Week Fifty-One: Simon Pegg Sorted Us Out

21/03/19-27/03/19

Countries: Uganda & Rwanda

Distance: 289 km / 180 mi
Elevation: 2,934 m / 9,626 ft

New week. New country. New us. You’ll be glad to hear that after an extra day’s rest, a Simon Pegg film, and eating out rather than cooking, we feel considerably better than we did last week. What whinge bags, eh? It still took us a further three days this week to reach Rwanda, but we were in much higher spirits after all that kerfuffle. And yes, that means it took us nine days to do what we’d expected to take four or five. I wasn’t kidding when I said it was tough. 

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Back in the saddle and raring to go, we got back to demolishing Africa’s relentless hills – no pushing required. We even struck tarmac on that first ride back in the land of loving life again, which made for a smooth cycle to the border. When we find tarmac, however, we seem to find a brothel. And sure enough that’s where we ended up staying. Evidence for the jury: small bar with cheap beer; plastic mattress (yuk); truckers; fifteen plus women, who clearly aren’t related, all wearing skimpy dresses. There was even a madam at this one (we assumed she was the madam as she seemed to be running the show). She was a rather rotund lady wearing the smallest slip imaginable; it barely covered her bits. She took a shine to Dan, complimenting how “presentable” he looked. We’d just spent the last 50 km riding on a ridiculously dusty dirt road – he looked about as presentable as a rubbish bag that’s been left out for the bin men, only to have been ravaged by a hungry fox. But the key piece of evidence was of course a condom dispenser. Now I know we said if we spotted one again we’d turn around and find somewhere else to stay, well we didn’t spot this one until the morning after the night before. So what can you do? 

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Since this is now the second time we’ve stayed in an establishment of this kind, we decided to do a bit of digging on the old Internet. Wikipedia says prostitution is in fact illegal in Uganda, according to the 1950 Penal Code [insert joke here]. But since 2003 authorities have ordered sex workers to pay £2.25 in taxes to operate in certain areas. Per transaction we wonder? Highways and border towns are known for these haunts and we can now vouch for that.

And just like that we *finally* reached the end of Uganda. I feel after last week’s little outburst, I should do a bit of a wrap-up, so we don’t leave the country on such a sour note. Yes I was ready to leave, but the last thirty-two days have, for the most part, been amazing. We got to meet two incredible schools that East Africa Children’s Project work with, the off-road riding has trumped all other countries, the hills have been one glorious challenge after another, Rolexes – the thick chapati omelette rolls – are deliciously cheap, and Ugandans are super friendly. The only downsides are that there isn’t an awful lot to see (on our route) and I sometimes found the men a little too friendly. 

Oh hello there, Rwanda! 

There are three border crossings between Uganda and Rwanda. Coming from the east, we had planned to cross at the far west border, but ended up crossing the first eastern border — not because I was desperate to leave, I’ll just point out. There’s actually some trouble between the Ugandan and Rwandan governments and they’ve closed all the borders. Well, stopped their citizens crossing; Ugandans can’t go to Rwanda and Rwandans can’t go to Uganda. Something to do with two Rwandan MTN (a telecoms company) workers allegedly being arrested and tortured in Uganda. Although it sounds like grievances between the two leaders run deeper than that. We’ve been keeping an eye on it over the last couple of weeks. We’ve not read that tourists have been stopped, but since the borders have come to a complete stand still, we didn’t want to chance getting all the way to the west border, only to be told we can’t cross. So we took the first one. And now we’re finally riding in country number sixteen. It feels good. 

Colonised by the Belgians, Rwandans still drive like them. By that I mean they drive on the right. Of course, we had no idea. And since the border was ‘closed’, there was no traffic on the road for us to copycat. So not to look like the fools who don’t know which side of the road to be on, we drove down the middle to be on the safe side. We quickly learned they drive on the right when a truck came hurtling towards us. It’s funny being a righty again, after being a lefty for the last eight months and four countries. 

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Our first night in Rwanda was… interesting. We got drunk with two locals in the bar of the motel we checked in to. I say drunk, Dan and I had a few beers — Primus is the new poison — and they drank straight whisky from the bottle. Through a straw. We should have known it was gonna get lairy. It started off well; they were a good laugh and we had a great afternoon. But there came a tipping point. Suddenly they were both very drunk and one offered Dan an “African woman” as a trade for a “London woman”. Dan obviously declined. So the guy upped his offer to two African women for one London woman. Even if Dan was tempted, where was he going to find a London woman in this small Rwandan town? The only woman he knew was me, and I’m from Middlesbrough! Rather than trying to explain the predicament to the whisky-soaked geezers, we bid them and their bottle goodnight and changed our dinner order to room service.

I’m in that crowd somewhere.

I’m in that crowd somewhere.

We’re only a few days in, but Rwandans already remind us of Indian people in terms of their curiosity. As soon as we stop anywhere a suffocating crowd forms around us. That never happened in Kenya or Uganda, so it’s come as a bit of a surprise. Another unexpected surprise is that we’ve been part of several bicycles races we never knew we’d even entered. We’ve been speeding along when, out of nowhere, we can hear a rattling single speed sat on our rear wheel. Sometimes we’ve sped up, at which point so has the single speed. Other times we’ve slowed right down, at which point so has the single speed. During one particular ‘race’, I counted seven other bicycles powering along. The attention has overwhelmed us a little, I’ll admit, as we were expecting things to be as they were in Kenya and Uganda. We were getting used to being mostly ignored.

Other first impressions of Rwanda: Most houses are painted in the Rwandan flag blue – or at least have a hint of it. Images below: Single plate buffets are everywhere and only £1.20; it’s a challenge to get as much as you can without spilling it. Veg markets, although not guaranteed in every town, as awesome and cheap – we even found scotch bonnets! And we’ve spotted a few arcades with these incredible wooden arcade machines.

Other first impressions of Rwanda: Most houses are painted in the Rwandan flag blue – or at least have a hint of it. Images below: Single plate buffets are everywhere and only £1.20; it’s a challenge to get as much as you can without spilling it. Veg markets, although not guaranteed in every town, as awesome and cheap – we even found scotch bonnets! And we’ve spotted a few arcades with these incredible wooden arcade machines.

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Our original plan for Rwanda was to head straight to the north east of the country and pick up the Congo Nile Trail, which we read about on bikepacking.com. For a number of reasons, however, we have decided to first head to the capital: Kigali. One of the main reasons is actually for supplies. It’s proved rather difficult to find some essentials recently. The ‘supermarkets’ we’ve visited should really be called booze shops, as they sell more beer and spirits than they do food. I mean the only meals you could really rustle up are chocolate digestive sandwiches (I joke, but we have been living on honey sandwiches). And shampoo! I haven’t had shampoo for about three weeks. Word of advice: Dettol soap should not be applied to wet hair *itches scalp*. I’ve said previously that we usually skip cities, but we’re actually looking forward to spending a few days in Kigali. There’s a few tourist things we want to do, we’re staying with a friend’s uncle, and we’re craving pizza and some other western-ness. So don’t mind us while we enjoy a little city break.


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