14 August 2021 – The Third World as Seen From the Saddle.
Days 30 and 31 of the Old Legs Silverback Tour – From Masaka, a not so little town in the east of Uganda, to a Swiss lakeside resort in the west.
Distance- 100.3 km
Climb – 1104 m
Time – 6 hr 15 min
Ave Heart Rate – 118 bpm
Max Heart Rate – 163 bpm.
Distance- 123 km
Climb – 900 m
Time – 6 hr 42 min
Ave Heart Rate – 130 bpm
Max Heart Rate – 185 bpm.
I am blogging to you from Lake Bunyoni in Uganda, just 56 kilometers from our finish line in the Impenetrable Forest where the Mountain Gorillas live.
Lake Bunyoni and the resorts on it are surreal and could have been cut and pasted from the Swiss Alps, apart from the stone quarries just down the road where women and their children as young as 6, crush rocks by hand with a hammer all day long. The quarries and the women and children who work them have been cut and pasted from some miserable time back in history before child labour was outlawed, and before work safety was invented. Uganda’s rock quarries are easily the saddest thing I’ve ever seen and will be one of the standout memories I take away with me. Alas.
Winston Churchill famously described Uganda as the Pearl of Africa. Clearly Winston never travelled Uganda by bicycle. If he had, he would have come up with other more apt ways to describe it, like uphill, or steep, or chaotically crazy busy.
There is not a square inch of this country that isn’t planted out to bananas with people living on it. Which is a snag if you are a shy cyclist prone to riding with a full to overflowing bladder. Mostly I’ve ridden Uganda with my legs crossed.
Someone else described Rwanda next door as the land of a thousand hills. Well move over Rwanda, because I’ve ridden up at least 1001 Ugandan hills in just three days.
Ugandan hills are humiliating, normally twice. On my way up a hill yesterday, I was overtaken by a seven-year-old kid wearing blue flip-flops on his dad’s 30-kilo one-speed bike. At the top of the hill, the same kid had all the time to rest up, catch up with his mates, and then overtake
me again on the downhill. Because I am a nervous Nelly, I go downhills almost as slow as I go up them. On his way past me for the second time, he looked at me with such scorn, I almost felt like I should go back to the border and correct the false statements I made on my entry form. Under occupation I described myself as an athlete, and under reason for visit, I put leisure, making me a double liar.
We are back to being a full peloton again with CarolJoy fully recovered and taking it easy at the front.
I did the people of Uganda a disservice when I described them as less friendly than Tanzanians, and more cynical. Since the border road, we’ve encountered loads of happy, smiley Ugandans, mostly children, but just not as many as we did in Tanzania.
At our breakfast stop yesterday outside a large town, an interested and very friendly Ugandan came across from the building site he was working on to talk to us, and to find out what we were about. He flat out refused to believe that we are all white Africans. When eventually we persuaded him we were born and bred Zimbabweans, he told us our flag had too many colours in it.
There sure are a lot of children in Uganda, and like kids anywhere in Africa, they are quick to smile, even when they have nothing, apart from the kids smashing rocks in the stone quarry. Incredibly Uganda has the world’s youngest population with 77% under the age of 26. With every square inch of the country already planted out to bananas and with a house, where will those children live, do and eat when they go on to each have 5.5 children per family like mom and dad? And will they stay as happy? Alas.
I also did the Ugandan road network a disservice in my last blog. We haven’t seen a pothole since the border road. And the roads we rode on today were almost highways, with a generous yellow lane, although in Uganda yellow lines are painted white.
But quiet Ugandan roads are an oxymoron and the words shouldn’t be allowed in the same sentence. Even with generous yellow lanes, riding a bike on Ugandan roads remains seat of the pants hair-raising stuff, mostly because of the motorbike delivery guys that swarm the roads delivering anything and everything.
I am thinking Borat was travelling in Uganda behind a motorbike delivery guy when he first came up with his ‘crazy bastard guy’ catch phrase.
Yesterday I rode behind a crazy bastard guy dragging 6 x 6 meter lengths of reinforcing bar behind his motorbike, through heavy traffic on an express delivery, threatening to scythe the legs off any and all pedestrians when he took corners. And he was possibly trumped by the crazy bastard guy delivering a fully grown live pig with his young son sat on top of the pig, holding on for dear life. Doing epic isn’t only about climbing steep mountains and spectacular sunsets.
We’ve ridden 300 kilometers and climbed over 3000 meters in the last 3 days as we’ve ridden east to west across Uganda. Apparently according to Al Watermeyer, we crossed over the equator briefly when we rode through the town of Masaka. Adam was very excited, but only because he thought the town was called Moussaka, a popular Greek dish made with pasta and aubergines. Sometimes I think Adam’s stomach is the boss of him.
And he is not the only one thinking with his tummy . Marco’s Garmin told him he burnt 4000 calories yesterday. My Garmin had a much easier day of it languishing at the bottom of my kitbag, possibly. I haven’t seen it in weeks.
I haven’t delved past the top layer of my kitbag in over 3 weeks. I’ve got kit in there that I haven’t seen since Harare, or before.
I left Harare with everything neatly packed in separate pack pods filed alphabetically, but the system collapsed hopelessly somewhere back in Zambia. The only time I can close my kitbag now is when half my kit is in my dirty laundry bag.
Everything has been cross-contaminated. Now if I want to look for a clean ride shirt, I’ve got to look in either my ride shorts pack pod, or my padded inner ride shorts one, or my underwear one, or my cold weather clothing pack pod, or my casual tee shirts and shorts pack pod, but not in my ride jersey pack pod, because that’s too full of other stuff. Or it’s easier to just go into my dirty laundry bag snd look for the least dirty one.
And on the subject of dirty, election posters are still up throughout Uganda, either from the elections held back in May, unless they’re for the elections to come in 2026. Politics in Uganda look to be same same as in Zimbabwe, but maybe even more harsh and more under the cosh. Uganda has to be one of a handful of countries in the world where you can’t get onto Facebook, most probably because Bobby Wine has more friends than Yoweri. And as foreigners, we are not allowed to buy local cellphone SIM cards.
Thankfully not every square inch of Uganda is planted to bananas with houses. We rode into Lake Mburo National Park yesterday. It had a completely unexpected landscape with scrubby thornveld complete with candelabra trees and kopjes and zebras, and devoid of crazy bastard guys on motorbikes. Apparently there are also wildebeest, kudu, impalas, gazelles, etc, etc in the Park, but as per normal, I didn’t see them. After 2 days amongst the chaos that is Ugandan traffic, it was nice to ride through pristine bush again.
Apart from a huge flock of Carmine beeeaters, a kamikaze Crimson- breasted shrike who almost flew into my head, some horribly lost noisy Hadedas from Joburg, and crowned cranes all over the place, I’ve all but given up bird spotting in Uganda, There are just too many birds of every hue and colour flying all over the place to get my head around. I’m going to save what little bird-spotting skills I have for shoebill storks.
We’ve ridden past countless huge swamp rivers, a kilometer wide or more, full of giant papyrus from bank to bank, like the hairs on a dog’s back. Who knows how many shoebill storks I’ve not seen.
Tomorrow is our last ride day. We ride 56 kilometers to get to our finish line in the Impenetrable Forest. We have had a sneak preview of the mountains in front of us and are thinking we should’ve gone to look at Lowland Gorillas instead.
Jenny is hoping and praying that the rumours that the Gorillas at Bwindi often hang out in the hotel vegetable garden are true.
We have ridden from Zimbabwe to Uganda to raise money and awareness for Zimbabwe’s pensioners. We have braved swollen rivers complete with crocodiles, desperate Burundian refugees, and even more scary Ugandan traffic on this epic adventure. So far we have raised over $120,000 for our charities. Please help us smash our $160,000 target.
In closing, some crass marketing. Apologies. If you’ve enjoyed the Silverback Tour adventures, you have to order ‘Zimbabwe on the road less travelled, our stunning coffee-table book capturing the Old Legs 2020 Lockdown Tour which will available as soon as the Chinese censors finish hacking the manuscript to bits, expunging any and all references to Coronavirus and pangolin poaching.
I tried hard to fool them by replacing the word Chinese in the manuscript with ‘from the same people who brought you Chop Suey, but they didn’t buy it. Alas. And so the manuscript excludes aforementioned references to Coronavirus and pangolin poaching. For the record, I blame the Chinese for both.
But the book is still a good read, and Gary’s photography is even better, guaranteed to tug at your homesick heartstrings.
Until my last blog from the Impenetrable Forest, have fun, do good, and do epic if you can – Eric Chicken Legs de Jong.