Diary & Travel Reports from the saddle
Kampala, Uganda - 12 October 2004
In this update Milward weighs up the pros and cons of taking a route through the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) or Sudan.
He describes rafting at the source of the Nile and various aspects of life in Uganda and Kenya.
DRC or Sudan from Uganda?
Uganda is a crossroads. I face the choice of motorcycling north through Uganda’s own civil war and into south west Sudan, or west into the DRC (formerly Zaire). Both routes lead to the Central African Republic and onwards to West Africa. But first I have to negotiate a minefield of civil wars and muddy ruts big enough to swallow the bike.
My first choice was DRC. But it has been a question mark at the back of my mind since 1998. Stories of diabolical roads dictate the dry season for any attempt, which starts in a few weeks. In 1999 I opted to go the other way round the world (due East) due to the DRC’s civil war. It is no better now, according to the UN’s Monuc team. The UN is always optimistic, but last week's body language was more like ‘forget it’. Road rebuilding recently restarted but the solitary road in this category goes perpendicular to my direction!
There is a 10 year old Chinese-German road leading from Burundi to Kisangani, the Walikale route. (Kisangani is a main city in DRC where I could jump on a river boat for a week or two.) But it leads right through the area of the most recently reported fighting. Could a road through darkest DRC last ten years? I’m planning to go to Burundi on a fact finding mission later this week. Another route (Beni-Nia Nia) to Kisangani seems out of the question, it took a 4WD three months to go the 1000km earlier this year. The northern DRC option (Aru-Faradje) would skirt the unrest but a missionary told me even bicyclists who can carry their bike report great problems. Someone broke a trombone while transporting it - it must be bad then! Walking is the best option. If I did start on this route, there could be an option of an escape via Aba into Sudan. Escape to what?
It appears quite safe to skirt round the problems caused by the northern Ugandan Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) to the border with Sudan at Moyo. But the Sudanese Embassy counselor yesterday advised against it, saying one problem is the Ugandan government forces chasing the LRA in Sudan’s border zone. The other is that some pockets here are controlled by Sudanese rebel faction, the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA). Even though a government peace deal was recently signed, anything could happen at anytime he said. This is unrelated to the situation in Darfur.
On balance I shall probably opt for the Sudan route and my plan is being sent to Kartoum for approval before they issue a visa. The SPLA also have an office here so I’ll try and get a permit from them too. The guy on the phone sounded very nice. In the meantime the French embassy is processing my CAR visa and last week I had the DRC visa issued. I'm opening all options.
As I wait for bureaucratic wheels to turn and the dry season to settle in I’m appreciating some of Uganda’s delights.
Last Saturday I went rafting on the White Nile, the source of the Nile, flowing from the northern tip of Lake Victoria. Quite simply if you like it huge wet foamy and warm it’s the best rafting in the world. Grade five rapids are the biggest and baddest that any sane rafter attempts and you get plenty here.
We are nine in the raft. ‘Get down’ shouts the guide. We squat holding tightly onto the grab rope. The wall of water towers metres above us. The force of it rips some of us overboard. A second later the raft is tossed into the air. It flips. We fly. We sink. We float. We laugh. 25-100 metres downstream we haul ourselves back on board while paddles and helmets are retrieved by the local expert kayakers always on hand. The entertainment draws a crowd of local villagers.
Check out some of the wild pics at www.surfthesource.com and you’ll see what I mean. Thank you Adrift. My only advice is don’t eat too much of the delicious grub they serve for lunch! They’ve invited me for a bungee jump complete with river dip when I make a presentation at their full moon party at the end of the month, at the town of Jinja.
There are more motorcycles in Uganda than anywhere else in Africa! Many are 50cc and 100cc taxis. Choose one with a soft deep passenger pad preferably with rear footrests! The traffic is, how would you say, challengingly good natured. On my wide bike I get bumped a few times and of course I give as good as I get. The minibus drivers obviously don’t realise that my boxes cut a deep gauge in soft bodywork. Mamert, a French teacher and XLR250 rider, invited me to stay at his place on the way into Kampala last week. I ended up making my presentation at his school, Rainbow, where there are children of 50, yes 50, nationalities! They became a corporate donator (www.risk.sc.ug).
I’ve met so many lovely people here. There are many NGO workers. I learnt from one lady that the crazy outfit LRA, a fanatic group run by a lunatic commander, kidnaps children to brainwash them and often forces them to kill their own parents in cold blood. Her job is to help in the psychological rehabilitation of child escapees. 10,000 children commute from the rural schools and homes of their parents to safety in the city of Gulu each night. They sleep in doorways. It is better than being snatched from their rural homes by the LRA.
Tomorrow I’m off to Rwanda and Burundi just for a visit and get a local report on the roads situation. Rwanda is quite safe these days and in Burundi you can travel with an army convoy. Next time you’ll get a gorilla report from me because the Uganda Wildlife Authority paid for a visit to Bwindi Impenetrable National Park on 20th October.
'Mzungu', the word for white people, originated in Uganda but it does not feel to be a derogatory term in the same way that ‘gringo’ can occasionally be used in Latin America. People will call , ‘hey mzungu’ like you could call ‘hey black man’.
Kenya was interesting. A newspaper reporter told me that their grandfathers had received university education in Europe and came home to introduce the white ways to their tribes. Now, several generations later, he said the blacks are reclaiming their traditions for example in cooking and names. I heard a speech from a top civil servant recounting some of the worst problems in Kenya: female circumcism, tribalism (nepotism or discrimination against those of a different tribe), AIDS-HIV and corruption. Nevertheless Kenyans consider themselves above their fellow East Africans in Tanzania and Uganda. Indeed they seem to be more energetic businessmen and the leval of traffic congestion in Nairobi was the worst I’ve experienced for a long time.
But Kenya has the most delicious pineapples in the world and football size avocados! Planet Safari Adventures (www.planetkenyasafaris.com) took me on a three day safari to Maasai Mara National Reserve. Here we drove right up next to all manner of wildlife - with so many lions around that I lost count! Great herds of buffalo and wildebeest were migrating south to the Serengeti in search of greener grassland.
Later, Greensteds School (www.greenstedsschool.com), now a corporate sponsor, had me ride into assembly and make my presentation to the students. They took me into Lake Nakuru National Park where I saw both black rhino and white rhino right up close. The white one kicked up dust and put his head down, getting quite annoyed at the school bus, but it decided not to charge us. Here there were great flocks of flamingoes, baboons and all manner of hoofed animals!
In Nairobi there was a little admin to do, like fitting my seventeenth rear tyre. The Kodak Digital sponsored by Kodak Panama died at Kilimanjaro. But Kodak Kenya sold me one (the super LS443) at US$100 below cost price. The British High Commission issued my new third passport for free, and this I put towards it and therefore got it for US$260. (There’s a 100% import tax in Kenya.) UKenya run by the British High Commission is a partnership representing all positive things over the 40 years since Kenyan independence.
Fish is till on the menu since Lake Victoria is exceedingly well stocked and you can buy a good sized fried fish on the street for 60 US cents in Kenya and Uganda.
As usual there are lots of hotels to thank:
It has been precisely five years since I first rode my handmade motorcycle!
Simon Milward, on the road
A solo fundraising round the world ride on a handmade motorcycle.
Supporting Doctors Without Borders, Motorcycle Outreach and democracy.
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