Our decision to go to Uganda on our around-the-world bicycle trip in 1991 was the result of a conversation with an English woman we had met on safari in Kenya. She had traveled to see the gorillas in Zaire, and she said the best part of that trip was going through Uganda and meeting the Ugandan people. She told us she would do the trip again just to go through Uganda and encouraged us to continue bicycling west along the Pan-African Highway.
In 1991, few tourists had visited Uganda since the early 1970s because of the political turmoil. Tourism was starting up again slowly, so we saw very few other travelers on our trip. This made for many pleasant encounters with Ugandans, who were welcoming and eager to talk to us.
At the time we entered the country, a large project was in progress to rebuild the roads. For much of our ride, we cycled on freshly asphalted roads built by either Chinese or Yugoslavian aid workers. We also cycled on long stretches of hard-packed dirt roads. The earth was a rich red, a gorgeous contrast to the sharp blue of the sky.
Uganda possesses spectacular natural beauty. Fertile, red earth abounds. Every day we delighted in the lush, green hills we rode through. We cycled in the “short rain” season. It would rain for about an hour or two each day. The daily rainfall was a small price to pay to bicycle through such gorgeous nature.
One day we climbed through vibrant vegetation overlooking the hills and the Rift Valley. In the valley, we saw deep craters filled with lush banana trees and blue lakes. White clouds dotted the azure sky. The sight was refreshing, gorgeous, and pure—a hidden Shangri-la.
Often, when we entered a village we saw children playing on the street who smiled at us with friendly interest. Ugandan children made ingenious toys for themselves out of necessity. They fabricated toy trucks, cars, and even ride-worthy one-speed bicycles. They engineered many of the toys with movable parts. One boy had crafted a large, toy helicopter, which he pulled along with a stick, making the propellers spin. He decorated it by writing “Uganda Red Cross” on the side.
We noticed how the cows changed from region to region on our trip. In this area of Uganda, the cows had three-foot-long horns spread far apart, similar to a Texas longhorn. At one point, we almost ran into a bull crossing the road when he stopped to look us in the eye. We braked furiously to keep our distance.
Our month in Uganda was one of the highlights of our trip. We couldn’t have planned it. Because we had stayed open and adaptable, and followed our intuition we were led to explore off the beaten path where we encountered some of the warmest people and the most beautiful nature on our year-long odyssey.
You can read about my life-changing around-the-world bicycle odyssey in my book.
Bicycle Odyssey An Around-the-World Journey of Inner and Outer Discovery
Available in print or ebook through amazon.com , BalboaPress.com , BarnesandNoble.com or at your local independent bookstore. Ask them to order for you. Help support indie bookstores! These independent stores now carry my book: Half-Off Books in Fullerton, California, Vroman’s in Pasadena, and Book Soup in West Hollywood.
After you’ve read the book, please let me know your thoughts. If you’ve made creative toys like the children I met in Uganda, please tell me about that in the comments below.