Got back from Murchison Falls yesterday and today came into Kampala to keep working on my Cairo ticket and to update the blog. As I get more comfortable with Kampala, I am coming to enjoy the city more and more.
Today I even did what is very like the most dangerous thing one can do in Kampala — I had a boda boda ride (I actually had two!).
Public transport is via minibuses called Matatus. I’ve described them already, but today I had an extra adventure which should give you a flavor of these. The matatu driver was unhappy with traffic, so he decided to cross over to the dirt on the opposite side of the road and managed to drive on the opposite “sidewalk” (there wasn’t sidewalk, but he did have to skirt signposts, pedestrians, and bicyclists) for about 8 blocks. Note, not OUR sidewalk, but the sidewalk on the other side, in the opposite direction of oncoming traffic. This was definitely unorthodox by Kampala standards as the other people in the car seemed surprised as well, but no one seemed very shocked. At one point we passed a traffic cop, but he didn’t seem to upset by this, he just pointed to us to get back into the road. Eventually, we had to cross back over traffic to get to our side of the road, and it was another matatu driver who let us in. They clearly band together!
A matatu costs around 700 shillings ($0.50) to go to town. But, if you want something faster and less crowded, but more expensive the boda-boda drivers cost around $0.75 to $1 to take you where you want to go. Boda-bodas are mopeds taxis with room for one behind the driver. They are everywhere and drivers will constantly ask you if you need a ride.
The moped drivers may or may not wear helmets, but the passengers certainly do not. The passengers just sit pretty as you please on the back, barely even holding on. I’ve seen women with two toddler-age kids crammed on the back of a moped. Everyone is very blaise about it.
My friends at the hostel who volunteer at the hospitals say one of the most common thing they treat are boda-boda accidents, so it is not casually that I would enter into this arrangement.
But today I needed to go to the Garden City shopping center. The Matatu dropped me off at the nearest traffic circle, and while it wasn’t that far a walk as the crow flies, but I wasn’t familiar with the area and crossing the traffic circle would have been suicide. I decide to try a boda boda because I knew it would be a short ride and I speculated less dangerous than trying to walk.
Now, as I mentioned, everyone else on the back of a boda boda just sits there side-saddle, not even holding on much. Me, I’m grabbing the shirt of my driver for dear life. Half the time I have my eyes closed. Fortunately I wear sunglasses so everyone can’t see my faced scrunched into a tiny ball of fear.
But, the driver manages to get me across the traffic circle and to the mall without a problem in about 5 minutes.
The mall was great. They had a grocery store that was huge and had a large selection of everything. I suspect it is expensive by local standards though. It had more mzungus (white folk) than I’d seen anywhere else except at my hostel. I bought more tissues, shampoo, conditioner and toothpaste, though I forgot decongestant 8-(.
I bought a cell phone that I should be able to use throughout the rest of my trip. I called my parents who were happy to hear the sound of my voice, so that was an accomplishment.
I also went to a travel agency where the woman was SO nice! She said she could see a ticket on EgyptAir for exactly when I wanted to go, but it would be cheaper if I went to the EgyptAir office. I told her I had been last week and they said they had no tickets. She called back, got the name for someone for me to speak to, and told me to talk to him when I got there. She also told me the amount so I was able to stop at a bank machine to get enough cash. This is actually the second travel agency where this happened. People are solely interested in helping you get what you need, not just to sell you something.
As a segue: I will say, this living in a cash economy is really a pain in the backside. No one takes credit cards here, so you must pay for everything in cash. US dollars would be fine, but I didn’t bring that many dollars with me and I had to use half of them for my ticket to Entebbe, so I was not eager to use more. Instead of I’ve been hitting up bank machines and because of the size of the currency, carrying around $600 US equivalent in shillings makes a huge wad of cash in your pocket! In the end, I just end up carrying around a lot more money than I’d really like because going to a bank can be a bit of a pain, and that’s your only option.
So, upon leaving the mall I had to decide whether or not to schlep back down to the matatu stop and try to cross the crazy circle, or just take a boda boda into town. I opted for the boda boda (it was only about a 7 minute ride, much closer than I expected). I have to say, other than the whole “high liklihood of death” thing, it really is a much easier way to to travel! The roads we went on were fairly mild in terms of traffic so it was actually a very pleasant ride!
So, I get to the EgyptAir office, and sure enough they have a spot for me on a nonstop flight from Entebbe to Cairo. Granted the flight leaves at 4:30am and the ticket counter is only open until 3am so I need to get there by 2:30 in the morning to check in. But, this is good as my other options would have had me having to get a 10 hour bus to Nairobi to fly out of there. All in all, I’m happy to have that resolved, and happy to unload all the cash I had in my pockets.
I’ve now spent about 5 hours at the internet cafe unable to get my photos loaded, but I am up-to-date on entries. Everything is closed down tomorrow, so bought a used Kathy Reichs novel for about $3 to read at the hostel tomorrow. I might come into town to get some ice cream though, as I found a place that looks pretty good today…
Tags: Africa, Kampala, matatu, Uganda