Horizon bus #88 – dun dun duhh. Today felt like the longest day of our lives.
The day started out quite nice, but they all do don’t they. We woke up for the last time in our geodome on lake Bunyoni, went through the morning routine, packed, and skipped breakfast as today was a travel day and we have mastered how not to eat or drink during travel. Today that was a mistake, we should have had breakfast, you never know when your next meal will be. We had managed to split the boat out in the morning with the British couple that stole the deluxe dome from us. Last night I figured out while paying our bill that something was wrong as it was a few hundred thousand more than I thought it should be. Upon closer examination it turns out they had charged us for the Dutch couples tour that they had gone on the day before. It’s a good thing I checked and that they keep an itemized list of expenses or it would have been impossible to figure out what we owed. They run a tab system here, that way you spend more money 🙂 So we took the boat out to the “parking lot” on the mainland. It was a very nice trip again, this time watching the steam/mist coming off the water and watching the school kids making their way to school, by boat of course. The Brits offered to take us into town in their van for free so that was a nice bonus. We were hoping they would offer to take us all the way to Kampala since they were going, but they didn’t, still not sure why as a couple of other Canadians would have taken us with them, oh well.
We got let off at the bank in Kabale, where we had previously gotten money, the Stanbic, and did just that again. Then we walked to the corner, looked at the guidebook and learned their was two different bus companies listed that went to Kampala, Horizon and Gateway, we picked Horizon as according to the map it was just down the street on the other side of the corner. We would come to dread that decision. After walking down the street and passing a few buildings we figured we had passed it so asked for directions. We were pointed into a random lot that looked like a junkyard and in the corner was a little run down wooden kiosk that was apparently the ticket guy. So we bought ourselves two tickets for 50,000 UGX and then walked across town to the bus station to get on the bus. Once there we had to exchange the tickets at another kioks for other tickets, strange and pointless system, and then we boarded the bus. Right at the door was another white guy so we sat down with him in the three seater space to visit. I should know better by now and not sit in the seat at the door, that one was my fault. Turns out that the white guy was a fellow Canadian from Lethbridge area so we had a good time talking with him. Justin, is in Uganda working with an NGO in a little village and doing all sorts of things to better life in this village. He also shared some advice on how to do things for cheaper, like the gorilla trekking, but they all involve being situated in the country for a while and waiting for phone calls when they need to fill things up.
So our bus tickets were for the 10 am bus, which would get us into Kampala somewhere between 4 and 5 pm, yeah right. We got on the bus at 9:45 and were eager to be off to see Uganda. 10 am rolled around and the bus did not do any rolling. At 10:30 the bus started move and we thought this isn’t too bad only 30 minutes late, yay we’re off. The bus drove down the street and stopped at the junction into town at the skyblue “motel”. We then sat there waiting for more people and who knows what for the next 1.5 hours. Nothing we could do about it so we at least visited with Justin.
A little bit after 1 pm we finally departed town for our 7 hou-rish journey to Kampala, now we’re not going to arrive in daylight, yet again. We made it 20 minus out of town driving through the hills left over from Rwanda when we got a flat tire. This was our first flat tire and we figured we were due for some car troubles in Africa at some point. Most of the passengers used this opportunity to go to the “bushesroom” and we got off to watch the Ugandans change the tire. It is an interesting procedure as the lug wrench for taking off the lug nuts is a giant crowbar that they then stick a much longer metal tube on then on guy holds it while the other jumps on it to loosen the bolt or tighten it when they’re putting it back on. I stood outside chatting with Justin, and a fellow from the Netherlands I believe while watching this all unfold. When they were putting the flat tire in the side of the bus we finally had an opportunity to laugh as the two guys doing it ended up dropping the tire back on themselves. The three of us went over and helped them push the quite massive tire into the storage compartment. Then everybody got back on the bus and we were off again.
This was still hilly country so it involved using the brakes a bunch. On the first few down hills I smelled burning rubber and just dismissed it as a quick brake, but as time went on I became suspicious. I’ve only heard what engine retarder brakes sound like a few times, but I was sure our driver was starting to use them. As each hill came along or some car in front of us slowed down I’d hear it again and it became apparent that we were no longer using the traditional brakes and ONLY using the engine retarder brakes. It was a loud and scary journey knowing that our brakes were probably no good. At one point there was a police check on the road, which is common, and we were waved to stop. Our driver blew right past the check stop because, well, he couldn’t stop in time because of NOT HAVING BRAKES. So this somewhat nervous journey continued on for about 3 hours until we reached Mbarara.
We got just inside Mbarara when we pulled over on the side of the road, our driver got out and left the engine running so we figured he would be back soon. After about 20 minutes the white guys decided to get out to stretch our legs. At this point Lindsay and I were starving as we had skipped breakfast and all we had to eat was some biscuits that Justin helped us buy from one of the many bus vendors outside of the window. We sat on the edge of that road for a long time not knowing what was going on. I decided to try and figure out what was up so I toured around the bus, tried to overhear conversations in luganda, I know like 4 words so that was tricky, but then I heard one guy say police (sounds a bit different in lugandan) and then it dawned on me what might be going on. I looked across the street, closer this time, to discover we were parked directly across from the police station. It would seem that our driver was in the police station, probably paying a ticket and getting reamed out by the police officers. At this point we had been sitting there for an hour, maybe a little more and even the Ugandans were getting pissy, which takes a lot on public transit because they’re used to it taking so long. Us white folk were long past annoyed and really wanted to be where we were supposed to be when we had already been on a bus for more than 7 hours and weren’t halfway there yet.
Our driver came back and the bus started yelling at him. They were mad. Essentially the gist was you’re dumb and we do not want any more parking (stopping) on this trip, go straight there and be quick about it. So we rolled off on our way again. We drove through Mbarara, which is quite large, and then we took some side streets into the city and pulled into the Horizon bus workshop about 5 minutes after starting up again. We all got off the bus and watched as the “mechanics” there started to take off the back tires where we had the flat tire. This time they took off both tires trying to get to the brakes. Then they pulled off the brake router and brake pads and everyone there knew that what we were looking at was not good. There was black dripping rubber/oil, something of badness coming off of a destroyed router or brake something they threw on the ground. This 1/2 in thick piece of metal was cracked right through and we obviously had no back brakes. So in true African fashion they put the tires back on and we all got back on and left, no brakes fixed. By this time we had come to realize that our driver could manage to drive, at amazingly fast speeds sometimes, only using the engine retarder brakes. He never hit anything and once we left Mbarara we only stopped at places that we were supposed to stop at! It was however an extremely loud trip as around every corner, hill, or what not the engine brakes came on,wow headache. This bus ride was now hot, cramped, and bloody loud, we could not wait to get off of this bus.
Sunset came while we dropped Justin off at his almost destination, and then went as we were driving shortly afterwards. We rode the bus for another 4 -5 hours slowly, at sometimes much too quickly, making our way into Kampala. Once we hit the city outskirts we were stuck in the amazingly awful Kampala traffic and so it took another hour before we made it into the Horizon office/station right near downtown. At this point we had been sitting next to a local woman in her 20s with the coolest weave in her hair. We talked with her about where to get off and how to get where we were going and she said she would help us when we made it into town. We were now the only white people still on the bus and so we were very glad for her help and she spoke perfect English to boot. We got off the bus at 10 pm and she used a few different cell phones, as her battery died, to call a cabbie for us. The cabbie just happened to be her brother so at least we knew he was going to be a good guy. We all hopped in the cab, we dropped Jessica off at her place in town, she gave us her business card and told us to write her, and then her brother knew exactly where we wanted to go, Red Chili Hideaway so he took us there across downtown into a neighbouring community called Bugolobi.
We finally arrived at our destination of Red Chilli. We walked exhausted to reception, booked ourselves into a twin room for the next 3 nights until the tour we were going to take with them was leaving and went to get some food at the kitchen as we hadn’t eaten all day. Kitchen was closed. No food for us. We are very hungry now. So we went to bed instead. Tomorrow we’re going to figure out the tour stuff, what money we need, if it is going for sure, and dammit we’re going to eat something. We crashed super hard in our room after our long bus day that should have been 7 – 8 hours, our shortest of the trip, but was instead 14 HOURS!, our longest trip yet. Let’s not repeat this day anytime soon, or ever.
Stay away from Horizon Bus #88, it’s very very very very broken.