The East African diary
Notes from a trip (with some specifics omitted).
After 20 yrs of flying, reached Uganda fine yesterday afternoon kampala time — which is 3 hrs behind Dhaka.
A380 is one huge bird. It was an overnight flight, so i did have a few hours of sleep. Alu bhaji breakfast at Dubai Airport Emirates lounge. Dubai airport literally makes my head spin. The Dubai skyline, including the Burj Khalifa tower, doesn’t quite awe me the New York or Hong Kong does.
Entebbe flight was less luxurious, but still comfortable — mainly because it was empty, with only five people in the business class.
Entebbe is about 40km from Kampala. the road from the airport to Kampala downtown (where the hotel is) is what the Aricha Road would look like if Bangladesh had 40m people.
Kampala is built on a number of hills, and is 10km from Lake Victoria. The little i saw yesterday (drive from the airport, dinner) reminded me of Dhaka 30 years ago — minus the rickshaw.
Haven’t been able to do much sight seeing. There is an epidemic, so national parks are not open. Kampala itself doesn’t have all that many things to see. It’s not easy to walk around because it’s hilly. There is no public bus system. There are minibuses between downtown and distant suburbs. And the other mode of transport is boda boda — motorbikes. These perform the same function as rickshaw or auto in dhaka.
Traffic in Kampala is as chaotic as Dhaka, though far less crowded. There isn’t any traffic jam compared with Dhaka, But there is no lane or traffic signal concept.
There are quite a few casinos in Kampala. Most of them are cheap slot machines. But there is one in an upmarket suburb which is quite posh. It has a very 1960s James Bond style decor, and the clientele is old white men, fat Gujratis and Chinese businessmen.
There are lots of Chinese and Indians. Chinese are involved in a lot of energy projects — Uganda has minerals, and oil has been discovered recently. Indians are involved in telecom and other businesses — you see Airtel signs everywhere.
I fly to Dar es Salaam tomorrow. The flight will be in a tubo-prop plane. It will have a short stopover at the foothill of Mt Kilimanjaro. I suspect this will be the only chance to see Africa.
The flight from Entebbe to Dar on Friday was on a turbo prop plane, which gave me a chance to see the ‘Real Africa’, albeit from thousands of feet. Mile after mile of white grassland, and rolling hills — the famous African savanna. The plane stopped at the foothill of Mt Kilimanjaro for half an hour. My camera phone (and my inability to take photo) means you just have to rely on my words — Mt Kilimanjaro is majestic.
I arrived at Dar around 6pm on Friday. The airport is the most chaotic I have seen — far worse than Dhaka or Calcutta. You know how you’re supposed to fill in the disembarkation card at the plane? Here it was on the ground. You fill in that form, and the visa application form, and then don’t know what to do because there is no sign. Then someone comes and takes your forms, passport, and $50 — and your heart beat rises… then you wait, without any line, for the immigration people to call you.
It was around 7 that i got out of the airport. By that time, the rush hour had settled in. It took an hour to get to the hotel. The road, as wide as the Airport Road, had a very Dhaka-like feel — no sense of lane, give way, or any traffic rule, the ultimate ‘freestyle’. Lots of honking too. Fortunately no black smoke.
Hyatt Kilimanjaro overlooks the harbour, and I got a sea view. At any point, there are about a dozen ships waiting. Apparently, the harbour is as dysfunctional as Chittagong. Around the hotel are all government buildings, and the Indian Ocean is about 500m walk. This part of the city is really clean. Overlooking the ocean is a neighbourhood called Sea-Cliff, which is where all the expats live.
The hotel here is grander than the one in Uganda, but my room is cheaper, the internet is slower, and phone connection not as good.
On Saturday, I went out souvenir shopping, and a general drive/walk around the downtown, which has a very South Calcutta feel to it. Much of yesterday was spent in the hotel doing paperwork.
Compared with Uganda, Tanzania has a much stronger Indian and Chinese presence. Half the guests in the hotel are Chinese. There are Chinese construction companies building high rises, roads etc. And there are Indian businesses too — Tata has a huge facility. The hotel shows Sony and Zee TV.
It’s the beginning of the rainy season here. It rained on both nights. But the temperature is 25-30 degrees, so the rain was very pleasant. There is also very nice sea breeze coming from the Indian ocean.
The food, however, isn’t much to speak off (neither here nor in Uganda). I couldn’t get ‘african’ food anywhere. Everyone eats Indian or Chinese or western food.