Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Greatest. Weekend. Ever.

Friday was Kenyatta Day, and Tuesday was Eid, so I skipped work Monday and made it a five day weekend. I left Busia Friday morning, matatu'd to Kitale then Kapcherop and started hiking in the afternoon. I looked into getting a guide in both Kitale and Kapcherop, but that was basically only to assuage paranoid concerns and since I didn't really want one, I headed out.

It was mostly walking on small dirt roads, but no cars, few people, and great scenery. It reminded me of the Nimitz trail on top of the coastal ridge in Berkeley (well, the Belgum trail, more specifically) except in Africa, at 7,500 feet, with monkeys and grass thatched huts all over the place. I met a cool South Sudanese refugee; he told me about 11 of his 12 siblings dying in the civil war in Sudan, and we ragged on George Bush together as he showed me a cross-country shortcut. Just around dark I walked into the village of Kapsait and asked for a place to set up my tent. A dude told me to go up the hill to the Nike Athlete Training Center and pitch it there. So I hung out with and had a couple meals with Kenya's elite runners, most of whom were training for the same race I'll be running next week in Nairobi. I went on a training run with them the next morning (OK, really I just watched). They were all extremely nice, and the most amazing part was that they by American standards, they didn't know squat about "smart" training. They ate the same thing every other Kenyan eats: ugali and beans for dinner, and chapati and tea for breakfast. (Ugali is made from only corn flour and water and eaten at most every meal.) They don't have a track to train on, they just ran on the cow-filled dirt road (that obviously doesn't help you measure your time on exact distances), and a lot of them didn't really know anything about what their living at around 9,000 feet above sea level did for them. They just trained really hard and ran really fast. Maybe I'll see them again when they're lapping me on Sunday.

Saturday I hiked from Kapsait to Nyarkulyan through mostly Pokot villages all at around 10,000 feet. Again at around dark, I just asked some people where I could set up a tent, and the lady that worked at the local dispensary told me to pitch it in her yard, then she made me some really good ugali and nyama (meat). I could barely breathe and was weeping trying to occasionally open my eyes inside her chimney-less cookhouse, and her and her coworker think white people invented AIDS, but that's way less disturbing than meeting guys in Pakistan that think Osama's cool and the Q'uran prophesied of 9/11, so it was all good.

Sunday I dropped almost 5000 feet in a couple hours down into the Tamkal valley. It was around 95 degrees and the vegetation was pretty sparse. I finished the total 80km of hiking in the early afternoon and bummed a ride with some dudes heading out to watch a Chelsea or Arsenal match and camped at a yuppie wazungu resort nearby. I didn't really dig on the yuppie scene (or the chunky British girl wearing thong underwear) too much, but one night wasn't bad. I got a good arrogant/ridiculous I'm-a-better-traveller-than-you satisfaction while I was eating my crackers and peanut butter from home watching everyone else eat the buffet since I discovered at this point I'd only brought less than $50 and had no bank card to get more. This country is really not that cheap, certainly not Pakistan-inexpensive, so that was a real concern.

But that didn't stop me from catching the next bus up to Lodwar. I was already at the border of what is considered Northern Kenya, so why not? I waited at a police checkpoint (again ragging on Bush with the locals) for several hours then caught the first bus (only the third or fourth vehicle in about 4 hours). They gave the mzungu the only spare seat and crammed the Turkana into the aisle like cattle. Then we drove north for 5 hours on quite possibly the shittiest road in the world. You know the National Geographic photo of the woman with the elongated neck thanks to gold necklaces? This is who we're talking about. (OK, I'm not 100% on that, and I didn't see any clearly stretched necks, but I did see a billion necklaces on beautiful mo-hawked women wearing (or not wearing) plaid togas and huge earrings). The men wore togas and Boy Scouts of America uniforms and carried AK-47's for camel and goat raids, and it was generally pretty awesome. The Turkana know they're exotic to westerners, so they don't like having their picture taken, which was different than the rest of my Kenyan experience, but OK.

I got to Lodwar right as it was getting dark, so I didn't get to go to Lake Turkana and see the flamingos or possible crocodile, and I found out that there are no daytime buses out of Lodwar, so I'd have to hitch with a truck if I wanted to get back for work Wednesday. So I got up early in the morning and went to the local loading bay to wave down a truck headed south. An ex-Unicef Lifeline for Sudan truck picked me up and we were off. It had rained all morning, so we got about 15km out of town before flooding prevented us from getting anywhere. We went back to town for lunch and I considered going to Kalakol (the town actually on Lake Turkana) and just take the night bus home, but everybody told me I couldn't make it there and back (or even there in the first place) because the roads were crap in that direction too. So I just stuck with my truck and made it as far as Kitale, stayed the night there and covered the remaining 4 hours Wednesday morning. I had 201 shillings left when I got home: under $3.

OK, I can't tell how cool that description made my weekend sound, but it was pretty damn cool. I backpacked 80km, wandered all over Northern Kenya by myself for 5 days on $50, and hung out with elite marathoners, and Sudanese, Pokot, and Turkana people. Woo-ha.

Pictures forthcoming.

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