By Max Patrico Ocaido
If you are that kind of person who barks at taxi conductors for adding a 4th passenger on a 3-seater row then you may have to think again because in Isingiro district, it is totally a different story.
Located just 35kms from southeast of its mother district Mbarara, Isingiro is one of the most famous agricultural districts in Ankole sub region boasting for supplying food such as matooke across the country despite the recent hunger concerns in some parts of the district.
With a population of 486,360 according to National Population and Housing Census, 2014, Isingiro is characterized by a spectacular mountainous stance with a state of the art road that cost government over Shs120bn. The people are so hospitable and are addicted to farming that one would even plant a banana stem in his house if there is a possibility of a good yield. Isingiro town is so small presumably to ensure that no piece of land remains unutilized and this explains why a bigger part of land is covered with banana plantations as another part is reserved for livestock.
With all this in place, Isingiro would certainly be the place for those who wish to tour its beautiful mountainous terraces. But like they say, nothing comes on a silver platter, if you are planning to travel to Isingiro using public means, brace yourself for the worst because this 30minute journey from Mbarara to Isingiro is as good as walking through a furnace.
FAIRYTALE OF MY JOURNEY TO ISINGIRO
It is not once or twice or even thrice that I have travelled to Isingiro for my personal errands. But let me say the journey has always been more or less the same each time I head southeast of Mbarara.
My worst journey to this land of milk and honey came on 17th September this year. Armed with my lovely two-year-old son on my left shoulder and a small bag on my right hand, we boarded a Mbarara-bound bus from Kampala at about 2pm.
My target was to ensure that I reach Mbarara before 7pm in order not to miss my favorite team-Manchester United crush Everton. Indeed, by 7:30pm, I was already at a bar in Mbarara called Sabs as I witnessed my team crash the Toffees by a whopping four goals.
By 9pm, I was still in Mbarara. The clouds were heavily pregnant with an eminent downpour and everyone boda boda cyclist rode like a bat in hell and before I could blink twice, heavy showers were pouring. They lasted for about 30minutes.
With my son pestering me to take him home, I knew it was time to head to the stage located just opposite defunct Nakumatt Supermarket where Isingiro-bound taxis park. If you are looking for a 14-seater taxi that goes to Isingiro then you are like a dentist looking for a hen’s tooth. The so-called taxis there are in form of timeworn corolla car popularly referred as ‘My car.’
But never mind! When it comes to stuffing passengers into this 4 seater corolla, it is as good as your 14seater taxis that are all over Kampala.
The Loading begins
This corolla car has no space for the conductor as the driver takes charge of loading, offloading and collecting fares from the passengers. The ‘loading’ of passengers starts from the back seats of this car and whereas it is meant to carry 3 passengers, the driver ensures that 5 people; big or small, tall or short fit in the back seats of the car. Those with luggage have to ensure that it is placed in the boot of car lest it will break or perish if one sat with them.
After loading 4 people on the backseat, the driver is not done yet despite the fact that there was no space left. With or without consent, I realized that the driver has authority to order any passenger to carry another on their laps just to ensure that 5 people fit in the backseat. All this was done as I looked in awe.
On the front seat, the driver ensures that two people sit in the co-driver’s seat and another passenger sits in a no-man’s land [call it the gap between the driver and co-driver’s seat].
“If the natives are not complaining about this kind of loading then who am I to do so?” I console myself as I prepare to squeeze in with my son.
At about 10pm of that chilly evening, it is now time to hit the road to Isingiro as the overloaded corolla pleads for mercy with its back tyres nearly collapsing on the ground. Having driven about 2kms from Mbarara, we are stopped by 3 rain-soaked passengers who are so desperate to reach their destination.
With heavy drizzles falling from the sky, the driver stops and attempts to squeeze the two people in the same car that already has 8 passengers.
During the process, one lady attempts to protest the driver’s motive to add the 6th passenger on the backseat, but she got the best out of this Luganda speaking man who assured him how he can throw her out of the car for ‘defiance.’
She has to fold her ‘tail’ and humble herself to avoid being left in the middle of a rainy dark road. Indeed, the 6th passenger has to fit into the car bringing the total number to 10 people including the driver.
The two rain-soaked people moreover man and woman are not ready to be left behind. They suggest to the driver to open the car boot for them so that they would fold themselves in as long as they reach Isingiro. Yes! They do fold themselves in and they are excited that they have not been left behind as the two continue to converse from the car boot all throughout the journey.
Inside the car, I am neither breathing nor could I feel my limps as there is hardly any space to fold or straighten the legs. I am more worried about my son, but he seems to be adapting to the new environment easily as he lays down on my chest.
Fuel runs out
Just when we thought all was done, the car having less than half the journey started jerking and it is a clear indicator that the carburetor has run dry. From my past experience on that road, it is not unusual for cars to run out of fuel. In fact, passengers take this as part and parcel of the trip without any complaints.
To ensure that this fuel-depleted car covers a little more distance perhaps to the nearest fuel station, the driver starts driving in a zigzag motion in negotiation with other motorists. And when it comes to the worst, the driver starts driving in a reverse gear as I freeze in both fear and coldness. But the natives in the car are not moved, for this is what they probably see every day.
Bad luck befalls us in that we have bypassed the last fuel station and there is no other until we reached Isingiro town, commonly known as Mile 20 (Aharyabiri). After trying all antics, the driver is forced to stop, pick a jerrycan and jumps onto a boda boda back to the nearest fuel station.
After 10minutes of waiting in the freaky road, he arrives with the fuel and again we continue with the journey with high hopes of no other setback. With about 5kms to mile 20, the car jerks for the second time. It has run out of fuel again.
“Did you put fuel of Shs2,000? Or your car has a mechanical problem?” One of the passengers seated on the co-driver’s seat asks.
“I am also puzzled. The problem is I am driving this car for the first time and I don’t know its fuel consumption,” the driver responds as he continues to drive it in zigzag motion again.
With the time reading 11pm on my watch, it is impossible for the driver to park and look for fuel for the distance covered is far more than the remaining distance and the only option now is to rely on the sloppy road to push the car. And it surely works. Some of the passengers who are supposed to stop before Isingiro town have to be driven up to the final stage for fear that if the car stops on the way then it would never restart since it has run out of fuel.
By the time I reach Isingiro town, my throat is swollen with anger that could have possibly boiled yams. It is such a hell of a journey.