Monthly Archives: March 2016

HITCH HIKING IN ETHIOPIA – PART I

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© Unbound Ether Photography, 2015

“Woah!” I exclaimed as I caught site of the Blue Nile gorge far off in the distance.

I couldn’t believe it. Right off the highway was the very view that made Ethiopia’s Abyssinian highlands infamous. I had convinced my couchsurfing host, Hailu, to hitch hike with me on this camping venture organised at the couchsurfing event held two days earlier in Addis Ababa.

We’d be 13 people all up and about 10 of the group had never camped before. I love nothing more than breaking in fresh fish.

Addis Ababa (meaning, ‘New Flower’) is a huge, sprawled-out city, the third highest capital city in the world sitting at 2,400 meters above the sea. To reach the outskirts of it for a good hitch hiking corner would not be easy without a few city buses involved.

Ethiopia is unlike any of the 12 African countries I’ve been to. First of all, it’s the only country on the continent that was never colonised (the Italians made an attempt back in the late 20s but were humiliated by the Ethiopian Army. During WWII they came back with a vengeance and mustard gas to submit defeat on the proud African nation which they occupied for five years before being expelled. Occupied – not colonised.).

The word ‘Ethiopia’ is from the ancient Greek, Athiopia, meaning, ‘Burnt Face’. The last king, Emperor Halie Salassie (assassinated in the ’74 revolution), regarded as the founding father of the Rasta movement, was claimed to be the 237th descendant of King Solomon.

Back in the day, the revered Queen Sheba had travelled to Jerusalem where Solomon welcomed her with open arms. She returned to her land having converted to Judaism and carrying one of Solomon’s many seeds, boring an Ibn-al-Malik (Son of the King) who was later named Menelik.

When he hit 22, Meneklik travelled back to Jerusalem to get to know his pops who took him in for three years and even offered him to be his direct heir and rule over the Israelites. Menelike politely refused and returned to rule his own people, supported by his father.

It was during this period that, according to legend, the Ark of the Covenant was presented as a gift to the king’s son who brought it back with him from Jerusalem to Ethiopia. To this day the Ark is supposedly locked away in the Church of St Mary Zion in the ancient capital, Axum, where no one is allowed to view it except for a handful of scholars.

Whether the room in St Mary is actually occupied by the ark or just an old box with ‘Fragile’ stamped on its side is something we might never know in our lifetime. Indeed, Ethiopia’s ancient history is one of the least known about. There are more new archaeology sites being discovered than there are studies of the current ones.

Addis is highly polluted and full of beggars with various deformities. Nothing can prepare you for the sight of limbs protruding in unnatural directions. Or lepers begging with fingerless hands.

There were worse but why ruin the surprise for you?

But I find Ethiopia to be a land of irony. It’s a Greek orthodox religious country. Church songs are not allowed to be played on modern instruments (like the electric guitar or piano) yet they are blasted over the radio. The majority of the old generation believe that everything was created 5,000 years ago (as the Good Book dictates) but it was here that the oldest fossils traced to our existence were found.

Like Lucy (named after The Beatles song, ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’ that was playing when the fossil was discovered in the Danakil region back in ’64) is dated back 3.8 million years while an older fossil was recently discovered, dated 4.4 million years (not sure what song was played when that one was found).

Religion dictates that we have to accept and love everyone – the rich, the poor, the weak, the disabled – everyone. Yet the streets of Addis have more beggars than I’ve seen anywhere in my African ventures.

The air outside Addis was fresh, crisp and inviting. I was bit apprehensive about hitching in Ethiopia. I’d read a few travel tales of folk that had been stoned by small children as they stood by the roadside. My method of hitching is to walk until a car stops. My theory is that a driver will have more sympathy seeing a traveller loaded with packs walking down a lonely stretch of highway, trying to wave down a vehicle.

And a moving target is harder to hit.

I didn’t know whether in Ethiopia the classic ‘thumb’s up’ would work or would it be the traditional ‘wave down’ I’ve come to adopt. I tried the thumb’s up and received, as I predicted, a thumb’s up in return by a driver.

“I guess here it’s the ‘wave down’ method too,” I grinned at Hailu.

We hiked through a small village, waving at the locals who paused their chores in the fields to stare at us. As soon as I waved they broke into smiles and waved back. A little ways past a chemical factory, which could be scented from a mile away, Abraham pulled over.

In his Nissan Patrol sat Mohammed who offered us ghat (pronounced, ‘sha-at’), the leaf that all Ethiopians chew. It raises your concentration levels and also gives you a bit of a high (after about an hour of chewing that is).

I wasn’t new to chewing. In Kenya, mira is the equivalent but instead of the leaves, they peel the stem and chew the peeled skin whilst chewing chewing gum as the taste is extremely bitter. I didn’t like it but the ghat leaves are awesome.

Hailu’s neighbour had me try it my first night at his place, in the housing commission block of Ayat, on the outskirts of Addis. The surge of energy that ghat produces gets me a bit hyper (as I discovered that Saturday night upon my arrival) so I chewed slow.

Abraham was a tour guide but today he was hired as a driver to take Mohammed and Mirku to Bahir Dar on the shores of Lake Tana, Ethiopia’s largest lake and the source of the Blue Nile.

“I can take you to the next town,” he offered when I explained that we survive without money.

As we conversed and told travel stories, cracking them up with laughter, we passed the next town and Abraham said,

“I’ve changed my mind. I’ll take you to Debre Libanos,” where the Blue Nile Gorge rests, about 110 K’s north of Addis.

The first thing that grabbed me was how the roads here were so smooth. Not a single pot hole. In Kenya and, indeed, the rest of the African nations I’ve hitched through (with the exception of Namibia and South Africa), you’d think the roads were used as artillery target practice.

But the amount of speed bumps more than made up for the lack of potholes.

At the halfway mark smoke began to pour from the hood of the car. Abraham immediately pulled over, jumped out and popped the bonnet to expose the flickering flame that had ignited right by the battery. Grabbing an old rag he put out the fire as we all evacuated the car.

The battery cables had melted, caused by bad wiring and that had created a hole in the fuel filter next to it which is what caught fire. Within an hour Abraham had rewired the cable using spare wires he had in the back and re-routed the fuel filter to go directly into the engine.

We were back on the road with our driver sustaining minor burns.

“Here,” I offered him some toothpaste to put on his injuries. “It’ll hurt but by the end of the day you’ll forget that you burned your hand.”

We arrived an hour later in the town of Debre Libanos which means, ‘Monastary’. Thanking Abraham and the crew we parted ways, the driver a little surprised that the toothpaste was working.

“Told ya,” I grinned. “Amsegnilmahu,” I attempted a ‘thank you’ (Amharic is a ridiculously tongue twisting language to wrap your tongue around).

img_0499In the 16th century the Portuguese sent 400 troops to help the Christians fight the Muslims in the war that raged between the two religions in Ethiopia. The Muslims were slaughtering Christians in a cave facing the Blue Nile Gorge.

Their bones still line the cave floor.

During their stay here, the Portuguese built a bridge to cross the Jamma River, a tributary of the Blue Nile, using ostrich egg yolk and limestone as mortar.

The bridge stands to this day, 500 years later, and is still used to cross the river, now dry due to the lack of rain.

“It is only in recent years that the river has completely dried up,” explained Yonas, one of the scouts that would accompany us. “Only when it rains does it flow.”

Taking a break to eat rice and Shiro, a hot, orange sauce traditionally Ethiopian, the ghat Mohammed had given me to chew was getting me restless. I needed to unleash some energy so I whipped out the guitar and jammed out some tunes to the amusement of the ladies serving us coffee.

The rest of the group were arriving by car and were only leaving Addis at around 15:00. Having arrived at 13:00, Hailu and I went off to explore the highlands of the gorge after our lunch. As we hiked along the cliff edge, I heard shrieking and identified the familiar sounds of baboons.

Having survived a too-close-for-comfort encounter with an alpha male baboon on Maaze island in Zambia, I was weary of these primates. We trekked a little further before I suddenly stopped. Hanging around on the cliff edge was the largest troop of baboons I had ever seen.img_0563

Geladas are a unique, endemic species found in Ethiopia’s highlands. They eat grass and are the only baboons to live on cliff sides (easier to escape predators). They’re attributed to being the species that lead to the evolution of the drills of West Africa and the Savannah baboons found throughout the rest of the sub-Sahara. The male sports a golden mane that would make any big-hair band from the 80s jealous (heck, even I was envious) and they sport a bright red heart-shaped patch in the centre of their chest to attract the female.

A slightly more welcoming sight than the swollen red arses of the Savannah females.

Geladas live in a harem-based society of up to 500 individuals and are the only mammal that aren’t on the endangered list in Ethiopia (numbers are based at over half a million nationwide). I crept up as close and as quietly as I could. It was downwind so I had the advantage even though they had seen me they seemed oblivious to my presence. To the point where the male waltzed right up behind a female and doggy-styled with her (or should I say, monkey-styled?). She seemed unmoved by his actions which lasted a few seconds.

Respecting their territory (and intimate moment) I backed off and Hailu and I returned to sit with Yonas and the other scouts watching large vultures circle overhead, as though waiting for us to drop dead.

img_0609By sunset the rest of the group finally arrived and, together with the scouts, pitched our tents on the cliff edges.Hailu headed off with the scouts to gather fire wood while I found an ideal space to put together a fire pit.

“Let’s collect some rocks to make a fire circle,” I suggested, the others pitching in. Hailu came back with the scouts, firewood and a large pot in which we boiled water for the pasta dinner. Ghat was handed out and everybody drank beer, arak and other various alcohols.

Having recently quit drinking due to health reasons (surviving on drinks in exchange for playing music can take it out on one’s system) I was happy to smoke some Shisha Mani, the awesome local ganja made famous by the Rasta town it hails from of the same name.

Just before dinner was served we witnessed the moon rising over the Abyssinian highlands. I pointed it out to the group who stood in awe. The lunar light was still a pale yellow so the Milky Way was out in full glory. Staring up at Orion’s Belt, I was the only one who saw the meteorite shoot across the night sky.

Jana, a German girl, had organised the game of Murder, which I’ve never played. My killing method was to get my victims to sing. How appropriate. Unfortunately, I was ‘murdered’ before I had even brought Ol’ Red out. Cause when I did, had I been part of the game still, it would have been a genocide and I’d have won in one fell swoop, possibly collecting a new world record.

At 2 AM I retired to my tent. I fell asleep to the laughter of hyena nearby. Suddenly, someone around the fire decided to plug in a speaker to their phone and destroyed the whole concept of camping in nature by playing loud, poppy shite into the morning.

Sigh.

How do folk not understand the concept of getting away? A few in the group had been on Facebook around the fire. I mean, before our very feet lay the Blue Nile Gorge and a view that not many on this planet have witnessed and these folks were scrolling their page feeds.

I’d hate to think what the next generation will be like.

The next morning I diced and mashed up some avocado and mango while Lucas chopped up some tomatoes and Jana sliced up an onion. Mixing it together with some lime juice a guacamole breakfast was served. Hailu had gone off to bring back some coffee and by mid-afternoon, under the baking hot sun, we packed up our camp and hit the road back to the hustle and bustle of Addis Abba – the rains hitting us just as we hit the city.

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

HITCH HIKING IN KENYA – THE FINALE

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© Unbound Ether Photography, 2015

“What’s plan B?” the Gypsy Queen asked.

It was getting dark and we had only reached Kericho on our way to Kisumu where our friend, Toto, was willing to host us for the night before we’d continue to the border and hit Jinja.

Just like the last time we hitched to Kisumu, this town seemed to not want us to reach our destination, resulting in us pitching our tent in the AP barracks (Administrative Police).

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The day had started late. We had joined Jonathan, Camilla and Aleks to camp in Hell’s Gate National Park on the outskirts of Naivasha, to celebrate Aleks and Jonathan’s birthdays. After leaving the park we found ourselves on the highway by 13:00.

Our first hitch took us to Nakuru where the driver dropped us on the outskirts of town. From there we progressed slowly on a truck that bounced us to a point where GQ couldn’t handle it anymore and we got off in the middle of a tiny town. Another ride took us Kericho as the sun disappeared behind the mountains. We hiked outta town and took the road heading up to Kisumu.

Not a single car was stopping and the Gypsy Queen again asked, “What’s plan B?”

“There is no plan B,” I said, grumpy from the day’s slow progress. “We reach Kisumu. Full stop.”

A pick-up truck appeared and passed by slowly, the driver indicating that he had room for just one.

“He’s slowing down,” GQ said, following the truck.

“He’s only got space for one,” I said, keep my attention to the lack of oncoming traffic.

“I think he’s stopping,” she said.

I turned back and saw that brake lights were applied. It appeared that he was contemplating on whether or not to take us. Finally he pulled over and I ran up to him.

“Kisumu,” smiled Stephen when asked about his direction. “OK, let’s go,” he grinned, motioning his 11-year-old son, Michael to hop to the backseat.

We threw our gear into the tray and, breathing a sigh of relief, indulged our driver with our story of hitching, bartering and today’s struggle.

“Where are you staying in Kisumu?” he asked.

It had been five hours since we messaged Toto and he had yet to respond.

“We figure we’d just show up at his doorstep,” I said.

“Well,” Stephen began, “I’m staying at a hotel in town. If he doesn’t answer, I am happy to provide you with a room, dinner and breakfast.”

I blinked, staring at Stephen in the darkness before swiveling to face GQ who couldn’t believe the words coming out of our driver.

“When I was in Switzerland,” he regaled, “a stranger helped me out on the road. I feel like this is my chance to give back through helping you.”

Indeed, Karma works in mysterious ways.

By the time we hit Kisumu we had lost all contact with Toto. Something was up but we didn’t know what (we’d later find out that even though Toto was doing worthy work in Kenya through his NGO, Cheap Impact and building a dome house to help out with an orphanage and fund raising, the Kenyan government was deporting him for the above ‘crimes’).

“Stephen,” I turned to our happy-go-lucky driver, “I think, if it’s alright with you, that we’ll take you up on that offer.”

He grinned. “Not a problem,” he said.

At the hotel, he organised a room for us. “Let’s meet in an hour for dinner.”

At 21:30 we chowed down on tilapia, caught fresh from Lake Nalabulu (aka, Lake Victoria) on which the city of Kisumu sits. The city became world-recognised when it was discovered that President Obama’s step-grandmother lives in a village on the outskirts.

An hour later we were in bed.

The next morning we met Stephen and Michael for breakfast. After the meal he took us out to the Kisumu Airport where we parted ways.

“Your father is a great man,” I said to his son.

GQ and I still had some smokeables with us so we decided to roll a small one and walked down the highway. When we finished and were in a comfy high, we crossed the road and hitched a ride about 20 Ks out of Kisumu with a young couple. We hiked through the small village and hitched a ride that dropped us in the middle of nowhere. Lush green fields and banana trees surrounded us as we found a mango tree that provided some shade from the baking sun.

We rolled another happy stick and puffed it out before hiking down the desolate road.

“No cars,” I pointed out. But we were in high spirits and were happy to continue to hike.

We came upon a shady corner where we figured, “May as well roll that last one,” GQ suggested. No point crossing the border with arresstable excuses.

We sat down and smoked, keeping an eye out for vehicles. Three trucks passed and by the time we finished smoking all we saw were some bodas. Until a car pulled over. Tinted windows greeted me as I crashed through the roadside bushes to reach the passenger side window.

“Where you going?” I asked the two shady looking characters.

“Busia,” answered the passenger, giving me a suspicious look. I instantly became wary and my sixth sense kicked in.

After explaining our penniless ways, they agreed to take us to the border town. I ran back to grab my packs and GQ. The passenger had stepped out to water the bushes and upon seeing the Gypsy Queen suggested I sit in the front seat so he could sit with her in the back.

I instantly went to Delta Orange and as I grabbed the handle of the back door said with the confidence of someone about to voluntarily wrestle a bear, “It’s OK –” motherfucker – “I’m good in the back,” and shut the door as he reluctantly sat in the front.

He laid out all his attention (and intention) on the Gypsy Queen while I sat quietly observing his every move and the driver. Both seemed to be street hustlers and I noted the position of the hand brake should things go haywire.

“You are very quiet,” the passenger turned to me after about 20 minutes.

“I’m just tired,” I lied, trying not to giving him a death stare, alert and ready for anything.

An hour later they dropped us by the border without incident. We hiked past the harassing bodas and got stamped out of Kenya.

“I gotta feeling the Ugandans are gonna give me some bullshit issues about getting an East African visa,” I said to GQ.

The East African visa costs $100 USD and lets you have multiple entries over three months to Rwanda, Uganda and Kenya. The Ugandan visa is at the same cost. But I’ve heard stories from the Ugandan side where they refuse or cause hassles claiming they can’t issue the visa because they don’t want to share with the other two countries the hundred dollars.

It was just after lunch and the 24-hour border post was empty. I stood in line with GQ who, as a Kenyan student, had no issues getting her interstate pass.

And then my turn came up.

“Hi,” I smiled. “I’d like the East African visa.”

“You cannot get it here,” said the customs officer behind the glass. “Get it in Kenya.”

“But the Kenyans said I can’t get it there,” I tried to remain calm. “They’ll just send me back here. You’re not gonna play ping-pong with me.” Asshole.

“You cannot get the East African visa,” continued the officer. “You will abuse it.”

Abuse it? How the fuck can anyone abuse a visa? “It’s my right to get an East African Visa and you must, by law, give it to me.”

Meanwhile, a busload of overland tourists had lined behind me.

“Step aside,” said the officer.

I did as told while GQ tried to calm me down.

“Motherfucker,” I hissed. “I know he’s gonna give me the visa but why do they have to put me through this fucking hassle and waste our time?”

The overlanders were also refused the visa, told that they had run out of the visa stickers. I approached another officer who took my passport and tried to come up with excuses for not issuing me the visa.

“Look, I’m not getting a Ugandan visa,” I tried to contain my anger. “You’re gonna give me the East African one anyway so why are you creating this hassle?”

The overlanders stood to the side and suddenly another officer came in with a fresh booklet of stickers. The officer I was talking with finally placed my passport under their pile.

When I was finally stamped in I said, “You guys are useless. Instead of welcoming foreigners you have to cause chaos. Schmuks,” and I walked away with GQ to hit the road.

It was almost three PM before we finally got a ride to Jinja on a truck. The driver pulled into a weigh station that had a queue of trucks a mile long. After we got through the driver announced that there was a problem in the truck so GQ and I hightailed it to the highway where we waved down a car that took us to Jinja.ck8a8098

We caught up with our old friends, Teresa and Saleem at The Black Lantern where we had been invited back to create another art installation.

“Need a smoke, a shower and a hug from your kids,” we said as we settled into the banda prepared for us. The Nile River welcomed us with a magical sunset as the long day on the road came to a slow end.

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

HITCH HIKING IN KENYA – PART XI

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© Unbound Ether Photography, 2015

“I found your sandals,” Sophie said stopping me in the carpark of her  restaurant, Cape Chestnut.

I was packed and ready to go, lacking my sandals. I simply couldn’t remember where they were. Sophie had been kind enough to allow me to use her shower in her house for the time I spent in Nanyuki, working with African Ascents. And it was at her digs that I found them.

I whipped off my heavy hiking boots and slipped on my preferred foot attire and with a renewed skip in my step, hit the highway. My first ride  was with Isaac, a business man who was also a chess master.

“My son is Kenya’s chess champion,” he said proudly. “He competes internationally. Do you play?”

“I used to,” I said, staring at Mt Kenya as we sped along the highway. I still couldn’t believe that I had reached its peak, free-climbing a 500-meter vertical face to reach the top. “I’m more of a backgammon kinda guy.”

Laughing, he dropped me off in Naru Maru where I began to hike through the town, waving off the pestering matatu conductors and the boda-bodas that raced up to me.

“I’m waiting for a friend,” I’d tell them so that they’d leave me be.

I trekked down the road and, leaving the town, looked back on occasion to see if a car was coming. I tried to flag down whatever came by that wasn’t an overloaded truck or taxi and found myself walking for almost five K’s before John stopped.

“I’m a clinical officer,” he said, inhaling deeply on his cigarette. He showed me a message on his phone. An order for prescription medicine, as though to prove himself. “I’m visiting my mother and I have to get her this medicine. I’m going to Karatina to place my order.”

John drove calmly, beeping at the drivers that overtook dangerously, explaining how driving should be done. I sat quietly, ‘Ah-huh-ing’ on occasion. I had other things on my mind. Like trying to reach Nairobi early enough to reach the immigration office to extend my second tourist visa.

We pulled into Karatina where, instead of letting me off on the highway, he drove into town and parked outside of a pharmacy.

“I’ll place the order and collect it and then I’ll take you to the road,” he said.

For fuck’s sake, how does this even make sense in anyone’s world? I could see from where I was sitting that the pharmacy was busy and crowded.

“Look, John,” I said, collecting my gear, “I appreciate the ride but I gotta keep moving. Gotta hit Nairobi in time.”

I walked back to the highway. Reaching the main road I again found myself in the middle of a town full of harassing matatus and boda-bodas.

I was well pissed off, ignoring the requests of the locals for me to stop and play a song. It was 11:00 and I’d done way too much hiking and not enough hitching. I didn’t want to linger in Nairobi as hitching out of the city could take a few hours. My outline was to get up early the next morning and hit the highway to Kilifi, about 500 K’s south.

It was time to summon the powers of The Universe. I asked for a direct ride to Nairobi and if it wasn’t too much, that the ride would reach either Westlands or Loresho, the neighbourhood where I’d be crashing at Julio’s at Atah’s property.

Finally, I saw a car among the motorbikes and dispersed as much positive energy as I could. It was coming fast but pulled over and stopped.

“Where ya headed?” I asked in Ki-Swahili.

“Nairobi,” answered Teddy.

“Me too!” I grinned.

“OK, let’s go,” he uttered the three magic words.

Teddy is a communications engineer and was on his way to do a job in Nairobi.

“Where in Nairobi are you headed?” I asked, hoping that it might even be the city centre.

“Westlands,” he said.

I stared, blinked and then erupted in laughter.

“Mate,” I chuckled, “that’s exactly where I need.” I looked out at The Universe. Looks like I’ll be in debt for a while.

Two-hours later I was dropped off at the Westgate Mall roundabout and managed to hitch a free ride on a taxi going up the hill as the baking sun had me rethink about walking. I rocked up at Atah’s, placed my gear and headed out to immigration in the city centre.

The website had informed me that it would only cost me 2,000 shillings (just under $20 AUD) to extend. Reaching the building, I walked over to the customer service desk where a soldierette sat chatting to a woman on the customer side.

As the chat went on I saw that the woman was the soldierette’s friend so I interrupted with, “’scuse me, hi, where do I extend my visa?”

The soldierette looked at me, then at her friend and then back at me. “This woman will help you. She works there.”

“Hi,” I smiled at the lady. “What’s your name?”

“Betty,” said Betty, leading me out of the building, ‘round the block and into another entrance, past the people waiting in line and directly to the office where I’d later be fingerprinted and get my extension stamped.

“Sit down,” she indicated towards the waiting area. “Give me your passport.”

Sweet. Skipping all these people. Must be my lucky day. Betty came out after a few minutes and indicated me to follow her, leading me back past the people and the counters to the outside where she leaned casually against the wall and said, “5,000 to extend.”

I cracked up laughing. “But your website says its only 2,000,” I grinned.

“Oh,” her face fell. She picked it up and said, “Are you sure?”

“Preeeetty sure. I can show you if you want.”

She thought for a second. “Do you have the money?”

“Yes.”

“Give me,” she stretched out a greedy hand.

“Why don’t we do this properly?” I continued to grin. “Inside, where you can give me a receipt, sauwa?” I hate corruption, more so that because of my skin colour it’s presumed I’m rich and will just whip out a few thousand shillings on demand.

“OK,” she grumbled and led me back inside. “Sit.” I saw her talk to her superior who then called me in, handed me my passport and said, “Go to counter number 6.”

At counter number 6 I was instructed to go to counter number 4 where I was given an extension form and told to fill it out and present it with two passport photos and a copy of my current visa.

“Can I have a pen, please?” I asked politely.

“No,” the woman behind the counter said sharply and got up to walk out of her office.

“Wait!” I called after her, “I need a pen! And where do I go to get my visa photocopied?” But she had completely turned her back on me, leaving to go to her lunch break. “Fucking great customer service,” I said, loud enough for all the people in the building to hear.

Some people.

I headed to the next counter where I was also denied a pen. At counter number 6 I was greeted with a smile and a pen from the woman who wanted me to sell her my curly hair.

“It’s so pretty,” she reached out to touch it.

I leaned back, laughing. “Thanks, I grew it myself.” I filled out the form, got the photocopy and returned to number 4. The angry woman had returned from her break and snatched the documents from my hand and told me to go to, “Counter number 6.”

At number 6 I filled out another form and was told politely to wait. I waited for ten minutes before being called back to go to counter number 8 where again I was told to wait. After fifteen minutes I was called upon.

“Are you Australian?” asked the man behind the counter, holding my passport.

I sighed. Did my nationality of Australian written in clear, bold capital letters on the form he was looking at not answer his question?

“Yes,” I said (but the above was stated in the subtext).

“OK,” he said. “Please, sit down.”

I waited a further ten minutes before being summoned again and directed to the same office where Betty worked. I grinned at her and her superior who displayed pissed off looks. I was told to sit and wait. Another ten minutes went by before I was summoned to give my fingerprints and sent back to counter number 8 who sent me to number 6 who sent me to number 4 where I finally collected my passport with the extension stamped in.

I made my way back to Atah’s where I hung out with Julio. “I’m gonna hit the gym,” he said, inviting me to partake in his jujitsu class. Not wanting to indulge in anything that involved headlocks (my hair had a potential sale) I waited for him in the lobby of his gym. Once done, we headed over to The Alchemist where I caught up with friends who retired home after a few hours while Julio and I continued onto Havana’s, a local hotspot down Electric Avenue.

At 03:00 I found myself in the driver’s seat driving us back home where Julio instantly crashed on the bed. I lay beside him on the edge and fell asleep, snoozing the alarm to go past seven when I finally made the effort to hit the road.

Julio was still sleeping as I headed out and hiked about 8 K’s before I caught a ride to a petrol station near the airport. The problem with trying to hitch on a road that leads to an international airport is that everyone that stops assumes you’re going to the airport.

Before long a few police officers showed up and stood beside me.

Shit. Who’s gonna stop with cops around?

One officer came to chat with me. I answered all of his questions and he laughed saying, “You’ll never get a ride.”

I laughed back and said, “Never say never.”

As the time passed and the cops continued to linger I asked, “What’s with all the police presence?”

“The president is going to the training facility for a graduation ceremony.”

Shit. That means they’ll be closing the road soon for his exaggerated entourage of what would probably be fifty vehicles screaming by at 180 K’s an hour.

“You think the president could give me a ride?” I joked.

The cop laughed but answered sincerely that, “The president stops for no one.”

It was just going past eleven and I was barely outside of Nairobi. I was desperate to reach the coast that same day to partake in the Musafir film festival that would be held on the beach in Kilifi. It was also my last weekend in Kilifi where I was parting ways from the world-changing boat-building project and Distant Relatives Eco Lodge as I needed to head to Ethiopia and further north, reaching the Middle East by at least June so that I could have a year of eternal summer.

If I could just reach Machakos I’d be fine.

After almost an hour of waiting a car finally pulled over that wasn’t going to the airport.

“Machakos,” said Joseph.

Fuck yeah. I hopped in and tried not to look at the ticking clock on his dashboard. 30 K’s later he dropped me in the familiar territory of the dusty town of Machakos. I walked past the buses and matatus, completely ignoring the  drivers and conductors until I reached the familiar speed bump from where I’d hitched many times before to the coast where, after another half hour wait, a truck pulled over.

“Where are you headed?” I asked the driver.

“Mombasa,” he said.

I hopped on and asked that I’d be dropped at the Mariakani turnoff. It would save me the hassle of entering and then having to exit Mombasa. The port city is one of the hardest to hitch out from due to the traffic congestion and wide expansion of the city.

And also it’s on an island.

The truck took off at the earth-shattering speed of 40 K’s an hour. The diesel engine put me to sleep almost instantly having lack of sleep due to the previous night’s partying. I was jolted awake to find myself in Salama, a town located 50 K’s outside of Nairobi.

I looked at the clock and noted that two hours had passed.

Just had to grab a ride on the slowest truck in Africa – again.

I turned to the driver.“Can you drop me off in Voi? I gotta hit the coast tonight and at this pace, that’s not gonna happen.”

“No problem,” grinned the driver.

We continued to truck along at a such a frightful speed that even my hair stayed still. Voi was about 200 K’s away. At this rate, I’d reach the coast next year.

After another slow hour we pulled over as the driver needed water.

“I’m gonna get off here,” I said, grabbing my pack. “I need to move fast. I’m sorry but your truck is too slow.”

“But you will never get a ride here,” the driver looked surprised and a little hurt.

“I will,” I said, apologising and thanking him as I hit the road with my feet. He waved and blew his horn as he passed me. I waved back and farted (doubt that he heard it though) as I hiked down the Mombasa highway. A few vehicles passed until Tommy pulled over with his young daughter riding shotgun.

“If you don’t mind the smell, you can come with us to Mombasa,” he said.

A strong whiff of puppy came from the back of the station wagon as I noticed the two small South African Ridgebacks in a box, staring at me, contemplating if my beard were chewable.

“I breed dogs,” Tommy said.

After an hour and a sense of relief a stronger sense overcame the interior. What the… I thought and recognised the smell. It hit the front seat and Tommy said, “I think the puppies did something funny.”

“Mate,” I said, as my eyes watered, “whatever they did, I do not find it funny.”

Laughing he pulled over at the next roadside town where his daughter hopped out to buy some toilet paper and they began to clean up the mess while I borrowed his phone to call the Gypsy Queen who was already at the coast. He overheard me say that I’ll ask to be dropped at the Marikani turnoff.

“Why do you need there?” he asked as I hung up.

“Need to reach Kilifi,” I said.

“Actually, I’m from Kilifi but I live in Mtwapa.”

Mtwapa is on the outskirts of Mombasa and the beginning of Kilifi County.

“I can drop you where the matatus are and I will pay for you to reach Kilifi.”

“That’d be amazing Tommy. Thank you so much.” I just hoped that the puppies wouldn’t do anything funny again.

We took a break in Voi where Tommy shouted a late lunch before we continued on. We hit the Mariakani turnoff at sunset and ploughed on through to the Mtwapa turnoff. I got off the phone for the second time with the Gypsy Queen where I asked her to order for us a pizza at Distant Relatives. It was Friday – pizza night – when Tommy said,

“There are no more matatus.” Ali hopped into the car. “So I will take you to the highway,” my driver seemed to simply accept the new passenger. “Is that OK?”

I was taken aback. This guy had picked me up less than five hours ago and was willing to go 42 kilometres out of his way to help me, a complete stranger. I turned to his daughter. “Your father is a great man,” I said, and slapped Tommy on the back.

Ali was a fruit vendor also heading to Kilifi. “We’ll take a boda from the highway to Kilifi. I can pay for you.”

How was this generosity happening?

We bounced along the dirt, unpaved road and an hour later reached the highway in complete darkness.

“Call me so I know you reached safely,” Tommy bid me farewell while Ali secured us a boda. The two of us rode in the darkness behind the driver, a young inexperienced kid who didn’t realise that when passing a truck in the opposite direction, one should brace for the jetstream that follows.

I rode the 3 K’s clenching my hat in my teeth and holding on to the sides for dear life. I was dropped off at Tuskys (local supermarket) where, as it was late and I was too tired to walk down the dark dirt road to the backpackers, I ended up getting another boda to the awaiting Queen and pizza.

I rocked up at the bar at 20:00 where the Gypsy Queen sat quietly, our pizza still warm on the bar.

I couldn’t believe that I had made it from Nairobi to Kilifi in the time I did.

“How was the road?” she asked.

“Well,” I began, “lemme tell ya…”

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

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