The Observer (Kampala)

5 June 2012

Uganda: Across the Sahara By Motorbike

Available from Aristoc and all major bookshops. Red Tape and White Knuckles is an entertaining read. Lois Pryce decides to ride her motor-bike from England to Marseilles, take the ferry to Tunis, and then plough on, solo, through the Sahara and Central Africa to Cape Town.

Her inspiration was a 1935 trans-African motorbike trip made by Theresa Wallach and her friend, Florence Blenkiron. Together they rode a 600cc Panther motorbike and side-car, pulling a trailer, from London to Cape Town, going down the eastern coast of Africa.

Times have changed since 1935 and now North Africa, Tunisia and Morocco for now, has become a desert playground for many Europeans, who take camel treks or tear across the dunes in their 4 x 4s.

This was not the kind of safari Lois Pryce had in mind. Her plan, much to her credit, was to rough it and see the real Africa, and for the duration to get to know Africans. Naturally she came across culture shock. Even more she created culture shock.

A woman riding solo across the Sahara! Well, not quite solo. For the stretch Algeria to Cameroon she ganged up with three Belgians in their Land Rover, with her tagging along on her bike. To get them across Algeria they had a guide, Hamid, who expressed the feelings of all the African men she would meet.

Hamid: What about your husband? What does he say about you ride moto in the desert?

Lois: Well, he thinks it's a good idea. He's ridden his motorcycle all over the world.

Hamid, shaking his twenty-three-year-old head: Well, I would not let my wife ride motorycle. But among the few women she met, and who gave her a surprise, was the sister-in-law of Hamid; she was a university graduate with three languages, who was charming, hospitable and happy to be the ideal homemaker.

Algeria went; Niger came and went, including some tourism, the mud mosque of Agadez, and the expected Westerner comments about the country having the world's highest birth rate. Nigeria was next and anticipated with dread. The worst that happened was that she got another earful from an immigration official:

"Women don't do that (ride a bike through Africa for fun, for adventure). They stay at home and look after the house and their children. I wouldn't let my wife go off on a motorcycle in the name of adventure!"

But the topic was not allowed to rest. A hotel porter, still in Nigeria, couldn't make out if this was a man or a woman. She looked like a woman, but did the maintenance on her bike, which made her a man. Therefore, he concluded, she must be a manwoman.

Congo Brazzaville was much better than expected; DRC was not, with a couple of exceptions. Angola, though the going was rough, was best of all. The people were a delight. Namibia, and no more African charm. What spoils the book are the unpleasant and uncalled-for comments on religion. Why include them at all?

Book: Red Tape and White Knuckles

Author: Lois Pryce

Publisher: Arrow Books, 2009

Volume: 410 pages

Cost: Shs 32,000

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