By Marisa Notier
The Notier Notes
Our Sunday Scoop
Almost exactly one year ago, we had just arrived in Uganda, and Tim and I began to realize that our traveling life as we knew it was going to change - and possibly come to a complete halt. It felt like every time we had access to internet and looked at our phones, the headlines were getting worse and worse. Airports were shutting down, country borders were closing, and cities were going into lockdown.
But luckily for us, nothing was locked down in Uganda yet, and most people were blissfully unaware of the storm clouds that were brewing on the horizon.
We were traveling with our American friend Leo, and had just spent the night in a hotel from hell (if you missed that story, check out last week's blog here). Needless to say, we hadn't gotten very much sleep, and had woken up early because we had a long day ahead of us - a ride through Queen Elizabeth National Park.
Uganda is very special in that motorcycles are allowed in all of its National Parks. Normally in Africa, this is not the case because... well, lions like to chase motorcycles. But somehow, the lions in Uganda are very shy. They are a unique type of lion locally known as "tree-dwelling lions" because they do like to spend a lot of time in trees.
With the hopes of possibly seeing one of these lions, we entered Queen Elizabeth from the south, stopped for lunch at Lake Edward, and pretty much rode all the way through the park. And although we didn't see any lions, it was a gorgeous ride. We saw lots of monkeys, and we even caught sight of Uganda's national bird (it's on Uganda's flag) - the Grey Crowned Crane.
Unfortunately, the previous night's lack of sleep was really taking a toll on Tim. The sun, the heat, the rutted, dusty roads, it was all causing him to feel light-headed and nauseous. So by the time we reached the equator line, he couldn't even pose for pictures. I knew we needed to get to a hotel (a NICE hotel), and we needed to get there fast.
We found a place to stay that night in the town of Kasese, and after some water, food, and rest, Tim felt much better. But the news on our phones was getting worse. Countries all around us were reporting cases of Coronavirus, and borders were shutting down. We started to feel like we were being caged in, and there might not be any way out.
We knew that if we were going to get stuck somewhere, it should be in a city with amenities, close to airports for an emergency exit, and near to hospital care if need be.
So the next day, we headed off to Uganda's capital city, Kampala.
We stayed at a hotel that was right next to "the best motorcycle mechanic in Uganda", according to the iOverlander app (it's true, Ibra is awesome!). And it was just by this strange coincidence that we ended up at the hotel that would become our home for the next seven months.
There were plenty of other international guests staying there, and some of them were even motorcycle travelers - Braden from Canada, and his Israeli companions Roy and Shahar. Actually, Tim ran into them at the mechanic shop, and since they didn't have plans on where to stay that night, he convinced them to lodge at the hotel with us. So with the addition of Lucy from the UK, that is how we all became a group of friends that we like to call the "Mother-Stuckers".
It didn't take long for the city to go under lockdown and for commercial flights to stop. All vehicles on the road were banned (only walking) and there were strict curfews. Masks became mandatory in all public areas. And because of these tight measures, I believe Uganda did an excellent job of slowing the spread of the virus.
But we were officially stuck, and were hoping it was going to be more of a perfect-vacation-type-of-stuck than a Hotel-Rwanda-type-of-stuck. Thankfully, it was more of the former, because even though the world around us was coming undone, our little group of traveling friends living in a hotel together made it feel like home.
Tim and Braden had "slow races" on their bikes (Braden kept winning), and since the hotel had a restaurant (with a wood-fire oven for homemade pizzas), a bar, and a pool hall, there wasn't ever a shortage of things to do. And we didn't feel stuck in a small space under lockdown.
Tim and I rented a house connected to the hotel property, which had its own kitchen, and even had a resident monkey that came by to eat bananas. It was the best situation we could've asked for.
But it wasn't long before people started taking emergency flights out. First Shahar, then Roy (leaving their bikes), then Lucy. Finally, Leo and Braden left as well, until it was just Tim and I and the hotel staff.
Seven months we stayed at that hotel. Until finally the borders opened again, and because our visa was expired, we moved east to live where we are now in Nanyuki, Kenya.
Overall, I'm glad that we were able to make the best out of a terrible situation. Things are certainly far from going back to normal, and our prospects of doing any serious traveling is still very limited.
So we don't know what lies ahead for us in the future, but looking back, I'm glad to say that so far, we've been very fortunate. And if we had to be locked down somewhere, where we ended up couldn't have been better.
I'll see you next week when I'll talk about our move from Uganda to Kenya, and what it's like to overland in Africa during a Pandemic.
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