I arrived at the second hotel I am staying at in Entebbe yesterday feeling exhausted, but still feeling like an accomplished confident traveler. I really wanted to rest, but yesterday was the only free afternoon I had to be a tourist. Without thinking about it I decided to go to the botanical gardens by myself because I heard they were something not to miss in Entebbe. I had the hotel call me a cab without overthinking it.
The cab driver took me to the gardens and I asked him to please be sure to come back for me in an hour. He left me at the gate to a huge park. I paid the entrance fee and asked if there was a path or any sort of map and suddenly I had a man who was showing me around. I had heard there were guides at the entrance to the park, but since I never quite asked for one I was a bit confused. However, a few minutes into my impromptu tour I was so glad they decided I should have a guide.
The gardens are 47 acres of greenery. I had a nightmare of getting lost and trying to use google maps in the middle of the garden (“I swear I already walked past this tree”). I also scolded myself for not wearing sneakers because we were walking through the dense grass in sandals. My tour guide plowed ahead of me at a fast pace climbing over rocks and little streams. I forgot to tell him I am clumsy and he seemed confident I would be fine following behind. He picked flowers off each tree for me to smell and had key sites to show me. As we navigated through the garden there was an easy silence as I trailed behind his steady pace.
Apparently the gardens are where they filmed the original Tarzan. Parts of the garden feel like a park with open spaces, but then there is the “Tarzan section” with the long branches that the actor in the original Tarzan swung from. My guide told me that kids still climb them today to get certain fruits at the top of the trees.
I have been pretty into flowers after reading The Language of Flowers but these gardens were more than just flowers. I saw a tree that they use the sap from for latex; bougainvillea in every color (I learned the leaves are what make them different colors and the flowers inside the leaves are all the same color); orchid-like plants in all sorts of shapes (one is called a pipe flower because of its shape); a flower that looked like a sea urchin; flowers that were so fragrant I stuck them in my bag to smell later (of course I ended up throwing them out discretely in the cab); fruit trees; a Ugandan Christmas tree; leaves that are so rough women in Uganda use them as nail files; and that was just the flora!
My guide ripped into what seemed to be a mound of dirt to show me what termites looked like and explained if you are ever in the wilderness and need stitches you can take a bunch of termites on your wound. He put one on his shirt to illustrate how they bind to the cloth. I kept my distance from the termite pile and nodded feigning interest. If I am in the wilderness and develop a big cut and turn to termites I have probably been kidnapped and have way bigger problems. We saw all sorts of birds and anyone who knows me knows I am not the biggest fan of birds, but these ones kept their distance and so I was okay with looking at them from a distance.
As we were walking through one section of trees the guide told me that these trees are eaten by Colobus monkeys and asked me if I knew what monkeys he was talking about. I lied and said yes. We walk a short bit and then my guide tells me to look up and I see one of those monkeys staring down at us. They are the black and white monkeys who have the white beards that make them look wise and earnest. We stare at the monkey for awhile. I can’t tell if my guide thought I was crazy when I waved at the monkey and said hello, but I felt a connection there. Then we hear a quiet rustling across the way and see a tree filled with more of these monkeys including a baby one which is all white. If I had not been with a guide and known to look up I would have completely missed the fact that these monkeys were just watching me from above. It was spectacular.
We moved next to the spider area. I do not consider myself someone who is scared of spiders, but without warning we walked into a little area in which I was surrounded by spider webs and rather large spiders. I take a few pictures, but try to get a move on. The tour guide throws something at the spider web he says so I can get a better picture. I jump out of the way and reassure him my pictures are not that important. Once I convince him to leave the spider area I ask him if the spider bites. He nodes. I follow-up with tentatively, “is the spider poisonous?” He responds, “not very.” I laugh and he explains that basically one would not die from a spider bite by this spider, but just would get very sick. I definitely do not need to deal with that adventure.
There were no other tourists in the gardens which made the experience feel even more special. As we were leaving a school bus comes in with students who had a class party in the gardens. It was nice to be in a place that was enjoyed by both tourists and locals.
I awkwardly tell my tour guide that I need to meet my driver back at the entrance and he takes a short cut as we hike up a few grassy hills back to the front entrance. I felt a bit nervous about how to deal with the fact that I had inadvertently hired a guide and had no idea what he cost and if I had enough Ugandan shillings. I ask him what I can give him and he immediately says $10 to use for school books. I wonder if that is what he tells tourists, but I was more than happy to do it. I pay him in a mix of US dollars and Ugandan shillings to ensure I have enough to pay for a cab home. As I pay my accidental tour guide I ask him his name and it is Rafiki – which is my favorite out word out of the five Swahili words I know – it means friend.