pretty landscapes

The Last Hundred Miles

by Spencer

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.

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Cycling Southern Kenya

by Spencer

I was cycling along and whaddya know but ahead of me was a tractor. A tractor! I hadn’t seen a tractor in months. Wow! A tractor!!! Kenya had all sorts of golden nuggets: Paved country roads, food that was more than starch and mangy meat, decent English comprehension, even buildings ten stories high. Kenya has had a stable (if autocratic) market orientated government (kind-of) since independence. You see that.

Though, buildings are largely in disrepair, the roads are potholed and youth are abundantly unemployed. Lake Victoria is tragic. There used to be ferries that went to Uganda and Tanzania. Today it’s carcinogenic. I camped in a dilapidated lakeside hotel, comfortable with a cold beer in a cushy chair. An Indian businessman told me, “All the fish are gone. It’s pathetic – these people don’t even care.” And there’s little else to do but sit back, enjoy and await the next racist comment.

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Note: Eldoret is the home of Kenyan Olympian marathon runners and there’s a neat dirt track you can check out. Early mornings, you see folks running. It reminds me of home.

Across a Desert: Kenya’s Northern Fronteir

by Spencer

From South Sudan, we traveled east, into Kenya. The border town is Lokichogio, nicknamed Loki. When things were at their worst in Sudan, the United Nations and dozens of NGOs were headquartered there to disseminate food, shelter and medical aid. Loki’s airport was said to be busier than Nairobi’s. It’s an ironic sad story, to Loki, peace brought an economic catastrophe. Most of the NGOs have left. The airport takes in but a couple flights.
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Bicycling into South Sudan’s Independence

by Spencer

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.

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The MV Liemba

by Spencer

We took the MV Liemba from Mpulungu in Zambia to Kigoma in Tanzania. It was insane. When we go on a cruise, we expect sunsets and pretty scenery. This, however, is the MV Liemba: yelling, banging, crying babies, chickens, cholera, muddy hallways, people sleeping on cargo, people sleeping on people.

It was an experience. Especially as a TV crew from the History Channel rented out the boat, kind of, and were very happy to use their power as they pleased. I learned a lot. I’ll write more later.

To Cycle the Great North Road

by Spencer

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.

edited 1/1/2015