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Intro

A year or so after writing the original intro to this blog I find myself in somewhat different circumstances. Having finished my studies in 2011, procrastination is no longer the driving factor behind my pieces. As it turns out, I have joined 3 friends from varsity, two of which left London last July, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, for a trip home of a slightly different kind. A trip that allows me the luxury of not giving a continental about the fuel price but more about the direction of the wind and the gradient of the road as we endeavour to cycle back home to the city we all met, Cape Town . When time, money and UN's most recently added human right, internet access, is available I will be spending my time turning random notes, scribbles and possibly illustrations fit only for display in the age 5-7 category at the Bathurst Show in my leather-bound journal into readable content of varying natures. I'll do this to satisfy my own need to write crap as well as to ensure that memories made are never forgotten, much like the memories never remembered every weekend in my undergrad stint at UCT. If it turns out people read this and enjoy it...epic! My fellow adventurers can be followed on TomAndMattCycle.com and Along4TheCycle.blogspot.com.



Monday, August 6, 2012

The House Sitters


Sometime in the middle of June…
I fly through the form. I’ve done this drill four times in the last three months. Scribbling my name, date of birth and the letters “S.A.” in half of the empty blocks, I pause after I pen down the passport number I have by now memorized – “That’s right, I memorise number sequences bitches”, says the imaginary gangster voice in my head to absolutely nobody while I give a small, almost indistinguishable nod. I scratch “S.A.” in a couple more spaces. Don’t be fooled, I don’t put full stops between my letters - that would be horrendously inefficient in my quest to fill in the fastest immigration form ever.

Damn! I’ve done it again. I’ve paused at that one question that I can only imagine irks at the back of every Tom, Dick and Harriet cycling their way down Africa: ‘Occupation:’.  I’m the only one in the group unfortunate enough to be tied down to a nine-to-five job next year, so maybe ‘unemployed’ isn’t entirely accurate. Besides, that would be a dent to the pride. The other issue with that self-pity-filled answer is that I’m not so sure that your average immigration officer would be happy to let a bunch of unemployed people into their country. An issue indeed, but by no means an issue that an underhand bribe wouldn’t solve. “T.I.A., This Is Africa, bru”, chuckles Leo Di Caprio to himself as he finishes reading the second paragraph between shooting scenes of Blood Diamond 2.

I’ve thought about it now, and there are just far too many con’s to go the ‘unemployed’ route. I could be seen as having a laugh at the expense of so many people we have cycled passed since leaving Addis Ababa in Ethiopia three or so months ago – all the kids in scraggy clothing living off whatever their legitimately unemployed parents can put on the table. On top of that, one may have a justifiable suspicion that I might be a terrorist, what with the Amish looking beard I’ve got going on. I have been dubbed ‘Osama’ by more than a few completely random locals.

I’m definitely not self-employed - there is no way I could spin my last few months spent loafing around the Eastern Cape drinking beer and playing cricket as any form of employment  (public relations?) and I certainly didn’t earn any money from my negligible efforts. ‘Farmer’? Haha, classic! (That was a fake laugh by the way). My farming knowledge is so bare that my father would happily pay for a flight and bus ride to the Rwanda-Tanzania border to stand alongside me and have a fat laugh at my expense as I jot down the six letters that would constitute a scruffily written lie worthy of the world’s greatest con man.

Despite having cycled a couple thousand kilometres with eff-off heavy bags above my front and back wheels, I would be doing the ‘sport’ of cycling a rather heavy injustice by claiming to be of their lean, hairless species. Lacking imagination and still in the hunt for a personal best form-filling time, I revert to my safety answer: ‘student’.

Now…ish

It is now a month and a half later. In that month and a half I’ve cycled all but three-hundred kilometres of the length of Tanzania. Just before you think that I’m going soft, have a look at a map - Tanzania is a big fucking country. (Note to Mother: Please delete that sentence before showing Grandparents. Thank you). That thousand-plus kilometer trek across some very random terrain (which will be the focus of another piece when I get the gees to write it) was followed by an indulgent three weeks with the family and somewhat significant other in the Serengeti and Zanzibar. Casual. Our cocktail-filled, all-inclusive week at a Zanzibar resort with the whole team and three of our entire families was followed by a stint in Stone Town on Kait’s floor. Kait (our stalwart host who carried the C.V. trump card of having done her tertiary education at Rhodes) is the niece of a friend of a parent who also turned out to be the friend of one of my friends, which made her one of the most closely linked hosts we’ve had on the trip. Once we had lazed around enough for Kait to be told in no uncertain terms by her middle-aged grump of a digs mate that our time in the heart of the most extraordinarily beautiful city I have ever hung around was up, we headed back to Dar-es-Salaam.

We boarded the ferry back to Dar thinking we would only spend a couple of days in the house of Dave and Gill Legge before heading westward on the train to Mbeya before cycling down Lake Malawi, through Mozambique and Swaziland and into South Africa. These thoughts - coupled with the revelation that maybe all Kait’s slightly unfortunate looking digs mate needed in her seemingly endless pursuit of a personality might be a lay – were blasted out of our minds by the sight that awaited us on the boarding jetty. Encircled by a group of masked onlookers were three bodies, washed up from the ferry accident a week before. The bodies were white, or bleached - I’m no scientist. One was concealed by a sheet; the second had all but a stiff, creepily opaque arm covered, while the third body lay fully visible to all who dared to look.

We made it to Dar (insert that blackberry ‘phew’ emoticon). The planned date of departure from Dar came. The planned date of departure from Dar went. Dave and Gill had headed off to South Africa and kindly granted us the use of their beautiful three bedroom apartment as well as their vehicle. A good mate from varsity, Mark Ghaui, took off a few days from work to come and escort us around the better parts of Dar – why would we leave? Once our week of doing nothing was up and our third date of departure was on the horizon, I did it again. Drunken injuries seem to be my thing. I’ve knocked myself out on a table, rolled down an escalator and come off second best in a hand versus wall collision. The worst part of this one was that I am certain that I was the most sober of the four of us and at the very least in a far better state than birthday boy Tom who refused to be woken from the depths of his slumber at the back of the tuk-tuk that brought us home.

On getting no response from our audible but considerate bangs on the security gate I decided to climb over the towering security hurdle. Once up, I realized there was no way down the other side. My efforts seemed to finally have aroused the ineffectual security guards from a sleep that must have been comparable to Tom’s tuk-tuk nap. I panicked and jumped down the other side. Days of watching outrageous activities claiming to be Olympic events had clearly taught me nothing as I landed flat on my heels. Gymnasts all over the world were wincing. I was wincing. I was sore. Damn sore.

The pain emanating from my feet slash ankle region had me convinced that I had broken something - I hadn’t. After a visit to the hospital, departure date number four had to be optimistically scratched in to the diary that none of us keep. Whether it was the many hours spent with my two heavily bandaged ankles in the air or during the thought-provoking crawls between the couch and bathroom, the answer to the question that had nagged me so much a month and a half ago came to me like a vision; a vision clearer than the one that the Mormon fellow had when God came down and gave him a bunch of gold tablets with rules on them that nobody else could see.  Just in case you think I’m talking about Moses, I’m not – but I do understand how you might have thought that. (Note to mother: Maybe don’t show this to the grandparents at all).

Back to that vision…

Occupation: House Sitter
Boom!

Advert: (read it in your head with a cool, deep infomercial-type voice)

 Do you have a house placed conveniently on the route one might take going down Malawi, through Mozambique, Swaziland and into South Africa?
If so, do you need four strapping young gentlemen to look after it while you’re away?
If not, do you need four strapping young gentlemen to look after it while you’re there?
Either way, we’ve got just the thing for you!
Four haggard looking humans on three bicycles and an ancient, malfunctioning motorbike with a side car that Idi Amin would (literally) kill for are heading your way! With a vast array of experience at making themselves right at home in places owned by people that they had never met or even heard of a few months before, there can be no other group around who would truly treat your home as if it were theirs!
(Note: keep that infomercial voice going…)
Armed with an endless array of dinnertime stories, these four knights take the tagline; “make yourselves at home” to new heights. See for yourself!

Call us on 0800 31 32 33.
(Another note: don’t call that number. I think it’s for Dial-A-Bed)


Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Uganda: Welcome to Swaggerland


Another border, another country. It was country number three for me, four for Jim and nineteen for Tom and Matt. More notably, it was country number four for Frank, who remarkably made it to his first border alongside his posse of cyclists and, failing to disappoint, actually got through the border without being pushed, another first for the motorbike-sidecar combination that is threatening the mileage record for distance propelled by manpower - the current record being held by Fred Flinstone’s ‘Flintmobile’ (don’t blame me for the name, I googled it).

It hardly took an afternoon of cycling to provide us with fodder for comparisons between Kenya and Uganda, two countries that I naively thought would share a significant amount of similarities. As we cycled through thriving vegetation and dense forests of ‘The Pearl of Africa’, we immediately noticed a plethora of cyclists taking advantage of the flat terrain and brand new road; both resulting in eternal gratuity on our part. Mountains were all of a sudden a thing of the past, replaced by little conical hills that the roads easily bypassed. Bicycle taxis seemed the primary form of transport in the Busia border area and were made increasingly noticeable by the pink collared shirts worn by all the cyclists. Our afternoon ride was joined by what became a peloton of cyclists, the English speakers entertaining us by engaging in a bit of banter as we made our way west toward Jinja, our first significant stop. To add to the entertainment of the first day’s cycle, Chen and I were nudged off the road by a mental, monstrous truck only to be forced to swerve back onto the road to avoid a small family of baboons – one of those only-in-Africa moments. Our seven days of cycling in Uganda was a constant battle with mental bus drivers, a rather one-sided battle at that. It came to a head when a bus (filled with 50 or so passengers) decided to overtake a similar coach while the latter was overtaking me on a road that had little to no shoulder. With no traffic coming toward me, I didn’t bother to turn around to assess the situation, thinking it was just the solitary bus, only to be literally blown off the road by the bus that raced passed mere centimetres from my pannier bags without so much as a hoot of warning. Both busses (and every other passenger bus in the country for that matter) were emblazoned with massive stickers proclaiming: “Jesus is the answer”, and “God is good all the time”, giving off the impression that the drivers were in somewhat of a hurry to make their way upstairs and take a bit of a crowd with them.

The Ugandan roadside in general was littered with part-built brick houses, a testament to the completely different rural economic mindset, where the several step process of upgrading from earth houses is viewed as a manner to incentivize and channel any savings into investments toward their futures and that of their family while avoiding the short-termism that plagues those able to save only menial amounts on an irregular basis. The bit-part investment scheme of sorts is undertaken with disregard to the inefficiencies of the theory, sadly visible in the decaying brick walls of unroofed and unused houses.

Despite the unrivalled fertility of the land surrounding them (land that would grow a house if you planted a brick), the bulging stomachs of tiny children supported by skinny little legs portrayed a sad story. I say this with absolutely zero medical authority or experience (except for the knowledge that a combination of Zambuk and Panado works for anything and everything), but the problem of distension that would lead the superbly ignorant to wondering how the hell a 4-year-old boy became pregnant can only be a result of the poor nutritional intake of what must be the staple diet of Matoke and little else– a hard, green, starchy and ultimately tasteless banana that is grown anywhere and everywhere and with total disregard to the fact that the land would be better used by producing something that would find itself a bit better off on the demand-supply pricing scale. The distension could be a result of a number of other things, but that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. Matoke or the Ugandan version of pap were the standard accompaniments to badly cut, tough and bony pieces of goat meat or beans in the village restaurants offering a change from Kenya only in the naming of the food. If a restaurant, any restaurant, was lucky enough to have a menu (there must be a rule that if a restaurant does have a menu, they are not to have more than three in total) a patron would be looked at skeptically and dismissively if they were to expect that the restaurant had everything that was on the menu. Another lesson learnt; keep it simple, stupid.

Despite trying to learn the basics of conversing with rural Ugandans (The basics being; ‘hello’, ‘how are you’ and ‘thank-you’) we soon gave up in the wake of kids using the Swahili greeting of ‘jambo’ despite not knowing much else of the particular language, although for all we know our Swahili was simply too limited (kak) to understand what was going on. English greetings it was to be then, mixed with a touch of Swahili greetings and a pinch of the language endemic to the region unrecognisably mispronounced. Although not quite as impressive as Kenya, most Ugandans spoke some level of English which meant our lack of understanding of regional Ugandan languages wasn’t the end of the world.

At the risk of criminal generalization, the Ugandans themselves were noticeably more reserved than their Kenyan counterparts. Rather than labeling them more reserved, more normal would probably be more appropriate. From being surrounded by inquisitive and flabbergasted Ethiopians at every stop to being engaged and entertained by almost every Kenyan we came across, we were oft left to our own devices through Uganda, watched from afar until we made the effort to greet and chat to the locals. At that point the guard quickly dropped, just as quickly as a smile and a wave would transform a passive expression into an excited one, and individuals became just as friendly as any other. Never was the lack of communication hostile, skeptical or even unfriendly. In retrospect, the responses we got would have most probably gone unnoticed were it not for the extremes of Ethiopia and Kenya that we had just experienced.

Just as the crazy mzungu’s cycling around with bags draped over their bikes accompanied by a motorbike dragging along what was labeled a boat by most fascinated onlookers provided locals with a somewhat exclusive sighting, the reactions we received from the kids lining the roads provided ample reciprocation of the entertainment we were giving the locals. The enthusiasm of waving children overflowed into little dance numbers that included a child of barely two dancing around a pole holding on tightly so as to avoid toppling over in pure exhilaration and another simply bobbing his shoulders to the beat provided by a back-up choir of kids chanting “amazungu” in melodic unison. One kid was so overcome that he had one of those ‘why-did-I-do-that?’ moments; stretching his arms forward in a ‘V’ and resorting to incoherent screaming. Some kids managed to keep their cool (unlike their counterparts who depicted a crowd at a Justin Bieber parade through Disney World) and reacted in what had become identified as typical Ugandan swagger, the best example being a thumbs-up turned on its side – too casual. The swagger emanating from some of the older teenagers we came across became one of the most defining traits of the Ugandan people. Every so often you’d come across an absolute gangster (gangsta?) sporting some classy shades, MTV-Base-style jeans, subtle yet optimal bling and walking with a well-timed bounce in their step that would leave the white folk on ‘Pimp My Ride’ taking notes and drooling with jealousy.

Another noticeable trait, alongside the tentative friendliness and extreme swagger of Ugandans, was the use of an expression that was almost an imitation of the sound made by so many hefty, charismatic mama’s back home in South Africa. On hearing about the length and nature of our journey, men would take a small step back and exclaim in a high pitch: “EH! Uh aaaaah!” As has become a routine sight so far, it is the men who spend all day on their stoeps chatting or on a street corner looking like they’re looking for work and therefore generally the men that we end up chatting to. From reading The State of Africa (Don’t mistake me for an intellectual, I read a short Sherlock Holmes story between every chapter) I learnt that Uganda’s president, Museveni (not to be seen without his beige wide-brim hat), was cruising into his 25th year as head of state in what is no doubt a flourishing democracy (note: sarcasm). When we asked some locals about it on crossing the border, they simply laughed it off in a similar way that we laugh off Zuma’s six wives and twenty-one children. “We know it’s ridiculous but what can we do, he’s our president”.

In amongst the half-built houses and excitable children were sporadic lines of fruit stalls, all with similar, if not exactly the same fresh produce on offer. If any of these markets were near villages, they were always hidden behind a sea of vendors all wearing the same colour overall and vying aggressively for sales by shoving their cold cokes or dead-animal-on-a-stick kebabs into the windows of any trucks pulling over for a recess from terrorizing the roads of Uganda. The roads themselves were either brand new or absolutely torrid, the latter mostly currently or soon to be under construction. Despite bailout after bailout going on in Europe, the EU have commendably continued their undertaking to improve the battered roads that lead from Kampala to the new found oil reserves in the west of the country, a project that we benefited from by camping on the premises set up for the foreign engineers involved in the three-year process.

Our night camping was one of three on our trek through Uganda, the other two being in the town of Masaka where we slept on the property of a coffee trading company. Masaka had been preceded by a three night stay in Kampala where we saw nothing but the nightlife, a few nights with family friends of Jim’s near Jinja and a layover in a truck-stop town that is renowned for being one of the original HIV hotspots. Jinja is home to the source of the Nile, that lovely little stream that flows up to Egypt on which we forked out $125 to take part in our first seriously tourist-orientated activity. There’s little that can compare to the embarrassment the four of us felt as we headed along dirt roads through rural villages on our way to and from the base of Nile River Explorers’ white water rafting in an open back truck lined with benches. We were sat in amongst a group of NGO Americans on the return leg and cringed at the way they treated the scenery as a theme park ride - a lifetimes worth of “Oh MY God!” exclamations. The rafting itself was top notch even though two of the waterfalls on the route had been dammed up for hydro-electric purposes. After four rapids our boat was the laughing stock of the fleet as we capsized three times. It was probably no surprise that I was the laughing stock of the boat that was the laughing stock after I came out from under the raging water of the first rapid gasping for air and in a state of shock that had long since wiped out my air of bravado and “ag man, I’ve jumped off a bridge before” attitude. I can deal with water… as long as I can stand in it.

Uganda’s national bird is the Ugandan Crane, visible on their flag and a national treasure, the killing of which will land you a minimum seven years in prison. In a country where homosexuality is illegal, it is far more acceptable for someone to kill a gay guy than a bird with some red on its face and a sweet golden Mohawk. During the latter stages of our cycle through Uganda I noted to myself how the vegetation had, for the first time, turned into grazing lands from the rotations between dense bush and fields of matoke trees, sugar cane, onions, tea, coffee or maize. Deciding to point this out to Chen for lack of anything more interesting to say, I managed to point directly at what was to be our first sighting of Ugandan Cranes. This shocker, only a few weeks after naming a Crested Eagle a Fat Hoopoe, only helped to cement my place amongst the worst bird watchers of all time. Our last stop in Uganda was a relaxing weekend at a community-run eco-resort on an island in Lake Bunyonyi where we celebrated Jim joining the rest of us on the twenty-four year mark. The lake was a mere matter of kilometres from the Rwandan border and provided an idyllic yet impressively affordable end to our short Ugandan sojourn.

A lot of people ask us, “why the bikes?” and just as often I ask myself that, but the best aspect to taking our bikes is the ability to interact with almost every single person that we come to pass. With massive loads (and white skins) we have become more than just cyclists or travellers. Somehow the journey inspires a tremendous amount of goodwill from everyone we pass. The goodwill might come from some form of sympathy or possibly the eagerness to be involved in a story that, from the outside, seems like it could be an interesting one. Locals welcome us warmly and in some instances even cheer us on, the cheering and welcoming becoming more extreme the more ridiculous we seem – cycling with wifebeaters in the rain definitely won the fans over, a true underdog story. One guy went as far as calling me “smart and beautiful” before we had even exchanged names. Pure kindness is obviously a massive factor in why so many wonderful people have temporarily but unconditionally adopted us, but the ability to be part of the experience must be just as big, if not the deciding factor. In very few circumstances would one (myself included) accept four ragged, dirty, hungry strangers (one of which is sporting some horrid looking hairstyle almost resembling dreadlocks) into their homes, yet we have come into luck again and again. The trip is made by these moments of kindness, be it a local in the street guiding us toward the places we have no hope in finding or the folk that offer us a room, food and internet with a free laundry service to boot expecting absolutely nothing tangible in return. Every single person we have come across not only become part of our story, but has made the story a much easier read. As we headed out of Uganda toward Rwanda’s capital, Kigali, the sense of achievement of cycling through another country was overpowered by the excitement at having discovered and experienced yet another unique place on our extraordinarily diverse continent that offers so very much to every type of traveller. Far from having ticked something off, another line has been added to my bucket list.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Kenya to Kigali: Part 1


Kenya... a few unproductive weeks back

Keeping my diary up to date on a daily basis is a mission, kind of like how taking my malaria pills every night is a mission except that swallowing a pink pill takes all of two seconds and if I don’t do it there’s a slight chance I might die, or have a shitty headache. Fortunately, if I don’t write in my diary, nothing really happens.

It is, however, a supremely handy thing to have with me when I turn the ink into tiny little mini-bytes of computer storage stuff in the form of Word documents written on what I’m pretty sure is a pirated version of Microsoft Office due to the fact that there’s a panel on the right hand side of the screen that won’t piss off and insists on flashing a picture of some chap with a receding hairline that is annoyingly similar to mine. Add to that the fact that it’s a very cool leather-bound booklet that will make for a killer memento when I’m old and gray and one that my grandchildren can boast about on Grandparents Day when they are in the prep department at Kingswood Junior School – because they will be at Kingswood.
It’s a tight list of pro’s and con’s, almost too close to choose between (mainly due to the fact that keeping count never really occurred to me) but in the end, the diary will prevail. I hope.

Having not been particularly habitual about keeping the diary up-to-date since leaving Nakuru in Kenya, and becoming increasingly worse (or better) at finding excuses to persuade myself not to transfer the day to day happenings into some sort of readable computerized format I figured that it didn’t really matter when things happened and in what order, and if it did I could just make it up. I also realized that anyone reading my hard-to-follow-because-this-oke-can’t-keep-a-steady-train-of-thought writings wouldn’t really care whether I cycled 60km on Tuesday or 105km on Thursday, nor what I ate or where I ate it.

A month or so of being generally useless on the writing front later I find myself in the Rwandan capital of Kigali having left Kenya and cycled clean through Uganda without yet putting anything up on my website that has been made to look completely unremarkable in the shadow of the expertly done piece of work that is TomAndMattCycle.com (note that I tried to spruce mine up with a new background that magically doesn’t disappear when you scroll down. That took me a good half hour to figure out!). During this time I’ve also almost completely thrown in the towel as far as picture taking and video capturing is concerned, partly due to the fact I couldn’t be bothered to source new AA batteries for my camera that is so shit that it actually uses AA batteries, but more because I have at my disposal the photographic genius of Tom Perkins and his up-and-coming apprentice Matt ‘Hippy Jesus’ Chennells, whose documentation of the trip is sufficiently thorough and can be watched and re-watched in a quality that does not resemble a black and white broadcast of an SABC show received through a bunny-ears aerial in the valleys of the Transkei. Go on the point and shoot Kodak!

We left what had become and was referred to as another home with typical hesitance and a high degree of procrastination. After Kizzy’s home in Addis, the Mount Kenya retreat and the Blake’s house in Nairobi, our stay with the Robinson’s in Nakuru was another case of the four of us taking the throw-away line of: “make yourselves at home” far too literally. What increased the sluggishness of our departure was the long hiatus we’d had from the bike, something that is never easy to recover from. Having gone to Nairobi for the primary purpose of getting our hands on some Ugandan visas, we couldn’t help ourselves from staying more than double our intended length of time thanks to the amazing hospitality of Robert and Melanie Blake who fed us meals of roast beef and gammon, always followed by desserts and accompanied by a steady supply of South African wine to boot in their beautiful home in which Matt and I were fortunate enough to each have our own bedroom with a double bed and en-suite bathroom. I made a point of spreading myself diagonally across the bed in full knowledge that such luxuries would be few and far between in the coming months. After creating excuses and hangovers at will to delay our departure, we did eventually head back north toward Nakuru but not before stopping off for a couple of heavily discounted nights at the famous Fisherman’s Camp on Lake Naivasha, owned by a friend of a family friend of Jim’s.

Eventually though, set off we did. As sad as heading out of Kenya was, the cycle was absolutely exquisite in almost every aspect; serving up multitudes of different landscapes, each as breathtaking as the last and introducing us to a range of extraordinary characters amongst the masses of smiling, waving and laughing Kenyan people.
It wasn’t long after we set off on an extended gradual downward slope that we were met by the mountains we had been promised by our hosts from Nakuru and Naivasha. The hills became an afterthought amongst the long ranging views of green grazing land and some special interactions along the road. The standard stop-and-ask-for-distances-to-see-how-wrong-the-last-chap-was turned into a fantastic little gathering in God-knows-what village as two proficient English speakers took charge of conversing with us while keeping the rest of the 20-strong Swahili-only crew in the loop. In these situations, more so than any other, it was an absolute blessing that so many Kenyans (and later Ugandans) were able to speak good English. The standard send-off line of “safe journey” is said with such sincerity and kindness that your mind is instantly filled with thoughts of how you will go about visiting the country again sometime in the future, because there is no way that you cannot return to a country that offers as much as Kenya does amongst people as welcoming and appreciative as the Kenyan people are. “You are welcome”, and “Thank You” were both phrases uttered by the non-English speaking villagers as we cycled off up another hill in awe of where we were and how grateful people were to have us visiting their country.

Hill after hill in intense sun with Nelson’s chain slipping got the better of me as I started to hold up the team a bit in a perfect example of how a day on the bike can toy with ones emotions, oscillating between the extremes of ecstasy and anger. With no town anywhere near us, we found a police compound in which we were welcomed to sleep on the concrete floor of a foyer to a building that contained old jail cells. What was lacking in comfort was more than made up by the kindness and enthusiasm of the police officers that culminated in our departure the next morning being delayed by one of the officers who had gotten himself into serious story-telling mode. On our prompt as to the upcoming Kenyan elections (which have recently been delayed for a year), the officer launched into a personal narrative on his experience the previous time around. With finesse and gusto that can surely only be matched within the African story-telling culture, we were told how our story-teller was surrounded by angry, nominally armed protesters on the day that it was announced that incumbent president Kibaki was to serve a second term. He had wound up in the situation while transporting an injured election violence victim to a hospital, only to have two breakdowns and instructed to stay with the empty second broken-down vehicle. Bit by bit the story became more and more intense, the speaker’s tempo and volume rising and falling for maximum impact as he told how the mob turned on him as a symbol of the government and closed in angrily on the lone officer who possessed enough ammunition to harm but a third of the crowd. The story was told with a modesty that inadvertently served to heighten the heroics of the officer who placed all the acclaim on his faith rather than the cool and calm presence of mind he showed to lower his weapon and relate to the angry mass despite one particularly appalled individual ready to bring a brick down on his head.

The tough hills and frustratingly poor roads did not take long to dampen the morning’s inspiration, even though the beautiful views of tea country did their utmost to curb the frustrations of the road that eventually (in good partnership with my own thuggish stupidity) led to me snapping the hook on my pannier bag, forcing a make-do replacement of rope that would somehow hold out all the way to Kigali. The detour that we had embarked on at the advice of our three different Kenyan hosts soon expelled any negative sentiment toward the road and terrain to the very back of our minds as we entered the Kakamega Forest, a small patch of unique tropical rainforest in the west of Kenya. The incredible sights and sounds of the forest gave me flashbacks of running through the Knysna Forest with trees towering higher than my neck could stretch to see. While the shade was immensely welcomed, it served the rather unfortunate purpose of not alerting me to the fact that I was not wearing the sunglasses that I had set off in earlier that day. After all but punching myself in the head in frustration, I realized that I had left them at the turn off into the forest where I had waited at a little stall amongst boda-boda drivers (motorbike taxis) for Matt and Jim to realize that they had cycled clean past the turn off and down a hill I was less than eager to cycle back up.

With Frank unable to make it up the downhill that I had realized my somewhat inevitable idiocy, we resolved to keep going until I could find a boda-boda to head back with. 10km and almost 45 minutes later, we exited the forest and I negotiated a return ride with a driver called Smith, who had learned English from his uneducated father who had picked it up while working as a cook for a white Kenyan of British descent. Smith was subsequently named after his father’s boss and put his English to good use by offering guided tours of the exquisite forest as well as running his own dirt cheap campsite on the edge of the forest. The pursuit of my sunglasses proved to be a fascinating experience of the Kenyan psyche. Having arrived at the stall (which was no more than a wooden bus shelter used by taxi drivers waiting on a fare) we found it completely empty. I had mentioned to Smith that I would increase his pay from 400 to 500 Kenyan Shillings should I be lucky enough to locate the rather expensive sunglasses (unfortunately branded as ‘Dirty Dogs’ – thank the pope ‘Dogs’ is not spelt with a ‘z’) that my folks bought me for Christmas. Thanks to Smith’s patience and ability to act as a translator, as well as the obvious kicker of a 500 Shilling reward, some chap who had walked past us earlier and claimed to have no idea as to the location of my glasses came running up a small hill from a little house with my sunglasses held aloft, shouting: “money, give me the money” with a huge smile on his face.

Overcome by the combination of happiness and relief I was finally free to enjoy the full splendour of the forest as Smith sped me back to the other end so that we could resume the cycling that would take us through the tea plantations and into the sugar cane plantations of the western regions. The torrid dirt road and race to beat the imminent rainstorm was easily shrugged off on the back of recovering my sunglasses, although the high of emotion was brought to a crashing halt later that evening. It will be a day that will most certainly go down as one of the most dramatic in sporting history. People will know exactly where they were watching the moment Sergio Aguero somehow snatched back the Premiership title with the last kick of the season just as it seemed that Manchester City had gifted it to their fiercest rivals and my team of choice, Manchester United. The three United fans in our camp; Tom, Matt and myself, managed to quickly shrug off the loss so as best to appreciate the drama and local reactions along with the supreme effort Jim (an Arsenal fan) was making to hide his ecstasy and claim neutrality.

The next morning, our final one in Kenya, got off to a delayed start of extreme frustration with a hint of rage as I had to switch tyres. Having swopped the bulky tyres I had left South Africa with in Nakuru for an extra tyre that Tom was lugging around and Matt’s spare because of the super-human effort needed to change the originals in the event of a flat (I’d already had two flats), Matt needed his spare as one of his tyres had worn through after a good hall of 10 000km. Because I had brought along tubeless tyres even though I had tubes (yes, this sounds retarded, but I was advised to do as much by my uncle who is the clean-shaven Jesus of cycling in the Eastern Cape), I had to use screwdrivers rather than tyre levers to change them, which I found out that morning was actually puncturing the replacement tube. So, basically, cycling jargon crap aside, my tyres were shit and I was not a happy chappy. Nonetheless, Matt came to the rescue with a spare tube (I had now stabbed my way through my supply) and another tyre that had a slight tear. The tear has left us hoping and praying (to a mythical figure that is not the afore-mentioned clean-shaven Jesus) that it will make it to Tanzania where a decent replacement will be brought up by the ballies.

Arriving at the border with Uganda in 40 degree heat after the morning I had had was not exactly ideal, but neither was the fact that we were leaving the beautiful country of Kenya that had been so good to us during our time there. Life was not all doom and gloom though, as the ‘Pearl of Africa’ (as labeled by Winston Churchill) lay ahead in its full glory. Our journey through Kenya was poles apart to that in Ethiopia on almost every level. What stands out as the biggest difference as far as life on the bike is concerned is the extraordinary luck we had to be put in contact with so many people, all of which were immeasurably kind and hospitable as home after home was opened up to us. Ethiopia was an experience that I enjoyed thoroughly, but it was the experience itself that made Ethiopia; the experience of cycling through a country so phenomenally different to anything I had come across before. Kenya was different as we left it knowing that we had made the most of our stay there, yet had still left so much undone. There were mountains to climb, lakes to visit, cultures to experience, cities to explore, game to view, roads to [motor]cycle and beaches on which to do bugger all.

When we left Ethiopia, I crossed the border and said goodbye. To Kenya it was a case of: “’till we meet again”.

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