At the end of my first trip to Uganda, I had three main thoughts running through my head. One, I wanted to fill my tank and start again; two, I had to return and see all the amazing things this country had to offer; and three, I love what I do so much that I want to share it with others.
So here we are returning to Uganda with our first guests: a small, private group of friends who take yearly bike trips. They’ve planned trips around the world for more than twenty years with their last being in South Africa the year before. After much discussion, we planned a rough itinerary for a ten-day trip that would cover approximately 2,800 km. Our tentative route would provide us with the flexibility to explore as we rode. It also included a gorilla trek at Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get up close with these majestic primates.
As the tour date approached, we got news that one of our guests had broken a leg and would have to cancel, while another had contracted COVID-19. We decided to go ahead with the trip anyway. With the bikes and support vehicle ready, we collected our two guests, Reiner and Louis, from the airport, dropped their luggage at the guesthouse, and went to Paddy O’Ganda’s Irish Bar for a trip briefing over dinner.
Early next morning, we prepared the bikes with some extra charging ports and personal navigation units. We departed mid-morning having discussed and planned some off-road trails that would take us to the Equator. We boarded the ferry at Nakiwogo to cross Lake Victoria and start our trip in earnest. Our guests were charmed by the friendliness of the locals and their interest in them, their bikes, and our planned adventure ahead. It made us instinctively aware of how disconnected we tended to be in the busyness of our daily lives in Dubai.
As the ferry ramp touched shore on the other side, we were the first ones off and waved at the crowd we’d been chatting to. Reiner and Louise were both on the 2013 BMW oil-cooled R1200GS-es, the preferred bike for Uganda because of its simplicity, ruggedness, and comfort. We headed to Mpigi and found the single trail that would lead us to the Equator. When a dauntingly narrow footbridge across a stream appeared along the path, locals appeared out of nowhere to help us – as usual in Uganda – and we managed to get our large bikes across with ease.
At the Equator, I observed the boys’ excitement at crossing this imaginary line around the middle of our planet on bikes. We arrived at Lake Mburo National Park and did a game ride – the equivalent of a 4×4 safari game drive but on a bike – through the park to the highest viewpoint to survey this beautiful area. Giraffes, zebras, and buffalos filled the sprawling grasslands as we rode along. Kob and warthog stared and then darted away as we passed. We arrived at the campsite by the lake, where Nick had prepared our tents and some sundowners, ready for our cheers to the first day.
The following morning, over a hearty breakfast, we planned a trail that would take us truly off-road into the mountains, as we made our way to the Rushaga sector and the Rushaga Gorilla Lodge. It was a truly breathtaking route that took us through tiny villages, plantations, and narrow single trails that rose higher and higher into the mountains. The route took longer than planned, and we arrived late at the lodge, but we all agreed it was well worth the ride. Nick impressed us with the dinner ready on our arrival, accompanied by ice-cold beverages to wash it down. A good night’s rest was had by all.
Early next morning, after a great breakfast at the lodge, it was time to head up into the forest to go Gorilla trekking. It is a paid excursion with the Ugandan Wildlife Authority for $725 and can be booked on your behalf.
After checking in at the guest centre, receiving information on the dos and don’ts, and a very impressive display of traditional dance, it was time to hike up into the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. The gorilla families who live there are under 24-hour protection by the Ugandan Wildlife Authority rangers, as they’re under constant threat from poachers. Hard to believe any human being would want to cause harm to these incredible primates.
The trek was difficult through thick bushes and dense forest. Hiking boots are recommended, as well as long trousers and a shirt. During the trek, the rangers signal to stop and be quiet. You begin to hear faint grunting of the gorillas and movement in the bushes. Nothing can prepare you for your first encounter with the gorillas. Their sheer size alone is enough to scare the life out of you, and then you catch their eye. You are advised not to make too much eye contact, especially with large males. But when you do, you see something familiar in those eyes. There is recognition and awareness. We are both primates and share 98% of our DNA. We have similar sight, sense of smell, and hearing, and are social beings. It was a great honor to get to spend time with them, and the time passed all too quickly indeed.
Once back at the lodge, we headed off and rode across the rocky mountain trails to Lodge Edward Lake Retreat and Campsite in Kisenyi Village. A great day’s riding ended in a lodge stay, dinner, and a show of hippo, buffalo, kob and some hyaena checking out the smell of our barbecue.
The next morning, we rose early and headed toward Queen Elizabeth National Park, where we rode on a river cruise, spotting large families of hippos, crocodiles, water buffalos, elephants, lizards, and many bird species. It was a wonderful boat trip, and we got to see so much. But nothing would prepare us for what happened next.
As we left the port area and rode through the park towards Mweya Safari Lodge, we came upon a mud pit, where a young bull elephant was enjoying the cooling mud. A few days earlier, I’d asked a ranger for advice on what to do if we came across anything like this; so engines off and a wait from afar. The young elephant finally decided to move and came around a tree facing us, some 45 meters away, and being young and full of vigor, he decided to false charge us – well, at the time, it didn’t feel false! But it was one of the most exhilarating experiences of my life. Flapping his big ears, he let out a loud trumpeting sound. He stopped short, walked to the side, and then decided to charge again, just to make sure we knew who was boss. As he disappeared into the bush, I heard both Reiner and Louis breathe again.
We arrived at Mweya Safari Lodge for an amazing lunch, which was made all the better over a discussion of our young elephant experience. After lunch, we headed up and across the Katwe Explosion Craters, the remains of long-extinct volcanoes and a sight hard to describe for the sheer enormity of each crater. Some spanning up to three kilometers, filled with water and some with vast, flat plains with trees and shrubs, they remind one of an enormous, manicured garden. We met some rangers on patrol at the highest viewpoint and had a nice chat about the area and things to look out for. We slowly descended the mountain trails, where we merged with the main road, which brought us to the city of Fort Portal and Whispering Pines campsite for the evening. After a relaxing shower and a sumptuous dinner, we sat around the bonfire and talked with Tom, the owner of the campsite. Tom is an interesting man who had worked as a hotel manager all over the world before returning to his family home in Uganda to open this wonderful campsite. He told us many stories of his travels – it sounded like the sixties was a great time to be alive.
We got on the bikes early the next day, as we had a long haul up to Murchison Falls National Park. The road was magical, passing clay huts topped with thatched roofs, bustling communities herding goats and cows, young kids playing, and groups of men gathered under the shade of large trees having heated discussions about what we had no idea. We arrived a little earlier than expected, so we hiked up into the falls and the surrounding area. The gush and roar of the Nile, as it forced its way through a gap in the rocks, sprayed water and mist high in the air, creating a beautiful cooling effect as we walked.
Many pictures later, we headed back to the bikes and continued to meet Nick for lunch. We decided to have an early day and set up camp at Red Chili Rest Camp with its wonderful lodges and a great restaurant promising us a relaxing evening. But first, with some time still left before sunset, we headed for a game ride down toward the delta. The late afternoon light is amazing, and all the wildlife seems more relaxed. As we rode slowly along the trails, we had elephants and giraffes on our left and right and water buffalo, antelope, kob and many other species as far as the eye could see, finishing off an already wonderful day.
A rainstorm filled the African sky with lightning that night; it was an incredible sight to see, and thankfully, we woke the next morning to clear, blue skies. In fact, it couldn’t have been better as the murram, or red clay roads, would now not be so dusty. We rode along a narrow road through the park with patches of mud here and there, which made it a little tricky. The terrain had changed from the previous days and now looked like the scene from a movie with large palm trees stretching for miles; the landscape seemed abundant with wildlife due to the rainfall. As we rode, I saw movement in the trees and bushes ahead. Again, as per the ranger’s advice, we stopped, turned off the bikes, watched, and waited. This time it was a very different experience; a large matriarchal female eased the bushes apart and came out on the road and stopped. As she turned her head and looked at us, there was a calm, almost regal energy radiating from her. Then a small calf scurried from behind her and crossed the road into the bushes on the other side. This enormous, beautiful beast made eye contact for a short while before gracefully following her calf into the bush. Nothing can really describe encounters like this, but it’s safe to say that none of us spoke or moved for quite some time afterwards.
We headed for Kidepo Valley National Park, which is known as the second most beautiful park in Africa. More than 1400 square km tucked away in the Northeast corner of Uganda, bordering South Sudan and Kenya. Brenda, the owner of Nga’Moru Wilderness Camp located inside the park, advised us to arrive through a route crossing the town of Kaabong, as the roads had been a bit washed out. The views and scenery from this direction are incredible, with vast, open plains and volcanic mounds dotting the landscape here and there. We arrived at the camp and got dinner on the go straight away. Brenda and her daughter, Shani, joined us, and many tales were told of what was going on in the area, the day’s highlight being some young bull elephants playfully pulling apart a large water-pipe system. And, of course, we had our own young bull stories to tell.
The next morning was a rest day, and our guests went with Nick for a safari into Kidepo Valley National Park, while I stayed and did some much-needed bike checks and repacking of our bits and pieces. We cooked dinner that night: roasted chicken, done in a very unusual way with a beer can used to prop the chicken up, keeping it soft and moist, and baked potatoes and salad. After a satisfying dinner, we headed for a good night’s rest.
As we waved goodbye to Brenda and Shani, I could not help but feel a little envious of their lives and the serenity of Nga’Moru. Green plains after rainfall contrasted against the bright red murram road that stretched endlessly in a straight line ahead of us. The volcanic mounds of Kaabong seem to go on left and right for as far as the eye can see, and our pace was much slower and more relaxed; maybe it was because of the rest day or the beauty of the scenery surrounding us.
We arrived at the town of Kotido and stayed at the Karamoja Safari Camp, which is known to serve the best pizza in Uganda. We planned the next day’s route up the Karamoja region mountains via single trails skirting the Kenyan border, bringing us to the town of Kapchorwa and Sipi Falls.
The next day, the bikes and their riders were put to the test on these trails, and it was one of the best riding days we had. After a good night’s rest, we visited the falls and learned about the coffee production process from Joel, an amazing guide and entrepreneur who owns a small acreage producing speciality coffee. Next, we hit the road to complete our final leg back to Entebbe. We passed through Mbale and Jinja, crossing the Nile and challenging the local traffic in small towns. Finally, we hit the Northern bypass of Kampala before arriving at Entebbe.
The bikes ran like a dream. No issues whatsoever, apart from a few scratches here and there, reaffirming again that the BMW GS was the perfect bike for this trip.
I can honestly say that I loved every second of this trip, and plans are afoot to run regular trips in the upcoming months. A shorter 7-day tour is planned for those wanting a week’s escape from the Dubai heat. If interested, you’re welcome to contact me directly:
+971 56 480 1965
XEnduro Uganda Tours in association with Meanda Uganda