Monday, December 22, 2008

Back in Uganda

So basically the story is that I cycled down to Lilongwe, Malawi. And had many adventures and so forth. Then since it's almost Christmas, I found a safe place to store my bike and got on the bus. I traveled three days and three nights to finally reach Kampala, Uganda.

This is a picture of Dad from when we went to Jinja, Uganda, in July and I discovered the macro button on my camera. If you look carefully you can see he cut himself shaving.

When my two older brothers graduated from high school and moved to the United States, Dad presented each of them with a razor. The thing is the new kind of razor blades are the biggest scam ever. Everyone knows it doesn't cost Gillette $1.45 to make a razor blade. When Dad saw that soon you wouldn't even be able to buy the older style razors he bought extra and stored them for when his sons started to shave.

Somehow, though, I missed this little coming of age ceremony when I graduated.

Anyway fast forward a decade. I'm living in Fremont, California. I work as an engineer for a computer company in Silicon Valley. Dad and Mum are visiting.

Dad sits down next to me on my bed. "Son," he says, "You know how when you graduated from high school I gave you a razor?"

"Uh... No Dad." I respond, "That was only Noel and Jason. I never got a razor."

"Oh," says Dad. He looks relieved. "Well it turns out the new razors with the three blades give a better shave." Dad stares at the wall for a moment thinking. "I don't know. Perhaps it could also be they use lower grade steel in the thin blades these days. It seems like the thin blades don't keep their edge like they should."

"Ah well." He says as he puts his hand on my knee and starts to stand. "It's no use trying to kick against it."

Anyway. Family. Merry Christmas.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Crime and Punishment

Mbalala Uganda.

I guess the guy in the yellow shirt must have stolen something because a mob was chasing him down. He fell down in front of my window and people started kicking him and stamping on him.

The big guy holding him by the shirt possibly saved his life and definitely saved him from getting even more beat up. He pulled everyone off the guy and made people calm down a bit. The security guy with the rifle and the red sleeves also helped calm things down.

When the police arrived they dispersed the crowd and drove the thief to jail.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Mbarara Uganda

I saw this statue of a traditional cow herder in Mbarara Uganda and I thought his pipe was fantastic. I haven't seen anyone smoking a pipe here but I assume that everyone used to back in the day.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Flame Lilies

I'm in Kabale, and about 40 km for the Rwanda border. It's a decent size town. The kind of town where they have internet cafes, for example. I'll spend a day here and then cross over.

But what I most wanted to say was that I saw some flame lilies yesterday and it filled me with so much joy.

When I was a young boarding school student, the flame lilies used to bloom right before Christmas vacation. The older kids would take an afternoon and collect buckets and buckets of them to decorate before the parents arrived.

I remember one time a group of us had to testify at the court in Mwinilunga. The case was about a guy who stole a bunch of things from the school including my towel and my Hawaiian shirt. That's not important for this story.

On the drive back to school, we passed through an area with lots of flame lilies. The deal was the car would go pretty slow so we could stand on the rear bumper and if we saw one, we'd jump off, grab it, run and cling on again. I had never jumped off a moving car before and didn't hit the ground running. It wasn't like I fell over, it was more like I stayed standing up but the ground came up and smacked me in the face.

Ha ha. You get better with practice.

I still remember that day as one of the best ever.

Friday, October 17, 2008

On the road again in Real Life too

Why does Snoop Dog carry a pink umbrella?

Fo drizzle.

So I've had a great visit with Jason and Linda and the kids. Actually I've been mooching at their house for just over three months.

It was really great to see the kids growing up. This visit was my first time to see Sam. He just had one tooth when I arrived but now his mouth is stuffed with teeth. He also can walk now. Asha learned how draw recognizable faces. Jake learned some new soccer tricks.

It's amazing the changes that happen in three months. For me mostly the changes were that I got fat and lazy.

I'm currently in Masaka Uganda. It's my birthday today. The twins, Asha and Jake, sang happy birthday to me on the phone. I'm 30 years old. A full decade smarter and better looking than I was back in 1998.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Off we go...

In Egypt you have to wear long pants so when I started cycling from Addis Abeba it felt great to wear shorts for a change. I envisioned a leisurely trip of 40km to Muketuri. I started out late and went for an hour in the wrong direction. Also it turns out that Ethiopia is quite hilly.

At around 2pm I had traveled 40km but everyone still insisted that Muketuri was 40km further. Fun Fact: Ethiopians say everything is 40km away. By this point I was sunburned and had to put on my long pants again.

In the end, I crashed at a town called Bunar which was 10km short of Muketuri. I was too sunburned to cycle the next day. I expected the skin to peal off but instead my legs developed these tiny blisters so when I rubbed my knee they would burst and make my hand all icky.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

So uh... Some people asked me if I was still in Egypt or whatever. Actually I just had those blog entries written up a long time ago but hadn't posted them. I've been loafing at my brother's place in Uganda for exactly three months today. In Ethiopia there was no internet to speak of so I didn't write any blog entries. Also the pictures I took are mostly rubbish.

The picture in this blog entry was meant to be a mini-bus (called taxi in Ethiopia), two old ladies carrying huge loads of firewood, and the distant hills. Instead what you get is a picture of children all over the place. Foiled again!

I flew from Cairo to Addis. The plan in Ethiopia was to cycle north to Gondor and then south to Kenya.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Leaving Egypt

Egypt has a lot problems. The economy has not kept pace with the exploding population. Freedom of religion and the press are restricted. The president's main political opponent got chucked in jail. People worry that the violence which happened ten years ago will come back. There is a lot of uncertainty about the future.

But I had beautiful time in Egypt and since this is my last blog entry about Egypt, I wanted to write something upbeat.

I stayed at Al-Minya for a week on my way out Egypt visiting some friends. The police in Minya are more relaxed. The vendors are scrupulously honest. The city clean and prosperous. Everywhere beautiful new buildings are being constructed. The whole place is overrun with university students brimful of enthusiasm.

At one of the villages near Minya an Arabic teacher asked me to give this message to my friends in America. "I'm a teacher and I have Muslim students and I have Christian students but I love them all."

That's the Egypt I wish everyone could see.

Monday, October 6, 2008


This is Ahmed in front of his partially constructed house.

People joke that cell phones and cigarettes are the top busineses in Egypt. But really if you want to be wealthy then construction is the way to go.

Every year the population of Egypt goes up by a million and a half. The government has tried to offer free birth control tablets to women but it hasn't made a difference. You need a home before you can get married. Lots of people in Egypt can't afford to get married until age 35 or 40. Possibly that acts as a kind of birth control, I suppose.

I have a friend in El-Minya whose family buys three story buildings and builds six story buildings. In most cities outside of Cairo you can only legally build six story buildings. Here is a skyline picture from Aswan.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

My entire life in one blog post

I spent a month and a half in Aswan waiting for the Sudan visa that never came through.

I was at such a wonderful 1920's hotel. I had corner room on the top floor with a balcony on both sides. The shared bathroom was one of the cleanest I had in Egypt. And at $2.75 per day, it was my cheapest Egyptian hotel.

I generally started moving around at 1 pm. I hung out with Mohamed and Sheik Hassan who had stalls next to the hotel. We used to have a deal, Mohamed bought falafel for me at Egyptian prices and I watched the stall for him when he went to the mosque for prayers.

Assad and Mohamed Said got off work from the fertilizer factory at 7 pm. Assad had a second job as a barber. I spent most of my evenings at his barber shop making tea and chatting to people waiting to get their hair cut.

Sometimes I wandered over playstation place next door or to Mohamed's restaurant on the other side. The kofta there was fantastic. Also the salad. Normally I'm not very enthusiastic about salad but his was really exceptional.

Some days I hung out with Mustafa the Journalist at the "round club" next to the Nile. The waiter's name was also Mustafa and the same for the man at the door. That made remembering easier. We'd drink tea and watch the sailboats. They were building the first McDonalds in Aswan downstairs. Then maybe we'd go back to Mustafa's house to eat supper.

Other days I tagged along with Wael the micro bus driver and chauffeur. I had dinner with his bosses a couple times.

I spent a lot of time in an area called Sel. It was where you had to switch micro-buses when you went to Assad's house.

I drank tea at Sheik Sabre's tea shop there. Wahed shai kamsina. One tea, half size. Sheik Sabre wouldn't accept any money from me. I drank so much tea in Aswan that at one point I got a scrape on my arm but instead of blood only tea came out.

Ahmed the Nubian worked at shop next door selling ring tones and MP3's for mobile phones. He hooked me up with a library of Nubian music on my flash drive.

I sat around talking with Abu Abdulah and his apprentice plumbers. He gave me an antique Egyptian coin from his collection. It's from 1938 and it's the only Egyptian souvenir I plan to keep.

When I was feeling wealthy I ate chef Memnon's macarona. I generally paid the tourist price even though I was the only tourist ever in history to eat there. Two other tourists walked by once but didn't stop. Salaa's father owned restaurant. I lost game after game of dominoes to Salaa and bought him cokes. If I was broke they let me pay Egyptian price for macarona and tea was free.

But my favorite times were at Assad's just shooting the breeze with Walid, Bushie, Mahmud, Sheik Goma, Karim, Amir or whoever happened to wander through.

Normally Assad closed shop around one in the morning. It was a problem to get a bus that late so Assad would give me a ride on his motorcycle. I'd wear a hat so that the police wouldn't see that I was a tourist and pull us over.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Sheik Abdine

One highlight of my time in Aswan was the weekend I spent with Mohamed Said and Sheik Abdine at Sheik Abdine's farm in Agabah.

We had to sneak out of Aswan at night and pay the bus driver extra. Egyptians need a permit from the police for a tourist to stay at their house. The police don't trust anyone with the Sheik in front of their name because that means they are a very strict Sunni Muslim so we wouldn't have got the permit. Ironically, in my experience, people called Sheik have been the people I can trust the most. Abdine assured me that he would try not to behead me.

Sheik Abdine's family had a huge house. They purchased their farm for $10,000 back in the day but it was worth a lot of money now. Someday someone is going to want to build a hotel on it. It was beautiful to drink tea by the Nile at night and watch the cruise ships drift by, their lights twinkling and their bowels filled with sleeping tourists.

One day we packed up some tea leaves and water and went for a hike in the desert. Whenever we found something flammable we brewed some tea. Whenever we found some shade we rested for a bit.

On our way back Mohamed, spotted an ancient granite block. It clearly had part of man carved on it. The thing is that some of the sides had been broken recently my theory is that it got dropped while someone was moving it.

When they built the Aswan dam a European company moved eleven temples out from where the lake would be. As a reward the president let them move one temple all the way to Europe to keep. Maybe one of those guys dropped part of a block by mistake. That's my theory.

Egyptians dream about finding ancient artifacts and becoming fabulously rich. Lots of people in Luxor have actually found things. I know someone in Luxor who found an ancient scarab. He thinks it is worth eight thousand dollars on the black market.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Muhammad's Birthday

There was a parade for the Prophet Muhammad's birthday. Sufi Muslims celebrate Muhammad's birthday. Egyptians are mostly Sunni Muslims and they aren't supposed to, but the truth is that everyone loves a party.

There was a fair as well but I wasn't able to see much of it. My friends were worried that there would be too many police at the fair. Actually some of them almost got arrested for being unlicensed tour guides as it was.

Sunday, September 14, 2008


Abu-Simbel is huge and awe inspiring. It is a marvel of art and engineering. It sits right on the bank of the lake formed by the Aswan dam. The inside is well preserved. You can see the original colours from 3000 years ago. It's really stunning.

It wasn't busy when I arrived, and after half an hour all the other tourists left and I was alone in the temple with just a couple security people outside.

It's too hard to take everything in. You get lost and confused about which chambers you've visited. I find that in situations like this it helps to pick a narrow aspect and focus on only that one thing. For example, I tried to count how many times the Egyptian god of fertility was portrayed. There were at least eight instances. Finding all of eight is like playing "Where is Waldo?" but with a winky instead of a hat.

It's the juvenile humour that keeps me young.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Theft & The Trip to Abu Simbel

There is very little theft in Egypt...

One time a friend of mine stole a book and gave it to me. I have three theories why he may have done it. Maybe because it was a government shop and he didn't like the government. Maybe it was because he used to work there and didn't like the place. Maybe it was because he was stoned on drugs at the time. All that was true. I couldn't decide what to do, so I read the book and found it surprisingly enjoyable.

When it came to people stealing my stuff I took a much less lenient view.

It was 4 am. I had been at the bus station since 2:45 waiting for the micro bus to Abu Simbel. There was only one other person there. He wanted to borrow my cell phone but there was no money on my SIM card so I swapped in his SIM and changed the language to Arabic for him.

He was talking on the phone and walking around. I started getting uncomfortable with how far away he was, so I got up and walked closer, still giving him his privacy but keeping an eye on him. We walked all the way to the end of the bus station and back like this.

I was a little annoyed at this point.

He went over to the water fountain and started drinking. Then very calmly he jumped the fence.

What happened next is a blur.

I don't remember running to the fence or jumping over but I remember being surprised how far it was to the ground on the other side.

It was dark. I was in a muddy field. I could just make out his gray robe running away. I was yelling "La la la! (Arabic for 'no no no') Thief!" I fell. I scrambled up. I fell again. I spotted him running in a different direction. There were dogs barking on every side. He fell. I didn't see him get up. He was still on the ground when I almost stepped on him.

I told him to give me the phone and he held it out. I checked that it was mine. I considered returning his SIM card and decided against because it was dark and dangerous and he deserved to lose his $2 SIM. I leaned over him and yelled, "Stupid." He yelled "Stupid" at me. I stormed back to bus station.

As I walked back I thought about how I used to like playing hide and seek at night as a kid. Then I was ashamed for thinking that.

Later, when it was light, I looked at the field and there was no way he could have outrun me. It was surrounded by a high wall on three sides and a deep irrigation ditch on the other.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Late night

Egyptians stay up fantastically late. In Luxor you can get ironing done after midnight. In Aswan you see fathers taking their preschool aged sons to get their hair cut at 2:00 am.

The men in the photo were selling fruit next to a mosque at 4:00 am. I tried to buy some bananas from them but they were out.

I went a block further and a guy asks me, "You want banana?" I told him I didn't need one, thanks. To this day, I'm not sure if he overheard me or if the offer was more sexual.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Anti-American Sentiment?

Some Americans claim to be from Canada when they travel to avoid anti-American sentiment. There is no need in Egypt. Everyone hates Bush but they also dream of going to America and generally like Americans.

In the bazaar, every single vendor asks you where you from and then proceeds to tell you about their cousin in America. There are only half a million Egyptians living in the US so you know that at least some of the vendors have to be lying. I started to tell people I was from other countries to add variety. No claimed to love South Africa, for example.

Egyptians don't like Denmark. People are very angry about the comic thing. One of my friends started freaking out because he thought he was eating Danish cheese but it turned out to be Egyptian cheese. Claiming you're from Denmark could easily get you killed. Fortunately, I only did that once.

Another time a man asked me if I was Jewish. It was a mix of English and Arabic and I thought he asked me about Jesus so I said sure. Fortunately, Assad overheard the conversation and rescued me, otherwise the man was going to call the cops. It's a bad idea to claim to be Jewish.


Ahmed, Nabil and I adopted a kitten for one afternoon at our hotel. I chipped in 40 cents and we bought some lunch meat. As I watch Ahmed feeding it, I was almost overcome with jealousy. I just wanted to grab the lunch meat and cram it into my mouth.

Obviously 40 cents is nothing but it seemed like every single blasted meal was a battle and I got sick of dealing with it.

One shop charged me a dollar for a large lamb sandwich the first day. That is the correct Egyptian price. The next day they charged me a dollar for a small sandwich without any meat. Whatever. The third day they tried to charge me a buck fifty for a small sandwich or two dollars for a large, so I left.

There was one old man who sold pastry and charged everyone the same price so I used to go there often. The only day he was on vacation, I had to argue with his replacement. He quoted me one price but then he couldn't find correct change so he only gave me part of my money back. I asked him for the rest but he says I must have misheard him originally. At first I though I must look stupid or something. Obviously we both knew the correct price so give me the change alright? In the end it took him less than 30 seconds to walk his butt over to the other cash register and fish out my change. I shouldn't have to fight about it every single time. Gar...

Haggling is a part of Egyptian culture, but everyone knows the price of food. They wouldn't try pulling stunts like that with an Egyptian. It's stupid and tiresome.

Edfu to Aswan

I took the desert route from Edfu to Aswan to avoid the police.

The weather that far south was much hotter. It's a bit dangerous to exercise in the heat. All along the way there is mummified road kill which doesn't improve the mood either. I would have liked to wait out the midday heat but had to make it to Aswan before nightfall. Go slow and drink lots of water.

Before the Aswan dam was built, the Nile had a fertile flood plain. With the dam in place, the Nile doesn't flood anymore. These days not a single green thing grows except for what people irrigate. There is a sharp line between lush gardens and desert. On parts of the road it was green to the left and desert on the right. On other parts it was desert as far as the eye could see.

After a day in the desert, the view of the bridge to Aswan is like some kind of kitschy painting of heaven. It's a beautiful white suspension bridge. There is a swampy area where random horses, cows and donkeys graze and fishermen pole their canoes around.

It takes an hour to cycle from the bridge to Aswan so it was almost dusk when I arrived.

I knew there was a train station downtown but I followed the wrong train tracks and ended up in a suburb. That's where I met Assad and Mohamed Said who led me to a hotel. As I was unpacking Assad proclaimed, "Ah, you've got a sleeping bag. Why don't you just stay at my flat? You can just crash on my couch, no problems."

Welcome to Aswan.

Cycling from Luxor to Edfu

The trip to Edfu was a surprise gift. I had planned to take the tourist convoy instead of cycling. I couldn't find it and I was going to ask the police at the first road block. They were drinking tea so I changed my mind and sneaked past. The other road bocks made me promise I was only going to Esne but didn't stop me. When I reached Esne it seemed like such a fine day that it would be a pity not to take down the back road to Edfu. So I did.

Two stories.

A pack of five or six dogs came at me on the way to Esne. They were running next to me and I couldn't out distance them. Fortunately, I managed to force the lead dog into oncoming traffic to escape. Unfortunately I don't think it got run over. You can be a dog person or you can be a cyclist but you can't be both.

When I was leaving Esne a kid on a motorcycle rode up beside me demanding that I give him money. Gimme money. No. Gimme money. No. Gimme money. No. They say children have short attention spans but this motorcycle kid kept at it for several kilometers. Eventually he gave up asking for money and started grabbing my butt instead. I came so close to punching that kid off his motorbike...

Monday, August 25, 2008

Luxor stories: Hans

The electricity was off at our internet cafe so we ended up talking to Hans, age forty something, from Texas.

Hans was an anthropologist studying how brush strokes in the ancient Luxor tombs showed what moods the painters were in. That seemed like an unlikely occupation. To be honest, quite a few of Hans's stories seemed unlikely, but we needed a source of entertainment and the electricity was off.

I was particularly amused by Hans's story where he got into a fight with a waiter who used a black olive instead of a green olive in his martini. Ah, the trials of living in Egypt.

There were two less fun stories that stood out. One is that the Luxor carriage drivers go too fast and the horses fall on the cobbles and skin their knees. The other is that Luxor is a top world wide destination for pedophiles who prey on young boys.

Afterwards Mena, George and I tried to find horses with skinned knees and eventually decided that Hans was full of crap.

Unfortunately, I think he was right about the pedophiles.

Some time later, I was hanging out at my friend's shop, joking around with a group of kids. They pointed at their buddy and said, "You want fucky-fucky?" It's an awkward situation and I did my best to gloss over it. Then the kid started rubbing my leg with his foot and I had to tell him, "Knock it off kid before I smack you upside the head." It's laughs all round, except the kid wasn't joking.

Afterwards my friend tells me, "I don't understand why Americans have sex with boys this age." I tried to tell him that pedophiles aren't accepted in America. He says, "No, not you obviously. Stop getting offended." I try to tell him that no, pedophiles are really not accepted in America. He says, "Oh, but it's everywhere in Luxor."

The problem is that Egypt won't do anything that could lead to bad press or hurt tourism. Pedophiles are quietly handed over to their embassies and flown home. It's hard to prosecute them in their home country. All the evidence, victims and witnesses are in Egypt. They're pretty much always released.

Luxor stories: George gets kicked out of a hotel

One game I like to play is spot the tourist. It's trickier than you'd think. Take George for example, he is Egyptian but he lives in America, wears a baseball cap and he carries a camera. Tourist.

So one day George was supposed to be waiting for me in the lobby of my hotel. He starts blathering to dude at the front desk about America etc. The front desk person is busy and tells George to grab a coffee from the roof of the hotel.

When he gets to the roof, George starts chattering away to the barista. The barista asks George where he's from and George tells him he's from Al-Minya (a big city north of Luxor). The guy thought George said Almanya (Arabic for Germany) and George thinks that's amusing so he says, "Yes. I'm a German tourist. Ho ho ho."

The thing is that all these discussions are in Egyptian Arabic because George doesn't want to pay the tourist prices. Both the receptionist and the coffee dude should have known that he was Egpytian.

Well, it turns out only tourists are allowed in the hotel.

I find George on the roof. We're drinking coffee and the part owner of the hotel comes tearing in. This guy is pissed. It's the kind of anger where flecks of spit start showing up at the corners of his mouth. George was trying to explain that he lived in America but didn't get very far because the guy is cursing and swearing. As a result, I now know how to say "America my vagina" and "America on my penis" in Arabic. At this point, I decide to check out immediately. Then the guy says we can't leave and that he's calling the cops.

When we reached lobby the other part owner of the hotel got involved. He was a nice fellow. He tried to calm things down and make things right but it was a bit late. My advice is to avoid the Luxor Nubian Oasis hotel. Grand hotel is cheaper and the service is good.

Luxor stories: Hatshepsut

The person who influenced Luxor the most is a lady named Hatshepsut. This is her temple.

Her father was Pharaoh and her mother was the Great Royal Wife. When her father died, it wasn't clear who should be pharaoh her or her half brother. So she married him and they ruled together as pharaoh and queen. But really she did most of the ruling.

Then her husband died, his son by a lesser wife (Hatshepsut's half nephew I guess) was supposed to take over. Instead Hatshepsut said he was too young, so she ruled until her death twenty some years later. Egyptians were fat and happy under her rule.

After her half nephew finally became pharaoh he went around destroying her statues and chipping carvings of her off the temple walls.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Old posts. Luxor.

Luxor is a tourist town. Cairo has the pyramids and the big museum and Luxor has everything else.

It's a beautiful town on the east of the Nile. Luxor temple blonk in the middle of downtown. Karnak is also on the east. The Hatshepsut temple, the Valley of the Kings and the Valley of the Nobles are on the other side. And smaller ancient stuff etc. etc. etc.

Most of the people who live there, make their living from the thousand upon thousands of tourist who come in buses everyday. Being a tourist is sort of unpleasant because everyone is trying to con you into buying things you don't want at inflated prices. Fortunately for me George from Minya was visiting Luxor so I escaped a lot of the hassles.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Loaf in Uganda

I'm still loafing in Uganda.

My brother has the grandest house that anyone in our family has ever had before. Plus it's got running water. Also Linda is an amazing cook. I've basically been mooching like crazy...

Uganda _is_ nice. Most of the country is very very wet and green. Shops are open late. There is street food. All of those are good points in my book.

My parents were here for a couple weeks. Then they left. Then Linda and my baby nephew left. Then Jason left with the twins. It's been lonely for two days but a friend from Sudan is supposed to be arriving soon.

That's the news.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Uganda tomorrow

I'm in a town called Bongoma or something. It's actually a pretty decent town. It's only some 40 km from the Uganda border.

Today was a perfect cycling day. Everyone was nice on the way. I started out late but I still cycled for about 100km.

I ate lunch in this mud hut place. Lumpy ugali, little dried fish, vegatables and a cup of tea. That's pretty low class food so I was a bit surprised how much the guy over charged me. I paid without complaining so he says, "Oh yeah, and add a dollar for tea." I paid again without too much complaint. Then he claims he doesn't have change so could he keep the dollar change? At this point I was cracking up at the audacity of it.

As I left he tried to charge me an additional 30 cents for using the table. I still start laughing when I think about that man.

Tomorrow I cross to Uganda. Everyone says that Uganda is great. There is less gang voilence than in Kenya. The landscape is lush. There are milk trucks driving all over. We'll see.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Through the desert

My mother once told me a story and for some reason it's been on my mind recently.

Back in the day they had these tent revival meetings where a traveling evangelist would come to town and preach to everyone. One of these preachers used to draw a crowd by promising that at the end of the sermon he would lift the heaviest person in the audience using only his teeth. I guess he had some kind of harness device which he used.

They had no TV in those days so he used to draw huge crowds and everything was grand. Then one day he tried to lift a 300 lb farmer and all his teeth were ripped from his mouth and sent spraying out into the first two rows of the audience.

My mother's stories all have a moral at the end. This story could easily be a metaphor but normally my mother's morals were more straight forward and literal. Certainly, I never saw my mum lift anyone with her teeth.

Anyway, I'm in a small town called Isyolo. It's in northern Kenya. From Ethiopia to here is a really bad dirt road and desert. It also has a reputation as pretty dangerous so it's a relief to be past that.

From here it's tarmac. The next milestone is Nanyuki just 80km away. The thing is that Nanyuki is at the base of mount Kenya and the elevation is 4000 m so it's climbing all the way.

There was a mouse in Awasa that destroyed my micro USB converter and makes posting blogs trickier. It sort of sucks to blog about stuff that happened a while back. I'm going to do it anyway probably. If anyone complains I will ban their IP address. No actually, I'm just playing. It's really encouraging to read everyone's comments and emails. Thanks people.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Blogging from Ethiopia

I've tried to update my blog many times in Ethiopia but this is the first time I've been able to. There is only electricity for three days a week generally. Only major cities have internet access. The internet access is very bad as well.

I'm safe and doing well. I'm in a city called Awassa. It's a really nice place about 500km from the border to Kenya. The plan is to push hard and cross the border into Kenya.

Ethiopia has a reputation for being a hard place to cycle. That's been true. But it has a lot of charm also. For the last two weeks no child has thrown a rock at me. The adults are great. The food is tasty. The cafes are fantastic.

Will block more later.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Skipping Sudan...

I'm flying to Ethiopia tomorrow at 10:00. It's a big dissapointment to not go through Sudan. Crossing the Sahara is the most difficult challenge in going from Cairo to Cape town. There are other deserts on the way but they all have roads...

I basically have been procrastinating these last few weeks. Not because of any hope that I'd get a visa but because life here is comfortable and predictable. It's hard to leave.

Sunday, April 13, 2008


When I got to Sohag I was assigned a body guard, Mohamed, and told to stay in my hotel. Mohamed agreed walk around town with me for an hour which was pretty cool of him. Otherwise I just sat around drinking tea with the hotel staff, Mustafa, Osama and Shitos, pictured above.

At this point I decided to just take a micro-bus to Luxor.

Thursday, April 10, 2008


I cycled for an hour from Mallawi before I was given a ride by the police to Assuit. I already blogged about the hotel situation there (btw. $11 is a fair price for a 2 star hotel in Egypt) but I left out the more interesting story.

If you didn't know anyone in Assuit you aren't allowed outside the hotel. I was glad that Mohammed from Mallawi was arriving and I'd be able to visit him. Otherwise it was house arrest. The rooms had TV but I didn't come to Egypt to watch "The Naked Mile." with Arabic subtitles.

I was supposed to meet Mohammed at the gate to Assuit University but he was late. The policeman at the gate had been trying to invite me for tea and after waiting and waiting for Mohammed to arrive it seemed rude to not drink tea with him.

The guard house was small and poorly lit. It had a front room, a bathroom and an closet. There wasn't tea available (a first in Egypt) but he did have a selection of hard liquor (another first in Egypt). I don't drink so we ended up talking only.

It wasn't very long before I knew that he loved America. He loved sex. He wasn't married. He loved sex with his boys. I was getting more and more uncomfortable. Then he started touching my leg.

This was the point where I said, "I don't want to be rude, but I have to leave. I'll be back in 15 minutes to see if my friend has arrived." I was out the door before he grabbed my elbow. He led me across the road to the other guards and told them that I was trying to walk around town without a police escort but fortunately they didn't particularly care and I was free to go.

Mohammed was there when I returned. I really worried for him. That policeman might want revenge and I was gone but Mohammed was still there. So far it has been over a month and nothing has happened.

Sunday, April 6, 2008


All through Egypt people kept telling me that Muslims and Christians were friends. When I saw this church and this mosque next to each other it seemed really to illustrate the concept of religions living side by side. Actually it turns out that back in the day there was an official policy of building a mosque next to every church.

When I arrived in Mallawi there were a couple of pentacostal missionairies staying at my hotel. Basically they were going where the Spirit led them. At first they thought maybe that was to the country of Malawi but then they realised it was to the city of Mallawi so here they were. Counting Egypt they were visiting seven countries for a month each. One of the countries was Afganistan which impressed me as very brave.

They almost certainly came to Egypt with tourist visas because evangelism is strongly discouraged here. At several of the police road blocks they asked me if I were a missionary. I'd respond that I was a tourist. Then maybe they'd ask me if I didn't love Jesus and I say of course but seriously I'm a tourist only...

I spent the rest of the day in Mallawi with Mohamed's family. He is a student at Assuit University but today he was helping his father and cousins at their hardware store. His father was reading the Koran when I arrived. It takes him 11 days to read through the entire Koran and then he starts over and reads it again.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Minya to Mallawi

It's 40km from Al Minya to Mallawi. Basically two and a half hours cycling.

Yousyaf intercepted me on his motorcycle and invited me to his farm where he and his freind Ahmed fed me tea. Farming is the number one business in Egypt. It's easy to forget that.

They fed me tea and also cheese they had made on the farm. Mallawi is famous for the local cheeses. Really really fantastic. Very very kind people and generous.


This statue had been set up just south of Minya. The picture is take from the east so you see her stretching in the sunrise. From the west you would see a woman with the key of life reaching towards the sunset.

Al Minya

I ended up staying 2 nights in Minya. I really loved this town. There were fountains all over. My hotel was cheap and the toilettes were clean. The horse drawn carriages, instead of catering to tourists, were used by ladies with small children. I guess they thought that taxi cabs were a noisy, inellegant way to travel and enjoyed being out in the open air.

All through Egypt I talked to people who wanted to go to America, but in Al Minya I met some Egyptians who had done it.

Michael had a degree in mechanical engineering, he went to America on a tourist visa but got work at a deli in New York. Now he was back in Minya to get married.

Kero Sami was going to go to Montana to work in a national park for the summer as part of an exchange program with his university. His mother was concerned that he would get eaten by bears but he was worried about the lack of night life.

George's wife won the green card lottery. He worked at a Walmart in Ohio but his background was in civil engineering and he planned to get a job doing CAD stuff. He was back in Egpyt on vacation.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Beni Suef to Al Minya

The eastern road from Beni Suef to Al Minya runs through the desert. My only company was the trucks from the quarries where they dig the white rocks used for bricks. I cycled for 80 km through heat.

I did end up getting stopped by the police. They said there was no hotel in Magahga where I had considered staying. It's quite possible that they were right. Magahga a town of between 50 and 100 thousand people. I would have been happy with any kind of place to sleep not just a tourist hotel... To be honest I wouldn't have minded camping in the desert. Instead I had to go on to Al Minya.

Some people say you may be able to bribe the police but in my experience that isn't the case. The only police who bother to stop you are people who genuinely want to do their job and who have the clout to organize a series of police cars to give you a ride. The police man who stopped me was a serious Christian man with 2 bars on his shoulder.

At the next town the police were more relaxed. We had a great time drinking tea, eating foul and generally joking around. At the last stop, there wasn't any police cars there to drive me and they let me cycle the remaining 20 km to Minya on my own so long as I promised to phone them when I was safely checked into a hotel.


A taxi driver screwed me this morning. It was only a few dollars but it hurts because he was a friend. He had even told me what the price was at the start so I don't see how he could more than double it at the end. I didn't pay the full amount he wanted but I was too weak to put up a real fight and he was supposed to be my freind after all...

It also hurts because of my strict budget. I try to live off $10 per day. I spend $3 on my hotel room. The other things that I spend money on are food, internet access, soap, toilette paper, tooth paste and prepaid cell phone cards.

I probably spend $1.50 per day on cell phone minutes and I've decided today to stop that.

It obviously saves me $1.50 right away. But it also saves me money because every day someone asks me to chip in a dollar or two so they can buy their own prepaid phone card.

A more subtle way that not having a phone saves money is because now I'll spend more time with people who also don't have cell phones. Before people could phone me up and I end up hanging out with them instead of with Assad or Hassan. We hang out and they buy cokes and boreo cookies for everyone. Of course, it's a gift so don't worry about paying but really it's not polite for me to mooch from people either.

People who can't afford a cell phone also can't afford coke. Right now I can't afford Coke. Maybe my friends will still bum money off me for cigarettes but it will be Cleopatra brand instead of the foriegn things that Sharif smokes.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

This was in Giza. Tomo, Catherine and I spotted the cutest and most adorable camel I have seen to date. It was like a teenage camel, almost an adult but still with its innocence intact.

It turned out that it was tied in front of a butcher shop. Its comrade had already been divided into various slices. The head was posed on wires as you can see here. I liked the artful bit of food stuffed in the mouth.

My hope is that this serves as a lesson and moral to teenagers and young people everywhere.

Sunday, March 23, 2008


I took this picture from the bridge across the Nile at Beni Suef.

I was crossing the bridge and it seemed like a really beautiful scene so I stopped to eat breakfast and take photos. I ate one bite before I realized that it was a really stupid idea and could get me arrested. Anyway I figured since I was screwed already, I grabbed my camera, took this photo stuffed my breakfast back into my pack, and cycled off madly. I smiled and waved to the two approaching soldiers and didn't look back.

When I was a kid in Zambia everyone was suspicious of South Africans attacking the bridges. They did attack us in 1987. Also some South Africans tried to take over Equatorial Guinea a few years ago. And the CIA has a history of blowing stuff up. So it's reasonable to be nervous about white men acting suspiciously...

Beni Suef

Beni Suef was the first time where I felt Alone in a Foreign Country.

The hotel in Beni Suef had a metal detector at the door. I was wondering how all my gear would make it through when a manager arived to tell the guard I was exempt. I threw some water on my face and left in search of food.

Two teenagers were selling pastries near my hotel. They gave me some freebies and I bought them some of those Egyptian fruit drinks with the strawberries and the bananas.

Dusk is a magical time in Egypt. I spent some time wanderring through the narrow streets without seeing a restaraunt. There was every other type of shop though, including one gun shop, which surprised me. One street was lit up with Christmas lights and had a stage at the end. As soon as I stepped on to it I was surrounded by 20 kids who insisted I should stick around for the disco.

Eventually I met Khaled and his friend Mohamed. They had a shop full of bags for putting grain in. Khaled didn't speak English but through sign language he invited me to his house to eat. It was a great honor to meet his family and eat supper there.

Cairo to Beni Suef

Figured I'd throw up some more blog entries...
Day 1 Cairo to Beni Suef.

Traffic in Cairo is amazing and crazy. I left around 7 in the morning so it wasn't busy yet but it was still an adrenalin rush to navigate the roundabout at Talat Harb.

That first day I didn't know anything about what to expect. I didn't know how far I'd be physically able to cycle. I kind of assumed that I could just cycle until I got tired and then find some place to sleep at one of the small towns on my map.

It was surprisingly easy to find the road out of Cairo. I took a back road to avoid traffic and police road blocks.

The weather was beautiful. There were a lot of palm tree plantations. I waved to everyone I passed.

It was almost dark when I arrived at Beni Suef. I cycled 140 km. It was the first time I had cycled with the foot straps on my pedals so it excersizes different muscles. I was very tired.

Week 3 in Aswan

I really thought that I was going to get my visa for Sudan today. I woke up this morning and it seemed like fate. But I guess not.

The boat for Sudan comes once a week and it leaves on Mondays.

I've been in Aswan for 3 weeks now waiting for my visa. I could have either applied for a visa in Cairo or Aswan but everyone said it was better in Aswan. It was supposed to be a 2 hour process except that they made Americans wait for 2 days just to be anti-American.

Coming to Aswan was clearly the right decision. I've had a good time here. It's much cheaper than Cairo. But I can't stay here forever and it's almost time to make some hard decisions.

It's desperately hot right now and getting hotter by the week.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

I haven't updated this blog nearly as much as planned. Mostly because I end up not staying in internet cafes very much.

I''m in Aswan. That's the end of the road for me in Egypt. It's about 1200 km from Cairo to Aswan. I was able to cycle for about 550 km of the way. For the missing kilometers, I wasn't worried for myself but the police don't like tourists travelling without a police escort.

Next is Sudan, but they say it could be two weeks for me to get a visa. I have time to kill and I'm not worried about two weeks here or there. The only issue is that it's getting hotter and hotter. The cycling in Sudan is going to be the hardest physically.

Monday, February 25, 2008


I'm in Luxor.

When I started this trip I wasn't sure how much cycling I would be allowed to do in Egypt. It turns out that just past Mallawi was the limit.

As you enter each city in Egypt there is a road block. Tourists aren't supposed to go anywhere without a police escort to protect them. It's not dangerous but those are the rules. Sometimes the police let me ride my bicycle in front of the police pickup. But that's not the same. People don't smile and wave as I pass. I try to cycle as fast as possible to the next town where they can switch police. It seems rude to stop and take photos or buy street food. So mostly I stuffed my bike on the back of the pickup and rode along.

Anyway I got tired of that and took a bus to Luxor. I don't have an escort here. It would have been selfish too insist on riding in police cars for 3 days and also stupid. I'll cycle enough later to make up for it.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

I once heard this story about a guy travelling to Kartoum for the first time. When he saw a dollar bill lying on the street he just left it there because he thought that in Kartoum there would be far far more.

Perhaps I'm the same way, in that I don't know what to expect and that I don't always appreciate what I have.

I'm in Asyut today. It's a big town with a big university. It has a high level of security.

I came in with a two car police escort. They say there is only one hotel where I can stay in Asyut. I argued that it was too expensive and I wanted to stay at a cheaper hotel. They said I could pay whatever price I chose but I had to stay there. I'm paying $11 instead of $35. It's the nicest hotel where I have stayed so far and the first where I've had my own bathroom. It's very strange...

I don't know what is going to happen tomorrow. I'm going to Sohag but probably they won't allow me to cycle or even take a bus. My guess is that I'll get a free ride from the police. The whole thing is bizarre. We'll see.

The key is to enjoy everything.

I've had such a very good time in Egypt. Everyone has been so nice. Unfortunately I don't have my pictures with me right now to upload or I would post some more blog entries...

Friday, February 22, 2008


Pyramids... I took a camel tour with some friends I made at the hostel.

Thursday, February 21, 2008


This is how the real professionals box a bicycle. Thanks for your help Charu, otherwise I probably would have missed my flight.
The unfortunate thing was that I left my debit card in a Safeway ATM machine by mistake so that didn't make it to Egypt.

Friday, February 15, 2008


Here is what my apartment looks like after I gave all my possesions to the poor.
A truly spiritual person would have sold the possesions first then given the money to the poor but I'm too lazy and after I had the cash I would have been too greedy.