Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Kampala, Uganda

Friends: I've changed money, picked up a map, gotten a solid meal into me after biking the 25 miles from Entebbe on the shores of Lake Victoria, where I flew into last night, to Kampala, Uganda's capital. Now I have to figure out how to find the road out of this capital city of 1.3 million to Fort Portal, 200 miles away, nestled up against the mountain range that separates Uganda from Rwanda and the Congo.

The very sweet and kindly lady at the tourist office couldn't tell me. "It's too far," she said. "You ought to take a bus." There are few street or road signs to help me, so I'll be using my compass and instincts to guide me once again, as in my most recent trip across China. The tourist lady's last words to me were, "I hope you don't get lost."

I made out all right last night leaving the airport at 11 p.m. in the pitch dark with no moon and few street lights to illuminate the way. I knew of a campground about five miles from the airport, but before I got that far I saw a clump of trees along a barbed-wire enclosed UN supply depot that offered a good enough camp spot. I had no need of water, as I had pumped enough water at the airport for my three water bottles, much easier pumping than in China, indicating the water didn't have too many particulates in it.

I had no problem immediately conking out after over 24 hours in transit. I hadn't slept enough when I was awoken by daylight at 6:45, but since I wasn't too well secluded, arose and headed on in to Entebbe, the country's fourth largest city with 57,000 people. I was in search of a Montessori school founded by a couple from Winnetka in 2001. They are friends of a friend. My friend didn't warn them that I was coming, wishing me to surprise them. Unfortunately, I missed them, as they had flown back to Chicago the day before. But I had a nice chat with the local woman who runs the school. She spent a year in Chicago getting trained in the Montessori method. I asked if she knew of a store where I could buy a good map of the country. She told me the post office in Kampala sold them. That was nice to know, as I knew I shouldn't have a problem finding the post office, especially with everyone speaking English.

I shared the ample shoulder on the two-lane road linking these two cities with pedestrians, cyclists and mini-vans continually pulling over to pick up passengers. People along the road greeted me with "How are you," rather than "Hello," just as Lonely Planet predicted. And the same goes when I stop to ask people directions or the whereabouts of things.

Never have I felt so white, not only in contrast to everyone around me, but knowing I must get some color into my skin to survive being out in the equatorial sun all day. My toughest conditioning in the days to come will be adapting my skin to the sun's rays.  My sun block seems to be working so far, as no pink to speak of yet. A missionary, the lone white I've encountered since leaving the airport, confirmed my skin showed no signs of being fried. He had done a little bicycle touring in the States and was interested in my plans. He was new to Africa, so could offer no advice.

My KLM flight was full of missionaries and aid workers, many who wore matching t-shirts, one with a Biblical quotation on the back. There were only a handful of Ugandans on the flight. Four of them were sitting behind me, speaking a language other than English, having a rollicking good time, without being loud or obnoxious. When the stewardess came by with the drink tray one exuberantly asked, "What have you got?" They conveyed the easy, casual warmth of the people that has been so immediately evident.

It was my first time on KLM and through Amsterdam's airport. I enjoyed both very much. As I made the long trek from one gate to another, I passed a dozen or more pictures of Eddie Merckx featured in an ad for Star Alliance proclaiming he used to travel the world in pursuit of titles, but he now he pursues miles on the 26 airlines under the Star Alliance umbrella.

Tulip bulbs for sale was another pleasant distraction from the hubbub. Unlike London's Heathrow, which doesn't post gate departures until 45 minutes before departure, mine was already up, two-and-a half-hours early, including how many minutes it would take to walk to the gate. It all made me very happy that I had made the switch from British Air, as it just started charging for bicycles, while KLM doesn't.

I have come to Africa to make a circuit of Lake Victoria, the world's second largest lake after Lake Superior. Its circumference is slightly more than 1000 miles, a bit more than Lake Michigan, another that I have ridden around. As Lake Michigan is surrounded by three states (Illinois, Wisconsin and Michigan), Lake Victoria is surrounded by three countries (Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya). I could make the trip in two weeks or so. That would be a very short trip for such a long flight, so I will make as many side trips as I can, not entirely hugging the shore line in the six weeks before I return.

At present I know of no bicycle pilgrimage sites to check out in this region other than the birthplace of Freddy Mercury, singer/song-writer of Queen, who gave us the the bicyclist anthem, "Bicycle Race," with the immortal lyric, "I want to ride my bicycle." The album it came from, "Jazz," had one other bicycle-themed song--"Fat Bottomed Girls Make the Rock and Roll World Go Round." The album also included the greatest three-page album fold-out poster ever, featuring scads of topless women straddling bicycles.

Mercury was born on the island of Zanzibar, off the coast of Tanzania. I'm not sure if I'll have the time to include that in these travels, as it is more than 350 miles from Lake Victoria. But if I respond to the lure of Mount Kilimanjaro, 200 miles from the Lake, towards the coast, I could well continue on to Zanzibar. If I only had no return date, I could meander to my heart's delight.

Later, George


T.C. O'Rourke said...

You will never gather moss, my friend.

Looking forward to the chronicles,


Stan said...

Good to see some more posts. Uganda this time? All the missionaries on the airplane are depressing. They just talked the Ugandan government into considering making homosexuality a crime punishable by death. Don't take my word for it, read Wikipedia "Uganda Anti-Homosexuality Bill." I guess it is never a good idea to talk politics when one is underway in strange lands. But it is interesting to know what is on the missionary agenda in Africa.