POV

Global Odyssey: Motorcycle Ride Through East Africa (Part 2), Tanzania to Uganda

Our friend Eric Hill has a mission: “To visit all 194 U.N. recognized countries in world record time and film and document the exciting journey to show that awesome exists in EVERY country, especially with the people.” Eric’s journey will be one of full cultural immersion, while simultaneously raising funds and awareness in partnership with a variety of charity organizations. CBK will be reporting on his progress as he moves along. Check in next time for another tale from a great adventure.

Story and photos by Eric Hill - http://gowitheric.com

Source: Eric Hill www.gowitheric.com

Courtesy of Eric Hill

Courtesy of Eric Hill

I woke somewhat violently to the rooster yelling in my ear from less than a foot away… for the second time in Africa. So, for the second time in a couple weeks, Kyle and I began our day by laughing almost to tears. All the chicken did was look at us with its big dumb eyes and crow again. Luckily it was already getting light and Kyle and I needed an early start if we were going to get all the way to Burundi in time. After sharing some milk tea with the witch doctor and his family, we said our goodbyes and headed off across the savannah in the morning light toward Burundi.

Courtesy of Eric Hill

Courtesy of Eric Hill

We crossed into Burundi by a small remote border crossing. The man that was there was so drunk we had to wait for another guy to get across legally. After a somewhat long ordeal, we were allowed to continue down the dirt road that crossed the border and were welcomed into the country by heard of cows with the biggest horns I’d ever seen. Weaving in and out of cows and herders made this clearly feel like I was out of the states.

Courtesy of Eric Hill

Courtesy of Eric Hill

We stopped to ask for directions from some field-worker families along the way, but once again we didn’t speak a word of each other’s language. The Swahili and Maasai words we had learned did us no good with the French and Kirundi Burundians speak. We exchanged some smiles and I shared some crackers I had (the last snacks I had packed) and moved on.

Courtesy of Eric Hill

Courtesy of Eric Hill

Originally we had no plans to go into Bujumbura, the capital city, but we were running low on cash, food and gas, and the only place to get cash to solve the other problems was in Bujumbura. The whole way there was beautiful, changing from dirt roads through rolling-hilled farmland to paved, winding roads through lush green mountains. The air was perfect for riding and I even donned a light jacket at the tops of the mountains.

Courtesy of Eric Hill

Courtesy of Eric Hill

Bujumbura, however, was a crowded, hot and muggy city. Plus, riding got more and more difficult in the city because every time we stopped, we were bombarded by crowds of people flocking to stare at the muzungus on motorcycles. I’d say it was something like being a rock star, but it wasn’t. It was more like being a weird animal or alien, or something. People would walk right up; mouths open, and just stare… Sometimes even touch and poke at us and the bikes as if to make sure we were real. Apparently two white dudes on motorcycles in Burundi is unusual.

Courtesy of Eric Hill

Courtesy of Eric Hill

I liked the people all the same, but I wanted to get back to the beautiful mountains. That wasn’t in the cards yet. We found out the hard way that US cards do not work in any bank or ATM there. We were out of food, out of gas; we had a hotel bill we couldn’t pay and only seventy cents worth of Burundi currency. Long story short, I managed to finagle a visa cash advance through Barclay’s Bank, and we were able to get the cash, get our passports (held for ransom at the hotel), get some food, and get back to the mountains by the afternoon.

Courtesy of Eric Hill

Courtesy of Eric Hill

Freedom again! We rode until it started to get dark and arrived, dusty and tired, at a little piece of heaven in Banga, Burundi. The Banga guesthouse we stumbled upon was a converted convent that rented rooms. I got a big room with a balcony for about ten dollars per night and ate French inspired local food until I was stuffed for five bucks. I was tempted to stay forever, but after a couple of days working, hanging out with the locals and relaxing, we headed up to Rwanda.

Courtesy of Eric Hill

Courtesy of Eric Hill

At the border we met a twenty-three year old guy named Francis who completely changed our original plans for Rwanda, for the better. He had been orphaned by the Rwandan genocide and had overcome some serious challenges to become a successful student. He introduced us to his classmate Jean-Vierre and they invited us to stay with them and their families to experience the “real Rwanda”.

Courtesy of Eric Hill

Courtesy of Eric Hill

We stayed in their families’ humble homes in what they said was the “ghetto of Kigali”. We shared meals with them and the guys even became some kind of tour guides for us. I often feel like museums are experiences I could have through an encyclopedia or something, but going to this genocide memorial museum with our friends that were affected directly by it in such a big way was a much more touching experience.

Courtesy of Eric Hill

Courtesy of Eric Hill

We had a bit of a solemn walk back to the neighborhood before we headed to a local park to find a game of football (soccer) with the locals. It was what we needed to remind ourselves of how far the country had come since the genocide and changed the mood of the day. Former Hutus and Tutsis on the same soccer teams all playing together; it was very cool to see.

Courtesy of Eric Hill

Courtesy of Eric Hill

Kyle and I spent our last night where we had the last two, on our sleeping pads we brought, on the ground of an empty home (basically a shed) that one of Jean-Vierre’s family members had just moved out of. I took a “shower” in the morning with a bowl full of water and a sock for a rag dipped in the bowl. Then we all hiked out of the neighborhood to fetch our bikes stored at a friend’s place of business.

Courtesy of Eric Hill

Courtesy of Eric Hill

Once again, we had to say goodbye to our friends and we headed towards Uganda. It was sad to see the reflections of those two getting smaller and smaller in the shaking rearview mirror on my motorcycle. I wasn’t sure when I would ever see them again. This is how my life is all the time though, so I have to shove those thoughts away for now if I am going to continue on.

Courtesy of Eric Hill

Courtesy of Eric Hill

Uganda was full of adventure. I had my first experience of crossing the equator by land, so, of course, I flipped, walked on my hands, jumped, cartwheeled, even leapfrogged back and forth from one hemisphere to the next, solid check mark on the ol’ bucket list. With only one other stop to buy some dried Nile perch on the side of the road, we booked it to Kampala so we could meet our contact Jash Mutabs before dark.

Courtesy of Eric Hill

Courtesy of Eric Hill

Reaching the edge of the city was a breeze, but trying to get to the center on time to the rendezvous point ended up becoming my favorite challenge so far. Traffic was nuts! No rules, no signals, no way we were going to get there in time… Not if I could help it. Life quickly became a like video game and we bobbed and weaved through traffic like I never thought was possible when we first hit the gridlock.

Courtesy of Eric Hill

Courtesy of Eric Hill

We made it with time to spare and solidified the plans for the next few days. After a night staying at Jash’s place, we headed to Jinja for some adrenaline. That morning we piled our bike driver, our bags and both Kyle and I onto one bike to get to our bus we’d be taking to Jinja. We traveled to the city center over giant potholes and crazy traffic on the heavily overloaded bike and managed to get to the shuttle bus from Nile River Explorers with one minute to spare.

Courtesy of Eric Hill

Courtesy of Eric Hill

After some tasty breakfast was provided, we headed to the shores of the Nile upstream from the five sets of rapids we’d be blasting through. For being my first time touching the Nile River, I sure touched a lot of it. Kyle and I shared the raft with some very incapable guests, so the boat ended up flipping over during three of the five rapids… Which I didn’t mind at all. I figured I was already in the rapids without a boat anyway, why not take the boogie board I had and shoot two of the rapids with no boat at all? It was a great idea. I never thought a day earlier that I would be shooting class five rapids on a little boogie board!

Courtesy of Eric Hill

Courtesy of Eric Hill

We stayed in a camp with Nile River Explorers that night then woke up the next morning for some paddle boarding in the Nile, rope-swinging with some local kids, and, biggest of all, some bungee jumping with Nile High Bungee. I flipped, dipped and jumped until I had to leave back for Kampala. I did five bungee jumps, but if I had more time, I would have kept going.

Courtesy of Eric Hill

Courtesy of Eric Hill

Somehow we managed to make it all the way back to Kampala and then to Entebbe by about midnight. We met up with our buddy Sam, who would take care of us the next few days. We met his family, stayed in his home and shared meals his wife cooked. I really felt like a Ugandan. Besides a great host, Sam was our contact at TASO Entebbe, a clinic for the support and treatment of those affected by HIV. He is a counselor there and arranged for me to learn about the clinic and work there as well.

Courtesy of Eric Hill

Courtesy of Eric Hill

I helped out in the children’s center, packed anti-retrovirus drugs and got a better understanding of how the whole operation worked. It was clear that this is very efficient operation for Africa and the patients there seemed so grateful for it as well. What really pulled some heartstrings was what I experienced that night. After TASO closed, we visited some folks that were too sick to come into the clinic. I met a fifteen year-old boy that looked no older than eight or nine because of what HIV had done to him. He was frail, emaciated and not reacting to the medication. He was dying. I haven’t been around death much in my life, so an experience like this is really hard for me to wrap my head around. I had some trouble sleeping that night. It was such a change in life perspective from two days earlier. I went from risking my life on purpose for the experience to working with an organization desperately trying to save lives. It was a contradiction that I’m still processing.

Courtesy of Eric Hill

Courtesy of Eric Hill

The next day we lightened the mood again by visiting Ngamba Island, a Chimpanzee Sanctuary & Wildlife Conservation Trust (aka Chimp Island). I got to hang out with the rescued chimps for the day and enjoy the incredibly beautiful natural surroundings. I was afraid it was going to be just like a zoo, but with the natural habitat for the apes and the interaction we got to have with them, it turned out to be a much more fulfilling experience than I expected. They were so human like, so curious. It was a great last day in Uganda.

Courtesy of Eric Hill

Courtesy of Eric Hill

To top off the whole motorcycle journey through East Africa, we were able to find buyers for the two bikes the last day and make the transaction before we had to leave for South Sudan the next morning. First of all, I couldn’t believe these little 150cc Chinese bikes made it! Second, I couldn’t believe they were in such good condition that we could sell them at almost no loss. It would have been worth it though, even if we had lost a bunch. Those bikes allowed us to have an experience I couldn’t have dreamed of. There was a bit of an emotional roller-coaster along the way, but I was thankful for it all. They say all is well that ends well. But, of course, it’s better when it’s good the whole time.

Courtesy of Eric Hill

Courtesy of Eric Hill

Source: Eric Hill www.gowitheric.com

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