Uganda (Part 3)

A tarmac rode lasted a few kilometres out of town, and then it was back to dirt. Soon I reached a river which, 300m downstream, became the border to the Democratic Republic of the Congo. However, I expect to cycle another 15,000 km before I get there (Omicron variant dependant…)

These sorts of signs (including spelling mistakes) are everywhere in Uganda and Kenya
That’s the Congo!

From the river the road began to climb, a long climb that would eventually take me from an elevation of 1000m to 2500m. Initially this went through populated areas, with lots of tea plantations.

Higher up, farmland gave way to forest: Bwindi Impenetrable, a National Park. On the edges of the forest there were still a few people, carrying lumber down to the villages.

In the forest proper, the only vehicles I saw were tourist vehicles. This area is popular for gorilla spotting. At $1000 for an hour of tracking, it was a bit more than I wanted to spend. I’ll just have to be satisfied with baboons.

Back out of the forest, I descended along dirt roads. I was passed by several land cruisers carrying tourists away from their gorilla safaris. As is so often the case in places tourists pass through, the people became far more unpleasant. Almost everyone who saw me screamed some variation of “give me my money.” Some children tried to block the road, others tried to grab me off the bike. Yet others chased me with machetes while demanding money.

This may simply be a regional cultural quirk, but it seems likely that it is encouraged by tourists passing through here stopping to give out money before hopping back into their landcruisers. I’m sure they have good intentions but are completely insulated from, and unaware of, the unintended consequences of their actions. To be clear, I am absolutely in favour of charitable giving, but I do think it should be done through professional organisations who know what they’re doing.

It started to rain just as I approached the tarmac road, and I managed to get there without getting soaked. I stopped at a shop and bought a few things, and they let me shelter from the rain. Of course the locals also sheltering nearby gathered round to stare and demand money. When I ignored their demands they just took to talking about me among themselves and laughing. Mzungu seemed to be practically every other word!

The rain stopped after about half an hour and I rode along the tarmac road for the remaining 25 km to the town of Kabale. From here, I would like to cross to Rwanda – officially the land borders are closed but I’ve heard of people getting in. Failing that, I’ll go to Tanzania. Before that, though, a couple rest days – partly to give my Tanzanian e-visa a chance to come through.

After a couple days off, I headed over to a local clinic for a PCR test. I decided to pay a bit more to get my PCR results within 3 hours. This would give me an extra half day of riding before my test expired – and I wasn’t sure how many attempts it would take me to leave Uganda! Usually in Uganda it rains in the afternoon, but today it rained through the night and morning. Thankfully this meant there was no rain in the afternoon.

After collecting my result I finished packing and started cycling south at about midday. For about ten kilometres a local cyclist rode with me and we chatted. He was a student, and had the nicest bike I’ve seen in a while – it had gears! Front and back!

I reached the border and went to get stamped out of Uganda. The woman working there asked for 1000 shillings (20p). I asked why – “for coffee.” I think that’s the first time I’ve had an immigration officer ask for a bribe! She later said I needed to pay the 1000 shillings for photocopies (I didn’t). Obviously it’s a miniscule amount, but on principle I refused to pay. Stamped out, I went over to Rwanda to try my luck.

Although Rwanda is open for tourists flying in, the land borders are officially closed. I’d heard of someone managing to get in, and I figured it was worth a try. Unfortunately the people here were firm. Sympathetic, but firm. They urged me to try to apply for permission through an embassy (I’d tried and, like others, got no response). I returned back to Uganda.

If I can’t cross to Rwanda, my backup plan is to cross to Tanzania, to the east. But there’s another Rwandan border, to the west – i.e. the wrong way. I knew of someone who’d managed to cross that border and I decided I would try it. It’ll only take a day to ride there and back, and I’d regret not trying.

I made it back into Kabale, then headed off along crowded dirt roads. One person there something at me but mostly it was just the usual whistling, hissing and yelling. A couple unusual ones were someone yelling out “white man,” perhaps concerned I didn’t understand why everyone else was shouting Mzungu. Another woman, possibly flustered by my sudden appearance, shouted out the wrong racial slur, calling me the n-word. Once I climbed higher up there were fewer people around, though most of the ones I saw demanded money.

Working in a quarry: people smash rocks with hammers to make gravel

If the people left something to be desired, at least the views were fantastic.

I turned off onto smaller dirt tracks, riding through hilly farmland.

Not exactly a road…

The tracks were slippery. I was just about able to keep traction uphill but I decided to walk downhill – braking simply sent my wheels sliding instead of turning. One good part about this is that when I dismounted, I scared the children who had been chasing me demanding money, and they ran off.

After a while the path disappeared and I just made my way down a rocky hillside. When I saw a house, I made my way there, and followed a track, walking/carrying my bike. I reached a field, much to the surprise of the people working there. They soon came to their senses and sent the kids over to beg. When I emerged from a footpath onto a ridable track, the people there were so shocked they ran away.

I continued to ride along the shore of the impressive Lake Bunyoni.

I got back to the tarmac road just as the sun was setting. There was a campsite there. They wanted to charge $10 but I wasn’t particularly keen on spending more than I usually do on a hotel, and in return getting just a muddy patch of ground swarming with insects. Thankfully they kindly told me there was a guesthouse a kilometre ahead, so I rode on and got a room for 10000 UGS (£2 – a third of the price).

The road was shrouded in fog when I set off, but it wasn’t long before I climbed above it and could look back down at the thick blanket lying across the surface of the lake.

This climb took about an hour, and then I began to descend toward the border. There were a few small climbs on the way down, one of which had a military checkpoint at the top. There were a couple busses stopped there, with the passengers being checked. The soldiers didn’t seem to mind me so I lifted my bike over the barrier and carried on. One of the soldiers was carrying something which I initially thought was a chainsaw but as I passed I realised it was in fact a light machine gun – not a class of weapon you see very often.

When I reached the border, the Ugandan officials told me the Rwandan side was closed, did I think they would let me in? I said I didn’t know, but I’d like to try. They didn’t think much of my chances, and initially considered sending me across without an exit stamp, on the assumption that I’d be coming back anyway. In the end they decided to stamp me out.

I shared their pessimism but off I went to the Rwandan side where they again told me the border was closed. I told them I’d spoken to someone who’d crossed through and some phone calls were made. The border manager arrived and he made some more phone calls, and asked me to wait.

I sat down at the side of the road. Occasionally he would come back and ask more questions – which countries had I been to, where would I be staying, and so on. I considered this a pretty good sign and after about an hour and a half I asked if he thought I’d be able to enter. He said yes, he thought so, but they needed to arrange the details.

Another hour passed and I was told to come and sit in a building on the Rwandan side in the border, where I spent another hour. At one point they said they would give me a PCR test here, and I’d then quarantine for 24 hours until I got the result. That was fine by me but in fact they later decided a rapid test at the border was enough.

I’d been at the border for about 4 hours by the time I took the rapid test. After about ten minutes they gave me the all clear and I went to get my entry stamp. I swapped to my British passport as Irish citizens have to pay $50. The immigration officer was busy and so that took the better part of another hour and then it was done! I was in Rwanda!

I think there might be a bicycle under these bananas

Surprised and pleased, I cycled away from the border. They’d wanted to know where I was staying so I had booked a hotel in Mousanze, 25 km away. I made my way there and checked in.

Nov 27: 115 km

Nov 30: 71 km

Dec 1: 69 km

4 thoughts on “Uganda (Part 3)

  1. What an interesting one, I’m very glad that you could make it into Rwandan, I wonder what kind of arrangements they made to let you in. Safe travels~~

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    1. Thanks Feth! I’m not sure exactly on the details, it seems like he spent time on the phone with the immigration department and the health department. I was surprised but glad it worked.

      Sam

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    1. Yeah, at least approximately. Intermediate goal is Cape Town. Prior to Omicron my plan was to go via Burundi-Tanzania-Malawi-Mozambique-Zambia-Zimbabwe-Botswana.
      Zimbabwe now requires all travellers to quarantine, so I’ll skip that if nothing changes. Zambia requires travellers coming from countries with Omicron cases to quarantine. By the time I get to Mozambique they’ll probably have cases… I’ll have to wait and see.
      After Cape Town I intend to return to Europe via West Africa. There are bits I’ll have to skip there: Nigerian visas are only obtainable in one’s home country, and the alternative route (CAR-Chad-Niger-Mali) is beyond my risk appetite. Lots of countries there are still closed due to COVID, so I’ll have to see which countries are possible nearer the time.
      Sam.

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