Uganda: Bicycle Tour Travel Guide
by David Mozer
From the earliest contacts with Europeans, Uganda was recognized for its smoothly running, centralized political structure. It had visible executive, legislative and judicial functions, with titles and ceremony. The society was divided into recognizable strata. The Buganda's ruler, or "Kabaka", was selected by the parliament, or "Lukiiko". The Lukiiko exercised real power within a system of checks and balances.
As a society, the Baganda were industrious, energetic and intelligent. In 1892, Captain JRL MacDonald, the leader of the survey party for the Mombasa Kampala railroad, wrote "Every chief considers it a disgrace not to be able to read and write." Sir Harry Johnston, one of the colony's first governors, called the Baganda, "The Japanese of Africa."
Long before the arrival of Europeans, if a Muganda wanted to visit a distant village, he usually traveled on a well built road that was kept in constant repair. His home was a spacious, beehive shaped bungalow. Upper class residences would have a number of bungalows and several courtyards.
Clothes in Uganda were tailored from fig tree bark ("Back Trees") that had been beaten with grooved mallets to produce the look of felt and the texture of silk. In commenting on the construction of clothing the explorer Speke wrote, "They were sewn together as well as any English glover could have pieced them."
Ugandan music was the most sophisticated in Africa. Orchestras included harps, xylophones, flutes, horns and a proliferation of drums tuned to every note in the scale. Uganda's religion is described as bearing a resemblance to the pantheism of Greece and Rome.
Charles Miller describes the turn of the century Uganda as "set in a diadem of roller-coaster hills, spattered with the glowing embers of tropical flowers, brightened with clouds of butterflies and sweetened with the conversation of a million tropical birds." Speke wrote, "I was immensely struck with its excessive beauty ... wherever I strolled I saw nothing but richness." Churchill called Uganda, simply, "the pearl of Africa."
At independence it was essentially voted "the most likely to succeed," of its East Africa partners. As you probably know, the pearl didn't glow for long after that. But it is now time to revisit Uganda. Uganda is no longer a war ravaged nation ruled by fear. Security, both physical and psychological, has been restored, the economy has been liberalized, the army integrated, a new constitution in 1995, a plethora of international development organizations scurry around in their 4x4s and in the last several years Kampala has hosted a stream of international meetings.
The ease of travel in Uganda has improved dramatically in the last few years. Foreign aid since the end of the civil war has rebuilt many of the roads. (Uganda also has a train system that serves most regions, but it has not been totally rehabilitated and currently is reliably unreliable.)
Most people will find the western side and southwest corner of the country the most varied and interesting experience. Many areas are spectacularly beautiful. At the top of the list of attractions is exploring the Fort Portal, Ruwenzori and Kabale/Kisoro areas. But be prepared for long climbs in these areas!
There are two main roads to these areas from Kampala so you can make a loop. Due west out of Kampala the road is hilly and paved to Mubende, a two day ride. West of Mubende there is 130km of winding, rutted, hilly dirt road (straightening and paving is due to be finished by 2003). There are buses that pass Mubende in the morning and arrive in Fort Portal at midday. From Fort Portal, side trips can be made to Kibale National Park (primate watching) and the Semliki valley. Between Ft. Portal and Kibale there is a string of crater lakes. A couple of campsites have been developed on the lakes. Utilizing a combination of secondary roads and village trails you can make for some beautiful touring loops in this area.
South of Fort Portal the road is paved to Mbarara. Convenient overnight stops can be made in Hima or Kasese, Kyambura and Ishaka.
Southwest from Kampala the road is paved to Masaka, Mbarara and Kibale. The intermediate towns with accommodations in each section are Buwama, Lyantonde and Ntungamo. (This is the route for commercial and humanitarian relief supplies to neighboring landlocked areas so there is a lot of heavy truck traffic.) From Mbarara the road climbs most of the way to Kibale, except for a final descent into town. It is the hills to the southwest, west and northwest of Kibale that have some of the most spectacular cycling scenery in Uganda. If you pick a route that passes through Rukungiri you can't go wrong.
East of Kampala the roads are also paved to Tororo, the frontier with Kenya. Again, this is the international truck route, so it is not always a pleasant cycling experience. But finding food and lodging should be no problem.
To the north of Kampala the road has also been improved. The distances between services are longer and the landscape is more homogeneous.
There are small hotels in towns around the country, but many fell into disrepair during the decades of instability. Until there is further improvement in the economy and this trickles down to the hoteliers so they can begin repairing their property, expect very simple conditions. Carry your own mosquito net, such as a "Travel Tent" or "Skeeter Defeater". More information on this product is available from Long Road Travel Supplies, 1-800-359-6040 or 1-510-540-4763 or [email protected] or www.longroad.com/ .
A special place to spend a few days and superb example of community and cultural tourism, if you are near Fort Portal, Uganda, is the Mpora Rural Family. This is an orphanage that offers a relaxing and beautiful setting, the experience of African home life, simple clean accommodations or camping, three meals a day, excursions and educational opportunities and a group of kids that will melt your heart. Beside you will have the wonderful feeling that your money is directly supporting a very worthy program.
To get there, take the road to the Kichwamba - Semliki Valley Road from Fort Port, 15km to the Kichwamba Technical College. Enter the college and follow the track through the campus, bearing right at the "Y's". After 1km you will have passed all the buildings and housing for the college and there will be a wide dirt track on the left. Take this track to the very end, about 1km and you will have arrived at Mpora Rural Family.
Contact: Morence Mpora, PO Box 317, Fort Portal. Tel: 566-77-474010. Fax: 256-483-22636. Email: [email protected]
For more information on Uganda see the publication Bicycle Touring In Malawi/Tanzania/Uganda.
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