Lager in Uganda
Getting to Murchison Falls is no easy task.
First, after getting various vaccines and anti-malarials, you need to fly into Kampala between the ungodly hours of 1 am and 4 am. Then, you have to spend a few days asking around until you locate someone like Isaac—a man with a roadworthy van. Then you need to depart by 6:30 am the next day to avoid most of the traffic on the five-hour drive north.
Our plan was to arrive at our camp in time to catch the last afternoon ferry to the Paraa game reserve. Weaving in and out between buses on their last legs and screaming past small roadside markets, Isaac made good on his promise to get us there as quickly as possible.
We pulled over at a large intersection for lunch on the go. Without ever removing his seatbelt, Isaac bartered for hot cassava and grilled mystery meat on a stick.
“Not for you,” he cautioned, waving the meat tantalizingly close, but doling out only roasted roots to the rest of us. We grumbled, but chose not to argue with the driver, knowing we still had 62 miles on bad roads to go.
We eventually turned off the main highway and spent the last hour of the trip on a red dirt track. We bumped along in stifled, paranoid silence with the windows rolled up, thanks to Isaac’s offhand comment about the prevalence of tsetse flies along this stretch of the journey.
Naturally, after all that, we missed the ferry.
Despite our planning and Isaac’s driving, we rolled into camp too late in the day to visit the game reserve. Our consolation prize was a trip on a smaller boat up the Victoria Nile towards Murchison Falls. We invited Isaac to join us on board the small craft, but he declined. “Meet you back here,” he answered firmly.
We skimmed along the Nile, oblivious to the near-constant rain, listening for the sound of the falls. As we circumvented a horde of surly hippos, the storm passed and the “bar” opened: the boatman fetched a tattered bag from under our seats and unzipped his improvised cooler. I spotted a few sad Heinekens among rows of gleaming Nile Specials. After hours on the road, the golden labels adorned with roaring lions were like shining beacons.
Nile Special is Uganda’s beer of choice. The simple lager is supposedly made with water from the source of the Nile, on the northern shore of Lake Victoria. We popped the tops off two large bottles and looked down at the river as we approached the cascade.
Isaac met us back at the landing.
“Let me buy you a beer,” I insisted.
This time, he accepted.