Monthly Archives: January 2016

THE DRAGON’S TEETH

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“Found fresh leopard poo,” Julian announced at breakfast.

“What?” I jolted. “Thought I heard something stalking around our camp last night.”

“We’re stalking in the leopard’s camp,” he corrected me.

It was early, a touch on the freezing side of life in the Aberdares, a moorland covered national park about three hours north-east of Nairobi, bordering the Great Rift Valley.

The six of us – Tom, Daniel, myself, Jeremy and our well-trained climbing guides from African Ascents, Julian and Tom – were in the Dragon’s Teeth, a sporadically spread of jagged rocks that rise above the consistently wet moorlands.

“We had ice on the tent last week,” Tom had told me which prompted me to bring every layer of clothing I had.

I travelled with Jeremy, a Welsh-born-now-living-in-Kenya businessman to this remote, middle-of-nowhere location to train for our ascent of Mt Kenya’s second highest peak, Nelion – a technical climb that involved harnesses, helmets, chalk bags, ropes, nuts, camelots, slings, rock-climbing shoes, a lapse of sanity, physical and mental strength to endure not only the freezing weather on the equator but also the climb itself.

We arrived around lunchtime under a grey-covered day as we hiked through the moorlands, stepping around the giant groundsel plants which, unlike myself, are resistant to frostbite.img_9540

Having come directly from sea level to 3,800 feet in the space of 24 hours, time to acclimatize might have been a good idea. Climbing craggy rock faces with numb toes and finger tips wasn’t, as the first two climbs had me realise two things:

I hate the cold and perhaps I should have mentioned beforehand that I have an inverted fear of heights called, Anablephobia. The origin of the word, ‘ana’ is Greek for up, ble is Latin (meaning result of the act of) and phobia is Greek for fear. Basically, I can’t look up at anything over nine feet. It terrifies me for unknown reasons.

I blindly searched with my numb fingers for grips as my legs stretched out in yoga-like bends to hold onto anything remotely sticking out, relying heavily on the grip of my rock-climbing shoes.

Our third climb for the day was the toughest due to the challenge of not having many holds. Thoughts of, What the hell are you doing? You can’t even do this 20-meter climb and you expect to summit the second highest peak in Africa? tried to deter me.

© Jeremy Wyatt

© Jeremy Wyatt, 2016

I told my subconscious to shove off and resumed the climb, finally hi-fiving Tom and Jeremy at the top. We abseiled down the other side and made for camp where I rugged up in nine layers and put my boots and only pair of thin socks by the fire to dry.

During the night I was stirred awake by the sound of scratching around our tent – probably the leopard that had left a fresh pile of faeces.

After breakfast we tackled a 65-meter rock, a very enjoyable route img_9563named Alex’s Incisor. The view from the top had us spot a dik-dik (smallest species of antelope) galloping across the moorland. I watched behind it to see if perhaps a leopard was on its tail but it seemed to be out for its morning jog.

At the peak we could see the Rift Valley before we abseiled back down for lunch, a 7-K hike back to the car and warmer weather.

In two weeks I’m to ascend Mt Kenya.

Don’t know how, but I am.

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HITCH HIKING IN KENYA – PART IX

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Hanging at 50 meters above the planet. © Jeremy Wyatt, 2016

“Do you want to try and get a lift from here or should I take you to the tarmac road?” Jeremy asked at the intersection.

We had just come off Alex’s Incisor, a 65-meter rock that we climbed in preparation for our ascent of Mt Kenya’s peak with African Ascents in the Aberdares National Park. My next destination was to reach Nyeri, on the other side of the range.

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I looked down the dusty, desolate road. I had a tent with me, warm clothes and an apple. “Yeah, I’ll get off here, mate,” I grinned. “Part of the adventure.”

 

We parted ways and I began to hike in the direction that would take me to the highway to Nyeri. I had no idea of the distance but I was still high from the morning’s climb and I had at least four hours of daylight ahead of me.

Worst case, I’d pitch a tent somewhere.

Three minutes later I was almost kidnapped onto a bus. Instead of money, I played a few songs on Ol’ Red which took me as far as the junction where a left turn would take me to Nahuru and a right turn to Nyeri.

We bounced over shoddy roads as the conductor hung onto the side of the bus screaming repeatedly into my ear the names of people on the road and the villages we passed. It’s not the noise of the bus was so deafening that he needed to scream. Let’s just say that I and my left ear were happy when he was swapped with a softer-speaking conductor.

I was squashed into the front row with my backpack and guitar. I had to lean out of the window, which the conductor kept banging on to notify the driver to continue after we stopped. I waved at the villagers who smiled and eagerly waved back from their laidbackness on the grass. Two hours later, half-deaf but with a smile on my face, struggling to believe I had just scored a free ride on a bus in the middle of nowhere, I thanked the driver and conductors when they dropped me at the intersection.

That’s what I love about Africa. Everyone is eager to help and money isn’t always a factor. Especially when I tell them that, “Music is my currency.”

The intersection was crowded with boda-bodas and matatus. I hiked up the road deterring away the wants of the riders and drivers to take me and as I looked back to see what potential ride was coming up I stuck my hand out for the pick-up truck that rolled to a slow stop.

“I need to get to Nyeri,” I informed the driver and his co-passenger after they let me in.

Ophia and Alicia happily conversed with me as I regaled my travel stories. I was telling them of my experiences in the Masai Mara National Park and how I had obtained a shuka (a traditional Masai blanket from the village elder).

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“The Masai live like animals,” Ophia spat in disgust.

“No,” I corrected him. “They live with animals. And besides, humans? We are animals. We all live as animals just in different settings. The Masai are very friendly.”

Ophia pondered on this as we passed what appeared to be a blue-roofed village.

“What’s that?” I asked them.

“It’s displaced people,” explained Alicia. “In the 2007 election violence, 600,000 people were displaced by Odinga (then president) supporters and were forced to live where you now see.”

“You mean, those folks are refugees in their own country?” I blinked.

“Yup,” he said.

I was a bit shocked by this revelation. The complexity of Kenya’s – and indeed – Africa’s politics – were something I don’t think I’d ever comprehend. Especially since I don’t even try.

“You guys want some water?” I asked, trying to find a way out of the political conversation.

They politely declined and after they let me borrow their phone to call Aleks, who I was visiting in Nyeri (and had no idea that I was arriving), the guys went out of their way to drop me off at the Barclay’s bank.

“We are just passing through Nyeri,” Alicia said. “But no problem. We can take you to your friend’s.”

Have I mentioned the friendliness of Africans yet?

I waited at the bank for a few minutes as I waved ‘goodbye’ to my ride and hopped into the car Aleks had organised.

I looked forward to defrosting from my Aberdares experience with a hot shower.

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HEAD CLEARANCE

© Rohini Das, 2015

© Rohini Das, 2015

“Why do you stay here?” asked Richard, the askari (security guard) of the ruins of whatever lodge I had picked to hang my hammock in.

“It’s nice,” I grinned. “I have a great view of the ocean, I’m out in nature and I can see the stars as I go to sleep.”

“I have 50 acres. Let me give you one acre, you build a house on it and you can stay there,” Richard offered.

I had reached this cliffside in Watamu after a hectic three weeks building up to the preparation of the Musafir Floatel and Sundowners fundraising and on top of that, managing the campsite at Distant Relatives in exchange for a ticket to one of the biggest New Year’s events on the East African coast.

The Gypsy Queen was hanging out with her friends and I was about to hang out in my hammock which I had strung up between two dead trees in the property of this run down lodge. Richard was kind enough to allow me to spend the night. We sat and chatted. I explained to him my philosophy which was very confusing to him. In the end he asked me to sponsor him a ticket to Russia to go see his brother.

“Rafiki, my friend,” I said, “you see where I’m sleeping?” I indicated my hammock. “You think if I had money I would be sleeping out here? Let alone you want me to buy you a ticket to Russia? And you are only asking me because of my skin colour, no?”

He hung his head in shame.

“We are all humans, my friend,” I philosophised. “You are not a black man and I am not a white man. We are hu-man. Kweli? True?

He nodded, his spirit lifted. “Why don’t you have money?” he asked.

“Money is evil,” I said. “It’s destroying the world. All of our problems come from money. War, famine, you wanting to get to Russia. Money is bad. I survive on trade.”

He left me to go visit his girlfriend, another askari on the property. I sat to play my guitar as the setting sun played an abstract visual that could stop traffic. One of those once-a-year type sunsets with high puffs of clouds reflecting back the pinkish-orange that paints the sky as the giant orange ball of flame drops like a coin into a slot machine.

Richard came back with some bread and a bottle of Krest, a bitter lemon soda. He sat with me and although he gave me the food I demanded he share it with me. He hummed to my guitar and eventually said,

“I will come back in the morning with my girlfriend. I want her to meet you.”

“Sawa, kaka. OK, brother. Lala Salama Goodnight.

As soon as he left I sparked up the joint I had rolled and listened to the gentle roll of the waves 30 meters below me. I packed up my guitar and hopped into my hammock with it, straddling Ol’ Red between my legs as the breeze lightly swung us into one of the best sleeps I’ve had in a long time.

I awoke as the sun rose over the Indian Ocean. I packed up my hammock just as Richard returned with Mary, his girlfriend who also turned out to be a, “Police officer,” she said.

Glad I didn’t offer them to smoke.

As we chatted two Sikorsky military helicopters flew past, heading north, not much higher than the cliff we were on. I recognised the flight pattern as being below radar.

“Where are they going?” I asked Richard.

“Somalia.”

“Why?”

“Kenya is at war with Somalia.”

What?!?

I’ve been in Kenya almost six months now (on and off) and had no idea that war was being waged across the border.

“Kenya is at war with Somalia?” I repeated.

“Yes.”

“Why?”

“We want their land.”

“Why?”

“For their resources.”

“Why?”

“So we have money.”

And there it was. “So you see?” I grinned, as the thud-thud-thud of the helicopters drifted off. “What did I tell you last night? That money is evil. It causes war and people die for a piece of paper with a number on it.”

Richard’s jaw dropped so hard he almost caused a rock slide. He stuck his hand out to shake mine.

“You are a different kind of man,” he grinned, walking off following Mary, shaking his head in disbelief.

I made my way back to the white sandy beach. I was meeting the Gypsy Queen between ten and eleven at the gelato place so I had a couple of hours to kill. I headed north on the beach and found a quite spot protected by jagged coral rock. I sat down and rolled a joint, smiling and waving at the locals that passed by.

A young fisherman with a speargun rocked up.

“Hey Rastamun,” he grinned sitting beside me.

“Karibu. Welcome,” I grinned back and gave him the spliff to light.

“My friend, in his home, has a cave. One day, I will take you there,” he said as we passed the Bob Marley cigarette between us. We talked about fishing and free diving. After an hour he thanked me and made his way home. I continued to sit, grinning, people-watching as they passed me by. Some noticing me, others oblivious.

And then Elizabeth showed up. She seemed to be in her mid-40s, carrying her bag of goods to sell. She stopped when she saw me and struck up a conversation, a rarity with African women.

“Where do you stay?” she asked.

“On the beach,” I said with a smile.

Her eyebrows almost jumped off her face. She couldn’t believe it. I continued to explain my way of life. She continued to stand perplexed.

“Are you an angel?” she asked.

Now it was my eyebrows that jumped face. I laughed. I’ve been called many things during my travels. Jesus is the prominent name, usually followed by either Moses, or even the occasional Osama Bin Laden cause of the beard. I’ve been called Chuck Norris on two occasions and even Jack Sparrow around Zanzibar.

But an angel?

“Sorry to disappoint, mama,” I laughed, “but I’m not.”

She bid me farewell as she continued on to open her shop. I felt the need to jam out some tunes so I hit the beach and hiked back to an inlet where a bar in the shape of a shack was having the sand out front of it raked by a young local.

“Is it alright if I sit here in the shade and play some tunes?” I asked.

“Of course, rafiki!” He urged me towards a beach bench and I rocked out some blues and funk instrumentals.

During the sundowner events on Musafir I was able to plug Ol’ Red into the wireless speakers we had to entertain the crowds of 50-80 people that we had every night. I couldn’t sing over the volume so I just did instrumentals.

Turns out I’m not too bad when I don’t sing. Perhaps it’s even better that I don’t open my mouth.

The guy on the rake was dancing to my tunes and after what felt like an hour I thanked him and headed up to the gelato place. The Gypsy Queen wasn’t in sight so I returned to the beach and headed to the Barracuda bar where a local I met in the village told me that an old man plays guitar.

I sat down and chatted with the smiling faces around me and the local villager that had told me of the place was there, greeting me with a huge smile.

The old man that plays guitar showed up.

“My fingers are rotten,” he said, exposing his left hand. Indeed, the flesh seemed to be falling off his digits. His hand was swollen and quite grotesque looking.

“What happened?” I asked, trying to look a way but it was like when you see a car accident. You can’t not look.

He told me of symptoms that I found to be quite familiar.

“Recluse spider,” I figured. “Doc gave you antibiotics?”

“Yes,” he said, scratching his head with his good hand. “How do you know?”

I showed my scar on my left leg. “I know, brada. I know.”

I rolled up a spliff and gave it to him to light. I stuck around for about half an hour, laughing along with the others at the local drunk that had staggered into the shack, completely incomprehensible. I thanked my hosts who offered me a place to stay next time I was around and headed back to the gelato place to catch up with the Gypsy Queen who was sat, waiting patiently.

I told her of my evening and morning’s adventure and local interaction, something I had desperately missed.

The next five days we spent doing nothing but eating and sleeping.

The New Year’s event really did a number on us.

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