(56) Bamboozled by bikes
Sunday 21st April
We were woken in the classroom during the night by what sounded like someone moving an empty water container around. It was really hard to work out if it was someone or a something. We looked around with the torch but found nothing and didn’t really return back to a good sleep. As the sun rose, its rays shone through the barred windows like a big torch on the tent and we finally got up.
No eating in class!
We poked our heads out to see 2 curious eyes looking in from outside and as we packed our things and had breakfast the number of curious eyes and smiling faces increased. It wasn’t long until Pastor George arrived and we all went across the yard to the church. It was a while before anyone else turned up despite the service starting at 8am.
Seats ready to be filled
With the service finally underway and the church nearly full, we stayed for a couple of hours and enjoyed the singing. Tim was invited up to the front to introduce ourselves. As we left, we picked up water at a nearby pump and as we started to ride off we could hear the women singing which resonated from the church.
Kids at a well
Boys on bikes
The road was quiet and scenic with small farms on both sides of the road amongst lush green meadows. The going was easy at first but it soon started to rise and fall with less and less flat which made the going tiring. We stopped at a shop to pick up a coke and the owner asked why we were carrying all our bags on our bikes. We explained that in them was a tent, our clothes and cooking stuff and then we asked if we could cook in front of the shop. Not wanting to miss the opportunity, the stove was soon out and the water was boiling much to the amusement of the ever increasing crowd. There was a guy mending shoes next to us and as Tim’s were falling apart we asked him to put a few stitches in to get a few more weeks out of them.
We rode on along the ups and downs wandering why we were told it was flat in Uganda. Rwanda was our next country and we were told it was really mountainous so if this was flat we were beginning to think how hard Rwanda would be.
As we neared the town of Jinja we expected a nice descent but it wasn’t going to let us get there that easily. With the continuing climbs and vehicles using their horns to bully anyone or anything off the road we finally arrived in town. Jinja is a popular tourist destination with activities such as white water rafting. We actually felt quite unsettled in the town, getting the feeling the locals were only interested in our things. The first hotel we went in stated they required an inventory of our entire luggage before we entered the hotel as theft was rife. Needless to say we didn’t stay.
We discovered there was a YMCA just down the road so decided to try there. We called them first and agreed a price of 35,000 Ugandan Shillings (about £9) for a double room and 20,000 for a single. When we arrived they showed us a room where we could fit all three of us, however the price suddenly shot up to 75,000. It took a fair bit of work from Tim to get the price back to our original quote, then we settled down to drink a beer only to find the shower had no water. They told us the water was not working in the whole of the town but when we asked if we could move rooms, the story changed. We ended up changing rooms and the showers did work complete with hot water. With most of the light bulbs missing in our room and the staff preferring to watch TV rather than help us carry our kit up the 2 flights of stairs, we weren’t in the best of moods. By the time we had finished dinner it was 9.30 and we were shattered. We didn’t need this much hassle after a long day on the bike and the fact it was expensive made it feel worse.
Monday 22nd April
After a couple hours sleep, we could hear Mosquitos in our room. We turned the light on to see 4 rather happy and fat Mosquitos circling above our heads letting their main course go down before dessert. With a few swift claps we could sleep. We all woke tired and still had 50 miles to ride before reaching the capital of Kampala. We had breakfast and made our way into town. We were soon directed in the right direction and crossed a dam at the north end of Lake Victoria that would feed the White Nile and finally end up in the Mediterranean Sea which we had left almost 5 months ago.
Birds on an upturned boat
We started a climb with the same pattern of the day before; up and down making the going tiring. We stopped for lunch in a town and bought some eggs to cook. We had the usual curious children watching and leaning on the bikes until Sharon’s fell. It was ok but one young boy looked terrified and was about to burst into tears. We smiled reassurance and he eventually smiled again. He wore a T-shirt that said ‘I may be small but one day I’ll wake up big and tall’.
We waved goodbye picking up fresh pineapple from the road side on our way. We kept climbing trying not to be hit by the aggressive drivers. This had been the first country where even the truck drivers didn’t move around us and we had some hairy moments. The road passed through thick forest and we spotted some small black monkeys in the trees. We could have watched them for hours, they were so entertaining.
Riding through the forest
We finally arrived on the outskirts of Kampala and asked a policeman if there were any cheap hotels nearby. He told us they were expensive in town and why didn’t we ask if we could stay at the police station up the road? We thought the answer would be no as we were in a city but we would give it a try. We pulled up outside and nominated Tim to see the chief. The chief didn’t look impressed at the officer who had brought us there and told him to send us to a hotel.
Getting close to Kampala
Arriving in Kampala
As we were riding back along the road a German guy on a bike pulled up next to Sharon and asked where we were going. She told him we were looking for a place to stay to which he replied without hesitation that we could stay with him. This was amazing. Julius worked at the town hall in the water and sanitation department. He told us only 6% of houses in the city are linked to the sewage system and everyone else uses septic tanks. This made the waste removal business huge with many unlicensed operators and many who would dump their waste anywhere to avoid paying the rates at the treatment plant.
We called in at a supermarket to get supplies and made our way back to his house. It was a great place to relax and the beer was soon opened and we made our way out to get some street food and called in at a bar for a few more celebratory beers which Julius very kindly paid for. We felt so happy to get this far and it was quite a mile stone in our trip.
Julius, Hanae and Tim in a reserved space which was actually for motorbikes!!
Tuesday 23rd April – Friday 26th April
We were heading to our friend’s school in south-west Uganda in a couple of days’ time – hence the slight detour from our original route. Bethan is the daughter of Sharon’s mum’s friend and runs the school with her husband Horace. The school is for orphaned and disadvantaged children and we planned to be there for 2 weeks to do some painting and carpentry work.
During our time in Kampala Tim fell ill – he had a high temperature and all of the symptoms of Malaria. Sharon called Julius who gave us directions to the local clinic and we headed out into the heat which Tim said felt like sticking his head into an oven. We took motorbike taxis which took 5 minutes and then only had to wait 10 minutes before Tim had his blood taken. The results were back 20 minutes later and thankfully he tested negative. We were handed a bill for 20,000 shillings whilst stood next to a sign saying ‘National anti-malaria day, get tested for free today’. We asked why the test wasn’t free and the doctor looked shocked, saying ‘oh that old thing’ pointing at the banner that had the days date on it. He told us the banner was a promotion from a pharmaceutical company. We were asked to sit for a moment, and then the bill dropped to 17,000 shillings (about £4.25). Tim was told that even though the results were negative it could be too early to detect so if his symptoms got worse he should return the following day for treatment. We headed back to Julius’s place where he slept for the rest of the day. Fortunately he felt better the next day and we were grateful to have somewhere comfortable for him to rest. Stella, Julius’s neighbour cooked us a delicious meal which Tim was able to eat.
We were both still having vivid dreams from the Anti-malarial tablets we were taking and Tim dreamt one night that he was tracking down Fireman Sam cartoon episodes for his nephew Lennon whilst being chased in a high speed pursuit. He put it down to watching the Bourne Identity films whilst resting and thought the latest film would have been much better if Jason Bourne was looking for the missing Fireman Sam episodes! We were clearly both going a little mad as Sharon at one point asked Tim what a baby sheep was called…
We also got some jobs done while we were there. Tim re-greased the bearings in his front wheel – a task he had always found tricky as they would either get lost in gravel or it would feel worse after. He set about stripping the hub being careful not to lose any. Sharon was busy editing the blog as small balls bounced on the concrete past her but Tim managed to catch them all before cleaning them up and applying the grease that looked more like marmite.
We tried chatting to friends and family but it was difficult due to a slow Internet connection so all we needed to do was pack what we didn’t need and relax.
Saturday 27th April
Tim woke feeling better but feeling annoyed he had got sick again during our time off. We had wanted to see Julius play volley ball that morning but already being not just 2 days behind our estimated arrival at the school but over a month we really wanted to get there before the pupils went on holiday. Tim still felt a slight fever but knew getting back on the bike would flush it out quicker. We said goodbye to Julius’s landlady Stella who was always smiling and felt sad to say goodbye to Julius and his dog Bella. They had been great and so relaxed with us there and were always ready to help. We felt bad we couldn’t have been more exciting. We had turned up feeling tired after climbing many hills and with a mountain of jobs to get done. Also getting sick didn’t bring out the party people we would have hoped to be.
Outside Julius’s house
We slowly wobbled down the track certain that we had added an extra 50 kg to the panniers and rode through the town. We followed the fairly easy directions only gutted we never got to meet Matius who was a friend of Bernard’s from Kenya. As we were riding out of the city a guy rode alongside us and asked where we were going. We asked if he knew Matius and he replied, ‘of course – he is our team’s boss’. He was referring to the Ugandan road racing team. He asked if we would like to see his bamboo bikes? It was only 1 mile away and not wanting to miss out we followed him to the workshop. At first it was all locked up and the chance of seeing them faded until a guy came out and said he would unlock it for us. They looked cool and all the joints were held together with bark cloth and resin. Tim was surprised how heavy they were but they made up for it with style. We took loads of pictures and re-joined the road back to the highway.
Next time we’ll do the ride on this!
It was hot and the climbs started immediately and with it already past one o’clock we stopped for lunch under some shelter and cook noodles. We were way behind and wondered how we were ever going to cover the distance. We plodded on and would need to stop regularly as Hanae was really struggling with the traffic being so close and was feeling tired. The hills continued to rise and fall with no flat in between. We were gaining no height which was frustrating – having the only purpose of climbing one hill to see it drop away then climb again. At first the scenery remained the same with not much difference between climbs. Then we passed some swamp with six foot high plants that looked more like frog spawn.
The road was under construction so we had stretches of dust swirled up by the passing traffic and stretches of beautiful scenery.
The result of cycling a road under construction
Sharon picked up a puncture and as Hanae was still struggling to keep up, she went on ahead as the light was fading and we wanted to avoid riding in the dark. We set off and passed a few towns. Sharon was slowing so Tim got his stick out and tried giving her a little push. As we passed a load of traffic, a few kids ran out waving their machetes at us. With Tim’s stick already in his hand he lifted it as a warning to which they ran off. It was now dark and with still no sign of Hanae ahead, we started to worry hoping that the kids hadn’t got to her. We finally arrived in the town of Nabusanka and we suddenly heard her voice. She had flown along the road as we had tired. We rode on as we had heard there was an Israeli road construction camp ahead and we hoped we could stay there the night. We couldn’t spot it and had ridden the distance we thought it was. We asked a lady and she pointed back down the road. We were tired so asked about a hotel instead. She said there was a few near the Equator which was just a few hundred metres away. We rode on and soon spotted a restaurant. We asked if they had anywhere we could stay and at first they said no. Sharon then asked if there was anywhere we could put our tent nearby and they took us to the back garden which was a flat piece of grass – it was perfect. They said we could stay for free and so we checked out the menu. We pitched our tents, washed our hands and headed in to order a very delicious beef stew and pizza. Before it arrived a lady came over to us with hot white towels. Forgetting how filthy we were, Tim turned his nice hot towel into a brown floor cloth. We looked at it in horror as he rushed off to the toilets to clean it before handing it back. We giggled about it over a couple of beers.
Sunday 28th April
Tim woke before Sharon but still felt shattered. We heard the staff arrive at the restaurant and start unlocking. Tim managed another 20 minutes of sleep before leaping out of bed at the speed of a lethargic snail and loaded the bikes. He got the kettle on and Sharon emerged from the tent blurry eyed not feeling too well.
A centipede enjoying the morning paper
Leaving the restaurant
Hanae crossing the Equator
We said our thanks and road the 20 metres to the Equator line once again. This time would be the last until we would cross it until we were heading north through the Americas. We discussed the idea of having a theme restaurant at the Equator line, looking at was it there before the dinosaurs, and perhaps it used to be a chalk line but kept getting washed away in the monsoons and so was replaced by loads of tacky shops, restaurants and dodgy looking concrete monuments that all seemed to miss the line by about 200 metres. We would sell t-shirts saying ‘We would have crossed the Equator if only we knew exactly where it was’.
We rode on the same terrain up and down until we had a good spell of flat road. This was great and we stopped for a coke next to some impressive looking cows.
Competing for a sale
We rode on the flat but it soon turned into a hill which was a steeper gradient – it was so tiring. We reached the junction of Masaka and made lunch next to a shop. We brought eggs but with Sharon still not feeling her best she only had a few noodles. We rode on dropping and climbing with the scenery still remaining the same and were grateful for the happy kids waving and shouting ‘how are you’ or ‘goodbye muzungo’ instead of running at our bikes grabbing stuff or asking for money.
The open road
A river joining Lake Victoria
Beautifully arranged sweet potatoes
We stopped at a small shop to buy a pineapple and sat eating the lot while we found out where the nearest police station was. We were told it was 8-12 miles so off we went climbing on average one hill per mile. We finally reached a large town and asked at the police station if we could camp. They were happy to let us but wanted to check all our things and hold our passports. Sharon went through her stuff with a female officer, not realising there were prisoners looking onto the courtyard who could see what she was doing. Tim told the police officer that his bags contained the tent and it would be just as easy to pitch it while they checked. Before he’d even got the inside up, they walked off bored and we put the kettle on. Sharon was feeling dreadful so had a sleep while we got tea on the go much to the prisoners’ entertainment. We slowly cleared our things and took it in turns to go and wash before all heading to bed shattered knowing we had another hard day ahead.
Monday 29th April
Seeing as we were sleeping right in front of the prison doors we had a surprisingly good night’s sleep. With the kettle on and a good morning to the eyes peering out through the bars we finished breakfast and loaded the bikes. The policeman in charge pretended to be clever by guessing our ages after analysing our passports all night. He still managed to get Sharon’s wrong by a year – unfortunately he said a year older – we don’t think he’ll ever make a good detective.
Over looked by the inmates
We said our thanks and got going. We climbed a couple more hills to find the scenery started to open up. At first it was staggered hills looking into lush green valleys, small farms with bananas, maize and pineapple all growing, then green pastures with small herds of long horned cows with horns so big it made us wander how they kept their heads up.
‘Look at my horns!’
They just get bigger and bigger!
We rode along flatter roads and arrived in a small town called Sanga where we were mobbed by kebab and drink sellers next to a busy market. We made our way to a nice grassy spot and picked the best looking beef kebabs for the reasonable sum of 25 pence each and sat down to watch as the sellers ran from one bus to another all wanting to sell their goods. This was all being observed by the large birds on the market roof who were keeping a close eye on the meat sellers.
Cranes waiting for a scrap and bicycles laden with matooke– green banana which is served cooked
We rode on making good progress as the road remained relatively flat and spotted the national bird – a golden crested crane.
The Uganda National bird giving us a private dance!
We soon arrived in the town of Mbarara which was a day’s ride from the school and started to look for a hotel to stay as we fancied a break from police stations. We looked at a couple – one was a reasonable 20,000 shillings (about £5) and very nice but it had a lot of steps so Tim went next door to check out the competition.
The owner said a room was 100,000 shillings.
‘No thanks’ replied Tim as it was clearly too expensive
‘Why how much money do you have?’ the hotelier said
‘I’m not paying 100,000’ Tim replied.
The hotelier said ‘ok, do you need a single or double?’
‘A double please’
‘Ok, that’s 200,000’
Walking out laughing he went back to the bikes and said the first was the nicest and cheapest but it was worth checking out a couple more. Needing to get money out we rode to the bank where we were approached by a Korean lady who asked where we had come from. In disbelief she asked where we were staying and we said we were still looking. She then offered to put us up for the night. Her name was Kim and she lived with her husband and children at the Seventh day Adventist church. They were lovely and so welcoming. We enjoyed a delicious dinner and when Kim found out Sharon was an Addiction counsellor she asked if she would be available to talk to a group of pastors who were arriving the next day. Sharon had spoken to Bethan from the school earlier who asked if we could meet in the town to look at wood for some building work. This meant Sharon could give a talk to the pastors whilst Horace and Tim went shopping. Kim also asked if Tim could also advise on the roof that was going on the new conference hall at the centre. The building was started 10 years ago so it was slow progress and with a long way to go before the roof was even ready to go on it was going to be a long way off before completion. Feeling tired we headed to bed and enjoyed a great night’s sleep.
Tuesday 30th April
We got up and had breakfast when Horace and Bethan arrived. Sharon had prepared a talk about alcohol misuse for the 20 pastors who were coming to meet together. The pastors told Sharon that alcohol was a problem in many of the remote villages and the talk was useful to have a better understanding about the issue. It was the first time Sharon had worked with an interpreter and she was glad it had gone well. Tim went into town with Horace to get materials for the school. They walked from shop to shop and finally found the closest thing to what they needed. With the pick-up being loaded they headed back to Kim’s place to pack our things. We asked Horace and Bethan to carry our luggage in their vehicle to make it easier to get to the school before dark. Kim kindly provided us all lunch but it was 3.30pm by the time we got going and with 45 miles to ride to the school we needed to get on.
Our wonderful hosts
We rode through the town spotting a shop that sold Dairy milk chocolate, so with a sugar rush we headed along a great road which was getting more and more scenic. We were all flying with no weight on our bikes and Tim even managed to race a couple of locals up the hills.
Whizzing along with no panniers
After 3 ½ hours of riding including a stop we were only a few miles from the school. We tried Bethan on the phone but with no reply due to a problem with the network, we sampled a couple of bakeries and had a drink to celebrate our arrival. After an hour we got hold of Bethan and waited next to a hotel under a clear starry night waiting for Horace to arrive. We followed his vehicle down a dirt track to the school and on to the house. It was lovely and with no power in the village, the paraffin lamp was lit and we all sat and enjoyed a great local meal before heading to bed ready to meet the children the following day.