Dirt In My Teeth

Today’s 100-kilometre ride, with 5200 feet of elevation gain, was for two beautiful twins, Babirye Nalwadda Juliet and Nakato Nasiwa Harriet who want to be a doctor and a nurse respectively.

I know we came here to ride our bikes and sometimes we feel a little lame taking a day off, let alone three! But it’s during these rests that we have time and opportunity to connect with the people around us. The OM Hostel has been my favourite place to stay so far, not only because of the peaceful lake atmosphere and privacy, but mostly because I learned so much and enjoyed our new Ugandan friends so deeply. I sent off last night’s blog too soon. You just never know what’s going to happen. We went up to the campfire to find a new guest named Phil, a student at Stanford from Texas, and Bowie, a recent graduate from UBC who’s from Richmond, BC (small world). Boaz, one of the chefs, was sitting there silently as the two college students complained about the price of tuition and talked about all the cool places they have travelled. Listening to them, I imagined what it would be like to be Boaz (who does speak English btw and I’m sure could understand them) to sit there and listen to two North Americans, who are about his age, talk about such things when his life consists of sharing a small room with four other guys, cooking amazing meals over an open fire and boiling water for people like Phil and Bowie to have a hot shower. They were not engaging with him at all and I felt bad for Boaz and annoyed with Phil and Bowie for being so oblivious. So I pulled up a seat next to Boaz and asked him questions about his family, his education, etc. Before long, we heard music coming from the boys’ room and Boaz went to check things out. When he came back, John asked if they were having a dance party in there. Well, I’m not sure what Boaz heard, but he got a really excited look on his face and tore back into the room. He came out with Neville and Bosco and we realized that we were going to have an actual dance party. I asked them to please show us some of their Chiga tribal dancing. They all put their heads together and whispered and laughed a little bit and then Neville started to sing while Boaz and Bosco started to dance, stamping their feet very hard (to represent the strength of their tribe) and whooping. They were enjoying themselves as much as we were enjoying watching them. Neville sang a song of welcome and about how they will miss us and want us to come back. It was amazing, but they weren’t done yet. Neville wanted to show us his moves since he only got to sing and clap for the first number. Bosco got a water jug and a stick and started to drum while Neville and Boaz did another traditional dance, apologizing they they didn’t have grass tiaras and skirts to make it more authentic. After that, they still wanted to sing one more song. It was the happy birthday song so they wondered whose birthday was the closest. I quickly reminded them that the reason I was in Uganda in the first place was because of my birthday so they sang the traditional happy birthday song to me. It was a dance party that I won’t forget and I didn’t even have to dance. Once the ice was broken, all the young people, including Bowie and Phil, got talking about soccer and fishing and we oldies said goodnight, hearing them continue to laugh as we descended the stairs to our hut.

This morning we enjoyed one last breakfast, compliments of Chef Bosco, before we headed across the lake in a wooden boat with our bikes. I was excited that it was the one and only “Friendly Boat” that we shoes a picture of the other day. The driver was on time and everything. After getting to the middle of the lake, the engine sputtered and died. He got it started again. Well, it died again and I thought it was dead for good. He had run out of fuel. Nope, not when you tip it on its edge to pull the last drops out. There it goes. And we’re off!!

Bosco helped unload our bikes and we were off to pedal another hundred-kilometre day. We climbed out of the lake’s valley and then got to descend the hill from hell from a few days ago. We had to stop a couple times and just rest our hands and forearms from the braking. I felt like I was on a bucking bronco that was out of control but enjoyed every minute of it. On the sides of the road, there are rock quarries where hundreds of men are breaking stone and separating rock from sand -all by hand. One big man yelled out to John, “I am strong!!” That’s Chiga for ya. We hit the pavement and rode through a beautiful valley with gentle hills and lots of action as it was market day.

We wanted to see Kisiizi Falls today and then continue on to Rukungiri. It was not an easy day to navigate as we have gone off our route completely. John is relying on a few resources (that all contradict each other) to find intricate paths and obscure roads while trying to protect me from having to kill myself. I was amazed by his skills again today as he found our way through some crazy and isolated terrain. He didn’t make a single misstep. Incredible. The ascent and decent to the falls, although difficult, were two of my favourite parts of the ride so far. The climb was ridiculous but gradual and the descent made me feel like I was in Colorado or Moab or home in Nelson. Rocks, loose gravel, sand and pine trees were all part of the story and I was smiling so much, I had dirt in my teeth. It was truly a logging road just like home- steep gravel and men working throughout the forest. The main difference was that these men cut their logs into planks right on site using a ten foot-long hand saw operated by two men at a time. The log sits above ground by about eight feet and one man is below and one is above and they cut all day, every day, the full length of the log, plank after two-inch-thick plank.

Kisiizil Falls was beautiful and worth the work to get there, but it has a horribly gruesome and sad history. If a woman from that area was found to be pregnant and unwed, her dad and/or brothers would take her to the top of the falls, tie her up, and push her over the edge. The practice happened for a long time until the day that one desperate woman grabbed her dad and brother and pulled them down with her to their deaths. The men in charge decided that it was now too dangerous for them to continue the practice because the other girls would hear what she had done and follow suit. It was an amazing waterfall with a very nice suspension bridge and a vivid tragic monument that you can see below. It was hard for me not to imagine the fear the women would feel and hear the pleading and screams.

The day ended on pavement once again but because of the heat and the fact that I didn’t really eat anything after Bosco’s eggs and toast, my legs were cramping for the last fifteen kilometres and it was a long climb to end the day. We are on the third floor of the hotel and our legs feel like lead going up to our room. We laid our money on pizza again, but for the first time in my entire life, I met a pizza I didn’t like. Where’s Chef Bosco when you need him? Our traditional bag of chips and pop have never tasted so good. And I could have stood in the cold shower for an hour. So although there is no longer dust and dirt flying into my eyes and teeth while cycling, there was a bit of sand in the pizza. But I’m still smiling.