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