Monthly Archives: April 2015

HITCH HIKING IN KENYA – PART II

P1030150“I almost feel obligated to have a White Cap with our new friend,” Danny said as he guided his ’76 maroon Range Rover on the A104.

I had spent the week in Nakuru, visiting Kerra, an Aussie girl I met in Malawi. I was only going to spend the night but a jam session had me booked to play at Rafiki’s, a local bar in town, set for Wednesday.

Travelling with Megan, my host in Nairobi, and her friend, Victoria, we passed the Saturday with Kerra and her housemate, Zoe, taking us up to the Menengai Crater, the world’s second largest volcanic crater and a couple of caves before taking us out to a 30th birthday bash.

I can’t remember much of what happened but I’ve been told I passed out on the bar (as has been my latest habit, for some reason), fell off said bar to the floor (apparently spraining my thumb in the process) and was practically carried by Kerra back home.

The second night was pizza night provided by Andrew and Ali along with a crate of beer and a bottle of Jack with his mate, Jameson. It was here that I auditioned to play at Rafiki’s.

The next night was Amy’s going away party as she headed back to the UK. It started at Tiki’s bar in a shopping centre and was followed by an amazing dinner cooked in the Krooga style by Jit, a Sikh Indian. When Amy brought out the tequila bottle I knew that the night would end without survivors.

Especially as she poured it straight from the bottle into everyone’s mouth.

From the dinner we hit Club 64 where apparently dancing was had for about 3 hours before I again passed out and was carried home.

On Wednesday Kerra set me up to help plant 400 acacia trees for Earth Day and then that evening was my debut performance in Kenya.

It wasn’t my best. I had to use an electric guitar which I’ve only ever played once before (I prefer the acoustic). This one just wasn’t sounding right to me. I just didn’t have the connection with it.

When my brother bought me a guitar for my birthday a few years ago we had gone to a few guitar stores in the city. I played on every six-string that was within the budget. My go-to song to connect with an instrument is America’s, Ventura Highway.

At the last store I sat and played on a Cort acoustic pick-up. When I had finished I looked up to my brother.

“That’s the one,” he said.

I fumbled through three songs before giving it over to the band I was opening up for to rescue the night.

The next morning I hitched a ride with Farah, the woman who had taken me to help plant 400 acacia trees at a local farm for Earth Day (although to me, every day is an Earth day).

She was on her way to Naivasha, about an hour’s drive south. I was dropped off at the service station and had barely stood on the road for two minutes when I saw the maroon Range Rover shoot past. Behind it, a flatbed truck crawled along carrying an unidentifiable sports car in its tray. It pulled over and as I was explaining my penniless ways, something that sounded like a runover cat being strangled by a baboon beeped out. I looked through the driver’s window.

It was the maroon Range Rover coming back and the driver was signalling me to go with him. I thanked the truck driver for stopping and moseyed on over to the Rover.

“Where ya headed?” Danny asked in his American accent.

“Nairobi.”

“Get in.”

His partner, Queen, climbed into the backseat as I settled into the front. I told my travel story and within half an hour I was invited to spend a weekend at their Punda Milias camp just outside of Nakuru with a day at Lake Nakuru National Park.P1030202

“You wanna go to Masaai Mara?” Danny asked.

“Won’t say ‘no’,” I grinned as he mentally noted to call his guide.

We chatted for the whole drive, passing the Great Rift Valley before hitting Nairobi.

 

“You’ve got time, right?” Danny asked as we pulled into the TRM shopping mall. They were on their way to Uganda to do a gorilla trek. Danny needed to get some shoes for the trek, “And we’ll have a beer at the bar.”

I grinned. “Never say no to alcohol.”

We sat in Saape Lounge (or was it Saake?) which resembled a seedy airport lounge. I’ve never been to a bar inside a shopping mall. Two White Caps were ordered and a Snaap for Queen (some sort of fizzy, pre-mixed beverage).

Danny and I teamed up against Queen who was determined to make us think that we’ve been pronouncing ‘buffalo’ wrong.

“It’s boof-allo,” she said.

“Can’t be,” I countered.

She asked the barmaid to say buffalo.

“Boof-allo.”

“You see?” Queen basked in her glory.

“It’s buffalo,” I argued. “There’s no ‘O’ in the beginning to justify Boof-allo.”

I then turned on Danny about the way American’s pronounce zebra (they say ‘zee-bra’). “There’s a great bit by the South African comedian, Trevor Noah, who says, ‘You don’t have them so you can’t name them.’”

“Do you have boof-allo in Australia?” Queen asked.

“No, we have buffalo. In the north. Water buffalo, imported from Asia back in the late 19th century.”

“How do you say flour?” Danny asked me.

“Flour,” I shrugged.

“It’s called flo,” Queen ha-rumphed.

“Flo?” I raised an eyebrow. “How do you spell it?”

“F-l-o-u-r. Flo.”

I blinked. “What, you just decided to let the U and R feel good about themselves by leaving them in but not using them?”

“It’s how it’s pronounced,” she said.

We turned once again to the barmaid. “Flo,” she said.

“You’re just killing the English language, aren’t you?” I tsked.

“You hungry?” Danny asked.

“I could eat.”

“Let’s get some nyama and ugali.” Meat. And ugali, the maize flour which is the staple diet of every African country I’ve been to so far.

“Two beers and a Snaap, please,” Danny ordered from Winnie, the pretty barmaid he tried to set me up with at Classics, a local eatery where he and Queen used to hangout at when they worked in the slums of Nairobi. A kilo of meat and another round of beers later we headed out to a bar called The Carwash.

“The owner is my best friend in Kenya,” Danny said, explaining how he had met Mwangi who had studied in Philadelphia, USA.

Beers were immediately ordered (and Snaap for Queen) while Mwangi was telling me about a Rally Safari.

“We drive rally cars through the safari tracks.”

I explained what I was doing and got myself invited to join the 60 cars that were partaking in the rally on the first Saturday of May.

“You right to crash at Mwangi’s tonight?” Danny asked me as his and Queen’s taxi arrived to take them to the airport.

“Not a problem,” I grinned as another beer was placed before me. We hugged and exchanged contact details.

“This has been the greatest hitch I’ve ever hitched,” I was beaming as Danny and Queen headed out, leaving me with a great line:

“Tomorrow is the greatest day in the world.”

And it is, every time.

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AND THEN ETHIOPIA SAID ‘NO’

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© Stephanie Helber, 2015

“You can only get a visa into Ethiopia by flying in,” the woman at the Ethiopian embassy shot my hopes down. “Unless you are a Kenyan resident.”

“Really?” I questioned her. “There’s no way to cross the border overland?”

“You can only get a visa into Ethiopia by flying in,” she repeated robotically.

“What if I get a volunteer position at an NGO?”

“You can only get a visa into Ethiopia by flying in.”

“But I’m going around the world without flying,” I stressed.

“You can only get a visa into Ethiopia by flying in.”

“Could I –”

“You can only get a visa into Ethiopia by flying in.” Her patience was running thin.

“What if I –”

“You can only get a visa into Ethiopia by flying in.” She looked me dead in the eye.

“Right –”

“You can only get a visa into Ethiopia by –”

“By flying in,” I finished off for her as I stood up. “Yes, I believe you may have mentioned it. Thank you for your time. Have a great day.”

I walked out and realised that this was my first obstacle and a serious challenge in the two years I’ve been hitch hiking.

Finally!

Now to figure out how to get to the Middle East without going through countries that weren’t projecting an inviting feel. Let’s see, what are my options…

  • Arrive at the border, play it dumb and hope that my persistent nature will break them and let me in.
  • Sneak in. Which might complicate things for Sudan and Egypt and then Israel which would also need sneaking into. Which would mean camping out for a few days to do some reconnaissance about military patrols and then not getting shot when eventually crossing the border.
  • Go to Uganda and arrange a kayak trip down the White Nile through South Sudan and into Sudan all the way to Egypt. But again, visa issues.
  • Would rather avoid going through Central Africa and Chad, both in intense conflicts. Can’t go west cause both the Congos have some sort of internal issues as does Nigeria and Niger so no.
  • Email a tear-jerker of a letter to the Minister of Tourism in Ethiopia and see if he could grant me a one-off overland visa.

The email didn’t go through with gmail explaining how due to technical difficulties and blah-blah-blah the message was not delivered.

Fuck.

And also, a sign.

I knew that South Sudan, the recent addition to the planet’s independent nations, and Sudan had signed a peace agreement. But I also knew that the borders were closed between the two countries. Still, I googled the question ‘Are the borders open between South Sudan and Sudan?’

Lo and behold some articles came up on the BBC’s website. ‘Sudan agrees to open 10 border crossings with South Sudan for trade and tourism.’

Tourism. Well, hellooooooo Nelly.

I checked to see if there was an embassy in town for South Sudan.

Check.

The next day I headed over and spoke with a more patient woman who explained that the visa would be valid from the day of submission.

Shit. “I’ll only be in South Sudan from about September.” I think. “Can I get a visa in Uganda?”

“Yes, not a problem,” she said.

Sweet candy pie it was all working out. Everything does eventually.

 

 

 

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HITCH HIKING KENYA – PART I (with HITCH HIKING TANZANIA – PART V)

P1030089“I hope you are not Al Shabab,” graved the driver when he agreed to take me from the border town of Namanga on the Kenyan side of the border with Tanzania.

“I hope so too,” I grinned, settling into the front seat of the single-cabin pickup. He laughed and introduced himself as Sir William.

“I can take you down to the checkpoint and find you a truck to Nairobi,” he said. “But you must play one song for me.”

“Sure.” It wouldn’t be the first time I’d have to whip out Ol’ Red and tickle her for a tune in exchange for a ride.

The morning had started promisingly enough. I left Arusha at 08:00 and began to hitch as I walked along the road that leads to Nairobi. If I was lucky to get a direct ride, it should only take about six hours to hit Kenya’s capital.

A Landcruiser stopped by me as I trekked along the barely visible shoulder lane.

“I’m just around,” the driver said after I told him of my penniless ways.

“That’s cool,” I said. “Thanks for stopping. Safari njema,” I bid him safe travels.

My first ride of the day was with Pastor Israel who picked me up a half hour later.

“I’m only going 15 kilometres down the road,” he said as his young son hopped to the backseat.

“That’s fine,” I grinned. It’s better than walking 15 K’s.

Although it was cloudy and grey it didn’t appear as though it would rain anytime soon. Of course, I could be wrong. It happens on occasion. But only when it rains.

Pastor Israel dropped me off suggesting I speak with the police at the station to help me get a ride.

“Good idea,” I thanked him.

As soon as he disappeared I began to hike down the road. I’ve used the police several times and they do workout on most occasions but I hate being static in one place. I need to be on the move. Besides, I’ve found that the strategy of walking down an empty road carrying my packs is more sympathetic to drivers. I waved at the police and began to walk.

Down the empty road.

Hmm, usually roads that lead to a border will have a few trucks, if not cars, utilising them. This one seemed to carter for tik-tiks (taxi motorbikes) and daladala’s (local suicide buses). The few private cars that drove by completely ignored me. The same Landcruiser that was just around in Arusha flew by.

The day did have its bonuses. For one thing, it was the first time since I’ve been in Africa that the weather was tolerable to a comfortable point. In fact, I was wearing two shirts and had yet to sweat. The abundance of Maasai shepherding their cows and goats along the road were quite friendly, even if a few small kids popped up outta nowhere and with flashing grins begged for money.

I was about to lecture them on how to start a conversation with ‘hello’ first when the same Landcruiser from before pulled over to the side of the road, facing Arusha.

“Come on,” said the driver. “I’ll take you to the border.”

“Serious?” I raised my eyebrows. He nodded as he shuffled some things about on the backseat. I crossed the road, threw my gear in and introduced myself to Njayu. I told him some travel stories. He was particularly curious as to how one could stay on the ocean for five months.

P1030079After the questions of marriage and why I think the system is flawed therefore I’d never get married, he threw in the typical, “Do you believe in God?”

I gave him my usual spiel of believing in Karma. A few days before, the same question had arisen at the Arusha Safari Lodge with Nyangusi, the driver for my day at Arusha National Park.

“But you say, ‘Oh my God’, right?” he had asked after my explanation of,

“If I can’t see it, I can’t believe in it.”

“Yes, course I say ‘Oh my God’,” I said. “It sounds better and more fitting than, ‘Oh my Karma’.”

Njayu seemed to respect my answer and left it at that. An hour and a half later he dropped me off at the border. I thanked him, shook his hand and went over to get stamped out of Tanzania, noting that it was the 13th of the month.

I seem to have a habit of entering countries on the 13th. My journey began on May 13th. I entered Namibia on a 13th. I was now a month away from my two-year celebration of non-stop travel. I walked down to the Kenyan side to get stamped in and as I flipped through the pages of my passport I saw that Kenya would be the country that would mark the halfway point on my travel document.

Kenya also happened to be country number 16. The visa stamp was placed delicately on page 16 of my passport.

Huh. Perhaps t’is a sign of good things to come.

I hadn’t really been feeling it for Kenya. The recent Al Shabab attacks may or may not have been hyped up by the media and a power transformer that had blown up at the Nairobi University had caused a panicked stampede which claimed one life and over a hundred students injured, thinking it was another Al Shabab attack.

Before I left Arusha, the police had issued a warning that intel provided by military intelligence suggested a high possibility of an Al Shabab attack on the tourist capital of Tanzania.

P1030085At the checkpoint, rather than wait for the guys to get me a ride on a truck, I flagged down every car that came by. The majority stopped but none were heading to Nairobi.

“Just outside,” or “To Bisi,” or “To the airport.”

I waited, watching spiraling whirly willies rise up on the dusty horizon, shooing donkeys outta my way as they grazed by the roadside, greeting the passing Maasai, a few stopped to practice their English with me.

Then Peter’s truck rolled to a stop at about 15:30.

“I’m going to Molonogo, about 20 K’s outside of Nairobi,” he said.

I guess it’ll do. It was getting late and the last thing I wanted was to hit a reputable city in the dark. Nairobi was fast becoming a contender for Africa’s highest crime rate. I’ve had friends tell me stories of how they were held at gunpoint – in the day.

Kenya’s capital was about a 4-hour drive away but somehow, as usual, I managed to hitch a lift with one of Africa’s slowest trucks.

“I’m in no rush,” Peter explained. “I go 40-60 K’s an hour. African time, you know?”

Yeah, I fuckin’ know. “Great,” I grinned through clenched teeth. “Po-lay –” fuckin’ –“po-lay.” Slowly-fuckin’-slowly.

We bumped along the sealed road, the scenery resembling more of an English green fielded country side than the African bush.

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I noticed that Peter was eating small green twigs wrapped in newspaper.

“What’s that?” I asked.

“Mira,” he said.

Oh, OK. “What is Mira?”

“It keeps me awake,” he blinked wide-eyed. “When I chew this, I can drive 2,500 kilometers.”

“So it’s like a stimulant?”

“Yes.”

Hmm. “Can I try one?”

“Yes,” he handed over the wrapped newspaper. I pulled a twig out and went over it. It looked like the top leafy bit of asparagus. “Do you eat it or just chew it?”

“Just chew it.”

I plonked it in my mouth and chewed. A bitter flavour burst onto my tongue. An after taste stuck to my molars. I spat it out. “Bit bitter, isn’t it?” I grinned.

“Yes,” Peter laughed.

“I think that’ll do me.”

We pulled into a service station where he provided me a vanilla yoghurt drink and a packet of biscuits. I thanked him and as the sun disappeared over the horizon I could see the lights of Nairobi. Traffic was building up as we neared the city.

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Security was high with armed military forces manning road-spiked checkpoints. These guys weren’t kiddin’ around.

“You have your passport with you?” Peter asked.

“Yes, but I’ve never been asked to present it outside of the border.”

And I wasn’t. By the time we hit Nairobi Peter had said I was in God’s favour. I refrained from going into a conversation about religion with him. Especially since a sticker of JC was stuck right in the middle of the windscreen with the caption, Jesus Never Fails.

I figured best to not point out that he has, indeed, failed in epicmanner.

At the last police roadblock a female soldier wielding an AK-47 asked to see me my passport.

“First time,” I grinned.

Peter dropped me off at a bus station in Molongo after he let me call Megan, my host who I had met at the Sauti Za Busara festival in Zanzibar. Peter then talked with the bus driver, paid my fare and sent me on my way.

“Asante sana,” I thanked him, shaking his hand.

“OK,” he said.

Africans aren’t much for hearty goodbyes. I climbed aboard the blue-lit bus, the interior looking like the entrance to a strip club. Other buses that passed seemed to sport the same interior, fast ‘n’ furious neon lighting designs of a gentleman’s club. The outside of the vehicles were plastered with stickers and sayings like, CIA – Christ Is Alive or Pray Until Something Happens.

I’mma leave that open for interpretation.

It took almost 90 minutes to cover 20 K’s due to the heavy traffic and security checks. I was dropped off in the middle of the CBD. I noticed the Hilton and walked over to ask to use a phone to call Megan for further instructions. The hotel had an X-ray machine at its entrance and heavy, private security. Al Shabab had certainly made their point. After my bags and I were cleared, the receptionist was kind enough to let me use his phone.

“Get a cab to Terranova apartments on Chaka rd,” Megan directed. “Call me from there.”

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So I hailed down Anthony who took me to said location where we picked up Megan and she directed Tony to her place. She lives with her boyfriend, Kevin and their friend, Dan – both professional Mui-Thai fighters that have their bouts overseas.

Just passed midnight I hit the sack, curling up in my new Maasai blanket, a barter with Mike back in Arusha. The week ahead would have me on a visa hunt for Ethiopia and Sudan.

And avoiding the vervet monkeys that patrol the neighbourhoods of Nairobi.

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