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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