Posted by: zdy1 | 21 December, 2009

The Big Drive

In my last post I mentioned that I had travelled to Kampala three times in the last couple of months. I thought that the journeys there and back were worth a post of their own.

To be honest there aren’t really words that do the ride justice, but it fits somewhere between an extreme game of dodgems and an alternative to the car wreckers yard, with the occasional safari experience thrown in. It isn’t complicated, from the outskirts of Mbarara to the outskirts of Kampala it is one straight road with no traffic lights and only a couple of junctions. However it still takes between 4 and 5 hours. There are just three major hazards… the road, the other road users and the police and I’ve had fun encounters with all three.

The road is currently being resurfaced and widened and to be honest is improving each time I have travelled it, but the bits being worked on still cause fun. There is not necessarily an understandable system to where the work is being done so you can be travelling fine along a nice bit of new tarmac and then without warning (or slope) it just comes to an end (and that direction is better than when you hit it the other way). Alternatively where there is no surface they helpfully encourage you to go slowly by erecting speed bumps – these certainly do the job… there is no warning that they are there, there is no marking to make them clear to see, and it feels like you are climbing up and down a steep mountain when you go over them. In fact speed bumps are favoured as a speed control measure everywhere in Uganda, one day I will have to make a point of counting how many I go over on the way to Kampala but I wouldn’t be surprised if it is in the hundreds!! Oh and I haven’t even mentioned the pot holes…

I won’t talk too much about the other road users, but somehow despite the multitude of potholes, buses seem to still manage to gain a bit of speed on the road and the rule here seems to be “If I’m bigger than you then you get out of the way even if I’m on your side of the road”. Once you get that rule, it has actually been ok to win the game of dodgems. Once you get into Kampala it is another story.. lets just say I am learning the knack of driving with as few millimetres between me and another vehicle as possible.

The final fun is provided by the traffic police who are regularly seen by the side of the road. I am learning that single white female is a signpost for them to stop the vehicle and see if they can get a salary boost. The first time I was stopped for going 156km/h in a 50km/h zone. This was confirmed to me by a speed camera display. I’m still intrigued about how when going at this speed I managed not to take off into space over the speed bump I had just passed over and how I managed to stop immediately by being waved down.

It isn’t all bad though. On the way you pass over the equator and there is a great tourist cafe there where I can sit and relax and enjoy an expensive fruit smoothie. You also pass near to a national park. I have passed zebras by the side of the road and even spotted a couple of hippos. There are the entertaining fish sellers who wiggle the fish by the side of the road to make it look fresh and then you pass cars with the purchased fish tied onto their front bumper as this is apparently the best way to carry it! My most fun drive was when I travelled back with my work colleague who kept deciding to take me to visit his relatives or pick up random friends. The journey subsequently took eight hours but it was nicely broken up and I got to see some bits of Uganda I wouldn’t have done otherwise!!

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