Thursday, January 11, 2007

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christmas 2006, part 2: the rest of the story

t&e arrived in uganda just before christmas as our first visitors from home. i prepared, i planned, i looked forward to their visit. as to be expected not all of the visit went as planned, but as my grandpa used to say “if everything went right, we’d never have any stories.” so, this is “the rest of the story” from christmas 2006…

our time in kampala with t&e was great. our mold escapade had just unfolded, so we were all graciously put up in luc and majo’s house next door who were on holiday with the kids in rwanda. t&e had the master bedroom, we were in the back suite, and we spent our socializing time with uno in our apartment – it was an ideal set-up. phil and i were happy to show off kampala; the places, the stories, the idiosyncrasies we’d learned after 6 months of living. you don’t realize what’s fallen into the background of recognition until you are with someone from home of your ilk, your family with whom you can share it. having visitors is an interesting cross-over of two lives. the one there and the one here momentarily overlap. it’s easier to be here when you don’t think about there, but then again it’s tons of fun to share here with there. that was new for us here and something i really enjoyed.

we hit our favorite kampala hot spots – nakasero market, the old matatu taxi park, the bugolobi indian restaurant, café pap (awful name, good coffee), the ba’hai temple (the only one in africa). i recommend all of them…if you’re looking for a quite, green-space reprieve from the dust, traffic jams, and boda craziness, go to the ba’hai temple. don’t forget to bring your binocs – it’s great for bird-watching and a picnic.

t&e came to us overland from kenya where they’d spent a week exploring on their own. we didn’t know when they’d arrive in kampala and i didn’t know if tait had received my hurried, last-minute email with directions to our apartment. they’re some of the more experienced travelers i know, so i didn’t need to worry about them but i did anyway. family will do that. i definitely did not need to worry about them adapting to africa, though, considering their travel track record, and i certainly did not. i had enough to eat up my allocated “worry time” making sure our planned trip went as planned. in my life planning leads to expectations; expectations very rarely live up to reality thereby often leading to disappointment. this is a personality trait i’m working on adapting so it doesn’t affect my life so much. anyway…

t&e decided in aug/sep that they would be visiting us over christmas. i like their system – they swap every other year’s christmas between being in the u.s. with family and traveling. we got lucky this year to be their chosen destination outside the u.s. not knowing what they’d want to do, we spent time in the fall scoping out tourist destinations in uganda to uncover some of the lesser known, more primo spots. then, in early dec tait emailed saying they wanted to see the gorillas. great, gorillas! oh no, gorillas! phil and i had easily decided that the gorillas were on our must-do list, so “great, gorillas!” but, i knew that gorilla permits were virtually impossible to come by last-minute during the christmas season considering permits are normally booked 6-12 months in advance, so “oh no, gorillas!”

i scrambled to get tickets, going to the uganda wildlife authority where they looked at me like i was crazy and calling all the tour companies in town where they talked to me like i was crazy. i responded as non-crazy as possible and kept calling, emailing, pestering until i finally found someone who said “sure, we can do that.” maybe i should’ve suspected something fishy about the only tour company left with gorilla permits 2 weeks before christmas? but every time i questioned, they came back with excellent customer service, so what was i to do but trust? the real crunch-time in the suspicion/trust tug-o-war was when i sent our tour guide to kigali on a bus with $1600 cash to purchase the only remaining 4 gorilla permits in all of east africa over christmas. the evening of the day he was supposed to pick the permits i got a call from rwanda saying no one showed up and if the permits weren’t picked by the following day, they would be forced to give them to someone else. i hung up and called our tour guide immediately, but couldn’t get thru to him for…2 days. can you imagine what was going thru my mind? i imagine you can imagine. luckily our imaginations most often land at the worst-case-scenario and in reality nothing bad came out of the snafu and our tour guide showed up in kampala a few days later with 4 rwandan gorilla permits in hand. whew. phil told me i was getting too involved as a middle-man in the trip planning. he had a point, but it’s hard for a control freak like me to let go sometimes.

FYI: if you purchase gorilla permits from a tour company, you do not need to book a tour with that company. i didn’t know that initially; i thought you could only do DIY if you purchased directly thru the uwa or rwanda office of tourism. nope, you can DIY. regardless of what’d i’d know, though, we still would’ve rented a car + driver since we’d decided that elsie (our landcruiser) wasn’t big enough for 4 people and gear and a 12+ hour drive. knees in chests on a bumpy road isn’t so comfortable.

the benefit of having a tour guide is that he removes the questions of travel – how do we get a car across the border, where will we stay, how do we get to the park? funny thing is our tour guide didn’t know the answers to any of those questions. it makes me laugh when i think about it. no matter though, we figured it all out. we made it thru uganda and rwanda, saw the gorillas, spent time on lake bunyonyi, hiked in lake mburo national park. we did it all and enjoyed it all….can’t ask for much more, really.

we used to always tell the syzygy kids that there’s nothing wrong with making a mistake, it’s what you decide to do with it that matters. i’m still learning to apply said mantra to my own life. phil chastises me for my coulda/woulda/shoulda mentality. it does no good but create regret over the past…apply the experience to change future behavior the way you want. he’s right, of course (but don’t tell him i said that). and, so is my grandpa – the events gone wrong are the ones we talk about for years.

i suspect that t&e, phil, and i will talk about this for years…

- driving 10 km in 3 hours around lake bunyonyi on one of the worst, but most scenic roads in uganda. coming around the corner to find a petrol tanker nearly on its side in the rain, muck and mud leaning on the uphill side of a one-lane road that hugged a steep drop into the valley below. how to pass? fishtail and gun it uphill in the mud while being pushed by a group of industrious teenage boys as the edge is so close on one side you can’t see it and the tanker is so close on the other you can kiss it (if you’re into that sort of thing.)

- racing to the border at cyanika to make it across before it closed (no crossing, no gorillas the next morning) only to learn we can’t get our van across. the sun’s setting and we’re stuck at a border with no vehicle to make it the rest of the way. ah, travel. we load our earthly belongings onto our backs, walk across the dead space between countries, and climb into a rattling, shaking rwandan matatu. we speed thru the dark rattling along on the best road i’ve been on in months (rwanda has real roads!) watching the colorful display of people filing past on the traditional christmas eve processional. no question we were in a new country. as simple as a line on a map and so much changes.

- staying at the overland camp at lake bunyonyi with the intent of enjoying a day of quiet r&r in a scenic locale. it was scenic and relaxing, but not at all quiet. our r&r happened to coincide with an all-out, all-day party replete with music, dancing, and shouting into microphones in typical “ugandan party” style. enough cacophony to disrupt the whole lake. tait, phil, and i opted for a walk up and around the hills. bird-watching, flowers, views, villagers, a chance to chat. make lemonade out of lemons, right?

(for more trip stories, see phil’s post.)

i wanted t&e’s visit to be perfect, but travel isn’t about perfection. travel is about the adventure. i know that, t&e know that. at a certain point, i was smart enough to remember that axiom and actually apply it to our trip which made all the difference ‘cos then i was able to enjoy rather than worry. i’ve traveled a lot in my time (latin america, europe, new zealand, asia), but after 6 months living in uganda i’m learning one fundamental difference between living and traveling. when you travel, everything contributes to the experience – the good, the bad, the ugly. you experience for 2 weeks, and then go home stocked with pictures, adventures, and stories galore. no matter how things turn out, it’s good. living is different. you don’t leave to go home…you’re already there.

i had many expectations wrapped up in this trip, but now no regrets. sure, it didn’t all go as planned, but big deal. i spent 5 days with family in a beautiful place talking, laughing, experiencing, adventuring. that satisfies my christmas 2006 wish list.

**footnote: i wrote this blog by hand on my flight from entebbe to heathrow, which is something i do a lot more of now that i live without reliable electricity. transcribing it from paper to computer happened while sitting in the very place that phil and i killed 9 hours on a layover en route to uganda for the first time a long/short 6 months ago.

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