So, after spending the night in a guest house in Kigali, we set off at 9 for the drive to Bwindi – first several hours through Rwanda on well surfaced roads, then into Uganda and far from anywhere.
Kigali is a bizarre African city, with swish buildings, neat main roads, no begging and a strong police presence. Off the main roads, the tracks are rutted and made of red earth, and they are heaving with people and noise and motorbikes. It feels as if all that is human has been swept off the main roads. Within about 40 minutes, our car started to loose power on the hills and black smoke started to billow out of the exhaust. We pulled into a garage to try and sort it out. A huddle of mechanics and hangers-on stood about and debated what might be happening. The car had only been serviced the day before. It turns out that the oil, which should have been changed, had probably only just been topped up. Topped up to overflowing, and flooding the engine, such that it was no longer combusting as it should. After an hour of negotiation, draining off the oil, refilling, we were on the way again, out of the capital, past small tea plantations, hills of small-holdings, and evidence of terrible soil erosion at every river bed and hill-side.
We got to the border at lunchtime. There is quite a substantial no-man’s-land at the border with a trail of trucks looking desolate as they wait for their papers to be processed. We had to exit Rwanda (one stamp), and enter Uganda (another stamp.) And the car had to give up its temporary export to Rwanda (two offices, two stamps), and be signed into Uganda again (two offices, two stamps). Altogether an hour of paperwork and stamps, but all very sedate and peaceful and we were through.
We stopped in Kabale inside Uganda. It is the largest town in the district. We did some shopping for luxuries like cheese, got some chipatis and samosas for lunch, and stopped at the bank. Then the journey was really under way. We turned off the tarmac, and into the countryside. The road was narrow and made of stoney, beaten earth, with some fairly steep drops at the side. I can see why the car needed its shock-absorbers changed after only a few thousand miles. We were amongst hills scattered with small-holdings with banana and plantain trees, small crops of tea, and people with pigs and goats on the paths. Onwards for several hours up and up into the hills. Eventually, we could see where the cultivated area stopped and the national park began. Our route took us along the eastern edge of the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest.
Bwindi amazing fact number 1 ; this forest has the highest number of different tree species per unit area of anywhere in the planet.
It was beautiful, full of forest noise, of frogs, grasshoppers, monkeys calling, birds singing. The trees were gracious and spread over valleys and ravines giving beautiful vistas with canopies of trees in the foreground, and forest in the background. We saw black and white Colobus monkeys playing close by. The road had a few moments when I was glad it wasn’t me driving, where the rains had caused the mud to slip onto the path and the passable area between the hillside and the road edge was a little bit narrow. Apparently the Uganda Wildlife Authority maintains the road because they know this is a route taken by tourists. It does make me wonder what other roads are like. We emerged from the forest into cultivated land just towards the golden hour of the evening, when the light was glancing off the roofs of the small houses. It looked tranquil, and quite idyllic until you you noticed the state of people’s clothes, the fact that so many of the children were obviously stunted and had pot bellies because of poor nutrition.
The sun set quickly, and we made the final miles in the dark.
We arrived in our village, Buhoma (the village where Bwindi Hospital lies), where there were brightly lit small kiosks down the main street. We drove past the hospital and to our accommodation in the staff quarters next door.
From somewhere, we still found the energy to greet our neighbours and new colleagues and to take sight of our small but perfectly adequate new house, then to eat and stumble into bed.
A day of rest and sorting the house tomorrow, then work starts.