It’s been two months. I’m not yet settled. From Uganda’s airport at Entebbe I hopped to Nairobi then to Khartoum then Cairo. Egypt was funny. A stew of ancient high culture peppered with moments of anarchy, beautiful crumbling buildings to riot police in black with shields and bats. I guess revolutions do that. I took a train down to Luxor to see the ancient ruins at Thebes. They were neat. And on the way back, the train was delayed for eight hours because mobs were killing Coptic Christians over the train tracks. It was fascinating though. They joked about who would be president and it was funny because no one has half a clue. I got seriously scammed and apparently that’s normal. A solider dragged me across Tahir Square for taking photos. Egypt, intimidating, but also beautiful.
That was the most stressful airport departure of my life times ten. And I’ve missed two flights.
If I had to guess, based off people’s reactions, no one has ever bicycled the 40k from Kampala to Uganda’s Entebbe Airport, taken the bicycle apart at the security check point, placed the pieces on the scanner bed, then made a box out of scrap cardboard, and somehow gotten the bike on the plane without paying the prescribed fee.
Also I was running really late so they had me skip all the lines which was really awkward especially as it rained on the ride in so I was drenched in water and sweat plus bike grease. But still, it worked!!
South-eastern Uganda. A hundred mile bike ride sounds like a long one – but to this journey it made for just another day. To Kampala I rode mostly on a dirt track, and it was the largest road within 20 miles. It was surprisingly poor and densely populated (So much so it was hard to find quiet places to pee). There was no electrification and but three secondary schools.
Six days ago, I was in Kenya’s third largest city, Kisumu, on the shore of Lake Victoria, bicycling home to my dearest cozy sleeping bag on a dark scary road, the main southward arterial to Uganda. It was about seven. It was quite dark, but close enough to dusk that there were regular clouds of gnats. It was not pleasant.
At once: I am blinded by an oncoming semi-truck. My night vision is shot; there are no street lights. Ahead I barely make the outline of bicycle loaded with raw sugar cane six feet wide. I veer right onto the road proper where a minibus is overtaking the semi-truck. Oh crap. It honks; I veer left, into a pot hole. This hurts. Back right. Through a cloud of gnats, close the eyes. Open eyes. Three shadowy slowly moving bicycles, two seconds to impact. Hmm. Left again. Big unseen bump. Ow.
Repeat times twenty minutes. People point at me, shout. Mzungu! Mzungu! White person! White person! In the dark I really don’t welcome it. Why are you so interested in me? It’s intense but also banal. Being on the bicycle, as so, that is my day to day. Cycle, cycle, awkward encounter, cycle, eat, sleep, repeat.
It was an epic week. A nation born. The people had a palpable joy – flags fluttering from tree tops, mountains, pickups and people, celebratory honking, singing, fireworks and gunfire. It was a beautiful.
And yet, everywhere was the evidence that South Sudan isn’t truly a nation. It’s landlocked with barely a paved road. Less than 5% graduate from primary school. Tribalism rules, many do not speak a common language. The central government is weak.
There was an air of violence. It’s hard to articulate. You just felt it. I’d look at a guy and he’d look back without expression, stone cold. And then you wonder, where does that go?
In South Sudan, you see how far we’ve come. You see what it means to be a nation. And how very important that struggle is, to do the necessary maintenance, to remain one, indivisible.
Here’s photos of South Sudan’s Independence, of Nimule and the first national soccer game in Juba. An incredible experience, from being threatened by bandits, to the nonexistent infrastructure contrasted to the mass joy of the people.
The alarm is set for 5am. Ahead is the most challenging road of our journey. We leave Juba, tracking east into Kenya. The road will be rough and hot. Water will be scarce. It may rain turning road to river. Eastern South Sudan and northern Kenya are no man’s lands where the nation state is more an idea than something put into practice. Cattle raiding is common. Primary education isn’t.
The pavement resumes in Lodwar, capital of Kenya’s Rift Valley province, about 370 miles from Juba. We hope to be there in six days, but the desert sun and terrible road conditions may force us to shorten days. We may have to bush camp. We will be forced to be self sufficient. Everyday we will start with 20 liters, about 50 pounds, of water and enough food for two days. It’s going to be a challenge.
Luckily, the past couple days have been energizing. We came into Juba encrusted in sweat and starving. We found fellowship with Ryan and Kristen who work in South Sudan with Mission Aviation Fellowship, who help people by flying over the rotted roads. (Much more sensible than bicycling…) Though they have a ten month old son, Caleb, and we were disheveled dirty strangers, they took us in and gave us food and internet and showers. Much can be said how South Sudan lacks comfort and security and yet here in Juba there is a family that can only be described as loving.
We have been surprised how similar so much of Africa seems. A photo of a roadside store in Zimbabwe would be indistinguishable from one of South Sudan. Ahead of us lie the peoples of Lake Turkana. We’re excited to see how the tribal societies compare. We’re also intimidated by reports from last month warning of banditry. I’m curious to see how well I can maintain my health in such adverse conditions. My feet and knee are covered in umpteen dozen red spots. (Bug bites???) By the time we’re back on a road proper, we’ll find ourselves in the Great Rift Valley, the birthplace of mankind.
For more photos of our travels through South Sudan, check out our Google+ Album.
(Though we may be in one of the world’s least developed lands, we do embrace the most developed photo viewing techniques.)
Making videos from a bicycle! It’s challenging! These edits are a bit rough. (I’m actually being kind of rude, holding everyone up to upload!) I expect when I have more time I’ll re-edit, but as it stands, we have miles to make. Burundi calls!
The music is by a Zambian musician, Dali Soul. I hear he’s a cool dude ;). Most of his music, including this song, promote progressive causes. The lyrics are mostly in Nyanja. This song, if it’s not very clear, promotes condom usage. HIV / AIDs and other STIs are a big problem. You see signs everywhere yet the infection rate exceeds 10%.
The English manor is called Shiwa Ng’andu. It’s in the middle of nowhere, miles off the main road on a dirt track. The two historical photos are by C&J Harvey.
Once again, it was all the wonderful people who welcomed us into their homes, truck stops, back yards and huts, they made this so worthwhile. Thank you!
A day’s ride on the GNR. Hard to describe. Mostly absolutely banal. But sometimes – like when the trucks pass each other and you have take a detour into a ditch, or when you’re riding after dark and you have no idea what crevasse lies ahead in the dark unlit abyss – the ride was absolutely terrifying.
True and hard to comprehend: The Great North Road is the only road servicing the couple million residents of Central and Northern Zambia. This is Zambia’s I95 – most everything else is a dirt track.
This isn’t how I planned it. A month late and only four minutes long! We’ve met some incredible people. To the dozens who have helped us, thank you. As we continue down the road, we hope to share more stories of people like you.
The awesome music is the Jimenezi Hop, written by Tim Drinan, preformed / recorded by The Trolleys. http://www.thetrolleysband.com/