“Where?” called out the passenger on the flower truck slowly rumbling on the on-ramp to the A2 Meru-Nairobi highway.
I’d been hiking with my pack and guitar for at least two hours. I reckoned a 5-K walk to start the day was enough and decided to try and hitch a ride from this ramp that really didn’t have much space for drivers to pull over.
There was also the uphill climb that I could see ahead. Not exactly seducing my legs to take the next step.
“Nanyuki!” I called back.
“Come!” he waved me over with his arm as the truck rolled to a stop. I ran with my gear and hopped in to the cabin, greeting the mzee (term of respect for elders) behind the wheel.
“David,” he grinned with brown, broken teeth.
“Benson,” said the passenger.
“Where are you guys headed?” I asked as David guided us onto the 3-lane highway.
“Nanyuki,” David replied.
Sweet. Might be a good idea to tell them that I can’t pay them for the ride.
“It’s OK,” David continued to grin.
My pack was uncomfortably situated between my legs (the first time I’ve ever used ‘uncomfortably’ and ‘between my legs’ in the same sentence) while Ol’ Red was being straddled by Benson.
“How long will it take to reach Nanyuki?” I asked.
“Four hours,” David said.
Hmm. The way I was sitting within four hours I’d be generating a pair of splits that would have Jean Claude Van Dam impressed.
“What are you guys carrying in the back?”
“Cows,” I heard David say.
“Cows?” Wasn’t this a flower truck?
“Flowers,” he articulated.
“Ah, sawa,” I whewed. “Do you think you might have room in the back for my bag and guitar? Make things more comfortable around here?”
Both driver and passenger looked at each other. We were just pulling out of a weigh bridge station that we’d come across a little further down the road. David pulled over and I followed Benson to the back.
As he threw the doors of the container open I figured I’d be welcomed with a colourful display of flowers and their accompanying scents.
“Whoah,” my voice echoed around the empty metal can. “It’s empty.”
Benson grinned as I passed up my pack and guitar before we hopped back in the cabin, seated a lot more comfortably. Driver and passenger suddenly burst out laughing, I’m guessing its cause they didn’t think of it and forgot that they were completely empty of cargo.
I was nodding off to the rhythm of the diesel engine. A lack of sleep and early rise had me out for the next two hours, occasionally jolting to wake by Benson’s very loud voice and screaming laughter. Occasionally he’d whip the air in front of my nose with his hand.
It’s gonna be a long ride.
I awoke somewhere in the rises of the Aberdares, the national park where I had climbed the Dragon’s Teeth in preparation for my ascent of Mt Kenya in 17 days. The rock itself was obscured by cloud. I had only seen the peak once, briefly, when I visited the Ragati conservancy two weeks before. As I stared at it for the moment, it was clear of clouds, all I could think to myself was, Why? Why am I doing this?
Of course, it was for the adventure. For the physical and mental challenge. For the experience of doing something I’ve never done before – conquer the peak of a very formidable mountain by hugging it’s rock walls with my finger tips and possibly my beard.
By the time we crossed the Equator and hit Nanyuki I was partially deaf in my right ear thanks to Benson’s need to yell and talk with his hands, millimeters from my nose. And it’s not that it’s hard to miss my shnoze. You could see it from space, if you really focused.
Thanking the two, I grabbed my pack and guitar from the back and crossed the road to the Nanyuki Mall where I managed to receive assistance to make a call to Tom from African Ascents (I don’t have a phone for those not in the know).
“Head over to the Kirimara Springs Hotel and I’ll pick you up in the morning,” he suggested.
The Kirimara Springs Hotel was about a hundred meters down the road. It was painted blue all the way up its seven storeys (I think. I didn’t really count). I managed to barter a room for the night, dinner and breakfast but was denied playing guitar.
Sitting on the A2 highway with a direct view of Mt Kenya (or the clouds that obscure it) the Kirimara Springs is a budget hotel with friendly staff. My room had a TV, mosquito net, its own toilet and hot-watered shower. The restaurant had a fully stocked bar, a variety of cuisine choices from fish, beef, chicken, local food and an intercontinental breakfast.
I enjoyed a plate of fries, fried fish and a side of salad with fresh passionfruit juice. A sleepful night had me rise with the sun and the breakfast buffet consisted of freshly sliced fruit, cereal, hard-boiled eggs, beef sausages and beans (there’s also WIFI but quite slow).
Tom picked me up about an hour later and we headed to the offices of African Ascents where I’d be staying until our trek started. I was provided with a list of things to do while he and his business partner and fellow rock-climbing guide, Julian, took some clients up the very rock I’d be conquering in 17 days.
“You’ve got warm gear, yeah?” Tom asked.
“I’ve got thermals, a beanie, a neck warmer, gloves, a beard and you’ve got that down jacket I can borrow,” I checked off.
He nodded his approval before leaving me with the keys and the fresh mountain air.
My training begun.