Set at the base of some seven giant volcanoes (most of them dormant… but not all) that more than tower over everything else, Kisoro’s a beautiful sight. Climb up the hill to the north and you get an expansive view of Lake Mutanda, another crater lake, and even some volcanoes situated in Rwanda and DR Congo, both of whose borders are a mere 12 km away. The town itself — small and relatively benign — is a stepping stone for both those countries. So why did I stay for three days?
Well, mountain gorilla tracking. Of course.
Fort Portal and Lake Bunyonyi, Uganda
Uganda feels like a mix of both East and West Africa. Unlike in Kenya (let alone Somaliland or Ethiopia, which are entirely different from the rest of East Africa), many people wear colourful, loud prints and traditional clothing. And while Kenyans do it sometimes, Ugandans pepper their speech with the West African-signature high-pitched “ahhh!”, exclaimed approximately whenever we would normally use “wow” or “really?” to express incredulity. It’s addictive. And far more than in Kenya, boda-boda (motorcycle taxi) journeys seem to be the only means to get to some places in a timely manner, and also vastly outnumber cars — not unlike the zemidjans of Togo and Benin. Add on some dusty roads, plus my dusttrap hair, and long boda-boda rides are guaranteed to turn me reddish-brown from head to toe. No use washing my clothes if I have to repeat the journey again the next day…
Inter-town transport is a beast in and of itself, topping West Africa in both the over-the-top and hazardous departments. I was on a bus where a sex scandal (to use the term fellow passengers were calling it) emerged: a man and woman met for the first time, started flirting, and then she asked about his sexual history in front of all the passengers. The bus erupted into raucous laughter and made fun of the duo for hours after. The bus, speeding like all the other ones, also sideswiped a semi speeding on a twisty mountain curve, breaking a window near the back. And to top it all off, I had the most uncomfortable ride of my life, topping the one I had in Togo: in a sedan meant for five, we stuffed in *nine*: five in the back, two in the passenger’s seat, and two in the driver’s seat. (At least the driver-side passenger didn’t have to share driving duties like the one in Togo had to; the original driver just reached over the passenger’s legs to shift gears.) I sat on a seatbelt buckle for two hours. At least the view was nice, but I couldn’t even free my camera from my bag. No leg room, and no arm room either. Hooray for being alive, but I’ve grown so used to these standards that I’ve stopped being surprised or scared for my life. Just another day.
It’s with these methods of transport that I’ve been visiting the volcanic lakes of Uganda, and it’s totally worth the trouble.
Danakil Depression, Ethiopia
I’m hungry but bloated, suffering from doxycycline-induced acid reflux, can’t eat, and feeling weak. This is supposed to be one of the driest places around, especially in dry season. Oh look, it’s actually cold. And it’s starting to rain — maybe the one day in a year this happens outside of the wet season. Can’t catch a break. Why am I walking three hours up a rocky volcano in the dark?
So maybe I’m embellishing a little here, but let’s go back a little. The Danakil Depression is one of the lowest places in the world. It’s known for its extremely hot climate (typically 51°C in August) and extreme inhospitality, with little to no shade anywhere.
Cerro Negro and Volcán Telica, Nicaragua
Nicaragua is already a country of volcanoes, but León is positively surrounded by them. In fact, the old city of León was buried by an eruption and the current, rebuilt León is 30 km away from the old one.
I joined three people from my hostel on a day trip to Cerro Negro. The rural road we were on wasn’t made for automobiles, clearly – aside from sharing the one “lane” with horses and cows, it was extremely bumpy and worn to the point that we got stuck a few times, needing to back up and speed across a hump or giant rock or tree root. Continue reading
Ometepe is considered to be Nicaragua’s crown jewel. Every time I mentioned to a local that I’d be heading there, their face would just light up.
Conni and I attempted to take an early bus from Granada to Rivas, where the ferries to Ometepe depart from (actually, in San Jorge, a 5 minute taxi ride away from Rivas). We made our way to the bus station at 9:45 am, and when we asked the “conductor” (not the guy driving, but the guy who goes around the bus collecting fares from everyone) when it’d be leaving, he said “Ahorita!” (“Right now!”) Continue reading
The intercity buses in Nicaragua are garishly painted school buses. Usually they’ll have some sort of Christian message, but then they’ll also have random colours and stickers, ranging from flames to Transformers to Spiderman.
So I rode one of those to Granada (costing me mere cents). Uncertain where to hop off, I just hopped off…somewhere and started to look for my hostel, the one whose reservation I had abandoned the previous night. After walking up and down the long street at least 4 times (over 1 hour) and not finding it, I found a girl working at the hostel standing right outside of it. Except not really. The hostel I had reserved with had closed down, and the new hostel in its place had nothing to do with it. Oops. Continue reading