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.