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.”

“Y'think?”

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.”

Uh-huh.



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.

4 comments:

  1. Hi. Kyle,
    This is Patrice, Jacob's mom. I thoroughly enjoyed reading your latest posts! I notice that Jacob likes to comment frequently about how he waits for you, I would find that irritating too if I were you��. For some reason I am always in a hurry, so perhaps he got that from me. I am a serious typeA, but after raising having 5 kids and approaching grand parenthood, I am learning to slow down a little. I think the problem is I feel like I am going to miss something. So I am always hurrying to the next thing. There is also always so much to get done and so much I want to do that hurrying is what happens. I think he is really bummed that you are leaving, I know I am. It is just nicer asa mom to know your son is not riding through Africa alone. I am grateful for the time you two were able to ride together and hope you get to do that again in the future. I hope you enjoy your stay with Charles and Darlene, they are exceptionally wonderful people.
    I will keep you in my prayers! I know your family will be happy to have you home for the holidays! Especially your mom's dog��

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    Replies
    1. Hey Patrice,

      Thanks for the comment! I do like riding with Jacob, even though we ride at different speeds. Every relationship has its quirks, and I'm happy to take being the slow one over some of the other potentials.

      My mom, too, has enjoyed me riding with someone. Jacob has a good head on his shoulders though, I'm sure he'll be fine.

      Thank you so much for introducing us to Charles and Darlene! They ARE exceptionally wonderful people. I will write more in my next post but suffice to say I am very grateful to be here.

      Thank you again for your comment. If you ever need anything feel free to ask, Jacob has been kind to me and I'm happy to return the favor however I can.

      Best,
      Kyle

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  2. I don't know how you bike at all in Africa having eaten only ramen, with a hurting stomach, and constantly feeling that you have to vomit. From just your description, I never want to even look at "fry." Jacob must have a stomach of iron.

    Hi Patrice, if you read this. This is Kyle's mom. I have been very thankful for Jacob. The mental challenge of Ethiopia, I think, would have been a lot for Kyle to handle alone. Also, the thought of injury or a broken bike in the remote areas... If you ever want to chat, let me know.

    Kyle, You're being homesick makes me hurt for you. Come home at any time - I have your room ready, your favorite foods, and I've told Tucker you may be coming home to cuddle.

    Love you, Mom

    ReplyDelete