Friday, November 10, 2017

Intrepid Travel Gorillas & Game Parks - Day 14

How lovely to wake without an alarm - and also to the novelty of monkeys scrabbling across the tin roof. It was a beautiful morning, the Nile glossy and smooth, with just a few fishing canoes dotted across it below the dam. Today we went in all directions for our optional activities; it was just me who chose the horse-riding.
Moses came to pick me up on his boda boda - a motorbike taxi - and we chugged along (helmetless) for half an hour on roads busy and deserted, paved and dirt, the engine switched off on the downhills to save petrol, to Nile Horseback Safaris. This is an admirably well-run operation which is home to around one quarter of Uganda's horse population (that is, 23 - there are just over 100 altogether. In the entire country). With very little fuss Suzie did the formalities and introduced to my guide, local man Danny, and my horse, a good-looking chestnut called Rusty with smooth and comfortable paces.
With two trainee guides in tow, we set off along tracks and dirt roads, past simple homes with coffee beans drying outside, little kids waving in excitement, adults smiling shyly or giving the upward nod, depending on their coolness, past shops and stalls. We rode through maize plantations (the reason for Rusty's mesh muzzle - sweetcorn leaves are very tempting for horses), past potatoes, yams, mango and jackfruit trees. 
We cut across a school playground at playtime, the kids used to seeing horses now but still fascinated. And then we got to a viewpoint and sat to gaze at the beginnings of this mighty river, which from here has so far to run to the sea.
We had some trotting, several canters and almost a gallop at one stage; Danny chatted companionably and I learned more about Ugandan life from him in ninety minutes than I have from Ed in two weeks. And then we were suddenly back at the beginning, and Suzie was welcoming me home again. She told me all about her adventurous history, and how she, an Aussie, ended up in deepest Uganda working with another Aussie and a Kiwi running a horse-trekking operation which is now in the top three of In the Saddle's best-rated businesses. Their week-long safari sounds just lovely. And it was good to hear how they are helping out the community by - so practical! - digging a couple of landfill pits and arranging a supply of rubbish bins; and also beginning a small-scale Riding for the Disabled set-up.
It's a hard place to keep horses, though: they have to have their health checked every day because of ticks and tsetse flies, and the risk of tetanus, and anything serious means a vet has to be flown in from South Africa.
Back at Adrift, despite 'Hold Back the River' being on high repeat in the background there, it was very pleasant to have downtime in the bar with a bit of lunch that wasn't a salad sandwich and a banana, to watch a couple of bungy-jumpers get their thrill and to hear about the others' adventures as they returned. It seemed, for some, that the white-water rafting was equal parts terror and hard work, and good to have in the past. Give me Rusty, any day.
There was to have been a sunset cruise on the Nile that everyone had signed up for, but the weather broke late afternoon and it was eventually cancelled, disappointingly. But since the river had completely disappeared from view - totally rubbed out, from the bar's deck - there was no arguing. So instead that's where we stayed, to the pleasure of the hotel's lovely and friendly little dog, River.

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