Monday, March 30, 2009

of tsetse flies and brake failure

I spent much of the past week with Tim, the owner of Greater Good, and One Mango Tree's biggest buyer. After two days with the ladies in Gulu, we decided to take an on-the-way-home safari at Murchison with Noela and Medi, our driver. Gulu is about a two-hour drive from the north gate of the park - on a really nice tarmac road that runs from just north of Karuma Falls out to Pakwach. In 2007, I stopped in Pakwach on a reverse trip (heading to Gulu after a safari in the park). The town must see its fair share of tourists, as it's completely packed with men selling handicrafts - little drums and funny carved men with spears balancing on a pedestal. We stopped for breakfast (roll-ex and tea), and proceeded through the north gate, treating ourselves to a self-guided game drive on the only road that goes to Paraa Lodge - where we were meeting park ranger Nelson and his boat.

Elephants road-side during our self-guided game drive

It turned out to be a beautiful Sunday, cruising up the Nile in our long, white boat. I parked myself at the bow, often hanging off the front pretending to fly. It was so relaxing that we all fell asleep at one point or another. The smell of fresh water and the sound of waves lapping against the hull set me dreaming of my family's cottage on Lake Erie. It felt a bit odd to have a wave of nostalgia for home while cruising up the Nile surrounded by hippos and crocodiles.

Me and Medi, our awesome driver, at the base of Murchison

We set off for K'la around 2 pm, hoping to reach Masindi by 3:30 and K'la no later than 6:30 pm. The gods had other plans for us. About 5k into our drive, the tsetse flies launched a full-on offensive, dive-bombing our car by the dozens. We had no A/C, so we had to choose between sweat lodge or angry biting flies. You would think we would have chosen the sweat lodge. Tim embraced his inner zen while Medi, Noela and I shrieked, cussed and swatted with hats, notebooks, hands. There was a tsetse fly massacre in our little sedan, but I'm sure we barely made a dent in the population, which lies in wait for unsuspecting tourists on their way to and fro the safari lodges.

Then, not long after the attack subsided, we lost our brakes. Noela and Tim were blissfully passed out in the back seat, and Medi calmly showed me when he pressed the brakes that nothing at all happened to slow the car. I was mildly freaked out, but Medi illustrated such calm that I decided to roll with it. Literally. We drove brake-less for one hour, until we finally arrived in Masindi (honking at pedestrians as we rolled through town). Medi finally threw the car into reverse in front of a garage and we came to a jolting halt. I must say, only in Uganda can you blow out both brakes, roll to a garage and have them repaired in under an hour on a Sunday, and for only $10. It was barely an annoyance, and gave me time to drink a bag of yogurt, eat some glucose biscuits and read about ritual murder and devil worship on the front page of the New Vision.

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