The Explorer Belt - Heather's Journal

    Tuesday 15th August; Day 1 - Jinja to Nakabugu.

6.47am. Drag myself into the conscious world. By 7.15am we had all started the final packing of rucksacks... We had to pile everything into the campsite hall, so it could all be checked off on my equipment list and organised into my rucksack. I'm really glad we had the XB meeting last night so Nick could go through our routes, recommended places to stay and fine details of an expedition through such a foreign country. I was starting to feel a little scared, as well as excited, especially when the rest of the contingent left site yesterday. So now there are just the ten of us left, but we've been here a few days and we're getting used to it, I like it here. Now we are here, everything seems so real, not the imaginary expedition as its been so far... we are actually going to trek 100 miles around an unfamiliar - well to us at least - part of Uganda, completing projects along the way, it's not everybody's ideal summer holiday!

XB Expedition (with Nick and Mr Dick) at Jinja

Rain. Ahhh!

Well, when it rains here even the fish take cover... the somewhat torrential rain has already flooded out half of the campsite, leaving tents floating above the grass! This doesn't seem as severe as before, but it's not the best start to the day. The minibus to take us to our individual set off points, is running on Ugandan time, i.e. at least an hour late, but at least it's turned up now. The rain has got to the track again and so turned the red soil into a mud slide, making us walk up to the road for the bus - well we're not pushing buses out of the mud again! We finally set off at around 10am to start the first day of our explorer belt award. Nick teases us by handing out our team minor projects, but we agree not to open the dreaded envelopes until we all part company. Richard and I, with Barbara our team Ugandan scout, are the first to be dropped off, in Buwenge, 11am. It felt quite emotional saying goodbye to everyone on the bus, knowing we were on our own for 10 days, but I think we found confidence in each other - as no one wanted to start crying before we'd even done anything!

Still raining we jump off the bus and wave goodbye, then promptly run for shelter as the bus speeds off leaving us to fend for ourselves. Feeling guilty for using the local shop front for cover, we buy a bottle of Sprite each to go with the cold tin of spaghetti we were eating for breakfast and open the projects. I was absolutely stunned by the first four minor projects we'd been given - we were only going to be walking in the Kamuli district, there are no town or cities in this area and what is the 'send a cow' scheme?! Well at least the others were a little more usual - learning a dance, cooking a traditional meal for a family and I'm sure joining in with a church service will be an experience! Standing on the main street of Buwenge was a little daunting, not really sure where to turn next, so we decide to make an early start on our projects by talking to the shopkeeper and his friend. Differing accents and pronunciation of words proved for an interesting attempt to make conversation, but for all the research we did, see the included project write up.

We then check out the place, looking where shops are; the fact that all the buildings look the same so it's hard to tell what they are unless the have a sign outside! Due to the fact we are in a rural farming community, all the villages here are very small in the centre - the shops usually all based around one main strip of road, or in this case a crossroads - with all the houses and fields out of sight in the surrounding areas. Our main objective for today is to walk the 11 miles to Nakabale and set up camp. We will usually be getting up a lot earlier to set off before to sun rises, but due to today's delay, we need to get going... Two of the other groups have elected to camp at their start village tonight, so they will have to split their distance over nine days instead of ten. So, off we head to Nakabale, via the only village en route, Luzinga.

Walking in the pouring rain for five miles allowed us time to get to know Barbara better, as we'd only met two days previously - but then Richie and I hadn't known each other for much longer really, before agreeing to spend ten days (well actually the whole three weeks), in the same two-man hike tent! Keeping to good time, we arrived in Luzinga to have lunch. Going to a restaurant is the best/cheapest/only place to go and eat here. They do, however, bring a new point of view to restaurants, with no electricity and just two wooden tables with a long bench, and due to the lack of windows, let's hope they have some form of candles for when it gets dark! We bravely order a plate of food each - with a bit of everything on - and tried our first piece of goat meat. They only have the basic Ugandan foods out in this district, as it is not a tourist area, so not even a sniff of any English food for the next ten days - well at least we get the chance to experience the real Uganda. During lunch we chat to the other customers, and continue researching our projects. We do find out that a local teacher here (in a poor district), only gets paid 75,000 Ugandan shillings a year - which equates to around 30 per year- but then over here everything is at least 3 times cheaper than the UK, but still...

Our delayed start means that it's getting quite late, so we make the decision to hire some Buda Buda's - the local form of transport - motorised bikes, not much more powerful than a moped! The next half an hour was the most fun and also the scariest journey I've ever been on - each bike had on it the driver and one member of our team, whilst wearing their rucksack! So it took all the muscles we had to hold on for dear life and not to let our bags pull us down and off the back! What made it even worse was that to save on petrol, they cut the engine on the downhill sections and then had to start it again before we went uphill! Eventually we arrived in Nakabale, but as we found out, Ugandans are terrible at judging distances. After a 15 minute walk into the actual centre of Nakabale, we found out that no one had even heard of the Sub-County HQ we were supposed to be staying in tonight! As this village only had one shop and about 12 houses, we continue down the road to see what we could find. After about five or six miles of nothing, we came upon a crossroads of small tracks, so we ask the man hoeing his garden for directions. He was actually 80 years old, with white hair and everything, and I'll bet the oldest person we meet (task 2). All he could tell us, was that there is no S/C HQ in Nakabale, so we could either go off route another 6 miles to one he knows of, or carry on to the next village where there is a police post.

The group decision was to stick to our XB route and carry on to what was now scheduled as tomorrow's distance. We soon came to what was signposted as Nakabugu, set around a tiny crossroads. Fortunately there was a police post there and so we went over to beg an area of grass to camp on for the night. Mental Note; bring this up with Nick "I've been to everywhere you're staying and sorted it with the correct people" Winter, when we get back! It fortunately turned out that Stuart and Athol are due to camp here tomorrow night, so the nice policeman with the AK47 was expecting Scouts to be staying on his lawn anyway! Phew, it could have been a little complicated otherwise. By this time the locals had begun to gather around us, watching everything we did, so we set up our tents and Barbara jumped into hers. Completely knackered by this point, Richie gives a little speech of welcome and thanks, etc, to the villagers, but as we try to go to bed, somebody who we think is the local priest turns up. He actually turns out to be the village drunk - spouting philosophy, greeting us numerous times, praising god and asking us to 'save all the children' - so we gracefully say goodnight and hide in our tents until morning!

Before bed we sat and discussed our first day, and it turned out that - although my legs are aching and I think I might suffer tomorrow - we actually walked all of today's distance and we're half way towards tomorrow's site already! So it should be an easier day than today has been, and we should meet some people who are expecting us and so hopefully complete some of our projects. I'll be glad to set off tomorrow, as this is a scary village - not just due to our encounter with the drunk man - there are no sounds, no children laughing and no traffic, it could be deserted for all we know. But happy with the distance we, grudgingly, covered today, tomorrow will be brighter - I've organised the sun - and we'll be up before it shines!!!

    Wednesday 16th August; Day 2 - Nakabugu to Naigobia.

9am. After debating the possibility that the scary people could still be outside our tents, we got up, dressed and braved the outside. The village did seem nicer in the bright morning light, so we asked directions to the local borehole to fill our containers with water for the day. Of course the obligatory signing of visitor's books followed, before we were allowed to leave. The 'jungle telegraph', as Nick calls it, is working well today, as we had a visit from the local Scout Leader. Richie gave him a set of Peterborough badges and I'm sure he'd managed to illegally invest him into his Cub Scout Pack! After letting our tents dry from last night's rainstorm and talking to the Scout Leader about local dialects, we packed up and left by 10.30am. Usually this would be far too late to start a day's walking, due to the intense heat that comes by around 9am, but thanks to yesterday, it only took us an hour or so to arrive in Naigobia.

The friendly Scout Leader said he would walk the way to Naigobia with us, and en route we came across a Primary School. As we passed it, all the children came running out to see us, and in the crowd I saw a young lad of about nine or ten with a Manchester United football shirt on! Well it is true that you don't have to live in Manchester to be a red devils fan! The Scout Leader introduced us to the principle of the Technical College in Naigobia, who was already waiting for us in the centre. After the introductions and some liquid refreshment, he took us down to the college where it had been arranged for us to stay, where students learn farming and building skills. So then we set up our tents under the huge tree in the centre of the grounds, in an attempt to keep our tents in the shade. Next we went into the principle's office, where Mr. Kafuko Lawrence chatted to us about our expedition and projects, and we signed their visitor's book. Promising to help, Mr. Lawrence then took us to see the local councillor, known as the LC1 Vice Chairman. There we spoke of our projects and convinced him to provide the necessary cooking equipment and food, so that we could cook a traditional Ugandan meal, which we were going to actually prepare for some of the college's older students.

Mr. Lawrence then had to leave for the next village and so he left us with his deputy, who had a massive smile and a better accent to understand! Before we started tea, I had an hour or so to catch up on my journal and do a couple more drawings in the mini sketchpad I've brought with me. As yesterday, we are quickly surrounded by locals - mostly children, but not all. They don't come too close, as they're still quite cautious and they are all in their identical turquoise green school shirts, which is possibly one of only two sets of clothes. We eventually started the wood fire at 2.30pm and it took three hours in total to prepare, cook, eat and wash everything up! We made 'Katogo' which contains cassova (potato like veg), chopped up and boiled, mixed with a groundnut paste... it took at least half an hour just to bash up the groundnuts and add the water for the paste! The cassova also took an age to prepare, especially when Richie kept on chopping his finger instead of the cassova - and then it had to boil for an hour! At last we got to eat it, the students seemed impressed that we'd managed to do it, but it wasn't as good as the experts! We were told that Katogo is one of the most basic meals for a family to have, as it's very cheap, so many of the poorer families would have to eat this as often as every other day.

Heather preparing cassova

We continue asking the students about their daily routines and other aspects of their lives for our project work. We also did as the local children do, and eat raw lemons!... Richie thought they'd be some kind of sweet lemon, but as we took a bite, nooo!! So we gave up and made a sort of lemon juice, by squeezing all the juice out and adding water - it was nice, ish! I like this village a lot, they are so friendly and helpful and the children laugh and play like they should. It would be nice to stay here tomorrow and maybe complete another project, but we have another eight days ahead of us for that, and we should be in Namwendwa. Well, they turn the sun off at 7.10pm every night here on the equator, so I'm going to bed to get a good night's sleep.

    Thursday 17th August; Day 3 - Naigobia to Namwendwa.

7.10am. Didn't sleep very well after all... we had decided to try sleeping with our rucksacks as pillows, but we are in a small, compact hike tent, so Richie and I just ended up squidged at the bottom of the tent. So with my muscles aching, Richie tried to demand that I get up, so I promptly turn over for another ten minutes - that is so not the way to convince me to get up! We got up and packed away, but after leaving our XB notification card of being there, we still didn't go until 10.30am. D'oh. We'll have at least two hours in the sun walking, so we best be careful to cover up.

It actually took us the two hours just to get to the small village of Bucoova, only half our distance... the maps we took our route off are so inaccurate! We stopped there for refreshment and spoke to a group of locals. We found out a lot of useful information on teenage daily life, for our major project, but we were also asked a lot of questions about England; it's school and government systems mainly. We were both then made an offer by one of the men... Richie could marry his sister if I would marry him, we gracefully declined! Due to the increased midday heat, we arranged to hire Buda Buda's to take us to Namwendwa, which the signpost said was 10km. We'll see! Well today's transport was even more fun than previously, and I'm sure our contingent leader Eric Goulding would lose a considerable amount of hair if he had seen us! The locals had only managed to find 2 bikes, and so on one we had to fit the driver, me and then Barbara on the back wearing her rucksack, with the other one having the driver, Richie and then the other two rucksacks strapped on the back! It took a lot of effort to get going, but once we were off it was great; the wind blowing my pigtailed hair, with bandana and shades on; very 80's rock!

After about half an hour of holding on and being sandwiched on the bike, we arrived in a bustling and lively town, far larger than the villages we'd been in so far. It had a huge sign in the centre of the main roundabout, with Namwendwa in large letters. It also had a signpost pointing to various villages, and Kamuli isn't far if we were to go straight from here... This town definitely looks like a fab place to be; it looks like a large trading post, as it's on the main road to Kamuli centre, and so it has lots of restaurants, pubs and unexpected shops like a stationary and a camera shop. We also saw a drug store, where you can buy paracetamol over the counter, singularly, which come in a brown paper bag!

We were sent along the road a kilometre to where we found a typical looking Sub-County HQ; it was a rectangular building with a community hall at the front and a couple of offices at the back for the officials. The grass outside is where we should be camping for the night, so we had to wait for a public meeting to end before we could speak to the chairman in charge. Just as we were sat on the grass, we saw a white car speeding down the road, dust clouds billowing behind, when it turned to do a 180deg, pulling up on the grass a few feet away! We sighed in relief as it turned out to be Nick Winter and Dick Booth, our XB co-ordinators, coming to check on us! It was fantastic to see them; Nick hadn't shaved in a few days and looks completely at home out here (well he's already got their driving style down to a T!). At least we know that Nick's been able to follow the XB cards we've left in every place, but then the jungle telegraph always knows what's going on! They checked we were ok, no major problems or incidents and then before they left to see the next group, they made us jealous... apparently the Pallisa group which is doing a week long static project, are enjoying fabulous feasts and wonderful hospitality! Oh well, we'll have to stick to rice I think!

After we manage to talk to the chairman and sign his visitor's book, we head off to the nearest borehole. An 18 yr old student stops us along the way to tell that us the borehole is too far away, and that we should go to his house where he will give us water. So we follow him to his little mud hut home, where he fills all of our containers from his jerry can. As thanks we offer to help with any repairs to his mud house (task 5!), but he explains the walls are fine, and the holes in the roof can only be repaired by buying bundles of the grass and using a complicated method to attach them. So we thank him for the water and go back to site. Food is greatly needed, and so we find a restaurant in town to get a plate of rice and beans, a dish we really quite like (kidney bean type beans I think). The rice is flavoured with a gorgeous spice known as pilau-masala, and the dish is known as badandali and mutyele. We stop at the pub for a bottle of Chairman's ESB; great at 40pence for a half litre bottle! It can be hard to tell the difference between all these places, but usually a restaurant just has a table and a bench and a shop will have huge bags of rice, sugar, flour, etc (which they sell by the scoop full) on the floor and then hundreds of things hanging from the ceiling! Pubs will have a table or two with seats and a large chest refrigerator, if you're lucky, with all the beer piled into it. When it gets dark they are usually kind enough to bring out a small paraffin burning 'candle'. So we sat outside to enjoy our beer and took the opportunity to talk to Barbara. We chatted about all kinds of things; she asked various questions about the UK and we had a big discussion about the price of things; an average Ugandan wage would be 10,000 ugsh - about 4 per month. We also found out that students aren't allowed to drink alcohol, as it would disrupt their studies, but if you don't go to school there isn't really a set drinking age! So we finish our beer, which we're drinking through a straw due to the lack of good quality glass, and head back to site, avoiding all the bicycles with no lights in the pitch black! We watch all the fireflies in our field for a while as well as the stars; they look cool as there is absolutely no light pollution out here, then sleep!

    Friday 18th August; Day 4 - Namwendwa to Bugaya.

Hurrah! Managed to get up at a reasonable hour - it was still pouring down with rain at 5am, so we got up at 6.30am and packed away. We had to leave our tents to dry for a while as there was a major thunderstorm last night, but by 9am we were eating breakfast in the restaurant from last night. It's weird, both mine and Richie's appetites have seriously diminished. And we're down to nibbling on bread rolls and having one (hot) meal a day. I'm sure they'll pick up as we go on. We buy matoki bananas from a street-side stall, to eat later this afternoon. We have a longer distance to travel today, and as there are no villages in between here and Bugaya, so we find a man with an open backed pickup who will take us there for 15,000 ugsh (around 6 - purely fuel costs for this remote area). We pile into the back of the pickup, put my bandana and Oakley's on, a enjoy the fab journey with the wind blowing in my hair, watching the scenery go by. And it really does go by; they have no idea of slow or 'safe' driving out here!

Well, we arrive at Bugaya Sub-County HQ at around 10.15am! This gives us the whole day for project work and maybe a little time to catch up on our sleep and clothes washing! We do the usual formal greetings and introductions, and the S/C Chairman promises he is going to arrange for us to help with the repairs to some mud hut accommodation. We also talk to him about the 'send a cow' scheme, and we found that it never took place in the Kamuli district. So this makes our trip to visit a family who benefited from it impossible! But the Chairman said that he had worked in an area where it did take place, and so we spoke to him in depth about it, and found out as many details as we could for that project. We go off, put our only spare set of clothes on, so we can wash the grubby ones we've been trekking in for the past four days. Borrowing a washing bowl from a local housewife, we buy some of the famous Ugandan blue soap, which is said to be the only substance on Earth to be able to remove this damn red dust and worse, the red mud! Letting them dry, we rest in the sun and catch up on journals.

The Chairman arrives in a pickup and takes us to the village Primary School, which is 3km down a track people would usually use for off-roading!! But after a very bumpy ride, Richie, Barbara and I arrive in one piece, just about, at the school. We immediately see the problem - the school has four double-classroom buildings, room for eight classes, and the school has over 700 pupils. The difference being that all the buildings are made mud-hut style, but they haven't yet got the mud, just the cane structure, so of course the sound can travel straight through every wall. Until now that is... So after the formal introductions, we are set to doing something about the problem. The neighbouring termite mound is broken down by hoes and a jerry can of water is added - the children carry on with the mixing of the mud whilst we go inside. There we are given wet banana plant leaves, so we can tighten the lashings between the supporting poles and the horizontal crossbars. Once the mud mixing, with their feet, had been completed, we dove straight in by grabbing handfuls of the stuff and taking it inside. To make the wall, we then simply had to cram all the mud possible in between the poles and crossbars, to fill in all the spaces. In total it took one and a half hours from start to finish to have completed the end wall of one building. It's a fantastic feeling to see all the smiles on the children's faces, and to know you are helping those in need. I can't help feeling that if we could stay here for a few days, we could have the walls for all the buildings finished. But maybe that's next time's project...

We left the school after about an hour of photos and thank you's, with a few questions of when can we come back. The ride back again was enjoyed to full extent we found, by standing up in the back, leaning against the driver's cab! This way we felt fewer bumps and amused all the local children in the process! Back in Bugaya, we found that Cavus and Dan had arrived - they are camping in the same place as us tonight - and were amidst a group of the villagers, talking to them about AIDS, for their major project. We briefly joined in with the grilling they appeared to be getting, before making our excuses and leaving for the local restaurant. Another Tea of beans and rice, but this time we had meat too - it comes in a dish of it's own, usually one chunk of meat two inches square, with some of the juice it's been boiling in for the past two hours. We think it was beef, as it wasn't as chewy as the goat we had on the first day... It's dark now and we're tired, so off to bed as we have yet another day's walk tomorrow.

    Saturday 19th August; Day 5 - Bugaya to Buyende

Now that we're finally in with the daily routine, we got up at 6am this morning and we'd actually packed up and left by 7.30am - my Mum will be stunned!! After an hour we stop for a water break and I pull out my wash kit - my toothbrush and paste wrapped up in a Guinness beer towel! Keep it simple that's what I say, and there is nothing as refreshing as the simple task of brushing your teeth by the roadside! Nine miles later we arrive at the Sub-County HQ in Buyende. We had a brief trip into the centre, to ask about meeting the priest, as tomorrow is Sunday and we have to take part in a service (task 10). It appears, however, that he comes from quite a distance away, so we were told that the service is held at 9am at the Primary School, and to just turn up. Buyende is a very small place, only a few shops and a beggar - the first we've seen. But we thought it was a little scary and not nearly as friendly as some of the others, especially Namwendwa which we have renamed Mos Eisley, as it is an intergalactic spaceport! So we went back to site to cook and catch up on journals.

Using the left over matoki bananas from yesterday, we cook tea. You have to peel matoki bananas with a knife as they're so rubbery, and then once inside the skin you'll find them to be crunchy! The mistake we made the first time, was to then eat them raw, much to Barbara's amusement... these bananas have to be cut up and then boiled, as you would potatoes! In fact pretty much all food here has to boil for two hours on a charcoal burner - at least we have Richie's duel-fuel stove. Meths is difficult to buy out here, but even paraffin/kerosene can only be bought in main centres. Once tea was ready, we added one of Richie's 'garlic and parsley Knorr cubes', and it turned out really nice. Shame we didn't really have anything else to go with it except rice - but hey, I like rice. I may not eat it for another year after this, but I'm not bored of it yet! We then made the executive decision to go to bed early, so we'll be ready for church tomorrow.

    Sunday 20th August; Day 6 - Buyende to Nkondo

Unusually I got up first this morning and did my Sunday morning ritual of taking my Larium tablet (malaria protection). It does mean that Richie's 'Larium Monday' is coming, where he fails to get any sleep and so tries to keep me up to talk to, but I can guarantee I'll be sleeping tomorrow night! We'd packed up by 8.30am and made our way in plenty of time to the Primary School. Cavus and Dan joined us as well, it being the only church service in the area that we can attend. In true Ugandan style we didn't need to be early, as the service didn't start until 10.15am! Well here the people aren't confined by time - most shops are open until people stop buying and things only start when everyone has decided to arrive! (and then there is usually a half hour wait just for the sake it!). We politely asked the priest if we were allowed to join in with the service and he agreed, if we would make a donation to the church collection. So of course we said yes, as after all we could put in just 5 between us and it would be more money than they'd received in five years. So we eventually sat down in one of the classrooms and the one and a half hour service began. Barbara, our Ugandan Scout, was asked to do one of the readings, as all the books were in Swahili. Then there was lots of singing, quite a few we knew or could pick up easily. Next came an open prayer, where members of our group said a few words, and lastly we all contributed to the collection. Task 10 completed. Mental Note; take pictures of the classrooms to show Mum and the other teachers at her school.

Before setting off, we bought a stock of what are known as 'Glucose' biscuits - Ugandan version of our 'Milk' biscuits! They're fantastic to nibble on and a change to rice! Today changed our minds about the accuracy of our maps... we walked for a solid five hours before stopping for lunch, and that of course was after the church service delay to the morning. The village we stopped in didn't appear to be on the map, we'd done well over today's distance and then the locals told us we were only half way there! So discussing the use of transport, to keep us out of any more of this blistering heat, one of the local men said he would stop the next taxi/minibus to come through, but in the meantime we had been requested to meet the village elders!

At first I was a little apprehensive, but when we approached their hut - just sticks, no walls - we found them all sat around a large ceramic pot, each with a long straw in the pot! Well, after debating what it was they were actually doing, we were told it was beer! This particular brew was millet beer - made from the millet seed - and served hot through a very long and thin straw!! It would have been discourteous to refuse their offer of sampling some... It turned out that these very nice people are just interested in our expedition, i.e. what a group of white people were actually doing in their village. So we tell them all about our last task - learning a traditional Ugandan dance - and within ten minutes the drums had been brought out and a crowd was gathering! So after watching the demonstrations by a few of the local lads, we each put on one of their scarves around our waists, and entered the 'dance floor'. Drums were played, the lads danced, we copied and everyone laughed! It was great fun and we spent a lot of time trying to get right the particular hip shaking and foot stamping move. We then had to make our apologies as the taxi had arrived which we were to get to take us to Nkondo - somewhat 10/12 miles further up the road. So we thanked everyone and said goodbye, as our rucksacks were being strapped to the top of the taxi. These taxi's seat up to 15 people, by UK standards, and up to 25 people, by Ugandan standards!! There were already a few locals in there already, so we all squeezed in and set off. We only managed to get a mile up the road, before we notice a bag go flying from the roof rack, and bounce down the road! So we had to stop and go back for it, it turned out that it was Richie's! He checked it for damage and then brought it inside the taxi, the others were then fastened on again, and we set off.

It took us about three quarters of an hour to get to Nkondo, where we sat and breathed a sigh of relief that we'd actually arrived. There does seem to be here, which is concerning, a high population of chickens!! Looking back at the route we've just taken, and the map, Nkondo Sub-County HQ isn't actually in the centre, but more like half way down our next day's route! These maps really are bad, it's like navigating from a road atlas, as they have no close up detail like an OS map would! But after today's haul to get here, it seems like we've only got around six miles to walk tomorrow; how relaxing after today's effort. Due to all the energy we've exerted today, there is a great need for food, so we do what's been tempting us from the beginning - the first of our two packets of Wayfarer foods! Beef stew and dumplings... I don't think such a simple meal has ever tasted so fantastically good until now. I think it's given me the energy and encouragement that we'll get to Kamuli on Thursday without dying from exhaustion, heat stroke, tropical diseases or starvation!! Especially as we did a quick project review, and realised that we've now completed tasks 5,6,7,8 &10, we've been sketching all the villages we've been to for task 9, and we've got lots of info for 1-4, which we can just add to over the next few days. So apart from us needing to do more research for our major project, we've finished all our minor ones. Hurrah! Need sleep now though...

    Monday 21st August; Day 7 - Nkondo to Kidera

Those damn chickens woke me up around 5am, but as I can, I managed to ignore them and get another two hours sleep! We set around 8.15am, after going via the local bore hole for water. We are extremely lucky that there are bore holes around every village that we have visited, as in this remote area we are unable to buy any bottled water, just coke-cola!?! The bore holes have obviously been put in by some kind of team, and they provide wonderfully fresh, clean drinking water for the local inhabitants. In my opinion they're also lots of fun to use!

We pass through an area of swamp land, on our way, as we are very close to Lake Kyogo; which is part of the 'Victoria Nile' - as it is known here - on it's way up to Egypt. What a fantastic view. After an hour of walking in the only warmish morning heat, we stopped at another bore hole for refreshment. Taking shade under a tree, I brushed my teeth and watched all the children collecting yellow jerry cans of water for their families. As we set off again, we were soon met by a man from Kidera - tonight's resting place - who is the Scout Leader there. He said that everyone was waiting for us in Kidera, about 40 people! We were completely confused, as no one else has been really sure of our arrival until we actually got there. So we carry on and 15 minutes later we arrived in Kidera, where young Scouts offer to take our rucksacks - and then struggle with them down the path! We must make those two stone rucksacks seem so light! As we approached the field we were due to camp in, we could see the colours of three other XB t-shirts... what's going on? Dan and Cavus were spending today on a farm, learning Ugandan farming techniques, and weren't even out of bed when we left. So had we stumbled upon one of our other groups who hadn't yet left this morning?

Well, as we got closer, we found it was Fran and Paul! I felt some kind of relief for seeing them - familiar faces, another girl to talk to, I don't know - but we all hugged and then asked a barrage of questions, as to what each other were doing in the same place at the same time. It turned out that Fran and Paul had taken part of the same route as us, from Bugaya to here, but two days ahead of us. They had then gone up to stay at a village by the shores of the lake, before coming back to Kidera to stay here for another night - which is why the village was already expecting a group of Scouts today. So how we had all missed this second route clash (the other being ours with Cavus'), even Nick, we're not sure. It really is great to see those two again, as they're probably two of the various people I've got to know really well since being here.

Well our different projects will take us in opposite directions throughout the day, even if we are camping in the same field. But first we have to witness the Guide and Scout groups drilling and then performing flag break. After an hour of practise we finally got to the real thing and were then suddenly sprung upon to sing our national anthem, well the four of us did our best! We spent the day talking with the Scout Leaders, as well as the children from the local Scout and Guide units. They also offered us hospitality of lunch and dinner in town, and then they put on a huge campfire, where the children then slept in the scout hut - girls and boys in separate locked rooms! It was fun, and most of all we got to see all the traditional campfire songs and dances - and there is a lot of movement to all African songs! We also had our second, and last, visit from Nick today, to finally make sure we had no problems - out here the smallest thing can soon get serious. It was fun to see them though, especially as Nick had brought with him Fran's A-level results - her Mum had faxed them to the Support Team Base in the capital, Kampala, who had then passed them down the line to eventually reach Fran! Agony then followed, as she had to find her paper which had the method to decode the encrypted results - honestly Fran! But she got the grades she needed to get into Loughborough University, so we all celebrated with her; only the one beer...

    Tuesday 22nd August; Day 8 - Kidera to Ndolwa

We got up around 7am and went to town for breakfast- we convinced the restaurant we went to yesterday to cook us some chapattis, and we also bought a few bags of what claimed to be donuts. After taking a must have picture of the local butcher's - where the slab of meat just hangs up from the roof of the wooden shack, out in the sun... we set off for Ndolwa, about 11 miles away (we hope!). Ndolwa is possibly the smallest village we've been to, with about eight houses and one shop on the roadside. The road that we're now travelling on - there aren't that many in this district - is the main road from Lake Kyogo, south to Kamuli - our final destination. So it is a lot busier traffic wise, which isn't good when we're sleeping practically on the roadside, but it does mean that it no longer feels like we're in the middle of nowhere! First thing we do is meet the LC5 - he is an important and high up councillor in the district - as he lives here in Ndolwa. He then shows us to the plot of land, next to one of the eight roadside houses, where we can set up camp. All nine of us met up, so we could all go to the Primary School, where they put on a show of dancing, music and readings for us. It was, however, very hot, and Paul suffered a little from dehydration - although Idiris was convinced it was malaria - and so had to lie down. So we left to take Paul back to site, where all he needed was some water and a lie down. Phew.

Ndolwa is an extremely friendly little village, as by the time we'd been back an hour, we already had at least 40 onlookers! Some came to talk to us, but most just wanted to sit and watch us. To us this seemed a little odd, as when we weren't doing tasks or talking to people about our projects, we just lay outside our tents on our thermarests! A few young boys came by later with a few mangos and so we gave them a few shillings for them. After consulting with them, we gave them some more shillings and they went away... about an hour later they returned with a bag full of about ten of the most delicious mangos I've ever tasted; possibly the best thing I've eaten since being here!

Feeling really quite dirty now, after eight days of trekking... so Fran and I decide that a shower is required! Fran and Cavus set about using the three poles, which are for some reason stuck in the ground in a pyramid 6ft high, and all our tent fly sheets to construct a shower cubicle! It was fantastic when it was finished, so we each took turn to take the washing up bowl of cold water, a towel and some shampoo in, for a wonderfully refreshing and invigorating complete body wash/shower. Pity about the 'head hole' which I could just see out of, meaning that I could see all the rest of the teams and those 40 odd onlookers, just a few metres away! But then Dan climbing the mango tree distracted them for just long enough! So with clean hair at last, we went to the LC5's house for tea - fish, fish and more fish - but deliciously fresh from the lake. Everything was going so well until the wife wouldn't let me leave, as she liked me, in fact she liked me so much, she wanted me to stay in Uganda and marry her, recent university graduated, son! What an offer, the daughter-in-law of an MP equivalent, no thanks! So I gracefully declined and left while I had the chance. The stars were fabulous, sat out in the wilderness, but then we really did have to take to our beds.

    Wednesday 23rd August; Day 9 - Ndolwa to Balawoli

We got up and went to the LC5's house again for breakfast, and I narrowly got out of there again without being engaged! Packing up, we set off for Balawoli, 12 miles south of Ndolwa. I think Barbara, Richie and I are getting on really well - we have our appetites back a little - as I think Barbara was a bit concerned about our lack of food. But after arriving in Balawoli, we made our way to the Sub-County HQ - by now we can spot them a mile off - they're all the same everywhere we go, and we've camped by a lot of them! We had a fantastic meal of beans, beef, matoki and rice and then we went out on the town... well, we walked around the village talking to the shopkeepers, students, etc, about out major project. Having completed all the research for our projects (yeah!), we headed back to our tents. Tonight three groups were camping in Balawoli - Fran & Paul, Cavus & Dan and Richie & I. Working on our separate projects took Fran & Paul to one of the local Primary Schools, whilst the others and I went with the S/C Chairman to one a little further from the centre.

We ended up sat in the back of a pickup, down 4km's of what can only be described as jungle terrain, with my bandana and Oakley's on and the wind blowing in my hair, it was great. I really do think it is such a fantastic way to travel! We sat and talked to the teacher's of the school - all the children had been sent home by then - and they asked us questions about a variety of things. Some wanted to know about Scouting; what we did to help people, and others wanted to know about specifics, such as our school systems, funding and the ways of our government. It was a very informative afternoon and I feel we left them with advice they can hopefully use for the good of their school and village. Before we left, I wanted to have a play with the black & white film I'd just put in my camera, so I walked around the empty school building and took a few shots. They'll hopefully have a really good effect - moody and poignant - I hope the one with the book flapping in the wind turns out. All the buildings here are brick walls with a corrugated iron roof - that must be hell to teach under when it rains - and they don't have any windows or doors. Most don't have any furniture, here just the elder students had seats and desks.

The School gave us a present of thanks, well, more of an offering... it was a turkey! A live turkey! So with it's feet strapped, it rode up front on the way home, where we found to our surprise that Fran and Paul had been given a live chicken! Well, whilst we were musing over what to do with our new 'pets', the chairman said he would take them to the school next door (why couldn't we have visited that school?!!), where they would prepare them for us, to eat for breakfast! Cool! So we then had tea at the same restaurant as lunch, and went to the shop to treat ourselves (with our own money!), to a couple of beers - well it is the last night! So we enjoyed them whilst some of the children came over and held a campfire in our field - always lots of singing, lots of dancing and lots of fun! Well and truly tired, we head to our beds.

    Thursday 24th August; Day 10 - Balawoli to Kamuli

Oh my god... it's the last day of our Explorer Belt; there were the odd few times where I wasn't convinced I'd make it to here, at least without completing some projects or suffering a little more! But then I suppose we still have to make the last nine miles to Kamuli, but then we do have one fact urging us on... we'll be staying in a hotel tonight, with English food, taps, showers and a real bed! Wow, I can't wait! It'll be great to see the other groups as well and find out how they've all got on; will Jenny have taken charge and burnt Rob's union jack yet? Will Athol and Stuart have got on well having only been partners for two days previously! And how are the rest of the UK Contingent?

Well first thing, breakfast. We head next door and find that the teacher's have cooked us a feast for breakfast. Fried matoki - kind of chip like - and Cajun spiced chicken and turkey!! Definitely the most fantastic chicken I have ever eaten and know personally! We say our thanks, sign more visitor's books then return to pack up camp. We've found that Paul has been suffering somewhat with his, er, digestive system, and hasn't been anywhere which is too far from a toilet! So rather than risk it, especially in the sun, Fran requests to use transport to Kamuli. To save on money we all chip in and manage to squeeze all nine of us, with nine rucksacks, into the back of a pickup! So about half an hour later we pull up outside what we've been longing for during the past ten days - a decent pub, er, no I mean 'The Kamuli Country Club'. Now don't get any disillusions of it's grandeur, it's no more than what I'd describe as, a cheap and tacky Spanish half star hotel - but hey it has solid walls and it's own water - we're happy! The thing that made that moment even more poignant, was that as we pulled up, our other two XB teams had already arrived and were sat at the patio tables out front, drinking sodas. Shouting, screaming and laughing pursued (and that was just Rob!), as we hugged and greeted our fellow explorers. Next, we argued about the rooms, but once that was organised, we sat down, ordered omelette and chips each, and started on the beer... well at least I did, but it didn't take me long to change the other's minds!

Showers were had, hair was washed, as were all our clothes - we only had the room for one spare set of clothes, seriously! So then we relaxed, wrote up our final journal entry and exchanged many a story... How Rob got that union jack in every picture, how I burnt my leg on the exhaust pipe of a Buda Buda in Mos Eisley, how Dan got quite so many blisters on his feet, and why the Ugandan's laughed at Richie, all the time! As the day began to draw to an end, the celebrations only just began - Nick and Dick finally arrived to congratulate us and a formal dinner with important local people followed. Once the speeches were over with, we thanked Nick and Dick, for all the work they put into organising this and checked we were ok whilst doing it. Unknown to us, for most of the time anyway, each team had a security guard in all the villages they visited - we actually saw one of ours in Mos Eisley, with his long raincoat not quite covering his AK47! We had no security problems during XB, but maybe they helped that; well better to be safe... ours is the first XB to be held in Uganda even in Africa I think, so no one really knew what to expect!

Well I think everyone involved worked tremendously hard, and after hearing all the accounts of what went on, I don't think there is any one of us who doesn't deserve their Explorer Belt Award. There is one thing I've decided through all this, I'm coming back to Uganda, hopefully with the Scouts again, to continue with the links that the 'UK Uganda Network' has set up over the years. Well you know what they say about once you've caught the 'Africa travel bug'; well I'm definitely suffering! I hope this ten day brutal attack on our senses hasn't scared off any other keen Venture Scouts, from doing their XB in Africa. After completing ours here, I think XB in any European country would be a cop out, but then I suppose it depends on whether you're as daring as we were...

We have all had some of the most fantastic experiences of our lives so far; I've met so many people, learnt so much about their differing lives and culture and most of all made new friends. Many of these new found friends are within the UK Contingent who went out from Gatwick, on that memorable Friday night, nearly two weeks ago. We already have a reunion planned and it won't be long before we're organising our next trip, and of course starting the fundraising for it!! We'll have to research what project's are required to be undertaken out there, as I'd really like to take part in a static project and so then what we can do in the short space of time that we're there, if of course we're only there for three weeks... I can't wait, but now the ten days are over, there's the safari to think about and the Ugandan Scout Camporee. But most of all, sleep is definitely required!

You've read the words, now see some of Heather and Richard's photos or read the team budget

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