I slept on a vibrating bed during my first night out of Kampala. Slept would actually be the wrong description. I lay wide-awake with my fingers pushing earplugs ever deeper into my skull and a pillow pulled over my head.

There had been a power-cut when I arrived in what seemed like a quiet roadside village some 90km north of Kampala. That of course is a minor problem when a generator is available. Had I seen the 1.5-metre high speakers in the bar when I rolled my bike into the £2 per night room out the back I might have enquired if there was alternative accommodation.

$3 room.

Given how cheap and basic the Guest House was there seemed little point in complaining when I decided to go and see who was appreciating the record-breaking decibels on the dance-floor behind my room. It was Wednesday – ladies night apparently, but when I poked by head into a dark abyss some time before midnight I realised I wasn’t missing much. Hardly a soul there. Loud music for the sake of loud music it would seem. Uganda does this well.

The following day I continued north thinking how Uganda is possibly Africa’s greenest country. A cow’s paradise for sure. No wonder the quality of beef here is better than in Tanzania.

Road north from Kampala

Beef stew and matoke/rice/greens

There wasn’t a lot of traffic on the road, but what there was seemed to pass me at suicidal speeds. Besides, main roads are never as interesting to cycle if there is a realistic alternative available.

So I decided to call the Ugandan Wildlife Authority and ask if it was possible to cycle through Murchinson Falls National Park. I assumed the answer would be ‘no’, but when someone eventually picked up the phone and heard me explain what park gates I would enter and exit from the advice was simply to ‘watch out for animals’.

I suppose that was a fairly obvious thing to say. Well it was partly the reason I wanted to visit Uganda’s largest National Park. Other than leaving the main road I also wished to see the waterfalls from which the park gets its name, and I knew that cycling through a National Park would provide scenery more reminiscent of a landscape that much of Africa used to resemble before people started chopping down trees, building houses and killing wildlife.

Getting there required a little more distance to cover as the road headed west towards the small town of Masindi. From here a a dirt track led through cane sugar plantations and the edge of a large forest reserve, before dropping down to the shores of Lake Albert and skirting the edge of Bugungu wildlife reserve.

Huts and sugar cane fields

Through Budongo Forest Reserve

Ugandan boys

Above Lake Albert

Puncture stop

One thing I hadn’t been told on the phone was to watch out for tsetse flies. They descended on me almost immediately after I paid the $40 for a 24-hour permit to the park at Bugungu Gate. And so rather than pedal gently towards the River Nile and Paraa, where most of the park’s accommodation is, I raced like crazy for 15km in a vain attempt to out-cycle these bloodsuckers.

They followed me into the bar at Red Chillis hideaway. I’d been told this was the cheapest place to pitch a tent ($7) and wondered why no one else I saw on arrival wasn’t squatting themselves like me.

‘They only like moving objects and are attracted to black and blue’, said one of the staff. Well seeming that my bike and panniers are black and I was wearing a blue t-shirt, no wonder I had quickly become a magnet out on the road. Within minutes they had fortunately disappeared and I found a shady spot to pitch the tent.

Later that day I decided to sign up for a boat trip in order to see the park’s main attraction. So I paid another $30 and joined a merry-crew of camera-wielding wazungus on a memorable journey up the River Nile. This was far better value, as a few pictures here show.

Lazying hippos

Elephants in Murchinson Falls National Park

Murchinson Falls

Murchinson Falls

For one reason or another there were no tsetse flies on the north bank of the river when I crossed early the next day. For this I was very glad, not only because I had almost twice as far to cycle to reach the exit gate at Tangi (25km), but the scenery was more impressive and there were many opportunities to stop and watch the wildlife. Giraffes, warthogs, large birds, various antelopes and a number of buffalo were all clearly visible, the latter fortunately at a safe-ish distance.

Crossing the River Nile at Paraa

Giraffe in Murchinson Falls National Park

Buffalo ahead

Within Murchsinson Falls National Park

I crossed the Nile again shortly after exiting the park, this time on a large iron bridge beside the town of Pakwach. Between Paraa and here the river makes a spectacular 90 degree turn as it enters Lake Albert from the east and then almost immediately flows out of the lake and turns north.

The River Nile

Canoe on the Nile

Grass huts

Sweet sap

Chair stack

It’s northwards that I’m heading again. I write this from the bustling town of Arua, which is a short distance from the border with the DRC. The Wikipedia entry for the town says there is a large influx of refugees from both the DRC and South Sudan here, which would probably explain why there are a number of NGO offices around.

The £5 per night hotel I took a room in yesterday has since become £4 when I explained how loud the room is. Directly outside there is a mobile-telephone repair shop that plays loud music from 6.30am. That’s almost 2 hours after the call to prayer from several nearby mosques and just before the posho mill (maize mill) opens. I attempted to move into another room but realised there are mobile-repair shops and mosques on all sides.

An interesting event happened to me this morning while I walked around a large covered market directly behind the hotel. It feels worthy of mentioning as I haven’t experienced it before in Africa, although I’ve since learnt it’s not uncommon.

So I had walked into the market to buy a new hat, or rather find a second-hand one as many clothes items here are imported from abroad. This I did easily, before continuing to walk around with no real purpose other than see what else the market comprised of.

The covered clothes market opened out into a different market full of motorbike-repair workshops, scrap-metal dealers and stalls selling tools. Like all markets and public places in Africa there were plenty of people standing and sitting around doing nothing in particular.

As I moved on and headed out of the market a man walked past me in a hurry. In front of my feet a large wad of bundled bank notes dropped to the ground, having fallen from his back pocket. A split second afterwards another man, less well dressed and much younger, picks up the dropped bundle and quickly puts it in his back pocket.

Thinking to myself that I can’t let this go unnoticed I pull this young guy aside and tell him that money isn’t his.

‘Let us share it bwana’, he says sheepishly. I continue to hold this teenager by the arm hoping someone will come and assist.

Less than a minute later the man who dropped the wad returns in a rush. He walks past me again and I call him back.

‘This guy here has your money’, I say, releasing my grip on the teenager.

He pulls the wad out of the back pocket and quickly puts it back into his.

‘Let me give you something for this’, insists the smartly dressed man, who then beckons me to follow him somewhere less public. I explain he can give something to the boy, who probably thought his luck was going to change with this huge amount of money.

I then walk away thinking how I had done a good deed, although deprived some poor guy out of what was a small fortune.

Back at the hotel shortly afterwards I start to explain the story to the receptionist who soon bursts into laughter. ‘Those guys are thieves. There is only money on the outside of the bundle. They wanted you to go with them. Not to give you some of the money but to rob you. It’s a popular trick here’.

Well so much for my good deed. I now know it’s best to ignore bundles of money that fall at your feet in Africa. They can’t be real after all.

You can view the route I have followed so far in Uganda at the bottom of this page.