Monthly Archives: July 2015


P1040423“Change the dressing within 48-hours,” the doctor stressed.

After two days of gently being handled by experienced doctors, I was butchered by the interns who dripped Betadine on the open hole in my leg without warning.

“Mother of Pearls!” I hissed between clenched teeth and ass cheeks, staring into Rohini’s eyes as she coached me and reminded me to,

“Breathe,” she said soothingly.

I exhaled while the surrounding interns giggled at my disposition.

Note-to-self: Don’t get bitten by a recluse spider.


We hit the road just after noon. Within ten minutes George, a local farmer and Roman, co-owner of the Distant Relatives Eco Lodge & Backpackers, pulled up in his three-seater truck. Sure, it helped that we both knew the guys and that we were all friends but a ride’s a ride.

“You guys going to Kasigau for the party?” George asked.

It was Lindi, Laura and Cara’s birthday weekend. They lived in Maungu working for Wildlife Works – an NGO providing job opportunities for a community of over a hundred thousand locals. Located an ostrich wingspan away from Tsavo National Park (or 3-hours north of Mombasa), the party was to be held at the Rukinga Ranch Conservancy.

“Yeah, why not?” I said as Rohini nodded. We were hitchin’ to Nairobi but we didn’t have much of a time frame except to hit Kenya’s capital by Sunday.

“Meet you across the bridge,” said George. “Pass the police checkpoint.”

P1040433Throwing our gear in the back among the energetic Snowflake – a mixed black Labrador slightly smarter than George W. Bush (but dribbles just like ‘Dubya) and the quieter, more settled, Marvin – a mix of Doberman and Lab – Rohini helped me limp across Kilifi Bridge. Passing the bribe-inducing checkpoint, we climbed in among the canines and gear and headed off.

The shortcut that bypasses Mombasa is a red dirt track with construction trucks feeding us dust as they barrelled past, Snowflake raining his saliva on us while he hugged the tray. Marvin stood balanced against the side-panel, ducking his head when oncoming traffic roared by.

When Snowflake lost his balance and stood smack-bang on my wound, detaching the shoddy bandaging, I shot up, cursing mainly in French but throwing in some Arabic that I knew.

“Sheesh kebab, that stings,” I hissed.

Wewe!” (meaning ‘you’ in Ki-Swahili) Rohini scolded the pooch, helping me fix up the bandage. “I think you should cover it with something because of all the dust,” she suggested.

I looked up at the hot, blue-skied day. I can work on my tan. I removed my shirt and tied it over my leg, placing a protective cushion over it.

We stopped in a small town to get some beers when a chicken bone – launched from George behind the wheel – landed on Rohini, answering the calls of Marvin’s hunger. The dog didn’t hesitate, leaping on the poor girl, scratching her arm as he snatched the bone off her chest.

Wewe!” she pushed him off.

P1040477I dozed off for a half-hour, Rohini acting as centaur for my leg when I awoke to find both dogs snoozing on my torso. We arrived at Muangu as the setting sun lit up a huge rock wall above the residencies. We picked up Lindi and met the other party-ers before driving over to the campsite.

Drinks and a buffet meal were served as we conversed and sat by the fire. Rohini and I were pretty knackered from the day’s adventure so we chilled on a mattress in the back of George’s truck, staring up at the starry sky. We dozed off to the crackling fire, emitting it’s warmth from a perfect distance.

“Oi, you two!” George saw us waking up. “There’s a couch in the second banda. Much more comfy.”

We gratefully moved, falling asleep to the stillness of the African bush, among the whooshing wings of bats, the zips of grasshoppers and the calls of small mammals.

The next morning, awaking to the movement of the same African bush, among the chirping of birds and Snowflake’s wet tongue, we drove through the conservancy to the Rukinga Ranch. Awaiting us was,P1040548

“A 1962 French Army lorry,” explained Rob, head of Wildlife Works. “We’re going to do a safari booze-cruise in it.”

I was going dry as the antibiotics were knocking me out (but the painkillers… oh, those wonderful painkillers). We packed eskies of drinks and piled into the truck that comfortably held the fifteen of us. The eight dogs and a baby stayed behind.



Bouncing through the bush we spotted a female ostrich and some zebra. At the first watering hole fresh, lion paw-prints, the size of a volcanic crater, and elephant footprints the size of a comet crater, were embedded in the mud. As we drove off a warthog appeared for a drink.P1040606

We stopped for lunch at the next watering hole and just as we finished our sandwiches a herd of elephants stopped by for a splash, a mud-shower (to protect their sensitive skin from the sun) and a drink. They stuck around for about 20 minutes when I noted the sudden silence.

“How to get a group of drunk people quiet?” I whispered to Rohini. “Bring a herd of elephants.”

Ecstatic from the sight, we bounced our way back towards camp as the sun headed west.

“Wait!” Rohini called. “Stop!” She had seen what I had seen yet, I wasn’t sure that I had seen what I had seen. “Reverse a bit,” she instructed as Rob drove us back. “Stop!” she called out as everyone leaned out of the left side of the truck to see the Marshall Eagle by the side of the dusty red road.


It was a giant of a bird. I’ve never seen anything that can fly that big and up close. And it didn’t look pleased by our company.

Perhaps because in its talons lay a dead species of small antelope with the unfortunate name of dik-dik.

“That’s a bird about to eat an antelope,” I blinked, perplexed by the sight, a rarity to witness. It’s not that it had scavenged a pre-kill. It looked as though this raptor had hunted.


We whoa-ed as the bird of prey attempted to fly off with its catch, only managing a few feet, unable to take-off.

I mean, it is grippin’ a fuckin’ antelope.

Leaving it to be, we drove past an acacia tree that elephants had reassembled upside-down. Returning to camp for a buffet dinner of steaks, sausages, chicken wings and sides, we sat around the fire. I jammed a few tunes, helping to lull Rob and Laura’s baby to sleep. As the night progressed and the stars showed up for their nightly show, folk began to retire. The brave remaining few danced to some hot tunes that Lucy laid down.

Rohini and I danced on the balcony where, once the party died out completely, I strummed some more tunes before we all headed to bed.

During the night, Rohini rose to use the bathroom which reminded me that I too needed to empty the bladder. As she came back to bed I headed in and even though it was dark, the soft moonlight was enough to illuminate the large arachnid sitting inside the porcelain bowl. It looked like a harmless flat spider. Grey and white markings, intimidating hair, a body the size of an Olympic medal with legs that spread out far enough to have you reconsider any movement.


“Er, Rohini,” I called her back. “You gotta see this.”

She peered into the bowl and saw the company she had been with while she answered nature’s call.

“Did you shat a spider?” I grinned.

“Lovely,” she said, un-nerved.

Sharing the bathroom with two Belgium sisters crashing in the room next door, I figured I’d rather not be woken up by screams so I decided to leave them a note. Careful not to hit the spider which disappeared as soon as I evacuated my bladder, I avoided flushing (if it’s mellow, keep it yellow. If it’s brown, flush it down. And if there’s a spider in the bowl – burn the house) and stealthily closed the lid. I grabbed a pen and paper and wrote:

Big spider in the bowl.
Use caution.
No Joke.
Good luck.

And drew a small cartoonish spider to emphasise the gravity of the situation (cause nothing says ‘grave situation’ like a cartoon).

At breakfast the next day the two sisters approached us. “I was wondering why Sofia was going to the communal bathroom outside when we have ours,” Esther began her tale. “Then I walked in and saw the note. We’re very grateful.”

“No worries,” I grinned.

Having a septic hole in my leg due to a spider bite makes you a cautious fly in the big world-wide web – especially coming from Australia.

Around a breakfast buffet of eggs, Nutella (Mmm… Nutella…Rrr), toast and fresh fruit, I found a ride to Atha River, “An hour and a half outside of Nairobi,” Lizel, our hitch, explained.

“Sweet,” I said. “Got room for two?”

“Yeah, not a problem.”

We packed Lizel’s car along with Lucy. At noon we headed to the highway to begin the 6-hour drive (turned seven cause of traffic) to Kenya’s capital city. Lizel, a South African, let every driver on the road know about their driving flaws.

The region we sped through, Voi, is famous for its sweet, sweet oranges known as Voi Pixie oranges. We got a box of 10 kilos between the four of us and chowed. No pips, enough juice to fill a cup and sweet, succulent flesh that reminds you of your sweetest childhood moments.

Like when you ate worms.

It was dark by the time we met up with Lucy’s cab driver (everyone who lives in Africa has the numbers of one or more cab drivers). It was even darker when we met with her other cab driver that took us to Julio’s pad in Westlands, Nairobi, where we were to crash for the week. Julio shook his head in disbelief that we had made it.

And just in time for his Brazilian barbecue.

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P1040154“Another swimmer washed on our shores?” Rohini, sitting in the shade of the beach house stitching a long stretch of fabric, greeted me alongside another girl, Fabienne.

“Yeah, it was a long swim,” I bantered, introducing myself.

My guide, Dario, led me up the outside stairs to show me around the beach house, about twenty-steps from the waters of the Indian Ocean (50 steps at low tide).

“This is the living space, that’s the kitchen, shower and here is the balcony,” he pointed out.

The day started with patches of blue-sky peaking through London-grey clouds, some hanging low as I set out on an 8-K hike through Mombasa to reach Kilifi Bay, just off the B8 highway. Drizzles of rain escorted me as I tripped along the broken footpaths, almost breaking the record for long-distance face-plant as I collided with the tip of a rock of the genus pinkietoe stubberous.

I professionally regained my balance and continued to navigate my way around puddles of mud that seem deep enough to house hippos. Gazelle-jumping over the larger ones to escape trucks too large to be barreling down a too-small-of-a-road, covering split-making distances, my packs building an alliance with gravity as – mid-air – I wave off the tuk-tuk drivers zipping up to see if I’d hire them. Rightfully assuming, as I had clearly demonstrated that I haven’t quite mastered the walk.

About 2 K’s in, a yellow tuk-tuk sidled up to me and after explaining my ways to Denis, the driver, he laughed and said my three favourite words,

“OK, let’s go.”

“Serious? No money?”

“Yes, I’ll help you.”

I hopped in, grateful to be off my left knee that seemed to be daring me to test it to the limit.

Put some more weight on me, why don’tchya. See what’ll happen cause if I don’t go, pal, nobody goes!

“You take ganja?” Denis asked as he zipped skilfully through and around Mombasa’s heavy traffic.

I laughed, grinning. “Yeah, when it’s offered.”

“You want to go somewhere? I take one for you?” he offered.

For the first time in a long time I politely declined. Even though Kilifi Bay was just an hour away, I just wanted to arrive and set myself up with the crew of Musafir (from the Arabic meaning traveller), a community-based boat-building project that I had found through Distant Relatives Eco Lodge.

As I watched the scenery go by I began to scout for potential hitching areas. Like a speed hump. I’ve found that speed humps are the best. In Africa they’re in that exclusive club of man-made objects visible from space. Even the wildlife slows down to climb over these concrete masses.

Hiking a few hundred meters from where Denis dropped me off, taking me for what must have been at least 20 K’s through Mombasa to its outskirts, I set up just past the off-ramp of a service station where a speed hump brought traffic to a crawl.

Eying the passing vehicles as they slowed down, I stuck my arm out to flag them down. Within half an hour a small hatchback with three guys pulled over.

“Where are you going?” asked me Passenger Side.

“Kilifi,” I said. “Where are you going?”

“We are going to Kilifi.”

“Can I come with you?”

“Of course. Put your things in the back.”

“I don’t have money,” I added, explaining my travel method and philosophy.

“No problem,” the passenger said. I loaded up and sat in the back with Salim. “He fixes fridges and air conditioners,” explained Junior, twisting in the front seat to introduce himself.

The driver presented himself as, “King George.”

“Where in Kilifi do you need?” Junior asked.

“A place called Distant Relatives,” I said, explaining about the eco lodge on the beach of the creek that leads out to the Indian Ocean. On its beach, the crew of Musafir reside. In exchange for food and board I’d be helping out on various building projects on the 70-foot traditionally-built jahazee (Swahili sailing boat).

“I think the plan is to help out coastal communities around the world,” I did my best to explain what I had gathered about the project through their website, “But maybe come down on Friday, I might be playing at the lodge.”

Passing a large prison by the road side, Junior turned in his seat and said, “You know, god provides. There is a reason why he chose us to collect you.”

I was in no mood to discuss religion so, slightly twisting the words to avoid a lengthy debate on theology, I said, “I believe in Karma, you know, do good things and good things happen to you.”

“Yes, because of god,” he preached.

Sure. “There’s always a reason why you meet the people you meet in your life,” I philosophised. “Whatever the reason, you are fated to encounter that person whether it’s for a single minute out of your entire lifetime or making a life-long friend.”

“Yes, it is the power of god,” Junior grinned as King George nodded to his sermon. “This is all farm land,” he pointed at the sisal plantations, stretching as far as a good eye could see. The aloe vera-shaped plant is used to make material from its fibers.

Glad for the change of subject I asked Junior about his project.

“I’m looking at buying a plot of land,” he said. “This is why we are going to Kilifi. We need to make a short stop at the offices of the Ministry of Land, if you don’t mind.”

“Hakuna matata,” I said, settling back into the backseat. “Pole-pole,” Slowly-slowly. “Take your time” (which is dangerous to offer as five African minutes equal to three rest-of-the-world hours).

An hour later we chilled in the shade of a large tree in the garden of the Ministry of Land before Junior was done and the boys took me directly to the lodge.

I was referred to Distant Relatives Eco Lodge by Irish Dave who I shared a grassy lawn back in August, 2014, at Grubby’s Grotto in Livingstone, Zambia. A few other travellers whose paths I’ve interacted with have also suggested the place, saying how it was a great space but they never mentioned the welcoming, homely vibe that lures you in through its well-maintained gardens. Stepping on soft, mulch pathways leading to the main building situated by the beach volleyball section and the outdoor stage.

In the communal area, where the bar was located by the swimming pool, I found Steve, the bar tender who phoned one of Musafir’s crew to start heading up to collect me. Junior and company were exploring the lodge, completely in awe by the beauty of the place.

“Thanks so much, guys,” I shook their hands before hiking down. “Hope to see you on Friday.”

I hiked over the used tire stairs, down past the cobbled path running alongside the chicken coup, through the beach gate and down the dirt track until I encountered Goddie – of the Maasai tribe – and Dario – of a Sicilian tribe.

“Karibu,” they welcomed me.

Exchanging the usual pleasantries I trailed off as the sight of the beach-side mangroves, shading the white-sanded beaches, a low concrete wall separating the small section of grass from the water caught my eye. Musafir floated proudly, its bow thrust out with a proud chest.

“This is the house where we stay,” explained Dario, leading me past Rohini and Fabienne working on the stitching.

I had arrived, as my good-timing happened to be, just as lunch was served by Mzee Baraka, the old man that had adopted the Musafir crew. I met Paolo, project instigator along with Ivan, Juma, Mohammed and Rasta Man, the local fundies (workers) working on the boat.

“Karibu,” they greeted me, welcoming me to join the circle of food.

I sat around the large silver platters of rice and vegetables, each of us engaging on a patch of rice real estate, digging in with our fingers.

There’s something universally unifying about sharing food together from the same plate using your hands as utensils. There’s a ‘Welcome to the Tribe’ vibe to it.

Following a shot of percolated coffee, Paolo took me out to see the boat, about 50 meters off the beach. At low tide you can almost walk to the vessel which was complete on the outside. Paolo mapped out his vision that had begun as a dream in 2011.P1040128

“The cabins will be there,” he pointed at the empty space. “The galley over there, a cargo bay here and the navigation desk there.” He spoke seeing the finished outcome in his head as we stood on the small ledges, balancing so as not to fall into the pit of the empty hull.

“You can do some sanding if you want,” Paolo suggested, pointing at the side planks below us.

“Happy to,” I grinned.

It’d been a while since I’ve partaken in any physical labour and I was looking forward to getting back into physical activities that don’t always involve hiking for kilometres on end along the roadside.

That night we celebrated Fabienne‘s birthday along with my two-year celebration of non-stop travel with a beach party bonfire.

“Tonight’s my New Year’s Eve,” I explained to the crew as I whipped out Ol’ Red and jammed some tunes.

Ivan, another Italian, took a turn on the six-string, singing in a sultry Italian voice, of the kind that when you search through radio stations and you hear a song that seduces you to linger and eventually stay to listen.

The Milky Way was out in the clear sky above while the bio-luminescence glowed a neon-green in the water of which I entered knee-deep and splashed around, activating the tiny plankton, making psychedelic shapes in the water, jaw-dropping aweness, like a scene in a Dali painting. I looked around at the outline of Musafir on the gently-lapping waters, the hills and mangroves daring it to go in deeper in this naturally protected lagoon. I took in a deep breath of fresh, salty air.

I climbed to the balcony of the beach house on the outside stairs, missing the top fourth step on the first landing (part of the initiation). Limping the second case I strung up my hammock between the pillar and the security metal screen on the window, delicately testing my knotting skills I lay in it, feeling the light breeze play through the mosquito net. The girls, Fabienne and Rohini, also lay out their mattresses under mosquito nets.

Not long after we said, ‘Lala salama,’ meaning goodnight, Ivan lulled us to sleep playing an Italian lullaby on the guitar, the sounds softly floating up on the gentle breeze from the bonfire. He continued to play softly as he climbed up the stairs, ending the song on a sleep-inducing note with his husky voice and disappeared into the night.

P1040148I sucked in another lungful of fresh, salty air as I slapped at the mosquitoes that had snuck into my net. I cracked open an eye to take in the Milky Way creeping between the branches of the large baobab tree in front of the house, a row of kayaks and boats on the beach, safe from the incoming tide.

Yeah, I figured, good energy here.


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I woke up, as usual, to the sounds of the fundies (tradies) arriving for work, birds and monkeys squalling in the baobab tree and the gentle lap of Kilifi Creek’s waters when I noticed the bite on my leg. Right there, on my left shin, just right of the bone.

The next day I woke up and the small mozzie-like bite had swollen. It looked as though a golf ball had been implanted in my leg. And it fuckin’ hurt. Just lookin’ at it shot a bolt of pain to my receptors. For whatever logical reason, I figured I’d leave it alone and let my body sort it out. Turns out that without some outside help, the body tends to struggle with these kinds of things.

A closer look had me concluding that it was a spider bite. Couldn’t be anything else.


“Looks like a boil,” said Louie.

“It’s not a boil,” I said. “It’s a spider bite.”

“Looks like a boil,” said Ibby.

“It’s not a boil,” I said. “It’s a spider bite.”

“Looks like a boil,” said Romain.

“It’s a spider bite,” I insisted. “I don’t get boils.”

“Gipu,” Mzee Baraka, the adoptive grandfather that takes care of the Musafir volunteers said.

“What’s a ‘gipu’?” I asked Ibby to translate.


“It’s a spider bite,” I repeated. “I don’t get boils.”

The next day my golf ball began to ooze pus and blood. I figured I’d assist it by pushing the muck out. The pain of squeezing the ball almost knocked me out. After two days the golf ball began to deflate but the skin had turned black. My thinking was that the wound was scabbing over but it continued to ooze and was still quite painful.

I decided to stay out of the water and do small jobs around the Musafir house. After a week and a half I was convinced by Rohini to go to the hospital. She was good enough to come with me for support. I entered the casualty ward (great name for a ward) and was taken in by Dr Jin of Indian heritage.

I joked with him for a bit, explaining how everyone had claimed it to be a boil.

“It’s definitely not a boil,” he said. “It’s a spider bite.”

“I knew it,” I grinned at Rohini. “I don’t get boils.”

“I’ll have to make a small incision to get the pus out,” he said.

“Do whatchya gotta do, Doc,” I grinned, staring at Rohini for refuge.

“This might hurt,” the doc leaned over and I almost broke the examining bed I was lying on from squeezing it so hard. After a few minutes of torture a conclusion was concluded:

A young Kenyan doctor stood beside me, watching the work done on my leg.

“It doesn’t look good,” he said with a smile.

“What doesn’t look good?” my eyebrow almost hitting the stratosphere.

“The black stuff is dead skin,” Dr Jin looked closer. “I’m going to have to cut it out, clean out the wound and then keep it covered. You’ll have to change the dressing every day. I’m going to give you local anesthetic.” The doc looked at me. “It doesn’t always work.”

“The anesthetic?” I asked.

“Yes, it doesn’t always work.”

Welcome to Africa. “Well, dead skin doesn’t sound very good so I’ll take the risk.” He injected me several times. Not wanting to watch folk digging into my leg I kept my eyes on Rohini who coached me and reminded me to breathe as my hold on the examining bed tightened to crushing point.

“Can you feel this?” asked the doc.

“Nope, you’re good,” I said without dropping my gaze from Ro.

The doc went in and I held on for the ride.

“It looks very bad,” the young Kenyan doctor commentated.

Can we remove this guy? I telepathically drilled to Rohini who seemed to understand my plight.

“Maybe avoid saying things like that at this current moment,” she said calmly to the intern who realised the point and shut up.

Meanwhile, Dr Jin dug out the skin, the pus and dead tissue and then covered the wound. I felt immensely better now that all that muck was out of my leg. But now I had a hole about an inch deep and big enough to house an Australian 50-cent coin. I know this cause I caught a glimpse in my peripheral. I couldn’t bring myself to look at the flesh that is usually covered by skin that was now taking in its new, exposed surroundings.

“You’re very lucky,” the doc said. “If it had reached the bone you would have been in trouble. This should heal in a few weeks time.”

“You’re very lucky,” concurred the young intern.

A small, online investigations leads me too believe that the bite was that of a recluse spider.

Told you it’s not a boil.

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