No hurry in Africa: on board the bus Kampala to Kigali
I didn’t understand much but the salesman’s words: “Tsunami in the vagina” and aggressive pelvic thrusting into the bus seat next to him somehow caught my attention.
This guy should have been on the stage: the traveling salesman who literally travels as he travels, walking up and down the aisle of the bus from Kampala to Kigali, working the crowd, proffering samples and chucking out sweets to an enrapt audience of hecklers. How I wished I understood Luganda at that moment!
I remember him on my previous bus from Kampala to Kigali (en route to Kinigi, home of Rwanda’s mountain gorillas): the man who insisted we keep the bus windows open all night – and later proceeded to sell us cold remedies! [Note dear reader: this time he was promoting Chinese Royal Jelly – though I can’t confirm its libido effects!]
Blink or you’ll miss it…. without warning, the bus pulls over for a rare and impromptu stop for a ‘short call’. I choose my bush carefully. As I get comfy, a girl appears to sit down 10 feet away from me. So much for privacy. There’s a bump, bump, bump to my left as a man pedals downhill towards us, empty green jerry cans banging his bicycle seat as he passes over the bumpy path. (Did I say something about privacy?)
Show over, we return to the bus, and a pair of crutches emerges from the bushes, followed by a young girl. I’ll come to see a lot of people on crutches over my next few days in Rwanda and Burundi. I wonder at their stories, but daren’t ask.
A vicar in a pale blue shirt climbs on the bus, surrounded by men brandishing sticks of greasy meat ‘muchomo.’
“They wanted to drive without you” the girl next to me says as I squeeze myself back into my seat. (I’m sure the legroom has shrunk while I was behind that bush).
Back on the bus from Kampala to Kigali, Rwanda’s capital, we wind through the lush green hills and villages up to the border. I gaze out of the window. Matoke, matoke, matoke, as far as the eye can see. A young child in pink gum boots plays with a long stick in the mud. Two women walk across a field, bundles of babies tied around their middles, little feet sticking out either side of their waist. Too cute!
We slow to negotiate the slippery marram dirt roads and here – in the middle of nowhere and then a bit – a traffic jam! Bored, I jump out of the bus to stretch my legs, not realising the disaster that lies ahead of us. I march down towards the crowd by the river and 200 people turn around to me. I approach, camera in hand.
“Are you the photographer?” everyone asks as the Muzungu surveys the scene: a flooded river and an overturned truck, blocking the road to Rwanda. International Super Highway? Judge for yourself.
An employment opportunity presents itself: “Muzungu, I carry you for 1000 shillings!”
No mate, you have to pay ME for that particular public humiliation. (The thought of all those people laughing at the Muzungu being carried across the river, I don’t think so!) Oh what a spoilsport the Muzungu is, denying the villagers a good laugh…
They want me to believe how easy it will be to get a boda boda to the border a few kilometres away then jump on another bus at the border. I’m not rushing; I’m here to watch how this one unfolds.
We hang around eating huge chunks of fresh jackfruit (only 200 shillings in this part of the world!) as men unload the useless sodden bags of cement from the overturned lorry. “At least they can’t steal it!” Someone says.
I prepare for a night on the bus. Many people have abandoned ship and opted for the 1000 shilling piggyback ride but I stretch out on three seats. I’ve had three hours sleep the night before, sharing a single bed with a visiting onion farmer, and now it’s time for a zizz. Who cares if we’ll be eaten alive overnight by mosquitoes if we stay here next to the swamp? For now I’m in luxury!
To lose three hours in Africa is nothing, and I’m surprised (disappointed?) when from my slumber I hear a huge cheer as the lorry is winched back upright.
Time to move.
As we approach the border, a few minutes later, a man next to me opens a photo album of identity cards and ponders: “Tonight Matthew I’m going to be…” (a joke for the Brits, sorry…)
A man in an ill-fitting suit carries just one possession, his Kinyarwanda English dictionary.
At immigration, I ingratiate myself with every staff member, regardless of their nationality, in the hope they’ll remember my smiling Muzungu face upon my return.
I panic when I hear the revving of a bus engine. Perhaps the bus driver really does mean to leave me behind this time? And I recognise our luggage, strewn under a tree, bags being searched – not for bombs – but for cavera (plastic bags), illegal in Rwanda. I’m very nicely ordered to jettison mine, ready for the next adventure: Rwanda!
Here are a few of my travel tips for bus travel from Kampala to Kigali:
- Don’t trust the driving skills of a man who puts all his faith in God, sorry. ‘Inshallah’ written in huge letters on the front window just doesn’t cut it with me: have some driving lessons and DRIVE CAREFULLY!
- Use Jaguar Executive Coaches, they have a pretty good reputation. The bus from Kampala to Kigali is just 40,000 shillings (£10 / $15). Buy the day before or just before departure. Early booking means you can choose your seat (recommended!) On my return bus from Kigali to Kampala, I used Baby Coach, same price, and even paid in Uganda shillings (ask to be taken to the little office in the back streets).
- Where to sit in the bus: don’t even think of sitting over the back wheels. The Muzungu has endured this experience so you don’t have to! Read ‘Kampala to Nairobi by bus: 14 hours of speed humps‘ for the reasons why.
- Does the bus have curtains? If not, you might want to sit on the side away from the sun or you’ll get burned, or at least uncomfortably hot.
- Always take mosquito repellent – you never know when you might need it.
- Always bring more water than you need – you never know where you’re going to end up!
- Bring water but try not to drink it! Drink maximum one small bottle I’d say. Apart from the unplanned stop and the border, we only stopped very briefly twice in eight plus hours of travel.
- Bring that horrible disinfectant hand gel stuff. If you’re lucky enough to find any real toilets en route, they are grim / have no running water.
- Take ear plugs and/or music. You might enjoy the person behind you singing loudly to their radio? I don’t.
For more of the Muzungu moaning about fellow travelers, read A short-tempered muzungu flies to Istanbul - (one of my most popular posts incidentally!)