Volunteerism and Solitude, Idaho

It was a long drive to Idaho, and fortunately my truck was doing pretty well in the way of gas mileage. I drove twelve hours from Vail, CO through Utah and into some Idaho state park on I-84 before I couldn’t see straight enough to steer. Summer nights here are cozy enough that I didn’t even reach for my sleeping bag before reclining my seat for a roadside rest. The next morning I made the final three hour leg to McCall, ID, a lakeside town of three thousand up against the Rocky Mountains of central Idaho.

A good friend of mine was waiting there. He guided me in around the small airport to his barn loft. The airport is impossibly busy. It’s where regional forest fire related air traffic is based, so powerful spotter planes, retardant bombers, and helicopters blazed with orange insignia rattle constantly overhead, on their way to manage a burning state. Rumor has it that this airborne fire fight burns through three quarters of a million dollars of federal money per day in operations costs. Spare-no-expense orders from US Forest Service’s chief in Washington DC after criticisms from last year’s ‘devastating’ fire season. An orange skycrane, a giant helicopter made for lifting heavy loads, took off with a storm of wind and noise, off to douse some burning tract of wild land. Around the corner, Eric flagged me into his driveway. Continue reading

Speke and Me, Explorers We

John Speke’s drawing of the Nile’s source back when. The falls no longer exist for damming.

It was fitting that the book I brought along on my cycling adventure around Lake Victoria was a 1912 edition of John Speke’s memoir of his own two-and-a-half year expedition in search of the source of the River Nile. During lonely sick days or lazy afternoons, I lost myself in his detailed account of trudging through swamps, leading mutinous men, and struggling to appease a series of chiefs and kings along the way. To read about a specific place along the lake’s enormous fringe which was opened up to the Europeans by Speke in the 1860s, and then to pass through the very same place on a bicycle gave my whole adventure context. Hell, it makes my ordeal look like a trip to the grocery store to buy cake mix.

I had fairly smooth roads, for one thing, and wheels to boot. Continue reading

On Into Kenya

It was hard to leave Tanzania, due to the great ties I made but also due to sickness and poor weather. I met many kind people there who helped me out when I ran out of money and contracted a vicious infection of my gastrointestinal tract, and just when I thought I was close to crossing into Kenya, I was beaten down by the weather. Continue reading

Cycling Uganda: Finding a Bike

Meet Victory

On the busy, sloping streets of central Kampala, near the old taxi park where all forms of transportation come crashing together in a kaleidoscope of wheels and potholes, multiple level shopping centers offer hair extensions, electronics, or local food. In the basements of many, one can find dozens of bicycle shops, jammed with tires, selling the magnificent machines in all conditions, shapes, and sizes

I came around looking for a bicycle solution. Men in greasy jumpsuits waved their wrenches and beckoned me downstairs to see their selection. I complied, happy to be out of the sun, and to peruse through the many junker machines available. I needed one which could bear me around Lake Victoria. Continue reading

Ring Around Victoria

So I’ve got this idea in my head and I can’t make it go away. It just means I’ll have to follow through.

I am going to ride a bicycle around Lake Victoria. I have been thinking about it since I first saw the lake flying into Entebbe Airport. I miss bicycles, and all the dirt roads in this country are begging to be ridden by clunking steel bikes which are found all over the place. I’m gonna get me one of those super-solid stallions and schlepp it through three countries and around the world’s third largest lake. Continue reading

Easter at Sipi Falls

At the bottom of the big one with Judith and Tom

This past Easter weekend, my new friend Judith and I took a break from big city life to get some air in Uganda’s eastern mountain range along the border with Kenya. Sipi falls was on the menu, as it seemed easy to get to and a reasonable deal for two broke wanderers.

Sipi Falls is gorgeous. It is a place where the Sipi river flows out of Mt. Elgon national park and down into the town of Sipi and the surrounding villages. The high-aspect topography  (I was thinking “shelfy” but that’s not a word) surprises the gentle creek with a trio of sudden, near one hundred foot drops, making for splendid scenes and cool swimming holes among banana and coffee plantations. The glory of the falls has earned it a place on the back of Uganda’s 10,000 Shilling note. Continue reading

Ear Infections Abroad and Dealing with Them

A very slow waterslide in Pacific Harbor

My friend Alicia and I are on our own in Fiji now that my parents and sister have returned home. Lingering in Korotogo for one more night, we drank the overalcoholic local rum called Bounty (which gets more painful with each sip) and browsed two Fiji guidebooks for advice on SCUBA diving and lodging for cheapskates.

The next morning, after scraping a rough plan in the sand, we took a snazzy air conditioned bus from Korotogo to Pacific harbor with the idea that we would be doing some diving. Arriving late in the morning, we checked into the cheapest accommodation around, Tsulu apartments above the cultural center of town, and began a walking journey to the two nearby diving companies so we could compare prices.

I was worried about my ear, since I awoke that morning with a feeling of soreness in my left hand aural cavity. I just slept on it funny, I thought, but the problem persisted no matter the incident angle between skull and pillow. I expressed my concern with Alicia, saying “There is no way I am diving tomorrow if my ear is still hurting.” Diving is a game of pressure balance with your air-filled cavities, and so it is ill advised to head down unless your eyes and ears and mouth and nose are in good working order. Continue reading