Rolex to start a day in Uganda

A smile is happiness you'll find right under your nose

We pack ourselves at 6:30. It is yet before dawn, which in Uganda takes place at 7.00. I hear voices coming from street snacks vendors through dense twilight mist. The air is filled with smell of baked chapati, corn flour pancakes. One of the stands has a chalk inscription drew on a wooden plate “ROLEX 1900 Ush.” . It turns out that one can buy real Rolex for less than a dollar.

Chapati dough

There are many varieties of rolex. This time it’s an omelet, spices, tomatoes and avocado wrapped together in a corn chapati. Often there are other ingredients, the limit is set only by seller’s imagination. Having rolex in the morning has quickly became our routine while crossing Uganda on bicycles.

Preparation of rolex

It is worth mentioning that the name “Rolex” comes from the words “rolled eggs” – quickly spoken, the Ugandan way and accent. Why we actually are Uganda? Well, after all each adventure has its beginning.

This time, the beginning is a lovely bike ride through snow-covered Berlin. When it is minus 7 Celsius outside and you have several layers of clothing, more suitable to traverse the African savannah, it is hard to imagine that right now it can be hot somewhere in the world. We still have a few hours before boarding the plane and it is perfect opportunity to visit Joanna and Swiatek, friends with whom a few years ago I cycled in the Congo.

Making sure the bikes are ready for African adventure

This time our minds are obsessed with project to cycle from Lake Victoria to the Indian Ocean. An additional plan is to make this route a bit more difficult, to use local roads and see ordinary, everyday life of African families.

Ugandastrasse on the way to Uganda

Cycling randomly through the streets of Berlin at some point we notice a white sign with black letters: Ugandastrasse. What a sheer coincidence, we’re going right there just in a couple of hours!

A the Entebbe airport it turns out that our luggage and bikes arrived intact. This is a kind of positive surprise. The time is 4:30, so we are patiently waiting for the first rays of the equatorial sun.

The road from the airport is calm, wide tarmac road. We are a bit tired with travel so we decided to find a place to get some time to sleep. We pitch a tent in a Backpacker’s Camping. The rising sun quickly becomes ruthless and transforms the interior of our tent into sauna. We get up and move a tent to a new piece of shade, but it last only for half an hour. It turns out we need to get up and do something.

Fish soup for a good start

Entebbe is a small town full of smiling faces. At the market place we order fish soup with fried rice. Later we explore the area on our bicycles. Aside the airport, at the Aero Beach, there are two wrecks of airplanes. It is here where we take our first bath in Lake Victoria in the company of Ugandan teenagers playing ball.

In the evening we buy skewers of an unknown origin from a street vendor and just before going to sleep we indulge in a giant basked in the sun pineapple. The night is hot at the beginning, then it gets just warm, but in the morning it is scorching hot again.

We’re going towards the capital. The road to Kampala is relatively good with shoulders. While we are waiting through the first downpour, Signe notes that “drivers are quite safe here” . I would say, I also got the same impression. Not more than 5 minutes later we hear a sudden squeal and there is a 4×4 coming at considerable speed, slipping and hitting the minibus standing on the roadside. Fortunately no one was hurt, but heavy rain and good health of African tire tread don’t go well together.

Another observation is that during the rain a police patrol in coats in the back of an open pickup truck looks really soaked, while everyone who could has long time ago hidden from the downpour.

Hectic Kampala, Uganda's biggest city and capital

The first impression of Kampala: gigantic chaos. For the balance of the day there comes a motorcyclist who rode his front wheel into my foot at a pedestrian crossing. I thought he has enough time to stop and he would do so, but he didn’t.

We get to Mulanga Hospital Cancer Institute. We are meeting with Issac, a couchsurfing guy, later on he takes us to his apartment. He is riding a motorbike and we follow him through Kampala’s chaos on our loaded bikes.

Kids are inviting us to try jackfruit

Issac lives modestly in a newly built ground-floor room, resembling a cell a bit. Soaring rental prices of accommodation is a common problem in Kampala. Simply speaking, it is way out of the realities of the labor market. Take well-educated hospital employee. He makes around 300,000 shillings (about 100 euros) a month. To rent a cheap apartment in Kampala you need 150,000 shillings, another 100,000 for transportation and 50,000, which is just few euros has to be enough to buy food and cover other cost of living in the capital. Not that many make 300,000 shillings a month. Hence, the concept of low-budget cramped buildings is expected to be a compromise. I reckon this is a global issue going beyond Uganda.

Young boy attending Ahra's party

The next day in the morning we help with the preparation of graduation party in honor of Arhy, Isaac’s sister. She has completed her economy studies. It’s a family house party, only closest friends and relatives are allowed. There is a total of about 200 people. Unfortunately, the whole ceremony takes place in an incomprehensible Luganda language, which we cannot understand at all. The scope of the party is that of a European wedding. It makes one realize how important it is to complete the higher education by a family member in Uganda.

Such party is a great opportunity to get acclimatized and switch from European to African mode. In the morning we leave the capital.

A small house will hold hundred friends