Why is Uganda called The Pearl of Africa? It is commonly believed that the originator of this reference to Uganda was Sir Winston Churchill who described Uganda as The Pearl of Africa in his book “My African Journey” in 1907.
What is known for fact is that he at least made it famous but he may have borrowed the phrase from Sir Henry Morton Stanley, the Wesh explorer. Yes, this is the man who also famously said: “Dr Livingstone, I presume”, when he found missionary and explorer Dr David Livingstone looking for the source of the Nile.
Having now toured the country right after the rainy season, the scenery was magnificent everywhere. Green and lush, animals I had only sen in books and zoos roaming free. And of course, the great people! Clearly the Pearl of Africa ingredients!
Uganda (or Buganda) and the British have a long colonial history, which for the purposes of this blog, I will skip. Then again, my trip was made considerably easier by the fact that English is now widely spoken in Uganda.
Woke up after a good night’s sleep at Edelweißhütte Berggasthof at Grossglockner Edelweißspitze. Last night we arrived in thick fog and drizzle, when the evening was turning cooler.
parking area just below the last ascent to the Edelweißhütte, one could not see
the other side of the area and I had to carefully circle the empty car park to
find the small cobblestone road leading further up towards the Edelweißhütte gasthof,
which I knew was on the top. Just was not sure if this was the right car park
in the fog. I remembered the route from memory and just was not sure.
After some circling,
I managed to find the cobblestone track. We could only see a few meters, but we
took the path. Once you take this narrow track, you commit to it. It is virtually
not possible to turn back on the narrow, steep and slippery cobblestone road. Not
on our heavy Harleys, nor really on any touring bike.
arrival, I guess we took the host family by surprise as they were not expecting
anyone to come through the weather and there were no other guests. Regardless,
we got a very warm welcome, beer, good food and garage for our bikes and a room
for us to stay.
morning looking at the window expecting to see the mountain view, I noticed the
window being covered with fog after the night’s heavy sleep. Still tired, I
opened the window and to my surprise the view did not change – still foggy.
Looking more carefully, it was SNOWING! In JULY!
had turned into snow during night and we had about a foot of snow on the ground
with more coming. The stay at the Edelweißhütte turned out to be one of the
most memorable days of our trip. Lazy morning, snowfights and general amazement
about the unexpected turn of the events.
The snow is
not uncommon even during July and I have now been stuck at Edelweißspitze twice
due to snow in July.
the snow was as thick as 20 – 50 cm, the summer snow only covers the mountain top
and as one descents just a few hundred meters, the snow quickly melts away. The
key difference to winter is that the ground under the snow is not frozen and once
the snow is cleared, the ground is only wet, not icy. Well, the cobblestones still
were slippery and the ride down from Edelweißhütte was exiting. The snow was
cleared by using a broom sweeping a narrow path down the track for us to ride.
And once at
Edelweißhütte, it was 25c warm with the place busy with biker groups and vintage
cars, etc. I must say I prefer the snow and the forced lazy mornings in the
beauty of the snowy mountains in July.
Stelvio in Italy is no Stranger for Midsummer Snow either
What a treat! Touring the Nordic area above the arctic circle is a treat indeed, a world of its own.
Covid-19 this year dictated the direction (i.e. north). Besides, I really enjoy the vast open areas, free roaming reindeer and friendly people in the Finnish Lapland and the equally friendly Norwegians, and their mountainous coastline with bare fell areas.
Must also mention the great food, which you have available everywhere. Reindeer stew prepared the traditional way plus reindeer in many forms, salmon and the latest addition, king crab. Nowhere has king crab tasted better than in Honninsvåg at Nordkapp.
On your way north, a must is the white wish captured from the Kukkolankoski rapids of Tornio river, the largest free flowing river in Europe. This is just north of Tornio. There are several places for this white fish flamed on open fire but if you get off the main road and do not stop at the first tourist trap but continue a few hundred meters, you come to the traditional trap(?) with a statue of a river logger just outside.
How to get there
When heading north, Oulu is a good starting place. A lively university town a long day’s ride from Helsinki. But first you need to get there! My recommended route from Helsinki would be Helsinki – Tampere – Virrat – Kuortane – Vimpeli – Kaustinen – Ylivieska – Oulu. This avoids many of the bigger arteries, crossing the scenic country side and has no fixed speed traps either.
If you have more time to explore, particularly if you come through Turku, the coastal route is also a nice alternative but more heavy with traffic.
When going up on the western route, it is worth exploring the lake district of the eastern Finland as well on your way down. You can choose between the tranquility of the lake area or party at a harbour market of any town. Lappeenranta, Kuopio, Savonlinna to name a few… Plenty of culture, lake cruises, etc available as well.
Very North in under Nine Minutes
The video below takes you along our route. You will see what the roads are like and the scenery along the way. It answers many question regarding riding in the very north.
A few years ago we left home for a short overnight ride (hence the open face helmet and sunglasses in the picture) with my wife and a few friends. Only to end up leaving our friends behind and touring Lapland and visiting Nordkapp in Norway by the Barents see, altogether some 4500km. The picture has a glue of where it was taken😀.
Now that covid-19 has seriously fu**ed up everyone’s riding plans for the summer, it is time to visit Lapland and the north again.
Well, Lapland is no second prize, it is a great destination on its own and well worth visiting even several times.
Jungle trails on Ho Chi Minh Trail in Laos vary between barely a single track in the bamboo forest to a newly built logging or mining road for trucks. This time of the year however, after the rainy season, most of the jungle roads have been washed away and only some main national roads can be driven by cars. So we spent days without seeing a single car on the road!
Mostly the trail was dry and hard – this was literally vital as any unexploded bombs would not be disturbed when riding over them. The wet places were like riding on soap! Very, very slippery!
The main excitement was obviously finding the old Ho Chi Minh Trail tracks, the cobblestone trail in the jungle, mostly reclaimed by the growth but still visible. Sometimes surrounded by bomb craters, sometimes next to cliffs and sometimes in the cover of the jungle. Sometimes even still used as a cobblestone road. Obviously parts were rebuilt into national road system as well.
Video compilation from Ho Chi Minh Trail Water crossings
Bound to get your boots full
Our ride in November took place after the rainy season and roads and paths had deep meandering grooves carved by the water to make the ride more interesting.
In some occasions the road was completely washed away and just big canyons were left, making crossing even more interesting.
The power of water is incredible and even large concrete bridges were washed away and only pillars were left standing askew. The only bridges that were left almost unscathed were the concrete slabs on the bottom of the river, so called bottom bridges. They are designed to allow the water to flow over them, making the bottom more even and safer to ride. Still some of those were moved by the force of the water.
In the beginning of the dry season, many villages build temporary bridges across streams. The most spectacular are the bamboo bridges, some of which can be more than a hundred meters long. Villages make income by charging a fee from anyone using the bridge.