Monthly Archives: August 2015

CHEAP IMPACT (photos by Rohini Das)

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“I’m hoping to finish it in three weeks,” Toto said as we stood before his baby, a geometric dome house to be used as a guesthouse and volunteer space alongside the children’s home his NGO – Cheap Impact – is supporting.

He’d been building this inspiring structure for the past three months. “I have no idea what I’m doing,” he says with a smile. “I’ve never built anything like this in my life.”

Rohini and I had met the 26-year-old German when he visited Kilifi. He was interested in the Musafir project and came down to see how we were doing things and share ideas.

“If you come to Kisumu then you’re most welcome to check it out,” he had invited us.

So after a week in Nairobi, Rohini and I hitch-hiked on eight different rides including camping in an Administrative Police barracks (part of the Kenyan Defence Forces) to meet Toto in Kisumu from where he picked us up and drove us about 10 K’s outside of the town to where the Korando School and Children’s home is located.

Kisumu itself is surrounded by lush green hills and fields. Shambas (farms) spread everywhere, people raising cattle, maize, sugar cane, chickens and standard onions and tomatoes. The 300,000 population reside on the shores of the world’s largest fresh water lake – Lake Victoria, the source of the White Nile.

Toto fundraised during his travels that took him from South Africa up to Kisumu to be able to afford the cost of cement and bricks.

“Once we finish this pile,” he points at a few hundred bricks stacked up, “it’ll be a total of 11,000 bricks.”

“Will that be enough?” I asked.

“I hope so,” he smiles, seeming worry-free.

IMG_2353The fundis (workers) that have been building the 3-dome structure appear to have admiration and respect for Toto as do the 200 orphans that receive their education at Mama Dalphine’s school and children’s home.

The 67-year-old mama cooks, cleans, farms, rears chickens, cattle and even has two fish ponds for tilapia and catfish.

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“She sponsors 40 of her best achieving pupils to continue on to secondary school,” Toto explains. “She is in a lot of debt. Everything she grows is for the kids here. Her husband passed away last year. They started this orphanage and school back in 1997.”

Two Belgium girls had arrived on Thursday night to volunteer at the school. A welcoming committee in the shape of a small choir of singing children danced a welcome song.

On Friday morning we experienced it at a volume of 200 children, dancing, clapping and singing. Smiles glowed all around as the volunteers were invited to dance with the 11-year-old master of ceremony.

“She organised everything,” Toto says proudly, watching the activities. “The kids, the rehearsals. She’s amazing.”

IMG_2538Indeed, the little girl led the troupe with hip-thrusts that had me convinced that if I attempted them, I’d end up on the waiting-list for hip replacement surgery. As Rohini snapped photos she was approached by one of the younger dancers and led to dance with the troupe.

The ceremony ended with a short welcoming speech from Toto and Mama Dalphine and Rohini and I, parting ways with hugs all around, hit the road to hitch a ride to Nakuru, to camp at Punda Milias Camp (for more info check out https://www.facebook.com/cheapimpact.org?fref=ts or http://cheapimpact.org)

IMG_2743I flagged down an empty tanker and we just managed to beat the funeral procession of about 150 motorbikes and matatus (mini-vans), some with people sitting on the roof, wailing out and tooting horns.

The truck blew a tire on the hillside down to Nakuru. We continued on after checking the damage since we had another 17 wheels to ride on. Our driver, Zakaria, was most informative about the region.

I’d write to let you know what it was but I simply can’t remember anything because as soon as we were picked up by Danny for our ride to Punda Milias Camp, I realised, to my horror, that my camera had continued with Zakaria who was continuing on to Nairobi.

Even though we parted as friends and I called him to ask to search the truck, he turned up with nothing.

Still, it was a good week.

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Categories: Adventure Travel, Africa, Hitch Hiking, Kenya | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

THE WAY OF THE MAASAI… SORT OF

P1030487“This is yellow cotton,” explained Jack, our Maasai guide as he took us to his traditional Maasai village on the fringes of the Maasai Mara National Park. He pulled some leaves off and rubbed them together and then on his forearm. “It repels mosquitoes.”

A Maasai village averages about 20 families making up about 200 inhabitants. They’re pastorals, herding sheep, goats and cows through the lands; a nomadic tribe, “Moving every 9 years because the huts we build from cow dung only last that long,” Jack explained.

 

“Each house has spaces for beds and a separate room for calves and baby goats, to protect them from hyena, leopard or lion that try to take them in the night. We keep our animals inside the compound and close the gate but the wild animals still come in.”P1030708

“I’m nomadic as well,” I grinned, explaining my lifestyle.

“Then you are Maasai as well,” Jack christened me.

Along with my simba-like hair I was given the lion’s mane (which Jack had hunted) to wear as a hat while I danced with the warriors at the entrance of the village compound.

For the traditional welcoming dance the Maasai men lined up, chanted a song with one making deep throaty sounds, resembling a lion’s call (I assume), and then jumping as though they were going for an alleyoop.

P1030714“We are polygamous,” Jack explained when he landed. “When we want to marry, we have to pay a dowry of ten cows per wife. The higher you jump, the less dowry you pay. The man who jumps the highest is chosen by the woman who wants to marry him.”

“How many wives do you have?” I asked.

“Two,” he grinned. “But there is a man in another village who has 13 wives.”

“13?!?” I exclaimed.

“And in our culture, you have to provide a hut for each wife.”

Maasai are perhaps, in my opinion, the most feared tribe in Africa. Even lions are scared of them as the Maasai version of a bar mitzvah is to spend three years in the bush getting circumcised, learning the traditions and ways of the elders and returning to the village after successfully hunting down a full-grown male lion with nothing but a spear in a group of 30-40 pledges: The Warrior Initiation (and I thought getting my light-blue belt in Shorin Rio was tough).

“We must bring back the mane, teeth and claws to prove that we have killed it,” Jack said.

In his hut I was offered pombe, the beer made from the fruit of the sausage tree mixed with sugar and other herbs, fermented for five days by the fire in a milk can in the kitchen section of the hut (really it was the everything section: bed, lounge,goat, kitchen).

“Our main diet is cow’s blood and milk,” he continued. “We make a small incision in the cow’s neck, collect a litre of blood and then, using a leather strap, we seal the wound and the cow continues to survive and provide.”

I wasn’t about to volunteer to taste cow’s blood. The pombe was harsh enough. After a full mug thanks to the two tourists who couldn’t down more than a sip, I was already feeling tipsy.

P1030745I traded my Tanzanian Massai blanket with an elder who had admired the pattern. I felt proud to be bestowed such an honour (although the creamy, crusty stain looked suss. It did come out in the wash).

The Maasai are all about jewellery and trinkets and before we left, I was convinced to trade my shirt for a necklace with what appeared to be the tooth of a  large carnivore. I suspected lion.

“What is it?” I asked Jack.

“Olive wood,” he attempted a straight face.

“Of course it is,” I placed it around my neck, cementing Jack’s claim of  my Maasaianism.

Categories: Adventure Travel, Africa, Conservation, Kenya | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

MIDA CREEK, MIDA GREAT

AGPaddling up a creek with a paddle

http://africageographic.com/blog/kayaking-in-kenya/

Categories: Adventure Travel, Africa, Conservation, Kenya | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

SPIDERMAN

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You’d think coming from Australia, land of ‘Everything can kill ya’, I’d know how to camp. I’d know that I should shake out my boots (that I never wear). That I should shake out my clothes before wearing them (and wonder where that new stain came from). That I should shake out my sleeping bag even though I don’t use it cause it’s too hot.

You’d think.

Especially since I’ve had some experience with venomous creatures of the lethal kind. You see, the category of animals in Australia is divided into two: Deadly or lethal.

My first encounter would have been back in 2011. I was hiking, barefoot, through the Cumberland River Gorge with two female friends. We reached a beautiful rocky outcrop by the river that spills into the Southern Ocean where my favourite left wave rolls lazily to the beach (it was here that I had my first Epic wave, dropping off the lip of a 4-foot beast, landing it and then zipping between the other surfers crowding the water).

I needed to pee and waltzed up the river, skipping over rocks. A large boulder was in my way so I climbed over it and landed with a thud on the other side. Just as I was about to unzip I heard a hiss. I looked down and froze.

My left foot had magically landed right next to a coiled up Tiger Snake, the 6th most lethal snake in the world, leaving just enough space for oxygen to pass between it and my foot.

tiger snake

Perhaps if I hadn’t drunken mushroom tea and smoked some joints on the trek, then I wouldn’t have attempted to break Usian Bolt’s hundred meter record.

*But I did.

Six months later I was exploring a semi-dry lake with my good friend, Warwick, a talented photographer who had been showing me the ways of the land in the Otways bushland. As we’re hiking through tall, dry grass in the month of September (just coming out of winter), Warwick, who has grown up in the bush, said,

“Careful mate, this looks like snake country.”

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As he went to the right, I went to the left and froze after about 10 meters. Before me, on top of the bushes, lay a long dark snake. Motionless. I couldn’t even see if it was breathing. It’s eyes seemed glazed over, like I get when I have one puff too many on a happy stick.

Hmm, I thought. It looks dead. Reckon I’ll pick it up and throw it at Warwick for shits and giggles.

I guess Karma read my mind and decided to intervene. As I bent forward and reached down with my hand I stopped, not dropping my gaze from the snake which had yet to show any sign of life. A gut instinct rang alarm bells.

Hmm, I thought. It might not be dead. And it might actually be deadly.

“Warwick, ol’ buddy, ol’ pal, would you mind moseying on over here? I’ve found a snake and I’m not sure what it is or if it’s alive.”

Warwick crashed over through the bushes and stopped upon eying the critter. Carrying a mono-pod for his camera he instructed me to,

“Step to the left there, mate,” as he came to stand between me and the snake. Using the mono-pod, he rustled the bushes under the snake.

Now Warwick is a big guy. In height and in muscle. And when he rustled those bushes and the snake came to life, saw us two bipedals and shot into the bush at the speed of a bullet, Warwick crashed back on to me which resulted in me being splayed on my back like an upturned turtle.

“Holy shit!” I yelped. “What was it?”

“Tiger snake,” Warwick said, standing up and helping me to rise.

“Shit, mate, that’s the second time in six months.”

Tiger snakes have a very potent neurotoxic venom. Death from a bite can occur within 30 minutes, but usually takes 6-24 hours. It’ll will generally flee if encountered, but can become aggressive when cornered and strikes with unerring accuracy.

Let’s fast forward to the island of Koh Phangan in Thailand in the year 2013. I was driving a scooter to a jam session on the other side of the island in torrential rain at night on unlit dark roads. Tall grass was growing by the roadside. I noticed something long and dark just on the edge of the road. I slowed down by it and immediately recoginsed the cobra that had me close my legs in and push the throttle all the way.

A few months later I found myself on the sailing boat, SV San Miguel, hitching a ride to South Africa. An epic adventure of adventurous proportions. We had left Phuket, Thailand and sailed off to Sri Lanka. From Sri Lanka, we sailed south to Chagos Archipelago, a deserted chain of atolls and islands. The nearest habituated land were the Maldives, 180 nautical miles to our west.

As we cruised the warm waters of the Indian Ocean, the depth reader showing 4,000 meters of water below us, we came across a strong current that the marine life were using as a super highway. As there was no wind, we jumped in to swim with sharks, barracuda, leatherhead sea turtles, a small hawksbill sea turtle, corafin fish and some Portuguese Man O’War.

Chagos map P1060956

The Man O’War isn’t a jellyfish. It’s a siphonophore, a collection of living organisims known as zooids (I shit you not). As I was watching a shark swim beneath me I felt a sting on my left ear. I clambered back on board and in the galley I wiped my ear with vinegar before returning to the water. Then I was stung on my left rib.

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Damn it, I thought as I returned once more to the galley for another swab of vinegar. I hate vinegar. The smell can propel me backwards as though I were taking a 12-gauge buckshot to the chest. Returning to the water for the third time I was then stung on my left ankle. I looked around and saw the floating zooid colony and identified it.

Merde, I thought as again, I returned below deck and swabbed the stung area with vinegar. But the venom of the previous stings had reached my left lymph node and it was fighting back hard. So hard that the pain caused had me stumble back to my cabin like after a typical night out in Bangkok. I collapsed on the bunk and passed out.

An hour later I came too and exchanged survival stories with the captain who had suffered the same fate.

Let’s time-jump to June, 2015, when a recluse spider bit my left shin in my sleep in Kilifi. Not knowing what it was I let the bite fester for 9 days before I figured that the black, dead skin and continuous oozing puss (which was my liquefied flesh caused by the spider’s venom) might need to be looked at in a hospital.

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After they dug out a hole that could house a piggy bank, placed me on anti-biotics and painkillers, it took four weeks for the wound to heal.

You see, a recluse spider, the size of a quarter, has venom that destroys and melts your flesh. It doesn’t get into the blood stream, it’s extremely painful and leaves a pretty nasty scar if not treated in time and can result in death.

I was close to losing my leg and was very grateful for the treatment I received.

Now, a month later, I’m once again bitten by a recluse fucking spider in my tent. Once again in my sleep. Once again on my left side. This time, on the very point of my left elbow. This time, I knew what it was straight away. Confirmation came on the third day and I headed over to the hospital where I greeted the same doctors that had treated me before (it starts off looking like a mosquito bite, it’ll itch all day and then the day after a white head, like a pimple will appear. Pain sets in like a tender bruise before the venom starts to melt your flesh under the skin).

“Got a new one,” I grinned as they cleaned me up, gave me antibiotics and now, I hope it’ll only take a week to heal.

I love nature but sometimes, nature loves me back a little too hard, like an aunt with giant bosoms who squeezes you in a bear-hug, suffocating you to a point of passing out.

Now I’m practicing how to shoot webs from my wrists.

*Please note: in the event of encountering any snake, you should freeze and give it way. They’ll usually slither off to not be bothered. If it’s a black mamba then good luck.

Categories: Adventure Travel, Africa, Australia, Kenya, Sailing, Thailand, The Indian Ocean | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

TIPS FOR MALAWI BOUND TRAVELLERS

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My guide to Malawi:

http://hitchhikershandbook.com/2015/08/04/backpacking-and-hitchhiking-in-malawi/

Categories: Adventure Travel, Africa, Hitch Hiking | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

PUNDA MILIAS

AG

A wicked weekend of some wicked tastes:

http://africageographic.com/blog/a-different-perspective-at-lake-elementaita/

Categories: Conservation | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

A SALSA IN NAIROBI

P1030848“What are you smoking?” asked the chubby, coated-up Kenyan that had suddenly appeared on the empty rooftop where Rohini and I were smoking a small joint, opposite Treehouse.

We had just wrapped up an awesome night of live Latin music provided by a Latin trio made up of Perrozompopo, Pino and Lucas, fresh off the boat in Kenya.

Chubbs grabbed my wrist and I saw flashes of when I was arrested in Zanzibar for holding a joint. It was easy to joke my way out of that one but I was warned not to get arrested in Kenya. The police aren’t as sympathetic.

“Who are you?” Rohini jumped to her feet as Chubbs grabbed my wrist and took the joint. “Let him go! Don’t you touch him!”

For a minute I thought I needed to step in but Rohini had flipped, going Kung-Fu-Hustle-meets-Chuck-Norris-on-a-bad-hair-day. And Chubbs was on the receiving end. I watched in awe as I slapped away his hand. A second, smaller man had appeared and it seemed that these two were attempting to play good-cop-bad-cop in a Police Academy kinda way.

“Who is your boss?” Rohini demanded. “Who is your employer? What is your name? Identify yourself!”

“It’s OK,” I stood, grinning. “We’re gonna go. You fellas enjoy the joint.”

“You are not going anywhere,” Chubbs grabbed my belt-loop at the base of my tailbone. One thing I hate is being told what I can’t do. The other is being grabbed by a complete stranger with a bad agenda.

Especially by my belt loop at the base of my tailbone.

“Don’t you dare touch him!” Rohini jumped on his arm. Chubbs momentarily held on to my belt loop. Realising that these guys weren’t cops, I assisted his detachment by twisting his wrist back.

“Don’t touch, mate,” I warned with a smile. “Not a good idea.”

I was worried that Rohini was about to slice some throats open. These guys needed protection from her and it appeared that I was their saviour as the second guy stood speechless, having no clue how to handle this backfiring situation.

It was a TIA moment – This is Africa. It happens a lot in crime-opportunistic cities like Nairobi. Shady people see a window and go for it. But they hadn’t counted on – as neither did I – a feisty Indian girl to be ready – and very much willing – to rip off their scrotum and plug their arses with it.

“Don’t you touch him!” she repeatedly yelled in Chubbs face, almost bumping him back with her chest when he went for a second reach.

I noticed his other hand reaching up. Sensing that he was about to earn some wings by being thrown off the rooftop if he so much as moved a hair on Rohini, I grabbed his rising hand, pressing hard on the base where it becomes the wrist, and said calmly,

“Don’t touch her or you won’t make it through the night,” staring him down.

“Come on, let’s go,” I said to Rohini, dragging her towards the stairs to the car park below.

Turns out that Chubbs has a suicidal streak when he made another attempt to grab me just as I called out to our friends piling into a car below.

“Yusuf!” I called down. “Could ya give us a hand, mate?” Chubbs grabbed my belt loop again. I twisted his wrist back to release. “We’re being harassed up here.” I pushed him away. “We’re going, mate. I suggest you do the same.”

Yusuf began to make his way over to the stairs when the two guys suddenly disappeared into the shadows.

“I’m going to find these guys!” Rohini was thirsty for blood as I practically carried her down the stairs kickin’ ‘n’ screamin’. “They took our fuckin’ joint!”

“TIA,” I grinned. “This is Africa.”

“Come on,” said Yusuf, “we’re going to Black Diamond. We’ll meet the guys there.”

The guys were the Latin trio Rohini and I had met at Ata’s place the morning after we arrived in Nairobi. Ata, a Nicaraguian based in Kenya for the last few years, is a talented musician and builder of anything. We became friends through Rohini when he had come down to Kilifi with Julio, our current host, a few weekends back.

Ata had orgainised for his brother, Ramon (Perrozompopo) and two other Latin musicians to come to Kenya for a small tour.

“His brother is a really famous musician in the Latin world,” Rohini explained.

We sat in the driveway of his house on a sunny afternoon. Julio had popped over from work and we met Ramon from Nicaragua, Pino from Cuba and Lucas from Spain. Guitars were whipped out faster than at a Mexican stand-off and the jam began.

A cahon box-drum appeared as did small bongo drums. Instruments were passed around, swapping hands. Latin songs were sung with moving emotion. Although I was surrounded by singer\songwriters at the top of their talent, I was invited to jam out some of my covers which they didn’t seem to mind.

They even jammed along with my version of Radiohead’s Streetspirit.

I leaned over to Rohini. “I can’t believe this,” I whispered. “I’m in Nairobi.

In Kenya.

In Africa.

Jamming some Latin tunes with Latin musicians!”

The next day we returned for some more jams. Ata had organised a Latin night at The Bus, a dance bar in Nairobi that had an original double-decker London red bus parked in front of the bar. It had been converted into a smoking lounge and office space.

Ata placed me at the door to handle the money and tickets and promote Saturday’s big gig at Treehouse. Rohini worked the Latin food service. I figured it being a Latin night, I’d get into character.

I wore bell-bottom jeans, a purple button-up shirt and my fedora. Then came the Latino accent. I broke out of character when people asked me where I was from. Surprised at the large Latin community residing in Nairobi I played it safe and resumed my thick Aussie accent.

“You do a good Latino,” some praised, scratchin’ their heads in confusion as they headed to the bar.

“And remember to stretch if you’re gonna dance salsa,” I said in Latino. “You could break a hip bone.”

“Only if you promise to dance with me,” some ladies would giggle as they strutted off to shake some hips.

The Latin music tore me away from the door every now and again as I danced with Rohini who took time away from the kitchen. Imitating a salsa move that I never learned I managed to make it look like my hips were Brazilian. The party ended at about one in the AM. We continued the night at Havanna’s. Ro and I the only ones dancing on an improvised dance floor before heading back to Julio’s at three.

On Friday we chilled, building up energy for Saturday night. Just after ten, to an audience of about fifty punters, the Latin trio played together, individually and then together again. Rohini and I tore up the dance floor.

“You guys keep dancing cause it’s making everyone else want to dance,” Yusuf, one of the organisers, patted us on the back.

And dance we did. The crowd almost didn’t want to let the trio go. The guys invited the sound engineer, Jam, from the Philippines to play one of his songs. He blew everyone away when he hit the stage. And when DJ Kali hit the decks with classic late 90s and early noughties dance-floor hits, our feet were pumping.

“Let’s go smoke,” I suggested to Rohini once the night ended.

After she almost killed the two would-be extortioners, we stacked into the car with Yusuf and headed over to Black Diamond.

“The one place you should always say ‘no’ to if someone suggests going,” Rohini had warned the DJ, the trio and me.

The place was packed with prostitutes. The whole venue reeked of shadiness, the kind of place that even pitch black couldn’t make look good. Rohini and I danced to one song and decided it was time to go home.

“I’m still pissed off at those assholes on the roof,” she grunted. “They took our fuckin’ joint.”

I grinned, quoting Stephenwolfe. “We’ll roll another one, just like the other one.”

The next day I sat on the laptop to write up the adventure when I noticed the Distant Relatives newsletter in my newsfeed on Facebook.

Grammy- nominee Nicaraguan artist, Perrozompopo, playing July 18th.

“Er, Rohini,” I turned to her. “Says here that Ramon is a Grammy nominee.”

“Yeah,” she said. “You didn’t know?”

I blinked.

“Are you telling me that I’ve been jamming with a Grammy nominee, playing Latin music in Africa?”

“Yeah,” she grinned.

TIA – This Is Africa.

Categories: Adventure Travel, Africa, Kenya | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

HAPPY HOBOS

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I was interviewed by the good people at Happy Hobos. Check their pages out on the social networks.

http://www.thehappyhobos.com/im-bartering-and-hitchhiking-my-way-around-the-world-without-flying/

Categories: Adventure Travel, Africa, Asia, Australia, Conservation, Hitch Hiking, Sailing | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

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