Friday, July 20, 2007


75 kilometers northeast of Kampala lies the city of Jinja, the fourth largest city in Uganda and home to the source of the Nile. Despite all that, Jinja is a sleepy town with a main drag lined with worn buildings that have received little upkeep since they were built in the ‘30s and ‘40s. But Jinja probably needs more than a simple coat of paint to restore it to the center of industry it once was, when the dam on the river produced more than enough power to feed all of the area’s needs, but is now woefully inadequate.

Last Saturday, J negotiated with admirable patience the treacherous roads on the two-hour drive. Unlike the road to Murchison, it is not a 50-kilometer series of potholes that makes the drive so treacherous, but slow-moving trucks being passed by over-anxious drivers who pay little attention to who might be coming in the opposite direction. There are no center stripes on the road to tell you when you can pass and when not to. Ugandans pass whenever it suits their fancy, particularly on blind curves. It just adds to excitement. It is much less harrowing to be a passenger, when you can stare out at the fields of tea and sugarcane with unseen paths crisscrossing through them, notable only by the yellow jerry cans balanced on people’s heads bopping up and down above the greenery. We passed through, too, Mabira Forest, when the rolling hills suddenly turn into tall, dense trees, lined occasionally with stalls where tourists buses stop and vendors bring their meat on a stick and their gonja (fried bananas on a stick) and their Cokes to the windows of the bus to sell.

Before entering town, we stopped at Bugagali Falls, a much less impressive waterfall after seeing Murchison Falls so recently. Here we are in front of it in a spectacularly cheesey picture:

Still, the sun had just come out after a rainy morning and it was a beautiful spot to sit on a rock with the water rushing past at your feet and contemplate the scenery. And, while we decided at Murchison it would take 2-5 seconds for someone to die going down the falls there, at Bugagli you can pay someone in a red bathing suit the equivalent of $6 to hold onto a jerry can, float over the edge, and get spit out at the bottom.

After lunch in town, we checked in at the Gately, a hotel run by an Australian woman with lawns that overlook Lake Victoria.

In the afternoon we drove out to the Source. Lake Victoria has a number of inlets, but only one outlet, that being the beginning of the Nile.

We hired a boat that brought us out to a small island covered in cormorant droppings where just a few feet away we could see the natural springs bubbling up that marks the origin of the Nile. 4,000 miles and three months later, that very water will reach Egypt. Awesome.

J contemplates the Source:

Perhaps the best thing about Jinja is its Mexican restaurant, within walking distance from the Gately. Kampala has one Mexican restaurant, Fat Boyz, run by a guy from Atlanta, which has edible quesadillas and vegetable burritos, but Fat Boyz’ tortillas have got nothing on the tortillas at the place in Jinja. They’re real, homemade, flour tortillas, a little heavy, but so heavenly.

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