Sunday, March 21, 2010

Entebbe, Uganda

Friends: When Ingo and I arrived at the World Heritage Kusabi Tombs on the outskirts of Kampala yesterday morning, I was surprised to notice guards frisking people as they entered. As we paused, looking for a safe place to leave our bikes, a guard told us we could bring them inside an enclosed side entrance.

Our entrance fee of 10,000 shillings each included a guide. It was only after we had entered that he told us that the tomb we had come to see had burned down five days ago in an act of arson, explaining the frisking. If we had been paying attention to the headlines in the newspapers, we would have known. It was a huge national calamity. A seven-day period of mourning had been declared.

All that remained of the grass-thatched structure was a crumpled mass of steel girders that once supported a roof that spanned about fifty yards over the tombs of the last four Buganda kings. It was built in 1882 and declared a World Heritage site in 2001. The tombs were not damaged, but the many artifacts in what was the world's largest hut were destroyed--spears, medals, stuffed animals and more.

The fire was set at eight p.m. and flared up from several spots. When the fire brigade arrived, it was not properly equipped to put out the fire. The next fire truck did not arrive for over an hour. Our guide said that the locals were so upset that when the second truck arrived way way too late, they threw stones at the crew and wouldn't let them in. Police were called and three people were shot dead.

The guide said that some people suspect the fire was a government plot, as the current Buganda king had been demanding billions of shillings in rent from the government. The king is just a figure head, but he is the leader of the largest tribe in Uganda and is the country's largest land-holder. Since the fire, the president of the country had been to the tombs and all the religious leaders, calling for calm. The fire could have easily set off rioting and looting.

The site was mobbed with mourners. Ingo and I were the only whites and the only ones being charged an entry fee. The Buganda tribe is the largest in the country. The tomb is ringed with huts of relatives of the present king. It will be rebuilt, but where the funds will come from is presently uncertain. Our guide hoped we would stir interest in our countries for fund-raising, though it is an important enough site that one would think the many thousands of Bugandas would rally around this cause and could raise the money on their own.

It seemed just another example of these Eastern Africans having become accustomed to aid coming their way that they don't care to take the initiative to take care of themselves. Such an attitude was much much more pronounced here than in the four countries I traveled in southern Africa a year ago. Paul Theroux, who spent four years teaching English in Uganda in the '60s, and knows Africa well, is among those who says it is time to stop giving so indiscriminately to Africans and let them take care of themselves.

So many people asking for money, and not beggars, and others overcharging whites, seeming to think money grows on trees where we come from, has undermined the great friendliness and warmth of so many. People continually tried to short change me. Hotels and campgrounds frequently would say they didn't have enough change and to come back later for it, hoping I would forget, or that it wasn't worth the bother.

Yet people regularly thank me for coming to their country and hope I've enjoyed my time. People go out of their way to be helpful, but all too many expect some compensation for it. It wasn't like that at all way south. People were genuinely helpful, especially in Lesotho, without wanting or expecting anything in return.

This will not rank as one of my favorite trips, but certainly not one that I regret. I now know this region of the world and have also made an exceptional bicycling friend. This tour has had more than its share of hard days. It is said that each Tour de France a rider completes takes a year off his life. The same might be said for this Tour.

It is five miles to the airport. I'm hoping my stitched up and bulging rear tire can make it. I noticed another bulge this morning and inserted my last dollar bill inside it to keep the tube from breaking out. It joins three others. I am eager to show this tire to Joe and Craig and Aaron. I will not throw this one away. I will find a place to hang it.

Later, George

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Kampala, Uganda

Friends: I was trying to enjoy the final seventy-five miles of my travels in rural Uganda as Ingo and I closed in on Kampala, but my mind was overly occupied in nursing my legs along, hoping they had enough left in them to make it to Kampala before dark.

My digestive tract was still not back to normal, preventing me from eating as much as I needed or to retain all that I did eat. If IVs were available in supermarkets, I would have bought a bundle and inserted one into each arm and each leg.

Ingo and I had gotten an early seven a.m. start, but it was looking iffy right from the moment we hit the road that we could make it to Kampala that night with ominous, dark clouds overhead that began drizzling and whipping up a significant head wind. We also had more climbing than we anticipated. Our average speed for the first several hours was just nine miles per hour, not much more than on rough, dirt roads.

Even on the not-so-steep climbs, I had to drop into my lowest gear. With nothing in my legs, I was giving a bare, minimal effort to keep the bike in motion. I at least had the strength to sit on my bike for the possible eight or more hours of riding time it would take to ride those seventy-five miles. When we'd knocked off forty-two miles by noon, leaving us just thirty-three miles with seven hours of light, it looked as if we were going to make it.

We'd made only two short stops, one for a bag of yogurt and another for an avocado. Most of the tiny road stands along the road on this stretch were only selling bananas, but when we noticed one with avocados, I had to stop for some of their energy rich calories. Ingo had eaten his usual hearty breakfast and despite his affection for avocados, couldn't be tempted.

Like most of the stands, no one was tending it, so we had to wait a couple minutes for someone to notice we had stopped and come take our money--100 shillings, all of a nickel, per avocado. We plopped down on the bench in front of the stand. I cut the avocado open and gobbled it down. We quickly drew a crowd. Evidently none spoke English, otherwise they would have been surely friendly enough to approach to have a word with us.

Just as I was finishing the avocado, a tall stocky man walked up to us with a wad of money in his hand, gesturing that he'd like to buy us another if we wished, perhaps thinking Ingo was too short of funds to be able to buy one himself. As we gathered ourselves together to be on our way, he had enough time to leave and return with an infant daughter in his arms. He held her close to both of us, so she could get a look at perhaps her first mzungus (whites). She stared wide-eyed and quizzical, not sure whether to be afraid or not. I have startled some small children along the road who have jumped back with a start at the site of me, some with a small scream. I nearly caused the death of one who darted out into the road and was nearly hit by a truck.

When we stopped for lunch at a sizable town, we noticed a stand selling hard-boiled eggs covered with mashed potatoes, a delicacy we'd happened upon a week ago, but hadn't seen since. I devoured a couple of them. I figured they had provided me with enough nourishment that I resumed riding with a little more vigor than I had been able to summon up 'til then. But I was soon regretting it, wishing I had maintained my bare minimum effort to keep the wheels rolling. The terrain turned hillier the closer we came to Kampala, sapping even more of what little energy I had. Our efforts were compounded by the headache of traffic and fumes. I revived myself by stopping at a gas station and dousing my head with water and soaking my shirt and wrapping a wet neckerchief around my forehead. Our efforts were at least aided by no flat tires for the first time in nearly a week.

Within a couple miles of the town center the grid-lock began, just as it had coming up from Entebbe a month-and-a-half ago. Most of the traffic were packed taxi-vans. We alternated passing them on the right and left, following the trickle of bicycles and motor-cycles. I reached what I thought was the turning point to the backpackers hostel and campgrounds we were headed to before Ingo. When he hadn't caught up to me within ten minutes, I wondered if he might possibly have gotten ahead of me. Only once before had we lost track of one another, but that was out on the open road and we soon reconnected. At least we both knew where we were headed this time so I continued on my own, arriving a bit before Ingo.

Ingo thought he would celebrate our arrival in Kampala and the end of our travels together with a beer, we didn't have the energy to leave our tents, where we had a final dinner of noodles together. We could grandly reminisce about our two weeks and 1,000 kilometers together, certain that we will meet up again in the coming years somewhere. Ingo already has me excited about giving Yemen a ride. He's the first person I've ever met who's traveled in this country just south of Saudi Arabia. I haven't even read about it as a travel destination. After his first visit, Ingo returned to study Arabic.

We had some early morning site seeing to do the next day and then it is twenty-five miles to the airport in Entebbe for me. One last report tomorrow.

Later, George

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Kiboga, Uganda

Friends: It wasn't long into our travels together, that are now approaching two weeks, that people began asking if Ingo and I with our sixteen-year age difference were father and son, especially after Ingo stopped shaving and began to grow a facial scruff to match mine.

Ingo replies, "No, he's my rich American uncle." Ingo lately has been the one behaving like the rich uncle, as I struggle to regain my strength, cooking dinner and trying to get calories into me, even though I don't have much of an appetite.

My stomach simply hasn't been accepting food for the past couple of days. The best I can do is suck down a 500 ml pack of yogurt, easily the most exciting food discovery we've made, though not until Jinja. I had seen empty plastic bags of yogurt with a straw stuck in them along the road, but had never noticed them in the sparsely stocked one-room supermarkets where we get our food when we don't go to the market. But they had been hidden all this time in the upright refrigerators that I rarely go into, usually sitting in an indistinguishable pile on a lower shelf. Once we discovered where the yogurt could be found, I finally had a food to look forward to, something that always makes the pedaling a little more enjoyable. It comes in three flavors--vanilla, strawberry and mango.

One of the best sources of calories is a mango flavored energy drink called KyeKyo that advertises itself as "The complete energy food drink." It is 800 calories. The first time I tried one I thought it had gone bad as it was a soupy gelatin. It smelled okay, but wasn't particularly tasty or flavorful. I have to force myself to drink it, almost as if it were medicine, but it is the best fuel I have found here in Uganda. I am good for a couple of hours of riding after downing one them. I have tried diluting it with soft drinks and juices, but its hard to overpower its unappealing taste and texture. Occasionally when I ask to buy one, the sales person will ask if I've ever had it before, knowing that its not agreeable to everyone.

Often when I've joined up with a person of a different nationality the two of us will have a little fun with the question touring cyclists are always asked, "Where are you from?"  After one of us spits out our countries we'll let the person try to guess who is from where and why.  Lately we've been telling people we're from "Germerica."  No one has asked, "Where is that?"  When I was traveling with a Canadian across Australia we'd tell kids we were from Japan.  We'd occasionally be challenged about that.

A few here recognize the German flag Ingo is flying, and immediately assume we're both German. I'm used to that, as I'm often mistaken for being German wherever I travel, as they're more prone to adventure travel such as this than Americans. Uganda though is one of the rare places I've been that people assume I'm American, as there are so many American aid workers here. People ordinarily shout out "Mzungu" (white person) when they see us, but occasionally they'll shout out "American."

Ingo is so easy going and unflappable, he doesn't object. He's been an ideal traveling companion, especially lately when I've been lagging. Neither of us has had nary a complaint over accommodations that are too rough or restaurants that could have had a better choice of food or our ill-luck in missing a turn, such as happened twice one day greatly prolonging our time on the bike right to dark, and led us off on a virtual single-track path for ten miles. He is as conditioned and passionate and dedicated a traveler as I've ever met, accepting and thriving upon all that comes our way. He is leading the life of his choosing, and is quite good at it.

He uses his stove a couple times a day, cooking himself a hearty breakfast and chai. Very rarely do I travel with a stove, making do with sandwiches and canned food and roadside offerings. Ingo wondered if I ever drank coffee or tea. I told him I associated drinking hot drinks with being a grown up, and since I never wanted to grow up, have always avoided them.

"You've always wanted to be a children?" Ingo asked.

"I wouldn't necessarily say that, but I never wanted a career or a family or a mansion or other things that are associated with being a grown-up. I just wanted to live a life of adventure, and so I have."

Ingo is increasing his English vocabulary quite a bit. At one bar there was sign saying "No room for idlers please." I had to explain what it meant. We have had occasion to use "idler" quite a bit since, as that is a common activity in Africa. People sit around road side cafes neither drinking or eating. That is just one of the many contrasts of Africa with China. The Chinese are so industrious and such hard workers that when China gets involved in building projects in Africa from roads to dams, they bring their own workers despite the huge idle labor force in Africa.

In response to my assertion that being attacked by flies for five hours was my worst experience ever bicycling, my friend Dwight, who is presently biking Vietnam, asked if I had forgotten about being tackled and assaulted by a couple of knife-wielding thugs along the road in South Africa last year, who threatened to kill me and could well have. Actually I had, but I would still have to say the fly experience was worse. The South African attack happened so fast, and seemed like just a few moments of intense terror with two guys waving knifes in my face threatening to kill me if I didn't give them the rest of my money after I'd already given them two batches, that I didn't have time to think, "when is this going to be over."  But with the flies, that was all I was thinking about for five hours. It was a torture that had me in a prolonged agony that I didn't know when it would end. It too was a matter of life-and-death. I couldn't let up, otherwise I would have been feasted upon and bitten to death.

The South Africa attack is something that lingers with me and has scarred me. I doubt I'll have fly nightmares, but that was an incredibly long spell of horror. The South African experience doesn't haunt me in my nocturnal hours, but I do have flashbacks as I ride along, knowing how vulnerable I am and knowing that there are desperate people out there. I'll have to ask Ingo if upon further reflection he can recall an experience to compare to our fly hell. We've both experienced fly attacks before, but nothing even remotely so intense or prolonged.

As I've thought back I could remember another harrowing experience that ranks right up there with the flies and the robbery. It also happened in Africa when I ventured into Lesotho, the high mountain country within South Africa. I was drenched for over an hour by a hard cold rain while riding an unpaved road late in the day just after I had made the long hard climb into Lesotho. There was no place to seek shelter.

When I stopped to camp near dark I discovered that my sleeping bag was too damp to keep me warm and I didn't have enough warm, dry clothes to survive a night with near freezing temperatures. I was starving, so had some dinner in my tent as the rain continued, and then took my tent down in the dark and continued on until I could find a place to stay.

There was no traffic and just a faint bit of light from the moon penetrating the clouds. I alternated between walking and riding my bike on the rough road depending on how much water there was and how well I could make out its surface. I lucked upon a small village of a handful of huts about an hour later. It had no electricity, just a few candles and kerosene lamps. It took some convincing, but I was finally allowed to sleep in the night watchman's bed in the corner of a small bar with the watchman sleeping on a cot. As I think back, I don't think my heart has ever made such a steep plummet as when I discovered my wet sleeping bag, meaning that my day had not come to an end and that I would have to continue on in the dark and the rain and the cold on a rough, rocky road with no idea how far it was to a warm, dry shelter. Ah, the joy of travel.

Later, George

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Hoima, Uganda

Friends: Shortly after I returned to my tent after my latest round of vomiting, the British proprietor of the campground Ingo and I were staying at in Masindi pulled up beside my tent in her car and said, "I heard you were sick. Do you need any help?"

"I think I just have a case of food poisoning,"  I replied. " Once I get it all out I'll be okay."

"Are you sure it's not malaria? Do you have a fever or chills."


"Do you have any aches or pains or diarrhea."

"No,  I'm pretty sure I simply ate something that doesn't agree with me and just need to get it out of my system.  I'll be all right."

"I have some antibiotics. Take one of these now and another in the morning. That ought to help."

I thanked her very much and quickly went back to sleep, not waking again until the morning, when I could finally put some desperately needed food into my much depleted system. But I was so exhausted from our five-hour forty-mile ride out of the park the day before on a rough dirt road that I slept most of the day, nearly forty hours straight.

It was not the road, though, that did me in, but rather the swarms of ferocious, attacking flies that relentlessly chased and bit us, not allowing a moment of respite, forcing us to ride as fast as the road would allow to escape this hell. These weren't your ordinary irritating flies that buzz about and might take a little nip, but rather flies with razor blades for teeth and elongated fighter-pilot wings that allowed them to keep up with us even on the descents. There was no mistaking their bite. It was like a deep saber thrust that had us yelping in pain. My clothing offered no protection. They bit through my shirt and gloves and socks. Both Ingo and I agreed it was our worst experience ever on the bike.

Ingo had the misfortune of a slow leak in his rear tire, forcing him to stop every fifteen or twenty minutes to add some air. He was riding a mountain bike with wide hefty tires, while I was on a road bike with narrow tires.  His bike was better suited to the rough road, so he could ride faster than I could and would disappear up the road. I would catch up to him when he paused to reinflate. He needed to put on pants and jacket to protect himself from the assault when he stopped. Watching him flail away would have been a comical sight if I weren't doing the same myself.

At one point he decided to leave his extra clothes on despite the ninety degree heat, but he was soon so overheated, that he shed his extra protection at his next air stop. His t-shirt was wringing wet, utterly saturated in sweat. He had to make a quick, quick change into a dry shirt. I had been on the verge of putting on extra layers myself, but not after seeing that.

The flies were so thick around us we were killing them left and right, snatching them out of the air or smashing them on our skin or on our handlebar bags, where clusters would congregate. They were continually getting caught in my beard. I was frantically waving my neckerchief from side to side and across my back to fend them off, though on the descents I had to have both hands on the brakes and had to suffer, unable to fend them off. They still managed to get in bites on the wind-protected back of my knees and behind my ears and on my back and ankles. This was a hell unlike any other we had endured on or off our bikes.  We knew it must end and that it would be an accomplishment to survive this, but we had to exert every ounce of energy we could summon to get this over with.

I was braking less than normal on the rocky, treacherous descents, greatly increasing the risk of a flat. Finally, my luck ran out and I hit a rock full on and could feel its contact with the rim. It didn't immediately go flat, but before long I felt it softening, knowing that I had indeed suffered a pinch flat. I was summoning the courage to stop and add some air when in the distance I saw a gateway across the road, indicating the park entrance and shelter.  I felt a great rush of relief as if I were a castaway at sea sighting land.

When I at last arrived at the park entrance with a swarm of flies still about me, I was shocked to see a few people standing about without flailing arms.  I rushed into the park office to escape the flies.  My private little swarm came in with me.  I collapsed into a corner still frantically waving my neckerchief.  The ranger on duty grabbed a a branch and started swatting them off me and out the door.  After he cleared out his office he went to my bike and swatted those that clung to its panniers.  Then all was amazingly calm.  I remained cowering and cringed in the corner of the office a few minutes longer, feeling shell-shocked and utterly drained, trying to regain my strength, relieved that the nightmare was over, but reluctant to go back outside until I was absolutely certain it was safe.

During the five hours of being besieged by the flies we were greatly regretting that bicyclists were allowed into the park. When we showed up at the western entrance to the park the day before, just eight miles from the boat launch on the Nile for a two-hour excursion to the Murchison Falls, we didn't know whether we'd be allowed to continue in on our bikes or would have to get a ride. It was one hour until the afternoon boat trip and we had been riding hard on dirt roads since seven that morning to make it in time. One is charged thirty dollars a day to visit the park in 24-hour increments from the time one arrives, so if we missed this afternoon's boat trip it would cost us an extra thirty dollars if we had to take the morning trip.

There were two young men at the gate. One said we could continue on our bikes and the other said we couldn't. After making a phone call, we were allowed to bike in and were told we could bike out on the main road the next day to Masindi, so we wouldn't have to double back on the eighty-mile stretch of dirt we had just come in on. That was great news at the time. We were hoping to camp above Murchison Falls with our bikes, but that region of the park is thickly inhabited by buffaloes, making it too dangerous for bicycling. The northern half of the park across the Nile is also off limits to bicyclists, as that's where the lions and elephants are.

We made it to the river just minutes before the boat was to leave. It's fourteen seats were booked, but we were told we could sit in the bow if we wished. We had no problem with that. Just across the river we could see elephants grazing at the water's edge. The boat headed for them. In the foreground were several dozen hippos mostly submerged with just their ears and nostrils poking above the water. For the two hours to the falls we passed a school of hippos every few minutes. An English school boy among the passengers kept gushing, "This is the coolest thing ever."

There were wart hogs and gazelles and crocodiles at the water's edge as well. Many of the crocs had their mouths gaping open facing the breeze to cool off. We stopped in the middle of the river at a mound of rocks about a quarter of a mile from the falls, not as close as we would have liked, but as close as this boat could manage in the swift current. The Nile compresses from being several hundred feet wide to just about fifteen feet through a very narrow gorge creating what is called the fastest torrent of water on any river anywhere. This waterfall was featured in the Bogart/Hepburn film "The African Queen" from 1951.

The campground back at the boat launch was packed with travelers. Ingo was able to speak German for the first time in two weeks. A young Englishman, a recent college graduate, invited us to share his dinner of rice and vegetables that he was cooking over his camp stove. He said he had plenty to spare. He was eager to hear about our travels. We were warned to hang our food from a tree, as wart hogs meandered through the campground. Even as we were setting up our tents a mother water hog with three little ones started nuzzling our panniers that contained food.

We were up late, contributing to my fatigue the next day. Our hard push to escape the flies was a near all-out effort, as much as the rough road would allow. That five hour, non-stop effort left me utterly depleted. I gave it everything I had, almost as if it were a matter of life-and-death.

More than two days later now, I'm still not fully recovered. I was so exhausted, only wanting to sleep, I was concerned I might have contracted sleeping sickness from the flies, but these don't seem to be carriers of the disease. We had a final thirty-five miles of dirt road to Hoima today.

My tires have taken such a beating from the last four days on rocky dirt roads they finally gave out with one flat tire after another, three in all. The sidewalls on my rear tire had separated from the wire bead in several places. My spare emergency fold-up tire couldn't take these roads either and blew out shortly after I put in on. But miraculously we met a guy who could sew the sidewalls together out in the middle of nowhere. It just has to last 125 miles to Kampala and then twenty-five to Entebbe.

I was lucky to have had the company of Ingo, while I recovered at the Masindi campground for a day-and-a-half. Though I was too exhausted to eat and my stomach didn't seem eager for food, I forced down some spaghetti. I was even too exhausted to walk three blocks to one of Masindi's several Internet outlets.

We had passed through Masindi on the way to Murchison a couple days before, but skipped the Internet hoping there'd be some in Butiaba, a fishing town on Lake Albert, which Uganda shares with The Congo. We knew there were guest houses in Butiaba and that it was the largest fishing village on large Lake Albert,  named for Queen Victoria's husband, but it was so distant from civilization it had no electricity other than a few places that had small and noisy gas-generators.

At night the town was pitch dark other than a stray kerosene lantern here and there at a small store or cafe. Barely visible people sat in the middle of the road in the dark selling fish and sweet potatoes. Unfortunately, the guest house we pitched our tents at was one of the few places in town with a generator to power a television set in its bar. It was a Saturday night, so the generator buzzed until one a.m. We did get the owner to move it behind a wall, somewhat muffling it.

Even though the town was on a lake, there was no running water other than from a couple of pumps throughout town. Most people just went to the lake to fill their five gallon jugs. I took a bath in the lake. Ingo was a bit leery of parasites so just poured some water over himself from the meager bucket we were supplied with.

We haven't had an easy, leisurely day since leaving Jinja, each day a memorable adventure, requiring an exceptional effort. But no complaints from either us, as we end our days quietly satisfied with our progress, though hoping that the next day will not be so hard.

Later, George

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

A Day in Jinja

Friends: I suddenly feel quite safe traveling with Ingo. As we were bicycling out to Bugali Falls this morning, a series of Class 5 and higher rapids on the Nile less than ten miles from where it begins its journey to Cairo from Lake Victoria, someone along the road shouted at us, "Chuck Norris!"

Ingo bears such a similar resemblance to the action film star, who evidently is quite popular in Africa, that he says its not unusual to hear such a reaction in Africa, even when he's wearing a baseball cap and sun glasses, as he was today. Also like Norris, Ingo is quietly self-assured and soft-spoken and unboastful and has a good heart.

People occasionally take advantage of his easy amenability. In Nairobi someone claiming to be Sudanese asked for his help. Ingo was willing to listen to his story. Soon after three Kenyan police officers interceded, saying the man was a known con artist. They wanted to know all he had told Ingo. Then they asked to search Ingo's belongings to see if he had planted anything on him. Ingo grew suspicious of them and asked to have the inspection continue at a police station. At that the officers and the Sudanese disappeared, all in on the operation.

On his first trip out of Europe, not even twenty years old, he was scammed in Morocco by a young man he met on a train who invited him to his home. The guy stole his camera. When Ingo demanded it back, he told Ingo he would tell the police he was trafficking in drugs. It was Ingo's third day in the country. He was headed to Marrakesh, but he was so unsettled by the experience he fled back to Spain.

The experience though did not discourage him from further travels. As extensively as he has traveled, his widowed mother still wishes he would settle down. She worries so much that she breaks into tears at his every departure. But travel is his life and there is no stopping him. I can certainly relate.

In our five days together he has maintained a blissful calm with nary a complaint, even casually recounting with no rancor spending two nights in jail in Syria, suspected of being a spy for taking a photo of something he shouldn't have. All the stories and his easy-going demeanor make him as fine a traveling companion as I've encountered.

He was a tad perturbed, though, when we were turned away from the Nile Beer Brewery just across the dam from where we are staying. Lonely Planet said it offered free tours. One only needed to call a certain number to arrange the tour. Our campground did not have a phone, so we just biked the mile to the brewery to arrange the tour in person. The guards knew nothing about tours, nor would they call the number or allow us in to reception to make a call.

As a German, Ingo knows and appreciates beer and was quite eager to see this plant. The three guards obstinately refused to budge, finally saying that even if they called the number and a tour was set up, Ingo would not be allowed in because he was wearing sandals. I looked a little more presentable in my button down shirt, but that wasn't enough for the guards to show us any favor.

We had several offers of a quick boat trip at Bugala Falls in the calm water between two of the major rapids, or we could have splurged and paid $125 for a four-hour raft trip through the falls. We declined them all. We were joined by a 72-year old woman from Dallas who had just served a year in the Peace Corps in Namibia, cutting her stint short out of frustration of not being allowed to do anything. She was now living in northern Uganda working with her son's girl friend helping women. She said the area was overrun with some two hundred NGO workers.

Her son is a security specialist working for the US embassy in Kampala and had her full of worries. He told her before she accepted a ride from a motorcyclist, the typical taxi here, she should write down its license plate number and inform the driver that she was calling her son to let him know, as such drivers were known to kidnap whites and steal their belongings. She actually nearly had it happen, but insisted the driver stop when she realized he was taking her in the wrong direction.

She was presently taking a break from her work to take a tour with several of her younger Peace Corps co-workers, who had all taken the raft trip. She was an amazingly vibrant and spirited woman who looked much younger than her years.

After several hours at Bugali Falls we went in search of Lake Victoria here in Jinja. The heart of the city is more than a mile from its swampy shores. The central street through the town center dead ends at a prison on the shore of the lake. The fishing pier is a mile down the other road that intersects the middle of the city dead-ending on the Nile. We were halted by a security guard when we reached the quiet pier. He said if we bought him a soda he would show us around. Since there wasn't anybody about or anything to see, we declined his offer. As at the other major cities on the lake in Kenya and Tanzania, the lake shore offered no beaches or attractions to speak of other than a skimpy golf course with no golfers and a boarded up yacht club. With its shore line swampy, its not even prime real estate.

There are beaches to be found on the Ssese Islands, a cluster of 80 some islands a couple hour ferry trip from Entebbe. If I make it back from Murchison Falls with time to spare before my flight home in twelve days, I could pay the islands a visit for a little final R&R.

Later, George

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Jinja, Uganda

Friends: Yesterday was International Women's Day, one of Uganda's ten official holidays along with Liberation Day, Martyr's Day, Hero's Day and the usual Christmas, Easter, New Year's and a few others. We didn't realize it was a holiday until Ingo went to the bank to change traveler's checks and it was closed. He was down to 4,000 shillings, about two dollars. I had plenty to spare, so we weren't marooned in Mbale for a day, and could continue on to Jinja, 90 miles further, once Uganda's second largest city, but now maybe its third largest, and a city full of banks and tourist amenities, as it is the source of the Nile.

While we ate a breakfast of banana, chapati, bread and hard-boiled eggs yesterday morning in our hotel room, we listened to the BBC news on Ingo's short wave radio. We were hoping for news of the Oscars. At 7:30 we learned the first two had been awarded, best supporting actress and actor. Ingo was quite pleased that the actor award went to the German-speaking Austrian in Tarantino's "Inglorious Basterds." He was also rooting for the German-Austrian film "The White Ribbon" to win the best foreign picture and also Sandra Bullock to win best actress, as her mother was a German opera singer and she speaks German fluently.

While Ingo went to the bank, I went to the Internet for the rest of the Oscar news and could report back that Bullock won, but not "The White Ribbon." Ingo had seen "Avatar" a couple of times, but didn't think the film that beat it out for best picture,"The Hurt Locker," had opened in Germany yet. The next day's Kampala newspaper had a front page mention of the Oscars and a full page of coverage on page 14.

With a late start and an Ingo flat tire and a couple of rain showers that forced us to take cover, we narrowly made it to a town big enough to have guest houses just before dark after 64 miles. It was a long day for Ingo. He's more comfortable with around 50 miles on his mountain bike, but he's a strong rider fully capable of pushing himself. He competes in triathlons and has run a two hour and fifty minute marathon, faster than Lance Armstrong managed in his first attempt.

At one point in the day Ingo commented, "I notice you spin faster than I do. You're like Lance Armstrong. I'm more like Jan Ullrich, pushing a bigger gear."

"Eddie Merckx calls Lance a sissy for spinning so fast," I replied. "Old-timers think its more macho to mash out the big gears. I used to do that, but it gave me sore knees. I don't think I spin as fast as Lance, I just do what's comfortable for me. My cadence now seems second nature."

Ingo has been very impressed by the quality of the Ugandan roads. The roads of Kenya were in surprisingly bad shape--"too much potholes," as Ingo put it. I thought it was maybe just the more isolated stretch I did along Lake Victoria, but Ingo said that was the case all over the country.

During our first rain delay we took shelter with two Ugandas also on bikes under the overhang of a hut. We asked about the national holiday. They said it was a day for women to relax and let the men do all their work--cooking and getting the firewood and water. They thought they deserved such a day. They were both returning from the town well with large containers of water. Uganda is unique among these East African countries in celebrating the day.

Despite all his travels over Africa, I've been able to introduce Ingo to two foods he'd never had before. One was the Ugandan national dish of matoke, a cooked banana paste that I had at least twice a day my first ten days in Uganda It is hearty, but very bland. Ingo carries a supply of spices with him. He intends to vary its taste in the days to come. His other new food, one I also was just introduced to over on this side of Uganda is jack fruit--a giant, heavy fruit, bigger than a pineapple, that dangles from big, bushy trees that look a little like mango trees.

The fruit weigh up to 20 kilos. They offer so much to eat, stands along the road and in towns sell small sections of the golden pulp for as little as a nickel. It is a bit sweet, and offers some juice, but not as much as a mango or papaya or pineapple. But they are a pleasant little treat. We were looking forward to some along the road the past two days out of Mbale, but there isn't enough traffic to warrant sales in such small portions. We could have bought one in its entirety, but even if we cut it in half, it was too much extra weight and extra food for us to manage.

Despite our different choice in bikes, Ingo and I seem fully compatible in every other respect, with no qualms about the most rustic of accommodations, and walking out of an Indian restaurant that was too much for either of our budgets, even though I had been craving the spaghetti that was on its menu and Ingo its variety of vegetarian fare, as he hasn't eaten meat since his first trip to Asia in 1996. We made do with street fare including a fried Nile Perch. A young boy in rags hungrily stared at us as we ate and was thrilled to run off with its skeletal remains when we were done with it.

We found a place to camp in Jinga and then found a bank that would exchange traveler's checks, though it took three tries. It was getting tense. Ingo says this is the last time he will use traveler's checks and will get an ATM or credit card for his next travels.

We then went to the source of the Nile, a wide outlet flowing out of Lake Victoria for a couple of miles until its first of countless dams along its 4000 miles to Cairo, a dam that we had earlier bicycled across. Lonely Planet warned not to take a photo of it, as it warrants arrest, though there were no signs saying so. We did notice armed guards at it though. The source wasn't discovered until 1858 by the Englishmen John Hanning Speeke, who was the first white person to even enter what is now Uganda.

Tomorrow we will bike along the Nile a ways and then head towards Murchison National Park and its famed water fall where the Nile is compressed through a canyon.

Later, George

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Mbale, Uganda

Friends: For the first time since I acquired my deluxe Katadyne water filter in 1989 for my ride down the length of South America, I have met another touring cyclist with the same pump--a German by the name of Ingo who goes off on his bike for months at a time almost as frequently as I do. I've been desperate for years to meet a person such as Ingo, who could perhaps explain some of the pump's idiosyncrasies, why sometimes it pumps so easily and other times it takes a while to get it going.

Though I brush the filter clean after each use to remove the filtered residue, Ingo revealed that I haven't done it aggressively enough over the years. The filter has built up a layer of plaque that has made pumping water a genuine upper-body workout. Ingo could immediately tell by the color of my filter that it needed some hardy treatment. He took his rough edged cleaning implement and removed the layer of plaque I didn't realize was there, returning the filter to its original light sandy color.

The pump would now work with ease if I hadn't worn the cylindrical tube the plunger is pushed through, preventing it from getting the suction it needs. I thought I simply needed to replace the o-ring on the plunger, as I did in Venezuela several years ago, but unfortunately it was more complicated than that. Ingo and I alternated several parts of our respective filters before we pin-pointed the problem. I won't be able to use my filter for the remainder of this trip, but as long as Ingo and I stick together, I can use his filter, and when I replace the filter after this trip I will have great filtering pleasure to look forward to in the years to come. Solving my pumping problems is just one of countless things I'm sure to learn from Ingo in the days to come.

We met yesterday afternoon at the Crow's Nest Lodge and Campsite overlooking Sipi Falls, a series of three waterfalls, with the longest over 300 feet. The third and final of the falls, a giant spout of water that shoots out over a cliff side, most certainly warrants the adjective "spectacular." It is considered Uganda's premier waterfall and justified the 32-mile side-trip from Mbale to reach it, even the final seven-and-a-half mile brutally steep climb, the longest and most demanding of this trip. The falls lay on the backside of Mt. Elgon, a near 14er, the second tallest mountain in Uganda right on the border with Kenya.

Mt. Elgon is a stand alone hunk of a mountain and long extinct volcano that bears a striking resemblance to Mount Ventoux, the legendary Tour de France climb in Provence that has provided the stage for some of The Tour's most dramatic moments including the death of the English racer Tommy Simpson in 1967. It provided the finish line for the penultimate and most anticipated stage in last year's race. As I cycled past Mt. Elgon it stirred many memories of my three climbs up Mont Ventoux over the years, including this past July. It also had me thinking about my next reacquaintance with Ventoux in two months when I'll pass by on my way to Cannes.

I am particularly looking forward to my ride to Cannes this year as it will be via Bordeaux rather than Paris, as I will be accompanied by my two American friends who have homes in southern France, first linking up with Julie in the Dordogne and then Craig in the Cevannes. Julie will join me for the twelve day movie marathon, while Craig will just stop by to check out the opening of the extravaganza and then return to his summer home in Notre Dame de Rouviere.

It will be great to have a couple of travel companions. I'm presently enjoying the company of Ingo, a 42-year old who has been touring Asia, Africa and the Middle East on extended bike tours since l996. His first trip was an ambitious six-month tour of the Himalayas through India, Kashmir, Pakistan, China, Tibet and Nepal. He was inspired by a slide show given by the legendary German cyclist Tilmann Waldthaler, a man now in his 70s, who has written 17 books on his travels, and someone I just learned about shortly before this trip.

Ingo has built up quite a resume himself. Another of his six-month trips was a ride from Nairobi to Cairo. He enjoyed Ethiopia so much he's returned twice since. He also took six months to bicycle from Istanbul to Cairo. In 2004 while in Sudan he encountered a South African cyclist riding the perimeter of Africa whose book I read last year in Cape Town. Ingo didn't realize he ended up writing a book about his journey. He told Ingo, as he said in his book, that Algeria was his favorite of the 33 countries he biked through.

This is Ingo's first time in Uganda. He's two weeks into a three or four month trip that he hopes will take him to South Africa for the World Cup. He's flying a German flag on the back of his bicycle, the first time he's flown his national colors on a bike tour, as a gesture of solidarity with the many German fans who will be attending the competition. The horizontal black, red and gold stripes of the German flag are the same stripes as the Uganda flag, just in a different order.

I was taken aback to see Ingo did not have Ortlieb panniers, the German-made Rolls Royce of panniers that I wouldn't be without. He explained, "I come from the part of Germany where the people are cheap." He's riding a mountain bike that he bought used for 70 euros just before this trip and has a 15-year old tent that, like his canvas panniers, isn't entirely waterproof. But he's not cheap when it comes to water filters and cameras.

He has a hefty 3D camera that he recently spent 500 euros on to have repaired and relensed. He supports his travels with odd jobs and gardening and giving slide shows. Travel slide shows are quite popular in Germany. Reinhold Messner, the great mountaineer, is in tremendous demand on the circuit. Ingo said he even had a show in his small town near Stuttgart, and it was packed.

It was a great pleasure to have a night in my tent for the first time in over a week overlooking Sipi Falls. There are three campgrounds in the small town of Sipi. My plan was to stop at each and check if they had a selection of paperbacks for travelers to trade and to stay at the one with the best selection. The first one I stopped at, where I met Ingo, had seven books, one a book on learning Hebrew, a bunch of pulp novels and a novel by Nobel prize winning Gabriel Marquez Garcia. I doubted I could top that at the other two, but I still intended to give them a try, but after three hours of talk with Ingo I felt I owed it to the Crow's Nest to stay there, so traded my book of travel essays, "No Touch Monkey and Other Travel Lessons Learned the Hard Way," written by a young woman who was a graduate of Northwestern's Speech School.

Our three hours of conversation flew by in an instant. It will take quite a while before we run out of things to talk about. Ingo could claim, just as quite a few people I met in Kenya, that he had had an Obama encounter. He was part of Obama's largest crowd during his 2008 presidential campaign--200,000 people in Berlin. I had never met an Ingo before, though Ingo says its not an uncommon German name. Oddly enough it means "home" in Swahili.

Tonight will be my second night in the sizable city of Mbale. I was here two nights ago, partially drawn by Sipi Falls, but mostly to meet the Ugandan pen-pal of my friend Stephen, who I biked with in China three months ago. I had been in email contact with Stephen's friend Moses since before my trip. I last communicated with him from Kisumu letting him know that I would arrive in Mbale several days later. I hadn't heard back from Moses to confirm that he would be around or how to meet up other than to call him on his cell phone.

I arrived in Mbale late in the afternoon Friday, after having come 45 miles from the Kenyan border. I went directly to what passes for the town center in many of these East African countries, a three-story tall clock tower in the middle of a round-about. One of the ubiquitous cell phone stores let me use a phone to call Moses. Moses answered after a half dozen rings. After a few words I handed the phone to the saleswoman who could explain precisely where I was. Moses said to wait there and he would come for me. I didn't even have time to finish a banana before he arrived, having no problem recognizing me.

Moses had recently gotten a degree from the local Muslim college in IT services but was having great difficulty finding a job. Every position he replies to has already been filled. Part of the problem is that it is accepted practice to have to pay a hefty bribe to get a job. Moses is the fourth of nine children and has no such sources to draw upon. It was only through the great generosity of Stephen that he was even able to finish up his college studies. Stephen raised $700 for his final tuition and also sent him a lap top. Moses raved and raved about what a good friend Stephen was, even though they had never met and only came to know one another through a professor of Stephen's at the University of Colorado who spent a term teaching here in Mbale and connected the two of them.

I asked Moses if there was a place around that I could pitch my tent. He knew of no campground and strongly advised against wild camping. "When Ugandans see a white person they think he has lots of money. If you're alone camping, someone might try to rob you," he said.

Staying in a hotel didn't guarantee that wouldn't happen. The night before in the chaotic border town of Buscia, twice during the night I had someone aggressively jerk on the door to my hotel room to see if they could get in and grab something while I lay trapped under my mosquito net. Earlier that day a young man who cycled with me for a couple of miles followed me into a restaurant and sat with me at my table, even though I hadn't invited him, ordered a soft drink and left, leaving me to pay for it.

Before we sought out a hotel, we went to hear a high school brass band practice, something Lonely Planet recommended and that Moses acknowledged would be worth seeing. It certainly was. The ragtag 30 members of the band belted out a rousing array of music while they marched around the grounds in front of their school attracting a small audience of kids and passersby on the adjoining highway.

Then we went in search of a hotel. We tried several before we found one that was within my price range. One we shouldn't have even bothered to check out, even though it looked rather modest, had a UN vehicle out front. I had tried one such hotel before, and it's rates were not modest at all. Though Moses didn't know hotels, he knew the Internet. He took me to a place down an alley that I never would have found on my own with the fastest computers I had encountered on this trip.

I had hoped we could have dinner afterward, but Moses got sidetracked. As a Catholic, he had given up meat for Lent, though he said he liked meat so much that sometimes he had to have some anyway. He was proud to have come from such a large family and found it appalling that the Chinese are limited to just one child, though he thinks its equally appalling that the country has over one billion people. He found it hard to believe, though, that Uganda, a country the size of Oregon with a population approaching forty million people, is more densely populated than China and that this overpopulation is one of the reasons that there aren't enough jobs to go around for everyone.

Later, George

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Kogelo, Kenya

Friends: Just as batting a ping pong ball around with a couple of Chinese was one of the highlights of my recent visit to China, running along with a Kenyan will be one of the more memorable moments of these travels.

My running mate and I were jogging along a narrow trail, racing to return to the clinic where I had left my bike before the increasingly dark skies unleashed a torrent. We were returning from a visit to the home where Barack Obama's grandmother lives and where his father was raised in the small village of Kogelo.

I don't know which I was more thrilled by, following in the graceful footsteps of this lithe, light-footed young Kenyan or having just paid homage to the home of Obama's father, a place that Obama had twice visited. I had memories of biking past Obama's home in Chicago. That urban environment couldn't have been more different than this isolated, undeveloped rural village.

There was no mistaking that I was in Africa as I biked along a secondary, lightly-traveled road and then a dirt road to Kogelo, past men sitting along the road hammering piles of rock into gravel and women walking with huge bundles on their heads and barefoot kids gleefully shouting out, "How are you?" The village of Kogelo was well off the main road I have been following around Lake Victoria, sixteen miles on a rough, pot-holed secondary road and than another five miles on a narrow dirt road, about twice as far as I anticipated, as everyone had been telling me it was 20 kilometers from the main road.

The village is so small it didn't even warrant a sign at the turn to it along the main highway, nor did it have a police post until a few years ago when bandits raided the home of Obama's grandmother. Now an officer is stationed outside the fence surrounding her property. I knew the turn to Kogelo came in the town of Luanda, eighteen miles beyond the large city of Kisumu. There were two paved roads intersecting the highway through Luanda. I stopped at the first and was told to continue on to the next paved road a little further on.

The road took me over two ridges, one with a steep ten per cent grade, but the way was generally downhill towards Lake Victoria. Kogelo is within five miles of the lake shore, something I was unaware of when I set out on this circuit. It turned out to be an unexpected bonus.

I'd gotten a late morning start out of Kisumu, as I had to put some time in on the Internet before departing. A city-wide power outage the night before delayed me from fulfilling my Internet duties. It was mid-afternoon when I made the turn to Kogelo. I expected it to take about an hour to ride what I thought was going to be 12 miles to Kogelo. I'd pay my respects and then return to the main highway well before dark. But when it became evident it was going to take me a couple of hours to reach Kogelo, I began scouting out possible places to pitch my tent when I headed back. But just like all of the Kenya I'd seen so far, it was too densely settled for wild-camping.

A cyclist I rode along with for a few miles gave me the good news that there were three guest houses in Kogelo. I began looking forward to spending the night in the village of Obama. Unfortunately, that information was as wrong as the distance to Kogelo and quite a few other things I'd been told about it. Not only were there no guest houses, there was no Obama museum or other Obama attractions, just the secondary school named in his honor.

When I finally came to the dirt road turn to Kogelo it was marked by a very weathered sign pointing towards "Senator Obama Secondary School." It gave a distance of five kilometers, more bad information. It was five miles. When I finally reached Kogelo, there was a sign at its lone crossroads to the Obama school, 400 meters down the road.

Before I headed to the school I was pounced upon by the town drunk. He informed me there were no guest houses in the village. That came as little surprise as all that Kogelo seemed to amount to was a small cluster of ramshackle shops on either side of the road. This was as forlorn and sorry-looking of a village as I'd seen. I told the guy I had a tent, and wondered if there might be a place to camp. He told me I could pitch it by his house, something I had no desire to do.

It was after five p.m. with just a couple hours of light left. The Obama school looked no more impressive than the town--a row of several rooms behind a large athletic grounds, including a soccer field. It was not a new school, as I had imagined it might be, but rather a run-down old school that had simply renamed itself.

There were several dozen boys jogging around the field and going through soccer drills, all wearing Obama school t-shirts. After taking a few pictures, including one with a pair of boys modeling the t-shirts, I returned to the town center to see if anyone might be selling Obama souvenirs. I had seen Obama t-shirts for sale in towns through Uganda and Tanzania, but there were none for sale here.

There was no reason to linger in this dusty, forsaken place. It was hard to imagine that Obama had made two visits to Kogelo, one when he was an unknown and then a second time as a Senator with his wife and two daughters. Though I didn't know where I would spend the night, I didn't care to spend it here. As I headed out of the village, the fenced compound of a clinic caught my eye. The cluster of buildings looked as if it might include housing for the staff. I pulled in to see if I could pitch my tent there. The woman I asked said she'd have to check with the supervisor.

A couple minutes later a thirty-year old woman came out and said it would be okay to camp there. Though no one lived there, it would be perfectly safe, as I would have a security guard to look after me. He was just arriving, a 60-year old man with a cane that was as bent and gnarly as he. With what looked like a storm brewing, the woman said it would be best if I set my tent up under the gazebo out front. As she showed it to me, the wind began to gust. She suggested it might be better if I set up my tent under the more sheltered porch. I was okay with that as well.

As I prepared to set up my tent, a young man came over and asked about my travels. He asked if I had seen the home of Obama's grandmother. He said he could take me there, as it wasn't far away. As we prepared to go, the woman in charge of the clinic came back and said they had a maternity ward with beds that weren't being used and that I would be welcome to stay there. I would have preferred to sleep in my much neglected tent, but sleeping on a mattress rather than on concrete was far more attractive, so I accepted her offer. There were four beds. She said they all had clean sheets.

The way to Obama's ancestral home was past the school. As we walked, the young man told me he had been there when Obama last paid a visit with his wife and daughters and had shook his hand. As I had been asked before, he wondered how he could get a scholarship to an American university, as had Obama's father. I told him about a Bolivian friend of mine who had managed to secure a four-year scholarship to Brandeis in Boston through an Internet search, something he ought to try.

After several minutes we came upon a fenced property with several small buildings on it. He said that was the home of Obama's brother. A little beyond was a similarly barbed-wire fenced property with a substantial metal-barred gate that was Obama's grandmother's home. There were several small buildings, none much more distinguished looking than the majority of the dwellings in the village.

A young man came out of the gate. He knew my escort and invited us in. In the distance I could see the grave of Obama's father, killed in an automobile accident in Nairobi in 1982. I asked if I could get a closer look of it and take a picture. He said that would be all right. But before we had taken ten steps a uniformed police officer came around the bend on the side of the fence we had just passed and told us to come back. He said visitors were only allowed between ten and two. I asked if I could just take a quick photograph. He said I would need permission for that and it was too late to ask. I didn't care to press the issue. I could have pleaded that I had bicycled over a thousand miles to come here and that I lived in Obama's home town and so on, but I had no desire to intrude upon Obama's grandmother. I never expected to even see her home, so was more than content with seeing what I had.

The clouds above were growing darker and darker. It was not a time to linger, but rather a time to start running. Rather than returning the way we had come, we took a short-cut through some fields around the backside of the property. My companion said we could have come this way, but he took the longer route so he could have more time to talk with me. We reached the clinic just as the rain began pelting down. As so often happens, it came down hard for nearly an hour before it slackened to a bare drizzle. I was concerned that the dirt road might be unrideable the next day. He assured me it was hard-packed enough that it could withstand the rain. I was eager for an early start the next day so I could reach the Uganda border, a little over seventy miles away.

Later, George

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Kisumu, Kenya

Friends: Compared to Uganda and Tanzania, Kenya seems like the promised land. Restaurants have pitchers of water, boiled and fit for drinking. They also have menus and offer more than beans and rice. There are road signs and the speed bumps are more sanely sprinkled along the roads and aren't obnoxiously bone-jarring.

The people are civil and courteous. They are well-educated and well-spoken and have an air of self-respect. People read newspapers. The most common billboard advertises the national newspaper "The Nation" with two words--"The Truth."

I regret Kenya has the shortest segment of Lake Victoria's shoreline, just a little over 200 road miles for me. I thought I would extend my time in Kenya by heading north out of Kisumu towards Uganda rather than going west, the direct route closer to the lake. But then I learned the road west out of Kisumu would take me through the town where President Obama's father was born and his grandmother still lives. The town's secondary school has been named in his honor.

I had heard about the Obama school, but I thought it was here in Kisumu, Kenya's third largest city, a port right on the lake. On my way into the city I detoured out to Hippo Point in hopes of spotting some hippos. Lake Victoria is the only lake among the ten biggest in the world with hippos and crocodiles. I had yet to see any.

The hippos were all out feeding elsewhere, though there were boats that could be hired to go in search of them. Hanging out with the boatman was an older white man. He was a missionary from London, and a very friendly guy. He was accompanied by two teen-aged Kenyan boys. I asked them if they knew where the school named for Obama was located. They told me it was on the road to Uganda well beyond Kisumu, and gave me detailed instructions on how to find it.

The two boys had both seen Obama in Kisumu when he gave a speech at the city's soccer stadium several years ago when he was a senator. They had arrived very early to be among the lucky thousands to get in. I told them I too had seen Obama in Chicago on election night along with thousands of others in Grant Park right along Lake Michigan, a lake slightly smaller than Lake Victoria, but without hippos.

The missionary had been in Kisumu for eight months and lived in a nearby slum, the second largest in Kenya with 400,000 people. He frequently came to the lake shore and verified that hippos could be seen here on occasion. One of the lake's few beaches was a mile away. He'd seen three hippos there just a couple days ago.

I asked what precautions he took for malaria. He said the preventive medicine was too expensive for him, a daily one dollar dose, so he just applied repellent and slept under a mosquito net. The two boys were too poor to have mosquito nets. I told them that in Tanzania the government supplied people with nets. They said that aid groups did send nets to Kenya too for distribution, but corrupt government ministers gave them to friends to sell, so that the poor and needy never got them. All three spoke matter-of-factly of how rampant corruption is in Kenya. Western governments stopped sending money for education, because it never got to the people, rather ending up in the pockets of government officials.

One boy showed me a row of mosquito bites on his forearm he'd gotten the night before, not knowing whether they were from malaria-carrying mosquitoes. The missionary said that malaria is quite common in the slums, and the nets would be a great deterrent. Female mosquitoes are the ones that transmit it and they ordinarily don't come out until well after dark, so one doesn't have much of a concern of being bitten by a malarial mosquito during the day. Every guest house I have stayed at has had a mosquito net over my bed, though some have had holes big enough for moths to fly through.

As the three of us talked I was filled again with the pleasure of being in Kenya, impressed by the depth and breadth of the conversation, and particularly how bright and articulate and self-assured these teen-aged boys were. It has been a relief not to have clusters of people staring at me when I eat and telling me how poor they are and demanding something of me. On my last day in Tanzania when I stopped at a grungy open-air road-side cafe for some shade and a drink and a bite to eat, a drunk wandered in and asked, "Is that your bike over there?"

"Yes, it is."

"Give it to me."

"No, I need it."

He jabbed my shoulder and said, "I want it, give it to me."

I responded with an off-handed laugh, pretending that I thought he was just making a joke. "No, no, its my means of transportation," I replied. "I'm biking around the lake."

There were several other young men in the cafe hanging out, neither eating nor drinking, just taking advantage of its shade. None said a word. It was left to the woman proprietor to intervene. The guy huffed and went over and sat with the other men and then several minutes later returned and asked for it again in no less of an aggressive manner.

I'd experienced not even a hint of such a thing in Kenya my first two days here until this morning. I spent the night on the second floor of a guest house. It took three trips for me to carry my gear and bike up and down the stairs. This morning as I was reattaching all my gear to my bike the security guard, in awe of all I had, commented, "You white people are given everything."

"Given?" I wanted to exclaim, but it was too early in the morning to take offense, so I ignored the comment.

Then he asked, "Where are you going on your bike?" I told him I was headed back to Kampala and that I had come over 2000 kilometers around the lake already.

"2000 kilometers!" he exclaimed, "That is unbelievable."

"Yes, we white people like adventure and aren't afraid of challenges."

He laughed, understanding fully where I was coming from. "You're right, we Kenyans are lazy, but can't you give me something."

"Our government gives Kenya all sorts of money and aid, but your ministers steal it. Why don't you go to them and ask for what has been meant for you."

The night before I had stayed at a very bare bones guest house that a radio reporter took me to. He had come to my assistance when I discovered my front brake cable was frayed and needed replacing, explaining why I hadn't been getting such great braking power lately. Only four of the twelve threads of the cable were still holding. I was very fortunate to have discovered it before it broke, as I had some steep descents ahead of me that would surely have finally snapped it.

I was just five miles from the large city of Kili, fifty miles into the country from Tanzania. I asked him if I might be able to find a guest house there for less than 300 shillings, about four dollars. He said probably not, but there was a cheap one across the street for even less than that. I gave it a look. It was no worse than others I had stayed at though there was no running water, just a well, and a communal squat toilet for the four rooms. At least there was water, something I didn't always have.

The reporter was impressed that I was willing to stay there. He said that none of the Kenyans he knew who had been to America would stay at such a place. "They think they have been to heaven and are too good to stay at a place as rustic as this," he said. We sat and talked for a good while. He'd recently been in South Africa for three months and hoped to get to America. All he wanted from me was my email address in case he came to America.

Later, George