Day 35 – Katunguru to Kabale
I was up and waiting by the side of the road at 5:30am. John had wanted to get an early start and that was the time we had agreed to meet.
Now I’m not sure if you are aware of this, but if its 5:30am and you ever find yourself standing by the side of the road on the edge of a town without street lights (or much electricity of any kind actually), in the middle of nowhere Uganda, you will probably notice one thing… its pretty dark. I mean, really, really dark – like so pitch black you can barely see your hand in front of your face dark.
I had navigated to my spot at the edge of town by way of my head torch but with its battery running desperately low, I was forced to sit down on my backpack in the dark and just hope that John would see my silhouette in his headlights and not just drive right on by.
Unfortunately, this left me with nothing to do but wait while my overactive imagination ran wild. I like to think that I’m not the kind of guy who scares easily but initially, every rustle in the bushes or puff of wind through the trees had the hair on the back of my neck standing on end. I kept thinking about what the Belgian couple’s guide had said about the lack of fences around the game reserve – we were at least a dozen kilometres from the park, surely the animals didn’t range that far away at night… or did they?
Nonetheless, after another 10-20 minutes I was eventually able to smother the rising fear and gather myself. Despite having sat by the side of the road in the dark for close on half an hour, I had yet to be devoured by some wild beast… maybe I would be okay after all. I finally began to relax.
Actually, I had become so relaxed that I didn’t even notice that I had been joined by a woman – a discovery that, once realised, made me decidedly unrelaxed! Where had this woman come from? How long had she been standing there? How the hell did I not notice her?!?! These were just some of the questions racing through my mind as I sat there too afraid to move or make a sound? Could she see me, did she even know I was there? Of course she could, if her sight was good enough to make it to the side of the road without a torch, she could sure as hell see me.
Although she was no more than 10m away and my eyes had almost half an hour to adjust to the darkness, I could barely make out more than the outline of her in the dark. My heart was beating out of my chest and my mind was racing, that overactive imagination which I thought I had squashed was back again. Its strange because I didn’t feel threatened, I wasn’t worried that she would harm me – she was merely standing there waiting for something – but the knowledge that someone (or something) could creep up on me like that was incredibly disconcerting.
It wasn’t until I heard a vehicle roaring through the silence of the night that I realised why this mysterious woman was standing there. She was a fellow traveller waiting for the pre-dawn minibus to god only knows where. It turns out that by complete and utter coincidence I had chosen the local ‘bus stop’ as the place to wait for John.
The van screeched to a halt right in front of us and the woman moved forward and loaded her bag, a young baby – which I had not noticed until her full form had been revealed by the glow of the van’s headlights – was strapped to her back in the traditional fashion. I remained seated by the side of the road, making no movement towards the bus. The van’s conductor stuck his head out the window and stared at me for a long time – probably wondering what the hell I could be doing waiting with a bag on the edge of town in the pitch black darkness of pre-dawn, unless I wanted to take the bus. By this time the lady (bub, bags and all) had completely loaded herself into the van. The conductor hesitated a moment longer, scoffed at me with a mix of impertinence and confusion before banging on the passenger side door to signal for the driver to get going, which he did just as quickly as he had arrived.
Interestingly, this wouldn’t be the only time that I found myself waiting by the side of the road for a ride in the pitch black early hours in some town in the middle of nowhere. And I’ve decided that no matter where you are, its always scary as hell!
It was another half an hour before the sun finally peaked its little head up and by the time John and the others arrived it had well and truly risen. I’d lie if I said I was thrilled about having to sit by the side of the road for so long (especially in the dark!) but I was becoming more and more accustomed to what is commonly referred to as ‘Africa Time’. And besides, I was just happy for the lift and the company.
We drove in convoy, John’s friends following behind. Although Kigali (and Kabale) was in the complete opposite direction, we were headed to back towards the park. Someone had told them that they could find lions in some remote corner of the park and the group was determined to get a glimpse before the trip back to Rwanda. As for me, I was in no rush and simply happy to augment my brief safari experience from the day before.
Turning off the main road and heading for lion territory, we hadn’t gone far before we came across the sign in the middle of the road that read “Road Closed 50km Ahead”. John, with his typical Texan bravado was unperturbed by this so we drove on anyway. Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, after crossing some 50km or so of shockingly poor dirt road we came across a bridge which had been washed away. There was still a continuous strip of dirt from one bank to the next but on closer inspection it became apparent that the strip was little more than a foot or so thick, underneath which was a gaping cavity of about 2 meter with a gentle stream running beneath it. We debated the next move for some time – John was all for trying it of course – before eventually resigning ourselves to the fact that we would have to turn around.
The backtracking over that 50km of junk road was slow going and on reaching the main road we decided to cut our losses and simply head straight for Kabale. Even despite the unnecessarily early start and the ill-fated lion excursion, I didn’t really mind. I was just grateful for the chance to chat with John and his mates, who were all involved in the same program and also seemed really interesting.
We reached Kabale around lunch time and made finding a restaurant priority number one. With no breakfast in my belly, I decided to splurge and ordered a steak. While not the best I’ve ever had, it was still a memorable experience as it was the first I’d had since touching down in Africa!
I said farewell to my new friends as they hopped back in their 4x4s and headed on to Kigali. Meanwhile, I went in search of a hostel (Edirisa) which I found easy enough thanks to my Lonely Planet guide. I checked in and was escorted to my room where I met some cool Canadian girls. After the morning’s exertions I felt like taking it easy so just spent the rest of the day hanging out around the hostel sampling the local beer and swapping ghost stories with my new Canadian buddies.