October 25, 2005 GMT
A Bic Of Alright.
22/10/05. Lilongwe, Malawi.
If you spend a year travelling across Africa, at some point you really are going to have to go for an HIV test. That's just the way it i-i-is. Some things will never chaaange. Why are you looking at me like that?
On Friday I located the Seventh Day Adventist health centre and confirmed that
a) Yes, they do HIV tests, and
b) They're shut until Monday.
Fine. What are they gonna know anyway?
So today (Saturday), I step into the Medicare centre and, with just a hint of a wobble in my voice, ask if they do The Test. The receptionist sniggers. In London she'd be sacked on the spot. But yes, they can do it, and it only takes 10 minutes.
I enter the surgery.
The needle goes in.
The blood squirts out.
There is no mention of counselling.
I am instructed to return to the waiting room and sit with the women, all of whom appear to work here.
Nine minutes crawl by as I imagine the worst of all possible scenarios.
The doctor appears and hands me, silently, a piece of paper.
On it is written my name, the date, and the words "Non-Reactive".
"Does that mean No?" I ask.
He nods, smiling.
The ladies in the waiting room burst into applause.
Bic! Oh Bic!
Everything you make is perfick! For example;
Disposable razors. Gilette disposables rust on contact with water. No good. You can get at least four shaves out of a Bic disposable.
Pens. All Bic pens work until the ink runs out. All other pens work in the shop and die in the car park.
Lighters. Never buy anything other than a Bic lighter in Africa. (No, of course you can't get Crickets or Zippos.)
How many of these things do you think you can get in a supermarket in Malawi?
My best guess was none of 'em.
1. A wash bag to keep your toothbrush, soap, razors and deodorant in.
2. A soap holder to stop the soap adhering to the toothrush in the bag.
3. Nail clippers.
The answer is all of them. One amazing day.
If you're reading this and you happen to be a beggar, here's a word of advice; don't come up to me while I'm in the middle of an oil change and say "Give me money!". My response is likely to be perfunctory at best.
While we're at it, don't try and sell me food as I waddle, burping and in obvious discomfort, out of a pizza house; and don't try and sell me a pair of sunglasses while I'm wearing a pair of sunglasses. Simple tips that may make your day and mine that little bit brighter.
iPod disco nite at Chitimba
Posted by Simon Fitzpatrick at 03:48 PM
20/10/05. Lilongwe, Malawi.
A strange mood descended on me just after the first anniversary of leaving the UK. Months 1-12 were (on the whole) just a barrel of larfs. Then Month 13 turned weird on me.
Suddenly I got bored of explaining for the millionth time where I was going, why, and where I'd been. I had to restrain myself from taking a deep breath and exhaling "Moroccomauritaniasenegalmaliburkinafasoghanatogobeninniger
nigeriacameroonchadethiopiakenyaugandatanzaniamalawi", in response to the inevitable.
I developed "Oh Bloody Hellllll" syndrome, in which any minor setback - no paper in the toilet, somebody approaching me with obvious begging intentions, warm beer, a useless shower, a shop that only had menthol fags - produced a deep, mournful inward sigh and a craving for cheese on toast in a centrally heated room in wintry England with a PlayStation close at hand. (Even now that sounds good).
At the height of Africa Fatigue, I floated in Lake Malawi, surrounded one one side by mile-high escarpments and on the other by, er, lake, under a cobalt sky, at 11am on a Tuesday morning, and thought "So what?". Then I thought "You twerp", and by the time I was halfway to Lilongwe today I was over it. Malawi is a ridiculously beautiful country (if you like mountains and lakes), it's dirt cheap and everyone speaks English. So it's Month 14 and Africa Fatigue is a thing of the past.
Surely it must be time for a toilet anecdote...
If you ever find yourself staying in the Thirty-Thirty hotel in Manhattan, and while dawdling in reception you overhear the phrase "Jose! Code 55 in room 309!", you may be interested to know that a "code 55" refers to a toilet that is so irretrievably
blocked that it requires professional assistance.
I know this because - shamefully - I created just such a horror-show myself once. In my defence, I had eaten not one but two Benjy's omelettes, as a form of intestinal dare, 2 days before I flew to New York. Londoners will be aware of the colonic impasse that even one Benjy's omelette is certain to produce. Others will have to trust me.
"Why must he fling this filth at us and our children?" I hear you complain. Well, you see, I'm writing this with a pen I stole from the Thirty-Thirty. So there you have it.
Stealing, ladies and gentlemen, is profoundly wrong. But then so, in some peoples eyes, is going to the lavatory...
Who's up for a "Lilongwe to Tipperary" rally?
Sick of your knees not stinking?
Would a malodorous shin be a welcome change of pace?
Fret no more. Simply purchase a pair of Alpinestars pseudo-waterproof motorcycling trousers and neglect to wash them for seven months.
Now the bottom 66% of your legs can reek more pungently than literally any other part of your body within 30 minutes of donning these miracle pants.
Your guarantee of satisfaction? This amazing garment takes 3 days to dry, so you'll never even bother to rinse it.
Only $200 in all good motorcycling accessory shops.
Vile smelling legs at your command. Who'da thunk it?
Amusing products you can buy in Malawi:
1. Ars - a mosquito deterrent.
2. Toss - a soap powder.
3. Happibotti - a yoghurt poultice for haemorrhoids.*
Petrol in Malawi is cut with 20% alcohol. The moto seems to handle it fairly well - it feels a bit lumpy when the mixture has been allowed to stand, but OK when you've done a couple of miles and mixed it up again. It's very bad news if you have a fibreglass fuel tank I'm told - the alcohol melts the fibreglass which clogs everything up quite nicely. (I've tried Malawi Gin and it doesn't appear to be 20% petrol).
I get a soaking on the way back to the hotel today. Fluffy is not happy. A new coil and plug cap is on it's way from the UK. I hope it works...
*made that one up
Posted by Simon Fitzpatrick at 03:05 PM
Where Do We Go From Here?
3/10/05. Karonga, Malawi.
I meet another overland truck at the last petrol stop in Tanzania. Expectations go guts-up - they're enthusiastic and friendly! Wow!
Kuche Kuche, at 3.7% ABV, is an all-day-long beer along the lines of Senegal's Gazelle, and similarly priced at 30p for half a litre. Slurp. Someone in Zanzibar told me that a packet of fags in the UK is now over 5 quid. Jayzuz.
The beach at Karonga ain't all that. The naked Malawian women bathing in the lake are upwards of 25 stone (each), so the next morning I push on for Chitimba.
4/10/05. Chitimba Beach, Malawi.
Me & Roy. Drunk.
The beach campsite is run by Roy, a lunatic and splendid chap from SA, and the lovely Adila from England. There are exactly two things to do here;
1. Swim in the lake.
2. Drink beer.
So I stay for 6 days. The moto gets a mini-service, and I get to read a book* by Maureen Lipman, which has me grinding my teeth and muttering swearwords by page 5. One night some fat boys arrive and dress up as ladies. You know - for fun.
Oh come on - it's just a bit of fun!
It's the kind of place you could accidentally spend a month, but there's a lot to see in Malawi so eventually I head off for the internet cafes and ATMs of Mzuzu.
*You Can Read Me Like A Book. Geddit? It's a book! D'you see?
9/10/05. Mzuzu, Malawi.
No beach here, but there is a place called Mzoozoozoo where you can stay in a 1970's beige caravan. It's very Terry & June/Carry On Camping except that there's no rain or mud.
Plenty of amusing people pass through as one night becomes three. The owners, Gerrard (Swiss) and Jennifer (American), are as keen on drinksh as I am, and nights in the bar are lively experiments in how many times we can listen to Exile On Main Street in a row, and how often Gerrard will let me and Jennifer listen to Neil Young without assaulting us.
12/10/05. Nkhata Bay, Malawi.
The bar at Mayoka Village, a campsite/hotel built into a cliff on the lake, has got to make it into the Top 5 Bars In Africa list. Great food, a good mix of tourists and locals (usually shouting chummy abuse at eachother over the pool table), and Lake Malawi where one might normally expect a wall. Seven more nights slip by.
19/10/05. Selima, Malawi.
I stop in Nkhotakota at 2pm thinking I might have a night here in the cheapish-looking motel on the main street, and discover they're charging $20 US for a room. So I order some slightly bloody chicken and slightly underdone chips and scoot for Selima, in easy reach of Lilongwe, where I find an equally cheap looking place for $4.
Posted by Simon Fitzpatrick at 02:32 PM
Britain's Stupidest Man.
2/10/05. Mbeya, Tanzania.
Nippers bunk off school to say hello
Being 6'3" is great. Y'know, calling anyone under 5'10" "Ronnie Corbett" and helping old women reach the medicated lavatory tissue from the top shelf; but there is a down side. The lumbar parts can be a touch flimsy, so Rule No. 1 for strapping lads and lasses everywhere is:
NEVER ATTEMPT TO MOVE A PASSENGER FERRY BY HAND.
Oh dear! I am a fat buffoon. Consequently, when the 300 seater, 2 million ton ferry arrives back at Dar es Salaam, exactly four feet away from where it needs to be in order safely to disgorge my bike, I decide to help the five stocky dockers who begin to yank the behemoth into position with a rope. Amazingly it works. Fluffy reaches dry dock safely and we spurt off to the hotel in high spirits. The next morning I feel a slight twinge as I leave. By the time I get to Morogoro I'm screaming as I get off the bike.
One night turns into four before I can get back in the saddle. Thankfully, the hotel has MNET (a South African movie channel) otherwise I would now be mental.
"School Of Rock" with Jack Black is good. "The Skulls" with nobody you ever heard of is belly-wash.
Four days of woeful crippledom pass, enlivened by James, a Tanzanian who has decided to be an American. Sounds alright in theory, but you try having a 10-minute conversation with an African who's never been outside southern Tanzania, but insists on addressing you with the word "Yo!" and calling you "Nigga" in a heavily Africanized South Central L.A. accent. Mad as a chair.
Southern Tanzania is mountainous beauty where I expected barren scrub. I stay a night at the very nice but wildly-overpriced Kisolanza campsite on the way. When I arrive it's just me - but I've overtaken a busload of other guests on the way. Ahhh... overland trucks. I offer a cheery tootle as I pass. They stare miserably at the floor - all 19 of them. On arrival not one of them manages eye contact. I'm sure they're having a good time really.
Posted by Simon Fitzpatrick at 02:11 PM
I've Got A Bike, You Can Ride It If You Like. Actually No You Can't.
25/9/05. Stone Town, Zanzibar.
Back to the port for a ferry tomorrow and the three day ride to the Malawi border. In Jambiani yesterday the 1000th person of the trip asked me if they could have a go on my bike. So that's 1000 times I've said "Not if I live to be a billion. I'd rather feed my lips into a paper shredder."
Seaweed farm, Jambiani
There are places in Zanzibar, where, floating in blood-temperature water two feet deep, body cushioned by butter-coloured powdery sand, you can't help laughing out loud at the Bountyness of it all. But if you're going to go, go now! Prices have doubled since the guidebook I'm using came out in April 2004, though haggling is well worth it (e.g. half price if you stay a week).
And don't go on the optimistically named "New Happy" ferry. It's old and depressed and it takes six hours to get there. I was charged $25 US for me and $30 for Fluffy. Imagine my light-hearted acceptance of life's oddball quirks, when, on arriving at the port in Z'bar, the dock fellows refused to take my bike off the boat unless I paid yet more cash.
To put that in context, the 90 minute fast ferry is $35 for a person and $20 for a bike. And it's not 95% full of potatoes, and it has a toilet.
"Shut up, dude! Of course they're not going to bloody drop i... oh..."
(Note to self [# a million in a series of infinity]: Do not go into the first place you see and accept their assertion that "The New Happy is the only way you can get a motorcycle from Dar es Salaam to Zanzibar" in future.)
Posted by Simon Fitzpatrick at 01:51 PM
October 24, 2005 GMT
A Country Place No-One Knows About.
8/9/05. Stone Town, Zanzibar.
On the potato boat to Zanzibar
Sowanyway! I'm tootling down the road at - oh I dunno - maybe 200mph*, trying to find Bububu Beach (is it BOObubu, BuBOObu, BubuBOO, or maybe BOOBOOBOO? I don't know, but I bet it's not the last one), when I see a sign for the Columbus Club, pointing in roughly the direction I expect the beach to be. "Super", I think, and swing left down a kilometre of sandy track, eventually happening on a BIG METAL GATE.
"Em-hem... Is this a hotel?" I enquire.
"Oh yus" replies the lovely and saucily-booted Zanzibari gate-woman.
She smells good, like some kinda expensive perfume with a hint of coconut oil.
There is no hint of a motion to open the BIG GATE.
"I wonder if I might come in and take a spot of lunch?" I venture.
"Blimey you smell nice" I think.
There follow a few minutes of elaborate red tape as Coconut Honey and somebody have a phone conversation in Swahili about my suitability. Shortly I'm allowed through the GATE - but I can't take my bike. Or my helmet or my keys or my gloves. I'm starting to dislike this place and I'm not even in it yet, but I gotta see it now.
At reception I'm escorted - closely - to the bar, where I am informed that lunch is TWENTY EUROS!! Suddenly I'm not hungry. "You're joking of course?" I say. They're not. Of course. But I'm not beaten yet.
"I'll just have a beer for now. And a packet of Sportsman".
I'm escorted from the bar to the cig boutique in the manner one is escorted from HMV in Oxford Street to the pavement, having attempted to steal a tape.
I hate this place, but I'm in an extremely good mood - because I'm in Zanzibar - and the Columbus Club, whatever the hell sort of place it is, is not going to spoil it.
"Sportsman Please!" I cry at the counter-maid.
"Only Marlboro and Camel" she explains.
WHUT? I haven't seen either of these for months and I don't want 'em. But given that I don't have any fags I'll take 'em.
"How much in TZ shillings?"
"We don't take TZ shillings".
WHU-HAAAT? I really really hate this place.
It turns out later, in a proper bar in Stone Town, that the Columbus Club is a walled enclave/compound for Italians who want to go on holiday to the beach in Zanzibar but don't want to go to Zanzibar. All the staff have to speak fluent Italian (how many Italian speakers do you think there are in Tanzania?). The guests are bussed from the airport to the hotel. From then on, no-one can leave and no-one can get in, apart from me because I wheedle.
It sucks, hard. But I was still in a good mood on the way back to town, tyres spitting gravel, none of which I hope hit the heavenly-smelling gate honey...
11/9/05. Mcheza Beach Bar, Zanzibar
If I was Jabba tha Hutt, I could slither down to the Columbus Club and pop the Gate Honey into my mouth like a fun-size Bounty, suck off the coconut flavour - and the clothes - and deposit her glistening form back down onto the tarmac.
Oink! One year on the road tomorrow and no sign of mental instability setting in yet. Bleat!
20/9/05. Jambiani, S.E. Zanzibar.
Andy's got Rush on his iPod and Emma owns a pub. And they're my new neighbours! Nungwi in the north of Z'bar is a tourist haven to the extent that at least two of the local lads have pseudo-cockney accents. One of them is even a Spurs fan - I think the first African of that unhappy persuasion I've met.
The weather's not perfect all day every day, but when the sun's out the sea is stupidly turquoise and the extensive shallows are warm like a bath.
Andy, Emma and I drink booze for a few days at Cholo's, a ship-shaped bar on the beach with hammocks and a spectacular sunset spot. It's not really Africa, but, like, who cares?
Eventually I saddle up and whizz down to the South-Eastern beaches, ending up at Jambiani. The weather is consistently good here. The tide goes out for miles and comes in startlingly fast. I'm able to fulfil a year-old ambition (I arrived in Nungwi 365 days after I left the UK) by riding Fluffy on the beach.
This is good, partly because the "roads" around here are "made" of worryingly sharp raised platforms of ocean-eroded volcanic basalt. Excuse me - I've just read Richard Fortey's "The Earth - An Intimate History", and for the next few weeks I'll be appreciating ancient lava flows, 70 million-year-old limestone formations and Pre-Cambrian gneisses*, particularly when I suspect one of them is going to give me a puncture.
*I don't really know what these are.
Posted by Simon Fitzpatrick at 04:24 PM
5/9/05. Tanga, Tanzania.
The Kenya/Tanzania border crossing is a walk in the park, relatively. No bribes, no "road tax" (not even the $20 I legitimately owe the government of Kenya), very few moneychanging touts and several well-wishing officials. It's followed by 35 miles of horribly sharp rocks. I'm now on a non-Michelin Desert front tyre (Metzeler Sahara since you ask) and the primal fear of punctures has returned. Ah Deserts! 10,000 African miles and NO PUNCTURES as Magnus Magnussen would say, probably.
So - one night in Tanga, en route to Dar and Zanzibar. As I sit in the lavish bar of the hotel next door to my not-lavish one, watching CNN coverage of Hurricane Katrina (My! That George Bush is a bit of a div!), I peel skin from my newly-bronzed arms and swig Kilimanjaro lager. My Venice Beach style tan is a result of a week at Tiwi, just south of Mombasa. White sand and turquoise water. "Paradise" was the most overused word of the week in the beach bar. You gotta love East Africa. Everywhere I've stayed (except North East Kenya on the Wajir road) - Addis, Nairobi, Eldoret, Jinja, Kampala, Murchison Falls, Hunters Inn, Tiwi - has been (a) great; (b) slightly better than the previous place.
I've treated Fluffy to a course of Holt's "Damp Start". She will now speed through heavy rain without so much as a cough.
Posted by Simon Fitzpatrick at 04:17 PM
Pimp My Ride.
13,000 miles from Islington. Time to strap a dead animal on.
There's an undercurrent of Satanic beastiality about climbing aboard now. I like that. There is a slight wet-arse problem when it's been raining, but after 10 months in Africa, a wet arse is nowhere near as urgent a warning sign as it would be in Europe.
My bike has developed a fear of water. Perhaps it has rabies. There are two issues; a leaky petrol cap (cured), and an immediate aversion to rain and puddles - maybe cured. We'll see. Moisture-free, it continues to run like a bastid.
27/8/05. Hunter's Lodge, halfway to Mombasa, Kenya.
The waitress is lobbing stones at the monkeys in the beer garden to scare them away. I give her a look that means "Hey man - monkeys are cool. Live and let live, yeah?". She replies with a look that says "You won't be saying that when one of the little bastards shits in your lager".
My Heavens! it's tranquil here. The moto - whom I am inches away from christening "Fluffy" - ran like a mucky porno dream (with dwarves and that) all the way here. Furthermore, the EU have spent YOUR tax euros on a spanking new road which, you'll be glad to hear, feels very expensive indeed.
It occurs to me that I've only got 4 months left *sulk*. The further I go, the more I want to carry on. Whatever happens, I'm going back to the UK in January. I really want to see my lovely family and gluttonous - no wait - glamourous friends, but I think I need to find a way to get me and Fluffy to South America next year.
I tried not to anthropomorphize my vehicle - REALLY I did - *sob* - but, y'know, it's been a long time, and I can't go on calling her NX650 *blub*, not after we've been through so much *wheeze*. I LOVE YOU FLUFFY! *weep* (That's enough Tusker - Ed.)
28/8/05. Tiwi Beach, Kenya.
OK - It's raining. Gunmetal skies and heavy drizzle when I arrive. But it's still paradise. And they have "Best Of Dolly" on the CD player. (Actually that's the only CD).
Posted by Simon Fitzpatrick at 03:43 PM
The Raft Of The Medusa*
20/8/05. Nairobi, Kenya
The Uganda loop (Jinja - Kampala - Murchison Falls - Kampala - Jinja) is complete. Everyone does it, and they do it because it's great. Uganda is the best African country so far. The people are cool - no-one hassles you, the sights are designed for sore eyes (which I had), the facilities are (generally) working, and the driving is lamentable; although I only lose one piece of plastic from my bike due to an idiot ramming me in Kampala. If only it hadn't been the last complete section of bodywork left.
For the second time in my life I think "Oh dear. I am now definitely going to drown", as another huge pile of water crashes down onto my head. Inhaling the Nile is a very bad idea. Apart from the almost-dying aspect, rafting the rapids at Jinja is a lot of fun. After a lot of instruction/training, we head towards the Grade 5 stuff. I don't really know what Grade 5 means, but we're told that only a criminally irresponsible rafting company would attempt Grade 6 rapids, and I believe it.
*Art gag. Actually the Medusa went down off Mauritania.
Ho! The Equator...
The next day I head back to Kenya. The border is a breeze. However long you're going to be in Kenya, tell the border guys "6 days". Seven days means you have to pay road tax. (I suppose I'll have to pay it later, but hey - that's later.)
Over the border the sky bruises and I get soaked. I stop at a hotel in Turbo (great name) and ask the price. "350 shillings" says the hotel dude and I cringe. In my head, that means $40 US, which means get back on the bike and find somewhere else. I dejectedly smoke a cig in the car park and climb back on. Then I realise 350 shillings is $4, not $40. I'm in.
In the morning it's back to Eldoret and Naiberi River campsite. Beer is drunk and Raj fixes me up with his girlfriend's girlfriend. All very jolly.
I say... *twirls moustache*
It stays dry for the trip back to Nairobi, and I even manage to buy a sheepskin for my saddle from a roadside skin-vendor for $18.
24/8/05 Nairobi, Kenya.
A fabulously beautiful day in Nairobi. Warm, breezy, sunny; perfect weather. I'm enthused enough to get a new front tyre (about bloody time), and do an oil and filter change (good 'n' early). The bloated, grinning bluebottle in the pile ointment* appears as I check my email. My tenant is moving out of the flat in London. Oh shittery. Income meltdown.
Quite good fags
*I do not have piles, thanks for asking.
Posted by Simon Fitzpatrick at 03:22 PM
I'm Getting The Fear
11/8/05. Kampala, Uganda.
Back to the capital for a few days of R&R, bike maintenance, big-city necessity purchasing and mental preparation for the frankly terrifying white-water rafting at Jinja. It's supposedly the second most hairy bit of rafting in the world (after the Zambezi) and the number of times I've done it before, rounded up to the nearest whole digit, currently stands at nearly one.
16/8/05 Jinja, Uganda.
Rafting tomorrow. Gulp. The leaflet produced by Adrift, the rafting company, features quotes from such feeble nanocelebs as flaxen haired goof Prince William ("That was brilliant!" Um, thanks, your Highness); well-known human Geri Halliwell; the suspiciously long-serving President Museveni of Uganda; and Cro-Magnon-browed BBC squawkstress Kate Thornton ("I thought I was going to die!" And yet, annoyingly, you didn't).
The bar at the Adrift campsite is another contender for Best One In Africa.
View from the bar with bungy platform
Posted by Simon Fitzpatrick at 02:54 PM