Curse in the Serengeti

Curse in the Serengeti

by Mark D. Jordahl

Another flat tire...

On the Road

I didn’t go to Africa believing in curses.  Well, I didn’t not believe, but never having had one put on me before, I just wasn’t sure.

This took place during a year when my wife, Devin, and I were living in Uganda.  Two friends of ours, Kim and Raphe, had come from Seattle to visit us.  They had both been in the Peace Corps in the past, which was good, because this turned out to be the kind of trip that required a suspension of any commitment to things going the way they are supposed to go.  They were the perfect companions for this type of a trip, and every time our plans required an abrupt change, Raphe would reassure us by saying “I’ve got a real positive feeling about this one.”

The centerpiece of their visit was to be a road trip from Uganda, through Kenya and into Tanzania, where we would do a safari in the Serengeti and Ngorogoro Crater.  Now let’s face it – a safari in the Serengeti is a life-long dream for many of us from the first time we hear that tantalizing word.  Say it once, and think about the images it invokes.  Sunsets, explorers and adventurers, the unknown, vast savannahs filled with limitless wildlife.  Our friends had come a long way for this experience, and we wanted it to be perfect.

We had a great plan in place.  We were going to load up our Toyota station wagon in Kampala and start driving southwest towards the Tanzania border.  What’s that?  A station wagon doesn’t fit into that image of Serengeti that I just woke up in you?  Maybe you were thinking of something a little more, well, Land Rover-y?  I have to take a moment to defend our car (this will be relevant later on, I promise).  Nicknamed the Bee-eater after a family of beautiful African birds, this was not just any station wagon – my wife and I had taken it on nearly ten safaris at this point, and it had been a trusty companion for me while I was doing my fieldwork in Murchison Falls National Park in northwestern Uganda.  It had gotten us into, through and out of a number of pretty dicey situations.  No matter what anyone else might say, this car had every right to be heading into the Serengeti.

Anyway, our plan was to head southwest out of Kampala, cross the border into Tanzania near Mutukula, catch a ferry from Bukoba to Mwanza which would put us within a couple of hours of Serengeti National Park.  Once there we would spend some time in Serengeti, then continue down into Ngorongoro Crater, then pass through Kenya back to Uganda, completing a full circumnavigation of Lake Victoria.  Timing was somewhat critical, however, given the fact that the ferry only left Bukoba every few days.

Flexibility is a good thing.  My wife had been struggling with her Ugandan work visa for  most of the nine months we had lived there at this point.  This wasn’t really a problem as long as we stayed within Uganda’s borders.  However, our friends were coming for a perfect trip through two other countries in East Africa.  We had been feeling some urgency for a couple of months to deal with this visa issue so that we could make this trip happen.  Unfortunately, urgency and African bureaucracy create a positive feedback loop – an increase in urgency results in an increase in bureaucracy.  By the time Kim and Raphe arrived in Uganda we were pretty sure we weren’t going to make that ferry.

We were all willing to let go of that, though.  The nice thing about driving a loop is that you can do it in any direction.  We made plans to reverse directions, and the new plan bought us a couple of days in terms of catching the ferry on the return trip from Mwanza.  A very good Ugandan friend helped us to negotiate a painfully large bribe with an Immigration official, Devin got a visa extension, and we were off on our trip.

It felt great to be on the road.  The immigration operation wasn’t finished until late in the day, but we wanted to get out of Kampala.  It is not recommended to drive after dark in any of the countries on our itinerary, so we just drove an hour and a half to the lakeside town of Jinja, which is the location of the famed “Source of the Nile,” discovered by John Hanning Speke and/or Samuel Baker, or this distinction could possibly go to the thousands of Ugandans living there for generations.

We had a restful and uneventful night in Jinja and left early the next morning to get to the border crossing in Busia as soon as it opened.  We passed into Kenya around 8 a.m. and were immediately amazed by the quality of the roads.  Driving in Uganda is a bit like skiing an Olympic slalom course.  There are potholes that will swallow a car, and often the “paved” part is only one lane wide, with half of that on each side of center.  The general belief seems to be that the faster you drive, the thinner your vehicle becomes, so most drivers, especially drivers of buses, seem to speed up through these narrow sections, causing no small amount of angst for those of us in little station wagons.

Kenya, on the other hand, gave us the immediate impression of relative wealth and impressive infrastructure.  The people we saw along the road were fashionably dressed, and even many of the small towns we passed through had factories or other industry as opposed to Uganda, where such things are limited to the capital and one or two other large towns.  With great roads we were able to make very good time through Kenya.  The only thing that really slowed us down were the police officers stationed every ten kilometers or so along the highway pulling everyone over to try to extort a bribe –  “Hello wazungu (white people) – What did you bring me?”  Devin, in a moment of brilliance, came up with the response that we used for the rest of our trip – “We bring you greetings from Uganda!”  There would then be a moment of awkward silence as we all stared at each other until the officer, thinking us too stupid to understand what he meant, would wave us on.

We made it to the border of Tanzania in a few short hours, and then the fun started.  At border crossings around the world you are often inundated with people wanting to change currency for you.  This border was no exception, and the changers were quite aggressive.  We wanted to wait until we got into Tanzania before changing money, so we said “no” to the men on this side, which did not make them happy.  Although we never actually saw them putting the curse on our car, this was when it happened.

It had been a warm, sunny day for our entire drive.  It was not until someone pointed out our flat tire that it started pouring rain.  Pouring.  Regardless, Raphe and I got on it like a pit crew and had the tire changed in a few short minutes, after which the rain let up.  We looked at our handiwork and noticed that our spare was only about half-full of air.  We weren’t too concerned, though, because we only had to get to Tarime, a town ten kilometers away where we were going to spend the night.  We could have both tires fixed there.

We made it to Tarime and were guided to the local tire fix-it place.  The men at the shop got right to work on the tires while the four of us got to know Juma.  Juma is an African Muslim name that means “born on a Friday.”  We were pretty convinced that right after he was born he went to check out the Friday night action in a local bar and hadn’t left since.  He was an amorous man with a particular interest in Devin and Kim, although Raphe and I were not entirely left out of his affections.  He spoke an interesting blend of Swahili, English and Jibberish.  With those to choose from I decided to respond mostly in Jibberish, and we had a very pleasant conversation while we each took turns forcibly removing his hands from whichever of us was closest to him.

After what felt like an eternity, our tires were ready and we headed to the hotel we had chosen for the night.  Our room was fine, and Kim’s initial foray into the bathroom showed our plumbing to consist of a large barrel of cold water and our local fauna to consist of a cockroach the size of a small poodle.  We were a little surprised by the two-and-a-half

Chicken feet, anyone?

hour wait for our dinner, but it was all worth it when we saw Raphe’s plate arrive.  He had ordered ku-ku, which is Swahili for chicken.  Or, apparently, it is Swahili for “unrecognizable parts of a chicken.”  I’m not quite sure what the word is for the parts of the chicken that have meat on them.  The only part on his plate that we could identify was the fried foot.

We had befriended a Tanzanian truck driver for the evening who informed me that my “friend doesn’t know how to eat!”  He then grabbed the foot from Raphe and with a sickening crunching sound proceeded to show us how it is done.  His other lesson to us was another useful technique for dealing with the cops along the highway – pat all of your pockets as if you are looking for money, put a distressed look on your face and say “oh, sorry for today.”  We never used that one at a roadblock, but we found many other uses for it over the next few weeks.

Arrival in the Serengeti

Wildebeest

Serengeti Wildebeest

Another early morning brought us to the gates of Serengeti National Park.  We were all incredibly excited and ready to get on with our safari.  The parks in Tanzania are extremely expensive compared to the Ugandan parks, but we parted with our money gladly for the experience we were about to have.  We were coming in from the western and lesser-used gate, which is about 150 kilometers from the main center of the park, Seronera, where the visitor center, campgrounds, and the bulk of the animals are located.  Even so, on our way in we saw baboons, wildebeest, topi, ostrich, gazelles, giraffe, lion cubs in a tree, and one lone, huge elephant that took us by surprise as we rounded a corner.

About one hundred kilometers into the park, we started listing to one side.  Sure enough, that same tire had gone flat.  No problem, though.  We had just had the spare fixed, so we’d swap out the tires.  Devin and Kim were on lookout to make sure that Raphe and I didn’t get eaten by anything while we were focused on the tire (you get this funny, vulnerable feeling whenever you are out of your car in the game parks).  I must admit that our hearts sunk a bit when we pulled out the completely flat spare tire.  Apparently “fixed” was a bit of an overstatement.

We drew straws for who would hitchhike the fifty kilometers to park headquarters, get the tire fixed and somehow return to the car.  I lost.  Did I mention that this is the “lesser-used” way into the park?  After an hour and a half or so during which two safari vehicles blazed past us going the other direction and one stopped to essentially tell us we were screwed because there was no radio reception out there to contact the park staff, I was finally picked up by a vehicle heading into the park headquarters.  The driver, of course, had to check with his clients to see if it was ok to pick me up.  They readily agreed, and I quickly realized why.  They seated me next to “the Professor” – a kindly old gentleman who proceeded to talk my ear off for the next hour.  I think the rest of the clients were relieved to have a break.

They dropped me at the garage, where the mechanic was able to find an old, beat-up inner tube that he was able to patch enough to hold some air.  They didn’t have any new tubes that would fit our tires.  It turns out that not many people come to the Serengeti in Toyota station wagons.  Huh.  I spent the next two hours just trying to find a way back out to our car.  I was told that I could hire someone for $1 per kilometer, each way.  That would mean over $100 just to get back to the car.  I met some very helpful Tanzanian safari guides, though, who told me that I should just demand that the park give me a ride out in one of their vehicles.  After all, that’s what we paid all the money for.

I finally arranged a ride back in a park vehicle.  We arrived at the car to a chorus of cheers and smiles.  Everything was

Serengeti Saviors

going our way now.  We had a patched tire to get us back to headquarters.  Once we got there we could also fix the spare, and we’d be back on track with our safari, with only half a day lost.  Fortunately, the park folks insisted they follow us back.  Ten kilometers down the road, the same tire went flat again.  We tossed both flat tires and all of our camping gear into the back of the park truck, left our car propped on a pile of rocks for the night, and as we pulled away we looked back at it, wondering if we’d ever see it again.

Preparing to leave the car for the night

The guys from the park dropped us at the campground and said they’d get our tires fixed and pick us up in the morning.  Cool.  I have to take a moment to mention that the campgrounds in Serengeti National Park have to be among the most unpleasant anywhere.  You are packed in with a bunch of other tents, in a flat area with no trees or bushes, and the ground is covered with sharp thorns that poke through your tent, therma-rest and back like scalpels.  There is no shower, and you can be in the bathrooms for about as long as you can hold your breath.  To add insult to injury, they are also some of the most expensive campgrounds anywhere, charging $20 per person per night, so the four of us spent $80 per night for this luxury experience.  Basically, the Serengeti is not set up for the independent traveler.

The intrepid gentlemen from the park arrived in the morning as promised, with our two fixed tires in the truck.  They brought us back to our car, put one of the tires on, we loaded the other tire and all of our stuff in the back of the car and off we went…for another ten kilometers.  We heard a horrible thunking sound and felt the car swerving a bit.  We couldn’t believe it.  Sure enough, the SAME tire was totally flat.  We jacked up the car, pulled off the tire, and saw a big piece of rebar that had gone entirely through the sidewall in two places.  At this point we knew something strange was going on.  This piece of rebar could have gone though any of the four tires, but it chose this same, cursed tire.  And, of course, there is also the question of what the heck a piece of rebar was doing in the middle of the Serengeti in the first place.

Fortunately, the spare got us to park headquarters and we brought the other tire back to the garage. The rebar had shredded the inner tube to a point where it was impossible to patch, and the two huge holes in the sidewall meant that it could no longer function as a tubeless tire.  We needed tubes, and we didn’t want to take the chance of driving ourselves out of the park to try to find them.  With the luck we were having, we knew we wouldn’t make it the 200-300 kilometers to the nearest town.

There is a plane that brings tourists and supplies from Arusha to Seronera three times per day.  It took us about three hours to convince the park staff that they could have their office in Arusha purchase two inner tubes, put them on the plane, and then we would pay for them when they arrived.  They were incredibly reluctant to do this, apparently because the Arusha office was concerned that they would never get the money back from the park.  We calmly explained to the woman we were dealing with that we were now her problem, because we couldn’t leave the park without those tubes.  Suddenly she was as motivated as we were to get the tubes and made all the necessary arrangements.  They would arrive at 11am the next morning.

We knew at this point that we were not going to make it to Ngorongoro Crater, and were starting to wonder if we would even get to see any of the wildebeest migration that we had come to Serengeti to see.  We did not feel comfortable heading out onto the game tracks without a functioning spare, so we started thinking about alternatives.  During my first hitchhiking foray to Seronera I had met a very friendly Tanzanian who worked for Wild Frontiers Safaris.  He was the camp manager for a National Geographic camera crew who was there to film the migration crossing the Gramini River.  The wildebeest were not yet crossing, so they had an extra vehicle and driver sitting back at the camp.  We made arrangements for him to take us on a drive that afternoon.

The drive was everything we could have hoped for, and having a professional driver allowed us to learn the main tracks and where the animals could be found, as well as giving all of us the opportunity to stand up in the back of his Land Cruiser without any of us having to focus on the driving.  We had a blast and asked him to come back the next morning to take us for an early drive before 11am, when our tubes were to arrive.

After another great drive in the morning, he dropped us back at our car, and we headed down to the park office to pick up our new tubes.  When we got there they informed us that they hadn’t gotten the tubes on the plane, but that they would be coming at 1pm on a bus.  We were frustrated about losing another two hours, but it gave us some time to explore the impressive visitor center.  After a while we went to check on the progress of the bus and learned that it had been held at the gate to Ngorongoro Crater because of an accident on the road, and was still 7-8 hours away.  At this point we were about ready to cry.

We assessed our situation and decided that we now knew the main tracks and could drive completely in areas that had a lot of other safari vehicles.  As we saw the potential to lose another half day of our trip, we decided it was worth taking the chance with our car knowing that we could probably hitch a ride back to Seronera if we got another flat tire.  We had a great afternoon surrounded by tens of thousands of wildebeest and zebras, saw lions, two cheetahs stalking a herd of Thompson’s gazelles, and closed the day by seeing two serval cats just at sundown.  Our tire was still holding, and as we came back to the visitor center we saw the bus arriving.

We braved the absolute chaos of the loading and unloading of the bus and somehow tracked down the guy (named “God” of all things) who had our inner tubes.  We took them back to camp with us, feeling elated by the fact that we had the tubes, we’d get them fixed in the morning and be in better shape than ever since our spare was still holding.  We would have a brand-new tube in our ailing tire, and we’d even have the other tube as a spare.  We had a great dinner cooked on our campstove, finished off our bottle of Amarula, and went off to the deep sleep of the saved, knowing that we had smooth sailing ahead of us.

The next morning we were all still feeling great until Raphe made the big mistake of looking at the car.  Sure enough, the SAME tire was flat.  The one we had been driving on all afternoon the day before out on the game tracks.  And, here we were up at the campsite with only three good tires.  It was only about five kilometers down to the garage, but this isn’t really an environment where you can walk that distance without the fear of getting eaten.

Raphe and I eventually found someone to give us a ride down from the campsite to the garage.  The mechanic put the new tube into our main tire, wrapped it in a second layer of an old shredded tube for good measure, put the other tube into our spare and sent us off, probably hoping he’d never see us again.  And, I’m happy to say, he didn’t.  At least not after the hour and a half that it took us to find somebody to drive us back to the campsite with our tires.

We put on the newly repaired tire, loaded up and headed straight for the park exit.  Unfortunately, all of the delays of the morning meant we got to the gate one hour past the time we were supposed to be out that day.  They are pretty serious about that in Tanzania, and it cost us an extra $200 for that last hour.  As we were driving off, we were smarting a bit from that insult added to everything that had happened to us.  When I pointed out that it actually gave us another twenty-four hours of access to the park and that we could return after a good night of sleep, Raphe uttered the immortal line “Frankly, the thought of going back into that park scares the hell out of me!”

We treated ourselves to a very nice night at the Speke Bay Lodge on Lake Victoria, took our first showers in five days, and had a phenomenal dinner.  We slowly felt our energy and spirits returning and started to be able to laugh about the previous five days.  Little did we know the adventure was far from over.

Part II

We left Speke Bay in high spirits the next morning.  We had survived the Serengeti, we had five good tires, a good night of sleep behind us and a great ferry ride on Lake Victoria ahead of us.  Our conversation that morning was generously peppered with the phrase “Can you believe…?”  The sequence of events that happened after our stop at the Kenya/Tanzania border was truly uncanny, and we were feeling fortunate that nothing worse had happened.

It was an easy drive to Mwanza, the port where we would board the ferry, and we were there several hours before the ferry was to depart.  This was good, because we knew there was only limited space for cars on the boat and we wanted to be sure we got on.  Driving between Mwanza and Bukoba, the northern port for the ferry near the Ugandan border wasn’t really an option.  The actual distance by road was only about 100km, but that doesn’t always mean much in Africa.  Locals just shook their heads when we mentioned the idea of driving that road, and our guidebook listed it as a two-day drive and mentioned the name of the town where we could spend the night if we made it that far in the first day.

We really shouldn’t have been surprised when the ticket-seller at the ferry terminal told us that the crane that is used to load cars onto the boat was broken.  We felt our high spirits and hopes of a relaxing day in Mwanza melting away.  Fortunately, one of the great things about Africa is that there is always more than one way to accomplish something.  After talking to several people who worked for the ferry, we were told that there was a cargo ship that went right to Kampala that “sometimes takes passengers.”  This was actually even better than our original plan, because taking the ferry still left us with nearly a full day of driving between Bukoba and Kampala.  It would be great to just get on a boat and arrive the next morning right at our final destination.

I won’t say it was easy to find the boat, but we eventually did find it.  We met the first mate, who explained that they would be willing to take us for a fee, but that we needed to get stamped out of the country by immigration, which had an office right there at the dock.  Cool.  When we talked to the immigration officials, however, they informed us that the cargo ship was not allowed to carry passengers (which kind of makes you wonder why they have an immigration office at the dock), and that we would have to get a letter from the harbormaster approving it.  Oh yeah, and the boat was scheduled to leave in a couple of hours and it was a Sunday.

We immediately went to the harbormaster’s office and befriended his assistant.  She contacted him and told him that we were waiting to meet with him.  We waited a little over an hour for him to arrive.  He was a very friendly man who explained that it was true that the cargo ship was not able to carry passengers, so he couldn’t give us permission for liability reasons (making us feel like we were back in the U.S.).  After we gave him a “gift for his wife” he agreed to call over to the immigration officials and the captain of the ship to give his verbal consent.

Unfortunately, by the time we got back to the ship, the immigration officials had chosen to leave their post.  We thought at first that they had just left for lunch, but it quickly became clear that there was some reason they didn’t want to allow us to travel on this boat.  There was a growing crowd of Ugandans and Tanzanians also waiting for their stamps to leave the country on that same ship, so obviously this is a fairly common mode of transport between the two countries.  One of the aspiring Tanzanian travelers became our organizer, and he contacted the head of the local immigration office and began the negotiations.  There were a lot of us really wanting to get on this boat, so the bribe offered was quite substantial.  Even so, the official refused to budge.  Clearly there was something going on.  To this day we have no idea what it was, but we ended up feeling guilty that we had ruined the chance for all of the Ugandans and Tanzanians who would probably have been able to travel had we not been there.

One of the complications at this point was that we had been required to load our car on the boat several hours earlier as the captain wanted to leave as close to “on time” as possible.  That meant our car was somewhere in the bowels of the ship with some serious cargo loaded in behind it.  There was no way we were going to get our car off that boat.

We had no choice but to trust the crew of the ship as we handed over the keys.  For the second time on this trip, we wondered if we were ever going to see our car again as the ship pulled away from the dock.  We also felt a bit discouraged after having gotten our hopes up about taking this ship right to within a few miles of our home in Kampala.  It was time to come up with a new plan for getting home, which amounted to getting ourselves onto the original overnight ferry, and then going overland from Bukoba to Kampala.  We had a real positive feeling about it.

Unfortunately, during our several-hour detour to the cargo dock, all of the cabins had filled up on the ferry and all that was left were spaces on the hard wooden benches in the third-class dungeon.  Now, I feel a need to defend our desire for a cabin at this point.  None of us are luxury travelers, and we have all done our time traveling in bilges and on the backs of donkey carts and roofs of buses.  During a ride in the depths of an overloaded ferry in Indonesia a decade ago I had a cockroach crawl into my mouth when I fell asleep.  There is a time and a place for that.  This wasn’t either.  We were exhausted, frustrated and wanted to be somewhere we could lay down.

I have a theory about how public transportation works in the developing world.  Up until about five minutes before the boat, bus or train is about to leave, they will sell as many tickets as they can at full price to those who can afford to have a guaranteed seat.  Then, when ticket sales have stopped and they have “paid” for the costs of the trip, they look at how many nooks and crannies they have left and open it up on a pay-as-you-can basis.  This extra money then gets divvied up between the crew.  This is great in terms of making it possible for people to travel who otherwise could not afford it, but as a foreign traveler you need to be ready to give up on your hopes about that open seat you have next to you or even the fact that you have no chickens or small children in your lap up until moments before the departure time.  That open space is a fantasy, and the sooner you accept that the more relaxed you will be.

The thing about traveling in the bottom of a boat is that there are no windows and, hence, no fresh air.  As this small, metal room began to fill, we could feel our lungs constricting with the lack of oxygen.  There was no way we were going to spend the next ten hours crammed into this space.  At the same time, we were afraid that if we got up to look for other places on the boat, our spots in this compartment would quickly be filled like the Red Sea behind the Israelites.  We decided that Raphe would go on a scouting mission while the rest of us would defend his five inches on the bench with our lives.

He came back with a smile on his face, and we quickly grabbed our things and charged for the exit.  There was an audible “pop” as the vacuum left by our departure was filled instantly with people and livestock.  We breathed huge gasps of relief as we stepped out onto the upper deck, where we spent the night wrapped in sleeping bags and jackets.

The overland journey was fairly uneventful except for a few phone calls we received en route.  The first was from our

Bus to Kampala

friend Harriet who had been watching our house.  She informed us that our home had been broken into while we were gone, our phone had been stolen through the window and the robber was about to enter the house when she scared him off.  The second was from the engineer of the cargo ship who told us that they were arriving at the dock and we needed to pick up our car right away because it couldn’t be left in the customs lot.  This was a bit of a complication, as we were still at least five hours from Kampala.

We quickly called another friend of ours, Godfrey, who is a driver.  We asked him to get a second driver, go down to the dock, pick up our car, and drop it at our house.  We had a real positive feeling about this plan.  Unfortunately, Godfrey apparently has a bit too much faith in his talents as a driver, as he somehow thought he could drive both cars back himself, and went to the dock alone.  To his credit, he couldn’t have known the trouble that would cause.

We got another call in a few hours from the engineer.  As Godfrey had not brought a second driver, the engineer had agreed to drive our car into town.  He was at my wife’s office with our car, and had just gotten a call from the dock saying that customs needed to see some of the paperwork for the vehicle.  When we got back into town I met him at the office and we drove together back to the dock, ownership papers in hand.  I was frustrated having to go back, given that I hadn’t slept much in the previous forty-eight hours and hadn’t showered or changed clothes in three days, but I hoped I could just show my papers and be on my way.

Imagine my surprise when I walked into the office and was informed that I was under arrest for smuggling.  I had visions of spending weeks in a Ugandan prison and was not at all happy about it.  It turns out that since the customs staff knew the ship’s engineer, they didn’t bother to stop him when he drove out of the lot in our car.  Now I was being told that they had no way of knowing that I had not smuggled anything, as my car had entered the country without clearing customs.

My patience was wearing pretty thin at this point, but I explained as calmly as I could that I wasn’t even back in the country yet when this had happened, and that it seemed to me like allowing the car to leave the lot was the mistake of their own staff.  Eventually she came around to my side and agreed that it wasn’t really my fault, but that there wasn’t anything she could do about it because she had already “turned in the report.”  There is some idea in Uganda that once something is written down on a sheet of paper, there is nothing anybody can do to change it.

She said I would probably have to pay a fine and began the process of contacting the police department to find out how much it would be.  When she came back with a figure of $5,000, it pushed me a little over the edge, especially given that the car wasn’t even worth that much.  I had been in the situation several times in Uganda where somebody else’s mistake became my problem, but it had never been such a costly problem before.  When I flat-out refused to pay the fine, she said I could put in a complaint with the “Big Man” at headquarters and maybe he could reduce the fine.

It was about 5:30 at this point, so everything was about to close.  I called Devin to come meet me at headquarters.  She got there first and befriended a member of the Chamber of Commerce, who took us under his wing and brought us in to meet with the Big Man.  After a very long explanation, a check of our passports to see when and where we had crossed the border the day before and several calls to people at the dock, he decided to give us the “B.O.D.” (Benefit Of the Doubt).  On our way out he chastised us and told us that if we were going to travel between countries in our car we should learn the laws in each place.  I had to bite my tongue to prevent from telling him his staff should learn the laws of their country.

Because of the lateness of the hour we couldn’t get our car until the next morning.  The next day I grudgingly paid a small bribe to the police officer guarding the lot, but seriously lost my temper when the men watching the gate asked for a soda for “watching my car”.  If they had done their job the day before and not let the car out in the first place, life would have been a lot easier for me.  I told them in no uncertain terms that they owed me a soda.  I went home, customs clearance papers in hand, to a waiting bottle of whiskey and finally began to relax.

Despite all of the frustrations, we realized that we had gotten to see a side of Africa that very few people get to see.  We had countless positive interactions with park staff in the Serengeti who most people never meet, we got to see the behind-the-scenes operations of the park, we met some wonderful and helpful safari guides, we learned something about cargo shipping on Lake Victoria, we learned a lot about patience, and we learned that travel can be a lot more fun when you let go of your expectations.

Our sense of calm lasted two days before we got woken up in the middle of the night with our next adventure.

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4 responses

10 12 2010
Emmanuel

I admire the whole bunch of you. I am a Ugandan who lived in Uganda for 23 years before I left the country only to return 30 years later and 9 uninterrupted months of frustration that was occasionally peppered with surprises and frustrations the likes of which are as interesting and infuriating as the experience you narrate. Stay positive is all I can say. Keep an open mind and, while Uganda is a very challenging place to those of us who have had the privilege of enjoying systems that work almost all of the time, I would never trade it for any other place on the planet. That includes places I have never been to and have no plans of visiting either.

10 12 2010
Mark Jordahl

It is, indeed, an amazing place, which is why I can’t seem to stay away. I’m glad to hear that you made your way back here after so many years abroad. I am always happy to hear about Ugandans who have had the chance to live abroad and have realized that while there are many advantages in the “west,” much of value has also been lost. But how to explain that to the many people every day who ask me to “take them to America?”

Mark

26 10 2010
Byteful Travel Blog Carnival #3 – 2010 Oct 26 | Byteful Travel

[…] Jordahl presents: Curse in the Serengeti posted at Wild Thoughts from […]

9 08 2010
The Rush of “Freshly Pressed” « Wild Thoughts from Uganda

[…] Curse in the Serengeti […]

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