Crossing Borders

Overland from Uganda to Kenya

Given enough time, the best way to be introduced to a new culture is on the ground, travelling by road, with the window down, no matter how hot or dusty, no matter how long it takes.  Crossing borders by land is the best teacher for any traveler up to the challenge.  It is rarely easy, but it is never boring.  The antiseptic experience of entering a new country through immigration and customs in an airport just does not compare.

The decision to cross the border from Uganda to Kenya just north of Lake Victoria through Busia was a practical one.  It seemed far easier to make the four hour drive to meet my hosts from Honey Care than to fly to Nairobi, only to have to then fly again to Kisumu in western Kenya to meet my hosts.  It was actually easier and less time to drive than navigating three airports and all the B.S. one encounters when flying.  The experience and lessons learned were incomparable.

As I approached the border after four hours on the road the traffic came to a standstill.  Commercial vehicles clogged the road blocking traffic for what seemed like miles.  Trucks hauling sugar cane, soya, and crops of all varieties were travelling east into Kenya.  Trucks headed west into Uganda also were fully laden.  What I didn't realize until later was that Busia was the main transit point for goods entering and leaving Kenya and Uganda by road.  Why was this important?  Later, when I asked one of the enterprises GIF supports, Edom Nutritional Solutions, where they would expand to after they had saturated western Kenya, I expected them to say east towards Nairobi where the population was more dense and the opportunity seemingly more viable.  What I heard was a true Aha! Moment.  “No”, Winstone, founder of Edom said, “We will go west to Uganda.  We can transport finished goods across the border and then back-haul raw materials we source from Uganda back to our production center in Kisumu.  There is plenty of opportunity at a lower cost to serve in the rest of western Kenya and southeastern Uganda and we save significant money on logistics at the same time.”  Aha!  I instantly got it, but probably never would have had I not experienced the commercial traffic back up at the border.

It was a great experience.  More grueling than flying?  Not really.  Easier to pass through immigration?  Definitely, if you are prepared.  But, the topper was the being picked up by my hosts at Honey Care, another enterprise GIF supports, and driven to a ferry we were to take across Lake Victoria to our next destination.  We got there at sunset.  The view made the long day worth it all.

This experience was only surpassed by the border crossing between India and Nepal.  By rickshaw!  I actually road a bicycle across the border. No passport was need.  There was no immigration office to acquire my visa.  No real security though soldiers and border police were everywhere.  Truly amazing until the next day when I realized I was in Nepal without a visa.  But, that is another story.