As I mentioned in a previous post or two, I’ve spent some of my free time here in Kigali playing ultimate Frisbee with a group of Rwandans and various ex-pats that gets together once or twice a week. Mid-September, a similar group based in Kampala, Uganda hosted a region-wide tournament. After a lot of waffling on my part, I decided to join in the fun and head to Kampala. It was an interesting opportunity to figure out the regional transportation (Last minute plane tickets: expensive. Private car rental: lots of extra hoops to jump through [and dollars] if you want to leave the country). About 4pm on Friday, I decided to catch the 5:30 bus with a couple friends.
- In a hurry to get to the bus station, this last-minute decision also led to my first moto ride in Kigali. Motos are moped (motorcycle is too generous) taxis that are generally cheaper and faster for getting around town.
- The local bus depot in Nyabugogo is a lesson in controlled chaos, though it is admittedly easier to get around there on foot than by car.
- The road from Kigali is a long one (10+ hours, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise!) and a bumpy one (I will avoid the back of the bus in the future).
After two or three hours on the bus, we arrived in Katuna, Rwanda, where we disembarked to have exit visas stamped in our passports before crossing into Gatuna, Uganda on foot. It was foggy night and there was something eerie about just walking off into a foreign country when you couldn’t see 10 yards in front of you. The feeling didn’t last, though, as the border checkpoint appeared and we soon had company in an array of people now eager to exchange our currency and sell us food (meat and chips in a bag, anyone?). Entry visas paid and stamped, and we were back on the bus for the (bumpier) Ugandan leg of this excursion.
Unable to sleep, I spent the remaining hours taking in the sights (complete darkness punctuated by occasional passing headlights), almost getting left behind in a very dark roadside rest stop, and wishing I had packed more snacks. On our approximately 5am (Uganda is one time zone ahead of Rwanda) arrival in Kampala, I was surprised to see how awake the city was. Traffic was moving (and horns were honking) and I could hear religious services near the house where we were staying. I was more than ready to welcome whatever sleep I could get before the Frisbee tournament kicked off at 8am.
I am disappointed to say that I did not take very many photos of my time in Kampala. In my defense, this is because I spent nearly all of my time on the Frisbee field, or clinging for dear life as the third person on the back of a boda boda (a heavier-duty moto, with “room” for two passengers). From what I could see, Kampala and Kigali have a lot in common, but it was still clear that they are two very different places. Kampala has about twice the population of Kigali, and a larger, more developed city center. Though the modes of transportation were similar in both cities, the streets of Kampala were far more crowded, and perhaps consequently, the roads were in much rougher shape (not to mention the crews that sweep the paved streets and gutters clean every day in Kigali). The foods were incredibly similar with two exceptions: 1. Street vendors are prohibited from selling food in Rwanda, which is far from the case in Uganda, where rolex and fried foods are available on every block, and 2. Kampala has a KFC (there are no western chains in Rwanda), of which we definitely partook.
The Frisbee was good and we all pulled through despite our lack of sleep. Among the teams, all five East African countries (Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi, Tanzania, and Kenya) were represented. Sad to say, my team (representing Rwanda and Burundi, with two extra muzungus) did not take home any prizes, but I had a team t-shirt and some sunburn to remember the trip by. By Sunday night, the bus was bouncing and winding us all back to Kigali.