Pedro's Slow Travels


the edge of a continent
22/04/2011, 6:08 am
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The Egyptian gods smiled on us for the last desert stretch to Cairo. Strong tailwinds whipping us along the road, doing the distance in two days instead of the expected four. A nice way to finish the long loop out through the western desert.
Entering Cairo late in the afternoon the pyramids projected up above the towering concrete apartment blocks, stately asserting their presence on the horizon, we of history. Lost amongst the traffic filled maze of the cities edge, at had been a long 195km day, darkness descended and some friendly locals came to the rescue, guiding us to the campsite. The next day was time to get a closer look at the great pyramids and their odd companion in masonry, the sphynix.

The clutter and bustle of people selling souvenirs, camel rides, horse rides, the buses of camera clutching tourists, did not take away the grandness of the pyramids, they had presence and are very big. My grandfather climbed one while he was stationed in Egypt during WWII, but no climbing these days, plenty of police around to ensure that. I did however get to climb into the the funerary chamber of the Khufu Pyramid, a claustrophobic and eerie experience.

We relocated to the centre of the city, not so lost this time but a lot of city and mad traffic to traverse, and ran into Tahrir square, the centre for the revolution movement, to find it again barricaded and occupied by protesters. It wasn’t till later that day we discovered that not twelve hours earlier the military had stormed the square killing two protesters.

cairo on the nile

The Egyptian museum was an overwhelming jumble of mummies, statues and miscellaneous old stuff in a muddle of rooms. It was nice to see the treasures of Tutankamuns tomb, a book of its discovery being a favourite of mine as a kid. Amazing artistry. And of course who couldn’t help be impressed by the five metre long mummified crocodiles.
I also took the metro down to the now suburb of Maadi, where my grandfather in the New Zealand regiment had been stationed. Stumbled upon a flash new restaurant called ‘Kiwi’, they had obviously left an impression on the place.

the fruit juice man

The first day cycling down the green canal striped Nile delta was bad. Despite successfully escaping the smog and finding a small road to Alexandria, it was still full of horn honking rushing traffic. The afternoon got worse when a psychotic young tuktuk driver intentionally tried to run us off the road at speed. He made the silly mistake though of stopping not far in front of us, learning quickly it was a bad idea to unleash the fury of two tired cyclists. And still more. A little ways on we witnessed the sickening collision of a cyclists getting hit from behind by a ute, the bicycle a complete mangled wreck, wheel flying through the air, he was incredibly lucky to walk away. A fight quickly broke out, time to keep pedaling on, now even more on edge.

A night of refugee in a Damanhuh hotel, to a relatively quite canal road for the final days cycle into the port city of Alexandria. I swear the last couple of days I could feel the edge of the continent approaching. Upon reaching the shiny bright blue Mediterranean sea, i jumped straight in. The last time I’d swum in the salty was a year ago in the freezing Atlantic at Henties Bay, Namibia. A long time for a kiwi.

Only with my feet in the sand staring out to sea did it begin to dawn on me how far I’d come. The trick to mentally surviving a long journey is never to think of the end. This isn’t quite the end of my journey but it’s certainly the end of my time on the African continent. I’ve the shadow of a transect wriggling up the continent in me, the dust, sun and sweat. Eyes locked with countless peoples, a stranger in their lands, meals shared, smiles of laughter and incomprehension. Scowls of incomprehension. Just plain incomprehension. I’ve done what I dreamed about doing as a boy, and it is good and I will return one day.

biblioteca alexandria

Now I’ve landed in Europe, in Venice, Italy. A three day uneventful boat ride across the Mediterranean. Manic Mark is heading off to Greece and then the great east. This will be the last entry, but the journey is by no means over, still a ways to go till Denmark and then who knows after that. For now I’m going to get me an expresso and start towards the alps. Thanks for reading.



escape from the nile valley
05/04/2011, 5:48 pm
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Luxor temple

 

After the nonchalant attitude and generosity of the Sudanese people, Egypt was a bit of a shock. So, so many people trying to overcharge you, sometimes at ten times the price, or wanting money when asking for simple directions. But i guess that’s what over a century of tourism can do to many in a poor country.

sometimes it all a bit much

 

In Aswan I spent a few days learning to negotiate this new land and also met another cyclist. I’d thought i was the only one mad enough to be cycling north at this time of year, but it turns out i was wrong. Mark, a manic old Englishman with dyed red hair and a bicycle named ‘mexican super killer’, was also heading in that direction (www.mskworldcyclingtour.co.uk). We decided to team up, two being much better than one in battling the wind. And frankly conversations with my bicycle were starting to get a bit tiresome.

 

 

Across to the quiet west side of the Nile, it was a two-day cycle up the palm lined river to Luxor, a night spent in an sugarcane plantation office, waking to find two plainclothed and shotgun bearing policemen had been called in to protect us. They look after their tourists here. Luxor is home of some of the most impressive temples in Egypt, so I joined the hordes, actually dregs, as the revolution has scared most of the tourists away, in wandering among the towering carved stone monuments.

oasis kids

Then it was time to escape the touristic mayhem of the Nile valley. Go west my son. Into the western desert on a huge loop through a tiny scattering of oases up to Cairo. Great idea, just that the police at the checkpoint at the start of the desert road didn’t think so. What about the sun? And the dangerous animals?… like foxes? Foxes… right, very dangerous. An hour of insistence and arguing and finally they agreed to let us through. After we had signed a statement saying if anything happened to us we were responsible. Like if we got mauled by a pack of rabid desert foxes, well-known for their general dislike of cyclists.

from the minaret, el qasr

The serene quiet of the desert, stark and beautiful in the open, low horizon way, was bliss after the noise and chaos of the river. The people were much friendlier out this way too. Three days of rock and sand and we reached out first oasis, sighted as a smudge of dark green wavering on the horizon. Immediately we were invited into a home, fed vast quantities of delicious food, tea and taken for a swim at the start of a big irrigation canal. Oasis indeed.

 

 

Through El Kharga, stocking up on food, and onwards to the Dakhla oasis for a well earned rest day. At El Kasr we wandered through the partially abandoned old islamic village, a maze of alleyways and nooks through the crumbling mud brick buildings, some three stories high. Wildcamping you can never know where you will end up, sometimes very average spots, and sometimes you hit gold. The first night out of El Kharga it was the latter. Checking out a depression off the road we discovered at its base a large body of water, bright green reeds and birds in abundance. Our very own oasis.

 

the white desert

 

The road bended to the north and half way round the loop was the famous White Desert National Park. A surreal ultra illuminated world of white rock formations, even the haze kicked up by the strong wind that day did not dim it. The next day it was cycling through its shadow to the north, the volcanic and apocalyptic looking Black Desert before reaching the final oasis, Bahariya.

 

Three hundred and eighty kilometers left to Cairo, a city of twenty million people. After two weeks in the desert, reckon i’m going to be in for another Egyptian shock.

 

 

 



nubia
19/03/2011, 4:00 pm
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Bayuda desert

Mercy from the headwinds came with a westward road across the Bayuda desert. Crosswinds though not great, are better. To beat the wind I also began to cycle a couple of hours before sunrise. By starlight in dreamy state, like cycling along the ocean floor, lines and shapes taking form in black and white before slowly bleeding through with colour, heralding the rise of that mighty gold disc out of the horizon. A break and second breakfast to watch her rise, my own little sun worship.

A scruffy desert, the Bayuda had the occasional dry water course marked with thorn trees running through the rock and sand. A scattering of camel herders making a life there. They had a good laugh at me one day as i struggled with my puny cyclist arms to haul up a container of water from a well. The camels even joined in bellowing at the spectacle.

After three days I rejoined the Nile at Karima, the imposing rock, jebal barkal, standing sentinel over the town and giving great views over the river, desert and the cluster of pyramids at its base. Sudan is a swagmans paradise, very safe to camp almost anywhere without bother. I pitched for two nights at the base of jebal barkal, wandering Karimas souq, conversing with locals and viewing the old ferry’s askew on the riverbank, the recent sealing of the roads the final death blow for river travel.

fortress at the 3rd cataract

Continuing west into the Nubian desert, this one deserted and desolate, sand and more sand, cutting across another bend in the Nile, to Dongola and the into the domain of the Nubian people. They have distinctive houses with high vaulted ceilings, a large step around the base and gracefully patterned mud floors. Traditionally, they might also have been decorated with the embalmed and stuffed body of a crocodile above the door, a few still are.

delgo blacksmith

North again and into that bastard wind. Seeking shelter through the midday in ramshackle mud brick truckstops, sitting on mats and eating the tasty bean fuul, scooped up with chunks of flatbread with the chuckling drivers. Washed down with sweet tea and followed with a good long nap on one of the string strung beds. All the while the wind kicked and whipped outside. Fine little oasises from the wind.

At Delgo I spotted locals washing in the river, tired of the usual bottle wash, it was in for a quick dip. Quick as I had just seen a couple of houses adorned with tooth grinning crocodile heads. After a night sheltered in a date palm plantation I met the worldly Fazal, who took me along to see his plantation and fertilize the young palm flowers, insuring a good crop. Then a tour of his walled garden with its mango, guava and lemon trees and back to the house for a huge delicious breakfast. A good break digesting and conversing the differences between our worlds, then he sent me on my way with a bag of dates from his family plantation. Nice people these Nubians.

the way north

I shadowed the Nile for a few more days, through the long deserted stretch where a couple of cyclists have reputedly been eaten by hyenas over the years. But no sign of them, just a couple of desert foxes skulking among the dunes at dusk. The dead end road dead ended at Wadi Halfa, the usually sleepy town bustling as the once a week ferry was running daily to bring back the thousands of Sudanese who have fled Libya.

One last tango with Sudanese bureaucracy, an entire morning spent at immigration waiting for a stamp, then the chaotic boarding of a ferry. Queuing? No, not here. Only pushing and shoving mate. Motoring up Lake Nasser, passing the impressive Abu Simbel temple, lamplit in the night. Sleeping on the deck to the thud of the engines, somewhere we had crossed into Egypt. And exactly one year to the day since I first put foot to the pedal in Cape Town, o so far away.



Sandwinds
02/03/2011, 9:46 am
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Leaving Ethiopia I met a string of other cycle tourers, more than since starting pedaling nearly a year ago, all heading south, very wisely as I discovered. Great to talk to them and swap info, comrades on two wheels.

It was a big winding descent down to the border, to the heat and flatlands of Sudan and once again an amazing change in people and culture. White robes and bright shawls, flowing clothes to envelope and cool, coffee sweet and with ginger. Old blue trucks thundering along roads stretching to the horizon and large clay jars of water along the way to shake the thirst of travelers.

is anybody out there?

Camping in the desert and the fields of the massive irrigation projects, I rejoined the Blue Nile and followed it north to Khartoum. Couchsurfing with a kiwi teacher, I promptly did the most un-guestly thing and fell very ill. Suspected malaria but after two days horizontal and some medication I soon recovered to do battle with Sudanese bureaucracy. Registration and visa extension. Patience, patience.

 

Meroe pyramids

Crossing the White Nile, some of it probably still in my system after my kayaking mis-adventure in Uganda, fleeing hot sprawling Khartoum, I took the road up the west side of the soon converged Nile proper. Quiet road that after a day turned to gravel and sand, strayed far from the river, and became scarily quiet. Alone with the desert stretching all around, sun pounding down and wind whipping fleeting snake hoards of sand across the ground, the doubts grow strong. Am i going the right way? Pondering in the shade of a thorn-bush, the first vehicle in five hours comes along. Yes the right way, pedal on.

 

i think the rough translation is "ye who cyclith into the north wind are foolish"

 

Crossed back to the east side of the Nile, to the highway and its fiendish company of trucks and buses, then camped for a night at the Meroe Pyramids. Between two and three thousand years old they perch atop a sand draped outcrop, weathered and weathering but still an impressive presence in the desolate landscape.

 

the water man

 

From the other cyclists I’d heard of the strong headwinds I’d encounter. Since leaving Khartoum its been nothing but. Incredibly demoralising, day in day out, battling the wind, some days so strong they’d become sandstorms, cutting visibility and coating everything, even your eyeballs, in a fine layer of sand, all the while struggling to make even 60km. And to make it more enjoyable, I got bounced off the side of a truck one day, sore elbow and ribs but otherwise very lucky.

I would sell my soul for a tailwind. I take my breaks at crossroads, but alas old Luci has yet to appear to strike the bargain. So head down and pushing on.

 

 

 

 

 

It was a big winding descent down to the border, to the heat and flatlands of Sudan and once again an amazing change in people and culture. White robes and bright shawls, flowing clothes to envelope and cool, coffee sweet and with ginger. Old blue trucks thundering along roads stretching to the horizon and large clay jars of water along the way to shake the thirst of the traveller.



the high road
07/02/2011, 10:13 am
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Bureaucracy, mechanics, and a birthday in Addis Ababa. Bureaucracy and mechanics aren’t my favourite things in the world, but sometimes you just have to do them. The bureaucracy was visas for Egypt and Sudan. Egyptian visa went fine, the women with a beaming smile behind the desk even sped up the process when the smile reflected. At the Sudan embassy there were no smiles, stone faced, mono-toned officials giving me a visa, though only for two weeks. Gonna have to pedal fast.

After twelve and a half thousand kilometers it was also time to replace some parts on the bicycle, retrieving them with relief from the concrete and steel rabbit warren of a post office, all went well. Beautiful beth overhauled and ready for another distance. A sturdy elegant machine, the dust of many deserts in her seams. And in Addis I aged. To thirty. The lovely stewardesses of the couch I occupied, Sophie and Emily, would not let me leave without a party. Great food and company, a much better option than being on the road. Enjoyed my time in Addis alot, wide streets, socialist architecture, old Lada taxi’s and strewn with monuments. Saw some great Ethiopian jazz, man can the Ethiopians dance, and checked out the local art scene. And of course, lots of coffee drinking.

coffee traditional style

Time to leave, the road north, up again to over three thousand metres, on the edge of an escarpment a troop of the shaggy Gelata Baboons basked in the morning sun. Huge descent back down to hot dry lands, camel trains and daggers for belt buckles. Not such a tourist traveled road so no trouble from the kids. Tracking the edge of the escarpment, climbs, descents and some big, leg killing climbs. Occasionally assisted by grabbing onto the back of a diesel smoking truck. Or chewing chat.

road to lalibela

After six days I arrived at my goal. Lalibela, home of the famous rock hewn churches. With the devout, the foreign and local tourist, I explored the eleven stoical buildings, carved straight into the mountains side. Very impressive. A morning dash up to a cliff top monastery and it was on the road again. The visa clock ticking away. Three more days to Bahir Dar, on the shores of Lake Tana and the source of the Blue Nile. With my short visa time for Sudan and Egypt currently afire with revolution the next leg will be interesting.

Two months in Ethiopia, and stone throwing brats aside, I have loved it. The people greet each other with warmth, use umbrellas against the sun, play ping pong in the streets, love to share tea and coffee. And there is nothing like an expresso machine in every dusty donkey town to help power those pedals around.

st george church, lalibela

I hope one day to return.

highlands

 



stones, mountains and wolves
13/01/2011, 9:42 am
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I’d never have imagined that one day I’d pull a knife on a bunch of ten year old kids. But I did. Any account you read of people cycling through Ethiopia will tell of the abusive and stone throwing little bastards that line the roads. No matter how you try to steel yourself for it, the grabbing at the bike, constant yelling YOU! YOU! YOU! and stone throwing gets to you. At the end of a long day, climbing a big hill I snapped, fuming a torrent of abuse I pulled my knife (strapped to my bike stem for psychological lion and hyena defense, but really only used on mangoes) on a bunch of them. Of course this only made it more exciting and they continued to harass me all the way to the top of the hill. And they say it is worse in the north. This could be a long country.

To get away from the terrors, they are a creation of tourists so are mostly on the tourist trails (to all the people who have ever given kids a couple of birr or a pen and driven on, give yourselves a collective slap in the face for encouraging them to beg on the side of the road instead of going to school and making life hell for those not in a metal and glass bubble), but mostly to see if i could spot an Ethiopian wolf, it was off to the Bale Mountains.

From the rift I broke out east, across sweeping golden wheat plains, the realm of horses, horsemen and wide round huts. Up through juniper forest into the mountains, at over 3000m it was damn cold, out came the socks for gloves. Based at the park headquarters in Dinsho I spent a few days exploring the park by foot and horseback. The horse trek was a nice change of transport, much more companionable than a bicycle, but with a blanket covered wooden saddle I aint going to be switching any time soon.

sanetti plateau

Downed in Goba with my first stomach bug of the trip, recovered for a couple of days before attempting to cross the Sanetti plateau. The plateau is a windswept 4000m high and home to most of the remaining Ethiopian wolves, the worlds rarest canid (www.ethiopianwolf.org). A three hour grunt up to reach the plateau and I was soon rewarded in spotting my first wolf, even getting to watch him catch a giant mole rat! (Their main prey, I’m an ecologist, I’m allowed to get excited by this).

the ethiopian wolf ( canis simensis )

Following the road south I spotted three more wolves, and on a high, or perhaps the effects of altitude, decided to do a side trip up the track to the top of Tullu Deemtu, Ethiopias second highest mountain at 4377m. Eye level with the heavens, frozen, exhausted, happy.

Mt Tullu Deemtu, 4377m

And a now two and half kilometer descent over the next seventy. Brakes working, check. Dropping off the plateau down a spectacular hairpinning road into the sprawling Harena forest. A night camped with frog researchers before carrying on down through this beautiful forest. Depressingly, since the political turmoil of the last elections, the forest has been invaded by illegal settlers, grazing their cattle and making their huts along the road. Hard to be angry at people who have nothing, but as I have seen all the way up the continent the forests are disappearing everywhere, being eaten away by axe and charcoal.

Harena forest

Out of the forest and into the desert, from numbing cold to scorching heat in a day. It was now a big loop south to return to the rift and the main road. My map being out by nearly two hundred kilometers, it took six days. Through thorny camel country on a traffic-less dirt road, pregnant camel, wide berth for a wide load. Joining a bigger truck ripped roadway, left Somalia, right the rift. Turn right. Long slow winding up into some beautiful forested hill country, where the men all wear white shawls and carry long spears. A night secreted in the forest, Colobus monkey alarm clock calling me to the road again.

fuel stop

One final big jarring descent back down into the rift to the main road. Tar road again, and those damn kids.



rifting
23/12/2010, 10:30 am
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Martin and his Yamaha

The border crossing on the west side of Lake Turkana has no immigration, so before following the sandy shore north, I had to make a side trip to the border with south Sudan, Lokichoggio, to get an exit stamp. In the cramped sardine van transport of a matatu, what could of been an easy day trip, thanks to an absent immigration official, two flat tires, a broken fan belt and a village with no petrol, turned into a day and a half of breakdowns. Resulted in my staying the night in the small village of Kakuma, which I soon discovered was not so small but actually a huge refugee camp, 80,000 people from fourteen nationalities, some of whom have been there for over twenty years, all in the middle of flat, hot, arid nowhere. So if you ever feel like you’re having a bad day… To see what life is like there check out their newspaper, Kakuma News Reflector, http://kanere.wordpress.com set up and run by journalists in exile.

In Lodwar I had been taken in by Martin and his lovely family, who lavished me with hospitality. The jolly, smiling Martin even escorting me on his beloved Yamaha out of town as I set off again. To the lake the road was good, a swim in its soapy brown waters then onto a 130km stretch of sand road, sucking at the wheels, occasional pits of the horribly fine bull dust coating everything, pushing, lead thighs, sweat dripping as the temperature soared.

turkana sunrise

Two nights sleeping at mission stations and another swim in the Lake. The crocodiles are all supposed to hang out on the other side, yet funnily none of the locals got into the water until after me… Closing in on the border along this desolate road, a merciful tailwind, the Turkana herders were now drapping guns across their shoulders. Smile, pedal on. Over the border, a mango savoured in no mans land, then a crumbling Ethiopian police post perched on a rock outcrop, the manic kat chewing officer pointing to my visa with his half digit, excitedly exclaiming, ‘Its too old, too old!’ Till I pointed out he was looking at my date of birth.

Onward vehicle tracks to the Omo river, wide, steep banked and mud coloured, now in Dassenech tribal land, the wearers of very little. Enough to make a man blush. The dugout canoe was on the other side, ferryman missing in action but a passing motorboat of school workers soon came to my rescue. The last stretch of cycling up the Omo’s millet and sorghum lined banks lead to the small border town of Omorate. Rest, a beer, my first injeera.

The next day waiting at the government compound for the immigration man, the sophorific military men lazing about in the shade suddenly burst into life, uniforms on, guns collected, belts of ammunition flashing in the sun and all running off towards the river. Me seated and wondering what the hell was going on. Gunshots had been heard on the other side of the river, the thought was a tribal raid. Turns out it was the shooting of a large crocodile, everyone baths and fetches water from the river so you can’t blame them. Many people were eating well that night.

No sand but rutted hell up to Turmi, hyena tracks, huge bustard, many tiny and elven faced dikdik and a large Abyssinian ground hornbill for company. With the thorny bush country, it took a while to find a suitable hammock spot to wait out the midday heat. Felt like shit on arriving in Turmi, had come down with a cold which in such a hot dry place suddenly seems like a very inappropriately named and almost ironic illness.

omo river

Three days there in recovery meant I got to see a Hamer bull jumping ceremony, a coming of age ritual young hamer men must do before they can marry. An afternoon of women dancing and chanting, horns and bells, next to the dry river bed, before the mohawked young man had to run naked over the backs of five bulls, wrangled side by side, four times. You may now find a wife. Perhaps I should have done it as well…

Further into the rift, hotter, more tribes and a flock of vultures, bone cleaners showing your fate should you expire here. Drink water, cover from the sun and keep moving. Mangoes at the river then a long hellish grunt up the other side of the rift. Exhausted sleep, no help from a full moon, camping in a tree nursery next to the trickle of a river, the old man minder, drunk and singing on some earthy brew, for company.

the bull jumper

One more long day to arrive at Arba Minch, grabbing the back of a banana truck for a tow up the final escarpment to this, my first big town in Ethiopia. Time to relax, orientate, indulge in the amazing food and coffee. And dream at my map.

 



Lodwar
09/12/2010, 3:32 pm
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Well it turned out I wasn’t to leave the Nile so easily. It’s amazing what you can say yes to after a couple of beers (or in my lighty case, one). The night before I was to continue on to Kenya, a couple of kayakers convinced me to do a run down some grade 4 rapids the next morning. I’d done plenty of kayaking before, but that was way back in highschool twelve years ago. And never anything that big. Into a plastic slug of a playboat, a couple of practice rolls and away we went. The mighty Nile chewed me up and spat me out. Bailed twice and swallowed a few litres of water but it was a blast! Upside down in a raging washing machine all thoughts of the cycling trip were gone, refreshing.

 

lunch time friends, the road to kitale

 

Into Kenya, swinging around the south of the squat Mt Elgon, along her eastern flank, and north, north, north. From the town of Kitale it was a mornings climbing to a big drop down off the side of the rift valley and into pokot territory, rolling green hills quickly turning to the rock, dust and scraggly trees of this arid country.

 

 

The road has a bad reputation for bandits, that and it crosses the boundary from Pokot to Turkana lands, tribes who occasionally like to steal each others cattle and then resolve their differences with AK47’s. A tad nervous I made it to the shangri-la like Marich Pass campsite, a shaded bliss on the edge of the mountains run up a lovely old Eritrean women with sun-baked skin and a Coptic cross tattooed on her forehead. The next morning after consulting the local police post I made a dash to Kainuk, the Pokot Turkana boundary. Everybody was saying that from here to the next town of Lokichar was bandit central. ‘Are there bandits there?’ ‘Always.’

 

 

Kind owners of a local hotel took it upon themselves to find me a good ride. Time sapped away into the blue, there being little traffic, and it was a convoy of two, petrol tankers with an armed guard, that were chosen. I’m not exactly sure how safe traveling with a giant tank of flammable liquid is when there are automatic guns about, but the bike was strapped hastily to the back and away we went, very very slowly. The road was the rotted skeleton of a once fine tarway and the speed we bumped and bounced along I could have easily matched on my bike. Somali music blaring, Hussein the mechanic competing in volume, as completely wired he alternated between chewing kat, chewing tobacco, smoking cigarettes and drinking coke. Six hours, one tyre change and eighty kilometers later, we made it, my organs now a jumbled heap lying in my lower torso, but at least bandit free.

 

 

Before the sun I was on the still shit road leaving dusty Lokichar to the dust. This was now Turkana land, still largely dressing and living a traditional lifestyle, I’d pass these semi-nomadic people, wandering through the intense heat with their herds of goats, sheep or camel. Men with blanket cloaks, fighting staves and tiny stools over their shoulders, women with mohawk cropped hair and bright red and green necklaces stacked up to their chins.

Then halfway to Lodwar and over a low hill appeared another mzungu cyclist! A hell of a long time since I’d met a fellow two-wheeled wanderer (Zambia I think), we had coffee, swapped stories and as all cycle tourers do, compared bikes.

 

turkana cyclist

 

I cycled into Lodwar a few desert hours later, feeling like I’d reached the town at the edge of the earth.

 



the nile start
29/11/2010, 10:38 am
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school talk... 'yes i have cycled that far....'

 

With the equator crossed, Carolyn departed, another cycling buddy back to the world of jobs, and I continued along the base of the mighty Rwenzori mountains to Fort Portal. Here I was taken in by a set of most hospitable volunteers while I waited to get my Ethiopian visa (had to courier my passport all the way to Melbourne, crazy), first the wonderful Freddy and Kees, and then with a stint of volunteering at the Tooro Botanical Gardens, Valentine.

 

 

Passport finally back in my clutches, I did a day trip around to the other side of the Rwenzori’s to the Semuliki National Park with its bubbling hot springs and hornbill graced treetops. During the long descent to the park you are treated to a stunning view out over the vast forest, stretching into the Congo, all the way to the horizon, and beyond. A sight I won’t forget and an area I wish to explore one day, but for now it will have to wait. The north is pulling.

 

 

Fully loaded and on the road again I cycled through the Kibale forest, hearing the hoots of chimps and seeing the muddy footprints of forest elephants, but they otherwise remained ghosts from my sight, hiding away their thick forest. The many species of monkey showed no such shyness, black and white colobus and red tails scurrying and leaping with envious acrobatic talent among the branches.

 

 

Past the paradise like crater lake area, lush, green and speckled with explosion craters, back to Queen Elizabeth National Park. Enjoyed it so much last time I just had to go back for more, alas no close encounters this time, or feline sightings. A long climb up out of the rift and four big days to reach the smoggy traffic people concrete hectic city of Kampala. Near death in the form of speeding demon buses and trucks on the road in. Never mind buffalos or lions, traffic is wear the danger lies.

 

 

Three days in the city and I highway dashed it to Jinja. The source of one of the many branches of the Nile, this is no trickle, it’s straight into a freight train of a torrent, draining Lake Victoria. I’ll see her again several times on the way to the Med. A periodic geographical companion for the coming months. With my Ethiopian visa now ticking, its time to hit the road again for Kenya and into the desert tribal country of the west side of Lake Turkana.

 

the nile

 

 

 



equator
02/11/2010, 12:47 pm
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afro-alpine

Rain. Since I left Cape Town back in March the closest thing I had to water from the sky was the aerial spray storm kicked up by Victoria falls. Six months without it, a strange experience for a kiwi. This came to an end with Rwanda, great cumulonimbus clouds would tower in defiance over the volcanoes and unleash a torrent upon your head at sometime doing the day. With the cool it brought the smell of the earth, a much more pleasant thing than the earth coating you as dust, a smell to bring back memories of home.

We crossed at Cynika into Uganda. The volcanic sentinel of Muhavura straddling and watching over the dividing line. Upwards to its summit the next day, climbing through forest that turned into the bizarre looking afro-alpine vegetation, giant Lobelia and Senecios, Dr Seuss like in the curve and cut of their leaves. A mist smothered summit, 4137m, so thick you could barely see the otherside of the tiny crater lake, let alone a view.

buffalo

From Kisoro through some more killer hills, to wind along the northern shore of the improbably squished Lake Bunyonyi. Here we met up with Steve and Maud, more ex-dunedinites, for a delicious meal of crayfish, freshwater of course. Great to be in so much familiar company for an evening. The next day, Carolyn’s bike now sporting some welded on re-enforcements to her front rack, was long and tough. Through bad roads, thunderstorms, climbing up to over 2000m and a final, ‘this-is-now-so-unpleasant-its-almost-funny,’ cycle through the pitch blackness of a rainy night, braille like navigation of the rutted road to Kanungu.

A side trip for me to visit the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, all drenched thickly green and concealing an amazing array of animalia, and I met up again with Carolyn in the Ishasha sector of Queen Elizabeth National Park. Famously home of tree climbing lions (there goes that escape option), the dirt road heads north next to Lake Edward for seventy kilometres. A great day for spotting wildlife, vulture, buffalo, topi, kob, elephant, blue turaco, baboon, vervet monkey, one baby puff adder and clouds of brilliantly coloured butterflys through the Maramagambo forest. Bicycle safari.

baby puff

As the afternoon was getting on one particular pesky pachyderm decided he’d like to munch on an acacia right on the road edge. For some reason elephants like bicycles as much as overweight automotive enthusiast oil executives do, so getting past one can be tricky. There was little traffic on the road and the couple of cars that did pass were way too small shields to shadow behind. Time dragged, he continued to munch away, at one stage pausing to flap his leathery ears and advance at us, elephant for ‘piss off,’ bicycles around, we did. Just as we were beginning to think we’d still be in the park when evening hunger stirs the lions, a Landrover came to our aid, spiriting us past the big grey grump.

maramagambo forest

In celebration of such a great day of animal encounters we downed a beer with goat brochette, sitting on the ubiquitous plastic chairs on a dusty side street of Katunguru, a maelstrom of swallows chasing each others tails. But that was not the end of large mammal dodging.

The next day we decided to cycle to the Mweya peninsula, taking the game road that follows the Kazinga channel, the ranger at the gate saying they don’t usually let cyclists through but, “you may go.” We soon wished he hadn’t. The road was narrow, windy and with lots of vegetation making it difficult to see who was lurking just ahead. Straight away we had to negotiate a large herd of elephant. Soon after we came upon MR Buffalo.

Carolyn says, “Buffalo.” I say, “where?” A organ displacing five metres to the left, previously hidden by a large bush, was a lone bull buffalo sitting in a mud wallow. This notoriously dangerous tank of mammal (they get up to 900kg), stood up, mud dripping from his torso, cocked his head and snorted, as we speed off as fast as our legs would spin. It was a very nervous further fifteen kilometres to Mweya park village.

topi

The campsite at Mweya had great views out over the lake and channel, elephant, buffalo and hippo lounging on the shores. And with many visitors, Maribu stork, palm-nut vulture, warthogs, waterbuck, a two dozen strong family of banded mongoose and during the night, hippos kindly keeping the grass down. We took the main road back out, much more open and uneventful, though still plenty of animals, and great views of the Nyamanyuko explosion crater, the massive Rwenzori mountains for a backdrop.

nyamanyuko explosion crater

Still in the park and we came to that long imaginary line around the globe, latitude zero, the equator. A milestone for the trip, I was damn happy to be there! And in customary bicycle-pirate tradition when crossing the equator, I was obliged to get mildly inebriated. Which these days doesn’t take much. Northern hemisphere here I come!

equator!