Thursday, August 9, 2007


Although our first destination in Africa was Uganda, all of the flights to Kampala were booked, and so we had to fly into Nairobi. Our flight arrived at 4 am, not the safest time to be wandering the streets of Nairobi with all of your worldly possessions, so we passed a few restless hours in the Nairobi Airport before catching a taxi to our hotel.

Nairobi is a relatively new city and downtown is full of shiny office buildings and shopping centers. Downtown is surrounded by less desireable areas, and you need to be careful walking the streets because there is a relatively high crime rate. After catching up on our sleep, we passed our time there talking with safari operators and looking for camping gear - boring, but necessary preparation for the rest of our trip.

We were meeting our friend from San Francisco, Danielle, at a village in Uganda couple of days later, so we took an overnight bus to Mbale. We had heard travel in Africa would be long and uncomfortable, and the continent took no time breaking us in. The roads are terrible - made of nothing more than dirt outside of the major cities. The bus shakes and rattles incessantly as it navigates the potholes, tossing you up and down in your seat, and sometimes even out of your seat.

Somewhere between Nairobi and the Uganda border we were forced to a stop - where we stayed for the next 6 hours. It had rained, and the rutted dirt road turned to slippery mud that caused a truck to jack knife. The road was positioned on a steep cliff, making it impossible to move the truck in the darkness, so the traffic in both directions backed up for miles until the sun came up. After slowly creeping past the accident and onward toward Uganda, we finally reached the border.

Unlike the other borders we had crossed during the journey so far, the Kenya/Uganda border seemed rather amorphous. There were no fences or heavily patrolled gates, just a stretch of land with a series of run down wooden buildings where you had to fill out some forms and pay money in order to get the right stamps to continue on. There were hundreds of people milling about, selling bananas or wristwatches, offering rides on the back of their bicycle, or trying to exchange your Kenyan Shillings for Ugandan ones.

We had to leave the bus to navigate this chaos on foot and then wait for it again on the other side. In the hour or so that passed, the fear that we'd never see our belongings again definitely crossed our minds more than once. But, the bus finally arrived and we were on our way to Mbale, a rambling town (or the 3rd largest city in Uganda, depending on how you look at it...) nestled in a valley and surrounded by lush green mountains. Mbale has nothing special going for it, but after having to watch our backs every second in Nairobi, we enjoyed just being able to mill about among the people in the busy streets, none of whom looked anything like us. Yes, we had finally arrived!

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