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Memories of my travels between 1972 and 1982

Friday, 18 March 2011

March 18th: Kagadi in North-west Uganda

On March 18th 1980 I was in Kagadi in north-western Uganda.  Together with my American friend Audrey, I was trying to get from the Ruwenzori area around Fort Portal to the Nile area in the north and east of the country.  There was no public transport in the area.

Fort Portal:  My picture
Out walking in the last evening in Fort Portal we were invited home by an old gentleman cycling home.  He told us interesting things about life in the later Amin days, such as "we could not sleep in our houses" and  "one night they came to the door with their guns."  He had been in the third class at Makerere University in 1931 and was now 72.  He had been a teacher and had worked as a chief after the war, but now lived on the milk of his herd of 50 cattle.  Walking back, I was impressed by the agricultural richness and variety of that area of Uganda, every house with its avocado tree.

Next day we tried to get going to Hoima, but only found a pickup going to Kagadi.  The journey was pretty up through tea estates to Kyenjojo, and when I looked back the Ruwenzori ridge was clear with a good amount of snow on top.  After we left the Kampala road the way became rougher with passages of uncut jungle and very sparse population mainly growing matoke (bananas).  While we were trying to find an onward lift, Audrey made several friends who spoke quite good English and everyone was delighted that we were there.  We waited in a small "hotel" (which means cafe or restaurant in these parts) and I wrote in my notebook:
A little town in semi highlands.  Lovely empty country, the backbone of Africa, not so crowded, with fine views over green hills and the red road winding through jungle and matoke and little townships even smaller than this. 
A strip of little houses with thick walls often of concrete between wood supports, wooden doors and windows, shutters painted mostly blue, tin roofs with long shallow eaves.  A radio across the wide road plays "Red River Rock."  A hot dusty wind blows through the trees and across the tin roofs.

When we came to town we sat in the shade of a tree in the town centre and were surrounded by half the school as they waited for the afternoon class to be called.  Even now the kids stare at us through the door and windows.  A friendly young man working for the Ministry of Health at the hospital, the main feature of this town, told us about the local tribe, the Banyoro, and persuaded the people in this place to make a pot of tea even without sugar and milk (it turns out to be a coffee/tea mixture) which will make our stay here a little more pleasant while we wait for the lift out.

The restaurant has a couple of Formica covered tables of different sizes and five chairs, a counter which is empty with a chair behind on which the boy of the place sits, a set of shelves with two and a half bottles of Tree-Top and a menu which says:
Matooke Nenkoko 35/-
Matooke Nanyama 30/-
Enyama Yonka 20/-
Enkoke Yonka 25/-
Chai 5/-
Amahuli (2) 20/-
Also in here there's a contraption like a baby's high chair with a water can (empty) and a cooking fat tin for water, maybe for washing.  There is  a licence for the establishment; it cost 300 shillings, and it is suspended between here and the door on a string along with a couple of light blue curtains to shade off the eating area.
Eventually we decided to stay for 40/- in a simple room at the only lodge.  We went out for a walk to the forest station, which was partly cleared and partly planted with eucalyptus.  We saw a group of four hunters with spears and nets who said they were looking for "dibrat", perhaps dik-dik.  The local people seemed very poorly clothed, growing little other than bananas and coffee but even then some spoke English, including women only wearing skirts.  Coming back we sat by some eucalyptus and watched a beautiful sunset, and on the road up the hill to the little town a group of mongoose ran across the road, ten in all from large to very small.  We had meat and matoke with hot orange for supper, followed by an evening of conversation with the local Bata shoe man and another trader, both young, both a little depressed at the slow recovery after the troubles, saying that putting up with British Sahibs would be better than some of the Africans they got. 

Country near Kagadi:  My picture
We got our truck lift in the morning, a long hard slog for the 56 miles to Hoima, 4 or 5 hours, but sitting in the cramped cab of an old Bedford, using three gears and not much in the way of brakes.  The country was more of the same as the day before, but not so high in altitude, and the truck made it difficult to enjoy the view.  In Hoima the truck people found us an onward pickup going to Marindi, again in the cab, through more developed country.  Marindi was smaller than I expected, just 3 or 4 blocks, a market, a restaurant or two where we found much needed tea and chapattis, an administrative district with rugby pitch and hospital.  Very few people spoke English here and the did not try to help us.  We bought mangoes and a pineapple at the market and sat in the welcome shade to eat them.  We went to the transport area and found a pickup to Kigumba through dry red earth country, more open than before, with thatched villages and men with holes in their ears.  Kigumba was a transport centre, where we found the Good Night Lodge in the back of a very African and dirty compound, but quite atmospheric.  I had a beer, a tub and jerry can bath, a chicken and chapatti supper, then orange and waragi and retired to bed. 

It took longer than expected to get a ride to Karuma.  In the end it was a Tata truck at 11am, about 60 passengers in the back and 45 Tanzanian soldiers, one or two rather rowdy, not enjoyable really and you couldn't see much of the dry bush country, but the road was fast over little hills.  The falls on the river were impressive, and there we got off the truck to try to find "means" into the park.  "Means" means transport.  

View Fort Portal in a larger map

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