The breeze was slapping on my face, stretching as much skin as possible, until the matatu ground to a halt in what looked like a small market. It didn’t take long for the fast-food peddlers to shove in my face sticks of what looked like grilled meat that stayed too long in the fire, which I wouldn’t have minded eating until Dilman reminded me that we were only thirty minutes from Jinja, and that I could down all the burnt meat I want by the side of the Nile. It’s all about ambience.
|No lunch? No problem.|
Fair enough, we arrived in Jinja in no less than twenty minutes—thanks to the driver who seemed to think the world would end if he slowed down to 100 kph. Well, the world slowed down all right, for even if Jinja was a former industrial capital during the pre-Amin period, it was a laid-back touristy town that reminded me so much of Siem Reap in Cambodia and Pokhara in Nepal. Old Indian-style buildings dot the small town, which lend it a charming and almost nostalgic feel.
|A taste of India in Uganda.|
I was getting a bit jittery and needed a sugar high, so we went to the nearest café, Source Café, which unsurprisingly was brimming of tourists because apparently it’s highly recommended by our friends in Lonely Planet. And indeed it fulfilled my sugar craving with a big glass of banana smoothie and a cinnamon muffin, without feeling like I was ripped off. So with my energy levels skyrocketing again, we wasted no time and took a boda-boda to the Source of the Nile.
We paid entrance fees— 2,000 shillings (70 cents) for Dilman as he is a local, and 10,000 shillings (3.5 USD) for me because I spoke. Next time someone should remind me to keep my mouth shut, because I could easily pass for a Ugandan (yes, some women in Uganda are light-skinned), only if they don’t hear me talk. Anyway, since we came on a weekday, the place was mostly deserted except for the park, shop, restaurant keepers, and a couple of tour guides waiting for customers to fall from the sky. In fact, one (Richard) followed us around and offered us an hour’s boat ride for 90,000 shillings (around 32 USD) to see the “Source.” Now that wasn’t really part of the plan. All I wanted was to see the River Nile and Lake Victoria, take some photos, eat, and get back to Kampala. But Richard already had a plan for us.
Of course, I couldn’t go on a boat ride in an empty stomach, so we had to eat again in a restaurant that didn’t have everything on its menu but fried tilapia, and there was no rice. There wasn’t even burnt meat on sticks that I was looking forward to eating. I was about to start walking out until I saw how beautiful the view was from that restaurant. The lake looked so calm with birds hovering about, which made me more excited to go on that ride.
|A view from the restaurant.|
Before we were off to our cruise, we had to pay respect (not compulsory) to the late great Mahatma Gandhi, whose bust stood shining against the Ugandan sun at the side of the river. In honor of his death wish, his ashes were scattered in the world’s longest river (the Nile).
|Reiza meets Gandhi|
So off we cruised the Nile River, where water pours in heavy currents out of Lake Victoria. We came around what used to be the Ripon Falls, a nature’s wonder that submerged after the building of a dam. As I was talking about how these dams destroy nature and such, Richard was spitting out names of birds like there’s no tomorrow. Uganda is a bird watcher’s paradise, and Dilman was so fascinated he was obsessed in taking bird photos until we came to an island full of birds and glimmering in whitish bird droppings. You can even smell it from afar.
|Off limits to non-birds.|
We stopped at a small island where the explorer John Speke erected a marker indicating the spot where he believed the Nile started, and where Lake Victoria meets River Nile. Apparently, the Nile River runs north from Uganda and up through Egypt and empties into the Mediterranean Sea. Now my little brain refuses to fathom that because in the map, Egypt is north of Uganda, so should it be that the Nile starts in Egypt and goes down into Uganda and empties into Lake Victoria, right? Quite confusing really.
|Who says it’s in Egypt?|
One hour was up, and we were just about docking when Richard pointed out a rotting boat at the bank of the river. It was supposed to be the boat that Prince Charles and Princess Camilla took to see the “Source.” Interesting. But shouldn’t it be in a museum instead?
|The love boat.|
To end our day, we went back to Jinja town, bought a few souvenirs and took a matatu back to Kampala. We pulled off near Mabira forest, one of the few rainforests in Uganda, a portion of which is now threatened to be given away to sugar companies for sugarcane plantations. As President Museveni said, “You can’t put trees in your tea.” Quite a character.
The rest of the trip to Kampala was uneventful except for the wonderful sunset that wrapped the land in a golden mist. I knew then that I found my own little “source” of peace.
|A little piece of heaven.|
Photos by Dilman Dila
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