It’s a long journey to the continent of Africa from Nebraska, but like many things magical, so worth the effort.
Six years had passed since I last bounced down the rough and often red dusty roads of Rwanda. It’s a ride often described by the locals as the African massage. Since my last visit, memories of my time working for the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International as a field correspondent had remained in my heart and in the sharing of that adventure with students.
I was long overdue to revisit this special place that generally only headlines in the news with war and things like Ebola. And while it can be a challenging place to explore, the awaiting experiences are second to none.
The enormous physical size of Africa can be hard to comprehend – 54 countries, where over 2,000 languages are spoken.
Looking at a map, the 48 contiguous states in the U.S. could fit inside the outline of Africa three times. Without a doubt, Africa is a big place with so much to offer.
Curious eyes stare out a bus window in Kampalla, Uganda.
I love the country, although at times it’s frustratingly corrupt. In spite of this, there’s great adventure and opportunities to learn and grow. Anyone wanting clean and orderly should stay home in the U.S. and visit Walt Disney World for the Wild Africa Trek. Anyone wanting the joy that comes with experiencing new and unplanned discoveries or making new friends, then Africa is waiting.
My current visit to Africa is to set the groundwork for a return trip in 2017. I have previously taken members of the University of Nebraska Sigma Phi Epsilon (Sig Ep) fraternity to South America. Asking where else in the world I could take them, I suggested Africa and specifically Uganda.
My first visit to Uganda was in 2007 when I was exploring the White Nile River. Back then it had areas that were a “no go,” including locations that had rebel soldier activities in the North. But the areas I did explore, I loved. Winston Churchill coined the phrase “Uganda is the pearl of Africa,” which I interpret to mean small but packed with beauty.
The unpredictable is part of the charm of exploring Africa.
Small when compared to many African countries, Uganda is about the size of Oregon. Included are lakes, snow-capped mountains, rain forest and open savannahs. There also is the abundance of wildlife these ecosystems support.
When I looked out the plane window as it landed in Uganda at 11 p.m., it was mostly dark. The international airport in Entebbe, Uganda, sits on the edge of Lake Victoria, which is a body of fresh water second only in size to Lake Superior.
I walked off the plane and into the tropical air of Uganda; it brought fond memories and feelings. It felt good to be back, like seeing an old friend you hadn’t seen in years but thought about often.
Traveling with me for two weeks was my friend, Max Rodenburg, from Lincoln who is a law student at the University of Nebraska. Max and I had traveled to the Amazon Rainforest in 2014 on a Sig Ep trip. Now, we were traveling as a team to plan the framework for the 2017 journey. This was Max’s first trip to Africa.
Vendors selling roasted corn in Kampalla, Uganda.
“Ask for the East Africa tourist visa,” I instructed Max before we entered immigration. This visa covers entry into Uganda, Rwanda and Kenya; offers multiple entries; and costs the same as single entry visa to just one of the countries.
I walked up to the immigration window and requested the East Africa visa.
The immigration officer asked, “Where is your onward ticket to Rwanda?”
“I don’t have it yet because I will buy a bus ticket,” I answered.
“How do you know you can do this?”
“Because I’ve done it before,” I replied.
“OK, just so you know we are very serious here in Uganda at immigration,” he stated sternly.
“I know,” I said with a smile, “and Uganda is filled with nice people.”
I spoke loudly to Max, who was standing at the next window going through the same process. “Tell them you will be buying your bus ticket to Rwanda.”
His immigration officer just looked at me. I smiled. Max got his visa.
Next stop was baggage claim and the ATM to get some local money.
A taxi driver approached us and asked where we were going. I told him we were headed to Kampala and asked how much it would cost.
When he answered it would be $100, I said I would give him $30.
He smiled and replied, “OK, we go.”
Even though it had been six years, I had not forgotten how to bargain in Africa.