24/6/05 Addis Ababa
Addis is still cold and wet, but it's a convenient place to sit and wait for spares to be couriered. It's also very cheap.
Great things on Ethiopian menus:
1. "National Food". Mmm! Slurp!
2. "Tibs". Is that not a brand of cat chow?
3. "John Worker". Two minutes thought leads me to deduce that they mean "Johnnie Walker". I order some. They do.
4. "Chicken Wot". Well exactly.
Bed bugs are a bastard. This would be the best bed so far - squashy and swathed in blankets - were it not for the tiny little sods sharing the mattress with me.
May God damn all insects to an eternity in the boiling lakes of fire below us.
Received wisdom states that the further you get from Addis, the more likely you are to encounter groups of kids chucking rocks at you as you pass. I'm pottering through a village a hundred miles south of Addis when a blanket-clad oaf runs out in front of me, picks up a lump of donkey crap and lobs it feebly at my shoulder. It bounces harmlessly off my armoured jacket. I slow down in order to laugh at him. He looks sheepish; the crowd begin to snigger. I offer him the middle digit of my right hand and scoot.
Lake Awassa is as pretty as a picture.* I'm told there are hippos nestling within, but they've gone to the shops or something when I get there. A dirt road takes me to the local dump, however, where I see vultures and Marabou storks.
Having seen no other motorbike people for weeks, Addis was suddenly thronged with 'em.
Are we cool? Or are we a bit gay?
Matt from Sydney (KTM 640), off to London. Alan and Martin from Marlow, UK, RTW on Ewan Mc-inspired BMW's. Er, me & Doug.
I really really love my bike. The worst thing that's gone wrong with it after 10,000 African miles is that one brake pad fell off.
12/7/05, Moyale, Ethiopia/Kenya border.
A 300 mile thump through some stunning Highland landscapes. Every time I stop I'm surrounded by gawpers.
One young fella has clearly never seen a glove before. He freaks out quite badly when I take it off. Having recovered from my initial reaction of head-back guffawing and pointing, I begin to wave it at him and make menacing noises. He freaks again, I laugh, his peers laugh, and eventually he laughs as well. But I can still see the fear in his eyes. Ha!
They're throwing themselves into the road
Knackered - early to bed. Unfortunately the bed has thorns in it. Ooyah.
*To a person of average aesthetic sensitivity, Lake Awassa would in fact be considered prettier than, for example;
a/ An oil painting of a dustbin
b/ A chiaroscuro rendering of a pig's scrotum
c/ A photograph of Charles Kennedy.
14/7/05, Buna, Kenya.
Tribal clashes with hundreds dead along the Marsabit road towards Nairobi, so I'm diverted by a worried-looking Kenyan along the back road. Chief Osman welcomes me to Buna and I'm put up in a comfortable thatched hut for the night.
He takes me by surprise a little by telling me that stocky ex-England player John Barnes once stayed here. If he'd said David Beckham or Bobby Charlton I'd have guessed he was fantasising. But John Barnes? Must be true.
The only place you can get a beer in Wajir is prison. At 9pm every night the canteen is opened to the public for lager and fried meat. Hot, dusty and knackered though I am, and having fallen off three times on the sandy-rut road that leads here, I'm not thirsty enough to go to prison for it. What if they don't let me out at closing time? What if there's quite literally a lock-in?
Apart from the unusual licensing laws, Wajir is a great town. Only two of the dozens of people who say hello ask me for a hand-out. A guy offers to wash my bike, but he's wearing a Chelsea shirt so I don't allow him to touch it.
"But - but - Chelsea and Gunners friends! From London!" he wails.
"No," I explain, "in fact the opposite is the case."
Six days from Moyale and at long, dusty, stinking last I'm in a proper town with beer (Tusker!) and fags (Sportsman!) and a sit-down toilet and soap and towels and - heavens - a telly with BBC World and TARMAC! In theory it's possible to ride all the way from here to Cape Town on the black stuff.
The hotel - at $10 - is the kind of place that would cost $250 in London and 80 euros even in Spain. It's a mad journey from Wajir. 10kms out of town I fall off, for the fourth time in 24 hours, and the bike lands on my leg. Bruising only, but enough to make me think twice about doing another 250 kms of 15 km/h rut-negotiating over the next few days. I stand for 40 minutes rueing the horrific bloodshed that forced me down this interminable track, and then decide to put the bike on a truck to Garissa, where the tarmac to Nairobi starts.
The first livestock truck that arrives is empty and gets me to Habaswein for 1000 Kenya shillings (about $13). It's less than halfway but it's a start...
We only have one rope to tie the bike down, so I sit on it in the, er, cow area, for four hours to keep it upright. Hard work, but not as hard as actually riding the track.
Habaswein is an electricity-free, bar-less crossroads in the middle of Kenya's arid north-east, where the people are mostly Somali muslims living off goat meat and the 200 metre deep aquifer. It's packed with the most welcoming, curious and helpful people I've met so far.
Tourist traffice normally takes the Marsabit road south to Nairobi, so they're not likely to see bozos like me too often. I sit in the dust on the first afternoon, waiting for a mythical "next truck" to Garissa, surrounded by the friendly, fascinated people of the town. Mostly they speak superb English, particularly Ahmed Bashir, a paramedic/motorcyclist. His vocabulary is shaming, due in part to his insatiable consumption of the BBC World Service. I'm put up in the brand-new hospital building and fed frequently at Bashir's house at no cost.
Everyone in Kenya so far is wired to the gums on Miraa, a stimulant leaf of which you seem to have to consume a hedge-full in order to obtain any narcotic benefit. I guess it's an African version of the coca leaf. If someone could just extract the active bit...
Three days pass in Habaswein waiting for a truck. On the second day we put the bike and luggage on the back of a huge goat-wagon late at night. I arrange with the driver to meet at the police checkpoint at 5 am. I sit there from 4.45 to 11 am. At that point two likely lads arrive carrying my luggage, with the news that the truck has buggered off without me, leaving the bike at Bashir's place.
I return to sitting, sometimes sleeping in the sand by the checkpoint. Although I'm beginning to believe that I may be here some time, I'm still not thrilled about the hundreds of kilometres of sandy, corrugated ruts ahead.
Late afternoon and a full maize truck arrives. They'll take me for another 1000 KSh. Somehow 10 of us winch the bike 10 feet up into the back of the truck and we're off. The driver has two wives, one at each end of his regular run. I don't think they're aware of each other. We drive all night at 25 km/h, with my intestines causing a number of moments of intense personal concern. I smell extraordinary after three days in Habaswein, and a bowel/trouser border skirmish at this point will not endear me to my hosts.
My sphincter holds out, and by 7.30am we're in Garissa. As I write I've been to a functioning cashpoint, shat profusely and showered in the four-star, $10 hotel, and located a shady spot (MajiClub) in which to guzzle lager. All is well. I've also been interviewed by a fella from "The Nation", Kenya's paper of record. Bizarre.
Big Game Update:
Three giraffes loping elegantly along the road near Habaswein at sunset. Ha! Tough cheese to Doug who's only seen one. Although he did have his camera with him.
Approx 100 dik-diks.
If you happen to be a member of Doug's family, no, sorry, I don't know where he is. He left Addis a day before me because I couldn't be arsed getting out of bed that day. I think he may now be behind me as no-one I've met since Moyale has seen him.
Great music in this bar. Muzak versions of "Eternal Flame" by the Bangles and John Somebody's "Summer (The First Time)" go down well after 3 Tuskers and a lifetime of Somali music played on a bad truck stereo.
What part of "saying ""what part of xxxx don't you understand?"" isn't funny" don't you understand?
The news from Doug is slightly grim. He took the Marsabit road. Some way down he found himself surrounded by angry men with guns and spears. The Enfield was by now knackerized beyond repair. He borrowed a 4x4 from a now-dead priest. The car was awash with the blood of nine recently-killed people.
He arrived in Nairobi and fairly promptly decided to fly home. Take it easy big fella...
Nairobi is spiffing. I haven't been violently mugged once. There are skyscrapers and shopping malls, and some grinding poverty of course, and Jungle Junction, where I reside for a week. It's run by mechanic Chris who teaches me how to do valve clearances.
A Unimog. Handy for the shops.
At Upper Hill Campsite, a great breakfast spot, I meet Croatian Robert (Split to Cape Town on an Africa Twin) who's learnt most of his English from Blackadder and Only Fools And Horses and we decide to do the Safari thing. Three days in the Masai Mara ahoy...
Anyone got any shampoo?
26/7/05. Masai Mara.
Contrary to my deliberately-set low expectations, it's stuffed to the rafters with all the greats - zebras, lions, elephants, wildebeest, weird antelope things etc, and that's just the 1-hour introductory spin round when we arrive. Worth every last penny.
27/7/07. Masai Mara.
All day on safari. Just when you think you might be sick of endangered species, a new amazing sight pops its head up out of the long golden grass.
Basking hippos are hilariously fat, and the wildebeest migration is so good I can't think of anything cynical to say about it.
And the Masai-warrior-run campsite sells beer.
3/8/05. Burnt Forest, Western Kenya.
The day starts oh so fabulously well when I'm stopped in Nairobi and asked to produce insurance which I just plain don't have.
"In that case we must take you to court sir" says the copper, resplendent in his Met cast-offs.
This also happened five days ago; on that occasion I smarmed my way out of it by blathering on about my pan-African odyssey and all that cobblers. It doesn't work this time. I am asked to step behind a police vehicle.
"You are a good fellow. Tall, like me" says the undeniably lanky rozzer. I begin to sense the choking, sickly fug of corruption in the air. Good news!
"Maybe you have some pounds or dollars..." comes the hint. My brain crunches through the lower gears into top. It so happens that I have in my wallet about $100 worth of Central African CFA from Chad. I've been to several banks and forex bureaux in Ethiopia and Kenya trying to change them and it doesn't work.
Outside Chad, it's useless paper, badly printed and childishly designed.
I offer it to Constable Badapple, emphasising its theoretical dollar value and skirting round the issue of its utter uselessness. He accepts - I run away quickly.
(Later in the day I actually buy some insurance. I don't think this scam will work twice.)
Heading for Eldoret near the Uganda border, the road climbs to around 3000 metres (nearly a third of Everest) and things get very wet and cold. The road deteriorates into potholed rubble. It's a bloody disgrace. 170 miles in it turns to rutted tarmac - a normal road with deep, wet wheel ruts. This is a new experience for me, so I fall off. I land on my right hand and begin swearing.
The crowd of 30 which has gathered by the time I get up alternates between expressions of concern for my welfare and distaste at my salty, Anglo-Saxon exclamations.
Eventually I'm on my way and shortly I begin to experience the chugging drag that means water in the fuel tank.
It's raining hard, it's freezing, my bike is hard pressed to do more than 15mph, the road is crap, I haven't had any lunch, I've just fallen on my hand, and there's no civilization for 70 miles. CRAP.
And yet, later in the day, after three Tuskers and half a kilo of barbecued lamb chops (65 pence) things seem a little better...
5/8/05. Eldoret, near Uganda border.
New Naiberi River Campsite has the most astounding bar so far. It won't be finished for a few months, but it's already a jaw-dropper.
1. It's huge.
2. There's a 200 metre cave-like tunnel that leads to it.
3. There's a river running through the middle.
4. It's really huge.
5. Did I let on about the size of the thing?
Ash allows me to spend as much money as I like in his bar
I spend the day in the rather nice town sorting out my water-in-fuel-tank issue. Once again the moto is back to peak performance and running like a particularly saucy dream, perhaps involving Maria Whittaker (remember her? Dumb as a pencil but topheavy like a prize hog on a unicycle) and half a kilo of Lurpak. And a golden retriever.
East Africa is shaping up to be a gigantic playground compared to the West. Proper facilities! Sensible weather! Africa's finest beer! (Tusker, according to American Men's Journal magazine).
9/8/05. Murchison Falls National Park.
120 miles of reasonable tarmac and 100 miles of baboon-strewn dirt track from Kampala to Murchison. I've been in Uganda three days and it's very endearing. Kampala is a proper city. Jinja has death-defying white water rafting, which I intend to do on the way back to Kenya.
And God said, "Let There Be Pigs". And He looked at the pigs and saw that they were too damn pretty. "People Will Think I'm A Nancy" said God. "Let There Be Warthogs!"
One difference between the dusty endurance test that is West Africa and the lush, facility-laden semi-paradise that is the East, is that white people in the West talk to each other in bars. Over this side, a lot of the tourists are in coach parties and they fear the outsider, which is fine with me as they're all either 60 year old Teutonic vegetarians or braying West London twonks.
You don't know what "green" is until you've seen a tea plantation in morning sunshine. I hate to sound like a "you don't wanna do it like that" type, one of whom said to me in Kenya;
"I always maintain, the most fun you can have
pause for imagined comedic effect
with your clothes on ah ha ha ha,
is blah blah blah blah".
Do these people really imagine that their audience has never heard the "with your clothes on" line before? What level of self-absorbed leaden-mindedness does that imply?
Coming out of Kenya on Sunday, the guy that takes money for the spurious $20 "road tax" makes the classic mistake of handing me back my change and receipt before demanding 200 Kenya shillings "overtime". I'm in the clear document-wise, so a shouting match is on the cards.
"If you don't pay my overtime the office is closed!" he threatens, failing to grasp the fact that I don't give a fuck. Steam begins to emerge from his capacious ears. I intone the word "Bribe" very loudly indeed as I pull away towards Uganda and freedom...
Nile Special* is without a doubt the best beer in Africa. But don't make any elaborate plans for the next day...
At the Ugandan border, I'm told that the absolute minimum I must pay for 3rd party insurance is 70,000 Uganda shillings. After 30 minutes of stony-faced intransigence they accept 16,500.
Up at dawn and back down a fifty-mile dirt track to the town of Masindi. On the way I stop at Murchison Falls. Blimey! That's a lot of water.
Er, "clumps" of baboons hang about along the road. Photos don't do them justice as they scarper by the time I get my camera out.
In the PM I dawdle in the general area of the bar of the very nice Court View Hotel. The woman that runs the place - let's call her Sybil - is one of those intolerable grotesques who cringingly asks one if one's breakfast sausage is to one's liking, and then in the same breath turns to one of her staff and publicly humiliates them for inexact napkin arrangement. Whore.
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