Jackson’s Hole

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Above Jackson Hole, from Josie’s Ridge

Engines roared, and a sold out crowd at the Jackson County fairgrounds cheered with every crunch of steel. My friend Brendan and I showed up late to the Figure Eights — a competition between beat up cars of unknown make doing figure eights around a dirt track and trying not to wreck — so we patrolled outside the barbed wire perimeter trying to catch sight of a spectacular smash-up.

We were closely observing the movements of security guard types as well, who would blast suspected fence climbers with flashlights and jeers until the freeloaders backed off. The small stadium was filled to capacity on this last night of the county fair, but we were not about to miss the championship round of the Figure Eights.

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Burgh

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Thirty-odd brand new bikes provided by our camp’s sponsor.

“So when are you gonna be on Ninja Warrior?”

“What?” I was caught off guard by a mother of some bike campers in between sessions. We were outside of Pittsburgh, in Monroeville, PA, at a quaint sports center, and both of us were killing time until the next wave of kids arrived.

“You know, that TV show with the acrobatic people going through all those obstacles. You look like you should be on that show.” She was kind, and would later be thrilled that her son and daughter were both riding two-wheel bikes.

“Well, uh… thanks! Maybe I ought to apply!” I’d always imagined being so nimble. Continue reading

Toledo… Harbor?

lighthouseOur first day in Toledo for bike camp afforded my partner Kevin and I a little free time. We had heard about a state park called Maumee Bay, and figured a little fresh air would do us some good.

“It’s on the beach!”

Okay, I’d never been to the Midwest, so there were a couple facts that I was about to learn which caught me by surprise. 1) Ohio has a coastline, kinda, because Lake Erie is big enough, I suppose that it’s collision with Ohio  might be called a coastline. 2) Ohio shares an international border with Canada, kinda, though the border is some miles out in the aforementioned lake. Continue reading

Charlotte. Of Which I Knew Nothing.

ImageIt was hot in Charlotte, North Carolina, when I showed up for the last week of June. My ICan Shine partners Andrea and Leigh were sitting on the floor by a baggage carousel waiting patiently before we rejoiced and headed out into the thick air. We were shuttled to our truck and trailer in an airport parking lot, and I struggled with the new vehicle’s keys and doors, sweating all the while. On our way to the hotel, it occurred to me that I knew nothing whatsoever about the place I was now driving through. Continue reading

Bale Mountain National Park

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Nyala!

“Have you thought of your program?”

This was the third time this guide had barged into the drafty common room of the Bale Mountain National Park lodge to solicit his services. I had told him before that I had no plan and no desire for a guided walking tour of the park, be it for bird watching or otherwise, yet he persisted.

“We must make a plan.”

“Do I need a guide? Can’t I just walk around? Besides, I’m just here to meet a friend. I don’t think we will even do any trekking tomorrow.”

The friend I was waiting on was Brian, a long-haired, coffee-fueled, Peace Corps volunteer who I had met only fifteen minutes before. I was sent his way by an old college friend (and PC volunteer) who said I ought to go check out Bale. I thought this an excellent idea. Once you make Peace Corps friends in an area, the whole network opens up, and a vagabond can easily hop from town to town, connecting the dots.

“I’m just going to hang out with Brian. No birding.” It was getting cold and dark. Finally the guide gave up, electing to walk down to his cabin, leaving me in peace. Continue reading

Free Flight Upgrade

The free wine lady

The free wine lady

I had never dreamed of flying business class. There’s something about it that repels me. Maybe it’s in the designation: Business class is clearly made for those who sport pressed suits and shining shoes, who tote matching designer luggage sets, who actually have business abroad, and who may or may not be paying for it on their own. I’d seen business class before, but during my most recent stay towards the front of a commercial aircraft, I felt particularly out of place, having bummed around Africa for nine months previously with hardly more than a single change of clothes. Business class is not called Dirtbag class for good reason. Continue reading

Detained in Kampala

"Show me identification!"

“Show me identification!”

“That one is stubborn,” the chubby little Policeman explained to his dozing compatriots. ‘Stubborn’ would be the word of the evening, used again and again to describe my appalling behavior. “You sit down!”

I did so. I wasn’t sure what to think at this point, but the wooden floor of the wooden cell of this wooden police post seemed suitable for sitting. Cool air and mosquitoes leaked in through the gaps between the boards, prompting me to stuff my arms and legs into my shirt for warmth and protection. A necessary measure, though now my shirt was permanently stretched. It was too small anyway, I thought. Now to get out of thisContinue reading

Money Woes in Addis Ababa

A Birr

I made too many assumptions, I guess, and I am in a bit of a tight spot for it. For all of Addis Ababa’s contemporary feel and apparent wealth, it has been hard for me to access my money. When a traveler has no money, things become a bit desperate (though some would disagree), and one must exercise some cunning. Continue reading

Muslim Matters

“They get mad at me when I wear this thing,” Yorkman, the bar’s jack-of-all-trades reflected. He had on his long Muslim gown, rich with embroidery, hanging down from his shoulders.

“Who does?”

“The Muslims!”

I suppose it’s natural for members of a religious group to feel possessive over their traditional garb. Yorkman is by no means a Muslim, but heck, he looks pretty good in the robe. His go-to special occasion outfit betrays his unaffiliated beliefs, and clashes with his Rasta hat in more ways than one. Continue reading

Insolence in Kampala

Something which may strike the first-timer coming to Kampala is the seemingly crude behavior towards the traveler. I won’t go so far as to say that everyone in the city is a prick (I am no fan of sweeping generalizations, and it’s simply not true) but it’s grinding on the psyche to be subject to stark impertinence by complete strangers on a daily basis. Is it because I’m white? It sure seems that way, at least partly, and thus the sour breath of racism  issues from people’s mouths with every insolent remark. Also, being an impressionable person, I am afraid that the rudeness of others towards me is something which I adopt without trying, and it sickens me.

Demands

It arrives frequently in the form of demands for money or food. While begging is one thing – mostly silent requests for money with outstretched, cupped hands by people who are obviously destitute – the tactless demands by normal people are actually more frequent and infuriating. Often these people have jobs, wear western clothing (like everyone else) and drive cars. The women have their hair done and carry handbags.

“Muzungu, give me money.” whimpered a guard at a border post. Not only does she have a job, but she was working at the time. I pointed this out to her and asked her why she didn’t have any money. “Ohhhh my children… my family… school fees…” etcetera, came the reply. Same old story. I told her I didn’t have a job and to please get out of my way.

“What have you brought for me?” anyone might ask upon your arrival to anywhere. “My friend,” might be tacked onto the end of this presumptuous opening line to sweeten the deal. But in fact there is no deal, and most of the time, I have no notion as to who the person is, nor do I care. I just came here to buy some phone credit, and I’m being felt up verbally by idlers become tax collectors. “Not a damn thing,” comes my reply, “who the hell are you?”

“You bring me one.” Another blunt demand, this time by a well dressed woman who actually paused in her stride to demand a banana and await my reply. Are you kidding? “Buy your own fucking banana,” my temper would peak quickly and flare, “who the hell are you?”

There seems to be an unwritten law which states that any demand for anything posed to a foreigner will surely return a wealth of money or food. Forget it. I’d sooner give my spare bananas and shillings to the silent beggars. At least they have manners.

Put-downs

Many of Kampala’s complete strangers have a need to build their own esteem by cutting down those around them. Being shameless, and a foreigner, I feel I am often the subject of pointless scrutiny.

“You don’t know how to dance,” said a man of roughly my age out of the corner of his mouth, passing me on an otherwise empty dance floor. I was dedicated to dancing for my Norwegian friends, which for their upbeat tunes, I felt they deserved. “At least I am dancing,” came my laughing reply. The punk didn’t dance a step all night, yet I still daydreamed about punching his face a little bit.

The same night a regular at the bar made the same comment. This lady is always around, pointing out my unshaven face and my other imperfections. I shook my booty vigorously in her face to give her observation some truth.

“We’ve got to raise the children elsewhere,” my old friend Jja Jja (grandpa) told me. People in the city no longer have any respect for others, he says, learn no politeness. He’d rather have his grandchildren raised out in the villages where a strong tradition of respect still exists – a relic of pre-urban, pre-western Uganda.

I don’t consider myself to be particularly soft when it comes to this kind of behavior. I’ve been harassed for being the odd one out in a dozen languages, and I’ve asked for it every time. What else can I expect? It’s part of the game for any traveler. But Kampala wears on me. The onslaught of insolence never ceases, never changes. The overly blunt, unbearably presumptuous aggressions become very tiresome. Not to be a jerk, but honestly, despite of all the friends and good people I’ve met here, Kampala has been the least welcoming, least friendly place I have visited.

And to worst part? It rubs off on me. The urge to fire back on buttheads grows as my temper shortens, and I become a butthead in kind when I can’t hack it anymore.

Just sayin’. What? Did you really think this web log was going to be a bunch of ‘top ten…’ lists and pretty descriptions of places and people? Fat chance. Anyway, take comfort in the fact that this bit of prose has done it’s part to keep me from losing face.