Fréttablaðið Fólk: my interview in Iceland´s biggest newspaper

Enjoy a rough translation of this Icelandic article journalist Starri Freyr Jónsson wrote about me in this weekend´s edition of Fréttablaðið. If you understand Icelandic, you can just read the original article in the picture below!

Fólk, Fréttablaðið. Helgablaðið laugardagur 5. ágúst 2017

Finds Happiness in the small things

When Katrin was 22 years old, she decided to travel to 200 countries before she turned 20. Today she is just over 30, and 208 countries are already on her list. Future travels include remote islands in the Pacific Ocean, Central Asia and middle Africa.

There are definitely few, if any, Icelanders who have traveled as much as Katrín Sif Einarsdóttir. At only 22 years old, she set the goal of traveling to 200 countries before she became thirty. Today she´s just over thirty and the country count has reached 208; according to her countdown, which has perhaps more countries than people think exist, also considers countries that are not defined as an independent states, for example places like Greenland, Scotland, the Faroe Islands and Taiwan.

Katrín Sif was born in Iceland but grew up in Canada. “I started traveling alone when I was 18, but had a very outdoorsy life as a child and a teenager. Until age 21, I traveled mostly to South America and Asia. When I was 19, I lived for a four-month period on a ship sailing around the world. The trip began in Mexico, and we sailed across the Pacific Ocean through Asia and Africa, then to Europe and across the Atlantic to Florida. ”

Despite extensive travel, Katrín Sif has completed a double BA degree in philosophy and French, and has completed two master’s degrees; one MSc in environmental science and natural resource management, and an MA in Icelandic history. “In between, I have worked in restaurants, both at home and abroad, and worked with writing and as an editor during and between travels. I still see myself most as a cowgirl and work as a tourguide during the summer time in the highlands of Iceland, and sometimes work as a shepherd in the autumn in the east and north. ”

Thankful for a safe home

This summer she went to Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan where she, among other things, completed an eight-day horseback riding trip in Kyrgyzstan. “This fall I want to travel across Europe and learn about wine production. Later in winter, I’m headed for some of the Pacific islands that are extremely difficult to travel to, for example Wallis and Futuna plus Tokelau. However, next year, I would like to spend a few months in central and northern Africa and learn some Arabic. I would also love to travel to Central Asia and to some former Soviet Union republic and learn a little Russian. ”

After all the years and the number of countries it is difficult for her to point out some of the destinations that stand out. “However, in 2016, I visited North Korea and Afghanistan, which were both astonishing. It was very safe to travel in North Korea, the country was clean and offered more exciting places than I expected. Of course, I always felt like it was being watched or followed by my shadow of a guide, so I never knew if I was really experiencing North Korea or something staged. Afghanistan is a very beautiful country where the countrymen are very friendly and hospitable. Like their neighbors in Pakistan, terrorism and war have made it very stressful to travel in these areas. In such circumstances, I am grateful for the peace and security that prevails in Iceland. ”

Learned a lot on the way

After traveling for more than half of her life, Katrín Sif has learned a lot about how people act and interact. “I’ve learned to be very tolerant, patient and understanding as I get to know other languages, religions and different cultures. I have also learned to see happiness in the small things and to live a simple life with an 8 kg backpack for a large part of the year. This lifestyle has taught me to be happy with what I have at each time in each place. However, no matter how much I travel, I always find new and new exciting destinations to keep wanting more. ”

Even while traveling, she sometimes gets home sick. “I love Iceland more and more every time I come back for different reasons. Still, I always complain about the weather! If it were only hotter here, less wind and brighter winter I would definitely stay longer here every year. ”

Check out Katrin’s trips and travel stories on her blog,, and follow her on Instagram (nomadic_cosmopolitan) to see photos from her journey.


The Cheltenham Festival in the UK

If you are visiting the United Kingdom next March we recommend that you enjoy some British heritage by going to the Cheltenham Festival. The Festival is not a music festival but rather the second biggest horse racing event in the UK. The event takes place over four days and is a great way to experience an important part of rural British culture.

cheltenham-day-1According to the Cheltenham Festival website, racing at Cheltenham dates back over 200 years. Very quickly the race became one of the most popular sporting events in Victorian Britain. The races at Cheltenham have survived many events including two world wars and is now considered the biggest racing meet in the country after the Grand National. Crowds of over 200,000 will descend on the racecourse during the course of the four days. The best way to understand why this event holds such as special place in the UK sporting world is to visit the festival.

treadmill-1201014_960_720The Cheltenham Festival is a great chance to experience British culture and even see the Royal Family who come to the races with their own horses every year. If you feel like dressing up for the races then Ladies Day on the second day of festival is when people come in their best. Women will wear elaborate hats with elegant dresses while the men will wear their finest suits. If you need some inspiration for what to expect then The Guardian did a photo article on last year’s event.

Tickets range greatly in price depending on where you want to watch the races. They will cost between £25-£200 for the big days but no matter where you decide to view the race you won’t be able to help but get wrapped up in the excitement. Be sure to place some bets down to get the full experience.

The town of Cheltenham turns racing mad for four days and the city will be alive with race related events. It is impossible not to get swept up in the atmosphere. The town of Cheltenham is famous for its quintessential Britishness and is one of the UK’s most famous examples of Regency architecture. Surrounding the town is also the beautiful British countryside that is perfect for walking in if you need a breather from all the excitement. Cheltenham is easy to get to as there is a direct train line from London, which takes less than 3 hours making it the perfect day excursion.

So if you are in the UK in March and want to experience some British heritage be sure to come down to the races. UK horse racing specialists Betfair who cover the event call it the “the greatest four days in jumps racing”. There is certainly no event like it and you will get to encounter a side of the British population that can’t be found in the city.

DV Interview in English

What started as a 40 minute phone call turned into a few more phone calls, email exchanges and a 3,000 word article by Bjorn Þorfinsson in DV´s New Years eve paper. There were pieces of the article published online at, and the print paper advertised the article front page, top and center. The middle spread, 3 page print edition was of course written in Icelandic, so here are a few highlights of the article in English for those who don´t read Icelandic, entitled “I appreciate freedom and solitude“.

the center spread from DV

the center spread from DV

It is safe to the that the life of Katrin Sif Einarsdottir has been filled with adventure.  Despite her young age, she is one of Iceland’s most seasoned travelers and shows no signs of stopping any time soon.  Her 30th birthday is this upcoming February and she is currently planning to celebrate in the celebrations for her 30th birthday in Mauritius, the 200th country on her list.  She is born in Europe, traces her lineage to South-America and is raised in NorthAmerica.  She has visited all of the continents and was particularly fond of the Antarctic.  Typically, she will travel the world in the winter and spend the summers in Iceland working to save money.  Unexpectedly, she is spending the holidays in Iceland, due to her father’s illness, and gave herself time to chat with DV about her adventurous lifestyle.

Roots in three continents

Katrin is born in Iceland.  Her father is from the Vestmannaeyjar islands and her mother from Guyana, a small country in South-America.  Her parents separated when she was a toddler at which point she moved to Vancouver, Canada, with her mother, where she spent the remainder of her childhood.  However, she always missed Iceland which she views as her home country.  “I yearned to move back to Iceland and had a hard time not being able to.  My parents were going through a rocky period in their relationship and so I didn’t visit as often as I would’ve liked” she says.  Hardest for her was not being able to speak Icelandic with her sister during grade school in Vancouver, causing her Icelandic to deteriorate. In her adult life, she has brushed the rust off and now conducts interviews in native-level Icelandic.

Japan: the seed of wanderlust

One could argue that Katrin’s propensity for adventure started after a trip to Japan, where she spent time, at her mother’s behest, as an exchange student.  “We had a Japanese girl live with us in Vancouver for a few months, and then I visited her in Japan.  It was an awesome and eye-opening experience because everything was so foreign.  I didn’t understand the language or the script, and both the people and the cuisine was totally different from anything I’d seen up to that point.  I was completely enthralled and since then travelling has been at the forefront of my mind / [I have lived to travel],” says Katrin Sif. page showing the most read articles page showing the most read articles

College on a cruise ship

Katrin exploited the opportunities of her schooling to travel and experience new adventures.  After the positive experience in Japan, she registered for an exchange semester in Brisbane, Australia.  Even then, it did little to satiate her hunger for travel. “I did a Semester at Sea and that was an experience I definitely recommend.  It was like I was on a reality TV show for several months straight.  I couldn’t believe, as a 19 year old, I could live on a cruise ship, travel the world and get university credits for it,” Katrin says laughing.  Around 500 students participate in the program, which sails around the world, at any given time.  Katrin embarked in Mexico and three months later arrived in port in Florida.  In the meantime, the ship stopped in 13 different ports of call on the way an around 12 teachers taught classes aboard the ship. “This was an amazing experience that I highly recommend for others who want to do something fun and learn along the way” says Katrin Sif. This program is still happening and changes every semester. The last sailing in fall 2016 went from Hamburg to Greece, Italy, Spain, Morocco, Senegal, Brazil, Trinidad and Tobago, Panama, Peru, Ecuador, Costa Rica and ended in San Diego, USA.

Loved Antarctica

After the sea-adventure, Katrin Sif went back to her university in Vancouver to complete her bachelors degree. She then moved back to Iceland where she studied for an MSc. in Environment and Natural Resources. “I have always tried to use school as a means of traveling as much as I can. For example, I took one semester exchange to UC Berkeley in California. There I became very interested in ecotourism and I got the opportunity to travel to Antarctica for a case study. I enjoyed it there very much and could easily see myself going there again” says Katrin Sif.

Saves Money over the Summer

After graduating from HI, Katrin Sif has taken her traveling to another level. “Since 2010 I´ve worked in Iceland over the summers as a tour guide with multi-day horse tours and I love horses and riding. I take between 7 and 12 week long tours each summer and then buy a one way ticket somewhere and don´t come back again until May the following summer. Sometimes it happens that the money doesn’t quite last for 8 months of travel, so I sometimes have to come back in spring if the money runs out” says Katrin Sif humorously. According to her word, she feels best up in the Icelandic highlands on a horse over the summer. “I cant say I’m  big fan of the Icelandic winters so that’s why I always go abroad during the cold months” says Katrin Sif.

Travels with a Wedding Ring

Its expensive to travel so Katrin adopted the necessary habit of couchsurfing. Its an online social network for travelers and hosts, where locals can invite visitorys to stay for free at their home, or rather, ´surf their couch´. “Wherever you can find internet then its possible to find couchsurfers. I was traveling in West Arica a few years ago and even though people lived in tents, they still had smart phones and could register to host people thru couchsurfing” says Katrin Sif. She has just arrived home from a three month trip thru Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan where she couchsurfed everyday with new people along the way. “It was an interesting experience to travel to these Muslim countries but by the end of my trip I had had enough. I was covered in black from head to toe, with my hear always covered. I had to walk in the street with someone else to avoid being harassed and follow a thousand other rules. I couldn’t smoke, sing, dance, drink coffee in the wrong café, nd not enter some mosques or holy places. I wanted to be less restricted and started dreaming about traveling to a remote sunny island, wearing nothing but a bikini, and be free from all the society´s rules and regulations.”

“It was a great way to travel and one learns much more about the country´s culture if you interact with locals. On the other hand, there are also dangers and annoyances that follow a solo traveler. “Being hit on or flirted with (uninvitedly) is the most annoying and I think I´ve had to deal with in nearly every country” says Katrin Sif, and admits its not just men who can bother her but women have also tried. For that reason, Katrin has started to travel with a fake wedding ring so she can keep unwelcomed come-ons by describing an appropriate fake husband.

some more pictures and my top 10 country list

some more pictures and my top 10 country list

2ooth Country is in reach

“I´ve never landed in any real trouble when I stayed with couchsurfers. I investigate all the details about a possible host and read all the references or information about them that I can. If everything seems safe there then we exchange a few messages and then confirm my stay. I have probably stayed with over 400 hosts and families!” says Katrin Sif.

As mentioned before, Katrin Sif has traveled to 197  countries but the UN lists only 193 countries. “I count countries like Greenland, Faroe Islands and for example Gibraltar. With territories like that included, there are around 230 countries in the world so I still have quite a few left to check out. I planned to travel to 200 countries before I turn 30 years old and that’s still the plan” says Katrin Sif. She likes staying a while in each country, to get familiar with the country´s culture and locals. “I usually travel alone though a friend sometimes meets me somewhere on the way for a week or two. I would rather have the freedom to spend each day as I like and not have to plan around other travelers” says Katrin Sif. She plans her visits based on what kind of country she is in. “If I´m in France, then I try to take in as much culture, arts and music as possible. When I’m island hopping in the Pacific Ocean then there´s very little to do touristically so then I just sit on the beach for 4 months and relax” says Katrin Sif and laughs.

“Stan” countries on next years travel plands

There are few areas in the world where Katrin Sif isn´t familiar with. “I still have to visit Syria and Lybi but think I wont go there anytime soon because of the current situation there. I have yet to go to central Africa, like Chad, Central African Republic and South Sudan. Since its also not the safest there, I may wait a little before going there. I also have to go to all the ´stan´central asia countries, ie. Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan. There is a lot of horse culture there and I hve the idea to break up my tradition and travel there in summer so I can also do some riding” says Katrin Sif.

Obviously Katrin has had a lot of adventures. She has kept a blog online, first with the Icelandic travel agency, and now has her own website. In the works is one travel book that she hopes to publish next year.

Accidentally married a Kenyan Masai warrior

“One of the strangest things that ever happened to me on the road was accidentally marrying a Masai man in Kenya” says Katrin Sif and snickers. Katrin had been speaking at a tourism counference in Uganda where she met a Masai who was also speaking on tourism issues. “I told him I was traveling after the conference and wanted to go to Kenya after the conference and he said he would show me around.” Katrin took up his offer and when she met him at the land border, he gave her some traditional Masai clothing to wear before coming to his village.

“His cousin was with us and told me how to wear the red dress and beaded jewelry.” She dressed herself as was told, and met all the women of the village, was danced for by the men, and after the show and welcome ceremony then the Masai´s explained “I was wearing traditional wedding clothes and I was the bride who had just been married,” says Katrin and laughs at the memory. She put her feet on the ground and tried to explain that that’s not how it works in her culture. “It took a while to explain to him I wasn´t his wife, though he was happy to have me stay in his tent for the night. But after a while he understood it wasn’t going to work and we left the events just turn into a little joke.”

Motor problems on the sea

Of all the most dangerous adventures Katrin had, getting stuck on a boat with a broken engine off the coast of Guinea Bissau in west Africa. “I went on a little boat trip to a nearby island where we could spend the day. The boat was nearly out of fuel when we arrived so we had to buy some more gas to make sure we would get back. Later in the day we headed out and a few miles out we had to refill the gas tank. But the driver of the boat filled it with diesel, when it was a gas engine, and the engine stopped working.”

“We were too far from land and didn´t have any way to communicate for help. All the cell phones were either out of service or out of credit and the light was nearly gone. Before the sun set, we at there cooking, and once the sun went down, we sat in dark silence, with only the occasional sound from the ocean surface and wondered if they were sharks. On the boat were 9 people, 6 locals and 3 foreigners. The hours were passing and we only has d little bit of drinking water left and nothing to eat except one live chicken.”

“We had been floating there for hours before another boat drove by and we managed to get his help. But he only wanted to take the 3 foreigners and offered to drag the boat with the locals to land. I didn’t understand if he was being racist or what, but our boat driver also didn’t want us to leave since he taught they had a better chance of all getting rescued if they kept the tourists on the stranded boat. Eventually the rescue boat did take us, but only back to the island we had been trying to leave, where he fed us and gave us accommodation. The next morning he let his boat driver taxi us back to the mainland, and then charged us $400 for his services! So that´s probably why he only wanted to help us, to basically get our money.”

She finally made it safe and sound to the main land but had been avoiding boat trips for a while since then. “I tried to stick to planes and buses after that” she says and laughs.

Icelandic Passport is wonderful

Dual citizenship has always helped with Katrin´s travels. “I have an Icelandic and Canadian passport which I use equally as much, according to whichever one is more useful or less problems to apply for a visa. The Icelandic passport is great because Iceland has such few embassies in Reykjavik that its usually impossible to apply for visas at home, so I can just apply in whatever country I am in or nearby. The only country I haven’t managed to get in (after 3 attempts) was Algeria. I tried to get a visa in Morocco, Tunisia and Spain, but finally after visiting the embassy in London, they explained to me I had to go to Stockholm´s embassy as an Icelander and Ill do that soon” says Katrin Sif. Icelandic isn’t as useful on he road, but she is well-weaponed with other language skills. “I speak English, French and Spanish and with these languages I can communicate in so many places. For example, French is very useful in Africa” says Katrin Sif.

Plans to keep traveling

The future is unsure for Katrin, but she sees herself continuing to travel. Her family is also supportive of her lifestyle and no one is pressuring her to change her ways. “At first my mother wanted me to study more and be some important person, marry or have children, but shes over it now. She was very strict and controlling growing up and perhaps that’s why I am so addicted to the freedom of traveling. Dad always told me I was very determined nd independent. Nowadays I feel as though most of my family and friends are proud of what I do and who I´ve become because of it, despite my lifestyle being so different” says Katrin Sif. She dreams about maybe one day working remotely as a travel writer. She also wants to be like Georg Bjarnfreðarson and finish 2 more university degrees to have a total of 5, 1 in journalism and perhaps one Phd. “I wonder though if I would get bored of traveling if it was also my work. I like doing things according to my own spontaneous plans and could never see myself working 9-5 in a normal job. I appreciate my freedom and independence” says adventure woman Katrin Sif Einarsdottir.

Check out her adventures on Instagram (@nomadic_cosmopolitan) or Facebook and the online articles at

Boston Marathon 2013 – a reflection

My college roommate and best friend of 7 years lives in Boston, a couple miles away from Copley Square. She is finishing her masters at the Harvard Graduate school of Education, after spending 3 years in the Bronx teaching 4th graders with Teach for America.

I received this email from her yesterday – a reflection on the events that unfolded April 15 – and had to share this inspiring story about what to take forward from this tragedy, and how we can try to make sure it never happens again.


Monday evening, as I sat in the dark of my living room watching the disturbing images of Boston’s blood-spattered streets, shredded flags from various nationalities still blowing in the cool April breeze, footage of terror on the faces of bystanders waiting for their loved ones to cross the finish line, and the heartbreaking image of thousands of marathon runners who were halted in confusion at mile-marker 25 by runners frantically coming in from the other direction, I felt paralyzed by my own realization that this time, this terrorist act in particular, hit too close to home. After all, this had all unfolded less than a mile from my home in Cambridge. I finally turned CNN off and tried to process the events of the day in silence. Just then, my phone lit up and I noticed that the screen reflected “Cesar MOM”.

On Monday, I received scores of phone calls, voicemails, text messages, emails, What’s-App’s, you name it, from family and friends calling to make sure I was okay. “Cesar MOM” wasn’t a call I was expecting, however. Cesar, one of my most complex students from my 1st year of teaching in the Bronx in 2009, could leave a lasting impression on a rock. I will never forget the day he walked into my class as a new student, mid-way through the year, refused to sit in a chair and then somehow organized the class to “Do the Michael Jackson” as I helplessly wondered for the 2,394,872,348 x 10^10 time what I had gotten myself into. Back then, as a 4th grader, Cesar gave me a run for my money and, day after day, held me hostage by his charm, energy and downright insanity. Today, he is an insightful, responsible and brilliant 8th grader who, due to some unfortunate family circumstances, has taken on the role of a parent to his 3 younger siblings.

“Cesar MOM” was a number that was essentially on my speed dial that first year and so I smiled as I picked up the phone, thinking about how much has changed since that time. Here’s how the conversation unfolded:

Me: “Mrs. Altagracia?”

Cesar: “Ms. Zeydler – you sad?”

Me: “ Oh. Hi Cesar! Thank you for calling. Yes, I feel a little bit sad today. But I’m not scared anymore. And I’d rather feel sad than scared any day.”

Cesar: “Ms. Zeydler – remember when I came to your class and I was a bad kid? When I was making you so mad at me that your face turned red?”

Me: “Hmm, I remember a few challenging days but I think we were just getting to know each other. And Cesar, my face never turned red.”

Cesar:  “And remember when it was Martin Luther King month?

Me: “You mean, Black History Month?”

Cesar: “Yeah. And Ms. Zeydler, remember you was so mad at me that day?”

Me: “I’m not sure I can think of that right now. Why was I mad at you that day, Cesar?”

Cesar: “Because I wouldn’t say the Black History poem.”

Me: “You mean something that you were supposed to recite?   Oh yes, I remember that day. I was so upset that you didn’t read the poem because it was special to me and to the class. That could have been a red-faced day for me, you’re right, Cesar.

Cesar: “Yeah, you had a red face after you was yelling.” (snickers audibly)

Me: “Okay Cesar, so what about Black History Month?”

Cesar: “Nah, Ms. Zeydler, it isn’t about Black History Month, it’s about the poem. The poem I learned from Martin Luther King. I wanted to tell it to you today.

Me: “You memorized the poem? But Cesar, that was 4 years ago.”

Cesar: “I knew the poem then, too. But you know I was a bad kid and I liked seeing when your face got red….” (…snickers audibly, again…)

Me: “Okay, Cesar, that’s wonderful that you now know the poem but”—he interrupts me.

Cesar: “Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction.’…Ms. Zeydler, you think that the people who blew up the Marathon today learn about Martin Luther King in school like we did? ‘Cus if they don’t, their teachers should talk to you.”

After we hung up the phone, I cried for the first and last time that day. My conversation with Cesar gave me a chance to pause, even if momentarily, to forget about the insanity outside, and reflect upon the importance of the work we do in education. I don’t think about it often enough, especially when conversations get caught up in the negative contexts of it all, like bitter union disputes, corrupt politics, school closures and most recently, large-scale cheating scandals. However, my true purpose of pursuing this work, what drives me at my core, is to provide the next generation with an educated society that is safe, democratic, moral, just and protects the future of the innocent. When confronted with a day like Monday, I strongly believe that the best path back to equanimity, the best revenge is to lean into the work, lean into life and go on with a serious half smile of understanding and a fierce determination to make the world better in spite of any damaged fanatics who might be trying to wreak havoc among us.

Despite how discouraged, scared and angry I felt after the events this week, I can’t lose sight of this vision. Our job is to ensure that all kids feel loved by people close to them, learn about history, albeit oftentimes painful, from their teachers, and hear about the possibility of peace from American’s like Dr. King. Furthermore, we, as educators, siblings, parents, friends and community members, must find a way to celebrate the sanctity of life in the face of extreme adversity, terrorism and hatred, and move forward with ever growing vigor and light in response to the darkness that has descended over Boston and elsewhere worldwide. Alas, there will be more pain tomorrow and for weeks to come. One day at a time, however, we will prevail… For Cesar.

Murchison Falls: Worth it?

I had heard about Murchison Falls in epic travelogues from authors like Ryszard Kapuscinski, that it was beautiful and difficult to get to. I didn’t realize until after going that it’s recently been extremely dangerous, but becoming more secure. It was supposed to be quite easy, according to local advice and the travel company we booked with, but turned out to be quite the adventure. My travel companion for the trip shares the story from his point of view, for my first ever guest blog post. Enjoy!

Murchison Falls in Northern Uganda

Katrin negotiated a van and a driver “who knows the park” to take us on the “two a half hour drive” to the Falls, from the hotel where we overnighted in Lira. Adding chill time at the Falls, and the short drive on to Masindi we thought we were looking at about five to six hours, easily enough time for us to catch a bus on to Kampala. After a rough few weeks backpacking alone and some trust issues arising, it was a good day for Katrin to defiantly declare “nothing is going to stress me today!”

An entire air-conditioned van to ourselves was luxury beyond imagining after being matatu bound for several days. Put twenty people in a minibus designed for fifteen, add luggage (occasionally living), a preacher, a whole lot of dust, and continuous stops; and you have a classic matatu experience. Two hours later we arrived at the park to discover some fees that we had been assured did not exist. Not a big surprise, just an expected inconvenience. But TIA (“this is Africa”), so we laughed it off, since it was only a few dollars, and the Falls were only a trivial half hour away. When we arrived at a park hotel soon after, things looked a little different.

not quite the falls, but a pretty comfortable resort in the middle of a jungle

Consultation with the hotel map revealed that we were nowhere near the elusive Falls. We were at the far end of the park and faced three hours driving to get there. It was too late to pull out. We had paid for the day’s car hire and all of that money was back at the hotel so we had no means of recovering it. We decided to push on, the driver wilting a little at our annoyance.

The driver bribed a military officer who approached us as we slowed over a bridge, preferring expedience to argument and grinning a “This is Uganda” over his shoulder. Shortly afterwards he started driving suspiciously slow along a clear section of road. Given his proclivity for speeding this was rather strange, and I asked him what he was doing. “There are people around here who sell cheap fuel”, he said enigmatically over his shoulder. Translation: there are people around here who have no fuel, i.e. us. It didn’t take long before the engine cut out. He then proceeded to try and start it. Repeatedly. Katrin thought he might be signalling the “cheap fuel people”. I was slightly more cynical.

Suddenly the driver hopped out of the van and flagged down a boda-boda (motorcycle taxi). Momentarily distracted in conversation, it took a while for us to notice that he was attempting to siphon petrol out of it. “What does he think he’s going to do with that?” wondered Katrin, disparagingly. Obviously the fact that our vehicle ran on diesel did eventually occur to the man because suddenly the boda-boda was upright again, with him on it. “I go fetch fuel”, he said, driving off. Naturally confidence in our experienced driver was waning at this point. Refuelled, it didn’t take long for him to strengthen his case with a juddering fishtail across a dirt road.

Katrin was tight as a spring, accumulated travel travails eroding her tolerance, the recurring problem of worthless information delivered with confidence taking its toll. Barely recovered from typhoid, there was little that could faze me, but as the hours went by even I started to feel like we were on a road that would never end. It was a shock when the road opened into a parking lot with a large wooden sign proclaiming “Murchison Falls.”

Murchison Falls is more a fissure than a waterfall, the whole of the Nile forced down a narrow crack. Its as if the earth decided to close its fist on the river. The water, so serene and steady before, lashes in fury like an enraged reptile. Our arrival was celebrated with bottlecap shots of Kenyan cane; a spirit probably better suited to fuelling 4x4s than drinking pleasure. Katrin takes her cane about as well as a four-year-old takes root canal without anaesthetic. To her credit, that doesn’t stop her instigating its consumption.

changing the spare tire

While we wandered around the Falls, the driver discovered and changed a flat tire. He also realised that we were not going to manage the 50km to Masindi with the fuel light already on. We decided to chase diesel further into the park, following a cryptic Shell sign. Fortunately we met another car and were informed that the Shell was 18km away on the far side of a river ferry. They were able to point us to a resort that fixed the tyre and sold us some fuel. Subsequent to the service, the driver informed me he had no money to pay for the repairs.

About 10km down the road, the driver looked out of the window at the newly repaired tyre. “Flat”, he muttered. He then began to accelerate, despite the horrendous noise of the tyre being snakebitten by the rims, as its “too dangerous” to stop in the park with dark falling. In the face of increasing dissent, he finally pulled over, straight into a muddy ditch. When I told him he was going to get stuck he denied it, but belied his certainty by gunning the engine, tyres spinning, mud flying. Eventually he responded to our collective shout of “stop”.

I got out to have a look and was barely clear before the man threw the van into reverse. Clods of clay flew past my face as I absentmindedly ducked, my mouth probably lucky to avoid snaring a missile the way it was hanging open. Mud from the rear tyres hammered into the inside of the car as Katrin desperately grabbed at the sliding door in the violently rocking vehicle. The van careened back, carving a muddy path of devastation. I honestly thought he was going to roll it – scenes of trying to extricate the two from a rolled van flitted across my vision. Eventually the vehicle shuddered back onto the main track, the right front tyre now ripped so badly that one side of the rim was actually resting on the ground.

The driver was quickly out and down next to the tyre that looked like it had

mud splattered all over the open door

been through a cement mixer. He didn’t say a word. I walked toward Katrin, struggling to hold it in, and failing. I exploded into crying, choking laughter. Eight ridiculous hours into what should have been an easy trip with “an experienced guide”, it was just too much. When my sanity returned, and Katrin’s had been slightly contaminated by infectious hysteria, we inspected the mud-spattered interior together, grinning. Meanwhile the driver discovered that the spare tyre had somehow ended up flat after the tyre fixing pitstop. He also discovered that his mobile phone was missing. It was already the 6pm park closing time and light was rapidly failing. A night in a dangerous section of park (where you aren’t supposed the leave the vehicle) was starting to look like a real possibility. The driver constantly warned us no stay close to the car, and we’re not sure if it was in lieu of the buffalo or the Lords Resistance Army.

Happily another group arrived in a 4×4, and after assuring the driver that using their spare tyre (which was at least 2inches taller than the upper wheel guard on the van) was not a viable option, they kindly offered to give us a ride into town, bringing along the spare tyre. Once in town the driver asked us to pay for more repairs and enough fuel to get back to Lira. Having already paid almost twice what we had been assured this would cost, for value that would have been questionable at half the price, there was absolutely no chance.

The driver looked dejected with his flat tyre when we left him in town – no phone, no money, no plan. I gave him 20 000 shillings, unable to walk away in clear conscience. “God bless you”, he said earnestly, bobbing his head sadly. “I am so sorry about this”, he added. I looked down into his small brown eyes. His right iris looked like it was melting in the top left corner. Four teeth were missing, and the remainder did not look particularly permanent. Incompetent though he was, the responsibility for the days’ events ultimately lay with his employers, and I could not help but feel sorry for him.

We wandered around town looking for accommodation, the last bus to Kampala long gone. In the first place we tried, the landlady deftly kicked a slipper over the huge spider that ran across the floor as she opened the door to the room. She didn’t have anything big enough for the four-inch drain cockroach that followed. Now, this didn’t really inspire elation in me, but I was reluctant to be caught being the priss. I looked sideways at Katrin and asked, “Too much?” She walked across to the en-suite. Two more monster cockroaches stared up at her, “Too much”, she agreed. Eventually we found a rather nice place, our willingness to cheap it somewhat eroded by the long day. The evening was pleasant, casual conversation over beer and local staples, but the upbeat camaraderie had peaked and given way to tiredness. Getting into bed I couldn’t help but think of the driver alone in town and wonder if he had found a better deal than the cockroach den we dodged.