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

1 comment:

Stan said...

The robbery experience in South Africa was terrifying, I can imagine it will stay vivid in your mind for a long time. But as a former Chicagoan, I know similar terrifying experiences happen to Chicagoans in Chicago too. Time eventually heels all. Or at least one terrifying experience might be replaced by new ones!