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Travels & Trips

7-day roadtrip through Taita Taveta and Makueni

To help contain Corona, we have really contained our love for travel in the last 5 months! Confident in my social distancing skills, I was ready for an adventure and to see a new part of the country for my birthday leave and settled on Taita Taveta.

I had seven days, my motorbike (a Spirit built on the Honda 125cc) and a limited budget. With around 5,000 km riding experience, I count myself an advanced beginner and had never done much more than 220km in a day.  Therefore I did quite a bit of research and talked to a few peeps to plan and anticipate my route. 

The plan ended up being: Nairobi to Taveta via Oloitoktok. After a few days around Taveta, head over to Taita Hills. Back home via Voi and Mombasa Road with a detour via Makueni’s Wote. 

Main questions in my head were: How will I handle the trucks and oncoming traffic on Mombasa Highway? Can I hack and enjoy dozens of kilometres on rural rough roads? 

In summary: It all went well and the area is breathtaking. Y’all should go there and maybe this blog post will be helpful if you’re thinking of it. 

Day 1: Nairobi to Taveta town

This is 320km long and comes in 3 stages:

First stage is 130km along Mombasa road

As you’d expect, the challenge was the oncoming traffic, where mats, cars and lorries come at you in your lane. But that piece has a good run-off area which you need to be ready to use. After the Machakos junction it gets more scenic and less busy. I’d recommend leaving Nairobi at 6-7am so that you get to Emali by 9/10 and are off the highway before it gets too busy. I didn’t follow my own advice and left Nairobi at 10 and got to Emali at 12:45 after a few photo stops.

After passing Emali town (get fuel and water) you ride over a bridge that’s worth stopping on to soak in the views of Emali and the railway (old and new). During the SGR construction a higher new bridge was built here, but the old bridge is “kinda” still there, with 15 metres missing in the tarmac, looks like an excellent spot for a sunset date if you ask me…

Stage 2 is through Maasai land up to Oloitoktok

This is 100km of excellent road. Very enjoyable. You’d easily make it in 1hr 15 but I kept stopping for photos.

Especially once you pass the cement factory it’s pictureque. Cattle herded by kids, gazelles grazing, a watering hole directly at the road (dry now). Lots of beautiful acacia trees and hills. 

A word on fuel: The last Shell before Voi on this entire route is 10km to Oloitoktok. I ignored it, as I was in full swing, thinking that Oloitoktok must have a Petrol Station.

Now, Oloitoktok town itself is sadly totally underwhelming. I got harassed while fuelling by some kids on bodas chewing miraa.  Maybe the lunch places were closed because it’s Sunday?  What I hoped would be a nice lunch break ended up a 1min maps check at National Oil. I got biscuits just before the tarmac ends (Oil Lybia in Laset).

Stage 3 is the rough road stretch. 72km from Laset to Taveta Town

The bodas in Laset said that it’s not too bad.  Well, I am new to this… I took 1hr for the first 12km. Passed a couple of stretches with 20cm deep sand. Stones, potholes, you go at 15km/h.   At one spot I slipped off the sandy road into a gully. The boda guy who helped me get the bike out said that Taveta is 70km. “So 2hrs?”, I ask. “You’ll be there in one”, he answered. Lol!

In summary, I took 3.5 hours for the 72km and learned a lot about riding in sand and how to relax your shoulders with all the sliding and how to cover miles on bumpy uncomfortable ground.  

Sometimes the white part is best to ride. Sometimes the black. Sometimes the sand. Sometimes the hard parts inbetween the sand… YO!

It’s not too scenic, but lots of trees to rest under if you had snacks. I didn’t stop to take any photos of the really bad patches. It’s safe generally speaking. But there were around 4 parts where floods had taken away the road, and they’re not very visible as there are many small hills. You might actually fall in a 3m deep hole 🙂  I ended up following the local bodas, as they really know the route and that worked out well. 

The last 20km were VERY pretty as the sun was already setting. I really started enjoying riding the waves on the sandy road with around with 35 km/h… I felt like a hero!

Didn’t stop too much, as I started to worry that I might get to Taveta after dark. Again, leaving Nairobi early would give some allowance for breaks or punctures (thorns!!). 

Then you get to the small bridge near Lake Chala – the sign you’re nearly there. You can’t see the lake as it’s a crater lake, but it’s very pretty that side. If you were earlier, you could go take a dip in the lake… Here is where I realized that I’m sandy up to my knees and the bike needs a serious wash. I started to feel like I’m on vacation 🙂

The most lol part was the junction that on Google Maps is a junction between two roads next to the railway line. While planning my trip on Google Maps, I envisioned myself turning right here towards town. But things kwa ground…. It is literally a sandy patch with bushes in the middle of the road so I went on straight. Note that some stones lying on the road indicate deep holes, so don’t take them as a joke. 

I got to the tarmac near Taveta at exactly sunset from which my hotel was around 15 minutes away. And what an amazing highway it is! The road was pretty empty (the border is closed, and curfew in place with Corona). Youth are listening to music hanging out on the bridges along the road. A girl is learning how to ride and is carrying her boyfriend. Women are taking walks chatting. I later learned that people waited for this road for over ten years…

At Green Park Hotel I had an amazingly warm welcome. Clean rooms, friendly staff, safe parking, I’d go here again. I had called earlier to book (1500 for bed and breakfast)

Day 2 – Day trip Lake Chala

I spent half the day relaxing, chatting with hotel staff, seeing the town and catching up with an old friend. It was interesting to learn more about the local history, the realities of living near the TZ border (remember how this border was drawn) and the economic opportunities.  I mean who knew that our tomatoes come from Taveta? I was also told that the Oloitoktok-Taveta route will be tarmacked by a Chinese contractor in a year or so. (“This is Worldbank money. Our government won’t touch it, so we’re optimistic that this time the road will actually be made.”)

I should also mention that Abdallah is an experienced bike mech (Shop called Hayeez opposite KCB) and I got a few nuts & bolts tightened and the chain oiled after the bumpy and dusty Day 1.

Lake Chala is a crater lake and getting to the rim is now the real off-road riding. The one you see on YouTube.  Or you can park downstairs or half-way and walk up. It’s only 5 minutes walk. There’s absolutely nothing up there, no bar, no soul and no noise – it’s beautiful! Carry water and swim suit.

Knowing the route and terrain well from last night, it took me 30 minutes from town to reach there. I’d say spend 3-4 hours on the Chala trip, so you get an hour or two to actually sit and relax and soak it all in. Maybe walk around the crater top or walk down to swim (it’s steeeeep!! Only excellent swimmers please)

Day 3 – Day trip to Lake Jipe

Let me start by saying that if at all you decide to go to Lake Jipe, you should enter Tsavo West and get to the KWS Bandas (500m from the park gate). I found no other place along the lake impressive (the lodge isn’t on the water and was out of my budget). The village itself is dusty, garbage heaps and you won’t get close to the lake or find a spot to truly relax (heat!). 

You could leave Taveta early and get here by 11 to spend the day along the lake. You can’t swim (hippos and crocs) but you can hire a boat ride (1k per person), or simply hang out.

If you were to stay overnight, the KWS bandas are a great option (book early!) which are 3k for a unit (1 double and 1 single bed, so up to 3 peeps) or 500 for camping. Check KWS website for latest prices and booking phone number. What I learned with KWS is that the team on the ground can give you all details (weather, state of the road, is their tent still intact, does the meko have gas) so call and get the direct number to the KWS Tsavo West Jipe Gate team.

It’s all extremely simple, think campsite. Shared outdoors showers. The rooms are small and very basic but are 20m from the waterfront, with a clear view on the lake and of the Tanzanian hills. AMAZING!

Bring all food and charcoal. And mosquito repellant, towels, slippers and soap. There’s gas and sufurias in the kitchen, but I’d bring dish washing soap just to be sure. For a barbecue bring charcoal or buy from the nearby village. They have a tent they said they could put up but again – call in advance to confirm. 

Now – the road from Taveta Town to the park gate isn’t great. The first 10km are doable (upto the castle which sadly seems closed to the public), then 10km rough road which was recently dug up and pretty messy. The last 10km is sand riding… Some patches are like a beach. The cruising and sliding is real fun! 

From the park gate it’s 500m to the bandas. I was escorted by a ranger on a motorbike. Note that riding past the Bandas is not allowed as per KWS policy. I understood this policy intrinsically, when there was a single male elephant crossing the road ahead of us to get a sip from the lake (can you spot them on the pic?). It’s beautiful, you pass impalas and guinea fowls also.

There is an option to reach here through the Maktau gate but you’ll pay the park fees and also it’s not allowed for motorbikes. If you’re doing this entire route by car, it’s really recommended! You could exit through Maktau directly towards Taita Hills.

You really can’t get lost, but as I’m using the red mobile phone network, I had synced the entire county on Google offline maps, meaning I could always see where I am using GPS even when the signal was weak.

Day 4 – Taveta to Wundanyi

No reason not to leave early. PLENTY to see and experience today!

It was around 1 hr to Maktau, mostly riding through the national park. As the border is closed, I was mostly alone on the highway, with less than 5 cars on the 40km that you ride within Tsavo West. Sadly, fires had razed all flora near the road, so animals were very few. Thankfully it was uneventful with a few zebras and gazelles, and no elephants. There were strong side winds, so with my light bike I managed around 50 safely. 

Next is Maktau where some 100 year-old history of the county comes to life. You can see the old railway line and station, and the Indian war cemetery… (I wondered where the African troops were buried and remembered) There were barracks worth 40,000 people here during World War 1. It’s now a dusty town with a police stop.

DO take a stop at Sarova (now managed by Pollmann’s). Have a coffee at the pool – you deserve it! They got two hotels but you can only ride to the first one (Taita Hills Resort). It’s around 25km after Maktau. 

They have a small exhibition about the first world war sponsored by European budgets in commemoration of the centenary of World War I, covering lots of facts of the war: The British and the German thinking, the strategies, the different events and fights. It talks of the Indians that were shipped to build the railway from Voi to Taveta. The war ships. It talks about the 15 African porters who stood behind 1 frontline soldier carrying supplies through the Savannah. All in all interesting to read as it was certainly not covered in my high school history classes.

Remembering that the European capitals are 9,000 km and a month away drives home what an incredible mess colonialism was. 

What they don’t even attempt to describe are the impacts of the same tribe/community fighting on both sides had on the local people and their communities and economy. We have a small mention that some of them “lost their will to live”. We don’t learn how this area and its people did between 1918 and 1963, how it came under Coast province and what that meant up to 2010 for life and people here. You’d have to find a well-informed and open-minded local to tell you that.

Back to the hotel: Location is excellent with great views from the rooftop viewpoints. I found the food average for such a fancy place. If your pocket allows, you can book a game drive, stay for a night and watch animals from the rooftop view points.  They had just reopened after a 4 month Corona break and were still booting (or rather I hope so). Sadly, they were not ready for motorcyclists, as no car could be found to get me to the more beautiful second hotel (Salt Lick).

Next stop: Wundanyi and Taita Hills

The Taita Hills side of the county is a completely different experience: Green, lush and hilly.

The ride from Mwatate up to Wundanyi was gorgeous. A smooth tarmac road is winding up the hills and takes you from 850m to 1400m asl. The tarmac ends in Wundanyi, but you can explore the various valleys from here on rough roads. I stayed at Taita Rocks Hotel, which was affordable, clean and had warm blankets for the cold night. They also got great views from the room’s balcony and decent food.

You could take a whole day or two to hike the different peaks (Wuria is 2228m high!) but I had around 4 hours and got to 2 peaks before it started raining. If you’re into off-road then go for it, otherwise just get a boda guy to take you around. They’re truly ninjas.

Someone had given me the number of a local guide who knew the best points to reach the peaks from. We had a great time, we used his bike, and he showed me his hometown. I really enjoyed taking videos instead of riding myself. The weather here changes every 20 minutes and it rained the entire evening and got pretty cold at night.  

Final 1-2 days – Return to Nairobi via Mombasa Highway

The distance from Wundanyi to Nairobi is 370km. You can do it in one day or break it in two. Either way: Leave early!

I passed Voi at exactly 8am and reached Mtito Andei at 10am for breakfast. In my opinion the best place to stop is “Midway Refreshments” with organized parking, clean toilets and tasty food. Why was it not there when we used to take the bus to coast and they dropped us in these filthy dingy places at 2am?

So how is Voi to Mtito Andei? 

It went surprisingly well. I think the stars just aligned for me: The highway was empty, the truck drivers were in a great mood. I did well with my average speed of 70. Some trucks overtook me. Others I overtook. When the road was messy, I stayed behind a slow moving truck to be safe from oncoming traffic.  

It is very spectacular and you feel like stopping for pics all the time. While you can’t stop at every single beautiful Baobab tree, I did where I felt it was safe to do so… 😀  

I found riding past the maximum security prison at Manyani quite the experience, and imagined the meeting where it was decided to put it in the middle of 20,000 km² savanna full of predators.

Wakili had given me some tips for the highway, so I don’t want to keep them to myself: The 100km surface is almost entirely rough and quite bumpy. Some sections are smooth but they do not stretch far enough. Most of this section doesn’t have any safe run off areas as the edges of the rather narrow highway are not paved. You’re likely to encounter a good number of wild animals including elephants, gazelles, giraffes and zebras. You will need to be most vigilant in this section. There’s a 60km stretch which is nothing but a national park with no human amenities like houses, Petrol stations, shops etc. In other words, don’t screw up between Mtito Andei and Voi. You don’t want to be stranded here. Good thing is most trucks and buses will let you have your right of way due to lack of safe runoff areas. Keep your headlights on, own your lane and be willing to slow down when the crazy incoming drivers disregard your presence and overtake at your peril.

From Mtito Andei onwards it’s just a matter of staying concentrated. There’s good run-off space and it’s still quite scenic up to Makindu.

Once you reach Makindu, you’ve got two options: Continue up to Nairobi directly on the highway, or take the detour via Wote. You’ll add 35km to your journey (and probably 1.5 hours) if you take the detour. But it’s excellent tarmac, a break from the traffic and BEAUTIFUL riding and a chance to explore Makueni county.

From Makindu to Wote is approximately 75kms via Kathonzweni. A straight road with good tarmac and minimal traffic. Halfway through Wote town, take a left turn for the road to Nairobi. That’s where the fun starts. It gets twistier and twistier, passing the famous Makongo Viewpoint.  This curvy 50k stretch with great views was the highlight of my trip in terms of joyful riding. I avoided Machakos town, but took the left turn at Konza which got me back to Mombasa road. A fast, virtually empty road save for occasional grazing cows and no speed bumps.

If you want to break this up into two days, you could ride up to Wote and get accommodation there. From Wote to Nairobi is still 130km and with the Athi River construction and traffic, you need to be fresh. I found Wote a nice town with friendly people. (I had lunch at a place called Becky’s Garden which yes, is a garden restaurant. They also got rooms for 1k). While I had a hotel along Mombasa highway, I would not do it again as I found these motels not pretty or serene or affordable. Sleeping in Emali for example is such a buzzkill from the beauty of this trip.

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The total was 1,100 km on the road across 5 counties. I used fuel worth 2386 KES which speaks to smaller engines being affordable travel mates 😉

Finally, a word on road safety

ATGATT sounds obvious, but takes commitment in dusty 30 degrees (at some point my gloves wouldn’t even slip back on after taking pics) and when riding in areas where boda riders wear t-shirts and tyre slippers. With more luggage space someone might carry a body armor for the hot areas and leave the riding jacket in the hotel for the day trips. And I also got the Amref maisha basic cover (it’s 2500 per year), juuuust in case.

Overall, truck drivers were fantastic to me on this entire trip. They slowed down where needed, made space and waved me through. It’s great to see so many truck drivers actively show me as a biker that they have seen me, as it can be quite intimidating otherwise. Yes, colour, yes, gender. But still. The trip also allowed me to empathize with their work, after seeing them collect tomatoes along the 72km off-road stretch, watching 4 trucks turned over along the highway and seeing these dusty towns where they’d sleep or eat. One would need a strong spirit in this job! 

All my 5 or so risky situations were caused by cars: Oncoming cars pulling out from behind a truck, moving into your lane, seeing you clearly, flashing their light and accelerating towards you. This sucks always, but it sucks most when there’s no safe run-off space. They literally look into your eyes expecting you to get out of their way, when really they are in your way. The second thing I wish car drivers could remember is to give bikes a full lane when overtaking us (Highway Code Section 52 states this clearly as a requirement). If we have this beautiful wide road, then why would you decide to nearly hit my handlebar with your mirror? It would also help if car drivers understood that at 100 km/h they are causing quite a bit of wind that affects a bike if they overtake too closely.

road safety

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Travels & Trips

Dartmoor get-away

I spent a few days in the South West of England, in Devonshire. Just me, my bike and my rain jacket 😉

Very recommended in this area: The book ’50 Hikes across Devon’, a lunch at the Warren House Inn, the Youth Hostel in Bellever (great fireplace and no mobile phone coverage!).

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Travels & Trips World topics

Stockholm

In July I attended the wedding of my friends near Stockholm and took the opportunity to see the city and meet old friends. Here are the pictures of my trip through the city and its surroundings.

My first impression was that there’s a lot of water. The city itself is built across a dozen islands, which gives it a unique flair. An island for museums, one for swimming, one for the old town, one with a natural park, you name it. Approaching the airport, you fly across the archipelago with thousands of them! Very beautiful 😀

I heard a lot about high equality between women and men in Scandinavia, but seeings the uncomplicated way of dealing with femininity with my own eyes was just liberating: Women are cycling with flying mini skirts and no one gives a second look. Male toilets with nappy changing unit. Ladies toilets have simple plastic bags as bins and not those “automatically disinfecting, push the pedal, then put your pad on the flap bins” you see else often. Adults simply change into swim gear on the cities beaches and again: no stares.

The most remarkable thing about Stockholm to me was that they have instituted a sort-of human right of access to a bicycle. You simply pay 32 Euros and you get access to rental bikes for 6 months! And not those annoying 30-minute slots common across the big cities in the West – no, you get the bike for 3 hours straight!

What do do in Stockholm?

Visit the parliament for a free tour in English! Very recommended for its beautiful view from the 6th floor and the architecture. It was also very interesting to hear a few facts about democracy. For example only in Sweden and Norway the parliamentarians are sitting organized by region not by party! There’s a ladies room in the parliament showing pictures of famous “first women” in Swedish politics. The room also features a mirror, where female visitors can see the reflection of the potential future prime minister of the country. A fantastic conversation to have with school classes and other groups of visitors!

Don’t miss out on a drink on a boat bar near the old town, watching the sun set slowly between 9pm and midnight. You’ll walk home in the twilight, it just doesn’t get dark in summer in Sweden!

I also did the early morning boat tour, getting a nearly undisturbed insight into smaller islands. Below are some pictures of the defense equipment still installed on the island to protect Stockholm city (but unused).

Another highlight for me was the museum of photography with a great video installation about Chinese migratory workers.

On the day of the world cup final we were lazying around with the German friends and family of the couple. We ended up playing football. As i was in a dress and flip flops, I started carefully at first to test the shoes. Later I even scored with the left foot. We had a couple of trees on the pitch, which made it even more exciting and surreal.
Another exciting physical challenge came in form of “a slackline”. We tried to walk across a rope spread between two trees.
This weekend I really found new joy about physical mastery which I hope to continue in London 🙂

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4 relaxing days on Menorca

Together with my friend Caroline I went on a long weekend trip to Menorca. As the spring season had just started, we were nearly alone in the hotel, the beaches, the car parks… Instant relaxation! We enjoyed the history, amazing food and landscape.

Colour code = blue, green and white!

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When it’s raining flowers

A garden museum near Waterloo station? In an old church next to a palace?
How random, but triggering our interest to enter.

And suddenly it was raining flowers on us!

Let’s treat ourselves and enjoy small joys like world wonders!

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Travels & Trips

A day with mum and the Seven Sisters

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My mum visited for Easter and with another friend we visited England’s south coast. Three German ladies out in the wild.

A lovely day on the cliffs imagining life on the south downs with lots of sheep before electricity and piped water.

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The deep, emotional stuff Travels & Trips

Skewed memories

Isn’t it strange what happens when you go back to a place you visited in your childhood?

Everything seems bigger in memory than to your mature eye today.

It’s much less of a movie scenery but much more of a processed reality.

Walking on a pebble beach was more fun, now it feels more of a muscle workout.

Reminder to self: Memories are just where you laid them. Don’t stop creating new ones!

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Travels & Trips

Spring

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Spring time when the birds sing louder than the planes
A million small buds blossoming over night
One for every person happy to leave the coat at home
The sky is blue with small white clouds
The first bicycle ride and hair dancing with the wind

You own the road, the park and the bench
Eyeing trees, traffic lights and the grass
Like checking your estates after the long winter
Courteous bus drivers are paid with a smile
After all spring is in the air
It’s for all to see!

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Travels & Trips

Three days in Yucatan

Together with two of my colleagues I spend a few days in Yucatan, Mexico. One Mexican, a Brazilian and a German girl driving around to experience the beautiful landscape, learn about pre-Colombian culture Maya and relax with sun and good food.

It was a great short holiday, and I got the opportunity to practice my Spanish 😉

On the first day we drove to Celestun at the coast and took a boat trip around a bioreserve. We saw flamingoes, many other birds and a crocodile. We were even able to swim in beautiful clear water and do some team building on ropes where usually snakes and crocodiles rest (as we were told after the swim). The day ended with delicious seafood on the beach.

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On the second day we visited the historic Maya site Chichen Itza. It was a wonderful experience walking between the different buildings built on ample space often stopping at market stalls. It’s easy to see how proud and advanced culture the Maya culture was during their high time 1000 to 500 years ago. At night we went to the ecotouristic lodge in Ek Balam village where my colleague had volunteered years ago. Far from big city lights we saw millions of stars above us. (Un-)fortunately the cabins were full, but the hospitable community members (literally) hooked us up with hammocks in the laundry room. Quite comfortable!

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On the last day we visited a “Conote” (sink hole) which is like a cave under the surface usually filled with water. I was able to swim in the clear water with sun rays falling through the whole in the cave ceiling. We had arrived with a few Maya friends of my colleague who had dressed up in warrior wear to take pictures in and near the conote. It was a lot of fun especially as buses of tourists from Cancun arrived and wanted to take pictures with the Mayas. In the afternoon we drove up to Rio Logartos on the Golf Coast. Local families were spending the Sunday at the beach and after a swim and a delicious dinner we witnessed a mind blowing sunset. A miraculous ending to our short holiday.

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The deep, emotional stuff Travels & Trips World topics

Chicago… and love!

A trip to the US. Immediately upon arrival there’s a slight refreshing difference to the UK. Instead of signs saying “Don’t offend our staff. We’ll press for the highest charges!”, we can read “Our pledge to the visitors”.

Welcome to the new world!

My responsible immigration officer speaks German (“You’ve got to learn something on this job!”) and although Omar doesn’t drink alcohol he loves German beer and lists a few non-alcoholic brands from the top of his head. After translating for a French tourist in search of his suitcase (picture me standing  between two massive black guys, one French and confused, the other one American and longing for shift-end), I head out.

Here I am, in JFK longing for oxygen and four hours until my connecting flight to Chicago. Waiting at the gate looks like wasted time and with the sun up and shining a trip to the waters surrounding Long Island is enticing.
150 bucks for a brief beach return trip? The natural way the taxi driver offers it shows that somebody spending this much is in the range of the possible.

Well, I head to the trains instead, immediately mingling with local blue-collar workers. I get tips on the best beach views, and after hearing I flew in from London, a guy asks me “Did you English ever forgive the Germans for what they did to you?”. What a package to receive! I replied putting on my best London accent.

I caught some breathtaking glances at the ocean before going back to the airport on a train with around 150 school kids – why am I mentioning that they were all black? Because I thought I was going to the US, not to Kenya and I can’t help but noticing the huge split between communities: who lives where, who eats what, who takes which jobs, who transports themselves how. I’m wondering how many decades it will take to see changes on this one.

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The first day in Chicago was amazing. It was sunny and warm, so I explored the city walking between the skyscrapers, relaxing at the Magnificent Mile with a Salted Caramel Mocha, taking in the exchange between tourists, shoppers, beggars and business people. I went along the harbor and the pier past the Museum Mile. I even took a (refreshing) bath in Lake Michigan and ended up sunbathing while watching the skyline. People on the street looked me straight into the face (difference 2 to London, where staring at the pavement while walking is socially acceptable) and after just few hours I felt home and welcome.

Chicago

During dinner in a great Italian restaurant I chatted with a lady sitting next to me (a kindergarden teacher well above 50) and we had such a good chat she ended up giving me a gift from the Chicago Institute of Art. I wondered when last I had such a random conversation with no influence of alcohol 😉

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For the second day I decided to be a bit more adventurous and use the DIvvY city bicycles. This meant I could get around much faster, so I went to see the lions in the zoo, to the 95th floor of the Hancock building, the Chicago History Museum and a lot of other things.

Cycling is easy because most roads are one way streets and people are much calmer and more relaxed than in NY. I found the best part about the traffic rules to be junctions with stop signs on all four entries of the junction (only Germans may relate to this).

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If you want some tech nostalgia, watch the bridges go up at 9am for high boats to pass. Two teams of 20 engineers each pull up the 28 bridges every day and thus stop traffic in the city for a good 30 minutes.

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I was able to secure a reduced ticket for a blues musical about Pullman porters. A great evening about work and livelihoods, racism and conflicts between generations, about fatherly love and a lot about the Blues spirit. On leaving the theatre, I was back to reality: Dozens of homeless were getting ready for a night in the park or on the riverside walk while a dad with his 7-year-old son still hadn’t given up hope to collect the 42 USD he needed for a hostel for the two from passers-by.

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For my last day I had plotted how to get to Indiana Dunes State Park for a more “rural” experience. (Google “Indiana d” and see what pops up… that’s some bad marketing for a state, I’d say!) I’m starting to give directions to tourists on the street, so getting on a commuter train to ride to Indiana feels like holidays on holidays.

We ride through bleak looking suburbs, where many houses remind me of the “ultimate house makeover”. We pass steel factories. In Ogden Dunes I get off and take a 20 minute stroll through the village to reach the beach.
I nearly can’t believe it, extremely white sandy beach with a Baltic Sea feel. From this wonderful beach we can see Chicago’s skyline at the horizon. I read the 7 habits of highly effective people and have loads of chats with locals who are enjoying their weekend on the beach (and gave me cold beer – gift 2 in three days).

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After I just decided to stay for another two hours before catching the train back, an old fragile looking couple comes to sit with me on a bench in the shade. We have great conversations about politics (he had followed the German elections closely), the world and my job (he was not surprised to hear about VC investments and Social Businesses in Emerging Markets). He had even heard of Stephen Covey’s book I’m reading!

I’m invited to spend the night at their house which I can’t because my flight to NY is at 6am the following day. At least I have to go to the village chilli cooking contest and take a glass of red wine at their house and look at the paintings (she’s an artist!). Well that sounds great I say and we drive off. A lovely house, speaking of a successful industry career and attention to detail as I haven’t seen it in years.
At the village party where I taste hot dogs with at least 10 variations of chilli con/sin carne, I realize what a big heart the lady has: Many people tell me of her acts for them and their families.

The lady tells me that she loves her husband of 49-years like on the day they met, when she was 16. She also tells me that he is dying of brain cancer and she takes him to the lake every day for the remaining three or so months. More than by hearing the details of the disease and seeing the comfortable life they created for and with each other I’m inspired by her commitment to him, to the community and to her art. She later thanks me via email for the wonderful gift of sweet distraction I gave to her husband through the discussions we had.

Back in Chicago I’m having lebanese takeaway dinner outside the hostel, it’s such a warm evening! I’m lost in thought until drops fall on my hands and I come to senses pondering if they are tears or rain.