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Eighties Overland: Part 11

Words & Images Peter Middleton

It is difficult to explain our mood as we drape Mr Michelin over the bonnet and plan the route back, through Uganda, Zaire and the dreaded Central African Republic. Why are we so nervous? The little Landy is running beautifully, and our minimal kit works OK if we imagine that we are backpacking on wheels. True, we don’t like the thought of sleeping on the roof and away from the steering wheel, in case of another attack, but we have no choice.

We are sorry to be leaving Kenya again but the memories are deep ingrained. Kilimanjaro, Tsavo, the coast, Lamu, Amboseli, Ngorongoro and the Mara. The weeks with the Pokot, and, of course, Lake Turkana. We feel at home here, and we have seen and experienced so much more than we dared to hope; but we know that we have to run the gauntlet of Ugandan roadblocks and Zaire tracks. Again.

So, it was with a nervous ‘back to school’ feeling that we left the shimmering lake, rolled out of Ferguson’s Gulf, and passed through Lokichar − where we’d bush-camped and shared time with another settlement of the Turkana.

The next day would be to Lodwar and the Uganda border at Tororo. We push on in near silence, except for Dire Straits reminding us that we could be installing microwave ovens.

The officials on the Kenyan side question our forged insurance, but we are through. The Ugandan side is a nightmare of huts smelling of urine, unkempt and aggressive officials, con men, black-market money changers (we do well) and quick-fingered thieves. We camp behind the police station within a laager of truckies who treat us to a pap supper.

It’s April 3, and, via Jinja, we arrive at the Kampala Athena club. Once again it is pissing with rain as we slip (still with that bloody goat) into the muddy quagmire of our worst campsite; and the
intel from overlanders is not good.

No fuel, anywhere. The government, in its wisdom, had decided that fuel must travel by rail, as the truckies are too corrupt. Unfortunately, the train crashed into the loading facilities at the port – so back to trucks. We wonder who paid for that little accident… The fuel situation is worse than the stories suggest; payment is demanded in hard currency as everyone schemes a quick buck out of the turmoil. Added to that is the new rule that a foreign-registered vehicle has to have a special permit to obtain the liquid platinum.

We have to fill up before Zaire. We both have the runs, we can’t sleep because workers are hammering steel poles in the campsite, it pours all day, and we don’t have an awning. We don’t complain once, and plan to sort it out. Somehow.

So, we battle the pothole minefield into Kampala to find the Zaire embassy for visas, but it is closed for some reason, and we are told that the official refuses to give visas without a huge bribe. Things are not getting better, are they?

The petrol stations have queues 300 metres long and we grab what we can, where possible.

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