Africa means Animals
In this segment of our journal we invite you to come along and meet them, with us, face to face. Africa means tropics, Africa means intriguing Tribes. Come meet the Maasai and learn a little about their ancient and evolving lives. Warriors, herdsmen, families emerging yet preserving some of their heritage.
HOP, SKIP AND JUMP ACROSS AFRICA
When we were kids we called what is now the TRIPLE JUMP in the Olympics, the Hop, Skip and Jump. We’ll hop over Sierra Leone, Liberia and The Ivory Coast to avoid West Africa’s “HOT SPOTS”. Discretion being the better the better part of valor, we chose to take the safe road. Sierra Leone is calm but still controlled by UN Peacekeepers. Liberia is trying to get things together now that President Charles Taylor has sought exile in Nigeria and a new government is being formed. The Ivory Coast, in the midst of a very fragile peace, could explode at any time. In all three there are still too many armed and dangerous children. Sierra Leone and Liberia have known war years. Soldiers, who are armed, out of work and cash, often turn to robbery. We will also skip over Nigeria and the Congo Basin for similar reasons. We will cycle on the Gold Coast, through Ghana, Benin and Togo then jump over to Kenya and start our southward drive to Cape Town. As I have relayed to Earl, Cat’s Dad, we would have gone on but we forgot to pack our bulletproof vests!
December 18, 2003
Hopping Off to Ghana
Anxiety, the mood to move on? We awoke at 5:00 AM, lay back then sprung out at 6:00 to the ring of the telephone wake up call. We’re on our way to Ghana. Cat has most of the main packing completed. A call for breakfast in our room then we showered and packed our toiletries into carry on bags.
Cat has been angry because Thomas, the manager told her that they only included breakfast the first day we were here. Of course we thought he meant that breakfast was included everyday. We could have picked up breakfast things and eaten in had we known. I went to the desk and faced him down, the backed down, halfway and credited us for 1 breakfast each day. What a penny-anti approach to business. We told them that we’d let LPGB know about their practice.
Then, a good deal from Thomas and Le Riviera, a pickup truck pulled up, we loaded the bikes and bags and were off to the airport. A small hassle with baggage handlers all vying for a tip. Nothing like the riot we ran into in Nouadhibou but annoying.
One skilled and friendly guy took charge, we taped the bikes together and he got them inside. His knowledge of the system saved us almost 100,000 GF by making one bike out of two. He got a nice tip.
Inside the waiting area we met Duncan, a Peace Corp volunteer. He’s also a cyclist and noticed our bags. He was really excited about our trip and wants to do a long cycle tour when he gets out of the P C. He just signed for a third year, we suggested that he come to California and cycle home with us. What a nice young guy. There were two other volunteers there, Paul and Beth, they said hello but weren’t very talkative or maybe Duncan was so excited that they couldn’t get a word in? They are all on vacation and going to Ghana. Another girl, Melissa, struck up a conversation as we boarded the plane. She’s from Maryland and has another year to go here with the P C. She’s planning on doing what they call the triangle. Accra to Kumasi in the north then down to Cape Coast, and back to Accra.
We watched lizards making a living, eating ants that were eating the leftovers of a bird. The larger one ran the little one off and just stood at the banquet table slurping the line up as his main course. A larger one came on the scene, it had an orange head and tail. Its diet seemed to be ant-eating lizards. It chased the anteater then the small one around but struck out, at least while we watched. Ah, the food chain.
The plane was late taking off then the Captain apologized and said that we were waiting for a passenger who was late and running to catch the flight. We thought, only in Ghana or maybe Africa? Then, as we walked out they had us identify our baggage before we boarded. Security we supposed?
Our seatmate was anti social, kind of a pill with the flight attendants. He insisted that he had ordered a vegetarian meal. She told him that they didn’t have any Veggie meals on board and asked to see his ticket. He folded and took the fish dish and ate every morsel. Cat did fish, too. I had chicken. I mention it because later I got the Guff Guff, again. Just trying to track food I ate that was different from what she had.
I began to worry because about our handlebar bags. The zipper on the big bag they were in had broken. I couldn’t remember seeing them at the security check and thought that our nice helper or one of his cohorts in Conakry might have slipped them out. I couldn’t stop thinking about the mistake of not taping it. Even though there was nothing we could do about it up here, I continued to churn. Wonder why we do things like that to ourselves?
When we got onto the ground the Captain told us to remain seated. The passenger who had hurried to make the plane was the Prime Minister of Ghana and he would get off at a different spot than us commoners. They had a Red Carpet and TV cameras waiting for his arrival. We watched then I slipped upto1st class and tried to get a photo. A guy seated there held his hand up and said, “No photos in this area”. I complied, slipped back a couple of rows and got a shot of the carpet walkway and TV cameras.
Smooth landing, smooth crossing through Immigrations and all bags and the bikes were there. All of that worry for naught! Cat changed a little of our CFA into Cedis to pay for the taxi. We booked a room at Niagara Plus Hotel at a kiosk in the airport. A Porter standing there took charge of our bags. Nice guy, he talked about how he could never take a trip like ours. Of course I felt that he could and told him to start planning it, today. He laughed and confessed that, though he’s 10 years younger than I, he hasn’t ridden a bike in years and really doesn’t want to.
He found a station wagon Taxi and helped us load the bikes and bags in. The driver quoted $30 US. Cat howled, “Its only 4 kilometers”.
“Who says that”, he asked?
When Cat told him our guidebook he chuckled then reduced the price to $20. Cat continued to negotiate and he converted to Cedis and cut a tiny bit more.
Niagara Plus is pretty basic but our room is large and ground floor. Plenty of room for us and the bikes. This travel day had taken almost all day. The flight had stopped in Ivory Coast but we weren’t allowed to de-plane. We walked across the street to the wine store and got a couple of bottles for our refrigerator. Also, we hit the Besnet Cyber Café next to the wine store and checked e-mail. This place isn’t posh but it has everything we need and it’s only $50 per night, including breakfast.
Just as the Jolly guy has said, the sun went down at 6:00 PM. We ate dinner in the Hotel patio. Surprise, there were a couple of black women seated nest to us. We assumed that they were locals until we heard them talking. Unmistakably, US style English, they are a Mom and daughter from Santa Rosa, California.
Phyllis, the Mom is a go giver. She is involved in several endeavors that she hopes will make a difference in peoples lives, here. She has a card, “Visit Ghana – Philanthropy Host Family Services”. Also, she has a business in Santa Rosa called Diasporan Boutique that specializes in African drums, clothing, cloth and Shea Butter.
She is most proud of the Jembe Drum business, a student here builds them, she ships them back and sells them giving him the profit so that he may attend college. Also, her Shea Butter project is a local product found in body oils, creams and lotions. Phyllis swears that it has great affect on skin and body. I love the story, Shea Butter is like the Argon Oil Cooperative we saw in Morocco. It is a group of women who buy and manufacture the product. They gain money and self worth through the effort. What a wonderful way to connect with and help people who are trying to make changes in their lives!
Pretty good food, pretty inexpensive but slow, service was really slow. We took our own wine, another good deal for us!
December 19, 2003
Money, The Root of ALL EVIL
The sun starts to flood into the room at 6:00 AM. We wanted to get going. Up and ready to bath but, no hot water. We called the desk, they checked and agreed then in about 45 minutes they provided a bucket of warm. Boat bucket bath, wasn’t all bad. We both washed the cloths we’ve been wearing for the past 3 days, too.
Breakfast, included, but not very good? An omelet with toast, no juice or fruit. The coffee was Nescafe and the milk, canned. We did get to see and listen to karaoke Christmas carols, the words filtered across the screen as the melody drifted out from an electronic keyboard.
I got one of the bikes put together while Cat called the Togo and Benin Embassies. The good news is that if we can get to the Togo Embassy before 12:00 noon they will have our Visas back to us by 2:00 PM. And, the Benin Embassy is open in the afternoon. They won’t get our Passports and the Visa back until Monday but that’s pretty fast.
We decided that the first priority is “Get Cash”. We barely have enough local Cedis to pay for the cab ride to the Embassies and they both want money before they’ll start to processing Visas.
A block north and one west from the Hotel and there’s a Barclays Bank. We walked, stood inline then learned that Foreign Exchange was upstairs. The gals there weren’t all that friendly. They sort of had that “I told you so” look in their eyes as they told us the bad news, the transaction was not denied. The third try was not the charm and they were tired of us. We asked for the American Express Office and they wrote down Trust Tower and a street name.
We caught a Taxi, he wanted 20,000 Cedis, Cat wanted to argue. I took the deal. You really lose track of money here. If he had reduced to 15,000, which he said he wouldn’t, we’d only save 60 cents. Hardly worth the effort?
At the Trust Bank, after a conversation on the ground floor, a wait, then another conversation, we learned that we were in the wrong place. There is a place, a building called Trust Tower, this is Trust Bank? There’s a Barclays Bank next door so we decided to try an amount less than $500, maybe that’s the problem? Stand in line, hand over Passports and Visa Card, have a seat. Another half hour with the same result, no MONEY? Declined?
We stopped another Taxi and asked him to take us to Trust Tower, he sat with a blank look then said, ”I don’t know where it is”, and drove away. Time was fleeting and we were getting edgy. Another Cab, this driver sat with a dumbfounded look as we tried to explain where we wanted to go. We even had him look at the map in our guidebook to make sure he knew where we needed to go. He didn’t, he faked it. After a long run in the wrong direction he reversed course. He was so lost that he began stopping and asking. In a small residential street we finally gave up. He knew not that he knew not! We got out and walked.
It’s too late to make the Togo Embassy but then it would do no good without MONEY. Another Taxi, another lost soul. Suddenly, like a light going off he gunned the engine and off we went. He knew the way!
It turns out that Trust Tower is the AmEx Office but not really. On the second floor there is a small office, a travel office called Afro Wings Ltd. “Yes”, the girl said, “You can get money here but the Manager isn’t in”. Only he can help us and they have no idea when or even if he will be back? We waited for a while, they tried to call him, we gave up.
The girl did show us a shop where we could buy a phone card and pay phones out front where we could call Visa. The cost wasn’t too bad, about $5:00 for 150 units. The call went through surprisingly fast, but service was painstakingly slow. The lady had to have all of the personal info to assure that we were we. That took most of the time. They transferred us to Security, they’d put another hold on our account because of charges in so many strange places. We’ve been through this with them and had asked that they make a note on their computer about our Odyssey. They said they’d release the hold just as my phone card ran out of units.
Another Taxi, back to Barclays near our Hotel. Another attempt at the counter, another DECLINE? Lunch, the gal at Barclays suggested that we come back in an hour so we went to the Koala, Supermarket for picnic supplies. It’s a well-stocked store full of lots of affluent looking people. Surprisingly, most are white? We bought cookies recommended by a couple of girls, more Peace Corp volunteers. Nice kids, one lives in a village up country the other is teaching English in Japan. They’re on vacation.
Lunch and BBC in the room under the AC. Back to Barclays, still no MONEY? The HOLD is still on? Back to Koala we bought 200 telephone units then spent a frustrating 20 minutes trying to get a call out on a broken phone. Back again to Barclays, Cat stood in line and I went looking for a functioning phone. Another rejection, the nearby phone wouldn’t work with the card we had? A long walk then I stood in a long line. When I finally got my turn and finally I got through to Visa it was almost 3:30. The same security curtain burned up the first 100 units and when it said “Change Card” I tried and lost The Visa office. Frustrated and time running out I got them back and they started the routine again. I shouted, the crowd of others waiting for a phone stared. The woman at Visa said that they had released the hold, again? Then I wanted to establish a 4-digit pin code, needed here to get cash from ATM machines. I had tried on the first call and it added to the frustration because it’s automated and they ask for the first three letters of your Mother’s maiden name. There were no letters on the phone, I was rejected. This time I told the lady and she said, try 727. I did and the good news, it worked, the bad, it will be affective in 2 business days.
It’s now 3:30 and the bank is closed. If Cat hasn’t scored yet we’ll be penniless for the weekend. She was standing inside the locked door next to the guy holding a machine gun. She did a thumbs down then convinced the guard to let me in. We ran up the stairs and the lady there tried the call again. After the long, nervous delay she got an approval!!!!!!
She asked, “Are you happy”?
I sang into the little microphone at the window, “You make me so very happy, I’m so glad you came into my life”! Not great singing but we were elated and the women in the glass cage loved it. Wow, you should see what 4, 240, 912 Cedis looks like! One block of bills tied together, four bundles of bills and a huge handful of loose. They hand out black plastic bags to carry the loot out in. We felt like every eye was on us as we exited the bank. They all know what the lump in the bag is.
Celebration, we bought 2 bottles of wine on the way back to the room. With those safely stashed in the fridge and the bundles spread among our bags we went across to the Internet Shop. Cat stayed after our initial check of messages. I came back to our vault and typed journal while guarding our MILLIONS!
Dinner in, slow service but again, pretty good food. The frustrations of the day subsided and we began to make a weekend plan.
December 20, 2003
Shopping For Wheels
The sun peaked in at 6:00 AM. We were up early, bathed and at breakfast before 8:00. Same omelets and coffee but this time we came prepared with our own bananas and juice. We’re trying to get used to the new sunshine hours. We’ll have to start earlier in order to get the mileage in while the sun shines.
Tried to call FedEx but no answer. Decided to look for a bicycle store where they might have double wall rims. We could have wheels built when the package arrives. The guys here at Niagara Plus suggested a store just up the main street. There is a couple with two young girls staying here. They started out the gate with us. We had been guessing where they’re from and decided, South Africa. Wrong, he is from Australia, she, England. They live in Togo and are just here for a holiday.
Further along a guy, Ben, rode up on a California Mountain Bike. I asked him about parts. We had a good time talking. He’s from Colorado, here with a sports company that actually sets up events to convince people to get Polio and other vaccinations. He did know of a place called Tudu Station that might have the bike parts we’re looking for.
Tudu is a transportation center and Police Station. It is also a frenetic, wild, push and shove kind of street market. Cat negotiated a price of 10,000 Cedis with the cab driver and we were off. This is a big town, it is a 15 to 20 minute ride to Tudu. He pulled up and said, “Too much traffic” and indicated we should get out. We asked if it was Tudu. He said it was straight ahead. Then he pulled around the traffic circle and over to the side for us to get out. Cat gave him 12,000 because he had been so nice. He said that he had agreed on 10,000 then told us to stay and drove right to the spot where all the bicycle stalls are located. Amazing, the attitude change for just 25 cents!
We walked and shopped. Everyone has a deal or will find what we are looking for. We chose to just walk and experience. At a particularly clean stall we met David. He did have V Rims and they are cheap? That worries me but we told him we’d be back on Monday.
More Taxi, back to our neighborhood then Cat went looking for an office supply to get copies of the Visa card bills that security had questioned. We checked last night and there is a mistake. Also she is looking for a Passport photo place. Every country requires 4 photos with application for their Visa. I came back to the AC and the journal.
Lunch in then Cat went back out for Malaria meds and I went back to the keyboard. She was back in an hour and we went to Besnet and checked in with the family. She stayed to clean up the old messages and I was banished back to the journal.
Wine time, we ceased and desisted other activity and had wine and cheese. A small plan is developing to explore Accra and the beach tomorrow morning. Maybe find a different Hotel for the next few days here. Cat is getting itchy.
Dinner in the patio again. Very slow service, pretty good food. More CNN, then bed before 10:00 PM.
Sunday, December 21, 2003
Another Accra Day
A lazy Sunday morn, we didn’t even wake up until after 7:00 AM. Bath, dress and out to breakfast at 8:30 then the marathon wait for food. It’s hard fro us to understand how it can take 40 minutes to serve an omelet. (We ordered fried eggs but after 40 minutes we took what we could get.) And, the coffee, they serve Nescafe in the little plastic tubes. So, boiling water takes a lot longer here at the equator?
Cat watched Larry King Live with guest Oprah Winfrey, I typed. She shopped and then made lunch in. I worked the pages of the journal.
Dinner here, Pasta cooked with our olive oil. Pretty good, the usual slow service.
December 22, 2003
A Business Day in Accra
Up at break of dawn, we bathed and I ordered breakfast in the hope that we wouldn’t have to wait an hour. They must have gotten the wrath of the Manager after Cat talked with him last night? It appeared at our door in just 15 minutes. We ate to the latest CNN news. (Even though Sadaam is out of the picture young Americans continue to die. They reported 4 killed yesterday?)
Cat had explored yesterday and found a photographer who would sell 20 Passport pictures of each of us for 160,000. (A little less than $20.00) We walked to his shop and posed near the sign that said “Instant Passport Photos” then he told us to come back in an hour. Instant has a different meaning here?
Checking the Internet we found that one of our packages was probably in at FedEx. Brad with LandRider also indicated that the new wheels had been sent here to Accra. So, we may be able to leave tomorrow, if we’re lucky?
The instant photos still weren’t ready, we had to wait another half hour but enjoyed listening and talking with the guys hanging around there.
Our next stop, the Togo Embassy. We met three guys there while waiting. Bastian is half German and half Brazilian, Markus is half Thai and half German, Ben is 100% African. He was born in the village where Markus has been doing volunteer work. Bastian just flew in to visit. The three of them are going to visit Togo and Benin. Ben is currently attending University in Benin and wants to show them his campus and the area.
Lucky, they adopted us. We shared the cab that they bargained for, to the Benin Embassy. Again, Ben took the lead. He speaks French and Twi, the language of Ghana. He even went out and made copies of the form because the Embassy only had one left. We had a fun time waiting, joking and laughing. He convinced them that we needed the Visas today. They charged 1½ times the normal fee but said they would have them for us when we get our Passports back this afternoon.
A couple, Joe from Kenya and April from Wisconsin, USA, came in and began filling out the same forms. She is working in The Ivory Coast with a refugee group and confirmed that the place is on the verge of blowing up into full-fledged war. She fears that if it does all her refugee charges will be killed. She doesn’t mention what she thinks might happen to her? Joe told us that the main thing we must see in Kenya is Masai Game Reserve. He thinks it’s the biggest, definitely the best big game park in Africa.
Aatok, a guy from India here on business, also confirmed the Ivory Coast problem. His company won’t let him travel there to visit their customers, too dangerous. He also told us that colleagues in Nigeria have told him not to drive, fly in to Lagos, only, and stay there with them. They told him it is too dangerous to leave the City.
Time for lunch and the guys invited us to tag along for some genuine, authentic FU FU. It’s a thick paste that they pound in the mortar. The paste is from the root of the Casaba tree. We walked into an open marketplace and through the dusty parking lot to a row of shacky stalls. One had seats and they were pounding Fu Fu. We watched a local guy eat with his hands and got the gist of the technique. Right hand only, pull the dough apart with fingers, swish it around in the sauce then pop it into your mouth. Pretty simple and pretty messy for us neophytes. The taste is entirely in the sauce. We think it is something like Poi that the locals eat in Hawaii. The family running the stall were fun, I took pictures of several of them. They acted shy then called everybody nearby to see the pictures on the back of the camera.
Taxi back to the Togo Embassy for our Passports and Visas then another to the Benin Embassy. Bastion had a falling out with the guy in charge here. We’re paying the extra for hurry up service but he feels that they’re pushing us back, making us wait for no reason. Ben took over and finessed them. We were all soon hovering around the desk, signing and picking them up. Ben did “You Must Be Crazy” in Twi, the language of Ghana, with a little help from his friends. It was great fun, we hated to say goodbye.
We caught a taxi to the Airport only to find that the FedEx Office there is for “Drop Off Only”. The two guys working there were concerned and helpful. They called the main office and confirmed that neither of our packages is here yet. One should be in tomorrow?
Back to our room and a little journalizing. The Satellite is still on the blink, no TV.
The big decision, we chose to walk to dinner at an Italian Restaurant, Borsalino. It’s a block or two around the corner from Koala, the Super market. We walked in the dark street and felt that the only danger is traffic. The people are either non-committal or just hurry by or they smile and say hello.
Disappointment, Borsalino’s was closed. More decisions, we decided on Chinese food. It is a long walk back down the main street. There are little businesses all along the side of the road. Tiny stalls or just tables with goods stacked on them. Food places with blazing barbeques and people crowded around eating fish, rice, grilled platanos
9large green bananas) and of course, Fu Fu.
The restaurant is upstairs, the ambiance is Chinese and the food was good. We brought our own wine, fearful that they may not serve any. The waiter, a friendly African guy, told us that they had a big selection of wine then asked how much we had paid for ours. When we told him he said, “You better drink yours”. Thanks to him our meal, which we could charge on our Visa Card, only cost $21.00 US.
We spent 45 minutes on the Internet. Cat had another Guff Guff calling. Base Camp Charlie sent a message and in the middle of it he told us that they were in the midst of a BIG earthquake and he signed off.
There is a big 4WD from Holland with sponsor stickers on it parked in front of the Hotel. It says that they are going to Cape Town. We left one of our cards on the window, hoping to meet them before they leave.
Still no Satellite so we watched some local programs. Cat was interested in a drama, locals in local situations. An older woman running a food stall just like the ones along the street dealt with her customers and the problems of running her business.
December 23, 2003
Another Accra Day
Awoke real early, lay in then snoozed until 7:30. That really felt good. Satellite TV is still out but we did see a piece that confirmed the earthquake Charlie described in his e-mail last night. It was a 6.5 Richter Scale shaker centered in Paso Robles. Two people were killed there when the building they lived I collapsed.
We went out for breakfast and did meet the adventurers from Holland, Berkus and Hendrika. They are adjusting their plans because war between Chad and The Sudan has closed that border. Now, they will ship their vehicle to Cape Town and drive back up the East Coast. We hope to stay in touch with them and try to cross paths somewhere down the line. They have a web-site, www.TransAfrika-Overland.nl if you’d like to take a look.
Cat got FedEx on the phone, disappointment, neither of the packages are in, yet. They do think that at least one of them will arrive this afternoon? Another day in Accra!
A walk up the main street, s stop at a Travel Agency that had little or no info on flights from Benin to Uganda. An attempt the send the pictures via FedEx to Web Master Wally but they didn’t have a cardboard envelope and we didn’t want to let them go in a soft one.
As we walked a guy came sprinting past, a guy jumped out of his car and tripped him. There was a group, vigilantes, chasing him. They caught him and began beating on him. He had stolen a wallet or at least he was accused of stealing it. The crowd seemed to feed on the violence. They surged across the street right past us. I wanted to hold up my hand, yell out, “Let ye who is without sin cast blows upon this boy”. Everyone here seems to be religious but this was an example of rage driven not by virtue but by vile hate and a desire to hurt? We felt sorry for the guy. As he past, taking blows to the head he started to run again. Where are the Police? Are they going to kill this guy?
We stopped at Besnet, checked messages and met a nice guy, Rod, from Pennsylvania. He is a Professor of Christian Philosophy. He’s traveled the world over and has connections everywhere. We hope to stay in touch, maybe our paths will cross again. He offered to help connect us with some friends that work at Kruger National Park in South Africa.
Internet, journal, another call to FedEx after our picnic lunch at 2:00 PM and no further results. They have one package but it hasn’t been sent from the Airport, yet. They don’t know where the wheels are? Their computer was down, she asked us to call back about 5:00.
The call at 5:00, again, found no further results, she suggested calling again tomorrow. I complained but she had excuses, the Holiday rush, an Airport problem?
Another pleasant Christmas surprise, we stopped at Koala Center for lunch meats and water. When we fell into the line to pay we were directly behind Melissa, the nice young Peace Corp girl we met on the flight here. She has spent her vacation time visiting Ghana and other Peace Corp people. She said that she’s been nervous while here. Accra is too big. She’s anxious to get back to her tiny village.
A glass of wine to calm the nerves. Cat is really crawling the walls. We are so lethargic that we just settled in, watched TV then ate dinner in the Hotel. Same slow service, same okay food. We talked with the Dutch couple, Berkus and Hendrika as we ate. There was a guy and his son, Dave, from Washington DC sitting in the lobby. We talked a bit. Dave is in the Peace Corp. His Step-Mom came in specifically to meet us. Very nice people, they left for dinner but Dave did leave his e-mail address and the address of the Peace Corp office. They have a guy who works on bicycles and he thought they might be able to help us true our old wheels. We want to get on the road again, one way or the other.
We took our computer out and shared pictures of Holland and a few others then they brought theirs and we saw some of their adventure. Today is Hendrika’s Birthday. She called her parents in Holland while we were viewing the pictures, small world, huh? Their rig is similar to Helja’s, our Danish Family, it has a tent for sleeping on the roof. They seem to enjoy life and they have a pretty nice lifestyle. By the way, he’s a tour bus driver so this is really a BUSMAN’S holiday!
The local station TV had a Ghanaian comedian on. Recorded at an earlier time, he did a piece about going to America. The excitement of trying to get a scholarship then the cultural differences and how embarrassing they can be. He told of going to the bookstore, wanting an eraser and asking for it like he would here in Ghana. The young white girl in Connecticut turned red when he asked for a rubber. He looked at the guy behind him in the line, saw that he had some erasers and asked where he got his rubbers? The guy said “I buy them at the Drug Store.” It was interesting too, that he called The US the U Ahs. That made both the audience and us laugh. We were in bed by 10:30.
December 24, 2003
Christmas Eve in Accra
CNN was up and running with bad news this morning. A Lebanese plane taking off at Cotonou, Benin has crashed into the sea at the end of the runway. Lots of people killed as they left their jobs to get home for Christmas. We’ll be taking off from the same runway next week.
Breakfast with Berkus and Hendrika, he is really upset by the terrible service here at Niagara Plus Hotel. They ordered two coffees and only got one? Last night it was the same, two soups ordered one delivered then wait anther 30 minutes for the missing bowl. It is bad, I say its Africa. They say that’s no excuse. I think a lot of the problem is language.
Paula and Michael, the Step Mom and Dad, came in too. They are both Professors at George Mason University in Virginia. He’s a Math Professor, she a Professor of languages and Women’s Studies. We got into a discussion about Domestic and Sexual Abuse. Her Woman’s classes focus on the subject. They’re going to travel the same triangle that Melissa has just completed. Dave came in looking sleepy eyed, they put their heads together making plans and we headed to our room. This is one of those times when I wish I had taken a picture.
We called FedEx at 9:00 AM, they have one of our packages in but seem to have no idea where the other, the wheels, might be or when they’ll be here. I told Francesca that we were coming over to the office. She advised against it. We set off with our old wheels in hand. We’ll have David reworked them at the bicycle market if the new wheels aren’t going to make it. We want to get back on the road, one way or the other!
A visit with our friendly lady at Barclay’s Bank. We tried out our Visa card and the new 4-digit pin number out first, it worked but the limit is 80,000 Cedis. (About $100 US) We have decided that we need 2,500,000 ($ 292 US). Enough to get us checked out of the Hotel and live on for 2 or 3 remaining days here in Ghana.
I went into the bank, Cat walked back to Niagara Plus, we had forgotten to bring the spokes to rebuild wheels, if we have to. I was in line upstairs when a hubbub broke out downstairs. The friendly lady said that there was a fight because they were running out of money. I saw Cat through the window and called out to her, warning of the fracas. One can see how it would be irritating to have money in the bank and not be able to get it on Christmas Eve! It had quieted down by the time Cat got inside. They must have gotten a new infusion of cash?
The same lady helped us again, today. The card went through without a hitch. While we were waiting a couple with a cute little girl came in. He got to the window then couldn’t find his wallet with credit cards. He fumbled through his pockets while she worried. Then she pulled out her cell phone and called someone. They found it, it had dropped out of his pocket. She gloated. I finished getting our pile of funny money, put it in the black plastic bag then fiddled with the receipt and my wallet. Downstairs, Cat turned to me and asked if I had the money. I thought I had put it in the bag she was carrying. Spike, adrenalin flowed, I sprinted back up the stairs. The couple had returned with his cards and were at the window. Our package was there, next to her elbow, on the counter. She said, “I can’t believe it, you forgot the money”.
I told her, “It’s a man thing, don’t try to understand it”! We all got a laugh, I got the bag of Cedis.
A taxi ride then an hour and a half at FedEx. Francesca got our first package for us. John worked hard tracking the wheels. We FedExed the CD of pictures to Web Master Wally while he searched through scanning records on his computer. He found it in London. We were resigned to getting the old wheels fixed when he called someone then confirmed that they would be in Accra tonight. He gave us a phone number for a guy named Charles and told us to call him later to confirm where we could meet tonight and get the wheels.
A stop at Koala, then lunch in. I typed, Cat checked messages at Besnet Cyber Café, across the street. She came back frustrated. Their machines were running at snails pace.
I finished the placing the pictures in the text for the Dakar to Conakry journal this afternoon. We walked to Tower Cyber and sent it to Wally. There is a difference, their machines are super fast. We sent then cleaned up messages.
It was 7:00 PM so we grabbed a taxi and went looking for AFGO, the freight area at the Airport. The driver faked it at first then something clicked and we were at the gate just before our appointed 7:30 meeting with Charles.
What a nice guy, he greeted us then had us take a seat. The plane had just arrived and they hadn’t sorted the packages out yet. A very jolly guy named Nicholas joked around with us. We started calling him St. Nick but he didn’t get it? Then Cat explained by telling him, “Papa Noel”. He really liked that and the rest of the crew chided him but joined in his infectious laugh.
A picture with Charles and the package then I started to pick it up but he wouldn’t allow it. He carried the big box all the way to the street and put it into the taxi trunk. (Our driver had hung around, waiting for us.) I tried to give him a Christmas gift of 15,000 Cedis but he refused, he ducked away and yelled back to us, “Merry Christmas”. Charles and LandRider had definitely made our Christmas Eve happy!
After a quick stop at Niagara Plus to leave the wheels we had our taxi drop us at the Osu Food Court. It is so western, so USA. Two large pizzas, one each, along with our wine, smuggled in. We were in heaven, we were back home for a few minutes.
It was like a real Christmas back in the room. Building bicycles reminded me of Christmas Past. I think I must have put bicycles together almost every year for one or the other of the kids over the years. We unpacked and were astounded to find 4 new wheels, front and rear. I got them installed while Cat packed. By 11:00 PM we slipped into bed. Anxious to get going tomorrow, anxious not to see Santa Claus when he does his fly by, tonight.
December 25, 2003
On The Road On Christmas Day
Skipping Across Ghana, Togo and Benin
Accra to Tome
Our final breakfast, same low quality however service is better on Christmas Day in the Morning. Packing and loading took time. It was 9:30 when we at last pushed out of the driveway. The security guard, the sleepy one, walked to the middle of the street and held his little red flag out to stop traffic. There was none but he did a good job, anyway.
Half a block, that was all it took to realize that the bikes would need some adjusting. Gears clattering, wheels dragging on the brakes. And, I thought I had done such a good job on them. Adjust and ride then stop and adjust again. Pat’s brail system of repair.
Winding our way through fairly nice little track homes we eventually found a main road that took us to Ring Road East and out of town. Accra is larger than it looks and this area is like suburbia. We’re still amazed with the cleaner, more affluent look of Ghana and Accra.
Two stops for soft drinks and directions. A moment of indecision then we made a right turn and into a quest for food. The road runs directly to the Harbor. It’s just an industrial area with hundreds of trucks rolling or parked. Lunch at a fast food place called “Chicken Lickin’”. Fried chicken legs, fries and soft drinks.
Moving on, we came upon a couple of guys wearing clown outfits. They
had a look of India but when I asked they denied that heritage. They had limited English language but agreed to a photo then held out their hands and asked for a little Christmas gift. Of course we gave.
I asked a guy where the Hotels were in Tome. He said, “Friends Hotel, just ahead on right”. What about any others? He shrugged and said, “No others”. Okay, we’re going to our Friends Hotel. A sign told us to turn, onto a dirt road. Some guys sitting near the corner indicated, up and to the left. Friends Hotel is a Motel, single story, with an outside bar and tables under copula roofs. We got in then had a couple of beers. It was 3:30 PM and hot as Hades.
While Cat organized our room I worked on the bikes. She has had a terrible time trying to shift the front derailleur. Our handlebar grips are disintegrating. The one on her left side, the shifting side, is gone, leaving just the hard plastic. She wore a blister on the palm of her hand today. I got the remaining piece pushed up onto the shifter. It looks like it’ll work. I also oiled the mechanism good, too. The rest of the repair, adjusting the wheels and shifter, was just trial and error. I’m not very good at this mechanic thing.
The shower was cool at best but then after the heat of this afternoon cool was good. Our room is two rooms. A bedroom and living room/kitchen. The AC is in the bedroom so we set it on cold and propped the door open. The TV and two chairs take up most of the living room. The electric range shall go unused but we did put our water and wine into the refrigerator.
At 7:00 PM Cat went to check on dinner. The power failed and dark prevailed. Almost total dark. I could hear Cat calling out for a light then the generator kicked in and we had light.
Our Christmas Dinner was in the custom of Ghana, fresh fried chicken and chips. (French Fries) We sat in a little lounge area under a Casablanca fan. The restaurant seating is in a room that has no lighting.
Tired, we watched a little English language TV. The same comedian we saw a couple of nights ago doing Ghanaian political humor. Not nearly as interesting as the “Going to America” routine. We both dozed off in the overstuffed chairs.
December 26, 2003
Tome to Ada
Breakfast, though not included, was a good value at 20,000 Cedis. (About $2.00 each.) An omelet, toast, juice and coffee. We fueled up and rolled out at 8:30 AM. It took us 30 minutes to get back up to the Highway. It was a wonderful 4 lane, well-paved and flat ride. Well for about 10 kilometers then it narrowed to 2 lanes. Those 2 soon got real narrow.
We miss our missing gloves. Cat turned her right one inside out to protect her blistered palm. Off to the left we spotted a golf course. We’d talked about alternatives and golf gloves are one of them. It was a dirt road ride and parts of it were soft sand and walking. They did have some and they would sell one or two. We bought left hand only, pulled them on under the gaze of the astounded Pro-Shop guys, a Grounds Keeper and a Caddy. (This is another of those “Wish I woulda taken a picture” moments.
Onward, the narrow two lane became a wide, dusty, rocky dirt road. It’s under construction, we were doomed to ride in thick dust that boiled up from under the wheels of every passing truck and car. Always anxious to learn, we noticed that locals were riding on the other side of the road, facing traffic. Cat thought it might be smoother but as soon as we crossed over we knew the advantage. There was a slight breeze from the left and the dust of passing vehicles would drift off to the right. We had a lot less of it to eat. This would be most of our ride today, at least 40 kilometers, in dirt, eating dust.
We did make a stop in a small roadside village for soft drinks. I took a picture of Cat inside taking a drink. A nursing Mom seated near the doorway objected so I let her see the picture. She was so excited that she called everyone to see. Then they almost turned on us. They demanded a picture. That took about 10 minutes for each of them to see it then come back for one more look. A young naked boy stood and peed, his mother who was using a grinding stone to make some sort of goo grabbed him and spanked his bare butt. I guess you just don’t relieve yourself on your own doorstep here, either.
It was 5:00 PM when we reached the crossroads and decision time. After talking with some locals we learned that they think there is a Hotel 15 kilometers further along on this highway. They all agreed that the Manet Paradise Hotel is very nice and off to the right. They disagreed about distance. One said 15 Km. the other, 20. We had to go with what we know. The guy who guessed 20 Km was closer to right. The road was flat and paved but a long way between places. The area is swampy, a river delta.
The nice pavement ended and the final 4 kilometers were on loose dirt. We got in just at dusk. We were a mess, the red dirt clings to our clothing. We must have looked like a couple of bums. The staff stared, as if to say, “Can you afford to stay here”?
The place, aptly named, it is Paradise in a sea of mediocrity. The room is spacious, cool and pleasant. Three girls helped us unload and carry the bags. They also cleared a spot in their storage room where we will keep the bikes.
Dinner was a buffet. Pretty good food, very good wine. Cat talked with a couple from Denmark but they weren’t too talkative. Cat had 2 desserts and wanted more but was too embarrassed to ask.
Yes, we had CNN on the TV but it was without sound more than half the time. A huge earthquake in Iran, 5 more GI’s killed in Iraq. Who needs sound? Who needs news?
December 27, 2003
Ada, Ghana to Lome, Togo
10 Kilometers by Boat, 85 Kilometers on Bike
Breakfast doesn’t start until 8:00 AM and we were up early. I wanted a banana so we walked into the nearby village. It is a world apart from Paradise. While walking we ran into a guy we’d seen last night as we checked in. He had his daughter on his shoulders and was walking back toward the Hotel, across the sand of the beach. His name is Thomas, hers, Catherine. Both he and his wife are Doctors from Germany. They work with a Non-profit trying to stem the tide on HIV-Aids and Malaria.
Ask and Yee shall receive! I started asking last night without results. Then on the way to our included buffet breakfast I asked again. This time the guy at the desk, James, said they might be able to get a boat that could take us across the river. The map shows that there is a road from the small village of Dzita. We thought it would be an interesting ride across the River Delta and the road would be better than going all the way back to the Highway then riding in traffic.
While we ate James worked on the problem. When we came back in he introduced us to boat Captain Joshua. Actually he just said, “This is the boat Captain, he can take you”. The price was right, about $33 US. We made a deal. It was outside that I asked the Captains name. When he told me I said, “Joshua fit the battle of Jericho”. He quickly responded, “And the walls came tumbling down”!
With bags loaded on the bikes we pushed out to the dock. I had talked with Thomas this morning and told him that we wanted a picture of his family. He, his wife Dr. Jennifer and the little girl Catherine were in the pool so I took it there.
We were able to load the bikes into the boat with bags. An Irish guy, Louis, took our picture then we pushed off. Thomas, with his daughter, Catherine again on his shoulders, stood knee deep in water and took our picture. We were off, across the Delta. Joshua is an excellent riverboat Captain. He knew the shallows, the sand bars and the interesting sights. Every time I took the camera out he slowed to make sure that we got a good picture. The village near the Hotel is so African, so picturesque. The shore is lined with Pirogues and huts. Life was going on as it probably always does. We even got a pic of a buffed up guy bathing on the shore.
Landing at Dzita was another treat. The concrete dock is loaded with wood, twigs for burning, to smoke fish. The guys ashore helped off load the bikes. Joshua was off almost instantly. We talked with the guys there, took some photos, including one of a guy who had a huge snake wrapped around his shoulders, Monte and his Python. (Cat say’s “Dead snakes are good snakes”!)
It was 11:00 Am by the time we mounted up. The road is paved and flat. We cycled for 2 ½ hours then stopped for soft drinks. The shop owner is victim of scoliosis but you wouldn’t know that he had a problem if you hadn’t seen him walk. He has 2 beautiful children, a boy 4 and girl 7 years old. Like so many, he wants to visit America. He asked for our help then for a copy of the pictures that we took. We could give him neither.
I couldn’t not take the picture of the memorial to Lt. General Kotoka. He lived only to age 41 and was assassinated? Why, and then, why did they raise a monument to him? Did his comrades eventually prevail? Did he give his life for a worthy cause? So many questions, no answers?
Onward, until 2:00 then a sign for a Hotel with GOOD food caught our eyes. We turned off and though it took a while we did have a good lunch. The Chef was very particular about display and service. We just had simple chicken, again, with slaw and chips but these chips were Yam. They were hot and to me, fairly tasteless. Cat liked them. She thought they tasted like potatoes. We sat in the patio and prayed for a breeze.
Cat is again plagued by the African Guff Guff. I’m doing pretty well, health wise. She made a pit stop then we paid the bill and rode on. The Chef told us that the road ahead was under construction, which struck fear into our hearts after yesterday. Then he said that it was paved or hard surface all the way and the road wasn’t officially open, yet. So we would have it mostly to ourselves.
He was mostly right. Little traffic but the surface did vacillate between paved, loose gravel and dirt. At one point it was wet, we picked up mud, on the bags and our legs.
The new road, that replaces one that the Chef said the sea had taken, swings out in an arc. It reminded us of the Great Salt Flats of Utah. The sand is white and flat and goes for almost as far as you can see.
Somewhere along here we started to roll past a group of people waiting at a bus stop. They looked too foreign to be locals. We pulled up and enjoyed a few minutes of chatter with a big bunch of Peace Corp Volunteers. They were talkative but anxious to get the next Bush Taxi back to Accra. We did get a picture and a great little video of them and passed out cards. They are our heroes, they give so much and get so little yet they love what they do. The trade off will come later in life, like our friend Dennis in Ziguinchor and so many others whose lives were shaped in places like this.
We stopped at a crossroad and asked direction. Victoria, a local lady, pointed to the right. There was a big party going on down the road. When we asked she told us that someone had died. Cat has read about the Ewe people whose funerals last for days. They play the drums and dance to chase the evil away. They also believe that the soul of the departed will re-appear in the next born child of the clan. Pretty interesting.
Villages line the broad, sandy beach off to our right. On the left is another broad river delta. This is the tropics, this is the Africa we have expected. Freight is carried on 4-wheel carts with wheels are from cars. They roll easily and carry big payloads.
We expected Aflao long before we finally got there. It is a border town, a typical looking border town. Then a small open space and we were entering Togo. It was fast approaching dusk when we were stopped on the Ghanaian side to get released with a Passport stamp. Several guys gathered around and seemed interested in our trip. They may have just been angling for position with us. Each of them offered to help us through the formalities. We resisted all but one very personable fellow. He did help by taking Cat to the Togo Immigration the finding a moneychanger. We traded our few remaining Cedis for CFA and pedaled into the gathering gloom.
Lome is only slightly more that ½ kilometer from the border. Cat had chosen Hotel du Benin from the LPGB but the first place we saw looked like home to us. The sign for Ibis, the franchise chain that hosted us in so many European cities, glowed through the evening dark. They had a room, they had plenty of rooms. The Hotel only opened on December 12th. (We found out later that it was previously Hotel Benin. It has been completely renovated. It feels and smells great.)
Its a little beyond budget, especially when you add in dinner and wine but worth it. We were only one of two groups served by 8 chefs and 4 servers. The place is so new that the staff is using guests as training. We had to settle for red wine, they had no white. So, in keeping with tradition I had Beef Brochette. Cat opted for pasta with chicken and mushrooms. We really felt pampered.
The only other guests at dinner were a family from Nigeria. We talked with them on the way back across to the Hotel. Mom, Dad and two well behaved children. They recognized us, they’d seen us at the border as we entered Togo. They were full of questions, especially the kids. We promised to get together in the morning for pictures.
TV is a little disappointing, no CNN. They do offer Euro News but the problem with E. N. is that it’s even more redundant than CNN.
Sunday, December 28, 2003
A Day Off in Lome
Ibis Hotel is Heaven
We awoke to the pounding of drums and the rhythm of cowbells. There was a big running event taking place on the main street, in front of the Hotel. At least a 10 K race that some looked pretty serious about while others ran in groups, pounding drums and chanting.
Mpeg 053 Togo Sunday
Breakfast, like so many of the features here, was over budget but another great value. They probably hated to see us coming. We were hungry for fruit and they had a great selection. Again, we were the only guests partaking and we partook, well. Juice, eggs and croissants, with ham slices, too. The only disappointment was that we thought we’d missed our friends from Nigeria. We walked out onto the main and took a few pictures of the festival and an interesting HIV billboard.
Back in the room, I started to type journal and Cat continued her Guff Guff. She has been passing a little blood along with the diarrhea. The phone rang, it was Femi, the Dad. They hadn’t gone and wanted to get a picture with us. Cat couldn’t risk leaving the throne so I went down and joined them. What a wonderful family they are. The Mom, Bunmi, is a Pharmacist with Pfizer Corp. and was in Ghana interviewing Pharmaceutical reps. The family was along for the ride. The kids, Seyitan age 7 and Mofe, 9 years old, are very bright and full of questions. Femi is an architect and proud Father. They live in Lagos, Nigeria. They’re sorry that we are skipping past Nigeria but did tell me of labor strife and other problems that might have slowed our progress.
I typed a little then Cat, who was feeling better, suggested that we take a walk to an Internet sight. (We decided that since the blood in her stool was red, we’d wait to go to a clinic for 2 days and see if it would clear up.) The walk was in vain, as far as Internet went. They do have machines, for guests only, at Hotel Palm Resort. Boy are we glad that we’re not eligible, the place is run down and age dated.
After circling several blocks a guy, Freeman, who was trying to sell us hand painted greeting cards, led us to a place we’d passed earlier. It was still closed but he did find out that they’d open today at 1:00. We decided to try to convince the Hotel Palm Resort to let us use their machines. The clerk didn’t have a problem except that they are connected to the main office and turned off. They may be back on at 3:00 PM, or so?
Back in Ibis Heaven, we napped. Wow, did that feel good. We’re both completely fatigued, or as the French say, “Fatigay”.
Up and out at 3:00 PM, we found a huge beach party in progress across the street. The Internet shop was open. We checked, answered and wrote messages to LandRider, thanking them for the wheels and updates to the family of our progress.
On the way back we took pictures of the beach party. I stood on top of the block wall that surrounds Hotel Ibis. The Police Officers on duty there were a little nervous to see an old guy climbing but seemed to enjoy it once I was back on firm ground. The party was throbbing and loud. We learned that the runners this morning and this party are regular Sunday events, here.
A little more journal, wine and dinner. Another treat, served by 7 Chefs and 3 waiters.
Cat watched a Richard Dreyfus, Bette Midler film with French voice over. I typed. A little bad news on CNN just at bedtime. A Lebanese Flight leaving Cotonou, Benin crashed on take off killing ¾ s of the passengers. We will cycle in but fly out of Cotonou in a few days.
December 29, 2003
Lome, Togo to Grand Popo, Benin
Another fabulous Breakfast Buffet. Another packing and loading morning. We took the carts up after breakfast. The staff objected and wanted to help. Cat thinks they are only interested in a tip? I think it may be a combination of wanting to help and wanting to earn. There is so little money here that she may be right? They’re helpful to the point that it can be irritating. We had decided that it would be best to load up in the lobby then take the bikes down the stairs. The Hotel looks new but is a rebuild and they don’t have a ramp from the lobby to the driveway. Two of the blue uniforms whisked the bikes down the stairs and another took 3 of the bags out. They had made our decision, we’ll haul the bags down separately.
The goodbyes were sparse, maybe because we didn’t tip? The traffic was thick. First stop, around the corner to Ramco Super Marche. We pulled up near the door and the guy in black uniform stepped out and got the point across that he didn’t want the bikes there. He was waving his arm and pointing toward the parking lot. We stood our ground and stood in the shade. Cat ran in and bought 2 bottles of water. We poured them into our bottles under his wary gaze then waved au revoir and rolled back out into the traffic.
This part of the ride may be second only to Dakar. The road is rough and narrow. Traffic is a thick as the haze in the air. At the edge of town we had to go up and over a railroad track on a bridge so narrow that Cat, who was riding behind, got tired of cars trying to pass and just rode up the center of the road. Very gutsy and smart on her part, don’t you think?
The road is now lined with farms, like truck farms and a marked bicycle and motorcycle path. Fresh vegetables and greens being hand watered and harvested. A boy stood the guard over a stack of sacks full of fresh picked carrots. The air is fresher here but there are ominous looking clouds of smoke coming from the fields ahead.
We thought they were burning sugar fields but there were no stocks. Several times we were in smoke so thick that we could barely see the lines on the road. There were so many fields afire that we were rarely out of the haze.
A stop in a small village for a soft drink, Lion Killer. It’s a lemon flavored drink that had been in the freezer. It was cold to the point of icy. I needed a toilet, the girl led me across the alleyway, into a fenced yard then behind a bamboo hut. There were two cement block stalls there with just a corner of the concrete floor cut out. The wall was about 5 feet high so my head stuck up above it as I stood and did #1. Several passersby looked me in the eye during the process.
Back at the table, Cat needed the facility for a far different, more pressing reason. I told her of the dirt floor and that she would have to take her own paper. She left a Guff, Guff deposit in the dirt but was below the spectator line.
The fields are afire, smoke chokes out the sun and our lungs. Several times it was so thick that we couldn’t see across the road. Not as scary as the forest fire we survived in Guinea but not fun, either.
Its 40 Km to the Togo border from Lome. Aside from the Lion Killer stop we rolled steadily. The border checkpoint on the Togo side is a hectic hubbub of activity. I stood the guard while Cat did the Passport duty then they had her step around the corner, into a shack to get them stamped. She met an American, Sarah, from Spokane, Washington. Spokane is my old hometown. When Sarah finished checking her pile of Passports through she came out and we talked. She drives a huge Mercedes truck on an adventure tour of Africa. In fact she’s traveled here and in South America with Dragoman tours for more than 5 years. We posed, illegally between borders, for a picture in front of her truck. The guard can running over but she charmed him and we parted ways, under his curious stare, with promises of e-mails.
The Benin side seems boring after the rush of Togo. The Checkpoint has seating and takes each person in order. The street is cleaner and there is less traffic. We were through and ready to roll in just minutes. A couple from England, on a driving vacation stopped us and we talked about Africa for a few minutes.
The cycle path continued on the Benin side in the countryside. Grand Popo is just 20 km from the border. We checked the LPGB and chose a place called L’ Auberge de Grand Popo. It sounds like a great place and it’s 5 km further down the line. We reasoned that tomorrow we’d be glad to have done the 5 this afternoon.
Oops, the best laid plans. The Auberge isn’t on the highway, it’s off on a side street that soon became bumpy cement cobblestone. That was a disappointment then disappointment grew as the surface deteriorated to dirt, loose sandy dirt.
Then the biggest disappointment of all, when we finally got there the clerk stared over his book and unemotionally informed us that they were fully booked. We couldn’t believe it, we retreated back down the stairs and talked it over. I took one last run at the desk, asking if they had anything, a bungalow, room, suite? He just looked up for a moment, shook his head and said, “Fully booked”!
God, how we hate to backtrack and it's even more irritating on dirt and cobble. Just a short distance from the turn off is a place called L’ Etoile de Mer. We pulled in to check the place and met a couple, Matte and Tuula from Finland. They were having a Gin and Tonic so we joined them and ordered beers. Cat went to look at a room then returned with a disappointed look in her eye. She felt that the room was pretty plain but the price was not. Tulle said that they had looked at a room out of curiosity but hadn’t asked the price. They are staying at L’ Auberge and their room costs less and is definitely better than the one we are about to take. She commented that the drinks were the most expensive they’ve had here in Africa, too.
He, Matti is a writer of Finnish history and culture. The museum Villa Karo is adjacent to L’ Auberge. Surprisingly, it’s a Finnish-African Cultural Center. She is the talkative one, perhaps her English skills are better? She’s a Public Relations Director, we think for a publishing company. They found it hard to believe that we have cycled from Vaasa, Finland. We talked about malaria meds, they are on Larium but talked about a newer better one that is now available. She told us that the British who lived here in Africa were in the habit of drinking Gin and Tonic as an anti malaria medication. The tonic contains quinine, which is still the basis for most malaria prophylactics. Despite the medical value we chose to drink a beer as we enjoyed the conversation.
As the sun began to sink in the west we walked to the beach. It is really a beautiful, undeveloped place. Fishermen mending nets, others working on their boats and some just enjoying the sunset like we were. I even took a toe dip in the warm tropical waters.
The rest of this report isn’t very positive. The Hotel food wasn’t very good, the Pizza and service sucked and the cost was high. Though our room has AC it is only one speed and one temp. Hurricane force wind filled with ice. There is no hot water but the cold wasn’t real cold. The bed was firm but the top sheet was only a half sheet. Uncomfortable to the point of irritating. However, as Cat says, “It’s only for one night”!
December 30, 2003
Grand Popo to Cotonou
Cat went reconnoitering for a breakfast place without any luck. We were doomed to another meal here. They have no fruit, they have no jam, only bread and coffee. Well they have a list of omelets so we chose cheese. They were both cold and cheeseless. Why did we expect more?
We paid the excessive bill and got out ASAP. A nice countryside ride then we turned off onto concrete cobbles again. I wanted to see Ouidah, the only Port City in Benin until 1908. The city where thousands of Benin and East Togo natives were enslaved and shipped out to the US, Brazil and Haiti. It’s also a Voodoo center. They even boast of a Voodoo Festival in early January. We stopped at the Cultural Center but they had no info. It was to be the first of several disappointments in Ouidah. The young guy, Degboe, who greeted us, tried to be helpful. He introduced us to the Head Master but he spoke no English and had nothing to offer.
Quite by accident we came across the Temple of Serpents. It is fairly tacky looking but I wanted a picture. There is a cement statue of a black woman holding a snake. As we were dragging the bikes up the curb a host of young kids surrounded us. They wanted cash but had to settle for friendship. The only adult there was shocked than we didn’t want to leave the bikes with them and take a tour of the Temple. Our book said that they do have a few sleepy snakes inside. That was enough to keep Cat out!
Our next attempt was to see the Musee d’ Histoire d’ Ouidah. Hungry, we cycled up and tried to get a word in edgewise. Two of the boys from the Temple came running up, they had followed us. The curator was in deep conversation with a car full of French ladies. He did stop long enough to tell us that there was a place just down the street. We rode on but couldn’t find a real place. A local restaurant with a decent paint job drew us in.
Of course we couldn’t shake the two boys, they ran along behind and were soon hanging around the bikes. The waitress tried to explain her menu then invited me into the corrugated shed that is the kitchen. A dirt floor and a gas burner were the extent of her culinary tools. As for a menu, it was just as simple, rice.
While we ate the two boys stood outside the half wall and talked with each other. I began to think of my childhood. They reminded me of my brother and I. I told Cat that we didn’t ever eat in a restaurant until our family moved to California. Then it was truck stops along the way. I was a Freshman in High School then.
I bought 2 Cokes for them. As I ordered the waitress asked if I would buy one for her, too. Where does it stop once it begins? Like I tell those who hold their hand out to us, “We can’t feed everyone so we chose not to feed anyone”. I shook my head, no.
The boys moved inside the wall and took a table. They were legitimate customers now. They savored, the moment and the Coke. I could relate and probably enjoyed watching as much or more than they did the Coke.
The rice was spicy but good tasting. We hoped that it would stick and not just Guff Guff through our bodies. Oh, by the way, I tipped the waitress more than enough to pay for a Coke if she really wanted one. She had a broad smile spread over her pleasant face as we pushed across the loose sand and out onto the street. The boys tried but couldn’t stay with us? Too much Coke?
The Museum is housed in the Portuguese Fort that was established in 1721. The French ladies were exiting as we pushed in. One, who speaks English, apologized to Cat. She said that they were negotiating a deal for lunch and asked the woman to include us bet she couldn’t.
We took the bikes into the courtyard and a guy there made us move them around the corner, out of sight. Then when we started to buy tickets he told us that we must take a guided tour. We let him know that we were short of time as we still had a long way to cycle today. He said, “You must wait, the guide is eating lunch”. He was not expected back for and hour and there were no others. We pushed back out, bid him goodbye and pedaled out of Ouidah.
There are poles in front of some houses with white flags fluttering. These mark the home or office of Voodoo practitioners. There are a lot of locals that believe in it. Though it’s not “The Night of the Living Dead” kind of stuff it does dwell on worship of dead ancestors and they can put spells on your enemies.
The outskirts of Cotonou and traffic thickened. We continued on the bike/motorbike path until on busy streets in the city. The motorbikes that we shared the pathway with became thicker than thick and so did the air from the white smoke they all spew. They were aggressive, too. We had to ask, ask, ask but did work our way through the haze and hectic mass of cars, trucks and motorbikes.
The road became bedlam as we neared the Pont Ancien (Old Bridge). An appropriate name as they are building a wide new span adjacent to it. The traffic all funnels down to two lanes on it. As we fought for space Cat called out that she thought we should push on the sidewalk. I had watched and the traffic was going so slowly that we could use the technique she had developed as we left Lome, Togo. We just rode out into the fray and kept pace.
Hotel du Lac is visible from the bridge and we were glad to see it. The construction had us riding dirt and rocks then a left and we pulled into the Hotel parking lot. The security guard challenged us. He told us to park away from the building. I was in no mood to be pushed after being pushed by the traffic. We compromised and I leaned them off to one side. Cat went in secured a room. The place is pretty nice, located right on the water.
They didn’t want the bikes inside. Cat was tired and wanted to get in so she decided that we should leave the unnecessary bags on them. Little did she know that the storage place was down two flights of steep stairs. They will sleep in a dungeon then when we repack for our flight to Nairobi we’ll have to haul them back up the stairs.
Our room overlooks the pool, it's spacious, cool and has CNN, a bargain at 35,000 CFA or about $70 including breakfast. We showered and lounged, even had a glass of wine.
Dinner is served on a deck overlooking the lagoon and out toward the Pont Ancien. We were seated and soon joined by two other couples. The first, Tosin, Sade and their daughter, Toni. They’re from Nigeria, here on a quiet vacation. He thought we should cycle through Nigeria then she asked him where he would cycle and feel safe. He changed his mind. The other, we’d seen in the lobby as we came in. We decided that they must be French. It’s always great to hear English, our brand of English being spoken. David and Barbara are from Stinson Beach, California but are currently living in New York. He’s a Professor at Oswego University. He began an interest in Africa as a Peace Corp Volunteer. After his tour he returned and studied African History. He’s been published several times and lectures on the region here and north to Mali and Burkina Faso. Barbara owned a clothing store in Santa Barbara for several years. Our paths almost crossed there as both Cat and I lived there in the past. She is now a Veterinary Assistant.
There are times when you meet people and are instantly friends. This is one of those times. We talked into the wee hours, for us. It was after 11:00 PM when we finally gave in to the fatigue. They were jet lagged, we were bike lagged.
December 31, 2003
New Years Eve in Cotonou, Benin
Sleepy, we were again dog-tired. It was 8:00 AM by the time we finally rolled out and showered. Breakfast here is fruit, good fruit, coffee, good coffee and croissants, they’re good, too. David and Barbara came in and we continued the great conversation of last evening. Another similarity between he and I came up in a discussion about cars. He too loves old cars and told me that his favorite was his Austin Healey. In my ongoing love affair of cars I owned and loved 2 of them at different times. We do have a lot in common.
We arranged for a car from the Hotel to take us to AAT, Agence Africaine de Tourist. In the car and out onto the bridge road. Traffic was being turned back, due to an accident. Our driver tried going back but couldn’t turn around. He gave up and drove returned to the Hotel telling us to take Motos. There is no way we’re getting on one of those squirrelly little things in this traffic and air pollution.
As we reentered Hotel Du Lac to complain we met David and Barbara. They were seated, waiting for the car they have hired to take them to Ouidah. It didn’t take long to figure out that the driver had thought he could slip in a quick 2000 CFA trip for us and get back for them. When the traffic slowed his progress he dumped us. David and Barbara were upset with our story and demanded that he take us to AAT on the way out of town. We loved it because we had more time to talk and discover other links to each other. I was telling David about our days with the band, Acadiana and mentioned fiddle player, Phil Salazar. Barbara and Cat were talking but she heard and asked, “You mean Phil Salazar was with your band? I know him!” She has a best friend in Santa Barbara, a Harpist. Phil used to play with her group at times. She is also friends with the guy who plays mandolin with Phil’s Blue Grass group, Rincon Ramblers. It really is a tiny, tiny world, isn’t it?
The driver had a tough time finding AAT. He had to stop, David went with him, inside another travel agency and they gave the directions. It was another of those moments of strange emotion, parting like long time friends, promising to get together again in California. Hugs, even some emotion. Barbara urged us to come along with them to Ouidah.
We scurried across the street ducking and dodging the motor scooters as they honked, waved and drove off into the haze and dust.
Nadine, the Chef Agent spent a lot of time exploring possibilities and prices with us. There is no easy or inexpensive way to get from here to Uganda. Prices of each option range between $1,100 to $1,250. The lowest price includes a back track to The Ivory Coast. We hate backtracking and we don’t like the idea of tempting fate by setting back down in Cote D’ Ivoire again. We chose the highest price with a layover in Cameroon. We’ll depart here at 2:15 PM on Sunday and arrive in Kampala, Uganda at 8:50 AM Monday morning. A long night with an 8-hour layover in Cameroon. Oh well, at least we’ll be in daylight when we rebuild the bikes and cycle onward.
Hungry, Nadine pointed out Dunya, a typical African restaurant, just down the street. My food was very good, a fish and rice dish. Cat’s chicken was what a friend in Russia used to call Sportsman Chicken, skinny and tough.
The taxi back was stuck in the bridge traffic again. We got out and walked. On the way we spotted a Cyber Café but decided to try the ones closer to the Hotel. It was hot and sticky, uncomfortable. We made a stop at the Super Marche around the corner for essentials, water and wine. The Internet place next to the Hotel didn’t open at 3:00 as the girl had projected earlier? A guy there told us that it was closed and wouldn’t open again until after the New Year holiday.
Relaxing, we waited for the afternoon heat to dissipate. At 5:00 we set off across the bridge on foot, again. It was still warm, dusty and smoky. The Cyber Café is a 3rd floor walkup. I filtered through the 70+ messages while Cat entered names of our newfound friends onto our web site list. Web Master Wally has received the pictures and text. Our big adventure will soon be shared with everyone who tunes in.
It was beginning to turn dusky outside. Our desire to call Visa to let them know we will be charging our Hotel and Flight costs was thwarted by our dislike of the dark. We’ll come back day after tomorrow and make that call early, before we do the banking and ticket buying. (They and most other businesses are closed tomorrow, New Years Day.
As we enjoyed a nice relaxing glass of wine in the room, Cat decided to try a call to DHL. They had promised to deliver our package from Base Camp Charlie this afternoon. It was 7:00 PM and she was surprised when they answered. The guy told her that they had sent it out but the driver had a problem and brought it back to the office. Cat applied her most convincing technique and he finally gave in, he will get it here tonight.
We dined on the patio overlooking the lagoon, again. Soup and pasta, safe and sound. We’re both feeling better, I consider myself as normal as I’ll get here in Africa. Cat still hasn’t stemmed the flow of the Guff, Guff. She does feel good and the liquid has thickened, a good sign.
There are two couples here, together. The guys are European, the girls African. The girls came in dressed and ready to go dancing. The guys drifted off one at a time and got ready to party. We offered to take their picture and that led to a brief discussion. One couple is from South Africa the other Nigeria. When we told them that we were skipping Nigeria the girl seemed disappointed but the guy suggested that it could be dangerous if you don’t know the right places to travel. They’re here because it is Benin is a quieter place. We decided that our decision is a good one.
The package arrived, Cat went down to claim it. She is sure that it was the Manager from DHL that did the special delivery, he was in coat and tie. We had a wonderful time opening and discovering the contents. It was Christmas on New Years Eve. Two Armadillo, anti flat, tires. Two thorn proof tubes for the bikes. A new Lonely Planet and Michelin Map of East Africa and best of all, the entire set of 3 Acadiana CDs. The latest is good but we enjoyed the old sounds and memories into the wee hours of the final night of 2003. I was awake at the stroke of 12:00 and nudged Cat, she sort of acknowledged 2004 then it was lights out. What a great year we have enjoyed!
018 Supplies From Home Mpeg 060 Happy New Year
January 1, 2004
New Years Day in Cotonou
A typical, lazy new Years Day except there’s no Rose Parade or Football games. We lazed in and finally went to breakfast at 9:00 AM. The couples we met last night were coming in as we left. They did dance the night away. The two guys are from Germany and that’s the connection.
We walked up the street then back past the Hotel and down the street. Not much happening today. A tailoring shop across the street is open and will patch Cat’s threadbare cycling shorts. Back in the room, she took them back over then went shopping for a picnic luncheon. I typed and listened to Acadiana. God, what great memories!
We ate on the bed and watched an old movie, An Affair to Remember. I went back to typing and watching at the same time. A real tearjerker, we loved the story and that great old time acting. A New Years Day treat and part of the treat was not having to watch football.
Dinner down stairs, we both had Pizza. Pretty good but the conversations were even better. A family seated to our right was speaking English. Cat thought they might be Swedish? I asked and they responded, Springfield, Missouri. They, Craig and Debbie are here with daughter Lindsey and son, Erik visiting their son/brother Matt who is serving in the Peace Corp. What a nice family. A friend of Matt’s, Zachary, who had two African masks, made by his uncle, joined them. The family will take them home for him.
Matt is interested in our trip because he wants to travel on bicycle when he finishes his Peace Corp tour next year. Erik has a Music Management Company called Buzz, in Nashville, Tennessee. We talked music, his experience and mine with Acadiana.
Another couple, Tosin and Sade along with their cute little daughter, Toni, were seated on our left. They are another example of modern Africa. From Nigeria on holiday, they own a computer-programming firm. Sade has 4 brothers living and working in Texas. It all added up to a busy dinner and we loved it.
Cat has been reading the new East Africa Lonely Planet and studying the map. She has highlighted the areas that we MUST SEE. Her research also brings us to the conclusion that the Gorillas we want to see are way west of Kampala. And, we just saw a report on BBC about the Ugandan government arming civilians to resist insurgents in the east of the country. So, we are now considering a new plan, fly to Nairobi and cycle out to the loop that will include Masai Mara Reserve, the Serengeti National Park, Ngorongoro Crater then down to Mt. Kilimanjaro. There may be a savings in time and money here, too.
We are becoming addicted to the TV. There is an Arabic channel that airs programs in English with subtitles. Crossing Jordan is one that we’d never bother to watch back home. It began, Cat snoozed and I forced my eyes to stay open only to find, after an hour, that it is to be continued. Darn!
January 2, 2004
A Busy Day in Cotonou
Up and at em’. Breakfast and the staff virtually demanded a tip? I told them that we had no money with us but would do something before we leave. Don’t you love it when someone assumes you should leave a tip?
A walk across the bridge to the Internet Shop to call Visa. We decided that before we request $3,000 for airline tickets and excess baggage we would forewarn them. Hopefully to avoid a hold on the account from security, trying to protect us. It was a 20 minute hold, listening to a recorded voice tell us how important we are to them. Finally a real person and some bad news. Though the card has a fairly high limit we can only advance 20% of it. Not enough to buy tickets and pay the excess for baggage.
Hoping that we may save enough by changing our plans and flying to Nairobi rather than Kampala, Uganda, we took a cab to AAT agency. Another disappointment, Nadine did the numbers and the savings is only about $30 per ticket. We’ll still need almost $3,000 for tickets and baggage costs. Oh boy, wonder why we thought it would be inexpensive traveling in Africa?
Next stop was Financial Bank. Nadine thought they might accept our American Express card. Another disappointment, they don’t take the AmEx and it is a long process, getting money from our Visa Card. We gave the teller our card and Passport then took a seat. A young guy, Mark from Holland, told us he’s been waiting for almost 3 hours. He gave them his card and Passport then went back to his Hotel and packed. The bank closes for lunch from 12:30 until 3:00 PM. When Mark finally got his money we were heartened. We shouldn’t have been.
As the clock ticket down then beyond 12:30 we waited then they called us to the window. More disappointment, they told us to come back after 3:00 PM. I insisted on knowing why and the girl explained that they fax our request to Visa for approval and the response hasn’t returned, yet. I asked why they don’t use the computer and Internet. She said they don’t have that. I suggested that they have a telephone thus they should be able to access the Internet. She didn’t get it but gave me a long explanation on why they couldn’t accept verification on the telephone. Now this is an area where Africa should invest in growth and technology. Getting money into the economy is vital for growth and increased earnings.
Walking back across the bridge to Hotel Du Lac we plotted out a new plan. We’ll ask the Hotel to let us charge $500 extra on our Visa Card. That’ll get us back on the road with the least expense even if they charge a fee. If that fails we’ll e-mail Base Camp Charlie and have him send it via Western Union. Expensive but when you’ve gotta, you’ve gotta!
Another darn it, David and Barbara had stopped by and left a note. We would have loved to see them, have lunch or just sit and talk for a few minutes.
A sandwich from the restaurant in our air conditioning. The Porter was just finishing cleaning when we arrived. He had the door standing open and the room was full of blood sucking mosquitoes. We’re sure that he will want a tip, too. Why can’t he see that leaving the slider open lets the little suckers in? We asked him to spray but he must have forgotten that, too.
Cat did pick up her patched cycling shorts. They look great. The front desk at the Hotel wasn’t able to tell us whether they could help us with the cash. The manager is out until after 3:00 PM. So, I typed and Cat caught up, for the 3rd time, on the BBC News.
Back to the bank and after another long wait we did get 1,193,000 CFA or $2,380. It’s hard to believe that the same amount in Euro is only €1830? Remember when our Dollar was worth more than the Euro? What has happened?
We stopped at the Internet Café and tried to call the Hotel but the phone system was down. Quandary, we wanted to know whether they would advance or not so that we could have Base Camp Charlie send a Western Union care package if their answer was no. Rather than walk back and forth we let Charlie know that he might have to make the WU run then walked back, hoping for the best but prepared for the worst.
Hassan, the Hotel Manager returned and has decided that he can help. He advanced 425€ on our Visa card. Oh, he did charge a 5% fee to cover the costs that Visa will assess but that is a great deal less expensive than the Western Union alternative. So, we have enough to buy tickets and pay for the excess baggage.
Dinner on the deck, again, this is getting to be a habit but an easy life style habit. We were in the midst of food when a group, a family came in and were seated next to us. Wow, more Americans! The Peterson family, Craig and Debbie along with their son Eric and daughter Lindsey are here visiting Matt, their other son who is in the Peace Corp. He is stationed in the north. They all visited his village then toured around Benin. They are a heart of the heartland family from Springfield, Missouri. We had a great time talking with them and being a part of their family even for a short time.
January 3, 2003
Last Day in Cotonou?
I had suggested that Matt have breakfast with us last night then we would work on the bikes together. It was 9:00 AM by the time we were ready to go so I called his room. He had already had breakfast. Amazing, I had thought that a young guy, on his own, would have slept in. He said that he would join us in 15 minutes. He’s not your run of the mill young person.
We ate and chatted with him. He told of having Amebic Dysentery, several times since he’s been here. Perhaps, because he doesn’t like to cook and ends up eating food from the street in his village? Funny but it is seems normal, here, to talk about bowl movements and stomach problems while eating. (Guff Guff discussions.)
A logistical decision, Matt and I will prepare the bikes while Cat goes to the Travel Agency for the tickets and mails off a package of keepsakes, CDs etc to home. Debbie and Angelon, friends of Matt’s and Peace Corp Volunteers, joined us too. With a little help from my friends we go the bikes set to travel. In the process I replaced the tubes with thorn proofs and installed the two belted tires. The two almost new tires and four tubes became the property of Matt. He has a bike and he knows several villagers who can use a new tire or tube. What a nice young guy!
Cat did get the package into the mail but came back with a bit of bad news. We had understood that our departure would be at 2:15 PM but Nadine reminded her that they use a 24-hour clock and 2:15 is AM! Yikes, we now have to stay up most of the night then wait in the airport in Douala from 6:00 AM until midnight and fly all that night to Kenya. Definitely the makings of another day like the ones we experienced when we flew to Greenland.
After lunch we arranged for Tiarou, the driver, to take us to the Airport. Yes, it’s 12 hours early but Nadine had told us that if we got the bikes and bags there in the afternoon they would accept them as freight and we’d save a substantial amount.
When we pulled up a Porter pushed a cart toward us. I told him we’d need two carts and started to pull the cart over to load the bikes. The guy pulled the cart away from me and started shouting. He had misunderstood. I wanted him to get another cart and take the bags, I’d take the bikes. I tried to get the cart but he ripped it from my grip. We were both getting pretty upset. I stepped on his toes and pulled he yanked back. I called out for a Policeman, none close by? Tiarou came to my rescue. He pulled the bags back into his van and told us that we’d have to wait at the other end of the terminal.
He dropped us, helped carry the bags and bikes inside and I gave him a nice tip. His parting words, “If you need me, call”.
I watched the things while Cat went looking for the freight counter. Bad news, there is no such thing? We were now stuck here for the next 12 hours and it was uncomfortably hot. I gave up and called from the Teleboutique at the end of the terminal. He was back shortly and just as amiable as ever.
With the bikes and bags safely stowed again, we sat by the pool and watched a gal, Firme, take a swimming lesson. The instructor was trying to get her to swim across the pool with her face down, in the water. After the lesson Cat gave her a suggestion, to hang on the side of the pool, practice kicking and putting her face in the water. She’s here from Togo with her husband, a Doctor who has a satellite office here.
She and Sylvian sat at the next table and we had a nice talk. He speaks no English but she is a great interpreter. Firme doesn’t usually come along but they will be here for 4 days and it is a mini vacation for her.
We spent the remainder of the evening sitting in the small lobby. Hassan, the Manager, came in and was surprised to see us back. We met his wife and son without introductions.
They went on to their apartment then, in a few minutes he called down and invited us up for a drink. We were both tired and had had enough wine so thanked him and continued watching CNN.
Tiarou wheeled in a little after midnight and we went through the loading process again. At the Airport we got the things out and onto Porter number 23s control. I did take one bike and he the bags and the other. He was the exact opposite of the jerk we had met earlier today. As we checked in with Customs the news that the flight wouldn’t be in spread through the group of passengers. It wasn’t a very happy time for most of them. Several confronted the Cameroon Airlines employees and yelled their disapproval. We were ready to go so slightly disappointed but this would mean that we could get some sleep and it would cut the 18-hour wait down. They told us to come back tomorrow at noon.
We met a French guy, Daniel, a teacher in Cameroon. He was upset because he’s supposed to be back at work tomorrow. I walked down to the Teleboutique to call for the van, again. It was closed and the nearby coin phone was broken. Daniel used one of the other stranded passenger’s cell phone and got the van back.
He told us of his school and how he had lived and worked no Africa for 8 years then went back to France. It was too boring so he signed back on for another tour here. He likes most of the things in Africa but obviously not the Manana attitude.
It was 2:30 AM by the time we got checked back in and into bed. The guys there gave us a ground floor room and helped get the bikes and bags in.
We were dog tired!
Sunday, January 4, 2004
Mammy and Pappy’s Birthday
Another Last Day in Cotonou!
Yes, my Mother and Father shared January 4th as their birthdays. He was 2 years her senior. They would have been 88 and 86 today. Mom was gone when I took my other turn around the globe. Pappy worried a lot then and probably would now, too. They were good parents and though they had their problems in later life, they were always there for us when we, my sister and brothers were kids. They gave us a great foundation.
We woke up at 7:30 AM. Cat doesn’t think that she slept well but isn’t sure. We had the usual fruit, coffee and croissant breakfast. We’ve grown quite fond of this fruit and coffee morning ritual, it reminds us of home. (Cat finds it disgusting that the Breakfast Manager virtually demands a tip for service. We both feel that at home it is rare to tip for a buffet. In deference to his pushy technique we should say that there are too many servers and they do hover. Maybe tips are all they get paid?)
Our morning exercise program, a walk to the Super Marche. Water and cookies for the flight, assuming it actually lifts off today. We considered hoofing it to the Internet Shop but time was fleeting and, they may not even be open on Sunday?
The word was that we would go to the airport at 12:00 noon. Tiarou came rolling in a little late, we loaded and the three of us, Pat, Cat and Daniel, headed off with him to the airport. Everyone was upbeat, the lines moved forward. We were last and happy to be because that means our bikes and bags will be last on, maybe on top of the pile?
Daniel watched as we set the bags and bikes on the belt and they were weighed in. When the guy there began figuring the cost of excess baggage Daniel went to bat for us. We could catch the word “Cadeaux”, gift as he rattled off reasons why we were upset, having been here several times then having to return to the Hotel. The gateman turned to us, waved his hand in the air and said, “Okay, no cost for excess”!
We’ll Not Forget You, Daniel and the Help You’ve Given Us!
After standing around for a couple of hours we were herded into the restaurant and Cameroon Air bought lunch. Pretty good rice and beef. We sat and talked with Daniel and an African couple. Then, when everything seemed to be a go, they pulled the plug. The flight has been cancelled again leaving lots of angry passengers milling around the terminal. Daniel made some more noise in his beautiful French then we took our carry on bags, left the bikes and big bags there and took a cab back to Hotel du Lac. Home again, home again jiggedy jog!
The best news was that as we pulled in so did David and Barbara. They were as surprised to see us, as we were to be back. Cat and I took our wine out and sat while David swam laps. The three of us met for dinner, Daniel was across the room so we invited him to join us. David speaks French and Daniel’s English is improving fast. We had a great dinner, learned about Ouidah and Daniels’s Benin. These are the times of our lives. These are the times that make the moments we will remember. What great company.
Off to bed by 11:00 PM and dreams of getting out of here, tomorrow.
January 5, 2004
Finally, a Flight to Cameroon
We slept late, it was 9:30 AM so I went on ahead to breakfast. I was just finishing and preparing to carry a croissant back to Cat when she came in. She almost missed, they stop service at 10:30 and we think that it’ll be our last ritual breakfast, we’ll miss it.
Loafing around a bit, thinking that we would leave for the airport at 12:00 Noon, we were surprised to get a call prompting us to load up at 11:00. We squeezed in a call to Barbara to say goodbye. It was just Daniel, us bikes and bags and a local gal. Tiarou, our driver, helped unload bikes and bags then took my hand and said, “This time it will fly”! He is such a nice guy and he tries hard to speak English. He has now made this airport run now 4 times for us.
The security people at the door wouldn’t allow us in? Daniel is at the end of his patience and pushed into the shade then took a seat on some of the wall panels stacked near the door. We decided that we should follow directions since we don’t speak French or have any idea why they are so difficult. We sat in the arrival side, sweating and thirsting for the little draft of air that occasionally drifts down from the overhead fan.
Curiosity got me, so I went to the info window and asked why we couldn’t go inside. The girl struggled with language then made the point that there was no one here from Cameroon Airlines. “Cameroon open 12:00 then you go”. Her info was correct, at noon we were allowed in but shepherded into the restaurant area. Worrier that I am, I climbed the stairs and tried to spot the bikes out the window. The bags were there but no bikes? I went to the baggage area and asked over and over until they tired of the game and sent a guy with me to look. They were there, hidden behind some other bags. Well, what good is a bike ride around the world without bikes?
Once we were re-checked in Daniel led us to the end of the counter. A representative of Cameroon Airlines took Daniel’s receipt and gave him CFA. He signaled and Cat asked the guy about paying for our first night, the one when we sat here until after 1:00 AM. At first he told her no then Daniel questioned him in French. He reluctantly opened his envelope again and counted out CFA to Cat. He even paid for our breakfast. Yes, it is the fault of the Airline and if we were in the States this is how it would work but it was a big and pleasant surprise for us. However, without Daniel it is doubtful that we would have been covered.
When the Cameroon Airlines plane taxied up to the windows the crowd breathed a big sigh. Several even clapped. We saw the bikes go up the belt last, just before they opened the doors and let us get on board. Daniel urged us to hurry, he thought we might be able to take first or business class seats. We did take the stairs to the front doorway. A guy in a wheel chair was being carried up the real stair. Once inside it was obvious that not only would we be directed away from the front-end seats, we’d be lucky to get seats together. The plane was full of surly passengers, waiting all this time, for us.
Cat and I got wing seats together. Daniel is 5 rows ahead of us. He has become such a good friend and guide. We invited him or anyone in his family to visit us in California and he said, “Don’t be surprised if you see me”! He has saved us so much time and money.
What as strange flight. Everyone craned their necks trying to see the remains of the plane that crashed here, last week. The wing kept us out of viewing range and we were glad. Neither of us are that fond of flying and that would only heighten the anxiety. The flight is strange in another way. We will lift off, climb then in 20 minutes land in Lagos, Nigeria. Cat asked if they could arrange for us to get off there and catch a flight to Kenya. The attendant was courteous and anxious to help. He came back later and told her that it wouldn’t work and the next flight from Lagos is also on Wednesday. So, we’re going to Duoala, Cameroon, like it or not!
Back up in the air, another surprise, food. In fact pretty good meat and rice. We had been told that there was no food aboard. Flying in such cramped quarters is tiring. We were glad to feel the runway bump up against the wheels as we touched down. Daniel was off and away ahead of us. We didn’t even get to tell him goodbye. At the top of the stairs of the airport we waited for information at the desk for passengers connecting to other flights. The staff had us wait then a young guy, Achu, appeared and asked us to follow. He may have been called because he speaks English? He led us to the Station Manager’s office. The Manager was aware of our problem, we have no Visa for Cameroon and no place to stay. He told us that they would solve the Visa problem with a 48-hour temporary and would pay for one of the two nights we’re stuck here.
Cat questioned him and he parried. I asked if this was his company’s policy but he just held his ground. It looked like we were doomed to have to pay for one of our unwanted nights here. Then I gave him our card, told him that this was our 26th country and we had never had an experience like this. I asked for his card, he hemmed and hawed then told me he was out. I asked for his name. He wrote down, “Philippe” and a phone number. When I asked for his last name he said, “You call me you ask for Philippe”. Then in the hallway as we were leaving I told him that I would write about our experience with Cameroon Airlines. He sent Achu into another office to get vouchers then turned to me and said, “We give you 2 nights, 2 breakfast and 5 meals”. He had changed his mind, I asked for a picture and he obliged. A tough business guy with a heart!
Achu led us to the temporary Visa counter and got that gong then while Cat waited he and I went looking for our bikes and luggage. As we rounded the corner near the baggage claim a young guy jumped up gave me three quick punches in the arm. I spun around and took a defensive stance. He waved his arms around and pretended to be boxing. It was obvious that he had been drinking. I signaled with my hand for him to come on if he was coming. He backed off but continued to shadow box. I started clapping and was joined by several bystanders. One indicated that the guy was crazy and several laughed. I was glad that he chose to move on, I’m too old to be having my face rubbed in the flooring. But, I was ready. My Mother always taught us that even when the opposition is bigger, you at least get a sandwich while they’re getting a meal.
A guy we had said hello to, Bojorn, was standing near the bikes. He said, “These two guys have been waiting to help you and watching to keep the bikes safe”. Of course they would be our helpers. As we struggled down the driveway another aggressive young guy in a black t-shirt grabbed one of the bike wheels. The Porter I had chosen shouted but the guy continued to press him. I grabbed his arm and told him to keep his hands off our bicycles. He fought back and shouted for me to keep my hands off of him. I ignored him but he kept yelling and following us. I yelled back to him, “Don’t yell at me”. I thought I was about to go to blows again but, thank goodness, he backed away.
He and a couple of others watched as we loaded the bikes into the Hotel van then he started giving me a hard time again as I gave the two guy 1000 CFA each. He shouted, “Where do you come from? Why do you give them worthless money”? The two guys seemed pretty happy so I just ignored the loud mouth. He stood around for a little then went looking for another victim.
We waited for 2 other guys who were trying to find their luggage. One, Hendrik, came walking across the parking lot surrounded by the black shirt guy and 3 of his cohorts. I prepared for another confrontation but let Hendrik take care of the situation in his own way. He did pay something, not much but it was for nothing. He only had a backpack that he had been struggling to maintain control of. Then came Bjorn, surrounded again by the same cast of characters. He too gave a little change to them. One guy kept his hand in the window and jogged along even as the van pulled away. Boy, these guys were almost as aggressive as those in Nouakchotte
The Hotel Lewat is pretty basic but a good deal for us at the price. A Bellman helped carry bags and bikes. They stored the bikes in a luggage room and we got the bags up to the room. The room was hot but the water was not. We wouldn’t have hot water but the AC did work and viola, it’s in black and white but we even have CNN.
Dinner, we sat with Bjorn and Hendrik. Bjorn is from Germany, here doing his community work. Hendrik is a Geologist from Arhus, Denmark. (He was surprised to hear that we’ve visited Arhus. Toke, the eldest son of our Danish Family was attending school there when we visited back in 2000.) He’s here for a meeting that coincidentally is being held in the same town where Bjorn lives and works. They had never met each other until tonight as they struggled to find their baggage. Bjorn calls it a village but 35,000 people live there. They have no electricity and most don’t have running water. The town, Pala, is in Chad and he says that it is much poorer than most other countries in Africa. They fought a long war there and still haven’t recovered.
He, Bjorn, is an interesting guy. We told him that we usually don’t give based upon our “We can’t feed everyone so we don’t feed anyone”. He told us that people where he works earn about $20 per month. Most don’t have jobs but try to make a little by hustling or selling fruit or anything they can. He gives to someone, once a week. He thinks about who, before giving. Pretty thoughtful! Dinner was pretty good. The wine is just okay.
Cat let out a screech when she stepped into the bathroom. A huge cockroach was lying on its back taking a last gasp. Its legs were still moving but it was a goner. I threw the twitching remains into the trashcan. Our bed sheets don’t fit. The AC doesn’t work too well but the price is right. We slept most of the night on the sheet not under it. We did sleep soundly as travel and the hassle around it are tiring.
January 6, 2004
Marooned in Cameroon
Cold showers and only one towel. We survived and can for a couple of days.
Bjorn and Hendrik were at the desk when we got downstairs. They had eaten and were trying to hook up with their ride back to the airport. They came in, sat and talked as we waited for our food. Both are really nice guys. There is a kindredship created between stranded travelers that is unique unto them.
Marooned in Cameroon
There is an Internet Café about half a kilometer down the road. We spent 3 hours reading, writing and cleaning up. Back to Lewat for lunch, we stopped at a little store across the street and bought water. They have a few bottles of wine, we bought one and had them put it in refrigeration.
Memories of a Cool Moment
Web-Master Wally has posted the story of our adventure from Dakar to Conakry. There were dozens of messages from fans and well wishers. The 3 days in the bush are some of our favorites. They seem to like reading as much as we like riding it. Bob K. is a cyclist we met on the Elko-Sparta Bike Trail in Wisconsin. He was there with his granddaughter, Gennie. That was in June, 2002. We love to hear from people like Bob, it reminds us of those days and the things we experienced. The most graphic memory is of reaching the mouth of the tunnels and feeling the rush of cool air as we entered. Just the thought seemed to cool things here, in sauna like Cameroon.
Lunch, the same menu as dinner. Cat had an omelet, I had a good piece of chicken and fried bananas. We are happy with the food here. We’re putting up with the room. During the feast Achu appeared, he had been by while we were out and had tried to call. He took the tickets and went back to Kenya Airlines for us. What a nice young guy. He has a Sister living in Boston, Massachusetts and a brother in Los Angeles. He asked if we could help another of his brothers get a visa. We told him that we wouldn’t be back home for a year. And we invited him to come visit us when he gets to LA to see his brother. I think he will because he can travel easily as an employee of the Airlines. Cat went back to the Internet, I hit the keyboard.
By 5:00 PM I was getting a little nervous. Cat’s been gone almost 3 hours? Her wallet was here, her identification was here. She had talked about going to the bank to change money? I began to worry in earnest. I doubted that she had carried a card from the Hotel as an identity? Gathering my wallet and hers I set off to find her.
First stop, the little store across the street. I stuck my head in but when I saw the wine in the fridge I told them that I’d be back. The street is alive with small merchants selling or hawking all sorts of goods. The banana lady was pushy, she had sold us a bunch earlier and wanted me to buy more. The air is so full of fumes from the motorbikes that it chokes and burns the eyes. Wiping them and worrying I fast walked toward the Internet Café. She was coming up the hill and didn’t see me until we were almost face-to-face. She was surprised. My concerns were unfounded. She has spent another 3 hours on the computer. (They have a great deal, 3 hours for 1,200 CFA, about $2.25.) She was proud to tell me that she’s worked the messages down to two. We are keeping those for future reference. She also spent a little time checking a site called Tour d’ Afrique. Ben our benefactor in Benin had told her about a group that will leave Cairo, Egypt and cycle to Cape Town in 100 days. She sent off an e-mail asking for info on their route.
We picked up our wine, sipped and read our new Lonely Planet Guide Book for East Africa then went down to dinner. Fish for both of us, tasty but bony! The best of it was the ice cream for dessert.
You must be crazy, Medumbx
The guy at the desk changed a little money for us. We’re now able to get a bottle of wine for tomorrow night and use the Internet again.
CNN, AC and sleep, tomorrow is a big day.
January 7, 2004
Preparing for a Flight to Kenya
Lazy beginning, Cat took a cold shower then when I got in they had switched to hot, only. It was cool at first so I sudsed up then felt my feet begin to scald. (There is no place to hang the showerhead and no curtain; we call these “Boat Showers”.) Cat ran a plastic bottle full of hot and I waited for it to cool. There have been workmen pounding, chipping at concrete. It is annoying an obviously they completed replacement of the cold water line yesterday? Just another small inconvenience but then, “The Price is Right”!
Breakfast as usual supplemented by our bananas. The waiter here in the mornings is a wonderful guy with an infectious laugh. I typed a little while Cat called Kenya Airlines to get confirmation that we are booked and will have a seat on the flight.
At 11:00 we walked down to our Internet Cafe. Already 28 messages since Cat cleared the field yesterday. Lots of well wishers and good comments on our latest journal pages. We’ve written an article for our local newspaper and tried to e-mail but our contact persons e-mail address has been closed? Maybe she’s moved on to greener pastures?
On the trip back to Lewat we stopped at Votre Shop, our shop, for a bottle of water. He put a Sauvignon Blanc in the fridge for us. The woman at the front desk grabbed Cat as we came in to the Hotel and told her that she must see our room. I waited and when they returned Cat told me of the flood. We apparently had left a faucet open. When they got the water running again it ran onto the floor and out the door. They moved our bags to a different room. We thought they were angling toward a cost for damage. They were worried that we would be upset if our things were wet.
For lunch we both had an omelet with fries and Heinz Catsup. We talked about Heinz, an American company then I used Cat’s reading glasses to see the fine print and learn that it was bottled in the UK, yes, Mother England.
I had a great time with the staff. We took pictures of several of them. The waiter, Daniel, did “You Must Be Crazy”, in one of Cameroon’s local languages, Medumbxa. The woman who cleans our room, Bridgette, and her daughter Mbadjoun, were good subjects and wanted a picture. Disappointed when I showed them that the pictures are on a CD, Mbadjoun quickly wrote down her e-mail address and I promised to send the picture. It’s a particularly good picture.
We watched CNN in the new room until Bridgette came and asked us to vacate. She even carried two of the heavy bags down the stairs for us. She’s quite a character, we wish we could communicate with her better.
They have a room full of small couches and a TV, maybe we’ll call it a lounge? It is warm and the couches are uncomfortable but it seems like a better bet than going to the airport any earlier than we have to. Speaking of the airport, I called Achu after we had failed to get an answer at Kenya Airlines. He confirmed that we are booked and that he will meet us and take care of everything tonight. I was surprised that Mbadjoun had e-mail, and that Achu is on cell phone. Ah, modern Africa!
Cat put her feet up on the coffee table to relax and the Doorman clicked his tongue and gestured that she should remove them. It is tough, just sitting watching CNN and waiting. I went across and retrieved our bottle of wine. We sipped until 7:00 PM then moved in to the other side of the room for dinner. The food was okay and the service typically slow. That was a good thing tonight.
After diner we again sat on the couches and counted the seconds. At last, 9:15, the driver beckoned. He’s a different guy, not nearly as personable as the one who brought us in. We carried bags with the help of the help. Cat thought the driver had been drinking or doing drugs. He was completely silent and nodded off a few times. Ah well, we made it and though we were ready for the onslaught of Porters things went extremely well. The driver dumped us at the edge of the terminal. We thought he might not have wanted to meet the Police that swarm around the doorway? Two guys caught us and whisked the bags and bikes into the line at the Kenya Airways counter. As we entered Achu walked up and told us he wasn’t feeling well but everything was in order so he was going home.
A long wait then I lifted the bags up on the scale. The agents looked at each other then told us that we were over weight. I lifted the bikes on the scale one at a time. They were really surprise and calculated 40 Kilos over. Then the gal reduced that to 26 and told us that it would cost 4800 FCFA, about $5.00 per kilo. That’s $130, we gasped but we were prepared, we knew it would be a problem. Cat said something about too much and they threw the hot potato and us toward the office. They said we’d have to take it up with their boss. It was so hot in the terminal and we were so anxious that I’ve been sweating, profusely.
Kenya Airways is somehow related to KLM the Dutch Airline. Christophe, the boss, is young, tall, thin and blonde. He looked up at us across his computer as we entered. We stood reverently then explained what we are doing and the overweight problem. He sat quietly for a minute studying the paper that the agents had given us. When he looked up he said, “I like to ride bicycle, I give you the excess”. We were surprised then I told him about meeting Henny Kuiper but he said that he didn’t know who that was? Okay, he could be African or? Funny how I assumed.
Ecstatic, we hustled back and handed the signed paper back to the equally surprised clerks. They gave us our boarding passes and baggage claim ticket, we were finally on our way to Kenya. It was only 10:00 PM, we went to the waiting lounge. It is pretty plain but cool, almost cold. My soggy shirt was cold and sticking to me like a wet suit. I changed into my long sleeve t-shirt and waved the sport shirt around trying to help it dry a little. It was so wet that I could wring drips out.
They began boarding at 11:40 PM. Again, Christophe was a good friend to have. He stood at the front of the pushing and jostling line of passengers and shouted, “Families, groups of 2 or more will board first”. We edged around several guys who were trying to figure out how to get around him. He insisted that a lady with a baby get on first. Then gave us a nod and a smile and whispered, “Your bikes are on board, I saw them go up”.
We were seated together, in an exit row. The good news, that meant only 2 across we had the row to ourselves. Bad news, the seats don’t decline. We tried to relax, read the InFlight Magazine and watch the line of passengers try to find a storage place for their carry on luggage.
They fired up the engines just before midnight and we pushed back into the dark of the Cameroon night.
January 8, 2004
The Long Night to Nairobi
We were in the air by 12:15 AM. The seats, unlike those on Cameroon Air, do have legroom. The plane is a fairly new 737 200-300 and it feels much safer, too. It is never easy to relax in flight, for me. We had just closed our eyes and sort of dropped off when the lights came up and they started passing out food. Cat passed but I took the meal, beef and vegetables. The best of it was, the little sweet tart.
Sleep was easier for Cat. I did get about an hour of sound sleep and an hour of rest during the 4-hour flight. At 4:00 AM the lights flared up in our faces again, we were about to begin final approach. By the time they had collected the cups and blankets it the Captain told us to reset our watches. It was 6:30 AM when we touched down at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, Nairobi, Kenya. Our African adventure was back on track.
It is normal, the kind of normal we’re used to. You come down the walkway to baggage claim. Oops, on the way we have to pass through Immigration and get our Visas. Standing in line we inched our way to the window. The Officer grabbed our Passports, stamped and looked then said, “$100 please”. I started unloading our CFA and he said, “No, $100 US”.
We argued but he said that they only accept US Dollars from US citizens. He suggested that we change the CFA at the exchange upstairs. We could see the bikes and bags below. Though they were lying haphazardly on the floor, they had made it.
The Money Changer had some bad news for us. He said that no one here would accept the West African CFA? We went back to the Immigration Booth but the guy was less than empathetic. He said, “You go to bank, get US Dollars”. Cat stood the guard on our carry on bags while I followed one of the guys from the booth down to the Standard and Chartered Bank’s kiosk office. They took our Visa Card and tried to get a cash advance but were denied. Of course, we have already taken all we can until Base Camp Charlie pays the bill. I was beginning to feel dejected when he suggested I try the ATM. I slipped our card in and like a miracle, the machine began to spout out cash.
I got the equivalent of about $240 US in Kenya Schillings, quite a hand full. Then the friendly teller exchanged almost half the handful into 4 funny looking Fifty Dollar Bills.
Once we paid they all seemed friendlier. We had our Passports with Visas and headed down to pick our bags and bikes up, off the floor. No Porters, Cat pushed the bags and I the bikes. Out on the sidewalk we did encounter a little of the hustle. I asked for a cab big enough to take our bikes and the guy who seemed to be in charge said, “No problem, “, 2000 K Shillings. Wow, that’s $25 US and three times more than a Taxi should cost. As we discussed it another guy and a woman came up and said, “We have a van that will take you for 1,000, a little less than $15.00. That sounded a lot better so we told them we’d like to see the van. Suddenly the “in charge” guy said, “You can take our car”, as he pointed toward an English Taxi, “for 800 Shilling”.
That actually pissed us off. The other van pulled up and though it was pretty shabby it looked like it could handle us. Mr. In Charge pressed us and I told him that we had already made a deal. Of course he tried to drop the price again but I told him, "Even if it’s free I can’t take it, we’ve already made a deal". He turned to the guy with the van and started yelling, pointing his finger and saying “Don’t do this Bullshit, I’ll get you, for this, don’t do this Bullshit”.
I stepped between them, put my finger against his and said, “Don’t point that thing at him, it has a nail in it”! That could have set off WWIII but it caused a lull then everyone began to laugh. We stacked the bikes on top of the seats, Cat sat in the back and we were off to Nairobi on the wrong side of the street. Yes, they drive on the wrong side, or the left side, here. I told Joseph, the driver, “Those damn British, came here and taught you how to drive on the wrong side of the road”!
The drive is through industrial areas on crowded streets. It is rush hour and there is a rush. We were surprised at how orderly and clean the roads are. Even better than Accra back in Ghana. And, there are big buildings, we though it looked a little like San Francisco. The downtown area is surprisingly clean with the typical hustle and bustle of big cities, everywhere.
By now it was after 8:30. The Hotel Oakwood was less than our LPGB made it out to be. We looked then talked. The room is just okay at best. I didn’t want to start shopping Hotels. We were both tired and a little grouchy. Okay, we’ll settle in here then look around later today.
We brought the bikes and bags up the old, classic elevator. Once in the room we spread things out, opened bags then decided to have breakfast. It’s included but not today. The eggs were way over cooked. The sausage was day old and the potatoes soggy, but somehow it all tasted good.
Next stop, the US Embassy. The guys here at Oakwood got a driver and we were off. It’s about a 20-minute ride. The place is brand new. It reminded us of Tim and the new building they’re working on in Conakry. The drill is almost the same as all US Embassies. A gate, thick bulletproof glass and a cranky woman in control. They buzzed us in after an electronic body search. The room for citizens was empty because they had made a special appointment for us. In fact the gate lady didn’t want to let us in until she called.
The gal there was great. Our need was extra pages in our Passports. She accommodated us quickly and told us that we could bring our papers for notary this afternoon or tomorrow. We were sure it would be tomorrow. Then as we walked out to our driver we began think that we could complete everything today, if we hustled.
It is back into town through the traffic to the Tanzanian Embassy. Again our driver waited, we went up to the 5th floor, got the papers the discovered that we had forgotten the required photos. Cat dashed back to the Hotel while I filled out the forms. I had handed them in and paid the 8,000 K Shilling ($50 each) by the time she returned. She signed the lady stamped and we were on our way back to the US Embassy.
The patient driver waited, we told him it should only take a few minutes. Inside, after the same security drill, we found that we were just one of many American Citizens needing help. There were 3 women with babies, waiting to have Visas issued for them. We stepped to the door to let the nice gal behind the glass know that we were here and a cranky woman let us know, in no uncertain terms, that there was a line and we were the end of it! Undaunted, we stood then waved. The gal behind the glass smiled then asked if there were others waiting. We fell into the seated line. There is no semblance of order save the grumpy lady letting you know whose up next.
We spent an hour waiting then took our turn. She took the papers to be notarized and told us to see the cashier. Another 20 minute wait. Finally, we were called to a window in the room crowded with Kenyans applying for Visas to visit the USA. All in all it took an hour and a half. The driver was glad to see us. He is on a fixed price and wanted to get back to business. Of course we gave him extra.
Late lunch and Internet at Burger Dome, hamburgers, fries, coke and e-mail. The machines are slow, slow and the place is crowded to the max. On the way back we stopped at a Laundry, every piece of clothing we own is dirty. Shocked, we decided to look further or hand wash when we heard their prices. Back to the room, journal and CNN. Cat called around and got a laundry to pick up the cloths.
It’s a short walk to Trattoria and worth it until we got the check. We sat on a small balcony and were alone most of the evening. A couple did sit next to us just before we finished. He urged us to call her for advice on a tour company. She works with a local hotel.
Back at our Hotel, the news of the day was, Paris to Dakar, the Off Road Race is in full swing. They arrived at Tan Tan Beach today. Remember the place? That’s where I spent my 64th birthday. They did interviews, we were sure that they were staying at the Equinox.
January 9, 2004
Waiting and Planning in Nairobi
Breakfast, we met a gal from Turkey who is now living with the Maasai. She talks of doing work for the Lord, all on her own. Yet, she has friends here and she is telling them of the work. Sounds like she’s asking them for financial help for her “on her own” work. Nice woman, dedicated but you know how we feel about people coming, offering things, medicine and food in exchange for your beliefs. Ah, the trade offs.
The morning was just a slow walk of exploration in the streets of Nairobi. This city is sophisticated, and in some ways reminds us of San Francisco. It’s photogenic, too but we have to constantly remind ourselves that the traffic is British style, on the left. Each time we step off a curb we catch ourselves looking the wrong way. So easy to forget that we made a little rule to always look both ways.
We stumbled across Let’s Go Travel, a company Cat had read about. The office is upstairs and they have one of those jewelry store doors that has to be buzzed to let us in. The woman was busy, we waited then she listened to our desire to cycle through the parks from Nairobi to Ngorongoro. She shook her head, told us she didn’t think it could be done then picked up the phone and called Nigel at Bike Treks. His attitude was that it could be done but not on bikes in the Parks. We made a date to meet in an hour at Serat Center, a shopping center in a suburb called Westlands.
The food court at Serat was so like that of any big Shopping Center, anywhere in the world. We had just taken a seat and Cat ordered veggie burgers when Nigel walked up. Like he had said, he was easy to recognize with what he called his “White” hair. He sat, sipped a coke and filled us in on the difficulties of our plans. First, he re-confirmed that we would not be allowed to cycle in the National Parks. “There are animals, Lions, Hyenas, Cheetahs, animals that would love to meet us on the road and have lunch with us or is that OF US? Secondly, the border between Kenya and Tanzania is closed between Maasai Mara and The Serengeti. Well, he thought that might be worked out with a little money changing hands.
There is one option, to cycle around the perimeter of both Parks and it wouldn’t cost anything. However it would take as much as 3 weeks and we’d still need to take time for a day or two of Game Drives. The revised plan became one of cycling 3 days, to the gate of Maasai Mara, then riding in a van through the park, across the border and down through the Serengeti. They could drop us just outside the Park and we’d cycle past Ngorongoro, stopping if we hadn’t had our fill of viewing game.
We liked the idea until Nigel began tallying the cost. Driver, van and lodging the cost was an astronomical $2,200 US. That was the end of that idea! We began to adjust to reality. He could arrange for a van and driver to Maasai Mara, 2 nights in his Tented Camp there and several incursions into the domain of the big beasts. That’s a far cry from our original thoughts but then, we were pretty naïve, weren’t we?
We left the matter up in the air telling Nigel that we’d call with a decision. He hurried off, we finished our now cold veggie burgers and made a decision. So, it would be a bikeless, WorldRiders2 tour of the Game Park. It’s still way over our daily budget but we can’t come all the way to Africa and not take at least one Big Game Drive?
The afternoon was spent shopping for sweat pants for Cat and a wrench to straighten out her bike frame that the baggage handlers had tweaked. We also found cycling gloves to replace our half golf half biking pairs.
Dinner, Chinese Food, Nairobi style. The only Chinese people there were the husband and wife owners. The servers were all African guys. When I asked if the added 10% service charge was for the waiters our fellow said, “Don’t worry about that, it’s okay, jobs are very hard to find here”. So, we dipped a little deeper and left some K Shillings on the table for him.
January 10, 2004
A Shopping and Mechanical day in Nairobi
A Lion Attacks a Bicyclist?
We slept in fitful spurts. At 7:30 we started to move around. The big news on Sky News in Africa this morning is of a Lion Attack. No not a Lion Attack here in Kenya, this happened in the foothills of Los Angeles. A cyclist was attacked and killed there by a Mountain Lion. Then the same Lion attacked a woman. Her friends were able to pulled the beast off and save her life. Funny, so many people back home are afraid of Africa but don’t think twice about the dangers of wild life there?
We have an appointment at 8:45 AM with Nigel and we don’t want to be late. I went to the desk and told them that we’d be in the breakfast room when our guest comes in. Cat joined me shortly and we scavenged for what little food was left at the buffet. They had set up the food line on the patio, we ate inside. Our first eggs were way over cooked, they did bring me sausage and the juice was okay. Fruit, good thing we had our own bananas.
At 9:30 I called Nigel’s house, the gal that answered said that he was at the restaurant. I called his cell phone and he said that he was shopping for a big Safari. He apologized and said he’d be here in 20 minutes. We waited, he made it. He is a nice guy but reminds us of a friend back home. He does a lot of things but doesn’t coordinate well.
We did make a deal. Cat was really happy, we will leave tomorrow morning for a Safari to the Maasai Mara. Nigel has promised an agenda that will come with the driver. We’ll meet at 8:00 Am here and it is a 5-hour drive to his Camp at Olperr Elongo. We should get there in time to take a Game Drive in the late afternoon. We’ll spend 2 nights there then back to Nairobi on Tuesday. We’re both excited, this is our chance to see the Serengeti and Maasai Parks. Nigel likes our adventure and has decided to try to join us on Wednesday on our ride out of Nairobi. His company, Bike Treks, Activities in East Africa keeps him pretty busy but he is still a bicyclist. We hope he can work it out, what a bonus for us! He is 5th generation Kenyan. His family started the Hotel business here during the glory years. His background is Hotel and restaurant. We feel confident that this next 3 days will be fantastic.
I worked on the bikes, getting them road ready until we got a knock on the door. The maid wanted to know if we were leaving today? We squared that away then decided that we’d better find shoes for walking in the wild and a wrench to get Cat’s bike frame back to straight. It has been bent by heave ho baggage handlers in all the flights we’ve survived lately.
Shopping on Saturday is the same here as at home, crowded and hectic. The shoe stores all tell the same story, nothing larger than a size 11. I see people with big feet on the street, where do they go for shoes? I even asked a guy with feet at least as large as mine, he said, “I wear size 11”? Maybe everyone just thinks they are wearing 11s? We did finally find a British size 13 that fit. They’re running shoes but they’ll work. Ah the plight of the BIG FOOT. Cat bought a tiny pair of hiking shoes. We’ll use them for the Safari and the trek up Kilimanjaro. Nigel has given us the name of a guy, Simon, who is the Champion trekker of Kili. He holds the record for the fastest assent. This is all so exciting for us. Another need fulfilled, we bought cycling gloves at the bike shop.
We lunched at Taco’s. The service was so slow that the waiter came and asked us not to give up. Cat’s quesedilla was good, nothing like a quesedilla back home but, good. I had chicken tacos, again good but a far cry from the Mexican food we know and love.
We spent 2 hours at the Internet Shop. I did messages to family then left Cat there and headed back to Oakwood. She did messages and I did bikes. I even ran back around the block to try and buy mirrors but the shops had closed.
A glass of wine as we talked about dinner. I suggested the Stanley Hotel, across the street. Cat was hungry for Pizza. She was going to walk to Pizza Inn, the same chain that we filled up at on Christmas Eve in Accra. I felt a little nervous about her walking alone so we trekked to Pizza, together. There were a lot of kids asking for food on the street. One of the security guards told us that their parents drop them off and expect them to make money. One little guy was especially compelling, he just kept walking next to us saying, “You buy me food? I’m hungry, you buy me food”? It was hard to say no, over and over. Finally another guard stopped the group of waifs that had begun trailing us. He threatened them with his nightstick. We moved on, not wanting to see the stick fly.
Wine, Pizza and a Safari to talk about, this is heaven, this is Africa!
Sunday, January 11, 2004
Off, On a Safari
Our last day at the Oakwood and the supplies for breakfast seem to have run out. Maybe because it’s Sunday? The coffee was weak, there we no fruit and the bread was dry. Luckily we brought our own bananas.
Daniel, the driver was out front when the staff and I got the bikes down. He helped take the bags off and stash them inside the rear door. The Van has 8 seats in the back that are stationary, which posed a slight problem. We got the bikes into the front row of seats by removing the front wheels. We were loaded and on the road by 8:30 AM.
The first half hour was sitting or creeping in thick traffic. Shantytowns mark the outskirts of Nairobi. Tin roofed shacks, homes and small businesses, and litter line the road. Then foliage takes over, lush and tropical. The route is hilly. We thought about our original idea of cycling to the park. By the time we climbed to the rim of the Great Rift Valley we were glad that we’d adjusted our plan. This wouldn’t be a lot of fun to cycle.
We stopped at one of the little tourist shacks that cling to the cliff overlooking the Rift. Interesting, looking out you see the ancient and the modern all in one sweep. A Maasai herdsman moves his cattle through the Acacias and along the valley floor. Beyond you see two giant satellite dishes. The guy there, on his shaky deck that hovers above, says that all international calls move through them.
Just as we drove away from the tourist trap a family of Baboons took to the roadside. We thought it was going to be like this every day but did get a couple of pictures. This would be our only Baboon sighting?
It had taken an hour and a half to get to the rim of the Rift. Down then off to the left, onto the rough road that will take most of the rest of the day to travel. Daniel began to have an overheating problem with the van. He stopped, let the radiator blow then added water he had in plastic jugs. Onward, the car continued to over heat. Out of water, he stopped in a village, pulled the radiator cap off and it blew like a volcano. He did get more water and we were underway, again. Lunch in the city, Norak. We ate while Daniel had the car worked on. I struck up a conversation with George, the guy who runs the souvenir shop. I had tried to find a plug in for the camera in the Restaurant but they had no electricity. George led me across the road to the service station. There, Kioko and Githinji who led us to a plugin, on the side of the station. Worried that the camera might disappear, I made it clear that it has no value because they can’t get CD’s for it. George told me that it was perfectly safe, I took his word for it.
Daniel joined us and was going to skip lunch but we insisted that he hit the Buffet. It was pretty good and I drank two Bitter Lemons. The mechanics has replaced the radiator cap and hope that will do the trick.
The rest of the bumpy ride was free of overheating. It was 4:30 PM by the time we got to the tent camp. There are only four other guests, a young guy, Ronni, his parents Walter and mother Elin. They also have a friend, Artur, with them who is 82 years old. Ronni thinks that this will be the last big trip for the three of them. He has lived in Africa most of the time since he was 19 years old, he’s 38 now. He is a professional hunter and loves it.
We asked two Maasai guys working at the Camp, Dichi and Kinagner, to do a little picture and video work with us. They were delighted, especially when we let them know that we’d pay for their time. Daniel ran the camera and we made a couple of runs down the trail and up to them. They were exuberant and seemed to love saying, “Soba, soba”, (Hello, hello) as we rode up. I paid them each 300 K Shillings, they were really happy.
Settled into our tent we sat on the porch and sipped a glass of wine before dinner. Dichi chopped tree branches and built a fire as dusk set in. The Swedish folks gathered round it and sang. Ronni told us that a good Swede feels compelled to sing when gathered round a campfire. Dinner was quite good, the conversation excellent. Ronni is a fountain of information about the animals of Africa. His Mum and Dad, as he calls them, and their friend all wanted to know more about our Odyssey. The old guy, Artur, stood, shook our hands and told us in broken English that he thought we had a fantastic idea and he wished he’d done something like our trip earlier in his life.
Interesting, Elin who has never been in the US asked questions about social programs there. She would ask and Ronni would pose her queries to us in English. Funny how most Europeans don’t know about our Welfare or Social Security programs? She had heard of people living on the street and starving.
The night is dark on the Serengeti. The stars are thick like a sparkling net of diamonds in the coal black sky. We slept like two African logs under African skies.
January 12, 2004
On Safari in The Masai Mara
Wild Animal, Wild Places
Anxious to get an early start, we worried about waking up. That was no problem. At about 3:00 AM we awoke to the screams of what we’d find later were hyenas. Ronni told us that they sometimes have Leopards show up here in camp. There are no fences around the Park and the animals roam freely. Then, at 5:00 the familiar beeping of an alarm brought us back from our slumbers. Walter and Elin wanted to be up and about in plenty of time for breakfast and a big day in the park.
We were all at the breakfast table and talking animals by 6:00. It is great to see people Walter, Elin and Artur’s age being excited about what the day will bring. Daniel was standing by, ready to go and we moved out in the growing daylight and into the Park. Dirt roads, tire tracks across the savannah then we were flanked by a herd of Zebra. We decided that we’d probably see many more and not to waste battery in the poor light.
Elephants, a family of elephants was crossing the road and suddenly we were part of the herd. The huge gray behemoths seemed to accept us as an equal and paid us little attention. We were stationary, they moved slowly, swaying, step by step, around us and off into the grassland. The largest were at least as big as our van and probably weighed more?
A huge variety of Antelope. The plains of the Northern Serengeti are coming awake, alive with another day of grazing and hunting. We made a quick pit stop at Keekorok Lodge. In and out of the very upscale place. Leaving the gate of the electronically protected compound we encountered a flock, is that the correct descriptive, a flock of Ostrich. Why is it that we think of Australia when think of Ostrich?
We caught a view of the resident Wildebeest herd then went to the Mara River where the migratory beests make their annual dash through Crocodile filled waters on the trip south. The Hippo pool is amazing, they just wallow and float, yawning and occasionally waddling up on shore. We had to be accompanied by an armed guard. He carries an AK47 but told Cat that they would only scare, not kill any of the animals. It is amazing to stand on the hillside made famous by the film of the surging, struggling, pulsing herd of last years surviving Wildebeest take their chances again, year after year.
The Mara River runs through, dissects the Park and forms a formidable barrier, If you’re a wildebeest. We’ve all seen the famous footage of the surging, flowing black herd that forces itself to plunge down the soft, brown dirt cliff into the water and for some, into the mouth of a Croc. The annual migration entails as many as 3,000,000 of these gangly Beests. Every Crocodile has the opportunity to get a free lunch.
Strange, though the rules are that you not get out of your van, Daniel found a shady spot under an Acacia tree and we lunched. He was careful to put us on a hill with a commanding view of potential beasts interested in a lunch of their own.
*Video Still 8:50 Lioness *Video Still 9:05 Lioness *Video Still 9:25 Lioness *Video Still 9:30 Lion Cub
Later in the afternoon we returned to Keekorok for toilet and soft drinks. There are monkeys running around, mischievously trying to get into cars and the lodge. A lone Wart Hog, Pork Chop, is almost tame. We tried to pose for a picture with him but he was on the move. They do warn you that he can be temperamental and suggest that you remember that he is a wild animal. He seemed to take delight in moving, pushing and almost challenging us.
Saving the best for last, our hopes of seeing Cheetah were waning when Daniel got a heads up from another driver. He spun around and headed for a clump of trees. There, in the tall grass, were two gorgeous spotted Cheetah. We pulled up and just observed. It was a great way to end a great day of wildlife viewing.
We spent a full 12 hours searching, viewing and enjoying the animals and rolling hills of the Maasai Mara. It was dusk, 6:30 PM, as we rolled through the gate and back toward the Tented Camp. Tired, yes, but still on an emotional high. I had always felt that Game Parks are just Zoos in a larger venue but this trip has changed some of that feeling. It now feels less contrived, more a controlled place where the natural inhabitants can continue to live as they have for thousands of years with only a slight discomfort created by our incursion.
Dinner to the jungle sounds and invigorating conversation that only those who have just shared a great experience can enjoy or understand. The campfire died down the stars shown brightly again and we lay back in the safety of our tent.
January 13 2004
Maasai Warriors, Long Drive to Nairobi Hillcrest Hotel
No hurry this morning. We are not looking forward to the long drive back to civilization. Breakfast with our little intrepid group of animal lovers then goodbyes. They moved off toward another Game Park up north and we began to pack.
I could probably leave this part of the story out but then, this is our journal and we don’t want to forget it. Somewhere back there, perhaps in Morocco, we began to cut the top off a plastic water bottle for use in the middle of the night. You know, to avoid that long dark hike to the toilet. Well, we had both used it and in my clumsy awakening moments I kicked it over. Yikes, the yellow stream quickly flowed across the plastic floor of out tent to the carpet between the beds. I was suddenly wide-awake and mopping. The worst of it was having to tell Phinius, the camp manager, what had happened. At first he thought I was saying that we had been sick. When it sunk in that the towel and rug were soaked in pee he smiled and said, “Hacuna Matata”, .No Problem. Embarrassed, I wondered whether this was a first in Phinius’s hospitality career?
I wanted to have some pictures of us on the bikes at the nearby Maasai village. We still had the bags strapped on so we rode and Daniel followed. It was a tough, rocky road with several ups and downs. We began to doubt the value of the trip but as we rolled in and Daniel taped the tribe danced toward us then past us. They circled back and those still in front of us began to chant. It was a moment that we will never forget. Cat knew that I hate the contrived, the films of tribes people cavorting for the cameras. She had a hard time understanding why we should pay almost $40 to have them in our lives and on our web-site.
Must Be Crazy - Maasai
*Video 15:14 Maasai Welcome *Video 17:00 Wedding Dance
We spent more than an hour learning about the old lifestyle and how it is blending with life today. Many Maasai still live exactly as their ancestors have for thousands of years. For instance, the men herd and the women gather wood, water and build the houses. Cat raised the point that the women do all the work but the young guide quickly pointed out that the herdsmen/warriors risked their lives keeping the herds safe from dangerous beasts.
Oh, and by the way, those mud looking huts, they’re made of cow and elephant dung. Somehow it seems that Lions and Hyena don’t like the smell and thus avoid the place. We did sit inside one of them and get a feeling for life as life has always been for the Maasai. They also did a demonstration of making fire by spinning a branch on a piece of wood. They said that they don’t have matches and ask tourists not to leave any, as the huts are so flammable. Somehow, in my excitement, I missed a video of the spinning twig and the smoking material on one of their swords. That speaks to the excitement of the moment.
There are cement block huts scattered around but more often than not the locals still live in these huts of animal droppings. Times are changing, slowly, here. They even have a telephone in the village. No cell phones or computers, yet, but they will come. Those of you who are saddened by that should think about how you’d feel if you still had to live in a log cabin without the comforts you enjoy today. These people should have, if they want to have, the same advantages that we and our children enjoy, don’t you think?
Daniel’s van ran without a sputter yesterday but began to overheat almost immediately after we left the village. He had to pullover several times, until he was out of water. At one stop we pulled up next to a couple of young Maasai men who were walking into the next village for market day. They were dressed in traditional clothing including a red mud hairstyle. I asked whether it was for decoration of to keep heat off. Both of the guys spoke English and agreed that it was for the look. I surmised that they were going to market in search of a woman?
Daniel stopped a van headed toward Masai Mara and asked them to find another car for us as his was on its last legs. We continued but in little short leaps divided by times of cooling. Another van pulled up, they talked, and then we loaded our things across and bid Daniel farewell. He has been a treat to be with.
The new driver was quiet, all business. Then, he too had some mechanical problems, a flat tire. We stood along with a group of young guys, students, and watched him sweat and struggle with the change. So, it was a late getting there and would be a late getting back to town kind of trip. The new driver did bring us sack lunches but they were pretty poor. Sandwiches of mayo and cukes. We ate as we bounced and jostled along on the rough road back to Nairobi.
In the Great Rift Valley we hit a wall of water. Rain like the one that we had been trapped outside in a few days ago. That too slowed progress. When we finally did get into Westland the driver was nervous, he was late and his office would be closing soon. He found the Hillcrest Hotel and I asked him to wait while I ran in to make sure that they had a room for us. The Clerk was apologetic in giving me the bad news, no vacancy. She started calling around for another place as I went out to let Cat and the driver know. He was like a bull, he had the bags and bikes scattered around the parking lot and was ready to pull out. I was pretty pissed. He didn’t care, he had his problems and he didn’t need ours. As he drove away, we decided that we’d just load up and ride to the other Hotel.
Cat went back inside to get directions to the other place when the Clerk took a call. The luck of the WorldRiders was good again. A group of 8 expected tonight had just called and cancelled. We happily picked up our bags and made our way to the room they now had for us. No, we don’t have a TV or CNN but we have a very good deal for a place in a Capital city.
As though to cap off the good deal, the dinner was great. Oh the wine left something to be desired but for a couple who were homeless just an hour ago, it was quite suitable. The bed, too, was another worthy item that we put to good use. The trip and all the problems had taken a toll.
January 14, 2004
A Day Off at The Hillcrest
This is the first Imam making the call to prayer that we’ve heard in a long time. The Mosque is close by and his voice is amplified. A rude awakening from dreams of Africa at 5:00 AM. Well, the voice here is more melodic than those of North Africa. We enjoyed the moment, rolled over and slept soundly until 8:00 AM.
This Hotel Hillcrest is a good value. The breakfast is great. We have no TV in our room but they do have one in the restaurant. Breakfast and CNN, another good deal.
We love the video footage of our visit to the Maasai Village and have decided to try to get a copy on DVD before sending it off to LandRider’s video production group. Calling around we found a place that is close by, Integrated Systems. They say they can do the job. We took a Taxi to their office. It wasn’t easy, the driver couldn’t find the place. Once he radioed his office and they called Integrated it was easy to see why. They are in a house, down a residential street that is blocked and guarded.
Nice guys but the price almost stopped the idea. They put their heads together and we finally arrived at a cost that we could live with. Higher than we had thought but we want to try to use some of the still photos and the Maasai piece on our web-site, if possible? There is a problem, the video cameras here and in Europe are different from those we use in the US. They were sure that they could work it out so we left the tape and headed for the shopping center.
Westland Mall is a typical, modern, shopping mall with a supermarket and food court. We had a Wimpy Burger. This area, Westland, is an upscale neighborhood. We shopped for another videotape for the camera and a few other essentials. As we left the skies darkened and threatened but we continued with our plan to walk back to Hillcrest. That was a mistake. The skies opened and the rain poured. We stopped for a few minutes under the canopy of a service station. It wasn’t letting up so we stepped back into the downpour. It was equal to, perhaps greater than the wall of water we ran into in the van, yesterday. Water in the street was running curb-to-curb. A taxi slowed, we waved frantically and were ecstatic when he saw us and pulled over.
The deluge had caught the staff of Hillcrest by surprise, too. They left the window open to air the place and instead washed the sheets of our bed. The gal had to come back in and change the sheets and one blanket.
The afternoon was spent working on the journal. At 5:00 PM we walked back to Integrated Systems. They had solved the problem by sending the tape out to another company. They wanted more money but we stood our ground and they agreed, a deal is a deal. The weather has taken a turn for the dry and warmer so we walked back to Westland Mall for a bottle of good wine. The wine list at Hillcrest is the only disappointment we have with the place.
The mix of guests at Hillcrest leans toward business travelers. We took a seat for dinner then waited and watched. They have a local program on the TV. An interesting small production about a native tribe near Nairobi. A wedding, and the subsequent party, quit different from our typical weddings.
Dinner was even better because we had our own bottle of better wine. Early to bed, tomorrow we roll south.
January 15, 2004
Nairobi to Kajiado
Breakfast was good and filling fuel food. The best part, it is included in the already reasonable room rate. The helpful staff suggested then urged that we cycle up away from Nairobi toward Ngong Town. It was after 10:00 AM by the time we finally started struggling up the long slow pull. We pulled into the Standard Chartered Bank to refresh our cash. “Sorry, we only offer service to members, do you have an account here”? He did say that there was a Bank in Ngong Town that had an ATM so we moved on.
The route is hilly, really hilly. At one time it was so steep that as we pushed a guy going our way stepped in behind Cat and helped her up the hill. At another spot a Matatu, van bus whipped in front of us and stopped to let passengers off. Cat urged that we go around and keep moving. As I started so did the van. I clamped on the brakes and Cat ran into the back of my bike. She couldn’t hold and the bike toppled over. It hit her leg and heel as it fell. Another Good Samaritan helped her lift it back up. We mounted and struggled on, upward.
At the top of the hill, a round about and some guys with a Rescue Vehicle business told us to go right through Karen and we’d reach Ngong Town. Karen, we couldn’t believe that we’d come so far west? By the way, Karen is a town named for it’s most famous former resident, Karen Blixen. You remember her, she wrote “Out of Africa” a big seller book and a great movie. We had thought of visiting her house, she died a few years ago and they conduct tours, like a museum. No time for that today, we’ve got a long way to go and we’ve discovered that this area is called the Ngong Hills. The area is tropical and lush.
In Ngong Town we were told that the back was back 2 kilometers. Onward, we can’t backtrack because we still have a long way to go to Kajiado. The service station operator there advised that we had to take a turn to the left in town. We got to the center, made the turn then stopped for directions. The consensus was to go straight ahead to a bridge then left, again. There was a small café nearby so we decided to have lunch.
Farmers Choice must be a coffee? We’ve seen several of these places but they are too small to be a chain or franchise. We parked the bikes just outside the window and took a seat. The waiter was a character, the cook, a gal, was quiet. We looked around at what the others were eating and ordered what he called “African Stew”. A couple of older guys, obviously life long friends, tried to have a conversation with us. When they heard that we were going to Namanga they insisted that we have to stay at River Hotel and meet John, the owner. They say that he is half Maasai and half European and, he looks like he could be my brother. Well that probably means old and slipping hairline?
The afternoon was spent in lightly populated savannah. Dry almost to the point of desert. The ups slacked and we had mostly downs. On one long run we came across two touring cyclists from Holland. Nick and Rene are on a 5-week loop from Uganda. They have traveled south then east to the coast but are in the home stretch today. In fact they must reach Nairobi tonight as they are booked for Holland on a red eye flight. Nice guys, we stood and talked for a while then they hurried on to their appointed trip back home.
The small towns were all teaming with students, walking home from school. They love to call out, “How are you”? Then before you can answer they say, “Fine”. This must be the first, basic, English phrase they learn first?
Darkness was nigh as we rolled into Kajiado. Without any idea of where we would find a place to stay we caught a sign, Hotel Empeut looks like a 1950s motel. They do have a restaurant and we were able to negotiate a price of 2000 KS, about $22 US including breakfast. It was fairly easy on our dwindling supply of cash. The room, half a hut, was too small to keep the bikes in. The manager, a nice lady with a bad cold, had us store them in a large conference room. I locked them together because they won’t lock the door until late.
Once in we bought the last two glasses of white wine they had, to celebrate. It wasn’t very good so we asked if they could get a bottle for dinner. I tried to explain what our tastes were but it was over everyone’s heads. The water is heated in a wood-burning stove just outside our door. It spewed smoke but the water in our room was stone cold. I decided to ride into town with the Elliot and Bernard to get a bottle of wine. We stopped at a bar and all three of us went in. The place was jumpin’, full of drinkers and drunks. One guy, he called himself Sir Lawrence, grabbed my hand and wouldn’t let go. He wanted me to have his address and invite him to visit when we get back home. They only had the same bad wine we’d just tasted so, when I finally shook off Sir L, we drove to the other possibility. This time Elliot wouldn’t let me go in. He came back with the same, Papaya Wine that we didn’t like and had refused at the first place. It was the only white they had, it was the only white wine in town, it would have to do.
Hot water had come while I was away. I jumped in while Cat dried off and dressed. Dinner in the big outdoor bar and restaurant. The bar was enclosed with wrought iron that made it look like a jail. The bartender sat staring at a Soap Opera. The music drowned out all of the sound but it didn’t seem to affect his concentration. Maybe he reads lips?
We played it safe, dinner was chicken and French fries. They used the lack of electricity as an excuse for a limited menu. The promised spinach dish didn’t make it. They filled the rest of the plate with a good tasting shredded cabbage. I wolfed it down but would pay a price later.
We were under the mosquito net with lights out at 9:00 PM.
January 16, 2004
Kajiado to Namanga
Breakfast, just okay. We learned that the Hotel, Empeut is named for the area here. The word, Empeut, means “Wet Place” a place where you can find water year round. It must have been important in the past and remains so, today. The area is dry, semi arid at best. However, that being said, it did rain during the night.
It’s cloudy and damp, cold and windy as we pedaled out the drive and on toward Namanga. The road is generally ups, long slow ups and long fast downs. The area is dry savannah.
A tourist stop called “The Bull’s Eye” drew us in across the muddy shoulder. We have been riding in loose gravel and mud most of the morning. Most of the buildings near the road, businesses and homes, have big spray painted words, MOW or DESTRUCT on them. One of the closest buildings to the road at Bull’s Eye has the words on it. We hoped for food but found only chapatti and soft drinks. The chapatti, African bread, was greasy and cold. We did learn that the road is scheduled to be widened, thus the MOW and DESTRUCT signs.
Moving on in the damp and rough we pushed hard but pulled up at another little Makuti Curio Shop. We told Michael, the young boy there, that we needed food. He yelled to some women at a building in the back then told us that his Mother would fix lunch. We talked with Michael, he is 19 years old and has just completed Secondary School and is studying for College Exams. He will take them soon but won’t know the results until February. He wants to go very badly and owes the opportunity to his Aunt. She owns this property where he and his mother work. She’s his Father’s sister and though she has 6 children her only son is grown and moved away. Michaels Father died when he was just 1 year old. His Aunt pays him 15,000 T Schilling per month to work here. She also pays his Mother to run the place. Its just spending money and he works almost every day to earn it. (About $15 per month.)
Some age old cures are still affective regardless of level of modern education. A huge ant crawled near Cat’s foot. She jumped up and asked Michael if they sting. He said that they do bite and it is painful but Maasai use mucous on the bite and most stings to ease the pain and hasten the healing. He lay a finger inside his nose to make the point.
Michael thinks he would like to study religion, become a Pastor. He told of a neighbor who went to the US with the Church and spent 3 months there. When he returned he took over the Church and has become rich. So, religion can bring money to your door? He did spend time trying to convince us about the value of belief. He is sure that prayer works because he prayed to go to College and now it looks like he will. He also feels that we are a prayer answered, too. When we gave him our card and mailing address he just knew that his prayer to go to America was tied to us, somehow? What a nice young guy.
His Mom and two other gals served lunch. It was local food, Ugali, beans and mutton. Ugali is ground up maize or casaba flour. It’s white and sticky, gooey. Not to our taste but we did enjoy the beans and meat. The best of course, as usual, was meeting and talking with Michael. I advised him to learn about computers. He didn’t think it was important because they have so few of the machines here. I told him that it would come here and it would be necessary to understand how to use it.
Another 4WD that looks like it is on Safari, parked along the road. A young couple, Christine and Glenton were pulled over for lunch. They are on a continental trip, from South Africa to England. She is South African, he was born in England but his family moved to South Africa when he was just a year old. They’ve been taking their time, sort of zig zagging around the continent and will take another 6 months getting to England. Funny, we have heard that Zimbabwe is definitely the place to avoid. They spent time there and loved it. Things are cheap with the exception of gasoline which is tough to find. You remember, the President, Robert Mogave has condoned the taking of white farmers land by force. Lots of the farmers have been killed. Glenton and Christine feel the same as we about travel in the Congo but they plan to go north through The Sudan which we think is as dangerous if not more so?
Just a few kilometers down the road we came upon a big Mercedes truck and a group of Hare Krishna followers. Two Brits, a Scot, several African adults and a group of African boys who are orphans. They have been traveling, performing Rap Music and raising money. It was pretty interesting talking with them. One of the Brits was a woman. She has been a Krishna follower for more than 15 years. The other is married and his family, wife and 2 daughters are also believers. The Scot was quiet but as we were leaving he held out a book, “The Path to Yoga”, and asked us to accept it as a gift. They clustered around a bowl of pasta and ate as we talked. We got a picture with the group and rolled on.
Nearing Namanga, we came upon a herd of camels. Quit rare here. We haven’t seen any others since leaving Mauritania. A boy sauntered down the road toward us, the Camel herder’s son. I took his picture, he called his brother to see it then the Father came up. They were completely concerned with the pictures, we don’t think they have ever seen a picture of themselves.
It was 5:00 PM when we rolled into Namanga. The main street is typical. I asked for The River Hotel and a friendly guy pointed toward a sign with an arrow pointing down a dirt road. We passed another Hotel, a cheaper one but decided to try River first. We are almost out of cash and are hoping that they will take our Visa Card. The grounds are beautiful, but the bad news is, no credit cards. We considered going back but the place we’d gone by didn’t look very good. After checking funds we counted our Kenya Schillings and decided that we could stay if they would reduce the rate a little. The girl squirmed for a few minutes then Cat pointed out the price list on the wall. If we were Kenyans the price would be lower, she relented. Our plan is to pull out a US $10 bill and change it to get us into Arusha where we think we can get cash on our ATM or Visa card.
John, the guy who owns the place, wasn’t there. We got into a room, lit up the water heater, an “on demand” system like the one we had in Lagos, Portugal. A warm shower, a glass of wine and we set off for dinner. There is a tent roof set up on the lawn for tent campers to set up under. The light had drawn a huge cloud of flying bugs. As we sat inside many of then flew to the light in the dining room then up and down on the window, outside. The waiter explained that they are swarming termites that come up from those dirt castles along the road when it rains. I wanted a picture but decided to wait until after dinner.
We sat in the bar and watched part of a movie, it was getting interesting, a nude sex scene, when a guy and young boy came in. The bartender immediately turned off the video machine and switched to a local channel. Walking back we realized that the swarming termites had all gone back home. Another missed photo opp. Cat had tried to get a picture of the monkeys that run around on the grass and in the trees, earlier, but they moved too fast.
January 17, 2004
Namanga to Arusha
61 Kilometers on Bike, 45 in a Tire Truck
Included breakfast early, we met and had a great talk with John, the River Hotel Owner for the past 30 years and his friend, Chase. John was a Member of the Kenyan Parliament for 25 years. We told him about the guys we met in Ngong Town who said that I look like his brother. That was good for a laugh, we do share similar haircuts and hairlines. As the guys told us, John is ½ Maasai and ½ European, Chase is Sikh but has never been to India. In fact he’s 4th generation African. His Grandfather and Father were both born here, too. Nice guys, John reminded me of my friend, Martin V. ‘Bud’ Smith. Bud was a Hotel and Restaurant operator. He grew to be huge but the Restaurants and Hotels were always his love. John has that same love of this place.
The border of Tanzania is just at the edge of town. The process took an hour. Stop, show Passports and fill out Kenyan forms, Immigration and Customs. Then, the same drill on the Tanzanian side. Most of the time was lost standing in line. There was a truck with double trailers loaded with tires. The Customs Officers had them unloading both trailers out, onto the ground.
It’s down hill for a short run, into the Tanzanian savannah. The road then undulates but in general, climbs. At about 30 kilometers we stopped in Longdido. As we entered the village I pulled left to avoid those irritating speed bumps that precede every small burg and crossroad. The front wheel dug in and I went down. I just lay there, sort of feeling for injuries, as a crowd gathered. I think they thought it was pretty funny and it was once I knew that nothing was badly bruised or broken.
Fearing that Longdido may offer the last food we’ll see this afternoon, we ate an early lunch of goat stew, beans and chapatti. The flies buzzed around, the locals swarmed around, checking out the strangers. It is a mix of Maasai and some other local tribe, less tall and less thin. I went to the bar and asked for lemon. She held up Coke and Orange Drink, I told her Coke. She asked for 1000 Tanzanian Shilling, about a dollar. I thought it was too high and tried to get that point across. She gave me 200 T Shilling change and opened both bottles. Another of those tough communication moments. The food cost 2000 T Sh and we tipped the girl 200. ($2.00 for the food and a 20-cent tip.)
As we ate we saw several European looking folks walk down the road. One, James came back as we were leaving. He’s from Seattle, here as a volunteer teaching English to the Maasai so that they can increase their Tourism possibilities. A couple, Paul and Sally came up as we talked. They too are volunteers, from England. They have just completed a month in Sri Lanka and will start here on Monday. Caring, giving people trying to do something that will make a difference in other peoples lives. Paul and Sally are cyclists. We had seen their bus pass with the bikes on top. They like to get settled in then explore on bicycle.
Onward, Cat has begun to feel pain in her left knee and right Achilles tendon. The pain was increasing with each turn of the pedals. We passed through a riverbed that must have been a roaring river in the big rain. It was full of mud and debris. Then, off to the right we passed a village of grass-roofed huts with a rainproof addition. Several of them had plastic sheets of varying colors lapped across the thatching. There was a family of locals sitting under a tree nearby.
At about this point Cat’s pain reached the point that she was almost in tears. I’d already begun planning on catching a ride into Arusha. We talked and decided that we’d do that then come back and cover the remaining distance in a day or two. Of course, from that time on only one car, a Land Cruiser, pass. We waved our arms and indicated our need but our desperation went unheeded.
We picked up a young Maasai boy and his dog at about that point. He jogged along with us, signaling that he wanted food. He was only about 8-10 years old and carried an iron spear, pointed on one end with a spearhead on the other. It looked like it weighed almost as much as he did. At the speed we were able to pedal he easily stayed with us, begging and gesturing. I decided that I would speed up then turn back and take a picture of him running next to Cat. I took the camera then pedaled hard. He sped up and stayed right with me. I pressed, he sprinted. I couldn’t outdo him. We stopped and I asked to take a picture. He held his hand out and asked in sign language for money. I told him we’d give him 200 T Shilling. He shook his head and asked for 5,000. I put the camera away, smiled at him, thanked him and we continued our struggle up the hill.
The next vehicle to come up toward us was the big tire truck we’d seen at the border. I stood at the edge of the road and waved my arms. They stopped on the road and one guy asked what we wanted. I explained Cat’s leg pain and they said, “Yes, we can take you.”
There were 4 guys riding in the cab. They all jumped out and the driver, Joel, pulled off the pavement. It took all five of them and my helped to lift the bikes up and into the load of tires. Three of the guys, Allan, Wilson and Allan, crammed into the area behind the seats. Robinson sat on a pillow on the consol while Cat and I shared the passenger seat. Though not comfortable it was better than continuing to struggle at slow speed, up into hills and rain. Yes, it began to pour down as the truck bounced up the hill. It was our limousine to Arusha.
There was a sticker on the dashboard, covered by Joel’s jacket. I pointed it out to Cat, it said, “Ladies are like Matatus, if you miss one another will come by soon”. The guys all laughed when she read it. She covered it again and they really laughed. Then we saw two Maasai boy dressed in black. We’d seen a couple dressed like that earlier today. We thought it might be something connected to the rights of passage to manhood, and circumcision? Cat asked and the guys laughed, that nervous laugh when slightly embarrassed. Robinson, who speaks very good English, explained that we were correct, they had just been circumcised and would wear the black for about a month. I surmised that they wear black until the scabs are gone then they go on the hunt for a woman.
We checked our LPGB and choose the Impala Hotel. I told Joel and he knew the place. We suggested that they go to their destination and we’d cycle to the Hotel. Robinson said, “We would turn here for the Trucking Company but Joel will take you to Impala”. Cat told them that they shouldn’t gout of their way but Robinson said that they could go back easily. We rode, high and dry, through the streets of Arusha right to the door of the Hotel. What a spectacle we were, as the guys lifted then handed the bikes down. We posed for a picture in front of the truck then asked Robinson if we should pay Joel. He shook his head positively so we asked how much. He spoke with Joel then said, “He will not take money”. What wonderful people, what a great way to get a sore leg off the road!
As we pushed up the drive a couple, Joe and Deborah, met us at the stair. They had just completed a climb of Kilimanjaro and we wanted to talk with them. She was full of energy but he said, “Kili really kicked my butt”. She suggested dinner, we told them we could be ready by 7:30. He said that he couldn’t wait that long. She told us that they or at least she would join us for a drink.
The shower took a long time to sprout hot water. Once there, it was great. At hit it first and we had ice delivered to the room. She sat on the bed and we packed the ice around her sore knee then she rested her Achilles on the top of the bag. She probably hurt them when she took the spill coming out of Nairobi. We sipped a little wine and soaked in the feelings of the moment.
Dinner, pasta for me, pizza for Cat. We were disappointed that Joe and Debbie had disappeared. Service was slow, it was 9:30 by the time we came back up to the room. Oh yes, we have BBC and CNN, the room is nice and the bed firm. We lay back, relaxed and watched the latest news. I woke up at Midnight and turned off the TV and lights.
Sunday, January 18, 2004
A Day Off in Arusha
The included breakfast is great, fresh fruit, eggs, juice, toast and coffee. I was standing, placing my order for eggs when Michael, an Architect from Palo Alto, California asked where we were from. Americans always catch Americans when we talk. He and his wife, Shelli are volunteers. They have been here a month and will be in a village near here for another. She is teaching and he is advising. Great people, again, stopping their lives to come and help other human beings trying to better their lives. They had taken a day off and treated themselves to a night at the Hotel. Unfortunately for us, they had a ride waiting and had to run.
As they left Joe came in and sat with us. He’s a Personal Trainer and Exercise lecturer. He’s written a book, “I know I should exercise, BUT…” and does work with a Health Resort in Tecate, Mexico. In fact, that’s where he met Deborah. He has ridden his bike across the US, twice. One time from California to the east coast and then from Florida to California with his brother. (www.JoeSweeney.com)
We walked out to the pool area. Deborah was taking a little sun. She is a Canadian and there won’t be much of that when she gets back to Toronto. She’s a Flight Attendant with Air Canada. She’s traveled to the four corners of the earth. Joe is conservative and quiet, she’s outgoing and effervescent. We swapped stories of travel and health. They filled us in on their trip to the summit of Kili. Another of those hate to but gotta go moments. They had to get ready to fly, we had to get ready to find money.
The Taxi cost is 2000 to the bank. Rejection, Standard and Chartered Bank wouldn’t give cash on our Visa Card or our ATM card. So, back to Barclay’s Bank. They did recognize our ATM card and spout our 200,000 T Shilling. We then had the taxi driver take us to the Super Market. Wine, bread, cheese and ham. We’ll picnic for lunch. So the taxi fees went from 2000 to 8000 due to all of our running around. Too late to negotiate, we thought he probably got us for a couple of bucks but, that’s life. (One good thing about Tanzanian Shillings, they’re 1000 to $1.00, easy to calculate.)
I worked on pictures and text for the journal, Cat went down the street to an Internet connection. They do have Internet here at the Impala but it’s 5,000 T S per hour. It’s 1,500 down the street. She cleaned up tons of messages while I got pictures ready. I did try to find a way to call Visa collect. The desk clerk said that the Hotel had a rule against it. I took the phone book down and talked with the Manager, Moses. He confirmed that they couldn’t place a collect call to the States. In fact, when I showed him the telephone book that described how to place a “Reverse Call”, he pointed out the word TRUNK and said that only means calls within Tanzania. I hate to call Visa because they keep you on hold for 20 or more minutes. At Hotel rates of 3,300 per minute it could cost more than $150 to make the call.
I typed, we shared a glass of wine and Cat iced he sore leg. At 7:00 PM we went down for dinner. No knew friends, just a so-so meal then back to CNN. Big blast in Baghdad killed 23, still no end in sight?
January 19, 2004
Out 45 Km by Bus, Back by Bike 45 Kilometers
It was still dark at 5:45 AM. We stirred, turned on the TV so we wouldn’t drift back off to sleep then finally at 6:30 we were into our day. Breakfast first then a Bellman and I went for the bikes while Cat got the handlebar bags and helmets. The best deal we’ve been able to cut is 10,000 T Shillings each (About $10) to take the Nairobi Shuttle. The other passengers were pretty curious as I handed the bikes up to Nooh, the driver. The Shuttle was pretty full. I took a seat behind the driver, Cat was back a row.
There is an interesting looking guy, Manohar, has been working on the computer that controls the locks at Impala. You know the little cards they give you when you check in that open your room door? He’s with the firm that installed the system and maintains it. The computer crashed so he came to do the repair, he lives in Nairobi. A Sikh, he was born here in Africa. His Grandfather came here to help build the Railroad. His Father moved here later. I told him of our friend, Rodney, 5th generation Californian whose forefathers came from China to build the Transcontinental Railroad in the US. Monohar is soft spoken and has the most unique beard we’ve ever seen.
Nooh stopped near where Joel picked us up on Saturday. He climbed up and handed the bikes down. Several passengers stood and watched. Some took the moment to have a smoke, away from the smoke free bus. As Nooh lowered the bikes he told us that he would join us and cycle. He is so interested, we hope that he will.
It was a long pull up on wobbly feeling bikes. We rode without bags and it leaves us feeling like something is missing. However, we were pretty glad to be riding light, as the hill seemed to go on forever. The scenery is spectacular. We even got a peak of Kilimanjaro’s snow capped peak above the clouds. The hills are green and dotted with small farms. Very photogenic, the fields, the mountains, the huts and colorful people. A couple of guys plowing with oxen seemed pleased that we took a picture then almost demanded that we pay. Another fellow with a big machete indicated that we should pay. He didn’t threaten, just suggested. We rode on with a friendly wave goodbye.
When the road finally turns downward it does so with a vengeance. It is bumpy and at the speed we were rolling it was a washboard. The weather was wonderful, the ride took 3 hours. We were in Arusha City traffic and lost.
There is a problem with our Visa Card, it won’t spout cash when called upon. We found a Telephone place but they wanted 3,900 T Shillling per minute. That is more than the Hotel charges. We moved on and found the Telephone Company. They charge 2,300 TS per minute and the gal confirmed that there are no collect calls allowed. I reached Visa right away only to learn that they consider an ATM withdrawal as a cash advance and we’ve tapped out our limit. They only allow 20 % of the credit line for cash. We may have a problem finding a climbing company to Kili that will accept a credit card.
Barclay’s Bank is friendly to our ATM card. We withdrew 400,000 TS (About $400) to live on for the next days and maybe to pay part of our Park Fees for the climb. A Dutch family was refreshing their cash at the same time. One young guy is living here, the rest are visiting. They were at the little market near the hotel when we went for water, later. The Mom said, “Small Vorld, yes”?
Two hours at the Internet Café next to the Hotel and we met a couple from San Francisco. David and Lisa have both been here in Africa before but not together. They are newly weds who lost jobs to downsizing and decided this is the right time in their lives to move here, live here and work here. What an adventure! I think they see the same extraordinary possibilities that we do for the future of Africa.
We met a cute young couple, actually Brother and Sister, from Sun Valley, Idaho. They were hurrying off for a flight to London. They’ve visited most of the big Big Game Parks and seen their share of Lions and Elephants. A week in London probably sounds pretty good to them after bouncing and bumping around in dusty vans for the past 3 weeks. However, what a great adventure for them!
A glass of wine then down to dinner. We chose to Carb Up with pasta and pizza. The restaurant was crowded with excited new Safari hopefuls. We had to sit at the bar and place our order. There was a couple seated next the pool that we’ve seen at breakfast. They looked like they were finishing so I approached them. We knew by their use of the English language that they’re from the US. They invited us to sit with them while they finished their tea. Charlie, from New Mexico, is 67 years young. He is here on a contract with the UN, repairing and servicing Court Reporting Machines. Pam, from Chicago, is a Court Reporting Computer expert. They are here because the Rwanda Genocide Trials. The slow hand of justice is finally getting around to prosecuting some very bad people.
Now there’s an interesting human problem that we in the good ole US of A ignored. Those poor souls, almost 3,000,000 of them, died in an ignorant duel between two ethnic groups. It’s similar yet a lot more deadly than the quarrel between the Catholics and Protestants in Ireland. It was a huge slaughter of humanity, too bad they didn’t have oil in their soil. Maybe we would have seen a reason to get involved? Awe, enough of the political thing.
January 20, 2004
Arusha to Moshi
Another good breakfast, we ate with Charlie and Pam and talked about travel and life back home. They have chosen an interesting life, a blend of new places and work with great earnings. They had to hurry off to work, we had to hurry off to Moshi.
Hotel Impala has another in Moshi. We stopped at the front desk and asked them to reserve a room there for us. Sorry, they are fully booked for tonight! Wow, what shall we do? Great staff, they called Moshi, Moshi called a nearby Hotel, the AMEG and we were booked for the night. I mentioned that we were short of money and needed to use our Visa Card. Another call then the bad news, the AMEG doesn’t accept credit cards. Then the ultimate sacrifice, the Impala will accept our card for the one night at AMEG. We had a home in Moshi now all we had to do was get there.
Leaving the Impala was like leaving an old friend. It is always great to run across folks from back home. To have rapid conversation in a language we understand. Up, onto the main road and due west toward Moshi.
The ride is ups and downs for the first few kilometers. We stopped because Cat got some dirt in her eye. As she worked at the problem her Contact Lens flew out and into the grass. She searched in vain then we pushed across the street and she found a new set in our luggage. She was fully sighted again and we were underway.
Just a short distance and as I rode past the driveway of a service station a bus turned directly in front of me. It was like shades of Portugal all over again. I avoided being hit by mere inches by quickly pulling left. I was pissed, I pedaled hard and pulled up to the window of the driver. I shouted, “You should be more careful, you could kill someone”. He meekly said, “I had indicator on”. I told him that I hadn’t seen his signal and he had cut right in front of me. He apologized, I smiled and accepted, the incident was over, we rode on.
There are a lot of Rotary Club signs along the roadway. Each points out an International Project administered by the local Rotary Club here in Arusha. Now that’s a good way to help people, they have homes for homeless and help for those with Leprosy and HIV-Aids. The landscape is changing from tropical to desert and the ride is generally down hill.
At the crossroad that leads away to the Airport we stopped and searched for food. The stalls looked like Guff Guff territory. Pushing through the dirt we decided to try for canned meat at a small grocery stand. They didn’t have canned meat or anything close. As we stood a woman, Bertilla, began asking what we needed. Cat had spotted a seamstress and told her that she would like to have her cycling shorts mended. Bertilla is here buying cloth and knows Nema, the seamstress. They figured out how to patch then she walked with us to a food booth. They had a banana stew and rice. It still looked like diarrhea waiting to happen but we were hungry. The taste was good, Bertilla joined us for tea and conversation. Nice lady.
Our next stop was for a soft drink on the outskirts of Moshi. There was a Police Road Block and they helped us with directions. A couple of huge Cranes were hanging around across the street, we had to have pictures. As I came back across a young guy, Evangelist Jones E. Sorry came over and talked with me. He’s Pentecostal, I told him that my Grandmother was, too. When he asked us we told him that we’re students of all religions.
You may notice that I have used Jones’ full name, which I rarely do. The reason is due to the story he told about how his family got the name, Sorry. His Great Grandfather and Grandmother were slaves, here in Tanzania. They were taken from their families when young. Their owners called them Sorry so they began to think that that was their name. It stuck, thus Jones E. Sorry. Yes, did you know that African’s owned slaves, too?
There was a sign just a few meters down the road for AMEG Hotel. We took the turn and found ourselves on a terrible dirt road. It was a real struggle and we were about to give up when we met a guy and asked. He pointed to a sign just ahead, we were close and the road improved.
AMEG is a cluster of low-rise buildings, probably used to be a school? The owner, Rishi greeted us and had a girl show us the room they had saved for us. Actually we were the only guests. The room was roomy and the same price, 75,000 T S or $75 US that Impala was quoting. At the office we noticed a list of rooms and prices. I asked to see the 55,000 room. It was just as nice but smaller. There was a hallway where we could store the bikes. We saved $20.
There is no AC but the wind and windows had cooled the place nicely. We showered and went to the huge outside restaurant for dinner. Rishi stopped and talked with us as we waited for dinner. She has lived and studied in London. Her British accent is a treat to listen to. Her Father owns a Flour Mill and other businesses. He bought this property and asked her to come back and run the place. She has a background in tourism. There are still a lot of things that need to be completed but the AMEG Hotel is pretty nice.
Dinner was good but lonely. We talked about just staying here but knew that we couldn’t because Impala was doing the credit card thing for the night in anticipation of our move to their place, tomorrow.
Oh, she does have TV and CNN, so we kept up on the news then snoozed.
January 21, 2004
Day Off In Moshi, Move to Impala Hotel
Breakfast in the big gazebo and it was pretty good. We can see a peak of Kili from our seats and wonder what’s going up, up there this morning. Loaded, and ready to roll we ran into Rishi, talked then took a picture with her. She is such a nice person and her place is comfortable but we will continue with our move. One missing piece of the puzzle that fulfills our needs is using a credit card to pay. She isn’t prepared to accept them, yet. She ahs only been open for 6 weeks and there are still a few rough edges, this is one of them.
Robert from The Impala came over to take care of our bill for the room and dinner. They paid her then ran it through on their system. We waved goodbye and pedaled out and up to The Impala. It’s nothing like the high rise Impala in Arusha. A sprawling place centered around a lawn and pool area. The room Robert had ready for us was wonderful. Strong AC, CNN and a mosquito net above the king sized bed. Even a refrigerator. This is heaven!
Once settled in we set up the bikes and headed back down the hill to town. We had asked Rishi and Robert if either had a tour company as part of their services. Neither did but both recommended Mauly Tours and both were sure that Mauly would accept our Visa Card for payment. The Impala is between 3 and 4 kilometers from the town center. Not knowing, we went down then turned left and asked. We have taken the long, scenic route in heavy traffic and thick heat.
Using our LPGB map we worked our way to the Clock Tower round about then started asking, again. A guy pointed ahead then pulled out a card and told me that he is a guide and urged us come to his office. I told hi that we were already committed to Mauly. (Well, Mauly doesn’t know that but in our minds we are.) That only slowed him momentarily, “You should come and see our prices then you can compare when you talk with Mauly”. Tempting but we choose to ride onward.
Mauly Tours office is just on the far side of the round about. We locked the bikes together and went inside. It’s a small space with lots of people working or waiting to complete plans for their safari or trek. Mrs. Shariffa Mauly, the owner of the company introduced herself. She was intrigued with our story and called Genesis, her Trekking Manager into meet us. Genesis, named thus because he was the first son, he said. He is very easy to like. He too wants to hear more about our trip. They did agree to accept our Visa Card for payment of the trek but wanted cash for clothing we would have to rent. More negotiation and Shariffa agreed to put all charges on the card but informed us that they charge a 10% fee for card use. More negotiations, we told her that the Hotel has a 5% fee? She almost immediately agreed to charge 5 instead of 10% then hurried out, on her way to Arusha.
We were starving and the office staff wanted lunch. They suggested that we come back later in the afternoon to complete arrangements. Genesis pointed out Chris Burger, a café across the Clock Tower Circle. He also told us of an Internet Café just next door.
Lunch, one of the waitresses at Chris Burgers had a unique hairstyle and allowed me to take a picture. Though it is just the back of her head she was pretty excited and had to show everyone. Our e-mail was full of junk and family messages. We worked through many of them before going back to Mauly. Our favorite e-mail was from Cat’s Dad. His hobby is horses, they live near Santa Anita Race Track and he and Cat’s Mom enjoy lunch and making a few bets. He sent a message, “Don’t go up that mountain, with your heart condition it is too dangerous. Also, Jay the Horn Blower at Santa Anita just returned from Kilimanjaro and he told them that it’s dangerous and there is no air at the top”.
Back at Mauly, the girls completed our paper work then informed us that the maximum charge was $700. We thought that we might have to scratch the Trek and told her so. Somehow she called someone and then told us that she would put all charges on the card. She called but couldn’t get confirmation from Visa. We signed, she said, “I have 6 days to get confirmation, don’t worry”.
There was a Dutch guy there, waiting for his group to return. He had climbed Mount Maru with his group but fell ill and couldn’t climb Kilimanjaro. When they did come in the leader was sick. He had the same bronchitis that had kept his friend from climbing. He has been on top of Kili 4 times, even written a book about trekking. Other than his own health problems he told us that this was the toughest climb he had ever made. He told us that the cold was intense and it was increased by the chill factor of a 40 km per hour wind. His tale of woe shook our confidence, a little.
Genesis talked with us about the trek and told us that he was a Guide but most of his work these days is in the office. I asked if he could guide us and we could see a spark in his eye as he said, “You would have to ask my boss about that”. He’s 50 years old now and hasn’t been up yet, this year. We liked the idea and it appeared that he loved it. He exudes confidence and has been on top 64 times.
It was all up hill, back to The Impala. We immediately lost ourselves and ended up on terrible dirt and rock roads. It’s hot and we are moving slowly. Using Kili as a guide, we kept climbing and zig zagging until we found the main street to Hotel Impala.
Genesis picked us up at 4:00 and drove to Shariffa’s home, where they have a trekking cloths rental. She was there so we sat for a few minutes and talked. I asked about Genesis guiding for us. She looked him in the eye and asked, “Is your work completed”? He shook his head affirmatively and said, “I will take care of it”. She smiled and said they would have to discuss it.
The clothing isn’t exactly stylish but it’ll work. My long legs, big feet and hands posed a problem. They didn’t have rain pants, boots or gloves that would fit. Genesis was sure that we would find these items at the Park Gate.
Shariffa took the management of Mauly over after her husband died. She has definitely done a good job. The company has grown and prospered. We enjoyed sitting and chatting with her. Her Mother-in-Law was seated on the ground weaving a floor mat. She says that it’s her therapy.
Genesis drove us back to The Impala. We savored a glass of wine in our fine room then moved into the dining room. They have tables on the patio but we feared mosquitoes. Service was painfully slow and several mosquitoes found dinner with us as we waited.
Day Off in Moshi, Making Ready for Kilimanjaro
Breakfast, included and very good. We loaded up and rolled down into town by 10:00 AM. First stop, Mauly Tours to pay for the walk up the mountain. We tried to find “Our Heritage”, the gift shop, on the way. We’ve decided that we can buy a couple of Maasai Blankets to take along for warmth. And, they’ll make good souvenirs later. For some reason we failed miserably. With absolutely no luck we asked, even the Police whose office we were told was close to the place? Gosh we hated to give up but give up we did.
At Mauly we met the same Dutchman that we talked with yesterday. He was with another guy from Holland, a guide who has climbed Kili 4 times now. He had a group of 23 with him. All but one guy made it to the top. He was sick, had a fever and cough. We were worried that he would spread his germs to us. He has written a book about climbing and suggests some medication that may help overcome altitude sickness? I looked at his book, very technical but we are taking so many meds now that we don’t want to add to the list. He told us that one of his guests who failed to make it is a Train Engineer who had driven into and killed 17 people in the past year. He really wanted to get to the top so the Guide dedicated his climb to him and gave him his certificate.
Shariffa was leaving as we pulled in and I asked her to let Genesis Guide for us. She turned to him and asked if he had time. He looked serious then said, “I can take care of things and Guide, if you agree, boss”. She thought for a minute then smiled and agreed, Genesis will make his 65th assent with us. We have grown very fond of him. A nice guy in the swarm of others who seem to only care about getting you to sign up with them.
We had lunch at Anna’s Restaurant. A good local place, good food, rice chicken and beans. Anna was enthralled with us. She ahs a daughter who wants to attend Law School in the States. We sat and talked about life here and there and the similarities. Though it seems like we make a lot of money back home in reality it costs a to live there. She took our e-mail address and promised that her daughter would be in touch. It would be great to be able to help, I told Anna that her daughter must start searching and applying for scholarships. All things are possible, just ask.
We tried to get cards printed but that was a dead end, too. Internet for a half hour then the Post Office. The guy there gave us bubble wrap to put the CDs in that we’ll mail to Web Master Wally. I got the pics ready to go only to discover that we were out of CDs? So, we bought some on the way back to Impala.
On the way out we did find the Our Heritage shop but they only had a couple of Maasai blankets. The nice lady sent us down the street to Chui Traders. A great guy there worried about us leaving the bikes on the street. We finally pulled them inside the store and bought two blankets. His price was the best we’ve heard, 5,000 T S ($5.00 US) each. I told him a story of when I was a kid, the guy with the little store around the corner always kidded us. When we would ask how much the candy bars were he would laugh and say, “Two for a nickel apiece”. He caught my inference to a time long ago and how his two blankets for 5000 apiece related. We both got a good laugh from my old story. I always laugh, his may have been obligatory?
It’s a 15-minute bike ride into town and 45 minutes back up the hill. Of course we were lost, again. It took several winding turns, some up bumpy dirt roads, before we finally got back on track.
Cat packed, I worked or should I say struggled with putting pictures on a CD. The new ones we bought gave me a hard time then just as I thought I finally had it done the battery went dead and the computer screen fell dark. The maid had turned the power off at the wall. So, I started over again and again. We had to throw 2 of the new CDs away.
A glass of wine then dinner. We have a few neighbors tonight. At least we had a few but as we walked over for dinner they all left? Early to dinner, but the soup took 45 minutes. They just don’t open for food until almost 8:00 PM. We had asked for Pasta last night and they delivered. Very good carbohydrates, to get us ready to climb.
The power went out and they switched to generator. Our AC went down and it looks like it’ll be down for the count. They did re-program the TV so Cat lay back and watched news then began to snooze. I typed some and joined her by 9:30. We have a big day of Mountain Climbing ahead of us tomorrow, in fact several big days!
This has been a frustrating month of hurry up and wait! Too many flights and delays between them. This had been our least productive month of cycling. This has been a month of discovery, of the animals and people of Africa. We still see and emerging society and economy that may someday take a leading place in the world. We do see poor people, low wages but no hunger, no disease or hoards of homeless. The City of Nairobi was a treat, clean and modern.
We’re ready to take to the Mountain, make the Climb of Kilimanjaro then move on south to Zanibar, Dar es Salaam and eventually Cape Town, South Africa. We hope you will continue to travel along with us!
For you who like numbers, our month was limited to only 771 Kilometers or 478 Miles. The total for our Odyssey is now 19,452 Kilometers or 12,060 Miles.
We’re on the DOWN HILL RUN Toward Home