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

The Home Stretch through Uganda

My first Ugandan lunch for nearly a month

Miles beyond Busia, over the border from Kenya and back into Uganda, they still say “Jambo!” in greeting. They still say “Asante Sana” in thanks, and they still count currency in Kiswahili. This makes it tough to shift gears back into the Lugandan language after having been in Kiswahili mode for so long.

But most things are Ugandan again. Plantains are steamed and mashed into matoke, the belly-filling staple food available at any roadside restaurant. The plantations where those fruits come from line the gently rising and falling roadways, and the white minivans with a blue checkered stripe zoom past my rattling bicycle at great speed, taking commuters to the next towns. 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