Welcome to my new blog Cork to Cape - the second leg of my round the world motorcycle adventure. As some of you know my first trip took me down through Central and South America on the back of a BMW R1100GS. This trip will take me from Ireland to South Africa on an F800GS. My goal is to take my time, enjoy the ride, meet new people and volunteer along the way. I welcome everyone to view and enjoy the blog, add comments and give me any advice on special places to see or people to meet. And, of course, if anyone wants to join me for a section of the journey or if there is a place you always wanted to visit, please come along.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Riding the wave

Day 394

Milage 31,092 (49,747 kms)
Why did the Chameleon cross the road?
A gentle breeze caresses the vivid purple flowers of the Jacaranda trees overhead, the atmosphere is warm and humid and the distant melody of reggae music floats through the air. Warm rain saturates the earth and the surrounding forest is bursting with life. Once again I find myself in a secluded slice of paradise, a quiet backpacker’s outside the sleepy town of Kilifi. It will be a lazy morning after a magical night of swimming amongst the sparkling phosphorescence at a nearby deserted beach. My journey has taken me East to the Indian Ocean and the tropical coast of Kenya.  A unique series of encounters with some of the colorful characters I met while in Uganda has caused me to backtrack and abandon my original intentions of visiting Rwanda and Burundi. I may return to that region but for now I am following the path of least resistance, opening my itinerary to the subtle suggestions offered by the people I’ve met and the conditions I have experienced. It is pleasantly rewarding to be this free, to go with the flow, to ride the wave and let the voyage wash over me, bathing in the moment and savoring each experience. Without expectations it is impossible to become disappointed.

Murchison Falls, Uganda
After four wonderful days at The Hairy Lemon I reluctantly returned to my bike and loaded my gear for the short ride to Uganda’s capital, Kampala. While visiting friends in Jinja I’d met an inspiring young teacher who had devoted her career to improving schools in Africa. She insisted I stop by on the way through Kampala so she could show me a little of her city at a deeper level than that of a tourist. What followed turned out to be one of the highlights of the trip so far. Knowing a local gives you access to a side of a destination you would otherwise miss and before long I was immersed in a world of some of Kampala’s more interesting characters. Dinner with one of Uganda’s top reggae artists at a beautiful house overlooking the city was followed by sundowners in one of Idi Amin’s former, palatial residences on the shores of Lake Victoria. Parties lasted well into the night and often finished only with the sunrise. As an outsider I was welcomed with overwhelming hospitality. 

I had planned to spend a few days in the city before turning North towards Murchison Falls National Park but over several drinks on a humid, blurry night my new friend, Katherine, decided she was ready for a road trip of her own so the following morning we loaded up her compact four wheel drive and hit the road. Murchison Falls, on the Nile River, is several hours North of Kampala. It is the narrowest of many cataracts on the world’s longest waterway where the river is reluctantly forced through a gap less than six meters wide. The huge volume of water responds with a fury that is both awe inspiring and chilling, as a kayaker it is hard to gaze upon such raw energy and not imagine yourself amongst it. Earth and air tremble but not even the clinging humidity can prevent a shiver of fear as you predict the outcome of each possible approach, simple yet final, it is without question, unsurvivable. As with fire, I find it hypnotic to gaze upon a river losing myself in deep contemplation. 
Message received 

A lively backpacker’s downstream provided a comfortable night’s rest aided by cold beer and locally grown, fresh food. We couldn’t resist viewing the falls from a different perspective so later that day we boarded a small boat for a gentle cruise up to the turbulent pools below the narrow cataract. Pods of hippo compete for riverfront access with solitary crocodiles while herds of majestic elephant gather to graze and bathe by the cool waters.  

From Murchison Falls we continued North along the dusty back roads through small towns and villages where children greeted our arrival with warm smiles and friendly waves. We camped further upstream by the equally impressive Karuma Falls where the river splits into three channels to cascade over a series of steep drops, sleeping to the sound of the powerful roar of angry white water. A local suggested we keep a fire going throughout the night to dissuade any elephants from coming too close to our camp and a nearby village provided us with an evening’s entertainment as we sought out a place to eat. Our arrival sparked a flurry of excitement, children would come to stare and smile at the outsiders invading their sleepy town, giggling at our strange clothes and behaviors. Reaching out to shake a hand would result in screams and laughter as they ran to a safe distance before slowly allowing their curiosity to prompt a return to within arms reach where the whole process would repeat itself. The adults would make polite enquiries as to our purpose, curious as to why we would come to simply look at the falls. At some point during the dark evening an elephant wandered into the village and the locals erupted into action, banging pots and pans to scare off the massive creature. I briefly joined in the chase only to see the wrinkled, grey rump of the imposing beast disappear into the pitch dark night. What followed were tales of constant harassment and adversity as the villagers struggled to protect their crops from these ravenous intruders. Until recently this region of Uganda was plagued by another, more sinister foe, the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), Joseph Kony’s band of viscous thugs who terrorized the lives of so many. Several locals displayed the scars of bullet holes and knife wounds, permanent reminders of a dark chapter in their lives which began with their abduction as children and ended with their eventual escape.

From Karuma we turned South, along the main highway to Kampala, a pitiful strip of crumbling asphalt through dense forest, where speeds are controlled by deep potholes and savage speed bumps, some so steep they have to be approached at an angle to avoid scraping the underside of your vehicle. It felt strange to be behind the wheel of a car but air conditioning and thumping tunes made it bearable. It reminded me on an old analogy I’d heard years ago, driving a car is like watching a movie, riding a motorcycle is like being a part of it. Later that day we stopped at a serene Rhino sanctuary, camping within the confines of a strong steel fence. We had planned to take a guided walk the following morning to see some of the local residents but as the sun set three of the prehistoric looking beasts wandered right up to our camp, intently grazing on the lush grass, oblivious to our presence. For an hour we stood within ten meters of these incredible creatures until a large, jealous male entered the scene. The grazing stopped and the tension rose until the new arrival displayed a surprising burst of speed, chasing off one of the younger males, the noisy pursuit continuing long after we had lost sight of them in the dense vegetation. We assumed the show was over until we noticed a large female nearby nursing a young calf. A well armed park ranger was able name each of the rhino’s and give us a brief synopsis of their habits and personalities, the eager young calf’s name was Uhuru, which means ‘Freedom’ in Swahili. Since I began this journey I’ve often been asked if I had a name for my bike and until this point I’d struggled to think of anything appropriate but Uhuru feels like a good fit.

African Fish Eagle
After six days on the road we returned to Kampala in time for yet another epic party. By sunrise, the following day, I had been convinced to change my route and return to Kenya to attend a wedding on the coast. The warmth and hospitality of my new friends made the decision an easy one so after a couple more days in Kampala I loaded my bike and began the long drive to the coast. I stopped in Nairobi to break up the journey, spending a day at Jungle Junction, trying to relearn the few Swahili words I had picked up on my previous visit. Several other over-landers were camped there although it was clear the recent bombings in Nairobi and Mombassa were still having a negative impact on local tourism. Most resorts are empty, prices have plummeted and too many people, reliant on the tourism industry, have lost their jobs. I picked up as much useful information as I could about the road I would be taking to the coast, traded contact information and got an early start, anxious to cover the last 500 kilometers on one of the busiest roads in Africa. Most of the imports and exports to and from this region of Africa go through the busy port city of Mombassa and there are few choices of roads approaching the sprawling town. As the road drops from the high plateau of the central highlands the temperature and humidity rise. It’s a well surfaced route but the speed bumps and heavy traffic make for a stressful ride. Heavy trucks and speeding coaches regularly pull into the oncoming traffic where size trumps all on-comers and motorcycles enjoy few privileges. I lost count of the number of times I was forced onto the hard shoulder with mere inches between my handlebars and the oncoming traffic. It was a tense ride with little opportunity to enjoy the spectacular scenery, the drop in elevation brought with it a change in vegetation. Immense Baobab trees dominated the terrain, their oversized trunks topped with disproportionately small branches looking as though nature had briefly lost it sense of balance. Just when I thought I was making good time I felt the back end of the bike begin to wallow and weave, on one of the evasive departures from the my lane I had picked up an acacia thorn sharp enough to penetrate my rear tire. It took just over an hour, my fastest time yet, to patch the hole and get back on the road. 

Kilifi Beach
By early evening I was pulling into Mombassa, a city in a state of constant gridlock, not helped by the countless police road blocks as they try to prevent another terrorist attack. It didn’t take long to find the backpacker’s hostel and although it had been a long day in the saddle I was energized by my new surroundings and keen to explore. As a busy port in an impoverished country Mombassa attracts more than its fair share of working girls willing to risk their lives in this HIV hotspot for the price of a few beers. It was hard to have a quiet drink without being surrounded by prostitutes eager to earn a few extra dollars from the gullible white man. From Mombassa I took the coastal road North to the quiet town of Kilifi, checking into a beautiful backpackers on the shores of a pristine lagoon where the water supports a unique algae that, when disturbed, lights up in the most magical display of phosphorescence, each wave creating its own sparkling light show. Swimming beneath the surface is like soaring through a swarm of fireflies, while wading in the shallows creates a ghostly trail of glowing, green iridescence. I spent two nights enjoying one of nature’s most beautiful spectacles, captivated by the perfection of the location. Soon it was time to join in the wedding celebrations and after a brief stop at a local market to pick up a pair of smart, if ill fitting, trousers the festivities began. Any reservations I had about being an outsider imposing upon the wedding of a couple I barely knew were quickly swept aside. Kenyan hospitality comes easily with no strings attached and I was soon enjoying a party of epic proportions amongst people who made me feel like one of their own. The beautiful ceremony was followed by music and dance that lasted well into the early hours of the following day, but it wasn’t to end there. The party simply moved to a new location and the revelry continued until I realized I’m not as young as I think I am and retired to catch up on some much needed sleep after a full 48 hours of good times with good people. 
My Beach

It has been an eventful and deeply enjoyable few weeks although I am thoroughly exhausted, while I am eager to get moving once again the lure of the peaceful coastline proved too seductive to resist so I found myself being drawn back to the same quiet backpackers outside the small town of Kilifi. It is time to review my planned route and come up with some new ideas as to how I want to proceed from here, rumors of hidden gems and cool locations along the coast, both North and South, abound but as much as I’d like to stop and explore further, the draw of South Africa sits at the back of my mind pulling me towards my original goal. There is much to see and do but the last few weeks have taught me to open my intentions and let chance meetings and serendipitous encounters play a more influential role on how I proceed. 
The End


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