Chepsikunya Trading Centre gave us false hope. Its morning skies opened with sunshine and we were assured of a smooth drive on a dusty road. Suddenly, the skies greyed, lightning and thunder struck. In minutes, it drizzled. Children went about sticking out their tongues to harvest raindrops. Our car skidded left and right in the mud. We were mentally prepared for the journey. In the last fortnight, photographs and videos were shared within tourism circles on the murky conditions of the road to Pian Upe Wildlife Reserve, in north east of Karamoja.
This is not a destination for the faint-hearted in the rainy season. Its tender soils make it hard and sometimes utterly impossible for travellers. If you have a knack for real African safari, complete with bumpy and smooth murram road stretches, Pian Upe is the way. The reward comes with partaking of the most breath-taking sunrises and sunsets against the backdrop of the Kadam Mountain at a distance.
The trees and savannah grasslands compliment the view to give you a wild perspective. That was to come in the evening after a day on the road, perhaps to calm our fears of continuing to devise means of getting out of the muddy trenches.
If we alluded to rain being a blessing, that got us stuck for hours. From a lone battle, soon we had company as more cars proceeding to the Nakapiripirit, couldn’t go past that spot.
For us, hearts still warmed up to the prospect of seeing cheetahs, waterbucks, giraffes, ostriches, dik dik, Uganda kobs, vervet and patas monkeys and more wildlife worth the sacrifice.
The waiting was worthwhile as we appreciated what farmers and road users have to go through to do business and travel. There was a tractor with a carrier full of vegetables. In the face of adversity, different ideas were volunteered and one of the possible solutions was to offload produce to reduce the weight on the carrier for the tractor whose efforts to propel, only kept digging deeper into the ground to the chagrin of a matatu driver who saw a challenge in making way for his lowly suspended vehicle.
Our Toyota Land cruiser almost failed at slight attempt. In the conversations that ensued, I learnt that there was a tractor which is a double four-wheel drive.
The boda boda riders could not envy us either as they had to use extra hands to carry their motorcycles through the murky stretch. They expressed their frustration in local dialect.
Women and men, boys and girls had abandoned smartness to grapple with the challenge at hand, barefoot, and their limbs covered with mud. For motorists, the effort to engage gears to move only momentarily propelled the tyres into speed to splash mud onto those who offered to push riders and drivers.
We were out of the cars as we pondered what next. We rolled our trousers to knee level, skidded as a few backs touched the ground and so did the brown droplets onto our clothes, hands, faces and hair. What could have been a moment of anguish, gave birth to light as we took pictures of each other while we continued to deliberate on solutions.
My eyes were drawn to another scenario. This was after the driver tried to find grip on the ground and set the vehicle in motion but in vain. It only kept spiralling in the mud and wearing the tyres out as the smell of burning rubber hit our nose then its carrier lost balance and produce belonging to a female trader fell. The despair in the eyes as her cabbages fell off. Then eager youths offered to lend a hand at a fee. I appreciated how much toil goes into delivering that tasty cabbage to a plate in some of the affluent hospitality facilities.
The sun was soon making its way to the bottom of the clouds, shading the mount Kadam with its golden shine. The tractor driver had managed to tow us out of the ‘dangerous spot’ and we decided to let the driver go ahead of us so we walked barefoot, allowing for an evening walk as our feet got pinches that we appreciated as ‘African foot massage’. There is never a dull moment on an African safari!