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A few weeks after our epic Zanzibar vacation, a group of us decided we wanted to spend a long weekend in Uganda. We loaded up our backpacks, bought bus tickets to Kampala, and headed out for an adventure!

Before I left for Tanzania, I had never left the country. And honestly, I had never really traveled at all. An ex-boyfriend lived in Charleston, South Carolina, so other than visiting him I never went anywhere. I was scared of the ocean, scared of rivers, scared of heights, scared of climbing things, scared of falling, scared of getting hurt. I certainly never dreamed that one day I would hop on an 18-hour bus ride through Uganda with four other girls to raft down the crocodile-infested Nile and sleep in hostels. I debated with myself for days — should I go? I’m scared. I want to go, but I’m scared. In the end I was afraid of missing opportunities and leaving Tanzania with regrets, so I bought my ticket and told my mother very few details about my plans 😉

We took the overnight bus, which was admittedly uncomfortable. We only stopped a few times for bathroom breaks, and those toilets are just holes in the ground so Uganda began my tradition of peeing on the side of the road in every African country to which I’ve been.

When we arrived, we took a cab to a bank to transfer our money, and I experienced my first travel fiasco — I thought I didn’t need to call my bank to let them know I would be in Uganda since I was already in Tanzania, but I did, and they locked me out of my account. It was the middle of the night in the US, so I had no way to access my money. My sweet friends spotted me cash until later in the evening when I could get the situation resolved, but I learned a huge lesson that day.

We decided to take an afternoon trip to Aero Beach to see Lake Victoria, the largest lake in Africa. We had heard from a friend in the graduate program that Aero Beach was one of the weirdest places ever, and she was totally right. There were old, broken down airplanes strewn across the beach, camels were walking around everywhere, and the restaurant looked like it was inside an abandoned boat. We spent the afternoon relaxing on the beach, exploring the airplanes, and laughing at the children visiting on a break from school — I especially loved one little bespectacled boy dancing alone, away from the others, without a care in the world.

The next day was spent rafting the Nile (coming up next!), and then on our last morning we visited a Kampala craft market where I loaded up on gorgeous Ugandan scarves, drums, bracelets, and gifts for my family and friends before we caught a bus home. Those three days were a blur of no sleep, sweat, and a ridiculous amount of fun. The weekend opened my eyes to the joy of traveling and I saw a part of East Africa I hadn’t seen before, the big city part, the part that feels like home even when things are so different, the part that reminds me we are all the same, really. It was the start of my life of adventuring,  the start of a new me — a me with less fear and more joy. My heart will always have a special place for Uganda.