Thursday, November 30, 2017

Lokichar, Kenya, to Gilgil, Kenya: Stomach sick, Homesick

I was sick for a lot of this and thus not inspired to take many photos. FYI.

During the week we were sick in Lokichar some interesting things happened that are worth mentioning here.

First, we found omelets. I was off-duty at that time so no pictures, sadly. They were really more like circular-shaped scrambles than omelets, but they were very welcome all the same. We each ordered one, and then some yogurt, and then tried to re-order one more omelet each... this took some clarification. Re-ordering food is a pain in Africa – most of the time they just don't understand (sometimes even ordering two things, or a different thing per person, is too much to ask). After five minutes of waiting Jacob was uncertain, but I'd seen the waitress disappear out the front door to go buy eggs and return with them, just as she had the first time... and then tomatoes... so, two omelets later, we decided we were both satisfied, paid 520 KSH (about $5) for four omelets and two very very large yogurts, and went back to the guest house to sleep some more.

Second, I met Edward. Edward runs a general store in Lokichar, and he was quite kind – the quiet, gentle, egoless, humble, man-behind-the-curtains type. I first met him with James, and was so struck by his kindness (he knew me by name since Jacob had visited previously, when I was sick; this time, Jacob was sick) I decided to return there first whenever I needed anything. I was hoping to get some yogurt for Jacob, being he was recovering from food poisoning and needed good gut bacteria. There was no yogurt in town since the bridge went out (this was a few days after the omelet restaurant), said Edward, but was it for Jacob? It was. In that case, said Edward, I could have the one he'd set aside for his daughter, who was also sick... but no no, I couldn't bear to do that. It was so sweet of him, but Jacob didn't need the yogurt that bad. I found what I think was the last yogurt in town at another store at the end of the street.

When we finally left Lokichar, I went to say goodbye to Edward. “I hope to see you again someday,” he said. And I really think he meant it.

Third, I seriously considered quitting. Quitting is on my mind from time to time, but I can usually waylay the conversation with, “What else would I be doing?” The problem is, around the holidays, there are plenty of other things to be doing... this was multiplied by the fact that being sick away from home is not fun. When you are in that state between awake and asleep, and the only places you spend time are your bed and the bathroom, you want that bed and that bathroom to be familiar... not a guest house in the middle of rural Africa. Don't get me wrong, it was a nice place, and I was very well taken care of. Some part of me, though, couldn't help but feel that the best cure would have been cuddling up with my mom's dog, eating jello and custard (a traditional “sick person” food in my family. Though now made only for the seriously ill, it still holds a place in my heart, and I'm sure the giardia + malaria double whammy would qualify me), sipping on chicken noodle soup, and watching movies all day would be the best cure. A happy patient, they say, is a healthy patient... (props to Gloria for making me custard. Just after I said to Jacob, “I wish I had jello and custard,” Gloria offered to make me custard. Mom powers?).

I resolved long ago that I cannot decide to quit when tired or sick, but reminiscing so sweetly about the comforts of home would leave its mark on me.

Anyways, those are my tidbits. On with the story.

The Friday after Thanksgiving came around – Black Friday, I told Gloria and James, that horrid American “holiday” where people go get trampled at Walmart (#optoutside!) – and I was pretty determined to leave. “We could stay another day,” said Jacob, perhaps seeing something in me I didn't see. Then, on walking to the hospital for my second-to-last malaria shot, James gave me his pitch. “I feel it in my heart,” he said. “You should stay.” James seemed in touch with himself. If he felt something in his heart, I trusted that. I decided to see how I felt after getting my last malaria shot at the hospital. Well, I felt like lying down. And then I slept for four hours. So we stayed.

Saturday came, and finally, after seven nights in Lokichar and my last malaria shot, we said our goodbyes and left. “I feel good about this,” said James. “You are both healthy now.” I hoped to see James and Gloria again someday. Maybe they can make it for Thanksgiving sometime – a real American one.

Twice in Ludwar, the village before Lokichar, we'd heard there were “raiders” between Lokichar and Kitale, and had been encouraged to take an alternate route to Nairobi. Upon arriving in Lokichar, Richard and Karen told us that recently, the other route was actually more dangerous, and that our best bet was continuing straight to Kitale. But then, while in Lokichar, James provided us with various updates: apparently, one man we saw at the hospital, bleeding from his head, had survived a gunshot from the raiders on his way from Kitale – they had gone shoot first, ask questions later. While we were in Lokichar, a bus was stopped, three people were killed, and a woman was raped.

When I video chatted my family over Thanksgiving, I did not tell them this.

It seemed either route had its chances. Jacob and I decided the best thing to do was simply to go, and hedge our bets that, just like on TV, the violence you hear about is the minority. We hid our electronics in the bottoms of our bags and kept small bills and extra water handy (“Just as good as cash,” said James), and kept each other in sight. In addition to the potential of getting shot or robbed, there was also the bridge that was stopping so many goods from coming in to town.

We were fine.

The road was so-so, but got better as it progressed. There was one part where a water tanker had crashed on the side of the road, and two men with machine guns walked down the road away from it, going our direction. We smiled and waved. So did they.

There was one stretch of road with thousands upon thousands of butterflies. It was beautiful.

Just before the next major town, Kainuck, the road became nicely paved, an unexpected treat – James had told us it would be shitty gravel almost all the way to Kitale, at least 100 miles. We stopped for dinner there, 900 KSH, about $9, for ugali fry for Jacob (ugali is pressed corn meal, so you can form it into a scoop. “Fry” just means whatever meat is around, fried) and vegetables for me. As we ate, some goats appeared from inside he motel behind the restaurant – a family of four, it seemed, but then a fifth was chased out by the waitress, wielding a broom.

The bridge on the other side of town was indeed out. A temporary fix had been constructed for pedestrians, small vehicles, and bicycles, and we could see a digger putting rocks into the river with sand on top as a more heavy-duty fix. What would happen to all the water when the rocks met in the middle, I wondered... but that wasn't up to me.

From Kainuck we had at least 6,000 feet until reaching Kitale. The road became gravel again, and as the sun set I became more and more frantic about finding a place to sleep. Jacob, as usual, was way ahead of me, so there was nothing I could do. Eventually, I got close enough to shout after him, and we rode together, passing and seriously considering a school as the sun was well under the mountains to our west. It was a Saturday.

“Let's just go up there, and if we don't see anything, we'll do the school,” I said. We went “up there,” which ended up being a river crossing. Jacob decided to foray across a mountain of very loose dirt, and found a good spot to camp, except it was across a mountain of loose dirt. I almost fell multiple times, and Jacob had to help me, but eventually we got across and into the bush and made camp. I wasn't feeling well, so went straight to bed, after mumbling a bit about how we were supposed to share Jacob's tent if it was going to rain.

“If your tent gets completely soaked through, you can come in,” was the reply.

I was peeved, mostly because I had a sore stomach and felt my energy would be better spent sleeping than putting my tent up, but it was Jacob's tent. I tried to fall asleep, wondering if I was getting sick again.

I was woken up by rain at 9, said the “f” word loudly a few times, got up to put on the fly, and went back to bed.

About 11, I was woken up by flashes. It took my a while, in my sleepy delirium, to figure out what they were, but soon enough I remembered my first night in Austria, which started with flashes and ended with my un-guyed tent being blown over and me sleeping in the cab of a German-speaking truck driver. I laid there for a few minutes not really wanting to get up, but then I heard the wind, the same wind that had accompanied that storm in Austria, and finally mustered the strength to get up and stake out the guy lines on the fly. Ten minutes later, comfortable again, I could hear Jacob doing the same.

A few breezes later, the “storm” passed without incident.

The next morning we awoke, filtered some water, forded the mountain of dry dirt, and continued climbing.

There were monkeys.

There were mangos - 8 for $1.

About halfway up I demanded to Jacob that we stop for food. I had just had the ramen we'd cooked that morning (ramen, for breakfast...), and I had no idea what he was going on. It was 12 – we'd been climbing for 4 hours – but we had a heck of time finding a place that had food. My stomach would only settle for chipati and bean soup; I gave my “vegetables” AKA boiled kale to Jacob. I also mentioned to him that I was thinking about quitting. I wondered what his reason was for touring – with a good enough why, you can weather any how – and he seemed to read my mind.

He is a thinker, after all.
“It's challenging, and sometimes it sucks,” he said, “but I have nothing better to do.”

For Jacob, that's fair. It's not my privilege to share his past, but let's just say he doesn't have as many roots as I do. I've developed, over the past seven months, a long to-do list for when I get back. When I imagine how I want to spend Christmas, on the couch at my cousin's in Chicago sounds ideal. New Year's? Party at Mandy's. Cuddling with my mom's dog is certainly in order. The list goes on. Maybe I'm doing Africa the “wrong way” or something, but my list here is basically: see elephants, and visit a friend in South Africa.

Yes, Thanksgiving was nice, with Gloria and James and the pies I made in an upside-down pot oven in rural Africa. I can sacrifice the comforts of home in exchange for cheap travel, but being sick for more than a week was taking its toll, and having nothing to eat but boiled kale, oily chipati, and ugali fry was depressing. I hadn't decided to quit yet, but I estimated the chances at 80%.

We continued onward and, after a particularly long and steep section where I grabbed onto a truck most of the way, finally made it to the top. Getting lifts isn't something I try and do often, but I had always been curious what grabbing onto a passing truck would be like, and the perfect truck happened to pass by. It was going my speed – 4 mph – took ages to pass, and when I was riding alongside it, the passenger leaned out and cocked his head towards the truck. I mimed grabbing on, and he nodded. There wasn't what I could call a handle, but there was a thing, so I gave it a shot. It took a while to figure out how to hold and where to put the pressure on my muscles. Turns out grabbing on isn't free, it just means your arm does the work instead of your legs. In any case, I alternated between pedaling and holding on, holding on, and riding closely behind, to give the various parts of my body a break.

Was it totally awesome? Nah. Was it cheating? Who cares. I've done enough climbs I don't need the ego assurance of doing them all myself. But, I can check it off the bucket list.

At the top of the climb, now at 7,700 feet, we found a grocery store, where I procured jam, marble cake, porridge, raisins, and chocolate, hoping it all would lift my spirits, and then we found a hotel. Jacob had some communication errors with the receptionist – it was supposed to be 1000 KSH (about $10) per person, but we were out of cash until the next ATM at Kitale and thought, oh, 1000 for two! That's pretty good! In the end, not having enough cash, we got the room for 1000.

The next morning for breakfast I made us porridge with raisins, thinking it would bear some semblance to the oatmeal of back home. It didn't. It tasted... funny. #foreshadowing.

For lunch I tried the marble cake with jam. The marble cake was not marble at all, just vanilla, and it was too dense and not very flavorful. The jam was mostly corn starch, and not very flavorful. I tried some sandwich cookies. Same deal. The chocolate, at least, was alright, and a treat in Africa. It's not often you come by chocolate here.

Am I spoiled? Maybe. Things are rarely as you expect them in Africa. Maybe it was a case of poor expectations, but my stomach wanted something familiar. I wanted something to taste... good. Not like corn starch or flour, not like margarine is to butter – good butter. I had been in Africa four and a half weeks and I hadn't had any food I really, truly looked forward to. All of it had been the open-minded, “okay, I'll try that,” or ramen. Call me ignorant, or spoiled, sure. But suddenly the spice trade made a lot more sense. I would rather have starved than have another ugali fry. Picturing peanut butter made me sick, and I was already sick. I would have skinned a lion for a pint of Ben & Jerry's or a salad from Panera.

Top that with the incessant cries of “mzungu” and whistling and I was, to say the least, beat – mentally. Physically, I was still recovering from being sick, and loss of appetite didn't help.

After stopping by an ATM in Kitale we made our way to a campsite Jacob had found on iOverlander, an app that highlights good places to stay. 350 KSH (about $3.50) for a nice, quiet campsite, with decent wifi. They offered to cook us chicken dinner for 500 KSH, about $5, and I decided to give it a shot. I'd had chicken once in Africa, and it had been... chewy and oily. But this seemed like an alright place.

I mean, no hooting. Come on.
I was relieved to be served what could only be called chicken Parmesan with a delightful mixture of vegetables, including shallots, potatoes, and corn. No boiled kale! It was a wonderful treat.

The next day I didn't eat much – I couldn't bring myself to do so. I was slow, and my stomach hurt, and I was running on very little food. After making only 45 miles in 8 hours, I requested we stop at a hotel so I could spend the rest of the day sleeping. The first one we stopped at was 1500 with one bed. It was Jacob's turn for the bed, but I offered to pay extra since I felt I really needed it.

After sleeping for two hours, I woke up, leapt across the room to the sink, and threw up. Ten times.

The taste of the strange porridge was resurrected. Food poisoning?

The sink, of course, didn't drain very well, so... well, you can imagine the details if you want to.

The next day I had a banana and some corn nuts for breakfast, and we carried on at our breakneck pace of sickly slow. Jacob is always faster than me, but it was extra demotivating having him wait even longer for me now. At first he'd encourage me to go past when I caught up to him, but I would resolutely reply, “I need a break too,” before putting my head between my hands and taking a thirty second nap.

For lunch I had another banana, and we tried to find somewhere that served rice – the only thing I thought Africa might have that wouldn't make me vomit again. While riding I regularly lost myself in daydreams of Ben & Jerry's (Phish Food and Chubby Hubby are my favorites, by the way... I've been thinking Chubby Hubby, lately), Panera's fuji apple chicken salad, literally anything cooked by Marina at the Color Farm in Ukraine... maybe my mom's salmon and asparagus... even thoughts of Mac & Cheese didn't make me want to vomit. But if Jacob jokingly mentioned “ugali fry --” and he did, often – I would gag. My stomach, it seemed, was homesick.

We finally gave in – the only thing we could find was ugali fry. At my request, Jacob put the “fry” as far from me as possible. I picked at the ugali.

That day was some climbing as well, nice and slow, burning my two bananas and handful of ugali. Of course, there was a headwind. We made it to 9000 feet, crossed the equator (!!!), and settled for a hotel behind a bar for 700, about $7.

Half-ass dance party time. Hey, I'm sick, remember.

I tried beans for dinner, and lo and behold they had hot chocolate milk!!! I savored every last drop before retiring to bed – Jacob stayed to try the always painful ordeal of ordering more food – and just as Jacob returned to the room I got rid of the beans into the trash can. Jacob suggested it might be what he had in Sudan – some sort of bacterial infection – and that the solution might be to butcher my gut bacteria and start over. I obliged, and feel asleep, and when I awoke again Jacob was handing me a box of pills he'd gotten from the chemist. “Strongest stuff they had,” he said. “Go big or go home.”

Heh, heh.

Almost instantly I felt better – like I didn't just want to vomit.

The next morning, after another pill and being woken at 5:15 by the radio in the bar, I was pleasantly surprised to see that they served eggs for breakfast, and that I could down 4 of them, and some fried dough stuff, without feeling like I needed to vomit. It was a welcome change, and cost only 330 KSH, about $3, for both of us. We got more hot chocolate milk again, too.

Later that day, Jacob would comment, “You're faster when you're not sick.”


Jacob is a good guy, and he doesn't nag about being faster than me when I ask him not to, but – inadvertently or not – he does remind me, quite often, that I'm slower than him. He also reminds me I'm one of the faster cycle tourists out there, but to be honest, I don't cycle tour for speed – I cycle tour to cycle tour. Periodically I will catch Jacob on this: “But if you do ____ you could go faster!” he'll say. Use different tires. Pack smaller, for more aerodynamic efficiency. “Why go faster?” I'll say. “If you go too fast, isn't it just about the destination, then?”

“Oh. Yea.”

Yet still, he'd remind me that day, he was averaging 21 mph minus waiting for me. I was averaging 13.

For lunch we'd stumble across a KFC. For the record, I generally despise KFC, and fast food in general (except when you can sneak in to steal their wifi... I'm looking at you, McDonald's). It's bad for you, it generally doesn't taste very good, it's expensive (even in Africa), and it is one of the most irresponsible abusers of the meat industry, which is one of the greatest contributors to global warming.

This ad is much more striking when all you've seen for the past few hours is rural Africa. 
But just in that moment I was like... IT'S NOT UGALI FRY.

So we went and paid the most I think we'd paid for a meal since arriving in Africa – about $6 each – and sat in the A/C'd upper floor (the most space we'd seen in a restaurant) and waved at the guard standing by our bikes (there had been a kerfuffle over where we should park them... this was a strip mall, after all. Standards!) and ate somewhat familiar tasting chicken and french fries. And then we went downstairs and got ice cream and discussed how KFC had changed their face a little bit to market here. There was a sign up with a slam poem on it about a kid who had grown up in the streets of Nairobi, with lots of Swahili jargon mixed in with the English (the rest of the store and signage was in English; the staff spoke perfect English and we never had to repeat ourselves; the staff on all the ads were white...), and how growing up on the streets was part of his identity. Then the last stanza was along the lines of, “When I forget who I am, I just eat at KFC and then I'm myself again.”


Some older, larger white women walked in – the most common other Westerners we see, for whatever reason – and some Chinese guys, too.

After ice cream I went to the bathroom and promptly got rid of it all. I guess I can still say I've never digested KFC? Funny thing though, I felt pretty good after that. I didn't really feel sick anymore. The KFC purge? Maybe? Let's run that by their advertising department.

So out of town we went, and it was mostly downhill for ten miles – and actually mostly downhill, not the Africa version – and we saw a zebra, and then it was a bit of a climb into the next town, where we found a decent place to stay that was supposed to have wifi, for 2500 (about $25). We both thought we could do better, but we were both pretty tired. I didn't feel like I had to vomit for the first time in three days, so that was nice. We had to bicker a bit about having two men in one room, and then having the bikes in the room, but with insistence, they gave in. It was quiet, and there was hot water, and two beds, a stark contrast from the night before (there had been two beds, but it was a shared bathroom with a bucket shower you had to request in advance. Also, the shared bathroom had had one squat stall, and it was mostly outdoors).

I tried eating ramen with some potatoes and a few pieces of beef, and felt like I was going to vomit for a while... but I didn't! We watched Spirited Away, one of my favorite films. It made me feel at home, at least on the inside. Jacob seemed less than enthusiastic at his first Miyazaki viewing (friendship over?).

Two days from Nairobi, not sick but definitely homesick, it was time for bed.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Ludwar, Kenya to Lokichar, Kenya: Break days, Sick days, and Holidays

On break days and sick days I get a little lax with the camera, sorry.

It was nice to finally have a break in Ludwar. Not only was it a much needed break from all the sand and wind and Abu Walad Sandwich Biscuits and lack of roads of the past few weeks, but it was our first break day since arriving in Africa. We had intended to take a break day about once a week, but we found ourselves in Ludwar having not taken a break for 13 days, almost twice that.

In addition to just being able to rest – and have internet, something we'd only had once since arriving in Addis – the other nice thing about being in one place is you get to feel like you know where things are. We found the bank on the way in, and split up for reconnaissance on the two grocery stores across the street. Mine ended up being a little ritzy: not that it looked ritzy, but the staff followed you around with a basket, and the prices were a little higher than you might like, but... BUT, they had chocolate. Jacob's was more of the bulk foods variety: cheaper, without staff that followed you around with a basket, but still they are just as helpful if you ask, and some of them sit in random places swinging electric fly swatters. Zzzz! Zzzz!

So the first day I settled for chocolate and cereal with milk, both things I hadn't had since I could remember (chocolate – probably a Snickers around Greece or Macedonia; cereal with milk: Weetabix in Bristol, Britain, at Hattie's. And what was I having now? Weetabix. Thanks, British colonization!). For dinner Jacob taught me how to use his stove, since he was tired of always cooking and his stove was better for two people than mine. Indome (Ramen), soy chunks (for protein) spinach, and peppers.

So, we knew where the bank was, and the grocery store, and... who cares about anything else? Okay, but the next day I also made use of a hardware store, since you might recall the water bottle cage had fallen off of my fork. I was determined to put them both on irrebreakably, so hose clamps it was. And of course by "a" hardware store I mean "three" hardware stores, because Africa.

Before visiting the hardware store, of course, I had to be in the business of getting money, because I didn't have any. I went to the only ATMs in town, walked up to the one on the left, and tried not to gawk at the one on the right, because there was a white person using it. Eventually I found my gumption and open with the dashing,


Volo was a missionary from Ukraine, and after some awkward -trying to use the ATMs while talking- I humbly suggested we meet up after, so we did. He kindly offered Jacab and I a place to stay, about 30km east of Ludwar. I wasn't sure it would work, not least of all because the road, I was told, was mostly sand. Okay, all sand. And I could not bike over sand. (Jacob, of course, just stands up and powers through). But, I wanted to make something of this rather fortuitous meeting, so I suggested we head to the hotel and convene with Jacob.

In the end we settled for lunch. Jacob would have wanted to either bike to Volo's and then bike from there (since Jacob is bicycling all the way around the world – no rides unless absolutely necessary), or get a ride to Volo's and a ride back. The ride back would not have come until Monday, and it was Friday, and we were already itching to get back on the road after not even a whole break day.

Volo knew a good place for lunch – fried chicken, chips (AKA fries), and coke, as Kenyan as it gets – and we got to talking about travel and, well, the things you talk about when you're bicycling through Africa and you meet a missionary. He told us about the election, which was featuring very prominently on TV, and taught us some Swahili, and how to get someone's attention. I was hoping for something polite and American like "excuse me," but in Kenya you just make a hissing sound that opens with a bit of a "k," like "skssss." Skssss, skssss, he called the waitress over, and asked for a bottle of water.

With a standing invite to Volo's place – that weekend or any other time – he dropped us off at the hotel, we snapped a selfie, and Jacob and I were back on our own.

This time my visit to the grocery store was a bit more comprehensive than the last (not that any visit involving chocolate can't be called comprehensive), but I ended up not feeling well that night, and settling for Weetabix again. Jacob concocted some fancy Asian noodle dish – that is, Indome (Ramen), and soy chunks, and some vegetable, and peanuts. Because, if you add peanuts to something, that makes it Asian, obviously. He also tried some street fish, despite my suggestion that might not be the best idea. But Jacob, as you know, is not one to worry about getting sick later. He's more about the now.

My not feeling well manifested itself as diarrhea that night, so up and out of the mosquito net it was, at least three or four times, and mosquito hunting time it was, as I rested on the porcelain throne. Jacob's mosquito net, he would say, had holes in it, so at least we both had equal chances of getting malaria.

The next day we hoped for pavement, but it was not to be. We wanted to make it to Kitale in three days: Kitale, a beacon of hope, of paved roads and big grocery stores and ATMs, more and better of everything than Ludwar, and "highway quality roads" to Nairobi. We still figured we could do it if the road wasn't quite as bad as it was that day, but it was pretty bad, and I was pretty tired. At noon I suggested a 3 hour nap might be nice, and Jacob allowed me 30 minutes, and I allowed me 20, since by 30 I'd be too far in to deep sleep to get up, I thought. It was quite nice, lying there, not doing anything, but Jacob tapped my shoe and it was time to go.

Later that day Jacob would be feeling it too, so we'd both take frequent breaks, heads down over our handlebars, and for one break we both ended up on the ground and I just wanted to sleep. We decided malaria tests were in order. The next city, Lokichar, seemed to get farther and farther away – 30 miles, then 20, then 15, then 12.5, then 11... but eventually we made it, and to the first guest house we went, right next to the hospital, and there we met Richard and Karen.

At the time I was so delirious I had no idea who these people were but they were kind and Richard offered to drive us to the hospital. It wasn't 100m, but it was farther than I wanted to walk. I was, I would later be told, green.

Richard and Karen, though, do deserve an introduction. They were in the area for Karen's PhD thesis, which is on how the beliefs of the tribes affect their medical care. They are both from South Africa, but have received US Citizenship since Richard taught Engineering in the US for so long, and as a result he can work almost anywhere.

It was too soon to be showing malaria symptoms from the night in Ludwar (malaria typically takes 3-5 days to manifest), but they tested us anyways – both negative. We were treated for gut bacteria (eg giardia), and given IVs, and sent home to rest. Richard and Karen had dinner prepared for us and gave us bottled water, for which we were most grateful.

And they told us where to get these fried dough things for breakfast, called mandazi.
The next few days are a bit of a haze, but we wouldn't leave Lokichar for 7 nights. Every time we thought we were getting better, one of us would get sick again. First it was giardia, then it was malaria, and then Jacob got food poisoning (from the fish, we assume). On the last day, it was simply a headache for me, and sore eye sockets, which James said was typical of malaria.

Oh, yea. James.

The second day we were there we met James and his wife, Gloria. James does work with circumcision, mostly outreach and documentation, because it's documentation that gets funding. There is, apparently, significant evidence that circumcision reduces incidences of HIV, so there is a significant push to get young men circumcised (they do it at 10 or 11 here, with local anesthesia). James travels throughout the impact areas and gets to know the doctors and the tribal leaders (since it's them you have to convince), and documents the population and how many get circumcised and how many get infected with HIV. In the time he's been doing it, there has, apparently, been a marked reduction in HIV cases. It must be very rewarding work.

So it was that between Richard and Karen (who drove into the bush on the third or fourth day) and James and Gloria we were incredibly well taken care of. James knew doctors in the area and called one in one day, he arranged piki-pikis (motorcycle taxis) for us when we weren't up to walking, he made sure we got the best prices at the hospital and town pharmacy, and he always came with us to the hospital and was asking how we were. As we were better or worse, Jacob or I would take up getting food from town and cooking, but mostly it was provided by James and Gloria and cooked by the staff at the guest house. There was talk of the raiders on the route ahead, and how a bus got robbed and three people shot dead and a woman raped, but we weren't in any condition to decide what we were going to do next.

Then there was Thanksgiving. For my non-US readers, Thanksgiving is a holiday where you get together with your family and eat a lot of food.

By the time Thanksgiving came around I had just about forgotten it. Richard and Karen had mentioned it in passing and James and Gloria had asked about it, but I was too tired and frankly, it seemed like a lot of heartache to endure remembering it and just having rice and beans for dinner. But Gloria wanted to make it special. That morning she asked what we usually had, and Jacob and I went through the list. I was at the table having just had tea, and Jacob was lying in bed with a headache, saying through the window: turkey, sweet potato, biscuits, gravy, rice, butter beans, cranberry sauce...

"Well," said Gloria, "We don't have much of those things here. But we'll have an African Thanksgiving. With mutton."

And, Jacob reminded me from his bed through the window, there was something else you always have after dinner...


All this talk had inspired me, but there wasn't any lard available. How could you have a pie crust without lard? And how could you have a pie without a pie crust? But there on the table was my answer: crackers. And so, I became unstoppable: We were going to have pie.

We made a list of what we needed to make pies and decided trying to find sweet potato was worth a shot. James and I descended onto the village, him with the local knowledge and language and me with what little money we had left. We were close to running out, having only planned for three days and some extra to Kitale with ATMs, and having spent 5 now in Lokichar without ATMs. But I wanted pie.

So all the vendors were told about how important it was that we get everything we need, but even so we couldn't find sweet potato. It was alright... potatoes were... almost as good... kind of. To be honest, it's good we found anything, because the bridge to the next city was "out." Everywhere you went, nobody had anything. "I'm sorry," they'd say, "the bridge is out." How to ford the river, whether to risk getting shot by a raider, it was all far from our minds that day.

So we got back and the cooking commenced. Gloria did the mutton and the mashed potatoes, and I did the pies. For an oven, we flipped a huge pot upside-down on Jacob's camp stove. The crust was based on a graham cracker crust recipe I totally didn't make up, except it was the crackers we had on hand. There was to be apple pie, and a meringue, whipped by hand, also totally not made recipes. I whipped. Jacob whipped. James whipped, in awe. "You didn't add anything to it?" he said. I didn't. Just some good 'ol fashioned muscle, I said, making an arm.

"Stiff peaks!" I kept saying to everyone. "We want stiff peaks!"

And then, only after everybody's arm hurt, did we get a stiff peak.

So it was that for Thanksgiving 2017, I celebrated in Lokichar, Kenya, with Jacob and James and Gloria, my family at the time. We had mutton and mashed potato and apple pie and lemon meringue. Though the apple pie was more like an apple crumble, and the lemon meringue collapsed so much when I tried to serve it, it was more like lemon flavored, buttery graham crackers. Cream of Tartar in rural Africa? Not in my lifetime. But it still received many "mmmms" from the crowd, and everybody ate all of it, so it must not have been too bad.

Achievement unlocked?

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Todenyang to Lodwar: Out of the Bush and into the Hotel

The Abu Walad Sandwich biscuits we had were labeled “Better Taste!” by the way. We continued towards what appeared to be a city, hitting some mud that we had to walk through, almost locking my front wheel again. Tire clearance – it's a thing. We fantasized about omelets, apparently a thing in Kenya. Omelettes with ham and cheese and honey... yes, surely they'd have them in this small town near the border.

It wasn't a town – it was the mission. And they had guns. And they were grumpy. They gave us water and sent us on our way – then asked us back and gave us four packs of cookies for 20 Bur, about twice what we paid in Ethiopia. To be fair, it wasn't their currency (the Kenyan Shilling), and it was probably expensive to get food that far away from civilization. The guns and high prices and curtness (except for the only woman in camp who wore a sheet... what was it with women in sheets near the border, we wondered?) didn't seem very Catholic. Whatever the case, they were Cappucino flavored, a welcome change from Abu Walad.

We continued on the road, now lacking in mud, replaced with the occasional crossing of a dry, sandy riverbed. I walked most of these, Jacob just powered through. Biking on the doubletrack is a game – you try and find the least sandy part, but it's often the most washboardy. I can bike faster on washboard than Jacob can bike in sand, but to each their own. Sometimes you bike over the plants on the side of the road, offering more traction than the deep sand. Often, you walk. Often. So often. We were grateful it was the dry season – the wet season, no doubt, would be mostly mud, and the river crossings would not only be actual rivers but would probably have crocodiles. They lived, apparently, in the very nearby Lake Turkana, and a one mile venture upstream to munch on white man didn't seem to too far-fetched.

Biking through sand and dirt and mud is an experience. When I first read the article “Bikepacking through Africa,” which recommended 29” diameter, fat tires, I though... that's great for 10% of Africa, but what about when you're on roads? I came to believe that just for that 10%, it would have been worth it. It's difficult to describe the way the sand eats your front tire, stopping you dead or forcing you to turn into more sand, eating your morale, too. You have to fight your instincts to turn towards where the bike is falling, because there's a narrow track your tire will get traction on, and the rest will make you fall (I fell at least three times). You have to balance by shifting your weight, not by steering.

And you have to pedal.

Indeed, you have two choices in the bush: forwards or backwards. No matter how hard the going gets, you can't just stay there – you'll die of thirst. Combined with the dirt roads of the climb to 3000m a week ago, these were the worst roads of the tour. You are constantly searching for a good track; often, when you find it, it lasts no more than 10 meters. Often there isn't a good track – you just pedal and pray your rump can deal with the pain. Drenched in sweat (of that day and the day previous) shoes full of sand, low on water, your only sustenance Abu Walad sandwich biscuits, you have no choice but to carry on.

Averaging 5.5 mph, we finally made it to Lowareng'ak, the first town from the border. Nobody wanted our Ethiopian bur, and people wanted our USD but there was nowhere to exchange it. Finally, we happened across a police patrol, and after some literal back-and-fourth about where to go, we landed at a restaurant in the middle of town to negotiate lunch. I keep a few 20s in case of emergency and had a 10 from paying $50 for my Ethiopian visa – we would trade the 10 for a kilo of rice, half a kilo of beef, and 12 chipati, oily bread things very reminiscent of Indian na'an. Lunch and dinner, we hoped... and still 85 miles to pavement and the first “major” town where we hoped they would change currency, or at least have an ATM... and maybe wifi... and maybe a hotel. It had been 10 days since our last break day, and with the now-lack-of-roads, we were feeling it.

I took out my 10 and inadvertently smelled it. US currency does have a smell, I realized. A smell people wanted. I handed it to the cop, who admired it, then handed it to the chef, who admired it. This was some relic for them – the first time they'd held US currency, probably, and maybe the last. We were lucky to be from the US – lucky we could so easily carry “spare 20s,” so valuable and highly regarded almost everywhere in the world. I hadn't expected to need them – I certainly hadn't hoped to need them – but I was glad, now, that I had them. I made a note to get more in Nairobi, if possible.

We would later realize we'd gotten ripped off, especially for the chipati, but at the time, we didn't care. We blogged while waiting for the food, and ate, and refilled our water, and went on our way. The road was gravelly for some time, and I saw 8s and 9s on my speedometer: ten minutes of hope that Lodwar was only two days away, not three, before plunging into sand and nearly falling over for the tenth time. Back to 5s and 6s.

The rest of the day was the Africa I expected when I said I'd bike across Africa. The roads were as I described – not really roads – the locals were only partly interested in us for our money (compared to Ethiopia), it was sunny and hot, and there was a headwind. At one point we passed what we could only conclude to be the tracks of a hippopotamus. That's probably wrong, but we couldn't think of anything else that would make such big tracks, so far apart, with no hooves. Butt sheep and fart goats occasionally kept us company. A car stopped and asked us about our trip – Maxwell, sympathetic to our situation (no local currency), gave us water and 100 KSH each, “for a Coke.” Definitely not Ethiopia. We thanked him, and he thanked us – he was driving a truck purchased by a US aid organization.

As the sun was setting my front tire slowly went flat. We pulled over to fix it, and I also booted the tire – I had noticed a bulge in the sidewall on previous day; thanks, Schwalbe. Up and ready to go, and then my back tire flatted – I must have put it on some thorns to fix the front one. The sun low in the sky, we gave up for the day, and carried our bikes as far from the road as we could get. Jacob set his down on some thorns and flatted. Some locals watched us, but I went over to talk to them, and they dissipated. Nobody asked me for money. Definitely not Ethiopia.

I fell asleep watching the silhouettes of camels travel down the road.

The next day was much the same: sand, dirt, and a headwind... and Abu Walad for breakfast (now better tasting!). We got water from a borehole in the river, and made it to a minor town where a restaurant owner would trade currency with us. Food! Glorious, glorious food. We even got a bill, clearly an indication of civilized life. The road out of town was “paved,” meaning it had been paved 5 years ago or so, but had since... decayed. The headwind continued. We made camp 26 miles from Lodwar... just one day before a hotel, a shower, and wifi.

My armpits burned: I suspected an infection from four days of sweat. My clothes were white from the salt of my sweat. I had saddle sores, which happens when the salt from your sweat gets in your chamis (cycling pants), rubs off the skin from your rump, and then rubs into the raw skin. We had two liters of water each for dinner and a 26-mile ride. For breakfast the next morning, we split my last pack of Abu Walad sandwich cookies and the drippings of Jacob's empty peanut butter can. Oh, and the Abu Walad sandwich cookies? They weren't better tasting.

Jk they totally were. *cries*

You can guess how the next morning went. “Road.” Headwind. “Mostly downhill,” which I'm convinced is Jacob's way of being sadistic. A water bottle cage broke off of my bike, unsurprising given road conditions of the past few days. We did manage to find a borehole in a riverbed, so we didn't get too dehydrated. But spirits were low.

Finally, after three days of “road,” ten days since the last thing you could call a “grocery store,” out of money and water and food and caked in salt from days of our own sweat, we made it to Lodwar. We found a hotel with wifi (WORKING WIFI!!!), and I sighed the happiest, longest sigh as I stepped into the shower, so much so I wondered if people outside would think we were gay and kick us out (I was in the shower alone. Just me and the shower. Enjoying each other). One knob – the perfect temperature.

Time for a break day.

And for breakfast tomorrow?

Something besides goddamn sandwich biscuits.