Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Western Region

I’m at that point where I have to accept that I will be really, actually be leaving soon. That means, among other things, tying to fit in a bunch of traveling into a quickly dwindling amount of time. Something about satisfying unlimited desires in a world of limited means.

Fort Portal is a scenic little town in Western Uganda, conveniently located within striking distance of a huge national forest populated by chimps (expensive), another full of gorillas (seriously expensive), a swamp full of birds (birds? Eh. Plus don’t swamps smell bad?) and some crater lakes (wait a tick, we have one of those in Oregon).

(Can you make out the Nancy Drew Jersey?)

(One of those scenic lakes)

Seriously though, you could spend weeks there. With only a few days, we opted for the lakes. As cool as seeing chimps and gorillas would have been, I can’t complain. We camped on a hill overlooking one of these bizarre crater lakers, hiked around, swam in a waterfall and saw one of the more incredible nighttime star displays in a long time.

(Cozy, huh?)

Getting to the lakes was a bit of an adventure. Fort Portal is clearly on the whirlwind mzungu safari circuit, meaning a lot of things were geared towards fat wallets. For example, everyone expected us to just hire a private car to get places, which is just too expensive. Way too expensive. OK, not that expensive, but not that exciting either. Where is the adventure, people? So we relied on public means.

We’ve talked about public transportation in the past, but this time was a little different. I guess there weren’t enough people traveling on those routes to support the typical “14” passenger matatu taxi van, so the taxis were corolla-type cars. Typical capacity for a sedan-taxi? Seven passengers, which naturally only includes full-sized people. Kiddies go on someone’s lap, so they’re bonus and don’t count towards the total. Neither does the driver. In case you’re wondering, that’s four in the back, two in the front and one squeezed in with the driver.

(I bet this guy doesn't mind public means...)

But you know, just when you think you’ve gotten the hang of something around here, they go and change it on you. On our way back out of the lakes, we got dropped at this tiny little village/trading center by some retired British schoolteachers who rescued us from a hot, dusty walk. We talked to the taxi guys, bargained for a while and agreed on terms. Then he said “get in, we’re ready.” I only counted four passengers, but whatever. I guess we’ll just pick someone up along the way.

Sure enough, we stopped a ways up the road at a big crowd of people. They were all mobbed around something, so figured we were going to pick up a big bunch of matooke or some other delicious starchy food. As it turned out, our taxi was doubling as an ambulance. They brought over a guy on a mattress, who they proceeded to stuff into the back seat. Next stop, Fort Portal General Hospital.

Yikes. And the guy was in serious pain.

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