Seven days, three overnight bus rides, four border crossings, and one and a half showers later, I am back in Kigali. Two day later, and I still haven't decided whether my experience in Kenya was a strange vacation, an educational study visit, an emotional and spiritual journey, or a simply a tortuous and torturous tourist detour. In a way, it was all of these at once. Well, I guess you can decide for yourself... Tuesday Just about all I knew when I began this trip was that I had to be at the Kampala Coach office in Nyabugogo at 5:30. There, my friend/co-worker Johan and I would board a bus to Kampala, the capital city of Uganda, and continue on to Eldoret in Western Kenya. Other than my eventual visit to KIOF in Thika, I had few set plans - my only guidance on this trip was, well, a guidebook (I am forever indebted to Lonely Planet). As we walked onto the bus, Johan and I were presented with a choice of two pairs of seats; one had a puddle of vomit on the floor, and the other was in the notoriously undesirable back row. We chose the latter, and I soon found myself squashed between five other people (one more than the back row was designed to handle) and the bus window. We reached the Rwanda-Uganda border by 8pm, and walked over to immigration. After taking a while to fill out the proper documents, we began to walk back to the bus. Fifty meters away, and the brake lights turned on. Then it began moving. Johan and I looked at each other, belted out a slurry of curse words, and began running after the bus, yelling and waving our arms. We soon heard a man shouting back at us to show him our passports. Apparently, we had just sprinted past border patrol, and had the officer not been carrying a semiautomatic rifle, we probably would have kept running. "That's our bus!" we told him, "We'll be stranded here! You've got to help us stop that bus!" The border official calmly told us not to worry. I saw no reason to be calm and every reason to worry. "The bus is just pulling up to the road," he said. I turned to look behind me, and felt just a bit embarrassed when I noticed half a dozen other members of our bus leisurely walking along the road, quietly laughing at us. Wednesday I managed to get a few hours of sleep on the bus, and Wednesday afternoon, we arrived in Eldoret. Here, I bought some fresh fruit, found a new pair of sneakers (well, new to my feet), and discovered a fantastic hole-in-the-wall dairy outlet, called the Dorinyos Lessos Creamery Cheese Factory. After sampling enough varieties to kill a lactose intolerant baby, I bought half a pound of Kenyan gouda, which would come to be a staple in my diet over the next two days. We met up with a few of Johan's friends, and they introduced us to a wonderful Kenyan couple, Tek and Tabitha, who kindly offered us a room in their house to sleep in that night. Thursday I woke up to the smells of a fantastic breakfast that Tabitha had prepared for Yohan and I, and decided that my second Kenyan destination would be Kakamega Forest, a National Park consisting of 240 square kilometers of tropical rainforest. I said goodbye to Johan, and headed South. Simply put, Kakamega was one of the most incredible places I've ever been to. Home to 330 species of bird, 380 types of plants, and an incredible 400 different butterflies, it is a paradise for a nature lover like me. I spent the afternoon hiking the trails with a local guide named Henry (who could tell me the latin name of just about any tree in the forest), spotting birds flying through the canopy, watching monkeys fling themselves around on moss-covered vines, and resisting attacks from troops of vicious Safari Ants (google them). I retired for the night in a little hut in the forest, which had all the luxuries a man could ever desire - clean sheets, toilet paper, a roof (yes, my standards have gone down a bit), and fell asleep to the noisy but oddly soothing sounds of the jungle. Friday Sunrise was magical. At 6am, I woke up and hiked to the top of Buyungu Hill; perched on the edge of a rock face, I watched the sun emerge from behind the hills and poke gently through a few wispy clouds, illuminating the dense layers of mist rising from the canopy in a golden bath of light. The whole forest seemed to come alive at once, as birds began to call to one another, Colobus Monkeys warmed up their booming voices, and insects buzzed in the bushes. It was an incredible morning that I won't forget for a long time. After a leisurely hike along Itchicu River, I traveled down to Kisumu, the third-largest city in Kenya, located on the Eastern bank of the enormous Lake Victoria. I explored the city for a while on foot, and eventually ended up at a small waterfront park called Hippo Point (even though I only saw one hippo from a distance). It was at Hippo Point that I met Vincent. Vincent is a Kisumu native and a truly fantastic human being. He is a musician and a full-time artist, but has also spent years working in a local orphanage and cares deeply about his community. Vincent and I spent about three hours Friday night walking around the city and chatting about everything from music to science to girls to social justice. He eventually revealed to me an idea that had been floating around in his head for a while - starting a nonprofit music and arts school in Kisumu. There is a large slum community just East of Kisumu's city center; many of the kids there are economically and socially desperate, and are forced to resort to crime to stay alive and make a living. The school would give kids something to do to keep them off the streets, and simultaneously provide them with an economic option for the future. I fell in love with the idea, and told Vincent that I would be happy to help out. Right now, I don't know what is going to happen with the project, but there's a chance that something more than just a friendship will come out of my Kisumu visit. Saturday Before I left for my next destination Saturday morning, I visited Vincent at his art stand and saw his incredible work. He is an gifted painter, and I purchased two of his smaller pieces to take home with me. After chatting for a while, I started to head back into town, and Vincent's friend Sethe offered me a lift on his motorcycle. As we rode back towards the main bus station, I mentioned that Africa had instilled me with a desire to someday own a motorcycle (sorry mom!) - Sethe took the comment as a hint, and asked me if I wanted to move up front and drive the rest of the way into town. Hoping to avoid certain death, I told him that I had never driven a motorcycle, so he asked me if I wanted to learn. We pulled into an abandoned side road, where he gave me a two-minute driving lesson before letting me get in front and steer the thing. After stalling three times, I finally got the bike moving, and managed to ride up and down the road for a while before handing back the reins. I had originally planned on going East, but I had a change of heart and decided to head down South to Homa Bay, a quiet little lake town, to chill out and relax for a while before moving on. To get there required taking a matatu from the center of town. Matatus are basically oversized minivans that operate as local buses, in which humans are packed like sardines (the greatest density I experienced was 24 people into a 14-seater, including 6 in my 3-person row). This particular matatu felt like dumping me off halfway to another (they're quite prone to doing that), so that they could go back to town and pick up more people. I spent most of my time at Homa Bay in a little cafe on the side of the street writing in my journal and chatting with swarms of little kids, many of whom had probably never seen or interacted with a muzungu before (Homa Bay isn't exactly a tourist hotspot). I went down to the dock to watch the sun set over the bay in a display of light and color so brilliant that it could have served as the basis for a Monet painting. After a lovely dinner of orange soda and biscuits, I walked over to the Akamba Bus station to board my second all-nighter...this one to Kenya's notorious capital city, Nairobi Sunday Sunday morning, I arrived in Nairobi and met up with my friend Stephen, a Kenyan from Kitui who works for KIOF, the Kenyan Institute of Organic Farming. We traveled North to Thika, and he showed me the KIOF grounds, where students come from all over the country to learn and practice techniques of organic agriculture. He gave me many useful gardening lessons to take back to Rwanda, but also let me in on a little slice of reality; many of the farmers who come in to train only do so because they are paid by large organizations who don't follow up, and so half the time, the trained students don't even try to implement the learned techniques at home. Unfortunately, there will always be people out there who are perfectly willing to take advantage of philanthropy and kindness. After my KIOF visit, I returned to Nairobi to explore and get a feel for the city. I took caution; Nairobi has a pretty bad reputation, and I had to stay on my toes to avoid a handful of potential scammers (I don't think the Nairobi Liver Disease Research Center sends their doctors out on the street to ask for money...). I decided to have a little fun and test the waters for pickpocketers - I bought a cheap wallet for two dollars, fattened it up with some paper, and visibly hung it out of my back pocket. I carried it around the whole day, but unfortunately found no takers. The scientist in me knows that I can't draw any conckusions from an experiment in which N=1, but it was still interesting. At 6:30pm, I made a last minute (literally) decision to take a 7pm overnighter back to Kampala. Nairobi had a lot to offer, but I was exhausted and needed a day to relax. Unfortunately, this relaxing could only happen after another 21 hours of bus riding... Monday Looking back on it, nothing too exciting happened on Monday, other than a crowded bus ride. And another crowded bus ride. I've written too much already - let's just skip Monday. Tuesday Tuesday was as laid-back as it gets. The night before, I took a one-hour canoe ride to arrive at Byoona Amagara, something of a budget island resort (how many resorts do you know of that charge $5.50 a night?) in the middle of Uganda's Lake Bunyonyi, a beautiful body of water surrounded by terraced hills and local farming villages. Bunyonyi has gained a reputation as the best chill-out spot in all of Uganda, and I spent the better part of the day in a canoe I rented with a British fellow named James, at the expense of one dollar. Although I got a nasty sunburn, I had a blast paddling around and exploring the various islands of Bunyonyi. One other noteworthy fact about Tuesday was that it marked the time in entire last week that I ate two actual sit-down meals in a row (definitely an indication of the pace of my trip). That afternoon, I took a bus back to Kigali - it had been one hell of a journey, but it was sure nice to come home. P.S. Many apologies for the obnoxiously long length of this post! If you've made it this far through my blog without getting bored of my banter and sick of my sarcasm, I think you deserve some kind of award.