a walk, taking some video of the hotel and the area, and talking to taxi drivers to get a feel for the prices we would have to pay for car and driver. The hotel is located in the countryside, not near anything. A stroll through the premises gave the feeling of what was a grand old building going gradually to seed, plaster missing, cheap indoor outdoor carpeting leading onto frayed original carpet, and so on.
At breakfast Tim and I had an accommodation conference, and he didn't care one way or the other where we stayed. I'd read in a magazine on the plane coming in that the best hotel in the region was the Sheraton in Kampala - an hour away, and this was confirmed by information Tim had, so I called them. They offered us deluxe rooms at a travel agent rate of $79 per night - rooms with a rack rate of $190. I hastily accepted. They said we would not be able to check in until 1 PM as the hotel was full, so we checked out of the Windsor, hired a taxi and set off to explore Kampala.
Kampala is a traffic and smog clogged city of over a million people. It has a real skyline, with a number of tall buildings - mostly owned by the government, but things are definitely moving here. The thick smog was a big surprise, as we had not encountered smog anywhere else, including in Nairobi. Towering over the city center on the highest hill was the Sheraton, so we should be able to find our way home!
The city was not as pretty as either Bujumbura or Kigali - it was dirtier and had a lot more evidence of poverty. There is a lot of construction going on, as there was in Kigali, so things seem to be moving ahead. This city is quite hilly as well, and also has a moderate climate caused by it's altitude of 5,000 feet. It is billed as the safest city in Africa. After seeing the whole town, we went to the Kasubi Tombs in an out of the way area, where four of the earlier Ugandan kings are buried. A very knowledgeable guide gave us a great history lesson.
The tour completed we were let off at the Sheraton, where everything was crisply efficient. A beer and pub food in the Rhino Pub hit the spot while we waited for our rooms to be readied. While in the pub, the reception manager came along to say the deluxe rooms booked for us wouldn't be ready for awhile, but gave us two rooms to look at on the 11th floor, with a great view. They were great, so we said OK. We were told that as they had fans instead of air conditioning that they would reduce our cost to $59 per night. The rooms have sliding doors onto a balcony, and the climate here is great, so we said no problem. We also found out that they have a complementary airport shuttle, which will save a $25 taxi fare. Who says living luxuriously costs more! As Tim says, if they keep it up we'll be billing them for staying here. We had a great meal in the evening, accompanied by jazz piano, and off to bed.
On Tuesday morning we had the best buffet breakfast to date, and then hired a car and driver to take us to the City of Jinja, where the Nile River begins its 6,500 km journey to the Mediterranean Sea in Egypt. Apparently it takes three months for water to make the trip. Don't ask me how they figured that out! There was a nice park and monuments at the exact spot the river began. We declined the offered boat rides due to lack of time.
The City of Jinja was bigger than we had expected, with the main streets lined with old colonial buildings, most badly in need of paint and maintenance. It was the same at the port and along the warehouse area. There is a rail line from Kampala to Jinja, which is actually the port for Kampala on Lake Victoria. Here ships sail the lake for ports in Kenya and Tanzania. Apparently it was a bustling and prosperous town until Idi Amin deported all Asians and Indians from the country. Jinja was largely populated by Indians. When they left, everything froze in time and just sat there aging. This was the serious beginning of the end for the economy of the whole country, and the end of Amin as well.
We took a tour down the Nile, visiting the Owen Falls Dam and the Bujagali Falls, which are really a fierce set of rapids rather than falls. There is a rafting company that takes tours down them. It would be a short but spectacular ride over class 5 rapids.
The local paper was delivered to the room this morning, and gave some really interesting insight into the war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), formerly Zaire. As you may recall, I was very concerned about entering that country at Kinshasa, as it was said they would not let people in with Burundi, Rwanda or Uganda stamps or visas in their passports. I managed to slip through, but didn't understand the reason for the restriction.
The reason was clear in the local paper this morning. It is open news that Uganda and Rwanda are openly supporting the rebel groups in the DRC. The paper quotes the rebel leaders of complaining that a conflict between Uganda and Rwanda as hurting their support, and urging a resolution! Uganda backs two rebel factions, the RCD Kisangani and the Congolese Liberations Movement. Rwanda backs the RCD Goma faction. In return, Uganda gets to log the DRC forests, and to take out gold and other minerals. Rwanda has been exploiting DRC mines for coltan, among other things. These resources are in rebel held areas.
According to the paper, the United Kingdom want to embargo arms sales to Uganda because of this support. There is apparently about $100 million per year coming into Uganda from this project - primarily from gold. Rwanda produced 83 tons of coltan and exported 603 tons last year - the balance being taken from the DRC.
There are some interesting names here. We passed a large operation called Schmuk Investments Ltd. (Are your investments handled by a Schmuck?) Another was a pain remedy called DOOM. The bill board said, "TAKE FAST ACTING DOOM". There are many others that struck us as quite strange!
They have workable email here, so I'll get this off while the going is good. We leave for the airport at Entebbe at the ungodly hour of 5 AM tomorrow for the flight to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.