HERE’S THE END OF THIS YEAR’S TRAVEL STORY! Uploaded at Schipol Airport, Amsterdam. So VERY odd to be amongst all these – really rather ugly – white people. Home in a few more hours. THEN the adaptation begins…
DAY 86 SATURDAY 4th MARCH 2017. KITALE, KENYA
I’m always so happy when I face down my fears! I’ve been debating with myself for some days whether I would ride back on that terrible road from Sipi to Suam border and so back to Kitale – or take the tame option of the tarred road and the major East Africa Highway border post. I awoke (after great sleep again at Sipi) to a sparkling, glorious day. Rain looked extremely unlikely, certainly before afternoon, by which time I would have hopefully negotiated that deteriorated rock and dust track – all sixty miles of it. In a couple of weeks’ time it will be all but impassible when the rains come in earnest. For today it was just damp, settling some of the dust of the pitted, rutted, rocky surface.
It always amused me how the old always slightly exaggerate their ages: “Oh, I’m in my 90th year!” instead of, “I’m 89.” But today I found myself saying to myself, ‘not bad for someone who’s almost 68’! How fickle we are! But it WAS a hard physical ride and tonight I will sleep well. Sixty miles of exercise, moving quickly about, wrestling with the bucking bike, bouncing and leaping over long rocky patches, gripping the bars through ruts and dirt – and looking at the astonishing views at the same time as avoiding a million obstacles, inert and alive. A terrific ride! How I used to enjoy trail riding when I lived in Yorkshire: a couple of miles of this sort of riding seemed such fun. In Africa it goes on for hours, miles and sometimes days.
On a road like this, the discomfort of the little blue bike is outweighed by its lightness. This would have been hell on my BMWs. This ride was so much more fun than the first time I took that road, six weeks or so ago. I have come to know the capabilities and foibles of the little blue bike and now ride it with much more assurance. It’s still uncomfortable, but that’s a fact of the narrow seat, for which during the next ten months or so, Rico and I can find a solution – a single, wider seat perhaps. The bike has proved to be reliable if unexciting, and the addition of the two bulkier tyres and the second hand shock absorber has certainly made me more confident of getting over these rough tracks and roads.
How high I was riding I don’t know. Mount Elgon, which I was circuiting, is Africa’s fourth highest, and Kitale is at 2000 metres-odd, so much of the day has been spent around and above that altitude. The sun beat down from a deep blue sky, the rain clouds of yesterday truly a thing of the past. But the rainy season won’t be long now. Each day brings showers; it’s been drizzling since I got home to Kitale. I arrived plastered in filth as I did when I arrived at Sipi some weeks ago. The dust adheres to my beard and neck and fills the linings of my helmet, covers the front of my jacket and my pannier bags. My boots are red, and so’s the little bike. But it was FUN! A thoroughly good day, and especially so because I was dubious about coming back by this hard, difficult route and almost copped out and rode via the tarred road. Happily, I didn’t allow myself to be beaten.
Back at home most of the girls are on their half term, making the house lively and cheerful. Lovely Scovia is here today as well as the others. Little Shamilla runs excitedly and leaps into the arms of her newest uncle. It’s a delightful family, warm, welcoming and accommodating. I am made SO welcome in their cordial, open African manner. I’m just another addition to the extended family and I fit in comfortably with my traveller’s adaptability. I mean, Adelight was a bit concerned that if I do come for the next Christmas holiday, and if Rico’s sister and husband make it too, where would I sleep? “Put me back in the garage office as now!” I declared. “I love it out there. It’d be my bedroom of choice in this household.” It’s private, quiet (except for bloody cockerels, but they are an African penance) and undisturbed. Actually, even before supper, as I write, I am looking forward to creeping under the net and covers tonight. I feel satisfyingly tired. ‘Not bad for almost 68’ though! Haha.
The immigration officers didn’t spot the date mistake on my visa this time, and the customs officer who should have explained all the ins and outs of the temporary carnet several weeks ago, seemed content just to withhold the paper given to me by his opposite number three days ago. It seemed that bureaucracy was thus served. I asked no further questions. The Ugandan customs officer wasn’t even there, so I had to persuade someone just to stamp the paper and write ‘Suam border’ on it. It’s all such tedious nonsense. Just keep smiling… No one will ever read these papers anyway. You know, I’ve travelled in and out, and around 21 African nations, some of them many times, and I have never yet paid a bribe to any official. I’m quite proud of that achievement.
DAY 87 SUNDAY 5th MARCH 2017. KITALE, KENYA
There’s little that even I can write about a day spent sitting on the porch reading! Most relaxing, and enjoying the last few days in which I can sit about in tee shirt and shorts for now. I only ventured out once: a ride to town to purchase two large juicy pineapples – the queen of tropical fruits to my taste – (£1.20 each) and a litre of ice cream (considerably more expensive at about £6 for processed sugar and grease!) as a treat for all the girls. These girls – Scovia, Marion, Rose, Shamilla, and Yvonne the almost mute house-girl, have few treats, even in this well organised, generous household. So much so that Rose, who is supposed to return to school tonight, has put off her return until tomorrow for the sake of pineapple and ice cream – and the obviously much enjoyed company of her ‘sisters’. Shy, charming Rose, found on the street and now a member of such a real family. That’s very moving; just one of the inspiring stories that never make their way out of Africa. One of Adelight’s junior brothers is staying just now too, waiting to get his papers to go to college. Doubtless Shammi’s little friend Jape (half Dutch) from the next compound will join in the party. What would be a ‘sleep over’ in Europe is just the flexibility of families here in Africa. One extra is seldom even noticed, even in the two communal beds all the girls share – by choice – in their room with its heaps of clothes piled together. In England we exclaim at the ‘hardship’ of children having to share a room and even a child’s room without an en suite bathroom is becoming defined as relative deprivation. And as for not having a TV in their room – well, that’s poverty. These girls share their beds and don’t feel any grievance. Seven or eight of them (for Yvonne, the house girl becomes part of the group), aged six to twenty, share two six foot square beds and appear content with their lot, happy to be together, sharing also friendship and cheerfulness that I seldom witness amongst privileged, complacent children of my European experience, with their comforts, material possessions, constant diversions, pernickety diets and complaints. A dose of African life would make them much better, more generous, less selfish, manipulative citizens. Just as well I am without children, perhaps!! They’d be ‘removed’ by the ‘authorities’ as ‘deprived’. Haha. I am so fond of these children, representatives of most of their fellows throughout the continent, for here children are generally happy for what little they have, polite and respectful – without being necessarily subservient – to their elders, positive, cheerful and caring towards each other, and filled with the fortitude that always impresses me so much in African life.
DAY 88 MONDAY 6th MARCH 2017. KITALE, KENYA
My 2017 African journey almost over, there’s not much to do but sort out what stays in Kitale for my next trip and what comes home. Delightful Scovia washed my riding jacket (eight changes of water!) – now cleaner than at any time since I bought it five years and five African trips ago. Scruffy and faded, it is still serviceable, as are my old, very faded trousers (bought in South Africa in 2002), washed by Rose, along with my backpack, veteran of MANY African journeys, even mended a few times in Ghana.
Adelight and I went to town independently today. It’s difficult to coordinate there with her business and shopping but by coincidence I was riding out of the supermarket car park as she began to back her vehicle out of her parking space. We laughed together and I invited her for lunch in town. She’s become a friend over these weeks, a warm-hearted, very able woman and good company. We have enjoyed getting to know one another and look forward to an easy reunion in ten months, all being well. There are vague plans afoot to spend the Christmas holiday up at Lake Turkana, and the family all seem to hope I will be with them. And that’s fine by me! “Oh, you’ve become part of the family!” exclaims Adelight.
At the internet cafe, where I am well known by now, I booked a room online for my stay in Nairobi on Wednesday. It’s double my budget at about £33, but it IS only 2km from the airport for my departure at 08.50 on Thursday. It’s a day flight, which I much prefer, getting me home in the evening, and allowing me, perhaps, a glimpse of my favourite Sahara from 36,000 feet. So good not to miss a night’s sleep as is so common. It looks as if 2017 will be another year with frequent flights, with the American project firing up soon after I get home to Harberton this week.
It’s been so good to have a home base for this trip, as indeed I had for the past four journeys in Africa. I love the fact that I have friends all over this wonderful world, people who appear glad to see me when I turn up after years of absence, just, of course, as they would be in Devon. But the economic scales are unfairly weighted in my favour, over so many of my friends, especially those in Africa…
Well, it just means I have to come to see THEM..!
DAY 89 TUESDAY 7th MARCH 2017. KITALE, KENYA
This evening I packed up the little blue bike and left it in Rico’s garage, hopefully to use again at the end of the year. It needs a new chain and sprockets and I will try to find the replacement parts for the starter motor, although I must say I hardly miss it already.
Scovia came to me this morning and said, “Uncle Jonathan, I have… well, I have a sort of favour to ask… Would you take me and my friend back to school this afternoon?”
Well, it’s difficult to refuse 18 year old Scovia anything, frankly! She’s such a delight and, I admit, my favourite among the girls. So at four she and her (fortunately slim) pretty friend, Sophie clambered onto the bike, with attendant bags, and we set off, a mzungu boda-boda once again, to her school, some ten kilometres down the road, away from town. Well hidden, down a mile or so of dirt road, it’s a decent, well cared for set of buildings, but no doubt discipline is tight and old fashioned: it usually is in African schools. The majority are harsh boarding schools with no comforts, but education is taken seriously by pupils and teachers alike, and they know the hardship is a necessity in these cash-strapped countries. Their dormitories will be Dickensian, the food basic and the conditions hard. But you’ll hear no one complain seriously. It’s just the way it is, and education is the only way forward, so all pupils are grateful for that which they get. Once again, African fortitude wins over what any European student would consider impossible privation. The girls laughed and enjoyed riding with the mzungu, a cheerful fifteen minutes. Once at school, it brought back all my dislike of school though. They were almost an hour late (there’d been a heavy shower earlier and I reminded Scovia that that was her best excuse!) and were advised that some punishment would be meted out. I always hated the arbitrary discipline of school regimes. I can see now that the seeds of my independence were sown a long time ago.
In the past couple of months I have ridden two kilometres shy of seven thousand: 6998kms or 4374 miles on the little blue bike. Apart from the broken teeth on those cogs, it’s been reliable, once I found a new spark plug and shock absorber. I’ve not liked the small 200cc engine power, but I haven’t really minded riding so slowly I suppose, just missed the extra power. The seat has been prodigiously uncomfortable, especially as I lost fat from my backside as I always do on these motorbike journeys. I hope Rico and I can adapt it to a single seat before I use it again.
My bag is packed – only the one, including my big riding boots. My jacket, trousers, helmet and some of my aged clothes can stay in the pannier bags now stored atop the cupboards in Rico’s garage office, that doubles as my bedroom. I’ll bring home the one bag and a small carry-on. This trip I really trimmed down my luggage – never very extravagant – to an absolute minimum. When I met the Irish couple, back at the Rwanda border, I was horrified at the incredible bulk of luggage they had festooned round their two bikes, the sat-nav gear, the astonishing ‘armour’ they wore over their heavy riding gear, and the bundles and bales that appended their rear seats. Those bikes must have been hell to manage. I certainly wouldn’t want to negotiate the Suam border road with that lot, even when I was thirty years younger! Loading up alone must take an hour a day… For me, loading up now takes about four minutes.
Since December I have been saying, “I must go to the museum!” I finally made it today. It’s a dusty, fly-blown place that makes me understand the distaste that so many have for museums. It’s stuck in about 1950, I’m afraid. A collection started by a colonial army officer, bequeathed to the State with money to build a museum – and then left to vegetate with no further investment. I was the first to sign the visitors’ book since the 15th of last month, and was accompanied – as is often the case in African museums – by a guide, pointing out the obvious. Benjamin, after about fifteen minutes and several dowdy cases, asked what I did for a living. “Design museums,” I said with a smile… The ghastly taxidermy (never a thing of beauty) was threadbare and had moulted (about forty years ago, by the look of the bedraggled specimens) and bottles held sad-looking dead snakes in preservative, and pins faded butterflies to yellowed board.
Outside is a much-vaunted ‘nature walk’ that has been preserved in a shallow valley virtually in the heart of town. It’s home to birds and monkeys and resounded to the racket of a mad yelling mullah or preacher, amplified so that it filled the ‘natural’ space of the dusty, decrepit valley walk. As usual the ‘nature walk’ was a comprehensive display of plastic detritus and discarded single-use plastic bottles. It would take a couple of days to dredge the place of all this filth – but no one (except the likes of me) even SEES it, so who would think of cleaning it up?
In a few hours the journey home begins. Another – my fifth consecutive – annual trip to Africa is almost ended. I have to readapt to ‘normal’ life. Trouble is, after SO many journeys THIS has become pretty normal too! I’m never sure which takes more adaptation now. On the whole, I think England is the bigger challenge…
DAY 90 WEDNESDAY 8th MARCH 2017. NAIROBI, KENYA
Well, I won’t make that mistake again – going to Nairobi! I will do anything required to avoid it. I’d rather spend a week in Eldoret, until now my least favourite Kenyan city. Nairobi is an utter, total, unmitigated shit hole! Sorry, but it really is. Knee deep in filth and tattered plastic, stagnant green puddles of offensive odour, broken roads, dust, heat, virtually stationary traffic, shacks, shanties, jerry building and ugliness. It is beyond anything I have seen in Africa – and I’ve seen a few vile cities round this continent, but nothing to compete with Nairobi. It’s utterly foul. I now remember riding hundreds of miles out of my way to go round it in 2002 in one direction and stopping a few hours one side so I could ride right through and stay the other side when I rode in the other direction. Must have been a reason. Now I know what it was. Nairobi is contemptible.
Perhaps it’s fitting that the worst few hours of my journey occurred on the last day.
The day began early with an airport to be at by 8.00. Kitale airstrip, to be precise, a small airfield only about three kilometres from the house. We see the small planes banking away over the house most mornings. Today it was my turn to fly out. How I enjoy small aircraft. This one was a fifteen seater, a little wider than my car, probably the same width as Rico’s Land Cruiser. A few cupboards under the body for the bags and three seats across, with the pilots sitting up front in the same cabin. I love flying this way. And flying at only 11,000 to 12,000 feet is such fun too, when the land is at 6000 feet as it is in much of Kenya. I had the seat behind the co-pilot; it would have been better on the left side as it happens, as the main views of the spectacular Rift Valley escarpments are on that side, dropping away like something in an Imax film underneath. Kenya is a fine country over which to fly, the evidence of its volcanic origins very obvious in its pimply surface, dotted with extinct volcanoes. There are huge tracts of forest but most obvious is the extremely manmade landscape, with so much of the country cultivated and dotted with a million small shambas as well as the giant commercial farms of big business, ugly acres of hot houses to grow roses and flowers for the European market and the beans and vegetables we so thoughtlessly purchase in our supermarkets, ignoring the air miles – and the fact that the best land is given over to growing luxuries for western tastes when Africa needs nutrition so badly. Several jumbo jets filled with flowers fly from Eldoret to Europe every morning of the year.
The flight lasted a little under an hour and a quarter, a terrific experience in this single prop plane piloted relaxedly by the Asian pilot, checking his phone as we flew, like every other driver in Kenya, and a Kenyan co-pilot. The Kenyan was obviously in training and brought us in to land at Wilson Airfield, Nairobi’s second airport – brought us in a bit bumpily, needing a bit more training.
Then I had the unpleasant task of bargaining with taxi drivers, sharp, greedy capital city dwellers. In the end I found David, whom I didn’t find very sympathetic, telling me stories to justify his rip off prices that I refused to swallow. He demanded 1400 Kenya shillings (£11.20) for the ride. It was actually about 16kms (10 miles) but I adamantly stuck to my best offer of 1200. All the journey he was rattling on about how far it was as I listened irritably. My accommodation of tonight did take a bit of finding, it’s true, but I had the phone number and he talked with Carolyne, my hostess. When we arrived at Carolyne’s tidy gated community amongst the filth and grot of residential suburban Nairobi, I handed him a 1000 and a 200 note as I had agreed. He was still talking so much, still justifying his demands and verifying his honesty etc etc, that he didn’t look at the notes and handed me change of 200/-, thinking I’d handed over 1500 and he could still get 1300. I didn’t enlighten him, I’m afraid, that he’d just handed me change for 1200, not 1500. If he’s so hard done by as a business man, he should concentrate! Anyway, 1000/- is still a rip off price! And anyway, I didn’t like him much…
This homestay is pleasant enough, a family home in a middle class, not very spacious gated community, seemingly surrounded by foetid dereliction, a couple of kilometres from the airport perimeter, but I like Carolyne’s reason for doing this work. She is supporting a couple of random village waifs through school, as well as her own two small children. Many people are latching onto this money making enterprise, a room or two in the family house for passing tourists, especially if they live not too far from the international airport.
However, the concept of spending several hours stuck out here didn’t seem so attractive, so I decided to head for the city. Wish I hadn’t… At the entrance to the gated community, I waited across the road with a couple of other fellows for a matatu. As it arrived, I realised that I didn’t know quite where I was, so I asked the man next to me to enlighten me. “It’s Tassia,” he informed me. Only it wasn’t – but it took me uncomfortable hours to discover that. It took a hideous hour and a half to get to town in a matatu and a hot bus that stopped every few hundred yards to drum up more passengers, and then entered the gridlock traffic of Nairobi. At last, deciding I could walk faster, I got down and did just that. Oddly, the city centre is orderly, if crowded, and strangely quiet, just the hum of conversation and music from shops. If the rest of the city was like its heart, it might, just might, be acceptable. But it’s not! The rest is a dump.
I wandered the streets for a time and took a late lunch in a restaurant, and then, with nothing much attracting me to the endless mobile phone shops that seem to make up most city centres these days, especially in Africa, I thought I might as well head home, which’d probably take me another hour and a half. Carolyne had instructed that I should look for a matatu number 33C opposite the State Archives. Well, I found a BUS 33C and told the tout I wanted Tassia. I mounted and had the worst ride of my considerable experience, with ‘music’ so loud that I rode with my fingers in my ears for the next one and a half hours – much of it, it transpired, in the wrong bloody direction! The bus shook and vibrated to the intensity of the sub-bass of the disco-sized speakers. I have said before that if you want to put me in a lousy mood, put me in noise. Wow, did I get bad tempered! Then it appeared I was going across country on dire ‘roads’ heading back to town and should have alighted way back and found another matatu. Huh! By then I could have hit everyone around me, most of whom seemed amused by my predicament, angering me more! I had my phone with me, by good fortune, as I’d been going to leave it in Kitale, but decided I might as well have it with me whenever I return. I called Carolyne for directions and had to backtrack half an hour on the appalling road amongst the worst slums I have seen outside India, back to a major roundabout where I could eventually find a small matatu for Baraka Estates, which is where I had set out from, not Tassia, as my informant had claimed. The journey home took no less than two and a half ghastly hours through the shittiest city I have witnessed in a very long time – and I have seen some shitty cities… Never again.
So my safari comes full circle and it only remains to fly the four thousand six hundred-odd miles back to Bristol and a bus to Devon. For those miles I am in the hands of the professionals, not matatu drivers.
DAY 90 and a half THURSDAY 9th MARCH 2017. FLYING HOME WITH KENYA AIRWAYS/ KLM
Once again at 11,000 metres. I seem to spend quite a lot of time up here these days. Goodness, I am happy to leave Nairobi behind and be travelling away from it at 500mph! What a dump! Even getting to the airport, and I was almost within sight of it, was so stressful. The traffic is thick, discipline non-existent and then there are multiple security checks in an order unknown anywhere else in the world: all passengers have to go through a security screen out at the perimeter of the airport, while cars are checked. Then bags are screened on entering the terminal, before check in. Then there’s passport control. Then there’s another full screening of passengers and hand luggage. Then there’s ticketing at the gate. If it wasn’t for the necessity to travel on that road to Jinja, I think I’d fly through Kampala/ Entebbe next time. It’s not much further from Kitale than Nairobi… Maybe I will anyway!
So, up here, a quick look back at the past twelve weeks. What’ll I be happy to get away from – other than ghastly Nairobi? Wet, lethally slippery bathroom floors: all bathrooms in East Africa seem to be ‘wet rooms’, with showers that continue to dribble for hours after you shower, soaking the lavatory, clothes and floors; loo rolls that shred into confetti as you pull them; tissue paper ‘Colonial’ bread, of which the British Empire should be so ashamed – it’s perhaps worse than the British versions: Mother’s Pride, Warburtons et al; Blue Band marg – I’d as soon eat axle grease; mosquitoes; waking up in tired, stained rooms; eating with my fingers; endless crappy, wall to wall, lowest quality TV, volume too loud and frequently tediously and emotionlessly dubbed into American; searching for a place to sleep…
It’s not a serious list of grievances. I’ll miss more than I am happy to leave: the almost universal sense of goodwill to strangers that I hope these pages have expressed; being a kind of celebrity just by being a mzungu on a motorbike passing by; sunshine and warmth; constant activity; new sights and experiences; writing this journal – and the wonderful sense of not knowing what tomorrow will bring, one of the sensations that still keeps me on the road after all these years.
I have frequently fallen into the lazy terminology of writing ‘Africa’, which is a continent of 54 diverse countries. Of course, I can pare that down to meaning sub-Saharan Africa or ‘black Africa’, but even this includes South Africa and its white tribes. I hope you read into my lazy six letter description: ‘Africa’, those countries I have visited south of the Sahara, now 17, I think. Perhaps then you can begin to see the pattern of why I lump all these different peoples together, for there are some universal qualities: living in the NOW; warmth to strangers; and general fortitude in the face of privations, borne with the acceptance and philosophy that it’s just how things are – poverty and conditions few of us have ever suffered, and in many cases never even imagined. There are old cultural mores and social habits that survive almost everywhere, good and bad, despite the incursion of Western influences: giving what little you have; receiving as well as giving from the heart (such a difficult lesson for Westerners to learn, used as we are to counting the cost); kindness and compassion; the oh-so-admirable extended family unit that even extends to absorb a passing mzungu; extreme politeness and a general lack of aggression (although this can be bottled up and flare into ghastly conflict, tribal war, sectarian violence and even genocide on unimaginable scales…). Then, of course, there’re the smiles! Where else do I see, hour after hour, day in day out, such positive, smiling people as I find on my African journeys?
Highlights..? Spending time with my old and firm friend Rico; becoming friends with his lovely wife – and the Rico Girls; walking in the villages and meeting people with William in Kessup and Alex in Sipi; riding the road in western Uganda from the best hotel at the White Horse Inn in Kabale; the salt pans at Katwe, one of the most extraordinary sights I have seen on the continent; the road in and out of the Rift and Kerio Valleys between Eldama Ravine and Kessup; the rough and rugged Suam border road; the ‘old road, over the mountain range near Fort Portal in western Uganda; discovering the Ugandans – said to be the friendliest people on the continent, and I have no reason to contest that; Lake Kivu, especially around Kibuye in the west of Rwanda; the Rwandan countryside; enhancing my understanding of the Rwandan genocide, truly a fascinating insight into man’s inhumanity under the evil manipulation of propaganda, lies and evil men (watch out America. The scale my be different to what happened in Rwanda in 1994 or Germany in 1933/4, but the rhetoric is astonishingly similar…).
The Rwandan genocide made me think long and hard about morality and religion. Some of my comments on religion have been a bit strong. You can’t witness, for 12 consecutive days – the time I rode about Rwanda – the horrors of that episode without reflecting on the cynicism, manipulation – ‘evil’ – perpetrated; the endorsement of evil by clever politicians based on race and tribe, exploiting old doubts, enhancing present fears, the organised generation of hatred, without wondering how it could ever happen. Rwanda made me think a lot about the role of religion and religious leaders too, for you cannot gaze at all those hundreds of human skulls and broken bones preserved as a memorial, punctured by bullet holes, crushed by rocks, disfigured by machetes, and not wonder how this can be done by people of conscience and professing to be – as virtually every African I have ever met in all these years – Christians, Moslems and believers in god… How can you bash an innocent baby’s head – maybe the child of your neighbour and previous friend or workmate -against a wall and still profess belief? And what worth is a god that can ‘forgive’ these acts? I cannot square the evils done in the names of religion with any worthwhile belief any more, and I have seen the results of much of that evil in my world travels, but seldom more powerfully and shockingly than in Rwanda.
Mankind has no grander than animal nature, dress it up how the philosophers will, survival of the self and the genes the primary motive.
It’s also a sobering to reflect on the state of mankind and what we have done, and continue to do, to our small, fragile planet. Uganda brings that home forcibly. The ‘youngest’ country on earth by population, with 49% below the age of 14, 78% under the age of 30, and a mere 2% reaching 65. The average number of children per woman is almost seven. Given that Uganda stays the same size, land gets less productive as it gets more tired, water is in already short supply, there is no recycling of waste, the forests are disappearing adding to global warming, and health care and education resources are already strapped to breaking point, what future has Uganda? What future has mankind’s continued existence on the planet, for Uganda is not alone in this profligate madness. One thing I know now is that in a couple of generations, those alive then will despise their grandparents for their excesses, their lack of restraint and their mad egotistical folly. The planet in 100 years will not be a comfortable place to be, with wars and conflict over basic resources like water, clean air and fuel. Travelling in Africa convinces me that our race is doomed to the fate of the dinosaurs.
If it doesn’t just poison itself first. The filth and waste, particularly of plastic, peddled by corporate greed; the encouragement of addiction to various pernicious chemicals in food processing – you should see Africans spoon in the sugar and drink HFCS-filled soft drinks, and remember that dentistry is basic on this continent, for one example; the unsafe, immoral manufacturing practices in the name of wealth for a few at the expense of the masses; the uncontrolled use of pesticides and fertilisers; the wiping out of so many indigenous species, so many of which play important roles in the balance of their habitat; the filth belched out of old, unmaintained vehicles that rises into the fragile atmosphere, along with the encouragement of cattle breeding, one of the worst greenhouse gas producers; the incorrect, uncontrolled sale of invaluable antibiotics for every ailment; the self-medication for ‘malaria’ that weakens any prophylactics and cures on this mosquito infested continent (to the gleeful profit, no doubt, of multinational drugs companies); and the general despoliation of what was once such a wonderful landscape – mainly through mere over population…
No, travelling in Africa, for now, is wonderful in its way, but I wouldn’t want to be doing this in a hundred years. I have seen the best.
My trip took me 7000 kilometres on the little blue bike, adding my little bit to global pollution, I suppose… I used 214 litres of petrol at a cost of about £180. The little bike was cheap to run once my initial huge investment was done. It achieved about 34km per litre, or 96mpg. My longest ride was 306kms (190 miles) – (too far!). I spent 52 nights in hotels, ranging from £4.38 to £16.75, plus the two nights in Nairobi at £24 and £33. The average for the 52 nights was £13.20 per night, invariably with breakfast included. I handed over £685 to various East African hoteliers plus those £55 in Nairobi.
The bike set me back £1905 to buy and a further £395 to set it up for the ride. On top I had to spend £82 on legal stuff to get it registered and insured and £112 on various repairs on the road. So the bike cost me altogether £2606. The rest of my entire spending: living expenses, hotels, incidentals, came to about £2570 taking off these bike costs. My KLM airfare was £591. The whole 91 days has therefore set me back about £3160. I hope to recoup a good deal of the £2606 bike expense when I eventually resell it. Life at home would have cost almost as much, I bet, but my household bills were kindly taken of by lending my house out! Once again, I prove that for us OAPs it’s probably as cheap to live in the sun in winter!! And Africa beats the Costa del Sol hands down for me.
And it keeps me young! I have been extremely healthy throughout, despite drinking and eating almost anything put in front of me. I stayed on the little bike for 7000kms without incident, except on day two of my ride when I tumbled into a sandy embankment and got my foot trapped beneath the pannier, requiring embarrassing assistance from a passing lorry. But on that occasion, I fell because the rear wheel had shaken completely loose with the bumping of the dirt road – and my bad maintenance, it must be said.
I’ve lost my customary inch and a half from my waistline, which is good and feel fit and healthy from sunshine and a LOT of exercise. There’s little real stress to these trips beyond minor irritations like finding places to sleep or worrying about breakdowns. I have been entirely independent and just loved that sense of NOT KNOWING WHAT TOMORROW WILL BRING!
All being well, there’ll be more trips in amazing Africa before too long.
9th March 2017