Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Around Lake Victoria-Kenya-Uganda-Rwanda-Tanzania


This is one basic school!

I always use to think that pineapple grew on trees like apples!






Down to the Congo

Hi/Jumbo everyone! ....Hope you've all had a wonderful summer! Another endorphin adventure bike tour has come full circle: 50 days and 4200 kms through Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and Tanzania, starting and finishing in 'big, bad' Nairobi.
With Maria pregnant and off to visit her family in Colombia, I searched for others to join me to no avail...leaving me to wonder if I really wanted to tackle this part of the world alone. As it turned out, inspite of the extreme hardships so many people endure just trying to survive; lack of employment, degraded natural environment, aids pandemic, malaria to name but a few of the problems, from a personal security perspective I found it to be quite a safe region to cycle through. Cycling solo allowed me to cycle freely day after day, just for the pure pleasure of physical self propulsion through 'exotic' landscapes, with upwards of 9 hours a day in the saddle, giving me plenty of time to ponder life and its mysteries.
This trip was more difficult than most of my previous adventures, partly due to the fact that with no one to slow me down and take rest days, I gradually burned myself out physically 3/4 of the way through, after climbing Mt. Hangang and catching a cold. But moreover, the daily sight of grinding poverty was even tougher to deal with mentally. Simply put, there are too many human beings and too few natural resources left (water, forest, healthy soil) to support an acceptable quality of life in alot of areas. With few high mountains and very little natural forest cover left (only 7% in Kenya), what little rain falls, tends to wash away the alreday depleted topsoil, making it increasingly difficult to grow basic crops. In the most desperate areas, aid organizations are hard at work, providing basic food supplies and have become an ingrained part of peoples lives in these difficult regions--to the extent that when the local people understand that there is a constant source of food and assistence, they are able to have larger families, further compounding the problem with regional overpopulation. I can't come to grips with how simply saving lives (Save the Children, Feed the Children, etc.) is going to eventually lead to a better quality existence for these people, as the problem just perpetuates itself with too many people. As an expectant father, it makes me wonder about adding yet another life on this overburdened planet and what the future holds for the coming generations.
One poignant example of this misguided assistence comes from a US Peace Corp volunteer I met in Arusha. He had been sent to a remote rural area in Tanzania to teach local farmers mechanized, inustrial farming techniques, without the infrasturcture or resources required to get started. Instead, he found that the local farmers taught him how to use a hoe, go further up the mountain for water and survive off the land with the limited resources available. This role reversal has led him to face up to the coming crisis in his own backyard on his family's farm in Kansas. With the regional aquifer severly depleted and rapidly declining fossil fuel resources with which to drill even deep bore holes, along with the energy required to pump water to the surface, a return to dryland farming seems inevitible. Yet this will be further compounded again, by dwindling fossil fuel based fertilizer and pesticide inputs for an all ready over-worked soil. As the Kenyan environmental activist and Nobel Laureate Wangari Mathaai has pointed out, her Nobel prize was really a message to Africa: "You can do it, and the solution may have to come from you."
No doubt there are aid organizations that do excellent, essential work, especially when an immediate survival crisis is at hand. For example, one Canadian NGO I visited strives to provide funding for furthering the education of young women in Tanzania and Kenya: and many others, helping people to help themselves. But as the owner of Legacy books in Nairobi, which specializes in community development and related materials, informed me, "There are over 5000 NGO's in Kenya alone, you'd think the country would be some sort of paradise by now." Also worthy of note are Dervla Murphy's (known for her London to Dehli by bike in the 60's I think...solo) observations from her 5,000km bicycle trip in the early 90's in her book: The Ukimwi Road: From Kenya to Zimbabwe, at 60 years of age. Given her encounters with troubled Africans as well as her views of ineffective Western aid workers, Murphy concludes that it's time for the West to withdraw, to leave Africans "to sort out their own future."
Also a few related quotes from today's (Aug 23) morning paper here in Nairobi, The Nation: -Prof James Ole Kiyiapi - a forester: "I love the green natural forest that cover our countryside and the beauty of places like Amboseli, Tsavo and Maasai Mara game reserves," he says. Sometimes I shed tears because the beauty that defines our country is dying out. The whole country will soon turn into a desert if the government does not take conservation seriously. Emphasis should be put on the conservation of forests around the water catchment areas. The government does not seem to realise that the economy is dependent on the state of the environment."
-World Water Week Conference in Sweden: "Participants accused politicians in Kenya and Tanzania of doing little to save a threatened ecosystem, which is the source of 12 rivers. Government-led excision, logging and charcoal burning are to blame for the wanton destruction. If not checked, the destruction of the forest would result in the death of the Maasai Mara-Serengeti ecosystem, as the diminishing Mara River is the lifeline of the area."-Again Kenyan Nobel Laureate, Wangari Mathaai: "If you want an egg, you must have a chicken. If you want water, you must have forests. Destroying the indigenous forests that give you water is suicide."-
Lastly, the headline: Nakuru's fall from grace to dust: Then captions refering to two photographs: "One of the main streets in Nakuru Town: The country's fourth largest town is tottering under the wieght of a population bigger than its infrastructure can support." "Flamingoes, which made the town world-famous, and which are dying in droves as the lake dries up." ....other comments, "...council is unable to deal with the environmental degradation." "....water, so crucial for human survival, is in short supply...."
Well, enough of my ramblings/pontificating about the bleak, harsh realities that East Africa has forced me to ponder. I think you get the idea.
HIGHLIGHTS:-The very welcoming reception by people in all areas.
-Riding along with locals on their bikes and being able to converse in English (except Rwanda where my French isn't good enough to carry on a decent conversation).-
Seeing giraffes, buffalo, impala, gazzelles, ostriches, warthogs, baboons and other wildlife, (but thankfully no lions) from the seat of my bike.
-Murchison Falls National Park Uganda
- Hippos, elephants, and crocodiles on a Nile River boat cruise.
-Camping right where hippos come to graze at night, with only a single electric wire to keep us humans from getting into trouble. ( A bit worrying nevertheless with the frequent power outages in this region!)
-Climbing 3500m Mt. Hanang, Tanzania's 4th highest peak.
-Being surrounded by people whenever I would get off my bike in Rwanda--very gregarious, outgoing people!
-Being mobbed by curious children when I stopped at schools for a visit.
-Seeing lots of speedy runners training in the Kenyan highlands.
-The spectacular road from Fort Portal Uganda, down to the floor/edge of the Congo jungle and the Pygmie villages.
-Very little traffic, as few people can afford personal vehicles.
-Seeing Mt. Kilimonjaro close up on a clear day.
-4WD one day safari into the Ngorongoro Crater next to the Serengeti to see lions, hyeenas and hundreds of Wildebeest.
-Just being free and healthy enough to ride for the pure pleasure of it--almost endlessly.
-The seemingly hopeless, everpresent poverty.
-Insane bus and minibus drivers who have little respect for the many local cyclists on the roads.
-Clouds of Tsetse flies in Northern Uganda and recieving a hundred+ bites in one day.
-Poor condition of the paved roads and 1000+kms of dirt/gravel roads, which contributed to numerous equipment failures, especially aluminum luggage racks.
-Thorn/Acacia trees = many flat tires. 19 in all!
-Being too much of a scrooge to spend 1000USD to climb Kili or 400USD (going up to 600USD in Sept) to trek the mountain gorillas in Rwanda/Uganda.
-Not having my sweetie by my side to protect me!
The most commonly asked question on this trip was (usually with a British Colonial accent), "What is the purpose of your journey/safari? I usually respond with a variety of answers ranging from:-Tourism; to learn something about the 'real' East Africa; healthy exercise; time to think, etc.... Yet as I bike down the road I still find myself asking "What is the purpose of this journey through life?" and that perhaps being simply an 'observer' isn't quite enough. So. This is likely the last endorphin adventure report for a while as Maria is expecting to deliver at Christmas time, so that holiday will be an adventure of a different sort!
Cheers,SteveNairobi, Aug 23/06 PS...Brief photos explanations with JPEG titles

The Daily Nation Kenya's Premier Newspaper
Friday, November 03, 2006
This is Premium content

Round East Africa in 50 days Publication Date: 11/3/2006

Canadian Steve Tober believes that cycling offers him the best opportunity to know a place. He spoke with DOUGLAS MUTUA about his trip from Nairobi to Kigali and back.

While most tourists from the West come to see Africa from the comfort of a van or modified truck, Steve Tober would rather do so on a bicycle. So in July this year, the Canadian teacher landed at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport with his bicycle, all set to cycle to the Rwandan capital, Kigali, around Lake Victoria and back.
His luggage consisted of a tent, a sleeping bag, a stove and various tools he might need in case his bicycle developed mechanical problems. The journey would take him through Kenya, Uganda Tanzania and Rwanda.

Tober, a 43-year-old year 2 teacher at the British School in Benghazi, Libya, says he has learnt from experience that cycling offers him the best opportunity of seeing any country he visits.
“I enjoy several stopovers along the way and get to see beautiful scenery that is not on the main tourist trail. It’s the little places in between point A and B that really count. It’s difficult to do that while travelling in a vehicle,” he notes.

He adds that cycling also gives him an opportunity to mix with ordinary people because it makes it easy for them to relate to him. This enables him to learn a lot more about the culture and people of a country.

“One of the best ways to learn about a people's culture is by interacting with the ordinary folk. Since I began touring on my bicycle, such people have been very warm toward me. I think it's because I use a mode of transport they can identify with,” he says.

He believes that tourism is not just about seeing wild animals and beautiful scenery, but also mingling with people from different cultural backgrounds. However, while touring East Africa, he had another motive: “I wanted to break the common myth in the West that East Africa is dangerous from a personal safety point of view. And I can now say that I found it to be safe because I cycled for 50 days, sometimes through forests, and I’m back in Nairobi as fit as a fiddle.”

He adds: “Despite the extreme hardships many people endure just to survive — lack of employment, a degraded environment, the aids pandemic and malaria — I found it quite a safe region.”

He remembers pitching tent for a night at Muchongoi near Nyahururu in Central Province, to the surprise of the local people, who consider the area quite insecure.
The security situation was also quite different from his experiences elsewhere. He remembers having his pocket picked in Peru, being pelted with stones by young
boys in Oman, people trying to steal from his bicycle in Ecuador, having a gun pointed at him in Mexico and four men with machetes robbing him as he climbed down a volcano in Guatemala.
When not sleeping in his tent, Tober would spend the night in a cheap lodge, costing no more than Sh500 per night.
The journey, which began on July 1 and ended on August 19 this year, covered 4,200 kilometres and had 19 flat tyres.

In Kenya, Tober went through Thika, Naivasha, Nakuru, Eldoret and Kitale, from where he crossed over to the Ugandan town of Jinja via Tororo after the Mount Elgon border point proved too muddy. One highlight he says, was the sight of Kenyan runners training throughout the highlands.

“On entering Uganda, I cycled past the Murchison Falls National Park, where I came face to face with buffaloes. But they seemed to understand that I had a cause and made way for me,” he recalls with a smile.

His most frightening experience was camping in the park, “right where hippos come to graze at night, with only a single electric wire to protect us (humans)”.
He went to Fort Portal, from where he cycled down to the edge of the Congo jungle and visited pygmy villages, then crossed into Rwanda.

He was particularly interested in visiting Rwanda to see whether insecurity was still rife in that country after the 1994 genocide as some people in the West believed.
But to his delight, he found that “Kigali was amazingly calm. One could not make out how and why the genocide took place in such a beautiful, peaceful country.” He describes Rwandans as “very gregarious, outgoing people”.

On his return journey, he crossed over to northern Tanzania at Rusumu Falls, and on to Singida and Arusha before coming back to Kenya.
That was not Tober’s first cycling adventure. Together with his Colombian wife, Maria Zambrano, he pedalled 2,350 kilometres within 25 days between December 2005 and January this year in Dubai and Oman.

Their first cycling trip was a 500 kilometre ride between Columbia and Ecuador. This was followed by a 5,000 kilometre journey between Columbia and Chile.
“We also spent three weeks cycling 30 or so mountain passes in the European alps, a lot of the famous Tour de France climbs” he adds.

Zambrano, an accomplished athlete who represents her native country and Canada in long-distance races, did not accompany him on the East Africa tour because she was pregnant.
“After having the baby this December, she will join me on an extra-ordinary adventure in the Indian Himalayas. Extra-ordinary because we will carry our baby in a special trailer that will be pulled by our bikes in turns,” he explains.


Flights to Entebbe said...

Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.

Stephen Monk said...

Hi, I am thinking of doing a route like this. I know it was 11 years ago that you posted this but do you happen to have a map of the route you did?