The windscreen started misting up as the sun finally disappeared over the horizon leaving the four of us in pitch darkness. Both the wheels on the right side of the car were in a foot deep ditch. The mud that surrounded the car was comparable only by the amount that was inside the car carried in by feet and hands after an unsuccessful attempt to dig and then push the car free from its ditch.
We were sat a few kilometres inside Kidepo National Park in the north-eastern corner of Uganda. Famed for its packs of lions, buffalo and hippos, we could have chosen better places to have got stuck after dark.
We could also have chosen worse though. We had just completed a 12 hour drive through the remote Karamoja region of Uganda from Sipi (in the very south east) up to Kideop (in the north east). The drive had been beautiful but also, at times, very remote. At least here in the national parks there was Uganda Wildlife Authority staff to help us out.
Over the phone:
“Hi, we are stuck in a ditch, could anyone come and pull us out?”
“Great, thanks. How long will you be?”
“Maybe 2 hours, we have to wait for the river to go down.”
This was first we had heard of any river. Normally I wouldn’t have balked at a river crossing. Truth be told, I actually quite like them. The problem on this occasion was that the windscreen, after 12 hours a shudders and judders now moved about an inch to the left and right and, significantly, about 1/4 and inch back and forth. Our short term solution, with the kind help of a chap that called himself a mechanic, was to stuff strips of cut up flipflops between the dashboard and the windscreen.
I can tell you now, this is/was a less than adequate solution. When splashed going through puddles, pools of water seeped in to the car. As such the foot wells were soaked.
In short I just wasn’t convinced about going through a river that needed to go down before anything (tractors/army trucks etc) could get through.
The water though remained a secondary concern to the immediate issue of being stuck in a ditch.
Helplessly we sat and waited out the 2 hours until Major Livingstone turned up with 15 soldiers and pulled us free from the ditch. As we departed we asked about the river. Their response:
“There is nothing to worry about, there is no river. Just go straight.”
So, we ventured on through the thick mud. In about 700 meters, we came to a river that in our headlights looked alarmingly fast flowing and had downstream from the crossing a meter or so high waterfall.
Again on the phone:
“We’ve reached the river”
“Don’t cross it”
“We weren’t going to”
“I will get the tractor to pull you through”
Half an hour later and the tractor turned up. 10 minutes later but over 15 hours from the start of our drive we arrived at the campsite.
The next few days were filled with wonderful safari drives around the park. Lions were spotted and generally a good time was had by all…that was…until…we got a puncture.
Of course, a puncture is a bit of a regular occurrence driving in Uganda and so, eager to be all manly, I jumped out of the car to change the wheel. I pulled the spare wheel cover off to be met with, not the spare that I had checked just weeks before, but a blown out a tyre.
The only explanation I can think of is that someone must have swapped it at a garage when we weren’t looking. As a swore under my breath it was pointed out that a second hand spare tyre might fetch you about 125,000 UGX (just under £30),or to put into context, about half the average primary school teacher’s wage.
So, back on the phone:
“Hi, yeah. It’s us again.”
“We have a flat tyre”
“And our spare tyre has been swapped for a bad tyre”
“Can you help?”
“We will send someone”.
Two hours later, some very friendly UWA officials did turn up and then drove us an hour outside of the national park to the nearest trading centre (to the untrained eye it might have just been a small village but we were assured it is a trading centre).
Half an hour and 15,000 UGX (£3.50) later our tyre was fixed and back with us.
As the UWA staff left us, they departed with eternal advice:
“Please try to not get stuck again”
Exploring Uganda is incredible fun and it holds a variety and depth of beauty unmatched by anywhere I have travelled but, and this is a big but, it is not always easy.