Cycling through the heart of East-Africa: Uganda and Rwanda, two countries full of hills, bicycles and “Rolex”

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Last time I crossed the equator

Leaving Kenya, I felt a little sad since I had such a fabulous time! However, as I entered Uganda, nothing changed in terms of that. Traveling in East Africa is wonderful, people seem to be very happy, relaxed and the level of their English is remarkably high. While entering Uganda, the hills started to come, seriously I have no clue how many up and downs I had but there were soooo many! Even after 8000 kilometres on the bike, hill climbing still makes me suffer. There is basically no flat stretch in Uganda and Rwanda, it is a constant up and down. Mentally, quite annoying as far as I’m concerned. I also found myself in the middle rain season. Supposedly the short rain season should end in October, however it was around 2 months delayed this year that is why I got some heavy rain showers during the day. Initially, I tried to seek shelter and wait until it was over. However, I stopped doing that since it substantially delayed my plan for the respective day. Cycling in the rain can actually be nice, less people on the road, it is quieter, and cars/trucks also drive more carefully. It doesn’t matter how heavy it rains, I am completely wet after 10 minutes anyway. With the constant rain, also at night I became too lazy to camp. Along the equator if something is wet, it stays wet for a long time. It really is no fun to pack your tent in the rain and if a „hotel” costs between 2$ and 4$ I really don’t need to think twice. It is also nice to sleep in small towns since you can have dinner with the locals, have a chat and get all the food stuff one needs for the days ahead. I am all day by myself so having someone to talk to can be really satisfying! Nevertheless, I am very excited to do some wild camping in Tanzania and Malawi again!

Border crossing

Entering Uganda has been the easiest border crossing so far, as I got the East Africa Visa (Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda) in Moyale (Kenya, 100$), It was only one house to enter, took around 5 minutes and I got out again. I usually try to avoid having lots of money left over when I exit a country, the small amounts I have left I can easily change at the border. There are moneychangers everywhere and yes, they are annoying! First things I do after I have crossed a border is to find an ATM as well as a place where I can register for a local Sim card. I stayed one night at Busia, the town right after the border, where I was allowed to camp in the yard of a hotel for free. The next day I continued to Jinja, a city famous for its rafting on the Nile. The rafting was great fun and I was one of the last “rafters” to be able to go down the last two rafts. Uganda is pushing its electricity infrastructure and they have just opened another dam. This causes the water to hold up and the rafts diminish. There is also a chance that a swim in the Nile can give you Bilharzia, an infection caused by a parasitic worm that lives in fresh water in subtropical and tropical regions. As I don’t feel anything, I have not taken any medicine yet. The parasite breaks out after 6 weeks of touching the water, that’s when you should take the medicine. As I will swim in lake Malawi again, I might as well take the medicine after that.

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One of many lakes in Uganda
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The National Bird of Uganda! The Crane
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I can watch them doing random things all day long

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Like always, people here are super relaxed

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I have never seen horns like that on a cow like in East Africa
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Local Tea plantation workers
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Bülent from Turkey, has been traveling for more than 2 years on his Honda African Twin

My warm welcome to Uganda: Chris and Pommi

My friend Zander, whom I met in Khartoum, told me if I make it through Jinja I’d HAVE to stop at Polly’s and Chris place, As I am flexible with my route I thought I might as well take this chance and pay them a visit. All my invitations so far have been wonderful, and this one turned out to be fantastic as well. Chris is the head of Engineering for a sugar producing factory a bit outside of Jinja and lives in a wonderful estate surrounded by sugar cane plantations. As I got there, I already knew that I would have a hard time leaving again. What surprises me every time is how much love and kindness people show towards a “stranger”. Additionally, Pommi was a passionate cook and I ate like in a gourmet restaurant the whole time. When I am on the road, I burn so many calories that I am hungry all the time. I feel a bit guilty sometimes, eating up the whole fridge and I feel like I have gained some weight again haha. That must be the tons of peanut butter I am eating. I got a tour around the area as well as a look inside the sugar factory. They get tons of sugar cane every day, which they shred, extract the sugar out of it in a sophisticated processe and with the by-products they produce electricity and ethanol. During the last two years the company invested a lot of money into digitalization. Every machine can now be checked through computers and technical issues can be directly tackled. I love this part of traveling.  Since I studied business administration, I am very curious about foreign businesses and economies alike

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My first lunch with Chris and Pommi

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Kampala and my way to Fort Portal

Kampala is the capital city of Uganda and busy as hell! I have never seen so many minibuses at one spot as I did there at the bus station. Cycling in the city can be quite hectic, and there are a lot of up and downs as well. I was really happy to leave the city again, stayed only one night there and moved on towards Fort Portal and Queen Elizabeth Park. Luckily, I made it out without any accident, I grazed a couple of vans as they passed but nothing too serious. The bus drivers on this continent are maniacs, they show absolutely no respect towards cyclists. From Kampale to Fort Portal it was close to 300km and it took me three days to cover the distance. The last part was full of beautiful tea plantations again, which grow at an altitude of around 1800 meters above sea level. Other than a couple of rain showers and the usual traffic, my ride was not very spectacular. I had a slow flat in my front tire which I had to pump every now and then. On the second day, I was cycling along a not very populated stretch as I heard people singing. Correct Lukas, it is Sunday again and people go to church. I sometimes really forget about the weekdays, just when friends text me that they are going out to party I realize that it is weekend again. So, as I pass on there comes a man walking up to the street and waves me over and shouts: come here, join the mass. For sure I thought, I passed by so many churches on a Sunday already and I haven’t entered a mass so far in Africa. The church was a small clay building with a corrugated iron roof. In there where 4 women, around 4 children and the priest and his secretary. They were singing and dancing for at least half an hour, just for me, because as I wanted to leave, they stopped and wanted me to say a prayer in my own language. The priest followed me out again up to the street and told me he will need a lift to the next church. So, what I have figured out later is that those priests sometimes have various churches which they serve and from where they collect money. Most priests I have seen are dressed very nicely and usually have a nice car and other valuables. So, what they actually do is they seriously go and collect money from the poor village people to forgive them for their sins. Have your own thoughts about it, I have mine, and I highly disrespect those practices.¨

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The priest who invited me to mess
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A local community church
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Maybe not wearing a helmet but glasses instead?
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Street vendors trying to get customers from the bus

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Bicycles are mostly used to transport goods

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Some soda or rather meat on a stick?

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Found this little bird in the middle of the road

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Rafting down the Nile in Jinja

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From Fort Portal through Queen Elizabeth Park

I have heard many good stories about this route and I am happy that I took it! The climbs didn’t stop but the landscape was breath-taking! On my first day riding I only did around 25km to a lake with a camp just next to it. Friends had told me to go there if I wanted to see monkeys, so I did. To get there I also had to cross through some smaller villages. Crossing smaller villages people are more surprised to see a Muzungu (white person) on a bicycle. Sometimes children also run away if they see me, but usually they celebrate my arriving. The little kids are my biggest supporters along the road, cheering me up all day long with chants, laughter’s and waves. I have spent lots of time watching the monkeys (4 different kinds: Black-and-white colobus monkey, Ugandan red colobus monkey, Olive baboon; Patas monkey) the lakes around this area are stunning! I was all by myself at the campsite and I thought it will stay like that. I really didn’t see that many other travellers in those areas. Suddenly a car moved in, a Toyota Landcruiser with a Swiss numbers plate. I couldn’t believe it! I met Patricia and Peter, a couple from Solothurn, traveling around Africa for the 3rd time!!!

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Patricia and Peter

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Black and White colobus monkey

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Their Toyota landcruiser
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Cheeky thieves stole my breakfast! (Bananas)
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This little fellow wanted to cross the street, my first chameleon

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Huge respect for those guys! those bikes are super heavy and the slopes really steep!
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Some nice landscapes in Uganda

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As I continued my trip further south, I was able to cycle through Queen Elizabeth National Park. It is not that wild animals are just all-around in Africa. You still need to be quite lucky to see some of them close to the road. As I was hoping to see some Elephants again, and I purposely staid at a camp within the national park where they can come up to your tent, I had to leave without seeing one. I have had two encounters with Buffalos, one was two meters away from me grazing in the ditch when I saw it. The other one blocked the dirt road I wanted to take so I had to wait until it stopped staring at me and gently walked away. Seeing wildlife on the road is just so spectacular and gets me excited every single time.

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Oh hey there Buffalo! don’t look at me like that!:D

 

Street food:

So far and I don’t think this will change anymore, Uganda has been absolutely amazing in terms of street food. I need to admit it doesn’t need a lot to make me happy, but seriously in every little town Chapatti and Rolex were sold. A rolex in an egg roll à Rollegg à Rolex. You can customize them yourself, I always got the one with two chapattis and two eggs. Per chapatti and per egg I paid 10 cents. What was also available at almost every street corner was chapatti with beans. I really don’t know what it is with me and that chapatti, but I just love it haha! I could eat chapatti at any time, all the time.

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Chapati Beans and Egg

My “Work Away” at lake Bunyonyi

I did a work away at the Amasiko guest house, helping Wilfried out with a financial plan. Lake Bunyonyi is located very close to the DRC border and it is a stunning fresh water lake surrounded by steep hills. Wilfried is the owner and manager of the guesthouse and all the profit from it is used to support the local community. He built a school already, educates teenagers in farming, agriculture and provides jobs for the local people. I was looking for a work-away that is a bit more sustainable than just going to an orphanage for 2 weeks, playing with the kids and then leave them, all sad and alone again. This is just my opinion; you may have your own about it. By no means did I intend to change the world with this work-away, I did it more for myself to learn more about the local lives and daily habits, as well as doing business in Uganda. Many young adults now do this thing called, „going to Africa to make the world a better place“. Really…? They come here, volunteer and when they leave most things will be the same again. Volunteering has become a business in Africa, they charge the people who want to come over even money to help and people happily pay it. WHY NOT!! What really annoys me is that most African countries are not able to get things right by their own, like setting up schools and a good education system. In Uganda, a government school class has around 120 kids per teacher. So, people from the outside come and help. How sustainable is that? Doesn’t change need to come from within a country itself? I see soooo many schools along the road that have all been set up by churches, individuals and companies from outside. When will African countries manage to stand on their own feet? deciding for themselves without the continuous influence from the outside? Just thoughts.

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The local butcher

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The sad history:

Both countries have been marked by civil wars and genocide, and that happened not too long ago. In Rwanda almost 1 million people were killed within a month in April/May 1994. That’s only 25 years ago. In a country where only 4 million people lived up to that date, killing 25% of the population affected everyone. The Hutus and Tutsis have a long history of fighting each other, the Hutus are the farmers and the Tutsis the herdsman. Of course, the Hutu is not happy when a Tutsi lets his cattle graze on the Hutus farmland. The distinction between Hutus and Tutsis is now illegal in Rwanda, people live all along each other again and the joy and happiness I experienced there was extraordinary. Rwandan people really learned how to forgive and move forward together. It was hard to believe that something this terrible did happen not so long ago. How come, we let events like this happen after the terrible genocide of the second world war? How come it happened again in Kosovo, Cambodia, Rwanda? If you are interested in knowing more about Ugandan and Rwandan history, I highly recommend you the book: The Shadow of the Sun by Ryszard Kapuscinski. If you want to read a more current book I can highly recommend: The Looting Machine. Tom Burgis exposes the truth about the African development. Traveling and reading a book that takes place in parts you travel through is so much more interesting and I can relate my experience with certain passages way more often.

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Kigali

I was surprised to see a city such as Kigali in Africa. It is very clean, civilized, many supermarkets and all kinds of different stores. the central business district is highly developed, and security is not an issue at all, even in the middle of the night. I felt like I were in some European city. As I am staying in bigger cities, I also eat non-local food, and as it happened to me in Ethiopia as well, I got really stomach sick in Kigali again. I was lying in bed for two days, did a malaria test (quicktest = negative) and just gave my body some rest before I started my 1200km journey to Arusha (Tanzania). Luckily, I haven’t gotten sick in very remote areas, so there is always people around who could possibly help or give me some advice. Furthermore, I had to send postcards again from Rwanda. As everything seemed to work so well and structured in Kigali, I wasn’t really surprised when the postcards arrived 5 days after dropping them off at the post office. Very impressive I must say! If you also wish you receive a postcard, HERE is where you can get one.

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Kigali’s Skyline

Cycling in Rwanda was a blast! It seems like the bicycle is the major form of transportation in this country and having so many soulmates around every day just made tackling the 1000 hills way easier! Additionally, the people are extremely welcoming and warm hearted! Even though I only spent a couple of days here, I really enjoyed it! Seriously, what I saw being transported every day on the road is better than any movie, somehow they always manage to do it! Creativity has no boundaries I guess.

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My biggest fans

The Gorilla Trek

 It took me a long time to figure out what I want to do with the famous Gorilla’s in Uganda, Rwanda or Kongo. It was from the beginning clear that if I am going to do it then in Uganda. This has its reasons, Kongo is too complicated, unstable and costs the same as in Uganda. Rwanda just this year raised the costs to 1500$. For this price you only get the ticket to enter the park, walk to the Gorillas, sit one hour with them and then leave again. In Uganda it costs 600$, which is still a lot of money for a bit Gorilla. However, everyone who did it was amazed by it and told me to do it as well. My decision was based on many factors, but I think in the end the main reason for not doing it was that I would not as much appreciate it on this trip as if I were coming back solely for this purpose. I have had so many highlights already and it would just be another one out of many. Furthermore, I wanted to cycle there and as it was raining a lot the roads were quite bad which then led to my conclusion of leaving this main attraction out.

Random

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fixing a puncture in a hotel

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2 thoughts on “Cycling through the heart of East-Africa: Uganda and Rwanda, two countries full of hills, bicycles and “Rolex”

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