Meeting the wildlife

July 4, 2012 (day 413) Uganda

While Ugandans seem to be one of the most friendly and honest people I have met in Africa, the presence of white tourists once again brings the unpleasant element. Beggars. They are usually young people and it seems obvious that some stupid idiot spoiled them by handing over money or some material goods for nothing.

Here, at least, most people understand English. I usually chase the beggars away, telling kids to ask their parents for money. To the older ones I respond in few simple words: “You want money? Go to work!” Unfortunately, this advice is usually welcomed with laughter and absolute incomprehension. Why work, while somebody may just give it to me? This is one of the saddest things I have experienced on the continent. No matter how good will directs them, the Westerners too often misunderstand the terms of aid and generosity, using their resources to actually destroy the creativity and entrepreneurship of Africans. This is a long topic and this blog is certainly not a place to discuss that in detail, but the bad effects are visible in Africa just too often and too clearly.

Farmer's hard work

Farmer's hard work

Otherwise, the western part of Uganda is very interesting. Bordering one of the most unstable countries in the world and containing the biggest national parks as well as the important cobalt and copper mines, it cannot be boring.

For the first time the blackout was total. Except for the few buildings with backup generators, Fort Portal remained dark all the night long. The power came back in the morning just for one hour, giving no chance to charge all the batteries. Finally we felt we had entered deep into Africa.

One has to be careful on African road

One has to be careful on African road

The Ruwenzori Mountains are famous for being constantly covered in clouds. Their presence on our right hand side was verified by just a few short glimpses at the massive silhouettes towering over the surroundings.

Ruwenzori always in fog

Ruwenzori always in fog

As we proceeded along the surprisingly good and crowded road, the density of villages dropped and again we were free to camp on a huge pasture. Equipped with the most abundant and cheapest fruit of Uganda – the banana – we tasted it fried on ghee with brown sugar and grilled on fire. Both variants gave delicious results.

What are you looking at, sir?

What are you looking at, sir?

Our destination was the Queen Elizabeth National Park. Known for being accessible to cyclists, it had been our dream for long time. With so little encounters with real wildlife we decided to plunge deep into it. A bit recklessly, I guess.

In the national park

In the national park

We entered the park in late afternoon and turned into a minor, dirt road, leading to Ishasha. A huge savanna, with some gazelles wandering about, seemed to be a good place to camp. Breaking all the guidelines and rules, we left the official road and followed elephant tracks deep behind some bushes. Choosing the place to pitch our tents, we moved away from the usual routes of these giants and picked a visible spot in the middle of open area. Doing that we hoped not to be trampled and squashed accidentally.

Everything seemed fine before the darkness descended on the land. The first sound was made by an elephant coming out to eat something. It was far away and we welcomed it as a good sign. However, very soon the sounds of those big animals appeared closer and closer and eventually we heard them also from the other side of our camp.

We had not finished the supper yet, when another animal joined in. Still unsure what it was, we guessed it was a hyena. That did not feel too scary yet, but we used a powerful torchlight to scan the surrounding savanna. Nothing there.

Another sound appeared soon. At first we thought it was a late car coming on the road, but id did not move. Then, enlightenment came upon us. Frogs. Looking for a place to stay we settled down close to the most suicidal spot to meet night wildlife: a source of water.

We heard it pretty soon and very loud. A purr of something that resembled a cat but was certainly many times bigger than a household pet. Eventually we realized that it was not a joke and perhaps we had done a very stupid thing camping there. Deciding finally not to make a fire, we crawled into the tents and waited.

Then the hell broke open. A lioness accidentally crossed her way with an elephant. The cacophony of sounds made by both sides could wake up a dead man. However, thanks to the allergic attack I had suffered the same day, I lay in the tent quite stunned and soon fell asleep, waking up just to the loudest sounds of the surroundings. When we crawled out in the morning, surprisingly each of us in one piece, Michał told me about other things: the ground trembling when elephants walked by and some other creature sniffing around the tents.

We slowly rode to the south. After the night encounters I was very eager to see the elephants, but no chance. Michał was more lucky, and riding about a kilometer behind me he met a couple of these big creatures. For the most of the day we cycled in scorching sun, among swarms of white butterflies, meeting only some monkeys and smaller reptiles.

Good mimicry

Good mimicry

The breakfast at riverside village consisted of staple foods and did not satisfy us. The lunchtime had already passed long hours ago when we finally decided to go off the road and cook some rice. We had already finished and were about to come back to the road when a ranger pulled over in his car. He advised us to leave the park quickly and warned about the darkness coming, which apparently posed extreme danger for us. Of course we did not dare to mention how we had passed the last night.

It was just before the sunset when a big male elephant crossed the road. We watched him disappearing in a forest far away and waited fruitlessly for other ones to come. The time was running out, so we decided to go.

The next two I spotted from a big distance. They moved slowly across the road. Then another followed, and another... They had moved very slowly, but we waited patiently after they had disappeared in the bush, before approaching that place.

It was already quite dark, but I managed to see a huge mass of grey flesh coming along the road in the same direction as ours. Then we saw the other ones: five elephants walking in a column. We decided not to overtake them and wait, but once we planted our feet on the ground, the order of the row broke down.

Two elephants turned back. We did not see clearly and did not want to check twice, but it looked like another two had turned towards us. Wasting no second, we pushed hard. In such moments the heavy bike turns into feather and can move with impressive speed very easily. We just ran away.

The village of Kihiihi did not impress us, but it was the beginning of one of the most exhausting and difficult roads. Starting at noon, we managed to cover only 26km on bumpy climb in scorching sun, before asking for permission to camp by a catholic church of Kanungu, located beautifully on the top of a hill. There was a parish school too, which meant countless, curious children literally swarming around the tents, but helpful priests helped to chase them away. As Michał told me, we had been even mentioned during the morning mass. I enjoyed listening to the songs coming from the church – a much more lively approach to religion than we can experience back home.

The surroundings get wilder

The surroundings get wilder

If someone asks me about the toughest ride I had, the next day qualifies very high or even at the top. A full day of hard labour, about 1500m of total ascent done on horribly bumpy dirt road. We were soaked in sweat, totally exhausted and incredibly hungry when we eventually reached a nice spot in the woods and gave up after having completed mere 25km. Surprised by the road and a little number of villages, we had not stocked up on food and instant soups were our only supper. Fortunately, the place was desolate and nobody disturbed us until late morning when some women took places by the road to sell potatoes. African women, at least in rural areas, never occur without a company of curious and crying children. Although Michał felt quite sick, the company and lack of food forced us to pick the things up and push forward.

Effort rewarded by great views

Effort rewarded by great views

A camp like in Europe

A camp like in Europe

The climbs finished very soon and turned into tricky downhills on dust and gravel. Once again we were happy to see asphalted road, even though it was inhabited by a number of beggars highly exceeding the national average.

It's cool and colorful

It's cool and colorful

A short visit to a clinic in Kabale confirmed two things. First, that Michał had not caught malaria, and second that we would not like to seek medical treatment in these areas. Fortunately the Ugandan police was good as ever. Without any problem we got a permission to camp on their ground and coming back from watching the Euro 2012 final, we noticed that an armed guard had been assigned to watch our tents. Once again we wondered why so many people had complained about African police in general. Perhaps it looks different in other countries, but these guys in Uganda are just wonderful.

Comments:

wojtek
wojtek
7 years, 10 months ago
Michały spanie w Parku Narodowym przy wodopoju to naprawdę przesada. Jak zawsze mocno trzymam kciuki, czekam na kolejne relacje - powodzenia
mama
mama
7 years, 10 months ago
Szaleńcy! Może pomyślcie troche przed rozbiciem namiotów? Chętnie Cię powitam w jednym kawałku!!! Poza tym nie wolno karmić dzikich zwierząt więc nie wchodźcie im w drogę!!!
Marta i Waldek
Marta i Waldek
7 years, 10 months ago
Dobrze, że czasami ma się więcej szczęścia niż rozumu :)