Thursday, May 8, 2014

Here I go again. Middle of May thru end of June.

"I'm about to depart for Germany to get on my Suzuki DL650 and ride SE towards Ukrainia and then loop SW toward Turkey and Greece before turning up thru the Balkan countries and back to Germany. I'll be home by the end of June. I'll try and post a few pictures and updates along the way. Anyone interested in following along, climb aboard!"

That was what started this trip blog this time. Sorry it has taken me a week to figure out how to get anything post on this site again. I'll be damn if I can remember how to do it and it just ain't intuitive enough for me to find the right thing to click. And, there's no one here under 15 to ask... So, here goes the best I can do at the moment:

It was a very slow start to this Adventure Ride.

Because of my failing lung condition, the high altitude (low air pressure – low oxygen density) messed with my blood and then my whole system. My heart rate doubled for about 3 days, while I just sat around doing almost nothing or took naps. Eventually, it started to get better, the heart rate went back to only slightly higher than normal and I began to get a little more energy back.

Three days after I had planned to be “on the road again”, I told myself to get on the bike and go, the same thing I'd been telling myself every morning, but this time I went.
I called my friend Blazenka (also from Bellingham) who has just retired and is visiting the old homeland (Croatia) and I set off for Zagreb. Not sure how much stamina I had yet, I decided to take 2 or 3 days to get there from near Heidelberg, Germany where I have kept a bike ready to ride each year for almost 10 years.

5-17   6am
As it turns out this trip is going to be all about the vicissitudes of having Pulmonary Fibrosis and only a little about nice people and nice places.

I intended it to be all about beautiful people and places. It’s been almost a full week since I left Bellingham, Washington and I haven’t really gone anywhere yet.

I was told by my Pulmonologist (you’d think that would be fact that a pulmonary specialist would know) that commercial aircraft cabins are pressurized at 4,000 feet for high altitude flights. 4,000 was about my maximum limit for getting enough oxygen thru my failing lungs and into my blood to keep me functioning at a near “functional” level.  So, no problem!

Something I learned a couple of days ago from Wikipedia is that airlines actually keep passenger cabins pressurized at between 4000 feet to just over 8,000 feet at the highest altitudes – like the 41,000 feet that was flown on the final 6 hours of my flight across the Atlantic. I should have looked up Wikipedia before I left home!
I noted that the change in altitude came during dinner on the plane (yes, you still get a dinner on trans-Atlantic flights). A meal means some of your blood gets syphoned off to digestion. I also noted that my pulse rate kept gradually going up crossing the USA and continued crossing the Atlantic. And that my Lung efficiency at moving ambient oxygen into my blood stream rate kept going down especially at 41,000 feet - 6 hours of it.

I have a little gizmo I put on my finger and it can tell all that!

For the last 6 hours of the flight [and for 3 full days after getting back on the ground in Germany, my Pulse Rate was double yours (between 100 and 123 beats per minute) and my OXY Rate was 20% less than yours bouncing around between 77% and 83%. Yours is 97 to 100% efficient.

Did I go see a doctor? No!
I waited for it to fix itself. There isn’t anything to be done anyway, I reasoned. Well, some straight oxygen up my nose would have helped, maybe….

After I talked myself into thinking I was getting better (pulse down under 100 barley and OXY rate up to 84ish) and I’d done nothing except sleep for several days, I decided to pack up and go. I rode about 250 miles south east toward Zagreb, Croatia to visit my friend from the ROMEO CLUB (Blazenka) and her family (she’s the only woman and an honorary member of the illegal Retired Old Men Eating Out Club.

I got myself to Bad W√∂rishofen, still in Germany and half way to Zagreb and I just couldn’t go anymore. I was too fatigued just sitting on the bike at 120 kilometers an hour in traffic to feel safe should some emergency jump out in front of me. Beside, I’m in no hurry!

I found a nice sedate and very comfortable hotel (Kurhotel Kaiser) and here I am this evening after two restful nights, a visit from the Emergency Medic Unit (communication problem here at hotel -- I'm not an emergency - but very professional, included a doctor who arrived by police car as they were taking me out to the vehicle to plug me into lots of wires and check me out -- no charge, thank you - and they called to get me a home visit doctor - on Friday evening!, two visits (and one big shot of Prednisone - something I'm already taking for the last 4 months since being diagnosed with Pulmonary Fibrosis) from a House Call Doctor. 

I want to feel like going on. But, alas, I waited a bit too long for this one last big adventure out into the interesting friendly world. At least on a bike adventure.

Should I just quit while I’m (sorta) ahead and go home? That was the question of the day! Quit with no pictures. No funny stories. Nothing to show for it except a growing list of well wishing friends - new and old?
Well, that decision was made for me by the House Visiting Doctor on her call back this morning - at 8 o'clock sharp! She looked at my blood pressure – not bad. Looked at my heart rate and OXY rate – not bad like yesterday, before the big shot of Prednisone. Then she asked me to walk over to the three step up to the entryway and climb them and come back. Retested with the finger gizmo – both rates gone off in the wrong direction by 10 points: Bad!
She listened to my lungs front and back and told me she was voiding my German road insurance – I could no longer legally ride a motorbike in Germany --or anywhere else in the EU. She would order them to ship me and the bike back to where I came from (Heidelberg). Case closed. This was all communicated in German with pantomimes -- and a little help from my friendly old Kurhotel host owner in his best German to English translation.
The ever efficient German road insurance company ADAC, came and picked up the bike two hours later and someone will show up to collect me and ship me back to Heidelberg tomorrow morning about 10am. And, it’s a Saturday here! House call doctors? House call motorbike transporters? House -call insurance paid- people transporters – on a Sunday? It's one way you know you’re not in Kansas anymore – or Washington either.

I am sorry to have led everyone to expect an interesting adventure through an interesting part of the world that most of us have never had a chance to see and some of us what with violence in Ukraine and floods in Bosnia are now seeing parts of on TV (well, if you watch Aljazeera or maybe BBC, anyway).
I especially wanted to see Croatia – very beautiful scenery (in books), very interesting history (in books), and I’ve met some of the people from there – same as people I've met nearly everywhere I’ve been – very hospitable and very friendly, especially to old men on motorcycles.
So, I am off back to Heidelberg to arrange to get home again- well actually, my wife is doing that - she misses me, and I've only been gone a week this time! 
Then to see if any of the damage to my failing lungs can be repaired – probably not. And then to figure out how to enjoy the rest of my life without a motorbike between my legs…

You all will just have to go see the sights of this part of the world on your own -- I'll read your blogs. Sorry I didn't take you anywhere with this one. 

I don't recommend it for anyone under 60, but, if you've gotten old enough to risk death defying travel in the open, try seeing the world on a motorbike - can't beat it!

Thanks for following along. Tom

Friday, July 15, 2011

Final Post - Out of Africa, into Europe!

I am comfortably arrived in Europe. I’m Couchsurfing with a very nice young couple, Begum and Arno, in a Frankfurt suburb and have met Silke and Olli, biker friends of Theo whom I met on the ride in Tierra del Fuego a couple of years ago. Silke and Olli have arranged for Dieter to pick up the box my bike will (I hope) arrive in Germany in and take it to a proper mechanic around the corner from their home for putting together and servicing so I can go for a ride.

It is nice to be out of Cairo and into Europe. Cairo left a bad taste of bureaucracy and incompetence run rampant, not to mention the unbelievable city traffic. It was not the way I would like to have finished my trip Up Africa – I should have gone directly home from Dongola, Sudan where everyone is calm and as sweet as apple pie. But, the unbelievable (literally) difficulties of getting out of Africa will fade with time.

I liked the Egyptians I met. I loved the way seemingly all Egyptian men shout and come almost to blows with each other constantly only to cool it with a smile and hug, or a calm “Asalaam Alecum” in the end. Life is frustrating in the big city and it seems like everyone has a very short fuse and needs to blow up at least once every 5 minutes.

The Revolution is the main topic of conversation for everyone and not just in Tahrir Square – taxi drivers, young people, bar tender in the hotel, guys hanging out at tea shops, … of course, I didn’t talk to any women, but I’d bet that’s what they like to discuss among themselves as well. Everyone seems to want Mubarak to go to jail – and maybe he will. His unseemly wealth accumulation has convicted him as much as anything and he has become the goat for all that has not gone right in Egypt for the last 40 years.

Personally, I think that the baksheesh demanding petty bureaucrats of the Car Customs Department in Cairo are the main culprits and should all be sent to jail (or perhaps just shot), if not for demanding a few Egyptians Pounds “under the table” for every signature and stamp that their jobs entail, then for being cowards when it comes to signing or stamping because “something could go wrong” and they would be left holding the “bag of shite” – better to stay out of it by not putting your name on anything, but take the money anyway!

I thought that the Sudanese border Customs people took the cake when it came to bureaucratic process, but they were all nice and made no effort to extort money from me – there were just a lot of people involved in filling out papers - in duplicate - and stamping and signing and looking closely at the numbers stamped on the bike etc.

The Egyptians though have the whole thing down to a science of complexity, obfuscation, and avoidance of personal responsibility. I advise you not to take your vehicle with you when you go to see the Pyramids and Temples or to ride a boat down the Nile; bringing your own vehicle could turn you into a frustrated and angry old man who just wants to get back to where things are orderly and efficient and pretty much, in fact, as they seem to be on the surface. I like Germany.

I hope my bike actually arrives here in a couple of days on a British Airways Cargo flight from Cairo -- although, I won't be at all surprised if it never leaves Egypt.

Africa has been a great and good adventure. People are pretty much the same everywhere - and almost all of them are very nice, very friendly, and would make good neighbors.

Still, I’ll like being home again in just a few more days; where should I go next time? Turkey? Russia? Back to Scotland? Vietnam?

Friday, July 8, 2011

Update from Cairo, Egypt

July 8, 2011

I arrived in Cairo a couple of days ago and am now comfortably esconsed in the very old colonial times Windsor Hotel in all of its faded elegance of 1899. Near enough to the Cairo Museum to walk tomorrow when it opens again following todays demonstrations of "renewed revolution".

I am trying to find a way out of Africa into Germany - or anywhere in the European Union. All ferries from anywhere in Africa are "discontinued until further notice" because of the widespread unrest -- not a lot of people eager to travel back and forth to Tunisia, Israel, Syria, or Egypt, I guess. Just me and a few others who want to start heading south or finish heading north on their African Adventure Tours.

So, this is my last update -- unless something dramatic happens ....

While in Dongola, Sudan, Kathy and I "adopted" another son - and his family. It's a short story, but interesting. His name in Sudan, where he and his family have lived for several years building a new business for tourists, is Isa. He's 41 years old and has a wife, Eman, and three boys: Soul, Sem, and Nuri respectfully aged 13, 12, and almost 11. They were all born in Korea, but now reside in Sudan.

We exectued a Certificate of Adoption and all signed it along with our mutal Nubian friend, Abdul Saleem. We celebrated with dinner out -- not nearly as good as what Eman makes at home!
Isa, me, Soul, Sem, and Nuri

Family compound from Guest House side - nearly finished building

Soul, me, Nuri, Sem, and Eman

Getting to Dongola was a difficult road for me with wrong turn from Khartoum to dehydration, heat exhaustion, fainting and bashing my head on concrete floor - luckily, nice hard head. But, Iman fed me and gave me lemon (lime actually) juice and I have finally fully recovered my electrolite balance, I think. These are a fabulous addition to the family. Hope you all get to meet them someday.

From Dongola to Wadi Halfa was hot but easy day trip. With help of great "fixer", I got bike on barge and me on boat to Aswan and met three new friends on the 18 hour ride down the Nile to Aswan Dam. Off loading the bike turned out to be a bit much. It was on a barge with no ramp so had to be up against a reasonably level dock, but it wasn't. After much what sounded like Arabic cussing and pointing of fingers at the other guys for not thinking ahead, the captain came on board the self-propelled barge and moved it out, around, and after moving the ship we 500 people arrived on, and another barge and pushing another ship around sideways, he got it to the concrete ramp sideways at just about the right level and off the bike came! Cost me 100 Egyptian Pounds in Baksish for the crew of people it took to do all that -- about $16 US.

Then up the ramp to customs - lots of paperwork and nitpicking about mistake on the Carnet de Passage and it all ended with me paying another 4,000 EPs to get the bike into Egypt legally. So, down the Nile (north to Cairo) with a stop in Luxor and another at the Red Sea following along with my new friends (Riko and Rika and Lyla the Tanzanian - now German dog - and "Max" from Korea) in thier Toyota Land Cruizer. We played Canasta every night and had a good time together - Rika made me mashed potatoes one night after I had been whining about all the potatoes in Egypt and not a mashed one anywhere to be had. They were very good!
We all visited Temples at Luxor (formerly Thiebes), Karnak, and Philea

Max, me, and Rika ordering dinner beside the Nile at Aswan, Egypt

Riko, me, Max, and Lyla at the Red Sea

We all arrived in Cairo still together and seperated at the Pyramids, me going to a hotel to try and sort out how to get the bike out of Africa and into the European Union and them all going back to the Red Sea to Scub and Nnorkel dive and then see if they can drive out thru Syria and Turkey.

Closer to the Pyramids; and to the hasseling. There are not enough tourists to get into the pockets of so everyone must sell YOU, YOU, YOU some service or souvenir to make a living. It is annoying and sad.

Giza Pyramids - must be Cairo finally. Ready to go home....

Friday, June 24, 2011

Update from Dongola, Sudan: June 25, 2011

I’ve had an odd week since leaving Khartoum.

I turned right going out of the city toward Wadi Halfa to take what I thought was the shorter of two routes to that port city on the Nile. I went about 900 km to Abu Hamed only to learn that the last 300 km to Wadi Halfa was desert sand and dirt and even the locals don’t go without at least 2 four wheeled vehicles. I was alone on my one wheel drive bike and had already experienced the effects of heat exhaustion and dehydration – fainted in parking lot in Khartoum. So, I turned around and retraced my path thru the 140 degree Fahrenheit desert on good tarmac to Atbara. Battery died! No new batteries to be had for weeks of the same capacity. So, rigged up the largest (less than half) scooter battery I could find and pulled the fuses so my headlights are off and it works – if I don’t start the engine very often! Was invited to school teaching English and talked to two classes of mostly adults with questions about America and what do I think about Africa and about Sudan.

Very nice and helpful people at the Abaraa Hotel – with AC! In Atbara.

Left for Dongola only 500 km west and north thru the desert again. Made it but now fully dehydrated again and feeling faint. Stayed at Lord Hotel – no AC and fainted in middle of night and banged my head on concrete floor. Wasn’t sure I’d live to tell about it. But, I did and moved to another hotel with AC. I’m drinking water and tea like crazy and spending the hottest part of the day in my nice cool room – feeling better.

Having headed up the wrong road from Khartoum, I missed the boat (once a week) to Aswan, Egypt from Wadi Halfa. So, I stayed in Donglola for a few days before heading up the last 400 km on Monday next. I met some really very nice people here. The Nubian culture is still widely practiced here – relaxed, friendly, helpful especially to strangers. The world should take a lesson from Dongola.

Besides my new friend and helpmate, Abdul, I met at a tea shop his friend Isa. Isa is a Korean orphaned as a child and grew up in Korean orphanage and “never got picked”. I am going to “adopt” him if he’s willing. Sweet man who has moved here to start a tourist business with his Korean family – wife, Eman, and three terrific boys. The boys went to American School in England and all sound like Americans, but helpful at home and polite to visitors. I’m hoping for 3 more grandchildren!

I will leave here in two days – I’ll need some luck to keep the bike running until I get to Cairo where I can get it fixed up like almost new.

Update from Khartoum:

Still alive and heading northward.

We went from Tanzania into Rwanda and to the capital, Kigali with only a temporary hold up at the Rwandan border: Americans don’t need a visa to enter, but Canadians do. Pat and Chris didn’t have a visa. The guy was making a point of lecturing them for not being prepared: “Go back to Tanzania and get a visa from the Rwanda Embassy or somewhere that the internet works and go online and get one – in 30 days.”  After some pleading, he relented and allowed that he could issue something that would work and we all got thru with only an hour delay.

Kigali is a very large city that has lots of hills and valleys and lots of foreign Aid and NGO organizations. It is the cleanest city in Africa (that I’ve seen). Every Saturday morning vehicles (except police or medical – or foreigners – who don’t know better ) are not allowed to move on the streets from 8am to 1pm. Everyone (pretty much) puts on some work clothes and goes out on the street and cleans things up. No litter, no dirt in the concrete ditches, no long grass growing along the sides of the roads for about 10 feet back. People seem to enjoy the communal work and the product of a clean and tidy city.

In Rwanda it is against the law to ask someone if he/she is Tutsi or Hutu: “We are all Rwandans” is the slogan of the day. It turns out that there were tribes with those names a 100 years ago, but people weren’t “religious” about ethnic purity. Intermarriage between the tribes was common and it was not an issue.

The Belgian colonialists here decided in about 1904 that everyone who had 10 cows would be classified as a Hutu and those with less would be Tutsi. Then they tacitly endorsed the idea among the Hutu that they were actually an ethnically superior group and should feel themselves “better than Tutsis”. The same kind of propaganda that the German’s used for Jews went on here by the Hutu government for many years before the mass killings began in earnest (there were massacres every year or two since the 1980s).

It would have taken only 5,000 troops for the French General who commanded the small UN contingent on the ground at the time – he asked for 5,000 and was told to do nothing and come home. He disobeyed orders and saved some people, but later had an emotional breakdown.

It isn’t at all clear why the UN decided to do nothing – and we did too and the rest of the world did nothing in the face of clear evidence of slaughter….

Not an up day.

There is a very real effort among the people and government to move forward from that recent terrible history. We went to the Genocide Memorial and saw the mass graves and the pictorial history of the country including what led up to and thru the atrocities. It is a touchy subject. I asked a question about what’s the difference in a restaurant and was told not to ask that in public; wait until we are back home.

We enjoyed our stay in Rwanda, except for the sobering 3 or 4 hours at the Genocide Memorial.

On to Uganda and the very big, dirty, crowded to the maximum with buses, motorbike taxies, trucks, and SUVs City Center of Kampala. We found the City Center Hotel and not too far away the Sudanese Embassy which pleasantly and in 24 hours issued us all transit visas – Americans paid $175, Canadians $60.

I met Patrick’s (the guy I bought the bike from in Johannesburg) brothers, Charlie and Fred, and had a very nice dinner in Kampala with them. Next morning, Fred came to our hotel and interviewed us for a news article on foreigners riding motorcycles thru Africa. Fred works for a new organization.

We went on to a Couchsurfing family in Luwero, a village about 40 km northwest of Kampala. An extraordinary family including Fulgenscio, Clara, Ester, Joseph, Albert, and Agnes the cook and child care helper who lives next door.  Fulgenscio was born 47 years ago out “in the bush” in a the small village of Mbirizi – 55 km up a dirt road after leaving tramac about 1 ½ hrs northwest of Kampala (10 km after passing his current home) and then about 10 more km thru trails thru the alternatively dense and open jungle. He is now an administrator (for a living) at the Church Compound with a University degree in Social Work.

His parents died when he was a boy of about 10 – his father of cholera and his mother shortly thereafter of heart failure. He was farmed out to various relatives for the next several years until a nun picked him out as rather special and arranged for him to work and stay at a church run school in exchange for an education. He entered the classroom for the first time at age 17 and worked before and after the school days and every holiday and weekend – learning discipline, carpentry, brick laying, cleaning, farming skills, …. Which would serve his family (he built his current modest but adequate for his growing family – and an occasional couchsurfer from America or Europe …. - brick and mortar home himself) and his community well in the future … as well as getting his basic education accomplished along the way. He got a scholarship to University after completing his secondary school studies.

Fulgencio is a religious man with a nice family, a comfortable (by Ugandan standards) living, and a bright and easy smile. He is driven by a passion to give other kids from his long ago village an opportunity for such a future through education. Singlehandedly, in 2003, he began to make the long and difficult 3-4 hour journey (now by car – then by bicycle then small motorbike) back to the village where he was born. He started a school under a tree with a chalkboard and some benches. That classroom still functions today along with that under a second tree and several concrete classrooms, a kitchen, a well shared with the village, a small office building that also houses the new sewing machine which sews school uniforms for both boys and girls from ages 4 thru 13 – over 200 of them. There are now 8 Full time teachers at the school – including Enock Katoche who is a very young and popular (with the students and the village elders and parents) Head Master who not only teaches classes but is also the principal day to day administrator of the school complex. He has been there in the village for several years working to build the school and recently (6 months ago) married a local woman and moved into their own Habitat for Humanity constructed 2 room home in the village. Had lunch there and it is very solid brick, small, and in 4 more years after he finishes paying the principal loan (at 24% interest!) all theirs.

The first graduates of the secondary part of the school last year scored the highest on the national tests of anyone in the district. These are kids who get NO support from the Ugandan government’s education department – resources are scares in Uganda and go to building infrastructure like roads and to the army (there is a legitimate need for security people) etc.

Fulgensio works as hard as his wife. He hustles support for the school from everywhere and anyone. Without him it would collapse from lack of resources. It serves 10 small villages within a radius of 17 km from the village wherein he was born – a total of about 100 families.

David, by far the oldest among the elders of the village at 66 and still surprisingly vibrant - tends his own cows daily basis, told me (thru an interpreter) that his grandchildren know about computers and speak English as well as Ugandan and the Banyanole, Banyarwanda and Baganda traditional language. “They will be teachers one day.” David, like all the men of the village, still carries a stick (a certain kind of wood which is heavy and somewhat flexible and strong, but not more than a couple inches wide – and about 5 feet long) in case of lions or other threats to his cows or person. Traditionally, men also carried a spear, but if a lion attacks your cow, you hit him/her in a certain place (I’m not sure where, but it’s like a kidney punch) and the lion will run away in pain;  if you stab it, you will just make it mad and have a serious battle on your hands. Until about 1950, there were lions in the area and elephants, water buffalo, giraffes, etc. but all have now moved away from the area because of too many people in their territories.

Grateful for the help he was given to “get a life”, Fulgenscio singlehandedly started a school in the village – under a tree with a volunteer teacher in 2003. He visits once a week (an all day often very difficult muddy commute) and hustles support from every NGO or government or private source he can find. Today there are 220 kids, most in uniforms, and 8 teachers 4 substantial school buildings – and still two “tree” classrooms. The kids all get a hot meal. There is a well with water for the school – and the village; women and girls (mostly) used to have to walk as far as 20 km to fetch water for every purpose in the village – cooking, washing, cleaning. Want to help? Email me and I’ll tell you how.

Fugle has a list of many items he wants to bring to the village (and the village members participate in forming the list and determining priorities). Putting a road (dirt) thru the swampy area which often prevents any kind of vehicle from plowing along the trail to/from the village from the other dirt road is high on the list. In the mean time, he wants to buy the school’s headmaster Enook????  A small 150cc Chinese or Indian made motorbike so he can more efficiently go back and forth to the commercial areas for school purposes and so that people from the village in need of medical care can be taken the long distance in a few hours instead of days. He wants to bring solar power to the school so that they can provide electricity and then computers and other devices that will help the children to understand and participate in the wider world. The list is long and varied. Pat, Chris and I bought several hundred dollars worth of school stuff (including 2 footballs (soccer) and a hand ball) but mostly paper, pencils, measuring tools, etc. for the kids and the teachers. Some of the money was donated by friends back home! There was an assembly, speeches, passing out of most of the stuff, and generally we were made to feel like our “stuff” and our interest in the education of the “bush school” children was really appreciated by the children, teachers, parents et al. It was a special day – including the getting stuck in the mud and thinking we might never get out until the rainy season ended.

On to Nairobi, Kenya and a few days of working on the bikes and resting up for the “worst road in africa” part of the trip. Jungle Junction is a biker and “overlander” (4wd people who travel the hard roads too) haven in the outskirts of Nairobi. It is owned and run by Chris ……. A German expat who is an expert mechanic and runs an efficient compound that includes a few bedrooms and dorm room, tent sites, a mechanic shop with 2 or 3 mechanics, a laundry, meal service, kitchen (for fixing your own meals), and day room for hanging out while waiting for …. I had a lot of work done on my bike and it was all without new parts – new parts are hard to come by in Nairobi. I did get a new rear tire and a half new/used front tire. My leaky front forks were polished to remove the fatal scratches that cut thru the seals (still working) and the used up front sprocket was replaced with one from the scrap pile that was only half used up. Change of oil and filter, clean air filter and fuel pump (he took it apart and cleaned the guts of it which were clogged and causing the engine to starve and cut out – sometimes at the most inopportune times, like when passing a bus in traffic. Great job and at fair rates; much better rates than in US or Europe!

We left with both bikes in as good shape as possible and headed north for the worst road. We found it and spent about 5 hours getting the 330 km to Marsabit – half way on the best new road in Africa and the other half on the beginning of the worst road in Africa. The worst wasn’t technically difficult to ride. It was mostly flat and straight. But it was washboarded with a vengeance; no speed to make it work except very slow – 20 km was max for hours. Then it turned into just rocky and some sand and loose gravel and that was a little more challenging technically, but faster – 50 or 60 km/hr. Marsabit was half way to the border.

Before getting to Marsabit, we passed thru a few small villages, some of which were populated by people who were dressed and decorated in a similar fashion to the Maasai of Tanzania. They had a lot of camels and donkeys, but how they managed to make a living out in the desert escaped me. Very colorful garb on both men and women and the women especially had lots of metal and colorful jewelry even those walking along the road 2 miles from the village.

 In Marsabit, we stayed at the JJ Hotel, nice enough and with a restaurant and shaded patio. We were noted as the only Mazunga (White people) in town and got more attention than we deserved. We met Jamal’s father (I never got his name other than Jamal’s father) who spoke pretty good English and was an entrepenure. He has a camel safari tour which sounded like it would be fun to do and not too expensive, but we didn’t want to take 3 extra days. So, he walked us over to a shed where some men were making steel/copper bracelets. All kinds of people in the town were wearing one – the copper makes you healthier some how and the combination (if you wear it when you sleep) keeps you from having bad dreams: I bought several. Haven’t had a bad dream since – or, as far back as I can remember, before for that matter.

Jamal’s father wants us to go home and import bracelets so they can employ more men to make the bracelets and bring in some foreign currency, which is the only way to buy foreign goods in Africa.

Jamal, is a chip off the old block. He is in any kind of business he can find to do. He convienced Pat and me that the 330 km from Marsabit to Moyale at the Ethiopian border was much worse for the bikes than the last 165 km that we did to get to Marsabit. We decided to hire Maanual and a mechanic and someone’s old but reliable Toyota Land Cruiser, load both bikes and all our gear and the three of us into it (we didn’t all fit, but ….) and the next morning we set off on a 6 hour very bumpy ride (which would have taken at least 2 days on the bikes and would have beat the Hell out of them – and maybe us too) to Moyale. The road was much worse than the previous day. The landscape was unbelievably barren for miles but with donkeys, sheep, and camels and a lot of people living on rocks – big rocks and nothing but rocks for as far as you could see in all directions. Traffic on that road is light! We did stop twice. Once to change the flat front tire and a second time to see what was up with another Land Crusier jacked up along side the road – 3 guys had been there for 3 days waiting for a replacement axel to be brought to them from Nairobi – they had no water or food and no idea how many more days they would be waiting – no phone service out there either. We left them some water and went on.

The best guess is that in 5 or 6 years, all that bad road will be new tarmac and traffic will pick up considerably. The Chinese are building a 100 km stretch and the Israelis are building another 100 km stretch now. It will change the villages and lives of everyone who lives out there in the desert.

We crossed from Kenya into Ethiopia without incident or delay. The dirt roads of Kenya were replace by tarmac all the way to Addis Ababa – mostly very good road with few or no pot holes. Addis Ababa is another big dirty crowded city. I hate cities!

We arrived in late afternoon with a cloudburst that let loose a major downpour which soaked us and dampened our spirits. The ATM I found was “temporarily out of service”. My cell phone which works everywhere in the world, doesn’t in Addis Ababa; outside the city it works, just not in the biggest city and capital of Ethiopia – go figure. The Couchsurfing we had been looking forward to finding at the end of that day didn’t materialize because we couldn’t communicate. Wet and tired we found a none too good hotel and checked in.

This morning as we sat down to breakfast at the hotel, Pat and Chris told me that they had decided to stay there another day and rest up; this, after I had already checked out and loaded all my gear on the bike and was in full dress for riding.

The atmosphere between us had gotten decidedly chilly in the last several days – for reasons that still escape me. I decided I wouldn’t stay another day, and left alone for Khartoum  – several days and 2000 km to the northwest.

About a week before, my GPS decided that it wouldn’t hold a charge (making it useless for navigation) and I have only a gross map of all of Africa. So, thinking finding my way north – even just out of the city – might be very difficult, I went anyway. Pat had told me in Nairobi, after I had asked, that he would put my GPS on his bike and charge it up (good for a few hours navigation in an emergency) “when he felt like it”; he never got to feeling like it in the several days we remained together since.

My GPS was charging about 20 minutes worth when plugged into the laptop, so I was hoping to get out of the city before it died. However, the day I left Addis Ababa alone, the GPS Gods were smiling on me. I had tried putting it on the bike charger mount at least a hundred times before giving up. A week before, I had just put it in my tank bag as useless until I got a new charger mount – in Europe next month! But, this one day it decided to charge and operate pretty much like it was supposed to do. It seems that perhaps – at least for a day - it was cured of whatever ailed it. I went out of the city about 300 km north to a small town with a very nice “international hotel” with a coffee shop and restaurant and right off of a roundabout. I stopped for a late lunch and decided to stay when it turned out the nice rooms with hot shower and TV and everything (except internet) only cost 300 Brii per night – about $17 US.

 I’m wrote most of this draft in my nice comfortable bed. I wanted to try an Ethiopian meal for dinner, but the one I saw and smelt the other day when we stopped for a coke in the afternoon wasn’t on the menu – only stuff one might find in an International Hotel. The spaghetti with meat sauce was really very good and the cappuccino too.

The scenery in the northern part of Ethiopia is spectacular. There is one place where you descend from over 3000 meters to 1000 meters, cross a nice bridge with a sign thanking the Japanese for building it, and then go back up to the same height again on the other side.

Oh, after I had left Addis and Pat and Chris came back from their morning walk in the city, they changed their minds about staying there for another day and wound up leaving too. They stopped here at the same nice international hotel just a couple hours behind me.

When we left there for Bahir Dar on the edge of Lake Tana, we left separately again. We were all cordial to one another, but there was little conversation between the three of us. French was the language of the day and I don’t speak French.

In Bahir Dar, we again all ended up at the same place again; a modest biker friendly hotel on the edge of the lake. I told Pat that I was clueless what I had done to offend one or both of them and apologized for whatever it might have been. But, so as to end the escalating tension between us, I had decided to go on from there alone – without GPS (which has died completely again – won’t charge at all even on the laptop), without tools (he brought tools and I brought the tent), and without a camera (I’d managed to scratch the center of the lenses in both of mine). Pat and I agreed that we would travel north from there to Germany at roughly the same times, on the same roads, stopping probably at most of the same places along the way, but separately. This kind of splitting up between bike riders is common – ride together for a while then begin to get on each other’s nerves and split up to ride on apart. I just didn’t think it would happen between us; we had ridden most of Latin America together and now most of Africa too. But, it happened.

I left the next morning and headed for Lilebela and the rock hewn churches, one of the few touristical sites that I was keen to see on this trip up Africa.

But, without a map and with my GPS not working at all, I managed to miss the sign (assuming there was a sign) where I should have turned right off the main good road to Gondar and didn’t realize the navigational error until I was reading “Gondar” on a few signs in a city – most of the signage has changed to Arabic script and I don’t read Arabic script. As I am more interested in riding my bike Up Africa than seeing anything toruistical in particular, I decided not to go back the 185 km for churches.

I continued on from Gondar to Metema on the border with Sudan. I stopped for the night and found a very modest hotel with bars for a door on the room, a fan that was as noisy (from about 6 pm to 1:30 am when the power was on) as the beer drinkers in the courtyard outside the door. There is no alcohol in Sudan so many of the Sudanese who live near the border come to Metema for a beer or two or three.

In the morning, I crossed over into Sudan. The Sudanese immigration was fast and easy (we had all gotten our Visas back in Kampala, Uganda), but the Customs process for bringing in the bike was the most bureaucratic I’ve ever experienced. It took about 2 hours and involved about 9 different officials all with multi-forms (and carbon paper) and a stamp or two. They were all pleasant and the process was easy for me (the forms were mostly in Arabic only) and I had just to sit and wait going from desk to desk as directed sometimes by pantomime, sometimes in adequate English. But, much of the morning was consumed by bureaucracy. Finally, after one more stop at the Internal Security office for another review of my passport and some cursory notes written into a ledger, I was on the road and heading for Khartoum – only seven long increasingly hot hours away as it turned out. I drank 2 liters of water and an orange soda along the way and was still feeling the effects of dehydration when I finally arrived on the outskirts of Khartoum at about 3 - in the hottest part of the day!

I arrived very hot and very tired and still unable to identify a hotel. I had stopped 4 times in the final hour at what might be a hotel, but turned out to be an office building and three very nice private residence compounds.

In Sudan nearly all signage is in Arabic and I still don’t read any Arabic. As it turned out, on my way into the city, a guy in a car wanted me to smile as I passed his car so he could take a picture of the strange site. I asked him to pull over which he did. Mahmoud and his six year old son took me to a nice (and expensive) restaurant in the city and bought me a very fine lunch. My Couchsurfing contact in Khartoum, Omer, was called and came to join us. His couch is unavailable at the moment, but he’s very nice and loaned me a local call phone (my American international phone doesn’t work in this big city either) so we can stay in touch while I’m in Khartoum. Mahmoud pointed me toward the nice hotel a couple of doors down the street from the restaurant and we took a few pictures and I went to register. But, it turned out that I’m not as rich an America as had been supposed; the Chinese operated hotel charged $118 US cash only per night. I managed to locate another hotel a few blocks further down the street – also Chinese operated – that charged me only $50 US per night on the fourth floor (no elevator), but is very comfortable (once you get back to normal breathing). I showered and went to bed and didn’t wake up for nearly 8 hours.

It was explained to me back at the border that I had 3 days to get to Khartoum and check in with the immigration officials there to get my passport stamped one more time. But, nearly everything closes on Fridays (next morning) and Saturday is some kind of national holiday. Not to worry, says Omer, Inshalla things will work out – somehow. I’m looking forward to another fruit smoothie drink at the same fancy, expensive restaurant this morning before finding my way to the immigration office to see if anyone is around to stamp my passport.

My next objective is Halfa Wadi a few hundred more kilometers to the north of Sudan where I will get me and the bike loaded onto a boat for a 200 or 300 km ride down the Nile to Aswan, Egypt and then begin the bike ride down (south to north) the Nile to Alexandria and – hopefully – another boat ride to Italy – where I have will some chance of getting my GPS mount replaced! All I have to do is stay out of trouble and somehow navigate my way thru Egypt’s big crowded cities.  

I don’t know when I will get this posted. Internet is very hard to come by and Internet that will accommodate itself to the apparently complex blog site, harder yet. I’ve been trying to post it everywhere I’ve stopped for the last 10 nights!

Maybe I’ll try to buy a “good enough” camera now that I don’t have Chris sharing all the pictures she takes along the way. There are lots of pyramids to snap between here and the Mediterranean Sea.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Update from Shinyanga, Tanzania, May 25, 2011

On to Manyara, Ngorogoro, and Serengeti – and then on to Kigali, Rwanda:

After a night with 4 other paying customers in a very luxurious lodge (which cost $450 minimum per person in high season – starts in 2 weeks!) which is always fully booked – in high season – with 100 rooms, a very nice dinner and breakfast next morning, we were off with Abbasas our driver and guide in a 5 year old Toyota Land Cruiser with a roof that pops up so you can stand and see lions and such from inside the vehicle. Abbasas is an man of about 45 years who speaks English with an accent which makes him hard to understand sometimes; his first language is Swahili. He was not a fount of information about Maasai culture, local flora and fauna, history of the area, geology of the Crater, or other things that we had questions about, with the exception of anything about animals; he knows all about animals, including where to find them on the plains of Serengeti or in the Ngorongoro Crater. The problem was that we had to ask him specific questions about animals that occurred to us and then he would give a very brief answer without elaboration. But, we did see everything. The big 5 (Lions, Cheetahs, Leopards, Elephants, and Rhinoceroses) plus flamingos, hyenas, gnus, wart hogs, jackals, baboons, blue monkeys, dick dicks, hippopotamuses, wildebeests, zebras, hartebeests, elan, Thompson’s Impala, Carter’s Impala, and another small cat whose name I can’t remember (Oryx maybe) – looked kinda like a smaller slightly duller coated version of leopard. There are also many spectacular birds. 1,000s of vultures, many storks, many cranes, some big birds that only eat grains and insects, and my favorite, the Secretary Bird – they are big and strikingly attractive and the kill and eat snakes. We saw them doing just that.

Each night (of 3) we spent in a different very fancy lodge: Manyara (on the Rift Escarpment), Seronera (in the Serengeti), Ngorongoro Wildlife (on the rim of the Crater). All were spectacular, but the second was especially interesting; architecturally integrated into huge rocks and with its own small lake of hippos that might have kept some guest awake at night with their low chatter and splashing about. All in all, the Safari expedition was great.

The only downsides for the trip were the lack of education for us from our very nice guide and the used car salesman approach of the Bobby Tours owner at the outset. Bobby Tours is perhaps the cheapest of the many safari tours, but there is a reason – oldest and cheapest Land Cruisers, cheap box lunches, a guide who, though well meaning, doesn’t teach you much, and a $100 add on when the owner/manager comes in after that salesman has finished making a deal with you. I wouldn’t recommend them. We didn’t shop around (there seems to be dozens of Safari operators), but I would recommend some comparison shopping.

So, now we are on our way to Lake Victoria at Mwanza to take a ferry across to Bukoba and then on to Kigali, Rwanda. We took a shortcut from Arusha to Singida (still in Tanzania). It was 340 km about half on tarmac and the rest on dirt/construction/tarmac. The Chinese are building a nice tarmac road to Singida and it is presently a mess the whole way. The first 74 km wasall dirt and rather busy with trucksThen construction with some bad dirt then some very nice dirt, eventually we got to where they had laid down tarmac and we kept riding on it until it ran out then back to dirt (with trucks and buses and donkeys and goats and cows) and then back onto nice compacted level dirt (road base) again. The workers just smiled and waved us along as we came upon them working on the road.

There was one place about 10 km into the route where it was only dirt and a big truck had broken down on a curve going uphill blocking the entire road. People had made their own dirt road around it. The “new” dirt road was 6 inches of fine dust with God knows what under it. I chickened out and stopped. Facing the prospect of this sort of thing for the next 170 km, I was prepared to let Pat and Chris go on to Rwanda and Uganda without me while I made my own way – on tarmac- to Nairobi, Kenya. Pat came back and chided me into trying a bit more. He moved my bike around the truck and I did the rest of the route without incident or much timidity from there on. I’m getting better at “off road”, but it still scares me!

We stayed at the Singida Catholic Archdiocese Guest House located on the campus of some kind of Catholic social services training center. Lots of trainees there learning stuff. Nice place. Great shower! We all ordered something unknown for dinner: “Incet Meet with Spaghetti or Macaroni” 3,500 shillings. It was a very pleasant surprise. It was spaghetti with probably little pieces of carrot cooked into it and what would be the sauce was ground beef cooked tender and seasoned to perfection. We all thought it was the best meal we’d had since leaving South Africa.

We saw a lot of rural people as we drove along on the “new” road thru the bush which will change their lives significantly (some even for the better!) when it is done. But we are again back on tarmac. The night before I hope to be able to post this, we are staying in the small city of Shinyanga, Tanzania at a little hotel which bears the city’s name- very nice people who are bending over backward to make sure we have a good stay here – I recommend this modest hotel whenever you are in Shinyanga.

We got here around 1 o’clock and decided to make it a short day. We checked in and I stripped off all my riding gear and gave it to the laundry ladies in room 200. Then we all went for a walk into the heart of the town’s (maybe 30,000 people) market area. This is not your typical touristical city. Very ordinary shops for taking care of the business of living here and lots of people selling stuff up and down and on the streets. Lots of customers shopping for everything imaginable. Pineapple is in season and it is really good when it is allowed to ripen fully before cut and taken to market and you buy it the next day. There is a bicycle tire salesman somewhere who is very good at his job; thousands of bicycles in Shinyanga and at least half of them have his distinctive yellow tires.

I believe we are the only three White people in this city –maybe ever! Since the Chinese road isn’t finished, this place is way off the tourist track – but, probably not for long. We walked all over the market and shopped and talked to people, but didn’t buy anything – no place to carry it on a bike. We then sat at a little outdoor caf√© (sodas and water only) for an hour watching people watch us. We are an oddity here for sure.

We should get to the ferry at Mwanza tomorrow about noon and if the boat goes tomorrow night as we think it does (leaves at 10 pm, 3 times a week) we should be on it – less than200km of (reportedly) good tarmac between here and there. The boat takes about 6hours and arrives in Bukoba early in the morning.

From Bukoba we aren’t sure of the road directly to Kigali, Rwanda. But if it’s bad, we’ll take the nice road to Kampala and then turn left and backtrack a bit to Kigali, then come back on the same road to Kampala, Uganda and on to Nairobi, Kenya a few days later.

We have a couchsurfer lined up in Kigali and Kampala and Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (north of Nairobi). In Kenya we will probably stay at the Jungle Junction (biker place run by a German -I think- expat). We need to put on new tires and change oil again, clean the air filters, and fix a few other little problems before heading for Ethiopia – on 400km or bad road. We also hope to have a Sudan transit visa when we leave Nairobi.

Not much English (or French) spoken in these parts of Tanzania – Swahili only for most people; especially in the rural areas. But, we are a popular attraction whenever we stop for a little break along the way – we always stop where there are people. Lots of people gather around to look at the White folks and listen to our chatter and check out the bikes. Some times someone in the group will venture a few words of in English. Everyone seems to enjoy it, including us. I like Tanzania.

The call to prayer, evening version, just started. Bye for now.

It seems that the highways in much of Africa are mostly for people with bicycles to push heavy loads (or ride) along side of, or for people to walk or carry heavy loads next too, or for cows, goats, sheep, donkeys, baboons to cross, as well as an occasional truck or bus - or motorbike - to ride on. But, infrastructure for a more mechanized economy is being built - mostly by Chinese engineers.

We have arrived in Kigali and are planning to head toward Kampala and Nairobi maybe tomorrow.