Thursday, 30 June 2011


Stunning images of attractive lycra-clad sporty/bumbling cyclists will follow by the way..



... to Laura, Jeremy and Alistair for putting us up and showing us such fantastic hospitality despite the fact you didn't know us and we were several days late.. and filthy.. and too tired to speak..
From Nandi to Kibigori was a whooshing great downhill stretch complete with hairpin bends and one or two huge potholes. Breathtaking ride through the terraced green fields then a sharp right through flat ground overhanging with sugarcane twice my height. The landscape is so varied over such a short distance.
On our right is a huge ridge. We're told later by Rob - the geologist at the gold
mine - that this is in fact a mini rift valley running off the Great one formed billions of years ago. We go on a stunning adventure to see colobus monkeys with Alistair and Laura and then test claustrophobia to the max with a trip down the gold mine. It's fascinating, painstaking work that bears no relation to the panning of the Wild West. Concise geological mapping of a reef or seam of quartz (formed billions of years ago when liquid rushed in to fill gaps left by the shifting plates). Precise explosions. Grinding and then chemical treatment. Interesting to see where things actually come from. I didn't even freak out.

ps note Indiana Jones - stylee wagon chasing Lucy down the mine


Some great friends and relatives insisted we bring Vaseline. Thank you. By day three everything's hurting and the chafing has begun. We're told the back road to Nandi Hills is smooth tarmac. It's actually mud and rock and boulders and it's very steep. I take my first involuntary dismount remarkably well... and finally agree to get back on. The morning is cold, hazy and damp. The landscape is made up of steep escarpments and lush green fields full of maize that look like benign triffids. We take in spectacular views, our first puncture, a short piece of terrifying highway and then the lush green tea fields surrounding Nandi Hills. The clue to the incline is in the name. Stunning. We stop for lunch after 82km and decide to call it a day.

Lovely cup of chai.

It is better to travel hopefully than to arrive...

It's a saying I love but in certain circumstances it's difficult to appreciate. Day two rolls like spaghetti hoops, soaring downhill, punishing uphill. All too steep. Stunning but slow. I expend a lot of energy coming up with more and more ingenious reasons for stopping (you'd be surprised how many there are). At each stop we are greeted by friendly and over-excited children. At one such top-of-hill-stop we meet an Olympic gold athlete (more from Andy on that one). It turns out we're cycling through marathon country where the children run to school at high altitude, over an incredibly hilly landscape - producing the world's top runners. Suffice to say we only make it about 50km before pulling in to a tiny village called Kamwosor. We stay in the local truck stop (quite literally) run by the lovely Joanne and eat the most amazing chapattis in the world in the least salubrious cafe. Great chat though.

African saddle sores...

It started so smoothly. As the sun came up we rolled out of the farm near Menengai and floated downhill through the misty morning. There was barely a car in sight. Crossed all the way into the Northern Hemisphere. Could this really be so easy? Luke's route to Eldama Ravine really did seem quite remarkable. After 25km of sheer joy we started on the reality of 25km of sheer uphill. Luke's popularity plummeted. At the Mission we were met by wonderfully kind people and some exuberant cows. One of which slobbered all over my stuff. Day One complete. Not even saddle sore but unable to speak.


Saturday, 25 June 2011


It was like saving up for the biggest, brightest, most explosive and colourful firework in the shop, telling everyone about it, organising a big display full of nervous anticipation and excitement and then watching it spit, fizzle and fade without even leaving the ground.. That was the start of the big ride. I'd managed to pick up malaria again just before we left Ghana and then got ill again in Kenya. The doctor ordered rest. The Nightingales in Nakuru could not have been more accommodating, hospitable and welcoming. Putting up with ill, distant relatives for almost two weeks (we were meant to stay for two nights) seemed just another part of their day. The silver lining in that much delayed fireworks display was that we got to know them and spend time with such a fun and easy-going family. It wasn't part of the plan but it was great. A thousand thank yous.

We visited the stunning Menengai crater.

Learnt more about farming than we'd ever imagined. Saw the wonderful Kenana knitters project - which uses local wool and natural dyes to create the most stunning toys and clothes and provides much-needed income generation for the local women near Nakuru.

And borrowed Luke's very cool 4x4 to spend the day driving around Nakuru national park. Which was an unforgettable experience (partly due to my driving). We saw hundreds of pink-tinted flamingos and pre-historic-looking giant storks flapping at the lake edge in the early morning sun. We saw herds of gruff-looking buffalo and graceful gazelles, huge thick-skinned rhinos (including a baby), strutting giraffes, skulking hyenas and finally a lion's mane (he was submerged and very relaxed in the long grass). Amazing.

Friday, 24 June 2011

Naivasha – 2nd – 8th June

Lucy’s mum grew up in Kenya so we’ve had the good fortune in Naivasha to have people to stay with.
We stopped in at Crescent Island on Lake Naivasha to stay with Barry and Linda
Gaymer and daughter Akira, distant relatives of Lucy. Linda runs a private wildlife reserve on the island and Barry is a professional game hunter, conservationist and many more things. The island is actually the rim of an old crater, now filled in by the lake, and just taking a stroll along it on our first day we ‘discovered’ an incredible array mammals – giraffe, wildebeest, Thompson’s gazelle, zebra, impala, elland, monkey, - including finally a hippo grazing by the waterside. Apparently they can run up to 40km/hr and I fancied my chancies of outrunning it but Lucy wouldn’t let me get any closer.

After taking the bikes out of their carefully packed boxes and putting them back

together in Barry's shed (yes that is my muscular physique in a vest), the following day we took a 60km bike trip into the foreboding Hell’s Gate National Park, so named because it quite simply feels like you’re descending into the centre of the earth. Absolutely stunning ride. The photo of us is up against Herschey’s Tower, named
some German chap who was looking for a route from the coast to Lake Victoria. He met a sticky end here at the hands of the locals after he failed to bring them any presents from the seaside, or something.

Unfortunately the fun sort of stalled there. Lucy came down with something the same night (just the usual tropical stuff – fever, headaches, runs etc) and we’ve been laid up ever since. Then I picked up more or less the same thing although more minor. Trips to doctors have revealed little, although the Nairobi expert reckons we’ve got mal-absorption (common in the early white explorers which makes it sound much more interesting than it feels). After months of planning, it’s been so frustrating and demoralising to be unable to continue.
However on the plus side we’ve had a lot of time to get to know Lucy’s relatives and their way of life, and we’re still in some stunning places and managed to take one or two trips out. We're incredibly lucky to have been with Barry and Linda when Lucy fell ill and we're incredibly grateful to them and Akira for looking after us (and putting up with us) for so long.
Barry has been pretty prominent in conservation efforts in the Naivasha area for his whole life. The challenges they face are increasing population pressure, land taken up by flower farms (from which your Tesco, M&S etc flowers come) and changing rainfall patterns. This means there is less water in the lake, less grazing land for animals to roam on and more people looking to poach animals for food. The national parks are seemingly fairly ineffective at protecting the animals on their land and guards and guides are known to collude with poachers. Private landowners seem to have a far better record than government run parks of protecting the wildlife – of course there’s a financial incentive to do so when you rely on them for tourist or hunting income. However they’re finding that the pressure of population, land and water is affecting their ability to continue. Barry also maintains that the ban on all hunting in Kenya (following pressure and funding from western wildlife charities) has had a detrimental impact on rare species because there is now much less financial incentive to breed them for tourist hunters (who pay a lot of money for the privilege of shooting something).
One day I left Lucy in bed and took a hike up Mount Longonot, 1,000m high over the Great Rift Valley floor that is part of an old crater rim.

Like most of the volcanoes in this part of the world, it rises straight up from nothing. A bit like the lost world down inside.


Arrival in Kenya

I had a dream sometime in April that I had decided to skimp on costs and take a flight with Tro Tro Airways instead of BA. I'll keep this idea away from Michael O'Leary.

So we left Ghana in style by EasyTro on 1st June and arrived in Nairobi the following morning. Fortunately I slept through the whole white knuckle ride. The first thing that struck us descending the steps of the plane was the temperature – colder than a naturist caught in a Siberian blizzard. A brutal shock after spending almost 9 months in the West African oven to discover that parts of Africa were actually cold. Lucy immediately chastised me for persuading her to ditch her down jacket. I’m too busy regretting our decision to cut down on weight by only taking one sleeping bag to share…
We wanted a quick exit from Nairobi to avoid getting lost in traffic fumes and we’d been recommended a driver (John) to take us to Naivasha. John was brilliant telling us a bit about politics, tribes, landscape, history, and took us on the Old Naivasha Road (built by Italian prisoners of war during WWII) to marvel at the spectacular view across the Rift Valley as we descended the north escarpment alongside Mount Longonot. It was a tad difficult to take in what we were seeing. The area of Ghana we had been in was dense tropical forest, bright lush green all around, sticky and humid beyond belief and rarely could you see beyond your immediate surroundings. Looking across the dry savannah for literally tens of miles and with fresh air to breath it felt like the whole world was opening up for the first time. Truly awe inspiring.

Cycling in East Africa

We’d always intended to take a bike ride somewhere in Africa. Well we've finally chosen a route taking in some pretty exciting parts of the world. 60 days round Lake Victoria taking in Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and Tanzania, hopefully finishing for a few days on Zanzibar (but we may have to get there by bus, boat or plane because of the distance), and returning on 10th August to London for Papa and Sarah’s wedding in London.

Preparations seemed pretty endless at times, particularly perhaps to those within earshot – which bikes, which tyres, which clothes, what medical stuff, what camping
kit, how many pannier bags, where to go, how far can we pedal, how do we fend off hyenas and snakes…? Planning stuff just helps build the excitement in my book of square Mulholland things to do. In Lucy's book it is just time that could be better spent reading a book, or worrying about hyenas and snakes.
The packing process was particularly fraught, generally with me taking a boot camp survival mentality and Lucy attempting to plan for some sort of comfort. Pah! I’d just like to get in writing now that I did not sneakily eject any of her stuff.


Friday, 17 June 2011

Fitba tops for school kids

Ghanaian's are crazy about football.
In February I sent round an email to a fairly large circle of people asking if they had any old kids football tops that they would be happy to pass on to the kids in the Koforidua, expecting I’m maybe come back with 20 or 30 tops to hand out to a few people. How wrong could I be. The response was unbelievable and my poor parents ended up with a living room full of 306 items of football gear, including 201 various replica club shirts, 19 pairs of boots, 48
pairs of replica shorts and 6 pairs of replica socks. On top of this, Alves
Primary School provided a full set of strips, Eskmill Boys Club of Penicuik provided
two sets and Glasgow Rangers FC youth team supplied another set.. A couple of likely lads can be seen below sporting the colours of their favourites for the last time.
Many of the donations are clearly of great sentimental value, including two
toddler tops dedicated to Aberdeen’s 1983 Cup Winner’s Cup and 1984 League and
Cup Double triumphs, several to Henrik Larsson’s brilliance at Celtic and
Barcelona, two to 60 years of the legendary Penicuik Hearts, some to misty memories of Scotland’s last visits to the World Cup, various to times spent in Australia, Ireland, Spain, Portugal, Malta, Italy, Monaco and Turkey, and not to mention one paying homage to the Cellar Bar in St Andrew’s.

The generous donators in full were:
Alves Primary School
Eskmill Boys Club
Clydesdale Hockey Club (Don Sinclair, Richard Jack, Russell Bradley, Steve Maitles, Johnny Mackay)
Gregor & Ruaridh
Ben, Sarah & Friends
Alistair Moles
Adam Jacques
Lorna Sibbald & Daniel
Alastair McWhirter
Thomas, Angus & Friends
Graeme & Sheila
Rangers FC
Jill Morton

As well as this we brought back £400 in donations from a well known Edinburgh employer towards more strips. What on earth to do with them all? Well I spent many happy hours sorting them into roughly colour-matching sets and decided to give one or two sets to some of the schools with teams of boys and girls. My good friend Benedicta (local education officer) helped select the most worthy schools and worked with Aidan and I to distribute them fairly, with Benedicta always reminding us to insist on the girls getting a fair shot!

Agavenya PS & JHS

Bonya PS & JHS

Asikasu PS & JHS

Jumapo JHS

Densuano PS

Eskmill Boys Club of Penicuik provided two full sets of shirts, shorts and socks – really good quality strips – that they’d recently won the local Salmon Cup in. We
donated these to Bonya Primary and Junior High School, who now proudly display the newspaper clipping of Eskmill Boys Club on their notice board.

Bonya and Agavenya Schools arranged a friendly tournament to celebrate their new
kits. In two thrilling contests played before a raucous capacity crowd of chanting, dancing school kids (and subject to frequent pitch invasions), the girls’ .match went to penalties and was won by Agavenya, in the boys match a strong Bonya line-up edged past a nippy skillful Agavenya side 1-0. All the kids seemed really proud to step out in the new kits

Eskmill Boys Club

There are still more strips to hand out and Benedicta is on the case, so I’ll post up more photos when I get them.