Uganda Stories and Tips

Back to Kampala: Haggling & Hold-Ups

Drive-Thru Supermarket Photo, Uganda, Africa

Any journey in Uganda is entertaining. And even though the road back to Kampala from Lake Bunyonyi was surfaced and even though the bulk of the journey, from Ntungamo onwards, was retracing the route we had followed on our way south, it still had plenty to show.

Robert, our driver, asked permission to make a couple of stops en route. He wished to go shopping. It seems that fresh produce is dramatically cheaper down in Kigezi than it is up in Kampala. He had already bought a sack of ‘Irish’ (the local name for the one variety of potatoes that can be found in Uganda) and he wished to pick up some stems of matoke. These green cooking bananas were sold still attached to their curving boughs. A typical purchase would be good four feet long, with dozens of bananas hanging off. We got used to seeing these lashed to car roofs or hanging from bicycles, boda-bodas or truck wing mirrors. My map of Kigezi had shown the road from Kabale to Rutobo markd with the warning ‘annoying vegetable sellers’. However, when Laura realised that the veg on sale by the roadside here was around a third of what she would pay in Kampala she was eager to get in on the action too. Obviously prices were higher for her than they would have been for Robert on his own – this is the ‘muzungu price’. Robert helped to haggle the prices down as low as he could though. At Ndeja we bought – in addition to Robert’s matoke – pineapples, avocados, passion fruits and a couple of hands of small eating bananas. Laura also bought a waragi bottle filled with local honey. We stopped again near Masaka to buy some red sweet potatoes. Other stalls we passed sold tomatoes, wicker chairs or fresh catfish. It seems the best way of transporting fish home is to tie it to the radiator grill of ones vehicle so the breeze can keep it cool!

We stopped at the Agip Motel in Mbarara again. I’m glad we did not set off a minute earlier than we actually did, for cresting a rise we found a lorry flipped over with one of its trailers lying across the entire width of the road. It blocked the way on a bridge crossing a marshy valley, thereby stopping any traffic from getting past. Sacks of grain, destined for Rwanda, had spilled across the tarmac like sand. When we reached it there were only a couple of cars ahead of us on one of the main roads in Uganda. Had we set off a minute earlier from Mbarara the truck might have flipped over on top of us!

Needless to say, this caused a right farrago as the traffic backed up in both directions. A carnival atmosphere built up, with people seeming to accept that this was part and parcel of everyday life in Uganda. Vehicles emptied as their drivers and passengers got out to take toilet breaks at the road side, engage in conversation, and wander up to have a good old look at the situation. They inevitably returned stuffing handfuls of grain into their pockets!

Once the obstruction was cleared we made good time back to Kampala. We even stopped a couple of times, once at the Equator for a toilet break, and once at Katonga to look at a roadside billboard showing Ugandan president Yoweri Musaveni and his good friend Colonel Muammar Gaddafi (who was, by this time, deceased). Our speed dropped shortly when we reached the outskirts of Kampala. Traffic crawled past the shanties, and stalls. However, even here I could see wildlife – for the first time I could see dozens of ungainly marabou storks perched on roof tops or stalking through piles of refuse. I had not seen any of them during my first weekend in Kampala. Now there was no way to miss them. Ironically for birds whose feathers were the epitome of 1930s luxury it has to be admitted that marabou storks are criminally ugly garbage-chomping scavengers!

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