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Ugandan Epic, part two

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Once again, I saw more people, but this time they were cutting grass, so I figured that I must be in Queen Elizabeth National Park.  Now, at this point, I thought Elephants, and my eyes started to play tricks on me.  Several objects that looked elephant-like just turned out to be elephant looking trees.  Approaching the 60 km mark, I saw a lorry ahead.  But just before the lorry was something else in the road, a buffalo.  Buffalos can also be quite dangerous, especially if they are found on their own, as they are usually males that have been expelled from the group and more often than not are none to happy about it.  There has recently been a case in Lake Mburo National Park where a buffalo ambushed a ranger from the bush.  As I got closer, the buffalo moved slowly off the road to the bushes on the right.  I drove past fairly quickly and noticed a whole herd of them grazing.


I was approaching the lorry now and noticed that it had stopped, so I manoeuvred around it to see a normal saloon car stranded in a relatively small pothole.  This car was a Toyota Corolla and had absolutely no chance of making it down the road I’d just come along.  The car was full of kids on their way to Rukungiri, obviously taking the shortest route.  I told him he had no chance with this car and would strongly advise turning back or he could find himself pushing the car most of the way.  He seemed to take on board what I was saying, and I offered to help push him out of the mud.  It was well and truly stuck.  One of the front wheels was just spinning, and even with 6 of us pushing, it didn’t budge.  We tried pulling some of the elephant grass from the side of the road and putting it under the wheels; still, it didn’t budge.  I was looking around the muddy road for a couple of stones but couldn’t see anything.  I spotted a bush with some dead branches and proceeded snap a branch off to put under the wheels to hopefully give it some traction.  By this time, another 5 men had appeared from nowhere, grabbed the car, and lifted it up out of the hole whilst I was busy snapping branches.  Ok, so brute force does work then!  The owner then started the car and moved it out of the mud trap fairly easily with only a little assistance.


The driver thanked me, and I told him that I didn’t really do anything.  I recommended again that he go back and find an alternative route, showing him the map I had in my pocket.  He then turned the car around and drove off.   I took the camera out and took a couple of pictures, and within a few minutes, I was on my own again.  I had a raging thirst and downed a litre of water before re-adjusting the straps that were holding the tent and the number plate, as the tent had shifted with all the bouncing.  That would be the nail in the coffin, losing a £200 tent along the road from hell.


I set off again and was approaching the 70 km mark, glancing down at the trip more frequently now.  69.8km…. 69.9km….. 70km!!  Ok. If Pedson had it right, it should be anytime now. I turned a corner and saw something dark on the road – it was the tarmac!  I hit the tarmac at 70.3km.  Pedson was spot on. At this point, I felt pretty much home and dry.  If the bike did break, I would easily be able to hitch a lift and perhaps even get the bike on the back of a truck.  The junction was being occupied by a group of policemen, and one commented that this was not something he’d seen before.  I assumed he meant a Muzungu riding a motorbike through the back roads of the National Park.  I chatted to them for a bit, while taking off my jacket, drinking more water, and pulling out my shades.  It was nearly 11pm, and it was getting hot.  The journey along the 70km road had taken me nearly 3 hours!


The journey back to Bushenyi was fairly uneventful.  As I drove past Kyambura Gorge, I considered a minor detour, but the bike gave a little splutter as if to say, “Don’t push your luck, matey!”  Despite the scary journey back, it would appear I’d learnt nothing.  I arrived back in Bushenyi, stopping only to get more fuel and take an amusing picture of a goat.


I pulled up outside the house, turned off the bike, and breathed a huge sigh of relief. Before unpacking, I took a picture of the bike after all the abuse it had suffered over the past few days. I looked at the trip and worked out I’d covered nearly 400 km in the past 3 days.


As I unpacked and cleaned everything, I contemplated the trip, the mistakes, and what I would do differently if I were to go again on any medium to long-range trip.  Firstly, I think the key is to have two motorbikes; if one breaks, at least you can get yourself out of trouble.  Secondly, a well prepared tool kit appropriate to the bike.  Thirdly, a more robust and powerful motorbike would have certainly helped. The Jialing is not renowned for its reliability, and although the engine itself didn’t cause any problems, riding conditions like that certainly take its toll.  Decent off-road tyres would certainly have helped, as well.  Finally, never fully trust a Ugandan mechanic!


Just as I finished unpacking it started to rain – hard!  Along the trip it seemed that there was some benevolent force in control, particularly when it came to my intentions to possibly cross the border to the Congo.  It felt like something or someone didn’t want me to get there.  Perhaps I should have ‘listened’, taken of the heed of the signs, and turned back after the first mechanical problems, but that wouldn’t have been much fun.  One of the things I’ve discovered in Uganda is that adventures really start when things go wrong.


My final point is that maybe books should come with advisory warnings or a certificate system.  Films are rated according to age for many reasons, one of them is so younger viewers don’t go around copying their heroes.  Perhaps certain books should display a warning to the effect of “Make sure you girlfriend/fiancée/wife reads this book before you do!”  As it turns out my better half was just annoyed that I’d gone without her!


Rob Bird.


If you have enjoyed reading this, see Rob's website below.  Contact him if you want to know more about VSO or Uganda.

Went Live : Wed 7th September 2005
Author : Rob Bird
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