Detour Experiences

Fried grasshoppers didn’t do me well. A common snack to a cold beer around here, but apparently not right for me. I’ve needed more than a day to recover but am now fit to tackle the next stretch. Actually, a little bit of a cabin fever has developed after staying on the same campground for a few days.

A few km on tarmac and we immediately hit the sand tracks towards Lake Kyogo. This is a labyrinth of villages, rivers and arms of the lake. We make our way through by regularly asking locals for directions. Shortly before noon a storm comes up and we seek shelter. We’re not the only ones. Everything seems to come to a halt when heavy rain is expected.

Heavy rain expected (©Armin)
When it rains it really rains in Uganda
Sometimes we reach a dead-end (©Armin)

The local pastor fetches us some rice with meat. We order an extra portion and add some of our rice. Some of the children under the shelter with us gobble up the rice at a speed never seen before. This part of Uganda is much less developed. Malnutrition is an ever-present issue in this part of the country. No way of looking away when seeing it first-hand. These impressions will last.

As roads and accommodation are sup-par in this area, there is little tourism. In Soroti, our stopover for the night, most Non-Ugandans seem to be NGO/development workers or missionaries of some sort. The types of projects are diverse, but many have one thing in common. There is often prominent display of the financier of the project. Ever since I’ve left the EU, I have found the big signboards along villages and development projects, advertising the EU/US/UK etc. disturbing. I’m not sure a good deed should be labeled with self-promotion. And I doubt this helps foster the self-sufficiency of these people, which I believe should be the first priority.

Rain season has been delayed by weeks. We’re lucky to have only been caught in a regional shower once. Many mud-tracks towards Kidepo are just two parallel 30cm wide trails with a mud ditch left, right and in-between. Rain would make these roads nearly impassable. It has been over 14’000km and several days off-road. Confidence has grown day by day and we are riding these tracks at considerable speeds.

Good thing it’s dryish (©Armin)
A break along the way (©Armin)
Quite a landscape in North/Eastern Uganda

Heading towards Kotido I think to myself that I’m tired and need a break. In this instance I notice a large puddle in front of me. I hadn’t been focused and looking far enough ahead. The puddle is much deeper than expected and slippery. The Husky and I come out swerving from left to right. Unfortunately, a second deep puddle follows immediately and a third small puddle finally totally destabilizes us and brings us to fall. Turning 180° the husky skids into the ditch and I follow her.

Two Karamajong lads witness the crash and immediately approach me. They seem staggered and are vividly talking in what I suppose is Nilotic, the local language. I can’t understand the language, but I’m guessing they’re saying “that was crazy!”. I agree.

The witnesses of my crash

I ride 40km to lunch with a crooked handle bar and patch up the Husky during our break. Thanks to the right equipment and the needed dose of luck we both get away with some scratches and bruises. It would be a shame to end a trip like this due to a moment of abstraction.

At dawn we enter Kidepo National Park. According to my knowledge, it is unique to Uganda that motorcycles are allowed to enter National Parks. It is often argued that Elephants, Lions and Leopards state a danger to motorcyclists. Apparently not so in Uganda.

On the road to Kidepo
Village along the way
Break along the way (©Armin)

For many years this area was unstable and accordingly this park is less visited. It is often stated to be one of the last “unspoiled” National Parks. We pass Water Buffalos and several Antelopes cross our path on our way to the campground. Warthogs roam the campground and when brushing my teeth in front of my tent I see the glowing eyes of jackals just meters away.

Passing Gulu we target Murchison Falls National Park. Entering a side gate we’re immediately greeted by a group of young giraffes, ride past a herd of elephants, stop for several antelopes crossing the path and drive away a bunch of monkeys as Armin comes to a fall in a sand stretch. Most motorcyclists gruel deep sand and it is something which can’t really be practiced back home. It is really something different and definitely not easy. Luckily the fall was at low speed and neither Armin nor the GS 1200 suffer any major damage. Once again luck was on our side.

On-route to Murchison Falls Park
Curious young giraffes
Herd of elephants on the way
Time to pick up the GS 1200
Waiting for the ferry with ward hogs

Murchison River Lodge is a beautiful setting of cottages and a campsite. We’re now back to the tourist area and prices multiply. Dutch, Germans and Americans dragging trolley cases across gravel and sand paths from the Lodges’ Shuttle-Landcruiser to their cottage are now the common sight. Fully equipped with khaki safari clothing, many have a bit of an Indiana Jones thing going and are only missing the whip.

Even as a camper it’s quite pricey here but infrastructure and food are good. Hippos occasionally roam the campground and there are plenty of silver monkeys around. We settle at the pool for a day and recover from our North-Uganda experience. It was well worth it.

Silver monkey’s giving me a visit

We will travel on tarmac past Mbarara to Gatuna to pass through to Rwanda. Uganda has not only given us beautiful views of landscapes, animals and lasting experiences but also many exceptional encounters. The friendliness and distinctive humor of Ugandans will be what I most remember of this country.

Again, formalities are straightforward at the border. Nonetheless we have to fend off fixers. Entering Rwanda many things change back to “normal” for me. We switch to the right-hand side of the road, French is more widely spoken than English, the electric plugs are the same as at home, it’s hilly, exceptionally clean and the roads are smooth. We have arrived in the “Land of 1’000 hills.”

I’ve been very curious about Rwanda. Mainly known in the Western sphere due to the genocide in 1994, this country has evolved at a staggering speed in past years. Famed for many years in the West, Paul Kagame (president) is now often criticized as a dictator, said to be disciplining his people with primary school methods.

Aware of the many views and versions of what caused the genocide and what actually happened in 1994, I wish to put this aspect aside and discover todays’ Rwanda. This doesn’t turn out to be easy. There are many memorials and museums keeping the genocide present and these places are key tourist attractions. Nobody wants this to happen again and the reminders of this terrifying episode shall prevent it from reoccurring.

From Kigali on, the Husky and I will be riding solo again. I’ve decided on another looping to the West, up to the North and then down towards Tanzania along the East. While leaving the hotel a minibus with military, police and other officials pulls up. This seems to be a cleanliness inspection, as they walk around the hotel making notes on litter they find. It is also known that on every last Saturday of the month all citizens are expected to roam the streets and collect litter. I see the “primary school discipline” aspect in it. However, it seems to be effective, the citizens obediently fulfilling these expectations.

Kigali should be the right place to find a small Torx-bit I’m missing. I need this to bleed my clutch in case any further clutch issues occur. The hardware stores have nothing of this kind; Allan-Keys and Philipps-Drives being the screws of choice around here. A man in front of the store says he will help me. He hops onto a moto taxi and tells me to follow them. The Husky and I wait in front of factory surrounded by factory workers and military asking questions. Jean Pierre returns in a rush, hands me a set of mini-bits and says he must go as his shift is about to begin. He refuses to accept any compensation for the tools and rushes off. Again and again the kindness I experience overwhelms me. Thank you Jean Pierre.

The route to Kibuye and the area around Lake Kivu, bordering the DRC, are of exceptional beauty. The Husky’s air filter is packed with dust and must be washed. While spending a day at Lake Kivu, watching the air filter dry, I chat with the young team of Rwandans and a Ugandan running the guest house. I always very much appreciate these opportunities and learn more about their countries then by reading any book.

Descending to Kibuye
Relaxing at Lake Kivu
Air filter after a few days North-Uganda

Circling around to Ruhengeri the Husky and I intentionally seek roads and villages off the beaten track. On our way to Byumba we reach towns less clean and with much wider spread poverty. Alcoholism seems to be an issue around here as well, a few drunks crowding in on us at lunch. There is still another side to this country and quite a stretch to go before becoming the “Singapore of Africa” which Rwanda strives for.

Time to leave, impressed by the general beauty, progress and ambition of this country. The obedience of the vast majority of its people is quite extraordinary to me. This obedience however also means it is difficult to find differing views and opinions on what happened in the past and how the present is perceived. Frankly, I’ve also deemed it suitable to hold back with many of the questions I have. I’ve learnt much about the country but am far from actually understanding it.

The entry into Tanzania is the easiest so far. In Rusumo immigration and customs officers from both sides sit in common offices and make the process highly efficient. We switch back to the left-hand side of the road. 100km of potholed roads when entering Tanzania. Trucks using the whole road and the ditch beside it to circumnavigate the crater-like holes. Some potholes have been filled with soft sand, not making them less dangerous but additionally well camouflaged.

Storks at every road-side stop

Every overlander knows the stories of the enterprising police in Tanzania. Police officer must be the most common profession here. Countless police officers waiting behind 50km/h signs, wearing perfectly tidy white uniforms and armed with credit card terminals in their hands. Fortunately, they seem to be more focused on cars and buses, until now not showing any interest in the Husky and myself. Touch wood this remains this way.

Through Ushirombo North to Mwanza at Lake Victoria we go. From here passing the Serengeti is not an option for motorcycles. Aside of the ban, the exorbitantly high fees in these parks have caused circumnavigating them to become a thing of principle to me. Main roads are not an attractive option either. Some of my map material indicates a route between Lake Eyasi and Lake Manyara, along the Serengeti and crossing Maasai territory to Karatu.

Lake Victoria
Evening at Lake Victoria

No one can give me any information on if these roads/tracks/paths exist (anymore), not to speak of their condition. The only information I find is a Blog of two Americans who passed through 4y ago, taking them 5 days for +/- 200km. I have an array of map material (Tracks4Africa, OpenStreetMaps, ReiseKnowHow, GoogleMaps & GoogleEarth) but the information is very limited and even contradicting. Only one way to find out.

The Husky and I first ride sand tracks and footpaths to Maswa and stay for the night. I fuel up, pack enough water, some food and set off towards uncertain territory. Gravel, rock, hard & soft sand. Often interchanging every few km or a mix of all at the same time. A surprisingly coming up layer of sand can seriously destabilize the bike. Standing up, leaning back and pulling the handle bars upwards, hereby taking weight off the Husky’s front wheel, allows us to charge South. Speed helps stabilize a bike on almost any surface.

Maswa street life
Maswa businesses
Heading South on a good stretch
For no apparent reason all my gear is suddenly covered with dust stars

We leave the track and change directions East. No track anymore, just a few car tire traces. No tire traces anymore, just a single track. No single track anymore, just a footpath. Finally, nothing. We’re riding cross-country, through dried river beds, thorn-bushes, deep sand and open prairie stretches. East is the direction, that’s it.

Still on a good track
All traces end here

1h later I find some cattle paths and roughly follow these. This is true Enduro terrain. Any bike larger or heavier than the Husky would not be suitable. Bursting out between bushes we unintentionally scare two Maasai boys. They drop their machetes and scram into the bushes. We must be a quite unusual sight in this area and I do feel sorry for having scared them so badly.

In the middle of nowhere, in a small village, a gravel track covered with stones the size of tennis balls starts. Quite a relieve but it’s still over 80km to actual civilization. It’s after 04:00 p.m. and the sun will set sometime after 06:00 p.m. The only alternative to making it before dark is camping in the wild.

Every few km the road is completely washed away, creating some technical descents and climbs. On the flats we fly across rocks and stones through picturesque landscapes and Maasai villages towards civilization. We arrive in Man’gola as the sun is setting. 300km mainly off-road riding. A tough day and I am completely powered out.

Almost back to civilization close to sunset

We drive up at Eyasi Safari Lodge to check our options. If too expensive, lodges often allow for camping somewhere on the compound. In any case it is usually possible to find a good meal and a cold beer around these lodges. I’m immediately offered a cold passion fruit juice and a fresh towel to clean my face. I hesitate to use the fresh white towel, knowing that it will be red/brown after I‘ve used it.

The price is way above my budget. More than 25x what I had paid the previous night. Admittedly, I had only paid around CHF 4.40 for one of the worst hotel experiences ever, but this is far above a long-term travelers’ budget. Jamaly, an incredibly friendly and dynamic young receptionist, assures me I shall not worry and that he will call his manager. I believe he recognizes my exhaustion.

I’m offered a room off the compound with the safari drivers for 1/8 of the price. I believe the right place for the Husky and myself. I agree and thank Jamaly for his help. I’m served some cold beer and the most comprehensive meal since months. Hospitality is the priority here and this young team provides me one of the most comfortable stays so far.

The Husky and I make our way back to good roads. I increase her tire pressure and she becomes perfectly civilized again. We smoothly cruise down tarmac towards Arusha. One may be inclined to say that she’s a great piece of machinery. To me she has become much more. She gives me the freedom to scout almost any unknown terrain.

In Arusha; looking at Mount Meru. Just 280km away from Nairobi where I’d been weeks ago. Just about a days ride away. It has been a few major detours leading to unforgettable experiences. Detours I would take any time again.

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