Lucy and I arrived in Uganda last night after about three FULL days of traveling. It began on Monday, with me traveling from San Jose to Monterey to pick her up in our FREE rental car; white jeep that guzzled gas like mosquitos here take blood. We then drove down to San Luis town to say hello to new puppies at Vern’s house and goodbye to quintessential American life that only SLO can offer.
Driving down the coast on 101/ 1 was beautiful. And it felt like our adventure was finally beginning. We even saw a pod of dolphins around the Rincon break. We left LAX en route to Dubai on June 1st; I was anxious, excited, nervous, and already tired… this was going to be a long trip!
For everyone reading this, I would like to strongly recommend flying Emirates airlines whenever you get a chance. Yes, it is expensive, but it is worth every penny, as the service is phenomenal and the experience is exceptional. My first trip overseas back in 2006 was with Virgin Atlantic- I thought that was luxury. After a vegan meal of mushroom risotto and fresh grilled veggies, I fixed my personal touch screen video on the seat in front of me to the new Alice in Wonderland movie, reclined my seat and proceeded to doze off. I have never been one to sleep on planes, but Emirates sure did its best to accommodate travelers like myself with warm lighting and a backlit star canopy on the ceiling of the jumbo jet. Well, as luck would have it, there was a screaming child behind me that reassured everyone in steerage of its presence throughout the “night”. But all in all, it was a wonderful experience, and a great opportunity to catch up on movies and charge my mac and phone with the outlet and usb plug next to the phone on the seat in front of me… ahh Emirates.
We arrived in the UAE in the evening, and made it to our hotel (generously provided by Emirates for those who have a layover of over eight hours) and checked in. Lucy and I decided to take a late-night tour of the city- who needs sleep, right? Dubai is intense. For those of you who have not been there, it is difficult paint a clear picture, and for those of you who have- well, you know what I mean. It felt like a mirage. We drove through this tinsel-town of a middle-eastern facade with wonder and awe that people can call this place “home” and feel comfortable here. Personally, I did not have a good feeling from this place. The government is corrupt and oppressive against women. I felt like it was all a show. Our small two hour tour showed us Dubai’s hot spots- the Atlantis Hotel, Palm Island, Sheikh Saeed’s House, the Jumeirah Mosque, and the Burj Al Arab Hotel, among other sights. However, there was a sense of vacancy- if you were not a foreign billionaire staying at a luxury hotel or one of the locals who make up only 20% of the population, you were at a loss for what to do. Sure, the shopping malls boast every name brand imaginable, and sell gold like it’s no one’s business, but I was distracted by the immigrant population that make up 80% of the population. Working 12-hour shifts, you can see Bangladeshi, Indian, and South-east Asians constructing buildings in this desert “oasis” at all hours of the day and night. Our tour guide works 11 hour shifts, and admitted to making an equivalent of $450/ month. This is a great sum, he said, compared to other immigrants on temporary and extended-stay work permits who make downwards of $200/ month. Where do they live, if not in the luxury accommodations that ask $7000/ month for rent- in the “suburb” part of the town. This place is crazy. I saw numerous palaces, with highly guarded gates and escalating palm trees surrounding the property. I just cannot believe people live like this. I was bracing myself for the contrast we would be seeing in Uganda the next day- with real poverty and alternative ways of living.
After getting back to our hotel, we layed down for about three hours to “sleep” and proceeded back to the airport to board our flight for AFRICA.
This is something that I had been waiting for quite some time… and it was hard to believe that it was finally happening. I was going to Africa. I would walk on this continent that I knew was a part of me, and myself- a part of it. From Dubai, we had a short layover in Addis Abba, Ethiopia, and reached Entebbe, Uganda around 2:45 in the afternoon. The country, from the vantage point of our plane was green and lush, unlike the stop in Addis that looked arid and deserted. Uganda was beautiful, and Lake Victoria welcomed us as we touched down.
Our bodies were so confused, as our sleeping and eating schedules had been off for a few days now… physically and mentally exhausted, we were a bit discouraged to see that our hotel escort was not waiting for us at the airport. After visiting the information desk, we were approached by a man who said he was going to take us to our hotel, The Lodge. Skeptical at first, I spoke with Eddie, the manager at the Lodge, whom I had been in contact with prior to leaving for the summer. He confirmed that this driver was legit, so Lucy and I packed our luggage in the car and headed on Entebbe road to a town halfway to Kampala to set up shop for a few days before heading to city center for two months.
The road to the Lodge was something I will never forget. This was my first look at Africa, and it was shocking. I have seen videos and pictures of poverty before, but this was me seeing it first hand. I think this is an experience no one forgets. It is surreal and humbling, and makes you appreciate all you have- but only later, after a bit of reflection. In the moment, as tired as I was, I was trying to soak it all in. Dirt roads, bumpy and rock-filled divided identical scenes of dilapidated shacks, makeshift stores, cows tied up in front of plots, people people everywhere, and vibrant colors and women’s dress against the plush countryside. The smell of burning trash is one I had forgotten since time spent in central Guatemala back in high school. I can smell it now, as I am typing this. Kids on bikes, in uniforms, coming home from school; babies crying on backs of mothers, or on the strip of cement in front of the “house” while adults worked around it, women braiding women’s hair and men sitting in circles- talking, drinking, smoking. This was all our reality on the 20km stretch to our first destination.
Our driver pulled over, after seeing flashing lights and numerous patrol cars approaching. President Museveni, Uganda’s reigning president for the past 24 years was approaching and making his daily trip back to the state house in Entebbe, where he resides. He works in Kampala, and our driver confirmed that this was not an unusual sighting.
We finally made it to the Lodge last night. After checking in, unpacking a bit, and washing up, Lucy and I had a wonderful, but filling dinner prepared for us by Robert, the chef. Fried rice with veggies, decorated with thinly sliced roma tomatoes for me, the same for Lucy, only with pork left us stuffed and ready for some sleep… FINALLY! Tylenol PM is a great ally, and proved its friendship last night:)
We woke up this morning, and had a breakfast of grilled white bread with egg white, mayonnaise, tomato, and onion in the middle; a “sandwhich” in the words of Robert. Oh, the belly is feeling it now! So long vegan-ness, it was nice while it lasted. At least the bananas are fresh- soooo good! In fact, we have a banana tree in the back of our hotel.
And here I sit. In the Lodge’s lobby, hoping that my internet connection lasts long enough to post this on my newly created blog. This is an overall glimpse of my life in the past four days. I am still quite tired, and feel like I am about to explode from all the salt in this new diet, but I am sure I will adjust in the coming week. We are at the Lodge until Sunday, and are then making our way to our residence in Kampala. I am looking forward to settling down, unpacking a bit, and stocking up on some water.
It feels good here today. A little surreal to wake up in Africa… walk on this part of the Earth, and to brush my teeth with bottled water; but I am sure I will be just fine! This is a great crash course for my Peace Corps service coming up.
Thanks everyone for still reading, and let me know what you think… reactions, comments, questions… Lucy has taken some great shots, and will probably upload some soon. I am working on making a few short films while traveling, and have collected a lot of raw footage. Now, to find time to edit.
Until next time…