Monday, 12 October 2009

Warthogs, dead dogs and sand storms

I have been truly fortunate to have spent the last couple of days travelling the route from Nairobi, Kenya, along the rough and ready roads that skirt Lake Victoria deep into the Ugandan foothills that are home to some of the remaining 710 mountain gorillas.

The route is awe-inspiring. Townships only one building deep line the roads. Those advertising Zain (a mobile phone company) are hot pink; those advertising MTN (another phone company) sunflower yellow. As we drive past, small shoeless children clinging onto older siblings wave and smile. Women elegantly dressed in bright blues and greens with patterned headdresses and inevitably a young infant strapped to their back crouch by small coal fires cooking, squat to chop wood or line the fields of tea where they work.

People are friendly. School children in bright blue pinafores or shirts carry books on their heads, a young sibling being led by the hand. As they see our truck they wave, shouting ‘Hello, how are you?’ in unison.

The buildings we pass are bustling with activity. Men fix motorbikes, construct purple coffins out of wood, play cards under the shade of a tree, weld bed frames, sell sofas, hustle horned cows out of the way of the trucks hurtling down the road or drag unyielding goats to their untimely death.

Everything is covered with a fine layer of red dust. Clouds of fumes spew out of lorries, dead dogs swollen and fly ridden lie inelegantly in ditches and every now and again the scents of the countryside waft through the open sides of our truck.
The poverty of both rural Kenya and Uganda are clear. Children are frequently barely clothed, many of their homes just small, ramshackle mud huts with roofs made of dried banana leaves. Outside their mother cooks, washes, prepares fruit and veg, or scrubs down one of their younger siblings. In the larger towns unemployed men stand, sit or lie around with little to do.

Sometimes as we drive we come across wart hogs or zebra stood grazing, immune to trucks, lorries and minivans, crammed with people driving by.

Of the two countries, Uganda has my heart. We cross the border leaving behind rubbish strewn roadside trenches and wide open plains of Kenya and enter very quickly the lush, rolling hills of Uganda. Banana trees, tea and sugar plantations, thick forests stretch as far as the eye can see. Dropping down a hill and you enter plains where crested cranes peck away at the edge of water holes, goats graze and large raptors circle above.

The driving is tough. We drive for hours: the first day only for four hours in Kenya; the next for 12. The roads are barely Tarmaced. If they are, the asphalt has sunk into deep trenches where large trucks have pushed it into the earth beneath. If not, then red mud riddled with potholes makes up the road. Unmarked speed bumps appear out of nowhere, torrential rain can fall at anytime turning the road into a sea of mud, a duststorm will suddenly descend only to disappear again minutes later.

We travel fast between potholes, only to slow right down to a hobble. Sometimes we get stuck behind lorries travelling at 20 miles an hour. Here Henry, our driver, manages to expertly manouvre our truck to overtake whether it be up a hill or on a blind corner. A loud hoot of the horn indicates our presence for lorries, cyclists, goats, people to move out of the way.

After two and a half days we arrive in Kibale. On the way we stopped at Navashka (Kenya), crossed the Equator twice, camped by the Nile at Adrift in Jinga (Uganda) and camped in a field that belonged to the university of Mbarara.

At Kibale we changed transport to minibuses. Here we began our final ascent into the Bwindi Inpenetrable Forest ­– home to the Mountain

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