June 25, 2010 GMT
A Short Ride From London
I've received many recommendations to visit the Kigali Memorial. But I was sure that it wouldn't be for me.
But again, even local people here say I should go. It's in nice grounds they say, which sounded worth visiting without going into the museum.
So today, not only did I discover that there's internet here at the Solace Guest House, I also went to the Memorial for the Rwandan Genocide.
It was still my intention not to go in the museum - I'd already heard what's in there - I'd just go around the grounds and gardens.
Once there, like elsewhere in Africa there are few signposts telling you where things are, so I went down some steps between hedgerows away from the museum building, where other visitors were coming up. This led to a series of terraces (everything in Kigale is on hillside terraces) where all the graves were laid out. Huge tombs set in lawns with large grey concrete slabs on top. And fresh flowers everywhere. Further along were various small memorial gardens.
I'd also intended not to take any photos here, only of the city hills beyond. I'd heard there are good views of Kigali from here.
But lots of visitors to this memorial have cameras, so here's a centrepiece of one small garden.
And a city hilltop beyond another.
The only other thing I wanted was the café. That was signposted but the door I entered took me into a part of the museum full of photographs of children, one of the exhibits I'd heard about. So I left quickly, the ambience in there was not for me.
In the past I'd visited many Nazi death camps, but this is different. The Holocaust happened a long time ago, or at least before I was born. This genocide took place while I was living an ordinary life, commuting to work every day, reading the news. And it happened not far away from me. You can ride here on a little motorbike.
Also, those WWII concentration camps were almost empty of visitors, and no one was there (I'm sure) who lived through it. At Sobibor I was the only visitor for two days, the curator (the only other person there) and I would sit together on the little bench outside the tiny museum for a while each day, in silent contemplation, having used up all our sign language and few English words.
Here, the memorial is full of visitors. And all those above school-leaving age will have lived through this genocide and will have been directly affected by it. Except us few with white faces.
Just a short ride from London.
That makes quite a difference, and makes this a living, and dying, museum in every sense of the word.
So I avoided the museum, found the coffee terrace, and watched life go by in this memorial of events so recent, deciding that to try to make any sense of it is an impossible task.
After a while I departed through the gardens, and saw this fellow, maybe also trying to make sense of it.
It looks like I'll be here until Sunday at least. I told the receptionist I'll be staying here today, and maybe tomorrow, but then I learnt that she's told the kitchen I'll be here for Saturday evening's meal. I can see I'll be here until Monday.
Since leaving Nairobi I've been a bit unsettled about how long to stay in places. After a few days I feel if I don't get going again I'll get stuck in the place forever. A bit of paranoia maybe. Someone told me recently that a side-effect of Larium (for malaria) can be paranoia.
But no, it's definitely true. If you stay too long in one place on a journey like this there's a real risk of becoming stuck there.
And I have the proof.
We stayed nearly a month in Khartoum.
And where are Caroline and Beau living now?? Three guesses.
That's right - Khartoum.
Caroline's been teaching English the last three weeks, Beau starts teaching music at the University music department in August.
So the very best of luck to them for the future.
Posted by Ken Thomas at 09:34 PM
June 24, 2010 GMT
The Land Of A Thousand Hills
It's not very far from Lake Bunyonyi to Kigali, capital of Rwanda.
So here I am.
I think I'm right in saying that Rwanda is the first African country that I've entered completely free of charge. There's nothing to pay. No visa, no road charge, no insurance (my 'Yellow Card', the African version of the European 'Green Card', that I obtained in Nairobi, covers the country), no photocopying charge, not a single ha'penny.
And no Big Adventure either.
I expected a Big Adventure when arriving at the Rwandan side of the border, I'd been preparing for it the last couple of days.
And it led to a bit of a delay in leaving Lake Bunyonyi.
It was about two weeks ago that I learned about Rwanda's prohibition of plastic bags.
And like most bikers, I've tons of them.
They keep the rain out. Out of your clothes, your tools and spare parts, out of your maps, your cornflakes, your sleeping bag, and out of your digestive biscuits.
But not allowed in Rwanda.
"They'll search you at the border," I read.
"There's a fine if you're caught in possession."
"The customs have sniffer dogs."
"Kigali is surrounded by police check points - they'll look you over for plastic bags."
And so on and so on.
The internet is a useful thing - most of the time.
Anyway, I thought, "What a good idea. They're such noisy things."
Anyone who has done any Youth Hostelling will know the drill. Everyone is woken at 5:45 in the morning by the one person who has a 6:30am bus to catch, and is feverishly stuffing everything into plastic bags and then into his/her rucksack. The noise is deafening.
Everyone I met agrees, the person who will one day become a multi-billionaire overnight by inventing the silent plastic bag will be a regular Youth Hostel user.
So there was work to be done at Lake Bunyonyi, disposing of a thousand plastic bags before heading off to the Land of a Thousand Hills.
And I was a little surprised at how easy it was.
A bit of thought and re-organising, and I had almost a bin-bag of the things to throw away. And that weighs something.
If plastic bags are waterproof, why do you end up storing a dozen of them inside another plastic bag?
Then there was the delay on leaving. With the bike all packed up, and bill paid, I realised that the straps on both panniers were done up quite a bit more than normal. And I'd already noticed that inexplicably there was empty space inside the top-box.
I must definitely have left some stuff behind in my little hut. Or in the bar. Perhaps during one of the night-time power cuts. Another search around all over the place.
No, everything is loaded. Except those plastic bags. Who'd have thought they take up so much room?
And there was no inquisition at the border. No searching. No x-ray machine tuned to the frequency of plastic bags.
Just a regular "Bon jour! Comment ca va?"
"What? - Oh, French! Ca va bien! I suppose you're going to tell me you drive on the right as well. Haven't driven on the right since Ethiopia."
"Muy bien! - No, that's Spanish. - Tres bon! Merci!"
And then I was in Rwanda.
It was a little like Ethiopia, riding along the roads. Rwanda is one of the most densely populated countries in the world, and when not indoors, Rwandans are out walking the roads. And waving. Not just to me either.
They wave at anything going past that looks as though it might be carrying someone who has just finished drinking out of a plastic bottle.
After plastic bags, they're public enemy number two.
Children collect them, and a pile of them will fetch a few francs at a recycling depot.
So the roads are full of people, and empty of litter. Quite a change.
The scenery is a little like Ethiopia as well, but more so. Very hilly, very green, and the roads very twisty and quite empty of traffic. All the hillsides are terraced and cultivated like those around Lake Bunyonyi.
There are a few people, mainly women, walking along the roads in full and colourful tribal costumes.
Then suddenly there's Kigali. A hill covered with modern glass and steel buildings rising out of the greenery, then another, and another. Then a traffic light that marks the sudden boundary between agricultural countryside and the city built across six or seven long high ridges with deep valleys between. A street map is like one of those picture puzzles with ten separate fishing lines wandering all over the page and you have to trace which angler has the line with the fish dangling on the other end. Kigali's roads are like that, long and wavy, close together in a jumble, but hardly ever actually connecting to each other. Except at the far northwest of town and the far southeast, where the valleys and ridges all meet. So you need top-notch map-reading skills to get around. And also to know exactly where you want to go.
I had neither.
What I did have was a recommendation to stay at another charity establishment in a Kigali suburb.
I'm finding that there are lots of charities in western Uganda and Rwanda that have rooms for the thousands of charity workers visiting from home and abroad. And unused rooms are available for travellers as a means of earning money. These charities have all sprung out of, directly or indirectly, the Rwandan genocide and the subsequent Rwanda-Uganda war. Terrible times and not very long ago. And both countries now receive huge amounts of assistance to help the ordinary people come to terms with those times and with the violence that occurred between them. And it seems to be successful.
For instance, there's a careful balancing act going on in Rwanda. No one is any longer a Hutu or a Tutsi. Everyone is Rwandan. The slogan "I am Rwandan" can be seen on many cars and buses. Yet there's also an acknowledgment that cultural histories need to be preserved.
I had a recommendation to stay at the Solace Ministries Guest House. It's a Christian charity that helps women traumatised by violence during the genocide and war.
I also had its website, but no address. Nor any address in any of the references to it that I had found. Only the name of the suburb it was in. So I programmed a detailed route into my ancient but faithful GPS and ventured into the Kigali web of unconnected fishing lines. The suburb turned out to be between two steep ridges with a deep valley between, and all steep dirt roads criss-crossed by deep rain water channels. But at least it was dry.
Close to the centre of this suburb I saw a signpost for the Kigali office of the Goethe Institute.
Well, Goethe had been kind to me on two occasions so far on my various travels, so maybe a third as well.
The premises were open with a welcoming ambience inside, but it took a little while to find an office with someone in residence.
Oh dear, a German cultural institute in a country with Kinyarwanda and French as the national languages. Where do we start?
"Parlez-vous Anglais s'il vous plait?" seemed the only possibility, and yes, they did.
But had never heard of Solace Ministries. I had a phone number as well, and that did the trick. They phoned (about three attempts to get through), and a convoluted sort of conversation resulted in a rough map of where I should go. About two hundred yards as the crow flies, but the steep valley side meant a looping ride of about a mile on steep dirt roads.
In all the stuff written about the banning of plastic bags there are many mentions of the many police checkpoints on the way into Kigali. But I can confirm I passed one checkpoint at the exit from the Ugandan border where a policeman looked at my passport, looked at my bike and said, I think, (at least by the look on his face) that I must be mad to live on this little bike for nine months (in French). And there were no more checkpoints right up to the entrance gate of the Solace Ministries Guest House in Kigali. And I went past the President's Residence and US embassy as well.
Solace Ministries is a huge place. On this site they have a teaching centre that can take about a hundred students at a time in a dozen or so classrooms.
Also today, about ten Canadians arrived for a three-week stint teaching 20 to 30 year-olds. Covering English, computing, and basic accounting. They join the four or five Americans already here.
And without a doubt, if the guest rooms here were uprooted and put behind a hotel reception desk, it would be almost a four-star establishment.
I don't know how long I'll be here. It's very nice and I've just ridden into town for cash and internet and lunch. At first I thought two days because all the guides say there are no ATMs in Rwanda, only places to change dollars, and I'll need them I think for Zimbabwe. And to add to that, when I cross into Tanzania it'll be pretty rural with no ATMs for about four or five days. So I'll be using my dollars there as well.
But Denise, the striking receptionist at the Guest House said there's now an ATM for foreign cards in the main bank in the main shopping centre. So off I went.
Here in town I found there are many Denises in the bank, the shops and around town.
I've found that many, if not most, Rwandan women are taller than me, and taller than a lot of the local men as well. Quite noticeable.
Anyway, there is indeed an ATM here for foreign cards, and it takes the form of another Rwandan woman at a desk in front of a computer. She more-or-less simulates what an ATM would do on line, but with her computer. A statement comes back showing the amount in pounds, and the cash machine charge as well. So you don't have to wait until it appears on your bank statement to see that.
Then she issues a cheque to a cashier who gives you the money.
There's always something different in Africa.
So I have local money now without changing dollars so can stay a little longer and look around. A guide book describes Kigali as "a tranquil mountain hamlet" which is a good choice of words although it's a shade bigger than a hamlet. We'll see.
And a word about Goethe's kindness. (Just to complete the picture). I think it's fair to say that Goethe is Germany's Shakespeare, who lived just after him and is revered in a similar way.
What follows is a ramble back in time and has nothing to do with this part of the journey.
Back in Addis Ababa we found that the Museum of Ethiopia had a particularly good reputation, so we visited and found it justified. A lot of very old fossils of very early man have been found in Ethiopia, including "Lucy", the oldest known human fossil found so far. This is on display in the museum. As well as a comprehensive decription of the geology of the Great Rift Valley, its ongoing erosion, and why fossils are regularly found there. A little further along the road was the Addis Ababa Goethe Institute where we found that a major concert of traditional Ethiopian music and dance was to be held, to mark the first ever recordings of Ethiopian music many years ago.
So we went, and it was amazing.
Completely free of charge, outside on the lawns packed with people, it was a concert of music and dance from the four corners of Ethiopia, with musicians and dancers clad in the traditional dress of each region as the evening progressed.
There was a half-time interval when an Ethiopian comedian-singer performed an "Azmari" piece. This is a sort of traditional "praise" singing that sprung out of the arrival of Christianity and its hymns hundreds of years ago. Converted to the Ethiopian style of music, nowadays it's sung in "traditional music" bars. The female singer, accompanied by a one-string violin-type instrument and a hand-drummer, wanders amongst the audience and sings a verse of "praise" (but really an off-the-cuff joke) about members of the audience at random, or who she knows. Each verse is greeted with roars of laughter from the audience.
We visited such a bar in Gondar, and being the only foreigners in there, were frequently singled out by the singer each time she thought of a new joke to sing about us. What she sang we'll never know, but the whole place was alive with laughter the entire evening. On the next table to us was a local man wearing an England football shirt. The singer already knew that Caroline and I were English, so I waved over the England fan and the singer immediately came up with yet another verse, about what I don't know except it was for the three of us, which again had the rest of the bar rolling in the aisles.
Anyway, back at this Goethe Institute concert the "Azmari" singer during the interval was a man, and his song went on for maybe fifteen minutes or more. I didn't time it, and maybe he was ad-libbing a lot of it. But it went on and on, and we could recognise the names of some Ethiopian politicians we'd heard of, and other world-famous names as well. Each one drew tremendous laughter from the audience, the loudest appreciation being when George Bush's name was mentioned. Again we didn't have the faintest idea what was being sung or what the joke was, but I think the volume of response to that name persuaded the singer to ad-lib a few more jokes about the same ex-president.
Tony Blair received a similar response, as well as other names on the world stage.
It was a great evening all round.
That was my second brush with Goethe. The first was in Weimar in 1999.
I'd been on my long ride around northern and eastern Europe on my old Yamaha Serow, taking in southern Hungary in August of that year to see a total eclipse of the sun. My return route to home took me into southern Germany close to Dresden and then across to Weimar.
I don't remember the date I arrived in Weimar, it was purely random based on the date of the eclipse in Hungary and the time I spent in Austria at a big motorbike event on my way home.
But it was a Thursday. (And a reference look-up tells me it was 26th August 1999).
And Weimar seemed full when I arrived.
There was activity, lots of it, everywhere.
I thought I'd better look for a room, in case there were none. It looked very busy.
I tried a hostal I'd read about, right in the center. It was a bit rough around the edges, temporarily in a building that was obviously overdue for renovation.
"We're full to bursting," said the proprietor. "But you want to stay here do you?"
Well, it was getting a bit late and it was a long way to the next town.
"You won't get a bed or a room anywhere else at all. Come inside, lets see what we have."
It was pretty run down inside, with rucksacks, luggage, plates of food, mattresses and visitors everywhere.
"I have a couple of mattresses still, but no where to put them. Let's see if we can rearrange something."
"If I move these people over to here, there'll be a space there for you, but it'll block the door to this room. Let's check that these people don't mind moving, and that those people in there don't mind having to step over you to get into their room!"
Well, there was an amazing atmosphere of anticipation in this place that I didn't understand, and everyone was happy to do just about anything so that more people could be squeezed in.
The proprietor expressed some pride in the fact that he had the only place in Weimar that was still able to accept people to stay, so he squeezed more and more in by moving out tables and other unnecessary furniture.
I thought I'd better get out into the daylight and find out what was going on.
Weimar has four or five town squares and something big was happening in all of them. A TV crew was setting up in a major way around the main square, with a stage and extensive seating being laid out. In another was a huge outdoor market, but all the stalls were set up as wine bars, some with food as well.
In another, the entire square had been cleared of everything and a complex overhead lighting arrangement was being erected.
In a fourth, half the square had been fenced off and the rest cleared for what looked like a standing audience.
I got chatting to some locals who spoke English.
"What, you've come all the way here and you don't know what's going on?"
"And you've actually found a place to stay. How on earth did you do that??"
"Do you realise what date it is Saturday??? You could never have arrived here today purely by coincidence. That's not possible!!"
"Not here in Weimar of all places!!"
I could feel that a significant chunk of serendipity was in the air.
"This weekend is going to be the biggest party that Germany has ever seen!"
"The whole country's celebrating."
"And this will be the centre of it on Saturday!"
"Here in Weimar! It's impossible for you not to know!!"
"Saturday is Goethe's 250th birthday!!!"
By now my senses were reeling a bit, and after drawing breath I realised I should be grateful that I had at least an inkling as to who Goethe was. I think not to have known would have been an offence punishable by immediate deportation from Germany. But I had to tactfully find out what the connection to Weimar was. This I didn't know and thought it wise not to reveal that I didn't know.
Don't remember how I did this, but I learned that Weimar was where he lived and died. I must have made a successful job of finding this out because my new-found friends were happy to explain that the big event was to be a ballet "like you've never seen before" performed on the main stage here in Weimar and on another stage in the main square of Frankfurt, the city of his birth.
"The TV crews are connecting the two cities together. On Saturday this will be the only thing shown on TV in Germany. All the channels will show it!"
"And what's more, this weekend is also the regular date for the Weimar annual wine festival!! Imagine that! Goethe's 250th and the wine festival on the same day! People are wondering if the city will ever survive it!!"
Suddenly the question ocurred to me as to whether my mattress in the hostal would survive it, as it now dawned on me what the proprietor was trying to explain earlier as I left. His English was OK but I couldn't quite understand what he was getting at. Now I knew.
He was saying things were getting pretty hectic, people were still arriving looking for a bed and he'd do his best to accomodate everyone, but there were so many people staying there it had become impossible for him or his staff to supervise everything. He was sure everyone would be in the best of spirits and look out for everyone else, but he couldn't guarantee that what was my mattress at that time, wouldn't be claimed and occupied by someone else if I didn't take steps to secure it by some means.
I left it just long enough for my friends to explain that everything was free including the wine tasting, but where there was seating, like the main televised event, you needed a ticket so queue up early on the day at the ticket office. And there'll be lots of street theatre in all the other streets all day Friday to Sunday......... and dashed back to the hostal.
There I found my space secure, and everyone was indeed looking after everyone else and a sort of rota had been set up where those visitors not going out would make sure the spaces of the others were not bagged by latecomers. Spirits were such that quite a lot of food was being brought in with plenty of volunteer cooks on hand, so there'd be food for everyone almost round the clock.
That was quite a weekend in Weimar to say the very least. For anyone interested, the 'ballet never seen before' was a sort of modern ballet performed by a small troupe on the stage in Weimar, which was mimicked exactly, movement for movement, by a corp de ballet in the main square of Frankfurt, the members of which were huge JCB earth-digging machines! It was amazing what those machines could perform in the hands of expert drivers. There was some relevance in that spectacle to Goethe's life and work but I never understood what.
And here in Kigali eleven years later Goethe was still showing me the way......
Posted by Ken Thomas at 12:11 PM
June 21, 2010 GMT
I took the short ride last Saturday from Kabale to a campsite on the lake. It's billed in the tourist leaflets as 'the prettiest lake in Uganda'.
There are a lot of lakes in Uganda so I suppose you'd have to ride round the whole of the country to judge that, but it certainly is a picture.
So here are some pictures.
First sighting of the lake. It's long and not very wide and its shoreline zigzags around a myriad little bays.
This is the scene of the photos and this is the road that runs about three miles from Kabale to the lake and then a good way around it. Easy in the dry but steep and twisty in places. Uganda's quite hilly here, and it gets more hilly into Rwanda, 'The Land Of A Thousand Hills'.
View from the carpark at the campsite.
This is quite a campsite. The camping is OK but the little huts they have are even better. So I took one, and it's the sort of place you could spend a couple of weeks in.
The scene from outside of my little hut.
And through the doorway.
There are a couple of rowing boats down some steps in front, and a board for diving into the water.
The water's ...... err .... ok. Not cold, but the weather is cloudy half the time and sunny the rest so it doesn't get warm. And it's quite high up here. Kabale is Uganda's highest city, the lake a little higher. This area is called Uganda's 'Little Switzerland'. Although I don't think snow would ever be spotted here.
There's no internet here so I don't know when I'll post this. Maybe not until I arrive in Kigale.
In fact there's nothing to do here except explore the lake and tracks by boat or foot, swim in it, or watch birds. Lake Bunyonyi means 'Lake of the little birds'. There's a big western-style hotel a few miles back up the road and I saw one or two people carrying yard-long lenses on tripods, looking around and up into the trees.
So with nothing to do here I may stay a day or so longer. It's compounded by the fact that there's no TV here, and the World Cup is on. Everyone is staying at the big hotel, or another campsite down the road in the other direction. From the faint noise you can hear travelling across the water there must be a lot of people staying there. There's been hardly anyone here.
The lake birds certainly are small, and I suppose you need a special skill to spot them because I haven't seen many. And the ones I have are difficult to photograph, unlike the fairly tame specimens back in Kenya.
But with my one-inch lens here's what I managed:
This one had been diving into the water amongst the reeds next to the edge of the lake, presumably for tiny fish or some other food.
And this one was also diving for food, but in open water away from the shore.
This is the steep terraced slope behind. The entire lake is surrounded by this scenery, the cultivation and terracing of the slopes preventing soil erosion into the lake.
And while we're about it, let's not leave out the plant life. It brings a bit of colour to the screen.
I don't know what these flowers are, and some of them may also grow back home in England. But these are the African versions, all around the campsite here:
Posted by Ken Thomas at 10:34 AM
June 17, 2010 GMT
When The Student Is Ready, The Teacher Will Appear
Or: The Road To Malawi.
I'm now in Kabale, on the edge of Lake Bunyonyi. Haven't visited the lake yet, probably tomorrow. It's about two miles away.
The thing is, the internet is quite reliable here, unlike in Kampala. But instead, the water went off last night and only came back on late this afternoon.
But never mind, the internet is what I need. It must be channelled through that cafe round the corner, 'Mend The Broken Internet'. That reminded me of a little restaurant I found in New Zealand once, called 'Two Chairs Missing'. Brilliant name for a restaurant I thought.
Anyway, while it's working, I need the internet to research the route ahead, as the lack of overland travellers here is causing a serious lack of information.
On the way to Kabale yesterday I was beginning to wonder about Rwanda, as the guidebooks advise travellers to check the latest situation there before heading to the border in case there has been some sudden change in the country's situation.
And there, just round the bend, taking a break in a layby, was a big British tour truck full of gap-year students, facing in the opposite direction. It was returning from a Nairobi-Kampala-Kigali-southern Rwanda-back to Kampala-Nairobi loop route. "All clear ahead," reported the driver. "Rwanda's a great place, roads much better than Uganda. No problem!"
So that's all right then.
Today I'd spent a long time on the internet, just thinking that my eyes had had enough of the screen, when an English couple arrived looking for a room. The welcome they received was the usual African affair, lots of friendly greetings wanting to know where they were from, where going, how, when, what for. So I learned that they were from Bukoba in Tanzania, on the western shore of Lake Victoria, had a friend from France staying so had decided to take a trip to see Uganda, and had just crossed into the country from the south.
A source of information at last!
They confirmed that the roads south were fine and it was easy to travel around the southern side of Lake Victoria. But they couldn't tell me specifically about the road west to Lake Tanganyika.
"But the rains have stopped, the buses go regularly to Kigoma, so it must be OK."
So that's all right then.
Back on the internet I concentrated my search on the southern end of lake Tanganyika, the ferry port of Kasanga and the road to Mbeya to pick up the main Lake Malawi road. I've found nothing there, only that 'vehicles' go from Kasanga to Sumbawanga in the dry season, six hours, and Sumbawanga is only about a fifth of the way to Mbeya. (And in the opposite direction. This is all remote mountain country and the roads do huge zigzags around them).
For foot passengers on the ferry, the main port is at Mpulungu a few hours (by ferry) from Kasanga, from where there's a better road to Sumbawanga. It's Mpulungu that people have mentioned when they've told me that 'friends' have told them that the ferry ride down Lake Tanganyika is very much worth doing. Even the guide books recommend it (for travellers on foot).
But what is usually omitted is that at Mpulungu, there's no harbour. The ferry moors in a bay and passengers are rowed ashore. No word of any motorbikes being carried on the rowing boats. Travellers with websites report that getting their luggage onto the rowing boats is 'a bit of a chore'.
The proper harbour is at Kasanga, but with no road to speak of.
At this point I decided that enough is enough and went across the road for tea at the cafe.
Then another teacher appeared.
I returned to the hostal to find an Irish traveller just arrived, asking for the quickest way to Dar es Salaam. He'd spent too long in north-western Uganda and had only twelve days to get there by public transport for his flight home. He knew this part of Africa and really, already knew the quickest way to Dar, just wanted confirmation.
"Bus to Bukoba, ferry to Mwanza, Central Line train to Dodoma, bus to Dar es Salaam." So I think he was sorted. I nearly asked him if he needed to change at Mile End or Liverpool Street but thought better of it when he asked where I was headed.
So I told him my plans, making God laugh in the process.
"There's no route!" he said straight away. "That doesn't sound at all feasible."
"But the road from Kigali to Dodoma is fairly direct by African standards. Go that way, then south to Malawi. Or if the Singida road is OK, go south from there and save a few miles."
So that's all right then.
But what about Lake Tanganyika?
He vaguely knew the port of Kigoma and had heard that the ferry makes a good trip. I said I'd try going there even though the ferry ride is probably now out of the question.
"Why's that?" he asked.
So I explained.
The ferry is the "MV Liemba," which was built in 1913 in Germany as a gun ship and named "Graf von Gotzen."
The Germans transported it in pieces on the Central Line railway (that line again!) from Dar es Salaam to Lake Tanganyika to defend the lake against the British in the First World War. It wasn't entirely successful, as with Belgian help the British managed to surround the German stronghold at Kigoma, resulting in a stalemate.
Here, history diverges somewhat.
Humphrey Bogart, the captain of "The African Queen," tells us (or tells Katherine Hepburn) that if the Graf von Gotzen could be sunk, (he called it "The Luisa") the Allies would immediately capture Kigoma and peace would break out. So off he sets on his adventure.
The history books tell us that the captain of the Graf von Gotzen realised that it was only a matter of time before the British got their hands on his boat, so he scuttled it. This was done by the engineers who had reassembled it after its journey on the Central Line. Being engineers they entirely covered its engines with tons of grease and sunk it slowly by filling it with sand.
This enabled the British, eight years later, to remove the sand, refloat it, start the engines and run it as a passenger and freight ship up and down the lake. Which it has done ever since with just a short break in 1970 to change the steam engines to diesel.
So a fairly intriguing story and reason number one to visit Kigoma.
Reason two is that one of the oldest market villages in Africa is Ujiji, a little south of Kigoma. It's also where H.M.Stanley found Dr. Livingstone (or reportedly so), with suitable monument and coffee shop.
The story of Stanley finding Livingstone in the darkest depths of unexplored Africa is about the only thing I ever found interesting in History lessons at school.
So Kigoma and Ujiji it is then. And just a look at the ferry.
And finally, Tea, Milk and Tailoring. You'll always find those whenever you find that other thing that the Brits exported to all the colonies, which in many of them has since been refined into a fine art-form.
Bureaucracy. The African version is alive and well.
Can you ever imagine a true bureaucrat without his tea, milk jug, and nice tailored suit?
The following 'Public Notice' in yesterday's Uganda newspaper is maybe the reverse of bureaucracy, shaming people into paying their debts. But I couldn't resist putting it in here. A full double-page spread.
The sub-heading: "The persons listed below have sent cheques to the Ugandan Tax Authority which have bounced. They should report to the tax office, 2nd floor .......... within 5 days or will be immediately prosecuted."
The extensive list includes private individuals, companies, and government departments.
These amongst them:
The Population Secretariat. - Cheque No...... Date........ Bank........ Amount. 456,300 Ush
Dairy Development Authority. - Cheque No...... Date........ Bank........ Amount. 145,071 Ush
National Water and Sewerage. - Cheque No...... Date........ Bank........ Amount. 981,564 Ush
Sereko Court Bailiffs. - Cheque No...... Date........ Bank........ Amount. 200,000 Ush
The list goes on and on. The Ministry of Education is in there, Town Councils, charities and others similar.
Posted by Ken Thomas at 08:31 PM
Camping In Kampala
Or: Moyale-Isiolo Meets The Equator.
Arrived in Kampala a few days ago, where there are at least three possible onward routes.
North to Murchison Falls (probably hot and steamy); east to Fort Portal, with gorillas, (but US$500 to see them and still their numbers are dwindling), chimps (becoming habituated to humans they say in the guidebooks) and also hot and steamy; or south west to Kabale and Lake Bunyonyi which sounds more my sort of place. It also provides a straightforward route to Rwanda on the way to Lake Tanganyika.
On leaving Jinja I stopped off at "The source of the Nile" car park, where there were indeed plenty of hawkers but they seem to leave visitors alone. And there was a charge to enter the car park, but at least it was looked after.
Lake Victoria just round to the left.
This is supposed to be the precise starting point, as the Speke monument is on the opposite bank.
As before, the Mediterranean is thataway.
Victoria Nile beyond the railings.
Right on time, my transport back to Italy prepares to come alongside.
I'm not up-to-date on this, but I believe there have been various "sources of the Nile" over the years and I think currently this is not considered the source. Although the sign boards still say it is. But there seems to be general consensus that this is "The start of the Nile," which seems reasonable. I suppose these two things can be different, specially as the river starts at a huge lake.
Many visitors say they are surprised at the speed at which the water flows here, just as it leaves the Lake and with the river quite wide. Yes, it does flow pretty quickly, there must be an awful lot of rainwater entering the lake to keep it topped up.
And a correction to the previous posting about the river's name. It's the Victoria Nile until it reaches Lake Albert, where it becomes the Albert Nile. Quite poetic really. Then it becomes the White Nile when it enters Sudan.
There were angry dark clouds milling about when I departed the Jinja campsite, and on the way to the viewpoint the road passed a Commonwealth War Graves Cemetary. I made a note to stop on the way back and the rains started just as I did so. Luckily there were a couple of large well-tended trees to shelter under for half an hour or so.
This cemetary is like others in Europe, immaculately laid out and tended. But without a register book or local account of the war in that location. Just a notice saying it's not possible to keep one there, enquiries to the HQ in England.
Well, the narrative book would have been useful, because I found that there's a big gap in my knowledge of the war in Africa. In that the headstones in this place were dated right up to 1956. One day I'll have to read up on what hostilities were still taking place in Uganda up to then, maybe 1945 spilling over into the fight for independence.
The rest of the way to Kampala was dry and sunny, and there they expect little more rain.
And the World Cup started on the TV in the campsite bar.
Which was packed.
Not with like-minded overland travellers which I had hoped for.
But with dozens of gap-year students doing Africa, and many their bit for charity as well.
So not much knowledge of the roads situation gleaned so far, except the owner of the campsite said all the roads up to the Rwandan border are fine, and in Rwanda even better.
But she had no knowledge of the roads from the southern end of Lake Tanganyika to Lake Malawi which is becoming the key bit of information needed.
The reason, I think, for all the student travellers here, more than we've encountered anywhere else on this journey, is my confusion about shillings and pounds.
I thought it was about 2700 shillings in a pound but now find it's actually 3200. So it's quite cheap here, hence all the students I think.
So, England v USA the following evening, and the Americans here outnumbered the Brits I think. So I had a quiet night away from the TV. Maybe they have a map room here ........
The campsite was a large well-equipped place with everything needed on site, so I stayed a few days and ventured to check out my headlight for the second time. I had noticed out on the open roads in Uganda a lot of bikes have their headlights on in the daytime, as oncoming buses are even keener to overtake slower lorries than they are in Kenya, and my headlight isn't working, again.
It failed last time somewhere in the Kenyan lake district and I found the wiring had become disconnected somewhere deep in the loom under the petrol tank. So I just ran a new wire from a handy ignition feed to the dip switch.
But I also contravened that sacred rule: "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." The headlight bulb wasn't broken, but I 'fixed' it by puting in a higher-wattage version that I had bought earlier, back in England. Well, I had read on the internet that such a thing was available and that some TTR owners had fitted them.
(And it's a weird thing, but here in Kabale, where I am now, there's an internet cafe called "Mend The Broken Internet")
So, I removed the headlamp to find the bulb was OK again, but at a crazy angle in its holder and not in contact with the spring terminals that connect to it. The plastic of the bulb-holder had softened sufficiently for the bulb to be pushed forward and lose contact. Oh dear, just like those roads into Kampala, all wavy like ocean swells.
It's the higher wattage wot did it. Too much heat.
And the bulb was firmly stuck in the softened plastic.
I had to break it and twist and wriggle it to remove it, and luckily the damage to the holder was fairly easily repaired. A soldering iron enabled me to push the distorted plastic back into roughly the right shape and all seems to fit OK now with a bulb of the correct (lower) wattage back in place.
So I loaded up the bike ready to depart, and found my way blocked by Kampala campsite wildlife.
There are monkeys here that make a lot of noise in the trees but are otherwise well behaved. That is, not disturbing the tents. Also a small family of goats keeping the grass trimmed.
Don't know what make this is, but it's of a substantial size and seems to live a happy life amongst the tents, rooms and washing lines.
Anyway it hauled itself out of the way and I headed off for Mbarara on the way to Lake Bunyonyi.
This, I think, was the seventh time I had crossed it. Five times around the Kenyan lakes, once on the way to Kericho, and now here, and nary a photo taken.
So here's one, with echoes of Moyale to Isiolo, complete with nice little tea house.
About one and a half hours of the Kampala-Mbarara road was being repaired Uganda-style.
Completely destroy the old pot-holed tarmac and turn it into a replica of Moyale-Isiolo.
Then let passing traffic compact it for a week or month or year, before laying new tarmac.
Unlike that north-Kenyan road, there's a lot of traffic here, which is slowed down considerably by the condition of the surface. And it generates a serious amount of dust that, for long stretches, reduces visibility to no more than five or ten yards. So progress was a lot slower than in northern Kenya.
At one point there was quite a queue. I didn't know why, but truck drivers were out of their cabs enjoying some clear air to breathe as there was no traffic movement.
It was easy to filter up towards the front, where I found the road menders had completely closed a quarter-mile stretch to spray it with liquid tar in preparation for the Chinese tarmac-laying machine to do its job. Which it had just started to do - nice and slowly.
This was right on the edge of a small town and they had left a narrow track clear on the left hand side, so that the main feature of all small-town business activity in these Kenyan and Ugandan towns could continue uninterrupted.
The Boda-bodas, or bicycle and motorbike taxis.
They were streaming up and down the narrow track as though nothing unusual was happening, ferrying the townspeople to and fro, keeping the life blood flowing.
A road worker waved me forward to squeeze between the final two lorries, and directed me into the lines of taxis.
"Be careful!" he called out. "Rough road!"
So I made it to my overnight stop in the town of Mbarara.
Posted by Ken Thomas at 08:04 PM
June 10, 2010 GMT
The Way To Zimbabwe
A couple of days ago was Les's funeral. I was in Bungoma, thoughts in Henley on Thames.
And my research for my way south to Lake Malawi and thence Zimbabwe reminded me of another anecdote from our regular meet-ups.
I was in Zimbabwe for a short visit in 2001, but didn't see the Great Zimbabwe Monument. I want to ride there this time because, I think, it gives the lie to what was taught in English schools (at least mine) in the 1950s about British colonialism in Africa.
Then early last year I found myself walking along Cecil Court in London, where numerous stamp and coin collecting shops are located. In the window of one was prominently displayed a 500 trillion Zimbabwean dollar banknote.
I think that's 500,000,000,000,000. (As near as makes no difference).
It caught my eye because I still have a Z$50 note from my 2001 visit and had already added Zimbabwe to my itinerary for this trip.
The marked selling price for the banknote in the shop window was six pounds 50 pence.
A hundred trillion. The picture on the note is of the Balancing Rocks of Epworth, a suburb S.E. of Harare.
Now I think it was Les's partner Alison who used to refer to our little (and big) reunions as "Last of the Summer Wine". We all agreed with that but would never admit it. The following conversation at our reunion later last year probably epitomises that.
Les, Pete, Colin and I were at a table in the pub when the conversation got round to changing money for overseas trips. I'm not too sure why, as Les always seemed to pay for his trips with airmiles. He and Alison became famous for once having enough airmiles between them to fly first class on BA to Sydney and back for Christmas and New Year. Truly a magnificent feat!
I threw in the comment that I had seen a Z$500,000,000,000,000 note going for 6 pounds 50 pence in a Cecil Court shop and wondered what my Z$50 note would buy when/if I reached Zimbabwe in 2010. Les looked a bit pensive at that, but our conversation moved on to figuring out exactly what sort of glass Pete's beer glass was made out of. He'd announced that '1664' beer was now sold in "nucleated" beer glasses, to keep the bubbles rising and stop the beer going flat.
"What on earth is nucleated glass?" we asked. And so our earnest discussion meandered off into the molecular thermodynamics of the bubbles in a pint of beer.
Interesting or what??
I think it was the "molecular" bit that triggered Les's thought process, groping for something he'd learned at University more years ago than he'd care to remember.
After much chit-chat around the table we agreed that, "no, we didn't know how a nucleated beer glass was made, we'd have to revisit that question at another time. In the meantime, had anyone heard from Orp Phillips lately?" (A well-respected "office philosopher" from our working days who would probably have known the answer).
At that, Les announced to those around the table, "Five molecules!"
"Five molecules! Five molecules of lager. That's what your fifty Zimbabwean dollar note would buy now, if 500 trillion dollars is worth six pounds fifty."
"It was 500 trillion, was it? Not 500 thousand trillion? How many zeros were on the banknote?" Les asked.
"It's easy," said Les. "I suddenly remembered Avogadro's constant, that I did in chemistry at University. I knew it would come in handy one day."
"You just need that," he continued, "today's price of a pint, and the price of that banknote in the coin-collecting shop. From that you can work out that fifty Zimbabwean dollars will buy five molecules of 1664 lager in this pub!"
"But you need to be sure there were fourteen zeros on that banknote, not seventeen. Were you wearing your reading glasses at the time?"
I'd never heard of Avogadro's constant, but now Pete looked pensive, wondering if he could use it to work out how nucleated glass is made.
And so our reunion conversations progressed ......... 'Last of the Summer Wine', or what?
Sadly Les will be missing and missed next time.
Just to continue with Last Of The Summer Wine, and for old time's sake, I'll add the following.
In looking for a picture of the Zimbabwean note, I learned that there were massive devaluations going on in addition to the rampant inflation that added all the zeros to the banknotes. The main one was 92% in 2007.
Les didn't know this of course, but maybe he would like the job completed for the benefit of the others around that table last year.
So I humbly suggest (without knowing how to use Avogadro's constant in the calculation) that allowing for the devaluations, my Z$50 note will now buy two Higgs Bosons of 1664 lager in a London pub.
I come to that conclusion because a couple of months ago Les sent me an email saying that London Underground had offered the use of the Circle Line (my favourite tube line after the Victoria Line) to the European Organisation for Nuclear Research in Switzerland as a replacement for their 'Large Hadron Collider' that keeps breaking down. They're using that to try to find a Higgs Boson nuclear particle.
I'll save them the trouble by posting off my Zimbabwean note to Switzerland, then they'll have two of them.
The music at Les's funeral was "Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life"
Posted by Ken Thomas at 05:31 PM
Crossed the border into Uganda yesterday, all straightforward. But difficult to get used to all the zeros on the money. About 2700 shillings in a pound. I lived almost half my life with twenty shillings in a pound. It doesn't matter how often you hear "Eleven thousand two hundred shillings," - when the word "shillings" reaches your ear, your brain is immediately unable to process any number higher than twenty. A bit of a problem.
The corridor between the border and Jinja, a big resort area, looks fairly prosperous compared with the more down-to-earth towns in western Kenya.
Raj at the Naiberi camp recommended the Adrift river resort in Jinja, so here I am. And so far (one campsite) camping is cheaper than in Kenya. Unless I've got that shillings-in-the-pound bit all wrong.
The road all the way from Nairobi, and from Mombasa further east, roughly follows the line of the old narrow-gauge Kenya-Uganda railway built by the British, mainly with Indian labour. Hence there are lots of Indian influences, businesses and residents in Kenya. The line is still in use, for freight and passengers, but I've yet to see a train on it. Even though the road to here from Eldoret crosses it at many places. Jinja Station is not far from here.
Anyway, in preparation for the awful joke below, it's called The Central Line. Which I used to live close to, and play and travel on, in my schooldays (the London Central Line, that is).
So here in Jinja we have an even bigger landmark that seems only to make any Londoners here a touch homesick.
The Victoria Line.
And here it is:
Ooops ....... Sorry - that should be The Victoria Nile.
(Those 'N' ald 'L' keys anways get mixed up).
These are the Bujagali Falls pictured from the campsite, and this is the start of the mighty Nile River.
Well, the actual start is the point where it leaves lake Victoria about a mile south of here. Until the river leaves Uganda its name is The Victoria Nile.
The Mediterranean and Europe are thataway.
On my way to Kampala, maybe tomorrow, I'll attempt a photo at the actual start. There's a car park there but I suspect it will be so full of hawkers that any photography will be impossible. We'll see.
It's hotter here than the high plateaux of Kenya, and they say the rains are finishing. But already I've heard stories about the road conditions further west. There are no overlanders here, it's an 'adventure' stop-over, people come here for river rafting and bungy jumping. (Not me).
But there was an English couple here yesterday who live and work in a town in the north west, who said the dirt road conditions seem to be controlled by the rains and the sugar cane harvest. (There were three miles of dirt to get here, but no sugar cane).
"The cane is harvested as soon as the rains stop and the dirt roads are all mud. So they use special vehicles with massive balloon tyres. These carve deep ruts in the roads, the width of the tyres, and as deep as they sink into the mud when fully loaded," they told me.
"When the roads dry out the Town Halls are supposed to re-grade all the roads, but they rarely do. They wait until all the villages and businesses along the roads are shouting so loud (or have paid enough money) that they can't be ignore any longer. We couldn't drive here in our car - if we tried the engine would rest on the ridge between the ruts and the wheels would be out in the open air a long way from the ground. So we came by bus which can just about manage the journey."
"On second thoughts, you could just ride in a single rut, so you'd be OK - maybe....."
So there's a lot of research and dipping of toes in water needed for this route to Lake Malawi.
My next stop will be an overlanders' camp in Kampala where I hope to meet a few travellers coming the other way. And also spending time on the internet studying Google Earth and Tracks4Africa, an African GPS database and overlay to Google Earth.
Whatever, I have to continue with the firm idea that I may return all the way back to Nairobi again. But then I get to see everything twice.
An illustration of that was at the border, leaving Kenya. They put your name and details in a big book and ask "How long will you be in Uganda, roughly?"
Then they enter "one month" under "expected return date."(!)
Just so they know when to expect you.
(If you're unable to continue, for whatever reason, through to central Tanzania, then the only option is to return to Kenya, as the borders into Congo are generally closed to foreign vehicles - they know, you know...)
Anyway, this place is OK, but I couldn't put the tent in a place to get a proper view of the Nile. The sun is strong and hot so shade dictates where you pitch it. But I just got a photo of tent and Nile (just about) in the same frame.
Bujagali Falls just visible through gap between trees and bar terrace.
A funny thing happened on the way here, people started commenting on the amount of luggage I have on board. It started in Bungoma. Maybe they're not used to seeing loaded foreign bikes on long journeys.
Certainly, when people ask "Where did you start?" and I reply, "England," there's a definite opening of the eyes and dropping of jaw. That hasn't really happened before. In other places on the 'main route' you normally get a knowing nod, or even, "Ah, like Long Way Down."
And the strange thing is, these people often see motorbikes on their own roads in their own town, carrying four people with no problem at all.
Then when they ask, "How long has it taken?" and you answer "Eight months," the jaw definitely hits the ground.
So I am studying the luggage situation again determined to get rid of more stuff. It would certainly be a good thing to do, so we'll see.
There was an exception to all that here at the campsite.
I saw this bike parked by the reception.
Wot!!!!! Beau's got here before me!! All the way from Eastbourne! HOW did he do THAT?
(But see note below)
This place is run by New Zealanders (the experts on bungy jumping and white-water-rafting) and this TTR250 is owned by the Jump Marshal.
So when he saw my bike he thought it completely unremarkable that I'd arrived here from London, knowing how good they are.
But note: A funny thing happened when I went to take that photo just now.
All the Kiwis have left for now, taking customers down river for the rafting. The bike that I saw when I arrived was exactly the same as Beau's. But this one has no oil cooler, and the tank is a different colour. So it isn't the Jump Marshal's, there must be two of them here! I must check that out when the staff return.
(Just to explain, the internet here is pretty handy, so I could nip out and take that photo while writing up this posting).
............. Time passes, black clouds approach, so I popped up to where my bike is parked to tie the cover down (the wind blows fairly hard when it rains around here) and Beau's look-alike is back. So here's a photo, the bike I saw when I first arrived:
Lastly, except for that last bit of dirt road, the route here all the way from Bungoma was tarmac, but that isn't the whole story.
I'd already heard about the Kenyan melting roads as they drop down into the hotter region towards Uganda. But it was amazing - if not a bit difficult as well.
There are no potholes. But in the hot weather the tarmac softens sufficiently for the wheels of the convoys of heavy trucks to form deep ruts. So deep that some cars have difficulty keeping their wheels in contact with the road as the ridge between the ruts lifts up the suspension. Consequently cars drive all over the road or the shoulder, anywhere to avoid the ruts. So you have to avoid them.
But also, in many places, the sides of the ruts are so well-defined that they are absolutely vertical, so if you happen to be in one, it's impossible to get out. Maybe easy in a car but I'm not so sure.
It was worse on the hills, where the tyres of the trucks impart far more force onto the tarmac to climb up, or when braking on the way down. There were massive ripples across the road as well as the ruts along it. And I thought of a crazy photo-opportunity. But it wasn't hot enough I think. (A recent newspaper had told me that this is the start of the Kenyan winter).
Seeing the state of this sea-swell of tar, I'm convinced that at the right time of year, on the right bit of incline, if you watched the driving wheels of a heavy truck pulling away, instead of the truck moving forward, you'd see a wave of tarmac moving backwards.
Then I had another crazy thought, just before the usual "but this is Africa" thing entered my head.
"But this is Africa" is a complete nonsense, because badly-made roads back home suffer from this as well. When bus lanes were introduced in South London, all the buses started using exactly the same bit of road going down Brixton Hill past the prison. And lo and behold, nice deep ruts started to be carved. I know this because a few years ago motorbikes were allowed to use these bus lanes, but I don't think I've ever seen one in them. The tarmac is in too bad a state. (Not only Brixton Hill, I seem to remember Borough High Street was similar).
But never mind, you can use the Victoria Line instead.
Posted by Ken Thomas at 04:00 PM
June 06, 2010 GMT
Finding A Supermarket In Bungoma
I'm in Bungoma, near the Ugandan border. It's another ordinary town, a bit like Kericho but a shade bigger, and not even in my guidebook. So that's good.
The sort of place I usually end up staying in for a while.
I've wandered around, and like Kericho, saw no other white faces. There's nothing for tourists here.
I suppose both towns could be considered the Kenyan version of Caterham, about the same size more or less as Caterham, Caterham on the Hill, Warlingham and Whyteleafe.
And the supermarkets are easy to find. Just look for a row of fifteen or twenty new motorcycles parked in a line at the edge of the road. There'll be a supermarket right there. They all sell bikes.
This is Khetia's supermarket in the centre of town. McVities Digestives on offer, 25% extra for free.
And right next door is ........
Shariffs supermarket. Plus, there's an ordinary motorbike shop another three doors down.
This is a two-wheel town, awash with 'boda-boda' motorbike taxis and bicycle taxis. On the way in I passed a large signboard that I thought was a street map of the town. But no, it was a local council proposal for a system of circulation for both types of taxi in the central area of town, so that they don't completely block up the streets making it impossible for mere pedestrians (like me) to get around.
With a 2-wheel taxi parking place nearby.
When walking around, negotiating the main crossroads adds about fifteen minutes to any journey even though the roads are small and compact. It's a compact town.
First there's the narrow mud pavement, with deep concrete drainage ditch alongside, only partly covered.
There are three supermarkets close to the main crossroads, so that's three separate ranks of shiny new motorbikes lining the edge of the road. Then the solid procession of two-wheel taxis going this way and that, and the bicycle taxis going every other way as well, filling every piece of tarmac road and mud pavement.
So it takes a long, long time to cross.
Bicycles, with and without pasengers, pop up all over the place continuously and completely unpredictably. Out of alley ways and shop courtyards, from behind pavement kiosks, out of 'hotels' (that is, dining rooms) and everywhere else that you don't expect.
So, it's a nice place to stay in for a while.
This is the street scene from the terrace of the little hotel I'm in.
Looking in the other direction, my hotel on the left just out of the picture.
And a short-cut back from the town centre.
This fellow, an accomplished Kenyan musician and busker, has a permanent pitch outside the Shariff covered market. Other than that, I don't know who he is.
Bicycle taxis can carry two passengers, or three if they're children, usually on their way to school.
Motorbike taxis have a slightly greater capacity.
Friday must have been livestock day at the nearby market. A motorbike taxi went past the hotel while I was on the terrace. It carried the driver, one passenger, and a dead goat being held by the hooves by the passenger, upsidedown, its back on the seat between driver and passenger. A short while later another went past, with passenger holding onto two dead goats.
Motorbike taxis have a greater capacity for freight than the bicycle variety. Which I suppose I've been discovering on this journey.
A bicycle taxi drops off a passenger just outside my hotel.
And don't forget, you saw it here first, exclusive photo-reportage --
Here in Bungoma, secret road trials are underway for a new one-wheel taxi. To keep the details under wraps, the passenger seating arrangements have been omitted on this prototype.
Posted by Ken Thomas at 05:21 PM
Tea, Milk And Tailoring
After quite a few days in Kericho with its pavement tailors, I continued with my plan to stay at the Naiberi River Camp near Eldoret as it comes highly recommended. The sun was shining on departure, so here are some photos of the tea estates around the town.
Although it's not far from Kericho to Eldoret, two hours they told me at the hotel but longer on my loaded bike, there's some sort of subtle change in the landscape on the way. It becomes less open, more wooded, and the tea plantations disappear. This was all tropical rainforests until the British cleared it to grow tea.
Closer to Eldoret the farms become quite traditional English-looking, and this is the centre of Kenya's dairy industry. Which explains why tea served in any sort of hotel, restaurant or cafe in this area is usually made entirely with milk, or sometimes half and half milk and water. A little strange but easy to get used to.
If the British brought tea, milk and tailoring to Kenya, and to virtually all their other colonies, there's a forth thing they also brought. And it's hardly ever encountered without those first three being present. In fact, it has been developed and refined in some of those ex-colonies (India and Africa spring to mind), until it's now almost an art form. Answers on a postcard, I'll reveal all in a later posting.
Part of the recommendation of the Naiberi River Camp is the welcoming nature of the Indian owner, Raj. And he certainly is welcoming, and interested in all your travels and plans.
His reaction to mine was to tell me to coninue into Uganda and around Lake Victoria in line with my original idea.
"Of course it's wet all around Kericho, that's why they grow tea there. But you've been over a 10,000ft ridge to get here, and crossed the Equator, and it's much dryer from here on. It'll still rain occasionally, but never for more than an hour, usually less, and then everything dries quickly afterwards. As you've found further south, nothing dries out after the rain has stopped. Something to do with the old rainforests. You'll be fine in Uganda."
So what do I do now, or rather where do I go?
I had spent a while in Kericho studying the maps and found an interesting-looking route from the Tanzanian border south of Nairobi to Lake Malawi, nearly all on "un-tarred main roads", with a tarmac alternative (the road via Dar es Salaam) if needed.
Well, the Naiberi River Camp seemed a nice place, the camping and facilities were as good as people had said, so I stayed a few days to see what the weather brought.
And I continued to find it's easy to photograph the common wild birds in Africa, so here are some more pictures from Naiberi River Camp.
I had tea and an oil change. And an air filter change as well. That has to be done pretty regularly up at these altitudes to give the engine a chance of sucking in sufficient air. It still has a little difficulty breathing on some of the higher roads around here. This bike has a washable air filter so the procedure is to remove the dirty one, fit the previously cleaned one, wash the dirty one in petrol then oil it with engine oil just the right amount to trap the dirt, and wrap it up ready for the next change. A messy job but has to be done.
Then Raj accosted me.
"Here's my card, I'm a director of the clothing factory in town. Look at the name.
"When you go into town stop by and I'll show you around. A lot of our machinery is from England."
The name of the factory was Ken-Knit Ltd, so it had to be done.
It was huge. The size of many football pitches, employing 1,500 people.
And stuffed full of spinning machinery, bobbin-winding machinery, weaving machinery, knitting machinery, nap-raising machinery, embroidering machinery, and of course, sewing machines. A mechanical engineer's delight. I wished I'd taken my camera.
Each machine wasn't just a single device, a single loom for instance, but massive multi-operation things. The machine for winding bobbins wound about fifty of them at a single push of a button, and there were about a half-dozen of those. The knitting machines knitted ten sweaters simultaneously, but didn't stop when they were complete. They knitted a sort of joining hem then commenced again at the necks of the next ten sweaters, so ten continuous rolls of sweaters rolled off of the machine. These were then loaded onto one of the embroidery machines which stitched a school badge onto each sweater in the roll, ten rolls simultaneously, all at the click of a mouse button on the selected badge design.
A lot of the 1,500 staff work in the hand-finishing hall. Where, for instance, the completed sweaters arrive, having been machine-cut into individual garments, to be sewn up at the neck and hem where they were previously all joined together.
It was a pretty noisy place, particularly the weaving hall where a big batch of blankets was rolling off the broad looms. I searched my head trying to remember who invented the flying shuttle. I remember being taught at school that it was one of the most significant inventions ever, but couldn't remember the inventer's name which became part of the name of the device. 'Arkwright' rings a bell, making it 'Arkwright's Flying Shuttle'.
I wonder if he had any idea at all of how readily and easily his invention would lend itself to computer control so that a line of ten massive blanket looms could be controlled by a single chip. And not a Lancashire fried chip at that.
There was one place in the factory that was a haven of quiet serenity and calmness. And Godfrey, my escort, (Raj was out on business at the time I stopped by), seemed to have particular pleasure in steering me there. We entered as though entering a church.
It was the maintenance machine-shop. Inside was the gentle precision activity of turning spare parts on lathes and drinking tea. About six sophisticated lathes and other regal machines filled the room, and Godfrey answered the question that had puzzled me during the visit.
Out in the main factory I had been checking the makers' nameplates on the various machines, looking for the English specimens.
But Godfrey often told me, "Made in Germany."
Or, "Chinese," if it was modern with a computer attached. One such oriental machine was a little amazing.
As well as ready-made clothes, the company makes balls of wool for sale in wool shops. This machine wound the balls from large bobbins of yarn. About twenty-five at a time, the colour and weight of the balls being selected by a mouse-click, and the machine then weighing each and every ball as it was wound at supersonic speed, stopping dead when 50 grams was reached.
Then a complete contrast at the labelling machine where each ball of wool had a paper band wrapped and glued around it with brand name, colour and weight printed on it. That machine labelled one ball at a time and was controlled by three operators. "Made in Germany," said Godfrey.
So where was the English machinery that Raj had mentioned, or was he just being kind?
It was here in the maintenance machine-shop. Various lathes and milling machines from back home looked as though they may be as old as the factory, from the fifties. But still giving stirling service, said the proud Hindu shop manager.
Eldoret is also the processing centre of this milk production region, so there's a milk factory on the edge of town with a little sales hatch in the yard where you can buy all sorts of cheese, including Stilton and 'English', and butter, ice cream and milk. So I set off to find it. And had an ice cream in the yard while heavy lorries delivered and carted away large loads of traditional milk churns.
European-style cheese is more or less unknown in East Africa, but here it is for sale in this little backwater on the edge of Eldoret. And I realised why, now that I had found it.
Those heavy milk lorries that come and go all day, seven days a week, have to negotiate about a quarter mile of dirt road to reach the factory. Now dirt road, heavy lorries and rain mean one thing.
When the milk reaches the factory, it is already half turned to cheese and butter.....
The short access road truly is a rollercoaster of mudholes, ditches and ridges, all part of the journey.
I stayed a while at Naiberi until various locals, and the overland tour leaders who use the campsite, convinced me to continue around Lake Victoria. So I set off for Bungoma, about the last place to stay before the Ugandan border.
The internet's a wonderful thing, enabling me to look up 'flying shuttle', to find it was invented by one John Kay from Lancashire. Which definitely wasn't what I was taught at school.
So I looked further and found that his flying shuttle was mechanised thirty years later by Edmund Cartwright. But in the late fifties schools were teaching it as "Cartwright's Flying Shuttle." I wonder if that has something to do with the fact that John Kay was vilified and driven from England to France (where he died in poverty) because his invention robbed people of jobs in the textile mills of north-west England. That, I suppose, wouldn't have been a good thing to teach in schools - that if you're clever enough to invent something the same could happen to you .........
Posted by Ken Thomas at 01:07 PM