Today the adventure began.
First, everyone I’ve met so far at the hostel (and it’s a very social place!) has been interesting. Fairly intellectual conversation, as many of the people here are either academics doing research or volunteer work, or college students spending their summer vacations doing volunteer work. Lots of discussion of politics and the causes of poverty.
Today “D” was my hero. He’s here doing his PhD research on political conflict and yesterday he said he was going into town today and offered to show me the ropes.
The thing about a new city is not so much that it is hard to get around, but if you don’t know what you’re doing, it can be really daunting. And here (or maybe any African or 3rd world city) even more so. In Europe, you may not know how to get to a place or the minutia of how the metro works, but you have a general idea of what to expect a subway to look like and how to work. There is a general range of expectation of how a bus works. Here, where it is totally different, it is SO helpful having someone walk you through it.
D showed me how the public transport works, where to get off in town, and then showed me the major haunts such as post office, bank, some restaurants, and a really great internet cafe that actually accepts my U3 drive so I can do some online banking (though my #!@$ credit union online web page ins’t accepting my password so I will just need to try to mentally remember how much money I have in my account, as that’s the one I’m using as an ATM).
In addition to the mini-busses, you could order a private taxi for around 10x as much money, and you can get on a boda-boda which is a moped where you sit side-saddle on the back and the driver IF he knows where you want to go, takes you there. However, I’ve heard a lot about the drivers saying they know where it is you’re saying, but then drive you around with no idea and then you need to pay 8-(. Also, helmets and safety stuff don’t exist here and given how people drive, I can’t say this method appeals to me!
The internet cafe is great, around $1.25 per hour, and it’s in a shady corner of a building so is pretty cool (it’s hot in Kampala, in the upper 80s at least, I’d say).
Public transport is a converted mini-bus with 14 seats. They pick people up around town and you just need to make sure it’s going in the general vinicity you are. They give you a price (around 500-800/sh which is around $.50) and then you move into the fartherest back unoccupied seat. Inother words, if it is half empty (which it never is!), you can’t sit by the door, you always go into the back. To let people out, you may need to get out. You’re crammed in their like sardines, and there is no chit-chat, but everyone seems very nice so far. If the van is not packed full, it may wait at a stop unti it fills up. Since the driver is on the wrong side, there is a guy stationed at the door to call out to people to see if they need a ride, to collect the money and make change, to tell you how much the ride is (the amount seems a bit variable, but maybe there’s a method to the madness). If the van is full, he pretty much sits in the lap of the person on the end of the first row.
I would love to get photos, but it doesn’t seem a conducive place for taking photos. I’m trying to not stick out as a naive tourist anymoreso than possible. As everywhere when traveling, the key is to look like you know what you are doing even when you have no idea. Maybe once I’m more comfortable I’ll get some photos in.
I was able to get some photos of areas of Kampala on the drive in, and will try to post them next week. If you’re not used to African cities, it might be a bit of a shock. This is not the center-city area, which is a bit more like a crowded if shabby western city. The outskirts are really really poor. It’s definitely shocking and takes some getting used to.
One side travel note, if taking Doxycline for malaria, when it says “take with food” that means WITH food, not “some time in the near future before you eat.” I took the pill in my room about 15 minutes before breakfast thinking that would be fine, but nope – I didn’t make it. Doxy comes back up without food to hold it down. That was not fun! But, I had just gotten my breakfast so was able to make a speedy recovery and no one saw my little trip outside for a brief stomach-churn except for a an 8-week old puppy on the grounds who found my remains interesting but I was afraid might very well poison him, so I quickly poured my tea and someone’s forgotton coffee over the spot. Fortunately, puppy did not like coffee.
The hostel has been great thus far. I was in a single room about the size and interior decorator of a prison cell, but it was clean and quiet. The room was quite warm so I was happy about that. They also do laundry for 4000/sh per BAG (around $2.50) compared with around $1-2 per ITEM at the hotels in Tanzania. Will definitely partake of then when I get back from my trip, I have discovered I do not like washing my clothes in a sink. My socks never seem to dry when I do it 8-(. Now that it’s hot, I’m living in my tevas so fortunately, no need for socks except at night when it is buggy.
Unfortunately, I stupidly agreed to accept the “free” housing the hostel offeres if you go on their safari with them, which means I had to move into the dorm. Now, when you say “dorm” you think maybe rows of cots, like you see in army barracks in movies, yes?
No. This is a room about 15 x 10′ with 8 bunkbeds crammed in and people’s crap everywhere. Nor is there an easy place for me to hang my mosquito net (a necessity here) so I’ll have an interesting time of doing a makeshift setup. Since I haven’t slept there yet, I can’t say overall how the experience will be, but I”m glad I’m in a single after the trip. The difference in cost is only around $3/night and the private room is definitely worth it ($10-12 for single vs. $9ish for a dorm).
Some musings on my surroundings. For those of you who are not familiar with hostels, they are not like hotels. Well, they are in that they provide you shelter and facilities, but that’s it. You are intended to be utterly and completely self-sufficient. Also the social room is just that — social. You simply start chatting with whomever is there, locals and other guests alike. THere are a few who don’t speak much english (from Denmark thus far) but most everyone speaks english. The showers and bathrooms have been very clean, and the shower had hot water though the water pressure was really bad and it was only a trickle of water that came out.
What’s amazing is, compared to where I was staying, it would seem like it should be awful — but it isn’t. For what you get for the money, plus the environment and people, it’s really much better than some hotels. What’s REALLY interesting is for most of the people I meet there, they keep talking about how luxurious it is — that’s even for those staying in the dorms. The reason it is so great is that many of these people have spent weeks if not months in rural villages with no running water. The best they get are bucket-baths.
One college student I met who is from Harvard and doing a summer of research before spending a semester in Geneva just came back from 10 weeks in the north doing research. Today was her first hot shower since she’d started her research. Two other college students, one from Ireland and one from some college in Michigan I forget, said when they eat in their village all they eat are the local porridge and beans, pretty much every day.
Another woman is a professor from Gainesville, FL who had is only here for 5 days (was to be more but she had major flight problems) just to bring supplies to a pediatric infectious disease clinic she is working with. She says it’s amazing, the low hygene conditions, but they are the only thing available. All the kids she sees have HIV, and she says she sees more than 100+ per day, and never the same kids twice. It’s really awful.
But, on to more happy things. After here I will wander around the city, buy my copy of HP, I have solid directions on how to get back to the hostel, so keep your fingers crossed for me!
Tomorrow I’m on a three-day trip to Murchison Falls with a bunch of other people from the hostel, so no updates for a while…
Tags: Africa, Kampala, Travel, Uganda