Archive for October, 2010

Touring Kenya

Wednesday, October 27th, 2010

“Scrappy” is the word that comes to mind when I compare Kenya to Tanzania, in its makeshift, ramshackle market areas, in its more persistent and less polite hawkers, in its faster and more plentiful traffic, in its pot-holed roads in areas away from the government favored/transportation funded Nairobi area, and then, in its assertive, conversation initiating and engaging people. We very much enjoyed our tour here, even with its pitfalls. It was great to be able to speak English again and have meaningful conversations with Kenyans. Among many topics, people talked proudly about the constitutional reforms they voted for in a recent referendum that limited and shared presidential powers (using our system of checks and balances as an example). Our president, Barak Obama, and his family ties to Kenya was also a favorite subject of conversation.

Kenya’s views were stunning. My favorites were coming down out of the green highlands after Nairobi into the Great Rift Valley with its vast dry plain stretched out on either side of us, the emerald green tea plantations rolling up and down the hills and glowing in the late afternoon sun, the hundreds of camels dotting the dry landscape near Lake Turkana, and, my favorite of the favorites, giraffe families eating the leaves atop acacia trees as we biked alongside in Hell’s Gate National Park.

One memorable, but not favorite, experience in Kenya was getting robbed in Kigali, a city west and north of Nairobi. As budget travelers without a tour guide we are more vulnerable to being taken advantage of. My personal feeling is it is in this vulnerability where we have richer interactions with people and their culture, most of the interactions having nothing to do with being taken advantage of. I would not give this part of traveling up for the safer organized tour. In reality, we have many more monetary resources than the majority of the people in the majority of the countries we have traveled. In reality, also, 99.99% of people are more interested in our safety and enjoyment than are interested in stealing our monetary resources. I rarely worry about my personal safety, except from traffic on busy roads, but I always try to be aware of opportunities to “lose” my stuff to this .01% of people who might help themselves, given the opportunity. We stayed in a fairly nice hotel in Kigali. Unlike most every other place we stayed, the staff did not seem interested in us, or in our trip, or even in David’s bike (very unusual). We commented to each other on their lack of jovial interaction. In the morning, while eating breakfast downstairs, someone broke into our room through the window and stole our computer, my old camera, about $40 in cash, and my stash of earrings that had more sentimental value than real value. Because it had happened in the same room, through the same window (that looked out onto a small open area inside the hotel), in the same way three months before, the police were certain it was an inside job. They took textbook perfect fingerprints (according to the detective) on the panes of glass removed from the window and brought us and the entire staff to the station to take our fingerprints for comparison. There was lots of drama. Phone numbers were exchanged so we could call and keep track of the investigation’s progress as we continued cycling in Kenya. We were hopeful they might recover the computer (they didn’t or if they did they never informed us). I was disappointed I hadn’t locked the computer away in the lockable cabinet in the room after I had used it, a precaution we usually take when leaving our room. Even though the lock was flimsy and easily broken, at least we would have made it a little harder for the thieves. The lessons I learned from this robbery were to remember a locked door doesn’t mean our stuff is secure. Extra precautions must be a habit. I will, also, pay attention to attitudes and interactions with hotel staff. A bad feeling may be a good warning to be a little more careful.

Almost half the time we spent in Kenya was in Nairobi. I didn’t find it a particularly attractive or inviting city, although its skyline with its numerous tall buildings and its busy downtown area was the most American-like we had yet seen in Africa. In David’s blog, he talked about a Nairobi malaise. We often feel aimless and out of sorts when in large cities with too much time off the bikes. The highlight, however, was our hotel, Milimani Packpackers. The staff was exceptional, in their friendliness, their ease, and in their concern for us that extended beyond just our comfort. It was wonderful to see Bill, the American cyclist we first met in Mozambique and then again in Malawi who we knew would be staying there. Catching up with him and comparing our adventures in and our impressions of the places we had been since we last saw him was very fun. There we also met Chinese cyclists Juesheng and fiance Xouli. Juesheng, our age, a former businessman owning several coffee shops in Shanghai, is spending 7 years cycling the world. Xouli is a Chinese Literature teacher who on her vacations meets Juesheng with her bike in different parts of the world, much like I considered doing when David and I began talking about this trip. They convinced me that whatever differences there are between us as Chinese and Americans, they are very few compared to the similarities we have as cyclists. We hope to see Juesheng in the United States on that leg of his journey and perhaps Xouli will have left her job by that time to join him.

Kalokol, Kenya

Sunday, October 24th, 2010

We only made it to 3 1/2 degrees North latitude. It would have been so easy to reach 4 degrees N by cycling 120 km northwest to Kakuma, site of a UN refugee camp, and then 100km more to Lokichogio on the border with southern Sudan, where many NGOs are located. A strong tailwind would have pushed us on a smoothly paved road over a flat savanna; but there are reports of highway robberies within 10-20k of each town. This part of Kenya is near the border of Uganda and Ethiopia, with displaced nomads wandering through from troubles in Darfur (southern Sudan) and Somalia. So instead we cycled NE to Kalokol on the shore of Lake Turkana, a large narrow rift valley lake. We had called to reserve tourist lodging at Eliye Springs, but after turning onto soft gravel we decided to continue on pavement to Kalokol. There is not much here, but it is a little further north than Eliye Springs.  This area was the setting for John le Carre’s The Constant Gardener. (The movie was filmed at Lake Magadi)

Lake Turkana is the worl.d's largest permanent desert lake and the world's largest alkaline lake.

Lake Turkana is the worl.d's largest permanent desert lake and the world's largest alkaline lake.

Lodwar, Kenya

Friday, October 22nd, 2010

We got an early start anticipating a challenging day on a bad road through a hot, sparsely populated region. We can speed along on some 100m patches of smooth tarmac before it erodes away to potholes and washboard gravel. Then, serendipitously, we came to a longer segment with 40k of smooth pavement, transforming this into an easy day. The Turkana people are Nilitic, like the Maasai, and the men carry clubs and little tiny chairs while the women wear stacked necklaces. They have no qualms about nudity; we sometimes see breasts or penises showing beneath their colorful robes. I took no photos today since my camera battery charger cord was stolen along with the laptop, (and Julie’s camera) so I’ve been stingy about taking photos. (26/10 note: I found out that I can charge my camera, though slowly, when it is connected to a computer’s USB port.)  We drank Tusker beer and conversed late into the night with three truck drivers delivering relief supplies from South Africa to south Sudan (which may soon vote to secede from  north Sudan).

Lodwar is known for it's large woven baskets.

Lodwar is known for it's large woven baskets.

Lokichar, Kenya

Thursday, October 21st, 2010

‘We should have waited for the bus,’ I thought with Julie and I cramped on top of the doghouse of a cab-over semi between Alfred, the driver, and Joseph riding shotgun with an AK47, leading a four truck convoy. We first heard about highway robbers from Michael, the Dutch owner of The Duke of Breeze Hotel in Kisumu. Since then we’ve received conflicting opinions from a dozen different people.

This morning we entered the savanna after descending another 600m out of the Cherangani Hills. The intermittent pavement slowed us down where it had eroded away. After breakfast at the Marich Pass police post, where they said that the road ahead was safe, we made better time with no more tarmac, just fairly smooth dirt on a flat plain with a tailwind. By noon we’d cycled 50 km to the Kainuk police post at the border gate to Turkana district; and saw a convoy of trucks with an armed escort coming through. The police here said that highway robberies happen every week, perpetrated by cattle-rustling nomads hiding in the rugged South Turkana National Reserve. So we decided to wait for a bus or truck to safely cross this dangerous stretch. We could have cycled the 40k to Kalimngorok in the three hours spent waiting and two hours riding in the truck. The bad road slows down traffic making vehicles vulnerable to attack. We kept on truckin’ another 40k to Lokichar where the road should be even safer. I worried how my bike and back would survive the pounding of this bone-jarring four-hour ride. The bus passed us twice, before and after it stopped in Kalimngorok. It can go faster with less bouncing around because it has better suspension. I foolishly thought that our bikes would fare better as the only cargo lashed to a flatbed trailer. The bikes did survive intact, but the bus would have cost a third of the $25 we paid for a very uncomfortable truck ride.

Alfred straps our bikes down for a very bumpy ride.

Alfred straps our bikes down for a very bumpy ride.

Ortum, Kenya

Wednesday, October 20th, 2010
We descend from the highlands of central Kenya to the dry lowlands of Turkana.

We descend from the highlands of central Kenya to the dry lowlands of Turkana.

Leaving Kitale, I worried that the laptop thieves might be sophisticated enough to clean out my bank account. After stopping at a cyber cafe in Kapenguria I felt relieved to find a positive balance in my bank account. Outside the cyber cafe we met a couple of young Norwegian missionaries and Bart, a Dutch Special Needs teacher working here for a year. He gave us the number of the Eliye Springs Lodge that he enjoyed visiting on Lake Turkana. We cycled up through beautiful green rolling hills to an elevation of 2200m before descending 800m to Ortum; leaving the afternoon thunderstorms behind us as we are now in a drier area. We had a nice visit with Zainab at the Ortum Dot Com Smiles Bar & Lodging. She is visiting her home town here from Kapenguria on this national holiday. It is Jomo Kenyatta’s birthday, the first president of Kenya, and used to be called Kenyatta Day; but it’s now been changed to Heroes Day.

A river crosses the highway at Ortum.

A river crosses the highway at Ortum.

We stayed at Dot Com Smiles Bar & Lodging.

We stayed at Ortum Dot Com Smiles Bar & Lodging.

Kitale, Kenya

Sunday, October 17th, 2010

Julie fell today and scraped her right forearm, much like the spill I took five days ago; only she wasn’t going as fast so her wound isn’t as bad. She also bumped her helmeted head on pavement. We’ve met many long-distance cyclists who don’t wear helmets. I survived without one on my first world tour and did not crash in the first year-and-a-half of this tour; but our three recent incidents have proven the wisdom of wearing helmets. She felt a little light-headed after getting patched-up, but okay to cycle the remaining 35k before the thunderstorm drenched us. Every town we’ve stayed at in Kenya has started with a “K” or “N” (5K, 4N).

19/Oct Update: Our laptop was stolen from our room this morning! We’d taken a couple days’ rest and while at breakfast from 6:45 to 7:15 a thief came in through our window from an interior courtyard (that should have been locked) of the Alakara Hotel. The police dusted-off some clear fingerprints from the glass panes that had been removed from the louvers. The detectives suspect someone on the staff, as the same room was burglarized in the same way three months ago. Our other valuables were safely hidden and locked in our Pac-Safe™ travel safe.

19/Dec Update: The thief stole my ability to post photos right-side up. I did these with a laptop borrowed from Spaniards Tony & Inouya at Chez Tess in Ouagadougou.

The thief remover louvres from the window to enter

The thief removed louver panes from the window to enter.

Who left this door unlocked?

Who left this door unlocked?

Kakunga, Kenya

Saturday, October 16th, 2010

We sat out an afternoon thunderstorm in Kakamega, common in this season of  short rains (Oct/Nov).  Wet and tired in tiny Kakunga, we asked if there was a rest house and were told “No, but there’s the best house”.  We got a room behind the Best Bar and Restaurant, where the sugar factory elite were watching Arsenal vs. Manchester United.  They vied for our attention.  First Joseph, an agriculturist, and his wife Eunice; then Henry, a well-traveled sugar engineer, helped us order dinner; then introduced us to Isaac, a Special-Needs teacher who took us to breakfast in the morning. We worried that the bar would be too noisy, but it quieted down after the soccer game.

Obama’s Kenya Connection

Friday, October 15th, 2010
Kogelo, the home of Barack Obama Sr., is on the equator.

Kogelo, the hometown of Barack Obama Sr., is on the equator.

Chadrick tries my Cruzbike at a rest area under construction...

Chadrick tries my Cruzbike at a rest area under construction...

...built by Obama's half brother Abong'o Malik Obama (who is Moslem).

...built by Obama's half brother Abong'o Malik Obama (who is Moslem).

Schools were named in his honor when Obama was just a US Senator.

Schools were named in his honor when Obama was just a US Senator.

Kogelo villagers gather 'round as in the rest of Africa.

Kogelo villagers gather 'round as in the rest of Africa.

...and kids run alongside our bikes.

...and kids run alongside our bikes.

kogelo5

Kisumu, Kenya

Wednesday, October 13th, 2010

Lake Victoria is the world's 2nd largest freshwater lake (after lake Superior).

Lake Victoria is the source of the Nile & the world's 2nd largest freshwater lake (after Lake Superior).

After dressing my wounds, we cycled up out of Kericho and stopped to visit Headmaster Moses Talam at the Moi-Sitotwet school. After noon we descended over a thousand meters with sprawling views from hilly tea plantations at 2200m overlooking sugar cane fields in the flat lands around Lake Victoria; where Nyanza province is home to the Luo, Obama’s tribe. We are not roughing it here in Africa; but traveling without reservations (our motto) we never know where we’ll spend the night. Darkness was falling so we headed for the first hotel as we entered Kericho last night. We arrived at the Kimugu River Lodge just before a thunderstorm and ate great Indian food by a waterfall in this Rough Guide recommended inn. We surfed the Web for hotels on the way to Kisumu; but checked out the YMCA, YWCA , and noisy hotels by the bus station before choosing The Duke of Breeze Hotel that has a rooftop bar with WiFi. After tasting Kenyan microbrews while watching the sun set over Lake Victoria we ate a Mongolian stir fry (vegetarian). Both of these luxurious lodgings are within our budget.

Moses Talam, Headmaster of Moi-Sitotwet School.

Moses Talam, Headmaster of Moi-Sitotwet School.

Kericho, Kenya

Tuesday, October 12th, 2010

Schoolkids walking though a Kericho tea plantation.

Schoolkids walking though a Kericho tea plantation.

Going fast downhill on a potholed highway, I checked to make sure my bikebins were secure; and in a split second the front wheel dropped off the edge of the tarmac and I took a spill, bumping my head on the pavement.  Hakuna matata, we always wear helmets. I got up with a fresh road rash just three days after the scab fell off where I was hit six weeks ago. This time the scrape is not on my knee again, thank God, but my right forearm, finger, wrist and shoulder. I also bruised my right thigh where it hit the handlebar. The bike is okay. While applying first aid on the roadside, a man on a motorcycle stopped to see if we needed help. This is a dangerous area and he thought we might have been attacked. He recommended a nearby guest house, but I felt up to cycling the remaining fifty kilometers to Kericho. Fortunately we had a lot of downhill, with a slight tailwind, and cycled through tea plantations just before (and after) a thunderstorm hit.kericho3kericho1


We ride Cruzbikes!

joesz.com logo

functionaldesign.net ad

One Laptop per Child Logo