EAST AFRICA SAFARI 2017 – twelve

DAY 66 SUNDAY 12th FEBRUARY 2017. KIGALE, RWANDA

Swansea versus Leicester tonight. Football: it is endless, omnipresent and inescapable and the ONE thing everyone in Africa knows about my country.

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I dedicated today to the Kigale Genocide Memorial and Museum – and very sobering it was too. Enough to consider for one day as a tourist in Africa.

The one aspect of Rwanda that commands the most respect is the fact that they have faced their appalling crimes and the horror of the 1994 rampage of vicious slaughter and the madness that inspired it. The Genocide Memorial is a testament to that honesty. It is a museum and graveyard, for over a quarter of a million Rwandan bodies – of men, women, children and babies – are buried on the site. It sits just above the valley bottom behind the main ridge of the city, overlooking the shiny towers and glass of the banks that pile up over the opposite hill top. It’s a well designed museum with gravitas but not overtly sentimental; it allows the facts and stories to speak for themselves. And they are so appalling that they cry out incredulously. Man’s inhumanity to man has seldom been better expressed than in those 100 days of 1994; man’s violent animal instincts seldom more exposed. Alongside the museum of events in 1994 is a more general exhibition of genocides of the past 100 years, and it does nothing to elevate the dignity of humankind – Namibia 1907 (see last year’s journal January 27th), the Armenians, the Serbs, the Jews, Cambodia and Pol Pot – millions of people butchered in the last century for imagined ethic jealousies instilled by evil, crazed politicians. And my over-riding thought at the end of the day: that mankind doesn’t learn by its folly, horrors and hatred. To this day it votes for hate-fuelled policies and bigotry. Do not fool yourself that Trump’s rhetoric is far removed from that which I learned today; or of 1933 in Germany, or 1907 in Namibia or the Armenian, Serbian, and all the other hatred and genocide of the last century. They all started with the same bragging pride, sectarianism, fanaticism, blame, untruths and manipulation of the ignorant.

My world travels do little to inspire confidence in the future of mankind on this planet.

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Germany colonised what is now Rwanda between 1895 and 1916, then during World War One the land was occupied by Belgian troops, who in 1923 were given a mandate by the League of Nations (league of self-interested rich nations…) to govern Rwanda-Urundi. The mandate was soon turned to colonial occupation, which lasted until independence in 1962. During this time the Catholics (never far from the seat of these conflicts, it seems to me…) influenced education in Rwanda, increasingly teaching a racist ideology that the Tutsis were a superior group. ID cards were introduced in 1932 to further discriminate between the previously peaceful peoples. Believe it or not, anyone owning ten cows or more was classified as Tutsi; with less as Hutus. (There were also the Twa, a small tribe of peoples who lived quietly in the deep mountains, whom we know as Pigmy, now something of an insulting term). The racial delineation of Hutu and Tutsi applied to the descendants of those first classified peoples in 1932 and the division began, encouraged by the Belgians, who instituted forced labour to build roads and infrastructure, favouring the Tutsi minority. By the 1950s the Catholic church was further instrumental in encouraging the divide, the (Belgian) bishop supporting the division of the largely invented ‘race’ discrimination, portraying the minority Tutsis as oppressing the majority Hutus. Jealousies festered. There were massacres in the late 50s and in 1967 the first prime minister led a party for the emancipation of the ‘oppressed’ Hutus with fascist policies, persecution and ethnic cleansing. During this time 700,000 refugees left the country and formed a Patriotic Front, the RPF. They invaded in 1990 and civil war followed.

The Hutu ‘Ten Commandments’ of 1990 read just like the Nazi propaganda of the 1930s: racial purity, division of business interests, social divides. The then president, a Hutu, intensified the hatred, while making specious peace moves in peace conferences, meanwhile quietly pushing through the biggest Rwandan arms deal ever – with a French company guaranteed by a loan from the French government – for $12 million. On April 7th 1994 the (Hutu) president was killed when his plane was shot down by a missile as he approached the runway at Kigale – the wreckage falling in the ground of his own palace, and Rwanda turned into a nation of brutal, sadistic, merciless killers and neighbours rampaged against neighbours, colleagues on colleagues, family on family, fuelled – as always – by propaganda and a ruthless media (heard that anywhere recently..?).

In one story related on screen in the memorial museum, a woman told of her neighbouring family: all the children played together and the fathers were godfathers to one another’s children – until the killing started, when the one father caused the slaughter of most of the children of the other. He was a ‘GOD’father and he failed his GODchildren whom he had stood in church and vowed to protect! Can anyone explain to me as an increasingly convinced atheist how you can justify these actions and then profess to be Christian and go to ‘confession’..? Sorry for the aside, but it constantly staggers my belief in humanity. The vast majority of the killers were ‘Christians’ – Catholicism is a major influence here – and presumably believed they had authority from their god for this slaughter, and felt justified in bashing out babies brains against walls… Catholic churchmen and women weren’t blameless, although a few stories of bravery stand out. One ‘Father’ with 2000 people sheltering in his church, gave the command to bulldoze the church – with his congregation inside; others are known to have collaborated and at least a couple of nuns were tried and found guilty of war crimes… One church, convent and school became the killing centre for 20,000 people and another church saw 10,000 raped, abused and killed. Terrified people took refuge in churches and other Christians threw in grenades to destroy them. Religious belief becomes more impossible to me the more of the world and mankind that I witness.

Over a million innocent people were butchered by their friends and neighbours in three months. The UN and the world shamefully withdrew, and now admit their inaction exacerbated the incredible suffering. The general of the UN forces reckoned that 5000 soldiers could have controlled the outrage, but they were never sent. Tens of thousands were tortured, mutilated, raped and murdered; babies were dashed against walls, children cut apart by machetes, women forced to watch their children killed by bludgeons filled with nails, raped and then killed themselves, others intentionally raped by the HIV positive. Tens of thousands more suffered bullet wounds, infection, starvation, disfigurement. 300,000 children were orphaned and 85,000 children ended up as heads of families of orphaned siblings. A UNICEF report reckons that 80% of Rwandan children experienced a death in their family in 1994; 70% witnessed someone being killed or injured and 90% believed they would themselves be killed.

This didn’t happen in the Middle Ages: it happened 23 years ago. It’s put a new light on my observations that Rwandans have a reserve and detachment from me as a tourist…

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The efforts to reconcile all this – and so many survivors and perpetrators are around me as I write – have been impressive. 12,000 local community courts were set up, called Gacaca, meaning ‘grass’, to investigate the crimes and bring together the accused with the survivors, many of whom only then found out what had happened to their family members and, in some cases, were able to trace their remains. It stands as one of the most comprehensive attempts to bring reconciliation in modern social history, bringing together those involved – on both sides. There are many very moving stories, not least of the sense of forgiveness inculcated by the process of the open local courts. The political perpetrators were tried under a UN resolution for crimes of genocide and many are still in jail around the world. As recently as 2013, they were still being brought to justice by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. Some extraditions are still sought.

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My visit was emotionally disturbing and ultimately disillusioning. As I wrote above, nothing changes despite the horrors. Trump vilifies innocent Moslems and Mexicans; Brexit thrives on fear of immigrants and outsiders; Shias and Sunnis; Arabs and Israelis; Catholics and Protestants; and at any time, about fifty religious wars rage around the world: MY religion is truer than yours’, ‘God is on MY side’. Huh. The language of hate never really changes and as times get hard, people look inwards, close ranks with the known and fear the unknown, and pull up the drawbridges. No, my travels don’t make me look at the world with much hope… We are really only animals with a thin veneer of learning and civilisation and deep-seated Darwinian instincts for self-preservation.
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By coincidence, I had an email from Rico while I was at the Memorial. The cafe at the back – and by then I needed refreshment – had a wifi connection and I had the iPad with me to look for just that for the first time in some days. Rico, now in South Sudan, was working in Rwanda in 1994 and admits it was a deeply emotional time. I’m going to copy some of his email here. It adds so much to what I saw today:

‘…Reading about Rwanda reminds me of my intense time there during and shortly after the genocide. I was based in a place called Gikongoro. You most likely pass through there after you have left Lake Kivu behind at Cyangugu, (now Kamembe where I stayed three nights ago. JB) at the border, a narrow bridge, with the Congo.

I did spend time in Cyangugu as there were quite some child casualties, caused by special land mines, designed to attract children. If they picked up their new found toy, it would explode. Many kids lost limbs and the sight in at least one eye. It was of course also the (bottle-neck) border crossing to Congo. Tens of thousands passed every day, prompting us to set up refugee camps in and around Bukavu. I was working for the “Fund” (Save the Children) that year.

The road to Gikongoro goes straight through the forest, but no more elephants there! I remember the small but refreshing waterfalls coming from the mountain sides. I always enjoyed travelling through the forest, despite the long lines of people escaping the massacres walking to Congo.
We also supported many displaced people camps deep into the interior. We always used the main road from Huye to Kigali. The capital is so much unlike Kampala or Nairobi. However, as we were always a bit in a hurry and while the road was sometimes littered with bodies… we never looked for an alternative route.

Anyhow, many memories come back, it was definitely my most emotional year. 1994!’

Rico’s memories also give me an insight into the number of wheelchair-bound amputees I have seen in the past days… I don’t find people here interact much, so it was an introspective day filled with melancholic thoughts on mankind.

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Well, I’d better try to end my entry a bit more upbeat! It was a warm, humid day and I walked a lot, leaving the bike in the hotel yard. This city is SO quiet and SO clean.

I need to think about the next three weeks, for there’s not much more than that left of my journey now. Sadly, I won’t meet Rico again on this trip, as he’s going to northern Congo next. I am thinking of keeping the little blue bike in his garage in Kitale for another winter trip, having started to bond a bit more with it and having invested SO much in it. It’s silly to sell it again without trying to get to Ethiopia! So we’ll get together again, all being well at the end of the year. Meanwhile, I have pretty much decided to head round the south of Lake Victoria through Tanzania back to Kenya, mainly because I fear the rains may be coming in the middle of Uganda by now. But I think before that I will ride back to Lake Kivu as I enjoyed the scenery and riding there so much. So tomorrow I am heading back to Kibuye and that lovely view of the lake from the faded hotel balcony…

DAY 67 MONDAY 13th FEBRUARY 2017. KIBUYE, RWANDA

Some rides and places are so good it’s worth repeating them. That’s what I thought when I set off from Kigale this morning so that I can enjoy the road south that I took last week and the ride through the forest that I so loved a few days ago. I hadn’t expected the bonus of a wonderful ride today as well!

I was quite content to leave Kigale, a fairly tedious city without a lot of attractions. Quiet and orderly, clean and disciplined – but not very engaging. The guest house was basic and very ‘concrete’ so I was happy to get back into the countryside. Rwanda’s roads are so quiet and empty that I rode along very relaxedly back to Muhanga, the town where I slept on Friday. From there I was onto new roads for me, a fine road to the west, over a surprisingly high range of mountains, terraced and cultivated from the bottoms of the valleys to the tops of the hills. I rode slowly and in delight, happy that I’d decided to ride back to Kibuye. It was only a seventy mile day but a very fine ride.

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Stopping to take a photo of an intricately terraced valley, I was soon surrounded by a crowd of local people, who seemed to appear from nowhere. It’s always like that in Africa: you think you are all alone, and then someone pokes a head over an embankment, appears through the banana trees, walks round the corner carrying a load. I took my photo, laughed with the group of mainly young men and children; one young man keen to try on my goggles – and then began the demands: “give me money!”, or food, or the clothes off my back, or cigarettes. It seems no Rwandan can resist the chance that my capriciousness might just render something for free! Rico concurred that this is a very Francophone problem in Africa, and he has probably more experience than me by now. He wrote, ‘If somebody doesn’t give to you what you consider to be entitled to, then you must demand it’. A couple of Rwandan people to whom I have mentioned this endless frustration, have independently put forward the opinion that the French (and Belgian, in this instance) paid money to their colonial subjects while the British taught them how to earn it. I wonder if this is the root of the habit? It really DOES get irritating and it is pervasive in Rwanda, an otherwise fine and proud country. However, I try to rise above it because this is such a lovely country in every other aspect, not least the cleanest through which I have ever had the pleasure of travelling.

My, that was a magnificent ride, on empty, high roads in grand scenery, twisting and curling about the mountains. But I am even more delighted with my decision to return to Kibuye by my walk this afternoon, out onto one of the straggly, convoluted headlands by the small town. It is a splendid place, is Kibuye! Steep wooded slopes fall away to the calm lake, the sun was softening into the late afternoon, making a silver pathway across the water into which a series of large fishing canoes, tethered three together like trimarans with long poles arching out fore and aft from which nets will be winched and lowered, paddled smoothly, their crewmen chanting rhythmically to maintain their strokes. The evocative noise of the chants carried far across the gleaming water as the paddles dropped rings onto the mirrored surface. Small islands dotted the lake as it disappeared into distant haze that obscured the Congo such that one could imagine this to be a great ocean, not an inland African lake. As I sit later on the darkened terrace of the hotel, with a view worth hundreds more than my fifteen pound accommodation bill, I can make out the lanterns of those heavy plank canoes winking in the night, the same vessels I watched paddle so picturesquely below my wooded headland.

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When I stayed in the Eden Rock Hotel last week I enjoyed my best night’s sleep of the trip. I am back in the same room, with its balcony above the tranquil bay and the scattered wooded islands. Most of the hotels hereabouts are expensive and really no better placed than this one. I was remembered and welcomed back and I have no doubt that by morning Munvaneza, the handsome, kindly security man, will have my little blue bike gleaming again, as he did the other day. When a service is done so willingly, with such a wonderful smile, it becomes a gift rather than a merely mercenary activity. He was delighted that I recollected his name.

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Bicycle taxis are more common here than the ubiquitous motorbike ones. Out in rural areas I see so many straining cyclists, frequently resorting to pushing their heavily laden Chinese cycles up the long slow hills. With either passengers or goods, they ply the roads, a padded seat on the rear carrier, often piled high with heavy branches of green bananas, milk churns, sacks and bags, crates, firewood, baulks of timber, doors and frames, stacks of plastic chairs, water containers, crates of beer and soft drinks, trussed pigs and goats, dangling chickens, steel rods dragging the road behind, crops, tables, furniture and all manner of goods. And you may have kilometres to push, sweat and toil uphill to enjoy the rush down the other side. All this for a few pence each day.

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Rwanda and Uganda would be a bird watcher’s delight. I’m sometimes sorry I know so little about them, for I see some startling birds. There are many vast raptors swooping about the hills and valleys on sharp updrafts; exotically hued birds flitting about the bushes; ungainly storks and herons, hideous vultures, pretty darting finches with bright heads, dazzling shiny birds, the brightest feathers imaginable and, today, the smallest birds I have ever seen. I doubt they were as much as two inches from beak to tail tip. Tiny, tiny birds, smaller even than hummingbirds. Nature has many extremes on this continent.

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In a country in which the majority of the populous has no access to power and which is having to harness the noxious gases of the lake to generate electricity, Kibuye town council (one supposes) has installed modern lamp standards out into the beauties of the headlands and along the dust tracks frequented only by goats, pedestrians with the habit of sleeping when darkness comes, and an occasional expensive 4X4 with headlights. The result is useless waste and light pollution. It’s even more ridiculous than Harberton being bathed in light through every night when nothing but cats on the prowl are moving! Maybe it suggests ‘sophistication’..? I have seen these new lights in many rural villages and towns in this small mountainous country. I wonder if they will be maintained or left to wither like the plumbing in every hotel and guest house in which I have stayed in the last couple of months. Not ONE bathroom has worked fully! Loose taps, broken shower heads, terrifying electrics, blocked drains, loose lavatory seats, ineffective flush mechanisms, leaking joints – I’ve seen it all, everywhere. Africa in general has a problem with maintenance – or lack of it… Instead of fixing things before they break, they are left and become unmendable. It’s a sort of mental blockage shared by all Africa.

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Pulling into a garage leaving Kigale, eight under-employed mechanics were much entertained while one of their colleagues effected an oil change on the little blue Suzuki for me. I have ridden about four and a half thousand kilometres (2800 miles) so far. I’m used to the bike now, and it’s getting me around cheaply and reliably. It’s certainly an easier bike for a ‘senior citizen’ to ride, and sufficient for the distances that I need to cover in these relatively small countries. I wouldn’t want to be riding round the big expanses of southern Africa on it though. Yes, it’s doing quite well on the whole.

DAY 68 TUESDAY 14th FEBRUARY 2017. KIBUYE, RWANDA

A day of rest today, not, I hear you mutter, that there’s much from which to rest! It just seemed, as I gazed at the lake over breakfast on another sunny morning in Africa, that leaving this lovely place was unnecessary for a day. It’s not often that I find places like this: tranquil, exotic, beautiful – and affordable! So I stayed. Time allows: I have just over three weeks left of my safari and only have to get back to this side of Kenya.

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About twenty kilometres south of Kibuye I turned off the sweeping tar road onto a bad rock and gravel track that climbed through the steep terraces towards the Gisovu tea estates and the Bisesero genocide memorial, about six or seven miles off the road. At Bisesero many thousands of Tutsis put up resistance against the Hutu killers, gathering en masse on a mountaintop and using spears and rocks to defend themselves. Of course, the resistance failed: the ‘genocidaires’ were armed with guns and grenades by the manipulative Rwandan government, courtesy of France… Many thousands of people were butchered on that mountain in the rural landscape that looks so charming today. The complicity of the French government in arming the butchers and orchestrating the genocide can’t be ignored, nor the evil machinations of the Belgian Catholic church in fostering the sectarianism, or the folly of the UN in choosing not to interfere. These all can be seen, with hindsight, to have caused the horrific massacres. The stadium in little quiet Kibuye was the scene of another mass killing of thousands. It was everywhere. To this day French diplomats do not join in the commemorations at the genocide memorials in April, although all the other diplomatic missions are represented. That seems significant.

The Bisesero memorial is built on the adjacent hillside to that on which the battles took place and climbs the steep slopes with three ossuaries, each split into three sections, to represent the nine communities of the locality. Hundreds of battered skulls and leg bones stand testament to the abomination of April 1994. You can see the machete cuts, the bullet holes, the crushed bones from the nail-filled clubs. You can see the skulls of children and adults. You can see the charred skulls of those burned to death. It’s thought-provoking indeed. At the summit of the hill is a mass grave of tens of thousands of people whose only crime was to be judged of a ‘wrong’ tribe of peoples, despite being the former brothers and friends of the opposing warriors… The world is full of evil. And it doesn’t go away…

…Glinting on an opposite hillside a mile away are the tin roofs of a massive camp of Congolese refugees, fleeing political infighting and civil war in the country across the lake. It made even more of an impact, looking across from the bones of the memorial to the waste of thousands of displaced people confined to a refugee camp by such similar jealousies, sectarianism and self-interested politicians. Mankind does NOT learn. We are no better than animals in the final assessment.

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I began to write a short time ago, down on the narrow beach by the calm lake, with a Turbo King at my side. Suddenly a HUGE storm and torrential rain crept up behind me. Fortunately, I was under a large sun umbrella. Soon I ended up standing on the log table as the rain cascaded and bounced all around. It’s been threatening all day, and in fact I cut short my ride to the tea estates because I could see rain clouds gathering and don’t choose to ride on sandy, earthen tracks in the rain if I can avoid it. Thunder is rolling very atmospherically around now, deeply reverberating above the lake. Maybe it will clear the air for a bright day tomorrow… I’ve said it before: I don’t care if it rains while I am drinking my evening beer. These storms are usually short-lived and reduce the humidity. A kind young waitress rescued me with a dripping umbrella so that we could run splashing across the flowing road to the hotel.

DAY 69 WEDNESDAY 15th FEBRUARY 2017. NYANZA, RWANDA

Perhaps If I had realised the quality of this hotel I’d have been embarrassed to bargain so hard with the manager. (Perhaps..!) I seem to be in the best hotel in town, a ‘real’ hotel; new, I should think as it hasn’t had time to deteriorate yet… I have a pleasant modern room with a balcony with an extensive view across the western mountains. There’s a large swimming pool set in well kept gardens with a thatched bar, a proper dining room, waiters in smart uniforms, green grass (not dust!) and all the accoutrements of a proper hotel. £16 B, and then, Andrew the manager, eventually threw in the other B with a laugh! So long as I do it with big smiles, it just about always works!

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All the roads I have ridden today, 150 miles of them, are roads I rode last week. Sometimes it’s just worth riding them twice for the sheer pleasure of the scenery, the sweeping, curling roads and the joy of being in a very beautiful part of this African continent. I had a good day, and today I quite enjoyed the little bike.

The road through the Nyungwe national forest are some of the best fifty miles of East Africa, twisting and climbing to 2500 metres through lush, dense forest of towering creeper-hung trees covering steep slopes above and below the road. Monkeys scamper about the verges and here and there huge vistas of misty ridges thick with trees are disclosed between the foreground trees. There’s a refreshing smell of dampish undergrowth and brief showers are frequent but so localised that I seem to avoid them, each one little more than a condensing cloud dropping its new rain back onto the forest below in an endless cycle. Maybe this is what the world was like before we built roads and concrete hotels, just this exuberant, luxuriant greenness?

The approaches to the forested area, down along the silver lake to the west, are pretty striking too, with panoramic expanses of terraced mountainside peppered with small brown homes with their brown pantiles or shiny zinc. Growth is prolific, bananas, cassava, coffee, tea, vegetables, onion fields, even rice paddies in some of the low flat valleys, backed by sharp ridges. The water sits still below, calm and misted, Congo pretty much invisible across the looking glass lake. People wave or stare dead-pan; it’s a toss up, some are excited, some completely expressionless, whatever my reaction. I can’t really make head and tail of the Rwandan people. In one area I was like a passing celebrity: everyone, young and old, waved and smiled; a few miles further on, laughing at such extravagant reactions, I passed into another area entirely, where people stared blankly and no one returned my smiles. I can’t account for it. In the friendly region, fortunately also the most beautiful, where tea cloaked the hills and gentle blue eucalyptus leaves made a magnificent and photogenic counterpoint, I stopped a few times, unable to resist another photo. Each time crowds gathered, mainly small children, for school had finished for the afternoon and they have long roadside walks home, but with adults, hoes across their shoulders, babies on backs, too. They crowded round excitedly, watching and commenting, joking with each other at the cheerful expense of the old granddaddy on the motorbike. It’s just a shame their waves always turn in a reflex action into an outstretched palm and the Rwandan National Greeting: “Give me money!”, often abbreviated to just “…money!” I keep reminding myself that these are uneducated people who have been taught this irritating habit because, at some time French people have done just that: paternalistically and imperiously handed out pennies to the natives. Since entering Rwanda this has become a sort of soundtrack to my travels: choruses of “give me money! Give me money…”

And in other stretches of the beautiful road, totally blank reaction… It’s beyond me. Not a smile, not a wave, just a stare… But no one means harm by it, it’s just the way they are, it seems. Sometimes it is difficult to be such a casual observer of foreign cultures, understanding only a little, knowing few of the influences and social habits, comprehending manners only in reference to my own instincts or comparing to other, disparate people.

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All day the clouds have gathered and dispersed, leaving me dry, but chilly on the heights. Apprehensively, I have watched great blue storm heads gather and disappear. I suppose the seasonal rains are on their way. An email from South Africa today tells me how much it has been raining this year. Happily, here a thousand miles north, I have not actually been properly wet in all these weeks, only a couple of brief showers not even worth getting out the waterproofs for. Here, a couple of degrees from the Equator, altitude makes the difference. As I write, I am sitting in the hotel garden beside a thatched bar complete with pool table – and the inevitable British Premiere League football on the box. I have had to race back to my room twice for long trousers and then a fleece. I am determined to eat my supper beneath the stars!

In effect, my journey home began today. From now on I shall be travelling generally eastwards, back round the bottom of Lake Victoria to Kenya, to return the little blue bike to Kitale for future travels.

Crikey! The first of my supper just arrived: a mixed salad. It is HUGE, a plate piled high. At this point in my journey, it’d probably be entirely sufficient – without the spaghetti I ordered! My appetite reduces so much on these journeys. I had a night of fitful sleep last night punctuated by bad dreams, then I remembered: I took my weekly malaria prophylactic yesterday. It’s known to affect some people with psychotic disturbances. The British Army has been fighting against all sorts of accusations from soldiers affected. Still, having suffered cerebral malaria – and only survived, according to the hospital specialist, because I’d been taking anti-malarials, I guess a night a week of disturbed sleep is acceptable. “Yes, well, you’d probably have died last week if you hadn’t been taking the prophylactics..!” I can still hear charming Pakistani Dr Ijaz in Bedford Hospital when I complained that I had contracted malaria despite the pills. But I am tired tonight, after poor sleep and 150 miles of fine roads and fresh air.

I’ve spotted a road on my tourist map that avoids riding all the way back through the capital city on my way to the south east of Rwanda and the Tanzanian border. I must try to find out if it’s a viable route. Mile upon mile of gravel and rock isn’t a short cut…

EAST AFRICA 2017 – photos nine

Episode eleven is below this post of photos!

Lake Bunyonyi from the road I rode three days running, so lovely was it!

Lake Bunyonyi from the road I rode three days running, so lovely was it!

Near Kisoro, SW Uganda. Cultivated to the last corner.

Near Kisoro, SW Uganda. Cultivated to the last corner.

The lakeside at Gisenyi, Rwanda. So clean and cosmopolitan!

The lakeside at Gisenyi, Rwanda. So clean and cosmopolitan!

Christine, Gisenyi, Rwanda

Christine, Gisenyi, Rwanda

Tea is SO photogenic!

Tea is SO photogenic!

Road building makes for worse bike riding than just gravel roads do...

Road building makes for worse bike riding than just gravel roads do…

Somtiems I get quite a lot for my fifteen quid rooms. A nice place to enjoy my cold Turbo King beers!

Somtiems I get quite a lot for my fifteen quid rooms. A nice place to enjoy my cold Turbo King beers!

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Munvaneza, at Kibuye made my little bike sparkle!

Munvaneza, at Kibuye made my little bike sparkle!


Lake Kivu Rwanda from the road southwards

Lake Kivu Rwanda from the road southwards

Rwanda's full of beauty

Rwanda’s full of beauty

A mzungu casues pandemonium!

A mzungu casues pandemonium!

Tea picking

Tea picking

More tea, at the edge of the lovely Nyungwe national forest

More tea, at the edge of the lovely Nyungwe national forest

Renee mde my mood improve that evening! Who could remain grumpy..?

Renee mde my mood improve that evening! Who could remain grumpy..?

Marshland in the wonderful Nyungwe forest area, Rwanda

Marshland in the wonderful Nyungwe forest area, Rwanda

I spent six hours riding fifty miles, so wonderful was the forest.

I spent six hours riding fifty miles, so wonderful was the forest.

Sandrine is Burundian

Sandrine is Burundian

EAST AFRICA SAFARI 2017 – ELEVEN

DAY 62 WEDNESDAY 8th FEBRUARY 2017. RUSIZI, RWANDA

More of a mixed bag today. The morning was magnificent but by late afternoon I got in a bad mood. You’ll have understood by now that one thing that irritates me is when I feel I am being cheated or ripped off. All my innate stubbornness comes to the fore and I get pissed off! I made the mistake of thinking I might stay at the edge of the large national forest twenty miles from where I am tonight, until I realised that Rwanda is into fleecing the tourists like Uganda. I viewed several hotels and guest houses all of which had cranked up their prices (I left one with a sarcastic shrug, “I don’t want to buy your HOTEL, just a room for the night!” They wanted over £100 for nothing special at all). Another one showed me rooms of much lesser quality than I have used for the past four weeks for double the prices I have paid. Then I saw a bus full of white tourists and I understood that this is the policy where there are captive tourists. To take the 200 metre-long canopy walk – which is just some ropes slung at treetop level, fun to see and do but still just ropes at treetop level – is charged out at £50!! It’s TWO HUNDRED metres long! That’s a pound for about every eight steps you take or £2 a minute! I have done a fine treetop canopy walk with Wechiga in Ghana for about £2.50! A three hour ‘nature walk’ in the national forest is £40. I bet the guide gets about £2.

The result of all this – and then some kid demanded money, as has almost everyone I’ve stopped near today; he got the full brunt of my irritation – was that I rode away angrily, deciding that I’d have to make for Huye, the next town I intend to visit. It was over 60 miles away through the wonderful forest (where I can see as many primates as I would on a £40 walk). Thank goodness, I stopped and told myself that I was acting irrationally (I do sometimes!). I turned in the road and made my way back to the end of the lake and the scruffy towns of Kamembe and Rusizi, (which could be the same place with changed names…) for they were only twenty miles away and I was sure I could find some sort of accommodation here. I have. It’s faded and ratty but the staff are very friendly.

There’s a slight troglodyte feel to the stained hotel, built into the side of a steep valley, my room having its only window under a fifteen foot balcony of the bar above. Right in front, not much more than a couple of hundred yards away, rises the other wooded face of the river valley, with tall houses clambering amongst the trees. Over the small muddy river that is the end of Lake Kivu is a rickety bridge. I am looking at the Democratic (haha) Republic of Congo across from my room. Not far to the left is also the border to Burundi, neither country one that I can safely enter these days. So near yet so far thanks to African politics, corrupt leaders and internecine wars. The tall houses, that look expensive despite the fact that Congo is pretty dark at night, are probably those of the corrupt politicians, ready to be the first to leave and claim they were actually innocent.

*

It was a glorious morning when I left pleasant Kibuye. Sometime overnight, Munvaneza the hotel security guard, had done a magnificent job of washing and polishing my bike. It positively gleamed! He was pleased to be rewarded £3 for his effort. He probably doesn’t earn that in a day. It was cleaner than it’s been since it arrived in that truck from Nairobi. I’m bonding a bit better with it now. It’s still unexciting to ride and far too underpowered, and the seat is terrible, but I am easier with it now. I am so grateful for Rico giving me a pair of handlebars that are exactly the ones on my old African Elephant! One thing I DO appreciate is its lightness. When riding off road it is so lightweight and manoeuvrable. I’m beginning to think I just might keep it for another year. I still want to visit Ethiopia and having invested so much in this little bike, I guess it’d make the journey. A bit slowly, it’s true. I’ve another few weeks to decide. I’m wondering about a two-centre trip next time: southern Africa (Lesotho!) and Kenya/ Ethiopia. We’ll see…

*

It’s very confusing that these fine new roads that sweep and glide through the reshaped hillsides of Rwanda are not actually on the tourist maps on which I am relying for information. I felt completely lost by late morning: the lake was on my right, so I knew I was going south and I knew that when the lake ended I would be at the last bit of the country, but I really couldn’t get much idea of what I was looking at from the colourful but uninformative map in my pocket. However, it was a magnificent ride through the heavily cultivated mountains. At last, about twenty miles later than I expected it, I found the junction that led me to the tip of the lake, Burundi and Congo and, to the left, into the forests and over the hills to Huye. I turned right to see the end of the lake…

Here again were tea estates cloaking the hillsides so prettily. Tea and coffee are Rwanda’s main exports and currency earners. I rode off into one estate and watched many workers pulling at the top green leaves and tossing them into baskets slung from their shoulders. Their multi-coloured clothes made for great views, but as soon as the camera came out, so did a lot of jokes at my expense (by their tone) and the incessant demands for money in the one English phrase known to all, “Give me money!”

I’m finding it difficult to relate with the Rwandans. You have perhaps read that between the lines. Firstly, it’s a matter of communication, for outside tourist areas few people speak even French, let alone English. Then there’s the matter of everyone seeing me as a source of money in this Francophone country. Whenever I do stop and try to engage, hands come out palm up and demands – literally demands – are made: “Give me money.” After a time, it begins to rankle. As I ride everyone is ready to return my smile and give me thumbs-up, but if I stop, so many of them demand money… Of course, I generalise, as I have spoken with many charming folks too, but those who speak English are, of course, educated, and the educated don’t demand alms… It’s making me miss the Ugandans, almost universally charming and polite, with pride that’d never stoop to pointless begging, like almost all of ex-British colonial Africa but so familiar in every French African country I have toured. I have been thinking of returning to Uganda despite the driving! I did like that country. I have to get back to Kenya eventually and I feel that riding right round Lake Victoria might be tedious and rather flat. Well, doubtless I will make the decision on a whim as always!

*

There’s a genocide memorial in just about every village and town through which I pass. Maybe they serve to remind the populous of the terrible events and keep any repetition at bay. It impresses on me just how widespread the carnage must have been, for some of these memorials are in villages that must have populations of mere hundreds… Imagine the horror. It’s difficult. These people were neighbours, colleagues, schoolmates. Suddenly they became enemies to be annihilated, bludgeoned, stabbed, burned to death in churches. It is said that children as young as ten took part in the murders. Many of the people I pass on the road; who wave and give me thumbs-up, are murderers, and killed their friends and neighbours, defenceless children, terrified innocent women and weak old people. Mass graves are to be found outside almost every village and town. It’s a sobering reflection on mankind.

I asked amusing Renee, the young man who’s been looking after me since I found this somewhat grim hotel, where he’s from, for he has a narrow, ascetic face and a tall skinny frame. Many Rwandans are noticeable by their very small stature – most of them reach my shoulder at most – and squarish faces. “Ah, we have different tribes,” he explained. “We have Batwa (pigmy), and Hutu and Tutsi… I am Tutsi.” It was, generally, the Hutus who slaughtered the Tutsis in the genocide. Renee is, I suppose, young enough to have been no more than a baby during the 1994 rampage that reduced the population by about a fifth in a little over three months. He must have escaped.

It was Renee, with his rather earnest enthusiasm at helping a real foreign guest, that persuaded me to search no further tonight. He gushes with eagerness to help in a refreshing manner. By staying here I can still enjoy the ride through the national forest tomorrow, even if I won’t be partaking the canopy walk or guided tours. In the few miles I rode in the forest this afternoon, I saw large numbers of monkeys! And the canopy walk’s a bit like standing on a hill anyway! I’ll ride over a lot of hills tomorrow on my way eastwards.

Funny how one person or event can make the difference. Young Renee, in his almost pathetic desire to help, has made the evening better. “What do I have to do round here to get some warm water?” I asked before supper. He had forgotten to turn on the water heater. Several times over my not very memorable tilapia supper he gave me updates, following me to my room later and pushing into the bathroom to run the shower tap to prove that I could now have a hot (warm!) shower. You can’t remain disgruntled in the face of such ardent zeal!

DAY 63 THURSDAY 9th FEBRUARY 2017. HUYE, RWANDA

Oh dear, I’m on the slippery slope. Today I started my first beer before five o’clock, but only so that Sandrine, the lovely and conscientious server can go home earlier to her little boy. She insists that she must stay until my supper is served as she’s the only one here who can speak some English and I might get a bad impression. I tried to explain that I am the most flexible guest but to no avail. It’s her job – her duty – to make sure I am looked after. Sandrine is tall and slender and the first Burundian I have knowingly met. She’s very charming.

*

It took me almost six hours to ride from Kamembe to Huye, Rwanda’s second city; well, it’s not much more than a town really. The distance was a mere 75 miles, but the road was spellbindingly lovely. It passed through the extensive mountain tropical forest and climbed up to about 2500 metres, curving and winding amongst more impressive piece of road building. Rwanda is certainly a place of scenic delights. This was the best ride yet, over and through all that incredibly abundant greenness. I stopped often to gaze across the vast density of it all. Plenty of L’Hoest monkeys, with their white chin beards played and groomed by the road, not very concerned about the piki-piki rider that sometimes stopped to watch. Sadly, the chimpanzees were rather more shy. Apparently, you do sometimes see them from this road, so said John, with whom I chatted for some time at the park visitor centre.

John was driving and guiding a family of Americans, their tens of thousands’ of dollar holiday perhaps making up for some of the paucity of mine, in Government revenue. I spotted their receipt for US$240 on the book in front of the park officer for their brief canopy walk. John was more in tune with my form of travelling, it seemed, comprehending that I was as likely to see animals from the road as from an expensive guided walk!

Of course, my conversation with John was FAR more valuable to me than any guided excursions, even if we’d spotted chimpanzees at 200 metres! John is a Tutsi by birth and opened my eyes to so much I have been seeing – as he waited for his rich clients. “We are no longer Hutu and Tutsi,” he said, “just Rwandans. What happened must never happen again. You are right, the memorials you see are to remind us…”

Rwanda is very impressive in many ways. They suffered a terrible tragic, horrific event, and they have faced it down: are still facing it down. John gives much credit to the president, Paul Kagame, who’s been in power for 14 years. He is astonishingly advanced in his social politics. “On the last Saturday in every month we have Umuganda when everyone must take part in community activity from 8 until 11! You MUST do it. Even the President, if he is in the country, he takes part. At the least, one member of your family must be seen there. You must have a very good excuse not to attend: maybe you have to take someone to the airport or something, but if you are found driving about without a good reason, you’ll be fined by the community! And when you’ve been to the airport, you must stay there and join the activity before you go home again. We clean the streets, pick up rubbish and those things. Then, and this is even more important that you attend, we hold meetings; meetings in the community. We sit together and we discuss our problems: ‘I have a problem with this man…’, ‘there are difficulties with these land issues’… We discuss it together. We must never be Hutus and Tutsis against each other again. We settle our differences. And each month, if he is in the country, the President will visit a different district and community. It is announced and you must be there -maybe in the local stadium, or the mayor will choose some big place – unless you are unable and can have a good reason. The President, he comes and he asks the people, ‘have you any problems?’ And there’s a microphone, so you say, ’yes, I have a problem with this man… He is claiming my land!’ The President, he will ask, ‘have you spoken with your chief?’ ’Yes,’ replies the villager, ‘I have, but nothing has been done!’ Then the President will call on the chief to stand and explain! And if there’s no satisfaction, he will say, ‘very well, this will be investigated from Kigale!’ Also, the police, the army, they will help needy people. If the community says ‘this old man has no house’, or this old woman’s place is falling down and she has no children to help’, the army or the police, they’ll go and build a house even!”

As to the wonderful cleanliness (SO much cleaner than my own disgusting, litter-smothered land), it’s the responsibility of bus drivers, if they see a passenger throw a plastic bottle or rubbish from the window of his bus, to stop and make the passenger retrieve the discarded items. Wow, we could do with some of this imagination from our government.

Africa has always needed benevolent despots. Maybe here it has one? One can only hope he doesn’t continue until he’s 94, like other well known criminals, as he’s only in his late-fifties… Then in April, the anniversary of the atrocities in 1994, the whole country shuts down in commemoration. “For some people the memory is too strong and they leave the country,” said John. “April is a very quiet time for us. We remember. There were even small children killing. A small child killed his mother because she was a Tutsi. His father was Hutu and the boy sided with him…”

That child will be in his mid-thirties now, with children of his own. How can anyone live with that memory..?

My conversation with John, cut short at last by the return of his clients who’d looked at the tops of trees for £50 each, not into the depths of the human psyche as we had for that half an hour, was SO very valuable to my understanding of this small country and its recent appalling history. To have this trauma, this unimaginably horrible hatred, this incomprehensible tragedy – and to FACE it! I have so much respect for what I am witnessing in Rwanda. It even softens, to some extent, my dislike of ‘give me money’; but were I to attend one of the President’s public meetings, I feel I might out up my hand and ask him why, if he has created one of the cleanest countries it’s ever been my pleasure to travel in, he can’t stop the endemic, habitual demands for money from white-skinned people? “Yes,” said John, reflectively, “family members even killed one another. We must never let it be forgotten. It must never happen again. Our president is doing well. We respect him for his work in bringing us together. Those memorials you say you see everywhere; it happened in every community, however small…”

*

Tonight it was the turn of Sandrine, a Burundian refugee, to tell me some of her story. Her father was an army officer – on currently the ‘wrong side’ in little Burundi, where a few ruling families feud and murder for control in the sadly African fashion. Sandrine and her baby boy (father typically absent) and her brother managed to escape to a refugee camp here in Rwanda. Her father is somewhere in Kampala. (I passed a huge refugee camp on the way here this afternoon – but THAT one is for Congolese refugees…). Sandrine began to study medicine at the university in Bujumbura, but what with babies and politics, she has ended up working in a cheap hotel in Huye, Rwanda. “Oh, when I go home and I have nothing for my son, I sometimes cry. But what can I do? There’s nothing at home in Burundi… Here they pay me 25,000 Francs – a MONTH! (£25) But at home, what can I do? In the evening I must pay 1500 for a moto to get to my home. It’s far! And the ‘padron’ of this hotel, she give me sometimes money for the fare but not always. In the morning is OK, I can get the bus, 500 Francs… I was working in a job in the American embassy in my country. A lady, she saw me and saw I was good to working with customer relations, and she say, maybe I can get you work there. But then we had to leave. Men would come to my house and beat us wth sticks, my brother and me, because our father was gone away…”

Half the world lives with these dilemmas.

*

Up in the high mountains, I was riding on the Congo/ Nile river watershed. For Nyunguwe park claims to be the REAL source of the Nile. Water falling on the western slopes flows into the Congo and the Atlantic, on the east to the Nile and the Mediterranean. Seventy per cent of the rain that falls on Rwanda, falls on the Nyuguwe mountains, that reach to roughly 2500 metres in altitude. About two metres a year falls. Today, small localised showers could be seen all around, just a cloud at a time, fortunately, none of them over me! Scientists believe that these mountains were one of the only places in Africa to remain green during the last ice age, and thus the area has an impressive diversity of species and flora. Interestingly, begonias and impatiens are indigenous here, those delicate popular British garden annuals. There are also 140 species of orchids in this lovely park area.

*

All in all, a very satisfactory day! I reached Huye, very relaxed, about four in the afternoon, and set about looking for a place to stay. I tried a couple of smart hotels on the main street through the small town, both asking £25 or £30 and then wandered off, as is my wont, into a pleasant suburban side street. Here I found signs to guest houses and soon pulled into one: a place of newly built round houses. Sandrine welcomed me. The price is a very modest £10 for an en suite large semi-circular room (where to put the lavatory pan hasn’t been well answered in this configuration!). The place appears new and unoccupied. There’s a restaurant that conjured up some grilled rabbit (!) and I ate early so that Sandrine could get home to her child. Now it’s only 8.20 and I reckon there’s not much to do but go to bed!

*

Wherever I ride in Rwanda I cause a stir. It’s odd this, for there are tourists in Rwanda these days, although I have yet to see any independent travellers, only those on organised tours, even if just a family with their own guide. Not many seem to try to see Rwanda on their own. I realised that being on the motorbike makes me very accessible to the people, especially with my open-face helmet. I become a sort of public property, so unlike the average tourists, seeing Africa through glass and being seen, detached, behind that same glass. I am very much part of the landscape, exclaimed over as I pass, waved at, thumbs-upped at, yelled at, pointed out to babies and smaller siblings, commented upon and inspected when I stop in villages for tea. While it can get wearing, it’s fun too to be such public property, a representative of the mzungu race at close quarters. It’s very immediate and, since I love to try to understand my fellow people of other cultures so much, it’s a wonderful, immersive, immediate, intense and sometimes funny way to travel! I’m happy I’m not seeing the world through a tinted window but am out there in the dust, sun, rain, stinks, weather and mobs and multitudes.

DAY 64 FRIDAY 10th FEBRUARY 2017. MUHANGA, RWANDA

A cultural day, today: an ethnographic museum, the last King’s Palace museum and the National Art Gallery. What’s remarkable is that outside South Africa, there are so few museums on this continent south of the Sahara, and certainly almost no ‘museum culture’. There are some faded old places from colonial days here and there, generally looking very sorry for themselves with total lack of investment, but few others, and new museums are a rarity indeed. But all these Rwandan are initiatives from the past 15 years or so.

The Rwanda ethnographic museum has an impressive collection of the culture that was washed away by the TV and Coca Cola generation. It made me think, looking at those quaint old black and white photographs of people dressed in goat skins, beaded loin cloths, traditional headdresses, with braceletted arms, spears and all the traditional accoutrements, now totally gone except for tourist performances – it made me think that the later photographs were taken within my lifetime… Older ones dated from the early part of the 20th century, but there were a lot from the 1950s too. It’s like when I watch old Ealing Comedies: those whimsical kids in shorts, pudding basin haircuts and school caps could have been me. I don’t FEEL that old! A recreation of a chief’s hut and a fine collection of iron spearheads from the 18th and 19th centuries were the items that most impressed me. That woven grass and reed hut, so beautifully constructed, would have been seen in villages within my lifetime. How Africa has changed; all that tradition and culture wiped away by exposure to the cheap cultural and material values of American media now so prevalent. Of course, those times weren’t all good and cosy, much of that life was arduous, cruel and harsh, life expectancy short, disease rampant. Trouble is, in Africa, it still is, and it’s not improved by the aspirations created by the new world view people now have. Every day I tell people that unemployment is a world problem, not just – as everyone thinks – a Rwandan or Ugandan one. “Oh, in your country there’s work..!” I hear this every day…

*

The king’s palace in Nyanza is actually a rather ugly 1930s bungalow – with some fine local art decorations on fireplaces and friezes. On a hilltop, it must have been pretty impressive to those in the mud and grass huts around. Until, that is, the king went on visits to Belgium and came back realising that his palace was a mere colonial style bungalow. So he started to build a fine hilltop villa with balconies, terraces, sweeping staircases, terrazzo floors and all the rest. Unfortunately he died before it was completed and his son, the last king, who ended up scarpering to USA leaving a republic, never lived there either. Now that’s the national art museum, filled with a worthy but not very inspiring collection of ‘contemporary art’ from the region, derivative and not very African.

Behind the palace bungalow is the traditional palace, a recreation of the previous structures, magnificent domes of straw and intricately woven sticks and wicker. Lined with fabulous grass mats and adhering to age old traditional designs, THIS palace was impressive! So too were the royal cattle, a herd of cows with extraordinary horns a metre or more long, docile animals that seemed to like to have their heads scratched – but they are rather pampered beasts in the now museum compound.

*

I tried to visit two large genocide memorials today, one near the King’s palace and one on the side of the road, but on university grounds in Huye. In both cases I was stopped because I hadn’t got a ‘permit’, and getting one involved a great deal of trouble. What’s the point, I wondered – completely vainly to fairly basically educated security guards – of having a memorial if I am not allowed to visit it? Sometimes Africa can be so illogical.

*

So, after a flask of African tea on a smart hotel balcony, I rode north towards the capital, Kigale. But by four o’clock I realised that at the average speeds I ride here I’d still have a couple of hours to plod along on the curling mountain roads, so I decided to stop here in Muhanga, a small town that sprawls along a few ridges of the terraced mountainsides. It’s not very attractive, but there were various options for accommodation. I found a bizarre place tonight. It’s a multi-storey, shiny, mirror-glass place that seems to be an office block and supermarket. But instead of offices there are small hotel suites. I’m on the second floor overlooking the valley and have a sort of sitting room, bedroom, bathroom and enclosed balcony – that seem like they should be offices. But I have a first tonight! My £30 room costs me £15! That’s impressive, a 50% discount – or ’promotion’ as the quietly charming Pacifique described his reduction. Round the back, next to the supermarket, is a bar and restaurant and the whole place seems to have Catholic overtones of some sort and there are a great number of nuns visible about town too. It’s all a bit of a mystery, but who cares? It’s cheap and quite comfortable and the Turbo King is chilled.

There’s a middle-aged French couple staying here tonight. We all agreed that we had seen almost no independent travellers here in Rwanda or even Uganda. Funnily enough, I spotted their bicycles in the passageway of the hotel in Fort Portal a couple of weeks ago. They also bargained a half-price deal, but they managed it with a nun and that must be more of an achievement than my agreement with Pacifique! Beating a catholic nun down to 50% is momentous! We chatted for a bit over our suppers and I found them to be Africa enthusiasts, with a special place in their affections for Lesotho. Cycling there must be even more extreme than on these mountains. They are heading towards the lovely road through the forest that I so enjoyed two days ago. On bicycles it will be hard but wonderful, to experience the peace and calm of that landscape. Laughing, they agreed that they too will enjoy the ‘canopy walk’ by standing on the side of the shelf road and will get enough forest walking with their bicycles. You bet they will. That road climbs for tens of miles.

How I have been enjoying the cleanliness of this fine small country. It is so refreshing not to see blowing litter, plastic bottles, rusting cars, dereliction and dirt. People even care for the verges by their small houses, sometimes even to planting a little formal garden of clipped and topiaried shrubs. There’s been a government policy to replace all mud and thatch dwellings, which deteriorate quickly and are fire hazards, causing poverty and suffering. Everywhere are new zinc or pantiled roofs and poor but neat dwellings. The roads are generally excellent, the traffic light, disciplined, and courteous, the police apparently uncorrupt, vehicles kept to a standard, all the motorbike taxis licensed and their passengers helmeted. Traffic police are visible – I’ve been stopped just twice as they don’t usually bother with me. It’s relaxing to ride here. It doesn’t feel like Africa.

*

Conscientious Sandrine knocked on my door at 7.09 this morning to ask how my night had been. To my mind, at 7.09, it still was… Twenty minutes later she declared with another knock that my breakfast was waiting – the breakfast I thought I’d ordered for 8.15 to 8.30. Oh well, it IS her third language. So it’s been a long day. Actually, the night was stiflingly hot under an overweight duvet and sleep was intermittent. Yawning away at 8.30, there’s a lot to be said for fresh air, sunshine and complete lack of stress for a healthy life!

DAY 65 SATURDAY 11th FEBRUARY 2017. KIGALE, RWANDA

I’m not at all sure what to make of Kigale, Rwanda’s small capital city, a place of about 1.5 million, spread over a steep ridge and the surrounding hills. In some ways it is so unlike any African city I have seen; in others it could be on no other continent. There’s evidence of astonishing investment, tall modern buildings and an international feel (banks making a LOT of money of course), but at the same time I am constantly importuned by traders, touts and beggars. There are many trees and public gardens and neat roundabouts covered by clipped grass, smooth streets, quiet traffic; but at the same time you cannot walk on half the pavements because they constantly change level, have elephant traps in them and are covered in goods for sale. Traffic stops at zebra crossings – that’s amazing! People are well dressed and enjoying smart shopping malls and tidy coffee shops; but at the same time the street outside is being dug up by legions of poorly paid workers who are carried away crammed in the back of a truck. People are somewhat remote and aloof; but at the same time service is good and professional. There are policemen and women on guard tonight every block or so, cradling their guns; and at the same time I feel completely relaxed about my personal safety.

It’s so funny that all my friends were so worried at my intention to tour Rwanda – about which the world knows only one thing… Thanks to that horror, I am probably in the safest city in Africa! It’s probably safer than Totnes this Saturday night; it’s certainly quieter and less drunkenly rowdy (imagine a British town or city where the strong beer is 70p a bottle! It doesn’t bear thinking about).

So I have to reserve my judgement; my atmosphere metre is swinging wildly: irritated by touts and pan-handlers, impressed by the safety, absolute cleanliness (FAR cleaner than any town or city in England or Europe), and by the calmness but a bit at a loss with the distance and reserve of the people, for this is very unlike Africa.

*

It’s been a sociable day for once. This morning I was late getting on the road, well, I only had 50 kilometres to ride anyway. I chatted to Tija and Titol, the French couple for an hour and a half before I got on the road. It was fun to meet them and find a common love for Africa in general and Lesotho in particular. Also it was fun to find that we are all of an age: Tija is 67 like me and Titol her husband, 71. And they are bicycling over the Rwandan mountains, having started out in Ethiopia in late October. We shared a lot of enthusiasms and attitudes, not least the fact that old age is a mental condition, the only proviso being that you have to remain healthy, but then, people like Tija, Titol and I do exactly that! We challenge ourselves and refuse to grow old in attitude. Again, I must quote a friend, who from the age of his mid-forties, used to say, “Oh, I’m too old for that..!” and died aged 63, perhaps because he was old enough? There are some journeys that really worry me before I begin them, especially if they are likely to be physically tough, but I know that the rewards are conversely satisfying when I get to the other side. I hope I’ll meet Tija and Titol again one day on their farm near Nimes! Who knows? I have passed SO many ships in the night on my endless footloose travels…

In the afternoon I felt I had to exit the African street life for an hour or so, and stepped into a smart international coffee shop, the sort of place that only the well off middle classes of Kigale and foreigners can afford to frequent. I was joined by Ivan Gonzales, as Mexican as his surname, but not his given name suggests. A cheerful fellow, with some apprehension of going towards his 30th birthday, a significant and serious landmark in Mexico, he told me. He’s doing a Masters degree at a university in Germany in some sort of development and community work, having worked in the field for a number of years. His university sent him to the Eastern Cape for three months (Cape Town area) and now to Kigale for some weeks. Then he goes back to Germany for his second semester. We had a pleasant hour. The last time, well, the only time, I was in Mexico was in 1973, about 15 years before he was even born! “Eh! That was a different Mexico!” he exclaimed. Sometimes it’s impossible not to realise that I am now a senior citizen travelling the world! But who cares? I am still doing it with the same gusto I did when I was approaching 30. I was able to assure him that the early 60s is perhaps the best period of life! That amused him.

*

Finding my rather down-market place to sleep tonight was easy, as Tija and Titol told me to look for this place as I climbed the last hill to Kigale centre. It’s a bit basic but it is only a few hundred metres from the central part of the city, an easy walk up the hill. At £15 I can’t complain even if the decor leaves a lot to be desired and the room’s a bit of a cell. The Turbo King is chilled and the goat kebabs remarkably tender and if I keep the bathroom door shut the aroma of drains won’t impinge. The manager kindly insisted that I bring my bike under the yard shelter amongst the tables and chairs (empty but for me, the only other clients watching – inevitably – Manchester United play Watford on the loud TV in the bar). No doubt my breakfast will be taken next to my bike, as I am writing now as a shower falls. It’s been gathering humidly all day but I am delighted when it rains as I drink my beers. It probably means it’ll dawn sunny again tomorrow: another unknown day in Africa.

In Rwanda the bill is always brought to the table in a small hand-carved wooden, decorated lidded box, a nice touch.

EAST AFRICAN SAFARI 2017 – Ten

DAY 58 SATURDAY 4th FEBRUARY 2017. KABALE, UGANDA

It’s a colourful event, this wedding that’s taking place in the hotel garden, everyone decked out in their finest, which in Africa is always a glittering rainbow selection. It’s 7.15 now and guests are beginning to leave but the music pounds on. They had a fine day for it up here in the mountains anyway. I had a fine day too; a spectacular ride into just about the farthest corner of the country. It’s the same way I went yesterday, only I continued right over the ranges today. So lovely was it, that I might even go that way again tomorrow if it’s another sunny day. I can go to Rwanda by a short but busy and boring road, or that longer way over the passes. If it’s sunny, I’ll go over the top.

The road was magnificent, sweeping this way and that over the intensely cultivated heights, fields and terraces to the very tops of the hills. It’s a fine example of road engineering too, in places almost equal with the roads of Lesotho. In parts, whole sides of the mountain had been re-sculpted dramatically. I’ve only seen such intense terraced cultivation in the Philippines and Bali, where, of course, it’s been developed into a wonderful scenic art form.

It was almost ten thirty before it was warm enough to start out, my breath condensing in the chill mountain air. It was certainly a morning, when I awoke at eight, to get back under the blanket for half an hour more. All day the distances were hazed atmospherically, the slopes sweeping down from my road into the plunging depths, every acre cultivated or dotted with homesteads: collections of rusty zinc and home baked clay bricks, usually unfinished. The roadsides of Uganda are peppered with small smoking brick kilns, heaps of bricks piled up about ten feet high with small tunnels at ground level for the fires. It’s a seasonal work and carried on near the roadsides for the obvious reason that there the bricks can be easily sold. I also notice, all across the country, the number of men sitting atop heaps of stones with hammers, breaking stones for sale, or sifting sand from roadside embankments. In this near-poverty economy, you make what you can, how you can. The pure effort that is expended all over Africa, doing things that we in the ‘developed’ world take for granted will be done by machines, is breathtaking. I see thousand upon thousands of people carrying water, day in day out, usually in yellow twenty litre jerrycans. And I don’t know the last time you lifted a twenty litre jerrycan of water? I did it two days ago. And I can assure you, it is HEAVY. I see slight women, young girls, even children – admittedly not with twenty litres, but often with at least five or ten – lugging water up mountainsides such that you or I would blanche at the very concept. But this is Africa – the real world; how most people outside our privileged existence cope…

I say it again: thank god I don’t have to live thus. I can come, exclaim, comprehend – and leave again to my easy existence in which I can turn on a tap – indoors! – and hot or cold water comes out almost 100% of the time. No mountains to climb in slippery mud; no boreholes to pump laboriously; no fires to tend to heat a sooty pan of water; no firewood to collect on mountainsides and carry home for that purpose. Just turn the tap… Clean, potable water. Think of that next time you turn the tap. Most of the world – MOST OF THE WORLD – has to carry water.

*

The wedding DJ signed off at 7.30 and all is relatively quiet now, the tents and gazebos dark, the sparkly bridal arches done for the day, guests dispersing. Someone will have a large bill..! Now the bar fire is lit, inevitable football from England – undoubtedly our biggest national export to the world – blares in the corner, tribal, partisan chanting from – I think, but haven’t really the commitment to find out – Chelsea, like an atmosphere track to any Saturday evening in Africa.

*

On my return from the mountain roads, I relaxed for a time at the coffee bar at the bottom of the hill, knowing that the wedding would be in full, noisy celebration up on my airy hill beside the golf course. Today I drank my coffee alone, my Kingston on Thames acquaintance of yesterday being absent. When we spoke yesterday he told me that he attended Harvard at the same time as Barack Obama. “Oh yes, I met him. He used to look out for the East African students. His father was from the Luo people you know, so he used to look for us, as some of us had Luo blood too and he was so interested in his heritage.”

“So what brought you back to Uganda?” I asked.

“My father died in twenty fourteen and I had to come back to sort out the inheritance. It’s amazing in Africa how people behave at that time, even paying lawyers to write false documents…” His father was one of the founding members of the parliament at independence in 1962 and a minister in the early government, although my acquaintance (whose name I omitted to get) admits that Uganda didn’t embrace independence very well, “We were complacent. Lazy…” His opinion of African politicians was low: self-interested, corrupt, arrogant and incompetent. The Ugandan president, Yoweri Museveni has maintained power since 1986, thanks of course to widespread intimidation, voter disenfranchisement, fraud and violence – the African political norm, except, I must claim on behalf of my Ghanaian brothers and family, in Ghana, a beacon of – relative – democracy on this continent. Democracy is largely a sham on this continent. Mind you, look what happens when you accept democracy: Brexit and Trump. That’s the problem with democracy – idiots have a vote equal to the informed…

*

An enjoyable day. I like this half-decent hotel and feel relaxed here. I’ll leave quite reluctantly, but there’s not much to keep me here longer. Maybe I’ll find another haven in the next stopping place.

DAY 59 SUNDAY 5th FEBRUARY 2017. GISENYI, RWANDA

It’s still faintly nerve-wracking, entering a new country, even if I’ve done it 96 times before! I never know quite what to expect and have my atmosphere meter turned up to full sensitivity. Different cultures, new languages, diverse customs, diverging expectations – starting again just when you’ve got accustomed to the neighbours.

First impressions of Rwanda are overwhelmingly positive! I don’t remember EVER being accosted at a border post by a personable young official of the tourism department and given no less than nine brochures, a short introduction and an official welcome. For that is just what Marechal is employed to do: spot an incoming tourist at the quiet border post and make him feel welcome and comfortable. VERY impressive. It suggests a degree of honesty that is extremely unusual – for Rwanda is known to the world by the hideous events of 1994. Rather than try to hide that horror, the nation has faced it, reconciled itself and admits culpability, and in facing it, is making very positive moves to try to change the attitudes of the world to this tiny country. “We see you as ambassadors for us! Please go home and tell your friends that Rwanda is a friendly and beautiful place!” exclaimed Marechal, the tall, slim tourist representative. If my first impressions prove correct, I am hereby doing just that! My impression of this small, landlocked country in the centre of Africa (880 miles to the Indian Ocean, 1250 to the Atlantic) is – already – open, honest, pragmatic, mature and cheerfully friendly, if the number of thumbs-ups and waves signifies anything. The tourist literature is frank about the genocide; there are memorials everywhere and nothing is hidden. It’s impressing me in much the same way as Nelson Mandela and his Truth and Reconciliation Commission did in South Africa. Sometimes, uncomfortable as it may be, you have to face your own history and admit the wrongs perpetrated. This seems to me so much more mature and honest than so-called ‘apologies’ for wrongs committed by previous generations, that preoccupy so many nations. Within hours Rwanda has gained my profound respect, not a bad achievement.

*

The day was sunny and lovely, the sun blasting through heavy mountain mists into my slightly jaded bedroom at the White Horse Inn in Kabale, where for some reason breakfast is served on tea plates. Try eating an egg on toast – well, two actually – from a tea plate! African has such amusing gaps in its style! As I topped up the bike’s oil and attended to the chain I listened to a ghastly racket emanating from a nearby public room of the hotel. Worship takes some strange forms… The noise was terrible! Utterly flat, out if tune and toneless chanting from a male voice and some equally horrible female ones, all amplified. “Whatever’s going on?” I asked the polite receptionist as I paid my bill (£50 for my three pleasant nights).

“Oh, it’s every Sunday. They come for two hours. They are called ‘Oasis of Love’,” with an almost imperceptible shrug of dismissal, “they hope they will get some donors…” His smile was discreet.

“So it’s business!” I commented, cynically. The receptionist just smiled wryly and made no comment. So much of what claims to be religion in Africa is just money-raising ventures. You have only to see the huge posters for the American charismatic preachers to know that. Any god that might be up there would have had her fingers in her ears this morning, listening to the cacophony from the White Horse Inn, Kabale. I was happy to put my ear plugs in and ride away into the peace of the magnificent mountains, where for the third day running I rode that wonderful sweeping road high over the passes, gazing down at vistas that seemed limitless, hazed by the mists below, and then through lush forests and great waving stands of bamboo over the heights. I must have been riding at eight or nine thousand feet at least as I crossed over and began the long twisting descent into the last valley of Uganda, where the huge volcanoes of the Uganda/ Rwanda/ Congo border rise skywards to over 4000 metres, one of Africa’s highest ranges. It was glorious, and no hardship to see it all for the third day running.

Being Sunday, everywhere I rode, the populace walked the roadside, dolled up to the nines in their Sunday best, colourful, flashy and gaudy – but magnificent in the sheer style that even village Africa can present for an occasion. Men wore ill-fitting western suits, secondhand from the bundles that our charity shops reject; children looked charming but stifled in clean Sunday dresses and shirts. Across the border in Rwanda, the numbers of people were even more extreme, and on my way to Gisenyi I seldom was without roadside pedestrians. I know, because I was searching for a place to piss! I didn’t find one…

*

Descending the curls and curves of the fine road towards Kisoro, the last part of Uganda again, I met the first European bike travellers I have bumped into, Mary and Jonathan from Ireland. Jonathan had a slow front puncture on his 500cc Honda and stopped every few miles to refill it – with a motorised pump from his vast luggage. Both of them rode 500cc Hondas, loaded with everything you can imagine on a trans-Africa expedition and no doubt a lot you can’t! They left Ireland in October and have ridden down through Egypt and Ethiopia, making their way to South Africa eventually. Their bikes must have weighed double their dry weight. I looked at my two small part-filled cloth panniers that weigh about ten kilos and wondered what it must be like to ride a bike so heavy. I’ve got it down to an art now, I admit, but to lug all that ‘stuff’ about, to care for it, load and unload, keep it secure. Oh boy! I’m happy I have learned THAT lesson. We crossed the border together but I didn’t see them again as I stopped to relax and enjoy (really good!) African tea – milk and water mixed and boiled together and spiced with ginger and sometimes cinnamon – and to chat with Marechal and then to amble on. They had an appointment tomorrow with some extremely expensive gorillas and had no time to relax and meet the people. They’ll get an hour with the gorillas for their £500; I get endless conversation with Rwandans for nothing. Each to their own of course.

*

My first impressions of this small country are remarkable. I feel tonight as if I am staying next to one of the Italian lakes, although in fact, across the road from my guest house window is Lake Kivu, a long convoluted lake between the Congo and Rwanda. It’s an inland sea of a sort, with sandy beaches and resorts. But my impressions…

Rwanda is so CLEAN! The government has BANNED plastic bags, the ‘flowers of Africa’! The streets and fields are tidy and well kept; traffic is disciplined and no driver has tried to kill me since I entered the country, unlike the two or three an hour who seem set on that in Uganda. People are quiet, respectful and very friendly – as I wrote, so many waved and gave me a thumbs up that it was like riding in Lesotho. It’s so orderly and calm it’s not like being in Africa. And I admit, it’s a relaxing change! And then there was Marechal, welcoming me to his nation, hoping, quite genuinely, that I will go away and expound upon its pleasures.

Maybe the shock of the events of 1994 have left this orderliness and mutual respect behind? For the populous to rise up in a frenzy of murder and killing must leave its psychological mark deeply ingrained, when sanity returns. I am SO interested to investigate this over the next few days, for I shall – inevitably – visit various memorials and testaments to the extraordinary horror of half the people rising in absolute blood lust and massacring members of the other half in the foulest, most obscene manner imaginable. Over a million people – a fifth of the population – were butchered in just 100 days, men, women, children, priests, babies, leaders, cleaners, fishermen, farmers, shopkeepers, waiters, office workers – utterly indiscriminately, by their neighbours, compatriots, and co-workers as the world looked on and kept its distance.

*

One of the surprises of Rwanda is to have to cross the road and ride again on the right side of the road, for Rwanda was a Belgian colony – and they must have been one the worst of all the colonial powers, with Germany coming in a close second, remembering the atrocities they committed in Namibia in 1907 that I discovered a year ago, when they massacred a large chunk of the population in revenge for an uprising, a happening that is said to have been the model for Hitler’s ‘final solution’ a few decades later… Congo still suffers from so many ills brought upon it by being King Leopold’s playground for so long. Rwanda can probably trace a lot of its problems directly back to Belgian influence too…

*

So now I have to remember to ride right! Easier on a bike than in a car, so long as I remember when I pull out of car parks and side lanes. But at least here the traffic is disciplined and careful. There are few boda-bodas, and those carefully regulated and all riders and passengers – one only per boda-boda, unlike up to four in Uganda and Kenya – wearing helmets by law. Gosh, it’s like leaving Africa!

But after a month of riding here I still haven’t worked out the role of indicators! Sometimes – I think, or assume – they mean, ‘don’t overtake’, sometimes, ‘you CAN overtake’, sometimes, ‘I might turn left or right if I think about it’ – but more frequently I think they just mean, ‘I’m not concentrating on anything, let alone the road. I’m too busy on my mobile phone or arguing with my fifteen passengers to bother about my indicator switch’. I honestly don’t have ANY idea what they mean so I just assume they are purely cosmetic entertainment and ignore them all. I admit, I don’t use mine at all. There’s no point, since I’d be using them to signify that I am turning in the road – and no one would expect that anyway, even if they happen to be looking, which is unlikely as they’ve probably not even SEEN me anyway… So Rwanda is a rider’s delight so far!

*

The lake didn’t appear until I was within metres of it. Then it seemed like an Italian lake, but the Congo shores are invisible in the mists. The town isn’t attractive – although it DOES look like a town – and I was getting a bit despondent as I rode through. Then I found myself down by the lake shore passing a busy public beach, this being Sunday. Time to look for somewhere to stay…

Just past the public beach were some small hotels, but with their location they were likely to be expensive. However, I spotted a possible place, just across the road from the lake and pulled in to check. I hit right first time tonight. It’s a quiet, empty guest house and I am looked after by Christine, a pretty, shy young woman with an accent that almost sounds Chinese. The official languages here are the local tongue Kinyarwanda, English and French, but I get the impression that along with putting the genocide behind and looking to a brighter future, the country is encouraging English – in the ironic French phrase, now the ‘lingua Franca’.

My room is on the first floor under the roof; a small room but comfortable with a small bathroom. My window actually looks across the road to the lake and I have just eaten my supper in a timber structure raised up above the gardens looking over the lake. I appear to be the only guest. It’s very pleasant – and £15. I’m drinking my second Primus beer, (5%) surprised to find it comes in 75cl bottles! Not bad beer in the customary gassy lager style that is all over Africa, shamefully, with added sugar.

So here I am in Rwanda! I have positive feelings about the next days. I have 14 days on my visa and motorbike insurance and it’s a small country. So far, so very, very good… At 9.35, I am done – and faintly inebriated…

DAY 60 MONDAY 6th FEBRUARY 2017. GISENYI, RWANDA

It seems that as I crossed the border yesterday I went back in time by an hour: here I am in Central African Time. Thus was I up for my breakfast soon after seven this morning, rather than eight. It’s made it a long day, but I haven’t done a great deal, just enjoyed the calm seaside atmosphere of the town. It does feel like the seaside, even though this is just a large inland lake. The town boasts long sandy beaches, some of them public, some beachside bars and a fine corniche drive of about half a mile, that could be in Europe. The beaches are clean, litter-free and even had evidence of having been brushed this morning by hand brooms. There are litter bins and all is refreshingly tidy, cared for – and, frankly, rather unAfrican. The town’s similarly well kept and tidy.

Up early, waiting on my breakfast on the terrace, the sun appeared over the steep hills behind the guest house, lighting up the expansive lake between the garden trees. Breakfast was excellent – I love the fact that for the past week or more I have enjoyed delicious fresh pineapple every morning. A Spanish omelette is the customary offering in these countries, served frequently with spongy, tasteless bread or a greasy fried chapati. Distrusting coffee as it’s so often instant, I take African tea, a beverage I must perfect for home consumption. Then I got changed to start my day and was quickly engulfed by a torrential rainstorm! I scurried back to shelter, now soggy as I stood amongst wet passers by who’d run in from the road outside to join me under the guest house terrace. Rwandans are friendly but much more distant and discreet than the cheerfully warm Ugandans. They are reserved and shy – and sadly, although they speak limited English, many of them know the words, “give me money…” I hope this is just that I am in a very touristic (for Rwanda) place, where many French people come. This problem of petty opportunistic begging is ALWAYS oddly exacerbated in French-speaking Africa. I don’t feel the warmth and closeness here, although I must say the waving and thumbs-upping is amusing. Just a shame many small hands then turn palms upward as I pass. A few respectable-looking adults too… As I say, I hope it’s just here in gorilla country, for this is the centre of the gorilla-trekking industry – and at £500 a go, it’s a place of wealthy tourism.

*

In 1984 a lake in Cameroon emitted a noxious cloud and 37 people mysteriously died. Later, in 1986, another lake in another part of Cameroon exploded and 1700 people died, suffocated in bizarre circumstances. It was then discovered that it wasn’t, as feared, some chemical warfare, but lethal methane. It was found that those lakes were saturated with methane gas. The Cameroon government began a process of sucking the dangerous gases from the lake bottom and releasing them into the air above. But it was this lake, Kivu, two thousand times bigger than the Cameroon lakes, that gave even more concern. For this lake is surrounded by a population of a couple of millions. The Rwandan government began to investigate how they could prevent a catastrophic eruption of methane in Lake Kivu, and in so doing, realised that methane could be used to generate electricity – in a small country in which 78% of the people lived without electricity. It was a struggle to raise the loans and funding internationally, in a region which is very volcanic – it’s the nearby volcano that pumps its gases into the lake. It’s only 15 years ago that the volcano on the horizon, Nyiragongo, blew its top and engulfed Gisenyi’s contiguous town of Goma, just a mile away in Congo. In 2016 the methane project got properly under way and from my window I can see the well-head a mile or so offshore.

*

After the rain cleared the ground soon dried. I am only a degree and a half from the Equator after all. I took a dirt road for a few miles southwards down the lake shore through endless small villages and farms. Hardly an acre of the landscape here is uncultivated, the sloping terraces stretching right to the high ridges above and down to the beaches below. About ten or twelve miles down the coast I turned around. It’s difficult to get information here and I had no idea how far I would have to ride – on still slightly slippery tracks – until I found a tar road to bring me back. And in front rain clouds were gathering again, although in fact it turned into a hot, sunny afternoon. By the time I turned, I had the impression that the scenery and track would probably continue in just the same meandering fashion for the rest of the journey to the south end of the lake, a long way off. I rode back to town and spent the afternoon sauntering along the beachfront, an activity I seldom much appreciate – but the sun was shining and a day of rest isn’t a bad thing now and again.

*

It was good fortune to find this well placed, quiet guest house. I realised today that the difference in my budgets these days, that gives me so much more pleasure than the old grotels I always used on past journeys, is rather like the difference in wine. I CAN tell the difference between a £4 bottle of wine and a £10 bottle, but I can’t really tell the difference between that and a £50 bottle! Now I tend to seek out the £10 bottle/ hotel instead of the £4 ones. You’ll never get me paying for the expensive ones though; this level is just fine for me, and the extra comforts and peace much appreciated.

The raised timber bar area is pleasant too, people walking past talking in the street below, as motorbikes whizz and putter along the lakeshore road. Smiling Christine is cooking me a meal. Her English is rudimentary (better than that of Janine, the owner, and better, it must be said, than my very rusty French)… “I have meat of cow or meat of chicken, with lice or potato, I cook or fry? Vegetables I have.” All with a lovely smile but an oddly Chinese accent to her English, which is however, her third language. I shall try to stick to one big bottle of Primus tonight (made just along the road I took beside the lake this morning); I didn’t sleep well on two.

DAY 61 TUESDAY 7th FEBRUARY 2017. KIBUYE, RWANDA

Funny, isn’t it, some days just ‘work’! A terrific day; a wonderful ride; I’m at peace. Oddly, yesterday I was riding about rather bored and wondering why the hell I do all this? Then today, I find the answer.

Kibuye is half way down Lake Kivu, in a particularly fine position, with many small tree-covered islands offshore and the still, mirror-like lake below my balcony tonight. I have bargained my way into a half-decent hotel at a 25% discount and for that I have a large, slightly faded room with a bathroom and even a balcony. Better still, though, is the beach bar at lake level and the terrace on which I am writing now gazing across the silent lake towards where the Congo must be. I’ve a ‘Turbo King’ at my elbow, a dark, strong beer, and I am pleasantly weary from a hard ride on some fine but rough, degraded roads.

*

On one beer I slept well last night! And the morning dawned bright, sunny and fresh, in my small room under the roof, across from the lake. It was one of those days that went well from the outset. And looks like ending well too…

I really hadn’t a plan for today. Such as I had, hinged upon whether the road I had thought I might use to the south was tarred or not. I thought I might make for Kigale, the Rwandan capital, but the bright morning, the sun and my relaxed state persuaded me to ride south. And, sure enough, the road was a fine new tarred road.

For the first fifteen miles, it was..! Then I was into road building territory. Road building is perhaps more difficult to negotiate than just dirt roads. For when they are constructing roads, it means a complete upheaval and shambles. (As I write, a sudden torrential shower comes from nowhere! Thunder and lightning and rain beating on the terrace roof above. I thought this was a calm, tranquil evening! Well, so long as it rains at night while I am sleeping – or drinking my evening beers – I don’t care.) Had I been riding that road in rain it would have been a different matter entirely. As it was, (Wow! It’s hammering down!), I just had to bounce and sometimes slither my way through loose soil, rock works, lumps and bumps. I LOVE this sort of riding on a sunny day in magnificent mountain scenery!

In the early part of my ride I climbed up into the most scenically satisfying tea estates. I make no apology for repeating that tea is one of the most beautiful crops: it carpets the hillsides like brilliant green flocking. It hugs the sensuous curves of the hills, is deeply green with that iridescent top and almost unnaturally tidy. The tea leaves that we use to infuse our national beverage come from the bright green, fresh new growth on the top of the plant. So tea bushes remain at a pretty constant couple of feet high; fitted to the slopes and contours and dotted by small coppices and individual trees that supply dappled shadows and give depth and beauty to the landscape. It is one of the world’s absolute scenic delights, is tea. Pity it doesn’t taste as good – but that’s only a personal opinion! And, I have to say, the tea WE now drink is actually just dust from the very bottom of the quality sieves. Literally, for we now drink mainly from tea bags, the dregs of the tea that is graded downwards depending which sieve it doesn’t pass through. So the best tea is the Broken Orange Pekoe leaf tea (I’m talking Sri Lanka here, the only tea I have actually watched being produced) to the dust that is swept out of the bottom sieve (basically, the floor!) and goes into our tea bags…

Well, the tea estates were magnificent, gleaming and lustrous over the hills all around my road. I rode in a sort of intoxication at the loveliness around me. Rwanda is certainly a very handsome country. It brings to mind my favourite, Lesotho. The similarities are there in the elevation, the steep mountainsides, the curling roads and the general sense of landlocked independence. People are ready with wide smiles and the thumbs-up greeting is universal. Pity that the one English phrase known to all is ‘give me money’. This began to irritate me until I remembered that after 1994 and the genocide, for the following decade – or more – the country was flooded by foreign aid organisations and NGOs – well after the genocidal stable door had closed – and probably the rural people just associate white skins with hand-outs. They maintain that national memory of aid-dependency and what have you to lose (except my respect, and that doesn’t count for much…) by putting out your hand, palm up? That and French-language colonialism – for the Francophone colonials were always much more paternalistic in their control – and created unpleasantly wheedling, needy cultures in their past colonies. I well remember the customary greetings in Burkina Faso and Niger: “Bonjour, bon-bon?” and “Bonjour, cadeau?” It’s not to say that petty begging is entirely absent in the Anglophone African lands, but it is rare. Some uneducated children will try and I am often importuned by Basotho shepherd boys for food or water, and occasionally cigarettes – but they are abandoned for months up on the high slopes with the most basic of sustenance, so if I have some in my bag I usually share my eet-sum-more shortbreads!

Oddly, though, the countryside here just now seems to me to be fertile and abundant – unless I am reading the social signs wrongly. This is a season of bananas and fruits and it appears to be reasonably plentiful. Yet I have had a number of people, one man quite smartly dressed, extend his hand and tell me to give him food. Maybe they’re just chancers?

*

Up in the heights, I suppose I was riding at about two thousand metres, maybe a more, I passed through a lovely stretch off coniferous forest and then on into endlessly cultivated hillsides dotted with shiny zinc roofs. Far away I could discern the lake between steep slopes. For a time, I could have been in central Italy, for the houses were roofed in shapely brown pantiles, walls plastered and the landscape with that distinct Umbrian brownness amongst the dense greens. It needed only a few slender poplars… (and a cafe latte..!). My road was wonderful and I was smiling. Here and there I passed road crews and large machinery, although much of the graft here is by hand – many hands. Sometimes I had to slip and slide through mud or deep newly turned soil; often bump and bounce over rocky outcrops. In a year’s time this will be a magnificent road. For now it is torture, but satisfying when you reach the end and look back on a struggle overcome!

At last I reached the tar road again. There is a HUGE amount of investment in this country right now, fine new roads and infrastructure. Of course, the new road I travelled was contracted to the Hunan Bridge and Road construction Company – the usual worrying trend in Africa for China to be building just about everything. China doesn’t do it for the benefit of Africa, but for their own wealth. It struck me today, as I passed numerous signboards, as I do very day, ‘supported by the European Union’, ‘aided by the peoples of the USA’, and the like – I NEVER have seen ‘supported by the People’s Republic of China’. That nation does NOTHING for nothing… Let me know when you see a Chinese charity…

*

Finally, I reached Kibuye. But it was confusing, for many of Rwanda’s place names are being changed and even the tourist maps that I am using have different locations recorded. Sometimes I am not actually sure where the hell I am! I don’t know the reason for the name changes, perhaps they were too associated with the old Hutu regime? Or perhaps this is just Africa… Kibuye, or wherever it now is, is a selection of small headlands reaching out into the lake dotted with small islands. It’s lovely, and rural and peaceful. I rode around for a bit, as usual, having decided to stay here tonight. A few hotels presented themselves. One, at the end of a scenic peninsular was obviously way beyond my budget, but back on a pretty bay I found the ‘Hotel de Golf, Eden Rock’ (not much golf in sight). This one looked just about run down enough, despite it’s layered, balconied, lakeside look, to be within budget, or bargainable budget! And so it proved… “Ah, un person, vingt milles Francs Rwandan!” the receptionist told me. “Oh, what a pity!” said I with a big smile. “My budget is only quinze mille! (15,000 = £15).

I was in! I have a huge room – after last night’s pleasant cupboard – with a bathroom and balcony from which I can view the lake, a vast bed – and another single one should I feel the need for variety – a giant TV that’ll stay off, and dinner on the terrace overlooking the silent, calm lake now the storm has passed. A GOOD day’s travelling today.

The storm passed quickly. All is peaceful now. Tomorrow I think I’ll continue southwards, to the end of the lake. Lake Kivu is about 55 miles long and 35 miles wide.

*

Next door is a new museum, a Museum of the Environment, a worthy effort, if a bit wordy. Rwanda is certainly making every effort to encourage tourism – although a look around Kibuye tonight would probably prove that I am the only foreigner in town. The very charming and elegantly pretty Francine showed me round – I was the only visitor in this expensive new museum. She confirmed my assumption that English is being encouraged over French these days. Her’s was excellent, although the majority of Rwandans I’ve met have limited English as yet. It does make me feel a little more isolated than I was in cheerful, friendly Uganda. I begin to think about returning through that country, for it’s only the driving that puts me off! I DID like the Ugandans! Maybe… I can decide at my own whim.

Time to retire I think. I’ve had three very good Turbo King beers. They are 6.5% alcohol and a good dark beer – pity about the added sugar. I only just realised that they cost 70 pence a half litre bottle, on the hotel balcony with a view worth many pounds! Gosh, one could become alcoholic very cheaply in Rwanda! Seeing me with my Turbo King, with its lion logo, a young man beside me at the little beach said, “Ah, Primus, it is for les femmes… women!” Primus, pronounced ‘preemus’ of course, is the gassy Rwandan lager – at £1 for a chunky 75cl bottle.

EAST AFRICA SAFARI 2017 – photos eight

Itanga Falls near the head of the Nile make a background for wedding pictures, selfies and a place to wash motorbikes!

Itanga Falls near the head of the Nile make a background for wedding pictures, selfies and a place to wash motorbikes!

Getting them to smile is much more difficult.

Getting them to smile is much more difficult.


Mother and child

Mother and child


Mastulah in Kampala, Uganda

Mastulah in Kampala, Uganda

Dorothy, Kampala

Dorothy, Kampala

A new front tyre, Kampala

A new front tyre, Kampala

Nicholas, Kampala

Nicholas, Kampala

Descending to the Rift Valley once again, near Fort Portal, Uganda

Descending to the Rift Valley once again, near Fort Portal, Uganda

The old road over the mountains near Fort Portal. A wonderful ride!

The old road over the mountains near Fort Portal. A wonderful ride!

Tea just shines out of the landscape!

Tea just shines out of the landscape!

Happy drummer at Fort Portal, Uganda

Happy drummer at Fort Portal, Uganda

Lawrence, traditional healer at Bigodi in his tree bark cloth hat

Lawrence, traditional healer at Bigodi in his tree bark cloth hat

Bridget nd her daughter Joanne. Bridget made a fine hostess at the Tinka homestay in Bigodi

Bridget nd her daughter Joanne. Bridget made a fine hostess at the Tinka homestay in Bigodi

Puncture repair entetains a village

Puncture repair entetains a village

The extraordinary scene at the Katwe Lake salt pans. Unique!

The extraordinary scene at the Katwe Lake salt pans. Unique!

Gathering salt

Gathering salt

Salt pans at Katwe

Salt pans at Katwe

Viancama

Viancama

Weaver birds - I think...

Weaver birds – I think…

Passed on the public road. A bit of a thrill even for me!

Passed on the public road. A bit of a thrill even for me!

The name of this crater lake means 'bad smelling meat'. I could get a whiff even at this distance. Lots of elephant tracks on the shores.

The name of this crater lake means ‘bad smelling meat’. I could get a whiff even at this distance. Lots of elephant tracks on the shores.

Fred, hotel guard at Ishaka, Uganda.

Fred, hotel guard at Ishaka, Uganda.

EAST AFRICAN SAFARI 2017 – NINE

DAY 52 SUNDAY 29th JANUARY 2017. FORT PORTAL, UGANDA

Today dawned rather late, thanks to ear plugs against the Saturday night rowdiness, and the dull, gloomy, drizzly morning. But I notice with some hope that tonight the stars are clear again and hope for African light again tomorrow.

It’s been one of those serendipitous days. The dull weather and some bike housekeeping – topping up the oil, adjusting and oiling the chain, made me start late and I made a 50 mile tour through the nearby crater lake district but the grey light makes Africa look scruffy and unkempt, small villages ugly and derelict, dust roads just greasy and dull, the thick vegetation dismal and dark. Funny how the sun makes SO much difference here, especially so close to the Equator where the searchlight beams make for attractive chiaroscuro and pleasing scenes that often make me overlook the basic griminess of it all!

It was a ride on mainly gravel roads through very hilly country peppered with small rude villages. Here and there were the small lakes, surrounded by thick trees, sharply below the road, obviously the result of volcanic upheaval. The earth was surprisingly black and grey in contrast to Africa’s mainly orangey red soils. But in the villages I was welcomed ecstatically by legions of small shouting and waving children who chased my motorbike.

After a disappointing view of the natural scenic delights of the crater lakes I found myself back on the tar road, fifty kilometres south of Fort Portal, with chill drizzle setting in. I scurried for home, now dressed in my jersey, jacket and waterproof jacket against the cool. By the time I reached the hotel, I was thoroughly chilled and in need of hot tea at least.

As I drank my tea, still cold in my bones, Simon thoughtfully brought a charcoal pot stove and set it by my chair. A large middle aged lady nearby suggested that I should eat some soup, which seemed a very attractive idea! I didn’t realise at that point that Robinah is actually the hotel owner, a capable, charming woman who eventually joined me and shared the veritable bucket of noodle soup with bacon and Chinese cabbage that the kitchen prepared. A strong, characterful face and a confident manner soon marked out Robinah as in command around here! We chatted comfortably for an hour and watched as a band of cultural dancers and singers set up at the end of the terrace where we sat, by now toasted by the stove and filled with pints of soup. There is, Robinah said, a performance every Sunday evening at her hotel by this local troupe and I’d be welcome to join in, as are any guests.

What a jolly evening it turned out to be. So cheerful that at the end even I was persuaded to join the troupe for their last extended dancing routine! Goodness! There were twelve of them and they changed costumes regularly through the evening as they danced different ethnic styles and played African drums and a couple of large home made sort of harps plucked by the thumbs. The girls sang and ululated and the rhythmical music just went on and on at a tremendous rate; the dancers athletic and energetic, bums shaking like you’ve never seen with attached colourful pompoms, and ankle shakers clacking and vibrating, and smiles that just made the evening shine! You couldn’t but be happy with such absolute joy manifest in the performances as the colours swirled and the costumes flashed, the drums beat furious tattoos and the harps plucked their fast, boisterous, tuneful tintinnabulation! The white smiles gleamed; limbs gyrated; noise pulsed. It was terrific and irresistible, a joyful outburst of sheer happiness for all the performers that communicated elation to us all for about four festive hours.

*

I overtook a boda-boda with a full size coffin strapped across the seat this afternoon – empty I assume… It had an odd little window in the side.

DAY 53 MONDAY 30th JANUARY 2017. BIGODI, UGANDA

Tonight finds me a mere 25 miles from Fort Portal. While there I picked up a leaflet publicising a community tourism project here at Bigodi that looked interesting. I really approve of such community ventures: the money I pay for their services goes directly back to the village, to support the secondary school, health centres, clean water supplies and help the needy. This project appears to be very successful and run without any corruption for the benefit of the people and of passing tourists interested in either the local community or the birds and wildlife in the wetland area below the village. It’s right on the border of the large national park (that would cost me at least £70 to visit) and my £9 fee bought me a fascinating three hours’ engagement with the locals.

It was gloomy and drizzly when I ate my breakfast in Fort Portal, raining as I packed the bike, wondering whether to cop out and stay and read a book all day, but only lightly spitting when I rode out of town. I knew, from a German dragon fly enthusiast I met the other day, that the road south that passes through the big national park, is newly tarred and very lightly used. Sounded a good way to go to me! The first six kilometres are still under construction; the red earth had turned to grease and ice-like conditions; trying to ride, but after that the new tar road sweeps through the hilly country of the crater lakes and then passes for a few miles through the national park with its dense growth and mature trees. Sometimes you can see wild animals on these stretches but all that I saw was the usual baboons and a couple of Colobus monkeys with their decorative black and white furry tails.

Just beyond the national park is Bigodi. The community ecotourism project is well managed and professional. Rogers, a handsome, trained local guide, introduced me to their project and offered the two tours: the wetlands or the community walk. Of course, I chose the meet the people walk!

*

Lawrence is a traditional healer, first stop on our tour. A tall man of 65, he wore the most wonderful hat! Made of traditional tree bark cloth, made as the name suggests from beaten bark, it flopped about; was tucked behind his left ear and suggested a hippy hat of the 60s. He also wore a long brown bark cloth gown to his ankles. He was tall and skinny and showed us into a mud and stick house of three or four rooms. We sat on curious local stools that looked hideously uncomfortable but were actually great: a round bowl-like top of curled bamboo on four crossed legs of branches.

It’s such an intriguing mixture of real practical science and crazy magic and belief. But of course, if you believe in something enough, it has a tendency to work! That’s now been proved in clinical trials: if you believe you are getting good treatment, you get better quicker. So why not, if you actually BELIEVE that some leaves thrown across the threshold will prevent a wife from running away, maybe she won’t? If you believe that throwing a coiled stick under the bed when you go away, if your wife cheats on you, she and her partner will end up coiled so tightly about one another that the magic will prevent them from loosing the bonds, well maybe it works? One thing I have learned in Africa is that even some rational, sensible beings here are afraid of the black magic arts that I know – equally vehemently – to be nonsense! So far as I am concerned, the established religions of the world have used this apparent willingness – and frequently, need, to believe in myths and magic. It’s a deep set human emotion, one that even if I don’t subscribe, I do respect.

However, in conjunction with this myth and magic, goes well tried ancient knowledge of medicinal plants, herbs and ointments. Lawrence had laid out his wares on the floor, a number of different plants and roots, along with the stuff of his superstition and magic: a chimpanzee skull, the skull of a rabid dog, various animal horns filled with feathers and other oddities. He has cures for the stomach, headache, skin rashes, snake bites and various claimed aphrodisiacs. Doubtless some of them work well. This knowledge is being lost so fast in much of the world. Look back even in our own culture how fast we lost the knowledge of herbal treatments, now being ‘rediscovered’ by the alternative medicine industry… Now a majority of Africans rush to the local pharmacy to purchase white man’s magic in the form of patented drugs – some of them made from the very same plants and herbs growing in their own fields – and send the profits back to Switzerland, USA and points north and west. The evil corporations of the world depend on devaluing these old remedies and allowing the skills to be forgotten and dismissed as old fashioned things from a past unenlightened era. Lawrence is passing them on to his son, as his father did to him. I wonder, though, how much of the magic will pass into the next generation, the one that watches CNN and terrible dubbed soaps from Latin America and pays unquestioning allegiance to the established, competitive western religions? But he’s doing some service if he passes on some of his ‘medical’ knowledge at least.

*

From Lawrence we went to visit Paul Kassenene, whose name means that he was born in the grasshopper season, usually November. Paul claimed to be 100, but it seemed likely he might be about 85, maybe a little more, still a venerable age here in Uganda where (I repeat myself because it’s such an astonishing statistic!) 2% of the population reaches the age of 65. He lives deep down a rural lane in a large compound that Rogers assured me was so big because Paul believes in order: a room for wood, a room for maize, a room for bananas and so on. Paul tells of the rituals of birth and death in the community, some of the habits that still survive into the 21st century. The ‘outdooring’ of babies – on the third day for a girl child and the fourth for a boy; of the three days that people will gather around your compound fire after the death of a female and the four days for a male (interestingly, the same habit in Ghana, most of the continent away). Most rural Ugandans are still buried at home, usually in areas below the houses. Very few, Paul and Rogers told me, are buried in cemeteries, even today. The majority of graves remain unmarked – partly because a cemented grave slab can make it difficult to change the ownership of land, whereas a local burial will be dug over and reused three months after the funeral; the burial site returning to the fields, which seems eminently sensible to me, who hates the waste of space given over to vast public cemeteries filled with forgotten people whose relatives care no more.

Lawrence in particular, was so fascinating that I reckon Rogers cut out the third visit to an old woman in the community. But by then I had appreciated the locality and the afternoon had become unpleasantly close and humid, the sun having emerged and made for a steam bath.

*

“So, what are my options for accommodation round here?” I asked one of the community guides as I had a couple of mugs of spiced tea in all the disturbing racket and smell of chain saws from behind the hut where four men cut accurate planks, by hand, from big trees. Now it was after 3.30 and I knew not what was on the road in front of me if I rode on. Maybe this should just be a short riding day?

It seemed that the choices were a community-run doss house without much comfort, some hotels at $100 plus, catering for the big national park trade, or a homestay just a hundred yards away. “Let me show you, and if you don’t like, I can show you another place!” suggested Gerard, another of the community guides, and he walked with me to the Tinka family house, a rather grand establishment on two stories with pillared balconies and adequate rooms. What decided for me, though, was the warm, cheerful welcome of Bridget, a daughter of the house, but obviously the one who caters for foreign guests. Immediately, she started to clean a room and make the bed. The bathroom is new and as yet uncommissioned, so I used the outdoor shower, an ingenious place with an oil drum of gravity fed water heated by charcoal on an upper level. There are decent pit latrines, in use until the new indoor plumbing is completed. For now I have a jerry can of water for the night in my en suite! It’s about £11.50 for the night, including dinner and breakfast and several cups of lemongrass tea. It appears to be a large family: there are lots of chirpy children everywhere, but Bridget is the face of the family and the one in charge.

*

I collect very little on my travels these days, except wooden spoons – which now seem to be no longer in use anywhere I travel. Only fifteen years ago I could find fine ethnic, handmade spoons all over the world. Now plastic and metal from China has replaced them all. My spoon collection will be a collection of antique artefacts! Also, I collect the toy vehicles made from scrap materials. In the community project craft shop I found just such a model, a clever pick up with charcoal sacks and people crafted with an obvious sense of humour. I was assured that this was locally made and the money I paid – about £12 – would go directly to the maker and provide school fees or other necessaries. I asked for the maker to be sent to the Tinka household if possible, and an hour later, a polite, quiet young man of 19, called John, arrived in the yard as I sat drinking lemongrass tea. He taught himself the skills, a creative young fellow. “Oh, I practiced for many years. I liked to make these models!” he told me as I took his photo and complimented him on his entrepreneurial skills. “Keep making them! You are creative. And just sometimes someone like me will come along and really like them!” So now I have to carry a bloody model of a pick up and riders…

*

Bridget is a remarkably smart and personable young woman, well suited to be the leading light in this homestay, which won an award for the best homestay in Uganda. The evening developed in a lovely manner. Supper was excellent, fully vegetarian and organic, from family gardens, even the pineapple. Then, after supper, Bridget said that there would now be a couple of stories, the first from her and the second from her junior 17 year old sister Fiona. Bridget’s story was a moral-filled tale, the ending being that you shouldn’t kill innocent animals. Fiona’s story, equally charming, I forget, but it was sweetly related. Then the small children of the family, all five of them, entertained me to traditional dancing! It was completely charming, from the little one, aged three, to Fiona at 17, sporting bum-tassles and the boys with leg shakers. It was beguiling and delightful, these gleeful children entertaining and learning to appreciate their own old culture. Later Bridget and I sat beside the charcoal brazier for warmth as the smaller children quietly crept away to bed.

This was such a lucky chance. Sometimes I am very privileged on my travels to meet with such good, kind and charming people. A good day.

DAY 54 TUESDAY 31st JANUARY 2017. KATWE, UGANDA

As often as I say I am not very interested in animals, there IS a real thrill when an old tusker just ambles onto the corrugated dust road 100 yards ahead and crosses unconcerned, as I fumbled to get my gloves off and failed to get a picture, except of an elephant backside disappearing into the roadside scrub! I am not immune to this excitement. For this happened a kilometre from where I am staying tonight at Katwe, a scruffy village on the shores of Lake Edward in the midst of the Queen Elizabeth National Park in south western Uganda. It appears that in Uganda I am allowed to ride in the national parks, unlike elsewhere in Africa, and entrance to this very big park is a more moderate £35 per day. I saw a lot of antelopes and some buffalo too as I rode on the public roads through the park. I might succumb to a bit of ‘game driving’ after all. Well, this IS Africa, and it’s what wazungu do.

*

The sun has returned and the day went along well. I awoke to the usual bloody cockerel cacophony a couple of times during an otherwise silent night and was abroad by eight with Bridget’s breakfast, an omelette rolled in a greasy chapati and lots of fruits from the gardens: jack fruit, passion fruit, baby bananas and papaya. The jack fruit is a vast spiny green thing, pendulous weights that hang from the trees bigger than rugby balls. It’s a pleasant taste but an unappealing slippery texture. Passion fruit looks awful, full of small black seeds in a gloopy mess of flesh that looks rather snot-like, but tastes terrific. Papaya, my host Tinka described as ‘soap for the stomach’, not a bad description of its odd texture. “Go back through the forest and take the crater lakes road, it’ll be much more interesting for you,” he suggested. He is involved in eco-tourism and seems to be a leading light in his area. He tells me he is travelling to Berlin in March to collect an award for the local community tourism projects. His advice was likely to be good. “If you travel south by this road, there’s nothing interesting or scenic for you.”

So I rode back through the five miles or so of the national forest with its ugly baboons grooming one another at the roadside and some colobus monkeys and turned onto a dust track that would bring me back through the pretty, convoluted landscape of the craters, onto the tracks I rode on Sunday, but today all looking more attractive with the sun shining. Stopping to photograph two of the little vaguely circular lakes below the road, I picked up an inch and a half nail in my rear tyre. My third puncture already. By good fortune, around the next dusty bend, a small village came in view and there’s almost always a tyre mender everywhere there are people, thanks to the millions of spluttering boda-bodas. Three quarters of an hour sufficed to mend the tyre, using my German patches and me supervising the struggling young mechanic. It’s great: they do the hard graft, I supply some tools and quality materials, and it costs a bit over a pound. It entertains the village too!

Soon I rode on, joining the tracks I rode on Sunday, back to the main north-south road on this side of the country. This time, instead of turning back towards Fort Portal, 25 miles to the north, I turned to the south and rode into expansive bush country with the Rwenzori Mountains hazed, as always, on the west, rising as a steep flank of rather barren slopes into the cloud that perpetually hangs about them.

*

‘Rwenzori Founders, Gallery and Coffee Shop’, said a sign, ‘1km’. Attracted by the concept of coffee, I turned off onto the dust road towards the mountains. And there I found the only decent cup of coffee I have enjoyed in Uganda, oh, except the Dutch lattes in Jinja. For a country that grows fine coffee, these people drink rubbish! I stopped again later, lulled by another ‘coffee shop’ sign – and paid MORE for bloody Nescafe served in a cafettiere! Unpleasant stuff peddled by one of the world’s nastiest corporations. The ‘founders’ weren’t, as I surmised, some original tourism venture, but founders as in foundry, for here they cast bronze artworks and sell them in a small, nicely designed gallery of bare wood posts and a roof made from attractively rusted reclaimed oil drums. Here I had GOOD coffee for a change! And delicious homemade biscuits, a luxury I haven’t had in weeks. What’s more, I had an hour of absolute peace and tranquility away from the constant pressures of Uganda’s roads and drivers.

*

I pressed on. After the small straggly town of Kasese, a regional centre, I soon entered the edges of the big national park with extensive savannah lands stretching to the east and Lake George appearing, a flat silver strip in the distance.

Crossing the Equator yet again – I’ve been in the northern hemisphere since before Christmas – I rolled on southwards across extensive plains dotted with trees and bush, handsome country beneath the high afternoon sun.

On a wide hill I found the National Park information centre, overlooking the inlets and bays of the lake below. A large elephant paddled in the lake far away, wandering into the water that still came only to its knees, hundreds of yards from the sandy shore. Here I spluttered at the Nescafe and found that I can ride in the park on my piki-piki. I bought a map, spotting that there are also some public roads that transit the park areas. Sometimes, you are about as likely to see animals from these roads.

It was getting to that time of day to find a place to sleep for the night. I decided on the small town of Katwe, off, it turned out, along a fourteen or fifteen mile stretch of the most awful corrugated dirt road, but a public highway, so free for me to ride. But I knew from the park office that there would be places to stay. After casting about briefly I found a ‘camp’ with wooden and bamboo, thatched huts that looked quite luxurious until I realised that there’s no running water, everything is a bit worn and ragged and ‘things’ live in the thatch, making quite a racket, but B&B is only fourteen quid (which I bet I could have bargained down if I’d known there was no running water!). Hippos groan in the night outside and sometimes wander through amongst the huts and there’s a killer rogue buffalo out there somewhere too! I know this from a very congenial companion tonight, Nima, an Iranian film student from Stockholm, where he’s spent most of his life. He’s here making a documentary about this forgotten community at the end of a rutted gravel road, clinging to life by any means possible, antagonised by the National Parks, a government body that would really like this village to disappear, and about the salt extraction that has existed here for centuries, a huge business that is little better than slavery and of which no one really knows the truth – where the money goes, who benefits, how it’s organised. We’ve sat over a couple of beers, Nima obviously happy for mzungu company in this end of the world place. On the whole, I think I’ll spend my morning investigating this community and hope to see some animals on my way. Animal spotting – game watching – from a motorbike’s not very easy on these rough park tracks, especially on my own.

It was good to have a beer in intelligent mzungu company tonight. The motorbike is, or can be, a lonely way to travel although it gives me limitless freedom. So many of my conversations are the same: where from, which football team, how many children, the condition of England, can we get a job there and make money, do I like Uganda, and so on and on…

I have realised that I have to return to civilisation tomorrow as I stupidly omitted to visit an ATM as I passed Kasese, the only town where I’d have got money. It seemed that I had plenty of money: a thick wadge of grubby notes, until I counted them and found most of them to be worth about 50p each. I have enough for tonight but not enough for a second night. Oh well, with the possibility of rain always about after the past couple of days, in my mind at least, I really don’t want to get stuck out here with fifteen horrible miles of that road back if it rains. And there’s an odd atmosphere about this place that makes me ever so slightly uncomfortable. I can’t put my finger on it: a sort of reserve and distance that’s been uncommon in friendly Uganda. Maybe it’s what Nima was hinting at, that these people are beleaguered in their own land, a poverty-stricken community existing on the fringes amongst government interference and the trappings of wealthy tourism, not that much of that comes out here; mostly it turns off a few miles back, pays its high fees and stays in luxury lodges in the government national park. I always find my instincts sharply honed on these journeys. My ‘atmosphere meter’ is swinging a bit here…

There’s a lot of activity in the thatch over my head. Vermin of some sort racing back and forth. I just got out from under the mosquito net and zipped closed my pannier bags! Otherwise, the night is totally silent, with just the deep moans of hippos reverberating from the bush around.

DAY 55 WEDNESDAY 1st FEBRUARY 2017. ISHAKA, UGANDA

No game driving in the end. I decided that riding the rough tracks was difficult enough without losing concentration, and the last place I really want to lose concentration is in a park full of wild animals! Riding back along that corrugated, rocky and sand-filled road from Katwe to the main road, I knew my decision was correct. With a passenger to do the spotting as I rode, it’d have been alright, but to take so much care on the roads would have meant seeing little anyway. I am always conscious (you’ll be glad to read!) that I am here in risky conditions: I’m riding a motorbike on bad roads, amongst bad traffic and even a small injury could bring disaster to my journey. If I’d gone looking for wild animals I would have been tense, for I know most of them don’t like the noise of motorbikes. I have seen the reaction when I ride near big game on public roads. This afternoon, I came upon a group of seven elephants drinking at the lake less than fifty yards from my pitted road. Of course, I was exhilarated, stopped to take a photo, and in that moment the huge ponderous matriarch of the group turned and raised her ears in warning, looking me in the eye and standing her ground, for she had young with her. It was a wonderful moment but I realised, these ARE wild animals, unpredictable, huge and fast! A few minutes later I spotted a large group of perhaps forty elephants watering on the lake shore a few hundred metres distant. Good, I’ve seen my animals!

*

Animals apart, I had a totally engrossing morning. Elephants may provide a momentary thrill, but people are SO fascinating! I went to Katwe Lake.

Katwe Lake is extraordinary. Nima had told me something of it last evening, for it is here that he is filming. But I had no idea that it would prove to have been worth the terrible ride on that degraded, corrugated road to see Katwe Lake – not for big game, the reason 99% of people might take that road, turning off into the park and thereby missing quite the most astonishing scene I have witnessed in this part of Africa.

It is said that they have been producing salt from the shallow Katwe Lake since the 13th century. Unlike most of the crater lakes hereabouts, it has three fresh springs feeding it but it evaporates quickly, here virtually on the Equator. It’s only about a metre and a half deep. Slabs of rock salt are mined from the centre and the shores are ringed by salt ponds with hundreds of people sloshing about in shallow black water between banks and muddy berms held up by bleached sticks and straw. It is an utterly medieval scene! I am so glad to have found it. The muddy berms meander far out into the lake, separating ponds owned by families, passed down through generations and providing an extraordinary living to many generations of local people. Sometimes one sees scenes that impress by their sheer singularity. This was one such sight; a scene I might have watched a hundred years ago, half a millennium ago, a thousand years ago – and it wouldn’t have changed, except in details of dress, the plastic bowls, some lengths of polythene sheeting and a background of small Chinese motorbikes coming and going on the dirt tracks around the perimeter of the lake. I could have been in any age. It was medieval industry in the new age. It was compelling, horrific and unforgettable – absolutely unique.

*

A salt pond, about 100 square metres, I would guess, is worth about five million Uganda shillings – £1200 or so, and passes down through families for generations. There’s a very complex system of responsibilities: families employ manual labourers who are paid next to nothing to wallow in the knee-deep ponds, their legs and arms covered in salt deposits; the agents are paid by the traders; traders by the transporters; transporters by the unseen, mysterious business men and so on up and down the ladders created by tradition and usage. A pond can return about a fifth of its value in a year during the two seasons: December to January and June to July.

But, my god, this is another occasion when I count my blessings! It happens often in Africa, the pure relief that I can come and look – and go away to my privileged life in which I am not destined to slop about in slimy black water mining rock salt from an ancient slurry pond in bare feet, my skin corroded and scoured by raw salt crystals, my world full of filth and discomfort.

*

The salt is loaded into lorries – again there’s a strict division of labour – and taken for industrial use, dying and the like, in surrounding countries and also as edible salt. The lake contains enough other minerals that the salt is relatively pure, already iodised when it is gathered. With Nima filming the operation, I watched an ancient lorry being filled with slabs of rock salt. They would load between 26 and 30 tons into that old truck, on the side of which was stencilled a wishful sign: ’12 Tons’! Everyone was universally friendly and welcoming and I was suffered to wander the muddy berms and chat and laugh with bespattered women as they floundered and wallowed in the filth; chat to the men on the further portion of the bizarre mud-scape where they stacked the slabs of lake-bottom rock salt on banks far out in the lake; to inspect the log floats that the mid-lake miners load with the slabs they prize up with iron bars from beneath their feet and witness this extraordinary scene in the sun baked hollow of an ancient crater lake that has seen generations of hard, filthy graft and suffering – that still continues in 2017.

*

Nima joined me on my pillion to ride round the lake shore to drink fresh water from one of the springs that issue from the hillside, so alien to the polluted, slimy filth that sits in the shallow lake nearby. Then we rode back to town to eat good tilapia and rice for a few shillings in a village cafe. I so much enjoyed Nima’s company and our conversations. He did too. I’m so happy that I can relate so directly and equally with people young enough to be my children (he’s 28). Travelling levels the field that way. Neither of us felt the generational difference, although my film school days were 40 years ago! His film school is actually run by the Swedish Red Cross, and the support he receives from his teachers is remarkable. His tutor has been here in Uganda several times to mentor Nima. A charming fellow; I gave him my card and do hope he gets in touch sometime as we had a great deal in common despite the more obvious outward differences.

*

It was 2.30 by the time I left, back onto the rough, degraded road across the national park. As I rode out of the village I watched numerous, sinister hippo eyes and noses float just a few yards into the lake, where village women did their washing. Then, as I passed, there were those seven huge pachyderms relishing the cool lake water. Concerned that I should avoid the rogue buffalo – one of Africa’s biggest killers – (of the animal variety) Nima admonished me, “If you see a buffalo, don’t stop to take a photograph! It killed a village elder just recently…”

Bouncing and vibrating, I made my way back over the uncomfortable miles to the tar road. I passed an ugly crater lake – there are many in this district. It obviously was a region of huge volcanic activity at some time. Below me from where the road passed the rim, I could see the recent tracks of many elephants in the salty rime of the shores. A group of buffaloes ruminated further away.

Then I was back on the tar road, lulled by its smoothness for the first three or four miles to the iron bridge that spans the Kazinga Channel that connects large Lake Albert with smaller Lake George, all part to the mighty Nile system. After the bridge the road became dire; so potholed that most of the traffic uses the dusty verges. Those potholes like craters foreshadowed the next twenty ghastly miles, weaving my way tediously around deep, sharp pits and fissures as the road threaded its way across hot plains and then wound upward into handsome mountains, dotted and pitted with deep green-lined craters, a few with small lakes filling their bottoms. Then, magnificently, came tea estates! Such a feast for the eyes, especially in Africa where the greens are usually so muted. Tea just radiates its luminous, sparkling green as it paints the smooth hills, punctuated by blots of shady trees, crossed by red dust or green swards of access tracks.

*

At last I reached Ishaka, an untidy town on hills, the trading centre for the region, and having finally found a bank that would pay out on my credit card, set about scouting for a place to stay. I tried a large many-balconied (but none of them seemed to relate to any of the rooms!) hotel with maze-like passageways, and gloomy as a Victorian tenement on a Dickensian night and then found a place on the edge of town set in minuscule gardens that weave and fit round the rooms. My room is small but spotless (the grot does get me down sometimes!), surrounded by flowering plants and shrubs that I must duck under to find my room. It seems busy with some conference but will do very well for the night. Last night was much disturbed by constant activity up in the roof thatch by unidentified life forms. There WAS an over-riding faint odour of bat guano but it sounded more like the patter of tiny verminous feet to me. An occasional shower of dust and debris fell onto my bed despite the mosquito net. It was also steamily, oppressively hot throughout the night so my sleep was poor as I imagined hippos surrounding my frail bamboo chalet and listened to smaller but none the less terrifying wild things racing about overhead. In the deep reaches of the night in the bush, the unknown is intimidating, even if it’s probably no wilder than a few small rats! I’m not really very intrepid at all!

*

I’ll reach the bottom left hand corner of Uganda tomorrow, deep in the mountain fastness and punctuated by scenic lakes. Inevitably known as the Switzerland of Africa, I am getting close to Rwanda now. It strikes me as so arrogant and western-centric that Switzerland isn’t called the Rwanda of Europe..!

DAY 56 THURSDAY 2nd FEBRUARY 2017. KABALE, UGANDA

Oh dear, I suppose I can’t be ashamed of being shameless, but I really ought to be, having blagged my way into one of the better hotels in town yet again. I really don’t like the grot any more – if I can avoid it reasonably economically! I’m sitting with my beer in a very charming garden – lawns, mature trees, irises, lilies, poinsettias (trees, not pot plants in the tropics), even tennis courts – 150 feet above the highest town in Uganda with once again that feeling of the hill stations of the Raj. I could be in Darjeeling. In my wrinkled travel gear I contrast a bit with smartly dressed locals out for a posh drink.

A couple of hours ago I arrived in the town after a relaxed ride from Ishaka on new roads and in light traffic. I must have been slowly climbing for the past day, for Katwe, on Lake Albert, sits at 913 metres and Kabale at 2000. Now I am surrounded by mountains, densely terraced and cultivated and deeply green. Not far to the west are some of Africa’s highest mountains and its most active volcanoes. Beyond them Congo, just a few miles away, stretches far, far to the west. I am at the bottom corner of Uganda now, approaching Rwanda.

*

I awoke to steady rain, which always puts a downer on my day. I rather live for the sunshine and light. But a slowish start over breakfast and a long chat with Fred, the guest house guard, a cheerful man with deep smile lines and round glasses and an excellent British English accent, served to allow the rain shower to dry up and the clouds to lighten. It stayed chilly for a while though as I rode southwards into crumpled mountains of grassy slopes with dark eucalyptus in the hollows and gullies. The new road swept this way and that, carved through the hillsides, through various tatty villages of the customary ribbon development of ugly single storey concrete lock up shops emblazoned in the brash colours of competing mobile phone companies – the new livery of all Africa. There was mercifully little traffic and children waved at the passing mzungu. In these conditions I can relax my guard, such a relief in Ugandan traffic, and enjoy the scenery – and the ride.

Through the mountains I approached the main East Africa Highway again with some trepidation, that which passes through Jinja and Kampala and hammers on towards Rwanda, tankers bringing fuel from Mombasa and lorries hauling goods to the landlocked countries of the interior: Rwanda and Burundi. How surprised I was – and relieved – to find this stretch empty, wide and smooth as it gently climbed towards the distant mountains.

Thinking of elevenses – although it was probably lunchtime by then – I kept passing signs to a ‘museum and coffee shop’, both rarities here, so I pressed on, and nearing the top of the mountains and a wide pass, found a hideous ‘resort’ with great views but not much taste. They did have a coffee machine though! Not cafetieres of Nescafe this time, but real brewed Ugandan coffee. It was the museum that was so interesting, though, for there are few in Africa. Most of those that do exist were begun by colonials as Africans seldom look upon their traditions as worthy of record or preservation. So few Africans look back – or plan forward for that matter. Life in Africa is in the present, sometimes the cause of so much suffering as few plan for lean years… The past becomes largely irrelevant too, so to find a young man like Abias Kangume at the ‘Great Lakes Museum’ was intriguing. It’s a large, somewhat Soviet styled hall, empty but for a range of utilitarian but unimaginative glass-fronted cases and some worthy but ill-designed wall panels created by Abias himself. There were, of course, no visitors and I was the first to sign the visitors’ book for three days. Entry was a modest £1.20 and for that I was to get a guided tour by Abias. Intrigued on whose initiative this museum had been put together, it turned out that Abias was the self-appointed curator and collector and he had managed to find a wealthy enough sponsor in the hideous ‘resort’ to support the venture. It appeared that Abias was the sole collector of this slightly random collection of artefacts, from many local ethnic domestic items – pots, baskets, utensils, musical instruments, grain stores, implements and the like, to colonial era sewing machines and gramophones to some old mobile phones and cassette tape recorders. “For young children now, they don’t know these things! Just as we don’t know some of the old things!” It was a pragmatic approach to curating a museum that appealed to me. More strength to him in keeping his enthusiasm.

*

Riding on, over the top of the pass, I descended into Kabale, and seeing that the town spread up the green slopes, I knew that the first place to look for accommodation would be up on the wooded heights. It’s lovely up here on a sort of rounded plateau, with green lawns and tall, established trees, parted by quiet, parklike roads. And here are most of the mid to top end hotels and guest houses. I roved…

The White Horse Inn is one of the oldest in town, quite up-market, even if it’s a bit 1970s in its style. I rode into the car park, then realised it was not going to be within my budget and turned round to ride out. An elderly gate keeper looked at me questioningly so I paused beside him and joked, “Oh, I can see it’s too expensive for me!”

“But you haven’t asked!” he pointed out sensibly. “Maybe you can negotiate!”

“Maybe I can!” I laughed, and turned round again and stopped the bike.

David was on the reception desk, in a shiny, somewhat worn suit, but wearing a big welcoming smile. At this point I play all the charm cards! I asked the rates. “102 Shillings…” (£24 – actually surprising me as I had expected much more).

“Oh, what a shame! That’s a bit beyond my budget. I’m travelling for a long time, but you know, now I get older, I really don’t like the noisy grubby places, so I always come and ask in these nice places. I love your gardens!”

As soon as the receptionist asks my budget, I know I am in with a chance. “Seventy Shillings (just over £16)…”

“Let me consult my manager…”

And I was in! If I would add two thousand shillings (50p) for the local tax, I could have a pleasant room across the gardens, with bathroom and breakfast, for £16.75. “Well, we are a business!” said David, later introducing me to Sam, a smart, greying man, probably about my age, the General Manager, with whom David had negotiated my deal. I shook Sam warmly by the hand and expressed all my gratitude effusively with a lot of smiles! I’ll be remembered for the next few days that I stay here. Remembering names is so important in Africa.

*

Everything in Africa – and I suppose, in increasing amounts of the globe – is accompanied by irritating TV, playing in every bar, restaurant, cafe. Television in this quantity has to be of the lowest quality and intellectually vapid: cheap melodramatic foreign soaps dubbed expressionlessly into American; ‘reality’ (which, of course, isn’t); celebrity-worship; football; wall to wall ‘news’ (which isn’t either, being largely speculation and opinion) – or of course, in Africa, religion. How have we become so afraid of conversation – or even silence and thought?

*

The barman lit a fine log fire in the hearth in the bar. I am half a degree south of the Equator, but six and a half thousand feet above sea level. You know, I am so satisfied that for all those years I suffered the cheapest, most impecunious travels: eating once a day; no luxuries; the vilest, cheapest accommodations; the cheapest transport; the tightest budget. But I am infinitely more grateful that now I can sleep in a – relatively – smart, clean place with beer served by barmen in bow ties, and a restaurant next door! I can still do the grot when I have to, but I’m glad it’s so much less frequent!

Moving in to sit by the roaring fire, I was soon joined by seven delightful children, who had been enjoying the swings, seesaw and slides in the garden. They pressed into the other chairs around me and the fire and soon asked, very politely, if they could investigate my iPad. A very charming half hour followed as they looked at pictures and bits of film, quickly familiarising themselves with the technology, even though the youngest were aged about three, to the oldest who was probably about eight or nine. These were middle class children from Kampala; their father, Chris, joined us after a while. There’s an ingenuous artlessness about children here that is very attractive, polite and fresh.

DAY 57 FRIDAY 3rd FEBRUARY 2017. KABALE, UGANDA

Rain has come early this year, but it is so much needed in drought-wracked Africa that I cannot resent it – I suppose. But I do miss the sun… In fact, I am sitting now on the hotel terrace enjoying the last of the sun for the day, for by about lunchtime the rain eased although it’s remained cloudy most of the day. I do hope this isn’t setting in for the next weeks. Of course, in these high mountains, I should expect some changeable weather.

So I didn’t do much today. I walked down the steep hill to the noisy, traffic-clogged town below and mailed home that hand crafted model of a pick up vehicle that I bought a few days ago. People in Uganda are so helpful and friendly that I just packed it on the counter of a stationery shop, aided by the shop keeper and her tape dispenser. A sheet of paper was all she wanted to sell me: 35 pence, the assistance and smiles came for free. At the post office the transaction was simplicity itself, just some stamps; no customs forms, no bureaucracy. Terrific! Well, it will be if it arrives in Harberton. The post worker seemed confident that it would.

*

A breakfast I met Onesimus and his wife Betty, and was invited to join them at their table. Educated, middle class Ugandans remind me strongly of the charming Zimbabweans I met on my journeys there. Well educated, aware, intellectual and very engaging. Onesimus tells me his name means ‘socially profitable’, and he is well named. He originates from here in Kabale and they are back to visit his grandparents. He and Betty now live in one of the scruffy towns I passed through on my ride here from Katwe, somewhere up the degraded, potholed road as it climbed the steep hills from the lake valley. He works to raise awareness and assist those infected with HIV/ Aids in that small town. He went there for three months but realised that his vocation and wish was to help less fortunate people, using his own intellect to better people in that impoverished town. It’s inspiring to hear these stories. So often the stories that come out of Africa are of corrupt politicians and those who use their knowledge and intellects for their own ends, but there are so many unsung people like Onesimus. We talked also of the fact that I explained yesterday: that so few look back – or, more importantly forward. Life in the present makes for no social or material progress.

*

Onesimus and Betty excused themselves to attend to his grandparents. “They asked, do you only want to come to our funerals and say you were sorry you never visited us while we were alive?” he joked, the wisdom of the old Africans appealing to his humour.

There’s a coffee shop at the bottom of the hill. One of those with a real coffee machine that I look for in this Nescafe stronghold. With the rain drizzling down I sat on their covered terrace beside the street watching the boda-bodas splashing along, bizarre specially made umbrellas raised from their handlebars! It only later occurred to me that for this mounting to work, the rider has the umbrella pole right in the centre of his vision of the road! It was only when I saw one furled, with the rider peering round the fabric that I noticed. Just as well they have such weak engines and can’t go fast. It’d be like a million Mary Poppins!

I fell into conversation with another coffee drinker, a dapper fellow who lived in Kingston for twenty years and was well informed about Brexit and Trumpian politics, as well as the problems of African presidents who never leave office once elected, and do anything, however evil or corrupt, to stay in place for their own benefit and that of their families. He told stories that convince one that to be in opposition in Africa is unhealthy; of a number of alternative leaders who just ‘disappeared’, even in relatively civilised Uganda. Most African leaders have so much blood on their hands, yet are never called to justice, or if they are, just brazen it out (Trump-style… He’d go far in Africa).

*

By late lunchtime the rain was easing and I threw my leg over the bike and set off to see some of the area, reckoning that I might as well, as this might be the best I get – and if the sun’s out tomorrow, I can just ride the roads again if they are worth it. I rode thirty miles or so towards the corner of Uganda and the town of Kisoro. The road was magnificent – and happily pretty empty. It clambered and wound about up into the high green mountains that are as heavily and closely cultivated as any I have seen, terraces and steeply angled small fields clawing their way to the ridges and summits high above, evidence of generation after generation of hard physical graft. Even today hundreds of people, many of them women, hefted long-handled hoes over their shoulders, hacking at the grey soil as have their forefathers – and foremothers – before them. This is subsistence living, eking out a near-poverty family economy by sheer hard work, supporting and feeding those average six children that these poor women bear. Is there hope in Africa..?

At the top of the pass I must have been up over eight thousand feet, gazing across huge vistas, all so heavily cultivated and terraced. But so much African scenic beauty is so disfigured by the activity and density of the population: ugly ribbon development, rusty zinc, dereliction, muck and brashness, all stained and faded by sun and rain. Far below was Lake Bunyoni, which later I rode down to visit. It’s become something of a tourist mecca and I found it unattractive with so much ‘adventure tourism’ available. I’m here to meet the people of the country, not fellow white people and not to paddle rented wooden canoes or go on boat rides. The shores of the lake were defaced with lodges, camp sites, activity signage, and touts. But I must say, the touts were not pushy and the people were universally friendly, waving children and smiling adults all reacting to my smiles as well as I rode some of the dirt roads up the steep slopes of the lake shore and the villages hidden far above.

*

Preparations are taking place out on the hotel lawns for a huge plush wedding, tents and gazebos being raised, acres of frippery fabric being pinned up and huge stacks of the inevitable plastic Chinese chairs that have dominated the world these past years. I hope my room is far enough from the wedding party – presumably tomorrow! Oh well, I’m here to watch and meet the people…

EAST AFRICA SAFARI 2017 – photos seven

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The view from the Coffeeland Resort – and my room!

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Alex with children at Coffeeland Resort, Sipi, Uganda

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Oliver (sic) at her home

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Alex, guide and host at Sipi, Uganda

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The road from remote Suam border to Sipi, Uganda

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The view from the slopes of Mount Elgon, Uganda

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My simple, but oddly stylish room at Coffeeland Resort by candlelight – the normal night time situation!

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Hillary, Sipi, Uganda

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Boys’ toys. Boys and their lorries.

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Joshua

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Boy at Sipi, Uganda

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Lazarus’ trading post at Sipi, Uganda

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Oliver and Stephen, Sipi, Uganda. Both live with HIV and work in their community for awareness

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Precious looked after me so well at Sipi

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Alex and Precious cook my dinner