There are few experiences in life that involve all five senses: touch, sight, smell, taste and hearing. Over the years, I’ve come to realize that riding a motorcycle encompasses all these senses such that you truly get immersed in the moment.
Whether you’re gliding down the endless highways taking in the countryside, negotiating the complex traffic systems of a foreign city or riding down the unknown tracks unsure of where they might lead you to, there couldn’t be a moment where you feel any less alive.
I have ridden motorcycles in Europe, Turkey, the Middle East (UAE, Oman, Lebanon, and Saudi Arabia), India, Nepal, and on my last trip, in Uganda. The common feeling in the final days of all these trips is a longing for them to not end and a desire to turn around and start all over again.
This feeling was never stronger than when I was in Uganda. After an amazing 10-day journey over 2,500 kilometers of mostly off-road riding, I was mesmerized by the amazingly diverse landscape. From the dense rain forest in the south, mountainous trails through craterous lakes in the west, up savannah grasslands in the north and bizarre moonscape terrane travelling south; I crossed the Nile to Kampala and finally ended in Entebbe.
Riding through the national parks of Lake Mburu, Queen Elizabeth, Murchinson and Kidepo, all had one amazing thing in common: the proximity to wildlife. Each park, with its own unique features, brought you up close and personal with tree-climbing lions, leopards, African wildcats and cheetahs, as well as hyenas, buffalos, elephants, giraffes, hippos, rhinos, zebras, antelope, Uganda kob and Nile crocodile. Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is home to almost half of the world’s population of mountain gorillas, and it’s also a sanctuary for Colobus monkeys and chimpanzees. All these species are to name but a few of the thousands of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish, and butterflies that make up the diverse wildlife of Uganda.
My mount for the trip was my friend Nike Brant’s bike, a 2012 BMW GS Adventure. Nick recently moved to Uganda to retire, but being one not to sit around, he built a guest house, opened an Irish Bar called Paddy O’Ganda’s, and started a tour company with 4x4s called Meanda Uganda, providing bespoke trips for those who don’t want the usual ‘safari-in-a-can’ experience. Nick and I are old biker buddies from Dubai, and we had been planning this trip for a while.
I arrived in Entebbe on an Emirates direct flight from Dubai, which cost a mere 1,500 DHS ($400) and took four and a half hours. Procedures at arrival were fast and flowed smoothly, from current Covid regulations to the checking of visa and vaccine documents (which are mandatory for entry).
I stayed at Nick’s guest house that night. Early morning, we loaded the support vehicle and the bike and headed off. My first experience of Uganda was a surreal ferry crossing, surrounded by every vehicle possible and a multitude of small 125cc motorcycles, or Boda Boda’s as they are called, mostly used for taxi and transport of items. I saw one with three passengers and two chickens, who seemed to be not in the least bit bothered as they hung off the side. The woman passengers, wearing brightly coloured dresses, and the men, smartly dressed, were going about their daily business. School kids in pristine uniforms chatted and laughed at the size of my bike compared to the 125s. In fact, most people smiled once you caught their eye. And this was the case throughout the whole trip.
The ferry landed, and the trip was now truly underway. I went off on the ‘murram,’ or red clay roads that make up the infrastructure of Uganda. The surface is perfect for the BMW GS. Apart from a few potholes making a surprise appearance every now and then, the road was great. I met Nick at the Equator for a coffee at the same spot where Charley Boorman and Ewen McGregor visited years prior on their Long Way Down trip, which, I must say, inspired me to buy my GS some years ago.
The trip took us through several parks and incredibly varied terrain. We camped each night, lit a fire, cooked dinner, and discussed all that had been seen that day and the next day’s route. All in all, I covered muddy mountain passes, which were challenging on the GS, but doable, glorious rides through the open range, passing wildlife at almost an arm’s length away. Once I had settled into the rhythm of the trip and became accustomed to the loose surface, Uganda took on a whole other dimension for me. It was as if all the elements had been chosen perfectly, the road, the endless big sky and terrain that stretched out forever. I found myself smiling profusely and heard myself exclaim loudly and often wow because I could not think of a better word to describe what I was seeing. I began to not even think about the bike or even riding, as it all seemed to be perfectly choreographed with the landscape and the emotions that this incredible country evoked. The GS was made for this place, big enough to be super comfortable and nimble enough to navigate through some of the tricky single trails and mountain passes.
Periodically, we would stop in towns and villages to refuel and restock. Everywhere we would be surrounded by young and old alike. Like aliens who had landed from outer space, we were a source of genuine interest and intrigue. Who were we? Where did we come from? Where were we going?
I was struck by the friendliness and broad smiles of all those who we met, the traditional colourful clothing of both men and women and most of all, the school uniforms of the hundreds of kids we passed each day. A school could be under the shade of a large tree, rather than sitting in a stuffy classroom. The most notable Ugandans were the tribesmen in the North called the Karamojong. With their bright, tartan-like patterned sarongs, they proudly tilted their straw top hats forward holding a long stick for herding cattle. When I rode through the village, I met a wonderful procession of young village women singing and jumping. Authentically, it was not a show for tourists but a celebration of their own traditions.
As the trip came to an end, I crossed the Nile River in Jinja at sunset which left me with a memory embossed forever: the hustle and bustle of a city and the slow-flowing, mighty Nile gently lit in golden hues by the fading sun. The sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and the feeling of the air on your skin all added to the moment.
I hit Entebbe late in the evening, and as I mentioned at the start, I had an overwhelming feeling to simply refill my tank and carry on. In the 10 days, I travelled through Uganda and I barely scratched the surface of what this incredibly diverse country has to offer. The thing that struck me the most was the people of Uganda: they live for today. They don’t have much, but they are happy and despite their history, they have an incredibly positive outlook for the future. In fact, I loved it so much, I decided to set up a motorcycle tour company to share this wonderful country with anyone who has a sense of adventure. Contact me directly to find out more.