Friday, June 17, 2011

Nile rapids near Jinja... and Stuart’s birthday treat

No, the birthday treat wasn't white water rafting, it was (surprise, surprise) golf.  The ‘treat’ bit was being allowed to play on two consecutive days, but we’ll come to that later.

First, the rapids.  We’d already seen the much diminished Ripon Falls (basically a slight swirl in the water) and the rapidly diminishing Bujagali Falls.  Now it was the turn of Itanda, the Bad Place.  No plans to flood these rapids yet.

We did 'rapids for wimps'.  That meant that we took the car.  We turned due north out of Jinja on a tarmac road which soon became murram as we travelled beyond the pricey Jinja Nile Resort.  Jinja is a faded Indian-built town, its peaceful tree-lined colonial streets reminding you of languid afternoons of tea and tennis.

A comfortable house in one of Jinja's attractive streets.
One of Jinja's Hindu temples, near the Nile.
The road north had never been part of the colonial scene, so ‘faded’ wasn’t part of it.  We drove through busy trading centres avoiding the bicycles and bodas.  The usual ramshackle one- and two-roomed houses lined the road, families living their lives out in the open, children playing in the compound, carrying water and firewood or herding cattle, women stripping ears of corn and heating food on three-legged charcoal stoves.

Typical village house with nice tidy compound and matoke trees.
We turned off onto narrower country roads.  We wanted to see how far the engineers had got with the new hydro-power dam downstream from Bujagali.  Quite far, not particularly impressive at this stage, but we are sure it will improve.  Sad to see the Nile change in this way, but Uganda badly needs the benefits which access to a reliable electricity supply will bring.

Bujagali dam - there's a river somewhere.
From the Bujagali dam we followed the lanes north, deeper and deeper into the Busoga countryside.  This is one of the poorer areas of central Uganda, renowned, sadly, for its endemic jigger infestations.  Certainly, the children we passed were mostly barefoot, though they could have been saving their shoes for school, for it was a Saturday.  They were very poorly dressed. The most common garment – for boys and girls alike – was a filthy over-sized and dramatically ripped adult tee-shirt, reaching to the knees and hence disposing of the need to wear anything much underneath.  However, again, you need to be careful about making hasty judgements. Yes, it could be neglect, for most of the adults we saw wore perfectly clean if faded clothes.  However, we rarely see children wearing ripped and dirty school clothes. My guess is that precious school clothes are kept in good condition and, at the weekend, the children change into any old rags because they live in a dusty and sometimes muddy environment and spend their time playing in the compound or, more often, doing domestic tasks.  After all, clothes aren't really necessary in the warm Ugandan climate: a hundred years ago children would have worn virtually nothing.

As we drove we saw them carrying their hoes, off to dig the ‘garden’: not regimented lines of snapdragons but neat rows of banana and maize. Children and adults thronged the road carrying enormous bundles of cattle fodder.  The lucky ones had bicycles.  We didn't take many photos of family life for we were driving right through people's compounds and to do so, we felt, would have been intrusive: people are not animals in a zoo, after all.  We did manage to snap a few road scenes, though, taken through the windscreen, so a bit murky-looking, I'm afraid.

Carrying cattle fodder.
Bikes are better than heads...
Pineapples off to market.
Papyrus for mats, roofs and walls.
Every few yards there would be a school or the signpost to a school. Soft Power Education is an NGO with a very significant presence in the area. Their distinctive school signs indicated which schools had received their support. One look at the buildings showed you the impact.  These were lovely solid watertight structures, such a change from the usual tumbledown buildings we see.  Buildings do matter: if nothing else, they tell children that they, and their education, matter.

Soon we reached Itanda itself.  We parked the car high above the Nile and walked down to the Falls.  Itanda means ‘the bad place’ and we could see why.  We imagined being nineteenth century explorers placidly floating down from Lake Victoria and then realising to our horror what was in front of us. Well, perhaps not quite ‘placidly’, for by the time they got to Itanda they would already have navigated the Ripon Falls, Owen Falls and Bujagali Falls.  Still, Itanda is in a different league from Bujagali, and the Ripon and Owen Falls are no more. Just across the river we could see the Kalagala Falls.  Placidity didn’t come into it: barely 15 kilometres from Lake Victoria and already plenty of opportunities to drown.  We counted five.

Wild water rushing down the Itanda Falls.
A bit quieter but still a pretty bumpy ride.
A good view from the top of the lower falls at Itanda.
An island in the Nile, with fishermen and fish eagles.
A bucolic backwater scene - almost like Scotland.

We had no intention of drowning, however, so no white water rafting for us.  A quiet drink at the Jinja Nile Lodge, looking across the eponymous river, then back to our hotel further upstream, in an earlier life a presidential rest house.  

View across the Nile from the Jinja Nile Resort.
Then golf of course for Stuart where, I heard, he was ‘brilliant’ and some shopping and a pleasant walk for me.  That is something I really miss, for Kampala is not the kind of place where one walks for pleasure: if you’re not looking at your feet to make sure you don’t fall down a broken manhole or splash through a sewage-laden ditch, you’re looking directly onto the road so that you’re not run over by a madman on a boda.

The next day, however, combined another pleasant walk for me and my camera, this time on the golf course, and an extremely frustrating round of golf for Stuart.  I keep telling him to take up another sport, like tiddlywinks for instance, but he never listens…  

A point being made here, perhaps, about a more discriminatory past.
Near the start.
Further on.
Mind you, the competition was stiff, and there were an awful lot of onlookers. They may have put him off.  Some of them clearly thought that his play was nowhere near up to scratch.  That’s what comes of playing golf on two consecutive days.  Perhaps he’ll learn one day.

Stiff competition from this budding golfer.
In the rough.
In the rough again - it was the tree's fault.
And again.  Where's that ball?
Not in the rough this time.
The resident cow continued chewing, unimpressed.
The goats dropped off to sleep.
Embarrassed, the monkeys turned their backs.
A final look...
But no, it was too painful......
Even the maribou storks took a quick look...
...then they too stalked off.
However, all good things come to an end.

Chipping onto the final green.
Whew, we're nearly there: the 9th hole.

So it was back to Kampala, along the leisurely back road via another civilised drink, this time at The Haven.  It was here we realised we had counted wrongly after all.  Six opportunities to drown, not five, for there were the Overtime Rapids in front of us: we'd forgotten about them. We thanked our lucky stars we were no longer young.  No rafting for us. It had been a good birthday treat, despite the golf, and now it was time to go home.

View of the Overtime Rapids from The Haven.
Happy birthday, Stuart!

PS If you'd like to find out more about Jinja, why not read this post: Our intrepid explorers reach the source of the Nile... and Jinja Golf Club (Golf courses of Uganda Part 5)

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