As I give my bike a morning inspection I see a woman lurking around. She introduces herself as Teddy. Before I even can ask how she got that name she already tells me that she has no idea why her dad gave her this strange masculine name. She’s the manager of the mountain inn (the hotel I’m staying at) and she’s in love with my bike.
We walk a bit to get my breakfast: a Rolex. Not the expensive timekeeper but a chapatti with eggs and sometimes even with tomatoes and onions. When Teddy tells me she’s 37 years young, I’m blown away. She doesn’t even look 27. In general I must say that most Africans are very resistant to the external signs of age. But she is quite exceptional. She’s a widow with three kids. They live in Kampala. She was happily married when all of a sudden her husband died.
“I was lucky to be officially married. That’s why I could keep the house. A lot of people here are not officially married. In that case your family in law will kick you out of your house and take all your possessions. They will even take over custody of your kids and they will neglect them. Never expect any help from them!”
I was very surprised by her words. I always thought the African society had a community/family safety net as a substitution for the lack of formally organised social care. But apparently that’s not always the case, especially in big cities. She used to work in a coffee bar in Kampala but got this job in Mbale. Her kids stay at her parents place and with the money she earns, she can pay their school fees. Her oldest son has just graduated from secondary school.
It’s been six years since her husband died but she still hasn’t found anybody to replace him. I notice that she’s still wearing her wedding ring.
“I keep it on so I’m not bothered all the time. I’m a bit afraid to get back in the ‘game’. You know that the rates of HIV and STD’s are very high. I’m also afraid to be abused or to get a broken heart.”
She tells me when she pours some more coffee in my cup. “This coffee is the best in the world” she tells me. Maybe, but pouring hot water on grinded coffee beans without any form of filtration is not really coffee. I tell her that I expected better from a former coffee bar employee. She grins and tells me that most of her guests are Africans and they don’t drink coffee. There’s no machine. Case closed.
Teddy has to arrange some business at the bank so I give her a ride to town before heading out. We bid each other farewell and I continue my road towards Kenya.
I decided to avoid the busy border posts of Malaba and Busia, full of thieves and conmen. Instead I’m riding through Kapchorwa to see the impressive Sipi falls and to cross the border at Suam River. I have a little stop at Sipi falls. I’m guided around for just a few dollars and I can ride to the bottom of one of the falls:
Once I’ve passed Kapchorwa the roads to the border are rocky and challenging. I lower the pressure of my tires to have more traction. Fortunately, It hasn’t rained in a while so the roads are in quite a good condition. I cross through a alpine landscape, decorated with beautiful pines and little huts. It looks so peaceful, you wouldn’t say that it’s a smuggling route for weapons.
It’s the first time in my life that I had such a warm welcome at a border post. The customs and migrations officers on both sides are clearly very bored and are pleased to stamp the documents of a motorbike-riding-mzungu.
While my passport is carefully being examined, all local people just cross the border without any inspection. Bicycles packed with big bags are pushed from Uganda to Kenya and vice versa. Suddenly the smuggling doesn’t seem so challenging or dangerous to me.
I will miss Uganda: the crazy boda boda’s (motorcycle taxis), the loud, distorted music, the warm people and most off all the Rolex, a breakfast, a lunch or a snack, called it the way you want. It’s an amazing culinary treat.
Riding the whole dirt road patch to the border took a lot of time. When I finally reach Chorlim gate of Elgon national park, the gates are already closed. With a little bit of charm I negotiate my way in to their camping site. I will be allowed tomorrow to convince the ranger in chief to enter to park with my motorbike. There is a road that goes almost up to the Koitoboss peak (4222) and it looks like a perfect trail for a motorbike, fingers crossed…