Y’all know the itch when there’s a route you want to try out?
What if it’s 1150km from home? When I rode to Rwanda in July, I missed seeing a small corner of Uganda, that I had heard so much about: The Kabale Kisoro twisties. 🖤💛❤️🖤💛❤️
There is also a very specific spot I wanted to go swim at near Moshi in Tanzania: Kikuletwa Springs. And a mountain to hike that a flower is named after that I remember from my childhood.
In short: East Africa was calling.
I acquired (and then lowered) a pre-loved KTM 390adv just a few weeks before Christmas. The new girl’s logbook came through last minute, so out we were!
A 3-week trip through 4 countries covering over 4,800 km – which I’ll share with you in 3 parts:
Part 1: Nairobi to Lake Kivu. Glances at Lake Bunyonyo, the Impenetrable Forest and a bunch of hair needle turns made me forget the rough Kisumu and Kampala Xmas traffic 😎☺️💯 Sunset at Lake Kivu should be on everyone’s bucket list 💙💙💛💚
Part 2: Kivu to Kili. Exploring beautiful roads with friends. Plus New Years in Kigali and a few bike repairs on the roadside
Part 3: Usambara Mountains to Diani and back to Nairobi. Hiking, swimming and relaxing!
Now here’s part 1!
PS: A detailed explanation of the border crossing procedure and requirements can be found in an earlier article here.
Part 1: Nairobi to Lake Kivu (3.5 days)
Maybe leaving Nairobi on Friday 23rd December at noon isn’t such a brilliant idea. But well. I set out westwards from Limuru down the Mai Mahiu route and aim to sleep in Busia.
All packed! What could possibly go wrong?
After circumventing some bad traffic down the escarpment, I head towards Narok and Sotik: Sweet empty roads! Some rains to bless the journey!
Just before Ahero, I find some mad traffic.
After kms of tight lane splitting, things get no better.
When the rain starts and some kadudu car gets stuck in front of me up a muddy hill, I decide to take a break.
The locals welcome me home and explain that I’m witnessing the Annual Migration – “they only visit once a year”.
I have dinner at the petrol station. The jam moves by 15 metres in those 90 minutes.
As night falls, I decide to just look for where to sleep. Magic! The petrol station has some rooms – with running water! And that’s how I only manage 320km today and sleep in Ahero 🙂
I’m up at 6am with a goal to sleep in Mbarara in Southern Uganda – some 600km away. But I find the same jam outside my window!
With day light, I’m able to navigate around the traffic easier.
Once past Kisumu town, roads are empty and I’m finally able to twist the throttle. When I rode here in July with Havana, I used my 125cc bike. I’ll one day write about this bike upgrade. Right now I enjoy averaging 100 km/h as opposed to 75 on empty roads – saves time and feels comfortable and safe!
After a triple banana breakfast in Luanda, I find looong queues at Busia border crossing. I’m not the only person trying to get to Uganda this Christmas!
It’s already 11:30am by the time I leave the Ugandan side towards Kampala. I stop for a late lunch at Java in Jinja, and it’s 3:20pm when I get to the Nile bridge in Jinja. I still know the route to the old bridge off-head and take some forbidden pics of the forbidden new bridge.
Riding through Mabira Forest Reserve, I witness a police pick-up car chasing down boda bodas carrying firewood that was evidently illegally logged from the forest. As one boda falls on the roadside at high speed, I wonder how the maths of poverty, climate change and conservation will work out over the next years.
Approaching Mukono the traffic gets really tight. It is indeed the 24th December, and people are travelling for Christmas! I’m already tired of lane splitting, going slow and tip toeing on the tall(er), heavy bike!
From Kireka I take the bypass, which is blissfully empty. What a spirited ride, with captivating views across the many hills of Kampala!
Once the bypass ends, the jam and the chaos starts again. I’m taking lessons in lane splitting from the bodas – we think bodas in Kenya do risky stunts, but please go see for yourself in Uganda!
Before long, the sun sets and I stop for pics at a petrol station. The askari approaches me and tells me I’m not allowed to take photos of the petrol station, nor my bike on the sidwalk next to the petrol station. So many beautiful things to experience in the Pearl of Africa – just don’t let such issues dampen your mood!
For safety I decide against pushing onwards to Masaka. I pull up at a hotel with good Google Maps ratings just after Kampala. It’s Christmas and they are offering massage and steam bath. Why not?
Day 3 – Finally Open Roads!
Good morning! My goal is to ride the Kisoro twisties, then sleep in Kisoro, at the DRC border in Southwestern Uganda – which is 460km away.
I agree with myself over breakfast we’ll be minimizing photo stops.
At the Equator sign I have a very pleasant conversation with a Muslim family. It’s 25th December and I ask them where they’re travelling for the holiday. Big blunder. I’m informed that they are not on holiday because it’s Christmas and they’re not Christians. Semantics across cultures are always fascinating!
South the Equator, the road gets pretty empty. The rumble strips are just too many and at some point I have a sharp pain in my lower pelvis. I realized that the KTMs suspensions are GREAT but maybe not great enough to protect my inner organs from being violently shaken, when lazily sitting on the bike. Henceforth I stand and bend at the rumble strips.
Before long I’m in Mbarara and take the Bypass towards Kabale.
It’s very pretty and I seem to have forgotten the issue of photo stops.
I’m just about to enter the twisties where we had our unfortunate accident half a year ago, when it starts raining heavily and I stop.
As I buy some water and chat with a shopkeeper and his daughter chilling under their roof, a local boda passes by with his christmas drink. It’s a kind of silly but very peaceful moment. I think of my friend who’s still recovering from his injuries he sustained near here. I also think about how unquenchable the thirst of adventure is.
The Kabale twisties are just so beautiful, despite the rain!
The trip counter shows 385km when I stop in Kabale for some samosas. I’m VERY excited about the route to Kisoro down the escarpment.
But first the road passes through beautiful hills, quiet villages and allows beautiful glances across Lake Bunyonyo
Oh boy! So pretty! We’re getting closer to the DRC and I pass a friendly military stop. And then I get to some steep hair pin turns.
I spot a cone in the distance, which turns out to be Muhabura Vulcano at the border with Rwanda. I’m in Gorilla territory now!
I get to Kisoro around 7pm, and Google Maps takes me through an adventurous rough road to my destination.
Dinner takes two hours to prepare, so I get to edit a helmet cam video. Enjoy a few twisty kms from this evening on this video link!
465km done today!
Today I’ll enter Rwanda and ride along Lake Kivu. It’s only 180km from here to my friend’s place!
So first I want to explore Kisoro town! I also need to get some UGX from a bank because I ran out of cash due to spending an extra night in Uganda.
There’s quite a number of children and adults asking for money on the streets. We’re just a few kms and a (closed) border away from the DRC, where rebel groups are turning peoples’ lives into hell and making them flee their homes and land.
Being stared at and followed by people under the influence of alcohol makes me enjoy the walk through Kisoro town less and I head back to the hotel. I meet a Ugandan rider who’s attending to his bike and who’s planning to cross to Rwanda today, too. Around noon I head towards the border, very sure he’ll catch up with me.
Can you see these rumble strips? Nuts!
It’s a swift 15 minute twisty ride to the border town Kyanika – these corners are troublesome to trucks, as evidenced!
The border crossing at Cyanika takes much longer than expected. The Ugandan side is cleared in 5 minutes, but the Rwandan customs official takes at least 75 minutes to type my details into his system. More than enough time for the Honda NC 750 to catch up!
On entering Rwanda, we are welcomed by five speed cameras in quick succession. As he’s headed to Kigali, we part ways at the next major junction, and I have around 100km left for the day.
Once at the Gisenyi junction, I recognize different spots along the route and start missing my riding buddy Havana! Other than some brief drizzle, it’s beautiful, twisty riding along empty roads and relaxed villages.
The beautiful sight of Lake Kivu in the distance!
The speed limit of 60 is trickier to keep with the KTM than it was last time with the Spirit, y’all!
Entering my pal’s town Karongi with the last rays of sun!
Just in time for a breathtaking sunset over Lake Kivu!
And a huge fish for dinner 🙂
And here’s the best part of the trip: One of Havana’s BIG HUGS!
Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas, everyone! Wasn’t 2022 epic?
Part 2 coming soon: Kivu to Kili. My first time riding in Tanzania!
Meanwhile: Leave a comment!
PS: Sorry for the adverts. Ignore them. One day we’ll upgrade to the paid version of this blog!
This month I’m working from my friend’s house at Lake Kivu. Over the weekends, we wish to explore the beauty of Western Rwanda together on two wheels!
Havana and I rode to Kibuye, Karongi district from Nairobi. You can read all about the 1373km trip through Uganda, incl. our preparations check-list on this earlier post.
Kibuye/Karongi town itself is rather quiet, and has a rural feeling to it. The main feature is the lake. It’s just sooo beautiful 😍
Some impressions of town:
The lake so awesome! One night we go for a sunset photo shoot.
And before long – Weekend 1 is here!
We plan to ride South to the famous Nyungwe Forest on Saturday morning, and ride through Butare back to Karongi. The return route will include an 80km off-road stretch. We decide to split it into two days and find a nice place to stay in Nyungwe Forest and make an advance booking.
(Spoiler: It never happened like this…)
Two long days in the saddle again? We’re still suffering from the 3 long days on our bikes on the way here! We’ve been sleeping early to combat fatigue and be effective at work. One evening I decide to scavenge facebook for a massage place. We succeed and book two deep tissue massage therapy sessions for Saturday morning. They are back to back because there’s only one therapist, but by 11:30 we plan to be on the road!
While Havana is having her treat(ment), I head out fuel the bike and then tighten the chain. It just takes 3 minutes and I was honestly too lazy during the week.
The chain situation
I pull out my spanners. I quickly realize that the chain cannot be adjusted further with typical means. The back axle is at its furthest point out. 😲 Kids assemble and watch me curiously while I think.
Havana shows up from her massage incredibly relaxed while I’m getting some advice from my friend in Nairobi about the chain issue. Can I find a fundi to remove a few links? Will it be tight on the back sprocket or is it just too worn out?
We agree that it’s not worth risking to head out like that and call our trusted local boda to point us to the right fundi.
He’s somewhere near the main bus park. Yes, that’s the main bus park of Karongi town. See your life!
Havana makes new friends while the fundi gets to work
We’re welcomed and the chain is out in 5 seconds
Fundi turns into dentist and knocks out two chain links
The old chain is stretched too much. It’s not sitting neatly on the sprockets whatsoever. This is not great!
There’s something I haven’t yet mentioned about Rwanda. The language is Kinyarwanda, which I don’t speak or understand. If you interact with the common man you gotta figure out how to communicate – remember that you’re the guest here! Some people speak some Swahili, others speak some English, and there’s also a bit of French (but my French is just too rusty).
Around my bike we have our trusted swahili speaking boda who doesn’t speak english, the fundi who speaks a little english but no swahili and around ten bystanders who speak in hushed Kinyarwanda to each other. We make the triangle communication work somehow and add in just enough pointing and sign language to cook up a plan.
There’s a new Chinese-made chain with the right specs (as per the manual!) available. It’s 10,000 RWF, approx 1150 bob. Our friend in Kigali calls his fundi but we can’t seem to find a Honda chain and sprockets in Kigali fast enough, so we go with this one. It fits like a glove!
Kinyarwahilinglish is a perfectly functioning language!
As I pay, the fundi tells me he is still new and has a lot to learn. I found his chain work sensible and encourage him to check out youtube videos but he lacks a smart phone.
We take selfies and bounce!
The Plan, version 2
It’s nearly 1pm, so we can’t do the original plan anymore. We agree to do a quick dash up the border town Gisenyi, close to Goma. It looks like an epic route with a million twisties!
We head out from the fundi and ride up the hill leaving town. In the first corner I realize that my back braking power is zero. At least I know what’s going on. My DIY mentor would be so proud of me. I stop to adjust the drum brake’s cable that is now totally loose given the back axle was moved all the way front.
Now we should be set! Let’s head out!
A final glance at the incredible view across Lake Kivu! Soon, the road moves away from the Lake and we ride through a mountain range. It’s just corner after corner for an hour. We get ino a good riding rhythm with some photo stops, happy smiles as we both bob our heads to our playlists.
There are deep trenches along the roadside. An amazing rain water management system along the slopes. Some good thinking was put into constructing these roads!! We get the purpose but it doesn’t make it less scary in corners…
Roads are fairly deserted but one thing that stands out are the well behaved mini buses ferrying people and goods from town to town. We also meet small children chilling out in the trenches and watching us curiously. Some jump on the road in excitement and wave. The speed limit makes sense after all!
It looks like it might rain. We’re trying to make mile but it’s also really cold suddenly, so I stop to put on my windproof rain jacket over my mesh jacket.
Are we in Karirana!? Wow! The last thing I expected were tea plantations. I start wondering what came first: the cold or the tea!
We should be close to Gisenyi now, and soon descent back down to the Lake!
Can you spot the Lake in the distance? We haven’t seen a lot of people on this afternoon’s route, but now the road is getting busier. Lots of people are walking. Many bicycles ferrying cargo and very few bodas.
We enter Gisenyi and cruise along the lake shore
Passing by a brewery!
We are at a few hundred metres away from Goma, Eastern DRC! How epic is this!? We HAVE to take a selfie at the border! I put the border post on my Google Maps and bluetooth guides us down a road until we reached a well-armed and closed barrier.
We are a bit puzzled. Are we even allowed to take photos here?
We watch some local women shout and scream at the unmoved soldier manning the barrier. The whole situation is not very inviting. A screenshot might need to do!
It’s 2 hours to darkness and we’re a thousand twists from home. But first things first: Lunch!
What an inviting sign post! We pull over and find a beautiful garden restaurant.
We’re served with the most yummy marinated grilled fish. By now Havana and I can read each other’s minds. Kwani, what’s the rush! Let’s sleep here and explore the town a little!
We get through a few local beers and a friend who happens to be in town joins us. I learn that Gisenyi is a party town and attracts weekend guests even all the way from Kigali!
Some people may or may not have gone to sleep while others may or may not have gone out to experience post-covid nightlife!
Sunday I wake up with renewed ambition to get a good border picture!
After breakfast we pack up and explore town a bit
Near La Corniche
We pass by the Rwandan side’s airstrip, which is literally across the border fence from the Goma airport. Just a reminder how weird this border business is!
We reach the border area and are a bit more courageous today. We ask the soldiers if we can enter and take photos. While one answers yes, the other answers no. “Don’t take photos of offices” is the conclusion. 👍 We park the bikes and take a stroll down past body scanners towards DRC.
We see cargo (diapers!) but not sure if it’s flowing east or westwards. One final conversation and we get permission for selfies at the final barrier!
Of course we get permision – because we’re glowing, happy, harmless tourists!
We’re excited! Why didn’t we carry our passports? We’d have hopped into Goma for lunch!
Next stop: The beach! We find a Serena hotel on Maps and decide to go for juice and to chill a bit more before riding back home.
It’s other-worldly. We are standing at a 5-star hotel’s beach in Western Rwanda staring at the water towards DRC. The news of the recent refugee crisis and the R23 rebel group’s strikes? We know of it. We can’t see it.
Expats are playing with their kids in the pool.
People are swimming, watching us curiously with heavy boots on their beach. Biker manenos 🏍️ 🤣
We chat over some fresh extra tasty juice and gear up to start our return journey.
I pretend to take photos of Havana but really: I’m just here for the colourful Kitenge clothes!
We’re going to be riding back the same route we came yesterday
Today we are more relaxed and well fed. The new chain is working and we know what to expect on the road: Corners, hill climbs, hairpin turns, long descents and views! 🐍🐍🐍
On one of those looooong winding roads I follow a bicycle loaded with gunias of produce. These people are fit!! They just push the bike plus load uphill. You won’t see many motorcycles as in Kenya or Uganda.
He’s doing a clean 50 downhill! Leaning into the corners with his heavy luggage on tiny bicycle tires. That’s real skill!! I’m very impressed and overtake him to stop and take his photo but as he shoots by me he’s too fast and I miss him 🤣🤣
Sometimes you see the road you passed a minute ago juuuuust across a valley
The road turns left, but you can see it re-appear on your far right
By the time we get back to Karongi we have graduated with a Masters degree in Lean Angle Management!
The Lake welcomes us home
We chill for the rest of our Sunday, intoxicated by our dopamines and endorphins!
Maybe next weekend we’ll make it to the famous Nyungwe Forest?
My biker pal’s job moved her to Lake Kivu in Western Rwanda. She had brought her clothes and favorite coffee mug with her by plane, but life was not complete. She was raving about the incredible roads, beautiful scenery and amazing riding once Mugabe would make it to Rwanda. Mugabe is Havana’s bike, a hoooot blue Gixxer 155.
We kept chatting as she settled into her new home, about the farmfresh food, the good air, beautiful lake views – and so we cooked up a plan to ride down together and for me to stay for some weeks before riding back to Nairobi.
How to prepare for such a trip?
Ages ago I lived in Uganda and had visited Rwanda several times, but riding there over a quick long weekend!?
Our preps included
Setting expectations. Two full blown adults spending 4 days or rather 3 weeks together. How would we ride safely together? Keep the mood upbeat considering it was going to be exhausting? Spend our days as we would both be working demanding kick-ass jobs, once in Rwanda?
Route planning: With 280cc combined, how would we split the 1300kms? Into how many days? Where to stay and eat lunch? What’s the climate/weather along the route? What are the heavy traffic areas/times, and how would we avoid riding into the night?
Paperwork planning: What’s needed to cross the border? Ride legally and safely outside Kenya?
Check-List for our East Africa roadtrip:
First aid kit and skills
A trusted buddy to share our ICE details with and be our trip’s “virtual escort”. Esp if alone, share live trip updates so they can check up on you. Thanks to the one and only for offering to be on stand-by!
A waterproof document envelope thingy, because:
Passport/ID: We both didn’t need visas, but as a Kenyan resident I needed an interstate pass to avoid visa fees in UG+RW (print from eCitizen)
Logbook – which should be in your name. If bike is not in your name, take logbook and a letter from the owner outlining your travel itinerary to KRA in town before departure so they issue you a temporary permit. They will ask to stay with your logbook, but if you will cross another border on your journey, you can’t leave your original logbook with them of course. So just explain that and go with it.
Valid driver’s license
COMESA insurance for the bike. This is an extension of your normal bike insurance, so has to come from the same company
Yellow fever vaccination certificate
Covid travel requirements – at the time we travelled, a vaccination certificate was enough to cross the land borders. This may vary! We still took a rapid test to be sure.
4 copies of everything, as you will leave copies at each border.
There are no payments at the border. Unless you want to tip a broker to help you figure out where to queue (which really isn’t needed)
A pen to fill in the immigration form.
Enough cash for fuel, accomodation, eventualities. Do not rely on your bank card or mpesa to work. We carried USD (in fresh 20$ notes from a forex bureau) and KES. I couldn’t find RWF in Nairobi and the UGX rate I was offered in forex bureaus was crap, therefore opted to exchange at the border. Knowing the official exchange rate can help you negotiate.
Know the country’s road rules. e.g. TZ and RW have speed limits! What do yellow or white lines mean? etc
ATGATT – don’t go easy on that just because the roads are less busy or it’s hotter than home.
A clear, free mind: Safety mindset, defensive riding 101%
Check if your private health cover will sort you beyond Kenya. Get details on how it would work and phone numbers
Bike tools, serviced bike incl. a thorough bolt, chain and bearings check
An evacuation cover. What if you crash and there’s no good hospital around? How will you reach home in your injured state? Check out e.g. AMREF Maisha cover (link) It’s a good idea even in Kenya, but the cover for neighboring countries is slightly more so you might need to upgrade if you have one.
Data bundle. To create FOMO inducing insta posts, update your trip buddies, call your fundi on whatsapp, etc. Roaming on another country’s network with your SIM card can be expensive. You could rely on wifi in the hotels, but how will you deal with an emergency? I bought the Airtel One Africa bundle for 1100 KES for 10GB which covers UG, RW and 10+ more countries. It worked magic: A seamless online experience.
Enough airtime on Safaricom to make emergency calls. Airtel network might be low in some places. Safaricom tends to roam on the stronger networks.
Power bank. Adapter for Rwanda-shape sockets
Nice to haves:
Look up accommodation options in advance to avoid looking for places late at night. Go through the reviews at the comfort of your home. We made bookings on booking.com. Some hotels allow reservations without upfront payment or entering card details. Or get their numbers from Google Maps and make a booking via whatsapp. It tends to help if someone expects you at night in a foreign land (we will come back to this later :-S )
Emergency contacts of bikers on ground in case you need assistance. You might be a loner and don’t want to mingle. Fine. But at least get a number and let them know you’re visiting. Or you might make a dozen new friends and have the cultural immersion of your lifetime!
TP, wet wipes, musli bars, basic meds like pain killers…
and so on…
Soooooo, how does the border crossing work?
The border procedure has two aspects and you have to clear them with both countries. Once you understand the logic and are confident you have all papers, you will not worry much about needing an agent/fixer to help you at the border.
1) Immigrations for yourself (ID/passport, yellow fever vaccination certificate, covid vaccination/test certificate, they’ll take your fingerprints and photo)
2) Customs for your bike (Logbook and copy. Copy of ID/passport. All copies will stay with them. They will register you in their system and issue you a temporary permit to take the bike into their country. They might counter check the chassis and engine numbers, so know where these are on your bike.)
3) To ride legally, you need a COMESA insurance cover for your bike and of course a valid DL. You probably don’t need to show these at the border but at police stops.
So much for the preps! It’s a full-time job in itself!
Here’s our story of riding to Lake Kivu 🙂
Day 0 – Head start to Naivasha
We wanted to reach Jinja on our first day. And we wanted to reach before sunset. This was going to be an overly ambitious ride from Nairobi, and with our “small bikes” we would need to leave around 4am – in full darkness and with July cold.
A biker friend was willing to host us in Naivasha for the night, so we left Nairobi on Friday at 4pm. Quick viewpoint stop and hot drinks at EsQoffee.
I want to say it was an uneventful ride down to Naivasha, but we meet a few naughty drivers on the road. Once in Naivasha, we pick up pizza and proceed to my pal’s house where we have chats over dinner. We debate the best route (Eldoret? Kericho? Londiani?) and settle with Londiani, with some uncertainty of where we’d find a great breakfast along that route. After a hot shower we set our alarms to 5am and sleep early, dreaming of the next 1200km and two border crossings.
Day 1 – Naivasha to Jinja
We head out from South Lake Road by 5:45am and enter the Nakuru highway with the first sun rays. Our ride through Gilgil is freezing but we’re making good speeds and before long the dual carriageway welcomes us to Nakuru.
After a fuel, water and toilet break we head out towards Londiani. There’s a rather narrow uphill section with lots of tree twigs indicating broken down trucks. We count at least four (or were they just parked!?). I had replaced my front tire just before this trip but the grip is great so far.
Google Maps maneuvers us off the highway towards Londiani junction and from here it is a breathtaking journey. We start to feel our empty stomachs but can’t spot any breakfast places. Even the few kibandas look closed!
Then we spot a signpost on the left: Koru Country Club. It’s a petrol station with choma and what looks like a restaurant! We enter and park the bikes. Many sets of eyes on us as we climb off the bikes and celebrate our progress so far! 198km in 3.5 hours! Not bad 🙂 Fresh Juice, and a hearty breakfast.
10am. 305km to go.
Next stop Kisumu, we agree.
We pass through sugarcane fields and that smell near Muhuroni’s sugar factory can wean you off sugar, I want to believe.
On approaching Kisumu town, I spot the signposts indicating the bypass. Google Maps on my bluetooth is quiet. Maybe I forgot to click “start” and going straight will get us into a huge traffic jam in town? I turn and take the bypass. Big mistake! The bypass has over 20 huuuuuge, steep and violent speed bumps. It’s not just annoying to ride over but we’re also slowed down by the trucks as they navigate the bypass at snail pace.
We finally get to the airport and stop for pictures, high fiving ourselves for the progress. Havana is just toooo nice. I would have been pissed with the lead for that choice of route, yo!
From Kisumu it’s another 110km to the border. With our late breakfast, we say let’s push through and eat at Busia. We run into lots of slow trucks on a narrow uphill towards Maseno. Once past Luanda, the road is empty. Until we find ourselves in the middle of a political rally in a small town. A good hundred bodas and maaaaany people are standing/walking on the road. They are going in our direction but still – we could get stuck in the middle. I signal to Havana whether we want to stop and wait this out, but we somehow manage to squeeze through.
Before long we enter Busia town. Trucks are lining up along the roadside waiting to enter the border area. A guy starts running next to my bike speaking with me for a good 600m. I’m listening to music in my helmet but figure that he’s one of the agents that wants to help you with border clearing for some cash. We had agreed not to use one, so I keep riding and we enter the huge border parking lot. I ask an askari where to park, and the agent answers. I tell him we won’t use his services politely. He keeps running next to my bike.
Once parked at the border office, I tell him off less politely and we ask a Kenyan police officer for where to start and she points us to the KRA counter.
After processing our papers on the Kenyan side, we proceed to the Ugandan side. The only negative experience is the toilet. I arrive there with swaths of women who just got off a long busride, clearly pressed. We all get yelled at that we should not even consider using the toilets without payment. In short “Lipa Kwanza! Ni nini!”. I mean, woooow.
We roll into the UG side of Busia. Total one hour and 15 minutes 🇰🇪 -> 🇺🇬 . It looks the same. Until we see the Shell petrol station. 6180 UGX per litre. That’s 195 bob! We consider turning back just to fuel in Kenya @ 160. Well, not really, coz small bikes don’t mind such issues toooo much.
We look for lunch!!
I switch mobile data from Safaricom to Airtel. My Airtel Africa bundle works perfectly.
Excitement! We are in Uganda. Smooth border crossing! 117km left. We had been told there might be some construction along the highway. We leave Busia at 4pm with optimism we’ll make it to Jinja by sunset.
I’m entering honeymoon state. Few cars. No drama. There’s one diversion for bridge construction but it’s short and fairly painfree. We’re riding through open green fields and it’s nice riding. A mix of Kenyan and Ugandan number plates.
Around 60 km in a probox kinda car approaches me from behind. I’m following a line of cars, there’s oncoming traffic and we’re all going at around 80km/h. In short, there’s nowhere the car is going. He comes reeaaall close to my number plate and starts flashing his light. I ignore him but start scanning the side of the road for an escape route. There is a narrow gravelly path before a deep ditch – it’s a 15cm step down from the highway. This is when the big boys show the car dust, but what to do? At some point he disappears from my mirror. Not a good sign. He has entered my blind spots and is right next to me. A hand can fit between my and his mirror, but not more. He basically pushes me to the side and I carefully ride down onto that ditch-y path to avoid being hit. What an asshole. He and his passengers even have the guts to open all their windows and gesticulate that I should be riding “down there”. I stop the bike for a few seconds and breathe. After letting a few cars pass, I get back on the road. As fate has it, the cars are building up at an uphill, and I overtake all cars including my friend. I avoid seeking eye contact. We know how this could end.
Honeymoon ends abruptly. By the time we get to Jinja, I have another 2-3 cars pointing me down to that “side lane”.
Ignoring all emotions, we continue riding safely and before long enter Jinja town. By now it’s beautiful evening twilight. We still have time to ride down to Lake Victoria!! A quick Maps check tells us there’s a road along the shores of the lake and we can ride back up towards along the Nile.
We hit the road and find tarmac ending soon.
We get a bit unhinged and follow a steep single track down to the water.
Mugabe does well in his tarmac shoes!
We find this railway bridge across the Nile. Lots of people walking and bodas cruising on the walkway under it, as we look for a the best photo angle
After saying hi to various local riders, we ride back up to the tarmac.
We check in at Jinja BaseCamp for the night. We didn’t pick it based on rating/recommendation but because it was the only accomodation within our price range where we could make a booking online without card details. The team was welcoming, there was free drinking water. The room was not exactly spacious, but we only needed to shower and sleep. The manager was so kind to help us order dinner in from a restaurant.
We inform our people of our arrival. 517km done! Smooth border crossing. Sunset pics at the Nile.
What else do you want?
Day 2 – Jinja to Kabale
We wake up early, pack up and load the bikes. We’re out of the gate by 5:30am because the goal is to have breakfast in Kampala – a quick 82km away – and be out of the city before the Sunday traffic locks us down. But first we look for fuel in Jinja. There are two Shell petrol stations, both still closed, so we end up at a no-name pump.
Various Ugandan bikers had informed us that motorbikes are not allowed to use the main bridge over the Nile and we didn’t find it worth the risk of being arrested. I chat up a car driver and ask him about the route to “the other bridge”. He is visibly confused that bikes are not allowed to use the main bridge. His passenger even challenges me to use the bridge and see if I’m being denied entry. On seeing the passenger’s white police uniform, I decide to withdraw from the conversation and that Google Maps will serve us just fine. But the driver ends up talking to a boda guy to take us across the bridge.
And off we go through a dingy, dark, muddy rough road 🙄 . The sh*t bikers go through, I tell you!! In the end we arrive and ride over an older but functioning bridge and on the other side I tip the boda.
From here we finya the bikes out of Jinja. We really want to get to Kampala before the city wakes up! But first we have to cross Mabira Forest at night. It’s pretty chilly and I follow a Noah who lights the way for us. He doesn’t seem exactly sure of the road, which works for us as we average 70 on the bumpy road through the dark forest. At some point I realized it’s a KCN number plate. The guy is equally new here like us 😉
We ride through Mukono and I marvel at how the place has developed. Obviously – it has been 10 years since I last visited!
Remember what a bad idea it was in Kisumu to take the bypass? It’s Sunday 7:15am so we decide to cruise through town. Within a few minutes we pass Banda and take the Lugogo turn, then Upper Kololo Terrace past the airstrip with a few glances over town. Empty roads and I’m so thrilled to be riding in Kampala. This is where I started my biking career back in 2010: as a boda passenger.
Within a few minutes we park outside CJs and enter for breakfast. Havana’s friend joins, and a few members of Uganda Bikers Club as well. We have a great time. It just feels wonderful to know you’re part of an East African community of like-minded people. They even offer to escort us towards the southern side of the city although they are heading out the other direction for a CSR ride for Rhino conservation!
On leaving the restaurant, we find traffic bumper to bumper.
Our hosts take us through busy city roundabouts, where at some point a boda falls right in front of my front tire. His two passengers quickly pick up their many little boxes and abandon him to pick up his bike. We get to the Northern bypass and our escorts wave us goodbye at the final turning.
The next 66k takes us ages for some reason. Or maybe it just feels slow. Up and down on a very straight road with a small engine can feel like that.
By the time we get to the Equator sign, we wonder if the day will ever end. 11am and only 160km done! 343km to go to Kabale all the way down near the Rwandan border!
We continue towards Masaka, then Mbarara. I can’t say that I enjoyed this part of the ride. Soooo many rumble strips. I remind myself how to stand on the bike hinged forward at the hip, disconnecting the upper body from my legs. I learned this in a recent offroad training: You want to avoid that these violent vibrations affect your inner organs.
At some point we ride through a very long swamp. Dried and fresh fish is being sold along the roadside. I’m curious and stop but the language barrier prevents any conversation.
Then I see a bus approaching from behind. It’s an open empty road. I’m doing 85 so he’s easily doing 100. I’m used to busses in Kenya overtaking me closely, at least halfway in my lane. The opposite lane is EMPTY and he has at least 800m open visibility to overtake smoothly. But this guy doesn’t move to the other lane by even a single inch.
At some point he’s just a few metres behind me. Seemingly happy to roll over me. I move off the road. In the next town find him at a speed bump. Of course. Overtake or not? Obviously some drivers get pissed by this, thinking you’re challenging them while you really just want to get to your destination. I let him go.
As if this wasn’t crazy enough: A bit later, again on open empty roads, an oncoming car pulls over from his side of the road to drive towards me in my line, looking directly at my face.
My conclusion at this point is that while Uganda might have less traffic and fewer careless drivers, there is a special breed purposefully putting you at danger.
We find more and more rumble strips and it gets hot. We take another water break and make it to the lunch place just before Mbarara by 2:30pm, an hour behind the plan. We find two bikes in the parking lot. Our escorts from Rwanda made it here before us!
A beautiful golden (!) Transalp and a Suzuki DR 650 😋
Get-to-knows and conversations over lunch. Two experienced riders had come for us all the way from Kigali – crossing the border just to welcome us. Wow! One had a pillion, a female motorcycling enthusiast who is just getting into riding.
Have you noticed that when adenture riders come together, it’s always story o’clock? Who knows who, who has been riding with whom to where? How did you get into riding and which of all your bikes was your favourite? Which was your best mechanic and what blunder made you divorce him?
We share about our ride so far. Havana and I can’t belive how much has happened on this trip already. It is just yesterday that we left Naivasha! And now we’re having lunch in the South-West of Uganda!
By 4pm we get on the road. 155km to go. We clarify that our engines are a bit smaller and we all look forward to a chill ride.
Once past Mbarara, it’s bikers’ paradise! Light twists, a wide new highway with gentle speed bumps. The scenery! This must be East Africa’s best kept riding secret!
I keep stopping for pictures and the lead with his pillion has to keep turning to look for us. But boy, it’s so beautiful! It’s a wide empty highway and we adjust the riding formation slightly every now and then.
We’re around 40km from Kabale town, our destination for the night, when the road gets steeper and twistier. My bike struggles a bit with speed up the hills and thankfully there’s a climbing lane. But there’s a certain red bus that doesn’t like the idea of four bikes being on the road. He overtakes us very carelessly, just for us to find him at the next town’s bus stop alighting passengers. I don’t have a great feeling overtaking him, but we really want to make mile and get to Kabale before dark. The guys still need to ride back all the way to Kigali today!
Viewer discretion warning: If you are not comfortable reading about an accident, consider skipping to Day 3 now.
On a long winding downhill, we’re doing 80 or so and the bus rushes by Havana and me carelessly again. I’m riding in second position and suddenly everything happens very fast. The next thing I see is Paul separated from his bike, both lying on the tarmac. The three of us stop our bikes. As we run to him, my accident response theory spools off in my head “Secure the accident scene. Provide first aid. Arrange medical help.”
Havana and I get into first responder mode, speaking to him, helping him remove his helmet. I look at his leg. Something is not right with the angle of his ankle. There is a bleeding wound. I remember a first responder video I watched a few weeks ago: I kneel into his artery at the thigh and use my shawl to tie his leg – in a bid to stop the bleeding.
Meanwhile, Tish and Stella secure the accident scene. We’re in the left lane of the road, but we don’t want to move to the side before we have a better grasp of the injuries. Villagers assemble and help put twigs on the road and wave down traffic. This being a hilly area, network is on and off. We make a few phone calls to Nairobi and Kigali to get advice. Paul is in pain and needs qualified medical attention. We are 20km from Kabale town. After a few minutes, a car stops and agrees to take the injured to the hospital. The first good Samaritan today! A few men help him into the car and Stella goes with him, Tish riding behind the car. We agree that us girls would stay behind to wait for the police.
It’s getting dark now. We look for the car that was involved in the accident and speak to the driver and his passengers to hear if they are injured, which thankfully they are not. We take lots of photos and wait for the police.
A guy in tshirt and jeans walks past, taking photos of me standing next to the three bikes. I ask him who he is. He smiles. I ask him to delete the photos. At this point I can only think about Paul’s ankle and I don’t find it appropriate for our photos and that of an accident scene to be in people’s phones. He laughs and walks away. Surely!
When someone tells you the police is coming, you wait for a police car or a uniformed individual. Or maybe that’s just me.
It’s taking a bit of time for said police to arrive. We’re still standing next to the bikes on the road side and catch our breath to calm down our adrenaline rush. We look for some water and wet wipes to clean up. A villager suggests moving the bikes to avoid further accidents. We count our belongings and ensure we have all bike keys.
And suddenly another man and a lady walk up to us. He takes photos of us, the bikes and they walk up to the other vehicle. By now I was a bit tired of the unsolicitated photography. I asked him who he is and why he’s taking photos. He states being a police officer. I stare at him in disbelief and say it’s been few strangers taking our photos and whether he has any ID. He says he’s from church pointing to his clothing, and so he didn’t carry ID. I say something that might not be very polite to repeat in writing.
The issue is cleared up, when another car driver stops and offers to help. I request him to call the police as we’ve been waiting for nearly an hour. He makes a phone call that is answered by the kitenge-dressed gentleman. 👀
After a quick assessment of the scene they suggest that it’s safest for us to ride to Kabale town. They explain that they’ll take possession of the bike and car and we can go to the police station the next morning to file our statement. The police officer goes on to say we were lucky that our helmets or belongings were not flossed from the bikes while we were distracted.
We carefully ride through the twisties in complete darkness and our LED lights are really coming through for us. Once in town, we ask for directions to the hospital.
On entering A&E, we catch up with our friends. The wound is bandaged and pain killers are administered, but no doctor, surgeon or nurse is available to look into the cause of bleeding or run relevant tests. Some plain-clothed individuals walk around and watch us curiously. The lady at the desk is glued to her chair. We quickly realize that the hospital is not staffed or equipped to deal with this type of injury.
But how do we transport an injured person across a country border? We need excellent healthcare real fast. I call AMREF to find out about the procedure and cost of air evacuation to Nairobi. They are willing to pick him with an air ambulance incl. doctor with the first sunlight from a nearby airstrip after payment of 16,120 USD.
Meanwhile calls to Kigali are made and someone offers to arrange dispatch of an ambulance to pick Paul at the border. And this is when I get a WhatsApp mesage from the manager of the lodge we were meant to stay at “Are you still coming tonight?” – I tell him we had an accident and he immediately comes to the hospital with his friend and two cars.
We see that the two wounds are bleeding again. Unfortunately there is no staff in this hospital who are able to help us. We use bandages and two techniques to control the bleeding: Applying direct pressure and tieing two tourniquets (Google it, I’m also posting a video below the post!). We get phone advice from a doctor friend on managing a 3-4 hour drive to Kigali. This is our best option. The car has a logbook and we estimate that if they leave now, they will meet the ambulance somewhere between the border and Kigali.
And so the patient enters a second car. One bike will ride behind the car to speed up the border process. After all he wouldn’t be able to queue at the counters. Us girls are staying to handle the police case in the morning.
On leaving the hospital we wonder whether it’s sensible to still ride down to Lake Bunyonyi to the place we were booked at. It would be nice to at least see the lake – plus how would we find a safe hotel in this sleepy town at 9pm?
The hotel manager drives ahead of us, until we get to the turn-off the tarmac. 9km offroad he says. “Not too bad”. I take the lead and before long we find ourselves on a bumpy, dusty, steep road. I can’t see very well because of dust but this feels like fesh fesh! What the heck.
Then we descent down to the Lake. We can’t see much but it’s a winding road along cliffy edges. I just hope that Havana behind me see the edges, too!
Once at Bunyoni View Resort, the team wips us up a very late dinner. What angels! There’s a power cut and our phones are nearly dying. We chat to stay awake until we get an update from Kigali. We discuss our experience at the hospital and reflect on our medical response knowledge. Around midnight we hear that they arrived at Kigali’s hospital.
We thank God for the miracle and go to bed.
While we are tired from the long day and the 503km in the saddle, we don’t get much sleep this night. The emotions from the day are still settling.
Day 3 – Kabale (Southern Uganda) to Kibuye (Lake Kivu, Rwanda)
We wake up early to birds chirping and breath taking views across Lake Bunyonyi. Update from Kigali is that the first medical procedure was successful. We snack a musli bar enjoying the good news and morning sun on our balcony. Then we pack up and load the bikes. While charging our phone and having breakfast, we return a few more phone calls and ascertain worried bikers in Nairobi who got word overnight that our mutual friend is doing well and in the best hands.
The lodge’s manager shares some tips about the police procedure. We are grateful for his support as we do not know what to expect in another country, but it sounds similar to realities in Kenya.
We proceed to Kabale Traffic Police to file our statement and leave some required documents. It is a really smooth experience, with the OC expecting us and explaining us the process from A to Z. I am very impressed with the professionalism we meet in that office.
We continue to the Gatuna border around 1pm.
The border crossing is smooth 🇺🇬 -> 🇷🇼 and within an hour we meet two bikers who have come for us all the way from Kigali. We are really grateful to see them, these guys truly know how to be amazing hosts!
The excitement to ride on the right side of the road!!! I had been waiting for this for months. From here it is twists, smooth tarmac, more twists and empty roads. The Kigali bikers show us how to spot the automatic speed cameras. I am not exactly tempted to push beyond 60 much. Most Kenyan friends on whatsapp chats are shocked to hear about the 60 km/h speed limit. Blame the 125cc or my fatigue if you must, but the twists and amazing scenery are enough to enjoy this ride at leisurely pace.
At some point our pal says “from here it’s all downhill to Kigali” – wueh the next hour was one of the best rides of my life 🤯 🏍️ 🏂
Once in Kigali, lane splitting and weaving through bodas needed full concentration to stick to the correct side of the road 🤣
After goodbyes to our friends in Chigali, we continue towards Western Rwanda, the shores of Lake Kivu. But first we have to get out of town.
There’s quite a number of steep uphills and we are stuck behind black exhaust coughing trucks going at snail pace. Imagine just how tempting it is to overtake then seeing a continuous yellow line and noticing a dozen local cars NOT overtaking! Can never happen in Kenya 😤Well, we aren’t planning on getting arrested today! So we get serious clutch balancing practice and enjoy the fact that no-one overtakes us in a dangerous way or cuts us off… Finally, we see our chosen lunch restaurant on our right!
It’s 4:45pm as we gear up after lunch: an beautiful extremely twisty 120km up and down hills are awaiting us. Zeeerrooo speed bumps! Less than 5 cars on the last two hours!
There were some 40km with bad tarmac and lots of sandy potholes but we took it in a stride.
You know the sunset riding paradox, right? When you are seriously running out of sunlight but keep stopping for photos!
We squeeeeeze that twilight to at least make it past the bumpy stretches.
After unforgettable sunset views across the mountains, we still have another one hour of darkness. The roads are now smooth and the road demarcations are painted using reflective paint, which makes it so much easier. Can the GoR please share their procurement contact with GoK? Beautiful cruising!! The twists, a random unlit bicycle or villager walking on the road makes us restrict ourselves to 50/60.
As we get to Karongi/Kibuye town, Havana takes the lead to her house. I see her seriously cutting the corners, knee downs and all. Shock on me! I mean she knows her town but really! Was I thaaaat slow all day? Isn’t this a bit risky!?
There’s a point we ride along the waters of Lake Kivu glistering through palm trees. Oh my!!🌴
A few more turns – and we enter the gate.
We check in with our people in Nairobi, Kigali and Kampala. We’re relieved to hear that the healthcare at King Faizal hospital is working like clockwork for our friend: scans, first procedure to clean the wounds, blood, preparations for surgery etc. We celebrate all the things we did well on this trip and reflect on the journey and many encounters.
Already feeling at home!
And this is how we rode to Lake Kivu from Nairobi in under four days.
With an unstoppable appetite for life and adventure, years of riding wisdom gathered on the road and leaning on each other and the East African riding community.
The next day is a work day for me. As I boot my laptop in the morning to catch up with my various clients and projects, I overlook Lake Kivu and realize just how much beauty we have in East Africa.
In the evening we take a sunset cruise around the lake. We meet another biker and enjoy the magnificence of nature together.
Post Ride Reflections
Am I ready to respond appropriately in an accident?
That evening I catch up with one of my doctor biker friends in Nairobi. He says we did great. We still doubt ourselves. We ask ourselves how many bikers have first responder skills and knowledge. We lose a lot of bikers and boda riders on the road because of unskilled response in the first crucial minute. We see a huge opportunity to educate ourselves more and more: Be it through in-person training, online courses, YouTube, etc.
For example, here’s a good video on how as first responders we can identify life-threatening bleeding and 3 techniques to stop it.
Unfortunately many online learning resources are based on the realities of more developed healthcare systems and need contextualizing. It dawns on me that we have to take action if we want to reduce mortality on the road. More training, more awareness.
How might we make riding with a well-kitted first aid box just as obvious as riding with our helmet? Would short training videos in local languages showing first responder techniques using locally available materials get uptake?
Safety gear. Without a top quality helmet, armoured gloves and German (I said it!) off-road gear, things could look a bit different for our friend right now. He was scanned from head to toe in Kigali: No concussion or internal organ bleeding! Knowing the risks of riding, ATGATT is an appropriate investment. My personal takeaway is to invest in a chest guard, neck brace and better boots for myself.
To Paul, you’re a great human. I was told you are generous with your time and mentorship to other bikers. And I admire how you keep your faith and humour in such trying hours. We wish you speedy and full recovery. We can’t wait to see you back on two wheels soon!
Tish and Stella, I learned so much from you two. The best team I could have wished for that Sunday.
To Havana, what a riding buddy you are! You’ve pushed yourself so much in the last two years, it’s super inspiring. You dived head first into the sand, the mud and the night ride. Go girl! Thanks for fun stories, positive vybes, and allowing me to bring in a bit of structure to our adventure. 🙈 PS: I’m still recovering from your knee downs on the last 2kms. The fact that it’s a one-way street does not console me the slightest! 😶
To all who support us and cheered us on before, during and after the ride. Who shared advice and tips and checked in with us. You are what makes this biking community go round!
Let’s keep raising the bar!
Dear reader, thanks for staying with us to the finish! We will explore Rwanda over the next weekends and share our stories 🇷🇼 🏞️ ☀️
Please leave your comment below, your questions, your suggestions, your reactions. And please send recovery wishes and healing vybes for Paul! 😎