Thursday, September 8

Uganda: Don’t drive in the dark in Africa…

…but if you do, go big. We took ages to decide if we should go to Murchison Falls NP and eventually decided to go for it. The good road is a long detour to Kampala and the direct route that we took is rough and very slow. After about 7 hours, we reached Hoima, but nobody in town knew where the Africa Village Camp Site or the nearby St Peters Cathedral was (how do you hide a Cathedral in such a small town?). After about 40 minutes of searching, we decided to head to Masindi as it was getting dark. The road was slippery and so slower than expected - about half way along the road it was pitch dark and we came to a queue of parked cars. Apparently the bridge had collapsed from flooding, causing 2 trucks to crash. Before we had time to get out and take photos, a guy from the Contagious Disease Unit in a Land Cruiser offered to guide us on an “alternative route” around the broken brigde, with another 4x4 in convoy. It all seemed good at first, but slowly it became more “interesting” - it started raining heavily, turning the roads into clay, so we engaged 4 wheel drive to stop it feeling like an episode from top gear (one where they chase each other around the track doing 4-wheel drifts rather than the one where they try to destroy a Hilux). The road became smaller and smaller – eventually, we were driving along tracks made by a tractor through sugarcane fields – it took a lot of effort to avoid getting bogged down in the axle-deep mud. The road sloped to the right and we came across a truck that had slid into the bank and was stuck. The LC tried to pass but slid into the truck, causing chaos and shouting from the driver. A large group of guys who had been on the back of the stuck truck pushed while the LC floored it and eventually managed to get past (and off) the truck. We were up next, as there was no other way, but we had the advantage of diff lock and managed to squeeze past with only a minimum of shouting and pushing from the spectators. After a while of fast driving through really gooey mud in the pitch dark following a complete stranger in a remote area, we were beginning to wonder what we were doing, but we eventually made it to the much better roads of the Kinyara sugar plantation. The roads were a maze, so the car ahead kept stopping and all the passengers would have long animated discussions, eventually coming to a “de-facto decision” on the best way to go. About 2 hours later, we made it to a factory on the plantation, which one of the guys knew quite well. Joshua, who had been guiding us until now had to go in a different direction and asked us to take one of the passengers from his car to Masindi. He gave us assurances that we “would not be in danger and must not be afraid”, giving us his phone number to call once we reached Masindi safely. In the end one passenger turned into two, and Joshua confiscated one of their drivers licenses which he gave us as an extra assurance that they were good guys and we would be safe with them. Our two passengers were actually great, and we chatted the whole way to Masindi about the effect of inflation on sugar prices, which have risen 300% in 6 months in Uganda. To add to the chaos, one of our water containers started leaking massively on the back seat en route. In retrospect, we were actually safe the whole time, but it seemed a whole lot more dramatic at the time. We took some video but will take a while to edit it.

Brett: We reached Masindi very late and stayed at the New Court View Hotel ($3 pppn). The restaurant was reasonable and brilliant, with Indian and Chinese dishes being the speciality. We took the longer route (with great views of Lake Edward) to the Bugungu gate of the Murchison Falls NP, which is the closest to Paraa and allowed us to maximize our 24-hour permit. The fees are $35pp for 24 hours and should have been $150 for the vehicle, but the kindly guard wrote the Beast down as a saloon car, and charged us only $50! We caught the 14:30 river cruise with Wild Frontiers (aka G&C) up to the falls ($26pp), which is the best way to see the park – it is amazing how close the boat managed to get to the animals (hippos, crocs, a lion) and birds (goliath heron, fish eagle, pied king fishers, and, we think, red fronted bee eaters) and we really loved it - it is also so much more relaxed than a game drive. On a whim, we booked for the sunset delta cruise immediately afterwards, thinking we would get to see a lot more birds along the delta, but were disappointed – about 50m away from the starting point, the captain cut the motor and we drifted down the river, far from the bank and any birds or animals, listening to his rendition of the Just-So Stories “how the hippo came to be friends with the crocodile” story. We were more than 20km from the advertised delta in the end, but after the first glass of wine we got over it. We camped at Red Chillies ($5pppn), which is good and has a brilliant restaurant and some tame-ish warthogs. We headed to the top of the Murchison Falls in the morning as the boat didn’t actually get as close as we thought it would. The falls are spectacular, amazing to see the volume and power of water through such a small gap (Mary was slightly less impressed). We didn’t have much time left, so we headed directly south, back to Masindi along the main road (Kichumbanyobo gate) – we saw nothing on the 1.5 hour drive (apparently North of the river is better for game viewing, although nowhere near as good as the parks in Tanzania). Had lunch again at New Court View Hotel and took the perfect tar road (what a treat) to Kampala.

Mary: The Tse-Tse flies around the falls were particularly vicious – they are bad anyway with their painful bite, and are difficult to kill (if you don’t see a body it hasn’t been squashed, even if you have hit it with your flipflop). So once again we have a small chance of getting Sleeping Sickness – yay! As we were driving away from the falls, the Tse-Tse flies started gathering around the car, attracted to movement and able to stay with the car up to 50km/h. There were so many that they were thick on the windows and bonnet.

We were hardly moving in the Kampala traffic, so westopped to do some shopping at the Nakumatt we passed on the way to the Red Chillis Camp Site ($5pppn). The camp site is very good, but try not to park near the noisy overland trucks! As most of them only stay one night in Kampala, many of the drivers work on their vehicles, bashing and clanging til the early hours of the morning. We got an early night and then set off to get our (Northern) Sudanese Visa at the Embassy (takes 24 hours, costs $50 dollars + 2 photos and is very easy – only valid for 2 weeks of travel but can possibly be extended, and must be used within 2 months). On the way back to the camp site, the rain came down – within minutes, we had about 5m visibility and were driving through 30cm deep water on the main roads. We ducked into the Shoprite to wait it out and do some extra shopping. Tom and Dag were also staying at Red Chillies, so we had a great dinner together (including Lutz, from Germany too – 2.5 years into his travels with his awesome shiny new Landrover with all the toys). We had a brilliant time sharing vehicle repair war stories – I don’t believe people who say they have no trouble at all, most people have some issues (Toyota Land Cruiser included) but prefer not to admit it.

Slow leaks (car stuff): The fixes we have had to do recently seem to revolve around slow leaks.

  • Air Leak: We got a nail in a tyre in Lake Kivu – we tried to plug it ourselves, but failed because the hole was at an extreme angle. We eventually got it fixed at a big tyre specialist in Kampala for $3 (took an hour and included balancing).
  • Oil Leak: The transfer case had a very slow leak (something that had been patched, but not completely fixed in Cape Town). I went to Toyota to fix this one instead of attempting it myself as I didn’t have the tools and wasn’t sure that the parts would fit (from a newer model). I spent the day with the mechanic and learned a lot – Toyota charged about 10% of what they do in SA or UK, so I got them to change the brake pads (I had skipped this on the first service) and do a quick check of the rest of the vehicle. The brake pads were also from a newer model. The mechanics were fascinated to see this old model Hilux – they told me that it much tougher than the newer models and I had a few requests to buy it – the only thing they told me they would change is to put in a monster engine.
  • Petrol Leak: I found a small petrol leak at the join between the metal and rubber pipe between the fuel pump and fuel tank. It is small, but I hate the spell of petrol (a few drips can be seen when the car has been standing in the sun). I spent a couple hours trying to fix it in Lake Bunyoni, but the location is within the chassis and I can barely get my hand in to where it is, so I bought some replacement rubber pipe and will replace it when I next have time.
  • Water Leak: Just some silicon on some small leaks in the canopy around the door seals.
  • Electricity Leak: A loose connection caused problems with the fridge due to low voltage – another easy fix.
  • Ball Bearing Leak: While opening the drawers, one of the sliders broke and some of the bearings came spilling out – the drawer (opposite one to the incident in SA) was stuck open and supported on only one slider. Somehow this always happens at night in camp sites where we have to keep quiet (Kingfisher Lodge this time). The cause was a combination of the sliders not being strong enough (even though they are supposedly rated to 100kgs) and it being too easy to pull them out too far. It took a frustrating hour to fix and definitely won’t survive the whole trip, but should be ok for a while longer.

1 comment:

  1. Saw the pics.. realy nice.... keep it going...