To Three Countries, Two Time Zones, On Two Wheels [analysis]

On August 21, a group of 31 men set off on a 1,580km trip from Kampala to Bujumbura, the capital of Burundi.

It would have been like any other ordinary trip if the lot was going by bus or flying there they were riding motorcycles all the way. Yes. Three countries on two wheels. The road trip was organized by Pearl Riders Club is conjunction with KFC, Panamera bar and lounge and Pinnacle Security, among others.

Pearl Riders Club (PRC) is a group of youthful bikers with a passion for charity and this run was codenamed the KFC Add Hope Amagara Tour. Of the 31 riders, some were part of the support team, including mechanics, drivers of the bike carrier and cameramen. The carrier was necessary in case any of the bikes broke down. A little after 7am on that Thursday, the team was flagged off from KFC, Acacia mall.

The first stop was the equator on Masaka road before heading to Byana Mary Hill School and Orphanage for the first charity event of the day. From Masaka, it was non-stop firing up to Mbarara. That section being well-tarmacked with less corners, it was time to put the bikes to a real test. Of course they (bikes) had passed the scrutinizing by the club’s mechanics before making the trip but the boys had to fire up the engines a little.

Soon we were in Mbarara. After a quick lunch, the team met mayor Wilson Tumwine, before hitting the road again. After Mbarara, all focus was reaching Katuna border post in good time. The rough patches between Mbarara and Ntungamo made matters even worse. We got there before dark and cleared with Immigration and customs. That was the longest ride I had ever made.

Into Rwanda we roar

That is not an excuse for my inability to ride into Kigali after crossing. For starters, riding on the right-hand side through the corners at night wasn’t a cup of tea for me. Before long, it started to drizzle and I had to give the bike to a more experienced rider. The Kigali Free Bikers gave us a warm welcome most of them speak Luganda, by the way.

After they had got over the shock of the monster bikes from Kampala, it was time to ride around. On Friday, the team paid a sombre visit to the genocide memorial sites. In Kigali, you have to abide by the rules. “If a bike runs through a red light, they [police] may not know who it was, so, all of us will be in trouble,” their leader aised.

The following day I set out with the rest of the team, but I lost them when the lights turned red and decided to go on a solo ride, soaking in the sights and sounds. Truth be told, their ‘Jenniffer Musisi’ is better than ours. After riding for close to an hour on the smooth roads, checking out the manicured lawns, sprouting buildings and pretty girls, I did not want to stop.

The nightmare was getting a boda guy who could speak English or a little Kiswahili to lead me back to the hotel. Later that evening, we set out again. It was a totally different scene. The lights make the town so brilliant. Rwandans do not have just streetlights even the tarmac surface has lights. Kigali, we know you are better than Kampala, but do you have to be ahead by such a big margin?

As you leave Rwanda towards the border, it is just developing trading centres, however. It seems all the effort has been put on Kigali and making sure services like roads and health care services are working. Rwanda beyond Kigali? Uganda catches up then well almost, because 30 minutes later we were exiting the tiny country.

Ah, Burundi!

After a well-deserved rest in Kigali, we set off for the next leg of the trip to Burundi. As expected, the road is unusually smooth. Yours truly took time to adjust to the fine texture of the road, thanks to my upbringing on the potholed Kampala roads. In a few minutes, we were at the Nemba border post, where business came to a standstill as the machines roared in.

The people in charge took their time clearing us. We were stuck for over two hours as one of the officers went back and forth while the others made endless calls alerting police ahead: “They are on their way. Like they did the last time,” a friend translated to us. The Kigali Free Bikers had just returned from Bujumbura. After crossing into Burundi, the real thrill kicked in.

It is said a biker needs a full tank and corners to have a blast. The tanks were full and the bends were more than we anticipated. If you think the road to Kabale has corners, then you have not been to Bujumbura. By now, we had all got used to riding on the right and I, riding behind the pack, had a blast watching the big boys leaning into corners like it was Moto GP.

Imagine a tall guy weighing around 90kg and riding a 200kg BMW R1200GS. That means close to 300kg of man and machine leaning so deep into the corner that the man’s knee is almost scraping the tarmac, as the machine speaks in tongues. Pure bliss!

Imagine coming out of a sharp left turn hoping to get a small stretch where you can accelerate, only to run into a hairpin bend to the right. Without a co-driver like they have in rally cars, for motorbikes, it is pure instinct of regulating the speed and anticipating what lies on the other end while watching out for a bus or bicycle sloping towards you at breakneck speed. But that’s the whole point of aenture goose bumps from the adrenaline rush.

Burundi’s unpleasant shocks

In my next life, I will own a BMW aenture motorcycle since I may not be able to afford one soon. It defines power, speed and comfort on all terrain. As my colleagues and I on racers (kunamas) slowed down on rough terrain or the patches under construction between Mbarara and Ntungamo or Kabale to Katuna, the big boys simply fired through.

The original plan was to reach Bujumbura on Saturday, spend the whole Sunday doing charity work and touring sites like Borabora beach. But upon arriving in Bujumbura, our passports were taken when we stopped at Kamenge. The club’s leadership team had communicated to the country’s police boss and all our papers were in order.

The security man agreed to that but would not return our documents for some reason. Meanwhile, Burundian police seems not to have a uniform! The policemen kept turning up wearing uncoordinated tracksuits. It is illegal to ride motorcycles in Burundi after 5:30pm so, as we headed to the beautiful Martha hotel, I anticipated being surrounded and taken in. We got to the hotel without any incident, however.

We agreed to exit the country the moment our passports were released, which happened the following day (Sunday) after endless calls to Uganda’s high commissioner and other high-ranking government officials. Upon receiving the travel documents, we made a visit to an orphanage and made a brief stop at Borabora beach before setting off.

We never got to see much of Bujumbura, because of the strange security interest in us. Not that I was saddened by our uneventful stay there Bujumbura. is a sleepy, strange town – I hesitate to say city (the capital is approximately the size of Mbarara town). Someone described it all as being like Uganda in 1986 because of its rules and people seem to live in fear.

No wonder the amazingly stunning Burundian girls in Kampala pass themselves off as Rwandan, most times Kigali has more swagg where Bujumbura is underwhelming. But if you think Rwandan girls are pretty, you haven’t met a true Murundi, then… The only nightspot I ventured into was called Toxic, a nice little place with so many hot chicks. The DJ actually played a few Ugandan jams.

We did not hang out that much because we were tired, had no documents and anticipated the long ride back to Kigali the following day. The highlight of the trip for me was the ride towards the wrong border point. Instead of heading to Nemba, we ended up in Bugarama. The boys were too busy accelerating leaning maximum into bends that nobody noticed we were heading in the wrong direction.

Most admit to have noticed something wrong. The bends on the return seemed too many and even sharper but all we wanted to do was rave into them. When the lead pack arrived at the border and realised it was not Nemba, it was like the biking gods had delivered manna in form of an encore. But then the heavens opened up, showering us the entire run to Nemba, which we reached at 9pm, Sunday.

An hour later, we had been cleared. I was too tired and cold to get back on the bike so, it was placed on the carrier as we descended into Kigali, arriving cold, tired and hungry but most importantly, happy. The following day, we set off from Kigali for Kampala, arriving at 3am at our final destination – Panamera in Naguru.

Panamera proprietor and biker, Andrew ‘Desh’ Kananura, summarized the trip on his Facebook page thus: “The hours were long! We all got tired drained, exhausted, man and machine, the challenges, boy the twists and turns, hills and mountains, the rainstorms and the darkness, sunshine and sweat, two time zones on two wheels in three countries, we never faulted with this unquestionable zeal to do good. ”

During the KFC Add Hope Amagara Tour, two orphanages, one in Uganda and another in Bujumbura, were identified. Byana Mary Hill School and Orphanage in Masaka received a cheque of $1,000 for textbooks. Orphelinat de Coeligurs Unis de Jeacutesus et de Marie (the Orphanage of Hearts) in Bujumbura is taking care of 50 children, some of them victims of the war.

Also, according to a 2010 UN report, Burundi is the fourth poorest country in the world so, the number of abandoned kids is high. According to the biking club’s president, Mark Nsubuga, the club is going to provide a solar lighting system.

The biker dudes

I had met some of the bikers as we prepared for the ride. Being the outsider trying to make inroads, we did not talk much then, but as the vegetation flew past, they warmed up to me. I was known as the guy with a red bike struggling to keep up. But I took the banter with a smile I felt safer riding at a speed I was comfortable with and I believe if you want to go far, go slow. We were all on first-name basis.

For example, Desh was also Desho or Boss, riding his model 2014 BMW. That brother is laid back and riding is his chill-time. His role as a patron was to make sure the club business and all the boys were ok.

He would approach me with his big smile: “Samson, are you okay? Do you need a substitute?”

Or take Omar on his beautiful white Cagiva bike. His role was to make sure all the bikes were in good mechanical condition. The bikers are a bunch of jolly good guys.

Source : The Observer

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