As I previously written here in this blog – I really do appreciate movement. I sort of believe we need to stay in motion to keep sane, and I feel that every time I stop somewhere for too long, I get a throng of stillness sickness, affecting both my body and my mind. That’s of course, partially, why I am on this trip but it’s also what makes this trip a bit hard. Though buses, cars and trains are taking me places, I spend an awful lot of time sitting crammed up in spaces not intended for tall Scandinavians, sweating, hungry and in need of a pee for hours on end. Often my legs and knees goes numb and as they do, my mind goes slightly mad by watching the line of buses ahead, slowly crawling up long hills, pestered with pot holes and road checks. Though I am moving great distances, my body is in pain from this sedentary life style, being used to far more exercise and healthy routines. I get irritated, my patience shortens with every degree the temperature rises, and all I can think of is a desperate search for shade, wind or big amounts of cold water. When the body is still, the mind stagnates.
After the long and painful crossing from Addis Abeba to Nairobi, consisting of three buses á 12 hours each, I started breaking down physically and emotionally. From Nairobi I went on a six day safari to the stunning national parks around the country, which included many hours on the roads, in the safari van. For some reason I then thought I needed a vacation and gave myself five days to rest by the bright white beaches south of Mombasa, anticipating and celebrating the new year. Though Kenya gave me it’s best, I was bored out of my mind, contemplating going home so as I could get back into long-distance running and going to the gym again.
Now, the safari was really an amazing experience, offering intimate encounters with wild but serene animals not paying much attention to us curious bystanders. It was beautiful to see elephants and lions, cheetahs and zebras, knowing they have nothing to fear from humans, and therefore wandering around in their own pace, grazing, socialising, lazily staring into the distance contemplating dinner. It’s a beautiful experience I am happy I took time for and spent money on. The five days by the beach, in a comfortable resort with good people were all very nice, but maybe my own impassiveness was the sole reason I started questioning the whole incentive for travelling at all. Trying to sort my head and heart out, I resorted to what I usually do: taking a walk. Though, trying to clear your head with a brisk sunset walk on the beaches of Mombasa meant three or four guys would start following you, offering you boat rides, coconuts or their own private services no matter how explicitly you tried to explain that you just want to go for a bloody walk – alone! One hour in I had to give up this one of my favourite activities and spent the following days safely away from any hustlers, staying put on a sun chair on the private beach of the resort, interpreting catholic symbolism through the lyrical beauty of James Joyce, slowly getting lazier and lazier. I was actually grateful when wrapping up my stay, though Kenya is a beautiful country with a more relaxed atmosphere and less hustling than in Ethiopia, Sudan or Egypt. I liked the food, I stayed in nice places and people were through and through very sweet. But I could not help feeling that something was missing. What to do when your mind is as restless as your feet?
Okay, I would give it another try, let’s go for a walk in a different country.
Even more grateful than I was leaving the beachside I arrived at a sunny and serene Uganda after a somewhat adventurous and strenuous 24 hour bus ride from Mombasa. (Oh yeah, buses all over the continent blasts local music of various quality, alternatively the Koran, and in almost all modes of transport I feel half my time is spent trying to make drivers turn down the over-the-top volume) Having a travel friend to meet me in Jinja, we set to making plans and suddenly adventure started! Uganda presented lush mountains, crushing waterfalls and refreshing hikes up and down the villages on Mt Elgon. At the same time our awesome guide made us learn the basic phrases in the local languages, explained to us about Ugandan tribes and lifestyle but also about contemporary politics while putting one feet ahead of the other, reaching sweeping views over stunning peaks. Ah, both my body and my mind were suddenly moving, and oh how I love the pain gained from mountain climbing compared to the numbing pain of sitting still. Though it took a lot of energy, I got more of it back in return and started feeling close and happy to Uganda in a sense I had not gathered in Kenya. People are nice but not pushy; more or less educated but always smart, and they have a good grasp of the world and politics. Uganda is still a somewhat overlooked country, where its neighbours Kenya, Tanzania and Rwanda seem to get all the attention for safaris, beaches, gorillas and Kilimanjaro climbs. That said, the tourism industry in those countries obviously have had some negative sides to it, making it hard to have a genuine conversation not ending with someone trying to sell you something or straight out asking for money of various amounts. In Uganda, people offer not just polite smiles but laughs and friendship, and the people I have met here have been genuine, open, funny and curious no matter their position, background or age. This is a rare place in Africa where you really will get to know people, able to consider them as friends instead of drivers, servers, waiters or guides.
Here, it only takes a small effort to get something back. Greet people with a smile, learn some local phrases and let them know how stunning their country is, and they will treat you like family. After having been a tourist the weeks spent in Kenya it’s nice to be a traveller again, stocking up on beautiful experiences and friends. Refuelled, it’s onwards and upwards!