Editor’s note: Polly Crawford was a reporter and associate editor of The Peninsula Clarion from 1985-1988, when she wrote “Perils of Polly.” She also has written a series of “Peril” columns about Australia, Asia, Central and South America. Her perils continue in Africa.
Fort Portal is probably Uganda’s nicest city, and it is the gateway to Kibale National Park, home to habituated chimps. Mary Greene and I had entertained the idea of tracking chimps, but after the gorillas, I was done with tracking primates. I was OK not seeing chimps, but I wanted to drive through Kibale.
We really didn’t understand we were heading north to extreme heat, dust, flat tires, and tsetse flies. Africa!
Fortified with a good spare tire, we headed toward Kibale. Ali took us to one resort which had beautiful grounds on a lake. Mary and I checked out the room and found no working screens on the windows and a cockroach scurried across the bed as we entered. I think not. They definitely put more money into landscape than rooms.
We headed to CVK resort, recommended in our Bradt guide. The road was a “proper road,” Ali said, but we bottomed out and the trees brushed the sides of the car. It was more of a four-wheeler trail. We drove through Kibale and saw three different kinds of monkeys, including the black and white colobus, but they were high in the treetops.
CVK turned out to be one of our worst places, although we didn’t see any cockroaches. It was just dirty, with toothpaste still in the sink from the previous guest. But the location was awesome, on the “lake of frogs,” and the screens allowed some air into the room. They said dinner would be at 7, which I welcomed because we hadn’t eaten since breakfast. But 7:30, 8, and 8:30 passed, and no food, as we sat right next to the kitchen.
I asked about it, and finally, at 8:45, out came a shriveled up piece of chicken with fried cabbage, for the equivalent of $9 — our most expensive meal yet. They knew we were not too pleased, so breakfast was a little better.
Murchison Falls was a long ways north, so our goal the next day was to drive. We got one more flat tire and Mary and I watched the immaculately and colorfully dressed Ugandan women walk to church along the red dusty road while Ali changed it. We also got stopped by a policeman for no reason who took Ali behind the car, out of our sight, and held out his hand. Ali wouldn’t give in, so we drove off. He said if he didn’t have two Americans in the car, he would have had to pay a bribe. The police officers were afraid of Americans complaining to the embassy. Ali complained bitterly about the corruption of the police. They won’t investigate crimes unless the victims pay them, plus they receive bribes from the criminals, too.
As we crossed the boundary into Murchison Falls National Park, smoke mixed with the dust. It was the dry season, and they burn off the entire park. It didn’t seem to bother the waterbucks, baboons, giraffes, and kobs.
Three more hours of driving, and we finally made it to the Nile River. The cheapest place we could find and not have to camp was the Nile Safari Lodge for $240 per night! For that we got a tent with a broken zipper, stifling heat, hot shower water no matter what since the holding bucket was black, and occasional water from the sink. I wonder who is getting rich in Africa? Ali said it is the politicians.
But we also got great meals, a view of the Nile, and a swimming pool which we used a lot! In fact, I jumped into it before going to bed so I could cool off. The shower was too hot.
We booked the afternoon Nile River cruise, so we decided to head to the top of Murchison Falls for our morning activity. Gravel, dust, and heat, once again, but an added hazard: swarms of tsetse flies. Now I understood why Ali drove so fast on the gravel roads. The moment he had to slow down to go around a rocky curve, swarms of tsetse flies charged through the open windows. “Close the windows!” I shouted, cranking mine up. We began batting and smashing in a frenzy. As soon as Ali rolled his window back down, more buzzed in. “We have to keep the windows closed!” I yelled in the sauna-like sweltering car. I turned on the fan. We could see the tsetse flies still trying to get into the car.
It was a 40-km trip. That’s a long time suffocating in a closed up car! When we got to the falls parking lot, I bolted out of the car and toward the falls to avoid the tsetse flies. The falls put off a cool mist which we relished. But we couldn’t stay forever, and when we returned to the car … another flat tire! Poor Ali had to battle tsetse flies and the heat to change it.
The Nile cruise was fine, and, thank goodness, without tsetse flies. We saw lots of hippos, elephants, crocs, warthogs, waterbucks, a monitor lizard, and colorful birds. Some of the clientele got a little drunk and obnoxious, but Mary and I just went to the top of the boat. We had to stay out of the sun, so welcomed the clouds that came.
The next day was our last. We got up early to cross the Nile on the ferry, see more animals, and head back toward Kampala on wonderful paved roads. We passed some new mud huts, and Ali told us they were new because this was the area the Lord’s Resistance Army burned out, killing rampantly, raping women, and conscripting male children. He told us the story of how the British owner of the Red Chilli Lodge, next to where we stayed, was murdered by the LRA while trying to save some tourists. That was in 2005. He apologized for the aloof manner of the local people in the area. He said they have a hard time trusting people.
One more flat tire later, and we finally cruised through Kampala and pulled into the Lake Victoria Guesthouse in Entebbe, which turned out to be a decent place. We had dinner at a nice restaurant with Ali, and prepared to fly to Zanzibar the next day. I was glad to be done with Uganda! What would Zanzibar be like?
Check next week’s Recreation page for more of Polly’s perils.