24 October 2014, Friday
Lake Mburo National Park to Entebbe, approx 244 kilometers. 6 hours.
Last to crawl out of his tent is Ed with the simple comment “I know how Pierre thinks, and I am heading straight to tonight’s hotel.” He is referring to the high likelihood that the final night’s hotel will be rather comfortable. But first, we all have to be at the ranger station by 7 am for a 2 to 3 hour hike in the park.
The rangers split up the gang into 5 smaller groups so as not to spook the wildlife. The hike is not as rough as the chimp hike in the rainforest, but very cool as zebra, eland, buffalo, warthogs, kudu, waterbuck and crested cranes are spotted. Luckily no snakes today. The great thing about the nature hike was the rangers’ great knowledge of the animals. It was really nice to hike along and learn so many details of the animals we were seeing.
After the hike, we enjoy a quick breakfast by the lake and headed out on our final 244 kilometers of the Challenge. We have a long list of items to gain Challenge points. And as mentioned, Ed is having none of it. However, today I will be riding with James Choi and Terry. To my immediate chagrin, as I am about to get in their car, they announce to me we will be hitting each and every Challenge point. Ed and Jim have already left for the comforts of the hotel, and it is too late to change cars! I am thinking this is going to be a long day in the back of the car, bumping along with no one to blame but myself as I am the one who came up with the challenges.
Within minutes, I am surprised at the teamwork between James and Terry, two very different personalities, and how pleasant it is to be with them on our “treasure” hunt. They are having fun, but are serious about their strategy to find and photograph the various signs in the park as well as wildlife. In order not to get too lost on the different t
racks, they actually employ a compass. This is turning into great fun. And lo and behold, 15 minutes into our trek, a hippo dashes across the road in front of us in broad daylight. It must have gotten caught out when the sun rose and took refuge in a mud hole. We must have startled it and it made a run for it right in front of us. We follow it for a bit just as surprised as the hippo must have been. He does quickly stop and give us the eye to let us know to stop following him. We oblige.
We finally get enough points and head out of the park. We are heading to a first class hotel on the outskirts of Kampala and technically in Entebbe. We take the short cut at Mpigi and from there on it is a lot of guess work as well as driving by compass. The roads are awful and there are absolutely no signs to the hotel. It is the kind of hotel where one does not drive themselves and thus signs are not necessary. Terry and James ask lots of folks and continue to use the compass. Amazingly, we make it to the Serena Lake Victoria with very few wrong turns. It did take 3 hours from Mpigi, but somehow we are the first to arrive. I laugh at myself for doubting these guys for being meticulous.
One of the challenges for today was to be photographed with a police officer. This is harder to do than one thinks as the police do not want to be photographed. Thus, getting such a photo involves some convincing. I am surprised to see that a few folks actually got the photos. One of our participants, who shall remain nameless, actually left her driver’s license at home. She happened to be driving when they pulled over for the photo, was asked for her driver’s license and was fined! Seems when going on a driving trip in a foreign country a driver’s license is required. A smile and a passport just does not add up to being able to drive. Actually, her team mate would debate whether the actual driver’s license means anything at all given his description of near-death experiences with her at the wheel on the broken roads of Uganda.
Team Poli Poli 2014 are lucky enough to ask a marathon runner out for a training run for directions…he simply tells them to follow him!…given the roads to the hotel are so bad, the runners pace is just about right. The hotel is amazingly difficult to find, but it is beautiful and a complete sense of relief to each team as they drive through the gates.
Unfortunately, our intrepid Jim and Ed have a breakdown…their fan belt is completely mangled and unrecognizable. As Martha and Guy had stopped to “help” Jim and Ed with the fan belt, both teams Help Help Me Rwanda and U-Gan-Da Wrong Way are way behind. They rightfully decide to follow our fantastic
The next day, I tally the final scores. There is a large spread, but it is great how well everyone did in tracking and winning points. We had intentionally slowed the Challenge down this year so as not to make it a race. In spite of everyone’s concerns of disease, terrorism and poisonous snakes, the greatest danger to us and those around us is a simple traffic accident. It is great to see everyone arrived safe and sound. That said, we still have some winners: In third place, Tim and Vivian in Poli Poli 2014 with 64 points. They were just beat out for second place by Shad and Josh of Photon Cultivators with 66 points. And if I had not witnessed their teamwork and strategy first hand today, I would have been shocked to learn of the first place finishers. They were a great team and brought in 70 points. Terry and James of Fish Called Wanda won the Northland Challenge 2014.
Congratulations to them and all of the participants!