Friday, July 15, 2011

East Africa Day 59 (Mon July 11): Leaving Uganda

I was up late last night packing up my things for the last time, and saying goodbye to Charlie, Annette and Nikki. Nash let me switch dorm rooms, so that the four of us could stay together in our own room.

Nikki and Annette were up at 5am today, and were then picked up by a private hire (taxi) which took them back to Kampala. From Kampala, Nikki took the Post Bus back up to Gulu to finish up her Invisible Children internship, and Annette headed to the Entebbe, Uganda airport (the main airport in Uganda) to catch her flight back to Australia. Annette’s next semester begins in a matter of days. Charlie is staying on in Jinja for another two weeks, before returning to Australia to continue her studies. So we all parted ways early this AM. I hope that we’ll meet again – I really enjoyed traveling and hanging out with them.

I walked through Backpackers’ doors for the last time at 7:30am, and headed via my last Uganda boda ride to the Jinja Akamba bus station. I met a Catholic Nun there who was also waiting for the bus. The bus, which was supposed to pick us up at 8am, finally showed up a little after 9am. Africa time! I took the Akamba “Royal” bus this time, which was 15,000 UGX more expensive than the regular bus (approx $7), because I was hoping that it would be a shorter trip, thereby getting us into Nairobi before sundown. Ah, no such luck, though the bus was more comfortable than the “Executive” (regular) Akamba bus that I took to Uganda last month. We didn’t pull into Nairobi until 9pm.

Our first stop from Jinja to Nairobi was Busia, for the border crossing. Now, I had been under the impression that the Kenya visa that I received when I arrived in Nairobi on May 14 would not get me back into Kenya from Uganda – that I would need to purchase a new Kenya visa, for $25. Firstly, when I got to the Kenya Immigration Center window, the Kenya Visa Officer told me that I did not need to get a new Kenya Visa – that the visa that I received when I landed in Nairobi on May 14 was still good. However, that visa expires on Aug 14, and I don’t fly out until Aug 22. So I still need to get a new Kenya Visa at some point before Aug 14. Secondly, I learn that just like the Uganda National Park Admission Prices, the Kenya Visa prices went up on July 1 (beginning of the Uganda and Kenya fiscal years) from $25 for a Single Entry Visa, to $50.

So with a long line behind me, I was given the option of either walking across the border using my original Kenya Visa, and then renewing it in Nairobi at a later date for what I was told would be 2,000 KSH (approx $25), or paying $50 and getting it over with a the border by buying a new Kenya Visa. Very conscious off the lack of time between this moment and when my bus might depart for Nairobi, from the other side of the border fence possibly without me (I’ve heard this happens), I made a split second decision to get this whole thing over as fast as possible, and to just walk through with my initial Kenya Visa. So I handed over the paperwork that I’d completed on the bus, and got my passport stamped with the Kenya re-entry Visa stamp. I then had to show a man dressed in a doctor’s uniform my (yellow) Yellow Fever card. Hum I guess it’s a good thing that I had it:) I then walked across the border with heavy steps, focusing my gaze on the “Welcome to Kenya” sign, wishing I could take a photo but not wanting to stop and do it. Wishing I didn’t have to leave Uganda today, yet knowing that I can always come back – and definitely will. I then ran through the crowds of buses, matatus, and vendors selling snacks and water, in search of my Akamba bus. I found it, and jumped on board to find that ummm there were many East Africans who were still not yet back on the bus:)

Having that extra minute to think about the Visa situation, I decided that I’d made the wrong decision, and ran back to the Kenya Immigration Center to purchase my second Kenya Visa. The Immigration Officials remembered me from a few moments before (the benefit of being a young muzungu, I think) and kindly gave me a new Kenya Visa Stamp, without making me re-complete the paperwork. I then got back on the bus perspiring but with my second Kenya Visa Stamp!

The bus ride through Western Kenya is absolutely beautiful. The bus window was dirty, but I snapped a few photos of the scenery before we arrived at our next stop, the Western Kenyan city of Kisumu.

photo: roadside shops - likely selling an assortment of non-perishable goods, and perhaps perishable goods, too - often shops selling raw meat look like this. On this route from Uganda to Nairobi I was struck by the number of small buildings with signs painted on them that advertised the building as a butchery and a hotel.

photo: roadside fruit and vegetable stands, at an intersection with the main road.

The birthplace of President Obama’s father is north of Kisumu. In May I had considered getting off of the bus here in Kisumu on my way back into Kenya, to visit his father’s village, but at this point I was just ready to get back to Nairobi. Unfortunately I picked a slight head cold up somewhere, and wasn’t feeling great today. Itchy throat, and sniffling. So when we got to Kisumu for our 15 minute break, I just ran to the grocery store to purchase some juice and according-to-the-ingredients-printed-on-the-box vegan cookies (oh, the essentials.)

The bus conductor kindly came and told me when we were 30 minutes outside of Nairobi, at about 8:30pm. Since my cell phone now lives at the bottom of an eco-toilet in Kampala, and I was waiting to buy a Kenya phone when I got back to Nairobi, the Catholic Nun sitting in front of me let me use her phone to call the hostel where I am staying tonight, to ask them to send a private hire to pick me up at the Akamba Bus Station. The bus conductor, Catholic Nun, and the owner of the hostel were so helpful and nice – I have met such wonderful people!

When I got off of the bus on River Road, it didn’t appear nearly as sketchy as I’d anticipated it would be. There were a good number of people exiting Akamba buses, and waiting for rides. The private hire driver that the hostel had sent immediately found me – I only saw one other muzungu outside of the bus station, and it was a man, so I guess I was pretty easy to find! We threw my stuff into the trunk of his car (not within view, on the back seats!), I rolled up my window, and we were off.

The guard at the hostel compound’s gate let us onto the grounds, and the driver carried my pack inside for me. At this point I noticed that my legs (I’d been wearing shorts) had collected more than a handful of itchy, raised bug bites. I start hoping that it’s true that you cannot get malaria in Nairobi, and wondering if these are in fact spider bites. (I asked the hostel owner the next morning, and yes they are spider bites, I am allergic to them, and I finally had a reason to use the Benadryl that I’ve been schleping around with me:) I then spy a plump-looking dog asleep, curled up on the couch, and I decide that I’m in the right place:)

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