EAST AFRICA 2020 – TWO

DAYS 15/16/17. SATURDAY-MONDAY JANUARY 11/12/13 2019. SIPI, UGANDA

The biggest satisfaction – and pride – in my life is having friends all over the world. And what fun to bring two of my ‘families’ together, as I have today. For years ago, I entirely bought into the belief in extended families, the finest aspect of African life. I am as much accepted into my various families on this continent as if I had the blood relations that we in the West find so overwhelmingly important.

My travelling friendships and these families that, especially in Africa, accept me into their midst in the most meaningful way – are entirely based on instinct. It’s all I have when I start with a clean sheet, in unfamiliar cultures. Over my decades of travel, this instinct has become quite well honed and very valuable to me.

I have introduced my two East African families. “Well, actually, you are rather good at that!” Rico complimented me, over his third Nile Special. But it’s easy, when the people I introduce are so open and honest. A warmly friendly evening has cemented some more friendships, via my introduction. I am happy.

A family adventure. Scovia, Rico and Maria, Marion and Adelight on the road from Suam

In 2017 I took my first safari on the Mosquito, entering Uganda – a country I have come to love for it’s delightful people – through the remote Suam River border, only fifty kilometres from Kitale. It’s the route we’ve used to come for our short family holiday. It’s an appalling road, but probably my favourite ride in East Africa. It is no more than a rutted, incredibly dusty, pitted and rocky track around the slopes of spreading Mount Elgon. The views to the north are spectacular, across mile upon mile of northern Uganda, volcanic cones reduced to mere pimples by the scale of the infinite landscape. I gaze down from my dusty perch amongst straggling villages peopled by waving rural Ugandans, accompanied by choruses of children excitedly yelling, “MZUNGU! How are youuuu!” There are always legions of small children everywhere. They add so much joy to my journeys, if I forget for a while the environmental impact of this exponential Ugandan birthrate. It’s a delight to ride this eventful, scenic road, battling the obstacles on the trail, thrilled by the vast views into the sunny north beyond green shambas of countless banana trees. The sun is warm; the air, away from the clouds of invasive red dust, clean and invigorating as it washes up from the blue vistas below. The journey is wonderful, always above 1700 metres, reaching 2239 metres up on the hills amongst the thatched-roofed villages.

UBER Uganda

On the road to Sipi. It’s not good! But my favourite in East Africa.

Back in 2017, several rides across this mountain ago, I reached Sipi, smothered in red dust, my face thick with the residue of this awful/ wonderful road, exhilarated by the thrills of the ride, exhausted by the energetic leaping and bucketing. It was to me the ultimate trail ride. But a trail ride with a purpose. And a trail ride in Africa! There’ve been many of them of course in the, what? 70 or 80 thousand miles I have ridden on this continent. But this is still a highlight, just under 100 miles of fun and scenery. When I got to Sipi that first time, I looked for a place to sleep and, after casting about for half an hour, alighted upon a place up red tracks and footpaths deep in the banana and coffee shambas. But it was the young woman there that made up my mind to stay. A happy decision that has brought me another delightful family – Alex, Precious and their two small children.

We are Rock Garden’s first official guests. Scovia and I cut the ribbon on the second round house.

Precious is well named. She’s now 24, a little voluptuously overweight, with an appetite unequal to any I ever knew. She’s filled with instantaneous laughter, often joining jokes against herself. She’s generous and completely honest in her emotions. She is what she is, and that is an attraction I recognised instinctively and immediately on that first meeting.

When I arrived, layered in red dust and dirt, I looked wild and frightful. Precious was terrified by what she saw ride through the gate. She admits it now with her infectious laughter. “Eh! Jonat’an, I was friiiiightened! I called Alex, and told him a mad mzungu was here at the guest house!” In fact, the local bush telegraph was so efficient that others had already alerted him by phone that a mzungu was approaching his place on a piki-piki. He arrived some time later, by which time I’d rinsed some of the dust into mud with a bucket of cold water, and looked a little more like an ageing mzungu with a white beard. Less a dishevelled madman.

So the friendships were confirmed. A family was formed. Another warm African family for me. I soon realised that these two young people (Alex was then about 29) were kind, without any artifice whatsoever, trustworthy, generous with their friendship without any expectation of reward, and full of integrity. Long ago Alex had ambitions to become a doctor. He’d have been a good one too. But in this Ugandan economy, as one of no less than nine siblings, the opportunity wasn’t there. He trained in hotel management instead. Precious, from far away on the other side of Uganda, in the lovely mountains and lakes of the western mountains that I’ve enjoyed so much, trained in hotel hospitality also. They met working in Kampala, in a hotel in which Alex was hugely popular with the customers, but as so often in Uganda – which has minimal workers’ rights – exploited by the mean spirits and greed of the owners. He left to return to his roots in Sipi, where he finds himself in exactly the same situation in a hotel in nearby Kapchorwa, the regional town. There he works for seven days a week, any hours required, for another mean and greedy owner, and is paid the pittance of £59 – about £2.00 a day, for all duties. Alex says he scrupulously avoids any transactions with money, just the sort of imagined cheating that his much less honest, mean employer could use to accuse him of wrong-doing and further cut his pittance. Adelight pays her shamba boy/ watchman £47 a month for light duties, with virtually no responsibilities and a day and a half off every weekend… Alex manages a regional hotel for £2 a day.

So you can see why my support has become so vital. I decided to sponsor Alex and Precious in their attempts to become independent, with their own small ‘resort’ hotel. It’s a humble affair so far. But Alex, one of those few Africans who will think for tomorrow, a weakness all across this continent, has much bigger plans. He has dreams. It’s humbling to see how hard he must work to achieve even a small portion of those dreams. However, he’s pragmatic, and determined. When I come to visit now, I can see that every penny of my support – to date maybe around £1000 – has been put to honest use. Already he has two delightful thatched round houses, built of generally local materials. He has planted shrubs and bushes, flowers and grass – for eventual camping grounds. He is half way through constructing a huge restaurant, raised a couple of metres on posts to take advantage of the expansive view above the matoke (banana) trees of his neighbours. He has created a barbecue, made two rooms within his own earth walled house, and improved the pit latrine. Of course, he plans internal flushing lavatories, gravel paths, better security fencing, a smart gateway, and and a decent kitchen. Oh, he has plans and dreams! Talking with him, I can see some of those ambitions in my head. If anyone can do it, Alex and Precious will win out. But on £2 a day, imagine the length of the dreams he must foster, the disappointments he must accept, the frustrations of seeing his life pass and his children grow, while he has only his aspirations to fuel his endless graft. He must educate his two children, keep the family secure and fed, deal with the visible depredations here of climate change, overcome the appalling corruption at all lower levels of Ugandan bureaucracy – try to forge his independence and support his young family. Most of us in the West would be complaining that life was against us. In Africa almost always life is against those with dreams and ambitions, be they only for independence.

At the same time, Alex is chairman of the youth of his area, dealing with all sorts of problems, most of them based around the voluntary work he does to try to bring down the appalling birthrate, influence equality for girls and women and remove from this traditional community the barbarity of female genital mutilation, all in a region in which statistics of HIV/ AIDS is deeply depressing. While cooking for us and managing his grass roots hotel with five guests, he was comforting a woman whose voluntary sterilisation had been botched by a local doctor, organising community events for his group to bring enlightenment in rural villages and called back and forth by his unpleasant employer, jealous that Alex is trying against all odds to forge his own independent life, and using this as an excuse to exploit him the more. MY dream is that we can make this charming young family independent of exploitative employers. I have promised that my support will continue – just one of the various calls that make me hope for another contract from my American contacts! But from my support of so many Africans I get so much satisfaction and heartfelt warmth that I have come to understand that sometimes there’s even MORE joy to giving than receiving. I am truly part of their family: ‘Precious’s first born’, she says. More like their grandfather, but nonetheless happily welcomed home for a visit. When Alex told Precious that I had been injured, he tells me, laughing, that she burst into tears and exclaimed, “OH! Jonat’an is OLD! He won’t be able to visit us! I will meeees him too much! I love him!”

When I first came to Sipi, little Keilah, Precious’s daughter, was just a baby. Terrified of the white man, she would burst into screams of alarm. She’s still shy and skirts me circumspectly, but slowly she adapts to a white man in her house. Then last February I met the ‘secret baby’. The little boy was born in November 2018 but I stayed four days in the house in February last year without Precious telling me about her second baby (and last, says Alex, working hard to bring down the Ugandan population explosion). “Eh, Jonata’n is always telling me Ugandan women have too many babies!” she exclaimed in explanation of her omission, despite the fact that the little boy is named Jonathan, and nicknamed JB! Added to which, their resort is named Rock Gardens in respect of Rock Cottage!

So, it’s obvious that I have become fond of this small family. And they of me. Alex is smart, intellectually bright, honest to a fault, and desperately hard working. A man of dreams and ambitions who will achieve his goals against all odds through hard work.

My Ugandan family.

Now I have introduced two of my African families to one another. It’s been successful, and heart warming to see the two small girls playing together; to watch Adelight and Precious laughing together; to hear the genuine invitations to visit Kitale, where I know the Ugandan family would be made very welcome, and pick up ideas from Rico’s knowledge of Africa and practical solutions to water pumps, solar systems, and the like. Fun too to see the older girls enjoy a ‘foreign’ trip and the excitement of walking the rural area, exploration of the waterfalls and the delight of sitting conversing and eating beside a roaring fire in the quiet, chilly full-moonlit garden of Rock Gardens Resort, Scovia and Marion grinning in the firelight, all of us pulling adorable Precious’s leg, to her delighted laughter. It’s been satisfying to facilitate this short safari to Uganda. Worth the dust. Worth being confined (as I see it of course!) within Rico’s car as we drove the fairground ride of the dreadful trail across the mountains amidst the cries of happy children.

This is Africa. What a biased impression we have of the absolute joy that life on this red continent can be.

****

We began our journey on Saturday morning, a full, heavy vehicle. The road to the Kenyan border is being rebuilt, entailing long bypasses on rutted tracks alongside the new road. Dust everywhere. It’s a couple of hours to Suam, a selection of battered wood and zinc border huts beside a bent gate and a dribbly river, in which children frolic and shout as we cross the narrow bridge: twisted railings and ‘1956’ inscribed in the beaten cement. There’s no shred of tarmac within thirty miles. Formalities on the remote border are pretty simple. Another two stamps each way in my fast-filling passport. “Please squeeze them in,” I request with a smile. “It’s filling up with all these African visas and I want to keep my EU passport until it expires in 2025! I’m proud of it and don’t want a blue Brexit passport with a lot of ridiculous restrictions!”

We bump over the frail bridge, due for replacement by a fine ‘one-stop’ border post when the new Chinese roads reach the border. It’ll be a long time coming from the Uganda side. It’s challenging country for new roads and the progress is much slower than across the rolling country from Kitale. In a few more months the tar may reach Suam on the Kenya side. But I will be able to enjoy the ‘fun’ of the Ugandan road for a while to come. When the tar comes it will change the dynamic amongst these rural people. I doubt they’ll be so excited by mzungus on motorbikes then. For me some of the magic will evaporate, but of course, for people along the road it will bring new opportunities, new access to sales for their produce, more ability to move about. More accidents too…

For now, our papers in order, we drive away through straggly Suam, a place of appalling ruts and bumps, the trading post for the border, and doubtless for smuggling and illegal cross-border trade. Nowadays, the real rough trail starts here. It’ll continue, thick red dust, ruts, bumps and trials, hacked out of the hillsides through simple villages for many miles until we pick up the first tentative kilometres of graded highway that’ll one day make all this so boring – for me. We bump through the backwoods town of Bukwo: rough and ready buildings, a town council office, bars, shack shops and boda-bodas everywhere. Kapchorwa, the town we will come to before we reach Alex and Precious, has a population of 50,000, and 1000 pesky boda-boda taxi motorbikes. Like insects, they buzz and swarm, irritate and weave about, unconcerned for dangers.

There’s a long climb out of Bukwo, a rocky track rising in hairpins to a view across Kenya and Uganda, steeping in bright sunshine below. Then we climb to the top of our present journey. Rico’s sat-nav tells us the highest we reach is 2239 metres. The air is clear, the sun dazzling, the steep hillsides very green this year. It’s unseasonably wet. Climate change is perhaps more obvious in these places. It has more effect too on the people, who for hundreds of years have relied on their local lore for times to sow and harvest, which crops flourish when. Now conditions are changing rapidly. Not far from Kitale a few weeks ago, a devastating flood killed more than 200 and left many homeless. Of course, this never even makes the news in our arrogant Western media. These people, who have no access to state help to restore their livelihoods, are ignored in favour of a few white people suffering insured losses of a few inches of water that damages their ‘stuff’. People here lose what very little they have. There are seldom emergency services, no restoration plans, no rush to donate charity. If you’re in the path of climate change here, you just have to get on and get back with your own meagre resources. Climate change wished upon these poor folk by the greed and recklessness of the so-called ‘developed world’. So ‘developed’ we cause havoc and misery to the unprepared – and ourselves.

Heads wrapped in scarves to combat some at least of the dense dust, Adelight and Maria, Scovia and Marion leap and jerk about, laughing at the beginning, but tiring of the adventure fairly soon. They aren’t so fascinated by the villages we pass as I am. Once they’ve seen the view, they want to arrive. They live in this landscape and know these peoples. To them these appalling tracks are a nuisance to moving about, not a challenge that makes my holiday more fun. I seek out these roads. People here take them only when required and there’s no alternative. It’s easy to forget how accustomed I have become to my comforts, so that a bit of ‘suffering’ becomes fun that puts a smile on my face.

After hours of this battle – about seven hours in total – we reach ‘civilisation’ in the form of scruffy, busy, rugged Kapchorwa. Here I can change money at the ATM to give to Alex to pay for our weekend at the nascent Rock Gardens. He’s there now, awaiting us, desperately putting the finishing touches to the two round houses, built of local sticks and earth that will accommodate his first real guests – for we don’t really count my few days last February. He’s had to wrack his brains how to put us all up. He completed the second round room and bought a second double bed of local posts and planks this week. He’s made a room in his own house for me. The cement is still damp where he’s inventively created a small bathroom space from what was the front corridor of his small home. Unfortunately, the builder omitted to instal a drain. The living room has been turned into a kitchen round the back, accessed across muddy ground. In the kitchen are two charcoal braziers and various crude tables, heaps of vegetables being chopped by the crew Alex has co-opted to help this weekend. Two of them are junior colleagues at the mean-spirited hotel. They’ll keep their mouths shut about Alex’s guests for now, happy to help and get experience in a more cheerful, equal atmosphere.

We’ve just time to cut the ribbons that laughing Precious has hung in front of the two round rooms before the heavens open. It’s chilly too. It just shouldn’t be raining at this season. She’s decorated the rooms with heavily scented flowers, draped fabric to hide the still-drying mud plaster. Put balloons and greenery in the part-finished restaurant space to welcome her first foreign guests. Quickly the surfaces turn to mud as we unpack the car and prepare for the evening. The sun soon sets and the rain blows itself out enough that Alex can cuts some turfs and make a lovely fire in the garden. Here we sit and chatter while the legion of boys and the chef that Alex has employed for three days, cook a vast banquet of delicious tilapia from Lake Victoria with ‘Irish’, as potatoes are called in Uganda, matoke (savoury bananas), sweet potatoes and vegetable curry. It’s a huge meal and welcome when it arrives about nine o’clock. By now Rico and I have downed three bottles of Nile Special as we all gaze into the fascination of a wood fire in the open. But we’re dressed in jackets and blankets by now. We are at 1814 metres in the garden. The new raised structure, still just an open sided place for now, we have discovered, is at 1818m above sea level. I’ve suggested it’s the name Alex could give his conference terrace/ restaurant. He loves the idea. ‘1818’ it will be. “Oh, everyone will ask! It will be our secret!” He intends to use the raised area for hire for meetings; the bar in the room below.

‘1818’. The new bar building part complete.

Round the fire at Rock Gardens. Precious, Marion, Scovia, Keilah and Maria, Adelight, Rico

He’s got electricity at Rock Gardens now. Rico has pointed out to me the wire snaking up to the electric lines that pass over the property. It’s an illegal connection, running down below the zinc roof. “I have applied again and again for an official connection! They are all cheats. They want bribes. I shall apply again.” It will be a long time before there is chilled beer though. We must get used to slightly warm beer from the store at the corner of the red track that sidles down to Alex’s place, deep in the lovely greenery of this rural village, trimmed grass lining the path, trimmed not by lawnmowers but livestock. Whenever we sit on the part-completed, raised ‘1818’ this weekend, the village will make excuses to pass to view the two muzungus and their black family. Children just come and wait by the young hedge of bright yellow leaves to stare – until we wave and greet. It’s very charming and so much fun to be able to give so much pleasure with a wave.

On Sunday we all piled into the car, Alex, Precious, Keilah and little Jonathan joining Rico, Adelight, Scovia, Marion, little Maria – who’s now best friends with her quiet Ugandan counterpart – and me, and ride off to visit the falls for which Sipi is known. It’s the first time I have seen more than a trickle dropping the 300 feet or so over the cliff edge. After all the ill-timed rain, they are abundant, spraying into their dripping valley of big-leafed plant life and slippery rocks. Health and safety are to normal African standards here and in view of the weakness in my right foot I decide that discretion may be wiser for the last part of the clamber on mud and rock. I wait at the foot of the falls while the others scramble higher, carrying babies and small children. Later, they all hike down through the wet valley to the lower falls and emerge some time later onto the road full of their walk. We drive back to Sipi and take another walk on the high escarpment, from which I am used to view half Uganda, but now it’s all invisible in a haze of evaporating moisture. The gigantic vista that is usually there, stretching from this high vantage perhaps 100 miles to the sunset horizon is a mystery today. Only there in my description as we stand on the rocky edge and view the thousand shambas below us.

At Sipi Falls. Alex and Jonathan Junior, Precious, Marion and Keilah, Scovia, Adelight and Maria

Everyone’s tired now, walking indeterminate sand paths between matoke and coffee, over big rocks and amongst hidden red mud and stick dwellings, the local style here. Always followed by excited, giggling children. We are greeted everywhere. Smiles and welcomes, handshakes and invitations. This is a remarkable country, friendly and welcoming to an extreme. I often try to decide which is the friendliest African country. I’ve travelled in 23 of the 54. It’s a difficult competition. Almost ALL are affectionate and convivial. Uganda is high on the winning list. Along with my favourite Lesotho, and Zambia. Zimbabwe and Ghana score well too. Then there’s Ethiopia, Kenya, and all the rest. Only Botswana, so rich it is aloof; Rwanda, still a bit remote from its recent dreadful history, and Namibia, a country that has no reason to like the white man, the German colonialists having one of the most appallingly bloodstained histories as recently as 100 years ago – only these countries seem to me to be less open and trustful. South Africa is the only country in which I am embarrassed by my skin colour and my extreme privilege, although I have come to love that troubled country almost as much as any other. It just takes a different attitude to meet the people, mainly trust on my part.

Rico holds Keilah. maria and Jonathan Junior – ‘JB’

****

On Monday, with the challenge of getting the whole of two extended families moving being like herding cats, we made a late start. By now we were all comfortable, content to sit long over breakfast – a huge meal, as always in this generous new guest house. At last we took a local walk to pay respects to Alex’s parents in the next compound, and to visit his father’s various shambas. Alex’s father retired a couple of years ago – with four children of his nine still in full time education – from being a member of the guard for the president. President Museveni, perhaps the most corrupt president in Africa? It’s another difficult competition, but he’s certainly up there. One of the richest too, after over 32 years on office, kept that way by changing the country’s constitution, blatant corruption and bribing fellow politicians or ‘removing’ any opposition. “Oh, I was his good friend. Whenever he visits the region, I go to visit him,” says Alex’s father while Rico and I bite our tongues.

I’ve met several of Alex’s siblings now: brothers Cedric and Nic and sisters Helen and Gloria. They are all intelligent, deeply respectful and upright people. This must, I suppose, reflect on his parents. His mother, coming to greet me on her way from church on Saturday evening made me the traditional greeting, going down on one knee and grasping my hand. Little Keilah has been taught the same deferential greeting.

Alex’s father has large plots. The family has lived in this part of Sipi for several generations. He uses no artificial fertiliser, relying only on natural manure for his crops. He’s trying to develop a small farm of passion fruit, as well as the usual matoke, coffee and vegetables. Rico enjoys this wander. Maybe Marion, with her keen interest in things agricultural and natural will benefit too.

A vegetable that is popular here are the ‘Irish’ – potatoes. I’m not a potato lover, but the western Ugandan strain is tasty. Adelight, whose mother is Ugandan by tribe, wanted to carry home potatoes. Alex proposed an expedition to buy them from farmers high on the mountain slopes. Over the years I have learned never to ask directions or distance from a non-driver in Africa. People who travel by foot or matatu have little concept of how far they move. Alex, for all his skills, is always a passenger. “Oh, when I come there, it seems quite near!” This was a journey on which we should have set out two hours earlier!

From Kapchorwa we wound high onto the slopes of Mount Elgon. I rode much of this way two years ago, but this time we went way beyond my destination that time – a local funeral that I attended with Precious. At 2550 metres the air was sharp, the sun low on the western horizon, the road poor, although graded since my previous passage on the Mosquito that ended up with Precious and I tumbling and grazing her bare legs on a deeply scarred and thickly dusted steep hill. At last, at about the top of the road, Alex told Rico to stop. We were in a ragged, earth-stained village set amongst handsome scenery of steep hills and tall woods. “We’re in the National Park,” said Alex, “but people trespassed and now they won’t move away.”

We’re in the National Park, but people have moved in too now.

As a non-driver, Alex left the instruction to stop too late for Rico to turn the heavy Pajero. But he’s lived and driven in Africa in appalling conditions in countries like Congo and Sudan. We has to carry on over the hill on a narrowing rugged track between deeply eroded embankments to find a place to turn. He finds an unlikely place that will suffice and executes a multi-point turn, getting stuck across the deep ruts. Everyone has to pile out to push before we can climb back to the remote village above, where people watch, wrapped in blankets against the increasing evening chill. After Alex negotiates, we pile a 50 kilo sack of red potatoes into the back of the vehicle and start back into the darkening countryside. “The most expensive potatoes you ever bought!” exclaims Rico to Adelight, “Over sixty kilometres of rugged driving!” I’m not sure what the potatoes cost. I know it took 70,000 of my last Uganda shillings (£15), to which Alex added the balance from the ‘community chest’ £100 I provided on arrival. Expensive in time and effort they may have been, but the expedition to the high slopes was invigorating and beautiful, even if we arrived back at Rock Gardens in the dark, to a fire lit in the garden by Alex’s ‘staff’.

I have come to love Uganda. For its charming people. It’s a country with many problems, not least poverty and corruption – which so often in Africa go hand in hand. It is deeply conservative, with the Catholic church – and other dotty denominations – promulgating misogyny and homophobia more extreme than many African lands. Religion is a big business here. Churches make big incomes from their devout but poorly educated congregations, most of them ripe ground for cynical exploitation. Underlying these reactionary attitudes is a tradition of respect and courtesy and deference. As a visitor, I am openly welcomed, although I feel the need to stay within conventional bounds. It’s not a place that embraces many liberal views. Better just to smile keep opinions to myself, although Alex is intelligent enough to express his more liberal attitudes to his visiting mzungu friend – in private.

I sat late by the fire with my young hosts. The Kenyan family slipped away to bed in their round rooms. We sat by the embers a little longer enjoying being together, discussing dreams and plans for their future. How, I wonder, will this charming young family make out? One thing I know is that they will not be cowed by the challenges ahead. Their eyes are open to the difficulties facing them, as they face so many young Africans, trapped by lack of resources, facing gross overpopulation and the woes of the speedily increasing climate crisis. In Europe we may complain of restrictions and deprivation. We have no idea whatsoever of what it is like to be intelligent, determined, honest – and African… Peoples left behind and ignored by our complacent wealth, much of it made at the expense of this continent. Poor Alex, trapped by the African conundrum of ambition, dreams, brains, deep integrity and such limited opportunities.

Yet the most remarkable aspect of African people is fortitude. They give thanks for the very little they have or receive, and seldom regret what’s still beyond reach.

DAYS 18/ 19. TUESDAY, WEDNESDAY JANUARY 14/ 15 2019. KITALE, KENYA

We bounced and bucketed our way back around the broken roads to Kenya, another seven hours of discomfort and dust – but scenic beauty and sun. I will return, all being well, on the Mosquito in due course. The climate is so unreliable this year that my decision on route will have to be taken day by day. Rain turns that rough trail to an immense challenge of slippery mud – to be avoided on two wheels. There’s another, rather boring, route via the main African east coast to interior highway that I love to avoid. It’s double the distance as it rounds the other three quarters of Mount Elgon’s slopes to the south and west. Crowded with rotten drivers and big lumbering trucks and tankers too. Anyway, it’s a tame way to go!

Scovia. You’re never far from a banana in Uganda!

The road back to Kenya

The new carburettor diaphragm for the Mosquito awaited collection at the bus office. £116 for a tiny part. It’s now installed in the machine, along with the new cylinder, piston and associated parts. The engine is still not quite happy, but today, Thursday, I shall set off on a limited safari and see how the restored engine settles. I am already almost three weeks into my winter trip and feel the need to move around a bit.

I’m still curtailed by the performance of my injured ankle. So frustrating! But nothing I can do except wait for it to heal. This trip will be different from earlier ones. I have to contain myself in patience and limit my rides. With my big bike boots I have protection and support as much as I had with the orthopaedic boot from Torbay Hospital. But off the bike I still have to walk on rough ground and exert the muscles. Perhaps this journey will be more about returning to meet those I have met and in many cases befriended, not about seeking new horizons. I’ve really no choice but to go slower and be a bit more patient and contemplative this year! More time to meet people and find out what makes them tick, maybe.

I’m writing on Thursday morning on the shady porch. Behind me Marion listens to the most appalling repetitive engineered music as she sweeps the house – doubtless American music, not even of her culture. Adelight bends beneath one of the shady garden palms engaged in a mountainous family wash in buckets and bowls. The garden trees and plants have tripled in size since my first arrival three years ago. The garden is green from all the rains, ‘Jonathan’s House’ is now only semi visible amongst the avocados, palms and conifers of this high altitude. Despite the closeness of the Equator – just a handful of miles away – here at 1850 metres the heat of the sun is tempered and the air retains a delightful freshness. This afternoon, after our customarily simple lunch, I’ll set off on the Mosquito to Kessup, about 100 miles away. I am ‘Kessup’s Mzungu’ and will take back portrait photos from last year and stay a few days before making a round trip through some other areas I love to ride. Then I must decide just what’s possible for this safari. Will I go and explore some of Tanzania? Will I fly down to see my friends in South Africa and have a much-desired visit to lovely Lesotho? Will my foot bear up?

Time alone will tell this year…

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