Settlers of Catan

It is fortunate we don’t have to earn a living off my blog posts. It’d be akin to living on a diet of four-leaf clovers. Not to say that I’m without thoughts to share, it’s just forgetfulness and some laziness. Either I forget what I had wanted to talk about, or if not that, I convince myself I’d be better off writing it tomorrow, which eventually leads to back to the first issue; not entirely different from the problems I had with my school assignments. O.K. teacher, I’ll try to do better next time.

“Are those volcanoes?” “Na, they’re pyramids.”

We’ve landed in Africa. Twice actually: first a landing in Cairo, which treated us to a spectacular view, and then at our destination in Entebbe, Uganda at 3:00 AM. But that still wasn’t our final destination. To reach that, we had six bus hours and a border crossing to go.

Immigration at the airport was painful. The wait was short and the staff were courteous. But that hardly made up for the fingerprinting, photographing, and $50 single-entry visa fee, considering we’d be out of the country by afternoon (where we got stuck with another visa fee, $100 each). All in all, we had paid $300 in visa fees within the first 12 hours after landing.

I’m guessing that we’ll spend somewhere between $700 and $1000 in visa fees to visit some of the financially-poorest countries in the world. That’s roughly 5 months of hotel costs for two people in these countries. An equivalent visa in Japan should then run $7,500! But there’s another way of looking at it.

A Tanzania visa costs a US citizen, $100—about 0.2% of our annual income.
A US visa costs a Tanzanian $100—about 7.1% of their yearly income.

Getting the bus from Kampala to Bukoba could have been worse. Ninety percent of the hassle was finding which out of the dozens of bus companies would take us to Bukoba. No websites or phone numbers for any of them. Each company has a different location scattered throughout Kampala. And Google maps lies. So for future reference, you take the Gateway Bus Company (pronounced Gate Way Bus) located at Arua Park (ask around). It leaves every day at 11 am and costs 20,000 shillings.

Other highlights from the ride included the aisle being packed with giant goods bags, the back windows being packed with giant goods bags which fell forward after every bump, the grilled mystery-meat sticks sold through the open windows, the 100 or so gigantic speed bumps, and the equator crossing—no speed bump there.

After we had taken off and were beyond the city buildings and shacks, we were thrilled by the simple beauty of the landscape. The countryside looks like a kid’s finger painting. The lake and sky are bright blue, the banana trees are bright green, and the clay roads and buildings are bright red. It felt like we were driving across a giant Settlers of Catan game board. And if that were the case, then Tanzania would start the game off great, building roads with its wood and clay, but fail miserably when it was time to upgrade to cities and buy improvement cards. Doh!

Shortly after finally arriving at the Bukoba bus stop, our gracious hosts and friends, Aaron and Allison, drove over to meet us. They lightened our hearts and backs and gave us a ride up the hill to their house overlooking Lake Victoria. Photos to come later.


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