Towards black Africa

Translation courtesy of Juan Vanecek

Once we arrived in Lodwar we finally left the "sandpit" we had gone through to enter Kenya along the west coast of the lake Turkana. In this little city we thought the worst had been over, but leaving Lodwar would only show us that we were just moving on to a new tough stage in our journey to Black Africa.

My references had already told me that even though the road to Lokichar was not-so-good, at least there wouldn't be sand anymore, thus no more pushing. However, what they didn’t warn me about was how freaking corrugated and full of craters the road was. Such was the conditions that we couldn’t ride faster than 5 km/h despite being a completely flat road. A new hell of unbearable sweat was beginning, and an even tougher one for me. A few weeks earlier, in the Omo Valley, I had found a slight crack in the rim of my rear wheel, but I had no other choice butto continue the trip, given the impossibility to find a place in which to get a new one. By the time we arrived in Lodwar, what initially was a slight crack had now grown into a fully visible one. The rim was literally cracking open with every kilometer I cycled, and as a result of this, a secondary and much worse problem arose. Due to the crack, I had to deflate the tire till half-way its capacity, because the higher the pressure, the bigger the crack would open. But Schwalbe tires need a strictly high level of pressure otherwise they break as well (it's their weakest point), thus I had to replace it for the 5 dollars Chinese spare tire I had got in Sudan as a backup. As a result, I ended up with a bicycle whose original weight of approximately 70 kg, were now horribly duplicated for having one half-deflated tire and one rim on the verge of collapse

Pure love

It was a long and endless 10 hours long day on the saddle to get to Lokichar with a shattered ass. The endless succession of deep potholes, the unbearable corrugations extending tens or hundreds of meters at once, the remnants of what once was tarmac now reduced to mere pieces of sharp stones, made me believe that pushing 5 days in a row on the sand hadn’t probably been that bad at all. In addition, I was dealing with the uneasy feeling that for every bump, every bounce, every impact on a sharp stone, the crack on my rim would crack open even more and would force me to take some form of transportation, something that barely exists in this God-forsaken stretch, where there is no more than harsh desert, dry acacias and the few last Turkana villages.

Late at night we arrived to Lokichar, exhausted and filthy, but there we would find asylum in the orphanage John Paul II, where three outstanding women -Sister Josephine, Sister Bernadetta and Sister María- give love and care to 85 kids from the Turkana and Pokot tribes, who have been literally left to die by their own families due to having disabilities and all different kinds of malformations. This is considered a burden and bad luck by the culture of these tribes, and the solution they adopt is leave them to die. The three sisters gave us a bed and plenty of food whilst they told us each of the children’s tragedies. Hearing them talk, with the huge humility and intense love in their words thrills me as it makes me think about how little I do for those in real need.

On the next day Sister Bernadetta gave us a tour around the orphanage and introduced us to little Kep, a shy and lovely kid suffering from hydrocephalus and several malformations in the legs. When Kep saw us, his instinctive reaction was to crawl away to seek hideout. This is the result of a family hiding him under a table for several days until he would die. Sister Josephine rescued him before that happened. Stories like Kep’s repeat over and over again as we get to know more kids with different kind of afflictions. But something stands out above all in every exchange we have with them: their bright smiles, their eyes full of hope, their words expressing dreams, dreams they may never accomplish but at least they dare to dream. It's marvelous. These nuns’ work earned my absolute admiration but on top of it all, it served as a profound inspiration to do good. Watching them with their kids is like watching pure love radiating from these women. I leave deeply touched with a lump in my throat, and this experience will stay with me during the next days to come.

Black Africa

From Lokichar we still had 200km ahead of us up to Kitale, but this stretch was not to be taken lightly, as it is the transition from Turkana to Pokot country, two arch-enemy tribes. However, the Pokot people, unlike the Turkana, have adopted vandalism as a mean for survival. The result is a highly dangerous area where daily armed ambushes and robberies to the few vehicles passing through are very common. Having consulted repeatedly with locals in Lodwar and Lokichar, we realized that it was nonsense taking the risk of an imminent assault. Even if we had wanted to take that risk it would have probably not been even possible as the police forbids to transit the area without armed escorts. That’s why we waited in the military roadblock, right out of Lokichar to be placed in the back of a truck that would take us to safe ground.

We took a ride with 30 others, most of them Turkana women, some Kenyans and two armed soldiers. The walls of the truck's cage were very high and we couldn’t see anything. Judging by the terrible bounces of the road, it was easy to figure we were driving through hell. Every time the truck stopped, we waited the unexpected, staying absolutely silent whilst the soldiers stood up to check the reason for the stop. They were high-tension moments. In one of the stops I decided to jump out of the cage to stretch the muscles and start a conversation with the driver. He tells me he hates this road but he gets well paid, even though one out of three times he is assaulted. He also tells me he definitely prefers to drive with no escorts, because every time he is escorted usually there are confrontations, shootings and people die. It took about 7 hours for the truck to drive along the high-risk 120 km-long-road, we got off physically exhausted, with all the body aching due to the merciless bumps, bouncing up and down against the hard metal planks of the base of the cage.

Shortly after we got off, already at night and pouring we cycled up to Makutano, and after going round and round in complete darkness we found the house of Father Daniel and Father Cornelius, right beside the local Catholic church. They welcomed us with arms wide open and broad smiles, very Kenyan style. What was initially going to be a one night stop, ended up being a three-day break, in which each morning they transmitted their joy to us and convinced us to stay a little longer. The Fathers gave us a beautiful room in their house and fed us until our bellies couldn't take any more food. While we were there, we had the honor to be invited to a traditional Kenyan wedding to be celebrated in their church. They are a true display of joy, singing, dancing, fun and 100% of African blood, not even close to the awfully serious and boring western Catholic weddings I witnessed. The Fathers saw us enjoying it so much and was such the bond we created with them, that they warmly invited us to come back to get married at their church. Though none of us is Catholic, we didn’t hesitate a bit to gladly accept their proposal.

The Sunday after the wedding, they invited us to be part of a very special mass celebrated exclusively for a group of Pokot people who personally invite the Fathers to conduct it. With them we were part of a kind of traditional Catholic mass but with African roots that would have never ever been possible, in my opinion, in what mostly is the obscure and cold western kind of mass. Here everything is different, we breathe joy not guilt, we eat big time, we dance, we sing with the Pokot, and the women dance and sing around us in a big circle paying homage to us, while the time men brought us presents. 

It is a moment I treasure as one of the happiest of all this trip. We arrived to sub-saharan Africa going through enormous (and dangerous) challenges in thousands of kilometers and we are safe, strong as an Oak Tree, we are happy as a team and I, personally, for being so privileged for having by my side a beautiful iron maiden that makes this experience much more real than my previous lonely adventures. These are moments where at the end of the day, while I watch the sun go down, I look at the horizon and I feel small and infinitely grateful to have the invaluable opportunity to discover the wonders of this world and its people. In spite of all the problems and conflicts that exist, I have the hope that good and good people will always prevail. Together with our beloved Father Daniel and Cornelius we rise into the air to celebrate this happiness and levitate of out of sheer joy!

Road to Kampala

The days of my rear wheel are counted, the crack is now huge and the inner tub is beginning to come out of it. But I don’t care, I’m happy, full of energy and I decided to stick with it until it falls apart, there will be enough time to replace it in the next well-deserved break we are due to take soon. Everything became easier when we left Makutano, the asphalt was perfect, we had plenty of food and drinks available any time, and despite the unbearable traffic, full of kamikaze trucks coming and going to/from Nairobi, and my super-heavy bike thanks to the broken rim, we spent very quiet days of little adventure.

Two days before arriving at the border with Uganda we started coming across teenagers walking half-naked wearing a colorful apron, with the face and body covered in chalk powder and carrying a stick. At the end of each day, we found them surrounded by people from their villages singing and cheering as if taking part of some kind of celebration. Shortly after we learned that they were youngsters of the Bukusu tribe and August is the month they celebrate their circumcision. For the whole month these kids wander throughout the villages and surrounding roads, wearing a few clothes and with such a face filled with fear that you kind of feel sympathy for them.

And it is no wonder because it’s a very bloody ritual. The circumcision is undertaken in public in front of both close and extended family, and an aunt (don’t ask me why), who sing, cheer, yell and shake maracas and feathers. The ritual, practiced without any type of anesthetics, is the final step into adulthood. These kids soon-to-be adults, are held by their fathers, brothers and cousins, and must not show any flick of pain when their foreskins are cut off. No frowning, no tears, no screaming, they have to hold the intense pain like… men? Some people tend to romanticize tribal life, but it is not an easy life, it's sometimes harsh and sometimes even shitty, and it includes some ancient costumes that are very hard to understand nowadays.

Kenya had an immense meaning to us, even when it was a country where we spent a relatively short time in and we rode across a remote area that has almost nothing to do with the Subshara-African culture. Nonetheless, our short experience was marked by a positive event after another. In the beginning, it was feeling the unimaginable relief of the simple act of leaving Ethiopia behind, then it was followed by the intensity of feeling the adrenaline in our bodies when dodging the dangers of the adventure across the wonderful tribal lands of the northwest, and finally by the warm welcome we had from the first people of black Africa that we met. Kenya will remain in my heart as the place that I will definitely like to come back to, to spend more time and, why not, to get married as well.

A few days later, already on the roads of Uganda, we spent the last 5 days before our break riding along the soft hills of sugar cane plantations, bananas and avocados. The colors of the tropics began to appear in the form of exuberant greens, red soil, big and dark clouds in the sky holding heavy downpours, and although we are very close to Equator, the average altitud of 1200m makes the weather not so humid as it uses to be in the tropics. These days were very quiet, we are going slow, we passed through the allegedly source of the Nile River in Jinja (although in this region more than 5 places claim that honor) but it is not very interesting. The Ugandans we got to know kept showing us more of this beautiful African spirit that Kenya introduced us to. Finally, we had the first sight of the magnificent lake Victoria before getting to Jan’s house in Kampala, where we would leave our bikes for the next month and a half to take a break. There is a wedding waiting for us and a very special return to our beloved Sudan, Julia’s family is waiting for us in Barcelona and my niece and nephew in Canada. It a very well deserved break in a moment full of happiness. And my rim, with almost 1000 km ridden since the crack appeared, collapsed happily after completing the hard work of bringing me here, there will be plenty of time to replace it, now there is nothing more but resting ahead.