• Ethiopia: First Impressions. Mwanza-Muscat Part 8 October 12th, 2015


    The bridge over the river was a welcome sight, until I made it to the other side. Two men dragged a wooden pole across the road while another quickly pulled on a blue police shirt and blocked my way forward.

    Bridge over the Omo River

    ‘He says this bridge is closed and you need permission to cross it’, said a nervous teenager translating what had just been shouted at me.

    I didn’t need this, nor expect it. The sun was about to set and I wanted to reach Omorate’s immigration office before dark.

    It had been a long and hot day. First the Turkana sand and then the powdery mud as I entered Ethiopia on another track that looked like it might disappear at any moment. Then there were the half-naked kids running up from the riverbank to my right who followed me in the hope of a money handout or some sweets. Perhaps this is what other white faces who I caught glimpses of inside tour vehicles in the days to come were doing as they made their way to a tribal village or market, for which the region is well known.

    Ethiopian girl beside Omo River

    Moments before reaching this new bridge over the Omo River there was also a man, drunk or certainly high on something, who approached me and made a half-hearted attempt to relieve me of my bicycle – my left arm repeatedly pulled away from the handlebars as I pushed through a bad stretch of deep powdered mud.

    ‘Touch me again and I’ll fucking hit you’, I said slightly shocked and shaken, both at the attempted theft, if that’s what it was, and the words that came out of my mouth. I think he got my point.

    Patience and persistence worked up on the bridge once the bogus police officer realised I wasn’t falling for whatever he had in mind, and I was soon at the immigration office asking where I could change some money.

    A dread-locked Kenyan soon appeared on the scene and I switched to speaking Kiswahili. It took the edge off the feeling that I wasn’t a fresh arrival, although Kiswahili doesn’t get you very far in Ethiopia, where the pit of a Guest House I ended up in that night operated a dual pricing system – 100Birr ($5) for ferenjis like me and 70Birr for locals.

    The Amharic phrasebook I had with me, and the app I’d downloaded on my phone some weeks before, confirmed how different and difficult Ethiopia’s national language was going to be to learn compared to others in Africa. It took me several days to finally remember how to say ‘thank you’– ‘A-me-se-gen-hal-lu’, hardly the simplest of words for something that should be easy to say in any language I thought.

    Ethiopian coffee

    I knew Ethiopia was going to be challenging to cycle in, for various reasons. I’d almost come a few years ago over Christmas and New Year, but opted instead for a tour of South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland. I knew that would be more of a holiday experience based on the information I’d read and been told about cycling in Ethiopia.

    To start with things were fine. A newly paved road gently climbed through a peaceful landscape of uncultivated scrubland. After Omorate and the surrounding straw-hut villages beside the river there didn’t seem to be anyone living out here.

    Morning light

    Acacia tree with beehive

    In the village of Turmi it was market day, famous for another of the many distinctive tribes from the Omo Valley – the Hamer. People wanted me to take their picture, in exchange for money of course. I’ve never felt comfortable with paying people so I can take their photograph. Here it’s a full on business – prices determined by who and what you photograph. I didn’t enquire, but later heard that pictures of breasts or breasts being sucked by babies cost more.

    An English-speaking teenager kindly showed me to another fleapit of a room, marginally better to the previous nights, before explaining that I should watch a ‘bull-jumping festival’ the next day. This is a rite of passage for young Hamer men, who must jump over a line of 10-30 bulls, completely naked and without falling, as a means to impress the local girls who watch while being whipped in the process. I might have gone along, had it not required some permit, entrance fee and mandatory guide that I needed to organise from the village’s tourist bureau in advance. I also expected the event to be something of a human zoo experience, with me one of the camera-wielding ferenjis being hounded for pictures and money.

    The air began to cool as I continued climbing towards Key Afer the next day, another of the tourist-trail tribal villages popular for its weekly market. Here a similarly-aged teenage guide hoped I would be employing his services, but I’d missed the market and wasn’t planning to wait five days for what I imagined would be little different to the Turmi experience.

    The following day was New Years Day – 12th September 2008, according to the Ethiopian Calendar. It also happened to be one of the hardest days I can recall on the road.

    Looking south between Weito and Konso

    Road to Konso from Weito.

    The heat and hills I could deal with, of which there were plenty. It was when the first stone landed about 2 metres in front of me that I vividly recalled what almost every other cyclist who has been in Ethiopia warned me against. I glanced to my left in the direction the stone had come, then upward. A group of boys looking down from an embankment had obviously seen me approaching their village and decided to welcome me with a flying stone. Thanks guys.

    As I continued and tried to think what I’d done to deserve this, oddly reassured that my experience was probably similar to others I’d read about who cycled here, more kids joined the roadside. There was no stone throwing now, just incessant calls for ‘highland highland’. I soon realised this was a brand of mineral water, given all the pointing and occasional attempts to snatch at my water bottles.

    From walking age up to around twelve or thirteen, almost every child I passed for the rest of the day found the energy to run alongside me, as close as they possibly could, repeating the word ‘highland’ many hundreds of times. If I was going uphill, which I often was, it was easy for them to keep up, while going downhill occasionally meant kids stood in front of the road to block me.

    Bike chasers

    Had there been villages selling water bottles I might have given some away. As there were none the value of a water bottle was clearly high. I suspected other tourists passing in vehicles threw them out of the window. I later heard about and saw stones being thrown at them too.

    "Highland highland''

    It’s worth mentioning that Ethiopia is not the first country I’ve cycled in where children have thrown stones at me. I recall days in Pakistan, Tibet, Turkey, Jordan and the Sinai desert in Egypt, which were challenging because of this. Looking back however they seemed to be more isolated occurrences, detached from the rest of the chaos that accompanies cycling in Ethiopia.

    There were also many days in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Nigeria and the Central African Republic where I was swamped by curiosity as hundreds of people surrounded me. Most of the time however that was when I stopped. A village elder or someone of authority would soon appear. People merely wished to stare, rather than demand things from me. In those countries there was little of the wild and feral persistence that existed on this particular day in Ethiopia, and to a lesser extent the next day (there was less climbing mind you) while I cycled from Konso to the town of Arba Minch.

    I attempted various tactics to appease the scenes of rural hysteria that awaited me once I had been seen from the roadside. There was the waving, smiling, slowing down, greetings in Amharic and a general display of innocence and ignorance when demands were made of me. When kids shouted ‘highland’ at me I just repeated the word back, like it was some kind of greeting. Perhaps it helped a little. It’s hard to say. In some villages I just had to keep moving while a crowd of 10-20 kids followed me like hounds chasing a fox.

    I came to the conclusion that most children merely saw it all as a game. Lets see what it takes to wind this ferenji up. Where is his breaking point? When will he stop and shout? Well I could tolerate the incessant taunts, but when a hand reached into my pocket or another onto a water bottle on my bike I did what I suspect many other people would do, which was remove it forcefully. And so the times when I did stop and called ‘beka’, meaning ‘enough’, children tended to run off laughing, only to follow me again when I continued.

    Adults occasionally shouted at the children to stop, at least when they were present, but I suspect most did the same when they were young. There really is no other country in Africa quite the same from this perspective. Looking at the faces of many of the children you’d never think they could be so damn annoying.

    Young cattle herder

    The town of Arba Minch felt like an oasis of peace and civilisation when I rolled in. The hotel was a little more expensive than I budgeted for, but there was a shady garden, cold draft beer, wifi connection (at least when there was electricity), and a beautiful English speaking Ethiopian woman who seemed shocked when I told her in more simple and polite terms that her countryside was over-run by feral gremlins.

    Looking over Lake Chamo

    Friendly face from Arba Minch

    The town itself had little to boast of, but I was in good company and after twelve continuous days on the road I decided to stay almost a week.

    I got introduced to chewing chat/qat here, which I realised is a popular pastime in Ethiopia. I’m not sure why. Perhaps my chewing technique was wrong and I swallowed too much, but it merely tasted like grass and left me with constipation for the next two days. I tried it again and the result was entirely the same.

    Chewing chat

    North of Arba Minch the children were moderately better. There were less shouts of ‘highland highland’ – probably because water bottles were more abundant. Now it was a ‘you you’ from the children and ‘where you go’ or ‘where are you go’ from adolescents and adults that provided the soundtrack to my days. Whenever I stopped in an area that looked peaceful it was a mere matter of seconds or minutes before I heard the calls again. At times it seemed like kids appeared from underground like zombies.

    Walking from the field

    I kept thinking if I was ever to teach English or train local teachers to teach English in Ethiopia I would start by explaining that yelling out ‘you you’, is no form of a greeting and comes across as aggressive and rude. And other than correcting the grammar in the question about my destination, if you’re going to ask it then at least do it with the intention to hear a response, rather than yell it out of a window while passing by. Many people didn’t seem to care and just broke into laughter, so I started playing the same game and provided random answers like ‘Congo’ or ‘Nigeria’, wondering if anyone would reply back with an answer that showed they understood anything I said.

    Ultimately I was probably just frustrated I couldn’t converse in Amharic, but I was still puzzled as to what made many people so hysterical while I was cycling. Perhaps had there been more local cyclists on the road I wouldn’t have drawn the same attention. In this case I might have been better off riding a donkey. Here in Ethiopia it is donkeys that transport items that bicycles do elsewhere on the continent.

    Water carriers

    I had planned to camp one evening when I knew I wouldn’t make it to the town I had in mind. Any quiet spot near the roadside or someone who looked like I could approach and ask permission to camp would have done, but it just seemed easier to ride on into the darkness for a short while and find myself a room to close myself away in.

    Ethiopian sunset

    If there is one overwhelmingly positive thing however about coming to Ethiopia, and for which the people do better than any other country in the World (other than annoying cyclists) it is the preparation and serving of coffee. Many other countries in East Africa (Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Kenya, Burundi) grow excellent coffee, but it is for an export market. Locals generally prefer to drink tea so it’s only in big cities (mostly capitals) where western-style shops/malls exist that good coffee is served (at close to western prices).

    Coffee beans being roasted

    Fortunately here in Ethiopia coffee is embedded in the culture. And it’s not instant crap the rest of Africa serves out most of the time, but freshly roasted, ground and brewed coffee. Everyone drinks it and it’s served almost everywhere for around 3 birr (£0.10) a cup.

    Preparation for coffee

    The coffee table

    It was over coffee on the outskirts of the town of Sodo that I met a young University teacher one morning. Other than insisting he pay for my 3 cups he explained I should take a new paved road, which wasn’t marked on my map, in order to travel north towards Addis Ababa. I double-checked he was sure before I pedalled off.

    Well this new stretch of road, from Alaba Kulito to Wuibareg, should anyone be curious to know, turned out to be the most peaceful and pleasant stretch of cycling I may end up doing in Ethiopia. I could associate this to the fact that it was Monday morning and children were going to school rather than idly hanging out on the roadside, or that it had something to do with the fact that all villages I passed through had a predominantly Muslim population, whereas others before didn’t. But why should that have made a difference? The fact was this road was new. Few foreigners had travelled along it. And so there was no chasing, no taunting, no begging, no yelling, and no stones -just curious looks and smiles. Too bad it didn’t last longer than 60km. I needed to find more roads in Ethiopia less well travelled if they were going to be like this.

    Ethiopian man and son

    Ethiopian home

    As I approached Addis Ababa the road naturally became busier, although most traffic was heading in the opposite direction, either for the Muslim holiday of Eid Al Adha, or the Christian celebration of Meskel. I looked forward to seeing what happened during the latter, and how my time in Addis would compare to the rest of my experience in the country.

    Road to Addis

    Entering Addis Ababa

     

    The route map accompanying this blog post can be viewed at the bottom of the page here.

  • Turkana Transit: Mwanza-Muscat Part 7 September 26th, 2015

    I knew a 3-day transit visa wasn’t long enough. So did the Kenyan immigration officer. We unfolded my map on the only desk in his office and counted up the distance. Almost 400km to reach Ethiopia and most of those would be on unpaved roads.

    ‘You would be better taking a tourist visa’ he advised.

    I wasn’t in the mood to pay $50 for a 90-day tourist visa when all I wanted to do was transit into Ethiopia.

    ‘This area is very remote. Few people. Something might happen to you. There isn’t even any Kenyan immigration post on the border with Ethiopia’, continued the official, whose finger was now nudging the western side of Lake Turkana on a map I thought I wouldn’t be needing again.

    ‘No immigration?’ I clarified. ‘Well I think a transit visa will be fine for me’.

    A desk drawer was opened and the official took out a rubber stamp and receipt book. ‘That’s $20 then’.

    My swift deportation from South Sudan had given me little time to look at the map and roads I’d now need to take in northwest Kenya in order to reach Ethiopia.

    ‘You’re a braver man than me’, said a voice at my back several hours later in a Somali-owned shop in Lokichokio. That’s how long it had taken to cover the first 27km. The few other vehicles I’d seen on this stretch had armed security guards with them, although the Kenyan immigration official had seemed nonchalant enough about the risks when I asked him if I could cycle.

    Road from Kenyan border to Lokichokio

    I hadn’t actually seen anyone at all until the final few kilometres when several Turkana boys with guns pointed at the water in my bottles. Knowing I wasn’t far from the town I promptly stopped and offered them some tepid refreshment.

    ‘The name’s Mike Rogers’ introduced the elderly man. He was short in statue and wearing a wide-rimmed sun hat.

    I suspected he must have been a missionary. When anyone introduces their full name when I’ve just met them I always assume they must be a missionary. It’s like some kind of code to say who they are without having to explain any further. Had I replied ‘Peter Gostelow’ he might have gone on to ask who I was with. I could then have pointed at my dust-covered bicycle that I was keeping a close eye on outside.

    This didn’t happen and I was soon back on the bike with the $50 worth of Kenyan shillings I’d just changed with the Somali shop owner, checking in to a nearby lodge. It was the first bed I’d slept on in almost 10 days. Good value for $7.

    I had no idea until I decided to do a Google search later that evening that Lokichokio was once a booming hub for NGOs and UN activity working across in South Sudan. Neither did I know until I started the next day’s ride on smooth tarmac (the first in 600km) that I would be cycling into and staying in a town accommodating around 200,000 refugees.

    Kakuma is Kenya’s second largest refugee camp, established almost 25 years ago during Sudan’s civil war. The camp itself, which I never saw up close, was off the main road, but it was obvious from the mix of faces and skin colours on my way in that not just South Sudanese refugees had made their way here.

    As perhaps should befit a town full of refugees the Guest House I stayed in here wasn’t a place I’d wish to spend a second night. A room that might cost $3 elsewhere in Kenya (based on its level of grimness) was going for $8 here, the price driven up by the local NGO presence probably.

    Two of the guests here were in fact from South Sudan, referring to themselves as returning refugees.

    ‘We like to get out of the camp from time to time’, said one of the two smartly dressed men playing with a large smartphone.

    ‘Is that an S5 or S6?’, he asked looking at my phone.

    ‘It’s an S4, a few years old now’, I explained.

    I was as much surprised by meeting my first two refugees from Kakuma as I think they were when I explained I’d just cycled through their country.

    I later met another well-dressed refugee, this time from the DRC. He’d been in Kakuma over 10 years and spoke English with no hint of his Francophone roots. Like many refugees he explained he was waiting for his papers to be processed for resettlement, hopefully in the States.

    Had there not been the small issue of my visa that was soon going to expire I would have taken the Congolese man’s offer up on visiting the camp. What does a refugee camp, over 20 years old and home to almost 200,000 people from perhaps a half dozen or more African countries look like?

    Kenya seemed hotter than South Sudan. It was certainly drier and the landscape more arid. By 10am any water I was carrying would become unpleasantly warm to drink. I wondered how long I could survive out here without it. If I saw someone with jerry-cans I would ask where the nearest bore-hole was. Whenever there was a chance to fill up, which wasn’t often, I would make sure I did.

    Turkana Boy

    Water filling

    As I guessed I’d be camping for the remainder of my time in the country I made use of my 10-litre water bladder, strapping it onto the back of the bike. This allowed me to transport around 16-18 litres of water, depending on how many plastic bottles I also had. Hot water isn’t very effective at quenching one’s thirst. I consumed around 10 litres of it daily.

    Ortlieb 10 litre water bladder

    Fully loaded with water

    The local Turkana tribe appeared far less curious and shocked at the sight of me passing them than their neighbours to the north. With all the NGOs and missionary activity up here I suspect white faces are far less rare, even if most of them fly in and fly out of the airstrips dotted around.

    Turkana girl

    Turkana Shepherd

    Turkana boys on the road to Kakuma

    Turkana shephard

    The discomfort of the heat and road ahead over the next several days was compensated by an arid landscape of changing contours and colours that felt nowhere like the rest of Kenya I’d been to. I’d always heard that northern Kenya was like a different country to the south.

    Rough road to Lokitaung

    Road to Lokitaung

    Turkana scenery

    Heading to aptly named Mlima Tatu (3 hills)

    Turkana Termite mound

    The nights in my tent were almost as hot as those on the bike, until I realised that in order to not lie on a bed of hot sand, which I did on two consecutive nights, I needed to pitch the tent somewhere that had been out of the afternoon sun. The shade of a tree beside a dry riverbed was the most obvious place. This also provided the added advantage of allowing me to hang a shower bag from one of the branches.

    Bush Camp on road to Lokitaung

    River-bed camp

    Bush Camp near Lake Turkana

    Morning fill up

    The cycling was hard and slow, particularly when the wind was against me. And just when I thought the road surface couldn’t get much worse I found myself following the course of a riverbed, descending from the small town of Lokitaung towards Lake Turkana.

    River-bed road

    There are various surfaces that disagree with a bicycle – riverbeds composed of loose rocks and stones are one. And so I ended up pushing the bike for most of 15km wondering how the track had ever been drawn onto the map.

    River-bed road

    I had visions of turning a corner on this meandering course and setting my eyes on a shimmering turquoise lake. The reality was I never got anywhere near enough to Lake Turkana to say I’d really seen it. Sand replaced stones and I was almost as much off the bike and pushing it as I was on and trying to keep my balance.

    Unrideable track through Turkana

    Road to Ethiopia

    Heading north through Turkana county.

    Of the two principal overland routes between Kenya and Ethiopia it was hard to believe this was one of them. I relied as much on the GPS app on my phone (maps.me) to guide me north as I did the rare Turkana shepherds tending a herd of goats or camels.  This truly felt like a land the rest of Kenya had forgotten.

    Boy with a dangerous toy

    Turkana boy with a dangerous toy.

    ‘It last rained for a few hours in January I think’, said one of the police officers in Todenyang. This was quite literally the end of the road in Kenya. What a place to be deployed to work I thought. A furnace. Miles from nowhere.

    I was a little hesitant about stopping here to ask for water in case one of the officers asked to check my passport. They would have realised the visa expired two days previously, but I doubt anyone would have cared much. There was no telephone reception.

    Police post in Todenyang

    One of the older officers invited me for lunch (lentils and rice) and poured me some cold water from a jerry can covered in hessian sacking.

    ‘Sorry there is no fish. Those fools are always fighting’, said one of the officers as I struggled to keep a growing number of flies out of the food. He was referring to the usual livestock raiding between the Turkana and the Dasenech tribe from Ethiopia, who just the previous night had apparently stolen hundreds of goats.

    ‘Don’t worry they won’t harm you’ he laughed.

    ‘How far is Omorate?’ I asked once the flies got the better of my food and the officer said I could throw the scraps towards a couple of scrawny chickens resting nearby.

    ‘Oh it’s far. And the road man. It’s shit shit shit. Just sand and then mud on the Ethiopian side before you cross the river to Omorate. ‘You know you should write to our government and tell them’.

    I suspected the government already knew and didn’t really care. Practically no-one lived up here. And if people were running around with guns and stealing livestock in a place where it never rained it was hardly an incentive to build a better road and encourage development.

    ‘Now is time for rest’, said the officer who soon took his leave and disappeared in the direction of one of the rooms in the open courtyard.

    I finished filling up the water bottles and rolled my bike back out into the afternoon sun.

    **The route for this section of the trip can be seen at the bottom of the page here.**

  • Deportation: Mwanza-Muscat Part 6 September 17th, 2015

    Things were going OK until my passport disappeared. Snatched out of my hand by a drunkard wearing a white singlet and combat trousers. I’d only been in the country thirty minutes. Welcome to South Sudan I thought to myself.

    He first approached me moments after I’d crossed the border and gone in search of an immigration official. The newly built office block nearby, with a sign outside reading ‘Immigration Office Tsertenya’, was clearly closed and the flag poles bare. A good enough sign that few people came through this little-used post.

    South Sudan immigration

    I asked a group of men playing dominoes under the shade of an acacia tree where I could find the immigration officer.

    ‘Go and ask for Jacob up there’, pointed a disinterested police officer in the direction of several tin-shacks.

    In doing so I had chosen to brush aside this drunken fool, who in a slurred drawl pumped his fist on a bulging scar in the centre of his muscular torso and claimed to be working for the CID. Criminal Investigation Department perhaps?

    The immigration officer was fortunately sober, but confessed, somewhat embarrassingly while he stamped me into the country, that this fool was indeed a government employee. Without asking much more I got the feeling that if there was any hierarchy of authority out here, unfortunately he was quite senior.

    I was just about to leave, after having filled my water bottles up, when he re-appeared on the track in front of me and demanded to see my passport.

    It would have been wiser to hold onto it firmly for inspection. I recall doing this in certain places in Africa where law and order have little meaning and the person requesting to see my passport probably had little authority to do so, and was most likely, as on this occasion, drunk.

    Well my passport wasn’t even opened before it disappeared in a side pocket and the fool stumbled off out of view. Great.

    As I stood calmly waiting and wondering what to do, it also occurred to me that it would have been wiser to cross the border in the morning – less chance of dealing with a drunken border official. Actually, it would have been wiser not to enter South Sudan at all.

    In the days and weeks leading up to entering the World’s newest country I mostly avoided telling people my plan to cycle there. The day before entering the country there had in fact been another signed agreement for a ceasefire to come into play between government troops and rebel forces loyal to the country’s Vice President. Whether that was going to make much difference to the general atmosphere in a country wracked by years of Civil War I had no idea. What I did know is most of the recent conflict was taking place in regions I would be well away from. Some solace as I looked out into a scenic expanse of green bush in the late afternoon sun.

    I patiently let time pass as various people became involved in either trying to retrieve my passport, or attempting to explain, mostly in a drunken manner, that they worked for another government department and that now I must follow them.

    The passport during this 40-minute time frame moved through various hands. There was plenty of discussion, but eventually it came back to me from the immigration officer, who in leaning towards me while handing it over uttered two clear words. ‘Go now’.

    An abandoned tank appeared in the bush moments later as I rode between high elephant grass towards green mountains. Something in Arabic was written on the front and I wondered when in the past this had last been in use.

    Abandoned tank

    Heading to Ikotos in South Sudan

    There were no villages visible. When I pitched the tent a short distance from the track I assumed it would just be the familiar sound of insects to fall asleep to in the sultry air.

    Wild camping. First night in South Sudan.

    I was wrong. Drumming, singing, voices and several gunshots were audible as I lay still trying to guess how far away this village was. Actually there must have been more than one village or compound of huts as the sounds came from different directions.

    It wasn’t the only night I heard singing and drumming while lying in my tent during the short time I spent in South Sudan. As for the sound of gunshots – well I soon realised that the possession of a gun here was more common than that of a mobile phone. There probably aren’t many countries in the World that can claim that.

    Toposa gun man

    Guns were everywhere – nonchalantly slung over male shoulders from a young age. It was hard not to think how quickly a calm rural setting could change in an instant should one of these guns be in the possession of an angry youth one day, who just so happened to see a foreigner on a loaded bicycle approaching.

    The reality was most people on the roadside looked on with bemusement as I rolled past with a hand in the air to greet them. When I did stop it was clear few people spoke any English, so I just pointed in front of me and named the next known settlement on my map.

    People frequently asked for water, and when I had plenty spare I offered what was left in a bottle. On other occasions when I was running low I did my best to point and explain I had little left.

    Girls on the road to Kapoeta

    South Sudan girls

    With the history of conflict it’s little wonder I saw no large animals as I rode through what my map demarcated as Kidepo Game Reserve. Surely nothing edible and valuable, such as elephants, could survive out here.

    Much to my surprise the dirt track here had been recently regraded, although only one vehicle came past me as I headed towards Chukudum. The sky was a deep blue, and despite the many dry river-beds I crossed I guessed rain wasn’t all that uncommon in this part of the country.

    South Sudan landscape

    Road to Chukudum

    Track to Chukudum

    Kidepo River

    ‘Please bear with the situation’ said the local driver cheerfully as he slowed to greet me in a landcruiser with a ‘Norwegian Peoples Aid’ sticker on the side.

    In Chukudum I managed to obtain a local sim card. The mobile tower pointing out of the greenery beside a single street of tin and wooden shacks was the only significant indication of the modern world I had seen since entering the country.

    Sunset in Chukudum

    I enquired about accommodation and got pointed towards a Catholic mission, which in structure and setting turned out to be one of the most impressive I have seen in Africa.

    Mission in Chukudum

    ‘Built in 1947 by the Italians’, I think the Pastor had said. He gave me a brief rundown of the history and life in Chukudum, before I pitched my tent in the shade of some mango trees. I was too tired to remember much beyond him saying that most gunshots I might hear at night were just boys showing off or possibly hunting an animal. It was somehow reassuring.

    The mountainous surroundings continued on my third day in the country as I rode towards the town of Kapoeta.

    Road to Kapoeta

    ‘Be a little careful going through Camp 15’, cautioned the Pastor. ‘The Didinka and Toposa are sometimes raiding each others cattle’. This, for the most part, seemed to be the biggest security problem I had been hearing about. One tribe stealing livestock from another. Camp 15, which wasn’t on my map, but sounded rather ominous, turned out to be as peaceful as the rest of the countryside.

    East from Camp 15 to Kapoeta

    In Kapoeta I pitched my tent in the cool shade of a large campsite called ‘Mango Camp’. If ever there were an oasis of calm in a war-torn country this would be it. Campsite would actually be the wrong description, even if there were a number of large permanent tents in the compound. Aside from a few missionary and NGO groups passing through, I very much doubt anyone else came to stay here.

    Mango camp: Kapoeta

    The owner, who had in fact assisted me with providing an invitation letter to secure a visa for South Sudan, was out of the country. The main business here wasn’t providing accommodation, but running a borehole drilling company. There were also a number of containers belonging to a gold mining company on the compound. It would have been useful to meet him, not only to ask about where I could find boreholes on my route ahead, but information about the condition of the road and the general security. This task fell to the responsibility of a few individuals working for an NGO called the Carter Centre.

    Back in Tanzania, when I hatched the idea of crossing through South Sudan, a former employee of the Carter Centre, working on Guinea Worm eradication in and around Kapoeta, had given me the idea that it would be possible to cross the border from South Sudan to Ethiopia. Until I saw a detailed road map of East Equatorial Province from one of the locally employed Carter Centre staff, I didn’t think it would be possible, but sure enough there were tracks, and more importantly boreholes from which to access water.

    The distance into Ethiopia from Kapoeta would be about 350km, so I calculated around 4-5 days of travel, for which I would need to provision myself with food. There would be nothing to buy en-route and crossing into Ethiopia would involve walking up to a rocky plateau and then into a tribally sensitive no-mans land. It all sounded like pure adventure. My mind was made up.

    I rested in Kapoeta for several more days, which as a settlement turned out to be a sprawling dump of tin-shacks where the smell of human excrement filled the air. The place had no toilets! Kenyans mostly ran small shops and other businesses frequented by the local Toposa tribe, some of whom lived in the town. Others had probably walked in from the bush. With little or no public transport in South Sudan I realised that people here were used to walking for an entire day or more to reach somewhere.

    Central Kapoeta

    My stay just so happened to coincide with some annual Carter Centre meeting. White faces, all American I think, flew in on small charter planes to the nearby airstrip. I only spoke with a few, one of whom happened to be living very close to Ethiopia on the route I had planned out. He clearly thought it was a mad idea for various reasons (security, roads, remoteness) and shrugged my idea off with little encouragement. We didn’t talk much after that.

    On the way out of Kapoeta an immigration official caught up with me on the back of a motorbike. I needed to register my passport and details of where I was headed. I did so in a nearby tin shack. All seemed fine and I cracked on.

    Road from Kapoeta to Kenya border

    Toposa girl

    That night I slept beside a Primary School in a small village with a borehole. It was a familiar African scene – schoolteacher and a small collection of other locals watching on as I erected the tent, emitting gasps of surprise and wonder as the sleeping mat was unrolled and inflated.

    Primary School camp

    The track which I’d now turned onto had also been recently up-graded. No vehicles, just a few toposa, walking I knew not where. Other than cow, goat meat and milk I couldn’t work out what people lived on out here. There appeared to be no cultivation of crops.

    Toposa girl

    Toposa girl

    Toposa Shepherd boys

    It was certainly a remote road, as well as scenic. In stretches where dry black cotton mud covered the road, I was thankful the skies stayed clear. Several hours of heavy rain would have been a nightmare out here. When I pushed the bike off the track to reach a borehole I ended up jamming the wheels with thick mud. It took the best part of an hour to get moving again properly.

    On the road north to Boma

    Flowering baobab tree

    Baobab flower

    I camped between thorny acacia bushes the next night and spent half the time while eating a bowl of spaghetti stamping on scorpions. They were obviously attracted to the light from my head-torch.

    I had only been on the road the next morning for 10 minutes when a Toyota Hilux pickup came driving towards me. Two armed police jumped out of the back and a passenger in military fatigues stepped out of the vehicle.

    ‘Where is your document to be travelling on this road’? he asked as I handed over my passport. The visa was expiring in 3 days time, but I calculated I would be out of South Sudan by then.

    There then followed a serious of questions about my mission, where I had slept the previous night and where I was going. I soon learnt that this vehicle, in convoy with another, had driven out the day before under the orders of the Police Commissioner from the town of Narus, some 150km away. I hadn’t passed through this town, where apparently I needed permission from the Commissioner to be where I was.

    It all sounded like rubbish, but I was in no position to argue or defend myself. Moments later, with bike lying flat in the back of the pick-up and me over a wheel arch, I was being driven back in the direction I had just come.

    That journey was one of the most frightening and painful I have ever taken in my life. Moving at speeds of 100km/hr and more on a dirt track while I bounced around in the back had me fearing for my life. The only time we stopped was to pick up two random walkers who jumped in the back with a goat. About 80km further on they were dropped off. Thanks to me I just saved them a 2 day walk.

    Picked up by the Police

    ‘There are many wild animals out there like elephants, lions, rhinos and tigers’, said an older military-clad official who looked through the pages of my passport while my bags were thoroughly searched back in Narus. The journey back here, had taken less than two hours.

    Wild animals sounded as much like bullshit as ‘special permission’ to be where I was. It wasn’t a closed area. There was no rebel fighting. I had a visa.

    Apparently someone in one of the villages had reported seeing a foreigner on a bicycle with bags and the Commisioner, who I never met, decided to deploy two armed vehicles to drive out into the bush to get me.

    ‘You know people out there are backward. They might harm you’, said the immigration official an hour later. Not only had I been driven back to Narus, but I was now at the border with Kenya, 20km away from Narus, and effectively being deported from the country. I couldn’t believe this.

    Well at least I remained unscathed following the journey in the pick-up. And contrary to what I feared when I first arrived back in Narus, no one had made any mention of a fine for having police deployed to drive out and pick me up. Things could have been a lot worse, although I still couldn’t quite figure out what all the fuss was about. I was basically just a random anomaly, attached to no organisation, and the authorities wanted me out of their head-space. Had I gone to the Police Commissioner in the first place to request permission to cycle this road and cross into Ethiopia I rather suspect it would not have been a simple case of agreement.

    Whatever, I would now have to detour 350km through Turkana county in Kenya to reach Ethiopia, another challenge in itself.

    You can view the map route for section of the journey by scrolling to the bottom here.

  • Northern Uganda: Mwanza-Muscat Part 5 September 1st, 2015

    Not many people visit northern Uganda. This is understandable. For a number of years most areas were considered off-limits as a rebel group known as the Lord’s Resistance Army terrorised villages and communities, effectively dividing the country in two.

    The LRA and their infamous leader Joseph Kony no longer operate from Uganda, but places ravaged by years of destruction, child abduction and neglect don’t recover all that quickly, and memories for people don’t fade.

    I had this in mind as I moved north from Arua. The road was actually only a few years old – a smooth ribbon of tarmac cutting a wide swath through a peaceful countryside of conical straw-hut villages.

    Rural Uganda

    The larger settlements, still villages, but usually labelled trading centres in Africa, consisted of more concrete buildings. Most of these were covered in bright paint advertising the companies who had obviously paid for this lurid spectacle. Soap powder, mobile phone, solar panel and of course paint companies dominated. The scenes on the roadside could have been from a number of African countries.

    There would typically be a small shop of some description, a wooden bench or two outside and perhaps a tree providing shade nearby. Within that shade sitting on those benches would be anything from two to a dozen plus boys or men. A few motorbike taxis might also be parked alongside. The people were always male of course. Just sitting, passing the time. Sometimes there would be a game of cards taking place. Other times it just appeared like people were waiting for something to happen or someone to arrive. At least that is how I interpreted it. I imagined there must be hundreds of thousands of people in the countryside, maybe millions, doing precisely nothing for most of the day. Too hot perhaps, although the women  were working.

    None of it surprised me. I’ve seen it everywhere in rural Africa. I would wave, attempt a greeting and pedal on in the heat, wondering what discussion would follow in my wake.

    The languages in fact changed too often for me to keep track of. In an area where Uganda, DRC and South Sudan – countries with years of instability and the subsequent movement of people, come together quite closely, I suspected there must be a complete mix of ethnicities. At least where English didn’t work so well Kiswahili sometimes helped.

    The children mostly seemed to entertain themselves with what nature provided them with. Had the water been clearer and cleaner I might have joined an excitable bunch as they hurled themselves off a bridge near some rice fields one afternoon.

    Water acrobatics

    Watch me!

    Kids having fun

    One of the most noticeable man-made features in many of these settlements were the churches. Uganda is predominantly Christian and there were no shortage of large missions on the roadside. Each one seemed to be demarcated on google maps. Little else was.

    Uganda church

    The landscape remained green, but the sun became hotter as I left the tarmac and descended back towards the banks of the River Nile on a dusty track.

    Dusty road from Koboko-Moyo

    Grass huts in view of Mt Otzi

    Descending to the River Nile at Laropi

    I was hoping the heat would actually dry out my GPS. It had stopped working in Murchinson Falls National Park following the mother of all rainstorms. I’d left it on the bike under blue skies for a few hours when I’d taken a trip up the river. The following morning when I packed-up to leave it went into a beeping frenzy and then switched itself off.

    For the next few days I observed the screen fogging-up as I had it charged into the e-werk electrical converter that is connected to my dynamo hub. Power was obviously going into the device as the battery was charging, but none of the buttons were responding.

    Fogged-up GPS

    In the town of Koboko a guy working in a phone-repair shop opened it up with a tiny screwdriver. No sign of moisture so I followed the advice from others on the Internet which was to leave it in a bag of rice for several days. A 1 kg bag of local rice was duly purchased and I crossed my fingers that this would do the trick. To date there remains no sign of life.

    Fortunately my smartphone can easily log the rides using the GPS function and be charged from the dynamo hub.

    Inside of a Garmin 705

    The Nile ferry crossing at Laropi departed 30 minutes before schedule. This rarely happens in Africa (it’s also a free service which is even rarer), but no-one seemed the least bothered because sitting in the heat beside a collection of wooden shacks serving tea and snacks provided little joy.

    Local cafe

    Boat across the Nile

    River Nile at Laropi

    I slept in simple lodgings most nights (£2-£5) and washed my shirt and shorts from dust and salt stains while I showered with cold water. It often seemed somewhat pointless as it would only take a few large vehicles to pass me the following day on the road to return my body and clothes to the state they were in before. Still, wearing something cleanish in the morning is a better start to the day than putting on dirt-encrusted clothes. When camping there is of course little choice unless one is fortunate to be next to a source of water.

    Dealing with dust

    I thought I heard a gun fired at my back one day on the road into Gulu. Within seconds the rear tyre had gone flat. I pushed the bike off the road and inspected it. A huge hole appeared in the middle of what are often dubbed indestructible tyres by touring cyclists. How had this happened?

    End of an XR

    For a number of weeks a split in the wall of the same tyre had occasionally pinched the inner tube and caused several punctures. Earlier on the same day the tyre blew-out I’d patched up a large tear in the tube and continued riding. Under what was obviously tremendous pressure I later cycled over a splint of metal, which not only caused the tube to pop again, but pop with so much force that it blew this hole through the tyre profile.

    Tyre wall split

    Fortunately I was carrying a spare, although hadn’t expected to need this for some time, if at all on this tour.

    North from Gulu I imagined a narrow bush track would lead towards Kitgum and the border with South Sudan. Several years ago that might have been the case. Now the track has been widened and graded. I suspect in the next few years another smooth black ribbon.

    Restaurant in Gulu

    Water collectors

    Rain ahead

     This track widening continued north of Kitgum – a new highway of sorts connecting Uganda with South Sudan, although for the moment there is practically no traffic other than work vehicles.

    Road construction

    Breakfast view

    Sign in Mada Opei

    I had no idea what the Ugandan border post with South Sudan was called or whether it even existed.

    I pulled over alongside a huddle of women beside a collection of grass huts. At first it looked like they were filling 20 Litre jerry-cans with water. But the jerry-cans were partly inflated and there was a sweet smell of alcohol in the air.

    ‘That’s gu’, said the immigration official as I at in the cool shade of another conical hut a short distance away some minutes later. ‘It’s a mixture of maize and sugar. Very strong. They will walk over there’. He pointed to a line of green mountains in South Sudan. It looked so far away.

    Ugandan immigration

    Ugandan immigration

    ‘So you’re a missionary’? asked the official as he continued to write down my passport details in a notebook.

    ‘Do a lot of missionaries come through this way?’ I replied, before explaining he could write ‘teacher’ instead.

    ‘They used to’. Just a few Ugandans come through here now.

    ‘So where is the South Sudanese border post?’, I asked another official as I stepped back out into the glaring sun.

    ‘It’s 22km away’, he said pointing down the road on which these women were now walking. I said my goodbyes and hoped the entry into South Sudan would be equally as smooth.

    Alcohol carriers

    The route for this section of the journey, up to Kitgum, can be viewed here

  • ‘Watch out for the animals': Mwanza-Muscat Part 4 August 20th, 2015

    I slept on a vibrating bed during my first night out of Kampala. Slept would actually be the wrong description. I lay wide-awake with my fingers pushing earplugs ever deeper into my skull and a pillow pulled over my head.

    There had been a power-cut when I arrived in what seemed like a quiet roadside village some 90km north of Kampala. That of course is a minor problem when a generator is available. Had I seen the 1.5-metre high speakers in the bar when I rolled my bike into the £2 per night room out the back I might have enquired if there was alternative accommodation.

    $3 room.

    Given how cheap and basic the Guest House was there seemed little point in complaining when I decided to go and see who was appreciating the record-breaking decibels on the dance-floor behind my room. It was Wednesday – ladies night apparently, but when I poked by head into a dark abyss some time before midnight I realised I wasn’t missing much. Hardly a soul there. Loud music for the sake of loud music it would seem. Uganda does this well.

    The following day I continued north thinking how Uganda is possibly Africa’s greenest country. A cow’s paradise for sure. No wonder the quality of beef here is better than in Tanzania.

    Road north from Kampala

    Beef stew and matoke/rice/greens

    There wasn’t a lot of traffic on the road, but what there was seemed to pass me at suicidal speeds. Besides, main roads are never as interesting to cycle if there is a realistic alternative available.

    So I decided to call the Ugandan Wildlife Authority and ask if it was possible to cycle through Murchinson Falls National Park. I assumed the answer would be ‘no’, but when someone eventually picked up the phone and heard me explain what park gates I would enter and exit from the advice was simply to ‘watch out for animals’.

    I suppose that was a fairly obvious thing to say. Well it was partly the reason I wanted to visit Uganda’s largest National Park. Other than leaving the main road I also wished to see the waterfalls from which the park gets its name, and I knew that cycling through a National Park would provide scenery more reminiscent of a landscape that much of Africa used to resemble before people started chopping down trees, building houses and killing wildlife.

    Getting there required a little more distance to cover as the road headed west towards the small town of Masindi. From here a a dirt track led through cane sugar plantations and the edge of a large forest reserve, before dropping down to the shores of Lake Albert and skirting the edge of Bugungu wildlife reserve.

    Huts and sugar cane fields

    Through Budongo Forest Reserve

    Ugandan boys

    Above Lake Albert

    Puncture stop

    One thing I hadn’t been told on the phone was to watch out for tsetse flies. They descended on me almost immediately after I paid the $40 for a 24-hour permit to the park at Bugungu Gate. And so rather than pedal gently towards the River Nile and Paraa, where most of the park’s accommodation is, I raced like crazy for 15km in a vain attempt to out-cycle these bloodsuckers.

    They followed me into the bar at Red Chillis hideaway. I’d been told this was the cheapest place to pitch a tent ($7) and wondered why no one else I saw on arrival wasn’t squatting themselves like me.

    ‘They only like moving objects and are attracted to black and blue’, said one of the staff. Well seeming that my bike and panniers are black and I was wearing a blue t-shirt, no wonder I had quickly become a magnet out on the road. Within minutes they had fortunately disappeared and I found a shady spot to pitch the tent.

    Later that day I decided to sign up for a boat trip in order to see the park’s main attraction. So I paid another $30 and joined a merry-crew of camera-wielding wazungus on a memorable journey up the River Nile. This was far better value, as a few pictures here show.

    Lazying hippos

    Elephants in Murchinson Falls National Park

    Murchinson Falls

    Murchinson Falls

    For one reason or another there were no tsetse flies on the north bank of the river when I crossed early the next day. For this I was very glad, not only because I had almost twice as far to cycle to reach the exit gate at Tangi (25km), but the scenery was more impressive and there were many opportunities to stop and watch the wildlife. Giraffes, warthogs, large birds, various antelopes and a number of buffalo were all clearly visible, the latter fortunately at a safe-ish distance.

    Crossing the River Nile at Paraa

    Giraffe in Murchinson Falls National Park

    Buffalo ahead

    Within Murchsinson Falls National Park

    I crossed the Nile again shortly after exiting the park, this time on a large iron bridge beside the town of Pakwach. Between Paraa and here the river makes a spectacular 90 degree turn as it enters Lake Albert from the east and then almost immediately flows out of the lake and turns north.

    The River Nile

    Canoe on the Nile

    Grass huts

    Sweet sap

    Chair stack

    It’s northwards that I’m heading again. I write this from the bustling town of Arua, which is a short distance from the border with the DRC. The Wikipedia entry for the town says there is a large influx of refugees from both the DRC and South Sudan here, which would probably explain why there are a number of NGO offices around.

    The £5 per night hotel I took a room in yesterday has since become £4 when I explained how loud the room is. Directly outside there is a mobile-telephone repair shop that plays loud music from 6.30am. That’s almost 2 hours after the call to prayer from several nearby mosques and just before the posho mill (maize mill) opens. I attempted to move into another room but realised there are mobile-repair shops and mosques on all sides.

    An interesting event happened to me this morning while I walked around a large covered market directly behind the hotel. It feels worthy of mentioning as I haven’t experienced it before in Africa, although I’ve since learnt it’s not uncommon.

    So I had walked into the market to buy a new hat, or rather find a second-hand one as many clothes items here are imported from abroad. This I did easily, before continuing to walk around with no real purpose other than see what else the market comprised of.

    The covered clothes market opened out into a different market full of motorbike-repair workshops, scrap-metal dealers and stalls selling tools. Like all markets and public places in Africa there were plenty of people standing and sitting around doing nothing in particular.

    As I moved on and headed out of the market a man walked past me in a hurry. In front of my feet a large wad of bundled bank notes dropped to the ground, having fallen from his back pocket. A split second afterwards another man, less well dressed and much younger, picks up the dropped bundle and quickly puts it in his back pocket.

    Thinking to myself that I can’t let this go unnoticed I pull this young guy aside and tell him that money isn’t his.

    ‘Let us share it bwana’, he says sheepishly. I continue to hold this teenager by the arm hoping someone will come and assist.

    Less than a minute later the man who dropped the wad returns in a rush. He walks past me again and I call him back.

    ‘This guy here has your money’, I say, releasing my grip on the teenager.

    He pulls the wad out of the back pocket and quickly puts it back into his.

    ‘Let me give you something for this’, insists the smartly dressed man, who then beckons me to follow him somewhere less public. I explain he can give something to the boy, who probably thought his luck was going to change with this huge amount of money.

    I then walk away thinking how I had done a good deed, although deprived some poor guy out of what was a small fortune.

    Back at the hotel shortly afterwards I start to explain the story to the receptionist who soon bursts into laughter. ‘Those guys are thieves. There is only money on the outside of the bundle. They wanted you to go with them. Not to give you some of the money but to rob you. It’s a popular trick here’.

    Well so much for my good deed. I now know it’s best to ignore bundles of money that fall at your feet in Africa. They can’t be real after all.

    You can view the route I have followed so far in Uganda at the bottom of this page.

  • New visas: Mwanza-Muscat Part 3 August 10th, 2015

    A refrigerator box made an excellent container to transport my bicycle on a plane out of Tanzania. Cycling away would have been preferable, were it not for the fact that in order to go north, which is the direction I’m generally going, I’d be re-riding some of the roads I’d already covered. This rarely has much appeal, unless the roads are stupendously scenic, which they weren’t.

    Fortunately FastJet fly from Kilimanjaro Airport to Uganda and tickets cost all of £20. Well that’s before tax, after which the price quadruples. Even still, with an extra £20 for the bike and several quid for the gear the total price made it an affordable option. I also had good memories of cycling in Uganda.

    Bike in a fridge box

    My 3-week stay at the Arusha Hotel finished with me signing a bill I was very glad I didn’t have to pay. Goodbye full English breakfasts and 5-star luxury. Goodbye bus-loads of safari-clad tourists who always filled the hotel lobby every morning to be briefed by tour-operators about their impending trip to one of the nearby National Parks. None ever seemed to venture onto the streets of Arusha. Well that wasn’t in the itinerary, and being hassled by multi-lingual touts would only mire what were probably very expensive holidays.

    The hotel must have been making an absolute fortune from this lot. Had I cared more I would have told the Indian manager to invest in some better customer service. It’s a concept that remains mostly foreign in Tanzania, even when people pay western prices. Instead I gave one of the security guards the two pairs of trousers I’d bought to work in and pedalled off to a Warmshowers host. Thanks for the fridge box if you happen to be reading this Eric.

    My short teaching contract provided a welcome break, as well as a good opportunity to be back in the classroom interacting with Tanzanian students. If I could live a life of cycle-touring for several months then pick up a 2 or 3-week well-paid teaching contract in an interesting location I might just spend the rest of my life doing that.

    Ugandan immigration had little time for my reasoning that I didn’t need a visa when I arrived. I was in Uganda for a weekend in late May and paid $50 for a visa which I hoped would allow me free re-entry to the country within 90 days. Tanzania and Kenya at least follow this policy. So much for an East African Union making it easier for people to travel freely around the region.

    Painting of President Musuveni

    Uganda now in fact charges $100 instead of $50 (prices changed on July 1st) and I was going nowhere until I paid it.

    ‘Don’t worry.You will enjoy Uganda. There is plenty of food and good security’, said a portly immigration officer as he relieved me of a crisp bill and stamped my passport.

    Ugandan lunch

    As international airports go, Entebbe’s is an easy one to cycle away from, located as it is at the end of a peninsula jutting into Lake Victoria. The main road from here, well pretty much only road, heads to Kampala, just 35km away.

    Kampala

    I hadn’t planned such a long stay here, but then didn’t anticipate the obstacles and delay in acquiring a visa for South Sudan. Fortunately, Kampala, despite the crazy traffic and near death experiences every time one gets on the back of a boda-boda (a motorbike taxi) isn’t such a bad place to pass the time. People are friendly, they speak good English and there seems to be less of the immature ‘Mzungu’ calling that accompanies a stay in Tanzania. There also happens to be a great selection of bars and restaurants. An easy place for a single man to get trapped perhaps, as I’m sure many have…

    Downtown Kampala

    Boda Boda Drivers

    Beer with a view

    Kampala bus park

    Kampala bus park at sunset

    When I first conceived the idea for this current tour South Sudan had never been on the agenda, fraught as the country is with Civil War. A quick look at the FCO website will confirm that the 4-year old country isn’t the safest on the continent to visit right now. But I’ve never used the FCO website as a means to plan where I go, recognising that conflict in one part of a country doesn’t necessarily mean everywhere is actually as dangerous.

           South Sudan FCO travel advice

    A friend in Tanzania had worked in the country a few years back and started convincing me, or rather helped convince myself, that it would be a challenging and adventurous way to enter Ethiopia, which remains the plan.

    A visa for South Sudan isn’t easily obtainable, requiring a letter of invitation from within the country. Anticipating this to be a minor hurdle I decided to write my own invitation letter and forward it to my friend’s colleague in South Sudan, who could then sign it, which he did.

    The problem is self-written invitations don’t look so impressive without official letter-heads and stamps. My application was quickly rejected.

    I returned two days later with what I considered a formal invite, only to be told that I now needed a ‘Certificate of Incorporation’ in order to prove that the company who had invited me were officially registered. The letter could also not be addressed ‘To whom it may concern’ but the ‘Visa section’.

    By this point I was close to giving up, which wouldn’t have been a huge issue as I can just cross back into Kenya and enter Ethiopia that way.

    The certificate was soon emailed to me with the necessary letter changes. I returned once again. This time the Consular wasn’t in the office, but I was assured the visa would be processed, which indeed it was. Same day service as well (normally it takes 3 working days). Another $100.

    I have until September the 6th to enter the country. Well I assume that the 1-month duration of my visa is from the day I enter the country rather than the day the visa is issued. Such trivialities shouldn’t matter in Africa. I have northern Uganda to explore first.

    South Sudan Visa

  • On the shelves: Adventure Cycle-Touring Handbook July 25th, 2015

    The latest edition of the wonderful ‘Adventure Cycle-Touring Handbook is now available to buy. It’s a great resource for anyone planning a cycle tour, with plenty of practical information covering aspects such as what bike and equipment to take, as well as chapters focusing on regions and popular routes to cycle.

    I was very happy to have contributed to the chapter on Africa – updating the sections on cycling though East and Southern Africa as well as West and Central Africa. That’s a lot of countries. Some barely got a mention. Perhaps it’s time a guidebook dedicated to cycle-touring in Africa was put together. Hmm.

    Adventure Cycle Touring Handbook

    Unfortunately I won’t get to see a copy for a while. Next week I’m back on the road, although need to box my bike up first.

  • Tanzania again: Mwanza-Muscat Part 2 July 10th, 2015

    Returning to Tanzania wasn’t in the original plan. This was, and remains, to ride north to Ethiopia and beyond. But the British Council, my former employer, needed an English teacher for a short-term contract in July. The job-spec sounded interesting. What would a 600km detour and 3 weeks off the road matter when I had no need to be any place at any particular time.

    So rather than continue north from Kisumu I rode south-east towards Kenya’s Rift Valley – a region of rolling green landscapes, tea-growing estates and welcome cool climates. Naturally this involved a bit of climbing, so it was a good job I’d consumed the 1kg of dates and 1kg of popcorn I had in my panniers when leaving Mwanza.

    Elevation profile: Kisumu-Kericho

    Actually the climb into Kenya’s Rift Valley wasn’t as bad as it looks here. This shows the elevation profile between Kisumu and Kericho – the former lying at an altitude of just under 1200m and the latter, 80km away, at around 2000m.

    I’ve started using this website to find the elevation profile between places. That’s when I can remember to look or have Internet access. Fortunately the strength of mobile Internet in Africa continues to develop faster than anything else here. Kenya, at least in towns, has excellent connection speeds. Worth noting that 2gb of data (including text messaging and about 60 minutes of call time) will cost around £6. That’s more than enough for over a week’s use of Internet on the road. It’s actually significantly cheaper than this in Tanzania.

    Tea plantation country.

    Robinson on the road

    The countryside was scenic, the towns mostly ugly. This came as no surprise. Small shanty-style tin-shacks and larger concrete structures – either abandoned or under construction, made no-where particularly pleasing to the eye when I stopped for something to eat or a place to stay. 

    But I enjoyed the surprise in peoples reactions and subsequent interaction at the roadside when stopping for a drink or stepping into a make-shift eatery. Most of these in Kenya are named ‘hotels’, but it’s simple food and tea on offer rather than accommodation. A lot more beans and chapatis consumed.

    Beans and chapati.

    Highway Hotel Menu

    Highway Hotel

    5 on a motorbike.

    Kiswahili is still widely spoken in Kenya, but it’s not heard as often as in Tanzania. Ethnic languages predominate here – the changing sounds of which are a good an indication of moving from one region to another. So eastwards from the Luo speakers around Lake Victoria it is Kalenjin that dominates the tea growing areas of Kericho and Bomet, before entering Masaai dominated territory that extends up to and across the border with Tanzania.

    Kenya_Ethnic_Map_Today

    Much of the landscape in the latter remains scarcely populated, largely consisting of expansive tracts of scrubland and spiky bush. Here cows and goats probably outnumber people. Massai-dominated towns are in fact as distinguishable by the colourful shawls worn by their long ear-lobed inhabitants as they are by the sight of butchers and the accompanying smell of roasted meat. Nyama Choma (roasted meat) seems to be a staple food in these parts of Kenya.

    Zone Butchery

    Kenyan butchers

    The truth is the meat is very good – far superior to what is served in Tanzania. I ordered 500g of roasted goat meat one evening from the restaurant of a hotel I stayed in (orders of 1kg or 1/2kg are the norm) and decided to do exactly the same the next night. It was some of the best meat I’ve had in Africa – affordable as well at less than £2.

    It might just be that I chose a good place to eat. The sight and smell of some of the butchers here are enough to turn one vegetarian. There are rumours that some nyama choma establishments in Kenya serve up donkey meat to unsuspecting customers. I wonder how that tastes.

    Nyama Choma

    The tarmac road was smooth and mostly quiet as I continued east, dropping in altitude and providing a wide sweeping view of Mt Suswa ahead of me.

    Looking east to Mt Susua

    This route was steering me directly towards Nairobi, which I had little desire nor need to enter for the second time.

    Invisible on google maps, but quite clearly demarcated on my paper map, was a track that appeared to totally bypass the capital. I feared it might be a busy short-cut, but soon realised once I saw the turn off just beyond the small town of Suswa, that it would be anything but. So I filled up my water bottles, bought some bananas, spaghetti, tomatoes and sukuma wiki (a green-leafed spinach type veg) and headed off into the bush planning to camp.

    Off the main road

    I had been looking forward to a night in the tent and had a wide expanse of land to choose from. Well that’s not strictly true. Surrounded by acacia trees and various other thorny foliage it made little sense to venture far from the track before pitching the tent.

    I think some people are under the impression that I spend most of my nights in this small green enclosure. I don’t. When adequate roofed accommodation is available for around £5 or less, which it often is in populated parts of East Africa, I don’t see much point in camping, unless I’m surrounded by some spectacular natural beauty, which usually isn’t the case if there are lots of people living in an area. Besides, wild camping isn’t particularly relaxing or safe if you are close to where people live, but trying to hide yourself. I’ve always found in this situation that it’s better to go and say hello and ask permission to camp. Invariably this often means pitching a tent somewhere like a school or church, or within someone’s compound. I’ve done this many times before in Africa.

    Anyhow, this kind of landscape, despite the mine-field of thorns, was one perfect for camping. I pitched the tent under a full moon and woke up with the tranquility of bird-song rather than a group of noisy children waiting outside for me.

    Camping in Masaai land

    Acacia Thorn

    Moth in my tent

    Fortunately the tyres remained puncture-free as I continued the following morning on a deteriorating but perfectly bikeable track in the direction of Ngong. It was hard to believe I was so close to Nairobi. My surroundings hadn’t felt more remote on this journey. Dirt tracks are always more memorable.

    Two wheels OK

    End of the road

    Back road to Ngong

    A steep climb

    Looking back over Masaai land

    Back on tarmac I joined the main road connecting Kenya with the Tanzanian border of Namanga. More Nyama Choma towns.

    By now I was able to greet people with a call of ‘Supa’ (the Masaai greeting for hello, which I probably mis-pronounced by just shouting ‘super’ at everyone – I think the correct pronunciation is ‘sopa’) from the saddle.

    Another Nyama Choma town

    I had music playing most of the time. When I first started touring I used to wear headphones to listen to music. Perhaps that was in the days before mini-speakers became so compact. Now I have a little blue-tooth speaker that sits in a small frame bag. It weighs almost nothing and emits a decent sound for its size. I just need to download some more music to play out of it.

    Music on the road

    Tanzanian immigration stamped me in for free when I returned. Bonus. Apparently a 90-day single-entry tourist visa, which I have, allows multiple entries back into the country for which the visa belongs to, assuming you are re-entering from Uganda and Kenya. This isn’t publicised, but is part of some East African Community agreement. Without knowing about it I can quite easily imagine many a traveller handing over a $50 bill for another visa. Hard to believe anyone in such an instance being told that it isn’t necessary to pay as their current visa remains valid.

    Namanga border between Kenya and Tanzania.

    The first thing I did after leaving Namanga and the trucks at the border is eat a potato omelette, more commonly known as chips mayai in Tanzania. It’s the national dish and designed for cyclists who want a low-cost high calorie meal. They don’t serve this in Kenya. They should. One usually has the option in places that dish out this African delicacy to order mishkaki (kebabs) – a woeful sized quantity of meat skewered onto one stick. It’s sensible to order at least several – they don’t cost much either.

    Chips Mayai: Tanzania's national dish

    It was massai land again on the road south to Arusha. Here the young shepherds bedecked in colourful finery seemed more interested to flag me down than they did in Kenya. It was always more than just a greeting of course. As I wrote in the previous post no-one ever asks you to stop in Africa just to say hello.

    101km to Arusha

    Evening shadow and Mt Longido

    Massai smile

    Masaai cyclist

    Masaai boys

    Massai feet

    Luxury awaited me in Arusha.I knew the hotel I was booked into and grinned widely as I ducked under the security barrier and rolled-up to the entrance. ‘You can’t park here’, said one of many uniformed guards as he took my camera and offered to take a picture.

    Arriving at The Arusha Hotel

    Ten minutes later I was stepping into a room that I would never be staying in were I paying for it. Lucky me. The only disappointment was the manager not agreeing to my suggestion of placing the bicycle on the balcony.

    Room in The Arusha Hotel

    The Arusha Hotel is one of east Africa’s oldest establishments, although nothing looks like it was here in 1884. Back then there would have been none of the groups of tourists that fill this place now. The car park if full of tour buses and safari vehicles. July is the start of the high season for trips to Serengeti, the Ngorogoro Crater and treks up Mount Kilimanjaro. Big business for people here. Arusha has dozens of forex bureaus. The moment I step out of the hotel I’m practically jumped upon by someone wishing to sell me something.

    I’m here for a few more weeks delivering an English language course to a group of ‘creative artists’. After that the journey continues.

    For those wishing to see the route I took from Kisumu-Arusha, scroll to the bottom of this page.

  • Here I go again: Mwanza-Muscat: Part 1 June 26th, 2015

    I hadn’t expected the tears. After 2 years I was wheeling the bike out of the gate for the final time. Leaving Mwanza. Leaving familiarity. Leaving friends and the comforts of having my own place and space. What a luxury that had been. I knew I would miss it, but it was time to move on.

     Tears at the gate

    It would have been easy to stay had my job contract been extended. Probably just as well it wasn’t. The work I was doing on paper had fizzled-out a long time ago. Whatever my employer in Dar-es-Salaam thought teacher trainers like myself were doing ‘up-country’ I have no idea.

    I had been posted to Mwanza to work in a Government Teacher Training College, but I soon came to the conclusion that no-one really did any work there. No wonder the country’s education system was in such a dire state. Tutors in the college rarely went to teach a class and once the novelty of my presence soon wore off I reached the conclusion that most people didn’t really care if I was there or not. It was just as well I liked living in Tanzania.

    From an outside perspective I was just a small fish in a foreign-funded aid project, employed as part of a poorly coordinated effort to improve the English language education system in a country where Kiswahili is very much the national language. It was always going to be a challenge. At the end of a two-year contract it was a more optimistic soul than me who said they had made a real impact or improvement in the education system.

    The Ministry of Education had happily signed-up to the project when the donor was ready to release funds. Well why wouldn’t they have done? African governments love outside assistance. British tax-payers money in this case.  

    I could continue for some while yet about the reasons for Tanzania’s failing education system and the enlightening insights gained from working on an aid project in Africa, but I shall return to the tears at the front gate. They didn’t last long. Well had no real reason to cry. Yes I was sad to be leaving, but also happy to be hitting the road again.

    Saying goodbye

    I always suspected when I finished my contract that I would just pedal off. It seemed like the simplest thing to do. One push on the pedals and you’re free-wheeling away – assuming you’re going downhill to begin with, which I was.

    Rolling out of Mwanza

    The road through and out of town was of course familiar. There are only two principal routes into and out of Mwanza. One leads south towards Shinyanga and the rest of Tanzania (the same road I cycled on a daily basis to college at one time) and the other east, rounding Lake Victoria’s Speke Gulf before it turns north in the direction of Kenya. It was the latter that I and two friends pedalled out on.

    The weather couldn’t have been better really. It had just rained and rain is almost always welcome in Africa, particularly in the dry season. The sky was overcast and the air refreshingly cool. I didn’t even apply sunscreen.

    For some years Ethiopia has been on my list of countries to visit, so when I first conceived the idea of a cycle tour at the end of my contract, this seemed like the most obvious place to pedal off towards. That remains the plan. But then I started reading about Somaliland (not Somalia) and how great Oman was to tour in winter. Mwanza-Muscat had a nice sounding ring to it, so there we are.

    Unlike the last several tours I have made in the past few years I don’t have a specific time-frame for this journey. It’s great to have that luxury again. The freedom to wake up somewhere and think yes, I will stay here another day, or look at a map and decide to take some circuitous and remote dirt road rather than rushing along a main route. That’s a great feeling.

    So I rolled out of Mwanza at a rather leisurely pace on that Sunday morning, my front panniers about 5kg heavier than they needed to be owing to various foodstuffs that weren’t a necessity to carry (1kg of dates, 2 large mangoes, 1 kg of popcorn, 500g of oats, 500ml of cooking oil, 500g of Tanzanian coffee and a can of redbull that had been left over at a small leaving party I’d thrown a few nights previously).

    I’d laid all the gear out the previous night on the floor of my sitting room, then put it into panniers and balanced them out the following morning. Well that didn’t didn’t take long. I’ve done it hundreds of times. Tool bag and spare front tyre below foodstuffs in one front pannier, cooking pots, stove, tupperware container (holding salt, pepper, chilli and curry powder, spork, lighter) and more foodstuff in the other front pannier. The rest finds a home in the rear panniers with the camping bag bungeed onto the top of the rack. Oh, and my handlebar bag that contains camera, passport, money and map. All in all about 34kg on a bike weighing 20kg. That’s not a light load, but if I wanted to lose several plus kgs, aside from the food, there are plenty of ways. Those jeans with the leather belt perhaps. I never used to tour with a pair of jeans, but then there are occasions, not camping in the bush, where it’s nice to get out of cycling gear.

    My kit laid bare

    Fully-loaded and ready

    I only got as far as the small town of Magu on that first day, just 65km. Rain fell heavily for a few hours so I took an early lunch stop with one of the friends who would later turn back, then waited for it to pass.

    Rain delays play

    Roadside eateries are common and easy to find in Tanzania. A bucket of water, like the one pictured above, acts as a hand-basin to wash your hands before and after a meal, which is very much the custom. How clean the water is inside the bucket who knows, but rather than look for a sign-post advertising somewhere to eat, a bucket like this is a better indication that food is nearby. In more simple establishments it will be cooked outside over a few charcoal braziers.

    Food on the road in much of Sub-Saharan Africa is a simple affair. Rice, beans, Ugali (cassava or maize stodge – see pics) meat (one of or a choice of chicken, beef, goat, fish) and some green-leafed veg pretty much sums up the majority of lunches. One can’t really go wrong with beans, which has the habit of producing some serious post-lunch sound effects from the area of my saddle. I always tell anyone who cycles with me that the most dangerous place to be on the road is right behind me.

    Fish and Rice

    Lunch in Lamadi

    Border nosh

    Fuel stop

    Lunch in Mbita

    Beef, Ugali and Sukuma wiki


    I knew the road as far as Bunda, having cycled it before in the opposite direction. Lake Victoria is never very far away, but mostly out of sight. It’s not a particularly scenic road – most flat ones aren’t, but following the rains the landscape is green and for a brief stretch the road forms the western boundary of the Serengeti National Park. Most large animals are probably sensible enough to stay further inside the park, but zebra, wildebeest, baboons and monkeys don’t seem particularly bothered by passing traffic.

    Edge of Serengeti National Park

    Beer carrier

    In Bunda I missed the opportunity to sleep in the JoyDick Hotel, having already checked-in to one of the many other affordable lodgings that were less amusingly named. Like food, accommodation in Tanzania is easy to find and most places have the added bonus of composing of a single storey. This means it’s easy to wheel the bike into the room rather than having to lug it up some stairs.

    Tanzanian Accommodation

    Guest house in Bunda

    North of Bunda I veered off on a dirt track towards the sleepy lakeside town of Musoma. At one time in the early 20th Century this was an important German garrison town, when Tanzania was part of Deutsch Ostafrika. Now its dusty grid-lined streets and faded shop-fronts display neglect. In Africa it’s much easier to build new again rather than maintain something that’s old.

    Balancing rocks

    Lake shore Musoma

    Downtown Musoma

    Goats in Musoma

    The lake at Musoma was a wonderful bright shade of green. Highly uninviting to go for a swim in. In actual fact during the 2 years I lived in Mwanza I only once went for a swim in the lake, and that was off a beach on the island of Ukerewe.

    Unlike Lake Malawi and Lake Tanganyika, where the water is blue, clear and clean, much of Lake Victoria is a murky mess. There are various reasons for this. One is the introduction of the infamous ‘Nile Perch’ by British Colonial officials in the 1950’s. While Lake Malawi and Tanganyika have hundreds of small cichlid fish that eat up bacteria and detritus, the Nile Perch, which grows to monster sizes, eats all these fish. Many businessmen and government officials see the fish as an economic boost (the fish is exported around the world), but it’s also the story of an environmental disaster.

    Aside from the uninviting colour of the lake for a swim, there is bilharzia to worry about, and the usual stories involving crocodiles and hippos.

    Uninvitingly green!

    Back on tarmac I continued towards the Kenyan border, the climb in altitude a reminder that I really didn’t need to be carrying 1kg of popcorn. Rocky outcrops flanked the roadside and the scenery improved.

    Kenyan cyclist

    At one point in the mid-day heat I spotted a small solid object slowly moving across the road in front of me. As I approached and got off the bike it stopped then disappeared into its shell. It wasn’t going to move until I did, but I was glad it had safely made it across the road. It’s not a common sight to see tortoises on the road in Africa. At least not in my experience. Dead snakes or dogs are much more familiar.

    Tortoise crossing

    At the Kenyan border I very nearly didn’t pay my $50 for a 90-day visa. Very nearly in the sense that I had been given my passport back and told to enjoy my stay in Kenya without having paid any money.

    ‘Is there anything else?’ I asked the pretty immigration clerk before preparing to walk out of the clean and newly built hall. ‘No that’s it’, came the slightly unsure reply. Well I could have reminded her there and then, but didn’t. I was 10 seconds from wheeling the bike through the barrier nearby and disappearing off before a security guard called me back.

    In Kenya’s first town, Migori, the bank wouldn’t change my Tanzanian shillings. I could have done this at the border nearby, but my neighbours in Mwanza had been scammed there recently in an identical fashion to one I recall at another African border. ‘No-one here wants that money’, said the corpulent bank manager who was more interested in knowing the value of my bicycle. ‘You can find a forex bureau in Kisumu’. So I changed some British Pounds and went in search of a Guest House and cold beer.

    Kenya's classic

    New beer - once only!

    Kisumu was where I was headed to, but I chose to ride back towards the lake from Migori. It was a scenic dirt track in stretches – green hillsides and views of the lake in places. Not much four-wheeled traffic, but often three or four people on a moto-taxi.

    Road to Magunga

    Rough road to Mbita

    Looking south to the Gwasi Hills

    Interacting with Kenyans in shops and roadside eateries is a lot easier than with many Tanzanians. Firstly people speak a lot more English, but more importantly there is a greater level of confidence about them. In Tanzania I could converse in simple Kiswahili, but there was often a reserved nature about people. Many would be surprised a mzungu could speak Kiswahili, so it was less common that they would initiate a conversation, while children would call ‘mzungu’ out from the roadside, but often runaway if I stopped or attempted to take a picture.

    The usual suspects.

    Local shop in rural Kenya

    The context here however is more or less often the same. Stories of poverty, the need for school fees etc etc. In one village where I wanted to confirm I was heading in the right direction an elderly man called me over. He was manning a small petrol pump. ‘What can you do for me’? he asked while I looked down at my paper map. I laughed, made sure I was on the right road, then pedalled off. It was a question I heard more than a few times.

    Well that’s nothing new. Cycle tour through Africa and rarely will there be a day when something isn’t asked of you by someone. I learnt a long time ago that it’s good practice not to stop when someone is waving you down or pretending they need water from your bottles when there is a water source nearby. Rather than just wanting a chat, which may well be the case, there will often be some other agenda that involves me providing financial help.

    Most Kenyans in this part of the country aren’t hesitant to tell you how much of a problem AIDS is. Western Kenya has some of the highest rates in Africa. When I asked people for the reasons they simply said it was due to poverty. It was usually me who suggested that the rates would be lower if people used condoms. Condoms are free here, so there is no excuse there.

    Another noticeable feature of rural Kenya is how many abandoned and boarded-up buildings there are at the roadside. Makeshift corrugated or wooden shacks are favoured over concrete structures – the kind of places that could be constructed in half a day with minimal cost. I’m not sure why I imagined Kenya to be more developed in this respect. Rural poverty is very evident.

    Local Barbershop

    Village sound system

    Boarded-up shops

    When I rejoined tarmac from the village of Mbita it was on that super-smooth texture that signals a sign of Chinese influence in recent years. I had cycled just under 600km from Mwanza and had less than 100km to reach Kisumu.

    East from Mbita

    Well that’s where I am now. Enjoying fast Internet and several days of rest in a room larger than some of the cell-like spaces I might spend a night. I haven’t actually camped yet. Possibly on the next stretch. From here I’m heading off in a totally different direction to Ethiopia. More about that in the next post. A map of the route I just took and an elevation chart can be viewed at the bottom of the Maps page.

    Room in Kisumu

  • Old roads and new: Mbeya-Mwanza Part 3 March 18th, 2015

    The tarmac stopped at the Tanzanian border. On the Burundian side the road was under construction. A man wearing a wide-rimmed straw hat was sat in the seat of a road grading machine. I waved at him as I slowly climbed up the steep slope that cut into the green hillside. Either he didn’t see me or pretended not to. I’m sure my bicycle must have been in his vision. I would have asked him many questions given the opportunity, but doubt he’d have understood them, unless I spoke Chinese.

    This was my second visit to Burundi and I was happy to be back. The African mainland’s second most densely populated country is a great place to cycle, so it’s a pity the country isn’t bigger.

    The photos in this final blog post cover the remainder of my journey through Burundi, Rwanda, a day in Uganda and then back to Mwanza in Tanzania. Lots more mountains, smiles, some great scenery and the usual great cycling.

    Chinese road construction

    Another new road in the making. Heading north from the Burundian/Tanzanian border to the town of Makamba, where the tarmac starts again.

    Burundian beer

    Now here’s a beer that’s worth drinking. It might not be African by name, but it’s brewed in Burundi and tastes great.

    Mission beside Lake Tanganyika

    One of the few flat roads in Burundi runs along the shores of Lake Tanganyika.

    North to Bujumbura

    Heading north to Bujumbura. I cycled this road in the opposite direction 18 months ago.

    Sunset over Lake Tanganyika

    Sunset over Lake Tanganyika. The sky wasn’t clear enough to see the DRC on the other side.

    Burundian curiosity

    It’s hard not to draw a crowd when stopping on the roadside in Burundi. Few people travel here and people are curious to get a closer look.

    Bujumbura Coffee factory

    The mountains in Burundi produce some great coffee. By the end of my trip my panniers contained about 4kg of coffee from Malawi, Burundi, Rwanda and Uganda. This photo was taken in Bujumbura. I stayed 2 nights and parted ways with Anselm here, who stayed on longer.

    Bicycle cargo

    Bicycles in Burundi are commonly loaded with all sorts of cargo. This is on the road north from Bujumbura to the Rwandan border post near Bugarama.

    House on wheels

    At least 100kg of bricks loaded up here. I discreetly took a picture from behind as I feared photographing from the side or front might cause this poor chap to loose his balance!

    An aged saddle

    An aged saddle with some serious character.

    Weld job on Surly front rack

    During the 7 week tour the brackets on both sides of the Surly front rack broke. It wasn’t hard to find a welder, but the welds broke on several occasions. I have new brackets back in the UK.

    Burundi Map

    Painted up on the wall of a bar. An outline of one of Africa’s smallest and most densely populated countries

    Lake Kivu

    On my first day in Rwanda I briefly passed Lake Kivu.

    Tea Plantation

    Tea plantations on the road east from Cyangugu at about 1700m in altitude.

    Above the morning mist in Nyungwe Forest

    Climbing up through the cool mountain air to 2600m in altitude, Nyungwe Forest remains a rare reminder of what so much of Equatorial Africa must have looked like before man started to deforest it.

    Big day of climbing

    Anything over 1500m of accumulated climbing in a day on a fully loaded bicycle constitutes a challenging one. Day 1 in Rwanda and typically it’s all up and down – mostly up.

    Morning sunlight in Nyungwe Forest

    Morning sunlight in Nyungwe Forest. This was the view from outside my tent, which was pitched on a rare flat space of land, fortunately invisible from the roadside. I had been told it was illegal to camp within the National Park. Had I been seen by Park Rangers I would have been fined and asked to move. The reality was there was no-where else to sleep.

    The Congo and Nile River watershed

    Some interesting African Geography I didn’t know. This was taken in Nyungwe Forest.

    Local bike

    Plenty of local wooden bikes like this on the road in Rwanda. Great for downhills, less so for up.

    Local bike

    Roadside spectators

    Children are everywhere in Rwanda – something that could be said about a lot of sub-Saharan African countries. Here however the population density is so high that stopping on the roadside is almost always associated with a collection of young faces.

    Project Rwanda: Coffee Bike

    I saw a lot of these ‘cargo bikes’ in Rwanda. I think they were designed with the idea of transporting coffee, but any load will do.

    French couple on tour

    They told me their names twice and I still forget. They were headed south towards Burundi – their English as poor as my French, of which I seem to have forgotten lots since west and Central African days on The Big Africa Cycle. When the crowd of kids got too much we bid each other bon voyage.

    Waterfall in Rwanda

    I don’t remember the name of the Waterfall – in fact I almost missed it on the road north from Kigali to Uganda. Fortunately it was only a few hundred metres from the road and easy to reach.

    Terraced slopes north from Byumba

    After climbing north from Kigali on the RN3 – one of Rwanda’s super clean paved roads, you reach a small junction town called Byumba with a lovely view north towards Uganda.

    Rwandan school student

    I was as much impressed by this Rwandan boy’s English as I was his motorcycle side-mirror.

    Kabale at dawn

    I am rarely awake and on the road at sunrise, but during the final days of this tour I was on a mission to reach Bukoba in Tanzania in time for work. And so it was that I pedalled out of Kabale shortly before dawn – a good reminder that this is the best time of the day in Africa.

    Katoro: Ugandan breakfast

    Ugandans consume more bananas per head than any other nationality in the World apparently. Katogo is a common breakfast – plantain, beans – and usually offal, the latter fortunately absent here. Great energy for the road.

    Roasted meat and phone charging

    Just one of those random signs that make you laugh and stop.

    Camping above the Kagera River

    Another special camp spot, of which there were many on this tour. The Kagera River is, for want of argument, the source of the Nile. Its headwaters drain from Rwanda and the river itself flows into Lake Victoria. This whole area on the Uganda/Tanzania border had a remoteness to it. My tent was pitched a hundred metres or so above the river, soothingly audible as I fell asleep early after 135km that day, mostly on a dirt track.

    Re-entry to Tanzania

    This was interesting. My GPS and map was telling me I was now on the border of Uganda and Tanzania, but there was no immigration post nor anyone in sight, just a rusted sign showing the distances to various towns ahead. Fortunately I have a Tanzanian residency permit, so wasn’t fussed that my passport wouldn’t be getting a re-enty stamp into Tanzania. Likewise I was never stamped out of Uganda, having paid $50 for a visa when I was only there 36 hours.

    Back in Tanzania I spent the first week dressed in shirt and trousers to attend a training workshop for Secondary School teachers. The plan after this had been to take a ferry from Bukoba back to Mwanza, but it was out of service and so I cycled the remaining 450km.

    Fish soup, chapati and chai

    Breakfast in a village cafe beside Lake Victoria. Fish soup, chapati and spiced tea.

    Young girl and her mother

    On the road from Bukoba to Mwanza.

    School transport

    It’s very common to see 3 or more people on a bicycle taxi in rural Africa.

    Petelol Station

    Rural Africa has lots of makeshift constructions like this selling fuel by the litre in plastic bottles. This however is the first Petelol Station I have seen.

    Timber being transported

    I wouldn’t want to be turning a sharp corner on this bicycle.

    Charcoal transport

    Charcoal is probably the most common source of fuel for cooking in Tanzania. Sacks such as these are transported from rural to urban areas, very frequently on the backs of bicycles.