Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Quad Squad

Last November, when S&J visited, we decided to do something R&I had been saving up for some time.

Quad bike safaris up the banks of the Nile, up past Jinja around the Bujagali Falls adventure area.

All Terrain Adventures are a company that was set up by an Antipodean couple - the mad and lovely Shirray and PK. He knows his bikes and spanners, she does the hospitality side and runs the craft shop and cafe. They built their house out of the containers the quads got delivered in, and it's an amazing warren of rooms and open plan areas that works really well.

We were kitted out with overalls, helmets and goggles, signed our liability papers and were led out to our bikes. I used to ride motorbikes (small ones) in the UK, and picked up my full license just before we came out here, but I hadn't been on a quad since a friend of mine had a birthday 'do' at a quad track in South London when we were in our late 20s. On that cold October morning we raced round and round a sandy obstacle course with steep banks and long curves. We raced heats against eachother and somehow I managed to beat everyone else and win the bottle of asti spumante, thanks to a winning combination of a fiercely competitive streak and the fact I was one of only two people there that morning who had ever ridden a bike before.

Back in Jinja, I couldn't even get my bike started. It did turn out to have a flat battery (most bikes I ever ride do) so I didn't feel too bad. But it meant I had to remember not to turn it off when we were out!

After a warm up changing gears and getting a feel for the steering column, we lined up and set off. We turned down steep slopes towards the river and climbed up gnarly banks, studded with tree roots. We flew along dirt tracks adjoining banana palm plantations and weaved our way through cassava and maize plots. We passed village children who tried to high five us as we passed. We stopped for a swim in the Nile, where we bumped into a group of kayakers, one of whom R and I knew. Without drying off we got back into our overalls and let our wet t-shirts act as natural air con as we drove along the lanes and tracks, goggles down to keep the orange dust out of our eyes.

Later, we pulled into a trading post and bought sodas. Local kids crowded the bikes, clambering all over them and us. S and I got our cameras out and spent a happy hour part playing with, part photographing the children, who loved seeing themselves on the LCD screens on the back of our cameras.

Some of the photographs I took will actually probably end up as postcards, and it was while I was taking them that I first thought about finding a charity to donate a portion of the postcard sales too.

When you have the mixture of pride and pleasure at a perfect shot taken, combined with the squirming sort of uncomfortable voyeurism that you feel from photographing a child who quite clearly does not have all the benefits of sanitation, health, provision and care that we have in the West, it creates a certain kind of guilt only tourists and professional photographers know.

Back in Bujagali, it was time to get back on the bikes and head back for a shower to get the dust off. We were actually Tango coloured. Sweat and river water had stuck the dirt and dust to us - we had orange arm hairs, orange faces, orange necks and orange cleavages. After a hot shower and a banana pancake we all felt a lot better, and a little cleaner, the exhiliration and adrenalin slowly wearing off from the day's riding.

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