Friday, October 11, 2013

Nyankunde to Kampala

We made it. We are in Kampala, Uganda!  Getting here by road was an adventure. It is pretty much a given that driving anywhere in Africa will be an adventure. Some of the highlights have been the following. 

1.  On the way out, I stopped by the OR to pick up my wedding ring. I take it off for surgery and sometimes I just forget it for a few days. Lindsey wanted to make sure that no one would take me for an eligible young bachelor.  Closing the door behind me, I wondered if the place would survive without me. Guess what?  Places always survive without us.  Sometimes our absence can even be a positive thing, as everyone realizes how much they need us. 
2. On the road to Beni, we enjoyed immensely the 30 km or so of paved road in Eastern Congo.  It seems like a miracle!  Anything was possible!  From Beni to Kasindi, the paved road is only a distant memory.  Replacing it is the jarring, bone-crunching experience that we have come to know and love.  Nope, we're still in Congo.
3.  We passed through Virunga park, home to gorillas and guerrillas alike.  Both remained elusive.  We saw only the great walls of vegetation that comprise the rain forest. 
4.  At Kasindi, the border crossing, we experienced a momentary panic.  Did we have all the necessary papers to cross in a vehicle?  There was some debate on the matter, but we emerged victorious into Uganda!
5.  ...only to find that we entered too late and the man who was to process our papers was in a surly mood.  He eventually hustled us out of his office.  We discovered soon afterwards that we were unable to leave the police barrier without a letter from said individual. Much discussion ensued, including assurances that someone "under the mango tree" might be able to help.  Much apologizing and shmoozing and a few shillings for "tea" we emerged with the necessary paper.
6.  Lindsey had made arrangements for a stay in a lodge near the Rwenzori mountains, but it was too late to make it.  I made an executive decision and we stayed the night at the "Hard Rock Hotel" in Bwera.  It is my practice to conscientously avoid any establishment with "Hard Rock" in any part of its name, but there didn't seem to be many other options.  It actually wasn't too bad. We had the standard village chicken and fries and were lulled to sleep by the thumping of "club music" in the adjacent bar.  
7.  The next morning we drove back to the border and after a mere two hours waiting, we got our papers. Lindsey made friends with a woman begging for alms whose strategy seemed to be trying to embarrass us into giving money. She made a variety of funny faces, took off her ring and offered it to us (not necessary, see 1.) and even stretched herself out of the floor and stared at us.  
8.  We made it to the Ruboni Community Camp ("Where all the profits go back to the community!"), took a long nap and a late walk.  We celebrated our combined Birthday at the Equator Snow Lodge.  It was a bit eery as we were the only guests.  Me:  "Guess what?  I didn't get you a birthday gift."  Lindsey: "Me neither."  Lindsey is getting older and wiser, by the way.  I'm staying as immature as ever.
9.  The next day we did the "Hill Walk" with overnight camping.  It sounds pretty innocuous, but as it turns out, it was a brutal uphill climb of some very difficult terrain and it about did me in.  There are some spectacular views of the Rwenzori Mountains.  We didn't actually see them for the heavy fog, but they're out there!  It was actually very beautiful.  We pitched a tent at the top and enjoyed a relaxing night under the constant heavy rain.  We awoke in a large swarm of ants, and enjoyed a breakfast of white bread soaked in rainwater.  On the way down we combined the trek with the "Forest Walk". Again, it sounds innocuous, but the word "forest" really means mud, swamp, rotting vegetation and the crossing of treacherous streams.  Still, it was all great fun and we survived somehow.  
10.  That evening we made a pilgrimage to buy coffee.  We've had a hard time finding decent coffee in DRC and the stuff seemed to be growing everywhere.  After a couple of dead ends we found ourselves in a sort of warehouse with large sacks of coffee beans.  I examined the beans, sniffing their aroma and chewing on them.  I tried to appear to be a connoisseur and very knowledgable about the going price for bulk coffee. After some brief haggling, we bought 50 kilos of the stuff. I really hope it's good because we're going to be drinking it for a long time!
11.  The following day we "did" Queen Elizabeth National Park.  I'm not a big safari guy.  Mostly it just seems like a lot of driving around.  All the animals can be easily seen at the zoo, and you don't have to chase them around to find them.  Still it was very beautiful and a wonderful time was had by all.  
12.  We left the park and I decided (probably foolishly) that we should make a run for Fort Portal ( or Port Fortal, as I like to call it) where we would spend the night. The combination of windy roads, rain, poor visibility, potholes, motorcycles and pedestrians with varying level of death-wish, made for a more potent adventure.  We arrived somehow and Lindsey deftly maneuvered us to a decent hotel, where we enjoyed a good meal and a nice night.  I probably would have found the nearest "Hard Rock Hotel" but sometimes women know better.  
13.  The road to Kampala was not bad.  Lindsey is a wonderful navigator, but she does have a panic response that is characterized by a quick intake of breath.  I have encouraged her to try to distinguish between interesting sights (such as three men and a full-sized pig on a motorcycle) and bona-fide threats to our life (such as a huge truck barreling down on us in the only remaining lane).  Kampala itself, is another story!  I feel like I'm taking our lives in my hands every time we venture out.  After a brief and harrowing experience this evening, we made the decision to only venture out in the light of day.  My night vision is terrible.  Also, a Toyota Landcruiser has a wide turning radius and fairly sluggish acceleration.  Still, we made it and we're glad to be here.

We'll be here for a couple of days.  We have some repair work to be done on the vehicle.  We need to do some shopping and to buy some medicines for the hospital. Also, Lindsey needs to swim in a pool. We both need to be somewhere away from a hospital for a few days.  It is nice to be in a big city, but I'd much rather be in Nyankunde. Stay tuned!  More adventures on the way back.

Pictures to follow soon.



  1. wow - exciting trip and wonderful adventures - I hope that you insisted on only ARABICA coffee beans Happy Birthday to you both and I hope that by now you are making your age.

  2. Well Warren, I followed your route on Google map from Beni. 320 miles and according to google it should of taken you 7 hours and 8 minutes to get to Kampala. Hey that comes to 45 miles per hour!
    Yeah, right.
    Thanks for sharing your adventure. Brought a smile to my face several times.
    Ray Glew

  3. What a wonderful read, thanks for sharing!

    My wife and I live in Kasese and I'm curious about the coffee was it any good? Could you please tell me where the place was would like to check it out.

    Kindest regards

    1. Kevin,
      Not sure if you received my preious response. We purchases coffee in the the village close to Ruboni Community Camp (village right before you get to the camp). The coffee was fairly good, but had not yet been through the finer processing steps that take place in Kampala (density, etc). We are now harvesting our own coffee here in Congo, roasting, and grinding....which is quite good. My husband can give you tips if you are ever interested in the growing, roasting process.

      A quick question since you live in Kasese....we are hoping to cross the Bwera/Mpondwe border in 1-2weeks and we need to know if the East Africa Tourist Visa is available there in immigration. It is available in the airport and perhaps other crossings based on demand, etc. We want to travel on to Kenya and this could really change our plans. We would greatly appreciate any information you could give or find for us on your end. Thanks for the consideration.

      Lindsey Cooper