Fast Friends Around the World: Humbert and Judit take on East Africa

Discover all about how two friends, Judit and Humbert, ended up bike packing across East Africa and what they learned about themselves and the people they met along the way.

1) Where did you go and why did you choose to go there? How long did it take? What did you pack?

After traveling around many different continents, we knew it was time to go to Africa. In the bike packing world, it’s generally recommended to start in East Africa. The political and social situation, as well as having been open to tourists for a while now, make these countries safe and “easy” to navigate. That being said, when you stray from the touristy areas, you can discover authentic African culture in places where seeing people like us was unusual. After seeing that had published routes in both countries, our decision was clearer than ever. I had followed a couple routes in Asia and Europe and the tracks passed through beautiful landscapes avoiding asphalt whenever possible. Due to the size of Uganda and Rwanda, we needed six weeks to cover both countries without rushing but without too many stops. The stages depended a lot on the terrain: easy dirt roads meant doing around 100kms, whereas technical trails and big ramps meant doing around 45 kms. On our bikes, we carried everything we needed to be completely self-sufficient–we had everything to eat or sleep anywhere at any time. On the contrary to what you might imagine, this part of Africa has places that aren’t so hot, so we had to prepare for rain and cold. Even though we purposely chose to go during the dry season, this year the rainy season extended a few extra weeks and we had some rainy/muddy days in Uganda.

2) What were some of the most memorable moments?

 After 45 days traversing two countries by bicycle, it's impossible to choose just one memorable moment. A memory that comes to mind was going through the entire country when we first arrived. Hubert and I met in Nairobi (Keni) and the next day we took a bus to Kampala (Urganda). It was a long journey and totally memorable. As you can imagine, getting two bikes in the back seat was a huge challenge. We were on the bus for more than 15 hours and, as you can imagine, it wasn't a very comfortable bus. We were more worried about our bikes than sitting on uncomfortable seats for many hours. I was more worried if my front wheel would arrive at the port or if it would fly out the window on one of the bumpy roads. Crossing the border was another epic moment since every local was used to doing it, but we were lost with all of the people offering us food and to exchange money. Fortunately we didn't have any serious issues at the border. After crossing the border and getting checked by the doctor for yellow fever, we continued. A few hours later, we stopped in order to stretch out our legs before getting to Kampala. Now our adventure is about to start!

3) What was the biggest challenge?

I think our biggest challenge was simply completing the trip. Coming from a western society, we have many prejudices toward the African continent. After reading our story I would like you to ask questions and think about these prejudices. Thanks to these countries, we lived the bikepacking trips that most positively influenced our lives. You will find very safe countries and many kind people. You can meet all kinds of people without having to go to any touristy places. Don't try to change anything about their lives, nor look at them with sadness. We know their hard reality and the lack of means to cover their needs, but without any doubt they will charge your batteries with both kindness, empathy but especially with smiles. This is where you will really understand the power of smiles!

4) What lessons did you bring back from the trip? What did you learn about yourself?

We discovered a society that’s completely different from ours. Everything that we experienced and the people we met gave us memories that we will never forget. We were fascinated by how kind the people were, how curious they were about us–observing with wide eyes and asking us a million questions. As a woman, I was taken back by how the women looked at me with admiration for doing this trip by bike. What they didn’t know is how much we admired them for their strength, bravery, and kindness. I learned a lot during this trip, especially about how to be alone. We had a lot of downtime each day. In a place far away from the city or any population, it can be tricky to not let time consume you. It’s during these slow moments where you learn how to be with yourself, listen to your emotions and even cry, whether out of exhaustion, tiredness, or just crying because it feels good. We felt our own strength and invincibility. We are capable of carrying out challenging adventures despite how hard they may be. It was a trip about enjoying, of course, but we had some difficult moments to figure out as well. With humor and determination, you can solve anything, even if it seems impossible at the beginning. Without a doubt, we fell in love with this continent. I have also been to Burkina Faso and I can definitely say that Africa is always a great place to go back to. It was Humbert’s first time in Africa and he’ll definitely go back. 

5) If you could do the trip again, what would you do differently?

It was a trip that we built day by day–each day we decided what we wanted to do. We had two initial tracks but without any dates or specific stopping points. We listened to the locals, we got informed and, depending on our interests or our desire to ride, we planned our day. We sought out places where there weren’t many people and where we could camp without any worries. Actually both countries are overpopulated countries and every place you go you’ll find towns full of locals. It wasn’t bad because we also had the opportunity to interact with them, eat in their villages and visit their plantations.