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SEPTEMBER 13, 2007

26 Hours & 30 Minutes



Over the past two months we have become increasingly soft. A month in Tanzania with my brother Andrew followed by a month hidden away in the Wildebeest Camp in Nairobi has weakened our African resolve. To get back to our budget traveller roots we need to take some drastic action - and so, with a course in mind, set sail we did in the grandest of style.

On a sunny Friday afternoon we took ourselves down to Nairobi city central and bought two one way tickets aboard the Regional Coach, express to Kigali in Rwanda. We could have flown, we could have added a few breaks along the way, but a point needed to be made, Matt & Donna are on the road again.

At 7pm on the 7th of August, after enduring much laughter and mirth from all those who heard of our planned journey across three countries, we were waiting patiently back at Regional Coaches departure lounge (a dimly lit back alley filled with hustling locals), like always I am ever hopeful of an African bus leaving as scheduled, once again we were kept waiting, this time until 9pm when a rickety old coach pulled up. Climbing on board (Donna pulled out the old Mohammed Ali elbows to push past the mamas and get us on board) it took a good ten minutes to find our seats thanks to the fact that due to the agedness of the bus the seat numbers were texta'd onto the window pane and subsequently hidden behind the lovely floral blinds.

The first ten hours pretty much flew by, to break the monotony of the road trip we were thankfully given toilet breaks every four-five hours. With the isle of the bus packed full of luggage (the underneath of the bus was filled with freight, our packs were in the hand luggage racks above our seats), we were treated to a show as the big mamas clamoured down the isle in a mad rush to be first off the bus. With a Kikoy wrapped around your legs movement is restricted however this proved to be little impediment to these pushy women.

We arrived at the Kenya/Uganda border as the sun was rising, with visa fees recently upped from thirty dollars each to fifty, we were given the additional surprise to find they had also removed the transit visa all together (normally half price). Thanks to the $US100 we had to pay for Ugandan visa's we would not get to use, the border crossing seemed to go fairly smoothly.

Our only complication came when we re-boarded the bus to find an auspicious looking customs man rifling through all the bags. I was made to unlock my pack and go through the contents he was very interested in a bag of cables and plugs I had in my pack with no electrical goods. (all the good stuff was hidden away in my day pack). While putting my pack away he discreetly patted my day pack though did not go so far as to ask me to open it.

Donna on the other hand has her security measures well under control, a tried and tested means of keeping men at bay (no she did not say she had a headache) that has worked for generations, was implemented. The careful placing of some 'womanly items' atop of the pack meant that the customs official gave a cursory glance, a single finger poke and the bag was zipped , locked and ready to go...

20km's out of Kampala, the Ugandan capital, we were joined by a jovial travelling salesman hocking pharmaceuticals. Opening his briefcase he proceeded to stand in the isle selling everything from Panacil (Panadol) to anti-fungal cream (his actions describing the application of the cream to the genitals were quite amusing and repeated several times for his avid audience).

Thanks to several delays enroute we reached Kampala at midday running a good few hours late the scheduled lunch stop was reduced to a useful five minutes and without getting off the bus we pushed on in an effort to reach the Rwandan border before it closed at seven.

While we did not actually set foot on Ugandan soil, we did have a few observations from the bus window. Ugandan poverty around kampala was in stark contrast to the south of the country where at one point I awoke to find rolling green pastures surrounded by white picket fences and filled with lazy dairy cows - a scene more suitable to rural England than Africa.

As the bus pulled into the Ugandan/Rwandan border we were informed for the first time that the border did in fact shut in ten minutes and it would be a good idea to get visa's before toilet breaks, thankfully this was translated into English by a kind passenger as by now we were both fairly busting. After stamping out of Uganda we ran the few hundred metres across no mans land to the Rwandan side.

For all those who think Donna is a clean cut straight as an arrow girl, think again. At our crossing of the Rwandan border her true colours were revealed. While I was dealing with immigration matters she took advantage of the situation and pulled one over the customs official. She sneaked our bags across the border with several highly illegal plastic bags! She managed to get the bulk of our stash through by handing over some of the more obvious bags on the top of our packs, all the while knowing we had numerous examples hidden deep below our clothes... naughty naughty.

While Donna was busy breaking the law I was pleading with immigration officials, not only had the whole bus been processed while I was patiently waiting off to the side, I was then given only a 15 day visa. $60 for 15 days, my cries fell on deaf ears however and as I was given Donna's passport the immigration official slammed shut the window - at least we had made it into the country.

After 20 hours of doing absolutely nothing, then an hour of rushing, it took a good few minutes to realise that we were now driving on the other side of the road, what's worse everyone was speaking French.

26 hours and 30 minutes after leaving Nairobi we reached the main bus stop in Kigali, the Rwandan capital. With no Rwandan franks we negotiated a special hire taxi to run us through the dark streets of the city centre to our hostel for the night where thankfully they had kept our room reserved.

Just before my eyes closed I saw a snippet of news on the BBC, a recent outbreak of the Ebola Virus has spread to a second village in southern Congo, the most recent occurrence of the Ebola Virus was only six years ago in Uganda. Barely does it hit me that now more than ever we are truly in the deep heart of Africa before I am out like a light.

     
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  Gosh you really get my heart pounding with some of your escapades. And Donna you will be needing a detox centre and rehab when you come home - to get you out of all this deception and law breaking - where ever did these skills come from? (must be the Thomas influence) tee hee

Mum - November 03, 2007
 
     
     
 

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