Diary & Travel Reports from the saddle
Arua NW Uganda - Sunday, 7th November 2004
Round the world motorcyclist Simon Milward is in Cyber City, an internet cafe in a shipping container installed in the bustling dusty town centre of Arua in NW Uganda.
A cockroach lands six niches from his head on an electrical socket. He is making last minute preparations because he expects two to three weeks of dirt tracks now at the tail end of the rainy season. Tomorrow he heads NW into the Democratic Republic of Congo visiting Aru and Aba, before turning NE to Yei and Tambura in SW Sudan, then West into the Central African Republic. With refitted Michelin nobbly rear tyre, new clutch cable and timing belt, adjusted valves and refilled Scottoiler, new cans of WD40, oil, and sardines, he is ready.
In his pocket is a US$35 permit sold by the rebel Sudan Peoples Liberation Army SPLA representative in Kampala. Despite a recent peace agreement there is still said to be a war on. Nevertheless it is the less severe conflict of the separate one to the South in the DRC and the other to the West in central northern Uganda.
The Ugandan five weeks is a humanitarian boost for the Millennium Ride with donations of over US$1,800 lead by Worldwide Movers Ltd Uganda (www.wwmovers-africa.com) with US$500. It is the largest single charitable contribution since 2003 by the European School in Costa Rica. The total raised is now nearly US$112,000.
Continuing his theme of motorcycles in health work, Milward finds an increasing need for a training and maintenance system of health ministry vehicles used to reach out to rural areas. He meets members of the Uganda Bikers Association (www.ugandabikers.com), fresh from a South Africa-Uganda AIDS ride now reeling under a discriminatory new hike in annual road tax.
Recently Uganda’s Wildlife Association (www.uwa.or.ug) sponsored Milward with a mountain gorilla safari and a visit to Murchison Falls National Park, “an unforgettable wildlife highlight of my journey”, he said. Milward rode to Rwanda and Burundi, which he announces have the best motorcycling roads in South and East Africa.
Milward heartily thanks all Ugandans and hotels and businesses, particularly the Namirende Guest House, who have made his visit so special. “In spite of its other natural attractions, the hearts of Ugandan people,” he says, “are the principal attraction of Uganda. Therefore I do not understand why they have let political interests at home and abroad keep the northern humanitarian crisis out of the global spotlight. Almost two million people have been displaced and accusations fly that donors and government have vested interests in maintaining the shameful status quo. Ugandans must insist on an end to the abduction of children, their exploitation murder and rape and appeal for international pressure. I would be appalled if tribalism had anything to do with the inaction.”
Fine how are you?
Fine how are you? ...
goes the greeting with many Ugandans. I say hello and they answer "Fine how are you". So I start to leave off the hello and simply open with "Fine how are you" and get a "Fine how are you" back.
It makes me laugh and sometimes I get a strange look too!
It was a superb excursion to the mountain gorillas in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in western Uganda and to the small countries of BURUNDI and RWANDA.
In fact here are the best motorcycling roads in Africa. The well surfaced twisty mountain main roads of these countries brought me back to Colombia. Cyclists hang on to the rear of trucks going uphill and spiderman-like hitch-hikers cling on above. Up and down and round and round it is a pleasure once again to scrape the bike's undercarriage and arrive with a buzz at Bujumbura in Burundi. This is the city at the northern tip of Lake Tanyanika, forming the western border of Tanzania. Indeed with three more days riding I could have completed a big East Africa circle and ended up back in Malawi.
Burundi men at junctions in towns cheer and clap as I ride past. Could a tourist be a sign of the end of the tribal strife? Full of soldiers wearing three different uniforms, one tries to extort a fine for lack of working indicators. Go on make my day, I think. "Show me your documents I want to see your document now," I demand. He nervously gives my passport back and walks away. Women in the hills wear strikingly colourful dresses in fluorescent oranges, greens and yellows. Hoards of them walk along the road at anytime anyday! Some city dwellers confide that though I will have no problem as an mzungu, there are still big inter tribal problems. One said that problems are worsened by inter-tribal positioning of the Anglophones and Francophones, who are there to help. That story is a little hard to believe. I fit front tyre number 10 (Metzeler Enduro 3), the last Brazilian made Pirelli lasting a very surprising whole year from Sao Paulo! I thank Novotel Bujumbura for the two sponsored nights and the local Pirelli dealer for the engine oil.
Rwandans appear to be motivated and industrious. People walk and carry all forms of farm implements as well as crops. Women and children lend a hand at roadworks, whole villages seem to be involved. I pass 1994 genocide memorials, when the Hutu majority murdered 800,000 Tutsis in 100 days of slaughter. I recall my visit to the war crimes tribunal in Arusha Tanzania last month, enough to see one suspect admit the slaughter of a whole village. I take a photograph of a memorial and pointed to it asking a group of local women and children walking past “Tutsi’s?” The response is a laugh that sends a shiver up my spine. The five peak Volcano National Park in Rwanda, which hosts the Rwandan gorilla population, was beautiful. The scenery here, right on the border with DRC, would be complete with a few dinosaurs.
It was nice to get back to Uganda especially since the wildlife highlight of my journey was about to start, the gorilla trek.
Uganda’s Wildlife Authority takes no chances on security during gorilla visits these days. The Bwindi Impenetrable National Park entrance at Buhoma sometimes appears like an army barracks and three armed soldiers escort our ten strong party as we trek out in search of the most human-like of beasts.
A short truck ride and an hour's walk through banana, millet and tea farms brings us up to the forest. The advance trackers radio to our guide. We are on track as we leave a main path and head into thick forest and jungle. We stop to deposit day packs and see bushes rustling 20 metres ahead. We move slowly forward with cameras at the ready. The guide grunts as we approach, signalling contentment and ease to the gorillas. He pulls away foliage to reveal a happy gorilla face eating fruit and casually glancing in our direction. Wow. A gorilla looking right at me, it is a special moment! They have got used to their hour long daily visit by humans. There are about 50 gorilla groups and in total about 700 gorillas, four of which are ‘habitualised’ (trained to tolerate human presence). One of them climbs a tree for us then swings around a bit.
The back hair of males turns grey with age (hence the term silverback) and are at least twice the size of any of the females and youngsters who are the other group members. The lazy silverback in our group sleeps for almost the entire hour whilst mother plays with the children. One rushes at me to scare but I hold my ground and click off a close up photo, the eyes have it. A toddler digs a hole and falls in head first, emerging covered in soil (just like I used to do!) and then beats his little chest.
These mountain gorillas exist only in this mountaineous area of Uganda, Rwanda and the DRC. Authorities here have been recognised for their efforts at preserving and promoting the gorilla population in face of continuing traditional threats: local farmers who need the land for growing food and poachers trading in gorilla steaks. The Dian Fossy Gorilla Fund (www.dianfossey.org) is the best site for them and the best pictures are here: http://homepage.mac.com/dianfossey/PhotoAlbum2.html
Thank you to the Uganda Wildlife Authority (www.uwa.or.ug) for sponsoring this US$370 trek. Is it worth it for tourists? A resounding yes!
I share African motorcycle stories with veteran overlander Mika Kuhn and his girlfriend Damaris. On two bikes they are heading south to Nambia then up Africa's west coast which is the current favorite route for overlanders going East-West in Africa.
I get quite busy again giving presentations at the Uganda Tourist Board exhibition (www.visituganda.com), the Ugandan Bikers Association (UBA www.ugandabikers.com), the International School of Uganda, the Kampala Rugby Club and the Nile High Full Moon Party of Adrift in Jinja. UBA, a motorcyclists group of black and white bikers, recently completed a trans Africa twelve bike motorcycle ride on AIDS awareness and have fundraised a substantial amount for schooling AIDS orphans. Recent road tax increases are disproportiontely high for motorcyclists because the government says it is not worth the trouble to collect the small amount justified. As we know, in this case the cost for motorcycles should be waived in view of the positive contribution to mobility that 'boda bodas' make and their negligible wear and tear on the roads. There was quite alot of media coverage of my ride in Uganda and raising US$1,800 was comparatively easy. I regret not putting more time and effort into it.
In the gorilla territory of Buhoma I meet Dr Scott Kellermann of Medical Missions for Batwa Pygmies (www.pygmies.net). Scott is famous for his work with the small people and research into tropical diseases and cures but what interests me is that he is buying two motorcycles for reaching outlying villages with primary healthcare services. I advise him a little on practical issues.
Back in Kampala I call on the NGO World Vision. They get 150-200,000km from their motorcycles because they are managed. In contrast health ministry motorcycles, as reported by two rural doctors, get no maintenance. So when Ugandan health work soon shifts from project based activities to a more cohesive approach based at the ministry, that is, when the ministry inherits alot of vehicles from projects, there will be a disaster. That is unless Mr Katende, the Senior Assistant Secretary in Charge of Transport, implements a management system for the vehicles. One wonders if the copies he took are gathering dust or what. Anyway, Uganda seems to be a popular among NGOs and so there is an opportunity for hard but worthwhile work if the right people or group comes forward. The ministry could then simply outsource the vehicle management and not gets its hands dirty.
In case you don't know the source of the Nile is Lake Victoria, so it starts big and ends big. From Lake Victoria to Lake Albert (DRC border) it is called the Victoria Nile. From there it is known as the Albert Nile. From Sudan onwards it is the White Nile. When it joins the shorter Blue Nile from Ethiopia is called simply the Nile. In Murchison Falls National Park (sponsored by the Wildlife Authority) I take an incredible boat ride up the Victoria Nile for a few hours. We see crocodiles sunning themsleves with jaws wide open (some guides try to make you believe it is so that birds clean their teeth by picking off left over chunks of baby hippo), countless dozens of pairs of hippo eyes, rounded rock-type backs and an occasional massive yawn. Eagles perch on high branches, other birds dive into the river hoping to catch a fish and large buffalo herds turn away from the boat. Murchison Falls come into view and we go as close as safely possible. The 54m wide river is forced through an opening 7m wide by 40m deep where it drops 30m. Crocs wait at the bottom for animals accidently washed down the white foamway.
From there, crossing both the Victoria Nile and the Albert Nile, it was 130km to Arua. The cockroach is still there.
A really big thanks to these Ugandan Millennium Ride corporate donators:
Thanks to these hotels and guest houses:
Bye for now
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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