Wednesday, July 21, 2010


The average Ugandan consumes 1 Kg of bananas per day. When you cross the border the guard is like, "Welcome to Uganda. Please eat 1KG of bananas per day so that you don't pull down our average banana consumption. Uganda is the world's number one consumer of bananas. Enjoy your stay."

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Bodo Boda

You can get them other places, but Uganda is the true home of "boda-boda" motorcycle taxi.

Originally boda-bodas were bicycles that gave you a ride between the Kenya and Uganda border ("boda" get it?) posts back in 1960s. You can still get bicycle taxis in Kenyan towns. It's a very pleasant way to travel. It has the advantages of cycling but without the work. They put a padded seat on the back of the bike. In Nakuru rush hour doesn't mean noise, stress traffic jams and pollution. Businessmen read their newspaper as the bicycle taxi man ferries them to work.

But these days the word "boda-boda" means a Ugandan motorcycle taxi. They are everywhere. It's very conveniant. Even if you have your own car, you will find yourself taking the occasional boda when you are in a hurry. Traffic is terrible in Kampala, but the boda-boda men can pass between cars or on the sidewalk so you reach your destination on time.

I sometimes ended up taking bodas late at night. It's a dangerous thing because they could drive you somewhere dark, where their friends are hiding, beat the crap out of you and take all you stuff stuff. But it's also exhilerating because the town is deserted so there is nothing to hold you back. The boda-boda men love to race. You fly through the silent sleeping streets and you realize that life is a glorious thing and short.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Sabaot Land Defence Force

These stories are so old it's not even funny.

For example I was passing through Eldoret, Kenya in 2008.

One thing on the television back then was the leader of the Mount Elgon rebels making pronouncements about justice and so on. It was very local news for El Doret. You can see the mountain from town. I was going to cycle out that way the next day.

They interviewed a general from the Kenyan army afterward and it reassured me. He looked annoyed. "I don't know what he was doing on television making these outrageous pronouncements. The only thing I know is that he is dead. We shot him and then we checked his finger prints. He's definitely dead."

The next day was sunny and good cycling. People were out and about in droves.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Bonus Kenya Entry

My last post was perhaps too bitter and depressing so here is a bonus Kenya entry. This is a picture of a Kenyan tea farm. I think tea is one of the most beautiful plants you can farm. Isn't this a soothing picture? Also tea is very soothing to drink.

One day I stopped to talk to a Kenyan walking thoughtfully behind a flock of sheep. He was a fat man in a business suit. In fact he was a banker from Nairobi. But he told me that whenever he could, he liked to get back to the farm.

I asked him why Kenyans never sheer their sheep or do anything with the wool, because this had been puzzling me for some time. He explained that you need to raise Merino sheep for wool. For meat, people prefer larger, hardier varieties, although his neighbor had a flock of Merino or some kind of Merino hi-bred.

He asked where I was going and I said to South Africa. "Ah," he says, "I am going to South Africa too for the next World Cup."

Another day I passed a team of marathon runners training. Perhaps a some of them competed in the Olympics. Kenya is famous for its athletes.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Gar. Haven't blogged for a while. This picture is from a game drive in Swaziland.

I kind of want to fast forward through blogging about Kenya. I went to high school in Kenya. Kenya is a beautiful country with fantastic wildlife. Kenyan's are highly educated and prosperous people in East Africa. I was looking forward to cycling in Kenya, but when I got there it made me depressed.

The post election violence had happened while I was in Egypt. It was over by the time I arrived, but there were still camps of displaced people and I passed through some burned down towns. Over a thousand people died in the violence. In the end, no one was punished for any of it. When I got there, there were politicians on television calling for all the prisoners to be released because they had just been caught up in the moment or were falsely accused. The chief of police was interviewed and he said they had already released everyone except the murderers and rapists, if anyone was falsely accused they would have a fair court case. As I understand it, a judge eventually released everyone and accused the police of doing shoddy investigations. The international court wants to get involved now because genocide cannot go unpunished.

Kenya is a lawless place now. I visited my high school. There is a big fence around it these days. When I was there, I used to go for runs in the forest. The guard said I was unsafe to go there now. A group of students had been robbed by local charcoal makers who had machetes. The guard said that if I really wanted to go outside it was safest to take a machete.

The roads were dangerous too. Kenyan drivers are the most selfish and reckless I have seen. One person was killed when I was riding to Eldoret. It was at those dukas after you cross the equator for the last time. I was out of town, winding my way up the hill and I heard the crash. I stopped and looked down the hill. I could see the people down streaming towards the accident. There women screaming. A minivan had hit a pedestrian. The van had stopped and a passenger had gotten out. In the old days, bystanders would have lynched the driver and set his minivan on fire. I didn't want to see it so I left.

I love Kenya, but it has become a violent lawless place.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Everybody must get stoned (North Kenya Day 6)

So I stop to greet these guys. There are three of them around twenty years old. They're wearing western clothing, except that they are all carrying Samburu gear--a small club, a Samburu sword (basically a double edged machete in a scabard), and a staff for herding cows. One of them has warrior paint on his head.

People always want me to stop and chat and normally I don't, but this was a sandy road with a big hump in the middle so I couldn't go around them. One of the reasons I don't stop, is that people often ask me for stuff. Sure enough after I finish shaking everyone's hands, they do start asking me to give them my water bottles.

I explain to them that I still have 40 km left until the next village and I need the water, so OK people it's been fun talking to you but I have to go.

The young man with the warrior paint is blocking my way. "Fuckin," he says and pushes my bike back. "Come on," I say, "I've got a long ways to go." He points to my handle bar bag. "Fuckin," he says indicating that I should open it.

I turn to the guy beside me. "Come on. You speak English. Tell him to let me through." His eyes go wide. He waves his hands and shakes his head. Leave me out of this.

The guy behind me is very tall. He doesn't say anything, just waves his club in a threatening way. It has a big iron nut attached to the end.

War paint dude can't figure out how to open my handle bar bag. "Fuckin" he says to me but I shrug my shoulders and tell him that he needs to speak in English because I don't understand what he's saying.

He gives up on the handle bar bag and moves to the side of me. I stop him as he tries to reach his hand into my pocket. The tall fellow waves his club at me.

War paint dude finds a packet of toilette paper in my pocket. I am amused by this. I knew all along that I only had tissues in there.

They stand for a moment discussing. He gives me back my tissues.

So the thing is, they say that there are Somali bandits north of Marsabit. If I had been robbed by Somalis with AKs then I would have just given them everything. It's a scenario that I had prepared for and worked out in my head.

But I hadn't expected to get robbed like this. These weren't even proper bandits, they were just people walking on the road who happened to meet me and outnumber me.

Anyway, when he gave me back the tissue I made a break for it. War paint dude tried to grab my handle bars but he slipped and fell.

I cycled like mad until, "Whap!" One of them threw a staff and it hit me across the back. I almost laughed because it didn't hurt and I could hear how annoyed they were.

That would have been the end of it, if it hadn't been such sandy road. The sand kept on getting deeper and deeper and I was going slower and slower until they had caught up with me. All the time they were throwing rocks at me.

Eventually the sand was too deep and I had to stop, pick up my bike and move it to the other side of the road under a barrage of flying rocks. Some of those rocks were big too, thrown with both hands.

I escaped. My shirt was completely shredded. I couldn't inhale too deeply for the next couple weeks because of a cracked rib. Also I got a chipped bone at the base of my thumb. I did a lot of stretching, but I expect it will always be a little stiff.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Northern Kenya: South of Marsabit

Marsabit is a dusty, frontier town in the middle of the desert. I was due for a day of rest and laundry, but there wasn't anything interesting happening and I decided to push on.

Once you pass Marsabit, there are still some sandy stretches of road, but you start to see people and villages again.

The local tribes have retained their traditions. Women wear elaborate bead arrangements instead of shirts for example. Some twenty kilometers south of Marsabit, I passed through a village where everyone was especially dressed up with war paint and spears. At first I thought that it must be a festival or something, but later on I learned that it was tribal warfare. There had been some killing before I arrived.

I passed an angry man with an AK-47 slung across his shoulders. He didn't speak English, but I knew he was yelling at me to stop. I looked back to make sure he wasn't pointing the AK at me, and I sped up.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Northern Kenya Day Four

Soleil means "sun" in French, but it was also the name of a French cyclist I met in the desert.

He was deeply tanned with a grizzly beard, a grungy sleeveless undershirt and brown trousers which had a broken zipper.

We exchanged pleasantries. We cursed at the road. He asked if it improved later on and I assured him that it was terrible for the next 50 km.

Then he tried to bum cash off me so he could buy a visa into Ethiopia. It turned out that he had had to spend $6 to repair the ball bearings on his bottom bracket and was now utterly penniless.

He had had a business in South Africa but it had run into problems so he decided to buy a used Rockhopper for $100 and cycle back to France. He was sleeping out in the open at night. I don't know what he was eating.

I worried that he didn't seem to have enough water for the desert. He wasn't carrying a lot of gear. On the front of his bike he had some rock climbing shoes and a coil of rope and on the back he had a guitar.

It is the duty of cyclists who meet in the desert to help each other so I gave him $20. I have since heard that you can't buy visas at that border post, you have to do that in Nairobi. Maybe you can talk your way through. I hope he made it home.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Northen Kenya Day Three

You know in July how the weather man from Channel 9 fries an egg on the sidewalk? Your brain is made of essentially the same stuff as egg. The only thing keeping you alive in the summer time is perspiration.

In the movies people sometimes get lost in the desert and go for days without water and they see mirages. Ha ha ha. There are exceptions, but in real life, it's far more common for people to die of heat stroke on the first day. If you don't move you could survive for two days but normally people try walking to safety and die within hours.

That's why it's so important to drink lots of fluids. When I was in the desert, I used to drink ten liters of water per day. I normally would keep a water bottle wedged next to my handle bar bag so I didn't have to reach down all the time. And I was always super careful to carry enough water and an extra four liters of reserve water.

Anyway, after camping a night in the desert I was down my reserve water bag. Obviously that's when I found out that my reserve water bag has sprung a leak and I only had half a liter of water left.

There is very little traffic on that road but even before I got on my bike, a truck came by. I was going to ask the driver for water but instead I asked him how far it was to the next village. This is a 100% true account of our conversation:

Driver: The next village is really close. You see the bend in the road? The next village is just around that corner.
Me (squinting): I don't see a village.
Driver: No no. You can't see it because it's just around the bend.

This was surprising and happy news to me, because I had thought it was 20 km to the next village. I thanked him heartily.

Every word I know is insufficient to describe the rest of that day. It was 32 km to the next village. I know that doesn't sound like a long way, but it was. That road was indescribably bad. And so was the headwind. I've had windy days in Egypt and I rode against the wind in South Africa which blew over trucks and blocked the mountain passes, but I have never seen anything like the wind in northern Kenya. At the end, I was too exhausted to ride and could only push my bike. It was 1:30 in the afternoon when I finally arrived.

Really it was a stupid thing. If I had just waited, there are cars that pass by. I sort of lost track of time actually and didn't realize it was afternoon. Plus there were places with trees and I thought maybe someone lived there. I kept on expecting the village to be around the corner.

As soon as I arrived, I ordered two of those one liter bottles of water and a coke.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Northen Kenya Day Two

Here is a picture of the only tree for miles and miles and miles.

In northern Kenya there is a village about every 50 km where you can get food and water. My plan was to eat lunch at village number one and sleep at village number two. I started late because of a flat tire but I made good time until lunch.

From there the landscape turned into a rocky, moon-like desert and the road got gnarly. It was getting dark, and I still had 20 km to the next village when I decided to pitch camp for the night.

If you have watched "The Long Way Down," this is the part where they had a police escort. Apparently the road to Marsabit is infested with Somali bandits. People assured me the bandits planned their robberies carefully and wouldn't hi-jack a random tourist on a bike. Still it would have been nice to have some bushes or hills to hide my tent.

There was a herd of antelope grazing in the distance. I admired them for a minute. I wished I knew whether there were lions in the area.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

First Day in Northern Kenya

There was a time I stood on the ridge of a mountain and I looked out for miles and miles and I wondered if my eyes would ever get filled up. If after seeing so many glorious things, my eyes would not be able to take in another sunrise. But I've found that it is my memory which has been filled. I look at the picture above and I don't remember those mountains. It's not a great picture but it moves me and I feel a sort of wistfulness.

There were tons of dik-dik in that scrub. They are curious timid kind of antelope as tall as your knee. They like to stand in the road and watch you cycling. Then when you get close they hop daintily into the scrub. Once I saw one hop through a flock of pheasant without disturbing them. Another time it made me laugh to see two dik-dik getting chased across the road by a squirrel.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Ethiopia wrap up

Addis Ababa

Adis Ababa is the saddest city I have seen. Every Ethiopian beggar imagines that life is better in Addis Ababa.

The city does wrong things to your heart. After a while, I'd see a beggar, missing both legs and an arm, drag himself inch by inch across the street and I'd think, "Come on, buddy. We all know you have a wheel chair hiding in the alley."

Plus Addis smells like someone peed on it. I know that it's just thousands of people taking little pees everywhere, but sometimes it amuses me to imagine a giant Ethiopian Paul Bunyan waking up in the night.

I had the worst diarrhea of my life in Addis. It was a gas diarrhea combo. The first night my stomach bloated up so badly with gas that I puked. For three days, I just lay incapacitated on my bed burping and farting as fast as I could.


Gondar is a mountain town with an ancient castle in the middle. The locals are wealthy and take enormous pride in their heritage.

Restaurant #1: This place had live music and traditional dancing. Henok almost got into a fight with one of the performers who hit another female performer. It turned out they were married. I didn't see it.

Restaurant #2: The owner had been inspired by a visit to France and had created a funky club themed restaurant. The cooks got into an argument with the waiter about killing a chicken. "We're women! It's a man's job!" "No way. I'm not killing it. It's against Jesus!"

Restaurant #3: The musicians ask your name and sing a song about you in Amharic. "This is Dan. He seems nice. Sort of quiet."

Bahir Dar

Bahir Dar was my favorite Ethiopian city. On the banks of Lake Tana. Drenched in rain and mosquitoes. Muddy and bohemian.

Henok and I stayed in a poorer part of town. The ladies there sell tea for 5 cents a cup from their living rooms. As you sipped your tea, you could admire their doilies and pictures of their family. At other homes you could buy local beer for 3 cents. And some of the women probably sold their bodies. Life is hard and everyone has to eat.

Bahir Dar is a cycling town. The weekend I was there, one of the main streets was shut down for bicycle races. Men, women, children, everyone on bicycles.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Conversations on the Bus

I recently had the opportunity to spend many days on the bus. The batteries on my music player soon went flat but I was fortunate to sit next to interesting people.

In Zambia I talked to a retired banker. He had took an early retirement right before the bank was dissolved so he was one of the last few to receive a pension. Even though he worked as a banker, his education was in agriculture and he used his severance package to buy a farm. Now he was the head of the local farmers union.

The government tries to encourage farmer cooperatives in Zambia. If you want subsidized fertilizer you have to join. Most of them are a waste of time.

But this guy was was quite enthusiastic about organizing people. He'd help new farmers estimate how much food a field would produce. He'd tell them how much food to keep and how much to sell. He kept records if a chicken died in order to track the spread of diseases. He knew ahead of time if people were going to run out of food because of poor rains. In Zambia, farmers are supposed to sell to authorized millers and the price of maize is fixed. He petitioned the government so his farmers could sell to a local mill and save money on transport. Also they charged a higher than official price.

One thing he was quite proud of was that he was able to secure loans for his farmers to buy fertilizer. Originally the lenders wanted to charge 100% interest but he was able to negotiate a loan for just 50% interest. Only one farmer wasn't able to repay the loan and the other farmers each had to chip in to cover the loss. The next year he took out a mortgage loan against his own property for an even lower rate.

I asked him if he wasn't worried that he would lose his farm if the rains were poor, but it turns out he used part of the loan to insure the crops. I didn't know small scale Zambian farmers could do that.

Sometimes people make me all kinds of optimistic.