On the Road…And on the Side of the Road

Saturday, we had an early start for a long drive. Ali gave a lift to Matthew, a manager at the lodge who was getting some time off at home, which was Kebale, our destination. He had been at the Murchison lodge for 3 months straight.

We had gone maybe 10 miles, quite fast over bumpy dirt roads, when the steering failed again in the predawn darkness. Ali and Matthew got out and started looking under the car. I got out our flashlights and gave to them. They shooed me back into the car, saying “we don’t trust this place”. It was a tall grass area with potential for predators and snakes. They tried tightening the steering bolt that had caused trouble a few days earlier, but couldn’t get it. So Ali drove slowly to the ferry across the Nile and on the other side was the Uganda Wildlife Authority garage.

This was as much a junkyard as a garage. Ali’s bolt that held the steering together was stripped. There were several Toyota trucks in the graveyard, but none were a close enough match. So a committee of mechanics decided the best approach would be to weld the bolt in place. They did, pronounced the truck as fixed, and we continued, having lost only about 90 minutes.

For the next 7 hours, we drove on roads of varying quality, mostly under construction, with the associated red dust. There were many crews doing excellent work, lots of concrete drainage, wide roadbed, careful grading. Much better than the pathetic road building we saw in Ethiopia. Clearly, the Chinese are playing a big role in Uganda’s infrastructure upgrade. Seems like a much more long range strategy than our past efforts in Africa which were pretty much limited to building a copper smelter that US mining interests could use to steal the resources, kicking back some pennies to corrupt dictators.

Ali drives too fast. He hit 70mph on the asphalt roads, 50 through towns, 50 on dirt roads. He is a precise and skilled driver. Fortunately for everyone, Chip gave me an indigenous tobacco charm for protection while traveling. It’s range is pretty good, it’s saved two lives for sure and has kept countless other pedestrians safe from Ali’s zeal.

We stopped for lunch, after most of the construction. While we were eating, Ali took the car to get washed inside and out. Our backpacks, which were under seats, not near any open windows were covered in red dust.

As we progressed, the landscape got greener. We passed huge tea plantations and a couple of prosperous towns. In the late afternoon, we arrived at the Kibale Forest Lodge, our home for the evening. The place is really nice, but WiFi is limited. No wifi Monday or Tuesday.