Wednesday, March 10, 2010

A Day in Jinja

Friends: I suddenly feel quite safe traveling with Ingo. As we were bicycling out to Bugali Falls this morning, a series of Class 5 and higher rapids on the Nile less than ten miles from where it begins its journey to Cairo from Lake Victoria, someone along the road shouted at us, "Chuck Norris!"

Ingo bears such a similar resemblance to the action film star, who evidently is quite popular in Africa, that he says its not unusual to hear such a reaction in Africa, even when he's wearing a baseball cap and sun glasses, as he was today. Also like Norris, Ingo is quietly self-assured and soft-spoken and unboastful and has a good heart.

People occasionally take advantage of his easy amenability. In Nairobi someone claiming to be Sudanese asked for his help. Ingo was willing to listen to his story. Soon after three Kenyan police officers interceded, saying the man was a known con artist. They wanted to know all he had told Ingo. Then they asked to search Ingo's belongings to see if he had planted anything on him. Ingo grew suspicious of them and asked to have the inspection continue at a police station. At that the officers and the Sudanese disappeared, all in on the operation.

On his first trip out of Europe, not even twenty years old, he was scammed in Morocco by a young man he met on a train who invited him to his home. The guy stole his camera. When Ingo demanded it back, he told Ingo he would tell the police he was trafficking in drugs. It was Ingo's third day in the country. He was headed to Marrakesh, but he was so unsettled by the experience he fled back to Spain.

The experience though did not discourage him from further travels. As extensively as he has traveled, his widowed mother still wishes he would settle down. She worries so much that she breaks into tears at his every departure. But travel is his life and there is no stopping him. I can certainly relate.

In our five days together he has maintained a blissful calm with nary a complaint, even casually recounting with no rancor spending two nights in jail in Syria, suspected of being a spy for taking a photo of something he shouldn't have. All the stories and his easy-going demeanor make him as fine a traveling companion as I've encountered.

He was a tad perturbed, though, when we were turned away from the Nile Beer Brewery just across the dam from where we are staying. Lonely Planet said it offered free tours. One only needed to call a certain number to arrange the tour. Our campground did not have a phone, so we just biked the mile to the brewery to arrange the tour in person. The guards knew nothing about tours, nor would they call the number or allow us in to reception to make a call.

As a German, Ingo knows and appreciates beer and was quite eager to see this plant. The three guards obstinately refused to budge, finally saying that even if they called the number and a tour was set up, Ingo would not be allowed in because he was wearing sandals. I looked a little more presentable in my button down shirt, but that wasn't enough for the guards to show us any favor.

We had several offers of a quick boat trip at Bugala Falls in the calm water between two of the major rapids, or we could have splurged and paid $125 for a four-hour raft trip through the falls. We declined them all. We were joined by a 72-year old woman from Dallas who had just served a year in the Peace Corps in Namibia, cutting her stint short out of frustration of not being allowed to do anything. She was now living in northern Uganda working with her son's girl friend helping women. She said the area was overrun with some two hundred NGO workers.

Her son is a security specialist working for the US embassy in Kampala and had her full of worries. He told her before she accepted a ride from a motorcyclist, the typical taxi here, she should write down its license plate number and inform the driver that she was calling her son to let him know, as such drivers were known to kidnap whites and steal their belongings. She actually nearly had it happen, but insisted the driver stop when she realized he was taking her in the wrong direction.

She was presently taking a break from her work to take a tour with several of her younger Peace Corps co-workers, who had all taken the raft trip. She was an amazingly vibrant and spirited woman who looked much younger than her years.

After several hours at Bugali Falls we went in search of Lake Victoria here in Jinja. The heart of the city is more than a mile from its swampy shores. The central street through the town center dead ends at a prison on the shore of the lake. The fishing pier is a mile down the other road that intersects the middle of the city dead-ending on the Nile. We were halted by a security guard when we reached the quiet pier. He said if we bought him a soda he would show us around. Since there wasn't anybody about or anything to see, we declined his offer. As at the other major cities on the lake in Kenya and Tanzania, the lake shore offered no beaches or attractions to speak of other than a skimpy golf course with no golfers and a boarded up yacht club. With its shore line swampy, its not even prime real estate.

There are beaches to be found on the Ssese Islands, a cluster of 80 some islands a couple hour ferry trip from Entebbe. If I make it back from Murchison Falls with time to spare before my flight home in twelve days, I could pay the islands a visit for a little final R&R.

Later, George


Stan said...

Is there a reason why we only get Ingo's first name? I would be very interested to find out if he has an Internet blog or webpage.

Stan said...

It's been almost a week since the last posting. I hope George is okay. I know I'm getting "George posting withdrawal symptoms."