man-made waterfall

Singapore was  Jurong Bird Park, with its enormous artificial waterfall inside an enclosed atrium, shopping at the huge 24hr Mustafa department store where Mike scored a couple of T shirts,  a laser light show  at the bay, and an evening  restaurant meal  on the waterfront ( where large TV screens showed a football match with the Wallaby) and the world’s largest ( or something) ferris wheel.

Istanbul  is amazing, and Turkish men generally delightful (women don’t seem to be about much).  I doubt that we would have found our ‘hotel’ without the aid of the taxi driver from the airport – who  keyed in the address into his mobile phone in one hand, while reading the address from a piece of paper we gave him in the other as he sped along the highway. The driver’s inattention to the road along with the fact that he didn’t speak english  slowed down Mike’s attempt at conversation. Eventually the taxi driver phoned the hotel and got instructions from them (while driving of course).  We then wandered around the winding and hilly streets of the area around our hotel, which was about 15 minutes walk from the major attractions of Aga Sophia, the blue mosque etc at Taksim square, and many young turkish men with the same pitch – hello, where are you from – oh Australia, I have a cousin who lives in ….(any capital city). I would like to show you around because we Turks like to help visitors to our city. ….eventually it turns out that he would like to teach us about carpets. No doubt they hear the bit about magic flying carpets almost every time they try this pitch, but they laugh delightedly as though they have never heard it before.  On our second day we decided to leave Taksim square early in the afternoon to rest back in the hotel in the afternoon so we could make the most of a boat tour/meal/entertainment evening that we had booked. We were to be collected by a bus from our hotel shortly after 7:00 as part of the package.

The bus didn’t arrive until 8:00pm, and then spent another hour working its way through an appalling traffic jam, with traffic virtually at a standstill in all directions.  No traffic lights, just a perpetual game of chicken as vehicles pushed past and squeezed through impossibly small spaces. At one stage our bus gained a little time by cutting diagonally across the footpath corner.  By the time we arrived at the waterfront the boat had gone and people were pretty cranky – some had been on the bus for 2 hours. The boat id come back to collect us, and after some haggling we were assured that we would not miss out on any food, and that the entertainment would go for later than normal to make up for the later start. We were told that the  problem was the gas used in the demonstration – which was the first we knew that there had been a skirmish at Taksim square – heavy handed police broke  up a peaceful demonstrations with tear gas.  Our evening’s entertainment out to be a good night. On the bus going home,  the driver couldn’t find our hotel, and we could see he was driving around in the wrong area. Unfortunuately we didn’t have a map with us, but we did have the address which didn’t seem to help much . Our driver drove off to collect another driver, and for a while the combined efforts of the two still wasn’t getting us any closer. I remembered that the easiest directions were to turn off the tramline going past the Grand Bazaar at the corner with the AKBANK building, so after stopping at a bigger hotel to find someone who could understand English instructions we finally made it home after 1am.

The next morning we were supposed to be collected  by a prepaid  shuttle bus to take us to the more distant airport for our Belgrade flight.  The hotel owner had wanted us to use his friend – a private taxi , for nearly  4 times the price. He said that the shuttle buses weren’t reliable, sometimes they didn’t come, and people would  miss their flights.  When the shuttle bus hadn’t arrived an hour after the scheduled time we were starting to get anxious, especially after the previous night’s escapades. The delightful man at the hotel counter would regularly ring the company for us to find out what was happening , and was regularly told they we two minutes away. After several calls the pitch changed to 5 minutes away.  By this time ( an hour after the scheduled pickup time)  we started to think that we had done our shuttle bus money at best, and would miss the plane at worst.  As it turned out all was well  – guided by the hotel employee who had been making all our phone calls on our behalf  we walked to a nearby intersection where the bus was waiting for us, and getting on the plane was non eventful.  Pegasus airlines have a delightful safety procedures video, subtitled into English, with small children playing the part of the air hostesss and the pilot.

Our first stop in Belgrade was the nearby Tesla museum – not very big, but nice explanations/demonstrations of the pros and cons and safety issues  of high and low voltage current, which made sense at the time but which I have now unfortunately forgotten. Apparently high voltage can be quite safe, as was convincingly demonstrated as we let high voltage sparks fly to our fingers.

In the evening I went to a small restaurant for an early evening meal  (Mike feeling unwell and staying at the hostel)-  and  tried the menu of the day consisting of a lovely chicken and vegetable soup, salad (which turned out to be a huge amount of finely shredded cabbage with vinegar on it), slices of coarse but tasty thickly sliced bread,  and goulash – chunky generously sized beef cubes in a thin broth with mashed potatoes. It was a huge meal – far more than I could eat – for the princely sum of 450 dinars ( there are 125 dinars to the Australian dollar –so the meal was $3.60).

I love the 100% accurate description of the Kampala minbus station in the Bradt Travel Guide for Uganda (minibuses are called taxis in Uganda – normal car type taxis are called “special” taxis). “Kampala’s minibus station was once the most chaotic in East Africa: several hundred minibuses, identical in appearance bar the odd bit of panel beating and no indication as to their destination, all sardine packed into a couple of acres of seething madness. To counter this, the city council built a second taxi station about 100m from the first – which means that Kampala now boasts the two most chaotic taxi parks in east Africa. “ Although I have caught mini taxis at the minibus station,  discovering how the guide negotiated the mayhem to identify the correct minbus remained a mystery.

Kampala minbus station

We (Freda, myself and guide Richard) went to the markets on Saturday ending week 1- it was much like any other market, only bigger. We were rather rushed through so I missed out on two choice photo opportunities – one of the stack of old-fashioned irons for sale (the ones that you put heated coals in) and one of a guy lounging on top of a large truckload of smelly rubbish. Then it was on to Mekele University, apparently once an African showpiece but now in desperate need of basic maintenance. There are a couple of churches in the university grounds and we came across three small groups of singers in and around the catholic church enthusiastically rehearsing portions of  the Hallejuhah chorus of Handel’s Messiah. What they lacked in quantity they made up for with quality – a pleasant diversion.

On Sunday we went on a three hour bus trip to the town of guide Richard’s former school at Masaka. Apparently he had been invited there to give a speech to students who would be attending university next year. (Actually part of the reason for the trip was because Richard wanted to go but couldn’t afford the $10 to get there and back, so we agreed to pay his fare for him.) We made the obligatory stop at the monument on the equator en route – not much else there except for a few small tourist shops. There wasn’t much at Masaka either, other than a not-so-grand king’s palace of one of the nineteen kings in Uganda. It was a nice enough house, though certainly not palatial. We were able to look inside (the king was currently living elsewhere) after Richard arranged to pay the guard $5.00  – or at least as far as the main lounge room, complete with a pedestal fan, a 26 inch old style TV, and a vase of artificial red roses.

Palatial furnishings

The second volunteer week  at the Kampala school passed uneventfully bringing my volunteer stint to an end. I’m glad I did it and I’m glad I only signed on for two weeks (my English companion Freda signed up for 12 weeks!) I’ve eaten so much mashed boiled green banana (called matoke here) that I doubt I’ll ever feel the same way about bananas again (I used to love bananas).

White Water Rafting – Jinja

Nile River water starting a 6600km 4month journey from Lake Victoria to the Mediterrean.

I decided to make the most of my last two free days in Uganda  at the nearby town of Jinja, a popular tourist spot where the Nile River starts its 6600 km  journey from Lake Victoria to Egypt.  The opportunity to go white water rafting there was too good to let pass by.  After signing the mandatory waver form absolving the company from all liability in the event of injury, loss of life, etc., (using an Ipad on the minibus en route to the Adrift Rafting centre) I suspect a few of us had a twinge of concern about what we were letting ourselves in for.  About fifty of us assembled beside the river for an entertaining brief by a beefy Canadian called Josh, and then divided into whole/half day and extreme/moderate groups. Josh looked a little surprised when I opted for the extreme group, which didn’t do a lot for my confidence, and I wondered later whether that helped our raft get him as the most experienced guide – something along the lines of better to have someone very competent on the raft with the most lame ducks on board (ie those two slightly built girls from Slovakia who were also in our group).

Reception/bar area for Adrift White Water Rafting: deck overhangs the water

Once on the water apprehension were quickly laid to rest. Strongest paddlers went to the front, and we practiced paddling, responses to “Hold on!” (to paddles as well as the raft), “Get down!” (on the floor of the raft to lower the centre of gravity), as well as being tossed in the water by deliberately overturning the raft, and getting back on board again. (In my case, that meant being hauled aboard by the others hanging onto the shoulder straps of my life jacket.) Then it was off to the first rapid.

There was no shortage of large inflatable rescue boats and rescue kayaks hovering around at each rapid. Josh would warn us what to expect “OK here we go – this one has 3 big waves” or “This one has a 15 foot drop” with the same nonchalance as if he was asking someone if they would like a cup of tea. Even the odd rhetorical query – “Are you sure you really want to do this – of course you do” didn’t  worry us after a while. We saw other rafts tip over but we never did, and only one person fell out of the raft near the end of the day – one of the strong paddlers at the front.

The raft crew (hint- I'm at the right end)

Uh..oh...not quite straight

Keep paddling everyone .... this isn't quite right



It was a glorious day 0f paddling/drifting/swimming down the Nile (the water temperature was perfect) interspersed with white knuckled rides over rapids. The quiet parts of the ride were almost as much fun as we quietly slipped past comorants diving for fish, birds skimming across the water, orange tailed monkeys clamboring through the trees, and groups of Africans washing their clothes on the side of the river. There was even a colony of small bats which flew 20 ft above our heads when disturbed for our benefit.

Lunch was also included – a western style salad buffet at an island stop in the middle of the day – lettuce, salami, potato salad, decent bread, cheese, carrot, cucumber, pineapple and no banana. Ambrosia compared to rice, beans and matoke.

It was so much fun I decided to blow the budget and try kayaking the next day. Big mistake.  Kayaks don’t have any sort of keel and are really difficult to control – part of the steering is done by using tummy muscles to lean into the turn motorbike style.  My visions of slipping gently down the river with the odd exciting paddle were replaced by the reality of painfully positioned legs and weary muscles – not so much from paddling but from trying to master the kayak Eskimo roll, a skill that is virtually impossible for anyone to master on the first day. I suspect the instructor had difficulty differentiating between good instruction and sadism (“Do it again. Keep practicing until I tell you to stop”). We (instructor, myself and an American guy in his twenties) did eventually drift down river for a couple of hours in the afternoon and paddle over some baby rapids (including the one shown in the Nile river photo above). I even got through all but one without tipping over, but by the time I reached the sandy beach shore at the end of it all I didn’t have enough strength left to lift myself up out of the kayak. I had deliberately roll the kayak onto its side on the sand so I could slither out. I took some consolation in noticing the young American, my fellow kayaking student, also struggled to extract himself from the kayak when he reached the shore.

Then it was a “special” taxi ride to Entebbe for the plane. The guide book recommended the botanical gardens there as being worth a visit and mentioned the unsubstantiated but apparently plausible story that some of the Johnny Weismuller Tarzan movie scenes were shot there. I asked the taxi driver if he could stop there en route to the airport, and we had a quick look around. Parts of it are certainly very lush, it was an interesting quick stop. The taxi driver had never heard of Tarzan.

Taxi driver in part of Entebbe Botanical Gardens

Then to the airport where my flight was delayed for two hours. As it turned out it resulted in the total flight time back to Kuala Lumpur being two hours shorter than originally scheduled ( around 12 hours instead of 14 hours), so I was still able to meet Mike after he collected his luggage at KL.