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No hurry in Africa – bus Kampala to Kigali

Apr 27 • 4072 views • 18 Comments Adventure, Africa, African bus journeys, Diary of a Muzungu, East Africa, Road trip, Rwanda, Travel, Travel tips and advice, Uganda

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!]

Just don't sit on the back seat! Bus from Kampala to Kigali

Just don’t sit on the back seat! Bus from Kampala to Kigali. Jaguar Executive Coaches

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.

Overturned lorry. bus from Kampala to Kigali

200 people turn to stare at the Muzungu. I will never be embarrassed at people staring at me again

“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.

bus from Kampala to Kigali

The road had been washed away and the lorry full of cement had overturned…

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!

No hurry in Africa. bus from Kampala to Kigali

No hurry in Africa… killing time before we get back on the bus from Kampala to Kigali

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!

 For more dramatic photos of the scene that greeted us, see the Diary of a Muzungu Facebook album.

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!)

Do you have any bus travel tips to share? I’d love to hear them!

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18 Responses to No hurry in Africa – bus Kampala to Kigali

  1. On my recent bus ride from Kampala towards Nairobi the co-driver gathered up all the rubbish in the bus and jettisoned it out the leftside window. I gasped in horror and he said a bit sheepishly.. ‘Well I couldn’t throw it out the other side as there is traffic coming’.

    • the muzungu says:

      Christine, that’s so awful, it’s funny! you can’t do that in Rwanda and get away with it. I did notice my Rwandese friends wouldn’t dare do anything like that but when we got to Burundi, they started chucking rubbish out of the window again! It just shows us humans do what we can get away with!

  2. Celestine says:

    Hi Cha! I love your stories. This one is just off the hook! I particularly like the “privacy in the bush when you went for a short call”. It’s funny but true.

  3. lizziema says:

    How did I rear a daughter such as you? You put me to shame with your stoiscism. Have I spelt that correctly? You know I like a regular hourly stop……

    • the muzungu says:

      stoicism…
      Making the most of the dirt cheap transport system requires a particular mindset. And a recovery time of a couple of days! I think it took me two days to recover from the 20 hour journey back: Bujumbura to Kigali (8 hours in very comfortable Landcruiser) then a sweaty overnight bus from Kigali back to Kampala (10 huors). Hardly slept a wink. There were few seats left so rather than sit over the back wheels, I was wedged in bank of 3 seats. My shoulders were wedged solid between 2 men, to the point I got shoulder ache, neckache and backache! It was rather a weird experience. Then had a huge party that night, a send-off run for our Hasher friend. My body ground to a halt at 1:30 AM! Took me another day to recover.. As I write today, now recovering from the wedding itself! Look out for a Royal wedding blog soon. Amazing day.

  4. Michael Beck says:

    Wonderful story! Thanks for the tips, very useful!

  5. Dominic says:

    Hi Cha, the journey by bus to Kigali fro K’la is so hectic that at one time you don’t like any one on the bus.
    Surely, the driver has no sympathy for sick people, say, the diabetics who need to empty their bladder more regularly.
    The driver will stop to buy matooke for his trade back to K’la at the cost of time of passengers.
    And for this, he will never apologise for the unnecessary delays.
    Remember, there is even a large post behind the driver’s seat indicating so many points one of them not to have unnecessary stops and waste of time on the way.
    It is not a cherished journey.

    • the muzungu says:

      Hi Dominic, you’re right, these bus journeys are a bit of an endurance test! Travelling by day is definitely better because at least you can look out of the window. I like the idea of sleeping through the night but it just wasn’t possible on the return journey. I’d forgotten how many millions of speed bumps there are to wake you up every time you doze off!
      I don’t even want to think about how awful some of these drivers are but, to be fair, I had no problems at all on this trip. (Even if the bus did apparently want to to drive off without me!) I thought the staff checking tickets etc were courteous enough.

  6. Nicole Webb says:

    Great reading! Reminds me of my travels throughout Kenya! Being a ‘Muzungu’ prepared me for being a Guailo in Hong Kong! ;)

    • the muzungu says:

      Hi Nicole, yes I think bus journeys in Kenya and Uganda are pretty similar – always lots to see / hear / smell! Hmmmm a Guailo, that’s a new one on me. Did you get called it when you walk down the street in HK?

  7. Luca says:

    We went to visit our son in Soroti in April, and we did the transfer Kampala-Soroti-Kampala via PostBus.
    I fully share your advice about NOT sitting on the rear wheels (we did) and to sit away from the sun. Although we didn’t have any major issues with the trip, 11 hours were way too many for us. I was sitting in a middle seat and here is the fat lady who sat near me (and on me) for about 6 hours: http://on.fb.me/16DY0Tj

    • the muzungu says:

      Hi Luca, that photo is brilliant! I can see she shared half of your seat too! There’s no room for ‘personal body space’ issues on an African bus journey! How was Soroti? What is your son doing there?

  8. PA says:

    Another great travelogue Cha. I was with you at every turn for a while there and not totally envious I must say! Ear plugs yes, maybe nose and other plugs too?! My back hurts just reading about that bus trip/nightmare. What a soft life we lead in the UK! Glad no-one hurt in the lorry capsize BTW. Great pictures and love reading the other comments too. Mum may not be able to spell stoicism but we are both amazed at your fortitude. The BBC World Service awaits your talents! XXXPA

  9. [...] you like African bus journey tales, you might enjoy No hurry in Africa: on board the bus Kampala to Kigali and Kampala to Nairobi – 14 hours of speed [...]

  10. [...] – or simply want to have a more African experience – there’s a good selection of bus services running several times a day from Kampala to Kigali. Smaller buses then go north to Musanze, from where you can take a car or motorbike taxi onto Le [...]

  11. […] Apr 27 › No hurry in Africa – bus Kampala to Kigali » […]

  12. […] Apr 27 › No hurry in Africa – bus Kampala to Kigali » […]

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