After a 4 year absence I finally set foot in my hometown Kampala last week. Welcomed by friends and and relatives, Dirk, Amilcar and I set out to (re)discover the city I grew up in and embark on the exhausting mission of finding a 4×4 vehicle for our road trip. Amilcar had already been in K’LA for 3 weeks of which he had spent 2 weeks sick in bed as a result of an Amoeba parasite, so he was looking forward to leaving the city.

Everything that takes hours in Holland, can take days in Uganda.

— Dirk Hofman

How the cookie crumbles

A month ago I had started looking for cars but the task proved to be impossible from a distance, being faced with shady vendors who were often unwilling to answer calls from a Dutch phone numbers and usually reluctant to send essential information such as mileage, photos, tax status and how long the car had been in Uganda over whatsapp. This last point may seem strange but it is an essential criteria of judging a cars value in Uganda. The reason is that most cars are imported from abroad (usually Japan) and the roads in Uganda really take it’s toll on cars. That’s why the first 3 letters of the license plate are more important than the mileage. A car with 100,000 kms on the odometer with license plate UAS will be more expensive than the same model with the same amount of KM’s with license plate UAE, simply because the latter has spent more time on Ugandan roads.

Africa has her mysteries and even a wise man cannot understand them. But a wise man respects them.

— Miriam Makeba

The RAV4

After viewing several cars, some good, some terrible, some with shady salesmen and others out of our price range, we found a suitable candidate. A 1995 5 door RAV4 that smelled like a 90 year old grandma had been farting dust in it for decades. After having a mechanic who was recommended to us by a family friend look at it, we concluded that it would definitely need some work done, mainly new front tyres, an engine seal, a new indicator light and a full service.

We proceed to negotiate, which was a painstaking process because the seller only spoke Luganda, but through mediation by a friend we finally reached a sales agreement. Now it may seem as if things went fast, but arranging anything in Uganda can take days, if only for the fact that anyone, from all walks of life does not value time; most people are not surprised if someone arrives 1.5 hours late for a meeting.

"Trusting a mechanic in Kampala is like getting f*#@ed by a train."

— Dirk Hofman

Trust your gut

After buying the car last Friday, we proceeded to the mechanic, who was supposed to do the necessary work (excluding tyres) for around 150,000UGX. However, as we were discussing the price and the work to be done, the conman had instructed 6 of his goons to quickly tear the car apart behind our backs, only to present us with a bill of 845,000UGX. He thought that if he would manoeuvre us into a position where we had no cards to play, our car completely demobilised, we would surrender to his tricks and pay the bill. Luckily for us, I still had some good connects and while Dirk blocked them from touching the car, I called around and within 45 minutes I had another friends trusted mechanic as well as a senior police officer by our side, which completely tilted the playing field in our favour. We were able to come to a solution, paying a small amount to the conmen for his time and parts, after which we drove to the reliable mechanics garage to do the repairs and service. It was a truly exhausting and frustrating day in which we all learnt that no matter who recommends someone, you should always listen to your gut feeling, because usually there is a hint of truth in it.

Instead of trying to make your life perfect, give yourself the freedom to make it an adventure, and go ever upward.

— Drew Houston

Eventually we spent 1.6 milllion UGX on the car instead of the 650,000UGX we had counted on, it’s full of dents, one window can’t open, driving it is like taking a steambath filled with dust, but it’s our baby and we love it. Let’s hit the road!