A bit of a bumper 11,000 word entry, this one! I have had no internet for several days and now only slow. I’ll give it a try. Doubt I’ll get pictures up for a day or two but I’ll try – as I have some great ones for my walls. The next photo book already a quarter filled!! Happy New Year everyone!
DAY 29 FRIDAY 6th JANUARY 2017. KITALE, KENYA
Outside Kitale Auto Spares (I know the place quite well, having spent several lengthy periods awaiting action) this morning a worker in the grubby brown overalls of a mechanic was doling out a couple of slices of bread each to a line of dirty urchins who’ll never go to school, never have a home and will probably live – and quite likely die – on the streets, abandoned, hungry, ignored, an unseen underclass, quite possibly having ruined their brains on sniffing glue. It makes you think, as you become irritated by arcane bureaucracy, lack of rational thought and the illogicality of so much life here: small exasperations alongside so much visible poverty. It was both thought-provoking and moving, somehow humbling.
Moments later, they were replaced by a line of thin, ragged women, each with a plastic bag. Draped in aged headscarves, they held out their hands for the bread slices. “Do you do this every morning?” I asked the Indian owner and the Moslem server behind the high counter. “Every Friday,” replied the Moslem, a good looking, open-faced man wearing a typical white cotton cap. “No, not only the Moslems, every business here does it on Fridays. It’s the custom. The trouble is these people, they don’t want to work,” with a dismissive shake of his head, “they are Turkana people from the north.” I had already surmised that: you can tell from their completely different facial features and body sizes.
Turkana people are the traditional, mainly nomadic people of the far north of Kenya, around the eponymous lake, way up in the desert. I was there in 2001 and 2002, with Rico in Lodwar. His late first wife was a Turkana, and some of the girls are too. Delightful, smart Faith, who sadly left this morning to start the journey back to far off Berlin, is Turkana; darker skinned, narrower features and slim build. Sadly, the Turkana tribe has a poor status and reputation amongst other Kenyan tribes and are the butt of a good deal of prejudice. Education and care can change so much. Faith, if brought up in a rural ‘manyatta’, the circular palm thatched huts you see in the desert, housing the nomadic tribespeople, cattle herders who live on the very edge of absolute poverty in Western terms (note the distinction) – Faith in these circumstances would have been destined to poverty – and yet she has a fine brain, charming manner, good intellect and is a woman of the world. Chance, birth and education change so much… Sadly, the prejudice probably still survives, in Kenya at least.
Misplaced Western sentiment has created in the Turkana one of the most aid-dependent cultures in this part of Africa. The realities of life in Africa are so different, and often Western ideas just create even more problems. Now, through well-meant meddling, the people of the north have lost much of their – very harsh, it is true – independence. It’s sometimes a hard fact that the weak suffer and die to maintain viable population levels. In the West we can’t understand that and now the violent desert lands that people such as the Turkana view as home can’t support the enlarged population, so, migration to the cities where life is just as hard but begging and charity bring a sort of livelihood, or existence at least. Huge projects, often totally unsuitable to the traditions and ways of life of indigenous people, are instigated by outsiders with great fanfares – only to wither when the funding dries, the political view changes or organisations move on. What’s the point – I’ve asked it before – in providing great glossy machines and starting new industries or even just habits, when a few years on, there’re no parts available, no mechanics with the skills to keep projects running and no money left from donors? By then people who for a thousand years moved their goods by donkey cart have abandoned the carts, sold the donkeys and are left high and dry with no resources and no transport – and no donkeys. Is this generosity or destructive meddling..? Sometimes outsiders don’t know best. Sometimes the natural order, hard and unpleasant though it may be, is just the way it is.
This morning Faith left with little Liam back to Berlin. Marion and Scovia went to school two days ago, and Bo yesterday afternoon. Today we have a new house-girl, Yvonne, so far a quiet young woman a bit overwhelmed by events. Rose was the original house girl, but now she’s very much part of the Rico extended family, and will be back at school next week. In a house without ‘labour saving devices’, there’s always work to be done, hence shy, quiet Yvonne. But how does it feel, to be suddenly thrust amongst strangers, yet in such intimacy as this? She sits now on the settee watching bright Maureen playing Scrabble with Adelight. What’s going on behind those somewhat sad eyes? Bewilderment? Hope? Hopelessness? Home-sickness? Rose, faithful to her original status, but now, after a month in my company, with a quiet smile in return for mine, clears glasses from the side tables, then relaxes on the settee to watch facile American TV. Yvonne watches also, inscrutable. I know, however, that she is surrounded by more kindness in this household than she would be likely to find elsewhere. It has been SUCH a privilege to share this warmth for the past four weeks. I have profound respect for what Rico and Adelight have achieved with this delightful family. I will leave reluctantly, but I am sure there are other delights waiting out there on my safari…
Victor, the askari, or watchman and general handyman, left too. He was a smiling, friendly fellow but his lack of initiative irritated Rico to swearing point! In his place comes Moses, a bit older and personable, to live in the tin shack in the garden. What an odd life it is, I always think, but of course, this is employment. Askaris are provided with basic accommodation and a fairly crude hut containing a mattress and blankets, a chair and table. For entertainment Victor had a tinny radio and precious little else. He lived by candlelight and read nothing, had no Internet, no TV, no books, probably didn’t even know what opera is, never played Scrabble – absolute zero intellectual stimulation. What must it be like, as Moses did for much of the afternoon across the garden, to just sit for hours contemplating space? I often ponder this one: what do Lesotho shepherds THINK about as they stand for days on end watching their small flocks of sheep or cows? What’s in Moses’ head as he sits on a hard chair beside his tin hut gazing at the grass? To one born to constant intellectual energy and questioning, it is a mystery…
The little blue bike has now had its first test run, about 45 kilometres. Cor kindly adjusted the clutch and fixed a few things and this afternoon I was able to ride out and fill up with petrol and then run a few miles down the road to see how it is. Well… put it this way, I doubt it’s going to come to fill much of a place in my emotions! I realise that I am going to see Africa a lot more slowly on this trip! I managed to get it up to almost sixty miles an hour at one point. It cruises well enough at 50mph but is not a very exciting ride. Still, it’s lightweight – and it runs. That may be about all I can say for it in the weeks to come! The likelihood is that I will do less miles than my last four trips: Uganda and Rwanda are quite small countries to explore. I couldn’t see this bike as the bike to ride back down to South Africa in a year or two. I need to think on that some more. But for now it will have to do. The journey is more inspirational than the machine I use. I’ll take comfort from that and see how we get along.
All the girl-children and young women in this household, less now than a day or two ago, share one room and two beds. This is not uncommon in this warm, intimate extended family system. I’ve often written that privacy is an instinct that few Africans can understand. I well remember the time that my ancient upright bicycle punctured some miles south of Navrongo and I was forced to walk while Wechiga went back for a pump. How I enjoyed that walk – perhaps 20 years ago now, but still so memorable. It was the first time in my Navrongo/ Ghanaian life that I spent time utterly alone – on a dust road in the back of beyond in the bush. Today I decided to go to town after Adelight and Cor left. I sat by the roadside for ten minutes, thinking they may pass on their way back from the airport, but I’d missed them. The driver of a car exiting the lane where Adelight and Rico live offered me a ride to town. David was a quietly spoken young man, who it turned out, ran his car as a taxi. On arrival in town, a couple of miles away, he refused to take money as a fare, despite my protests, a kind gesture to a stranger.
The couple of hours I spent in town on my own, the first time I have done that in the past four weeks, was most enjoyable. I was independent for the first time in a month! Most of my African friends would find that delight in privacy and isolation very odd. I found it invigorating. Of course, I also fell into conversations and interactions as I walked, unlike I do when in company, however congenial.
It is thirty years to the day since I rode into a dusty grotel yard in the last town in Morocco and met Rico, Marti and Liesbeth, still such very fond friends. We crossed the incomparable Sahara together for the next four or five weeks, the best of my life. We have been corresponding through the day. Rico wrote from Juba, South Sudan this evening: ‘Old times are reviving again, even if it is only my imagination!!! …Let´s meet, I love the idea!!!!!! and I suddenly realise, having been so close to Jonathan the last month, that I miss you all!’
Some friendships become very meaningful in life. I have been so very favoured to enjoy so many, all over the fascinating world. I shall ride away from this household with reluctance tinged with anticipation. But I also know that any time I come back, I will receive the same warmly enveloping welcome.
DAY 30 SATURDAY 7th JANUARY 2017. ITEN, KENYA
A different place at the top of tonight’s entry. Day one of my ride – and I find myself in an utterly different direction to that which I expected! It goes that way in Africa. A wrong turning in the first five kilometres and my journey changed. Oh well, you’ll laugh, Rico, having given me instructions some days ago for how to get to the north road from Kitale town. Instead of turning left at the roundabout – somewhat counter intuitive it must be said – I carried straight on. Kenya has about two signposts in the entire country, it seems, and as yet my bump of direction is once again totally confused. Born and instinctively used to the northern hemisphere, the sun is always in the south part of the sky at midday and moves westwards as the day progress. Fine, but when you go to the southern hemisphere that rule is reversed. Here, within a few miles of the Equator, I really don’t have much idea where it is at all. My instincts just don’t work down here. I often found myself lost in southern Africa too.
So instead of venturing in a northerly direction I ended up on the relatively quiet back road to Eldoret, that town of which I said a couple of weeks ago that I had seen enough for the year. Well, I just avoided it as my road turned away from it within a few kilometres of arrival. I had planned, as much as I plan any of my wandering journeys, to make a roughly clockwise circuit of some of the beauties of this part of north western Kenya. Now I will make an anti-clockwise journey instead!
It was 2.00pm before I left my very comfortable situation at Kitale. I left with some trepidation. Odd, really, the way my journeys always begin with this reluctance. Increasingly so this time, after four congenial weeks of happy company amongst Rico’s wonderful family. Now I am alone… From now I have to live by my wits, cope with what comes and look after myself.
When I realised I was on the wrong road – and I had ridden at least forty kilometres before that happened – I felt deflated and the next miles were quite tedious as I slumped into slight disillusion. The road was unremarkable, except for the host of speed bumps (but that’s every Kenyan road). The landscape was unexceptional, the villages and towns grubby and dusty. I fell into a slight depression.
As soon as I turned left away from Eldoret the landscape and journey improved! Within a mile or two the scenery became more rural, trees and grassy verges brightened my spirits. The sun came back out. My smile began to return. I had a feeling that ahead lay something good; there was a quality about the light, you know, the way you are always aware that the sea is ahead. It wasn’t the sea in this case of course, but it was the Kerio Valley. I rode through busy Iten, with its hazardous speed humps and teeming people and out under a sign thanking me for visiting. Around a sharp bend came a vista that made up for all the boredom and slight gloom that had settled on me in the afternoon! The road just fell away as dramatically as my spirits lifted, exposing a fabulous view into part of the great Rift Valley, surely one of Earth’s most impressive natural features? A small viewpoint stood on a sharp bend and I pulled up and walked to the edge of the huge view, feeling at last that THIS is why I take these journeys. The aloneness and the tedium that are inevitable are repaid by these moments of wonder. The smile came back and I immediately fell into conversation with a friendly fellow standing by the wall. Duncan is from central Kenya but works in Iten and pointed out to me the features before us in the great valley, across to Kabarnet, a town visible many miles away on the other flank of the valley. Behind Kabarnet the even bigger main Rift Valley falls away into the depths. Below us was the Kerio National Reserve. “Many elephants!” said Duncan. But I can’t ride there on my piki-piki and I assured him I was happier to be talking to him at the edge of this great valley than to be watching elephants. “I’m more interested in people!”
Turning back up the hill, I began the hunt for accommodation. I knew it would be available here in this tourist hot spot. First I tried the smartest place, filled with more white people than I’ve seen in a month. Hang gliders swooped through the blue skies above the edge of the valley and I knew instinctively that I was barking up the wrong tree here. I don’t travel in Africa to meet Europeans on ‘adventure’ holidays. When I was quoted the rates in Euros, I confirmed my dislike. Anyway, it was way out of my range at €60! I rode around a bit and ended up at a somewhat gloomy concrete and ceramic tile place without any external windows. The price asked here was less than half that at the smart resort with the view, 2500 Shillings. “Haven’t you anything cheaper? I am on a four month safari so I have to keep to a budget..!” With a big smile…
“What can you afford?” asked Lucy, the receptionist – who also served my supper, showed me to my room, just took my breakfast order – and, for all I know, cooked my greasy chicken dinner, eaten at a table decorated with the grossest kitsch mats, ‘decanters’ and serviette holders made from green and ‘crystal’ plastic ‘jewels’.
“2000 Shillings is my budget! (£16),” I offered. So I have bed and breakfast for £16. It’s always worth a try. These hotels are in much competition, currently empty and I can easily ride away! My room is dull but functional, the bed comfortable and clean, the shower and lavatory just about adequate. Pity there’s no view, but it’ll be dark and I’ll have my eyes shut most of the time I’m here. It’s far enough from the noisy bar and the hotel seems to be lightly occupied.
What of the bike, then..? Well, as I suspected yesterday, not a very invigorating ride. Small and quite slow, I spent most of the day at about 60 to 70kph. Rico’s luggage rack is a success, keeping my fabric panniers away from the exhaust (hopefully no fires this year!) but I had to rig a system of tight straps to overcome all the speed hump bounces that shot the bags up and sideways. I’m travelling EVEN lighter than usual this time; just as well with this small engine. I don’t think I will become fond of this bike at all, but it’s a means to and end and will get me about this bit of Africa, even if only slowly! It has the most ineffectual brakes of any bike I ever rode, despite taking the rear one to bits this morning and cleaning it.
You know you are back Africa when I have to tell the staff that a mouse or rat trap in my room might be advantageous! Fortunately it ran away when I got back, but not before it ate part of one of my small travel bags – on the bed having pulled it behind the pillows! Life’s richness…
So, day one… Completely rescued by a few moments at the edge of the Rift Valley! I wonder what tomorrow will bring, and where I’ll be tomorrow night? It’s quite chill up here tonight so I hope it’s somewhere warmer.
DAY 31 SUNDAY 8th JANUARY 2017. KESSUP, KENYA
WOW! What a day! Utterly exhausting, but very satisfactory (except I admit the penultimate hour could have been a lot shorter!). And now I am sitting writing – quickly while I can, before the exhaustion and a couple of beers overcome my willpower – in a small wooden shelter overlooking a HUGE view into the Kerio Valley, the small Lake Kerio highlighted midway across the darkening forests. There’s a lovely breeze and the place is peaceful, down a rocky track off the escarpment road somewhere below Iten, from where I started my journey nine hard hours ago.
If I had known that my route was to be about 100 miles long, of which a mere fifteen or twenty were tarred, would I have considered the ride? Well, probably, I suppose: there’s more than a small sense of pride that at 67 I can still do it, and a huge amount of sheer stubbornness that makes me challenge myself thus. This was off-road riding for hour after hour, punishingly hard work, and in increasing heat as the day progressed.
But what a journey! It began quite boringly, the tarred road sweeping through handsome hilly country somewhere behind the big escarpment. Where were the views, I wondered? Rico recommended this route, and he knows my tastes as well as anyone. I knew that off to my right as I rode north, the highlands dropped away dramatically – somewhere. I rode on. About fifteen kilometres from Iten, the road turned to a dusty track. Little did I know that tar would only reappear for a few kilometres until I hit the main road back up the escarpment back to Iten this evening. Thyline, the duty manager at the Keellu Resort, the somewhat dingy but friendly place that I stayed in last night, told me I would find a diversion after some miles as the road was being reconstructed. “Ask for the road to Kapsowar. I was married from Kapsowar…” Sure enough, a barrier crossed the road at the end of a dusty village. Some locals pointed the way for me. “After 8kms, keep to the left!” they called with a wave.
The next bit of road was rough and bumpy, through a tightly enveloping forest of tall trees and thick undergrowth. At one place I saw a grassy sward reaching to my right and turned off, feeling cheated of the valley views. That was the first of many! A smiling fellow sat watching his cattle beside his shamba (small farm) enclosed by split rail fences that are so typical up here in the wooded highlands of Kenya. We greeted – as I greeted so very many times today. As the villages became more rural and remote, so I caused increasing wonder, the mzungu on his blue piki-piki. People waved and smiled, a direct response to my increasingly wide smiles – and the benefit of my open-face helmet. Then quite quickly I was out of the deep woods and onto magnificent ridges where my dust road wound its way through small scattered villages tumbling down the precipitous slopes on all sides. It was just lovely! I stopped in one village and was soon surrounded by a gang of men and children, intrigued and smiling warmly, questioning and laughing at the old ‘daddy’ passing their way.
For a short while, having been lost in a hilltop village at the end of nowhere (probably because I didn’t ‘keep to the left’?), I rode on tar again for a few kilometres, winding between steep valleys and fields of corn, now dried and brown. Small houses stood everywhere, many with conical thatch roofs, the rest in zinc. Tall trees punctuated the hilly slopes.
Then suddenly, just where it seemed most critical to have tar, the road turned to thick white dust and rock. I was descending steeply, corkscrewing down for mile after mile into the valley far, far below. The views were stupendous and expansive. It was almost like being in an aircraft. Far below I could see the village I was approaching – where I erroneously thought the tar would start again! Haha. From there I had over fifty miles of deteriorating rock and dust! That journey DID get a bit long. I stopped in a small village, not even on my map, called Arror and broke a resolution: never to drink Coke. That was the first Coke I imbibed in many years, and it was as disgusting as expected, but I needed liquid and sugar and there was no other choice. I fell into conversation with Christopher, sitting at his sewing machine outside a crude mud shop, draped with coloured cloths, making school dresses. Tailor and deputy village chief, he was welcoming and amiable. An elderly man, Charles, introduced himself, a charming, wizened 78 year old with a fine English accent. It was a lovely few moments, there in a village at the back of beyond surrounded by friendly, curious people, largely the reason I keep travelling.
Later I regretted not stopping in Arror, for it boasted about the only guest house along that long bumpy road. But I didn’t know it was still 30 hard, shaking miles to the tar road. Instead, I left with waves and blessings and laughter. Some time after that I found that the bike was vibrating sideways round bends, so much so that at one point I tumbled onto an embankment. I assumed that I was just getting very weary. It got more alarming and eventually I stopped and found that the whole rear wheel had shaken loose! The rear spindle nuts had come undone with all the punishment. And, yes, it was me who tightened them the other day…
Riding was better after I tightened them up, but it became wearisome and I WAS tired. The tar road seemed to recede with every mile I covered. It didn’t help that at one point I made a three mile mistake and headed the wrong way. I found I was heading for a town called Tot, that at least five people today told me to avoid! It’s a hotbed of tribal alarums and for some miles around I passed a lot of fatigue-clad soldiers – and a lot of presumed civilians – toting guns over their shoulders. They all waved and smiled in a friendly manner though!
At last, hours and hours of increasingly hot, rough riding later, it seemed, I turned gratefully onto the tarmac road, only just resisting giving it a Papal kiss of relief. From there the road was wonderful, narrow and potholed but twisting and winding its way back up towards Iten. I’d been going to turn the other way but decided that at least at Iten I knew where to find accommodation without having to search and negotiate again. Fortunately, though, I spotted a sign to this ‘resort’ and blagged a pleasant sort of bungalow room with a view worth many pounds – for my bargained £16 B&B again! It’s all a bit tattered round the edges but I have a decent enough room with an enclosed balcony with a magnificent 180 degree view into the Kerio Valley far below. A fine spot.
My room’s got another of the illogical Kenyan showers. The local style is to have a powered shower head, frequently attached to rather alarmingly exposed wires that dangle from the wall; the water is heated as it passes through the head. The bathroom is what in modern designer-speak might be a ‘wet room’. OK, but the floor gets flooded, the place gets soaked and whenever you go back in for a pee, the shower drips on your head and you walk sandy/mud footprints back and forth into your room.
Talking of bathrooms… Last night I disturbed that rat or mouse in my room (if it was a mouse it was a bloody big one!). I had asked Lucy, the receptionist/ Lucy-of-all-trades in that guest house, for some soap. “Isn’t there soap in your room.” she asked, in some surprise. She went away for soap and fortunately supplied two small packs. I showered before bed and left the soap on the basin. During the night the resident vermin removed it. The basin was 2’6 up a ceramic tiled wall!
“How the heck did it do THAT?” I asked Thyline (pron: Eileen with a T) this morning as I checked out. We both laughed, neither of us particularly concerned that her hotel harboured a rat or two. This is Equatorial Africa and most tourists come for the wildlife anyway!
“Maybe it has special feet..!” she suggested. I’ll say.
Breakfast was enormous, and has lasted me all day until my ugali and cabbage tonight – (not a memorable meal, but probably what keeps most of those around me alive, and at £1, what do you expect?). The whole guest house last night, which turned out to be wonderfully silent, seemed to have one other guest, perhaps explaining why it was so easy to bargain a rate. The other guest was a young Chinese fellow, taciturn to the point that he never acknowledged my existence as the other person in the dining room – where last night’s green and ‘crystal’ monstrosities had been replaced by red ones for breakfast. TVs in each corner blasted out endless religious guff this Sunday morning, ranting, besuited preachers haranguing their audiences. There’s so much money made from this exploitative evangelisation in Africa. It amused me to think that the fervour was lost on one atheist and another – at best – Confucian, but probably another atheist! The congregations enjoyed the singing and dancing with enormous gusto, though, and my cynicism can accept that for many it is a wonderful community, and for some a comfort where there are few others. Alleluia! It’s the financial profiteering I despise.
It’s been a great day. I am instantly back in travel mode and wonder why I was so nervous and reluctant to take that first step yesterday? Here I sit in a silent wooden shelter on the very edge of the great African Rift Valley that splits the globe from the Mediterranean to South Africa. Across the utter quietude the lights of distant Kabarnet, where I’d intended to sleep tonight, wink in the still air. The valley is huge, the sky expansive, the tranquility complete. A distant dog barks, far, far below, but there is no other sound as the moon rises to light the patterns of the clouds over the African bush.
I will SLEEP tonight! It is 8.15 and that’s about it for today!
DAY 32 MONDAY 9th JANUARY 2017. KESSUP, KENYA
Asleep by 9.30, more than ten hours later I awoke to a wonderfully fresh sunny morning, the light shafting into my balcony space, and decided that this sort of place, with such a view from my lone breakfast table (by good luck I was just opening my door to use the bike mirror to comb my hair as two pretty girls delivered breakfast. Five minutes earlier and they have had to wake me!) that I would explore locally today and stay again tonight. My journey is no race and I found that on my last African journey, I had begun to take things at a gentler, and consequently more enjoyable, pace. I thought this may be age (! What an admission!) but actually, I think it is down to the fact that, after so many years of completely impecunious travel and laughable budgets that had to take me as far as they would, I am now secure in my (not very impressive) financial affairs. When the Old Chapel in Yorkshire is sold this state will be confirmed and I will be able, within reason, to travel where and when I wish. In the early days I had to budget every penny: well I remember trip number one, eight months in the Americas, on a minimal budget of £527. OK, so it was 1973/4 but even then it meant one meal a day, a cup of coffee as a luxury once a week, the cheapest, dingiest dives to sleep in, no alcohol whatsoever and the most penny-pinching options in everything, causing a return no less than two stone lighter. Well, it was good training, and here I am 43 years later appreciating the fact that I can now travel just a little more comfortably and worry less about the pennies. Still keep tabs on the pounds, though!
So when Chesoli, the very charming supervisor at this pleasant but slightly dog-eared resort, with whom I stood talking for a time in the morning, suggested that it would be possible to walk about the area, it seemed a good plan. His friend, William, could guide me for a few shillings – about £2.50 was the suggested fee – but later in the day happily I gave William £4 and still felt a bit cheapskate. I did buy him a quarter of gin and some cigarettes, though! And I asked him to accompany me tomorrow also.
Chesoli is such a friendly fellow, helpful and jocular. Thirty years old, he is well fitted for the job of running this campsite and chalet set up, with it’s falling down wooden bar, basic dining room and small shady huts about the large, shaggy gardens on the edge of the great view. The ‘curtains’ in my room hang inside out across a string between nails, there’s no loo seat, the windows could do with a good clean – but the bed’s clean and very comfy, even if the sheets are a bit aged. He’s conversational and informed, cheery and easy going. It was his manner that attracted me to stay last evening. He quickly arranged for William to take me walking.
William and I bonded! He’s 51, and worked for many years as a policeman, climbing to the CID service in Nairobi. A few years ago, hating the liars, cheats, guns and violence he was amongst, he took early retirement and came back to his small shamba and four cows in Kessup. His wife works with the police in Eldoret and he has a son with a small IT business somewhere to the south and a daughter now training to be a nurse in Perth. Slightly built, with some white to his beard and a cheerfully lined face, he has an excellent accent and we enjoyed one another’s company far beyond the two or three hours suggested. A good deal of that time was spent chattering in a pleasant thatched shelter of a bar above the winding road up the escarpment, where he slowly downed his quarter bottle of gin with water while I drank an abstemious pint of beer. It was good to have an older guide.
We set off through some of his neighbour’s small farms, meeting nearby residents and entering their compounds. I’d told him that for me the best entertainment he could provide would be to visit and talk to locals. Few houses are connected to electricity and most are fairly crude constructions of red mud onto woven sticks, split timber or steel. Often fences of branches and hand-split timber ring small fields of red earth. Ubiquitous maize forms the main crop but one woman up the hill has a fine field of carrots and another of kale, a much-used vegetable here. It’s a green, fertile area with a sunny climate that is not extreme like so much of this continent. We are at a considerable altitude and the guest house sits on an extensive green plateau about a third of the way down the steep slopes of the Rift Valley. From our eventual vantage point, having climbed five or six hundred feet up the steep slopes to the top rim of the valley, I could see the extent of this tidy step or shelf in the landscape, perhaps a mile from the precipitous rocks on which we sat to the other, deeper drop and maybe a couple of miles from left to right, red tracks running here and there amongst small fields, neat compounds, schools and dark trees. Across it sweeps the tar road on its way up to Iten above, lorries straining, matatus racing and small Chinese motorbikes loaded in unimaginable ways, puffing and puttering. We walked up through thick forest, the temperature just wonderful in the mid to high 20s.
Some way up we met delightful Ruth and Neema, two slight young girls of 16 and 17, carrying bales of firewood down the narrow paths above large drops. They’d stopped to rest their heavy loads at a rocky outcrop. I tried to lift Ruth’s bundle and could only just raise it off the rocks. These laughing girls must fetch firewood like this once a week at least. They were bright, cheerful and educated, both waiting to go back to secondary school later in the week. Later, coming down again, they came running from their family compound with Ruth’s twin sister Damaris to greet me again. It’s such fun being an old ‘daddy’ on these expeditions! Needless to say, their photos may feature on my walls in the future!
William was an excellent guide, congenial, knowledgeable about his community, patient and interested in my stories of other parts of Africa, a throughly likeable fellow with whom to clamber and later relax under the shade of a peaceful bar shelter. We will walk again tomorrow on this plateau, meeting his neighbours and looking at local life, the perfect entertainment for me. He’s arranging some locally brewed beer for tomorrow. Unlike much of Africa, where fermented local grains, maize, sorghum and millet, are home brewed and drunk locally – in Lesotho the makers and sellers are always visible by a flag on a tall stick, white for sorghum, yellow for maize; in Ghana a small pot is displayed on a stool outside pito brewers’ houses – here in Kenya it is illegal to brew the stuff, since the government wants to control all tax on alcohol. There was briefly talk of clambering right down the larger ‘step’ to the bottom of the Rift Valley, down into the heat a thousand more feet below. I’d accept the challenge but I’m not sure there’s much to be gained from the expedition – and we’d have to climb back up! Perhaps better just to meet the neighbours…
William’s romantic attitude to people and things British amuses me. Older people in these ex-colonial countries often look back with a starry-eyed view of a time when things seemed less corrupt and more ordered – mainly because the native people had no say. “If we do something correctly, we say ‘The British Way’! Straight! They don’t like nonsense, the British!” It seemed a shame to shatter some of that illusion and tell him how ashamed I currently am of my own country, its mean-spirited, selfish attitudes, its arrogance, its pulling up the drawbridge, its ‘post truth’ politicians with their self interest little better than African dictators, the wilful ignorance and pride of its people, its ‘make Britain great again’ rhetoric, its folly and short sightedness in Brexit, my still fuming anger, almost as strong as it was on June 24th. I wish William’s version had some truth left in it…
We left at eleven and got back at four thirty. William went to get in his cows. I joked that he’d better do it now as he would soon doze off on his small bottle of gin. Doubtless, he was soon asleep! I came back to the guest house, where the electricity is off – so frequent in Kenya – but it makes the atmosphere magical in this astonishingly silent place. Waking during the night, the peace was profound and the only noise the pumping of blood in my ears. This, I can assure you, is a wonderful thing to find in Africa! I’ll probably stretch the luxury to three nights… Now I have a portable lantern in the small wooden shelter, have eaten a huge meal of goat, chips and greasy vegetables (African portions are always prodigious!) and drunk a leisurely beer. There are no mosquitoes here, only a large moth flapping round the light. It’s cool tonight, a light breeze having risen. There might even be a need for the second blanket at dawn. It’s a clear starry night, the lights of Kabarnet flicker far across the great split in the earth. Down below me roam many elephants and wild animals, and around me in tidy compounds, into some of which I have been privileged to be welcomed, families sit, no doubt around candles or charcoal stoves and prepare for the early bed that is common on this continent. Silence is deep. Nothing moves, except the moth round my lantern.
DAY 33 TUESDAY 10th JANUARY 2017. KESSUP, KENYA
Another peaceful day in Kessup, walking for some hours with companionable William down in the scattered village on the fertile plateau. I feel that I have met and been accepted by much of the community, an outgoing, generous neighbourhood. I have enjoyed a truly life-affirming African warmth here amongst this rural community. I have been greeted, shaken a hundred hands, laughed, smiled and joked with most of the people. I have been suffered to intrude into compounds, question, photograph and enquire nosily – all with such warmth and true expansive welcome. Of course, it helps that William is a well-known local figure, trusted by and open with his locality. I feel very privileged to be treated thus and universally accepted. The smile on my face opens many doors and seems to open hearts too.
So often I am asked, ‘aren’t you afraid?’ The truth in Africa is SO different, for here I find such a giving spirit where a smile is the natural expression and open-handedness the natural state. No one, but no one, looks away from my smile. It is returned with such warmth, with no suspicion, no doubts, no misgiving or uncertainty. My photographs are often said to be exceptional. They aren’t actually. If you approach the vast majority of African people with a smile, certainly in the 19 or 20 countries in which I have travelled, you will be greeted with a smile. The only compliment I will accept, is that I know all the people whose portraits I take are smiling very genuinely – at me! What an honour that is..! Imagine being welcomed by a whole CONTINENT… THEN wonder why I keep coming back. There is no part of the amazing world like this continent. I am so gifted to have discovered this secret.
Congenial William and I met like old friends and set off down small paths twisting between his neighbours’ compounds and shambas, dropping towards the lower rim of this ‘shelf’ in the Rift Valley escarpment. His elderly father lives in a tidy compound amongst his small fields at the edge of the area, where the ridge drops sharply down to the baking, parched, bush-covered plain shimmering in haze below, my road of Sunday, my dusty broken road that seemed so very long, cutting a white sliver between the dry trees and spreading bush. It looked so innocent and easy from far above. I looked down and remembered just how the tar road seemed to recede mile after mile as I bounced along in a pother of dust. William’s father, Changwony, was found somewhere below his compound, 78 years old and walking slowly with a stick. A jolly fellow, we sat together beneath a spreading tree amongst black rocks, surrounded by the magnificence that local people probably seldom appreciate. A delightful breeze rose from the valley and the sun was tempered by the trees. The climate seemed to me just perfect this January day. I could have sat there for hours, gazing at the vistas, revelling in the warmth, the relaxation of every muscle in my frame and the welcome of all about me.
A laughing neighbour, Gladys Chapkoech, invited us for tea: Kenyan chai, based on the Indian recipe for making a rather dusty flavoured boiled tea with milk and sugar. From a large pink plastic Chinese flask she poured tin mugs of reviving liquid as we sat beneath an avocado tree laden with as yet not quite ripe fruits (unfortunately!). Neighbours joined us, all inquisitive about the manically smiling mzungu in their midst. Seldom have I felt more relaxed – or less threatened. At the compound where William’s mother lives, we ate kitere, a tasty, heavy mixture of brown beans and maize and elsewhere, with Silas and his jocular wife, I tried the local home-brew, made from ubiquitous maize and wheat, not a bad brew at all, cloudy white and thick, sweet and lightly alcoholic. William’s father has two wives but appears to live with the junior wife, not William’s direct mother. “How do the churches regard this then?” I asked, for as usual in Africa there are churches everywhere. “Oh, the real Christians, they don’t allow, but, well, here some have plenty of wives!”
“Are there still traditional beliefs then?”
“Oh, no..!” replied William dismissively. So what the rest of the population are, I’m not sure… They go to church, but they are polygamous if they want: the best of both worlds, I guess. We talked a little about religion in Europe and I explained how its influence is weakening. “So what’s your church?” asked William. “Well,” I said, “since I know you well enough now to be honest, I am an atheist actually. Usually in Africa that is so far beyond anyone’s comprehension that I just reply ‘Anglican’, but I’m not!” William had no trouble accepting my lack of belief. “Ha, there was this man… what was his name..? Errrm, oh, Leakey, Richard Leakey! (He of the famous discoveries of early man and the evolutionary theories of the Olduvai Gorge in northern Kenya). He fell in a plane, but he survived! He was very famous and our president, our president himself, went to visit him in hospital. The president said, ‘Oh I will say prayers to God for your survival!” William laughed and drank some more of his gin. “But Richard Leakey, he said, ‘NO! Don’t do THAT! I am an ATHEIST!” William rocked with laughter. It must be a famous Kenyan story of non-belief. Kenyans are fairly broadminded.
We met so many delightful people, simple, welcoming and lacking any pretension. As always, those with the least to give, give generously of what little they have, a truth I have observed on my travels for over forty years. Those who have, generally give so much less open-heartedly than those on what to us would be the margins of poverty. It may only be a tin mug of sweet chai, but the way in which it is given makes it valuable beyond wealth. The hardest lesson to learn is how to take from your heart, in the manner gifts are offered. For we who have learned to count the cost of everything this is the biggest dilemma to overcome when travelling in Africa…
“Let’s take a beer and one of your bottles of gin, but today I won’t sit for one and a half hours. I want to go to Iten and fuel my motorbike.” So we repaired to the shady bar again, where William drank only half his gin and left the other half for later. Then, rewarding him amidst great gratitude with about a fiver for his guiding, we parted with handshakes and a promise that I should try to return. I went back and rode the bike up to Iten, five kilometres up the steep hills, and to a petrol station. I am getting about 33/34 kilometres per litre (93mpg!), so my journey won’t be expensive in fuel. I filled up and set off back. Within half a mile my rear tyre deflated. It’s something I ride along worrying about most days! There’s no spare tyre and mending punctures in the bush on a bike with such hard tyres would be a nightmare.
Fortunately there was enough air left to get back up the hill to a bike repair shop I had already spotted. These days most of Africa is infested with cheap Chinese motorbikes plying as informal and dangerous taxi services, overloaded, badly maintained and even worse driven, carrying multiple passengers, three piece suites, other motorbikes, crates, sacks, churns and any manner of heavy load.
In the red dust a young fellow with the nascent beard of little more than youth, who turned out to be Ugandan, removed the old tube, a worn, tatty, patched thing that I am surprised has brought me this far, certainly on those gravel roads. No replacement tube was available – I had to order the one I have from Nairobi and pay through the nose for it – so a young man called Evans, welcoming and friendly and desperate to assist, rode me back down to the guest house on his beat up bike (a somewhat alarming journey for a European biker. Riding standards are pretty dire!), then struggled with the quiet, dust and grease-covered Ugandan chap to get the tyre back on and the bike back together, a repair costing £8 and relieving me of some very hard, long work. At least my first puncture happened close to help. Imagine if it had gone two days ago on that very long, rough road in the valley…
A high wind has blown up tonight beneath an almost full moon. I’ve left the wooden shack shelter after another somewhat dull supper of ugali and greasy cabbage, spooked by something rather large and multi-legged – or so it felt – suddenly climbing my leg in the darkness from the gappy wooden floor beneath the table! Who knows what it was? I decided not to be brave and scurried away through the windy dark to my room. Soon be bedtime anyway, an event that comes round at what at home would be mid-evening. Here nine o’clock sometimes feels late! Sun, exercise, living on my wits, smiling all day long. It’s tiring – but not in any way tiresome!
DAY 34 WEDNESDAY 11th JANUARY 2017. KAMPI-YA-SAMAKI, LAKE BARINGO, KENYA
One of the worst elements of travelling alone is that when you make a mistake, you go on kicking yourself for hours. In an irritable state, I picked the wrong place to stay tonight, a place of little character and small hot rooms. Trouble is, I suspect that a kilometre down the road I passed a place I would have enjoyed on the lake shore. For some unaccountable reason I didn’t turn down the track to find out. Now I am pissed off! Huh. Oh well, it’s only fourteen hours of my journey – and perhaps I’ll learn a lesson? (On the whole, I doubt it).
Today’s was a fine ride, spoiled at the end by descending into that irritable mood, caused I suppose, by my intransigence, sense of what’s fair and right and finding myself in a rip off part of the country. I had ridden all the way to Lake Bogoria, a place I remembered from 2001. It’s a small national park that I can enter on my motorbike. But my sense of right and wrong got utterly offended to find that I was expected to pay a ridiculous US$50 to get in. It seems the Kenyan government has seen fit to fleece tourists. Get them into the country and then, once in, charge them five times the locals’ rates. I hate this distinction. I know that my money is worth more here, but not five times. Double I might accept but five times is exploitation. And anyway, I am NOT going to pay £40 to look at flamingoes and hot springs. I saw flamingoes in the wild in Namibia in February and I’ve seen the best hot springs and their ilk in the world in Iceland. Both for free! I rode away in some dudgeon… Just as well I can’t ride in the parks on my motorbike and am not very interested in animals as I wouldn’t be prepared to spend the money anyway! Most of the parks probably now charge MUCH more to enter than $50.
The ride was good though, well all the ride until I entered this valley. I rode down into the Kerio Valley and up on the other flank into the Tugen Hills, an arm of hills that stretch out into the great Rift Valley. The small town of Kabarnet sits on a ridge of the hills and then the road twists and curls downwards into the Rift Valley itself, in wonderful sweeping curves and hairpins to the hot valley below. It’s an impressive ride and my spirits were good. I stopped at a viewpoint, looking into the expansive valley, chatting to a young local called Edwin, who was up there above his village searching for honey in pots that he has around the hills and woods. In the valley below, around the town of Marigat, honey is famous, many trees having hollowed logs slung up to attract the bees. It’s a local industry here, well known through the country.
From Marigat I rode down to Lake Bogoria, way out in the valley, bathed in heat. Here people grow impenetrable hedges of prickly pear cactus, six and seven feet high, impressive barriers. I had thought to stay there and enter the park tomorrow, but that plan went out of the window so I turned back and rode north to the other shallow, soda lake, Baringo – one of Kenya’s attractions, with prices to match. £72 B&B shocked me so much I rode off hastily and made this bad decision, a place entirely to myself alone with disinterested staff! Perhaps I am suffering the loss of the lovely place in which I just spent three happy nights. A carful of drunks just arrived (and fortunately left!). Sadly, Kenya is a country where drink driving is rampant…
Every other sort of bad driving is rampant too! I’m glad to travel on lesser-used roads as much as possible. Indicators are purely decorative, rear observation is only for wimps…
Oh, my god, they just turned on the electricity and a glitter ball comes on! I am alone! Another beer and I might cheer up and get hysterical!!! The menu tells me I can eat ‘minched beef finery spiced’ or ‘battered perched fillet with tarter sauce’ or even ‘a collection of fresh lettuce, carrot, cocomber and tomato cut and presented nicely, dressed with vinougrette dressing’. Every option appears to cost £4. Keeps it simple, I suppose. Feeling better after a bottle of beer. Calming down… I think I just got too hot and it increases my bother levels. The waiter, Robert, is being quietly friendly and the drunks left. It’s still a rather dreary dump but perhaps the second beer will improve the view? I think I had just TOO much sun today also. Even covered up in all my riding gear my face burns very uncomfortably tonight.
Where was I? Driving standards… I have ridden in the best part of twenty African countries and I think Kenya wins the prize for the worst driving. Matatus – the small over-packed minibuses – race along often busy roads, stop without warning for passengers, play cat and mouse with each other, and quite frequently have horrible accidents. Rico suggests that PSV means ‘public suicide vehicles’! Millions – millions!! – of small motorbikes ply the roads, overloaded, badly driven, weaving through traffic, causing chaos. Then there are the public buses on the main routes – racing, speeding, and quite often crashing with even more horrible accidents. I will be sticking to lesser used roads most of the time, and fortunately am a quite well trained biker – with the imagination to know what happens when you show off, lose concentration, get out your mobile (on the bike!), speed on badly maintained vehicles – and all the other hazards.
On a ride like that of today’s I have been through several climatic and natural zones in a day – sometimes in an hour! Iten sits at 2200-odd metres, the lower valley at 1200. A thousand metres – about – is lost and climbed and lost again in a few hours, even on my little under-powered bike as it puffs up the slopes. Tomorrow I hope to ride to Nyahururu, Kenya’s highest town at 2360 metres. I range from semi-desert to coniferous forest in just an hour. It’s fascinating and I love the changes. Now, at about 1200 metres, I am in hot, humid lands. Last night I had to close all the windows in my room as a stiff breeze made me cold. I’m probably no more than sixty miles or so away as the crow flies. But it has to fly high to get back to Kessup.
Why is it, I have often wondered, that when you hit a tourist area, you hit the least friendly people? Is it the tourists themselves who spoil the atmosphere of trust, or is it that these areas attract sharp businessmen and acquisitive touts who have lost their natural kindness? Why am I ignored by the owner of this guest house (Robert the waiter is making up for some of that) while in Kessup, I became brief friends with Chesoli, the supervisor, Vicky the charming waitress, William their local ‘guide’? I was more than a mere customer. No one took advantage. Everyone was kind and warm-hearted and concerned that I was comfortable and looked after. In Baringo it is the opposite: money-grabbing, uncaring and cold, despite the glitter ball. No one approaches me, no one talks to me. Yet this is one of Kenya’s foremost tourist areas.
Perhaps they resent the bargain I made. I’m glad I DID knock £6.50 off the asking price, or I’d feel even more cheated. The food wasn’t bad: chicken in coconut sauce with vegetables and the second beer improved my mood. It’s after eight now, so sleep isn’t far away! I am coming to see that 110 miles on a 200cc bike in the African heat is like double that on my red South African machine, let alone my much-missed Elephant. 200 cubic centimetres just about manages 45 miles an hour on the flat, 30 uphill if I am lucky. Slow progress for one more used to 650, 800, and 1200cc’s!
I visited Bogoria in 2001. Returning today, I realised that I remembered it completely differently. Almost nothing survived in my visual memory of the region or location. It’s just as well I write it all down or I’d have no recollection at all, beyond the fact that I went once to Lake Bogoria…
Time to retire to my rather hot room and get under the net. I can’t listen to any more of this badly dubbed TV. The cheapest is always the fare broadcast. Here in Kenya it seems to be Spanish language soaps, drably dubbed into American with little acting ability or emotion! It’s terrible. I can imagine the voice-over actors sitting in their booth in front of a screen going through their paces with this stuff. “NO, no, I can’t (short ‘a’) believe that! She sold her daughter after she was born?!No, I can’t believe it! My girl couldn’t do something like that! Tell me again, what that woman’s name was? Fernanda..! Etc, etc, etc..!” All delivered as if read from a script in poor American accents to images over-lit in cheap sets. Opiate for the people. Bedtime!
DAY 35 THURSDAY 12th JANUARY 2017. NYAHURURU, KENYA
With no regret whatsoever I rode away from my overpriced, pokey, sauna of a room in the take-it-or-leave-it guest house, where only Robert, the waiter, made the slightest effort at civility. The night passed sweatily in my cell, but I usually sleep well in this heat. Dawn was cool and the birdsong, cooing and warbling, hooting and whistling rather than European tweeting, did much to improve my mood. Riding away, though, made the best difference!
From the clammy moistness of Baringo, I have ridden to Nyahururu, Kenya’s highest town, only a few tens of miles as the crow flies but considerably higher at 2360 metres, to Baringo’s 963. I am sitting writing in the gardens of Thompson’s Falls Lodge, an old colonial survival. In 2001 I managed to bargain a rate to stay here, but those days seem to be gone as the Kenyan government sets out to fleece tourists, a short sighted policy. Now the rate is £45, and apparently non-negotiable. Just to visit the falls, hardly impressive especially at this very dry season, costs a foreigner four times as much as a resident. I decided a beer in the garden here, probably 250/- rather than the usual 200/- was a much better way to view the falls, just beyond the garden fence! Haha! But I am sitting now at 6.15 with my jersey and jacket. Forty miles away I could be bathed in perspiration. (The Tusker did cost 250 bob. I rounded up to 300 for Mirka, the smiling server. I DO like that I have enough budget these days to give tips, which aren’t really expected in many African countries. I reckoned I’d seen the falls with much better value!).
This 200 kilometre day brought me to a decision. When the house in Yorkshire sells (an email tonight that there are still searches of the old planning permission going on) I have decided to invest whatever it takes to restore my old African Elephant so that he can be flown to Africa at least one more time. There’s never been a motorbike like it for me, and though it is now 35 years old I have come to see that there never will be. The 200cc’s of this tinny little bike just is no a substitute for my old companion. I struggled at 25 and 30mph up these hills, revving the engine, changing gears, doing all I could to climb out of the great African Rift Valley. It will have to do for now but it won’t become part of the journey – as even the red BMW did the last four years to some extent.
The first 100 kilometres were quite uninteresting, through hot, dry bush country, but a quiet road. There wasn’t much to enliven the journey southwards: dusty villages, dry thorn trees, a thousand and one goats and sheep wandering the desiccated scrubland and the road looking for sustenance, many overloaded small motorbikes with sacks, crates, whole 8X4 sheets of plywood, multiple passengers, and a few racing matatus. I plodded along under the sun, all the way to Nakuru, Kenya’s fourth city. There I turned, thankfully very briefly, onto the main road that crosses Kenya from Mombasa and Nairobi up to and beyond Kitale, carrying so many of the goods and much of the fuel to Uganda and even Rwanda – the East Africa Highway. I was only on the road for a mile or so dodging big trucks and buses, scurrying motorbikes and tractors. Even so I managed to miss the road to Nyahururu – and it’s the main junction to the north here. There’s hardly a signpost in the country… As it was, though, my mistake paid off when I spotted a signboard to the Hyrax Hill Museum and wandered up a rough track off the main highway. Here is a low hill that has seen habitation for up to 5000 years and the small, dusty museum is in an old colonial bungalow next to the hill sites that were originally excavated by Mary Leakey in the 1930s. The museum itself was well-meant but shabby but my walk to the hilltop with charming Naomi was a delight! As was my subsequent conversation, for half an hour or more, with Joseph, a graduate now working for the museum service. He recently completed university (of which there are MANY in Kenya, I keep passing them) and one of his questions, worth 30 marks in his finals, was about the effects of the Brexit vote! Well, you can imagine that I let rip my anger! The opinion here, and I’ve had several conversations about the subject and people are well informed, is one of shock that the out vote won after all the years of peace and stability in Europe, but also that people respect Cameron for ‘doing the right thing’ when he lost the vote. He seems to be regarded as an upright politician for this. I am happy to set the story right when I can and point out that he had to go because he had just caused the worst decision in post-war political history and had NO future left!! His shock was as great as any. Huh. But, of course, no African politician ever falls on his sword, whatever shambles, crime or mistakes he makes…
Joseph gained a lot of credit when he declared that he thought I was “about 50”. Vanity is not totally alien! Taking my pillion, he guided me across hillside paths to put me back on the road to the north, then willingly turned and walked back up the hill. People are so good.
Well, British politics apart, the ride from Nakuru up onto the highlands again was lovely. Here and there tea, surely one of the most elegant agricultural crops for the way it covers hillsides like a fine bright green Axminster, grew on the slopes. In other places forests grow and everywhere the hills eddy and roll under the brilliant African sun. I passed the Equator twice on my journey, dipping briefly into the southern hemisphere for an hour or so. Actually, to judge by the signboards of competing villages and communities that want to garner some souvenir trade or kudos, I passed about ten Equators! It’s fun, however, even if it is no more than a geographical line, to know that for a few moments I am at the centre of the world.
I am now cold! How’s that, a few miles from the Equator? At almost 8000 feet it’s chilly – and I noticed that climbing the 69 steps to my hotel room tonight made me puff. I need to down my beer and ride back to the hotel in town, a tall building in which I found a small but bright and adequate room with en suite for £16 on the third floor. I looked at one for just £6 round the corner and realised that I can’t deal with the grot any more! Those rooms had no outside windows and resembled prison cells around a central well. No, my taste have changed now that I don’t HAVE to travel that way any more! Thank goodness.
Cultural differences make the world go round. I heard Adelight warn Yvonne, the new house girl, that she might have to wash men’s underclothes. I raised my eyebrows in question. She laughed. “Oh, African women won’t wash underclothes for their men, and men won’t do it for the women. It’s only that I have a European husband, I had to get used to it!” I notice a laundry list in my hotel room (see, I said my travels had changed!!). To wash a pair of trousers or a shirt costs a paltry 80 pence. A skirt or dress the same. Underpants or knickers? £2.50!! Just as well I do my own anyway, even in Rico’s household. I might have caused a cultural incident.
Back in the high rise hotel I have eaten a good egg masala and chapatis, served by James, a mature waiter with considerable charm. I’m still chilly. My motorbike is in the security yard across the street, which, viewed from the (enclosed) balcony is still busy like a big city, although this is a small provincial town. Few vehicles have a full complement of lights, but some small motorbikes shine and glitter like Blackpool illuminations. Unusually, I just rode back in the dark: I hardly ever do that in Africa but it was only half a mile. There are no street lights but tonight the full moon shines like a beacon from the clear Equatorial sky. I need to get beneath a blanket. Fast. 8.15 and I am in bed to get warm.