Road trips that rhyme: From Mbale to Kigali in 24 hours

The following is a rough transcription (with embellishment) of my travel notebook over the past day.

Wednesday, June 23
7:30am Wake up to sound of rooster and kids running around house. Actually a pretty nice way to wake up.

8:00am Walk to corner, buy chapati (300 Ush/15 cents) and two eggs (500 Ush/25 cents). Go home and make perfect rolex (“rolled eggs”).

10:00am Leave house.

10:30am Bus departs Mbale, headed toward Kampala. First Uganda bus I’ve see with a movie. We watched Bloodsport, starring Jean Claude Van Damme, with a supporting role from Forrest Whittaker (later to play Idi Amin). Movie is narrated (not dubbed) in Lugandan. Just as bad as in English.

2:30pm Bus arrives in Kampala. Wander streets to find station for Kigali bus. Buy ticket.

2:45pm Wander to strip of 30 Indian-owned computer stores on Kampala Road. Buy wireless USB mouse (25,000 Ush/$12.50) from second one.

3:00pm Try in vain to find ATM that will give me US dollars. Hope rises when told that bank teller can help, hope falls when bank teller informs me of 10% fee. Resort to withdrawing Ush, exchanging to US dollars.

5:00pm Meet Finn (grad school classmate who just arrived in Uganda) and his roommmate Stephanie at a pub called Bubbles O’Leary. Find self surrounded by more white people than at any prior point in Uganda. Three quarters of room is watching England/Slovenia, one quarter is watching US/Algeria.

5:23pm Three quarters of room celebrates.

6:47pm Other one quarter celebrates. Everyone is happy.

8:30pm Go to bus station via boda boda, whose driver confuses “Not too fast” with “Please go faster”. Watch Spanish soap opera “En nombre del amor” dubbed horribly in English while waiting for bus.

10:00pm Bus departs station.

10:40pm Bus finally makes it out of Kampala. Seats are enormous – comfier than a Bolt Bus, with more recline as well. Bus is only half full, so I get two seats. Ride is bumpy but I catch some winks.

The travel log

Thursday, June 24
12:08am Bus makes stop for “short call” — Ugandan for bathroom break. Night gets colder, and window above me has broken latch. Bus driver might have his window open too. Freezing, trying to sleep. Eventually use random piece of string from backpack to tie my window shut, but the bus is still freezing.

3:00am Another short call. Afterward, realize that backpack can kind of serve as a crappy blanket. Consider tearing curtain down from window to use instead.

4:00am(??) Pass by a town with a surprising amount of activity for the hour. About a dozen boda drivers out on bikes, looking for fares.

5:30am Arrive at border. Passengers get off bus. Man asks to see my passport. Thinking he is with the immigration office, I show it to him. He grabs it and goes running to the immigration office where everyone else is lined up. He proceeds to fill out forms for me, missing some lines and making stuff up for others (Occupation: “business”?). I keep trying to tell him to give it back, that I’m perfectly capable of filling out the form. He then hands me the partially completed form, and asks for “money for chai.”

5:45am Go to counter, get exit stamp from Ugandan immigration officer. start walking toward the border with other bus passengers. Man continues to follow, asking for money for chai. I keep telling him I won’t give him money for running off with my passport. He finally leaves me short of the border.

5:55am After walking 10 minutes, finally reach Rwandan immigration kiosk. The bus has driven across to meet us. Immigration officer looks at my passport and form, asks where I’ll be staying, then stamps it. No visa fee for US passport holders.

6:05am Get back on bus, which then pulls 100 meters forward to “customs”. Get off bus. Customs officers search bus, then peer in bags as we get back on bus.

6:45am Pull out of customs. First light is breaking. Mountain ridge to the left is silhouetted, barely visible in the fog. Remarkably well-paved roads. For a mile. Then 100+ meters of terribly rutted dirt roads. Then back to pavement for another mile. This alternating continues for some time.

Sunrise in Rwanda

7:02am Fog lifts. Rows of short shrubs (tea?) on field to left. Many people in fields working. Rows of crops and houses on the ridge beyond.

7:53am After passing many small clusters of buildings and fields, we reach the first thing that is large enough to call a town.

7:55am More fields. A woman standing on a dirt mound in one, apparently dancing and yelling or singing at the crops.

7:56am Electric power substation.

7:59am Another town. Quickly realize this is the Kigali suburbs.

8:02am Kigali skyline. More people, more businesses. And stoplights! The first I’ve seen in East Africa.

8:05am Get off bus. Negotiate private car to take me to One Love Project’s guesthouse for $5. Motorcycle taxis (not bodas in Rwanda) are too difficult with a large backpack, and I’m tired.

8:15am Arrive at OLP. Get nice room. Am informed that OLP does not have wireless after all. But it does have hot showers. Hot showers count for a lot.

9:00am After shower and unpacking, walk to city. Notice cleanliness, perfect roads, dearth of people selling things on the sidewalk.

9:30am Exchange US dollars to Rwandan francs. Too much exchanging going on.

9:50am Find Bourbon Coffee Shop and breakfast. Pay 4,500 Rfw ($7.90) for breakfast, or 20 times what breakfast the day before cost. Make banal comment to self about Kigali being expensive.

10:20am Type up travel log in coffee shop. Argue with coffee shop staff that the wifi login they gave me doesn’t work. Am told it’s my fault, but that someone would come help. Wait patiently for someone to come help.

11:20am No one comes. Patience ends. Tell coffee shop staff I want partial refund because coffee shop advertises wifi as part of meals/coffee. Do not receive one. Feel bad about making a fuss, but not that bad. Not going back.

12:00pm After wandering around city for a bit, buy power converter and find new coffee shop. Get on wifi before ordering anything. Finally check email and blog. Disappointed that you haven’t take the Find What Works reader survey yet.

12:40pm Post to blog. Set off to explore more of the city.