Uganda Day 1: Kampala

In Africa, Culture, Explore, Mtb, Uganda by Steve

The Adventure Begins

I knew that the trip was going to be long, however what the mind understands and what the body endures are often at odds with each other. Mentally you can prepare for a 24+ hour flight but if you aren’t conditioned to sit upright for that long you begin to get a bit delirious. Our destination was Kampala, Uganda but that was a long way from our starting point in Vancouver, BC, Canada.

The flight was 3 legs: Vancouver to Calgary, Calgary to Amsterdam, and finally, Amsterdam to Entebbe, Uganda. Our layovers were just short enough to where any naps in between would only make for a more groggy connection. Pat, my travel companion and the person who spearheaded this whole trip, had a few sleeping pills he got from his last trip to Uganda. I fought the feeling for a bit on the leg to Amsterdam but before I knew it I was out, and the flight was nearing its end. But when we got to Amsterdam we were only halfway.

Amsterdam is a busy airport, but all airports are pretty much the same. I wish I could say that I experienced the city, but that will have to wait until I fly back home. This time around we only had a couple hours. So we changed planes and headed on our final leg. It was fairly uneventful, which I suppose is a good thing these days.

Touchdown in Entebbe

We landed around 10pm. I was in the middle of the plane so any first impressions would have to wait until we were out on the ground. The only thing that I wasn’t prepared for—albeit a very welcome surprise—was how all the signs were in English. Chalk it up to Western ignorance to not realize that everyone spoke English.

Pat had arranged for his friend Jude to pick us up, however he had not yet arrived as we were about half an hour early. We got in touch with him and soon enough he arrived. As we began to load our luggage, we realized we didn’t have any rope to tie our 2 gigantic bike boxes to the roof. Jude said he would find some, but came up empty handed when one of the taxi drivers wanted too much money.

And so began my first lesson: simply by being white, you are immediately judged as being rich in Africa. Some bystanders helped us with loading our bike boxes on the roof—actually just one of them did while the other two stood around but they still put their hand out expecting us to give them money. On one hand it’s pretty annoying, on the other hand it’s understandable when $2 US is considered a good day’s wage.

pat montani holding the bike boxes

Pat Montani doubling as tie-down straps for our bike boxes as we leave Entebbe Airport

Since we couldn’t find any rope, Pat stood out of the sunroof and held on to the boxes until we found a gas station a few miles down and bought some rope from a guy outside. With that we were on our way and Jude dropped us off at the hotel, agreeing to pick us up in the morning.

Kampala

Our hotel was nice even for western standards.  The rooftop cafe had a buffet breakfast that I took full advantage of after 24 hours of airline meals. Watching the sun come up gave a great perspective of the city, with a smoky haze giving that type of glory light that you can’t buy or fake in a studio.

Golden hour in the morning at Kampala

Golden hour in the morning at Kampala

Jude showed up on time and we began our mission of crisscrossing the city accomplishing tasks that Pat set out to do. I was along for the ride to take in the sights and sounds of a massive city.

The beginning of the rush hour that doesn't stop until after dark

The beginning of the rush hour that doesn’t stop until after dark

The morning rush hour begins just as the sun came up.

The morning rush hour begins just as the sun came up.

Driving through the streets was hectic but Jude was a pro at this… How we or anyone else around us didn’t get into an accident was beyond impressive. There was very little order, or so it seemed… somehow people regulated themselves in taking turns and giving way to create some sort of melodic symphony of chaotic order.

Men at work

Men at work

Pat had a rotary meeting at the Sheraton hotel and so the rest of us waited and I enjoyed my second buffet of the day. Being used to moving around I ate more than I should have; I forgot that I spent the past 48 hours practically sitting on a plane and now in a car driving around the city. A mixture of jet lag and overeating put me into a state of exhaustion; if it were up to me I would have checked into a hotel room and signed off for the rest of the day. But I held it together somehow, getting to know Jude and another guy Moses who made the journey down from Lira in the north just to meet with Pat for the day and talk business opportunities.

The Bike Shop

After Pat’s 2.5 hour meeting we set off again – this time to one of the only—if not the only—bike shops in Kampala. The double-stacked shipping containers made for the headquarters of Gorilla bikes, the only high-end mountain bike brand in Uganda. Straight out of China, these bikes were a bit ahead of the game as far as what the market was looking for here in Uganda. But the crew was coming north to Karamoja the next week to join us on the Tour of Karamoja—a bike event that Pat organized with Paul Sherwen, a world-famous cyclist best known as a former racer on the Tour de France and one of the current commentators for the circuit’s broadcast.

The bike shop in Kampala

The bike shop in Kampala

Making friends, sealing deals

Making friends, sealing deals

It’s an interesting time, seeing a sport that I know and love so well begin to sprout on another continent. Next we head north to Karamoja where I will spend a month working with the locals to develop some mountain bike trails and teach them the skills necessary to do the job on their own when I leave. I can’t say I’ve done anything like this before; It’s all uncharted territory. But I can’t describe the level of excitement and nerves running through me, I needed to do something outside the comfort zone for a while and change my perspective a bit. It will be quite the month ahead.

Food for Thought

Food for Thought