PAULA MEHMEL: Shoot The Rapids — An Uganda Journey, Part 6

They say it’s about the journey, not the destination. But on our return trip to Entebbe, Uganda, it was reaching the destination that gave me the greatest joy.

We had planned to take the African Bus back to Kampala on Saturday for our return trip home Sunday. However, for several logistical reasons, as well as the fact that a few of us had been feeling unwell and the lack of stops would prove biologically challenging, we opted to dig into our piggy banks and pay for our driver, Erique, to take us to our hotel in Entebbe.

The trip started late — which isn’t terribly unusual — and had a few bumps in the road in the first part of the trip, including adding an hour on to the trip by having to double-back because of a forgotten item. (And no, it wasn’t me!) But there were also some fun moments, like Erique stopping to buy bananas that we tossed to baboons as we crossed the Blue Nile River.

As we approached the college hostel where we were going to drop off Mary, the wife of our organizer, Daniel, we had a glimmer of the highway to hell on which we were about to  embark, just as Denise fell victim to the stomach ailment that had haunted me all week and the difficulty of pulling over on African roads without shoulders. Our trip began with me losing my lunch in the bus parking lot and it ended for Denise on a similar note.

The back road to Mary’s college and hostel was VERY rough, but Erique is a superb driver. It was good we were going there, as it gave Denise a chance to clean up.

When we left Mary’s place at 5:30 p.m., we thought in a a perfect world we would get to our hotel by 7 p.m. It’s not a perfect world.

The problems began when we got stuck in a traffic jam. Now I want you to think of the worst traffic jam you’ve ever been in and then multiply it by chaos. It is like an African market that is full of people walking all over the place, cars and trucks standing still with the worst exhaust fumes you can imagine coming in your open windows because if you close them you will collapse from heat, and approximately 4 billion motorcycles darting here, there and everywhere with seemingly no traffic rules or concept that they are mortal beings. Oh, and the road has no shoulders.

After nearly entering a hallucinatory state because of the exhaust, our car became overheated because of the jam, so we had to pull over a few times, and Erique began to drain us of the bottles of water in our car by pouring them into the car.

And then the GPS became our enemy. It led us down the proverbial wrong path. Now getting lost is never a good thing, but getting lost after dark in a country that the U.S. State Department calls a Level 3 travel risk, saying Reconsider Travel there due to crime and terrorism, is NOT GOOD.

Now I need to be clear. The people of Uganda are kind, generous and truly lovely. I adore them. And while physically uncomfortable, I rarely feel unsafe here. But I also know that bad things happen when people get lost in areas of a crime-laden city you don’t know. Most people are wonderful, but all it takes is for one bad person to take advantage of being in the wrong place at the wrong time for things to go off the rails. And we stood out like a sore thumb as clearly not belonging where we were. I was scared.   

Erique was calm though, even as his GPS went dead, and figured out the way back to the road. That is until in an attempt to get us back on the main road, the front wheel of the car fell into a huge culvert in the road. As I lurched forward when it happened, I saw a huge hole in front of me that looked remarkably like a grave. I was past being scared.

Thanks to the help of some kind men around us, and Erique’s skill and ability to keep his head, we were somehow able to get out of it without plummeting forward. That was the good news.

The bad news was that to do that we had to plunge into on coming traffic on a wildly busy road. I saw my life pass before my eyes as the oncoming cars barreled toward us, thinking “so this is how it ends. In a traffic accident in Uganda”. Gotta say, though, it’s truly on brand for me.

I still am not sure how we survived, but we did. I breathed a sigh of relief as Erique pulled on the main road and we thought we were headed to Entebbe with smooth sailing ahead.

We were so naive because the car overheated. And Erique had to pull over. Except remember there are no shoulders. So “pulling over” consisted of Erique basically stopping as far over as he could in the traffic lane. At first, the hazards were on as he looked under the hood of the car and then draining us of every drop of water in the car to cool things down. But then the hazards and every light went out. With all of the power. Thankfully, Erique is both a good driver and a mechanic and miraculously he got the car running again AND we weren’t killed. Good on both counts.

Finally, it looked like we might actually get to our hotel, which was a good thing since my phone was dead. Thankfully, we had written the address and number of the hotel down that Expedia sent with confirmation. We finally arrived at “Gorilla Guest House,”  which was great. Except we were going to African Roots Hotel.

When I got out of the car to check things out, I heard the bark of a very loud and not at all friendly sounding dog. I decided that me being mauled in a remote back alley in Entebbe was not how I wanted to go, so I jumped back in the car quickly.

Erique, who had the only working phone, called African Roots, and we discovered it had moved. It was on all of ITS info, but apparently Expedia didn’t get the memo. So off on another adventure.

We were about 15 minutes away from our destination. Someone from African Roots then arranged to meet us and let us follow them to the hotel. Needless to say, that also had a few glitches. But just after 11 p.m., some 14½ hours after we were scheduled to start, we arrived at African Roots.

And let me tell you at that moment, it was not about the journey. But finally reaching our destination alive.

One thought on “PAULA MEHMEL: Shoot The Rapids — An Uganda Journey, Part 6”

  • Vicki Schmidt February 27, 2023 at 7:16 pm

    Whew. I’ve had similar adventures. Very frightening!


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