Woke up on the bus, which had come to a halt sometime earlier in downtown Nairobbery. It was 5am as I staggered into a taxi and asked the driver to take me to The Comfort Hotel. There I would meet Matt, who would be my cameraman for the last 10 days of The Odyssey 2009. Brilliantly enough, my contract is up at the end of the year so it’s going to be YOUTUBE TASTIC from then on, the only person with a say on what goes up will be big fat me. Woo!
More good news from the road: The Odyssey TV show (and yes, for us Brits, it will be called The Odyssey) is going to broadcast on the BBC next year. No obscure cable channels for this little Odysseus. Matt tells me that the Director General of the beeb has actually seen a chunk of one episode (the Cape Verde shenanigans) and it got the thumbs up. Infamy, here’s I come. BTW, my contract runs out at midnight December 31st, so past that date, ALL YOUR BASE ARE BELONG TO ME! Be prepared for more YouTubey goodness than you can handle BABY…YEAH! Incidentally, if any broadcasters want to commission my 2010 adventures (Odyssey Two), please get in touch.
Matt has a habit of waking me up at some ungodly hour when he calls me from Oz (I don’t think he’s got the hang of time zones yet) so I thoughtfully repaid the favour by turning up at his hotel at such an unreasonable hour. He didn’t seem to mind too much, he was much more excited about the fire that happened last night. The building next door went up in flames – Matt was on the 6th Floor of the Comfort, given T.I.A. he was lucky to get out alive. A guy from Belgium apparently slept through the whole shebang. Luckily, Fireman Sam put out the flames before they engulfed the hotel and it was reopened a few hours later.
After brekkie (I had CEREAL!) it was ACTION STATIONS! I needed to get TWO African visa in just ONE MORNING to stay on schedule for Egypt in 10 days time. Could it be done?
We split up (like on Scooby Doo) – I headed to the Ethiopian Embassy, Matt to the Djibouti Embassy. At the Ethiopian Embassy I met up with Aengus Stanley, top chap from Ireland (who incidently DROVE here from Ireland, the nutter) who had contacted me through the website and had offered his assistance clambering over the obstacles Nairobi would no doubt throw up in our path. I was first into the place, got my form filled in within seconds and handed it over. But this being Africa, you can’t just pay your $20 over the counter, you have to pay it into a nearby bank, get a receipt and bring it back. Actually I had to do something very similar when I arrived in Mexico with Captain Johnny after visiting Cuba.
Aengus heroically drove me over to the bank, I got the receipt, then we rushed across town (as fast as you can rush in Nairobi) and met with Matt at the Djibouti Embassy. Djibouti’s claim to fame is possibly that it is the most obscure country in the world, but in this mad mission, it is utterly key to my nefarious plans. I filled out the form, flashed my passport, said I’ll be back. Matt booked a hotel for next Saturday and printed out my letters of accreditation from LP and WaterAid while Aengus and I high-tailed it back to the Ethiopian Embassy.
They kept us waiting, but only for an hour (which given T.I.A. Is lightning fast) and – oh yeah -that was one visa in the bag. Then Aengus took me back to the Djibouti Embassy, we said our goodbyes and I headed up the second floor of International House behind the Hilton Hotel to drop in my passport for Djibouti.
Come back in an hour said the girl on the front desk.
I could have kissed her.
Matt and I grabbed a coffee and had a smashing row about mmmmm mmmmmm and the mmm mmm mmmmmmms before heading back to grab our visas. We were DONE and it wasn’t even 1pm. Oh yeah.
The bus for the border was apparently leaving at 4pm. I’ve been here for seven months now so there was no way I was going to hurry for this one and I guess Matt learned his first lesson about Africa – trust no-one. Especially bus or taxi touts. We didn’t actually leave until 7.30pm. This annoyed somewhat, not because of the added journey time (according to Aengus, the roads in Ethiopia are much better than they say in Lonely Planet, so we should save time there) but because if we had known the bus wouldn’t leave until that time, we could have gone to Carnivore, the famous stuff-your-face-with-more-meat-than-Linda-Lovelace restaurant that everybody raves about. It was the only thing I really wanted to do in Kenya, but ho-hum.
The place where the ‘bus’ (it was minibus) left from was as grotty as hell. The road was stacked high with trash, the buildings were concrete hovels held together with bubble gum and dirty shoeless street urchins begged for coins. I’m beginning to think Rwanda was just some fanciful dream. But it wasn’t. All Rwanda shows that it is possible for Africa, all of Africa, to dig itself out of the mess it’s currently in. It just needs good leaders, good governance and the political will. Why isn’t there a UN Charter of Good Governance?
Stepping off my soap box for a moment, it was dark when we left and after fluking my way through two of the unholy trinity of ‘worst cities in Africa’ (Lagos and Johannesburg) I wasn’t relishing the thought of being done over just because the bus was so late leaving. But not to worry, we made it out of Nairobbery in one piece with all our swag intact.
Sleeping on a minibus is tricky at the best of times (although I’ve had a lot of practice this year) but my word this one was a nightmare – the road was dreadful, utterly dreadful, and the driver had a nasty habit of slamming on the brakes at any given opportunity. This, don’t forget, is the main highway from the capital city up to Ethiopia and it’s made from rocks, dust and decades of human misery. Madness. Sheer madness. Aegnus told me that he got all the way from Ireland to the Kenyan border without a hitch and then from the border down to Nairobi he suffered three separate punctures.
Will we get up to the border without a hitch? I doubt it, but at least today I had a undoubtedly very successful day’s Odysseying.
Groan. T.I.A. strikes again! The bus we’re on is equipped to ferry disabled schoolchildren around in Japan. It is not in any way shape or form designed to survive the horror that is an African highway. With a ground clearance of (let’s say) two inches, we bumped, scraped and scratched our way along the road at a respectable five kilometres an hour, dripping oil, water and brake fluid, busting our exhaust, losing fair chunks of metal as we plodded along.
We were supposed to get to the border at around 7pm that night. But by 9am we were still at least 24 hours away and going nowhere fast. After losing a couple of hours while the oil leak was plugged (with bubblegum no doubt) we were told that it would take us two hours to get to the next town. It took eight.
You see there is something you have to understand about quite a few Africans I’ve met on the road; they won’t necessarily tell you the truth, instead they will tell you what they think you want to hear. The trip was torturous. Crammed into the special bus, we picked our way along the road so slowly we might as well have been going backwards.
Usually in The Odyssey, this would be a pain in the ass. When you factor in my burning desire to get to Egypt for New Year to see Mandy again, this was nothing short of a disaster. When we finally reached the next town (it would have been quicker to walk) I dragged Matt out of that bloody minibus and we legged it to the main road.
The minibus would be leaving at 9am, the next day. At the rate we were going we would possibly reach the border in two weeks’ time. This was a rather unacceptable situation but luckily as I got to the main road there was a big truck loaded with cargo with a bunch of people sitting on top of it – if there’s people on board, then it’s public transport as far as I’m concerned. We paid $20 each and clambered onboard.
This bit of the journey was great. High up on top of this truck with the sun setting to the west and the wide expanse of Kenya all around, the wind in my hair and a goofy grin on my face. This is travelling!! The top of the truck was remarkably comfortable (and spacious!) and once the stars came out I had an unparalleled view of the celestial sphere. Wonderful.
The only thing that wasn’t wonderful was the fact that we didn’t make it to the border. At 10pm we stopped at a village a good three hours away from Ethiopia. We grabbed a room in the local guesthouse (grotty as hell, but only $2 – HEAR THAT COMOROS?) and settled down for the night – our journey would resume at 6am the next day.
Bah! Not an unmitigated disaster, but this is really going to make the next few days even more tricky than they already would have been.
Any time frame you are given in Africa, remember to add a few hours, or even days. Matt and I got up at 6am, just in time to jump back on yesterday’s truck and crack on towards Ethiopia. The Pixies blasting in my ears and the sun rising to our left it was possibly the best trip I’ve had in Africa so far. However, our man predicting that we’d be at the border at 9am was ludicrously over-optimistic and we arrived sometime after 11am.
So over the border and into Nation 129: Ethiopia. A nation that has had its fair share of publicity, but for all the wrong reasons. The only African nation not to suffer the horrors of colonisation, one could argue that Ethiopia proves that Africa would be just as stuffed up as it is now whether the damn whities had bothered invading or not.
Before I go on, it’s possibly important that you know the difference between the era of slavery and the era of colonisation. They are two very different stories with a gulf of some eighty years separating them.
Because history is so badly taught in schools (no linear progression – we just jumped from the Egyptians to World War I to the Romans to World War II to the Vikings to Henry VIII to the Normans with gay abandon) it’s easy to think that the dastardly Europeans rucked up in their ships some time in the past, enslaved the population of an African country and set about selling them off like cattle to toothless banjo-players in Alabama.
What really happened was a little more complicated than that.
Before the invention of Gin & Tonic, there was little reason for Europeans to stay in the tropics. With Malaria rife and Europeans having no naturally selected resistance to it, any trip to a mosquito coast would be a one-way ticket to go join the choir invisible. But after the discovery of quinine, the stage was set for the exploitation of the world – Asia, America and, eventually, Africa.
For the first couple of centuries of European interference in Africa, there was no colonisation. There was just trade. Ships would turn up loaded with iPhones and Nintendo Wiis and trade them with the local chiefs for slaves and novelty beer hats, then bugger off to the Americas (at this point it would be remiss of me not to point out that a greater number of slaves were taken to The Caribbean to work under British slave-masters, so you can put your toothless banjo-player away) to sell these poor guys for a handsome profit.
Okay, the first foray into the realms of colonisation in Africa was in 1652 with the crazy Boars rucking up in South Africa, but let’s ignore that for a moment and, yes, one could argue that Sierra Leone was colonised when William Wilberforce and his mates bought a bit of land in present-day Freetown to stick the freed slaves that fought for the British against the Americans in the US War of Independence. After The British finally came to their senses in 1807 and abolished slavery, (unlike the French, Spanish, Portuguese, Germans, Arabs, Yanks and Africans who continued to practise it with gay abandon (some African countries [cough- Mauritania] still do)) Sierra Leone was used to drop off slaves from ships that had been intercepted by the British Navy en route to the Americas.
The Cape of Good Hope may have been annexed by the Brits in 1806, but it would be another seventy-nine years before what has been called ‘The Scramble For Africa’. Precipitated by journalist Henry Morton Stanley (as in Dr. Livingstone, I Presume) and his travels around central Africa under the sponsorship of the evil King Leopold of Belgium, The Scramble For Africa was undoubtedly the crime caper of the century and one which would have put Ocean’s Nineteen and a Half to shame.
In 1885 the European powers met in a brothel in Berlin, baked a cake in the shape of Africa and sliced it into almost 50 bite-sized chunks for themselves before coffee and cocaine snorted off a naked prostitute’s bottom. Things were much more civilised then, you see.
Much of North and West Africa was gobbled up by the French, Central Africa largely went to the Belgians and East and Southern Africa was largely annexed by the Brits. Germany got a few bits and bobs including Togoland and Tanganyika, Portugal got Angola and Mozambique while the Spanish, having conquered almost all of The Americas were (seemingly) happy with just nicking Equatorial Guinea and Western Sahara.
The greatest heist in the history of the World? I have no doubt about it.
But there is something else going on here – each country’s experience of colonisation was markably different. In the same way that it’s easy to count Africa as one country (as I hope you have seen over the last seven months, it’s not!), it’s easy to see the history of Africa as one big shared history in which all the colonial powers were proper rotten to the territories they invaded – however, that’s not entirely the case. Some were more rotten than others. It would be fair to say that the Belgians probably have the most to apologise for – their conduct in The Congo is up there with The Holocaust as the greatest crime against humanity in the history of the world, but the Brits weren’t blameless, killing 26,000 white Afrikaner woman and children in the world’s first concentration camps in the 1899-1902 Boer War.
Even so, each country in Africa experienced a different form of colonialism to its neighbours, yet all (with the exception of Botwana) collapsed into chaos once the colonial powers pulled out. In countries like Angola, were the Portuguese pulled out overnight leaving just three university graduates in the entire nation, it’s not hard to figure out why the Angolans spent the proceeding thirty years was spent gleefully massacring each other. In countries like Rwanda, in which a successful ‘divide and rule’ policy had been adopted by the Belgians you could almost draw a straight line to the genocide that came close to destroying that nation back in 1994.
But then what’s the story with Sierra Leone? What’s the story with Liberia? Both were set up to be free states in which their citizens could live in harmony. There was no abrupt and inept pull-out, no divide-and-rule tactics to set one ethic group up against another (well, maybe a little in Liberia), there was no rhyme nor reason for the horrific events that took place in the late 90s, just the same old story of greed and corruption that plagues this continent like a reaper of utmost grim.
But my biggest question is what the hell is the story with Ethiopia? Spared from the full horror of slavery (unlike West Africa) by its position near the East coast and spared the tyranny of colonialism, it’s post-colonial history (not that it was colonised) is one of war, war, war a bit more war and a few famines thrown in for good measure. WTF Ethiopia? You should be the glittering jewel of East Africa, the proof that Africa’s modern-day problems are all the fault of colonial greed and reckless European abandon.
Sorry guys, but I’m going to put my cards on the table right now. It’s time to stop the blame-the-past game. In less than twenty years, countries like Poland, Romania and Bulgaria have shrugged off the repressive fifty-year colonialism of the Soviet Union and are now productive kick-ass members of the European Union. India, Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore… all ex-colonies whose economies are booming while nearly all African economies are operating at the level of a barely audible whimper. Ever driven an African car? Used an African mobile phone? Played an African video game? Worn some clothing ‘Made In xxx, Africa’? Nah.
There is just one group of people that are responsible for the frankly laughable state of modern Africa and that’s the African politicians who are happy to run this great continent into the ground while they feather their own nests of golden straw and Fabergé Eggs. Yes, shit things happened in the past, but that is no reason for shit things to happen today. History is there to stop us repeating our ancestor’s mistakes, not as an excuse for making more of them. Africa today is on the verge of a precipice, and when brave men and women stand up to fight the powers that be, it’s about time we in the West gave them the support they deserve.
Africa is indeed a stain on the conscience of the world, not for what was done in the past, but because of our failure to do what needs to be done today. Band-Aid was actually a very good name, for charity only puts a sticking plaster over the problems of modern Africa. It is only by decisive – and smart – action on behalf of the UN and other inter-governmental bodies that the cancer that is deep-routed in almost all African governments can be cut out and the people here can, for the first time in history, be free. The shame we feel in the West about our colonial past should not hold us back. If we continue to fail, the genocide in Rwanda in 1994 will look like small fry compared to the horrors that our grandchildren will be intrigued and sickened to know why we didn’t anything to prevent.
Anyway, back to The Odyssey…
Matt and I crossed the border into Ethiopia around midday, and there we tried to get the first bus to Addis Ababa, the ship I need to be on is leaving on Saturday, so it was fairly important. Unfortunately, all the buses for Addis leave at 6am (bit silly as the border is not even open then, but hey-ho) and the only bus that was of any use at all was one that was heading as far as Yabello, a town just a hundred kilometres north.
Hoping against hope that there would be an overnighter to Addis from Yabello, we clambered aboard this local bus which was fairly yuck and we had the misfortune to be sitting on the back seats so we found ourselves more crammed in than is usual. It took a good five hours to get to Yabello, but at least the road was now sealed (well done Ethiopia, one less mark for Kenya, methinks). We seem to have found ourselves back in the realm of ubiquitous checkpoints, but we only had a few minor problems with the police, and we managed to get all the way to our destination without paying a bribe.
Arriving in Yabello around sunset, we found that there was no bus until tomorrow. I think Matt was just happy to see a fairly nice hotel (three days of The Odyssey will do that to a mortal man), but ha ha it was full and so we wound up hiring a tent (for more than the cost of a room, I might add) and camping for the night on the strangely verdant grounds of the hotel. (Verdant because it was watered pretty much continuously which was a bit odd considering THERE’S A DROUGHT ON, but hey-ho the grass seemed happy enough.)
That night we met a couple of fellow backpackers, Silvia from Swizerland and Asier from Spain. They had been touring around Africa for 16 months now (blimey!), and their favourite place was Madagascar (told you it was good!). They’d be joining us on the bus tomorrow up to Addis so we shared a couple of beers and arranged to meet for the bus at 6am.
Sat 24 Nov 12:
Today I headed north from Dar es Salaam to Nairobi, the capital of Kenya, across the plains of the Serengeti, and yes Mount Kilimanjaro did rise like an empress. Crikey it’s big. Maasai tribes people in their traditional garb trotting along the side of the road, spear in one hand, mobile phone in the order. Welcome to 21st century Africa. I had nothing left to read on this trip, so instead I looked out of the window into my distant past.
In a way this is not just a return for me to this particular dusty corner of Planet Earth, this is a return to where it all began.
The beginning not of my odyssey, but of humanity’s odyssey. Eons ago, a relative of the Australopithecines stood tall on their hind legs, picked up a bone and began a journey. A journey that has taken over 3,000,000 years but now concerns and dominates the fate of every living thing on the planet. And it all started right here. We are all Africans. We know this because science. These plains are where Mitochondrial Eve once walked, possibly talked, hunted for food, definitely got laid. She was your great x 3,500 grandmother. The evidence for this is written into every single cell in your body. And your body is made up of approximately 50 trillion cells. Over the 7 billion humans who inhabit this rock, that’s a metric f—ton of evidence.
You see science doesn’t give two hoots about your ego. It couldn’t care less that we live in a vast godless universe in which terrible things occasionally happen and that there are a million more ways of being dead than being alive. Science cares not what you think, it only cares about what can be proven. Consistently. Repeatedly. Systematically. PROVEN. And how telling is it that the first casualty of war, of totalitarianism, of religion, of corruption, of fundamentalism, of dogma, of politics… is the truth. Conversely lies, propaganda and nonsense are the first casualties of science.
On the poster for The Shawshank Redemption they say that hope will set you free. But, come on, did you actually watch that movie?? Andy didn’t sit there for 20 years praying to some imaginary friend in the sky for deliverance. He dug a goddamn tunnel. But what would, what should, have set him free – in a fair world – is the truth. What brought down Nixon? What felled the Berlin Wall? What gave the families of the Hillsborough victims the vindication they had been pursuing for over twenty years? The Truth.
And the truth is this: racism is not just intolerable, not just embarrassing, not just pig-ignorant, not just a pathetic hankering for a panacea for one’s own shortcomings – it is utterly and completely scientifically incongruous. This is science, the guy who doesn’t care about upsetting people, the guy who tells you the cancer is terminal and yes you’re going to die. If there was any scientific merit in the way the horrible little rat-faced morons in the KKK see the world, science would shrug and say, “yes, I’m sorry but it’s true, some people are just born inferior.” But it doesn’t. Not because science needs to be politically correct (clue: it doesn’t), but because it simply isn’t true. While nations, culture, education and beliefs can play a huge role in the making of an individual, whether you’re a total dick or not is pretty much set at birth.
Yep, WE ARE *ALL* AFRICANS. Stick that in your pipe and smoke it, Oswald Mosley.
Tomorrow I’ll arrive in Kampala, the capital of Uganda.
Up at 7am and down to DHL for 8.30pm. Passport – avec Ethiopian visa – in hand (praise be to Lindsey!), I bought a ticket for the bus to Nairobi, leaving at 11am. Well, kind of. After finding out what time the bus left I shopped around the bus station for a better deal, timewise – this bus would get into Nairobi at 11pm. I thought it better to get an overnighter. However, I had been told that the buses north from Nairobi to the Ethiopian border left at 6am, and all the other buses I could find left at 7pm this evening, arriving Nairobi 7am tomorrow: my schedule would be all skew-if. Last time was in Nairobi, since I spent the morning getting my Ethiopian AND Djibouti visas (something that would be double impossible now), I was told that the big bus had gone and I would have to take a mini-bus. A minibus covered in Hello Kitty stickers designed to take Japanese kids to school. SURPRISINGLY, it broke down about 17 times on, you know, the roughest highway in the whole of East Africa, costing me at least a day of travel. Won’t be making *that* mistake again.
So I went back to the Spider Bus (the one that left at 11) and asked for a ticket. The woman smiled and told me they were now sold out. I had only been gone 10 minutes!!
A helpful bus guy told me not to worry, they could sort out a ticket for me, but I’d have to sit on a low stool in the aisle. As it wasn’t an overnighter, I figured in for a penny in for a pound and took him up on the offer. I then went on a quick dash around the city, picking up supplies for the last leg: video tapes, wetwipes, handgel, shampoo, deodorant (how hard is it to get spray-on deodorant in hot countries?!), talc and plasters. Kampala is an epic busy city. When I was here last Sunday I was lulled into a false sense of security, I should have noticed it was Sunday in this, a deeply Christian country. (So Christian in fact that they want to introduce the death penalty for homosexuality. Oh I can see Jesus, being a unkempt, unmarried, unemployed 33 year-old who hung out with sailors and prostitutes (sound familiar?), being SO GLAD at this prospect – him being the least chromatically adept member of the pantheon of White-Man’s Gods… *chuckle*)
Anyway, chores completed, I raced back to the bus station and before I knew it we were thundering east towards Kenya at a frightening rate of knots. We got to the frontier in good time, but after that we really started slowing down. Our eta of 11pm became midnight, became 1am, became 2am… I’m a champion sleeper, but even I have my limits, and I think sitting in the aisle on a tiny three-legged stool while being driven through Kenya at night is quite possibly it. It was all I could do to not fall off the damn thing.
Still, managed to do an interview for CNN from the floor of the nightbus to Nairobi. Not a lot of people can add that one to their bragging rights.
We were stopped numerous times by the police, the most hilarious moment being when I was taken off the coach (just me, not the other five people sitting in the aisle) and was told that I had broken the law and that I was going to be arrested and held in the jail cell (pointed out with his baton) until Monday morning.
The usual course of action in these circumstances is to act all shocked and dismayed and ‘see if we can come to some sort of arrangement’. Not me.
‘Sorry about that, officer, I’ll just go get my bag.’
‘Oh no, sir, it’s okay.’
‘No, no, it’s just here by the door, I’ll get it. Hey I’m tired anyway – it’ll be good to get my head down, even if it is on cockroach-infested concrete, and – who knew? – I have a certain fondness for African jail cells.’
‘Sir, please, it’s okay, you didn’t know.’
‘Ignorance of the law is no excuse, officer’ say I, grinning broadly, whilst readying my saved ‘HELP! BEEN ARRESTED!!’ text message to go out on Twitter. You know what they say, no publicity is bad publicity. (Well, unless it involves having sex with children, eh Max?)
‘No no, it’s no problem, you can get back on the bus.’
‘Ah, okay, thanks… goodnight!’
Remarkably, I did manage to get a few minutes sleep on my three-legged stool. However, we didn’t get to Nairobi until 5am.
So after a night of almost no sleep I find myself in Nairobi, ready to get this 6am bus to the border. For some idiotic reason only known to the Kenyan government, all international buses leave from the area of Eastleigh, aka ‘Little Somalia’. When I was hear three years ago, the roads were all dug up like you would not believe. Some were just massive holes as though they were operating some kind of ‘cut and cover’ operation for a new subway system. Glad to say things have changed massively since I was last here.
Oh no, they haven’t. The roads are just as insane as ever.
The rest of the city is actually quite respectable. Why they chose to locate there national and international transport hub here of all places is quite beyond my programming. Perhaps they just really want you to fly. Talking of flying, if I flew to Addis Ababa, I could get a visa on arrival – I wouldn’t be at all surprised to here that the difficulties put in place for people who wish to overland aren’t at the behest of Ethiopian Airways…
But I can’t fly, as easier and as cheaper as it would be. I’d see it as cheating, and come on, I’ve got just THREE WEEKS from today to get back to my hometown of Liverpool. If you don’t see that as an epic challenge, you either a) have no soul or b) don’t know Africa very well.
I am taken by a bus tout over some mounds of dirt and across various WWI-style trenches to the Moyale Bus (Moyale being the bordertown between Kenya and Ethiopia). I clamber onboard and fall sound asleep.
I’m woken up an hour later by the same tout, The bus hadn’t moved. ‘You have to get off the bus, it needs to go for petrol.’ Unhappily, groggily, I sling my bags over my shoulders and shuffle off the bus.
‘When will it be back?’
Cursing myself for not getting the later bus yesterday, spending the day in Kampala and getting a decent night’s sleep on a real seat, I sat on the narrow wooden bench outside the ticket shack. With my backpack as my pillow and my other two bags as my teddy bears, I leaned to one side, curled up with my sleeping bag over me and fell fast asleep.
Yep, you can add ‘sleeping rough on the streets of Nairobi’ to my (rather copious) list of insane things I did before I died.
At 9am I was woken by the tout who I assume had been fending off ne’er-do-wells as I slumbered. Great! Time to go!
Time to buy my ticket. The bus doesn’t leave until 3pm.
Oh for the love of—
Ticket in hand, I jumped in a taxi and headed off to find breakfast and wifi. Anywhere but Eastleigh. I was hoping to meet with Tom, a guy who had contacted me on Twitter offering beer if I was ever in Nairobi. Unfortunately he wasn’t going to back in the city until 2pm, so we would end up just missing each other.
That is if, of course, the bus actually left at 3pm, which, of course, it didn’t.
By 6pm I was getting a little tired of this. But it was when people started climbing on board the bus and I looked at my ticket that my heart really sank. This was Bus #1. My ticket was for Bus #2 which was currently Christ-Knows-Where.
I had words with the bloke in the ticket office. He swapped my ticket for one of a passenger who hadn’t turned up. Thank the maker.
And so I took my seat like the wanton cuckoo I am and off we jolly well popped north towards Isiolo and then even norther to Moyale. The road to Isiolo is paved, but after that… oh God. Did I mention yesterday that it was the worst highway in East Africa? I wasn’t kidding…
The ‘badlands’ of northern Kenyan are not so called because they are full of bandits (although there are probably a few still knocking about), but because they’re no good for farming: dry, arid, dusty – you’d struggle to grow a moustache here (speaking of which, mine has gone, Movember is over). I’ll tell you what they’d be great for, Kenya: building a goddamn road. A nice straight road, made of tarmac, from here to the border with Ethiopia. You know, given that the entire expanse is remarkably flat and devoid of mountains/rivers/cities that may otherwise get in your way. If you ever do the drive down from Cairo to Cape Town, this is the *only* major section of dirt track you’ll come across (I can’t say the same for Casablanca to Cape Town, but that’s another story).
But like this time three years ago, all we have is an exceptionally dusty, potholed, bone-juddering ride up to Ethiopia. Ack, I’ve given up blaming the government. I’ve found something else to blame and it’s not even the UN… it’s the entire system of Presidencies. I swear they are designed to encourage corruption, nepotism and criminality on a global scale. If you don’t believe me, read my upcoming book ‘Machiavelli’s The President’ for a clear-cut examination of everything that is utterly insane about having one guy who is at once Head of State, Head of Government AND Head of The Military. Oh, and the fact that they all get magic immunity from prosecution for anything they do, either from the UN (Robert Mugabe) or the own legal system (Mitterrand) or by way of being pardoned for all crimes by their best mate who magically (and undemocratically) becomes Fuhrer, sorry President upon the former’s resignation (Nixon).
What have I learnt from visiting 201 countries? That the presidential model of government is flawed: epically, fundamentally and irrevocably flawed. But this is a discourse for another day.
We bumped and grinded our way to the bordertown of Moyale, arriving at around 4pm, which was good as this isn’t a 24 hour border crossing. I was stamped out of Kenya without any fuss, walked across the bridge (there’s ALWAYS a bridge!) and entered Ethiopia. It was nice not to have to surrender any more US dollars. I swear, the last couple of weeks have cost me more in visas than I spent travelling over the last few months.
$50 for Zimbabwe, $50 for Zambia, $50 for Tanzania, $20 for Tanzania (first time), $50 for Uganda (first time), $100 for South Sudan (no joke), $50 for Uganda (second time), $20 for Kenya (second time, although I had to argue my way out of not having to pay for a full $50 visa).
My heart goes out to the poor dears working tourism in these parts. $390!! I could have had a family holiday to Disneyland for that (only because we’d sneak in, mind). AND I still have visas to purchase for Sudan, Egypt and Turkey.
Oh Europe (excluding paranoid spoilsports Russia and Belarus) how I love thee! Let me count the Schengen ways!!
Like Mozambique and Tanzania, it is illegal for Ethiopian buses to run at night, so I checked into a little hotel on the Ethiopian side of town, downed a couple of St. George’s while checking my emails and retiring to my room around 9pm. Moyale is currently undergoing a water shortage, so it was a warm bucket bath before bed to rid me of the red Kenyan dust (which was EVERYWHERE). I set my alarm for 4am, exchanged sweet nothings with the lovely Casey who called me on my new Ethiopian number and then got myself some much-needed shuteye.