Getting our adventure on | Quad biking in JinjaAugust 24, 2012
In July, the JDA Uganda General Manager, Anne-Marie Weeden, went on safari with her much younger brother. Fresh from sitting his ‘A’ levels in the UK, adventure was high on his agenda. First stop for the intrepid pair? A Sunset Quad Bike safari on the banks of the Nile in Jinja. In her own words, she describes the fun they had – and it was not all about the adrenalin either…
After being fitted with overalls and a helmet, we were allocated our Quad Bikes, or All Terrain Vehicles. I was on a ‘manual’ geared bike (operated by foot lever, just like a motorbike) but there were automatics available. With a little instruction, it was not long before the group was chugging slowly around the practice track, which is rather surreally built on a mini-golf course with a safari theme. So whilst you’re busy trying to work out whether you’re in 2nd or 3rd gear, a large rhino statue looms to your left, and an open pair of hippo jaws gape on the right. Eventually, we were deemed ready, and left the ‘wildlife’ behind to set out on our quad safari.
Single file, we were soon getting up some speed along the murram tracks, the red earth dark and sticky after a recent rain shower. Turning into maize plantations, we followed twisting farmer’s tracks studded with gnarled tree roots, weaving between the stalks of maize, inter-planted with shady banana palms and coffee bushes. The coffee cherries were green and unripe – and I was grateful for my safety helmet as one or two of the branches were quite heavily laden and clattered against my head as I passed beneath. Every now and again we passed a local house, usually a small round earthen ‘banda’ under grass thatch, occasionally a simple brick construction roofed with tin sheets. Maize or G-nuts (peanuts) were laid out to dry on old flour sacks, in the areas in front of people’s homes, fastidiously swept with not a leaf out of place. I am told the earth is kept swept bare in this way to avoid snakes, who can hide in leaves. On the bare earth, you can see the serpents coming.
As we passed each small collection of dwellings, women sat, boiling milk or peeling jackfruit. Old men rested as they held the smooth topknot of a walking stick polished with years of use. Children played with old bicycle tires and baby goats bleated after their mothers. At the sound of our engines, faces looked up and greetings were made: the women elicited shy smiles; the mzees nodded imperceptibly; and the children ran to greet us shouting with excitement. At one house they even broke off blooms from a beautiful bush with fuchsia petals to hand to the quad bikers – as if we were medieval knights carrying ladies’ favours into battle.
(Our presence was studiously ignored by the goats, however, but goats will do that.)
We turned towards the river and dropped down to the banks of the Nile, where women from the villages were finishing up their laundry. This is a scene that must play out every day, all along the Nile to the sea. We stopped, turned off our engines, took some pictures of the river in the golden shafts of evening sunshine, and enjoyed a bottle of water provided by the quad guides. We chatted to some children who came up to gawp at the bikes, or was it us? One girl was carrying her baby sister on her back – the infant wore nothing but a string of traditional beads around her waist. She broke into a winning smile when she was allowed to sit on top of one of the bikes and touch the handlebars.
On the way back, the group start getting more confident and speeds picked up. People leaned out on corners to encourage the bikes to slide round the bend, but it was no good – the earth had already dried out from the earlier rainstorm, and the quads are pretty hard to de-stabilise. But someone nearly managed it as the steering whipped away from him over an unexpected tree-root. From four wheels on to two and then just as suddenly back to four again. Nothing like a safe recovery to get the blood pumping. It looked so precarious it put the rest of us off any further high jinks and we chugged gently back to base, feeling pleasantly tired and a little dusty. Anyone who has been riding too close to the bike in front can be immediately identified by their orange ‘dust tan’.
The appeal of a quad bike safari is more than just adventure. Adrenalin-kicks aside, its ability to get you onto the backroads and quiet byways of rural Africa is what sets it apart. So much of a typical safari is spent cooped up in a Landcruiser, staring at African life as it unfolds outside the window. A quad bike safari in Bujagali puts you right inside it – in a charming, rural idyll sort of a way. Away from the busy highways filled with hawkers and pushers, the ‘feelgood factor’ of the real Uganda shines through. It’s a green and pleasant land, filled with warm and friendly people and the cutest children on earth. It’s the toothy smile of an elderly lady shelling G-nuts; it’s the choruses of ‘Bye Muzungu Byeee!’ from small children walking home from school; it’s the invitation to take a fresh piece of jackfruit from someone you have only just met; it’s all of these things and more.
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