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Old 12-11-2012, 12:52 PM   #106
strikingviking OP
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Chalbi Desert, Kenya


Since the whole village was asleep, I probably could have dozed until sunrise without anyone noticing, but once awake it was best to avoid potential hassles and roll for Marsabit, the last small Kenyan town with electricity. Yet even if I reached there, the next long stretch to Moyale at the Ethiopian border is the fiercest section. The only light at the end of this tunnel was knowing that eventually an asphalt road at the frontier would lead to Addis Ababa and hopefully to a set of mechanic’s tools to repair a broken suspension.

Out of fear and common sense, no one drives after dark in Kenya, but I hoped that also meant any bad guys were likely fast asleep dreaming of daytime plundering. Attempts to convince myself that a night ride under the stars would ease the misery were quickly squashed when I recalled, the previous day’s events. A few optimistic test bounces in the saddle confirmed that no divine healing had occurred during the last four hours, and there was no telling if the shock absorber would last another day or another mile. I was beyond the point of no return in every direction.

Unlike blazing desert days, midnight air was crisp and clean. The push of a button made the motorcycle grumble to life. But my confidence faded as yesterday’s brutal jarring resumed even worse than I remembered. There would be no escape in a first-gear crawl, easing over every ridge and rock. With zero travel in a frozen shock, violent kicking and bucking made simply hanging on to the handlebars a challenge.



At 10 miles per hour without rear suspension, I tried to calculate how many hours it would take to ride 300 miles. Maybe throttling up to 15miles per hour would shave an hour or two. Either way, between robbers and vicious terrain, one of Africa’s worst roads was ready to bang and test the limits of both my internal organs and a thoroughly abused motorcycle frame.

At least riding slow allowed me a chance to evaluate which bumps and gullies to dodge to minimize impacts. Standing on the foot pegs with bent knees was temporary relief but became too tiring, requiring rest stops every 30minutes. With fatigued arms and legs, a creeping desert dawn glowed into a bursting orange sunrise.



By noon, the last carefully packed apples had shaken into mush and the fragmented shells of hard-boiled eggs had ground together with the yolks into gooey paste. Combining the concoction together to swallow in lumps was still better than the foul-tasting local fare. But the smelly combined proteins were nutritious, and there was still a gallon of water left to last the day. My need for intense focus on the road meant that stunning savanna scenery passed by in a jiggling peripheral blur. By noon, there were still no other vehicles in sight.

Finally, just after the 20th straight hour of rolling misery, a two-room dilapidated structure appeared with barely legible, grime covered words above the tilting doorway — Marsabit Medical Center. Even though I knew more of the same still lay ahead, arriving on the town’s outskirts felt like reaching the finish line at an Olympic event.



Marsabit town is a scene out of America’s Wild West — scrawny cattle being driven past windowless ramshackle wooden cabins and clouds of red grit swirling down stony clay avenues. Nothing has been maintained or repaired since it was built decades before. Few buildings had electric power, and none had running water. Hand-painted weathered letters on broken signs described what was offered inside.



In Magic Marcie’s Fashion Design, piles of musty used clothing donated by international charities were ready to be illegally resold. Marsabit General Supermarket was a doorless shack selling milk in cartons and canned meats with labels reading “A Gift from the People of New Zealand.” What wasn’t crumbling was rusting or sat gathering dust while no one seemed to care. As in many developing countries, men stood drinking afternoon tea and cheap beers by night.

From disordered, debris-strewn markets, subservient women in lace headscarves trudged under heavy loads of vegetable baskets and bundled firewood. Engaged in their share of the labor, caped young boys in worn sandals tugged on ropes, leading bleating goats to pasture. What little water there is must be hand carried or lugged in lopsided wooden wheelbarrows wherever needed or to those who can afford it.



Jey-Jey Center is the only hotel secured by barbed wire and with a deteriorating underground cistern servicing a filthy squat toilet — at five bucks a night, the single cement cubicles were a bargain. Cleans sheets stopped mattering to me months ago, as long they don’t stink and are not overrun with fleas. At least the two-year drought had eliminated mosquitoes and the threat of malaria.

For boring evenings, a beat-down honky-tonk built of splintered planks provided economical entertainment as one strolled past broken saloon doors hanging off rusted hinges. With African rap music blaring through crackling metal speakers, the ear-splitting throbs were a deafening assault as I wandered. Safe within steel-barred cages, middle-aged, chubby Indian men peddled rotgut whiskey and warm local beers while drunks slobbered on themselves in darkened corners.

The scene was made complete as potbellied hookers with long, drooping breasts flashed forlorn smiles through decayed teeth and puffy maroon lips. But late nights in Marsabit are for partiers with more determination than me, and other than this exclusive freak show, there was nothing else enticing enough to keep me awake.

In the afternoon, the moment I ventured outside Jey-Jey’s, throngs of unkempt children crowded around me, yelling “Sweets, sweets, give me money, give me pens!” Although it’s clear that the foreigner’s role in Africa is strictly for giving, all that I offer is bumpy rides on a limping motorcycle.

Having trained their children to beg, scowling parents glared as giggling youngsters abandoned rehearsed scam-lines and jumped with delight, lining up to be next for a spin through town. Sometimes you just have to let kids be kids. With one eager child on the front and two on the back, appeasing the crowd still required a whole afternoon. Following the Pied Piper back to Jey-Jey’s, the trailing troops assured me they would stand guard as I swatted away the last of persistent horseflies and tried to forget the situation while spiraling into sleep.



No matter how good it feels, ignoring problems will not make them disappear, but leaving the bike parked for three peaceful days allowed me enough time to quit peeing burgundy and relieve an aching back. Still, the question of reaching the border returns with a confirmation by locals that bandits are active again. “They don’t tell you to stop, they shoot the driver and then attack passengers.”

Pulling off his shirt, one truck driver says, “Here, look at my body. I’ve already been shot five times.” On that thought, it’s likely the road ahead is to become more interesting still.

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Old 12-11-2012, 02:18 PM   #107
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Fashion statements became blade scarred faces above elaborately beaded neck disks and pierced bodies against deep midnight skin so black it was almost blue.



A funny thing is that, in Irish Gaelic, the term for a black man is "Fear Gorm" which, literally translated, means "Blue Man".

That term has been around for 1000 years, in Irish Gaelic, which means that, despite not much in the way of documented evidence, the Irish knew of central Africa long before their country was invaded by their near neighbours less than 800 years back.

And the Irish Gaelic, and probably Scot Gaelic too, term for a black man is still "Fear Gorm".
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Old 12-12-2012, 07:49 AM   #108
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Spent the last two mornings reading and gazing on these images, made tears well... Thank you Old Boy.

A lady friend is flying to Cape Town next month. She is built for comfort, very dark, about 55
and I'll be buying two copies of One More Day Everywhere. One for me and the other for her trip.
Looking forward to taking Robin to lunch when she returns so i can have an uninterrupted time to hear her tale.

I did read your first book several years ago, then gave it to a Navy buddy that was Search & Rescue for 8 years.

Best Regards,
OldPete
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Old 12-13-2012, 08:45 AM   #109
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Originally Posted by OldPete View Post
Spent the last two mornings reading and gazing on these images, made tears well... Thank you Old Boy.

A lady friend is flying to Cape Town next month. She is built for comfort, very dark, about 55
and I'll be buying two copies of One More Day Everywhere. One for me and the other for her trip.
Looking forward to taking Robin to lunch when she returns so i can have an uninterrupted time to hear her tale.

I did read your first book several years ago, then gave it to a Navy buddy that was Search & Rescue for 8 years.

Best Regards,
OldPete
Glad you enjoy this thread and am happy to hear of your friends upcoming journey. In order to keep my publisher happy, the book reveals much more than I am able to post here.
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Old 12-22-2013, 05:17 PM   #110
Squidbrah
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Alright so....where is the rest of this ride report???

Tempted to buy the book now.
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Old 12-22-2013, 07:02 PM   #111
patrkbukly
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I like your lens

You should work for National Geographic….or Maxum…or maybe a combo.
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Old 03-02-2014, 04:47 PM   #112
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Just finished the book

Just sent you a message on FB. What a great adventure book that will rank right up with Ted Simon and Lois Pryce for insights from travel and getting to know the people of the world. This is a book I am going to refer to in the future, where I can open it and read a few pages. There are short stories to enjoy on every few pages, with your insights and thoughts. You have to keep writing. You have a gift of looking at people thru the microscope and appreciating everyone's unique gifts. Great job, amigo.
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Old 03-03-2014, 11:13 AM   #113
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Thanks for the replies amigos. I completely forgot about this thread and will update these postings soon.
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Old 01-05-2015, 04:07 AM   #114
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A-Mazing!
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Old 01-11-2015, 07:12 PM   #115
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Thanks for the replies amigos. I completely forgot about this thread and will update these postings soon.

i think he forgot again
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Old 01-12-2015, 10:41 PM   #116
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And the Road Smoothes
January 10, 2006
Delia, Ethiopia
Early mornings in Marsabit were a wicked tease. A cold, gray fog enshrouded decrepit buildings and browning eucalyptus treetops, offering just enough momentary light mist to tingle faces. But in the arid Chalbi Desert air, rain was a frivolous notion as faint whiffs of moisture were sucked into clouds of swirling red dust before ever hitting the ground. Inhabitants weren’t encouraged; only optimistic foreign visitors were foolish enough to think the drought was ending and a storm approaching. But it was the same result by noon, an empty powder-blue sky breathing steady desert gusts to deposit grit into squinting eyes.



Riding toward the border, there was little to see beyond a deep cut corrugated road evaporating into the horizon. Endless ruts and jagged stones threatened to slice vulnerable rubber tires over thousands of flat square-miles across evenly spread baseball-sized volcanic rocks. The scene ahead looked like photos broadcast from robot cameras on Mars.



Despite the government’s attempts to search for water, their inadequate gesture is a year too late. As massive brand-new yellow road-graders rusted in Marsabit equipment yards, there was no one to man them or the scattered, abandoned roadside drilling rigs. Foreign aid sent to finance relief was likely lining the Swiss bank accounts of various government officials appointed to oversee these projects — and no one here works without pay. They will die first — sooner rather than later, if the delay continues.

Established watering holes have vanished into pathetic pits of caked earth — there is nowhere left to drive cattle for drinking, and there is no plant life left to graze on. Useless to continue herding, cows have been freed to die in the open. Every other mile, scrawny strays lie sideways, intermittently flailing their legs in futile attempts to rise — and in between, the piercing stench of death announces another less fortunate. Skinned for their hides, the decaying meat was poison to humans, and there weren’t even any vultures to pick the bones.
Despondent villagers with downcast eyes waited next to stacks of empty plastic jugs. African pleas were no longer hustles for money— only parents and children on their knees with clasping hands shouting “Water, water, water.” I still hear them when trying to sleep.



Continuing past dusk into late evening’s transparent black velvet, teams of miniature antelope the size of jackrabbits leaped aimlessly across the road. Sets of shining pink eyes either froze in my path or charged for the light. A faster-moving vehicle would have creamed these only companions of the night. Able to march vast distances without water, long camel caravans weaving through thorn bushes stood the best chance.

These tall, lanky animals could be smelled before they were seen in the headlight, as nomadic tribesmen in high-piled turbans swatted their rumps with irritable commands to keep moving forward. As the only beasts able to survive, even their final hopes were to find the edge of the desert. Yet the only hope for an alien on a limping motorcycle was the Ethiopian frontier, where promised tarmac would lead to Addis Ababa and an opportunity at repairs which will be necessary if I am to finish a journey that I am no longer sure of.

And just before dawn, rooftop shadows of the dilapidated outpost at Moyale rose into view like welcoming tombstones. More rundown than a typical soulless border town, this forlorn graveyard of decaying structures made Marsabit look modern. Though it was too early for me to enter customs and immigration procedures from the Kenyan side, I could see relief ahead — a dark asphalt strip wrapping low-lying hilltops, vanishing into the Ethiopian skyline.

Finally, groggy, old black men in soiled gray uniforms shuffled to their posts in time to first fire kettles of tea for the upcoming day. As the only person transiting either direction, my carnet de passage and passport were stamped and registered almost faster than I wanted. With no other suckers out this early, black-market moneychangers argued over who could scalp me the quickest. But using the leverage of supply and demand, I bargained them down to exchanging the last of my Kenyan shillings at better-than-bank rates
and felt lucky until discovering that there are no ATMs in Ethiopia.



Riding to the capital was a 12-hour sprint to cash my emergency traveler’s checks, which until then, would leave barely enough money for fuel. Still, the casual countryfolk were pleasant, and at every stop I was met with outstretched hands and urgings to take their photo. Ordering food was a challenge. As no one spoke English, in order to eat without fried onions, there is now a complicated new language to learn, quickly. Derived from Arabic with no familiar letters, consonant sounds are configured in peculiar order and pronounced with hisses. Greetings come first in developing countries. “Salaam endemana?” (Hello, how are you?)

But this works fine while waiting for food in side-street restaurants, as I engage locals while pantomiming questions for recording definitions in my improvised Amharic dictionary. Experimenting in crude cafés is still the best way to meet people, and soon I’ve bumbled through an hour-long simple dialogue in an unknown language. Between easygoing natives and flavorful, spicy curries, southern Ethiopia was much too pleasant to rush, and for the first time in awhile, it was a refreshing change not to hurry.
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