Day 1,424: Where It All Began

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.

Day 1,430: Call My Bluff

Fri 30.11.12:

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.

Day 1,431: Carry On Nairobi

Sat 01.12.12:

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?’

‘9am.’

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!

Ah, no.

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…

Day 1,432: Badlands

Sun 02.12.12:

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.