Ssese My Bikini

So here I was, clad in bikini, sun hat, and shades. A half-read book and a bottle of SPF 70 lotion lay idle next to my beach towel on the chair. A cold chill filled the air, annihilating what was left of the sultry afternoon.  A swarm of lake flies hovered over my head.  Not exactly my idea of beach bumming. Not when I was inside a hotel room surrounded by vine-covered trees and tsetse-fly traps.

Okay, how exactly did I get here? Two days before, I was seen navigating through Kampala’s infamous mud, trying my best not to get my feet dirty like a circus performer walking on thin wire, as I squeezed myself in between taxis they call kamunye in the local language.  It wasn’t a walk in the park, to say the least, and I had to bear the stares of a few people, who must have thought I was being prima donna and advised Dilman to “carry the white man’s daughter.” Normally, I would have felt insulted because I never considered myself to be a white man’s offspring (whatever that means) and I sure hell can wade through waist-deep mud if need be. But well, I was too busy to react. After around 10 minutes of tiptoeing around the “old taxi park,” we shoved ourselves into the back of a kamunye. I immediately fished out some wet wipes from my backpack and vigorously rubbed my feet and sandals clean—still to the amusement of the audience that I’ve accumulated in the process.

It took around thirty minutes for the flying kamunye to reach Entebbe.  We alighted at the public park. Not that there was anything special to see, but simply because we didn’t know where we were going. Parks are haven for backpackers—to while time while waiting for the night bus and save on accommodation, or to figure out where to go next, or simply to have an excuse not to look lost and stupid. Good thing there was a monument of two soldiers—one looking through a telescope and one holding some kind of grenade. So at least there was some point of “interest” while Dilman negotiated with a boda-boda driver to take us to the dock where we’re supposed to take the ferry to take us to Buggala, one and the largest of the 84 islands that make up the Ssese archipelago in Lake Victoria.  We paid 1000 shillings (around .50 USD) each for a scenic roller-coaster ride to the dock surrounded by a fishing village.

There were two ferries. One was already full (of life-jacket-clad passengers) when we got there at around 1 PM, because it was a government-run service and hence for free. We, therefore, opted for the commercial ferry which was bigger and looked safer, hence the 10,000 shillings (3.5 USD) fare for second class and 14,000 (4.5) for first class (read: with TV). To my surprise the boat chugged away into Lake Victoria at exactly 2 PM, as promised! For three hours, I watched “Dora the Explorer” on TV (yes, we opted for first class no less), took photos of boats and birds on the lake, and slowly, painfully chewed my lunch of chapatti, boiled egg, banana, and sipped my Fanta Orange before I realized that you can actually order a plate of potato fries, pork sausages, vegetable salad, and scrambled eggs in the canteen onboard.
We reached the island at around 5 PM, when the golden sun was just setting, playfully creating purple and orange hues in the sky. I raced Dilman to Panaroma Cottages (around 200 meters from the dock), dropped our bags, and raced back to the lakeshore to bask in the sunset until a battalion of mosquitoes chased us away.
The next day, I was determined to have a swim at the lake, so I got my bikini ready, downed a breakfast for two in one go, and cheerily went outside to be greeted by a looming thunderstorm! But that didn’t dampen my spirits. My mind was set to search for the most private resort I can find and take my long-awaited dip. So I borrowed the manager’s umbrella and donned a cardigan and a scarf over my sundress. And just as I was feeling comfortably warm, the clouds opened to reveal a rather harsh sun—just like that. So I peeled off my “extra” clothing and went wandering aimlessly past a fishing village with children tilling the soil with hoes, men raking dried fish on the ground, and women carrying machetes—for what, only God knows.
After an hour of loitering around and doing the usual photo ops, we found Ssese Palm Beach at the far end of the island, which was surrounded by all kinds of trees and vegetation except palm. Most of it was still under construction but there were some really posh tukuls that one could rent for around 70,000 to 120,000 shilling per night (25 USD to 45 USD). They had good food and one of the best pork I’ve had in Africa! But the real kicker was the private white-sand beach which is mostly inhabited by birds of all shapes, sizes, and colors. And just when I was about to dive into the water, the hotel manager casually commented that although they haven’t had any crocodile attacks so far, the water teemed with parasitic worms that cause schistosomiasis or otherwise known as bilharzia or snail fever, a chronic disease that can eat away one’s internal organs and cause bladder cancer.
I wrestled hard with my urge to swim, then decided to walk back to the hotel, resigned. It was such a beautiful walk with the sun setting, and we stopped by the fishing village to chat with the locals. But I was still bummed because I was more than ready for the swim. Good thing the Filipino tele-series “Marimar” was on air (yes, it’s a hit here) to cheer me up (because of the weird cartoonic dubbing, with Richard Gomez sounding like Kuya Bodgie of “Batibot”). Also, it reminded me of the good old beaches back home.
The sound of the phone jolted me from my dreams of white-sand shores and coconut trees. “Have you gone swimming yet?” went the text from a colleague. For a moment there, my mind chased a little tail in circles. I mentally shrugged my shoulders and texted back, “Yes.” Then I plunged into the bed, freestyled my way under the sheets, backstroked the pillows aside, for a feel of the swimming holiday that never was.

*Some photos taken by Dilman Dila

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22 Comment

  1. AJ says: Reply

    That was fun – on paper, at least. You had me in stitches, especially the last part. Take heart. You could have harbored worms eating your innards by now if you did take that dip.

    "A swarm of lake flies" – that was a foreshadowing of things to come!

    And that boat bearing "life-jacket-clad passengers" is scary. Seems like they were expecting it to sink!

    Sorry you didn't get to indulge yourself, but at least the experience gave you this laugh trip of a post. 🙂

  2. admin says: Reply

    AJ, what more can I do but turn this into a comic experience. Though for a holiday to be ruined by flies and worms is no laughing matter. Haha! This is just one of the series of unfortunate events that followed after. Sometimes, I feel like I'm a jinx or something.

    About that ferry, well, safety is not always free. Glad we didn't take that boat, or I might have jinxed it as well. 😀

  3. I could just imagine your amusement while watching Marimar. It's like watching Jericho Rosales in the soap Pangako Sayo in Malaysia speaking in a weird Malay voice 🙂

  4. Kathy says: Reply

    Well on the upside you got some great pictures!! 😀 Loved going on your adventure with you!


  5. I love your blog header, Ms. Reiz. 🙂

  6. admin says: Reply

    @Claire: Oh yes, I was excited and spooked at the same time seeing Filipino actors talking in weird accents. It didn't make me feel like I was at home at all. But it was fun all the same. 🙂

  7. admin says: Reply

    Thanks, Kathy. The island was really beautiful. It was just that I was so bent on taking a swim.

  8. admin says: Reply

    Thanks, Shei. Some frustrated graphic designer here. 🙂 I'm glad you found my blog.

  9. Jenn says: Reply

    Reiza–you had me going there!! HA! I love to swim–and hate it when I can't go for a dip. I think flies and worms would have put a bit of a damper on things–good thing you didn't let them!

    I enjoy reading your work! Cheers, Jenn.

  10. Reiza, all of your adventures are laden with the most horrible of possibilities. LOL!! Bilharzia! Puleeze!! But still you go…under your red umbrella, pretty as a summer's day, skipping when you can, and ducking when you must…but still you go, and this amazes me.
    I happen to live in Florida where the white sand beaches stretch ahead as far as the eye can see and playful dolphins entertain. I will be thinking of you the next time I'm there and taking a dip for you.
    Peace and Hugs,

  11. admin says: Reply

    Jenn, I was lucky there were lots of other fun things to be had in that island. And the people were so warm and friendly. But next time, I'll go somewhere I can actually swim! Thanks for dropping by.

  12. admin says: Reply

    Leah, I'm beginning to think I'm a jinx. In all my adventures, there's something unfortunate that happens. But well, it spices things up. The problem now is, I find straightforward holidays boring! Haha!

    Think of me while you lay sunbathing on the Florida sand. 🙂

  13. Ooh, I love bedsurfing! Hahaha! Three hours of Dora stuff is torture to me, but will do if I was aboard that ferry as well.

  14. ^^^ Whoops. That one's me! Commented using my semi-abandoned mummyhood blog.

  15. admin says: Reply

    Haha! "Bedsurfing" is the next best thing to swimming. *wink

    Now, let me go check this hippy mum site of yours, if you don't mind.

  16. Lesson learned:
    When such unpronouncables are lurking in the water, result to safely waving at them na lang from ashore.

    I love the post! 😀 Danda danda naman! 😀

  17. admin says: Reply

    Thanks, Eileen. I love how you described the bilharzia worms. 🙂

  18. Mario says: Reply

    Hi Reiza! I am always captivated when I visit here. Your photos are incredible. The one with you and that umbrella walking away is one of my favs.
    But your writing is what sets your blog apart.
    Seriously Reiza, you should have your own travel reality show. Reiza's Roundabout. Or simply Wanderlust. Between aggressive Tsetse flies, man eating crocodiles, parasitic worms, swarms of hungry Mosquitos and the threat of bladder cancer and there you are daintily wiping the mud from your sandals. I love it. Great post my friend. Hugs from California.

  19. Jo says: Reply

    Love the photos and loved the story. I will be picturing people bedsurfing from now on if it rains on their tropical vaca! Very funny.

  20. Susan says: Reply

    You take such beautiful pictures! Love them! I'll have to share the bedsurfing concept with my husband. He'll get a kick out of that! Thanks for sharing your great story!

  21. Haha OMG I love how you incorporate humor in your stories.. Love it! I can imagine you tiptoeing and acting prima donna…priceless! I had my share of travel frustrations, I'm looking for adventure outside boracay last time I was there, I was alone so I hired a tourist guy to accompany me, I want to see a falls! We travelled the whole day (public transport) and realized after endless transfer of transpo that we need 3 days to be able to go to the falls! Lol! Ended up with nothing! ..haha. ;))

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