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Robbed in Uganda

Breaking one of our travel rules we arrive into Kampala late at night. I absolutely hate doing this, it always adds a degree of stress and can be a little overwhelming, especially if you have the usual touts swarming like we have tonight.

The shouting begins as soon as they see our faces. Banging on the windows and running alongside us yelling Muzungu Muzungu give me your bags! Where you going? Lady you hear me? Muzungu  Muzungu. I chuckle to myself as I play my own mind games with the swarm. My particular favorite is gazing into the distance and completely zoning out until all I hear is muffled voices. Only when I am near the bag collection point do I begin to let them know what we need. Only the hard-core tout will hang around, normally you lose 75%.

We move our bags to a quieter location and begin the negotiations! We had asked a local traveller on the bus what the fare to New City Annexe Hotel on Dewington Street should be and he graciously informed us that the local fare should be 10,000 Ugandan Shillings. Naturally bidding starts with “ I give you good price 40,000 “ and so the show begins, dramatic hand gestures, tutting and shaking one’s head, and the final act before the curtain closes… the walk away… “No 15,000 and that’s our final offer”

A taxi pulls up with Richard in the front he has managed to snare a driver for 15 we all agree that is a fair result for tonight at least, tomorrow without bags will be different.

The New City Annexe is a great budget hotel with a huge architectural fault. The room we’re in has an ensuite with a small 6 inch wall that you have to step over in order to enter. As I wake the next morning and sleepily head into the bathroom, I completely forget about this and smash my foot straight in to the wall. Huge waves of pain shoot through my foot. I am in agony and on top of all our visa issues I now need to see a Doctor!

Broken Big Toe

Broken Big Toe

Thankfully I manage to get an appointment with Dr Dick (great name I know) an English Doctor who has been working in Kampala for the last 30 years. Dr D puts my foot on his desk to examine it more closely and makes a bet with the Junior Doctor on Locum that the X ray will show a break. This I really do not want to hear! He continues to examine my toe, prodding and pushing causing me to grimace and wince. I begin to wonder if this guy is actually a real Doctor or someone who enjoys inflicting pain on others. Rather cheerily he says he would be happy to take the swelling down with a very simple procedure that would also be a lot of fun. Desperate for any pain relief I enquire what that might be. “I’ll stick a needle into your toe nail and drain the blood, It’s one of my favorite procedures” he exclaims with glee. My response, a big fat no. I would rather limp for the next 4 to 6 weeks thank you very much… “Have it your way, you need to elevate the foot and take the pain killers that I prescribe” That’s great Dr D but we need to get moving, I don’t have time to rest my foot! I smile and tell him that we’re heading to Murchison Falls, “That’s OK as long as you elevate it, maybe while you’re in your 4WD you can do this “

I don’t have the heart to tell him that actually we’ll be going on the local bus and there is no way I’ll be able to elevate my foot!

Buganda Bus Park in Kampala

Buganda Bus Park in Kampala

I hobble through the bus station. My toe is black and blue and aching. The pain killers affording only token relief. We have decided to ensure I didn’t put any weight on my foot that we’d leave my bags behind and have me carry the smaller bag with the lap top, and our other electrical items in it. The bus park is muddy and chaotic, jammed packed with people and the usual swarm of touts hanging around. I just want to sit down a soon as I can and Greg offers to go off and locate the bus. Rick heads off to in search of water and dry goods for the journey. After waiting what seems like ages Rick and I spot Greg heading towards us. The bus is not loading in this area it’s over there. Already people are getting on and taking all the seats up front. We all grab our bags, I limp as fast as I can trying to keep up with Greg but he’s too fast. I See him off in the distance an desperately try to keep my eye on him. I quickly glance behind me to see Rick. But Rick is gone, I can’t see him and suddenly I realise I am on my own. I hesitate … do I head in the direction where I think Greg is or do I go back to where we were before. Confused and in pain I do the worst thing possible, I look disorientated. Suddenly a swarm of male faces encircle me. “What are you looking for “I hear one face say “My Husband “I respond bluntly

Another face moves forward “ He has gone, Maybe you need a new husband” I desperately try to ignore these men encircling me as I look in front of me and to see if I can catch sight  of Greg again .. But the men are everywhere around me like a pack of hyenas encircling an animal. They keep presenting themselves and saying “I’ll be your husband… No I’ll be your husband” … I tell them again that I don’t need their help nor do I need a new husband and look behind, just as I do I see Rick, relieved I limp towards him. A bus pulls in with Greg hanging out the side ….

I jump on the bus relieved, the men around me have made me stressed and my toe is throbbing. I sit back and relax waiting for the bus to get moving. As we exit the city limits the dense city fades away, we’re making good progress to Murchison Falls. Greg goes to the bag to grab his iPod. But the bag is nearly empty… With a pale look on his face he says to me where the Lap Top?Where is the iPod … everything is Gone! It can’t be that is not possible and then it dawns on me …. I’ve been robbed we’ve lost most of our electronics. All that remains is the Video Camera and the books. I can’t help but to cry as I realise we’ve also lost all of our photos and video’s which were saved on our laptop … I feel physically ill, I can’t believe that this has happened. In shock Greg says’ maybe he didn’t put them in the bag, maybe he has left them in our room. No I say, I’ve been robbed and I proceed to tell him about the men …. I had checked the room before we left. I always check each room we stay in and do a search…. I know what’s happened, the men used a distracting tactic thatis why there were so many of them. One or two distract you as the others take things from your bag. I always thought this would not be possible as you would feel it … but these men were professionals ….they’re not stupid, they know exactly what they’re doing.

I sit for the rest of the journey in pain from my toe and devastated by what has happened… I feel like shit.  As we sit down for a coke after our long bus journey Rick tells me not to worry, this could have happened to any of them. I thank him for the kind words. I stew on what has happened replaying the events over and over again in my mind. I know it wasn’t my fault but I can’t help but to think if I wasn’t in pain with my toe, things would have happened differently.

Sadness to turns to anger and I curse breaking my toe …. Greg tells me he has been backing up photos and he thinks that the disk is at the hotel with our other pack. He is almost certain but still a little unsure. I grasp to this glimmer of hope. Losing the laptop, camera, kindle and iPod is horrible but all can be replaced.The photos and videos cannot and that is what is really upsetting me.

I try to enjoy what is a remarkable location. We take a boat up the river along green banks and dense jungle. Hippos rise and submerge before us, Elephants come down to drink; can this really be the same river that flows past the Valley of the Kings and Cairo.

Murchison Falls

Murchison Falls

Murchison Falls is certainly a sight to behold, described by many as the most exciting thing to happen to the Nile. Here the river in its infancy is forced through a 7 meter wide gap producing a power that shakes the ground. It is a spectacular site. My mind is taken off the previous day’s events as I stare at the raging water whirling all around me.

At the top of the Murchison falls

At the top of the Murchison falls

We head to the Red Chilli camp site which is located inside the national park.  Whilst watching a magnificent storm Greg and I vow to do everything we can to get the items back. I tell him that I won’t be able to leave Uganda until I know that I did all I could to recover our belongings.

The next day we leave Rick to see Rhinos while we head back to Kampala. As I sit on the bus rage washes over me, I want revenge. We take a taxi back to the Hotel and tell the taxi driver what has happened. We ask him if he might know where a thief would take stolen electrical goods to resell. He kindly tells us a few names and we thank him for his assistance.

The next morning we take a Boda Boda to the police station to report the crime. Three women sit with disinterested looks on their faces and advise getting a police report will take 10 days! We advise we don’t have 10 days and need the report completed by tomorrow as we are leaving the country in 2 days’ time, which is a lie but sometimes you need to create urgency. We are sent to another room where a senior officer also looks disinterested but at least confirms we can collect our report the following day.

Leaving police Headquarters we ironically walk only 500m to the area where the taxi driver said stolen goods are sold. It’s a huge dirty street with dozens of equally dirty and run down malls. I begin to feel despair, that we are kidding ourselves, but I can’t leave Kampala without having at least tried.

The search begins

The search begins

In this part of Kampala there are no Muzungus. The locals stare at us as we walk through arcade after arcade. I then see a mall called Mutaasa Kafeero. This is one of the names we had written down. We walk around asking if anyone has any HP laptops they want to sell. The owners seem suspicious or simply do not know. What are we doing here, this is useless just a series of shops and people who shrug their shoulders or ignore us. Greg is eventually taken by a guy to another mall while I look around. I scan each shop carefully and then among the dirty and disregarded items I see a brand new iPod wrapped in plastic in a window. Could this be ours? I try not to cause too much attention and just walk a few meters away and wait for Greg to return.

The Mutaasa Kafeero Mall

The Mutaasa Kafeero Mall

Ten minutes later Greg is back but without any luck. I tell him that 2 shops down there is a new looking iPod classic in the window. We walk past the window, it sits next to a white Gen 1 iPod. We go inside and Greg enquires that he is looking to buy an iPod, how, much is the one in the window. The man brings the old white one out but Greg says no the grey one.

“That one is broken”

“That is okay I can fix it how much do you want”

“It is broken” he repeats.

Greg again says that he can fix it and wants to but it.

“It’s not for sale”

“Then why is it in the window. Let me have a look at this please”

I can feel the tension in the shop. The man takes the grey iPod and hands it to a colleague, whispers in his ear as he walks out. Greg follows the henchman out the door while I stay behind in the shop. Now it is time for me to do some distracting. I asked to see other items in the store.

Now at this point I have no idea what is happening but as it turns out Greg has followed this guy into another store. The henchman walks behind a counter and hands the iPod to a chap who specialises in formatting electronic goods. Before the henchman can instruct the eraser on what to do, Greg has walked behind the counter and basically taken the iPod and said I need to check this. The eraser is in shock and in a split second just does as he is told. Greg switches on the iPod, nervous with anticipation when up comes “Connected” by the stereo MC’s. He then quickly goes to the menu and looks at the photos, finds one of us and then shows it to the eraser. “This is mine I am taking it” The henchman leaves while the eraser play innocent.

Now I see Greg coming back and can tell by the look on his face that something is up. “It’s ours and look it’s not broken” Greg shows him the photo of us on the iPod and then presses it to his forehead. I leave the shop and walk up the stairs to get the police. I find an officer who comes down but when we explain what happened she tells us to go to Police Headquarters and amazingly walks off. The liar is now making a call on his mobile and shouting instructions into his phone. Something inside me snaps and I grab the phone off him smacking him in the head in doing so. Greg is arguing with his colleague and then notices him grabbing the phone back off me. There is a scuffle and we are surrounded by 20 guys in a thieves den. The other men seemed highly entertained by the goings on.

Greg then lets the liar go and tells him to calm down. “Okay this is the situation, we don’t need to involve the police if you can get the rest of our stuff back. I will also give you $500.00 dollars if you can locate the laptop and our other items. You contact who sold you this iPod and get our stuff back and all will be good, No Police okay”

The liar seems to calm down and then asks details of the items. We give him our number in Uganda and then leave. Emerging into the sun and flooded with adrenaline we are in shock but exuberant. I can’t believe that we have found one of our stolen items. We walk up Kampala Avenue and order a coffee to digest what has happened. I look at our iPod, I want to hold it and hug it. It’s like some sort electronic prodigal son returned home.Out with all the other stolen goods for 3 nights and now safely back with us. We think about what we should do and run all the scenarios in our mind. Obviously one of those is going to the police but their efforts at the station and then apathy of the officer on the scene leaves us without much hope. Besides what if they confiscate it as “evidence”

“To catch a thief you need a thief” is our belief. We don’t have too much time left either, we need to move on to Kenya but we decide to gamble and see if this tactic works. We return to the hotel still charged by what has happened and the hope we may get our other stuff back. Rick has returned and walks into a barrage of excitement. Before he has time to tell us about the Rhinos he and Greg are back on a Boda with Duncan who works at the hotel. Unfortunately the Liar who apparently is called Jamil has left. It would appear out tactic has failed. We wait to be contacted but nothing.

The start of the Nile River near Lake Victoria

The start of the Nile River near Lake Victoria

After returning from Jinja we try one more time and return to the thieves den. Jamil is there but we know we are not getting our stuff back. It’s time to leave Uganda. If we were staying for a long time we could play this out with the police, but it’s time we don’t have. The liar goes for one last deception and tells us that he has never seen us before and has only started working here. This offcourse results in Greg going off his head and the locals are treated to another shouting match between Greg, Jamil and myself. There is nothing more we can do except to tell Jamil we are bringing the police down now and send him scurrying under some piece of tin for a few more days.

It is sad that we have lost our stuff and about three weeks’ worth of photos. The money lost on these items is annoying but we had bought them for our journey and it’s just upsetting that they are now gone. On the other hand that iPod now has a great story. As we board the overnight “modern” bus for Nairobi I sit down and pull it out of my pocket and hold it. I think I will always love this little iPod just like a prodigal son returned home.

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Gorillas but no mist

There is a “welcome to Uganda” sign on the gate but I am not allowed to take a photo of it. The nation’s security is preserved, I am forced to delete the offending piece of espionage.  The police lady is pleased with her work. The customs officer is amused and issues our visas with a smile.

The gate is lifted and we walk into Uganda, the best way to enter a country. It takes a little longer than usual to get a reasonable exchange rate for our Rwandan francs, but the local swindler eventually agrees to our asking price. Now armed with Ugandan shillings we make our way to Kisoro about 10km away. The eventual price we settle on is 10,000 Us or about $4 USD.

Kisoro is a small one street town with two attractions. Onward transport into Uganda and a booking office for the Ugandan gorilla family that reside sometimes this side of the Virungas. The price during the low season (April and May) is $350.00 as opposed to $750.00 in Rwanda.

The high forest begins to chatter and darken as we climb uphill. Our ranger is in constant communication with the scouts who are guiding us towards the massive primates. I wonder how they actually advise where they are in this green tangled maze. After about 2 hours we are close to making contact. Our Guide begins to give us some final information when he stops mid-sentence. The gorillas are with us. We can hear branches creaking and breaking just ahead. Then through the green a massive form of black and silver moves through a clearing. He stops and looks at us for a few moments. Our gaze meets his, it is an electrifying moment. Standing now just 5 meters away with nothing but air between us and a 200 kg silverback is a humbling experience. His back and arms are huge. He could kill us all but instead he is passive. Over the next hour we watch the family move through the forest. They are hard to keep up with and push bamboo and stinging nettles aside with ease, while we clamber feebly around. The altitude is also ensuring that deep breaths are required.

DSC00175

We are treated to the silverback lying down, we are now only three meters away. He stares into our eyes and rubs his face. I look at his giant hands and then my own. I feel a connection with him that we never had with the lions or cheetah in the Serengeti. He is different to them they are animals.

Here we were only a few meters away

Here we were only a few meters away

Our time ends and not for the first time I am sad to be leaving. That night as I lie in my bed, I look out my window at the Volcano above me. It is bathed in soft cool moonlight. The jungle illuminated is a silver grey. It makes me feel happy knowing up there somewhere the silverback and his family are asleep.

Good night, love to you all.

 

We went to Magahinga National Park, which is very good if your on a long backpacking trip. The bookings can only be taken inside of two weeks. This is because the Gorillas can just duck over the border with the DRC  from time to time as they please so big package holiday tours do not book here. There is a pretty good chance you can just turn up and there will be spots as we experienced.

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