Country Of Crested Cranes

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7 September 2015 by Justine

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Cycling in Uganda – October 2014

Oh Africa. It’s been already one month in Africa and I have published nothing. The truth is that I have synchronised my routine to Africa’s rhythm. So, there’s no hurry. Anyways, I’m lost in translation, in complete fascination for those people and their ways. I thought India was the complete opposite to our continent… Africa isn’t far behind. Anyways, one month isn’t enough time. I still feel like the only Muzungu walking across the streets, all eyes on my back. And I still can’t understand how it could take those people 10 minutes to calculate the price of three articles and the balance change, using a calculator. And mostly, I’m still surprise to see all those people running towards us the second we set foot on the ground to drink some water. Africa isn’t probably all the same, but this is how it is where we got here, in Uganda.

Crossing countries by bicycle needs some preparation. Crossing countries without any services brings it to another level. We need to be self-sufficient under all circumstances: sleep, food, water, technical, medical. Once the gear well shopped, all vaccines updated, and obligatory visas and areas really to avoid checked, the biggest piece left is to decide on the route. Some prefer the bran new flat highways, others, the unknown trails. Forget all you think about what Africa has to offer : this continent has everything, from tropical jungle to huge mountains, valleys, deserts and paradise beaches.

We give ourselves 29 weeks for this trip – the time between two summer work seasons in northern Canada. With the burst of Ebola in the West, the instability in the North, our love for mountains, and our big interest for Malawi and South Africa, we decided to start our journey in Entebbe, Uganda, and to cycle south. With a step back, I once again thank JP’s instinct. Entebbe is a good choice. It’s a nice town, with all services and chill people. The roads are nice, the drivers aren’t too crazy and the scenery is lovely. One week to get to Fort Portal will get us in shape, and will give us a good introduction of what’s coming on the hilly side…

If crossing a national park full of elephants, lions, buffalo, monkeys, hippopotamus and antelopes seems sketchy by jeep, imagine on a bicycle. Apparently, “the lions are no trouble after 10:30 AM”, says a touristic guide, looking for customers to fill his Land Cruiser. It’s the night before the big day. I honestly couldn’t say what scares me the most between seeing some elephants, some lions and cycling under the heat on 80km of straight dirt road, while we didn’t even ride more than 70km so fare on good asphalt. JP is feeling great, I’m busy in the toilets. We decide to leave when the sun rises, to get some distance done while it’s still fresh – mistake number one. After less than a kilometer in the park, we stop just in time to let 50 elephants cross the road. We stand, about 15m away from them – mistake number two. JP is playing it cool and asks me to take some pictures… It takes me ten shots to frame his face and the elephants – NOT because there are far, but because my whole body is shaking. […] The last cute little one crosses, and we move right away – mistake number three. They are still there, 3m away, hiding behind the trees. When they hear us coming, they start running and trumpeting – thank god in the opposite direction. The ground is still shaking from their run, we look ahead, what do we see? Two lions, crossing the road, 50m away. “You know, it’s still okay if we turn around and take the asphalt road…” “Ok, the road is clear” “…” […] 5km more and we see a second group of elephants crossing. We DO learn from our mistakes, and wait LONGER after the last one crossed, at a more decent distance. They will be our last elephants, and honestly, a hundred elephants in 20 minutes on my bicycle is completely satisfying. That morning, we left the asphalt. We will get back on it in four days, on the other side of the Impenetrable Bwindi Forest…

The tropical forests like Bwindi are mainly located around the equator line, which we crossed just before entering Queen Elizabeth National Park. While taking few funny pictures on the monument there, we remind ourselves that Mike Horn was here, not so long ago, wondering the jungle with his huge machete and 50kg backpack. This idea motivates us to keep on going. A man with a serious sense of humor tries to convince us that 40km past this line, the air starts to cool down “because it’s past the equator”. I doubt this man ever traveled past the equator.

We meet our first tourists in Bwindi. With good reason: tomorrow, on November 1st, the rates to track the mountain gorillas are 50% cheaper. Only 350US$/day/person instead of 700. It’s quite a deal, but still not for our vagabond budget. Anyways, we still have a slight chance to see gorillas directly from the road that crosses Bwindi – other cyclists have seen some. But I guess that JP and I were way too excited by the beauty of this amazing jungle, and expressing ourselves a bit too loud to have ANY chances to see ANY living thing…

We leave Uganda in a clinch. 800km of touring including a four-day intense dirt road will surprisingly wreck my supposedly indestructible Schwalbe Kevlar tire on a 10cm length, and will puncture JP’s both Heavy Duty tubes directly on the air valve. Really? 800km? What about the next 8 200 !? Carrying 10kg of fresh banana might be too much… 😛

Next stop : Rwanda !

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