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).