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Happy B'day To Me
Jan 30, 2005

Happy Birthday to Me!

So, I'm in the middle of nowhere, off on a grand adventure.  That's not a bad way to turn 34.

I sleep late, it is my birthday after all, but then have to rush to the bus stand to try to catch a ride to Kalikol.  Luckily, I manage to get the last seat in a minivan.  They seem not to be in any hurry to go anywhere, so having paid for my seat, I ask them to pick me up at the supermarket where I stock up on all the necessities -- booze for the birthday, beads to give as gifts in remote regions, some chocolate for me, and most importantly a 5 liter bottle of water to get me through the desert.


Turkana women

Goats seeking shade


Lake Turkana

Road back to Kalikol

Orion's belt


My birthday suite

While waiting to be picked up, I order a coke at a small restaurant adjacent to the supermarket.  The waiter is coincidentally wearing an Oakland A's (my home team) cap -- It is a small world after all.

The minivan picks me up and we make good progress along a not-too-bad road to Kalikol.  I am scribbling notes for what would become this journal entry -- writing about the good timing in getting the last seat, and the coincidence of the Oakland A's hat.  Then, as I'm writing that these signs forebode a good and interesting next year, the van dies.  Hmmm...  I wonder what that forebodes?

The minivan is hammered upon, and pushed along, but eventually we make it to Kalikol.  Kalikol is a dusty little one road town and it's damn hot.  I quickly drink a cold Sprite and go off in search of Mark the New Zealand guy.  I'm told that he's at a hotel down on the lake, but I'm not convinced.  In much of the world people want not to seem ignorant, or perhaps they consider saying "I don't know" as being impolite.  Whatever the reason when these people don't know the answer to a question, they respond "yes".

With nothing else to do, I head down to Lake Turkana.  I'm heading there in search of Mark, but also not a lot of people can say that they've taken a dip in Lake Turkana on their birthday.  It's a long way to the lake so I hire a bicycle taxi - the only sort of taxi in Kalikol.  The bike is horribly unstable with the weight of two people plus my luggage.  The straps of my backpack are cutting into my shoulders, and each bump in the road seems to pound me right in the nuts.  It's not a fun ride.

I arrive at Lake Turkana and am immediately unimpressed.  The water is muddy and the best word I can find to describe the scenery is dreary and it's still too damn hot.  There are lots of kids around washing themselves, washing clothes or just playing in the water.  I say "hi" to some of the kids and decide I'm not going to go for a swim.  The heat is oppressive and I don't need a sunburn, but mostly I can't think of a way to protect my luggage or wallet should I go for a swim.  Instead, I just wet my feet and then retreat from the sun. 

I sit in the shade with some fishermen.  There is a nice hotel way out on a peninsula, but no one knows of a white person staying there.  It seems that Mark has probably already left. 

I'm sitting in the shade gathering strength to try to walk back - I'm rather opposed to taking a bike back.  Suddenly, a 6" grasshopper drops from the tree and falls at my feet.  A wasp is stinging it to death.  Life or death struggles right in front of your eyes aren't something that you see very day.

I began to walk back, but the sun was far too hot, and I didn't make it far.  While regaining strength in the shade, I saw a passing bicycle taxi and hailed it.  This bicycle is slightly more comfortable than the last one, unfortunately the ride only lasts a half-mile.  Then the chain snaps.  There's no way to fix a chain out here.  I'm back to walking again.

I paid half the taxi fare, which the guy seemed very happy with.  I don't think he expected anything for only a little bit of a ride.  The taxi driver, who also has to walk back, insists on carrying my backpack.  In the heat, I'm in no mood to argue. 

When we arrive back in Kalikol he takes me to the one hotel.  The hotel has a dozen rooms in two buildings.  The building in the rear has an aluminum roof, but I'm warned that it's too hot.  Instead, I get a room with mud walls and a thatched roof.  Wasps live in the mud walls of my room, which scares me a bit after the display I saw a few hours ago.  The price for the room is $1.25; water not included.  They sell big containers of water for 15 cents.

I buy some water and splash it on my face.  Then I have a cup of tea, and order lunch.  With nothing to do in this town, I sit on the bench in front of my hotel to people-watch.  Instead, people are watching me.  A crowd of 40 kids gathers around and stares until some adults chase them away.

I've still got nothing to do so I go for a walk around town.  There's not far to walk.  Kalikol is a one road town with only a half-dozen shops.  But this tiny town has four "movie theaters" each with a TV and a VCD player - I suspect that the locals don't have much to do here either, so they pass their evenings away watching movies.

Suddenly, I find that it's already 6pm.  I'm exhausted from the heat and the walk.  I'm actually ready for bed.  But there is no way that I'm going to bed at 6pm on my birthday.  I look for hidden for energy reserves.  I refuse to go to sleep on my birthday without having at least one (or...  3 or 4) drinks. 

I take another loop around town looking for something to do.  There are the movie theaters, but I'm not going to spend my birthday watching a movie.  As, I pass one of the theaters they're blaring the song "Boom, boom, boom".  It's a song that always transports me back to Israel in 1987, dancing in Lalo's Pub.  Now it's doubly strange picture.  Mentally flashing back and forth between being drunk in Jerusalem in 1987, and wandering around Kalikol in 2005.  Two very interesting, and very different places. 

Back at my hotel, through a combination of English, pantomime, and Swahili, I manage to ask if there's a bar.  Somehow, I missed it on my loops around town.  But, thank god.  Kalikol does have a bar.

I get dressed up for the big night - in this case that means putting on one of my other two shirts.  I know that I've mentioned the stars before, but I step out of my room and am stunned by them.  There is no moon.  The stars are as bright as I've ever seen them.  I decide to take some photos of them before going out drinking.  Even if there is nothign else - the stars are magical enough to make this a pretty good birthday.

I find the bar and it's built like a mini-aircraft hanger with corrugated aluminum walls, but it has a pool table, so I'm happy.  There is only one other customer, so I order both of us a drink.  I've learned a new lesson in life - if there is only one bar in town then it will attract all of the worst elements.

The guy I just bought a drink for is a cop and he's drunk as hell.  I tell him that I'm going to Ethiopia and he tells me that he's going up there tomorrow. 

At first I'm very happy with this news, as I might have a ride.  But then it gets a little strange.  It seems that he wants me to leave with him and fill out some paperwork.  But it is all very suspicious.  He was so drunk, and his English was poor to start with, so I could understand almost nothing of what he was saying.  But he kept talking at me, and I would occasionally nod in pseudo-agreement.  It was another mental flashback - this time I was transported back to Myanmar and being interrogated by the very drunk secret police.

Other guys show up in the bar and I play pool with them to escape from the cop.  And, then when the cop goes off to the toilet these guys warn me "Dangerous - Don't go anywhere with him."  I was already doing my best to keep my distance, but now I redouble those efforts

Eventually, the policeman staggers off and I relax.  I tell my new friends that today is my birthday.  They act out a traditional local birthday rite of pouring cold water over my head.  Here is tradition that makes good sense - It's hot out here and water is precious.  It's a real treat to have some poured over your head.

I get out my bottle of whisky and then sit with these guys drinking late into the night.  Eventually, and happily drunk on my birthday, I walk back to my hotel.

As I enter my room, I see something rush under the bed and climb into a hole the in wall.  I point my flashlight and see a furry back and tail sticking out.  Rats are something that you don't want in your room normally - but drunk you're more likely to try to do something about it.  I considered smashing it with my tripod but was afraid that I'd put a hole straight through the mud wall.  Instead, I light a candle and singe it's tail to discourage it from coming back.  Then I pass out

I wrote in my article about traveling and loneliness:

    "Way out there [off the beaten path], I find that I'm completed sucked in by the adventures or struggles (depending on the day) of traveling.  I'm busy absorbing the sights, the sounds, the smells around me.  Thinking about being lonely rarely ever occurs to me."

In retrospect, my birthday seemed very lonely, but on the day there were so many crazy little adventures that I never once had a chance to think about being alone.  I would have enjoyed being surrounded by friends on my birthday.  But this is the life that I have chosen - one of adventure and excitement.  At least my birthday was certainly not boring.  For my 30th birthday, I was living the high-life in a suite in Vegas, but in the long term I think that my 34th birthday might be the one that's more memorable. 

The trip from Nairobi to Addis Ababa was interesting enough that I wrote it up as a daily log.  If you'd like to read it from the beginning click here:  [ Leaving Nairobi ]

Leave a comment!  I'm much more inspired to write when I know people are reading. 

Frank - Apr 19, 2005

Happy belated Birthday


Thanks Frank


Oli - Apr 20, 2005

Heri za sikukuu

barce - Apr 30, 2005

Happy belated Birthday!


Thanks Jim


Nancy - May 09, 2005

These are the days that travels are woven with.  It isn't always the day to sit with the tigers or to hit the summit.  Writing about days like this make the rest valued all the more.  I would hate to get the Cliff Notes of your trip.  Thanks for telling us. 


I still plan to write a book about my travel.  And in a sense it will be the cliff notes - but it's clear that I will have to include some sections in there about the "average" days. 


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