Kidepo, that one national park that had eluded me for soooo long. I mean, to begin with, it’s like on the other side of the world. Like those ends of Russia. Next, the place is just troubled. The Kony business, mbu we won’t wait for Karamoja to develop…basically moob negativity. But Kidepo was also the place rumored to be the most exciting national park in Uganda. Gaah, it’s like those flirtations where you fear the opponent because they look like they’ll be bad for you but want them so badly and the intense conflicting emotional extremes just leave you in a rollercoaster state. Yah, something like that.
So, when KoiKoi announced that their Easter trip was to Kidepo, I peed myself a little. I mean, how often do the stars align this perfectly? Check this out, it’s Easter, the longest weekend in the year, I’m coming out of a month of major stress and unreliable health, I’m also finishing my annual lent alcohol fast, I love KoiKoi trips…such great company and vibes…who else would you want to be with to conquer the last remaining national park, Kidepo, a place so far that I could travel to it and let the distance help me forget the woes of adulting!! Like I said, the stars were in a straight line.
So, Friday morning found me caning winter and jumping on a bike before the sun had even come out and rushing to Shell Kira Road, which was the meeting point, to catch the bus. Yeah, baby!! A cursory glance at the rest of the crew made me realize I knew at least a third of the people on the bus already from previous encounters. This Kampala can want to be small. I later learnt from conversations that many were on this trip for similar reasons as I, to escape this shrinking Kampala.
We set off once everyone was locked and loaded and the destressing began almost immediately. It’s guaranteed that if you ever find yourself on a coaster heading out of town with a group of youth and there is alcohol on the vehicle, within 30 minutes of leaving the outcasts of town someone will be twerking in said vehicle. Hi Cindy. I am not ashamed to confess that I have ever been that person. In my defense, I chose dare in a game vs truth and I am not one to back away from a challenge. Also, these trips are an opportunity to let my ratchet side have some easy easy breathing space so if not why not.
We’d been told that the journey would be long but what they forgot to warn us about was the number of times people would want to pee. It’s like we were doing the breadcrumb thing from Hansel and Gretel, but with pee. This significantly increased the duration of the journey. But me I’ve been on a bus for a day and a half nga I’m going to Dar Es Salaam so this was easy. Others though, not so much. The twerking had stopped, sadly, people had dozed off and woken up like twice already, kaboozi had been exhausted, there was a case of the shady looking lunch from Gulu…in conclusion, we were more than ready to arrive. The bus driver was a steady chap and bambi he got us to the cribs properly. Only to find there other people I knew from Kampala who had come to chill like us and also sing Ester tunes with the local population. This Uganda can want to be small. I somehow managed to get myself recruited into the choir but foxed them on the real day of singing. At least we know I’d make a great Judas in an Easter play.
Our accommodation was some two-bed bu modern huts, though some people got into a self-contained VIP arrangement. Lucky buggers. The bu huts were named after animals and mine was that of some creature I’ve never heard of. That made it easy to remember. Next mission was to shower off the fatigue and dirt from the long journey before supper. This is where things got interesting. There were two bathrooms for like 8 bu huts a.k.a. 16 people. That part was kawa. The interesting part was that the bathroom showers didn’t work so we had to fetch the water using some big basins outside and carry it into the shower. But someone had left some water in the basins and the beetles in the neighborhood had decided to use it as their swimming pool. After evicting them, I filled the basin and carried it into the shower. The next problem presented itself. The shower doors had this big rectangular hole in the middle that didn’t close so you would be exposed as you went about your business. As in? This was a bit too much like high school. But I adapt quickly so I closed the door on my towel such that it was covering the hole. Sharpness! I then stripped and bent to scoop water to begin the shower and that’s when I realized the next issue. There was a gathering of even more beetles in the bathroom and they were now giving me this ‘why are you running’ look. But I was already bent over and exposed so I decided I was going to act like this was totally normal. I went ahead with my shower while they continued watching me suspiciously. I must have put on quite a showering show because by the time I was done, they looked more at ease. This is when I realized my next problem. To dry myself, I’d have to remove the towel from the door and leave myself exposed to those on the outside. But I’d just put on a show for a group of beetles so this was not the time to become shy. I removed the towel and dried myself while having a conversation with the people outside that were waiting to shower next. It was at this point that I accepted that I was in the wilderness and the rules were different here.
Supper was on point, we settled around the campfire, took swings at our drinks, shot light bender photos with the incredible Eve and generally had a merry time. Next morning, we early birded and rushed to the edge of the accommodation grounds to get some early morning shots of the sunrise. And boy or boy were we rewarded for our efforts. The sun had gone to Mona studios for a do-over and she emerged from the horizon looking like a million bucks. Katondest! This was it, this was what we came for. We snapped away with our cameras as the sun climbed the sky and went back to our rooms full of life. This was how mornings are supposed to be like, bathing in the sun as it replenishes your spirit and gives you energy for the new day.
The first day’s activities included a drive to a nearby traditional village of the people native to the area code. I have my issues with people tourism, coz of the potentially bad conditioning this put-on-an-act routine can have on the community in the long run and how my private nature cringes at the intrusiveness of these visits, so I kind of zoned out at this part and only switched back on when they started dancing them high jump traditional dances. Yo, there was no way I was going to miss out on that business. I did a few jumps, a couple of 1 -2 steps and signed out early coz my energy levels couldn’t match the locals. I might have left with a wife from there though. It’s hard to tell because I missed out on the part where they were explaining the courting purposes of the dance.
Back at the camp, we chall for a bit, had lunch and then went for the evening game drive. We saw the regulars like buffaloes and antelopes, but the highlight of the trip was the two lions, one male and one female, that were just chilling under a ka tree. We ogled them and snapped away with our cameras while they basically ignored us and acted like we were just boring. Like we weren’t even worth killing. At least ko they could have scared us ko with a roar or something. Nassing. This was one of the worst blows my self-esteem has ever taken. And to think I travelled all the way to get swerved this badly yet I could have achieved the same result by staying in Kampala and attempting to vibe a slay queen with my depleted bank balance. Sigh, this world. Anyway, they were magnificent, we admired them as they ignored us and then we moved on with our lives. The game drive ended with the sun creating a masterpiece of an evening as it’s retreating lights lent the atmosphere a surreal mood only made better by the zebras, giraffes and buffaloes that were also calling it a day and heading to the bar to grab one for the road. We followed their example and went back to our campsite for our final night in the park.
After another night of lit photos by Eve and some hectic dancing with the other group from Kampala, we dragged our behinds out of bed really early to catch our last Kidepo sunset before leaving for Gulu. Seems like the sun had also grown fond of us because it put on a never-forget-me display and I felt a tear slide down my left cheek as I the pain-of-saying goodbye feels kicked in. Even the moon hung out a little longer and was still up while the sun was rising so it could say its farewells too. We set off for Gulu but first, we had a stop at some well-hidden falls. Sweet Jesus, why are all these gems always tucked away in the middle of nowhere? The adrenaline junkies, myself included, stripped to the bare necessities for decency, climbed the fall, stood under the descending water and let it wash our sins away. I swear, I felt like a new human when we came out of there? Like all my debts had been paid, like all my demons had been domesticated, like problems had gone on indefinite leave, like I’d resurrected just like Jesus on that very day, like all my insecurities had been flashed away, like I knew the answer to who killed Captain Alex. To me, that was the highlight of the trip, standing half-naked under that thundering water, feeling it beating all the negative vibes out of my life and basically cleaning my slate so I could start afresh. I was ready to go back to Kampala after that, but we still had more activities to do.
After the falls, we passed through Gulu and went to the Ndere center of those ends where we were treated to more epic traditional dances. Mehn, the organizers had real organized. The combo of a power waterfall shower followed by some live traditional music is a standard combo. After, we took our tired bodies to some restaurant in Gulu where some serious gumere had been prepared for us to demolish and then proceeded to our hotel. There was no beetles and basins this time round and the showers even had hot water. Ah, the joys of civilization.
Guys attacked some night club called BJ’s which is like the place to be while in Gulu. I, on the other hand, decided to take a power nap first before joining them. That waterfall battering had really drained me of energy. I’m growing old. At 12 sharp, I walked out of the hotel and stood by the street side waiting for a boda to take me to experience BJ’s (tihihihihi). After 5 minutes of standing there without a free boda passing, I stopped some guy who was strolling by and asked him how far this BJs place was. He told me it was just around the corner, it’s where he was going and that I should just go with him. Gulu has been peaceful and prospering for some years now so I figured the chances of this dude being a rebel and abducting me to serve under Kony were slim. As we walked, I asked him about himself and found out he was a student at some seminary in town but was home for the Easter break. He’d left the house at 12 to go and party because he was bored.
Nga Gulu parents are liberal! After a few minutes, I noticed there was a girl following us and asked the dude about her. He mentioned she was his friend and I relaxed again but my shadiness antenna picked up a signal when the dude gave me directions and told me to continue alone while he pushed the girl to her home first before coming to BJs. Yeah, right! Kids of these days also, ate a seminary one, ever to be up to no good. At BJ’s the energetic KoiKoi dancers were leaving the floor when I arrived so I decided to skip the dancing and just walk around. BJs is like any Kampala bala, complete with slay queens even. I ended up at the shisha corner where I had to participate in a strange ritual before I could take some puffs on the only pot in the place. The group was not happy with the price of beers that night and were breaking every bottle they would finish drinking from so they could ‘finish their money’. I broke one and was warmly welcomed into their circles. I am getting really good at this when in Rome mindset. I signed out with the remaining KoiKoi crew a few minutes later, passed by a room party in the hotel where I must have popped like two ribs minimum from all the laughing we did at very silly jokes, and eventually made it back to my bed in the wee hours of the morning. I was woken up a few hours later for breakfast and to check out of the hotel.
This is the point where I proper started feeling old. Or rather feeling the effects of overexerting myself. We had a choice of staying at the hotel to rest some more or boarding the bus to check out a cathedral that had some kind of tininess record, and a slavery station from back in the dark days when our ancestors were being haggled over on market day. I should have stayed at the hotel and rested my tired bones but there was no way I was going to miss any activity on this trip. So, I dragged myself onto the bus and off to church we went. Bambi it’s ka pretty and not as small as I’d expected. It even had a ka neat tree area on the side so we made the most of the environment and took album cover pictures. After, we went to the slave market where we were educated on our dark past as a continent. We really have suffered as a people. That did not stop us from climbing the rocks, burrowing into the nooks where the slaves would be bundled and doing Wakanda posses with the striking landscape in the background. Shout out to Idi Amin for restoring this place meanwhile.
Finally, we had to head back to Kampala. And this is my beef with all these escape trips, they always end. Most of us were subdued on the journey back as reality started creeping back and reminding us of all the obligations we’d left behind and were now returning to. By the time we hit Kampala traffic and felt our nostrils being assaulted by the pollution, the fact this was all coming to an end had settled in. Sniff sniff. As the cab dropped me home, the one thought I had on my mind was how necessary this had been, how much fun I’d had and how I needed a vacation from this vacation before I could face the world again.
To KoiKoi, to Airtel and Shell who sponsored the trip, and to the next escape!