I’ve recently discovered that a marathon/run is one way to almost fully explore a town. You can stop a few times for a water break and use the opportunity to snap a picture, read a sign post or just speak to the locals. It might be a more interesting experience if you’re doing it with other friends, one a town native because then, you don’t need a tour guide and you won’t be misguided. Should you need to ask about a landmark/building or just want an interpretation of what the locals are saying to you, you’ll pretty much be sorted.
Gulu town is located 332 km from Uganda’s capital Kampala; towards the North. The road-to as soon as you leave the city is everything you hope for on a road trip; a long tarmac stretch that will allow your vehicle to move smoothly, increasing your comfort on the road, only 2 cars or even just in either lane; ruling out unbearable traffic and of course for the readers, a chance to catch up on a few chapters of a book without potholes, endless humps or loud car honking distracting you. The road from Nakasongola is lined with a magnificent display of pine trees whose beauty matches their wealth potential. The setting is one where if I were a magazine fashion editor, take my models for the shoots.
The town, (to my surprise) has a colonial-town feel. The kind you get as you enter Fort Portal or Jinja. A comforting silence; a tranquility you can almost smell, a few old but functional buildings, air so fresh it blows your nasal cilia apart and goes right through to your lungs as if to refresh your respiratory system. Streets so decongested you might think it’s a Christmas evening and everybody is out of town or at their homes indulging in festivities. The cars honk almost politely and the motor bikes ( bodabodas) are not speeding towards a pedestrian in an almost vengeful way. Occasionally, you’ll see a chapati/rolex stand, a pork joint, a bar/guest house, a gas station a few huts and many merchandise shops. The items that seem to be on high demand are clothing, food stuffs and solar panels.
The people seem, contrary to the picture that has been widely painted, very happy. Smiles from shop attendants, a boda boda cyclist ready to give you directions, excited kids frantically waving and a pedestrian encouraging marathon participants to run on. For a place that has seen so much pain and turmoil, Gulu is quite a homely.
Almost a decade after the LRA insurgency, this town is undoubtedly peaceful, abuzz with business with one hell of a night life and a hub of several NGO’s, many fostering youth involvement in community development, Gulu, once, in CNN speak, a hotbed of terror, is one of the fastest growing towns in Uganda.