• The Clean Sweep: Robbed July 16th, 2011

     

    “The horror! The horror!” (Joseph Conrad)

    I think it’s every traveller’s worst nightmare: to return to your room and find a thief has been inside. You locked your door when going out and now it’s open. Standing at the doorway you take stock of the bed and floor, which is now scattered with the contents of your bags. But of course it’s not all the contents. The thief does not want your clothes, your tool bag or your spare inner tubes. It is cash, cameras, laptop and any other item deemed valuable in the eyes of this crook.

    Well this particular crook did a good job. The only valuable item left in my room was my passport. Otherwise it was pretty much a clean sweep. Laptop and modem – gone, Nikon SLR camera with 2 lenses – gone, compact camera – gone, money belt containing credit card, £100+ cash and personal collection of African bank notes from every country I’ve been to – gone, Ipod and external mini speakers – gone, camera tripod – gone, solar battery charger – gone, tent poles (bizarrely enough) gone. But most significantly of all, far more valuable than electronic items that can be replaced, was my external hard-drive. This is the storage device that contains thousands of photos and videos of the trip. I had last backed up my photos in Nigeria, over 6 months ago, and was planning to do another back-up in Nairobi within a few weeks.

    And what of the bicycle? Well fortunately that was with me at the time. In actual fact I was still on the Guest House premises when the theft took place.

    Let me put this awful story into a much wider context. Then you’ll realize just how angry, frustrated, dumbfounded and emotional I am about it all. This is going to be quite a long blog post. Please bear with me.

    I was and still am as I sit here now, in the small town of Kapsabet, western Kenya. The region has a cool climate and is surrounded by rolling hills of tea plantations and forests. I came here for a specific purpose, which was to observe and assist in a distribution of 2500 mosquito nets for surrounding rural communities. Some of the nets had been funded from people pledging donations to The Big Africa Cycle. A small team of Catholic nuns from India who help run a maternity clinic in the town were conducting the distribution.

    The sisters had arranged for myself and four Spaniards, also to assist in the distribution, to be lodged in a comfortable Guest House close to the town. “We are choosing this place because it is quiet and secure” remarked Sister Mary, in her Tamil twang. And so it seemed at first. My room and the four for the Spanish were located in a separate annex – a one storey building located beside a freshly cut lawn where local Kenyans come to eat and drink.

    After a peaceful first night the four of us joined the sisters the next day, journeying through beautiful rolling pastures and tea plantations towards the edge of the Nandi escarpment. Several local Kenyans were alongside us, one of which plays a significant and unfortunate role in this whole story.

    Ken, a local from Kapsabet, had been asked by an American well wisher over the Internet (someone with a vested interest in malaria who had donated $1000 to buy bed-nets)  to assist and observe in the distribution, as well as to collect and document what information he could about the incidence of malaria in the area around Kapsabet. For a man with qualifications and skills in IT it seemed a little strange, but Ken was educated, open, friendly and actively participated with an interest in the distribution. He had no camera and requested whether he could use some of my photos to forward to this American. Not a problem. I was willing to oblige. Monday passed and we all returned to our Guest House in the evening.

    Tuesday 5th July was a repeat. Breakfast early and off into the countryside with another 500 nets to distribute. Before leaving I’d given the key of my room to the guardian, a quiet young man who didn’t appear to speak any English. The floor was dirty and I gave him permission to enter and clean – nothing unusual there.

    The bed-net distribution finished early that day and we were back at the Guest House at 3pm. Ken said he would not be continuing with the distribution for the final two days as he needed to return to Eldoret, where his wife and children lived. I agreed he could take some of my photos as earlier requested, but to return to the Guest House at 4pm, after I had taken lunch with the Spanish.

    At 4pm I was back in my room, having received the key back from the guardian and noted the bed was made and the room clean. The Spanish left soon after to visit a nearby waterfall, but I decided to stay, partly through tiredness and partly because I’d told Ken he could come to take some photos. “Come and find me in room 3” I said on the phone when he arrived at the Guest House.

    He was still in my room 20 minutes later when I received a call from the Doctor at Nandi Hills Hospital. We had met and spoken the previous day about having the press covering a story about the bed-net distribution and my role in having cycled all the way from the UK. The Doctor was coordinating the press and now at 16.45 they were coming to the Guest House to conduct an interview.

    “Take your camera or laptop to show photos to the journalist”, suggested Ken before we left the room together and went to meet them at the entrance. It seemed a bit too much effort, for surely they would arrive with a photographer. I locked my door, put the key in my pocket and walked with Ken and the bicycle to the Guest House entrance, some 100 metres away. Ten minutes later a group of 5 of us, including Ken, were sat on a grassy area some 20 metres now from my room. For the next 30 minutes I talked about the hows and whys of riding a bicycle thousands of kilometers across a continent and my involvement with the bed-net distribtion.

    “Show them some of your photos”, Ken remarked again during this conversation. But no-one had brought any laptop or digital storage device so the matter was dropped. “How can we read more about the journey”, asked one of the journalists. I started to write the website down, but decided it would be more professional to hand them a card. So I dashed back to my room. And that is when I noticed the door open and everything gone.

    Who Dunnit?

     

    The shock at what took place between 1700-17.45 on Tuesday 5th July at the inaptly named ‘Steve Nice Guest House’ in Kapsabet, was joined by anger, disbelief and frustration at how the response and investigation was conducted.

    Theft and robbery is a common occurrence in Kenya, and perhaps one should not dwell too much on the loss of one’s valuables, but when action is not taken to incriminate those who are clearly guilty you feel justice must surely prevail. My spirits have been at an all-time low since the robbery. 

    It wasn’t just my room that had been opened with a spare key, but every other room. When the Spaniards returned an hour after the theft had taken place they too found their locked rooms had been opened and whatever valuables they had not taken with them to the waterfalls had been stolen too.

    What surprised me at first was the slowness of the management to respond. No-one came forward to offer an apology. Lips sealed. Not even a sign of shock. The guardian responsible for the keys stood like a deaf mute as I asked where he was when this took place and where his keys were. The owner’s son soon started covering for him, switched to the local dialect and when the police finally arrived all blame was pointed at Ken, saying he was present when the theft took place.

    “How well do you know this Ken character”? asked police and locals with an inquisitive interest in what was taking place on their turf. Of course when I said I’d met him the day before eye brows were raised. Even the Doctor came down to the Guest House and said Ken was where the blame needed to be pointed.

    Had I really been duped? Moments earlier I’d told journalists that I’d met so many people on this trip that I valued my judge of character to be very high. Could Ken really have tricked me somehow? There were some things that seemed odd. Why would a man involved with IT attach himself to a bed-net distribution organized by Catholic Missionaries? Why was he leaving that same day from Kapsabet?

    Ken, the guardian of the Guest House, the manager and assistant manager were taken suspect by the police. When I gave my statement along with the Spanish the next morning it was with the belief that Ken had been at the centre of this.

    The day passed. Another distribution of mosquito nets was taking place and I broke down in tears when the local chief asked me to introduce myself and why I was here. It has not been the only time I’ve cried in the past week.

    Later that day I heard the three Guest house employees had been released by the Police, but Ken was being held as a prime suspect. It was then I started to think about the whole day again. Ken had told me the waterfalls were not really worth going out of my way to see. It is part of the reason I let the Spanish go without me. And he’d also suggested showing the journalists my photos from the camera and laptop. This is at a time when the theft could still have been taking place. Not once during the moment I left the room with Ken and locked my door to when I returned 40 minutes later to find it open and robbed had Ken used his mobile phone. He had been alongside me all along.

    It was then that I realized that Ken was being framed by the police. A convenient scape-goat whilst the Guest house management were let off.

    This was an inside job. The spare keys had opened those doors and the questions needed to be directed to the guardian, where he was when the theft took place and where the keys were.

    I returned to the Police Station on Thursday, two days after the theft, and asked to speak with Ken alone. He confirmed what I had thought, and I apologized that I had not trusted my instincts about the guy. Whatever he may or may not have done in the past, this man was not guilty. An opportunist making a small sum of money from an American well-wisher who’d probably never before been in the country, yes, but a criminal tipping someone off to enter my room with spare keys, no.

    By this time I had lost whatever hope I’d ever had that the police were going to help me. Had someone at the Guest House paid the police off to have their 3 employees released and Ken used as a scapegoat? Quite possibly. I was wasting my time with the police, who told me they would ‘continue their investigation’.

    At this stage I naively believed that my embassy would come to the rescue, but when I vented my frustration about the police investigation to a Kenyan voice at the consular service, she sighed and apologized. “This is Kenya. The Police aren’t like those in your country.”

    The incompetence of the Police was confirmed to me by a Korean woman, eccentric to put it mildly, who has been in the country long enough to know how things work. She suggested I contact the Mayor. Along with his team of councilors and elders we descended on the Guest House the following day, where the manager attempted to make lies up about Ken and his whereabouts at the time. The Mayor and the councilors were convinced like me that this was an inside job. The management of Steve Nice was responsible and if these things weren’t brought forward the license of the establishment would be removed.

    Accompanying the Mayor and his entourage was an elderly man who remained silent during this gathering of people. “This man will help recover your things” vowed the Mayor. “We’ve worked with him before”. When I asked how this frail old man would physically recover the valuables I was told “He can work miracles. Trust him. Something will happen now”.

    Well that was over a week ago as I write this now. My hopes were raised for a short period over the weekend when an independent team of investigators travelled from Nakuru to conduct their own findings. They departed with enough evidence to return to Kapsabet, arrest and take these 3 Guest House suspects away unless items were returned. In the words of the Mayor I had been assured that by Tuesday of the following week (12th July) things would be brought forward. “They cried with us to be given until Tuesday” stressed the Mayor. Well Tuesday passed, the Mayor was in Nairobi all week and nothing happened. Merely talk and no action.

    As a back-drop to all the telephone calls, conversations and banging-my-head-against-the-wall moments when people say they will call be back but never do, I have been staying with the Catholic nuns in the mission since the theft. The thief hadn’t even left me with 10 shillings. It’s an odd, but calm and safe place to rest my head and I’ve been made to feel very welcome. “Don’t worry Peter. God will take care of everything” repeats Sister Mary with that characteristic south Indian head waggle I remember so fondly from the sub-continent. I wish I had such faith.

    Had the theft been all valuables except my hard-drive I probably would have got over it by now. Cameras and laptops can somehow be replaced. But as I told the police, the Mayor, the press and the management of the Guest House, this hard-drive is invaluable and I’m willing to pay a far higher reward to get it back than it can be sold for on a black market. Still nothing.

    The miracle worker, who might well be dubbed a ‘witch doctor’, was called a second time yesterday. Just like the week previously, he, the Mayor and his entourage and myself headed to the Guest House. The Guest House staff present were assembled and a traditional prayer was voiced loudly in Kalenjin. At one stage he stripped to reveal a bony torso before pacing back and forwards thrashing a leafed twig through the air. I tried to keep a straight face.  ‘Something will come from this weekend” assured Ken, who was present as well. He told me the same thing a week previously.

    I’m slowly coming to the realization, almost 2 weeks on, that what has happened happened. And worryingly the ease and speed with which it took place whilst I was metres away is a reminder that it could have happened in many other places. Just as I am here I’d be the helpless mzungu naively expecting justice to prevail, as any other westerner who has grown up in a World where law and order have some level of merit might do.

    Continuing the Journey

     

    I never planned nor wanted other people to somehow fund my trip, as I’ve seen others do from long-term journeys. But after almost 2 years on the road things are a bit desperate on the budget-for-the-trip side of things. If I’m to continue to blog, photograph and document the journey to its conclusion then finding a replacement laptop and camera is essential. Photography has always been integral to the trip.

    So if you’ve enjoyed reading this blog  – newcomer to the adventure or a follower from the beginning, I’m asking you to contribute, if you can, something towards covering the cost of the stolen items. It is why you see this paypal donate button here.





    As for anyone actually on the road doing something of a similar nature to me, my message is BACKUP BACKUP BACKUP – you cannot predict when a thief will strike, but you can plan when to backup your invaluable and irreplaceable photos. I wish I had done so in Kampala when I had the chance. 

    Something may miraculously appear in the coming days and weeks, but I’ve pretty much exhausted my efforts here. I need to get back on the road. One day I might look back philosophically about what has happened here in a small town in western Kenya, but  that time has not yet come.  

  • Talking gear: 10,000km in June 30th, 2010

    Half-way to Cape Town yet? Unless I start pedalling a much straighter route, which is usually far less fun, I can confidently say no. Guinea Bissau, where my speedometer ticked over 10,000km recently, does not appear to be equal distance from England and South Africa. The distance I’ve come does however provide a good opportunity to review the gear that’s got me here. What has lasted, been replaced or sent home. It’s not an exhaustive critique, and if the words Rolhoff, Schwalbe and Ortlieb appear all too unpronounceable, you may wish to stop reading now.

    The Big Africa Cycle

    Thorny

    Best to start with the bike. There’s not much to say, other than I’m very content. Apart from a broken front spoke and the occasional clicking from the bottom bracket (any suggestions?) my Thorn Raven has proven steadfast and strong. The rims miraculously show no signs of wear and I’ve yet to change the ceramic brake-pads. The Rolhoff hub hums along after an oil change 5000km ago and all cables seem fine. Yes its heavy (about 16.5kg with the tyres I have, racks, kickstand, 1m long chain lock and that hub) but I’m not trying to break a speed record. I re-oil and occasionally tighten the chain whenever it sags. A simple procedure done by turning the bottom bracket. Unless someone would like to advise me otherwise, the chain receives minimal wear and should last a good while longer?

    Tyres

    Somewhere in southern Morocco I switched the rear Schwalbe XR tyre to the front when it developed a small split in the wall. This will develop, but I’m optimistic both tyres will last several thousand more kms+. A great shame they’ve been discontinued. If I can get hold of some more I’ll continue to use them, otherwise their replacement Extremes.

    Racks

    Thorn’s expedition rear rack shows no wear and offers plenty of space for my camping bag. Some of you may have noticed the blue dry-bag on the rear rack has replaced the much larger black Ortlieb one I started the journey with. I swapped this with Jon in Senegal. With an 80L capacity it was too big for Africa. This blue bag fits my tent, sleeping bag and thermarest and is a much more compact set-up. The tent poles neatly strap on one of the rear panniers.

    As for the Surly front rack, it provides an enormous and useful amount of space to bungee extra water bottles, flip flops (essential kit for African bucket-showers!) and any other gear that may be needed quickly. The rack may be a little heavy compared to other front racks, but it feels as solid and strong as it looks.

    Mrs Brooks

    My Brooks B17 saddle is now well broken-in and for the most part comfortable. Keeping it dry now that the rains have started isn’t easy, and I’m not sure tan-coloured shoe-polish is what Brooks would recommend me using, but it brings out a nice mahogany shine when I give her a polish. Non-cyclists and those who’ve never ridden a Brooks often think the solid leather is uncomfortable. The fact is unlike many synthetic-manufactured saddles the leather breathes, and once you’ve broken her in its a bit like giving up a pair of well-worn walking boots. I’m also of the opinion that a Brooks saddle adds a touch of class.

    Kickstand

    On my last tour I went through at least half a dozen kick-stands. They were those cheap Chinese -manufactured spring stands you see on many mass-produced bikes. This double legged-one is far stronger. The only occasional problem is that I possibly cut the metal a little short so that it has trouble holding itself on soft ground.

    Panniers

    My roll-top Ortlieb panniers show no signs of weakness and stay firmly fastened on to the racks. If I was to make a suggestion to Ortlieb it would be to sew in a mesh pocket to the rear of the front panniers. They seem to have successfully done this with the handlebar bag I have and managed to keep it waterproof. The pockets would come in handy for road-snacks, extra water bottles and stuffing things away.

    Water filter

    A short while ago I received an e-mail asking about the travel tap that appears on my equipment page. I decided to send it home. I found the bottle had to be squeezed very hard for the water to be filtered through, so it wasn’t like using a regular water bottle. In order for it to be effective it also has to be dried out after each use, which is just a hassle. I found it was sitting in one of my panniers for months. When I am concerned about the safety of the water to drink I have a number of sterilising tablets. I think the travel tap has it’s place in an emergency, but I’m not walking off into the wilderness and needing to collect my water from stagnant ditches and ponds.

    Camp gear

    My tent needs to pass through the rainy season before I give it a better review, but to be honest I don’t think any tent will keep you really dry in a prolonged African downpour with strong winds. I’m not talking about the tent leaking, more the fact that your belongings will become damp. I’ve pitched the tent over 100 times now. The poles remain strong, the full mesh inner is perfect in hot weather and the tent has no flaws in it other than a small hole that needs duck-taping on the flysheet. This was caused by it rubbing against the inside of a wall when I slept in an abandoned building in the western Sahara. Why MSR have chosen yellow for the flysheet and not a more sensible colour like green or blue I don’t know. The manufacturers probably weren’t thinking of people wanting to wild-camp and be discreet. Jon, who cycled with me in Senegal, was using a one-man hubba hubba. Exactly the same, but half the size. He was able to fit his gear within the vestibule, but it was a tight fit. Personally I would never tour with anything less than a two-man tent. Considering how much time I will stay in it, for an extra kg, I prefer to have the space.

    I’ve kept hold of my down-sleeping bag, although could possibly make do with the silk-liner that I’ve only used several times. The latter weighs 100g so I’m not fussed about this. Despite the heat and humidity there have been occasions when I require the warmth of the down, such as recently in the mountains of northern Guinea. Up in the High Atlas mountains in December I was camping at temperatures below freezing. Bringing a down with a temperature rating of 0C was a good choice.

    As for the Thermarest, it is the same one that was given to me by a Dutch woman in a hostel in Estafan, Iran, back in 2007. I think she felt sorry for me when she saw me having trouble repairing the one I set off with from Japan. This one has been punctured and successfully repaired twice, and despite the hassle of having to blow it up (why it is called self-inflatable I don’t know) it is often more comfortable to sleep on than a number of hotel beds I’ve found myself on.

    Equally important camping-wise is my inflatable pillow. Some people choose to bundle their clothes together into a bag, but I consider my 5-Euro Decathlon head-rest to be money well-spent.

    Another Decathlon product frequently used is the camping chair, kindly donated by Tim when he returned from Morocco. This draws much applause and occasionally envy from Africans who have no idea what it is until I sit on it. When not in use its home is strapped down on top of one of the rear panniers.

    Cooking-wise I continue to use the Primus Omnifuel that was with me for the remaining 6 months of my last tour. It’s currently running white-gas, another of Jon’s donations, which is clean and efficient, but any time soon I will be filling the fuel can with dirty African petrol. This will require the stove’s jet to be cleaned frequently. I’m using it less often at the moment as I find myself either eating cheap street food (invariably rice with manioc or some sauce) or sharing meals with people. I do carry filter coffee and when alone often boil up water in the morning for a cup. The filter coffee has its home in the tupperware box that also holds camera-film canisters of salt, pepper, mixed spices and at one time olive oil.

    The Coleman cooking pots I set off with have proved adequate size (2.0L and 1.5L) for boiling pasta in or mixing vegetables. In Morocco I picked up a small frying pan – perfect for fried eggs and omelets.

    Clothes

    Are there any other tourers who manage without a towel or a pair of underpants? Now that I no longer need to use my buff headwear as a neck-scarf, I find it makes a good towel. I don’t think Buff markets this as one of the dozen ways in which they can be used. As for underpants, when I’m cycling I alternate between wearing one of the two pairs of padded shorts I have, over the top of which I have my baggy blue altura’s – faded but still strong. Up top I’m wearing the cycle-jersey, as modelled in recent pictures. The Craghopper shirts (2 short sleeve, 1 long sleeve) and trousers that were kindly donated are still going strong and worn off the bike. As is the wonderful Tilley hat. I have no doubt I would still be wearing the first one if the machete-wielding savages hadn’t taken off with it. It’s on my head almost all day everyday. As the label inside the hat rightly states ‘THE FINEST IN ALL THE WORLD’. Even if it is only a hat, I love my Tilley. Perhaps there is a reader who will share my enthusiasm?

    Washing the clothes I do by hand. I don’t envisage seeing a machine for a long time. For this the Ortlieb 10L wash bowl has come in handy, although on many occasions I end up using a bowl or bucket when staying in a hotel.

    On my feet I still have the same Karrimor sandles I set off in. They have been repaired more than a dozen times and the soles are wearing very thin. I shall continue to wear, repair and cycle in these until it is no longer possible. They blend in rather well with the condition of most peoples’ footwear here. If I was ever to replace them with a decent pair it would only solicit many requests for me to give them away as a gift.

    I recently purchased a pair of flip-flops. Now these make for essential gear in Africa. You do not wish to take a bucket-shower (I have not had a shower with running water since leaving Senegal and don’t anticipate having one soon) in Africa without wearing flip-flops. They weigh next to nothing, happily strap onto the front rack and get worn at the end of the day.

    As for the cross-trainer/trekking shoes I used to wear in the mountains of Morocco, they reside at the bottom of one of my panniers along with a single pair of socks. They may not have had a huge amount of use in recent months, but if I ever do some serious trekking or my sandles totally fail on me it is worth keeping hold of them.

    All the real cold-weather clothes – fleece jacket, gloves, thermal underwear and hat I sent home. Now what does that leave? Waterproofs. Ironically I’m in two minds whether to keep them. Wearing them in the rain under such humidity would be like wearing a boiler suit. I would pour with sweat. I do envisage being so soaked to the skin and possibly cold that putting them on dry after seeking shelter may not be a bad thing.

    Electronics

    My Asus netbook continues to withstand bumps and heat and offers superb battery-life. I keep it in a neoprene sleeve, over which goes a plastic zip-lock and several layers of bubble-wrap. It slots into one of the pouches that Ortlieb have incorporated in the inside of their panniers.

    The Nikon D90 camera and Panasonic Lumix compact stay in my handlebar bag. I alternate between using both, but rarely like to display the two at the same time. The compact gorilla-pod tripod is a fraction of the weight and size of the Velkon model I set off with, although I do at times miss having the height from the legs. It has a home in the top of one of my front panniers and is easily reached.

    In a separate bag I keep an audio-recorder, small radio, separate camera lens and a number of chargers. Besides the latter, each of these hardly get any use. Tuning-in to BBC World Service is proving impossible for some reason. I do envisage being surrounded by new and evocative sounds, for which the audio device would be useful. I already am. The truth is my mind is usually thinking through the camera lens rather than through my ears. As for the camera lens, it’s a small 50mm fixed focal length. If I intend to use it, which as I write this I feel I will, it should find a home in my handlebar bag.

    Sitting un-used for much of the time in the inside sleeve of a front pannier is my Freeloader Solar charger. I did use it on occasion in the desert, but never found that if offered the full charge to both my mobile phone and Ipod that it promised. Perhaps it wasn’t receiving enough direct light. Rarely do I go so long without some electrical source (generators dominate in countries where there is no national grid) that the battery of my phone dies on me. At some point in the future I may need it, but I wouldn’t list it as an essential piece of kit.

    I think I’ve almost covered the entire contents of my bags, other than the maps, books and first-aid kit. I have the two main Michelin maps for North West Africa and Central/Southern Africa, plus country maps as far as Ghana. Several times over the past 10 months I’ve debated whether a GPS would be useful. On a few occasions it would have been, but to be honest I’m much more enthused to look at a map than a little screen, and unless I pre-programmed data into the GPS I don’t think I would get any detail, other than the location of rivers, the sea and possibly land borders? I already feel I’ve gone over-kill on the technology front as it is.

    As for books, I try to ensure I have several with me. I recently finished The Poisonwood Bible and am about to re-read Things Fall Apart. Two volumes of Somerset Maugham’s Short Stories (so good I’m also reading a second time) and Graham Greene’s Journey Without Maps await my attention. Oh, and I also have a French Dictionary, which should have received more use than it currently has.

    Fortunately for the moment my First Aid Kit only gets opened once a week. This is to swallow one of those foul tasting Larium tablets. I did intend to use Doxyclyclone as an anti-malarial, but taking them daily seems tedious so I’m keeping them as an anti-biotic. Besides, I believe Larium is stronger and supposedly provides more interesting dreams.

    The only thing I’m forgetting is my weapon. He resides in a small wooden box and frightens the life out of any African who attempts to release him. If I can record on film the reaction of an African when he/she sees a snake you will see what I mean. He was kindly given to me by my English hosts in The Gambia. I think they picked him up from one of those snake charmers in Marrakesh.

    Secret weapon 

    Ok, this post is far longer than I intended it to be, and re-reading it when I take stock of my surroundings here in Guinea seems somewhat self-indulgent. I’m attempting to travel light and simply, but many of the people I meet on the road have little more material wealth than the clothes on their back. Most of my belongings are entirely alien and unattainable to them. I’ve often wondered what the reaction of many people would be if they knew the value of my bicycle. Probably collapse in a fit of laughter and tell me I could have bought 4 motorbikes instead.  The difference is I can choose and they can’t. I was born in a different World, and frequently imagine as I pedal past all those other lives what it would be like to have grown up in this one. The fact that much of Africa is poorer now than it was 50 years ago seems absurd. I remember passing a sign in The Gambia that read ‘The development of a country depends on its leaders and own people’ and thinking how very true. Yes, the mosquito nets I ask people to donate money for help. The effect is tangible and its a worthwhile cause, like many charitable missions, but a short-term solution and drop in the ocean when pitched against the many other problems that make countries like Guinea one of the poorest in the World. The answer and solution has to come from within the countries themselves.

    It’s a relevant topic with the Presidential elections that have just taken place here, but I’m diverging from the original purpose of this post onto something far different.  This is a gear review. If you have a comment, about anything mentioned here, please post it, although I’m not sure when I’ll next have Internet.

  • 50 photos from Africa March 27th, 2010

    “Let’s face it an unarmed white man travelling alone across Africa what are the chances of making your trip WITHOUT being killed, raped or robbed? Pretty slim. I commend Gostelow however naïve he is.”

    Trust readers of your local newspaper to support you. The story of my machete attack was splashed across the front page of the Dorset Echo last Thursday. I’m glad to say other readers posted more positive comments than the one above. In actual fact the chances of being robbed of something in Africa, if you’re here long enough, are  probably quite good – killed, raped or attacked by a machete however is a different matter. I wonder if this commentator has ever stepped onto the continent or been following my travels to date? I doubt it.

    The final stitches come out later today.  In another week the splint supporting my wrist will be off too. I’m feeling more active, which at the same time means  more restless.

    There has been no word from the police regarding the theft of my camera and belongings, nor the capture of those machete-wielding savages. I had little hope from the beginning. That particular stretch of Dakar’s corniche, highlighted on  my map, will witness another attack I have no doubt. I hope the next victim is less resistant to giving up their belongings  than I was, or reads something like this before going.

    Earlier in the week I promised a selection of favourite photos from Africa. Here they are. Many thanks to those who’ve offered to contribute towards replacing the stolen camera. My trip feels incomplete without one.