Friday, 18 March 2011

Ease and Flow

Uganda; The place the people the vibe is one you have to experience. This was my favourite country to travel through so far as I slowly undertake East Africa by bicycle.

The world is changing while I am travelling. The Middle East is in turmoil, we are now in the century of the movement of the people. Just before we entered Uganda the presidential elections were taking place in the capital city Kampala. The elections were said to be rigged, everything was up in the air. We decided if anything was to happen as two white people on a bicycle we would not be the main target. I am very pleased we chose to enter Uganda, I have only great memories.

What a thrill; I had many life threatening, heart jumping experiences;

  • Rafting down the River Nile - Grade 5 rapids

  • Boda bodas (local motorbike / taxis) - One took us on a sharp left we just missed crashing into a herd of Oxs'

  • Unlatched my front brake pads - I clenched onto the wrong brake lever going top speed down hill

    From Egypt and Sudan both Islamic countries where girls weren’t allowed out; to Ethiopia where clubs had one type of shoulder bopping music; then Kenya where people restricted their lives and talked about the amount of city crime (as a white person / muzungu I didn’t test it out). I finally let loose in Kampala. What a city, I don’t know why Winston Churchill called it ‘The Pearl of Africa’ but I will have to second him on that one for the safe fun friendly partying capital of East Africa.

    Kampala is full of good people. We went to the bars on boda bodas (local motorbike/taxis) to anywhere at anytime. I absolutely loved it and improved my fitness dancing throughout the night. I also found out it is possible to fit 4 people on one motorbike!!! Ok, there are not many rules and many accidents highlighted in the local newspapers which is why it is second on my list of life threatening experiences.

    There is still an obvious money divide as markets expand into malls on top of one another.Shops overflow onto the streets with anyone trying to sell something to make a living.
    The city centre is blocked with matatus (local buses) piling up diagonally in the one direction every vehicle is trying to get to.The transport centre spilling traffic forms smog and queues in this one area.Although the matatus are at standstill the gaps between the buses are more than active as people line up and barge through to reach their destination.As I pushed myself through this mass mess I was pleased to finally enter streets of moving vehicles.
Police riot vans made the situation very real and patrolled the streets as the local elections continued. I am lucky the elections were more than peaceful. The native people celebrated and held an election party in a field for all ages. Steve and I heard the music bouncing off the hills straight into our youth hostel so decided to follow the sounds and trekked in the dark with our head torches for miles to find the most relaxed free rave / party.

Part of me has to admit I did miss the rain after the 4 months of hot dry weather. It was lovely and refreshing when the heavens finally opened for the first time in Kenya. The storms produced clean cool smelling scents and stunning mist landscapes I highly appreciated while cycling on. Now I am facing facts the rain will start every afternoon and will probably continue throughout the night. Instead of waking up at 6 to get kilometers done before the heat attacks us we have decided to get up at 6 so we can finish cycling slightly earlier in hope we don’t get rained on.

Welcome to the tropics, to the green hills, to the rain, to the storms. The natural wonders have turned into valleys of rainforests and crater lakes.

As a cyclist I noticed and appreciated the effort that goes into the farmland. People depend on the rainy season to grow crops all year round. The organisation and preparation for the rainy season is outstanding. We passed dosens of banana and tea plantations filled with workers all waving and whistling at us as we cycled along.

The reactions of people I pass on my bicycle have really made me laugh out loud. My favourite are;

  • Are you sick?
  • How much are you getting paid?
  • What are you selling?
And lets not forget the kids who seem to have there own level of energy and laughter.

Eco tourism is very prominent in Uganda. Most activities support projects in the local community. It made a difference as I handed over a large amount of money to do something I thoroughly enjoyed knowing it was going to the right people; being shared. This is the first country where tourism has noticeably been managed well and created a positive impact within the local communities. The locals all cycle and collect water in 40 litre yellow barrels from water bore holes which are dispersed at random. These were very handy fresh sterile free water supplies; we joined the community and filled up our water bottles.

For me Uganda has been a continuous trail of activities and adventure.The country has so many things to do and see and is relatively small compared to others I have cycled through.The cycling only lasted a maximum of 3 days until we were based at another backpackers’ campsite meeting a few more people, enjoyed sharing stories with the tourist and travelling world.
Joining the 'sights to see' on bike was therefore really interesting and broke up the days where I stayed in the tourist bubble. Interacting with the local people is always fun. We camped or stayed in really cheap simple guest houses and got provided a bucket of water to wash and a hole for the toilet. The balance of tourist (equipped) and locals (lacking in basic facilities) worked well. I realise now how adaptive I have become. I will never take a hot shower and not appreciate the every second the shower still flows.
My fitness must be improving as I rarely get constant pain in my legs.One steep off-road track comes to mind while cycling to the stunning Lake Bunyonyi in South West Uganda.The pain of used muscles in my legs was almost as painful as reaching 4 regular speed bumps in a row that you MUST brake for.This often disturbs all of my speed gliding at full pace downhill and I return to the slow snail for the next uphill.
The tourist activities are endless.

Queen Elizabeth National Park reminded me of the cartoon The Wild Thing I stood meters away from huge wild animals.

Steve and I canoed around the islands on Lake Bunyonyi filled with nature and organic architecture. This was a good team working exercise. After we both got over being controlling and stubborn, when we realised who was going to be the one to take charge we progressed and worked together drifting at speed through the safe waters (6500ft - deepest lake in Uganda / no hippos or crocodiles). This was essential as we had to push and fight with extra force to get into the harbour on time. The wind had picked up, the rain droplets were forming circular patterns on the water; the rainy season has begun.

I loved everything about Uganda apart from a few guys calling me Sir!! (my shaved head attracts even more attention). I have made a pact with myself to continue all plans whatever the weather and have succeeded so far, the rain will not defeat me.

Uganda was a very easy pleasant country to travel through although the rain has started to flow. I hope my tent I bought in Cairo designed for the hot Sahara weather lasts these two months of downpour.

The forests are alive with sounds

Insects bleak repetitive call create the bass

Lines of vapour

Non stop bird sirens

Water movements patterns

Monkeys high sway the trees

Creeks leaves rustles

Deep into the midsts overshadowed

At ease in the maze of vegetation

The world of nature covered