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April 30th, 2010 | Africa

The “K. to K.” Run…(Kampala to Kigali)

Four up on a 125cc Chinese import... Believe me, I checked... Their motorcycle did not have Ohlins shocks...!!

The rain that I had been warned about came down in buckets on Thursday, and when I looked out of my window, the parts of Kampala that I could see, were awash with water… I decided to put my ride to Rwanda off for the day, and rather get an early start on Friday…

I spent most of the day in my air-conditioned room, planning my route and working out a schedule for the next week. I wanted to get back to Nairobi by Thursday night if possible, and if that did not work out, I would have to wait until Monday the 10th of May to get the Big Fella serviced…

I had a swim in the hotel pool, and considered having a workout in their well equipped gym, but luckily the thought passed before I could act upon it… I arranged to have breakfast at 6.30am the next morning and went to bed early, thinking about the 550 km ride ahead of me…

I was up at 5.00am, had the bike loaded and prepped by six and then waited for the kitchen staff to get the makings of my breakfast ready… It was drizzling when I set off at 7.00 am, and for the first time on this trip, I wore my rain-suit jacket…  The Sports View Hotel is ideally located if you want to avoid the traffic of the inner city of Kampala. Once I was on the Northern Bypass which was only a minute away from the hotel entrance, I was able to make my way right around the city and out the other side within half an hour…

The road passed through some indigenous forests. None of the Mohangany trees were anywhere near as big as those in Ghana...

For people passing through Kampala on their way to Rwanda or to do some Gorilla Trekking in Uganda itself, then this is the place to stay… It is on the eastern side of the city, a short distance after you pass the massive Mandela Sports Stadium, and on the highway that links Uganda to Kenya… Couldn’t be more convenient…

The roads in Uganda are generally well sign posted, and by following all the arrows to Masaka, I made good time for the first hour, covering almost 80 km, which for this part of Africa, is good going!! That was when the good times came to an end… I entered a long section of road works taking place on the main highway.

Luckily it was not raining, but it had been earlier that morning, and although the road was wide and properly compacted, it was “slushy” in places, making the handling of this big heavy bike, a little tricky…

I enjoyed sections like this as much as I enjoy a poke in the eye with a sharp stick...

The soil they had used on the surface changed from grey, to a light brown, and then to a dark red, and this was even more slippery than before… I idled slowly down into the valleys, and then had to be very careful on the up-slopes because if I gave it too much gas here, the back wheel did it’s best to try and overtake the front one… Sphincter-clinching stuff!!

Lake Victoria lay to the south east of where we were riding, and assumed that most of the rain in this area ended up in the lake… I am surprised that considering the massive body of water that Ugandans have access to, their are no fish for sale on the side of the raod, as there are in Malawi…

After about 20 km of this, a small village loomed up ahead, and I had already decided to stop and take a short break, when I noticed the large white arches, labeled, “EQUATOR”… I pulled over on the opposite side of the road and took a number of photos to commemorate my “second crossing” of the event. There were three Sri Lankans also doing the “tourist thing”, and we took photos of each other, until a crack of lightning got me back in the saddle in no time at all and back on the dirt…

The Gypsy Biker makes it official... He's on the Equator...

Astride the Hemispheres...

The bike was a few feet off the 00'00''000''' mark... But it is close enough !!

I finally got to where they had completed a long section of road, and after doing just 24 km in the second hour of my ride, I made up for it by doing almost 90- km in the third hour…

I passed through the village of Kyazanga, where the road had disintegrated into a muddy mess, with trucks stuck in mud on either side of the road… I was thankful that I had not ridden the day before, because this much rain would have had me in trouble for sure… My tyres have done almost 17 500 kms, and for some strange reason, do not have the grip they once had…

A mud splattered Big Fella stops to refuel in Mbabara...

Slippery when wet... Throw in some oil and diesel, and it becomes even more FUN...!!!

Many of the villages I passed, seemed to “specialize” in one thing or another, and had their wares out on display on the roadside, many of the “stalls” right next to each other… I wondered how they made a living doing this, as I assume there must be some kind of “price-fixing” arrangement between the owners…

Some villages only displayed drums, others beautifully woven and dyed baskets, still others, large mats woven from palm fronds and papyrus…. Most villages had a section of stands that displayed fruit and vegetables stacked in pyramids… I was worried that I would not reach Kigali before dark, so did not stop to take any photos, but will do on my return to Kampala and Nairobi, along this same route…

I was back on the original road now, which should be renamed “Apache Highway”, because this is basically what it consist of…patches of tar held together with potholes of various sizes, ranging from “dinner plate” size, to “swallow your bike” size…

The small but growing chapter, of the "Gypsy Biker Fan Club of Uganda", was out in force, to wave me past...

After exactly five hours on the road, I had covered only 277 km, and pulled into the town of Mbarara to refuel, and take stock of my position… I was about 160 km from the Rwandan Border, and after the crossing, which could take as much as an hour; I would still have more than a 100 km to go to get to Kigali… It would all depend on the condition of the roads ahead of me…

I refueled, taking a few pics of a mud-spattered Big Fella, before riding out to the edge of town and stopping at a service station which had just been built, and had not as yet opened for business… Besides a few painters, there were not the usual crowds that gathered around the bike each time I stopped… The old security guard was on duty, and he wandered over and without even waiting for questions to be asked, began telling me about the road conditions and distances to my destination… He recited the distance in miles, so I had to do a few mental calculations while he spoke… While his distances were accurate, he seemed to have no idea about timing…

“It will take you two or four hours to Kigali…” he informed me…

“Well, that’s quite a difference in times, “I replied… “Will I get there in the dark or not…?”

He squinted up into the cloudy sky, sucked some air through his teeth, and after a longish silence, said,

“I don’t know….”

“You’ve been an enormous help..!!”, was all I could think of to say, and beaming widely at a job well done, he sauntered off to stand in the shade…

These bright pink signs are sponsored by Zain Telecom...

"Excuse me... Have you heard of Ohlins...?"

The road to Kabale, the last town before the border was in good condition, and I made it there by 2.00pm.. The countryside had changed from the rolling hills of the middle part of my ride to Mbarara, to steeper mountains and deep valleys, parts of the road rising up to over 2500 m.a.s.l. This is a beautiful part of the world, and I marveled at the various shades of green that were on display…

You can also see that this area has a volcanic history to it, as I seemed to be riding from crater to crater, up a steep slope, then down into a bowl like valley on the other side…

I also passed many marshy areas where papyrus reeds grew thick, and I thought about that most rare of birds, the Shoebill, which is found here in Uganda… Had one put in an appearance, I probably would have fallen off the bike in excitement…

Just short of the border, in the little town of Katuna, I stopped to clean the visor of my helmet, as I was having trouble seeing out of the darn thing… It had become covered in a thin sheen of diesel and mud, thrown up by the trucks that I had passed since leaving Mbarara… The manager of the First City Petrol Depot, came over to introduce himself, and clicked his tongue loudly when he saw the state the bike was in… He bellowed to a young lad who was loitering nearby, and he dashed off and returned with a watering can and a cloth, and proceeded to clean the windshield and all the lights and indicators on the bike…

“The Matatus will not see you if your lights are covered, and they drive so badly…”

I had to agree… I had been overtaken on the dirt sections of the road on many occasions by these taxis, all going like the clappers through the mud and the potholes….

Big Fella gets his face washed, thanks to Frank...

Rwandan Border. The two offices in the background was all I needed to visit, and I was off to Kigali...

The border post was the usual long line of trucks, but I got through to the front of them all, and then took about half an hour to get through the Ugandan side, before riding over a little bridge onto the Rwandan side. It took literally a few minutes for me to clear Immigration and Customs to enter Rwanda, and I did not need to pay a single cent!! Very refreshing…

Despite a few sections that are gravel, the road down to Kigali must rate as one of the best I have ridden… There is of course the little hassle of riding on the “wrong” side of the road (bloody French influence…!), but this made it even more exhilarating… It is hard to describe the feeling of winding down steep curves, your RIGHT shoulder hugging the mountainside, and then seeing a truck coming up at you on the side of the road that you would normally be trying to stay on… I made things even more difficult for myself, by riding this long section one-handed, as my video camera was in my left hand, filming this amazing section of road…

Every shade of green...

I had hardly been bothered by rain on the ride from Kampala to the border, but was sweating bullets in my jacket and raincoat, so I decided to pack the rain suit away, and ride to Kigali without it… Naturally, I was not in the least bit surprised that it began to rain on the final 20km stretch to Kigali… I have that kind of luck, you see…!! The surface became a little too slippery to be riding one handed, so I packed the camera away and concentrated on getting into Kigali in one piece…

A wet welcome to Kigali...

The city has been built on and around a set of hills, most of the roads are steep, but well maintained… In fact, this must be one of the cleanest African cities I have been in… Pavements are swept and there is very little litter lying about…  My GPS deserted me at this point, and I can only assume that there have not been too many travelers to this part of the world, relying on their Garmin’s to get them to their destination… After cruising around aimlessly for about half an hour, I came across a Police Station, and asked them for directions to the Hotel Gorillas, where Allan “Worldrider” Karl had stayed in 2008…

One of the policemen summoned a motorbike taxi over to where we were standing, hopped on the back and crooked his finger in my general direction, indicating that I should follow them…

A few minutes later, we pulled up outside the hotel, and the policeman asked for $20.00 in payment for his assistance… I very politely refused to pay this amount, and after much muttering in French, he accepted about $5.00 and this in Ugandan Shillings to boot…!! I had not changed any money at the border, only too happy to not be bothered by the usual horde of money-changers that crowd around you each time you make a crossing… In fact, now that I think of it, I had not been approached at all, which is very unusual…

My next shock came when I was quoted $110.00 for a room that was as basic as any I had experienced in Uganda or Tanzania…  It was now after 5.00pm, and the sky was dark with both rain clouds and the oncoming dusk, so I reluctantly agreed to the price, and got my kit carried up to my room…  Then a taxi driver tried to rip me off when I asked to be taken to an ATM… He doubled the fee when we got back to the hotel, claiming that the price he quoted me was for a one way trip only… Everything here is expensive… Petrol is an eye-watering R15.75 / litre, a soda costs about R9.00 a bottle, and a packet of stale biscuits goes for R12.00… This is not the place to hang about in for too long…

""Allo, 'allo, 'allo.... Somebody's taken the bloody road....!!!"

It was also too late to check with the Parks Services, to see whether or not I could get an entry ticket for the next day, to enter the Virunga National Park… That meant that I would have to spend an extra day in Kigali, because the Gorilla Trekking started at 7.00am in the morning… This is in fact what I was making the 2600 km round trip from Nairobi to see… Rwanda’s Mountain Gorillas… It was something I had wanted to do from the first time I had heard that tourists were being taken up into the mountains of Uganda, the Congo and Rwanda, to see them… And that was a very long time ago…

Tomorrow is part of a 30 year-old dream… And now I am here, within touching distance of ticking off one of the most amazing experiences on the Planet…

My heart is beating faster in my chest just at the thought of it…

2 comments to The “K. to K.” Run…(Kampala to Kigali)

  • Charmz

    Thanks for the stunning photographs, it’s really green and bright there. I wish I was joining you tomorrow so please think of me as you get “up close and personal” with those mountain gorillas. Take care and be safe.

  • Mark Behr

    Exciting – hope the Gorillas are as awesome as we have been told. Take care and have a ball.

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