From Rwanda into Uganda – a border crossing I will never forget

Clutching the chunky waist of a stranger who is balancing my suitcase on the handlebars of his weary looking motorbike is not how I imagined we would be getting from Musanze in Rwanda to Kabale in Uganda.

We would be going from one picturesque rural setting to another, from the backdrop of the Virunga mountains that are so formidable their peaks are still snowcapped when it’s 25 degrees on the ground, to the isolated Lake Bunyoni that locals cross with homemade canoes carved out of tree trunks. Holding on to the creaking bike is proving quite the challenge, with muscles screaming loudly from the torturous ordeal that was climbing the mud-soaked beast that is Mt Bisoke just two days earlier.

Virunga Mountains

So how did we end up here? Well, the taxi from our Musanze hotel had come to an abrupt halt outside a small concrete building nestled in front of yet another banana crop that we presumed was the visa office that defined the border of Rwanda and Uganda. Not even offers of more money would entice our driver to take us across the border – 100 metres of no-man’s land marked by bulldozers and rubble – as he had no passport. He wouldn’t be able to get across if he wanted to, or back.

We ignored the bewildered stares of the construction workers as we awkardly wheeled our suitcases across, the wheels bumping loudly and kicking up red dust in their wake. After the requisite stamping was completed at the concrete shack on the other side, our inquiries about transport were met with two options.

The first – a car and driver – is ruled out as neither will be present for several hours. The next, then, becomes the only one. Two motorbikes. Two drivers. Two passengers. Two suitcases.

This is how I have ended up perched precariously behind a local man who simply nodded when I made him promise he would drive safely before I would get on. I could have asked if him if he wanted a coffee, for all the commitment he indicated.

We roll slowly down the road, dodging piles of rocks through the highway’s never ending construction zone. I am awkardly trying to stay on, keeping an eye on my luggage, all while turning my head constantly to ensure the bike carrying my boyfriend doesn’t suddenly stray into another direction.

But then I catch his eye and we both burst out laughing. We have the cliched wind in our hair and the world at our feet. We are like fugitives hurtling towards an unknown destiny. Along the roadside, children clamour to peer out their classroom windows at us, like our own private cheer squad. We have become a kind of pied piper, the sound of our engines causing people to run out of banana fields and line the roads, waving frantically to mark our passing.

When it begins pouring rain, the drivers stop, and we take shelter under a forlorn looking roadside shack. It fast becomes a gathering point for all locals within a nearby radius, all of us united by our need to seek a break from the increasingly powerful downpour. An old woman hikes up her skirts and nestles in next to me, suspiciously looking me up and down before eventually awarding me a gap-tooted grin. No one knows how long we will be here for, and no-one cares.

Back on the road, our arrival at Kabale is met with much less fanfare. Our drivers make contact with our next driver, who shuffles us onto his dusty back seat as if we were that day’s grocery delivery. I want to get back on the bikes, for the adventure to continue. Can’t they take us all the way to Lake Bunyoni?

But our drivers are gone, speeding back to no-man’s land. They will spread the adventure to the next reluctant tourists, even though I want to keep it all for myself.

Our destination – Lake Bunyonyi

2 thoughts on “From Rwanda into Uganda – a border crossing I will never forget

  1. hi! A belated thanks for the comment, sorry I missed this. I loved Lake Bunyonyi which I still need to post about not to mention climbing Mt Bisoke which I don’t think I’ll ever recover from. I hope you are having a great experience in Kabale!


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