07.03.2010 43 °C
So we spent the night camping in the dry river bed. Thankfully the rains didn't come in the night.
The following morning it was 26 °C when we got up at 5am!! But it was bearable even as the sweat moistened our brows while we packed away our tent. We pushed our bikes out of the thick sand of the river bed and back onto 'road'.
Powering along before sunrise we were happy not to have the sun beating down on us as it had the day before. It was good while it lasted and we pedalled hard but it didn't last long!!
The sun awoke and peered over the rocky horizon, scouring the land, searching through the thorny shrubs and littered rocks for someone to spend his day tormenting! Picking through the bushes, setting the sand ablaze as he searched there was no-one to be found. But then the two cyclists caught his eye and he fixed them with his harsh, penetrating glare.
The cyclists pedalled hard rejoicing in the thrill of powering their way through the expanse of fiercely beautiful wilderness which stretched out around them in every direction. We reached Lokichar happy at our decision the previous night to camp in the bush as the town did not live up to expectations. Stopping only to purchase 10litres of mineral water (!!) under the silent gaze of the early morning crowd we sailed on through.
The sun did not let us out of his sight and the temperature soared once more as he continued to beat down on our backs. People would emerge from time to time or be spotted in the distance – isolated figures moving slowly, steadily, their paces measuring the heat. We passed people digging deep, deep into the dry river beds searching for water. They cheerfully waved as we passed by. Goats huddled under trees and camels grazed silently on the thorny twigs.
We bumped over the road, reminding, forcing ourselves all the time to drink. And then the wind started to blow. Hot, dry air, whooshing over us like the air that forces itself over you in the tunnels of the London Underground. With every breath we took it dried our throats anew.
You must imagine this picture with a herd of about 30 goats in the background drinking from a basin and three women dressed in cloth with hundreds of beads climbing their necks, the old man sitting, just out of shot, playing with the run off water. This is how it was before we ask to take the photo but then it became complicated and the scene was dispersed. Never the less it was a joyous scene that we saw from the road and we were happy to go over and join it.
We filled our containers and continued on our way. Then, miraculously, as if from no-where, a thin line of tar grew tentatively out of the ruts and gravel. It was frail and only just wide enough for the tyre of a bicycle. But it was wide enough and we balanced our laden bikes upon it giving our heads and stomachs a much needed rest from the harsh jarring of the bumpy road. The cruel sun used the white sand all around us to dazzle our eyes as we worked hard picking out the thread of tar. The kilometres ticked by and, at first just slowly, the tar grew bolder, increasing his claim on the road until, against hope and belief, we found ourselves cruising along on a near perfect tarmac strip.
With 5km to go until a pre-arranged break the tarmac took us through a tiny village perched on the scorching sand.
The possibility of sodas made the village a good place for a break and we headed towards a thatch of palm leaves supported on thick wooden sticks that threw an inviting shade onto the sand beneath it. An old man, the village carpenter, was working under the shelter and he welcomed us warmly, rushing inside to get some chairs; one complete, the other slightly sparse on the seat since he was only part way through making it. Rob, who had actually not been feeling right all day, had rapidly deteriorated to the point of feeling pretty rough so he took a seat whilst Pol set off to find drinks. After a couple of failed attempts to locate the village shop she discovered the usefulness of the universal language of Coke. She didn't know the word for shop in the local vernacular, and no-one in the village knew the word “shop”and yet by asking “coke?” and pointing at various buildings, a steady stream of pointing arms like a mexican wave rapidly guided her to the right place!
When she returned to Rob with the bottles of Coke a crowd had gathered around him. Struck by the scene as she walked over she fleetingly mused on the paradox that in an area so rich in a culture which is so visibly expressed the people had sought out the mzungu to stare at before the reverse had happened.
Concerned by his clammy complexion and the rate at which Rob downed his coke the carpenter, Peter, presented him with a hollow gourd in a plaited carrying strap with a cork in the top. This is a traditional container used for carrying water and milk. He had made it himself.
A couple of our other visitors at the Coke stop.
Fun as it was in the village we still had another 25kms to our end point, Lodwar. We said our goodbyes and forced ourselves out from under the shade and back into the glare of the midday sun.
With the village now out of sight, all of a sudden our friendly tar strip rapidly deteriorated and vanished. We quickly found ourselves inch-deep in hot, soft sand, dazzled by the sun who was now pounding down on our backs with great force, and with no hope of any improvement in the situation anytime soon.
We pushed slowly on, at times navigating the sand, at times wading through it. All the time we were trying to drink but it just got harder and harder to do so. We were carrying ample water but our bodies were just rejecting it. The relentless sun, intent on his mission, had heated the water sitting on the bikes to somewhere in the 40 °C's and every time we swallowed the water acute waves of nausea pulsated through us. Our bodies were overheating and it was very unpleasant.
There was no-one in sight, no sign of life save the constant whine of cicadas drilling in our ears like tinnitus as the hot air buffeted our faces. Nothing was out in the sun. Even the camels, those hardy desert animals, were resting in the shade and yet, foolishly, we pedalled on.
I was worried about Rob. Our pace was slow and as I checked my wing mirror I saw he was struggling, lagging further and further behind. We carried on silently in this way for another 15-20 minutes slowing right down until Rob, barely able to form the words murmured “Pol, Pol, I need..... a... break”. With that his bike crashed to the ground and he stumbled towards a prickly acacia tree where he collapsed in a heap on top of some thorns.
The little goat had never seen an Mzungu collapse before and was quite concerned.
I rushed over with a jerry can of water and started wetting his clothes and dabbing his face. Taking off his shoes and socks I was trying desperately to cool him down. It worked slowly and little by little he recovered and was able to speak again but he was very weak and still very nauseous and, worryingly, he was unable to drink. So we hung out in the shade of the prickly acacia. As we were there, recovering, a young man materialized from no-where and, enticed by our tub of water, wandered over to join us. We were glad of the company and although we didn't speak a word in common we liked the fragile reassurance brought by this link with humanity.
An old woman sleeping in the shade of a bush a few hundred metres away braved the sun to come and see what was happening under our tree. A motorbike approached and the passenger hopped off. A friend of the young man, he also came over to join us. No-one spoke English but it didn't matter. They included us in their conversations, pleasantly chatting away to us as if we understood.
Some things are easily conveyed even in the absence of words and when the old lady tried to extort money from us for taking the photo of a random nearby goat an argument ensued. But it was too hot to get mad with anyone and so it passed and we continued to commune! The heat made us drowsy and when we tired of talking we lay down to nap. The old lady lay with her head on her saucepan in place of a pillow.
And so we spent perhaps the most surreal afternoon of our lives; Rob drifting in and out of sleep to the sound of chattering around him feeling as though he had passed out in some far off land and been rescued by the natives, which in fact wasn't so very far from the truth.
When the worst of the heat was over our group slowly dissolved and we packed up our things to move on.
We had only 10kms to go until we reached the town where we knew there was a decent guest house with running water but despite being slightly downhill it was a very difficult 10km with Rob, who was still very weak, being hit with nausea and dizziness again the moment he stepped back into the sun. We pedalled slowly, slowly and thankfully as we got closer the road became more substantial and the riding was easier. Like zombies we followed the signs for the guest house until somehow we found ourselves in the shaded reception asking for a room.
Managing to hold out just long enough to get him to safety Rob's body completely shut down. We had a bed and a bathroom and a room with a fan and with our stove and packets of powdered tomato soup, and with soaking wet towels from the bathroom I managed to begin the process of slowly re-hydrating and cooling his defeated body.
The sun had had his fun and the cyclists will certainly be giving him the respect he deserves in the future!!