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There and back again

On the 23rd of June 2010, my boyfriend and I set out to drive from Kampala, Uganda, to Capetown, South Africa, and back again. It was an unbelievable trip, but let me just leave you with a few highlights.

63 – total number of days on the road.

17,000 kilometres – total distance covered

2 – number of flat tyres

6 – number of speeding tickets (only half of which we paid for! There’s an art to schmoozing. The priciest ticket was in Malawi, for 6,000 kwacha, or about $40. Look out for those policemen and their speed guns, they are ruthless!!)

10 – the number of countries visited: Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Bostwana, South Africa, Namibia and Zambia.

80,000 – the number of fans who packed Soccer City stadium in Johannesburg, where we watched Brazil defeat Cote d’Ivoire.

1 – the time we broke down. Our 1991 Toyota Landcruiser “Bambi” overheated as we drove north from the Zambian capital Lusaka. Luckily we happened to be stopped near a farm run by an Afrikaans family, who very generously served us tea and called a mechanic. A few hours and several radiator flushings later, we were good to go. That was just good karma, and I’m determined to “pay it back” somehow.

0 – the number of photos we were allowed to take in the Zimbabwean capital, Harare; cameras are strictly forbidden in the city.  But we made up for it in Masvingo, home of the Great Zimbabwe, an ancient stone city perched among boulders and hills.

-5 – in degrees Celsius, the coldest weather we experienced, in Mashshing/Lydenburg, South Africa. Winter in southern Africa is no joke!

10 million – roughly the number of times we must have exclaimed “beautiful!”, “amazing!” or “incredible!” Take a look at a few of these photos and you’ll see why.

In the Valley of the Baobabs, as we drive west across Tanzania. Note: Matoke Tours is a travel agency operated by friends in Kampala; we're just giving them some free publicity!

the "highway" to Livingstonia, Malawi

Glorious Lake Malawi, from the Mushroom Farm campsite in Livingstonia.

Sunset over the Zambizi River, from our campsite in Tete, Mozambique

The Great Zimbabwe

Cape Town, South Africa. Could you get a more postcard-perfect photo?!

Blyde River Canyon, South Africa

Cheering on Cote d'Ivoire at Soccer City, Johannesburg

Daybreak over the dunes at Sossusvlei, Namibia

double rainbow at Victoria Falls, Zambia


Kampala to Capetown (and back): a summary so far

Days on the road: 12

Distance travelled: 3961 kilometres

Countries visited: Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, Mozambique and Zimbabwe.

Six countries in two weeks! It hardly does justice to the places, but we need to keep moving to make it to the World Cup in time. If anything, I am scoping out where to come on subsequent vacations.  Maputo and Mozambique’s beaches are definitely on the list, as are scuba diving in Lake Malawi. But here are a few highlights from this trip:

– Sailing with Tim and Jill on the brilliant Indian Ocean  and enjoying the world’s freshest seafood!

– Camping in the highlands near Iringa, Tanzania, at The Old Farmhouse.  We built a fantastic campfire and enjoyed the immense silence and stunning night sky.

– Snorkeling along the shore in Lake Malawi.  The Lake is so blue and so vast that for a split second I mistook it for the ocean. The water is crystal clear, the very essence of blue, and teeming with hundreds of species of siclid fish.

– Hiking to the town of Livinstonia, Malawi, one kilometer in altitude, and camping on a Cliffside overlooking the lake.

– Crossing the Zambezi River! There is only bridge at Tete, Mozambique, and miles of atrocious traffic. We sleep at the “Jesus e Bom” campsite, just at the edge of the languid, slow-moving river, and wake up early to beat the morning rush. We think we hear hippos but it was probably just small motor skiffs in need of a tune-up.

– Encountering dozens of other travelers on their way to the World Cup, all crazier than we are! Caravans of Dutch people, driving screamingly orange cars, have come all the way from Holland to support their team. We have also met a German family touring Africa in an old fire truck, and an American hitchhiker who rode from Kenya to Ethiopia on a cattle truck.

From here, we are off to the Great Zimbabwe and Masvingo, probably a quick detour through Botswana to avoid the infamous Zimbabwe-South Africa border point, and then to Johannesberg for our first World Cup game! Stay posted for more.

A note on road safety requirements in Africa

The further we travel, the more adornments and accessories our vehicle accumulates. We started out from Uganda with a “Matoke Tours” wheel cover and a little Ugandan flag flying from the back window, plus a fire extinguisher, jumper cables, tyre jack and tool kit.  In Tanzania, a policeman asked to see our two emergency traffic triangles, which we didn’t have but promptly purchased in the next town, Segera. In Malawi, an officer demanded to know why we didn’t have reflective tape on our vehicle, red in the back and white in the front. No one seemed to sell the stuff, until we reached Nkhata Bay and were able to buy the red tape but not the white. Little squares of medical tape, however, seem to do the trick, at least from afar. In Mozambique, we were supposed to also carry a reflective vest like the kind worn by construction workers, but seeing as we were in the country for less than 24 hours, we got away without it. WHAT will they ask for next? An emergency helicopter landing pad????!

Photo of the day

Taken at a tiny nursery school in Serere, eastern Uganda

Solar beans

My mother makes the best red beans in the world.  She doesn’t have a strict recipe, but in her kitchen this unexciting staple becomes absolute comfort food.  On a quick visit home over Easter, I found out that she had gone from mastery to perfection – with the use of a solar cooker.

My parents’ new Saturday morning routine goes like this: Wake up; turn on BBC News and make coffee; throw onions, beans, spices and water in a pot and place it in the solar cooker, in a promisingly sunny spot; relax.  Every now and then, someone emerges to give the pot a stir, or re-orientate the cooker to a sunnier location, but it really needs very little supervision.  By dinner time, this strange, flying-saucer-like apparatus yields the best pot of red beans I have ever tasted.  If I was in marketing, I’d say something like: “Perfectly prepared beans: just add sunshine.”

I’m sorry, but your music is killing my work ethic

I like to have music on when I work, and an issue that I struggle with constantly is finding office-appropriate playlists. This was never an issue in my previous office jobs – there was always some mindless muzak over the intercom, or else everyone was plugged into their iPods.  But I feel very subconscious doing that here in Uganda, where iPods are rare and conspicuous.  And Mvule Trust is a just not a tune-out-the-world, cubicle-ish work environmenmt.  

Hence the challenge of finding music that everyone in the room will like , or at least tolerate.  Maybe I’m overly conscious of this issue because I despise so much of my co-workers’ music.  They tend to play mass-choir performances of repetitive gospel chants, or country music.  And that’s country music with a capital “C”, from 1980s and 90s America, by people who undoubtedly had names like Travis or Billy Bob or Bubba.  I don’t know who imported that side of Americana to East Africa, but they were spot on and I could kill them for it.

So I try to compromise by not playing too much random indie rock or angry feminist jams.  And no profanity obviously.  The Dixie Chicks were a big hit, as was Alisson Krauss and other blue grass music.  And everyone enjoys a good bout of jazz, or top-of-the-pops.  But there are times when all I want to do is blast some Chilli Peppers, or bounce along to Postal Service.  Anything to drown out the angelic choirs or Celine Dion or country twangs that get into my head like a splinter under a finger nail.

religious illogicality

Superstition relating to numbers is nothing new.  The West worries about Friday the 13th and the number 13 in general.  China doesn’t like anything involving four: its pronunciation in Mandarin sounds just like the word for death. But a religious cult in Uganda has taken this to a whole new level.

The New Vision reported that members of the group Injilli (“good news”), in Nabyoko village, Sironko district, have taken their children out of school because the government Pupil Identification Number (PIN) associated with the school is 666. And according to the book of Revelations in the Bible, 666 is “the beast’s symbol.”

“I will not take my children to school unless the PIN is withdrawn. I want my children to serve God and not the beast,” says Woniala, a concerned parent and member of the cult.

The New Vision writes:

“The members have stopped taking their children to school. They do not use the services of banks or hospitals. They also do not use computers, mobile or fixed landline telephones or the fax. The Injilli also do not take photos because they claim cameras have the PIN for the beast.
Others do not take children for immunisation, fearing the PIN will be injected in them.

Milda Woniala, 34, also a member of Injilli… says the Government has forced all the children in schools to have a PIN, making them devils. ‘They do not want them to have eternal life. I have pulled my two children out of school.’”

Authorities now estimate that over 20,000 children in eastern Uganda have been forced out of school over this PIN debacle.

Wonderful.  These children will never even learn to count to 666, but they will grow up in fear of it.