31 December, 2006

Ano Nova Prospero, Mozambique. 12,871miles

A very heavy rainstorm on Christmas night left much of my tent in a puddle. The mobile phone was buzzing, burbling and screaming as it slowly drowned, deep underwater at the doorway. Its lights flashed and it vibrated wildly. On the battery charger, both red lights were illuminated to show it was charging - but spookily it wasn't attached to anything, just lying next to the phone in the same big puddle.

The usual excesses of the day meant that nobody really cared about the state of their tents. The South Africans were able to move theirs under cover, I just limited myself to a lucky me-shaped dry patch in one corner of the tent. Jens and Sandy were fine, having pitched their tent on the high ground, the only piece that had dry-ness and shade. I'd gone just for the shade. It isn't conclusive, (I don't know enough about these things) but it seems likely I'll have no telephonic communications from now on.

After I'd dried everything out in the hot morning sun, I said my goodbyes to my new Christmas chums and toddled after Sandy and Jens, who had left 2 hours earlier in their slow-moving Land Rover. We were all heading for Tete, a place so hot that it is described, allegedly even by the Christian missionaries, as "Hell"! I hadn't a visa but had heard they could be obtained at the border. While getting mine, a Malawian man, looking at my passport said, "that's my name - McMillan." We shook hands and I immediately welcomed him to the clan until he explained that it was his first name. I'd never met anyone with such a name. I suppose this means he gets into the clan by choice, which is a good thing! Everyone was surprised and no-one seemed to mind (I didn't think!) when I took out my camera for a photo. My first border post photo, and yet these are the places where much of the excitement takes place. McMillan and I got along well for those few minutes and when he'd gone I immediately regretted not having dug out my tartan tie (I've no idea why I brought it, I won't use it!) and presenting it to him.

I was very happy as well as surprised to hear that everyone spoke excellent Portuguese. I had been led to believe that only about 25% of the people spoke it as a second language. I thought it might get used here since these were government officials, perhaps from throughout Mozambique, using it as a common tongue. It was a long drawn out process of nonsense though. The official didn't know anything about Carnets and insisted on my paying some money to get some dubious importation paper. I paid all the remaining USDollars and some Sterling to get in and set off into the tropical downpours. The road was very good though. And I found an ATM at the first wee town.

It was a very quiet ride down an excellent road towards the famous "Tete Corridor" which crosses this part of Mozambique and links Zimbabwe with Blantyre in Malawi. The road was slightly worse in the corridor but still easily rideable. As the altitude lessened I could feel my t-shirt getting more and more soggy. Arriving at Tete, I followed Sandy's directions to the campsite on the shores of the Zambezi. Unbelievably bonny and with a gentle breeze coming off the wide river. Sandy was just serving up the tea! They'd only just fed me the night before so I had to insist on getting to do the dishes. They had instructed the same border official as I'd encountered on how properly to complete their Carnet!

Tembo (the Landie) and the Dustsuckers encamped at Tete. Check the number plate - and they were married on the 21st of August! Maybe romance isn't dead.

I speak a wee bit of French but it always takes a few days to come back to me whenever I go to Francophone countries. I was surprised by the rush of Portuguese that came back when I started talking here. (A small rush you understand, my vocabulary was never huge!) I lived in Portugal for two years but left in 1998. I've only been for one short visit since. But here everyone really does speak the language, and not with the nasal whine, the one we all had in Scotland as children but that our parents knocked out of us (sometimes literally) and we in turn grew to loathe its sound. In Porto it's just how people speak, and it takes some time to get used to. I'm not sure I ever did. So I was relieved not to hear it here.

Next day I forgot to fill up with petrol and had a wee adventure finding some as the Land Rover and I overtook each other all day. At one point a friendly bloke by the side of the road called Jim gave me a litre and a half of his premixed 2-stroke fuel. Don't know what damage that might have done but it got me another 15miles to the lads with the plastic bottles. They use a 5litre bottle and a hose. The hose goes in the bottle and they blow into the bottle. The hose's other end goes in the bike. This is the glamour of the petroleum industry in Africa. At one bottle the lad didn't blow properly and a spray covered his face and some of those around. Undaunted, he blew again. If this is nothing to him, I fear for his eyesight. Did you see the bawling and shouting Ewen McGregor did when petrol went in his eye? (Actually he went quite quiet!) Very painful.

Jens and Sandy knew of an excellent overlanders' campsite, but we were the only overlanders there. In the forest, miles away from everything. But the advertised 6km of dirt road turned out to be 12km! I slithered, skittered, wobbled, managed, but worried about the constantly threatening storms. Morris was the man in charge and I babbled away to him in Portuguese, concentrating hard to improve my very poor grammar, before he said; "sorry mate, I'm from Zimbabwe - don't know much Portuguese!" Ha!! We all four sat for a long while around the fire prepared by him for us to cook on. He'd sent his wife back to Zimbabwe to have the baby they were expecting. Medical treatment was much better there. She'd be back afterwards, in early February. He was very excited, this was their first baby. Jens demonstrated that he had as much esteem for his vehicle as I had for mine, giving it a grateful hug when they all arrived safely.

It was cooler in the forest and I slept better than the previous night in "Hell". In Tete, I'd woken often to find myself in an alarmingly deep pool of perspiration - a new method of bed-wetting! Jens and Sandy had had a better time of it in their roof tent. There was more of a breeze up there.

I enjoyed the pace of these friendly Germans in their Land Rover, and they were lots of fun, but I had to get on. That Landie will last forever though. They were taking their time, travelling at around 45mph and only doing about 150miles per day. Exactly the way to do it if you can. Very leisurely, but I have a boat to catch (not arranged so it may take longer!). We said our goodbyes at the end of the dirt road, Sandy taking one last photo of me in the ridiculous-looking but highly practical vest thing my oldest brother had given me. It's about four sizes too big and I haven't nearly the physique to justify it, but it lets that little bit more heat out, through the non-existent shoulders, than a t-shirt would.

That night I slept at the Police station in Savé, another river's wind breezing through the tent, this time comfortably. Next day I was struggling for a campsite and eventually found one up a road deep with sand. I only fell off twice, but I was going so slowly (Hurrah!! I've learned something!!!) that I did no real harm except to my own shins (BMWs!!). This place was full of South Africans who seem to travel with EVERYTHING! All in 4X4s with gigantic trailers full of jet-skis, huge quad-bikes and other expensive toys. A bit over-the-top for me. I saw one family in a Land Cruiser pulling a large motor-boat on a trailer, but then the trailer had another trailer, with mortorbikes on it! Certainly dangerous and surely illegal. How did he get over the border? This seems to be the northern limit of South African self-drive holidays. I detected a little resentment when they saw what little I'd brought and all the way from Scotland. Others showed surprise. But I was invited to dinner by I think the only family who didn't have a 4X4. Paul and Bernice were having a braai (BBQ) and at their invitation I ate my fill. It was delicious and they taught me a lot more about South Africa and what to expect when I get there. Bernice also taught me another simple way of eating a mango!

Now I'm in Maputo, it's Hogmanay and I'm wondering whether to put my kilt on for the biggest event in the Scottish calendar! I just learned that I've missed my old British Council boss from Porto by four months. Janice was an extremely kindly soul, who I would have loved to have surprised. I had always wanted to come out here. We left Porto at the same time and in those early, unsure days of internet and e-mail (only 8 years ago!!) we lost touch.

25 December, 2006

It's a Long Way to Lilongwe. 11,166miles

Getting into Malawi was easy and cost nothing at all. The first country to have done so since Tunisia! As I rode down the excellent road into Malawi there was a palpable difference in attitude towards me and the bike. No-one shouted anything, and certainly not ‘mzungu’. Few even took much notice as I went by. Children responded to my waves just by waving cheerfully back. Amazing what a simple line on a map can do!

Malawi is stunningly pretty. With the lake on my left I rode through lush greenery all around. The road was good and nobody bothered with me at all. It went up into more greenery and I overtook first a little moped and then a bus. In a 160mile ride these were all I overtook and nothing overtook me. The roads were less busy with pedestrians and the whole place had a far more relaxed feel. There were checkpoints but the police just waved me through, much more interested in trucks and overloaded mini-buses. A wooden bridge looked a wee bit suspect and I slowed down to assess the situation. The front wheel flew into the air as I smacked into an unmarked, unpainted speed bump, the front tyre squealing like an aeroplane’s as it comes into land. Very clever idea putting the bridge there to distract you from the speed bump, otherwise you’d never get the fullest benefit of its shock! I crossed carefully, sounding like a train as the planks creaked and slapped underneath the bike. I was more scared of all the nails that had only been half-hammered in! But they were avoided and soon I was in Mzuzu, Malawi’s third city. Tiny, and no traffic, I easily found the fabulous Flame Tree Inn and set up my tent.

They were having a bit of a girls’ night there and so there was lots of singing and much hilarity into the night. I listened to the BBC on the wireless and to my new iPod in the tent. Very relaxing. I decided to have a day there since the place was so welcoming and friendly. I had been riding for six days and usually need a break after five. The town was quiet the next day. Very little traffic. Almost like when I was little. Cars weren’t exactly a rarity back then, but we took more notice of them, clearing ourselves off the road to let them pass. Not like today’s near constant procession of traffic keeping us permanently on the pavement. I had a relaxing stroll around town and eventually went into a tiny wee barber’s hut. I was sure I’d pointed at another picture but I was given a different, very severe haircut instead. Less to gather dirt and cause sweat so no hassle.

That evening was spent in the interesting company of Bruce (a US Vietnam draft-dodger who had found his way to Norway, settling there) and his wife Karin who, although Norwegian, had grown up in Pakistan with her diplomat parents, and so had spent less time in Norway than her immigrant husband! They were volunteer lecturers at the new University of Livingstonia. They were a lovely couple and we laughed and chatted way past all of our bedtimes, putting the world right.

The run down to Lilongwe was as pretty and peaceful as before. I went to the Mabuya (formerly known as Kiboko) Camp on the outskirts of town. This place was full of overlanders and crazy, but very funny, people! Later that evening four more ‘chicken coops’ came in full of youthful Antipodeans shouting very loudly at one another. There were enough independent travellers to entertain one another separately from the 'chickens', whose camaraderie was difficult to penetrate.

My school, Denend Primary in Cardenden, Fife, is beginning to create links with a school in Dedza via Miss Mackay, a teacher from Lochgelly High School who encouraged the children in my class to write letters to those in Dedza. She visited the school here in the summer and gained a better understanding of what could be done to help out. The school is about 50miles south of here and so I made my way there next day, hoping to find it. I found the famous Dedza Pottery and Coffee Shop and had the most delicious toastie. But I couldn’t find anyone who knew about the school or its headmaster. Just as it was getting too late, I heard that the school was ‘a little further on down the road’. But by then I needed to return to get back to Mabuya Camp before dark.

I relaxed in the campsite for a day and then went back again. This time I found the school – 30miles further on, down a fantastic wee road with incredible views over the massive Lake. I even found, following Miss Mackay’s directions via e-mail, the Headteacher’s wife. Unfortunately her husband, Paul, was away but he would be back tomorrow. I said I’d come back again the following day. I could remove all the luggage and hopefully make it a decent sort of a pleasure run, looping round by the Lake and back over the mountains to Lilongwe.

Paul was smiling at his door on Christmas Eve and explained much to me about what was being done and what needed to be done. He showed me around the school. Eight classrooms and 800 children. The rooms were not big enough for all the children, but somehow the teachers got some sort of a job done. It helped greatly that there were so few discipline problems and the children were co-operative and very keen to learn. The rooms were about the same size as those at Denend, maybe a little bigger, but had no furniture whatsoever in them and only thin blackboards, one at either end. The children sat on the floor. Last year there were 19 children with me in our classroom and we often felt a little cramped, squeezed in by all the gadgets of 'modern' education (like computers that rarely work). It's all relative of course, and you'll struggle to find a teacher anywhere who thinks they have all the resources they need. How Paul and his staff manage, however, is a mystery I'd like to find the answer to. There would be 120 children in this room on the 8th of January. Education has recently been made free for all children in Malawi, but there are not nearly enough teachers or buildings to cope with the school-rush. I hope, when I get back home, that I’ll be able to help build on those links which have already been established.

I had already intended to return to Mabuya. It was a lovely place, brilliantly run by the effervescent Tom and Janey, who themselves had only just arrived to take over from the previous owners. They travelled by Uni-Mog down Western Africa taking 15 months to reach here. There were sufficient quantities of high quality nutcases around to make me think I could be comfortable here. It’d be daft to just go on, hoping to find somewhere 'good' to stay for Christmas, when this was already perfect. My intended target was, I’d been reliably informed, overrun with Ibiza-style South African tourists. I stayed put. In Mabuya, Anne, a retired teacher from Co. Durham was on Christmas safari and staying in her tent after driving her car over Africa from Namibia. She was teaching children with hearing and eyesight problems in Namibia. An inspiration to all, I don't think she'd mind me telling you she was 73, and had only last year cycled around many parts of the world, including all the way across the USA!A young couple in a huge Land Rover were travelling to Victoria Falls with their 9-month old daughter. It’s great to see that really anyone can do this, if they put their minds to it. Young and old, just take some appropriate precautions and you can do anything, go anywhere.

Christmas Eve was the big event here and Tom and Janey put on an excellent barbecue spread, decorated the restaurant and invited all 19 of those of us staying. It was an international set – Germans, South Africans, Israelis, Dutch, Americans, English and me. Everyone mucked in and a splendid time was had. Jason and Dwayne (two mad, but highly entertaining South African Cape-Tonians in far too small a tent, having lost all means of accessing money), cooked dinner. Sandy and Jens, Germans in a Land Rover as old as my BMW (much hilarity about Germans in British machinery and Brits in/on German stuff!) did the decorations. We all dressed for dinner (as best we could), giving me another opportunity to put my kilt on.

After relaxing for Christmas Day, Jens and Sandy are heading down to Mozambique. They said I'd be welcome to tag along to the border, but they are much slower even than me! We all seem to be headed for Cape Town, but I’ll go via Durban in search of a ship to South America. I’ve heard nothing so far, from those shipping companies I’ve e-mailed recently.

20 December, 2006

Tanzanian Tangle

After a quiet run to the border we began the process of crossing into Tanzania. We were doing well but then a 'chicken coop' turned up with lots of tourists on board. This held things up for us a little. I had heard those in Nairobi describe people travelling in these trucks converted into buses as 'chickens'. They do look a bit like battery hens in their wee boxes peering out at the world. It was difficult to suppress a feeling of smug superiority over these people with their matching trip-of-a-lifetime tour T-shirts detailing each stop along the way, like some ageing rock band on tour. This group was moving from 'Cape Town to Nairobi Nov/Dec 2006'! I quite properly felt bad later because they are doing something, after all. And then I realized that they’ll be taken to all the interesting things that I’ll miss entirely, either because I won’t know they are there, the bike won’t like the dirt roads, or I simply won’t have time. Still, cooped up in a bus with lots of strangers (who may very quickly become friends) being told when, where and how often to do things, is a bit too controlling for me. Most other overlanders seem to agree that trucking is pretty much the "easy" way to do it. Still difficult, and I couldn’t, so definately not easy for me!

We crossed into Tanzania eventually, and arrived at Arusha where all the hotels seemed to be full. At the City Link Hotel the receptionist Castro eventually agreed to let us camp in the grounds for $10US. This only after I’d told him my friend was pregnant and we were expecting a big bright star and some visitors later. To my disappointment, nobody claimed that this was impossible since he was male. I was poised ready to emphasise the fantastic miracle of this.

There are two routes around Tanzania. One via Dodoma, the capital, which is a dirt road for 250miles to the City and then more dirt for another 200miles afterwards. The other, much longer but on excellent asphalt the whole way. If it didn’t rain, I was keen to have a go at the dirt road. This would be a challenge for me, while Ian’s KTM would lap it up.

We set off early in the morning and after 50 quick miles, came to the dirt. It wasn’t much of a road, worse in parts than the Marsabit road. There were also muddy signs of there having recently been rain. But we had already ridden the 50miles of asphalt just to get to this part. A return now would mean a lot of wasted time. So we went for it. I was doing quite well since it was dry, although the bikes were soon filthy with dust and splashing through muddy puddles. My bike seems to always need momentum and so while Ian was able to more carefully pick his way through parts, I had to keep going and ended up overtaking him. It couldn’t last, of course, and soon I saw that my headlamp bracket was flapping around, having lost one of its four bolts. I stopped to investigate and decided it would be better to do this outside of a village, away from the prospect of an ‘audience’. I began checking over all other nuts and bolts and found a few worryingly loose. Of course we weren’t in any shade and it was very hot. I suggested that Ian might like to go on ahead, and so off he went.

Having checked and tightened each fastening, I set off again. Ian wasn’t in the next village, neither was he in the one after that. Then just before the next village the rain started, the road turned quickly from dirt to mud and I fell off, bending one of the pot-racks and pulling muscles as I hopelessly fought the squirming and inevitable low-side. This was a low point. It hadn’t been such a heavy flop, but now the left hand-pannier was leaking its water. Not very strong these things, Messrs Hepco and Becker!

I’d done about 30 miles since I'd last seen Ian and concluded that he must have decided to go on ahead by himself. My bike’s pretty good on dirt, for a road bike, but doesn’t have the tyres to cope with mud. Reluctantly, I turned back towards the asphalt. There were still 60 or so miles of dirt to cover but I took it very easy on the way back.

On the slopes to the south of Mt Kilimanjaro lies the town of Moshi. I found a hotel here with a surly manager, not up for my brand of cheeky banter trying to blag a discount. Ah well, he had secure parking so I could manage a night.

Each time I stopped in both Tanzania and Kenya, whenever I asked for anything, food, room, camping, petrol the following sort of conversation was to be had. At the petrol station –
Me - Hello, how are you?
He – Fine, how are you? (blank expression)
Me – Great thanks, can you fill it up please?
He – (questioning expression)
Me – Petrol . . ? Please . . ? Full?
He – Ah! (surprised) You want petrol?
Me – (Smiling widely) Yes, please. (But what did he think I wanted? A loofer? Some coloured chalks? A plaster for my finger?)

Every single time – 1. Ask for obvious thing; 2, get blank expression; 3, repeat question; 4, have my question repeated back to me; 5, get obvious thing. Then start all over again with ‘Where are you from?’ But always the vendors of the obvious things seem surprised that I should request such a thing. I am speaking English – and as clearly as I can. The Kenyans and Tanzanians also speak English but it is of a different type to mine. They don’t use it too much among themselves. They have Swahili for everyday conversation. But it is interesting, and a bit frustrating, when they look at me as if it’s me that’s daft! But it’s all about perception, and in their eyes, as in the eyes of many I am daft! Anyway, I’m getting much better at Swahili and now, whenever I hear ‘mzungu’, I shout (smiling) ‘no mzungu – wigeni!’ and that’s guaranteed to get a laugh.

The ride was swift and blissfully smooth all the way to Tukuyu, just north of the Malawian border. My big excitement was to see some zebra and then scare giraffe away from the side of the road. They went running off, lolloping and swaying, rocking into the bush. A fair speed though. When I got to the village and booked into the guest house I was almost immediately surrounded by the Police corporal, Alex. He insisted I keep the bike in the Police compound for safety before evicting me from the hotel and then installing me in another with en suite facilities. Then he took me to the restaurant where I could buy some food for me and some beer for him. Good man!

Much later I learned that Ian had come off going pretty fast through a village. A lad had emerged from somewhere on a pushbike and there had been a collision, Ian's bike trashed and both taken to some hospital. (?) The younster had a broken leg. Ian had been sprung from this hospital by his parents - bruised and battered but walking - and the young push-cyclist was well on his way to mending. At least Ian had managed to get home for Christmas, but I guess it wasn't quite the surprise he'd hoped to spring on his mum and dad! The police had luckily decided that nobody was to blame.

11 December, 2006

Beetling Around Nairobi

When I got back to Nairobi, Alex had his two charming children visiting. Christian (7) very much likes The Pink Panther cartoons, one of my favourites! Maya (two and a half) very much likes her dad, and ‘fluffy duck’ – the hot milk fluffed up ready for coffee but without the coffee. Recommended.

A further encounter with local wildlife was provided by Christian when he went to a tree and produced a friendly chameleon. It was much smaller than I'd imagined but had the swirly eye thing going on. It must have been quite tired because it didn't seem to bother about changing colour to blend in. Maybe it trusted Christian enough not to need camouflage since, when he kindly handed it over to me, it crawled slowly up my arm without any hesitation. Its feet tickled a bit, but it seemed to weigh nothing at all. Christian knew that two chameleons lived in this particular tree in his grandparents' garden.

After some daft nonsense about ‘tax’ to be paid on the value of the contents of the package of parts from Scotland, it arrived. I was peeved because they’d only used the value Mo had put on the packing. She could have written anything! And I’d already paid VAT in the UK! Ho hum. At least things could begin to progress with the bike.

My knee was still pretty sore, and the bike was still at Christoph’s so Alex produced a second yellow ’74 Beetle for me to drive around in! It was a lovely wee thing. Driving it was a bit like riding the bike, which I likened to dancing with your frail old granny. You need to be firm or she might trip up, but you also need to be very gentle because of the frailty. Anyway, Alex appreciated the analogy and I didn’t break the car!

Maureen was now active in seeking a new camera for me. She had phoned around and found the best deal in town. Maureen lent me her sister, Cherrie as a guide and off we went, beetling off in the Beetle. I bought the same model as I had before, at about the same price. Alex had gone off into the bush on assignment for a few days so I had the house to myself to relax in. It was a little odd having all this freedom, and I got a wee bit homesick for all the comforts of home. I helped myself to his dvd collection and settled in each evening with a film – perfect! The peace and quiet of the wee cottage was a great tonic. And my knee was getting a chance to heal pretty well.

When Alex got back he had volunteered to work behind the bar at Christian's school Christmas show. I met him there to help out. I was supposed to have gone into school to show the bike and chat about the trip but it was the mad final week of term and things were far too hectic, as they are at schools the world over during that week. A lovely school though. I’d never seen a primary school with a swimming pool before! I did okay at the bar until I managed to spill red wine down the leg of the only gent there wearing white trousers. He was very understanding! It was the greasy but tasty samosas I’d been nibbling! I laughed much of the way home, buzzing along in the spare yellow Beetle behind Alex in his.

His designer pal Linda needed a lift around town in the morning and I became her driver for the day. A good way to see the city in comfort, and I got used to waiting for her to exit her last delivery and getting the door open in time, "ma'am"! We had a good giggle round the town. Between deliveries Linda was able to direct me back to JJ's and other places I needed to go to. She took me to an open-air market where you could buy all kinds of second hand clothes. Some with those 'designer labels' people get excited about. I got some new trousers and a sun-hat.

Meanwhile Christoph was doing great things with the bike and a potential riding chum had turned up there in the form of Ian, a South African who had given up work in England and was riding home for Christmas on a brand-new KTM Adventure 640. His daily mileage was similar, his bike was reasonably compatible – we could go at least as far as Lilongwe in Malawi. Good to have a bit of company.

Alex was back for a few days and then off again to climb Mt Kenya. I had been in his home for almost two weeks and thought it might be about time to disappear and allow him his life back. So I decided it might be the thing to go and camp in the garden at Christoph’s and maybe get talking with some more of the other overlanders there. Quite a few interesting characters, and lots of exciting overland vehicles which some people with enough money just keep there. They fly out every so often to go and play in them.

Alex had also organised for the man who made his camera cases to make me up a new tank bag. Very reasonably priced and to my own specifications! Excellent. Christoph produced the new bike. Brakes work, a new hub means there should be no more problems with the front wheel, new head bearings, straightened handlebars, a long list of minor improvements all adding up to the bike being much better than ever! He’d even found a windscreen from somewhere and gone to the bother of re-sticking the Saltire from the old one! What a guy! What a place! He and his lovely wife Diane have the perfect set up there.

It turned out that Alex had taken Ted Simon there a few years ago on his second trip around the world. This was after he’d broken his leg on the Marsabit road. With me hobbling about Christoph joked that in future Alex should tell him if he was bringing anyone else and he could get the wheelchair ready, everyone Alex brought was on crutches.

I was pretty sad to leave Nairobi. It was a strange place with a strong post-colonial feel, but in two weeks I had become accustomed to it. Much like Khartoum I suppose. Stopping for lengthy periods is very enjoyable, but makes it harder to move on in the end! A last coffee in the morning with Linda and Alex, some perfect directions out of the city and Ian and I were heading for Tanzania.

Back into the Bush

In the safety of the loo at Alex's photography studio, I cleaned up the bashed knee as best I could with the first aid stuff I had. Some strong painkillers helped a lot.
Afterwards I hobbled, 'ooooh'ed and 'aaaaah'ed back to his house and was shown a very comfortable room. Alex drives a '74 yellow Beetle which looks great for its age. He lives in a wee cottage in the forest, surrounded by peace, quiet, an excellent parrot in the next door neighbour's garden and some chickens. The adrenaline (shock?) was still making me quiver a wee bit some hours later!
Looking at the bike the next day saw just how lucky we had been. Just as I'd been turning right, the pick-up glanced along the pannier on the right hand side, smashed into the right pot-rack, smashing the spark-plug cover, which was then held together only by the rubber band around the bottom, and bending some cooling fins. I'd also cracked the windscreen thing in two and the pannier wouldn't hold water anymore. Looking at his trajectory it must have missed my leg by just a few millimetres. Had I been turned just a fraction more it would have been much, much worse.

Alex took me to the Jungle Junction, a repair shop for overlanders run by a gentle Bavarian (NOT German) giant called Christoph. He used to work for BMW which means he knows what to do but doesn't need to follow any books. He has a great sense of humour and we joked about what had happened and how he'd mend it all. I had immediate confidence in him. Sometimes you just know you're going to get great service. He saw things I'd got used to over the years. He wouldn't tolerate those imperfections. I'd be getting a new bike from him and no arguments! But I'd have to wait a wee while on some parts arriving from Mo back in Scotland.
This gave me some time to spare and I felt bad about having only just met Alex and then straightaway emburdening him with my infirmities! Namelok had said she could do with some things from the city and I felt I could sit in a car and push a clutch pedal and wince away quietly to myself for a day or two. Also it would be St Andrews Day and, with no ceilidhs to attend and my dancing days on hold, I thought it might be a laugh to blether more about Scotland with someone who knew it so well.
Alex's secretary/assistant, Maureen was on the case immediately, phoning hire companies and getting prices for 4WDs. I mentioned to her that our school secretary back in Fife was called Maureen and that she was also fantastically efficient in all things. Our school wouldn't work too well without our Maureen and Alex confessed cheerfully that his photographic business would fare similarly without his!
A wee adventure loomed for me, thanks to the kindness of these two, and I even got to put the shiny armour on again!
I tied my wee Saltire to the roofrack and left the next morning in a white SWB Mitsubishi Pajero. The rental guys told me it had once been used in the 'Big Cat Diaries' so you might see it on the telly (Reg; KAM 203M). It wasn't very quick but it had some power. Eventually I worked out how the radio worked just as I got to Isiolo. It was already darkening as the asphalt ran out. Whereas the bike was a nightmare, the Pajero at least shouldn't fall over. However, there were now four wheels to hit all the bumps and the noise was incredible. I thought I'd been saving fuel in 2WD but switched to 4WD so that there were now four lights in the cab illuminated to show four wheels driving. What a difference!! Now I had front wheels pulling as well as steering.
In the darkness a huge moving shape loomed. At first, because of its low flanks, I thought it was a bear, (do they have bears in Africa?) but as I eased closer I could see it was a huge hyena, running into the bush away from the car! I had no idea they were so big. I'd heard they were the biggest danger in these parts but always imagined them to be yappy wee fox-like things ganging up to take much larger prey. No way I'd be stopping for any natural calls then!
I almost missed Sere-Olipi in the dark but knew by the distance from Isiolo roughly where it would be. A huge plate of food was presented by Lucy, the headmaster's wife. But I'd interrupted a meeting with the benefactress (name withheld!) of the whole project and her minion (name also withheld). I had to sit for a while in the strange situation of listening to things angrily being 'totally unacceptable' and then hearing 'but we'll talk about it at the meeting in the morning'. Then she went on to some other 'totally unacceptable' thing that would be best discussed tomorrow . . . It was 9pm! The lady didn't seem very happy either with herself or much else, and I was obviously some sort of unnecessary intrusion.
Namelok was too tired to celebrate much and went off to her bed. I settled down in the manyatta with Thomas and his pal and had a glass or two of wine before stretching out into my sleeping bag. That was St Andrews Night.
Next morning after breakfast over the charcoal stove, Namelok took me off and sorted out my knee. Like the perfect mum she indulged all my gasping and face-making as she carefully removed the giant plaster from the leg. Then she sprayed some antiseptic concoction on the wound and made me hobble about for the rest of the day with a cut-out plastic bottle over it. This was to protect it from flies and give it some air! The awkward contraption looked daft and was a real pain to keep in place, but I'm sure it helped a lot and that I have this to thank for its speedy recovery.
During the remainder of the day I had lunch with Paul, the Deputy Head of a Primary School to which he walked 37km (23miles) each Sunday, returning, on foot, to his family on Fridays. He was happy to have just begun his school holidays and was relaxing. He told me a lot about Samburu culture and the trouble they had with the government, the NGO's, the Borani and the road.
He and Thomas had tried to come to the UK the year before, to do some fundraising, but had been refused entry because they had no property in Kenya. "I have cattle, goats, a wife and two beautiful children. I don't have a bank account or a mortgage. That's what they thought would make me return to Kenya." A bank account and a mortgage. Not the wife and kids then? What have we come to? The British Authorities would not issue a visa since they have decided that impoverished Kenyans will abandon their families and disappear into the UK system. They were afraid he would become an 'asylum seeker' or an 'illegal immigrant'. This, despite letters of introduction from supporting UK citizens. Such, it seems, is the power of the Daily Mail and the Sun! It struck me that there is no way a Kenyan could pass through borders like I seem able to. Freedom? For some.
That evening we were to go to a Lodge. This would be a long drive needing 4WD. The lady 'in charge' had a shiny new 4WD and thought we should all go in that. But Namelok decided that she could do with a break and I was only too happy to take the wee Pajero. We did well until we got stuck. (Don't you always?) "Is it in 4WD?" the demanding lady demanded. "Yes." But I couldn't explain why the front wheels weren't turning either. I wasn't bothered, but I think Namelok could have done without our being towed out of the wee burn we'd got stuck in, especially since, just as we'd went in, she'd seen a better route. We got over this fairly quickly though, but I could see there was an entirely unnecessarily abrasive nature in this lady driving the other truck. As soon as we were out the lady turned two discs on the front wheels and announced "NOW you're in 4WD!" But why hadn't she done this before going to all the trouble of towing us out!!? I know, to get some superiority! She was clearly very insecure within herself that she needed to demonstrate such magnificent superiority over a complete stranger like me. But I didn't bother to take it personally because I wasn't alone. She badgered everyone!
The only 4WDs I'd had any experience of were Land Rovers, and they don't have these wee discs! Why have four lights in the cab then? Was I really just experiencing the placebo effect the night before? Anyway, Namelok knew about the wee discs too so we would have got out in the end even without the help of 'the lady'! So there! :-)
The Lodge was incredible! Huge, covered, open air with enormous beds and dining area. It must have been built for game hunters or watchers. We chatted while the Samburu warriors made our tea. Not really my thing but . . . It was decided that the benefactress lady and her American minion would get the two enormous double bedrooms and the rest of us (about 6 in all) would flop around the central dining area. Luckily she went to her bed before tea so we others sat and blethered into the small hours before collapsing into the wee beds the Warriors had made up for themselves and us. All a bit too Colonial for me, but we got on well enough with the Samburu, who seemed distinctly wary of the Lady!!
She was doing her best to help, there's no doubt, but getting a nomadic people to settle around a school surely cannot preserve their culture and heritage. Paul had told me that the Samburu stay put for seven months anyway, and only move for five. So it occurred to me that there's really no reason why the whole world should follow the termly Western model of school. Why couldn't they work for the seven months they were still and then have a big nomadic five month holiday? Isn't this 'context'? As we were always trained to consider?
The Samburu also have some 'funny' (different) ideas about women and their place in society. These don't easily agree with our ideas and can lead to some awkwardness for them when having to deal with overbearing white Western females. Thomas and I talked about this for hours and on how the Kenyans would probably need to sort themselves out eventually and not wait for anyone else to turn them into good consumers. But they maybe need a bit of guidance for now. The question is in which direction? I think (but what do I know!?) we could maybe try cancelling all the African debt and then (Red Cross/Crescent and natural disasters aside) take all the well-meaning NGOs out for a bit and then let the Africans have a proper go at fixing things their way. We didn't fully agree on everything but I had my eyes more widely opened and learned lots from our blethering. It was enlightening listening to Thomas' aspirations for his people.
We drove back the next morning entirely without incident, successfully using Namelok's alternative route at the place we'd got stuck the night before.
Having said my final goodbyes, I drove back alone from Samburu to Nairobi next morning. A small family of bright red elephants (a new species!?) ambled their way across my path. With no camera, I fumbled for the mobile phone which took pictures. I fumbled so long I almost missed them with my eyes, a great big bull, three cows, a smaller teenager and the perfectly cute baby one! All red from rolling in the nearby mud. I moved slowly closer (in the rattly wee diesel Pajero!) to them after they'd gone back into the bush. The teenager had waited to see what I was up to but the enormous others had vanished. I went for the phone, but when I looked back up, there was nothing! Amazing how something so big and red can disappear so completely into all that green!
No amazement that, when I checked later, I had a perfectly blurred image of my finger where I'd hoped there might be red elephants! When the red fades, would they be pink elephants?

06 December, 2006

Namelok and a Knock in Nairobi. 9360miles

Having retrieved the bike from the truck in the morning, I noticed how badly the 'bars were bent. The right side was as if it was from a chopper while the left was like flat 'Ace' bars! I had difficulty riding it on asphalt!
The road to Isiolo was supposed to be much better, and only 250km (160miles). It didn't have as many puddles but the state of the corrugations were little better! There was a small desert to cross and then up into some mountains before Isiolo. After about 20miles of battering I decided I'd stop each 50miles for a break. Then I wished I'd had kms on the speedo!
At 99 miles a hotel came into view with a sign advertising 'Ice-cold drinks'. It was useless to suppose they'd have any but it was time to stop anyway so certainly worth a try. I put the bike into the shade, dismounted slowly and took a seat. They were sorry, but the fridge broke down some years ago. I had a lukewarm Fanta for the sugar and made ready to go. I was being asked all the usual questions "How are you, where are you going, where have you come from, alone, where is your wife, what is your country of origin, on this bike!? . . ." and trying to be polite. Then my friendly interrogator said they had an English teacher in their village and maybe I'd like to say hello. Really? Well, why not? This teacher might enjoy a bit of banter without having to worry about being understood (I know I certainly do from time to time!), I was tired and had a bit of time, if Isiolo was only 60miles more.
I found Kirsten sitting on the bed in her manyatta cooking lunch. We blethered briefly before she offered me a go on the internet. In this place? Miles from anywhere! Yes, but she had the internet in the computer room. There were solar panels on the roof which turned to catch the best of the sun.
Having done that, lunch was ready and Thomas always cooked too much - he'd been in the hospitality trade. Had to eat so . . . and that was so delicious and peaceful sitting there outside Kirsten's manyatta in the shade watching the children playing. It was getting late however, and I needed to get going if I was going to avoid riding in the dark. But then I could camp there - free accommodation! Excellent, I was very tired after just 100miles of battering roads (with VERY squint handlebars!) and could do with a fresh start in the morning.
Kirsten (AKA Namelok [Sweet Thing]) had worked in the Outward Bound trade at home and had spent some time at Ardroy, Fife's schools' adventure playground. We agreed it was a shame that due to the new litigious society, kids were being denied the opportunity to stretch themselves for fear of injury leading to legal action, broken careers and hefty pay-outs for the few. We chatted like old pals for some time and then Thomas insisted I used the shower (?). This involved two big basins, a cup, a stool, some soap and hot water. I was shown into a square of corrugated iron. You put one basin on the stool and stand in the other one. You wash, then rinse using the cup. If you're careful, the majority of the water falls into the basin you're standing in. At the end you can tip all of the clean water over yourself for a thorough rinse. If enough of that ends up in the bottom basin you can swap basins and start again, or someone else can have a go, presumably! I'm sure I remember my dad doing this when I was wee. But that may be the mists of time. I certainly remember the tin bath we had in front of the fire! I had to share it with my wee sister! Eeeuch! Or maybe she got it first, being the girl, and smaller.
Dinner came and went and was also very tasty. I could see that Namelok had brought only the bare minimum of stuff and began looking through mine for things I hadn't used. There were some re-hydration sachets I seemed to have too many of, a tiny water filter thing and not much else.
In the evening we heard some singing not too far away. This was the local disco. Young Samburu warriors chanting and dancing in the darkness, flirting with the girls. Like oldies all over, we were encouraged to join in so we could be lightly ridiculed. Namelok scolded that I wasn't Mzungu, but Wigeni (Honoured Guest) It never caught on! They danced in the dark and when someone produced a torch some of the warriors went into spasms on the ground, grunting and shaking. This wasn't staged, but a little scary. And I feared for the livestock if the Borani came with torches! I learned much later that it was more to do with some potion they drank (not alcohol) and that they didn't drink this very often.
In the morning I took too long to drag myself away from this new idyll and headed off south. Mt Kenya was in cloud and rain threatened all round. The road was at times good and then at others full of pot-holes and cars weaving wildly to avoid them. I arrived in Nairobi in the dark, too late to contact Alex, another friend of a friend. All the lights, except the headlamp had gone on the bike so I checked into a very Western style hotel on the outskirts of the city after I'd managed to charm Beatrice the receptionist down from $150US, to 120. As I was drying after showering in my room, she rang through to tell me the manager had decided on $90!! Hurrah! I filled my boots!
Next day I was guided by text towards Alex's Photography studio. No indicators, rear or brake lights made me feel very vulnerable in a city where driving licences are just as often bought as earned. Tired and ready for rest, I turned into Forest Lane, but SCREEEEEECH! BANG! Without gloves, I barely had time to tuck away my hands before I was climbing back to my feet, the bike on its side. No time to react like you would normally get in a tumble. A deep pain in my chest produced a weird sort of roar I was surprised to discover was coming from me! My troosers were ripped at the knee and when I peeked through the hole, I saw white. But I was standing up and that could be seen to later. Got to get the bike up! We'd been shunted from the rear about 50m along the road, me padding as best I could to save the skin on my hands! I wasn't so careful with my knee though! With that in tatters, adrenaline wasn't quite enough to do it. Luckily some shaken characters were advancing towards me from a pick-up half in the ditch to one side of the road. The one who was shaking most (and actually crying) turned out to be the driver. We got the bike up and I found myself spending time showing him how the bike still started, we were all still alive and things were pretty well considering.
He took some convincing to calm down and at one point I even had my arm round this complete stranger, destroyer of bikes and knees, trying to calm him down. I later learned from Alex that he had been very afraid that I might get the police involved. He probably didn't have a licence, or insurance or whatever. It was also fortunate that there was another Mzungu in his car with him, otherwise the police would have had to have been involved. I can only think that, given the sort of trip I'm on, this sort of thing must be something of an occupational hazard. How lucky am I that it happened so close (500m) from the sanctuary of Alex's place? If this had been in the middle of Marsabit . . ?
On rechecking the knee I saw that the white I had seen earlier must have been skin, and not bone since it had been replaced by a very stingy red. Painfully, I rode the bike away to clean the wound at Alex's. Fortunately, the handlebars seemed to have been straightened a bit by the blow! Lucky I brought that walking stick - supposed to be for coming off hills. That'll be RTA 1 then!