Posts Tagged ‘Uganda’

The City of Seven Hills and Le Pays de Mille Collines

Next week I pass a milestone… its been one year on the road, one year riding my bike and one year away from my friends, my family and my home. My bike has scrappy ribbons of electrical tape holding together the handlebar grip, there are scratches on the frame and tie wraps sit where long lost pannier clips should be. She wears the marks and scrapes of that year on the road, so do I. The contours of my legs have changed, I’m thinner, there are two small scars on my left knee following keyhole surgery and my hairstyle is bordering on full blown mullet. I can recall the word for ‘thank you’ in a dozen languages. I have memories from three continents, twenty one countries and hundreds of busy highways, quiet country lanes and baron tracks. I know that being one year in means that I’m still less than a quarter of my way through the journey, it’s a scary thought and one I try not to indulge in. The big picture is always terrifying, unfathomable, infinitely difficult, impossible. I think only of the present or the next few places ahead, occasionally I allow my imagination to drift to Cape Town, but I never let it creep away beyond Africa. I don’t know how I’ll feel about this life in another year or in two or three. It’s impossible to know. Perhaps I’ll be tired of moving, tired of not knowing where I’ll sleep and tired of always being immersed in the unfamiliar. Perhaps it will still feel fresh and exciting. I’ll stick to thinking in small chunks.

We crossed into Uganda whilst the country was in the midst of elections. People warned us to be careful, there had been many claims of election rigging and boxes of pre-ticked ballot papers had been discovered. We were worried about protests or an an uprising and perhaps violence. The incumbent has been in power for almost 30 years, as the populace went to the polls he mobilised the army and riot police which we saw almost everywhere we went, perhaps not the actions expected of a leader of a true democratic nation. Jinja was our first stop, the origin of the white Nile and an area well known for white water rafting. I side stepped thoughts of my budget and we both spent a day contending with the grade five rapids.

After Jinja it was Kampala, ‘the city of seven hills’ and one of my favourites so far. Wondering her streets is hassle-free and safe and it’s one of the best party cities in Africa. She’s busy, vibrant, welcoming, lively, Ugandan. In Kampala Nyomi’s new skinhead style had been attracting some attention. A Ugandan girl asked after her name and then retorted

‘Nyomi? So you’re a boy with a girl’s name?’

Nyomi laughed it off but when a Kampala taxi driver leaned out of the window and bellowed ‘Hey look, it’s Wayne Rooney!’ she lost the plot a little and gave him two fingers, which was the appropriate response for the society loathing anarchist she now resembles.

Between parties we zoomed around Kampala on ‘boda bodas’ or motorbike taxis. It’s often three on a bike and there’s rarely a helmet, some journeys can be quite hairy. One took me on a back route through Kampala, he zoomed down alleyways in the dark, over old railway tracks, through the slums and backstreets where groups of children huddled around small fires and cooked goat’s meat and liver. The driver played a jaunty brand of Ugandan pop music loud from the bike’s speakers. A sign sat on the front of the bike and declared ‘born lucky’. I had heard that around five boda boda drivers die every day in Kampala. I couldn’t help imagining a macabre scenario… the aftermath of a horrific accident in which I lay trapped in the burning wreckage of the crash. The jaunty music was still playing from the stereo but at a lower pitch and the drivers bloody corpse lay motionless next to the ‘born lucky‘ sign.

We rode towards Fort Portal, the gateway to several of Uganda’s national parks. I loved riding west, in the morning the sun warmed our backs and in the evening we rode towards the setting sun but then again tropical rain eventually caught us up. We found ourselves in another sudden hail storm after hours of warm sunshine. I took my sandals off so I could get some waterproofs on, the ground was hot, almost too hot to stand on in bare feet, yet hail fell all around us. Soon a dense silvery mist started to rise off the quickly cooling tarmac and the road became a spooky ethereal serpent winding through the jungle.

After three days we sighted the majestic Rwenzori mountains in the distance. Their immense looming silhoutte, vast compared to the surrounding hills, had an almost menacing air. The illusion was that they were moving towards us and not the other way around. Finally we arrived in Fort Portal and it was here we got our first taste of African wildlife up close. We were on our way to visit a swamp and nature reserve and were walking the six kilometres down a quiet track through a forest to the main gate. I heard some rustling in the bushes up ahead. Then, from just ten metres away, a large female African elephant stepped out in front of us and paused. We were both suddenly still and silent, waiting for the mock charge which never came. She slowly trundled off into the bushes and then from behind her two baby elephants emerged from the undergrowth. I snatched for my camera. Snap.

There was a lot to do around Fort Portal, we swam in crater lakes, went in search of Columbus Monkeys and ran into a group of brits from an NGO called ‘Cricket without boundaries’ who coach cricket to kids in Uganda. We took half a day to join them and get involved, it was hours of fun and games with a big group of rowdy children and I loved it. That evening we heard music coming from the hills behind our hostel. Determined to find the party we took a bee line towards the source of the sound. After an hour of trudging through the dark, through banana plantations and people’s gardens, we stumbled onto a field full of young Uganadans twisting, grinding and gyrating to home grown hiphop emanating from a large outdoor sound system. It was a free rave put on following the elections and we joined them and danced all night long on that field.

Cricket Without Boundaries
We rode through the foothills of the Rwenzoris, up and down, up and down, up and down. Sweaty, breathless and always hungry but moved by the sensational landscape. We cycled into Queen Elizabeth National Park, there was nobody to stop us. It was an eerie experience, I knew that lions, hyenas, leopards, buffalos, hippos and elephants all lived here, we were riding through their back garden without protection. When we set up camp Ny had a face-off with a hungry warthog and during the night a hippo passed right next to my tent, I could hear it breathing and stomping as it grazed. The next day we decided to save the ten dollars it cost for a nature walk and go off on our own without the mandatory armed guard. Our DIY approach may not have been an altogether sensible escapade but it was free and exhilarating.
A hippo shambles into camp
Nyomi verses warthog
A Flame Tree
We rolled on through Uganda, past papyrus filled swamp, dense jungle with bright green algae filled pools of stagnant water, verdant savannah and then back into the undulating banana and tea plantations which cover great swathes of the country, the occasional flame tree lit up the surroundings. Excited children would quickly encircle us when we stopped to eat, gorping and giggling. We munched on jack fruit and in the evening ‘matoke’, cooked plantains. After 110 kilometres of hills I was riding down the last one of the day, along a rough clay track two kilometres from Lake Bunyonyi and our campsite. Nyomi was riding just ahead when I spotted a motorcyclist coming towards us. He swerved past Nyomi putting himself directly into my path. I gripped my brakes and skidded as he continued to speed towards me.

He sees me, he’ll turn or stop
He sees me, he’ll turn or stop
He must see…

It was a head on collision. I was almost stationary on impact, he had hardly applied the brakes. I remember being catapulted off my bike and landing a few metres away on the roadside. The motorbike careered off a near vertical forested verge and the driver was flung over the vehicle. I caught sight of the end of his trajectory, his body arced several metres through the air before smashing into a pine tree and landing a long way down the slope. The crash was followed by the sort of deep silence that always seems to follow sudden accidents. Stunned I tried to work out if I was injured. There was a bloody laceration to my left shin but it looked superficial. My right thigh was painful but I stood up and the leg took my weight. I could hear the driver moaning but his body remained still. A bunch of young Ugandan men appeared and helped to get the driver and bike back onto the road, a task of many hands and much effort. I examined the driver. Unusually he had been wearing a helmet. He was alert but in pain. There was a boggy swelling over his left knee but he could flex it and weight bare. The motorbike had sustained some damage, both wing mirrors and the speed dial were in pieces. Then came the accusations. The surrounding band of local men decided quickly I was to blame despite not one of them having witnessed the crash. Perhaps this was because the driver had come off worse than me, perhaps because I’m a ‘mzungu’, a white man, and they saw pound signs. Usually the young men who drive boda bodas borrow heavily to cover the cost of the bike and repay the debt over time with money from the fares. I doubted he could cover the cost the damage and he also needed money to get to hospital and for treatment. They never have insurance. In the UK paying money after an accident is to admit liability. In Uganda you just pay up, regardless of who’s to blame. If I had not I feared the group of men would quickly transform into an angry mob, so we debated a price and I paid. I don’t know why he didn’t stop, he had plenty of time to react to me, but obviously things could have been a lot worse for both of us. I was just lucky to get out of there with a few cuts and bruises and a dent in my budget.

After a couple of days we reached Rwanda, ‘the country of a thousand hills’. It was as lush and green as its neighbour and the steep hills here were terraced for farming giving the country an extraordinary look and feel. The children were just as startled to see us and as we rode towards the capital Kigali they ran alongside laughing and asking questions like ‘How is Queen Elizabeth?’ In Kigali we met up with some Irish mates to celebrate St Paddy’s day and set off once again into the wet. In April we will be traveling through Tanzania, a month in which 400mm of rain is expected to fall, eight times that of London.
In the twelve months I’ve been cycling I know I could have covered more ground and I know I could be closer to Cape Town. Riding through Rwanda and Uganda was a loop I didn’t have to do, but I have never wanted to take the shortest or the easiest path. Loops are prettier than straight lines. So far we’ve met three cyclists aiming to ride the length of Africa in four months, many others are striving to break the world record for cycling around the globe. By setting a time limit you beef up the challenge but sacrifice something more important – the adventure. You may see a lot, but you experience little. The times I have felt most alive have not been on busy highways but on those rough tracks on the very edge of civilization, in those wild places. The times I’ve most enjoyed have been when I’ve taken up offers of hospitality from local people, offers which would have to be declined by the speed freaks. It’s a shame that we seem to have entered an era of fast and furious expeditions and adventures. Leave speed to the athletes. Explorers and adventurers of the past and present are rarely blessed with special powers or skills, they are often simply able to make the sacrifices needed to live and experience things that others cannot or will not. Take the dusty track, not the highway, or as Ralph Waldo Emerson said ‘Do not follow where the path may lead. Go, instead, where there is no path and leave a trail.’ Here’s to more loops, detours, baron tracks and adventure. Here’s to four more years on my bicycle.

Finally something of the ridiculous… Only in Uganda…

The people of the grey bull

Celebrating 14,000 km, Western Kenya
They watched. A hundred eyes were trained on me as I entered a room packed full of Turkana women, each cradling a child in their arms. They were adorned in huge colourful necklaces and wore trademark Mohican style haircuts. In their gaze I saw mixed impressions. Wariness, curiosity, hope. This was one of Merlin’s outreach projects, the medical aid charity I’m raising funds for, and these sentient eyes belonged to the mothers and children directly affected by their work. Two nurses were weighing, measuring and vaccinating the infants and they dished out nutritional supplements along the way. So far this morning five children had been deemed to be suffering from severe malnutrition, some of these may also be suffering from the affects of co-existing disease such as HIV or tuberculosis. They would be transferred by Merlin to the Stabilisation Unit in the nearest hospital at Lodwar.

Everything about this remote Northwest province of Kenya appeared tough and unforgiving. Tough to live here, tough to survive here and tough to provide healthcare to the inhabitants, the bold and ambitious task taken on by Merlin amongst others. The region is roughly the size of Scotland, with a tenth of the population. The Turkana are nomadic pastoralists, put down a medical clinic and chances are they won’t be around for long to use it. Merlin understand that you usually have to go to them. The area is intensely hot and arid, no rain fell at all during the short wet season this year. The longer the current drought rages on, the further they travel in search of greener earth, sometimes crossing international boundaries. When water is available it goes to the goats first, without them there’s no milk and no food. The Turkana, like other tribes, often cut the necks of the goats, mix the blood with milk and drink it.

Merlin work to strengthen the capacity of remote clinics in Turkana and on day two I was able to visit one and learn something of the success stories. The last epidemic of measles was in 2002, others may well have been prevented by Merlin’s attention to mass vaccination programmes. Medicines, staff, training and equipment are all essential and there seemed to be even more Merlin could do here with more funds and resources. On my third day I visited the local hospital in Lodwar and met children suffering diseases and conditions rarely encountered in the Western hospitals I trained in, tropical disease just another in the long list of burdens facing the population. I met a severely stunted five year old with visceral leishmaniasis, or Kala Azar, a parasitic infection I’d only ever read about in medical textbooks. Another had a snake bite, it was the forth bite from a carpet viper they had seen so far this year. Cases of polio do come in, but I was told that by the time patients present the disease is usually very advanced and sufferers often die or are left with permanent paralysis. One bay was devoted to the severely malnourished babies. They were oedematous, quiet and meek in their mother’s arms.

I have often read Merlin’s aims and objectives, one in particular I had recited several times in interviews with the press…

‘Merlin help those communities in greatest need.’

Now I was looking right into the heart of this need, staring it down. The Turkana are tough and resilient people coping with poverty, disease, drought, malnutrition, occasional conflict and an unforgiving environment and they are a group vulnerable for all those reasons. These are people living on the brink and if no rain falls in the wet season this year they will fall, Merlin will do their best to catch them. Having seen Merlin’s efforts firsthand I left Lodwar in no doubt that their work here is essential to the health and wellbeing of the Turkana and that the money raised through my journey was going right to where they said it would, to a community in great, great need.

The Merlin staff were the first to offer me a stern warning of the security situation on my road ahead. I was planning to travel through a region in which the Turkana and Pukot tribes were fighting. I reasoned that as long as I wasn’t wearing my ‘I heart turkana’ t-shirt or singing traditional Pukot shanties I would be OK as fighting between the tribes rarely affects tourists, unless you’re unlucky enough to get caught in the crossfire. I worried more when I was told banditry was also common around these parts. I rode into Lokichar and a local man asked me which direction I was heading, to which I told him south. He immediately warned me not to continue by bike and told me that bandits plied this route, bandits who would take everything, including my bicycle. Then I came across a French couple in a Land Cruiser. They told me of another cyclist they had met recently who had taken a lift from this point for fear of armed thieves ahead. They urged me not to continue. As I rode out of Lokichar it was the policeman’s turn to offer me advice. He told me of how a lorry had been hijacked twenty kilometres from here on this very road by armed men. ‘Was this recently?’ I asked, ‘Yesterday’ came the reply. I explained to him that I did have concerns and that locals had told me the bandits would take everything, including my bike. ‘No no no’ he said. ‘They won’t take your bike. But they will take your money. And that IPOD. And your clothes. And probably some food and water. Do you have a camera?’
‘I do’
And that too’.

I left town and began my journey across the boundary between Turkana and Pukot territory. I wondered if I was also crossing another boundary, the hazy line that lies between the adventurous and the foolhardy. Then came warning number six, a truck stopped and the driver leaned out of the window, his face said what the hell do you think you’re doing?
‘You’ll be killed’ he said finally ‘bandits are everywhere’.

I’ve grown numb to warnings of ‘bad people’, if I’d heeded every one I wouldn’t have made it past Greater London. But this was different. There comes a point when you can’t stop ignoring people telling you that you are about to get robbed and murdered. I pushed my bike onto that heavy truck with an even heavier heart. I planned to take the lift for just one hundred kilometres, a distance I could comfortably cover in one day, but I couldn’t shake the overwhelming feeling of defeat. But then at least I’m not dead, as almost everyone has told me since. When we pulled away I very quickly realised I had jumped into the wrong vehicle. The driver was an unhinged nutter. The journey along the pothole-laden, ungraded road with a speed freak behind the wheel was an hour and a half of my life I’d rather forget. I tried to hold my bike upright whilst protecting myself from smashing into the metal roll cage which was the only feature of the interior of the truck. Seatbelts were as absent as my drivers ambition to use the brakes. I constantly smashed my head and shoulders into the metal and sprained everything sprainable in my neck. If five Pukot bandits had given me a solid pasting I doubted they would have done a better job than I was getting in the back of this truck. We overtook many vehicles, none came past us. Another passenger pointed out the popular ambush points along the road and mentioned that there were more tribal warriors around today than usual, I felt slightly better about my decision but one thought resonated through my bruised and bouncing cranium…

If I die here, in this truck, I’m going to look like a right idiot

I imagined people chatting at my funeral ‘I know, I know, it’s very sad. And to think, he wasn’t really cycling around the world at all’.

I was dropped off at a campsite which smelt of mushrooms and which had a large group of endemic monkeys scampering around the tents. Every so often they would get into a loud and vicious fight. Back on my bike I started out riding through undulating hills, through tea planatations and in and out of luscious green valleys. When I arrived into one town a young Kenyan lad ran out in front of me and started cleaning my bike with an old rag. When he was done he yelled ‘Go go go!’ and patted me on the back. I cycled off feeling a little like a Formula One racing driver at a pit stop.

I carry my life around on my bicycle and there’s little room for luxuries. I have begun to get attached to the few possessions I own. I recently christened one of my inner tubes ‘Old Patchy’ after the 25 odd repair jobs he’s been through. On my way to Nairobi came the sudden and unsettling realisation that I may have befriended an inner tube. For anyone worried about my mental state I must stress that I’ve never had a (full) conversation with Old Patchy and I didn’t shed a tear when he eventually headed for the dustbin.

I continued south through the Kenyan countryside and picked up a curious smell. A nice smell. A great smell. Not just one, a host of different scents mixed together, but the combination familiar and now unmistakable. It was the smell of home. They say your sense of smell is the strongest link to your past, Kenya filled me with nostalgia and I realised suddenly that this was now the longest I have ever been away from home. The smell was from my childhood, of plants and flowers with names I’ve never known. Rain fell for almost the first time since I left Europe behind me six months ago and the countryside began to smell even more like the England I remember. It was still raining as I crossed the equator, a line I expect to ride through another five times before I get back to England. The rain was cool, refreshing, copious and welcome. You never miss the rain until it’s gone. There were numerous other small similarities to home, many probably relics of Kenya’s colonial past. Money is colloquially referred to as ‘bob’, people (are supposed to) drive on the left, electrical sockets have three pins, even the traffic police uniforms look strikingly similar to ours and tea always, always comes with milk. Judging by the boozy aroma emanating from virtually every Kenyan male that approached us, Kenya also has an alcohol problem to rival that of the UK.

There is a lot to like about Kenya. Most of all I like that every Kenyan is the proud owner of a preternaturally wide smile and that every Kenyan holds an obligation to show it off whenever they greet anyone. The children laugh and giggle when they see me approach, a very different reaction to that of those little sadistic anarchists in Ethiopia. I finally arrived into Nairobi at the start of February, slightly ruffled by numerous close skirmishes with Kenyan drivers, the worst I’ve seen in Africa (but not the world, sorry Syria, nobody’s stealing your crown). The first thing I noticed was the obvious wealth on display in the capital. Turkana was a world away, the gulf immense. In a country still plagued by corruption it made me angry to see how money never seems to filter down to those most in need. Kenya’s also a country more outwardly religious than most. Gospel music drifts through Nairobi’s streets and avenues, it’s slums are full of churches and signs on public transport command ‘No Preaching’. When I visited an HIV clinic in the west of the country the nurses all sat down to pray for the patients before they started work and every so often a beaming young Kenyan would put their arm around my shoulder and utter that brave opening gambit ‘Do you believe in Jesus?’

In Nairobi I was reunited with Nyomi after a month apart, a month during which she had hiked 5000 metres up Mount Kenya with her boyfriend, we swapped tales of our separate adventures. I looked at her bike and noticed that a catapult now sat tethered to the handlebars. I pointed at it and raised my palms skyward in question. ‘For the monkeys!’ she declared with bright eyes and a winsome grin. I won’t deny we needed the break from each other, but it felt good to be cycling together again. Earlier on in our African adventure Nyomi’s dreadlocks and the sign which sat on the front of her handlebar bag emblazoned with the words ‘I DON’T BRAKE FOR ANYONE’ had given her a bizarre and unique appearance. Her look often made me chuckle, I loved the sharp contrast between ‘friendly hippy’ and ‘violent sociopath’. When we met up again Nyomi had decided that enough was enough and those dreads had to go. She shaved her head – grade 1 – raging sociopath. At least drivers will think twice about cutting us up in future. I’m trying hard to encourage her to invest in some fake gold teeth and a studded leather neck collar.

In Nairobi I visited the Merlin team based there and stayed with John, an expat and another seasoned cycle tourer. After the well needed break Nyomi and I set off, travelling west towards Uganda. My journal entry from Thursday Febuary 17th reads simply ‘washout’. Some days just are, nothing you can do, nothing you can prepare for and no level of positive thinking will change that.

6.15 am – Wake up in my tent. We had camped with the police in the outskirts of a small town. I tell Nyomi I’m excited about the day ahead, my first day riding through Masai country. I’m optimistic we’ll cover a good 140 km before sunset.

7 am – Tent down, bike packed, mango consumed, police thanked.

7.01 am – Attempt to pump up back tyre. Pump breaks and air escapes from tyre.

8 am – Multiple attempts to fix pump using gaffa tape, o-rings and my leatherman eventually fail

8.01 am – Punch air, throw pump around petulantly, curse everything

8.10 am – Wander into town. Can’t find any bike pumps for sale but manage to get tyre re-inflated

9.15 am – Set off

9.25 am – Puncture

9.30 am – I repair it, cycle a ten kilometres on Nyomi’s bike into town and back to get tyre re-inflated

9.50 am – Return with tyre

9.51 am – Realise I have another slow puncture. I repair another tube and this time Ny cycles back into town with the wheel to get tyre re-inflated

10.15 am – Ny returns with inflated tyre

10.20 am – Realise Ny now has a puncture

10.30 am – Fix Ny’s puncture and inflate tyre with our other pump (the one that only works with the valves on Ny’s bike)

10.45 am – Nyomi’s pump breaks. Tyre not fully inflated but we cycle off anyway

11.15 am – Nyomi gets a puncture. We fix it and re-inflate the tyre by screwing together parts of the two broken pumps

12 pm – We lose a bolt in the sand and spend half an hour searching for it

12.30 – We sit down for lunch. Ny sits on an ant’s nest, I sit on a thorn bush.

13.30 – We set off again

15.30 – Thunder, lightning and heavy downpour. We get a soaking.

16.00 – We agree to officially class the day as a washout and a right-off. We’ve covered 26 km all day.

16.30 – We find a cheap hostel and decide to focus on tomorrow. As I lift up my bicycle to get it over the step the back wheel falls off. I’d forgotten to tighten it back on again after I fixed my last puncture. Crowd of onlookers laugh. So do I.

In the tropics when the rain settles and the sun shines once more, the land becomes caked in a damp, glistening, refulgent glow. There’s the foliant blaze of wet vegetation, the splendent gold of the yellow fever trees and the tiny brilliant scarlet dots of Masai people working in the fields. We pushed west with the infamous Masai Mara game reserve lying to our left and stretching out to the horizon and together we sang.

‘I see clearly now the rain has gone. I can see all obstacles in my way. Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind. It’s gonna be a (ny) bright, (me) bright, (together) bright sun-shining day!’

It was two days out from Nairobi when I noticed a portentous concrescence of dark grey clouds, almost black, overhead. There was a sudden disquieting groan, as if the sky above were being tortured. Each clap of thunder soon became indistinguishable from the last, a constant rumble echoed through the dimming light and quickening breeze. Within seconds the sky opened its dark underbelly and hail fired down upon us. We scrambled for raincoats and with no shelter nearby we hunched double over our bikes and covered our ears as the large hailstones smashed into our heads and backs, stinging as they made impact. After ten minutes the hail had turned to rain and we began to pedal onwards. It rained for the last days we spent in Nairobi and for almost every day since. Not the steady drizzle of Blighty but tropical rain, rain preceded by warm sunshine and then abrupt and torrential. It usually persists until sunset which is a sudden eclipse unlike the sunset of northern latitudes. I know the familiar pattern will only get more familiar, this is just the start of the big wet season which reaches its peak for us in April when we ride through Rwandan rainforest and then Tanzanian savannah.

After three days on the road (discounting the ‘washout’) we reached Kisii and met up with Merlin once again with a plan to visit projects in the area. Kisii was the polar opposite of Turkana – densely populated, wet and green with abundant food and water. The main problems being tackled here were HIV, tuberculosis and malaria. We visited a HIV clinic, the pure numbers involved incomprehensible. The hospital was heaving and it was easy to see how and why HIV infection in Africa is so often referred to as an epidemic. This one centre had an HIV positive population of 10,000 under it’s care. Some experiences with patients as a health care worker will always stay with you, indelible recollections of the good and the bad. For me the first and only time I have had to give a patient a positive diagnosis of HIV infection is one. In an instant I gained insight into the deep psychosocial trauma of HIV. Here in Kenya nurses counselled small groups of patients about to start on treatment and I didn’t envy their task but I could see how vital education, advice and support would be, and the groups also functioned to show people that they weren’t alone, that other people were suffering too, or in Kenya’s case, lots and lots of other people.

On the road west we passed villages just five or ten kilometres from the place of Barrick Obama’s grandmother’s home. The young men here described Obama as ‘our brother’, the pride was palpable. For a small fee you could visit Obama’s grandmother, she is now a popular tourist attraction. I waved goodbye to the last of the smiling Kenyans and crossed the border into Uganda.

Most people if they were pushed to describe my journey with a single adjective would probably choose ‘absurd’. I agree. And during my absurd adventure I know that at times I will closely scrutinise my own motivation. I wonder what I’m looking for, what I’m trying to achieve and ask myself why, again and again and again. Watching Merlin at work has been a huge boost for me and I feel privileged to have had the chance to see what most fundraisers don’t get the chance to – to look into the faces of the people whose lives have been changed, in big or small ways, by the donors at home who have sponsored my journey. It was worth seeing, if only because it makes me feel that describing my ride as ‘absurd’ doesn’t quite cover it. It gives some meaning to what can sometimes feel meaningless. In the tough times ahead I will try to remember that. In Turkana and Kisii I witnessed firsthand the need, the progess and the potential. I urge anyone moved to make a donation to Merlin to do so here. I hope I have shown that every penny is needed and that every penny will be spent wisely to help communities like the Turkana, ‘the people of the grey bull’, people who have the odds stacked squarely against them. Thanks for your support…

Me and the Merlin team celebrating my 13,000 km milestone in Lodwar, Turkana.
In Nairobi I also found the time to add tags to all my images on Flickr, an online photo sharing service. To see a list of my tags click here, to see photos arranged in sets by country click here and to see a chronological slideshow of some of the best images from my ride so far click here.