My finances had dried up and I wasn’t looking forward to staying in all week-end with only 10,000 shillings (£3) to survive on until payday this week. After only 3 sessions, the English conversation class I’ve been giving has been put on hold.
I was going stir crazy. “We’ve been working far too hard for volunteers!” Stacey and I agreed, only half-jokingly. I’d produced four proposals in two weeks and I needed to get out of town. When my colleague asked me how he could thank me for my hard work, I immediately said “take me on your next field trip!” But as the week passed, the car filled up with researchers and so I was left behind in Kampala to stew in my very lovely house. Since the organisation office is in my spare bedroom, it can be difficult to switch off from work, especially when you’ve been working long hours.
And then out of the blue came an invitation to accompany fellow VSO volunteer Jan and a visiting Irish Member of Parliament for a week-end in Jinja. Touch!
Jinja sits on Lake Victoria, three hours drive east of Kampala. For Ugandans it’s a symbol of the country’s industrial heyday but I find the derelict factories and the run-down 1950s architecture depressing; it could have been so different. For visitors however, Jinja’s famous for being the Source of the Nile and the adrenaline capital of East Africa.
First stop Bujagali Falls. The power of the Falls is immense. Seeing them brought back thrilling memories of my rafting trip with Adrift in February. Our timing was spot on: a group of rafters and canoeists – there to heave rafters out of the water if the raft overturns – were approaching the Falls. I had butterflies in my stomach. Were these the Falls where we’d flipped over and I’d panicked?
The rafters floated on downstream and we stopped for lunch at the Fork and Paddle, a high vantage point overlooking the river. The sun was beating down and for a moment I thought I was on holiday.
As we left Bujagali Falls, three big buses thundered past us at speed, throwing up billowing clouds of thick dust. How blessed were we to have been virtually run off the road by the visiting African Anglican Bishops.
Kingfisher “Safari” Resort offers no chance of game viewing but does have a beautifully landscaped view of the lake through lush vegetation and palm trees of varying heights. We loved the funky bandas and it was great to be in the water after a muggy dusty day.
We’d promised VSO we’d take good care of our guest so we had to laugh when, en route to dinner along the Kanunga Road our car ended up in the middle of a heaving mass of several hundred people, shouting, dancing and ululating. As we waited for the crowd to pass, it changed direction and moved towards us. We were stuck. People gestured us to drive forward. People beckoned us to reverse. In the build-up to the general election next year, we had ended up slap bang in the middle of an election rally of not one, but two, candidates. It was market day and the whole world was out on the street. Resplendent in gold and yellow – the dominant colour of the National Resistance Movement that has been in power for 24 years – the lady candidate danced and laughed with the crowd.There’s not a whole lot going on in this neck of the woods so, regardless of your political colours, you’ll get a good turn-out if you roll up with a big sound system. You have to wonder how many of the cheering crowd will actually vote though.
On our guided tour along the randomly designed wooden walkways, we murmured approvingly at the way the walkway had carefully been built around the trees. The individual bandas are large and stunning, each with their own private decks. I thought of how relaxing it would be to go to sleep to the sound of the falls.Every element of the construction is unique: the Zanzibaran wood carvings above the doorways, the granite hand basins, the natural rock pool next to the Falls that will soon be the lodge’s swimming-pool. There is power now – hydroelectric of course – but during construction there was none so this amazing project was all done by hand. It has to be seen to be believed so do take a look at their web site (my night time shots don’t do it justice).
Much of the activity is based around Adrift. It’s an impressive set-up which really has trickle-down benefits to the local community, employing 60 people in the villages along the route of the rafting.
It may prove pointless for Jan to have finally mastered pronouncing the tonguetwister that is Bu-ja-gali Falls “think budgerigars Jan.” 3km of the Nile will be submerged next year upon completion of the dam, at which point the rafting operations will simply shift slightly further down the river. The lodge isn’t yet open to the public so we were delighted to have a sneak preview. We were in good company of course: Joanna Lumley stayed here while filming for the BBC last year. [Note to father – I have kissed the man who’s kissed Joanna Lumley - much closer than you’ll ever get!]