I certainly had a grand exit from Rwanda (meeting the president and all), one I fear I may not be able to match elsewhere. I was on a six-week internship in Rwanda which extended to eight weeks, but I do hope to go back and continue what I was doing. Working on the logistics right now. I might also get an offer to be a teaching assistant at my alma mater (JKUAT) since you know, I got a first class honours degree. Currently, I’m in Nairobi on a short holiday (another word for jobless).
The Horrible Bus to Kampala
I was leaving Musanze town, where I’d been staying, for Kampala through the border at Cyanika. I asked around for a bus that leaves for Kampala and was directed to Horizon. I went early to book the bus. I suppose I should have seen the warning signs when they told me you can’t book a day early, you have to book on the day you were leaving. The office was outside on the verandah of a building facing the Musanze Market.
So I booked at noon for my 4.30pm bus. Check-in time: 4pm. I was there at about 5 minutes past four with all my luggage, with Julie and Val and the other Val there to see me off. The bus was nowhere in sight. We waited till 4.30 and still the bus was not there. I thought when they said the bus leaves at 4.30 it means it leaves at 4.30, passengers arrive earlier at 4 so they can settle.
Finally, at almost five, the bus came speeding round a corner. It came to a stop right in front of us and I rushed in so I could secure a good seat. See, when booking you don’t choose a seat number, it’s a scram for any good seats like it was in the old times in Kenya.
When I got onto the bus, I was dismayed! There were five seats per row: 2-isle-3 seat arrangement. The seats were old and looked uncomfortable. The floor of the bus was dirty and rusty, with holes in some places. The seats had no armrests, the seatbelts were dysfunctional and dirty or missing altogether. Any hope that the seats could recline so I could snatch some sleep on the 10 hour journey were dashed. I feared I’d fall off my seat if I dozed… there was not much space and as I mentioned, no armrests/seatbelts to keep you in your seat!
The bus was not full so I could have the 2-seater to myself. I had a lot of luggage, which I had to keep in the bus because you cannot be assured of the security of your luggage. Soon, I was hugging my friends in Rwanda bye and the bus took off.
It stopped a few kilometers out of town to pick up more passengers. This we did all night! Picking and dropping off passengers in-the-middle-of-nowhere kind of towns.
I was gloomy, staring out at Muhabura (volcano that is part of the Virunga massif) as it loomed closer and closer. We were approaching the Cyanika border, just 25Km from Musanze. At the border, the money changers were enticing me and I wanted to change part of my money into Ugandan Shillings. It was very confusing though; new currency confuses me! Not forgetting I had not yet cleared with immigration on both sides and the custom officials searching luggage. I was in a panic! I told the money changer that once everything was settled, I’d look for him.
I had no trouble getting my Rwanda exit/Uganda entry stamps on my travel document. I got back to the bus to find all my luggage in a heap outside, just like the rest of the passengers. I opened my bags for a Ugandan customs official who confirmed I was not smuggling any contraband. Now I had the daunting task of getting my luggage back in the bus!
I started with my suitcase, trying to lag it up the steps of the bus. Two small boys who were hawking water to the passengers in the bus noticed my struggle and offered to help. They put their bottles aside and carried my suitcase in, plus my other heavy bag. I gave them all the Rwandese currency I had left, about $5. They thanked me profusely and wished me a safe journey. I asked them their names: Alex Moses and his friend (can’t remember his name). Their beautiful faces stuck with me. I smiled for the first time since leaving Rwanda. My only regret is that I did not have a camera with me at the time.
I eventually changed my money, trying to get accustomed to the Ugandan notes. I gave up the seat next to mine as the bus filled up on the way. It got dark as we went up and down the hills; Western Uganda is quite hilly. The road was being repaired but there were bad sections where I felt as if we were going to topple off the hill. Worse, the driver was driving way over the speed limit, slowing down only to take sharp corners. I remembered there were no seatbelts and kept hoping we don’t crash. Outside, it was a clear beautiful night. The moon was casting a soft shadow on the hills, which looked like mountains in the night. The stars shone brilliantly. I remember thinking it was a beautiful night to die(!). Sometimes I lost sight of the moon as we drove on one side of a steep hill and at that time, the stars looked like motherless children: sad and forlorn.
I dozed off sometime later after midnight. I slept on and off until we arrived in Kampala at five in the morning. The conductor told us to get off the bus but no one was budging, we were all waiting for it to be light. I did not want to spend another minute in the horrible bus and took a cab to my friend’s place in a hostel near Makerere University.
Kampala was just the opposite of Musanze. Musanze is a quiet, beautiful town; clean and cool. In fact when I left, it was raining.
Kampala was hot and dusty! It felt like being in Kenyan coast only without the redeeming quality of sunny beaches and an endless ocean view. I dreaded going out in the scorching sun and dusty streets, where cars competed with motorbikes for space on the roads. The passenger-carrying motorbikes- boda bodas- sometimes drove the wrong way on one-way roads. You don’t know ‘dangerous’ until you’ve taken a boda boda in downtown Kampala, without a helmet!
If wearing helmets for both the passenger and the rider is a law in Rwanda (which it is), then there must be a law forbidding helmets in Kampala. Maybe it’s the heat, I don’t blame them. The 24hr protection advertised by Nivea deodorant lasted only 1hr, tops!
I stayed in Kampala for about 3 days, doing what young people do to pass time.
The Luxury Bus to Nairobi
Easy Coach is easily the most luxurious bus I’ve ever taken. It’s not just comfortable, it’s luxurious. Akamba is comfortable. So are the coast-plying buses from Nairobi. Easy Coach to-and-from Kampala is luxurious.
The bus was there when we arrived at 5.25p.m. and departure time was 6pm. I had booked the previous day and chosen a seat in the singles column. The bus has just three seats per row: 1-isle-2 seat arrangement. The floor of the bus was shiny and clean, the area under the seats carpeted. There was a bag-thingy at the back of the seat in front of me so I didn’t have to hold my handbag and food-to-eat-on-the-bus on my lap. There was plenty of space and the seatbelts worked. The seat could recline all the way back until you are almost horizontal. There were footrests that you could lower/raise. I sighed with pleasure.
Luggage was checked and labeled. There would be no stopovers to pick random passengers on the way so luggage was safe till we arrived in Nairobi. I hugged my friends goodbye and got onto the bus. I waved at them till we turned a corner and joined Kampala traffic. The sun was setting and I was reading Charles Onyango-Obbo’s book: Uganda’s Poorly Kept Secrets.
Before we took off (at 6pm on the dot), the guy who had been labeling our luggage handed us cold bottled water. Compliments of Easy Coach.
As I was getting comfortable; adjusting my seatbelt, reclining and pulling up my seat, raising and lowering the footrests; I noticed some buttons overheard. One was drawn on it the G-clef (I remember my brief music lessons in primary school) and I pressed it. Nothing happened. Two were for the individual overhead lights, these worked. One bright, one dim. On another button was a steaming cup of tea. I didn’t press it: I’m not an idiot. It may have been first class, but it was still a bus!
I had an interesting conversation with the guy in the seat ahead of me. On my two-month stay in Rwanda, I had to use correct grammar so I could be understood. Now some guys I meet are telling me I don’t sound Kenyan. Sample some parts of our conversation with the guy:
“Me I am telling you…”
“I had used that ka-machine of mine sijui for like for 6 six years.”
“Otherwise me I think night runners are just shy nudists.”
I’m definitely back in Kenya.