Month: April 2017

We rose for a 7:00am breakfast (still dark) of bananas and bread

We cycled off around 8:00am (now bright), bidding adieu to those there, including Morence. (I had brought a book along as a gift for the orphanage, which I presented to Morence. Maxine was shocked that, with how little I had with me, to top it all off I had a book in there as well.) Christine stayed behind to true her back wheel.

We cycled down (literally) dirt roads, greeting people as we went. When we’d stop for directions or rest, crowds would gather. After a short cycle down a paved stretch we began again on another dirt road that had wonderful vistas of valleys and various crater lakes. We paused to wait for the others and shared a couple of my Powerbars (they don’t go a long way when you do that). We were all getting very hungry and running low on water. I got a nice splatter of cow manure on my face while blasting down a hill… had to wait about ten minutes before I could stop to wipe it off. At one point I slid into a mud puddle, dousing my legs and left pannier in red mud. A bit of a shame considering I had cleaned and lubricated my chain this morning.

At one point I came down a hill and found myself face to face with about fifty shirtless men standing at the side of the road, all of them holding spears. It came as a bit of a surprise, especially since I was alone — Doug and David were somewhere up ahead, and Maxine and Christine somewhere behind. I felt too awkward to smile or wave, and they didn’t either. David later told me they were hunters, but I couldn’t figure out what they’d be hunting — I wasn’t aware of there being an abundance of wildlife in the area. Either way, it was a very odd experience.

Nearing noon we pulled up to a nature reserve/resort/restaurant and plopped ourselves down at a table in the shade. We ordered some food and then walked down a path in the forest to a crater lake. David, myself and Maxine took a swim — I left on my shorts, t-shirt and socks to give them a bit of a wash while I was in there. Apparently these lakes are too cold for Bilzharia. Either way, there’s yet another rule broken from my doctor (the others: ice cubes and water drinking, fruit, and likely others). The meal came, which was two pots of beans and matoke, eaten with ‘ketchup’ — tomato sauce. It was wonderful to finally eat, and delicious, too. I drank down two pops.

Christine had a flat tire, so the group of us sat down and watched some Colobus monkeys (black and white with african porn loooooooong fluffy tails) jumping around in the trees. We left through a ‘short-cut’ — a very narrow uphill path just a few feet from a big drop that I was terrified of toppling down. Eventually we just heaved our bikes along for a while until we hit the ‘main’ road.

The not-much-wider main road was almost completely downhill and it took quite a bit of concentrating and banging around. My chain came off, but it took me a long time before I noticed because I was coasting down the path the whole way, riding the brakes. I’m glad I don’t have a low-rider front rack (or any, I suppose) — some of the ruts were quite deep. At one point we had to carry our bikes across small planks lying through a mud-out… fine for me, but Christine had to slog hers through the mud because it was way, way too heavy to lift.

The path led to a wider road. We followed it to a resort overlooking a crater lake where we stopped briefly. David heard — much to his surprise — from a women there that someone would be meeting us at the Safari Lodge. (The women at the lodge was white, and very attractive. While David was talking to her Doug and I exchanged a look and grinned at each other.) We kept on the road and it led us into Kibale National Park. While there were a few gruelling uphills, most of the way was down — much of it at break-neck speed, the odd rock ricocheting off the bike. There was nobody in the forest, and it was quite cool and shady. (Christine’s two front panniers fell off at the start, and she had to fix them. A not-so-good day for her, I think.)

I finally caught up to Doug when we came out of the forest — he had slowed down to find the Safari Lodge. (The others were well behind us.) There were a bunch of buildings in the village though and we had to backtrack to find the place because it was nestled in some hedges and trees. Safari Lodge is run by a man named Charles Lubega, a gourmet chef who retreated here from the city. He does all of his cooking over a wood fire. Incredible.

The rooms were certainly rustic; cement and stone, with no lights (well, I found a candle in a pop bottle) but clean (I pretended not to see the lizards on the wall in Maxine’s room.) The service, however, was second to none. As soon as we sat down at the… gazebo? … from our long ride we were given a tray of cold drinks and juicy slices of pineapple. Shortly afterwards there was hot water ready for us to bathe with. As I washed Maxine and Christine pulled in. (I’m constantly amazed at how much weight Christine is hauling.)
As we rested up (Charles came into my room to make sure that I had a candle) and unpacked, dinner was ready. We had a nice, hot meal of vegetables (potatoes, rice, carrots), coleslaw, spaghetti, flat things (they were good), rice and peanut sauce. Yummy. Dessert was a pineapple/banana cocktail in a margarine container. Mmmmmmm.

I went into the room afterwards and set up my mosquito net in the dark — largely fumbling around by flashlight glow. When I came back out, everyone was resting in the darkness of the night. A Peace Corps Volunteer, a young girl with a shaved head talked to David, Nathan and Maxine about Africa and the work that she’s doing. I just listened, content in absorbing everything around me.

NOTE: I think this is one of the drawbacks when I travel with a group — I have so much company that I don’t find the need to reach out to strangers. During my four days in London previous to this trip I would have leaped at the opportunity to talk to this girl.

We waited for the drumming and dancing that David had arranged until 9:00pm. They didn’t show up until we had gone to bed. At one point a voice called into our room, “Hello? Prepare for music,” but in the end David sent them away since it would mean getting the others up to take a poll to see if everyone was interested. (And that would have meant David getting up himself. I was a little disappointed, but didn’t say so.)

I slept under my net, often getting tangled in it or moving it from its place. I spent a while trying to figure out if the buzzing I heard was coming from inside or outside the stupid net. David, my roommate, sawed wood for half the night.

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Bicycling and Walking Vacations in AFRICA

We awoke to a room without power. Fortunately, breakfast was still possible so Doug, David and I headed down at 6:30am—half an hour early—and waited for the others. Lack of power didn’t affect their ability to serve us our breakfast. Back in our rooms, after fumbling with our flashlights for a while, I found a neon light on the wall that operated by battery (I get the inkling that power outages are common). That helped.

We found our way to the CRAZY bus terminal. Our bikes were hauled on top of the bus—the workers were climbing all over the side of the bus as they loaded a variety of things on there—and our gear was spread all over the inside of the bus. We had to take special care to watch everything closely. The bus eventually filled up—some sat in the aisle and some stood. I sat next to Christine and the others were scattered in the front. A woman sat next to me in the aisle on what looked like a big sack of sugar. Christine and I barely said anything to each other throughout the ride.

All told, the trip took over six hours and took us through forest, villages and countryside. When stopped, people walked under the windows, holding up things for sale—from combs to loaves of bread, things cooked on sticks and, of course, pop. I saw a run down building among the others with a sign that said: “24 hour photo lab.” Hmm.

At one point the bus stopped while some workers up the road shovelled a mound of dirt piled in the centre to the side to repair it. The bus crew went up, grabbed the shovels and took over to hasten the journey. It rained (again) overnight and so the morning remained cloudy, which was nice because it kept us relatively cool, making for a pleasant temperature on the bus.

Upon disembarking at Fort Portal the sky was clearing, the sun shining down on us. We pulled our bikes and gear off the bus, huddling protectively around everything while people gathered around to watch in curiosity. Our first priority was to find a restaurant. Nearby, we found a place and ate a large helping of matoke (thick banana mush, but not sweet) with peanut-sauce (yum) and meat. I was stuffed. We met an Englishman who gave David some new directions. (At one point he startled me by smacking a cockroach making its way across the table, commenting, “I hate these bloody things.” Earlier I had pointed out the bug to Doug, who hadn’t thought it was a roach. I would rather have remained ignorant.)

We cycled about 16 km down (mostly) nice, winding, dirt roads lined with houses, farms, goats, cattle, people and children. Most of the way we had nice views of the lower valleys and the 16,000 foot Ruwenzori mountain peaks in the distance.

We made our way along at a leisurely pace, waving and greeting the people who would stare and often laugh to each other as we rode by. Many, especially children, called out, “How are you?”—some happily, and others quite shyly. Some would laugh happily when I answered, “Fine!” Many of the older Ugandans couldn’t help but laugh at us.

We cycled up a hill to the Nyankuku-Kichwamba orphanage where we were greeted by several of the ‘orphans’—I remember Patrick the best—17 years old, who has lived here for 10 years. He guided us on a walk, showing us their crops (banana trees—mostly for beer making) and tilapia ponds. We saw the schools, the dorms and other buildings. He explained that 7 months ago a rebel group came down to the community. There were 80 children, but they don’t know how many died; they found some burnt remains but the children had fled and were afraid to come back until recently. I noted some serious looking armed guards nearby.

NOTE: A few months after returning to Canada some tourists were kidnapped from the Kibale National Park area. The National Post also ran the story of what had happened at the orphanage—only the article said that all the children had been killed and burned by a rebel group. I suspect that the numbers and facts had been exagerrated by the Ugandan government for propaganda purposes. As for the kidnapping, it was a little disturbing. I still contend, however, that I was at much greater physical danger during my four days in London than anywhere we went in Uganda. I still find it hard to believe that Ugandans have the capacity to be violent, but I think of things the chilling things that happen here, and realize we’re not any different in that respect—just different circumstances.
As we walked we had many breathtaking views of the valleys and mountains. It’s cooler up here and quite nice. Doug and I took some pictures of children but many were too shy and ran away when we asked or pretended to try and take pictures. I had the opportunity to lift a bunch of bananas; the things must weigh close to forty pounds!

We found our way back and unloaded our gear in our rooms—round, cement guest houses with what looked to be thatched roofs, the wicker furniture inside lit by kerosene lantern. Maxine and I were sharing the room, and Christine came in and offered me a taste of banana ‘beer’. The stuff almost burned the hair out of my nose. (I later found out there are two kinds of beer—the one I had was more like a liquor. Her water bottled smelled like the liquor for the duration of the trip, to my amusement.)

We met Morence, a quiet spoken man who told us how he started the orphanage and how it has been kept going; he asked us questions about where we’re from and answered our own. He began the community with his own money; it started small, and children kept coming. Much of the funds come from the generosity of tourists. David donates money each time he comes. The water is hauled up here. It’s really very beautiful. Everyone is so hospitable and well educated. Towards evening we sat down for tea (my first time drinking tea, actually). Nathan found the evening quite cold, and the rest of us North Americans thought it was funny.

We were offered the chance to bathe. By the time I was ready it was dark, so I washed by flashlight—and did a rather poor job at that. (Basically two buckets in a clean, tidy, outdoor bamboo ‘stall’ with a rocky floor.) Dinner immediately followed. We sat on benches at a low table in the dining room building. We had a fine tasting meal of the peanut sauce… and cabbage? … on a bed of rice with a Pepsi. After the meal Patrick and his friend talked, at David’s urging, about the various ethnic groups around, including nearby Pygmies… Eventually, at around 8:30pm, we decided to head off for bed.

“I don’t understand why people fight when they can be doing good.”
– Morence Mpora

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Bike or walking tour of AFRICA?

After a decent night’s sleep we awoke (well, Doug and I did) and took a short walk outside. Last night David broke his toilet seat by sitting on it to work on his palm-top computer, which explained the loud crash in the middle of the night. It had rained while we slept and was still cloudy, but clearing. There wasn’t much movement — even the roosters didn’t crow until after 7:00am. We had a hearty breakfast at the hotel (fruit, eggs, sausage…) and prepared to leave. Some of the others couldn’t believe how light I had packed, but I guess I’ll find out if I left any essentials out as we hit the more rustic accommodations. As we readied ourselves outside, the proprietor joined us in our ‘pre-tour’ group picture.

We left town and biked down a stretch of highway into Kampala. The women bought some mangoes along the way. The children seemed ecstatic to see us; huge smiles, waves; some chanted, “How are you?” over and over and one called out, “Give me money.” Maxine was well behind and said that after we pass they all line up to watch us and she has to dodge them all. The landscape is very lush, but their buildings are often very run down. We see many Africans carrying things on old Chinese bicycles. I also counted two cats and one dog as roadkill, which came as a bit of a shock at first.

Some of the hills were quite long; in first gear it still seemed a chore. Downhill, however, I get a lot more speed then the others and have to ride the brakes — an incentive not to follow too closely. As we got close to the city there was construction on the road, but it was still fairly smooth-going. The closer we got, the harder the air was on my lungs to breathe.

Our hotel is on a busy street. We brought our bikes in around back and set up in our rooms — Doug and I sharing a double (again, quite nice… MUCH bigger room, but older, and even a mini-fridge and fan… I put my water bottles in the fridge just for the heck of it) and headed out to see the city. We left our luggage behind and riding my bike without panniers was like floating, although the hills soon quenched that feeling. We first stopped at the Tanzanian embassy for David to pick up a visa, then to the Kampala Museum. The museum had the smell of old books; many things were type-written and I had the general feeling that the museum itself should be in one. Again, no pictures without payment. We spent the time looking the various exhibits; from animals to music and early history.

We went to the exchange office where I parted with $70.00 US. Then on to… lunch! We pulled up to an Indian restaurant where we had … uh … sauces and stuff. The highlight was definitely the passion fruit juice, though. Nourished, we cycled over to the Makere University and looked at some student art. Then, we found another restaurant where we had a round of passion fruit juice — thick, cold and fresh. Then, to the post-office so the others could mail things. I, unfortunately, left all my addresses at home. Oh, well!

The post-office was on a busy downtown street. A man wearing almost no clothing and his thin, deformed legs bent in the air was crawling along the hot sidewalk. I sat with some of the others on the edge of a cement wall. As I sat there some children were hanging nearby, and I couldn’t help but think they wanted to grab my bag, which was resting beside me.

Tuckered out we came back to the hotel. Had a bath in the tub (well, more like pouring water over me, actually). I called my mother (9:00am local time), woke her up and told her that I was okay. She was quite groggy. It cost 3500 UGS ($5.00 CDN) per minute, so it was quite short.

Kampala is bustling with people. We don’t get as many stares here. There are ramshackle buildings, but also newer ones. Most of the restaurants have a sink in the corner for washing. Quite sanitary. Saw garbage being burnt in dumpsters, soldiers with machine guns and kids asking for money. At one point we came near some government buildings, but they had big cement blocks barring the way, and it didn’t look wise to get close.

For dinner we walked over to a nearby restaurant. It was a bigger place, and two stories. We sat on the upper level. My meal involved rice and beef in a spicy sauce. VERY spicy, in fact. We concluded the meal with a special, flat birthday brownie for Christine (Maxine had baked it back home) with Doug’s mag-lite sticking out of it.

While just a small gesture, the birthday ‘cake’ made me think of how quickly our group had bonded, and how natural it was feeling to be with them. I’m enjoying their company, and having people with a similar (North American) background to share the experiences with is great.

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Central AFRICA

Looking through the window of the DC-10 it seemed as though we were landing in the middle of nowhere. Stretched out beneath us was lush, green land: bushes, trees and long grass. And then, a little way off in the distance, the blue waters of Lake Victoria.

In the airport I filled out one of the cards and made my way through immigrations. As I waited for my baggage to show up I kept an eye out for Christine. Back in London at Gatwick airport I had spent my time watching people at the gate and narrowing down the passengers to two suspects. While keeping my eye on the luggage being thrown onto the rack I caught sight of one of my choices, and she, indeed, had a bike box. Soon enough I spotted my bike box being tossed onto the conveyor from the room behind the wall where the conveyor started. It slid off and bounced to the ground; before I could intervene the handler was jamming it through the slot again, back on the conveyor. I caught up to the girl I had my sights on and pulled my cart up to hers. We introduced ourselves — it was, indeed, Christine — and made our way towards customs, making some small talk.

Since we had nothing to declare we veered off to the exit but a uniformed customs officer approached us and asked us what we had in the boxes. I explained that we had brought our bicycles from home. He seemed to accept what we were saying, but he wanted us to bring our boxes over to customs to look inside to see if they were new. He came back with a razor blade and slid open the tape along my box and opened up the top. My bike was packaged in cardboard and newspaper, looking like a brand-new bike. He seemed to think it was new, too, but when I offered to point out all the scratches I had put into it he seemed satisfied enough. He didn’t ever bother looking at Christine’s bike.

We continued on into the airport lobby where a line of people were waiting for friends and relatives, some holding signs. Within moments a bearded man dressed in shorts and a t-shirt came up to us and introduced himself as David Mozer. I was momentarily surprised; according to the list, our guides were listed and Dee and Arpad. As it had turned out, they had backed off at the last moment and David himself had flown down to lead the tour. David Mozer, the founder of Bicycle Africa. Truth be told, I was rather pleased: having read his book, Bicycling in Africa and another travelogue of a tour he had led, The Masked Rider by Neil Peart, I had always wanted to meet the man. Now, as it turned out, he was going to be our guide.

David led us outside where we set ourselves up in the corner of the airport. As we unpacked our bikes several Ugandans were leaning out of the windows watching us. As Christine’s bike emerged I was surprised to see it covered in mud and dirt: she had been cycling in the States and in Crete, flying directly to London for her African leg. Meanwhile, as my bike shined in the sun, I suddenly wished it looked a little more battered, if only to give the impression I wasn’t new at this. Which I was. I started the task of putting my bike together. David started to help Christine fix one of her flat tires as I attempted to look like I knew what I was doing.

David helped me twist my handlebars the right way (duh!) and I set about getting the rest of the bike together. In the background children sang, welcoming family returning from a trip. As I was screwing on my rear tire I suddenly heard a tremendous, “BANG.” I was startled, but I kept my eyes on my bike, thinking to myself, “I don’t want to know what that was.” I heard David say, “bicycle tire,” and turned to see him holding up Christine’s previously over-inflated tire to a crowd of people that began to laugh. In a moment an airport security officer appeared, wondering what the noise was. He, too, seemed rather amused when he found out what it was and proceeded to ask David what we were doing with our bicycles.

David suggested I change out of my khakis and shirt so I made my way back into the airport and made use of the washroom, emerging in shorts and t-shirt. David commented that I didn’t seem to talk much. I assured him that once I got to know everyone, I would soon start to talk more.

Pretty soon we were ready to set off. “Ugandans are quiet, gentle people,” David told us as we mounted, “but when they get behind the wheel of a car it’s as if they check their brains at the door.” With that warning, the three of us started cycling down the road that would lead us out of the airport and back to the hotel where the others were waiting. We rode on the left side of the road: it felt a little odd at first, but after nearly being run over twice during my stay in London, at least I had begun to get used to looking the right way when crossing. Before long we left the main road. As we cycled up the new dirt road I, at the back of the pack, couldn’t keep my eyes from wandering every which way. I was still in shock that I was in Africa.

We arrived at our hotel, a new, brick building, surrounded by a green lawn, enclosed by an iron fence and gate. Nearby our two other companions, Maxine and Doug, were sitting at a table under an umbrella drinking pop and relaxing. They had both been here for a day already, and seemed pretty comfortable. Doug is a professional photographer — this is his fifth tour with David. Maxine is a geologist, and she flew down on the spur of the moment. Everyone seems very easy-going and friendly — a nice group of well-travelled people (well, except for me). While we were all together David lectured us on safety and culture and then we headed in for a buffet. Somewhere along the way it came out that it was Christine’s 30th birthday today!

The lunch was great! We were served by waiters: potatoes, rice, beef, veggies, fruit, etc. (Since my arrival I had been feeling very pampered.) By the end the meal I was quite full. After lunch we brought the bikes into the room, which Doug and I were sharing. It was very small with two twin beds — we had to move one of them a bit just to get the bikes in. The room was new, clean, and had a toilet and shower… even a phone and a fan. Christine, Maxine and David were in a larger room across the hall. While the rest of us settled in, Christine napped.

When it was time to go Christine refused to get up, despite earlier having requested to be woken. We decided to leave her and all of us walked down to the Botanical Garden. Along the way we found a map shop–it was a big cement building, and inside it reminded me of the buildings you always see in those Mexican films. We then walked to the gates of the garden. Along the road a youth came up beside us — beside me, mostly. He followed us into the park, made conversation and pointed things out, explaining what things were and what they were used for. I felt uncomfortable with his presence–I just wanted to look at things — but listened politely anyway. The park was full of trees and plants, and a dirt road wound its way through them all. As we strolled Doug took some pictures (2000 UGS to do so, which I didn’t have the money or desire to pay) and Maxine and David rattled off an impressive amount of information about trees, plants and birds, most of which was well beyond my faculties.

As we left, our “guide” — the youth that had followed us along — requested payment for his “services”. The three of us walked on, pretending not to hear. I had no money to give him, and even if I had, I hadn’t really felt comfortable feeling obligated to listen to him tell us about things — I had done it out of politeness, and it hadn’t occurred to me it was a business venture. I suspect the others felt the same way. While we feigned obliviousness we could hear David explain to him that he shouldn’t expect payment for a service that we hadn’t asked for. I felt a little bad that he had wasted his time. I guess what was the whole idea.

We rested at the hotel and after a little while went out for dinner. David led us up the road where the buildings were congregated together like on small-town main streets. We entered one of them, a restaurant. The lighting inside was dim, and there was only one other group there besides us — a table of Africans talking quietly. The menu was limited, and we all ended up getting tilapia and fries. When the meal came David gave a demonstration on deboning a whole tilapia. In addition to the meal Christine and I had a Bell Ugandan beer each — a decent pale ale. When we left it was quiet outside and very, very dark. I had no sense of direction, and had no clue where we were going as David led us back to the hotel. At one point we crossed through an arch over the road that was all lit up, the lone bit of light in the darkness.

Back at the hotel I made use of the shower by washing my clothes — mud spattered from London, but that’s another story — and packed up my khakis and dress shirt, which I decided not to bring on the bike. It was warm that night, but comfortable. The lodging wasn’t much different from what I would expect in Canada, but they would get more rustic shortly.

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