Well, with a little fear and a lot of trepidation, I set off to the Brisbane airport with Grace to take our group of flights to visit African Hearts in Uganda via Abu Dhabi and Nairobi. The first flight was a whopping 14 hour flight leaving Brisbane at 10.20pm on Friday and arriving in Abu Dhabi UAE at 6.15am the next day. We waited for 2 hours in Abu Dhabi for our 4.5 hour connecting flight to Nairobi Kenya and then waited another 3 hours for our 55 minute flight on to Entebbe Uganda. The flights were uneventful, apart from a little turbulence in all flights and the neck ache from trying to sleep in a seated position, but thankfully, 2 scotches and a sleeping tablet provided about 4 hours of broken sleep.
I must say it feels surreal to be in another country other than Australia or NZ. I expected Abu Dhabi to be an amazing sight, but I felt quite dissapointed, it was rather foggy when we arrived and I found that it looked quite unimposing, even inside the terminal! I had expected a lot more gloss and glamour from this airport but I may have thinking of Dubai.
Because we were following the sun, we left when it was dark at 10.20pm Friday 25 November Brisbane time and arrived 14 hours of flying time later at sunrise in Abu Dhabi at 6.45am 26 November. Leaving Abu Dhabi at 8.40am we flew into Nairobi arriving at 1.00pm and then leaving Nairobi at 3.50pm we flew into Entebbe at 4.45pm – a total time difference of 17 hours using just the date line but 25hrs of flight/wait times. Anyway, enough of the facts.
I think for me the most startling thing was the contrast between between what I am accustomed to as ‘life’ in Australia and New Zealand and ‘life’, normal life in Africa – Kenya and then Uganda. We hopped off the plane at Entebbe, Uganda, onto the tarmac, walked across to the terminal, walked through a somewhat dimly lit terminal building, showed our Yellow Fever cards to say we had been immunised, paid our $50 for our Ugandan visa, collected our luggage and proceeded through Customs passing armed guards and then out into the meet-and-greet area past more armed guards who were casually walking around, and then out into the car park area, promptly nearly got myself run over by drivers who were not at all concerned by pedestrians or designated walking areas. We all had 2 large suitcases and 1 carry-on bag each so 9 people packed 27 cases into 1 van and 1 station wagon and we headed to our accommodation via a supermarket to buy some SIM cards, some snacks and change some money.
And wasn’t that an eye opener. We all hopped out of our 2 vehicles at the gated supermarket, walked through a detector surrounded by armed police with machine guns and then through to the mall. I was blown away – not literally of course. Since the Kenyan mall explosion by Muslim extremists, Uganda had also stepped up security to ensure no one brought explosives into their malls. I am so pleased I had forgotten about the Kenyan bombings when I walked through the Airport in Nairobi!
As we continued on our journey to our accommodation, our driver showed us the sprawling Presidential palace, the same palace that was once home to the infamous Ugandan dictator, Idi Amin.
Now quite late, we travelled the short distance but long journey to our accommodation just outside of Kampala. We were staying for a few nights in the Adonai Guest House. The journey to the guest-house was eye opening, or was it eye popping. Ugandans drive on the left hand side of the road as we do in Australia, however, there doesn’t appear to be any road rules other than that. One lane becomes 2, with people driving on the other side of the road into oncoming traffic to pass, mainly taxi vans (with seats made from kitchen or lounge chairs) and taxi motorbikes, called Boga Bogas (sometimes with up to 3 people on them including the rider), jostle each other for road space, passing up the inside, cutting in front, zigzagging between 2 columns of traffic on a single lane road, and making the left-hand edge of the road a 3rd lane for the taxi bikes. At the roundabout, once again, no lanes that I could see, pedestrians, taxi bikes, taxi vans and normal vehicles fought each other to change ‘lanes’ to enter and exit the roundabout, I witnessed one boga boga get hit from behind as he darted in front of a taxi van, a minor verbal discussion took place and everyone carried on. I had noticed at the airport that many vehicles had bull-bars front and back and had dents all around, now I understood why! And I witnessed about another 5 near misses between pedestrians (who just walked out into the traffic yelling for the drivers to stop), boga bogas and taxi vans. In the congestion of the round about, vehicles regularly came to within 20cms of each other. At one point when we did come to a fairly major intersection with a traffic light, I was feeling rather releaved that sanity would prevail. I was however disappointed. Apparently there are no road rules and traffic lights are just a guide! There was a policeman in the middle of the road telling cars to stop and others to go as no-one was taking any notice of the traffic lights! And it did appear the drivers were also having trouble obeying the policeman as well. As we travelled a little further on we came across a vehicle with red and blue flashing lights heading towards us at pace, in the back were about 10 fully armed soldiers in camo gear heading straight for the intersection with ‘traffic lights that were for a guide only’. I might be wrong, but I think it would be a good place to restore law and order.
About 10 minutes later we arrived at our secure accommodation in Kampala, complete with 8 foot walls with coiled razor wire on top and large steel gates.
Welcome to Africa.