Days 28 and 29 of the Old Legs Silverback Tour – From Muleba, a little town on Lake Victoria, Tanzania to Masaka, a little town in Uganda.
Distance- 107 km
Climb – 950 m
Time – 9hr 15 min
Ave Heart Rate – 102 bpm
Max Heart Rate – 177 bpm.
Distance- 95 km
Climb – 617 m
Time – 9hr 12min (this includes 3 hours 30 minutes at the border.)
Ave Heart Rate – 95 bpm
Max Heart Rate – 167 bpm.
I am blogging to you from Villa Katwe, a very cool and very funky backpacker’s lodge in Uganda, run by Robyn and Wycliffe. Russel, the seasoned backpacker in our midst assured me funky is still a word. At $350 dinner, bed and breakfast for 16 people, is easily our best value for money night-stop on Tour. Dinner was a delicious vegetarian curry and rice dish and it was such pleasure to not hear any of the ingredients scream during preparation.
I think this is Marco Richards first time ever in a backpacker lodge. Russell has taken charge of the boy’s dormitory and is showing Marco the ropes.
Our accommodations on Tour sure have varied. Easily our best night stops are those where we have enjoyed Zimbabwean hospitality.
On our last night in Tanzania we were hosted by Chris and Colleen Davis on the Kagera Sugar Estates on the banks of the Kagera River, apparently the source of the Nile.
Even though we have been scattered the world over, Zimbabwe remains a village. Chris and Colleen opened their home and hearts to 16 complete strangers, thousands of kilometers from home. Zimbabwean hospitality is the best in the world and it is what sets us apart from others.
On the morning of Day 28, we rode from the Hotel Bling to Bukoba, one of the major ports on Lake Victoria. It was one of my best mornings ever on a bike. Impossibly, these Old Legs Tour get better and better.
Our morning’s ride afforded us the most incredible views of Lake Victoria which is huge, big like an inland sea. Impossibly, the Lake is perched on top of a huge hill, a huge hill we spent all morning riding up, just so we could ride back down it again. Which might seem rather pointless, but for the views. Standing on top of the cliffs looking across the Lake was worth all the hurt on the hills.
I love riding up big hills with music loud in my headphones. Jack Johnson captured the ride perfectly in the lyrics of one of his songs -‘There is nothing in between what we are and what we see.’
We rode through an eclectic mix of vegetation, Raffia palms next to conifers, next to tea plantations, next to fields of cassava.
Riding past some cassava, Mark Wilson thought he’d unlocked the key to Tanzania being such a happy country. We’ve ridden past cassava crops non-stop for the last 1000 kilometers. Mark pointed to some cassava and told me they sure do grow lots of marijuana in Tanzania.
Al Watermeyer has long wanted to swim in Lake Victoria, so he planned a 10 kilometer diversion off our route that would take us down to Bukoba for lunch on the beach and a swim.
Alas. Bukoba turned out to be a bit of a shithole. The descent down the mountain to the port in traffic was hair-raising, even for bald people. Billy and Mark flew down the vicious switchbacks and loved it. Me, not so much.
At the bottom, we rode around aimlessly looking for exotic restaurants on the beach, but found none, and in the end we had to settle for lunch in a hotel overlooking a rubbish dump, manned by Maribou storks. The hotel looked like it had been built in the 1950’s, and had stagnated ever since. It was like eating in a time warp. But the food when it eventually came was good and disappeared quickly. The Maribou storks were also cool.
The hotel staff brought us one portion too many, but Russell was able to disappear that as well, no problem. He is a very efficient eater.
While we waited for lunch, we walked down to the beach. It was full of litter, and the lake water was dirty. Most people wet their feet, but I didn’t, for fear of falling pregnant. I should have remained on top of the hill and admired Lake Victoria from afar, instead of mourning the un-achieved potential up close. Alas.
After lunch we rode alongside the Kagera River towards the Uganda border. Alastair told me the Kagera is the source of the Nile. As we rode, I spared a thought for the Afrikaans explorer who thought he discovered the source of the Nile just north of Pretoria. I can relate to people who get things slightly out by four thousand kilometers.
The Kagera Sugar Estates were massive, currently 16,000 hectares expanding to 30,000. It is the first bit of commercial agriculture we have seen in twelve days riding across Tanzania. The investment and the employment creation is staggering, especially when compared to nearly 1200 kilometers of nothing. Tanzania has land and water to burn. By not rolling out the red carpet to foreign investors, I cannot but think the Tanzanians are missing a trick.
It was very nice to see Zimbabwean farmers making such a huge contribution to their new country. Chris and Colleen are Tanzania’s gain, Zimbabwe’s loss. Alas.
Colleen cooked up a storm for us for dinner, which we disappeared, especially the bread rolls freshly baked and was the hands down winner of the Hero of the Day hat.
CarolJoy was an equally emphatic winner of the Dick of the Day accolade. She has suffered the dreaded lurgy bad, since our Kigoma rest day. She tried to make a comeback on the bike, after a false recovery, but overcooked it on the hills into Bukoba and ended up in the sick bay on a drip. Because we can’t spell empathy on the Old Legs Tour, in her absence we voted her Dick of the Day for breaking a possibly already broken toilet seat at the Hotel Bling. I am sorry to say that CarolJoy needs a new lawyer, mostly because I am her lawyer.
We rode out of Tanzania in a thick like pea-soup mist. It was surreal. Billy tried to capture the moment on video but was able to crash instead. Billy is one of those riders who can’t walk and chew gum at the same time. Billy will wear the Dick of the Day tutu proudly after CarolJoy.
As per normal, the border town of Mutukula was chaos and bedlam. The one stop border post on the Ugandan side was an oasis of efficiency. It even had clean, toilets with sit down porcelain loos that smelled of disinfectant, a coffee shop restaurant that served cappuccinos, and free WiFi.
When he found out we were from Zimbabwe, one of the Ugandan border officials smugly asked us if we still need a wheelbarrow full of cash in Zimbabwe to buy a loaf of bread. But I don’t know what he was so smug about. It turns out the Ugandan border post was just a ruse. The Ugandan shilling is tracking at 3500 to the US dollar and Ugandan roads are shit like Zimbabwean roads. Because of potholes, the only drivers who drive straight are drunk ones and we were able to feel right at home.
Unfortunately, it would appear that even the roads less travelled in Uganda are busy. We tried to get 100 kilometers under our belt, but only managed 95 km before bad light and worse traffic stopped play. 3 riders almost got scribbled by kamikaze motorbike riders and or taxis. Hopefully tomorrow we’ll find quieter roads to ride on as we head west.
With all of 95 kilometers on my bike under my belt, so far the people in Uganda look to be less friendly than Tanzanians, and more street wise and cynical. I hope that I am proved wrong.
With regards the countryside, Uganda looks to be a ‘grow anything’ country. Coffee looks to be the major cash crop, plus bananas growing everywhere you look. We rode past a street market with every kind of vegetable on display, including mangoes the size of paw-paws, unless of course they were paw-paws.
We’re that close to the equator, the solar panels on the houses are oriented east west instead of north like back home.
We are riding to raise money and awareness for Zimbabwe’s pensioners. Those pensioners lucky enough to receive pensions are expected to survive on US$ 18 per month. They would have to save every penny for 555 months to pay for a hip replacement operation. Hip replacement operations should be a human right, not a life time investment.
Huge thanks to Patrick Millar, a pensioner in England whose pension is adjusted annually for inflation. Patrick has decided to donate that increase in his pension pot, currently worth US$1500, to the Old Legs Tour. Thank you Patrick and God bless.
Wish us luck as we press onto our end destination, the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest and the gorillas.
Until my next blog, enjoy, stay safe and avoid the potholes, and cyclists – Eric Chicken Legs de Jong