Well, the good news is that we’ve arrived at Hippo House safe and well. As usual, it wouldn’t be a journey to Uganda without being highly eventful. This time, however, it wasn’t about us!
We were picked up from Rowlands Castle on Tuesday at 7.30am by Steve Peach and progressed smoothly up to Heathrow. I was a bit (a lot) worried about the weight of our baggage – we had been frantically adding and removing items the previous night – but the Turkish Airlines staff paid no attention to the weight and passed our bags through without any problem. Both flights were fine too – I watched Rogue One and The Martian and managed to get a bit of fitful sleep. Mrs Green spent a lot of the flights dozing off – she had been in an important meeting the previous day and was very tired.
We arrived in Entebbe at 02.45 on Wednesday, right on time. It took an eternity to get through customs, in fact the Ugandans seem to have designed the most inefficient system possible where you apply online and get given a slip of paper saying you have a paper visa, then you stand in a queue for 40 minutes while they process the people in front of you and then another ten minutes while they take a photo of you and fill out all sorts of forms. It was so much easier when you could just get the visa in London. In spite of all that, the lady who processed me was very friendly and said that I should be made a permanent resident seeing as it was my seventh visit.
We picked our bags up without any problem (Thank you Turkish Airlines) and met Geoffrey, who had brought our car to the airport. Unusually, there was a bit of drizzle in the air. As I drove out of the airport, this turned into a downpour. By the time we reached Kampala, it was monsoon conditions and the streets were rapidly flooding. Drainage in Uganda is not at the level of the UK and at one point I was genuinely worried that we would struggle to progress any further. Kampala is built on seven hills (just like Rome) and the water was coming down the hills like rivers. It also didn’t help that it carried a lot of the local garbage with it!
We stopped off at a Forex bureau to exchange money (we had to wake up the cashier) before dropping off Geoffrey at a garage and starting the long drive to Mweya. As prophesised by Larry the Leopard, Mrs Green had fallen asleep and face-planted within twenty minutes – only the seatbelt prevented her from bashing her head on the dashboard and I drove on through the pouring rain. The good news was that because it was raining so hard I was unable to read the road signs clearly and it was a pleasant surprise when we reached Mityana and then Mudebende before I had thought we would get there. At Mudebende, the rain finally stopped and we made rapid progress to Fort Portal where we stopped for breakfast. Mrs Green, who wasn’t feeling hungry, managed to eat a massive plate of fruit and then some French toast. I had a very nice BLT which they brought to me with fries. We also got our phones and data sorted out at Africell. Unfortunately, my friend Robinson wasn’t there, but I left a message for him and an England rugby shirt that I’d brought over from the UK. We also visited Norah, a ranger who works out of Fort Portal, who was very interested in our plans for our trip.
Mrs Green took over the driving when we left Fort Portal and headed for Kasese. By now the sun was out and the Rwenzori Mountains (Mountains of the moon) looked spectacular in the background. We reached Kasese where we had the first of our duties to perform. We had promised to briefly visit Rihamu (pronounced re-harm) Junior School who have recently been twinned with Hambledon Primary School. After a bit of a search (we eventually employed a boda boda driver to show us the way) we found the school where we were welcomed by Neckson (Nixon) and Sylvanius, two of the teachers. The headteacher was away at a meeting, but the school director soon appeared and was very pleased to see us. The school was tiny – about the size of four English classrooms but still managed to pack in 220 pupils. An impropmtu dance performance was arranged and groups of children performed four or five different dances. However, whereas in every other Ugandan school we have visited, we were presented with cultural dances, at Rihamu they were all modern ‘street’ dances. To our great discomfort and to the hilarity of everyone else, Mrs Green and I were dragged out to dance as well!
We left Rihamu, picked up supplies and then I began the final leg of the drive to Mweya, about an hour away. The sky was looking an ominous black colour and before we knew it we had monsoon conditions again. I drove very slowly and carefully onto the Mweya peninsula. Mrs Green almost immediately saw waterbuck and two elephants – her finely tuned ranger sense immediately kicked into gear. Hippo House was prepared and ready for us and we were both so tired that we went straight to sleep.
I was woken up at 18.00 by a call from Yowasi telling me that the others had landed and they wanted my phone number. I called Geoffrey and spoke to Nick who told me that although they had all arrived safely in Entebbe, it had been a traumatic journey for Lisa and Katie M. They had been trapped on the M25 as it had been closed and missed their flight to Dubai. Fortunately, they were able to get a later flight and just make their connection in Dubai. Nick said that they were all very tired and a bit overwhelmed. We should see them early Thursday evening when they arrive in Mweya.
We finished off the day by going to Tembo for dinner – tilapia and chips washed down with a couple of Niles! We were made to feel so welcome by the staff, it was as we’d never been away. As we drove back to Hippo House we saw 11 (by my count) elephants just walking out of our garden. A spectacular end to a long and tiring day.
Tomorrow we visit Mahyoro and Kyambura before returning to Hippo House to greet the CM Sports group.
Finally, the first question of this year’s trip comes from Emilie James in Yr 6 who wanted to know if Ugandans have pets. The short answer is yes. Many Ugandans have goats or chickens which are essential sources of food. Some Ugandans also have dogs or cats but they tend to run free – I’ve never seen a Ugandan dog being taken for a walk. Ugandan cats are also smaller and skinnier.