Saturday, February 27, 2010

Lonely Planet East Africa

Friends: My predominant rice and bean diet of late hasn't been the best of fuel to keep me going. I had hoped some extra eating in Mwansa and a couple of moderate 50-mile days would revitalize me, but evidently my two hard days out of Biharamulo, partially on dirt, left me more drained than I realized, so I took a day of rest here in Bunda.

I've spent my day grazing on eggs and potatoes and chapati and bananas and baked sweet potatoes and more rice and beans. Pasta would have made my day, but I've only come across one restaurant in my two-and-a-half weeks here in East Africa serving it, and it was at a semi-Western restaurant in Uganda.

My day of leisure has allowed me to polish off the 664-page Lonely Planet guide to East Africa. I've read its every page, even those chapters on the Congo and Burundi and Rwanda and sections of Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania I won't be getting to, just to know what's out there and to get my money's worth out of the book.

Rwanda would have been quite interesting with its many genocide memorials. I would have been very curious to see how thoroughly I would have been searched at the border, as plastic bags have been banned in the country and are considered contraband. Much of my gear is separated by plastic bags in my four panniers. Lonely Planet didn't say, but Rwanda may be quite perilous for bicycling. The dogs there developed a taste for human flesh, feeding on the thousands of corpses laying about during the 1994 genocide that left over a million dead.

Like most of Lonely Planet's books, this was written by a team of writers. The lead author was a woman, perhaps explaining why the word "lovely" turned up more than just about any other adjective, over sixty times, more than twice as many as "spectacular," usually the most over-used descriptive word in guidebooks. These authors seemed to make a concerted effort to avoid "spectacular." More sites were "stunning" or "impressive" than were "spectacular," though not as many as were "amazing," "astounding," or "fantastic." Oddly enough there were as many "incredible" things to be seen as "spectacular," though no scale was offered to indicate what would be most mind-blowing--something labeled spectacular or incredible or amazing or stunning.

I am always attentive to what writers deem "ubiquitous" in a country. It is well-nigh impossible to write a travel book without finding items of ubiquity, as David Byrne proved in his recent "Bicycle Diaries" about his travels to cities around the world with his fold-up bicycle. He used "ubiquitous" nearly a dozen times, perhaps making up for being unable to use it in any of his songs.

The authors of this Lonely Planet guide used "ubiquitous" only seven times, about one-third as many as in the China book, though they couldn't find anything in Tanzania that was ubiquitous. In the Uganda section "takeaways" and "white and blue minibuses" and "Internet cafes" were ubiquitous in Kampala and "village walks" in a rural region. In Kenya "tuk-uks," "Smirnoff Ice" and "package holiday tat" were found to be ubiquitous.

As in all the Lonely Planet books there was a preponderance of Englishisms, such as "tat", some obvious and some not. Flashlights are generally referred to as "torches" but with "flashlight" in parentheses for its American readers. Cars have "boots" and can be rented from "hire agencies." One must be wary of "drink driving." Hotels have "plunge pools."

Lonely Planets used to be for extreme budget travelers. They are a fading breed. Formerly, the books regularly mentioned having a splurge, spending a few bucks more than normal on a meal or a hotel. Now the books rarely use the word splurge, and talk about $500 balloon trips and lodges that cost that much or more a night and other extravagances. Activities for children also would not have been part of their books and now are.

Still the books offer much useful information, such as the best shower in Uganda and the fastest computer. Though its writers are always tested to write with some flair and originality and avoid the formula, the formula isn't all that bad. I am glad to have plodded through the book and can now concentrate on more varied writing.

I'm hoping for an early start tomorrow and perhaps making it to Kenya.

Later, George


Stan said...


Today's BBC homepage has a story about big rains in the eastern area of Uganda around a town named Bududa right on the Kenya border. A massive landslide there killed about 100 people overnight. I know you are entering Kenya right now, but BBC says these rains are supposed to keep up for a month. Good luck!

stephen said...

loved this post...totally spectacular description of word usage in lonely planet books. Got me thinking about my own adjective usage. Was a plezsh to read this update!