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Encounters in the bush

Up until ten years ago, there was a cruel civil war in Uganda. With his Enduro, Hartmut Ponitz has now discovered an attractive travel destination between Lake Victoria in the south and the Nile waterfalls in the north.

Hartmut Ponitz


It’s raining cats and dogs. Finally, thick fog only gives an idea of ​​the course of the road in the direction of Unganda. I spent the last three weeks in Kenya’s capital Nairobi and read in the newspapers that traffic accidents on this route kill ten people almost every day. And despite the storm, cars, trucks and fully occupied matatus, as the taxis in Kenya are called, rush past me at full throttle. Overtaking is always done, even in front of steep mountain tops or in blind bends. Mile after mile, I fight my way across the slippery asphalt, totally soaked, my motto is simply to endure. Finally the border to Uganda. The officers wave me through completely unbureaucratically. Just as quickly I make my way north to Mbale, where I have an appointment with employees of a development aid project. I am interested in their reconstruction work in a country where, up to ten years ago, under the terror regimes of Idi Amin and Milton Obote, there was almost twenty years of civil war that plunged the country into complete caos. But Uganda recovered relatively quickly under the new President Museveni, the political structures are considered stable and the government’s economic efforts are guaranteeing better living conditions for a large part of the population. A few days later I meet Wayenga at Lake Kyoga. The teacher makes money for his school by organizing sporting events and concerts. Today there is a female wrestling match. The participants appear in colorful clothes, many of them even bring their babies with them, who are given a box seat in the grass on the edge of the small sports field. The first two women stand up and seconds later they spin each other through the air until the first is on her back. A lot of fun for everyone involved. The next morning Wayenga and I drive across the country and stop in front of a small hut that stands in the middle of a field and the roof of which is heavy smoke. “This is our local Waragi distillery, they brew schnapps from bananas or sugar cane.” Wayenga leads me into the hut and I have to try a glass – and literally become a fire eater. The stuff is an estimated 80 percent alcohol. I buy a liter of the brew for a dollar, but I don’t dare drink it. However, it is ideal for cleaning the chain. A few days later I make my way south to the capital Kampala and from there on to Lake Victoria, the banks of which remind me in places of the Italian Riviera. I spot a couple of fishermen at a jetty and just sit down next to them. But they are also curious and invite me to dinner. After a while the ice broke and they bombard me with questions: »Do you also have such large lakes in Germany? Are there also bush landscapes with you? How much tax do you have to pay? Do you have drinking water problems? What is family life like? What is growing in your fields? What kind of work do you earn your money with? Some of my answers make people shake their heads – or they laugh. To my great surprise, the fishermen finally invite me to accompany them on their next trip in the boat, which starts at around 7 a.m. the next evening. The outboard takes us a few miles from shore, then the three fishermen cast their nets and prepare for the night. They say that they always spend the night in a boat on the lake because otherwise their nets would be stolen. At some point we come to the war in the neighboring country of Rwanda, and they report that they discovered up to 300 corpses a day floating on the lake, including many children and women. At five o’clock the next morning the night is over. The boat is enclosed by long aquatic plants, and hauling in the nets is extremely difficult. Only after three hours are all the nets back in the boat, but the yield is meager: 27 fish that only bring good income on the market for the owner of the boat who is already waiting in the harbor. The fishermen only get ten dollars per person for their nightly work. Back in Kampala, from where I start west to Lyantonde. The route is tough. I am crossing a marshland where the British fought against the Baganda people in colonial times. The Baganda named one of these swamps “Kata Wazungu”, which means “kill white people”. The British suffered heavy losses in this area, and whoever survived the attacks by the Baganda, killed off malaria or poisonous snakes. Suddenly a truck thunders past me, I estimate at a speed of 130 or more. To add a little variety to the monotonous driving, I accept the challenge and chase after it. I shoot past him on the next uphill climb. The two faces in the driver’s cab are grinning at me. Downhill I then give everything, the speedometer needle shows 150, but the rolling scrap is still getting closer and closer. We race head and head along the asphalt road to the next incline, where I hang him up again – a game that is repeated several times up to the first gas station in Masaka. In addition to the gas pumps, the two of them finally congratulate me on winning the race. “It must be the mother of all motorcycles,” says one of them, pointing to the Suzuki – there wouldn’t be a motorcycle with that much displacement in all of Uganda. Arriving in Lyantonde, I meet Nasasira. At that time he fought with the current President Museveni against Idi Amin and Milton Obote. He and the president belong to the Bahima people, who live as semi-nomadic cattle breeders in the south of the country. Together we want to drive to his hut, which is far out in the bush on a small hill. The last 20 kilometers of slopes before Nasasira’s home will take me. With the heavily loaded Suzuki I dig my way through the deep sand more right than badly. But Nasasiras had already warned me. “We have mambas, cobras and a high AIDS rate, but if you should die with us, it will only be because you will break your neck with your 600.” He might be right. In any case, he’s much quicker than me on his 125cc. Tea is immediately brewed as a greeting. Grace, Nasasira’s wife, pours a brown broth from a canister into the saucepan. “This is our drinking water,” grins Nasasira, “but don’t worry, we always boil it first.” But already after the first cup we are back on the road. Nasasria wants to show me his herd of cattle and leads me to one of the few watering holes in the bush. After a few kilometers we reach the area where 500 to 600 cattle are already jostling. Meter by meter we push our way through the huge herd to the basin of the watering hole. There is complete caos here. The thirsty critters with horns that are meter high on their heads are like crazy the closer they get to the water. With their hooves they stir up vast amounts of dust, and the noise is infanalic. A crazy spectacle. When we get back to Nasasira’s hut, a neighbor is already waiting for him. She explains that her son stole two cattle from her last night. Now she wants to know from Nasasiras how to behave. After she leaves, Nasasiras explains that this woman’s problem is not an isolated one. “Many men in the country are now unemployed and not infrequently become alcoholics and cattle thieves who even steal cattle from their families’ herds to sell somewhere.” . That is different today, because the former foreign rulers have not only drawn new borders, but also changed social structures. Today the woman would have to go to the police in Lyantonde, and the officers would first collect a lot of money before doing anything. “If they catch the thief, they let him run again for more money, report him as fugitive and sell the cows back to the woman – our whole system is totally corrupt.” Nasasira was really furious. “We have people in the government who have studied in Europe, but who have never been with their compatriots in the bush and now still want to explain to us how we should live.” He shakes his head, no, Uganda is also Long after the end of the terrible civil war, a lot of things went wrong. During my days at Nasasira I also get to know Joyce, a funny and very self-confident woman who tells me why so many women are so incredibly fat: “To please men, because A beautiful woman with us must be tall, have white teeth and flat breasts, and become very broad at the bottom. ”Shortly before the wedding, she continues, women would then drink 20 to 30 liters of milk a day in order to later achieve the ideal of beauty correspond to. I look at Nasasira in disbelief: “You fatten your women like your cattle?” – “You could say that,” he replies, unmoved. I’m not badly amazed. After two weeks with the Bahima, I’m on my way again. My new destination is the Murchison waterfalls in the national park of the same name in the north of the country. The route leads through a wide savannah landscape to Masindi. But I can’t really enjoy the ride. More and more often I have severe headache and neck pain, then severe pain in the limbs and brief attacks of fever – the first signs that I have malaria. Completely exhausted, I reach the campsite in Murchison National Park, where the rangers advise me to see a doctor in the next town as soon as possible. But first I really want to take a look at the spectacular waterfalls of the Victoria Nile, which winds its way through one of the most beautiful landscapes in Uganda. While driving through the park I come across the sad remains from the time of the civil war. Rusted tanks lie next to the road, many houses have been bombed or completely burned out. Every now and then I meet soldiers in tattered uniforms who are supposed to ensure the safety of the few tourists with their ancient weapons, because gang wars are still taking place in some areas a little further north. I am advised to only travel there during the day; the road runs several kilometers through the park. From time to time tall palm trees grow to the right and left, with plump banana trees hanging under their leaves. Then suddenly I discover the waterfalls. The Victoria Nile has made its way through the rocks in several places and falls foaming over steps up to 50 meters high before it flows into Lake Albert. The noise of the masses of water that echoes off the steep rock faces is deafening. A gamekeeper explains to me that one of the spectacular waterfalls only came into being in 1961, when the Nile suddenly changed its course after torrential rains. He also tells me that hippos and crocodiles can be seen further down the river and elephants, giraffes, buffalo and antelopes on the bank. But a detour there is no longer an option for me – I urgently have to go to the nearest doctor because my malaria attacks are getting more and more violent. The next morning I sit on my motorcycle completely powerless, and only with a lot of effort can I get the load head to Soroti, around 400 kilometers away. I haven’t noticed the wonderful landscape for a long time. I only stop to drink and refuel. I finally reach the city late at night and fall into the first hotel bed that is completely exhausted. For three days I had a high fever, chills and severe pain in my limbs, only then did the strong medication the doctor prescribed for me take effect. Finally I set off for Mbale again. My flight will be back to Germany in a few days, but during the last few kilometers in Uganda an idea crossed my mind – I will leave my motorcycle with friends in Mbale and come back next year to drive through this fantastic country again and around to see what has become of my African friends.


Especially in the last few years Uganda has developed into an attractive travel destination. Numerous tourist highlights as well as a relatively intact infrastructure offer good conditions for a first trip through sub-Saharan Africa.

Entry: Entry into Uganda is relatively problem-free by land if you are coming from Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda or Zaire. Due to violent unrest, traveling through Sudan is currently not recommended. The motorcycle can be transported by air from Germany to Mombasa or Nairobi in neighboring Kenya. The simple transfer with the Dusseldorf company Senator Airfreight, phone 02 11/9 07 00-0, costs around 820 marks. The Bielefeld company also offers fly & bike motorcycle transports from Dusseldorf and Munich to Mombasa in Kenya. Including all ancillary costs for the motorcycle there and back are 2790 Marks, for the flight for the driver you have to pay from 1299 Marks depending on the travel time. Info: fly & bike Reise GmbH, Telephone 05 21/17 41 05 Documents: Tourists from Europe do not need a visa for Uganda. All you need is a passport, which must be valid for at least six months. For this purpose, a vaccination card is required at the borders, from which it can be seen that you have been vaccinated against yellow fever. A Carnet de Passage is required for the motorcycle, which can be obtained from the ADAC in return for a deposit. Health: A yellow fever vaccination is not only mandatory for entering Uganda, it is also absolutely recommended. Travelers can protect themselves prophylactically against malaria with various drugs (Resochin, Palludrine or Lariam), but these drugs do not guarantee complete protection. In addition, the side effects are very severe. If you have symptoms of the disease (fever, chills, severe headache and body aches), immediately consult a doctor in the country and seek treatment. Mosquito nets and long clothing are good protection against malaria, especially in the evening hours. Further information is available from all tropical institutes. Drinking water should always be boiled or only drunk from closed bottles. The AIDS rate in Uganda is extremely high. Spend the night: In all cities there are hotels and guesthouses from ten dollars a night. In the countryside there is simple accommodation in the villages from around five dollars a night. You can sleep well in the accommodations in the various national parks, the prices are between 20 and 30 dollars per night and person. Finances: The currency in Uganda is the Uganda shilling. US dollars or American Express travel checks can easily be exchanged in banks, exchange offices or hotels. A tempting swap business on the black market should be avoided, as the risk of being robbed is very high in Uganda.Activities: A must on a tour through Uganda are excursions to the various national parks. In addition to the spectacular Nile waterfalls, the Murchison Falls National Park offers great wildlife: elephants, giraffes, antelopes, buffaloes, crocodiles and hippos can be seen up close. Equally impressive is a trip through the Rwenzori National Park, which is located in western Uganda on the border with Zaire. The Ruwenzori mountains, which are up to 5100 meters high, offer many challenging trekking routes in the midst of a unique flora. The motorcycle: The author’s Suzuki DR 600 has proven its worth over a total of over 70,000 kilometers in Africa. Only the standard shock absorber was exchanged for one from White Power. The original tank is sufficient for traveling through Uganda and Kenya, otherwise it is advisable to mount the 43 liter Acerbis tank, which the Gortz company also offers for the Honda XR 600. However, new brackets must be welded and the bench shortened during assembly. Since asphalt and gravel roads alternate, we recommend installing the Michelin T63 or Continental TKC 80 as a compromise. Literature: Only a few travel guides provide information about Uganda. The best works are East Africa from Lonley Planet and the East African Handbook from Trade & Travel Publication. Best map: Uganda Traveller’s Map, Macmillian publishing house on a scale of 1: 1350000 for 19.80 marks.

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