Escape from Fort Portal: Part Deuce, 8/16

Our return to Fort Portal after the chimps was uneventful, which is always a pleasant surprise in Africa. We found bus station and booked a ticket to Kabale (not to be confused with Kibale National Park.) We were told that the only bus to Kabale is the dreaded night bus, which we have been happy to avoid thus far.

With no other choice, we booked and went to the pizza and WiFi joint to kill some time before the “5:30 pm” reporting time. With one “delicious” pizza down (our standards have lowered considerably over the course of the trip), we ordered one to take on the bus for dinner. We felt lucky to have said pizza, because we ended up waiting for FIVE hours for the bus to show up. And that is just the beginning! Forewarning: this bus ride gets a bit heavy and has influenced our travel plans since.

We first thought it was unusual that NOBODY got off the bus upon arrival. Ok, so is there room for everyone waiting to get on? Already-upset-after-waiting-five-hours people got more upset as a mad rush to enter the bus started. I was able to wade through the crowd to put our bags in the compartment under the bus when the bus station manager intervened. He yelled to the conductor to get the muzungus’ bags out, and told me would would need to take them on the bus with us. Starting to feel like we were getting some special treatment as whities, it was just too chaotic for me to object. We were led to the driver’s door and told to get on and take the only two available seats that must have been held just for us.

We definitely identified some favoritism, because as we sat down, things were just heating up in the back of the bus. Chaos to say the least with everyone yelling, shoving and trying to cram in the aisle, we were wide-eyed and just trying to settle our nerves. At one point, I could swear the old lady yelling as loud as she could and violently shaking her fists was calling them out for giving us seats. A fight starts up outside the bus, and a passenger behind tells me that the drunk man getting pummeled must be a thief (more street justice). A security guard working at the bus station or the place next door takes a step back and fires a shot into the air. It is considered a warning shot. The people continue to fight without even flinching. A woman who has found a seat on our bags tells the driver to “GO NOW!”

We pull out of the bus station and stop a half a block away, where another fight breaks outside of the bus. This time it seemed as if everyone said “LET’S GO NOW!” The bus pulled off for the second time, with every seat full and about 60 people (yes, seriously 60!) standing in the aisle or sitting on the floor in the front. Of course actually leaving was too good to be true, because we stop five minutes later when the driver realizes the conductor was left. So now we wait another 20 minutes for him to meet us on a motorcycle. Wondering how he would even fit on the bus, we made a bit more room in the front for him. We were off again for a VERY tough nine hours.

I made friends with the calm guy sitting behind me because he was interested in our situation and how we felt about Uganda. (Elizabeth later told me she had seen him drinking whiskey out of a brown paper bag…no wonder he could stay calm!) I felt good telling him how beautiful I thought Uganda was. The giant sardine can sailed more quickly through the night than could possibly have been safe; to avoid potholes on the terrible road, we obviously had to drive in the wrong lane, meeting other buses head-on in the fog. Our worst fears were quickly shifting from the angry mob to actually staying on the road. All along the way, we were stopping to disappoint anyone waiting to get on. I imagined that since it was 2 or 3 in the morning, they had been waiting the same five hours from the reporting time we had…only to be turned away.

My friend told me the bus was so crowded because the other bus that normally does this route was diverted to pick up refugees from DR Congo. I did not question this and tried to smile for Elizabeth, but we later heard they ALWAYS fill the bus like this on this particular route as a scam to get more money. I looked over and she had two children falling asleep standing up with their heads on her lap. As they would pass out and fall to the floor, she would look for the elusive parents of these kids, but in Africa, everyone is a considered your mother or father, so it was impossible to tell. She kept trying to make them more comfortable to no avail, and finally someone found them a crowded spot on the floor (nevermind the fact that the metal floor was heated to about one million degrees by the engine below).

So through the fog and the potholes, we passed the Equator and a herd of elephants in Queen Elizabeth National Park. As my dreams started to mix with the reality of the worst bus ride ever in the foggy night, I prayed for daylight. Arrival in Kabale was heaven sent. As the taxi drivers started their usual routine of grabbing for our bags and shouting for our business, we just smiled and walked past them without a care in the world because IT WAS OVER! We were free! Luckily, we had already figured out a cheap private ride the last 8 km of our journey to the serenity and relaxation of Lake Bunyonyi. Phew!

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