Leaving Nanyuki we took the road south looping around the Aberdares, through the Tea fields of Nakuru, and up to Kisumu where we encountered a mechanic furiously waving his arms at us yelling: “Your wheel is wobbling!”. Co-incidentally we had just been discussing how the steering had felt a bit funny, so we pulled over into a hodge-podge of tinned roof garages. In a jiffy they had our wheel removed and were inspecting our steering claiming it was too tight. Next they turned their attention to our front right shock absorber highlighting a mysterious oil leak they claimed meant we needed a new front shock. Whilst they were busy ‘repairing’ the bearings on our steering column we inspected the oil on our shock more closely. The oil only appeared on one side of the shock moreover there was a curious amount of oil on the outside of the tire and on the ground around Delilah (not consistent with a broken shock). A quick check of the shock confirmed it was still working so we surmised they must have sprayed oil on the shock whilst we weren’t looking. Proudly returning, they presented our newly repaired steering bar to us. All they had done was stuck on some grease and two new rubber stoppers. Quoting a ludicrous price for the work they hadn’t done. meant an hour long negotiation ensued. The only thing they had fixed were some bearings on the steering column for which we eventually agreed a fair price; allowing us to get back on the road. This delay placed Jinja neatly out of reach for the night. Arriving late at the border we found ‘no space left in the inn’ so were forced to sleep in the car after a cold baked bean dinner.
Early the next morning, after a relatively sleepless night, we reached the border. A Kenyan official prosaically informed us that all white men were rich leaving us slightly bewildered, but was reconfirmed on the Ugandan side where the border officials tried to charge us a stonking three-hundred-and-thirty U.S. dollars for our COMESA insurance in East Africa. Dropping the price by fifty dollars within the first twenty seconds of negotiations gave the game away. With some fantastic ‘phone-a-friend’ support from Kirsty and Julian we were able to establish a price to aim for. Two hours after arriving they finally grew bored and accepted our ultimatum of one-hundred and fifty US dollars*. By eleven we’d reached Jinja where we became entangled in yet another ludicrous discussion regarding parking tickets. Within the first few hours of being in Uganda we were quickly growing tired of the place so we set off in search of Pikey’s house; Richard’s friend from Gloucester who now spends his time between Jinja and Juba. His house was very well hidden down a long dirt track outside of Jinja leaving us to play twenty questions with the locals. Prompting some frustratingly comical conversations that went somewhat like this:-
Richard: “Do you know where Mr. Pikey’s house is?”
Local: “Mr. Pikey’s house” (in an inverted tone)
Richard: “Yes, Mr Pikey, the Musungo”
Richard: “Can you tell us where it is?”
Local: Yes, I will show you.
Local: Do not worry, the bike shop has many bikes.
As thunderclouds threatened overhead we found the gate to ‘Mr. Pikey’s house’ between two local huts and a banana field. The house was lovely, styled like an English cottage with thatched roof, verandah and garden overlooking the Nile. We spent the next two days enjoying its peaceful surrounds, swimming in the Nile and occasionally dipping into Jinja town to gather supplies and visit the source of the Nile gardens. Late on Friday evening, after being treated to a fantastic lightening storm, Pikey returned with wine in tow. The hours passed, the conversation and wine flowed before we made our way to bed. The next day I was due to leave Richard as he was returning to the UK for two weeks whilst I met up with Isaac Nsrenko in Kampala to visit and volunteer at the Nserester Orphanage. On the road before it was light, the car suddenly fell into a large hole. Wheels spinning, Delilah was stuck so I decided to get out and inspect the damage. To my horror I then fell into another hole tumbling through the air before coming to an abrupt stop on the cold hard ground. In the pitch black, writhing in agony I made the slow agonising climb out of the hole. At the top I heard a voice cut through the darkness: “Alex, what’s going on? Is everything all right?” I replied: “I’ve fallen into a hole, a really big hole”. “Mate, what the hell are you talking about?” With that Richard turned on the light to reveal I was still at Pikey’s house having travelled all of five feet from my bed before falling down the stairwell.
The next day, my second attempt at reaching Kampala was far more fruitful, although I was very bruised, hungover and late to meet Isaac. The Northern ring road saved me from the diabolical Kampala traffic. On the West side of town I picked up Isaac and Louise Croxton, a charming retired liverpudlian nurse who had been supporting Nserester for the last couple of years along with her husband. Around 2pm we reached the infant school at Nserester where the children laid-on an overwhelming welcome. The rest of the day was filled with performances, speeches, competitions and a graduation. As the sun set, Christmas presents from Louisa and cake was handed out to gleeful screams. After dark we slipped away to drive up to the main complex where we’d be spending the night. As we approached the rhythmic sound of beating drums rang out. Driving through the gate we were pulled from the car and surrounded by a whirling sea of shadowy bodies dancing and singing. Orphans of all ages enthusiastically welcomed us to Nserester. When the drumming and singing subsided Isaac introduced us to the congregation of pupils before us. Embarrassingly Isaac had taken to introducing me as the first man to drive in a motor vehicle from London to Uganda. Trying to tell him otherwise amidst gasps and cheers from the orphans proved difficult so for the next week with a degree of guilt I adopted my new title.
Over the next few days we spent time with the teachers and orphans learning about the orphanage and its inner workings. Louise was impressed with all the progress that had been made since she last visited in 2008. On Monday we travelled down to Mutukula on the Tanzanian border to watch Nserester play another Tanzanian school at football. Despite the condition of the pitch the standard of football was very good. Isaac proudly informed as some ex-students now played for the national team. It seemed the entire village turned out for the game as the linesmen fought to keep people off the pitch. A resounding 2-1 victory secured Nserester’s unbeaten season for the year. In the last five minutes one of our players took a tumble and rolled his ankle. Delilah filled in as the team ambulance and we drove him down to the medical centre on the Tanzanian side of town. The next day we did a short tour of the farm, where food for the orphanage is grown and the pigs sold to help pay teacher’s wages. Thereafter we headed back towards Kampala spending the night on the equator about an hour from the Capital. The next morning we stopped by the ‘Voices of Peace’ an organisation dedicated to co-ordinating several of Isaac’s social projects. Myself and Isaac took a short drive to look for a Land Rover mechanic to service Delilah. During the drive he told me his 26 year old son had abruptly passed away in Kigale last night after falling into a coma. Understandable this news weighed heavily on Isaac but he kept a stiff upper lip, if not for us then certainly for the rest of his family who slowly arrived at ‘voices of peace’ throughout the afternoon. However, it soon became too much for even Isaac to hold back the tears.
Feeling very sorry for their family but out of place. Louise and I decided it was best to leave Isaac and his family to mourn so we drove into Kampala to look for some accommodation. I had arranged to meet James Jacob, an old school friend from Teddy’s, at Bubble O’Leary’s Irish pub. Whilst catching up over several beers it appeared the pub was hosting a night of Scottish dancing. James launched into the fray with gusto leaving me to look on, until eventually I gathered enough courage to join him. Whoever thought my first ‘Scottish fling’ would be in Uganda. My dance partner for the evening was an enchanting woman from the region of Irkutsk in Russia. I had visited Irkutsk several years before so between dances we had a lot to talk about. Eventually the night grew to a close. I looked around for James but he had evidently shot off amidst the whirling and twirling to catch his flight. In the morning we were re-united with Isaac for a brief day trip to Jinja to visit another of his projects. Enroute we stopped in Jinja for lunch where Isaac introduced me to Tonny Nsoona, editor for the ‘New Vision’ newspaper in Uganda, who was very interested in the trip. At the ‘Widows of Jinja’ we were met with another almighty welcome before they showed Louise the progress they’d made since her last visit. Back in Kampala Isaac needed to go to Kigale to retrieve his sons body so we assured Isaac it would be okay to leave us. I could take Louise down to Entebbe the following day to catch her flight and visit the zoo.
The zoo at Entebbe didn’t prove any different from your typical sordid procession of caged animals, but the reason for our visit was to catch a glimpse of one of the rarest birds in the world, the ‘Shoe bill’. That evening I said a good bye to Louise, although we were a pretty unorthodox pair she’d made a great travelling partner, a no-nonsense woman with a great sense of humour. Over the next few days I casually took my time hanging around in Entebbe before returning to Kampala, where in disbelief I bumped into Masato and the other Japanese from Aswan. With the school closed at Nserester for Christmas and only four days until Richard returned from the U.K. it didn’t make much sense to return to the farm. As a result I decided to hang around the capital to get some maintenance on Delilah done and relax a little. Soon I found myself back in the sleepy town of Jinja camping on the shores of the Nile at the Explorers riverside campsite and enjoying, arguably, the best ‘Rolex’ (a Spanish omelette wrapped in a chapati with Avocado) in Uganda. Here I met several other travellers including a Dutchman called Michael doing a similar trip and who had travelled with the ‘Gentleman’s adventure club’ through Sudan. Despite my first impressions of Uganda I had grown very fond of the place with its peaceful villages, lush scenery and friendly locals.
*Rujetour later informed us they paid just USD 80 for their COMESA for six months. Although we do understand the price is negotiable and depends upon what country you are buying your COMESA in.