Uganda diary: A day of dust and dehydration – on a bus

7 09 2010

Leaving Kampala

If you’ve ever spent 12 hours sat on a bus, you’ll be able to empathise with me in this blog. If you haven’t, let me explain why it’s not something you need to rush out and experience.

I’ve never really been a massive fan of bus journeys. I enjoy travelling a lot, and I’m fairly used to getting numb buttocks after being sat in cars for hours and hours (for example, when I was six, we drove to the Czech Republic). But my first bus journey in Uganda could be described as the worst in my life.

Tuesday 18 September was my first full day in Uganda. It comprised going to Emma’s work (where there were turtles outside), buying bananas, and mentally preparing for the next day. I say preparing, I mean proverbially soiling myself.

Waking up to a nightmare

I met Wednesday 19 August 2010 when it was just four hours old. Waking up at such a time always hurts.

Just under an hour later, our taxi arrived. We shuffled outside, chucked the bags in the back, and headed to the bus park.

The next two minutes were too similar to the types of nightmares you get when you’re feeling ill. The ones where the dream is like reality, but you feel lost and confused; a dystopian realm which you believe to be reality.

Difference between a nightmare and real life though is that you can soon be back in your nice warm bed with a nightmare. The Kampala bus park was reality.

All my senses were attacked and overcome by the smell of soot-filled diesel fumes, the feeling of trudging across mud and avoiding puddles, saying no to all the people who appeared from between buses to carry our bags, and trying to work out, amidst the darkness and blinding headlights, which bus was ours.

How Emma knew which bus was indeed ours, I don’t know, but she got us on safely, and we had most of the bus to choose from. We chose some seats about halfway down – good seats.

We then waited for about two hours. During that time, various people got on the bus trying to sell watches, pens, handbags, torches, a football – all the stuff you need on a long bus journey.

Things start to get busy in Kampala

Leaving Kampala

After we left the bus park, and had made it out of the pothole-ridden mud road outside, we reached the tarmac and got on our way.
And then we stopped at a petrol station.

Lots of people got off to go to the toilet. I wondered whether or not to go. Should I or not, I thought. And then I decided I should. The toilet smelt how it looked – like everybody had missed the hole in the floor. I stood at the doorway and was clinically accurate with my aim. Proud with my work, I strode back to the bus and sat down again.

We stopped somewhere at around 9 or 10 for another toilet stop (handy travel tip: if it’s a number one, you are said to be ‘checking the tyres’; if it’s a number two, it’s ‘a long haul’). After scampering off to an unpeed-on hedge, I was very happy that I didn’t get stage fright (definition: when you know there’s pressure on you to pee – such as at a urinal with a queue – and you just can’t).

That was the last toilet stop of the journey.

By this stage, we had also discovered that we were in the worse seats on the bus, with me taking number one spot.

All the windows had two sliding panes of glass, meaning each passenger could decide whether or not they wanted their section opened or closed. Not me. I had no choice. There was only one pane of glass in my window.

My view

This meant it was either me or the person in front who got a window’s worth of air and dust. Wanting to avoid people thinking “selfish tourist”, I took the hit on behalf of the rest of the bus, and for the rest of the journey I was at the mercy of the person in front of me. Of the 12 hours I was sat there, 11 and a half hours were spent with me being blasted by air and, especially later on, dust.

Free exfoliation

If you want to exfoliate your face, you can spend a few quid in Boots, get yourself some exfoliating gel, get home, rub it into your face and then admire the smooth results.

Blindly following another coach overtaking a petrol tanker, with half the bus on the verge. Hello death

Eating a plantain. Like a banana-ery potato

Alternatively, you can get on a bus from Kampala to Butogota/Buhoma. For about six hours of the journey, I was blasted with fine bits of dust which continually poured from beneath the bus’s tyres as we thundered on (I received even more dust to the face when we overtook other vehicles – half of the bus on the road, the other on the dirt verge. Oh and sometimes we’d blindly follow another big vehicle going past a slower vehicle). For the other six hours of the journey, I was blasted with greater quantities of dust.

The last three or so hours in particular were bad. Why?

No tarmac

From one town onwards – the name of which I’ve since forgotten, and not that bothered about remembering – there were no tarmac roads. Seen those nice pictures on TV with the clay-like roads, y’know, the orange roads that seem to be on every nice picture of people on safari in Africa? Well it was those roads that we went on.

But on the TV they look smooth. These ones weren’t.

First of all, the bus was surrounded by a constant plume of orange dirt. A lot of this found its way onto my clothes and face, and into my eyes and nostrils.

Second, the roads were horribly bumpy. Now, farm tracks seem as smooth as velour by comparison. How my spine and sternum are still intact, I don’t know.

If we slip down there, we ain't stoppin' until we reach a tree

Finally, the edges. The edges were big and steep. Of course, they’re not the worst in the world (can go to South America for some fine examples), but enough to get me thinking of some headlines along the lines of: “British man killed in Uganda bus tragedy”.

I also started wondering, as we were bouncing downhill to the next corner, seeing as though there’s no such thing as an annual MOT – no legal requirement to keep vehicles in a good state – what are the brakes like? Thankfully they were good enough, and, to give him his due credit, the driver did a good job in keeping us on the road, and slowed down a lot for each bump – so well done him.

Steep drops, but at the same time breath-takingly stunning

A boda boda mob

At some time between 7 and 8pm, we arrived in Butogota. There, two of Emma’s friends, Milton and Moses, met us to take us to the Buhoma Community Rest Camp. Our transport was Moses’ motorbike/pick-up thing. Imagine a metal box (about 1.5m cubed), a wheel either side, with a motorbike bolted onto the front. Well that was what we went in.

Now, it looked very cool. The novelty value would have been excellent. However, there were some issues – it wasn’t very big, so, standing up in the back of the vehicle, I had to crouch a lot; it wasn’t very fast, taking us about an hour to reach the camp; there didn’t seem to be much suspension, and the roads got worse –not ideal.

However, what was more immediately scary was the mass of boda boda riders that surrounded me, Emma, Vianney, Milton and Moses as we were stood by the vehicle. They thought we were paying Moses and Milton to take us to the camp – we weren’t. This led to some fairly heated arguing, but, thankfully, Moses and Milton dealt with the matter calmly, and eventually the mob left us alone.

There was still one issue remaining though…

That's not a fake tan gone wrong, that's just me after 12 hours of sitting next to an open window. Also, check out those bags under my eyes. Attractive.

Dehydration

In the space of 11 hours, I’d probably drunk less than half a bottle of water – not even a small cupful. I’d had a lot towards the end of the journey, but it was too late.

The hour’s journey to the Rest Camp was incredibly physically tiring. The lack of water in my body meant I had a throbbing headache, meant I didn’t have a lot of energy so felt weak, and I felt sick.

Five minutes after arriving at the Rest Camp, I vomited behind a hedge. I considered it my peace offering to the local mosquitoes (it seemed to work. At least until I got back to Kampala, where I was bitten by a mosquito on my big toe. I’d never been bitten on a toe before, but it was bloomin’ annoying).

After taking on some water and some re-hydration stuff (at the behest of Emma) I felt much better.

Thankfully, the next few days – and indeed the rest of my time in Uganda – were much better. What’s more, with the bus journey behind me, I can now find it amusing and look at the funny aspects of it, like when people brought chickens on board, or when we spotted a cow in the back of a pick-up.

A cow in a pick-up. Enjoy

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9 responses

8 09 2010
Poppy Bullock

Great blog Peter! Although I’m a little confused by the dates being in the future…

Keep up the writing! 🙂

8 09 2010
Peter Adams

Thanks Poppy for the comment and for the correction (now correct date)!

8 09 2010
Vianney

I have to make more journeys to Buhoma (12 hours on the bus, you know what am talking about). Otherwise, you write well.

10 09 2010
Phil

Christ, that sounds awful and yet rather fun in retrospect! I had a couple of friends do a 16 hour coach journey once and I’ve heard tales of 26 hour coach journeys. I sympathise with them a lot more now.

Although none of them did get the deep cleanse that you got. That has got to be an added bonus!

3 11 2011
sdecourcey

I absolutely loved reading this post ❤ I'm slightly in love with Uganda and reading this brought back so many memories. Thanks for posting (:

5 11 2011
Peter Adams

Thanks for taking the time to read it and comment on it – and, of course, I’m glad you liked it! Really appreciate it, thank you.

5 11 2011
Peter Adams

Meant to ask, where have you been in Uganda? Did you go on THAT bus journey too?

6 11 2011
sdecourcey

Hah, no. I haven’t had the pleasure of a 12-hour bus ride…yet 😉
I was in Kampala and Busia. And I’m going back this January, back to Kampala. Pretty excited.
I’ve got all of my journal entries from my last trip posted on my blog if you want to check them out (:

6 11 2011
sdecourcey

Oh, um, the blog is sdecourcey.wordpress.com if you’re interested.
I’m going to have a look at some of your other Uganda posts now too.

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