<b>We Want Adventure:</b> Exploring East Africa – Part 1

We Want Adventure: Exploring East Africa – Part 1

One of the major attractions in Uganda is it’s wildlife parks. To ride your motorbike through it is sometimes as surreal as it is amazing.
11-01-2019
Adventure

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Mandy & Pieter AKA
We Want Adventure
#REVITRIDERS

We Want Adventure is a project created by Mandy & Pieter about the three things they love: traveling, photography, and motorcycles. Preferably, all at once. Mandy is an international freelance photographer who is specializes in bridal and commercial photography. Pieter works as a retail manager at REV’IT! dealer “Motozoom.”

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Mandy & Pieter

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WHERESHOULD WE GO?

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We had two months to spare for a trip, but did not yet know where to go. All sorts of countries and places passed through our imagination, but three weeks before our departure date, we didn't have a ticket yet. Then Mandy came across a stunning photo by a fellow photographer. That picture was taken in Uganda. “Why don’t we go there?” Mandy asked.

A friend of ours happened to be in Kigali (Rwanda) at the time, so we immediately called and told him we were thinking of coming to that part of the world. He told us to definitely come over and say hello when in the neighborhood. Three weeks before we went, we bought two tickets to Uganda.

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THE QUEST FOR WHEELS

When we got there, we had no motorcycles to travel with. We actually didn’t arrange anything beforehand. That’s how we usually do it. We go to a place and then we start looking for two motorcycles locally. For ten days, we roamed the streets of Kampala on the back of bodas (taxi motorbikes) and in Ubers.

While zigzagging through chaotic Kampala, and while meeting all kinds of people, we eventually found a reasonably affordable bike that was in miserable condition; “miserable” according to our standard at the time. Anyway, we were happy with our new Honda XR250. Our second motorcycle, a Yamaha XT220, we found a bit later via the same middleman. After the bikes had some cosmetic procedures, we set off on our journey.

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We decided to journey to Uganda and we would soon see what “The Land of the Free” had to offer us.

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OFF TO THE NATIONAL PARKS

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In those sweaty Kampala days while searching for motorcycles to ride, we met several people. And after a few Nile beers, they had some ideas and advice. We came up with the plan to first go to our friend in Rwanda and from there we would see further. Maybe after we could stay and ride in Rwanda and then to the National Parks in Western Uganda? That said, our first destination was to our friend in Kigali.

After experiencing daily life in Rwanda with my friend for a few days, and before hitting the road, we thought it might be a good idea to load up on cassava, plantain, rice, beef, liver, some greens and Coca Cola at Chez Mama Joyce. The usual Rwandese cuisine. While eating, we talked to the chef, Mama Joyce, about our experience in Rwanda. In her opinion Rwanda was boring with all its rules and regulations. “Uganda is the land of the free!” And according to her, that was where we should go.

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LAND OF THE FREE: UGANDA?!

Saying to a Dutch person that Rwanda has many rules and regulations is, of course, a bit ironic! If we excel in something as the Dutch, it’s having a rule for everything. The latter being precisely one of the reasons why we regularly try to “flee” the Netherlands for a few months. Anyway, with a belly that almost collapsed from the abundance of food and only a half-empty plate, I let it sink in for a moment what Mama Joyce had said to me. In Uganda and Rwanda, for example, they have the same rule: you are not allowed to ride a motorcycle with more than two people at a time. In Rwanda, people abide by that rule. In Uganda, on the other hand, it seems punishable if you are not on a motorcycle with at least three people. I had regularly seen four or five people on one moving motorcycle there.

We decided to journey to Uganda and we would soon see what “the land of the free” had to offer us. The southwest corner of Uganda, where we entered, has some of its most famous national parks. This border area is, for instance, the only place left in the world where the distinct mountain gorilla lives. There is an industry of tourism around the gorillas and tickets are very expensive. To the north, away from Rwanda while following the border area between Uganda and Congo, there are a number of other extensive wildlife parks. The drier savannah plains have, among others, the big five. We skipped the Mountain Gorilla’s and headed for the savannah plains up north.

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QUEEN ELISABETH NATIONAL PARK (QENP)

We had no idea how it would work with parks in Africa. Lost after a day of driving in the middle of nowhere, we ended up in Kihihi, a village on the border with Congo and adjacent to the southernmost part of the immense national park. At the only - and very cheap! - hotel in the village, the hotel manager sold us a game drive in an old Toyota Land Cruiser. It was our first encounter with savannah valleys, meandering rivers, and endless plains of grassland with the occasional acacia or fig tree. The latter is used by the lions as a hangout during the warm afternoons in the tropics. The king of the plains didn’t show himself to us, but we did see elephants, antelopes, hippos, buffalos, and many other animals and birds. What a cool first experience, but how would we continue from here on a motorbike?

The road northward goes right through the heart of the park. The friendly hotel staff ensured us that the road is accessible and will lead us to the northern parts of Queen Elisabeth. After only a few moments on the bike, we had to stop - and it wouldn’t be the last time. There was a group of vervet monkeys on the road and in the trees. Wow! How incredible! The passing landscapes are endlessly beautiful and during the day, we meet elephants, antelope, baboons, and several warthog families. We visit Kisenyi fishing village on Lake Edward and Kasenyi village on Lake George. Along the way to Kasenyi, there are herds of buffalos, and in the evening, we are surrounded by grazing hippos at the campfire.

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MURCHISON FALLS NATIONAL PARK

More than we could have ever imagined, we were free to drive through the beautiful savannah of Queen Elisabeth National Park (QENP). The funny thing is that we would have never thought about taking our motorcycles into the parks mainly because of safety concerns. But after gaining a bit of experience riding with carnivorous animals in QENP, we took the chance of driving towards the park gates of Murchison Falls National Park. From QENP to Murchison Falls, it’s a two-day ride through western Uganda. Everyone and everything use the well-paved roads to travel. Many of the roads have recently been improved under Chinese leadership, so we heard.

From QENP to Murchison Falls, it’s a two-day ride through western Uganda. Everyone and everything use the well-paved roads to travel. Many of the roads have recently been improved under Chinese leadership, so we heard. After Fort Portal, however, the beautiful asphalt gives way to an unpaved road. We are regularly treated to sizeable dust clouds by passing trucks. Here and there, we were driven off the road by SUVs, and we ended up shouting at the roadside after an emergency stop. Motorcyclists here are low in the proverbial food chain and we experienced that firsthand. Nevertheless, it was a nice adventure to drive through this part of Western Uganda. But once we reached the entrance of the park, the peace started. No more crazy traffic to watch out for, only nature, landscapes, and animals.

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BUT COULD WE ENTER ON MOTORCYCLES?

We were curious whether we could enter the park on our own, without a guide or car, but with the two wheels found beneath us. The rangers at the entrance did not look up or down when we came rolled by on our motorcycles. After paying the entrance fee, they lifted the bamboo stick that blocked the path and we could continue. No questions were asked, no explanation was given. If we wanted to continue on our motorcycles, we apparently just had to do that. An additional advantage was that we did not have to rent a 4-wheel-drive vehicle with a guide and therefore we saved some money. After riding through a dense, dark green forest for a while, a winding road took us down a cliff and onto the savannah plains of the Nile.

The plains stretched out in front of us were slightly golden and extended as far as the eye could see. We opened our jackets a bit and we regularly had to stop to remove the dust from our goggles. After a few hours in this amazing no man's land, we arrived at a river camp.

Later that evening, when we walked from the restaurant to our tent, we came across two grazing hippos. A Ugandan bystander informed us that they were adolescent hippos and therefore were brazen enough to graze close to people! In QENP, the locals kept a fire going at night to keep the hippos at a distance, but apparently, that was no longer necessary here. In the middle of the night, I was awoken by the loud breathing noise of a grazing hippopotamus just a stone’s throw away.

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A FERRY, A NOISE, AND A FEW MISSED HEARTBEATS

At sunrise the next day, a ferry took us across the Nile to the best grounds for a game drive/ride. We’d only just ridden off the boat when my heart stopped beating. We barely avoided an accident with an elephant! The giant beast was grazing just behind a bush alongside the road. Still recovering from the shock, we stopped a little further and peacefully watched this majestic animal.

We didn’t see lions and leopards that day. Apart from the fact that we didn’t have the well-trained eyes to even spot them, the sound of our engines was also likely a deterrent. On the other hand, we spotted giraffes, lizards, many birds, and at least three species of lion food.

The day was coming to an end and so was our 24-hour park ticket. Unfortunately, it was time to leave the park. We never thought that Africa would be so beautiful and people so free. Yes, people here are free, they do their own thing and they let us do that too. I think that's what Mama Joyce meant. It was, alas, time to drive to the east side of this country.

In Kampala, we met a fellow Dutchman who invited us to come to his house in Karamoja. This eastern part of Uganda has long been an area with a lingering conflict between the local population and the Ugandan army. However, it seems to be safe there now and tourists are welcome again. We are curious and set our motorbikes in motion to experience it for ourselves.


To be continued…

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