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Wednesday, 16 January 2013

South Sudan & Uganda 2

Day 8 – 12/1/13
We crossed the border quickly into Uganda, again we always taken to the front of the queues. It seemed to be expected. This may not be a good example to set for the locals but given the huge queues, we welcomed this bit of positive discrimination!
The traffic at the border was chaotic. Each lorry and bus driver attempting to gain a few extra inches of distance and in doing so often completely blocking the road. Time for Traffic Cop Ray. A number of times Ray jumped out of our vehicle and got the  drivers to shift to the correct side of the road to get the traffic flowing.
Again, the journey on the dirt road back to Gulu took 3 hours. In Gulu we bought some “salt” i.e. not too sweet bread.
Then again we drove the killer pothole section.  The professional drivers again showed no courtesy and time and again used their mass to intimidate us and push our vehicle off the side of the asphalt into ditches, sharp edges etc.
There are usually police checks into and out of each town in this part of Uganda. Generally we were stopped, but usually only for a chat. Where are you from? Do you like Uganda/ etc? This is very nice, but after a time a bit tiring, particularly when we want to get to our night stop.
We camped at the Hotel Aribas in Masindi. Very nice staff.

Avril  driving; 496 km; 10 hrs; N 010 41’ 15.9’’ E 0310 43’ 07.5’’

Day 9 – 13/1/13
This was a hard day’s drive. The road from Masindi to the Kampala – Fort Portal road is awful. Not Nth Kwnya awful, but still bad. It took 5.75 hours to cover this 202 km. The main road into Fort Portal is good, however the number of traffic humps is unbelievable. Even the smallest hamlet/dorp has at least 10 sets of humps. The road from Fort Portal to Lake Nyabikere was again awful.
The vegetation all the way was impressive. The manager of the CVK camp where we  stayed (he has a PhD in Forestry from ANU) said they get 2,000 mm of rain again and together with the sun, anything grows. South of Masindi there are extensive, industrial scale sugar farms. Near Fort Portal there are large tea plantations.
There was some very good scenery, mainly large hills, along the way. The vegetation is so thick and close to the road, good pictures were hard to get.
We did a spot of shopping at Fort Portal and then headed out to Lake Nyabikere, one of the many crater lakes in the area. It is a beautiful scene, very similar to the lakes on the Atherton Tablelands (so much so, that we decided to move on quickly rather than hang around).
Ben & Jen had driven through from Jinja and we shared an evening meal.

Avril  driving; 274 km; 7.5 hrs; N 000 30’ 00.0’’ E 0300 19’ 49.7’’

Day 10 – 14/1/13
We started the day with a very pleasant drive along the Ruwenzori Mountains – Mountains of the Moon. We were lucky enough to see some of the high peaks in the distance before the mist covered them.
We drove along a good road to the Queen Elizabeth National Park, where we checked on the fees and confirmed the $ 150/day for the car + $35/person/day + camping costs. This was too much for us and almost all overlanders we have spoken to.
After the gate the road deteriorated badly, with potholes almost all the way. With massive number of speed bumps and pot holes and general poor road conditions in Uganda, the bracket holding the springs together on the rear driver side had vibrated loose and got stuck in between different leaves. So, we cautiously decided to take the dirt road to Ntungamo rather than stay with the potholed main road. We re-joined the main road after Ntungamo. From there until 20 km before Kabale there were constant road works. There were a very large number of work faces organised in a very haphazard manner and little system between the sections. The lack of any detour management plan meant it was very slow going. Avril amused herself by greeting as many road workers as possible. Ray sank into a state of severe depression – the lack of any project management proving too much!
What should have been a very pleasant drive turned into a long drawn out ordeal. We arrived at the Overlanders Camp site at Lake Bunyonyi at dusk. The camp site separates the bigger overland trucks from private overlanders. However one of the smaller trucks snuck into “our” area and inevitably made noise. It took some chat from Ray to get the silence necessary for sleep.

Avril  driving; 287 km; 8 hrs (driving) ; S 010 16’ 20.0’’ E 0290 56’ 14.4’’

Day 11 – 15/1/13
We made friends with the Dutch family camping near us (Martin & Ilva and their daughter Rune) and decided an evening  BBQ was in order. The overland truck had some issues with their suspension and needed some spare parts. We were going into town to get our spring bracket seen to, so volunteered to get the spares.
The garage decided to weld the bracket to the springs and after some negotiation on price, performed the worst welding job Ray had seen. He reckoned he could have done a better job himself! We found the spares for the overland truck, bought some provisions and returned to camp for a lazy afternoon.
At dusk our friends Ian/Heather & Don/Gabby arrived (we had met in Addis, they towed us out of the bog in Nth Kenya and we had seen them in Jinja). They joined the BBQ and we had a pleasant evening gossiping and swapping information.

Day 12 – 16/1/13
Unsurprisingly (given our experience in Uganda) we had some overnight rain. After a slow breakfast we set off for Rwanda via Kisoro. The drive on a good road was wonderful with cultivated large hills/small mountains.
We crossed the border with a minimum of fuss.

Uganda Summary
From our experience, Uganda is indeed the pearl of Africa. It seems to be blessed with good soil, water, sun, people and (now) oil. We had little hassle in the country – we could stop at the side of the road for lunch and not draw a crowd. There were very few beggars. The scenery is wonderful.
The negatives were the very high costs to access a National Park. If they had have been reasonable we would have spent much longer in Uganda. The road conditions are also a challenge. The dirt roads are generally terrible and long sections of the asphalt roads potholed. To add to the road misery the absolutely huge number of speed bumps make driving a really tiring experience.

South Sudan

Day 1 – 10/1/13
It was ~ 109 km from Gulu to the border.
At the border a “fixer” attached himself to us (interestingly at the end he preferred Uganda Shillings to US$. Apparently the US$ exchange rate is very poor and the black market does not offer too much better. With Uganda Sh they can buy goods on the Uganda side at a much lower cost than Sth Sudan). He took us straight to the front of the very long queue to purchase our South Sudan visa - $100/each. This was done very quickly and we were stamped into the country. The immigration officials were shocked we only had 2 children. They would all have as many as possible, 10 was a number mentioned. They asked Ray if he would like a couple of local women so he could continue to breed.
We then had to purchase car insurance S. Sud £ 200 ~ $ 50. Ray joked and complained about the high cost. The locals appreciated that it was a high cost (the excuse being that Sth Sudan is a new country), but that was the cost and we got receipts for everything. Then we went to customs where the carnet was signed, quickly and with no hassles. Soon we were on our way.
The road is high standard asphalt all the way to Juba – thanks to USAid. Along the way we passed a mine clearing camp and saw the cleared lanes along the road and paths to the villages marked with red and white tape. Along the road side there were a lot of crashes, including a couple that had clearly occurred very recently. There were as many crashed, burnt out vehicles here as there were in Angola.
The scenery was rolling hills with some small mountains in the distance. The ground was dry and the vegetation was basically small scrub. There were a number of bush fires in the area that created a smoke haze.
We had reserved accommodation at the Afex Camp. Apparently this is the most secure accommodation in town and right on the Nile River: $ 145/Dbl; B&B, internet & laundry. (when we went to pay the bill we discovered that an additional 15% tax and 10% service charge was added). We queried the Service charge, but got blah blah in response). This is where most of the NGOs and diplomatic staff stay. The management is well aware of the allowances given to expats and charges appropriately – market- bearable pricing at its most efficient. Apparently a small self contained unit is + $ 4,500/month. Our accommodation was in a construction style container , but it did have tv, a/c and a bathroom!
Our vehicle attracted a lot of interest from the local staff and expats.

Avril  driving; 299 km; 6 hrs; N 040 50’ 18.9’’ E 0310 36’ 58.1’’

Day 2 – 11/1/13
We had considered driving back to Uganda via Torit and the Matong Mountains. We chatted to an expat chap in the camp who knew the local roads and whose organisation had an office in Torit. He called the office in Torit and they advised that the journey from Juba to Torit would be at least 5 hours and we would need to overnight there. Then it would be a long day’s drive from Torit to Kitgum in Uganda. Then a further drive to get to Gulu. Apparently the scenery, whilst nice, is not stunning. So, we decided not to do the trip and to go directly back to Gulu.
A stroll around Juba:
The Afex camp is pleasantly situated on the Nile and has good shade and is clean. When one leaves the camp, the road deteriorates into a dirt track with large ditches. Around the immediate area there are a number of camps for the less fortunate. Some look official with well sited and maintained tents. Others are really squatter camps/hovels made up of sticks, grass and others peoples waste. The main cemetery is nearby and is very overgrown and appears to be being used as an unofficial local rubbish dump. A few people were foraging in some the waste and other piles of rubbish were smouldering. In among this, people have erected basic shelters. Quite depressing.
The main road into town is paved; however the side roads are nearly all dirt. The volume of rubbish on the side roads is huge and seems to be mainly plastic bottles. The paved road has a pile of sand running along both sides (making sure our shoes got very dirty) and also has a line of rubbish. We noticed a couple of signs pleading to “Keep Juba Clean. These have been sponsored by the UN. Clearly the town council does not take a lot of civic pride in the city.
There are plenty of trees in most areas to provide shade and from a distance they give a reasonably pleasing view.
The main business activity on the way into the “CBD” appears to be charcoal. Given that there is no power grid and no LPG bottles, charcoal looks like the main cooking fuel. It is sold in large hessian bags or small plastic bags. On the drive from the border we had seen the charcoal makers with crude earth/pit ovens smouldering in the bush. Apart from reusable yellow water jerry cans for water, there is very little other retail along the way. The service industry was represented by beauty salons, phone companies and large numbers of motorbike taxis.
There was a large amount of traffic (read Landcruisers etc) on the road with the majority from GOSS (Government of South Sudan), UN (with their own special number plates. Most UN agencies seemed to be represented here) and NGOs. The NGOs have their own special number plates. Each NGO has a unique number and then a vehicle number; the highest number we saw was NGO 133, implying there are at least 133 NGOs in Sth Sudan.
There was a reasonable number of hotels on the main road. From the street they seemed to be OK – all had Toyota Landcruisers, Prados etc parked in the courtyards. The best business in Sth Sudan has to be the Toyota dealership – if there is one?
Along the way we passed a number of Government offices. The pavement outside these was generally crowded with people. Another sign of a Government enterprise is a bank of (private) photocopiers on the pavements. This must also be another good business in Sth Sudan. It seems that paper is the way business is done here and copies are essential. With the lack of power distribution, the copier merchants need to have a generator running. In the “old days” Sth Sudan was a large producer of oil and could import fuel at a low cost from the North. Now, with their decision to stop producing oil, as apparently North Sudan was charging extortionate amounts for pipeline transport, all the fuel must be trucked from Mombasa in Kenya, via Nairobi and Kampala to Juba.
Juba must be the lowest key capital we have seen. The tallest building we saw (churches to one side) was 3 stories. The CBD/“centre” is a few streets of non-descript pavement stalls and a few “proper” shops. The urban myth is that the Kenyans and Ugandans have money (as they have not been fighting for independence) and the shops and stalls are owned by them. The Sth Sudanese provide the labour and this leads to some resentment.
Along the pavement there are some drink stalls – generally run by women. They sell tea and cold (fruit ?) drinks. We did not see any food for sale.
We were both in shorts and this did not seem to worry the locals. Though, a lot of folks had a shy sideways glance at Avril as they passed. We were left to ourselves during our walk, no beggars.
There is not a lot of tourist stuff in Juba, really none. So after an extended walk we returned to the Afex camp, Air Conditioning and internet.
The government seems to make it difficult to establish a new, formal, business. In Kampala we had chatted to Pete from Africian Rivers, who is trying to establish a rafting site on the White Nile in Sth Sudan. The government, maybe short of funds due to the lack of oil exports, requires a $ 500,000 establishment fee and then some large ongoing payments. The cost is prohibitive for a small tourist enterprise.
Chatting to the expats at the camp, there is a large degree of scepticism regarding the government. There are reports of significant corruption. If that is true, it seems that Sth Sudan is following the path of other African countries as they gained independence. The former resistance leaders and freedom fighter commanders ensured they had a life of luxury and that their personal wealth came before building a new nation. If it is true, it is a real pity.
There are consistent reports of ongoing criminal activity (a lot of it violent) in the country. The suggestion is that the police and army, who have not been paid (oil exports issue again) are a big part of the problem.

Day 3 – 12/1/13
We were up before the sparrows and drove back the way we came 2 days before. The valleys were filled with smoke from the morning domestic fires, from charcoal making and from bushfires.
We cleared customs and immigration quickly. Again, we were taken to the front of each queue.

South Sudan Summary
The trip to Sth Sudan turned out to be a very expensive experiment. With visas (Sth Sudan and re-entry into Uganda), insurance, accommodation, food, additional fuel & accommodation to make the trek north etc, we were probably out of pocket > $ 1,000 for the 2 days. We were pretty appalled and annoyed at the costs and the blatant gouging.
The costs are massively higher than anywhere else in the region. For example, the hotel 300 km south in Gulu (the 1st major center south in Uganda and itself, expensive for Uganda) was only 25% of the cost of the camp in South Sudan - for the same program. And it was of a much higher standard.
It also shows how the Diplomatic Corps and NGOs spend taxes and donations. One of the NGOs was a malaria treatment organisation. We though of Dave & Julia in Drive Against Malaria. The cost to maintain an organisation in Juba could be used to great effect with a mirco, focused couple like Dave & Julia.
The government taxes the material bought into the country by NGOs, for example the chap we spoke to in Kampala was building a school in Sth Sudan and the government taxed all materials on import.
I am not sure taxing the generosity of others is a winning strategy.
The country itself does not have much to offer tourists and overlanders.
Listening to folks in the camp about the violence, lawlessness and corruption in Sth Sudan, even if 50% is true, this new country is in for a very hard time – unless you are one of the new elite.
 Somaliland, a non-state seemed to be much better organised and had a lot more civic pride. We would be surprised if the people of Sth Sudan, in general, were any better off in 20 years time.

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