Wednesday, December 15, 2010

A Weekend at Jinja

From what I understand, most volunteers seem to go away for at least a weekend to do something really cool while they’re in Uganda, like white water rafting on the Nile or bunjee jumping or Gorilla trekking or big safaris, something of that sort. I was also attracted to a weekend getaway, but all it took to lure me in was the prospect of a warm shower, sunbathing and a 15,000 shilling (7 dollar) hour-massage.

Sophie (a newer English volunteer) and I left Friday morning for Jinja, the ‘adventure capital’ of Uganda. I can concur that it is definitely the Mzungu capital, if nothing else. We stayed at Hotel Paradise on the Nile, and for a little over 17 dollars a night it was as close to paradise as possible. It was clean, secure, and had a beautiful view of the Nile. It was a short boda-boda trip away from Jinja town, the source of the Nile, and almost neighbored Jinja Backpacker’s hostel, where we could organize whatever adventure our itineraries (and budgets) would allow.

Friday was kind of gloomy so we though we’d just explore the town, check out the shops and go to Backpacker’s to make plans for the rest of the trip. It was here where I was a little too excited to enjoy some more familiar tastes from home; a falafel wrap and a cold beer.

Then Sophie and I looked into a mountain bike tour. We both ride at home and had mentioned missing bike rides, so this would be fun for both of us. Herman told us Jinja is flat, and our guidebooks also said it’s a great town to explore via cycling. I think these two things made Sophie and I (both exclusive road-bikers) underestimate a 4-hour mountain bike ride through the villages of Jinja, which we enthusiastically booked for the next morning.

First it was fine. We were on paved roads and the traffic wasn’t horrendous. It was still a little gloomy so the sun wasn’t punishing us as it probably would have on a normal day. Then the further we got from Jinjatown, the less-paved the roads became. But we still weren’t on a bike path, either. I felt like a kindergartener trying to operate a jackhammer for part of it where the cracks and bumps were almost unbearable. I was shaking so hard all over, I couldn’t even see straight enough to try avoiding the bigger bumps and potholes.

Then there were the hills. Sophie mentioned wanting to weep at one point and I can’t say the thought didn’t cross my mind as well. While I know it’s physically impossible, I’m pretty sure that over the course of the ride, the hostel we started and ended at must have somehow slid up to a much, much higher elevation from when we began.

But the hills would’ve been much more manageable, if it wasn’t for the rain. Sheets of it, for about the last hour, extended by a miscommunication with our guide. Maybe it’s my American accent but I’m pretty sure “I’d like to go home as soon as possible’ sounds much different than anything that would make him think we still wanted to go on a boat in the River Nile to see it’s source… in a thunderstorm. Anyway, we made it home alright and by that night we were able to find the humor in our situation rather than steeping in frustration. We looked back and appreciated getting to see some of the homes, gardens and hilltop scenes which we never would’ve found ourselves.

We squeezed in a boat tour to the source of the Nile with a guide named ‘Shorty’ later that evening. We were lucky enough to go during sunset, which was possibly our only real window of opportunity for the duration of our trip that wasn’t in the rain or in the dark.

We figured the next day HAD to be clearer for laying out by the pool, and maybe the elusive masseuse who hadn’t been available all weekend would suddenly show up. But, Sunday came with a third day of rain (almost unheard of for this time of the year), and the massage I had been prematurely bragging about all week didn’t happen either. I thoroughly enjoyed toasted bread and cold milk on my cereal at breakfast, then we went ahead and left for Kampala.

I’ve come across a lot of situations here where I’ve reminded myself that no matter how upset or irritated I get, the outcome will only be as positive as my attitude. I think I was starting to lose that mindset at home, so it’s good being tested again in a less subtle way. I hope this will help me be more grounded and mindful while approaching similar problems in the future.



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