Thursday, 3 November 2011

Herald Magazine article

And.. there's a feature running in this Saturday's Herald Magazine (05/11) about our trip.

The Return

Tall buildings, choice of foods, i=Pads and Kindles and i-Phones, restaurants, public transport, trains and fast cars and smooth roads, friends, family and delicious meals and cold rainy days, delicious sandwiches and reliable electricity and running water... so many things to be excited about now we're back..

I'm trying to remember to be grateful for all those things but its easy to see that appreciation slipping away.
I miss the random and bizarre interactions and aspects of being in Ghana and then East Africa, the incredible friendliness and generosity of strangers, the warm sunny days or excruciatingly hot sweaty ones, the wonders of spending so much time outside, the slow loping pace, the vibrant colours and crazy drivers, the spontaneity and incredible kindness of all those who took us in (that applies to Scotland too).
Thank you. Lucy

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Travel as a selfish activity..

Travel is exhilarating and so many more things but ultimately its incredibly selfish. While we've been cycling around East Africa - exploring in a slow and almost old-fashioned manner - the area has been struggling with the worst drought for 60 years. We have, on the whole, been out of contact with the rest of the world and the route we have taken has generally been far more lush than I'd expected. While staying with relatives in Naivasha and Nakuru we saw first hand the concern and impact of less than average rainfall but since then there has been no mention of rain or its lack. It is only in crossing the west of Tanzania - and seeing dried up river-beds and hearing leaves so dry they crackle when they hit the earth. There is no doubt that we've been consumed by the practicalities of our route, where to buy food and water, how to avoid potholes, how to find a place to sleep but ultimately there are so few things to worry about day to day and we're guilty of sometimes forgetting the bigger picture and wider issues.

A long way further east the worst drought for more than 60 years is affecting millions of people.

To make a donation to the DEC East Africa Crisis Appeal call the 24 hour hotline on 0370 60 60 900, visit or donate over the counter at any post office or high street bank, or send a cheque. You can also donate £5 by texting the word CRISIS to 70000.

Anyone wanting to stay up to date with developments in East Africa, the emergency response and the fundraising efforts can follow the DEC on twitter at or become a fan of 'Disasters-Emergency-Committee-DEC' on Facebook.

Sunday, 14 August 2011

A totally unscientific study

Totally unscientific study on women and cycling..
In Kenya we cycled with a lovely guy called Eric who covers 40km to
buy slightly cheaper maize over the Ugandan border which he can then
re-sell. He, as with most people we've met on the trip, seemed
genuinely shocked that a woman would and could ride a bicycle. And in
line with the comments of others, was particularly surprised that a
man would travel with his wife. "But where are your children? Who is
looking after them?" is what he and most others have asked. He told us
that there was research proving it was unscientific for women to
cycle. Interestingly women here are expected to walk for miles, carry
incredulous loads, balance children and do the farm-work but
apparently, they're too weak to cycle. So I've pulled together some
stats in a completely unscientific way..
In the course of cycling around Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and Tanzania
we've seen about 58 women on bikes and tens of thousands of men.

The breakdown is as follows:
Kenya - 2
Uganda - 0
Rwanda - 0
Tanzania - 56

The impediments are multifarious. In remote rural communities most
women don't have access to sufficient funds to buy a bicycle - still
something of a luxury. Men tell them they are not strong enough and
that it is inappropriate (even unreligious). And they are expected to
wear long skirts or dresses and carry their babies which makes it less
Bearing in mind that these communities have little or no access to
public transport, it makes the injustice somehow more significant.

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Character and characters

You get a bit of a feel for the nature of people when you're cycling along, generalisations based of course on nothing more than a few days experience. But it's quite interesting to think back at our perceptions of the distinctive character of different areas.

The Kikuyu we met were very educated and opinionated people - happy to speak with us on equal terms (depending on social class). Along the roadside you got a real warm feeling from people as they gave a nice open two handed wave and a big smile. This was often accompanied by shouts of 'Jambo'. I've no idea who told them that I was, but it was really nice of them to make me feel welcome.

Kalenjin people seemed incredibly modest, gentle and showed genuine interest in what we were up to, although certainly didn't force conversations or shout after us. Children would just smile and wave or run alongside.

Luo (Western Kenya and Eastern Uganda) were much more vocal and shouts of Muzungu, How are you? of Jambo tended to echo round the traditional homesteads as we passed through villages. The thousands of other cyclists often entered into conversation. Interesting to note that it would be largely men that would speak to us (ie me).

Jinja and Kampala had real multi-cultural feels with all sorts of tribes as well as Indians, North Africans and whites all over the place. Difficult to really get a sense of the places in just a day or two.

Uganda was a real surprise - incredible landscapes changing every few kilometres, great food and hospitality. Heading down the West of Uganda from Fort Portal not only the landscape but the language and feel of people changed every few kms. Literally go from one village to the next and people wouldn't understand the few local words you'd picked up earlier the same day. As we went south, the children became more and more excited and confident at approaching us, asking things and grabbing onto the bikes. Some villages the menfolk were hostile looking, others very friendly and open. Women generally were generally always cheery and waving. The most disappointing aspect of our interactions came closer to the border as children became more aggressive and continually demanded money, pens, books, sweeties...etc...etc. As Lucy has blogged about earlier, we learned that this has become a real problem caused by foreigners handing stuff out as if a few shillings is what will close the income gap.

This got incredibly frustrating as day after day we were looked as as stationery shops or confectioners. And it was in these last few days that we had a few things stolen from our bikes as we were moving - kids grabbing stuff from panniers.

An immediate change across the border in Rwanda. Language became a real problem - outside of the cities almost no-one has any English and only a few speak French. But the children no longer demanded stuff, they were just incredibly excited - overly so because they would grab onto all parts of the bike in excitement. This led to a comedy tantrum from Lucy and resulted in one little girl tumbling backwards into the ditch. Still, child abuse is (allegedly) common in these parts and the girl got up laughing.

There is certainly no mistaking the fact that this small country is massively overpopulated. There is almost no break in the houses all the way through and every piece of land, no matter the gradient, is farmed. Of course the country has a pretty horrific recent past and one weird aspect of the character is staring (maybe related, maybe not). Cycling along, fellow cyclists would just stay at our pace and stare. Not saying anything, no facial expression. Just stare. Whenever we stopped, crowds of people would gather in beside us and just stare without expression. No matter what we said, even in local language, did or gesticulated, the expression rarely changed. Very chlostrophobic and really difficult to handle when you're not used to it.

Crossing the border into Western Tanzania was just the most dramatic change imaginable. Suddenly space. Miles would go by with noting but the odd mud and thatch homestead. And people would just wave, say Jambo, or just show indifference to us. It was such a pleasant change after feeling so hemmed in. One particular aspect we noted was the deference that rural girls and even some adult women would show us. Many would quietly say a word that I can't remember how to spell, that literally means "I hold your feet", often accompanied by a curtsey. In fact lots of the kids demonstrated absolute terror at seeing us - running away or hiding in bushes. Probably Hibs fans.

Bit of a ramble but I found it nice to recall!


Saw chimpanzees in Kyambura Gorge.

Saw gorillas in Parc National des Volcans in Rwanda
(pic to follow).

Both experiences shocked me. I was previously unaware how closely related Lucy was to the primates.

Things I didn't necessarily know before we set off....

1. It is possible to cycle 1750kms through East Africa without being eaten by lions, bitten by snakes, attacked by armed robbers, swallowed by potholes...
2. In Rwanda trying to bribe a police officer is punishable by three years in prison (not something we tested personally).
3. You can be imprisoned for making someone a birthday cake.. (see Ugandan President's birthday).
4. You can stand very close to a warthog without being harmed.
5. Drivers here are actually incredibly passive, despite seeming aggressive.. What happens while they are driving is not considered to be in their hands.
6. People can almost run you down and simultaneously greet you like a long lost cousin.


Saturday, 23 July 2011


Give me pen...

This is a big thank you to all those agencies and individuals who have decided to assuage a momentary feeling of guilt by that handing out pens, sweets and money to poor children along the roadside in Uganda, Rwanda and other developing countries.. Thanks. The fact that this means children stop going to school in case they're lucky enough to get some money or a Bic biro.. and that more of them get run over.. and that it creates a culture of begging from a young age seems to pass most people by. Once you're on a bike and you're rolling through towns and villages and countryside slowly you get a real appreciation for how many children now think muzungus are bank machines.


The road less travelled.. generally seems to work out the best to avoid trucks and traffic, but from the map and so many directions lost in translation.. it can be pretty tough to calculate what the surface and gradient will be like before you actually cycle it. Generally there seems to be an inverse relation between the number of people who tell us it's "good, flat, tarmac" and the terrible quality of the road. A red or yellow road on the map could in fact be an almost vertical marram track, strewn with boulders, giant holes, crooked ravines, sand, road works and mud. The further south we went in Uganda the more exciting and unpredictable the roads became and the more spectacular the views. There were clues - such as the word volcano or crater lake in the map - but no contours. It's exciting too that road works continue despite the traffic. The idea of closing a road to allow safe passage while gritters, rollers, water sprinklers and giant diggers cut up and re-form the road, is anathema.

Cycling the pass from Muko to Kisoro in the far south west of Uganda should be set up as an expensive adrenaline activity for those needing a sudden and lasting (several hours) glimpse of their own mortality. The smooth tarmac and "thousand hills of Rwanda" is almost a joy after that.

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Random camping

After an incredible day of lion and elephant safari with a Kazak couple we picked up the night before, an evening camping inside Queen Elizabeth National Park seemed a wonderful way to finish the day.

The guidebook says something like 'be careful where you walk around the campsite'. Never mind around, are you safe in your tent? Warthogs seemed pretty interested in our dinner. Distinctly cat-like calls echoed through the area and snuffles and grunts convinced Lucy that the only way to overcome her Hyena/ snake/ hippo/ crocodile fears was to carry out her midnight pee in a tupperware pot without leaving the canvas.

I slept soundly.

A few days later and after a dusty ride up and down the road from Kyambura Gorge a local mentioned a hot spring near the rural settlement of Kitigata just 20km ahead. Getting a second wind, we pushed on and even a Lucy tyre puncture delayed us no more than a Ferrari pit stop in our quest for serene hot bathing.

Not quite as anticipated, the spring was packed with over a hundred locals. Our arrival provided mirth, but mainly the 'you ain't from around here' staring session akin to entering a pub in East Belfast. Unfazed, we erected the tent and ploughed, tripping and stumbling through bodies for a bathe. Lucy received much attention from the local men - interested in her production capabilities. I got gravel down my shorts.

Our sensational ability to cook and eat also gathered a crowd of kids.

Folk continued to arrive and bathe long into the night and the place was full again before we woke up. Great to see it being used, but perhaps not the idyllic peaceful night of our dreams...

Again I slept soundly, thanks for asking.


Volcanoes, craters and cement

The western part of Uganda seems to be dominated by volcanoes and craters. Cycling through it is clearly a little challenging, as evidenced by the distance travelled each day. But then, as I keep reminding Lucy, distance is not the object, and the area is rich in activity, beauty and incredible sights.

Spending the night at Nkuruba Crater was incredible. The stillness of the crater lake, the echos of bird and monkey calls, the shimmering moonlight. Truly memorable, as was the view from the 'Top of the World'. This peak, manned by a slightly odd local lad, looks over several of the crater lakes dotting the landscape for miles and miles.

Surrealism followed as we stayed in a local guest house (read cheap room, noisy telly, tasty local food) in Hima, home of the mighty Hima Cement man and his imposing factory that towers over the town in catalysed the formation of.

Really interesting place and one of the friendliest in the area (we'd just cycled through a few contrasting places - dirty and a bit hostile), probably a result of the relative spending power generated by steady employment. I guess the Hima equivalent in Scotland could be somewhere like Grangemouth, but I can't recall feeling the same warmth towards that little corner of my homeland...

Dust, dirt, Muzungus

After some hairy experiences on the road to Jinja we cut our losses and accepted a lift to the capital.

Kampala is a distinctly African town. Dirty, dusty and filled with traffic.

Our first and last experiences of the city are traffic jams. In between we had a lovely time with friends of friends of acquaintances who are current VSO volunteers, most importantly Stuart and Elizabeth who were kind enough to put us up for a couple of days and hike our bikes around on their car.

Managed to visit the Luganda King's palace, which once was the site of some horrific doings by Idi Amin, and now the site of my first Irn Bru experience in Africa. heavenly.

We owe a great deal of thanks to Stuart and Elizabeth for making our stay incredibly relaxing and jovial. When they're not taking wrong turns into matatu (aka tro tro bus) parks, they're taking on the sizeable task of advising the Education Inspectorate on modern procedures and targets. See

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Women as heifers..

While sitting in a nearby, natural "hot spring" in Uganda (picture a very busy steaming swamp full of smiling semi-naked people) a very friendly chap just asked the husband, (while staring at my bikini-ed boobs) : "Does she produce?"
To which Andy responded: "Not yet." Nice.

Monday, 11 July 2011

The Source of the Nile

Speke reached the source of the Nile all-right, but he didn't know it, AND he went and died in the process. What's the point of that?

We reached it and we knew about it. The damn fool should have cycled. But we did almost die as well. Firstly on the mental road to Jinja (more on that later maybe) and secondly nearly drowning in the rapids.

Great beer and food though.


Random stuff to the border

After raiding the Gold Mine, we spent our ill-gotten gains on some well-earned pizza in Kisumu, followed by a trip to a Congolese music bar.

This was our first glimpse of the mighty Lake Vicky. It's more like looking out to sea - despite this being a narrow section it's just water as far as the eye can goosy-gander. Getting closer took something away from the majesty of it. Although there were some nice waterfront restaurants selling local food and drinks, it's clear that the best days of the Kisumu riviera are past. Trucks, motorbikes and cars all congregate in the evening to clean out their filth into the lake alongside boat operators trying to attract tourists for hippo trips. This takes place opposite a huge factory which we're told just dumps its waste into the lake. Pretty sad for those trying to eke a living from the tourists here.

HOWEVER, we did get incredibly close to hippos. While sipping a local brew, 4 of them came within 20m of the cafe.

At our noisy hotel we bumped into some nice Americans who invited us to the orphanage they're volunteering at. Really interesting to chat with them and especially to listen to some of the same working issues we faced in Ghana.

Trip to the local museum revealed some interesting stuff about the Luo tribes, but the highlights were the phut phut ride there, dangerous but recently fed snakes and massive Seychelles tortoise. 125yrs old, 140kgs allegedly. Looked about right.

Then off the border.

rossed the equator for the third time. But Lucy was too grumpy to stop for a photo with me.

We had a great 50km ride across the border with lovely local Peter who travels weekly into Uganda to collect cheaper foods to sell and for his family. Busia is a classic border town, all hussle and bussle, traders, money changers and dodgers hanging around. Quick meal of Ugali and nice green stuff with goat stuff and Peter accompanied us into Uganda.

The border is totally open so no queues and people just walking back and forward, except for the whites who must pay $50 for the privilege.

I guess it's similar to most African borders. Language, culture, architecture, everything just the same on the other side. Mainly because some numbskull has probably just taken a ruler through traditional tribal lands. The only difference was the profusion of bicycle (boda boda) taxis and President Museveni posters...

Sunday, 3 July 2011

Just bumped into...

1992 Olympic steeplechase champion Matthew Birir (as you do)
Our sandwich stop one day happened to be outside his house. He's now a farmer
like most of the people in the famous Kip area of Kenyan Kalenjin country (unless they're athletes of course). Kenyans seem to be an unbelievably modest, matter-of-fact bunch and it was clear that this guy is no exception as he re-lived his incredible days traveling over the world as an athlete. The conversation started something like: 'Where are you from?... 'Oh you're from the UK? I used to live there...' (Where abouts?) 'Oh Crystal Palace' (Oh right, what were you doing there?) "I was involved in athletics' (as a coach?) 'No I was an athlete...' etc etc

I asked him what he did with his gold medal. He said he kept it in his house there, adding the immortal line without mirth, 'but it's perfectly safe. Kenyans don't value gold. They're only interested in cows.'

Later in the day we met a few more Kenyan internationals (hanging about, driving motorbike taxis etc etc) but the highlight was cycling past Kipsaus school where about 100 primary age boys and girls ran down the road alongside us up and down hills for up to 5km. Not a bead of sweat or panted breath - completely carefree and joyful, running just for no reason other than it was fun. Seemingly running without a ball to chase is fun to some people.

The downside of meeting all these damn fit kips is that this it is the only place so far where people are utterly unimpressed that we're cycling 2,000km.


Saturday, 2 July 2011

Dangerous birthday cake

Three men from the opposition youth movement have been arrested in Kampala for presenting the president of Uganda with a birthday cake for his '73rd' birthday... Some serious sensitivities about age (officially he's a sprightly 67).

Thursday, 30 June 2011


Stunning images of attractive lycra-clad sporty/bumbling cyclists will follow by the way..



... to Laura, Jeremy and Alistair for putting us up and showing us such fantastic hospitality despite the fact you didn't know us and we were several days late.. and filthy.. and too tired to speak..
From Nandi to Kibigori was a whooshing great downhill stretch complete with hairpin bends and one or two huge potholes. Breathtaking ride through the terraced green fields then a sharp right through flat ground overhanging with sugarcane twice my height. The landscape is so varied over such a short distance.
On our right is a huge ridge. We're told later by Rob - the geologist at the gold
mine - that this is in fact a mini rift valley running off the Great one formed billions of years ago. We go on a stunning adventure to see colobus monkeys with Alistair and Laura and then test claustrophobia to the max with a trip down the gold mine. It's fascinating, painstaking work that bears no relation to the panning of the Wild West. Concise geological mapping of a reef or seam of quartz (formed billions of years ago when liquid rushed in to fill gaps left by the shifting plates). Precise explosions. Grinding and then chemical treatment. Interesting to see where things actually come from. I didn't even freak out.

ps note Indiana Jones - stylee wagon chasing Lucy down the mine