WEST & EAST AFRICA 2017/ 2018 – Journal six

DAY 43 MONDAY 1st JANUARY 2017. KITALE, KENYA

43 days, and I’m still in Kitale, I was just thinking. Then I remembered, I spent 23 of those days in Ghana. Already it seems so long ago. Mind you, 20 days and I am still in Kitale is quite a while too. It’s easy to relax into family life here with all the cheerful girls, Adelight and Rico – and I’ve had not so much choice anyway until we sort out my motorbike papers. I very much hope that that will happen this week at last. I have been very fortunate to have such kind hosts and it’s all part of my journey, I guess.

None of us even left the compound today: I had a lesson in making chapatis and samosas from Adelight, samosas being, I decided, a long winded process I doubt I can contemplate. East African chapatis I might attempt. They are a greasy fried chapati that I quite enjoy. I earned a certain respect for Asian cooks, if this is what they have to do!

DAY 44 TUESDAY 2nd JANUARY 2017. KITALE, KENYA

“…Come tomorrow…” It’s a well known phrase in much of Africa, usually used as an ironic comment and as frustrating to a European mind as you might expect. But there’s nothing to do. Except wait.

We creep forward. One small bureaucratic hill climbed each day is as much as you can expect here. We now have a direct name and phone number for someone, Leonard, at the company who were the previous owners of the blue bike, Orelai Ltd of Nairobi. But the user name and password he provided are not recognised at the post office. No one is at work, says Leonard, to check the current codes. It is one year on Thursday since we registered the transfer of ownership.

Meanwhile, I am reluctant to leave the country – or even to travel around much – without the papers in correct names. Some day too, I will want to resell the machine… So I sit and wait, and drink beer with Rico in the evening and play Scrabble with Adelight.

DAY 45 WEDNESDAY 3rd JANUARY 2017. KITALE, KENYA

Now we have found a friend of a friend who claims he can fast track my logbook on the spot in Nairobi for about £35. Each day, a single step… Whether it’s forwards remains to be seen on the NEXT day! Will Mutua, the man in Nairobi, be able to contact Leonard, agent for the previous owner, also in Nairobi? Adelight sent a photo of the present papers as proof of Mutua’s identity; the real papers will be sent down by courier tomorrow if the meeting fulfils its function.

Insurance for the little motorbike runs out tomorrow, so I returned to the insurance office in the Kitale Mega Centre for renewal. It is, of course, one year since I was there. The manager looked up, on hearing me say that I had come to renew my cover. “Oh… Adelight!?” For everyone in town seems to know my cheerful, capable hostess.

How do these businesses make any money? This was a large, featureless office with four desks on the third floor of a modern building. At one sat a woman engrossed in ‘social’ media on her phone, flicking and twitching obsessively; at another a young man read the newspaper listlessly; while at the third, the manager, Simon, seemed to do the work. Between them all, lay a lot of empty floor tiles. What a way to spend your day, but so many Africans are grateful for any job, however stultifying.

Meanwhile, more reading and more beer drinking on the porch and some time spent doing the family shopping in the chaos of the town supermarkets amongst frenetic shopping for return to school – always left till the last minute. So passes another day of waiting…

DAY 46 THURSDAY 4th JANUARY 2017. KESSUP, KENYA

Today I felt the need for activity and new horizons, despite the warmth of my welcome at Kitale. I didn’t come all this way to sit and read the days away, so I have returned for now to Kessup, leaving Kitale as late as 3.15 after another frustration. Mutua in Nairobi was unable to raise the accountant at Olerai Ltd, previous owners, and the price for the speedy (huh!) logbook has risen to £100. Finally, Adelight and I decided that I should leave the current papers and the money with her and she will keep in touch with further news. None, so far… Where will it end? But there’s nothing I can do. This is Africa, and bureaucracy will take the time it takes. I must just hold my patience and try to relax, and perhaps just explore the world around me for some more days. It is one year today since we registered the motorbike in Adelight’s name.

*

It’s funny how you can meet someone half a world away in another culture, and recognise a throughly decent person. It was a happy surprise for him when I phoned William at six and said, “William, happy New Year. I am in Mexico!”

“Mexico!” he exclaimed in amazement.

“Yes, Mexico, my usual room next door at Lelin Campsite!” That made him laugh, as he removed his supper pan from his new gas stove and pulled on his jacket to find me. He is particularly excited since his daughter, whom he worships, came as a surprise from Australia for a few days over Christmas. It was she who brought the new portable gas stove. And it is she who promises him that she will build him a proper house this year. “Don’t expect too much,” I advised, knowing that a student nurse will be undergoing sacrifices to send money home from abroad at all, even if she does respect William’s privations in getting her out of the country to study. A two bedroom, one living room, kitchen and bathroom, basic block house will cost about £3000 to construct, to replace William’s rather ramshackle zinc shack on his small shamba next door.

We ate supper and drank some beers together in one of the crooked wooden shelters of the guest house, bemoaning the coolness and cloudiness of the weather these past few days. In the afternoon thin grey cloud gathers and thickens, threatening rain that seldom falls except in a few drops. I wish there would be a good downpour to clear the weather away and get back the equatorial sunshine, but this half-bred weather seems set for now.

My welcome back to the campsite was warm: “Welcome home!” said Joseph, the rotund cook. I come here for the best sleep I know in Africa – maybe anywhere! The nights are of the deepest silence; utter, complete serenity and stillness. The expansive valley lies unseen below, filling the view, if there was one through the cloudy haze tonight. Beneath roam wild animals; no doubt personal dramas play out in the dark down there; many people sleep already in their candlelit homes amongst the neat shambas but, apart from a few bats, nothing moves here on the lip of the giant chasm as the small charcoal brazier that Nico, the barman has brought, burns away to white ash. It is 9.20 and I am ready for a luxuriously silent night. Despite the warmth and welcome and good company in Kitale, my simple cement room in the garden is not the quietest place to rest, with dogs battling through the night on all sides. It’s good for security, but not conducive to the sort of repose I will probably enjoy tonight!

DAY 47 FRIDAY 5th JANUARY 2017. KESSUP, KENYA

“NO SUGAR!?” exclaimed cheerful Ursula, aghast at the concept, as she brought me a flask of milky breakfast tea. “You don’t use sugar?!!” Nor would you, I thought, if you had teeth like mine. Nor WILL you WHEN you HAVE teeth like mine, I refrained from saying. Africa is slowly being weaned onto sugar addiction like the rest of us. It’s even put into much of the beer now to make it more ‘attractive’ to customers, or more repulsive to me. Wechiga’s chief complaint about British food is that it is too sweet. Imagine then that MY complaint of American food is that IT is far too sweet. Then look at the American body shape and see the sugary multinational soft drinks peddled relentlessly in Africa (Coke sponsors everything imaginable), the new addition of sugar to beer, increasingly sweet foodstuffs, even local dishes, the increase in processed foods – and wonder at the future, here where medical infrastructure is basic and dentistry rare.

*

William finds a new direction for each of our walks in the surrounding area. I bet I know this small region and its scattered villages as well as anywhere in Africa by now. We wander the quiet red dust paths and meet people where they scratch their tiny plots by hand from the fertile but contorted landscape, hacking with hoes at sometimes minuscule terraces amongst the black rocks, and sometimes in small level neat fields. There are few rocky roads, mostly just the meandering and pretty paths between high foliage and many trees. It’s an attractive place, this plateau beneath the red cliffs and vegetation of the upper heights and the drop to the valley below. Today we walked on an upper plateau, above the tar road, taking milky tea and millet porridge with Moses and his wife Liz on their shamba and greeting and meeting many others. But today the villages were quiet: children have mostly returned to school and it’s a busy time in the fields, transplanting and watering, weeding and preparing bullock-turned sods into useful loam.

After four hours or so, we repaired to an airy, sunny bar for some beer and talk. As with Wechiga in Navrongo, time passes pleasantly this way. In fact, at one time I ruminated that this is probably the way retired gentlemen the world over are expected to behave – except that we had clambered several hundred feet up and down the steep escarpment at this altitude of about 6000 feet first. Obviously, I enjoy William’s company; I actually decided to stay another day tomorrow to meet his brother, ex traffic police, for advice on my logbook. Before we go to meet him, we will climb down the lower escarpment some way into the great Kerio Valley, still clouded the day long. This weather is disappointing: warm through the day and chill at night, but lacking the wonder of African blue skies for most of the day.

Adelight phoned, sounding deeply frustrated, as I chatted with a young farmer mending his barbed wire fence around a tidy field. She has made no progress with Nairobi: the accountant for the previous owner’s company seems to be unreachable and various people add their confusion with extraneous inquiries, none of which move us forward. Now that’s Friday gone. I am beginning to think that in the end I will just have to lodge the old logbook with the traffic police and get the receipt I apparently require to leave the country on my Kenyan registered machine. At the end of last year’s journey, after ten border crossings, several of them Kenyan, I was informed that I had broken the law for many weeks by carrying the original logbook (even the one not in Adelight’s name) along with me! I have a feeling that, despite the cost of shipping, my next African safari may be back on my old BMW… So far, I have spent perhaps £5000 on Kenyan motorbikes! Before the little blue one, there was a Honda, purchased, or half-purchased, at considerable expense, that turned out, when Rico took delivery and stripped it down, to be a mechanical mess and unridable. Much wrangling through solicitors ensued over that one, until ultimately Adelight was told by the police that she should just sell it again and keep what was left of the money. Needless to say, no one really wants it – and also needless to say, it has no log book in any of our names! It sits in the shed in Kitale, an expensive embarrassment and a useless bike. We hope someone may buy it to tear it up for parts, but we won’t recover much of my initial outlay. Then, of course, I spent several hundred pounds getting the blue bike up to scratch for my journeys. In the end, I could have shipped in – and out – my Elephant, even with a now privatised British carnet document, cheaper. Oh well, to late now. I just need to make the most of THIS journey now…

DAY 48 SATURDAY 6th JANUARY 2017. KESSUP, KENYA

The only trouble with climbing so far down into the great Kerio Valley, an arm of the Rift Valley, is that you have to clamber up again. William, in his quest for ever more walks to entertain me, took me perhaps half way into the valley, maybe 1000 feet below, where he has a small shamba perched almost on the edge of the last and mightiest drop. This was a quiet walk; not many people live so far out on the edge of the escarpment, mainly cattle herders and immigrants who have come upwards from the dry valley below and settled. Brooks and streams scurry down amongst the volcanic rocks and red dirt, so that even here the land can be made fertile with a lot of hard graft – by hand. Without attention, though, your crops may fall to baboons and monkeys down here. But, oh, what a long walk to grow and maintain a few yards of vegetables: the life of so many in this vastly over populated continent.

William’s mother has eight children, his father countless more, it appears. Almost all of them have grown to maturity and produced legions of their own children. So it’s the usual huge family. Many of them seem to have done well: William and his brother climbing through the police service, another an executive of one of the big national oil companies. They all have land and property up and down this plateau. “This is the land of my brother… This is my father’s land… This is all our ancestral land…” as we walked.

We returned to our lookout high on the edge of the upper plateau and rested briefly. I could have done with a more rest by then! I enjoy the challenge, but I AM hiking up and down mountains at 6000 feet or so. It’s tiring. But I know that at this guest house I will get the best sleep in Africa, so we set off again quite soon. William had made an appointment with his brother, who has recently transferred from the traffic police. He has a decent house, neatly kept, up the road beside the village centre of Kessup: a well finished bungalow with tidy wooden outbuildings surrounded by his small shamba. We rode up on the bike.

Joseph gave good advice (after some nonsense about going to my embassy for help. Sorry, but I know what a waste of time it would be to enlist their help in assisting my holiday!) He tells me that the change of ownership document that we have for my blue Mosquito will be quite sufficient legally, for me to move out of the country, even if I don’t have a logbook in Adelight’s name. I must take my original papers to Eldoret, the local capital and a city I loathe, and register them with Customs. They will issue a receipt and the paper necessary for me to move out of Kenya. When I return, I take the receipt, complete with stamps of exit and reentry, back to the Custom office and retrieve my own papers.

We rode on up the hill to the town of Iten on the very lip of the valley edge. It’s a scruffy, unattractive place but we went to visit Chesoli, who was manager of this ‘campsite’ for a number of years, including my first visit. He’s a laughing, friendly fellow, now managing another guest house in town and developing a campsite along the cliff edges. It was Chesoli who introduced me to William last year. I can’t warm to the present manager, Joyce, a rather grasping, insincere woman.

Back for a couple of beers and supper: ‘curry bolognese’, Joseph the round cook called it. Well, it was Joseph’s creative version of something quite odd – minced meat filled with chillies and served on rice and cabbage. ‘Bolognese’ it wasn’t! Still, after such hard exercise I could have eaten anything put before me. I started the morning with a large enamel mug of fresh milk from William’s cows. One of the joys of travel is different foods, however strange.

There’s one other guest in this whole place, the ‘convict’ as I call him. Ex-policeman William finds the whole situation hilarious. There’s a very scruffy, culturally unsympathetic Frenchman, with ridiculous blonde weave-on braids, in a dirty tent. Kenyans as a rule are moralistic, conservative people who don’t like to witness deceitful behaviour, so a while back he was caught by the police smoking strong dope and causing discomfort around him, hauled through the courts and is now a ‘prisoner’. He stays in his grubby tent but must report every morning for several hours work at the local jail. “Imagine a mzungu cleaning the prison toilets!” guffaws William in derision. He is now awaiting deportation. It’s his third winter visit to the area and Chesoli says his character has completely altered into this demanding, difficult, dirty person they’d all rather now avoid.

So next week perhaps I can begin my safari proper. A day to go to Eldoret and back, then I will go to visit Alex and Precious in Sipi, over the Uganda border, and then head for Nairobi myself, to attempt the Ethiopia visa, for the road from Kenya to Ethiopia starts from the middle of Kenya anyway.

DAY 49 SUNDAY 7th JANUARY 2017. KITALE, KENYA

Back in Kitale and all has changed again. In my absence Rico, through Yuri, who sold us the bike, got in touch with no lesser person that the MD of Orelia Ltd, previous owners of the bike and he has offered his personal support to get a new logbook. Meanwhile, we think I can use photocopies and talk to blag my way into Uganda for now. So on Tuesday, that’s what I will try.

I returned to Kitale by the same tough but lovely route as before through the Cheringani Hills. It’s a rough, dusty ride, quiet today, Sunday; just lots of Sunday-dressed people walking between numerous varieties of ‘church’. Clouds gathered, threatening rain to the north but once again it seemed to dissipate, and by the time I was back on tar roads, right at the top of the hills, the sun was out brightly again, my face reddening from the altitude and clear air. I didn’t tire of this delightful ride, despite the bumps, ruts and dirt. Big trees tower at the roadside and views expand, dropping away in well cultivated, neat fields and shambas and beyond to wave on wave of curving, high hills, neatly patterned by agriculture, fenced by picturesque split wood fences and dotted with small homes and round thatched huts. Thickly woolly sheep bounced heavily away everywhere. Oddly, I didn’t see a single sheep on this road just three weeks ago. Above the pastoral scene the African sky is always vast and from occasional heights I could look far to the north over the huge bush lands and then deserts that extend far up the country.

The highlands of Kenya are fine, almost European in character, were it not for the details of houses, scraggy villages and black-skinned people everywhere. The air has a luminous clarity up in these heights, destroyed only by the trails of dust from slow moving vehicles bashing and pounding on the rough tracks. On my Mosquito I am soon past them, wiping dust from my goggles, my beard reddening once more. There’s a great sense of freedom, riding up here on rough trails over high African landscapes. My progress is slow; people watch as I pass and react if I have a hand free to wave: often a thumbs up and a welcoming grin. This time I was more confident of my way, recognising features from the journey before Christmas. Next time I go to Kessup, perhaps I will take this same route in the opposite direction, for the 100 miles will look entirely different again, half of it on rough tracks that add a certain small thrill to the journey.

It was almost eleven when I rode away. William came to say goodbye, this man apparently so content with his quiet life on his small shamba with his cows. “Oh, today I will relax and tomorrow I’ll feed my tomatoes…” I believe the attack that he suffered at the hands of a criminal with a machete, that causes his face to be faintly twisted and almost required a brain operation during his weeks in hospital, had a lasting effect on his character. He obviously took stock and decided that life with virtually nothing but peace of mind, on his rude shamba with its simple tin hut, was preferable to a career amongst the low life of Nairobi. He admits, as does Wechiga, that he frequently has not a pesoa in his pocket – a condition that I find unsettling, but which is, in Africa, common. He grows his own simple food, cooks for himself, eschews the necessity to find a second wife to do his chores, looks after his cows and leads a quiet, contented life, proud of his children and cooperating with his separated wife in their attention; he needs only a few bob for cigarettes each day, a habit that he regrets, picked up in the police, and tells me he will try to control – as he did his intake of hard local liquor, persuaded by his daughter, abetted by me.

This morning I started my day with a tin mug of delicious home made yoghurt from his cows. Unsweetened but strangely not sour, he makes it the traditional way, using the ash from a certain bark mixed with fresh milk and kept for three days before eating. That and an omelette and tea kept me alive until late this evening when we went to the Kitale Club to sit by the golf greens as the sun set. Unfortunately, the club has one of the most inefficient kitchens known to man. We were nine. I joked that they would bring seven orders. They brought seven orders! By then I was happy to be one of those served.

All being well, on Tuesday morning I will head out on the appallingly rough, challenging ‘road’ round Mount Elgon and into Uganda. Dependent then on progress with bureaucracy, I will either continue into Uganda, such a friendly land, or return to Customs in Eldoret and on to Nairobi and hopefully, Ethiopia. In Africa one just goes as the flow takes you and enjoys the now. No point getting anxious…

Last year it was day 30 when I left Kitale finally, with delivery of the bike and the papers all sorted out for travel. This year I might make it in 20 days.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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