Distance: 238 km / 148 mi
Elevation: 2,471 m / 8,107 ft
Thinking about it, this should have been the title of our first blog post in East Africa. We hear this word at least one-thousand times a day. Swear down. Men, women, children – even a chicken’s clucking sounds like mzungu now. ‘Mzungu’ literally means white person and that’s what everyone shouts at us as we cycle through villages and towns. We’ve also had madam mzungu and mzungu de Kenya. Kids in Kenya just yelled it at the top of their lungs, while kids in Uganda have turned the word into a sort of chant, which they sing as we cycle past. As soon as one kid has spotted us and yelled mzungu, it alerts every other kid in a 100 m radius, with a ripple affect. You can’t help but smile as the neighbourhood’s tiny humans come running after you. Mzungu is used all around East Africa, so we’ll likely here it one-thousand times a day for the next few months.
Our stove has dominated headlines this week as we’ve had not one or two, but three hiccups with the damn thing. First Dan caused a fireball, which he had to extinguish with a rationed bucket of water from the guest house we were staying at. Let me explain. The night before, on autopilot, he’d gone to detach the fuel bottle from the stove. We always leave it connected overnight, so it’s ready for morning coffee. When he realised, he screwed it back together – but not tight enough. We he came to light the stove for morning coffee, it had leaked and was still leaking when he put flame to fuel. The whole thing just went up. Ka-boom. Okay, ‘ka-boom’ is an exaggeration; it didn’t explode, but Dan did have to throw a bucket of water over it, which is precious stuff. Each afternoon, in dry season, the taps run dry at the guest house we were at, so they stockpile buckets and jerry cans of water to save them making a long trip to the local water pump. I’m sure they would have been fine with Dan’s firefighting skills if they had of been there though. It was 6am – I wasn’t even there. I was still getting out of bed.
Next, a simple tomato and aubergine curry took about three hours to make as the stupid stove kept losing its flame. It’s a tedious task having to relight it every five minute with matches. The only explanation we came up with, was that our Primus doesn’t like the quality of petrol in Uganda, as it started after filling up at some random, unknown petrol station. We’re now making the point of only using a Total or Shell garage. Let’s see if that does anything.
And lastly, we (Dan) tried to change the priming pad, which has disintegrated after a year’s use. The priming pad is there to soak up the fuel you spray when priming it to light. It’s not essential, but it certainly helps to get the stove going. When Dan tried to unscrew the bottom screw, however, it was impossibly tight and rather than come off, it just loosened and then stayed put. After battling with it for a good thirty minutes, he called it a day. But then he couldn’t tighten the bloody thing back up again. It took another battle and a load of curse words. We daren’t touch it now. We’re just praying the Primus doesn’t give up before we stop pedalling.
We got our first taste of the fast-approaching rainy season this week when camped at Sisiyi Falls. As we got into bed, we were rocked to sleep in our tent by a fierce thunderstorm. And that’s not all. The following morning, the road we’d hoped to take to join bikepacking.com's Trans-Uganda route had been completely mangled with rain. We could have maybe done it if it had been a flat ride, but the day started with a 600 m climb – there was no way we could have climbed in the thick mud on our heavy, thin-tyred, bikes. So we stuck to the compact red dirt and joined their route at the next village a few km down the road.
In their description bikepacking.com said the ride from Sipi Falls to Jinja was ‘a not to miss section’ of their 2,111 km route around Uganda – and they weren’t lying. The riding this week has just been incredible. We joined for a 250 km section that weaved through tiny villages, often with only a handful of traditional houses. There was no tarmac in sight, just vibrant red, compact dirt. Everywhere we looked there was just as vibrant green plants, trees and fields. I never thought a country could have such a distinct colour palette, but Uganda’s is most certainly bright red and green. Then there was the hill climbs: they were relentless – yet moreish. We felt like we’d summited a mini mountain every time and sweated as many litres as we’d glugged. I will admit they did get a little bit too much one day and when we stopped cycling I necked three hot chocolates for the sugar hit – fat chance of finding a cold Coke. We did find Rolex though and so much cheaper than we’d paid for our first one in a restaurant. We’ve had one every day this week with a double omelette for £0.30 each. Thirty pence. But by far the best bit about rural riding has been the people. Everyone has been so friendly and everyone wants to chat. No one believed we had cycled from Nairobi and no one believed we had cycled to their tiny village. We lost count of the amount of hands we shook and smiles we returned and conversations we loved. If you find yourself cycling in Uganda, you have to, have to, have to check out their route; it’s magical.
I bet the bike nerds out there are wondering how we’re getting on with the thinner tyres? If you remember we reluctantly dropped from 2.0” width to 1.75”, when really we should have gone to 2.1”, which is the max our bikes allow. On compact dirt, of course, the bikes roll as normal as ever. Throw in a little gravel and we’re still okay. But once the dirt gets too powdery, or the road gets too rocky, or too gravelly, it feels like we’re cycling on a tight rope with 40 kg of wonky luggage. Nightmare. For Africa Part 2 – we’re already pinning ideas to an imaginary board for the ride home – we’ll look to bring totally different bikes with much fatter tyres and less gear.
We still have the last push to Jinja, where we’re planning on some thigh therapy with two days off. We don’t know what we’re most excited for: a shower or an ice-cold beer.