This old Land Cruiser had it’s issues… You had to jiggle the gearshift to get the vehicle into reverse. If you rolled the driver’s window up all the way it would roll itself right back down again. The key would only work one side up in the lock despite it looking exactly the same on both sides. It rattled and clattered alarmingly on rough roads. And I loved it.
That old Toyota Land Cruiser was just the right vehicle for the job.
Through the mud and ruts, up the side of a mountain, through thunderstorms and washed out roads, across an entire country… This green beast got me there. With this vehicle I enjoyed experiences that will become memories treasured for a lifetime.
We had arranged for the rental before arrival in Entebbe, to be delivered to the guest lodge where we spent the night after stumbling off the plane just before midnight. And there it was, sitting in the tiny parking lot as we walked to breakfast. Some paperwork, a driver’s license and passport presented to be photographed, a stack of crisp $100 bills, and it was ours for a time.
There was a good bit of apprehension when facing driving conditions in Uganda. I had a good idea of what to expect having encountered third world driving conditions before. Driving on the left side of the road was not too worrisome after having lived in England for a few years. Still, I wondered if what had seemed a good idea while planning may have been a disasterous mistake.
The rental guy who delivered the vehicle had given me a quick tour of the various features. Nothing surprising, it was exactly as one would expect for someone quite used to four wheel drive vehicles. He commented that I should never have to actually use the four wheel drive, and he was right. Despite the muddy pits on the park tracks, slipping and sliding through the deep ruts left by the fading rainy season, the washed out dirt roads around the school, I never actually used four wheel drive low, I never needed it.
The vehicle did have one unwanted feature… Large white lettering in the front and back windshields proclaiming the Toyota as a “Tourist Vehicle”. This guranteed no respect from other vehicles on the road, in particular the taxis.. These ubiquitous Toyota minivans rushed from town to town along the major highways, daring overtakes taking their passengers on a sometimes risky ride, often blasting around me or cutting me off… No respect.
I added one feature to the vehicle… I installed a suction cup mount to the windshield. Here my phone would live while I was driving. Alternately serving as a satellite navigation system and dashcam.
Google maps proved utterly fantastic. With a set of maps downloaded before the trip to be used offline I found my way across an entire country. Zooming in I could see the exact exits to use in each roundabout, invaluable as there were seldom any roadsigns indicating the turns. Not that I had time to look for the signs, the intense traffic taking my entire attention.
I was also pleasantly surprised by the built-in image stabilization of the iPhone 13. Dash cam video of the road is wonderfully smooth despite the sometimes horrible road conditions.
The roads were not usually that bad. Actually the main cross country highways were quite good. Wide open paved roads easily as good as your average state highways in the US. Not so the Isahsha road, that was just bad, heavily rutted by the rains. A place where the lorries would drive down the center of the road and you learned to identify the local trees and bushes while you got out of the way.
I did take a nail in one tire. A slow leak announcing some sort of damage to the passenger rear tire. The service guys at the Shell station in Katunguru quickly found and repaired the puncture. They also pried the splash guard away from the brake disk on the passenger front wheel solving one source of vehicle noise. Good service that cost me about $10.
Drop off went much like pickup, with a rental agency employee, the same guy it turned out, picking up the vehicle at our hotel in Entebbe. I was pleased I returned the vehicle wihout a scratch. Well? Any new scratches anyway. The guy did not so much as look, quickly noting my comment on the patched tire before vanishing into the evening gloom. It had only been a couple weeks I had known that collection of steel, glass, and rubber. But it felt like parting with an old friend.