The bus parked by the roadside opposite Stanbic branch Gulu. We had covered a distance of about 333km filled with laughter, jokes and stopovers for bites and insta-worthy shots on our journey from Kampala. A few of my friends who thought we were taking a break from the hustle and bustle of the capital to be part of the World Tourism Day celebrations were certainly wrong. Besides the heavy traffic flow, there was a thin line between Kampala and Gulu.
“Hello guys? Welcome to Gulu!” Janet Laker, an old friend and a beauty queen, said. The tall slender dark-skinned girl is an ordinary soul from an extraordinary town. Earlier, I had called her to reserve rooms for us in the modest accommodation facilities. Our budget was between Shs30,000 and Shs50,000. We strolled as two of our friends; Bashir and Bentique heaped praises on her catwalk; one would think she was on the runway.
Dynamic Guest House had reserved two rooms each at Shs30,000 per night. The kind receptionist led us to the spacious and clean rooms. And the bathroom system was functional. Thank God the mattresses were not covered with plastic sheets and the bathroom slippers were of similar colour.
The rest were checked into Hotel Vatican, just a few metres away from Dynamo. “Wanasoboka?,” asked Kabugo, the administrator of The Uganda Association of Travel Agents (TUGATA). The name of the facility created a feel of holiness among sinners.
The front desk had a set of rules with a male receptionist. “Chief, do you really expect us back by midnight?,” I asked. He smiled and responded, “Do not worry! I will be here. We work 24 hours.” There was a sigh of relief among the boys. We walked through the hotel aisle stunned by the choice of room names such as Milan, New York, Verona, and Roma.
Laker had surely done a good job, but she had to rush back to O’Cafe, a duty station she manages. We parted ways; every man in his room and Gulu for us all.
At 7pm, we all met at Dynamic Guest House, our command centre and strolled through the town in search of a culinary experience. We yearned for boo sauce, pasted fish or meat, with cassava or sweet potatoes. Bashir led us to New Comrades restaurant. It was evident that grandchildren of the banyakitara pastoralists were at the helm of the food service. Unfortunately, just like most Kampala food joints, the staple foods were finished which left us with rice, posho, beef, and chicken. On average, a plate of food and drink cost Shs8,000.
Next to the restaurant is Buganda Pub, a joint with a shocking nightlife only matched to that of Top Pub on William street in Kampala. All we could see were skimpily dressed girls and boys undergoing security checks to enter. Near the entrance were cars parked by the roadside with men and women chatting away. As we walked back to our lodging, our ears were hacked with reggae and club music blaring as people danced and drank seemingly in a jovial mood. Meanwhile, elderly women sat under the street lights vending their merchandise such as food items.
When night falls in Gulu and the streets are cloaked in darkness, the party people come out to play. 10pm was time for ‘parte after parte’. We jumped on boda bodas and sped off past Bomah Hotel to BJ’s, a popular bar on Eden Road.
It is without a doubt that the nomenclature brings to mind promiscuity in the world of sin. The night belongs to many bars and clubs that twinkle like stars, but the corporates and campusers have two options; O’ Cafe or BJ’s Bar and Grill.
In the club
After two security checkpoints at the BJ’s entrance, I was impressed by the outdoor setup. Most of the counter-height bar stools were a source of comfort for the daughters of Eve who presumably wore sexy makeup and crafted a come-hither stare for a midnight smooch and nooky. They sipped wine to manifest an aura. Unfortunately, we had bigger and better company.
An hour later, the DJ announced that it was a quiz night with a top prize of Shs 100,000 and beer for the runners-up. Out of 20 participating groups, our group Shatta Bundles emerged the seventh, despite other teams using web search engines for answers. As the norm, the DJ started our night with music that attracted us to either the counters for a drink or pool table for a game, but later past midnight, he ensured the club bangers were tempting enough for a BJ’s extraordinary night scene.
The next day was World Tourism Day, celebrated on September 27, every year since 1980. What happened on that day and after is another story. Gulu is heaven.
Time check 4am. The boys could not differentiate between the brands of beer and wine. Just like any responsible team leader under the influence, I made an announcement, “Hey guys, we have work to do. Let’s go to sleep.”