The Source of the Nile
I should have gone directly from Cairo (offspring number 2) to Kampala (offspring number 1). But instead I came back to the UK, and out again. That's because I had bought an unchangeable ticket London - Cairo before I decided to go to Uganda (so explaining the large carbon footprint, for which I ask forgiveness).
Anyway, this weekend the mission was to hook up with the daughter in Uganda and to go to the source of the (White) Nile, in Jinja just 80 kilometres from Kampala.
The drive from Kampala to Jinja was extremely lush and green, a bit like Gloucestershire (plus bananas and pineapples). But the entrance to the source of the Nile "area" was not promising. The daughter was, to start with, puzzled -- you walked down to a river bank, but it wasn't obviously a "source". It was just a river bank.
A fellow blogger wondered, prosaically but realistically, if it wasn't actually reminiscent of a Co-op car park. Yes, in a way it was -- Uganda style. That is to say, at first look, there were a lot of "craft stalls" and not much else. But better was to come.
We were asked if we wanted a boat trip to the "real" source. Usually I say no to boat trips, but this looked promising and cheap. It was in fact brilliant. Equipped with life-jackets (a sign, I suspect, that the river was more dangerous than it looked) we went past the place -- now marked by an obelisk -- where John Hanning Speke looked for the source, to an island just next to the source itself. Apparently 70% of the Nile water comes from Lake Victoria, and 30% from an underground (actually underwater) spring, 48 metres below the water surface but still visible bubbling up by the side of the boat.
I should say that all the Ugandans I talked to seemed very keen on Speke, and didn't voice the obvious objection that he had claimed to have "discovered" what they had known all along. (The Columbus issue...)
We circled around the site of the spring for a bit. But even better than the bubbling water were the birds - herons, storks, ibises and filthy cormorants shitting all over the place (you can see a dozen or so in the picture). They were presumably a bit scared by the approach of our boat and dropped white droppings everywhere.
After the source, we went on to Bujugali Falls, the first waterfall on the Nile - an impressive cataract just a few kilometres from Lake Victoria, just down stream from the source. This is supposed to be the key spot in Uganda for extreme sports, though I didn't see much myself (just a couple of kids who volunteered to swim down the rapids for a fee -- which we declined).
In fact other thoughts came to mind. First, that this natural wonder (and its local commercial periphery, no doubt) would soon be effectively obliterated by a new hydro-electric dam just up stream. Second that the sight of the falls 30 years ago was not so pretty. For this is where Amin's thugs pushed many of his enemies. It was stacked full of dead bodies.
We were all on Saturday -- Ugandan, British, Australian... -- admiring the amazing view. Was that a reassuring sign of cultural regeneration? Or was it a culpable instance of collective political amnesia?