The Taxi Ride to Kitgum
Kitgum is one of the northern most towns in Uganda and described rather dismissively by the Bradt Guide as a place to rest and refuel on the way through to Kidepo National Park.
It was one of the centres of the recent troubles in the north and the location of many Internally Displaced Peoples camps until the end of hostilities in 2006/7.
It’s about 80 miles north east of Gulu. We went there this weekend to visit our fellow volunteers Sam and Laurie, to do some work with them and to see whether the Bradt guide was accurate in its description.
The Homeland Bus was scheduled to leave our hometown of Gulu at 10 am on Friday having left Kampala in the early hours of the morning.
On this day it was not going to set off from Gulu until 2 pm too late for us as Sam and Laurie were expecting us by lunchtime.
It was therefore over to the other side of the Gulu bus park to the Kitgum stage (bus stop) to find out when and what else was taking passengers to Kitgum.
We found a taxi or matatu as the white minibuses are called loading up and about half full. The driver a mature man called Vincent Okello was sitting at the wheel listening to some lively Acholi music and there were a couple of boda drivers hanging around appreciating the music.
We were offered the front seats as an inducement but wisely opted to bag places toward the rear of the bus. We got into the minibus and waited for other people to come to fill it up.
Whilst waiting we watched a small pickup truck next to us being loaded with amongst other things a three piece suite. The hawkers were around and many people in the bus bought toothpaste and the special blue washing soap – they were obviously a good price.
Buying things whilst waiting for a bus to depart seems to be a common practice although the blue soap and toothpaste were new ones on me, it’s usually electrical goods and perfumes
We set off about an hour later with large amounts of luggage in the racks above and 4 people in each row designed for 3 people .
A police check about 15 kms out of Gulu stopped us for about 10 minutes. On our previous journey in a taxi from Lira the police had been checking for overcrowding but that didn’t seem to be a concern on this occasion.
We sped along listening to the lively music the driver swaying his body to the beat and tooting loudly when we passed through any villages to alert children animals and others to get out of the way. After about an hour on the road the taxi slowed and the driver stuck his head out of the window to look at the tyres. He stopped and walked around the bus kicking the tyres. All of us passengers sat patiently and eventually we went on more slowly until we reached the next small village where we all got out and waited in the shade of a mango tree whilst the van was jacked up the rear nearside wheel taken off something done to the bearings or suspension arm it was all re assembled and we then got back in the bus and set off. The driver picked up speed and soon we were hurtling along at what seemed to me a frightening speed. I thought I would just have to bear it but others began shouting above the loud music for him to slow down particularly the woman in the front seat with her new baby in her arms, thank goodness we hadn’t taken up the offer of the front row, but actually everybody was shouting and calling on him to park and for the police to be called! Mark and I were the only ones not shouting as our Acholi was not up to it. He did slow down and we crawled for a few kilometres as he made a point but eventually we sped up again to a fast but not too frightening pace.
By one ‘o’clock we were approaching the outskirts of Kitgum and were soon off the bus and onto a boda to St Joseph’s Mission
where our friends live next to the fathers. It’s a green shady place
with 4 bungalows with wide verandas set amongst large mature trees next to St Marys Church and the hospital both built and founded by the Italian fathers at the turn of the century.
The bungalows were furnished with Italian style furniture that wouldn’t have looked out of place in a traditional house in Italy.
We sat on the veranda having been out for an evening meal and listed to the small owls calling to each other and watched the bats swooping.
What was Kitgum like? Rather a spread out green town with a calm quiet feel to it. It has a muddy river that runs through it and there are some really good views of the countryside and enticing mountains in the distance from the mission.
Worth going back to and it’s not only Kidepo that one can visit from there but Agoro and the mountain just to the north between it and south Sudan – the next intrepid tourist destination.
The journey back was far less eventful on the homeland coach leaving at 5 pm arriving in Gulu just after 7 where we left the rest of our fellow passengers to a long and hopefully safe journey through the night to Kampala where they would arrive at about 2 am.
The next time we plan to go under our own steam on motorbikes!