On a Ugandan adventure for two weeks, my teaching colleague Machellie and I were in high spirits. We are super-organized and everything seemed to be working out well, until we got on the wrong ferry for the wrong island
Our itinerary included taking the weekly ferry from Entebbe to Banda Island, departing noon on Tuesdays. We asked Shalom at the backpackers to arrange a taxi by 10 am.
“That ferry leaves at 2pm, not noon,” he said.
Our cab driver pulled up at the ferry at 1.45 pm. It was already jam-packed. Sprinting men snatched up our suitcases, hurling them onto the ferry. We chased our luggage as people yelled: “Run! Hurry up! You make us wait!” It was 15 minutes before departure. What happened to laid-back African time?
We leapt onto the ferry. The captain shouted at everyone to move forward. I panicked at the increased distance between me, and where I thought my suitcase might be. Had my suitcase even made it? Machellie assured me that she’d seen it.
We were packed between 300 Ugandans with their shopping. Unable to move anything other than my eyeballs, I looked down at my feet – a live chicken was in a plastic bag, a little girl with sad eyes next to me. I shared my water with her and the chicken. It was blazing hot. The chicken’s tongue was hanging out. I never knew chickens had tongues.
Just to confirm, we asked if we were going to Banda Island.
“Don’t know Banda Island. We go to Ssese Island,” came the reply.
I did some deep breathing to prevent a full-blown panic attack. It was confirmed. We were on the wrong ferry heading for the wrong island, sandwiched in the blazing heat between 300 Ugandans and a thirsty chicken. There was nothing we could do.
We arrived three and a half hours later. UB40 blared: “Here I am” and worried about rats in the kitchen. Never mind that. What were we gonna do?
We dragged our suitcases over to a grassy bank and sat down to plan. A Friesland cow eavesdropped on our conversation. UB40 was singing Red, Red Wine. I would have killed for a glass!
I noticed a chap, soon to be known as Joseph, chatting to his friends. I introduced myself and explained our predicament. He said his brother had a fishing boat, and agreed to take us to Banda Island. Apparently we were on Kalangala Island.
The fishing boat pulled up. The driver held a large, glinting, sharp knife. I asked Machellie, what she thought it was for. “To cut our throats?” she joked. I let out a hysterical giggle. UB40 sang: “If it happens again, I’m leaving, I’m packing my things …” If only.
The lake was smooth as glass, the stars, our navigation tools, but then the engine stopped. I froze and my imagination kicked into overdrive. The knife. Rape? Joseph reached into his pocket and handed something shiny to the driver. The knife? No wait, just a cell phone. Phew! Joseph’s brother finished his conversation, started up the engine, and we set sail once more.
Eventually we saw the lights of the castle on Banda Island, and a bonfire on the beach. Machellie and I nearly wept with relief. We had made it, alive and untouched.
At the Banda Island Resort and Campsiteg, I felt something on my foot and saw a black leech sucking blood out between my big toe. I shook my foot but the leech held on. I entered the first stage of the full-blown panic attack that I had been putting off, screaming: ” GET IT OFF! GET IT OFF!”.
Somebody shone a torch. In the light, the leech turned into a dirty, blackened plaster, half unstuck. It flapped one last time and then stayed still.
We would have to get used to living rough. We were now island dwellers.