On The Road To Lokichokio - 1978

 

We have ridden our MZ250 motorcycles to Athens from Oxford, across the English channel, across the foggy freezing Swiss Alps, out into chocolate box sun and down insanely winding roads and into the centre of old renaissance Milano where everyone looked like snappily dressed millionaires in hand made shoes and suits. We had ridden down the azure blue seaside corkscrew winding Dalmatian coast roads into the face of howling winter winds and diverted around the then closed Albania again through the freezing mountains, falling off our bikes in the ice filled tunnels in front of insanely driven single decker coaches

 

The kilometer mile stones of the Greek highway to Athens ticked off monotonously at 80 kph and eventually we arrived in Piraeus to ship over to Alexandria on a Russian cargo boat where large, mean faced women served vile sausages as breakfast, lunch and dinner. Egypt, the pyramids that appeared from behind the sand dunes like a silent introduction to a Pink Floyd album. Cairo, shambolic museums, traffic madness. Down the road on the quieter side of the Nile to Aswan, statues, tombs and temples, sand and the small holdings of corn, chickens, dates and figs

 

Victorian paddle steamers left behind by Lord Kitchener to Wadi Halfa and a desert train crossing to Khartoum. Sudanese flowing white djellabas and seemingly shit everywhere in the capital streets and then south following the tarmac into the desert until 30 kms out of town the tarmac stopped, turning right into an army camp. So we followed the telephone wires south in the empty sand until the wires stopped and we just followed the poles. The horizon shimmered and jiggered and the mirages became bushes and sometimes tin houses, sometimes a truck or a lonely car leaving a plume of dust on the horizon

 

The telephone poles ended, the desert ended slowly through neglected fly blown towns of a couple of dozen broken buildings inhabited by aid agencies and markets selling only shriveled roots. We made our way into The Sudd. Thorny acacia semi desert, corrugated roads, 15 kph all day, our broken motorcycle frames crudely repaired at aid agencies, semi naked tattooed dark black Dinka youths herding a hundred wide horned cows onto their cleared tethering grounds of smouldering dung and night time tethering stakes - each cow and it’s calf knowing it’s own stake from the beginning if it’s life

 

The hot, decrepit broken down capital of the Sudanese south sitting nervously on a simmering war between the rest of Africa and the Arab north, Juba and dusty fly blown, red taped government offices with another solemn portrait of another solemn leader, waiting for the always intermittent petrol supply to roll into town, waiting to purchase permits and waiting for travel permission. Then the bad water, the bad food dysentery. Immobilised, knives in the guts and staggering to the foulest toilet in the known universe, shitting water and praying for relief from the pain, the watery shits, the fever and the constant nagging in the guts

 

Gradually it passes and petrol is purchased. The range is too great for the bikes. We need 1500 kilometres of fuel. We can carry a thousand on the bikes each. We strike a deal with a safari company to take 500 kilometres of fuel and meet us two days drive eastwards

 

So then Eastwards away from Uganda and the madman Idi Amin that apparently ate the brains of his government ministers. Punctures from tyres filled with hundreds of acacia thorns from the previous two thousand kilometers of dirt roads. Puncture after puncture after puncture, sixteen flat tyres in three hundred kilometers. A gallon of drinking water a day, tools under the bike to keep them cool enough to hold. Blisters on the palms of our hands from pumping up the tyres. The road just a couple of footpaths a car width apart. Kapoeta, an old British police station in the middle of nowhere. A walled compound and few raggedy soldiers

 

And then the track southwards that few had ever travelled. We’d seen this finger thin pale road in an atlas in the quiet library in faraway green wet England and it was the only overland way into Kenya that avoided the madness of Idi Amin and the desperation of a country that stole everything from overland travelers just to survive

 

The empty country was totally marginal, the track traversed perhaps once a week by the white robed Arab traders sneaking into Kenya to buy stock in their Bedford trucks. The country and the track was slashed with dry, sandy river flood wash aways that needed one of us to stop each time and stand in the middle to push the bike through the sand and up the bank

 

Mercifully the punctures stopped. There was no food. Baby food powder bought from the last road side stall, diverted from aid agencies was it. Water, baby gruel. The effects of riding, diarrhea, an enforced local diet of what ever there was and the stress of not knowing if we could get through to Kenya had taken it’s toll. Weak during the day and bad, tormented night dreams from the stress of wondering if we could ever get there. We did everything slowly as there was little energy left. There was not enough fuel to turn around and go back, no other way to go, not enough food to sit and wait, no water in the country around us, not enough patches to repair the tyres again. We were 500 kilometres from anyone, anything and anywhere

 

By the third day the wash aways stopped and the ever thinning track led south. The folded and refolded Michelin map told us that we were probably across the border but there was no border. The country had reverted to hot acacia trees and dry scrub. There was nothing else, just the track that pottered away from us at a slow 15 kilometers per hour. There were blue hills on the distant hot horizon and weaver birds flitting from tree to tree. Conical woven nests swung below the branches in a low hot breeze

 

We were in a strange and remote no mans land between two countries in a place where there were no roads, no telephones, no people, no animals, no radio. Just acacia trees, a very blue sky, occasional vapour trails and the thin track that maybe led somewhere south

 

And then about 50 metres down the track there was a very large, shiny black local man wearing car tyre sandals, ragged khaki shorts and a torn brown shirt strolling towards us. Two full bandoliers of brassy bullets across his chest and a polished 303 rifle in his hand. It suddenly occurred to me that this might be it. If he wanted whatever we had he could take it. The bikes could disappear into the bush and our bones would soon be gnawed and crushed and scattered away to nothing by the scavengers and predators that lived away from the track

 

We could disappear forever in an instant

 

My dusty full face helmet had a couple of strips of insulation tape stuck along the bottom of the visor to shield my eyes from the glaring, hot southerly sun. I raised my left hand off the bike bars, I lifted the visor right up, I smiled and slowly waved as we pottered past. After what seemed like an eternity the man on the side of the track slowly lifted his hand and waved back and I realised that our bones were going to stay on the bikes and not be scattered across the stoney ground

 

Late that hot dusty day, the corrugated iron roofs of Lokichokio, the first town in Kenya could be seen glinting through the thorn trees and that afternoon, after visiting another dusty government office with another solemn portrait of another solemn leader we celebrated our safe arrival by sitting on our bony backsides in the shade of a tin clad store drinking cup after cup of hot, sweet african chai and spooning the sweet, juicy beans from tins of cold baked beans. 

 

There was food in the roadside stores, petrol in the pumps, the water was plentiful and safe to drink