Travellers around the world have been stopped in their tracks by Covid-19, but if you couldn’t get back to your home nation, what’s it like being stuck somewhere else? Tim and Marisa have been on the road with their KTM since they left Chicago 3 years ago and give us the ‘Lowdown on the Lockdown’ from Uganda
Marisa and I could see the world’s borders potentially shutting down all around us. We had just arrived in Uganda after spending the last six months riding from South Africa on our way north to Egypt on our KTM 1190 Adventure. But we now foresaw a large pause that would be unexpectedly forced onto our journey. At the time, there were three of us; Marisa, me and a fellow rider, Leo, who was also from the States.
As we all sat down to discuss where we would prefer to get ‘stuck’, there seemed to be a couple of options, but some of them were more favourable for us than others. Would we ride back to Tanzania? Carry on to Kenya? Or ride even further north into Ethiopia? We debated factors like hospitals, populations and the infrastructure of certain cities or countries as a whole. There was also the option of flying back home to Chicago, but that would be a last resort and only apply if the general public started to turn nasty towards foreigners. But in the end Uganda seemed to have a lot of our checkmarks tallied.
Kampala seemed to be a typical large city in Africa. There were hundreds of piki pikis (small motorcycles) that zipped through the traffic and onto the sidewalks while larger vehicles poured out thick black clouds of exhaust that we tried not to inhale. Small shops lined the main roads and there were large groups of people gathered at every corner. I wasn’t sure if Kampala was the best place to practice ‘socially distancing’.
At first, the corona virus was a joke to most people. Pedestrians would say things as they mimicked coughing into their hands like “mzungu corona”, which is a derogatory way of saying “white man corona”. But I could deal with that. What I couldn’t deal with was if their tone turned hostile. If fear evolved into blame and blame turned into aggression, then we would hop on the first plane back to the States, if there were still any flights.
So, we took a risk. Our gamble to stay was based on the friendliness of the people that we had already encountered at the small markets, the people that smiled at us as we passed them while walking down the streets, and of the hostel staff that treated us so kindly. The icing on the cake was the fact that the property we were at, on the eastern edge of Uganda’s capital, Kampala, had a restaurant, a bar, and a house we could rent that was secluded even further away from the main dorm rooms. For 800,000 shillings a month, which equates to just under 200 Euro, we could rent our own two-bedroom house equipped with two bathrooms, a fridge, and a gas stove. The three of us eagerly paid rent for the first month, knowing well that it may be another two months before we can move on.
Marisa and I have taken lengthy breaks over the course of our three-year journey. We stayed in Colima, Mexico for a month, and spent another month by Lake Atitlan in Guatemala. So for us, this temporary setback to our original plan isn’t anything that will overwhelm us. But we have no idea how long the borders will stay closed. This means that there will be time to write my third book and to make YouTube videos while we wait out the pandemic that is sweeping across the world. I’ve even purchased a Nintendo with over a hundred really horrible games that aren’t that fun, and got excited when I bought a guitar, something that I couldn’t have been able to have realistically do while on the move.
With the addition of another world traveller, a Canadian named Braden, we’ve made a small family unit and decided to stick it out here in Kampala. Our days are filled with ‘slow races’ on our motorcycles as we ride our bikes on the small plot of grass behind the hotel. We utilize the bar on the property semi-frequently, (the hotel’s now closed to the public) there is a pool table that we can play for free, and we even have wood-stove cooked pizzas every Friday. I can’t claim to be roughing it, but we got lucky. I have talked with people that are quarantined in Peru, Argentina, Ethiopia, and other countries where things have not progressed as “smoothly”.
It has been just over a month since our lockdown, and we just received word that it will be at least another month before we are allowed to proceed. As soon as the gates are open we won’t be rushing into Kenya. I want to see what borders further north are doing and what the reaction to mobile foreigners is like. Will we be accepted or shunned? Will we be greeted with smiles or stern looks of disapproval?
For now, we are content. We are allowed to ride our motorcycles to go get groceries and we can walk freely to small shops. There are only a small percentage of people that look at us negatively, but before they can say anything, I try to battle them with a smile and some friendly words to break any tension that may be coming. We have been told to go home by a few people who drive by, but most people realize that we are all in this strange circumstance together, and as difficult as these times are, it is easier to coexist with who is around you than point fingers and blame.
Marisa and I consider ourselves to be lucky. We are surrounded by new friends, we are safe, we are comfortable and we know that with a little bit of patience we will be able to carry on once it’s safe to do so.
Wherever you are, stay safe out there, stay positive, and hopefully we can all get back on the road as soon as possible.
Tim & Marisa