I recently wrote a piece about water and how we missed the boat on how we should approach it. Read about it on The Good Men Project
“Come any time, grab a board and hit the waves,” Edy offered.
I couldn’t believe it. At the time, I was teaching surfing at place that took advantage of my volunteering bartering ways, so I quit and found Edy, then based at Pink Orange but now based at Sea Bird Beach Cafe in Morjim, North Goa.
I know what you’re thinking: India and surfing? This pizza-sliced shaped nation is surrounded by water so yes, India and surfing. On the east coast you have the Bay of Bengal which produces some gnarly waves as Appu, India’s surf champ (placed first in 2016 and third in 2017) and owner\operator of Ocean Delight Surf School in Kovalam, described the right-handers to be, “Big, man. Some days we get 6-foot, some days it can be 10, up near Madras.”
On the other side of the sub-continent, you have the Arabian Sea where during monsoons it is impossible to even approach the water let alone think about going in. The undertow would suck you in like a crocodile taking a zebra and spit you out somewhere along Somalia’s coast in a flash.
But during the season, which tends to kick off around September and last through until June-July, the waves are perfect for beginners. Easy going, chunky and rarely exceed the 2-foot marker.
Except when a cyclone hits as it did this year and produced some 10-footers with fast-paced barrels as Swapnil, Edy’s teaching partner experienced.
Which is why Goa and Edy’s surf school – Octopus Surf – is the best place to learn how to tame the most powerful element on our planet – water.
“I love octopus,” Edy explained the origins of the name. “Fascinating creatures.”
Goa’s abundant beach breaks make it a safe spot to learn with nothing but sand to brace your wipeouts. It’s shallow for up to about a hundred meters out and the waves start breaking just 30 meters from the beach itself.
“I’ve been surfing for about six years,” Edy explained. “I love it.”
As do I. I don’t regard it a sport. Rather a connection to the water. It’s therapeutic and meditative, cleansing my being of everything and spitting me back out on the beach with a new, clean slate. I like to think that it’s not me riding the wave, rather the wave allowing me to ride it (until it’s had enough and kicks me off).
Surfing is one of those activities where you either love it or you hate it. There’s no middle ground. And I love it. I taught myself how to conquer Neptune’s anger at a late stage in life, when I was 29.
No one told me I should have started on the white-wash. Instead, I paddled straight out for Lorne’s 3-4 foot powerful breaks that taught me a lesson or three. And although I’m no world class surfer, I’m a world class wipe-outer.
The best time to surf in Goa is from early morning until about lunchtime when the offshore winds change to an onshore, crumbling the waves.
On occasion, if I was early enough, I’d find myself sharing the water with dolphins, watch the Brahmani and Brown Kites head out to sea to fish or a flock of sandpipers flashing from brown to their white underbelly as they follow the local fishing boats dotting the horizon.
Fishermen on the beach would scrub their beached boats, cleaning out their nets while dogs and crows hovered about for scraps. Every now and again a fish or a few of them might leap out.
The waters of the Arabian Sea are usually quite clear and warm with a lot of glassy days. Your main traffic concern would be the tourists who seem to be so fascinated by surfers that they remain where they are in the water as you and the board you’re riding head straight for their grinning faces.
And it’s always good to be able to surf without a wetsuit.
Edy and Swapnil are both locals who know the waters quite well (as does Appu in Kovalam) and are connected to the other surf schools down the coast.
The prices at Octopus Surf School are local (other schools target the tourists and charge disproportionately) and their teachings, from what I’ve seen, are easy to follow.
No matter what level you’re at when it comes to water sports, I’ve yet to meet a student of Octopus Surf that hasn’t managed to get up on a wave or leave without a smile. The boys also run surf camps for kids combining yoga and acro-yoga which go hand-in-hand with surfing.
And you’ll never see either surfers without a smile on their face. How can you not smile when your life is a beach?
If you end up in Kovalam, Tamil Nadu, head for Appu’s school, Ocean Delight.
Tell ’em I sent ya.
The third year of hitchin’ through Africa was turmoilous in a good way. I rose in love with an amazing soulmate. I kinda conquered my anablephobia (an extreme unwarranted fear and physical aversion to looking up) and found out a few more things about myself.
I spent a long time in Kenya and a really short time in Sudan where I almost broke down due to the heat and other personal variables.
I patched up Ol’ Red, jammed from beaches to treehouses to boats. I hung out with artists across all mediums. I’ve visited more hospitals and taken more anti-biotics and pharmaceuticals this past year than I have my entire life. I quit drinking but discovered ecstasy. I got addicted to rolex in Uganda, coffee in Ethiopia, tea in Sudan and falafel in Egypt.
I got a free ride on a train from Khartoum to Shendi in Sudan. I was arrested (Zanzibar) with handcuffs and risked arrest with the Gypsy Queen and had to protect some wannabe hustlers from her ferocity when they tried to pull one over us.
I publicly played a song I wrote for the first time, the soon-to-be Grammy nominated song of the year, The Ballad of Jim-Bob and the Bear. Speaking of Grammy’s, I jammed with a Grammy-nominated artist, singers, poets, rappers, the most talented musicians I’ve ever come across.
I gained an awesome camera with some helpful tips by the talents of the Gypsy Queen and created art in two countries I never thought I’d ever be capable of with said Gypsy Queen (who’ll have a special guest post published here in the coming days. Stay tuned).
And finally (yet sadly), after two amazing years, I’ve left Africa – for now.
And I’ve realised that, after three years of full-time travelling, even though people say I’m living the dream, I’m fuckin’ exhausted. It’s not easy to be continuously on the move carrying 30 kilos of everything you have in extreme heat, rain or cold.
This next year I’m gonna focus on surfing (two years since I was last on a wave), writing a few books, editing some videos (no, not porn), develop some ideas I’ve had, perhaps write an album (whether I record is a different story) and learn a completely new repertoire of songs to cover (suggestions are welcome).
So this list is the absolute TOTAL of three years of travelling from Oz to the Middle East without a flight (except for that one cause of the Ethiopian embassy in Nairobi) – from May 13th, 2013, to May 13th, 2016.
Without the good-hearted folks that I’ve encountered on the way, none of this would’ve been possible. So thanks people.
See y’all in a year (or thereabouts. It’s just an outline).
Total distance covered: 47,000 km (29,205 miles) from Melbourne, Victoria, Australia – Eilat, Arava, Israel
Total number of countries: 21
Total number of islands: 27
Total number of hitches on cars: 155
Total number of hitches on public transport: 28
Total number of hitches on trucks: 45
Total number of hitches on motorbikes: 1
Total number of hitches on trains: 1
Total number of hitches with police: 3 – Malawi, Uganda, Sudan
Total number of hitches with military: 1 – Uganda
Total number of hitches: 233
Total number of flights: 1 – Nairobi, Kenya – Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (only way The Universe was letting me get a visa)
Total number of boats: 17
Total number of boat rides: 45
Total number of travel partners: 4
Wettest country: Uganda
Driest country: Sudan
Hottest country: Sudan
Most Mountainous country: Ethiopia
Flattest country: Sudan
Hottest temperature experienced: 45° C, Omdurman, Sudan
Coldest temperature experienced: 1°, possible 0° C, Mt Kenya, Kenya
Highest Altitude reached: 5,188 meters above sea level, Nelion Peak, Mt Kenya
Lowest Altitude reached: 116 meters below sea level, Danakil Depression, Afar, Ethiopia
Total number of hospital visits: 8 (2 motorbike accidents, 2 spider bites and multiple ear infections)
Total number of spider bites: 2 – Recluse (aka, violin spider), Kilifi, Kenya
Total number of wasp stings: 2 – Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary, Uganda
Biggest spider encountered: Rain spiders, in the shower, Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary, Uganda
Most dangerous snake encounter: Boomslanger, WAG, Thuma Forest Reserve, Malawi
Total number of tropical diseases collected: 1 – H. Pylori (stomach bacteria). Still housing it from Madagascar
Total number of bats in the shower: 10 – Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary, Uganda
Total number of festivals attended: 5
- Uluru Camel Cup, Uluru, Northern Territory, Australia
- Sedgfield, South Africa
- Vortex, South Africa
- Sauti za Busara, Zanzibar
- Kilifi New Year’s, Kenya
Total number of conservation\NGO projects volunteered: 8
- MYCAT Tiger conservation, Taman Negara, Malaysia
- ALERT lion conservation, Livingstone, Zambia
- Anti-poaching, Lake Kariba, Zambia
- WAG Thuma Forest Reserve, Malawi
- Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary, Uganda
- Footsteps Through Africa, Uganda
- Cheap Impact, Kenya
- Musafir, Kenya (not an NGO but is a volunteer project)
Total number of volunteer jobs for food and bed: 24
Total number of art installations with Osotua Creative Collective: 5
- The Cave Mandala – Rubuguri, Western Uganda
- The Black Lantern String-art sign – Jinja, Uganda
- Mandalas at The Black Lantern – Jinja, Uganda
- Dreamcatcher living art, The Black Lantern – Jinja, Uganda
- Light & String-art pyramid, What’s Good Live Studios – Nairobi, Kenya
Total number of videos on Youtube: 14
Total number of kayaking white water: 1 – Savage Wilderness, Tana River, Kenya
Total number of SCUBA dives: 1, Red Sea, Dahab, Sinai, Egypt with Sinai Gate – 21 meters
Deepest free-dive: 15 meters
Total number of bungee jumps: 1 – Victoria Falls Bridge, Zambia (Shearwater Adventures)
Total number of ziplining: 1 – Victoria Falls Bridge, Zambia (Shearwater Adventures)
Total number of gorge swings: 1 – Victoria Falls Bridge, Zambia (Shearwater Adventures)
Total number of places surfed: 8
- Desert Point, Lombok, Indonesia (not so much surfing as almost dying)
- Kuta, Bali, Indonesia
- Tangalie, Sri Lanka
- The Strand, Cape Town, South Africa
- Kalk Bay, South Africa
- Inner Pool, Mossel Bay, South Africa
- Dias Beach, Mossel Bay, South Africa
- Bukka, Mossel Bay, South Africa (last surf, two years ago)
Total number of mountains conquered: 12
- Chatauqua Peak, The Grampians, Victoria, Australia – 2,546 m
- Mt Kelimuto, Flores, Indonesia – 1,639 m
- Adam’s Peak, Sri Lanka – 2,243 m (including more than 6,000 steps)
- Mt Blanc, Madagascar – 420 m
- Mt Hedelberg, Cape Town, South Africa – 1,001 m
- Table Mountain, Cape Town, South Africa – 1,085 m
- Mt Mulanji, Malawi – 3,001 m
- Chombe Plateau, Malawi – 764 m
- Mt Meru, Tanzania – 4,565 m
- Point Nelion, Mt Kenya, Kenya – 5,188 m
- Point Lenana, Mt Kenya, Kenya – 4,985 m
- Mt Erta Ale, Ethiopia – 613 m
Total number of active volcanoes: 1 – Mt Erta Ale, Ethiopia (with ETT)
Total number of national parks: 54
Longest period in one country: 7 months, Kenya
Shortest period in one country: 10 days, Sri Lanka
Longest wait for a ride: 2 months, Darwin-Indonesia
Shortest wait for a ride: 3 seconds, Mulanji, Malawi
Longest hitch: 4 days with Harley and Em from Jinja, Uganda to Karen, Kenya
Longest distance hiked before getting a hitch: 10 K’s on the road to Lake Tanganika, Zambia
Most remote place to get a ride: Aberdares National Park, Kenya
Total number of Mohammeds met: 30
Total number of continents: 3
Total number of oceans crossed: 1 – Indian
Total number of seas crossed: 1 – Timor
Total number of canals crossed: 1 – Suez Canal, Egypt
Total number of deserts crossed: 5
- The Outback, Australia
- The Namib, Namibia
- The Danakil Depression, Ethiopia
- The Sudanese Desert, Sudan
- The Egyptian Desert, Egypt
Total number of gigs: 97
Total number of tattoos acquired: 1
Total number of articles published: 257
Total number of photos published: 6,165
Most camels in a single caravan: 49
Total number of attempted pickpocketers: 2 – Cape Town, South Africa and Mwanza, Tanzania
Best Coffee: Hailu’s mum’s, Ayat, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Best Tea: Mzee Baraka’s spiced chai, Kilifi, Kenya
Total weight of packs: 33 KG
Total number of packs stolen: 1 – Zambia Oktoberfest
Total number of nicknames collected: 18 –
- Jesus (everywhere in Africa – except for Ethiopia, ironically)
- Moses (everywhere in Africa – except for Ethiopia, ironically)
- Noah (everywhere in Africa – except for Ethiopia, ironically)
- Funny Man (Caprivi Houseboat Safaris, Namibia)
- Guitar Jesus (by the British Army in Savage Wilderness, Sagana, Kenya)
- Pan (by the Gypsy Queen in Kilifi, Kenya)
- Kwizi (by Ruganzu Bruno in Kira Town, Uganda)
- Sami (by a Sufi priest in Sudan)
- Chuck Norris (everywhere in Africa – except for Ethiopia)
- Jack Sparrow (by the crew of Wisdom, Zanzibar)
- Ntingo (means ‘someone who can survive anywhere’ in Ki-Swahili, Tanzania)
- Hamlet (in Malawi)
- Osama Bin Laden (everywhere in Africa – except for Ethiopia, ironically)
- Robinson Crusoe (everywhere in Africa – except for Ethiopia, ironically)
- Castaway (everywhere in Africa – except for Ethiopia, ironically)
- Sami (bestowed upon me by a Sufi priest in Sudan. Used throughout Sudan and Egypt)
- Rainbow (Dahab. Accused of being part of the Rainbow community. I’m not).
- Rasta-mun (everywhere)
Total number of hotels bartered with: 39
Total number of couchsurfers from couchsurfers.com: 31
Total number of near-death experiences: 12
- Desert Point, Lombok, Indonesia. 4-foot swell suddenly turned to 9-foot water mountains.
- Motorbike accident in Koh Phangan, Thailand
- First storm in open waters sailing the Malacca Straits
- Motorbike accident in Sri Lanka
- Multiple stings by Portuguese Man O’War, somewhere in the middle of the Indian Ocean
- Chased by hippo while river guiding on the Zambezi, Namibia
- Charged by ostrich, Lake Kariba, Zambia
- Slipped off a mountain hiking up to The Mushroom Farm Eco Lodge, Livingstonia, Malawi
- Almost slipped off a cavern wall at Menengai Crater, Nakuru, Kenya
- Almost runover by a matatu (mini-van), Nairobi, Kenya
- Head-on collision averted when oncoming car decided the ditch was the safest bet, Kenya
- Sucked under and momentarily trapped in a rapid on the Tana River, Kenya
Most amazing experience (cheese alert): Rising in love
Worst experience: Ear infection, Mbale, Uganda. Doctor did not go easy on me.
And, too end on a high,
Total number of acid trips: 4
- Sri Lanka
- South Africa x 2
Total number of ecstasy trips: 10 – 8 in Kenya, two in Uganda
Total number of bad trips: 1 – Kenya
Best Weed: Malawi Gold, Malawi
Strongest Weed: Shisha Mani, Ethiopia
Mellowest Weed: Bungo, Sudan
“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.
“Kenya is at war with Somalia.”
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.
“We want their land.”
“For their resources.”
“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.
“It’s been four years,” Paolo reflects in the talking circle on the balcony of the Musafir house. “I’d really like for us to push to set sail in the kaskazi winds (the trade winds that blow south) and head to Mozambique by the end of March.”
We all nod in agreement, charged with renewed energy after surviving the hectic festivities of the New Year’s celebrations. Musafir, the 70-foot traditional dhow, was turned into a floatel (check out The Tripping Lass post) to raise funds to sustain the continuous construction of the boat.
Musafir is a word shared in several languages. In Farsi, Hindu, Urdu, Arabic and Ki-Swahili it means ‘a traveller’. In Romanian and Turkish it means ‘a guest’. It’s an old word that refers to travellers that would exchange goods, knowledge, culture and art and pass on that knowledge to their next destination. Like Marco Polo bringing pasta to Italy from China.
The project’s humble beginnings began in November of 2011 in the tiny inlet village of Kipini, just off Kenya’s northern coastline. Known for its traditional boat-building community it was here that Paolo, along with various travellers from all backgrounds, began to design and build the vision he had.
“I wanted to build a boat to have a platform that is open to everyone as an alternative community,” he explains. “The mission is to sail around the world and interact with local, remote coastal communities. Stay for a few months, learn their ways, see how we can assist in developing a sustainable project. Spread environmental awareness, exchange culture and music. To survive on barter and to use as little money as possible.”
This sounded familiar.
Over the four years it has taken to manifest one man’s vision, more than 50 travellers and a handful of local paid fundies (labourers) have passed through Kipini and now Kilifi, where the boat is anchored in the creek.
The small town of Kilifi is just an hour and a half north of the major port city of Mombasa. The nearest ATM is a five minute boda ride (motorbike taxi) or, if you can take the heat, an hour’s walk. Up on the hill sits the Distant Relatives Eco-lodge and Backpackers which has wifi access.
To build a traditional Swahili dhow one must use a lot of wood. Wood comes from trees. “To give back to nature, we help out with tree-planting projects in the communities that have hosted us,” Paolo says. “Before Musafir was sailed to Kilifi, we built a playground from the left over wood for the community of Kipini and planted trees.”
In the first week of my arrival I took part in tree-planting at a local school organised by a Musafir volunteer, planting 108 saplings.
Nothing gets wasted and with every new traveller that volunteers on the project, fresh ideas are brought to the table on how to recycle materials, how to market the project online, sustainable projects. Ideas that are hoped to be passed on to the remote coastal communities that the boat will sail too. Hence the talking circle held once a week to brainstorm and discuss what is needed and if any, what changes need to be made.
I joined the project in May of 2015 with the idea that I would stay for two weeks and then move on. But something about this project grabbed me. The feeling of being accepted into a community – a family – without judgement, with open arms and being back on a boat was tickling my fancy.
And I didn’t even know I had a fancy.
Well, it’s now January, 2016 and I’m still on the project, jumping ship for the occasional hitch hiking adventure.
The dhow is almost ready to take advantage of the upcoming kaskazi winds. It won’t be completely finished but construction will be ongoing as it sails.
As it stands now (or anchored), the two-rigger boat (meaning two masts) now has a deck (recently completed), a main hatch, a cargo bay, a temporary toilet and a sundeck for fishing or sunning (and once reinforced, jumping). To set sail at the end of March, work on the stern cabin and lower deck must be completed, and a trustworthy captain and some crew who know how to sail such a boat need to be found.
Musafir is in the heart of each and every one of us. It drives (or sails) us forward and pushes the limits of global human interaction. I reflect on this as I sit in the talking circle surrounded by a rainbow of people from various backgrounds. Like-minded folks that see people for what they are – just people.
And the circle can always be more round.
When I first aimed for Kenya it was going to be an in ‘n’ out operation. Find information about visas to Ethiopia, South Sudan and North Sudan (at the time, the two Sudans were in a brief honeymoon period that lasted for about an hour before the civil war resumed) and then get out.
Kenya was in a bit of strife as well. The recent Garrisa University attacks had the Western world warn its population against travelling to the East African nation so I was a bit nervous.
But The Universe has ways to provide signs:
Kenya was country number 16 that I would visit.
The visa sticker was placed on page 16 of my passport.
I then recalled a conversation I had with Irish Dave whom I met in Livingstone, Zambia. “If you go to Kenya you gotta visit Distant Relatives,” he said in his mixed Irish-American-Kiwi accent (he’d been around). “It’s on the coast but be careful,” he warned. “You might get stuck there. I was only going to spend a few days. I stayed three weeks.”
It was the same warning Danny heeded when he had picked me up hitch hiking from Nakuru to Nairboi.
“You’ll love it there,” he said. “You’ll never want to leave.”
I had pffft at both men’s comments as I made my way to Mombasa, Kenya’s port city where I spent a week before continuing an hour and a half up the coast to the county of Kilifi and down to Kilifi Creek where Distant Relatives is located. I figured I’d stay for two weeks, volunteering on the boat-building project, Musafir and then continue to explore the coastline, mainly hunting my first wave in over a year.
It seemed fitting that I arrived on the eve of the day I set out on my travels two years ago (which also happened to be Irish Dave’s same travel date – May 13th, 2013. Yet, another universal sign).
I walked through the herb gardens along the mulch paths, by the beach volleyball court and swimming pool and failed to realise that The Universe had cunningly disguised itself as Distant Relatives Backpackers and Eco Lodge.
It seduced me with the freshest free oysters on Friday’s pizza night, the amazing vibes and friendly locals, the 400-year-old Baobab tree with hanging light-bulbs, shaped as the very fruit the tree bears. At night, the lights are visible from the middle of Kilifi Creek, just a 3-minute walk down the hill.
The creek is home to the Musafir project and some local residents. At night the bio-luminescence comes out to play a light show that will blow your mind. The old jetty ready (though, not quite sure if its willing) to have you sit on its end for sundowners. Later on, after you’ve had dinner from the tasty kitchen or cooked your own in the communal, head back down and stare at the Milky Way while you wait for a shooting star to zip across.
Aside from the main building that houses the communal kitchen, restaurant\bar\indoor dancefloor and reception, the place is built almost out of everything recyclable including glass bottles and used tires. Cement makes up just 10% of the building materials used to create the bandas. The pigs in the sty take care of all the biodegradable rubbish. The chickens in the chicken coup provide fresh eggs, and grey water is recycled to water the lush gardens.
But the gem of the place aside from the vibrant energy?
The compost toilets.
I’ve come across a few of these in my day but none as eloquently designed as here – complete with an informative booklet to keep you occupied while you occupy one of the three public stalls (each banda has its own private stall and shower).
Tucked away among giant green and yellow bamboo that speaks in windy creaks, two communal showers await to cleanse your mind and body. Refreshing your soul in the middle of the mini-bamboo forest, the swaying shoots add a soothing tone to the natural soundtrack.
The same energy forces that suck you in also attracts yoga instructors that come to spend a few weeks teaching classes once a week out in nature. There’s a choice of either utilising the stage (built for live gigs) or a quiet corner where the wind whispers through the trees, gently floating the leaves as they swing around you while you engage in contorting poses.
Does it stop there? Oh, no. You cannot stay at Distant Relatives without visiting Bofa Beach. Picture white sandy beaches on which the Indian Ocean laps on too. Coconut palms swaying in the monsoon winds. If you dare, you can kayak or swim out to the reef channel and snorkel.
Too save you picturing, here’s a picture:
Or book a boat to take you.
It had been ten months since Irish Dave first brought this area to my attention on the eve of my personal New Year, May 12th. Sitting by the bonfire on the beach, ripping out tunes on Ol’ Red with the Musafir crew, I could see why he struggled to leave this corner of the world.
And now, four months after I initially arrived, I’m still here, wondering how to extend my Kenyan visa.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
I was interviewed by the good people at Happy Hobos. Check their pages out on the social networks.
06:30, Melbourne, Australia, May 13th, 2013
It’s still dark outside as I sit in my car and contemplate what it is that I’ve decided to do for the rest of my life. I have stomach jitters, the kind you get when you jump off something high and realise, as the earth rushes up, that maybe it was just a little too high.
Then my sub-conscious starts to hound me.
“What the hell are you doin’?”
“Are you sure about this?”
“Dunno? You better know, mate. There’s no turning back. You’ve shut the door. Literally, you don’t have a key to get back in.”
I look back at the family home.
I turn the engine and head off into the city to pick up Cookie, my travel buddy for the 5,400 K drive to Darwin through Australia’s outback.
Fast forward to May 13th, 2014, Mossel Bay, South Africa
The summary of the second year of non-stop travel starts from South Africa and continues on this amazing continent up to Kenya (all stats are just for the year between 2014-2015. To view Year One stats, click here: https://thenomadicdiaries.wordpress.com/2014/05/13/year-one/)
Distance covered: 17,065 km (10,603 m)
Total number of countries visited: 7
Total number of islands visited: 7
Total number of hitches hitched: 135
Total number of trucks hitched: 27
Total number of rides in police cars: 1 – From the roadblock to Big Blue Backpackers in Nkhata Bay, Malawi
Total number of free rides on public transport (buses and taxis): 12
Total number of boat rides: 12
Total number of vehicle breakdowns: 2 (no fault of mine)
Total number of personal breakdowns: 0
Total number of phones dying: 1
Total number of items stolen: 1 small daypack lifted from my tent at the Zambian Oktberfest containing:
- 12-year-old Animal
- 13-year-old Leatherman multi-tool
- 3L camel pack
- Various gifts collected on the way
- Sandals… again
Longest wait for a ride: 4 hours, 20 minutes in offensive heat, Salima, Malawi.
Shortest wait for a ride: 1.3 seconds, Mulanji Town, Malawi. Hopped off a ride and the car behind stopped for us.
Longest distance with one ride: 941 Ks – Iringa to Mwanza, Tanzania
Longest time spent on a single ride: 2 days on the truck from Iringa to Mwanza, Tanzania
Longest hike until picked up: 10 km
Total number of books read: 20
Total number of places gigged: 37
Total number of gigs played: 83
Total number of gigs played for rides – on rides: 6
Best gig: The Lively Lady, Arusha, Tanzania. Small place, heaps of people. Great vibe.
Worst gig: Rafiki’s, Nakuru, Kenya. Just couldn’t connect with the electric guitar. And I was shite.
Favourite saying: Pole-pole (pronounced: Pol-aye-pol-aye). Means, ‘slowly-slowly’ in Ki-Swahili
Easiest language to pick up: Ki-Swahili
Most random moment: Meeting Irish Dave (corktocape.blogspot.com) in Livingstone, Zambia. He started his long-distance motorbike ride from Cork, Ireland to Cape Town, South Africa on the same date in the same year (and at almost the same time) as I.
Total number of visas denied: 1 – Ethiopia doesn’t issue overland visas unless you’re a Kenyan resident. Bastards.
Longest time spent away from the ocean: 10 months (have yet to surf. Merde)
Total number of reefs snorkelled: 5 – Mnemba, Bawe (x2), Tumbatu, Nymevemba – all in Zanzibar
Deepest free-dive: 10 meters – Mnemba, Zanzibar
Total number of scuba divers spooked from said free-diving: 3 – Mnemba, Zanzibar
Total number of sea urchins stepped on: 1 – 6 barbs in the bottom of my left foot, Zanzibar
Total number of jellyfish stings: 1 – blue bottle, Zanzibar
Total number of jellyfish hitting me in the face: 1 – Zanzibar
Total number of near death experiences: 5
– Chased by a hippo while I was on a boat in the Zambezi River, Caprivi Strip, Namibia
– Charged by an ostrich at Lake Kariba Bush Club game reserve, Zambia
– Almost slipped off a mountain hiking up to The Mushroom Farm Eco Lodge, Livingstonia, Malawi
– Almost slipped off a cavern wall at Menengai Crater, Nakuru, Kenya
– Almost runover by a matatu (mini-van bus), Nairobi, Kenya
Favourite Conservation Project: ALERT Lion Conservation, Livingstone, Zambia lionalert.org
Total number of sexual propositions for money by local women: 15 (all were turned down)
Total number of hammocks fallen out of: 1
Total number of snakes relocated: 3
Total number of snakes successfully operated on and released: 1 – it had impaled itself on a thorn which lodged in its side.
Total number of snakes eaten: 1 (tastes like chicken)
Total number of chickens slaughtered: 1 – Kasama, Zambia
Total number of times arrested: 1 – full story here: https://thenomadicdiaries.wordpress.com/2015/03/15/jailbreak/
Best barter: 3-day safari at Maasai Mara National Reserve, Kenya with bigtimesafaris.co.ke
Total number of publications written for: 5 – Travel News Namibia, Current Conservation, Zeta Media, Africa Geographic Magazine (current) and an African hitch hiking guide for hitchhikershandbook.com (current)
Total number of night outs with loss of memory: Can’t remember
Total number of mountains climbed: 2
– Mt Mulanji, Malawi (2,700m. Missed the 3,001m peak due to bad weather)
– Mt Meru, Tanzania (4,566m)
Highest peak summited: Mt Meru – 5th highest in Africa at 4,566 meters
Favourite beer: Mosi, Zambia
Best acid trip: Vortex bush doof, South Africa. Tab called ‘Dolphin’. And boy, was I swimming.
Best weed: Malawi Gold, Malawi
Best music festival: Sauti za Busara – Sounds of Wisdom – every February, Stone Town, Zanzibar.
Total number of mosquito bites: 67
Total number of fire ant attacks: 1 – stepped into a nest while taking a photo at Lake Duluti, Arusha, Tanzania
Total number of emergency toilet situations: 2
Total number of times caught-out without toilet paper during emergency: 1
Worst injury sustained: Ear infection. Whilst free diving in Zanzibar, some cheeky little bacteria wiggled itself into my right ear and made friends with some fun-guys (get it? Fun? Guys? Fungus? Meh)
Total number of hospital visits: 2 – to sort out above mentioned ear infection
Total number of nicknames: 11 – Jesus, Moses, Noah, Chuck Norris, Jack Sparrow, Ntingo (means ‘someone who can survive anywhere’ in Ki-Swahili), Hamlet (don’t ask), Osama Bin Laden (not my favourite), Robinson Crusoe, Castaway, Rasta-mun
The piercing scream exploded around me as though it were an incoming mortar shell. I whipped around and saw Stephi waving about, bubbles escaping from her mouth as she pointed down. I pushed up from the five meter depth and surfaced for air, waiting for her to do the same.
“Are you OK?” I asked, treading water just off Tumbatu Island, a 20-minute speedboat ride from Nungwi, in Zanzibar’s north.
“Did you see the Mantis shrimp?” Stephi bubbled out excitedly.
She’s a marine biologist and is easily excited by the smallest things in the water. I am too. But not to the point of waking up every sea creature across the Indian Ocean with a panicked scream.
“That’s why you screamed?” I playfully splashed water at her. “I thought a shark had made me part of its menu. Jesus, you scared the shit outta me.”
She laughed apologetically while I breathed deeply to slow down my heart beat so I could return to the underwater world, my go-to place for any cleansing.
The Tumbatu reef had an explosion of sea life. Although visibility was only 10 meters and strong currents pushed us north where the boat bobbed patiently, the amount of fish and coral was overwhelming. I didn’t know where to explore first. Depths were up to 5-7 meters. I dived down to play with the reef fish, surprising a small school as I swam around a huge coral. The lobster was too small to consider bringing up for lunch and a weird looking flat, white thing with blue dots rested on a sponge.
As we neared the boat a remora appeared, as most fish do, out of nowhere. They’re about half a meter in length and are fearless.
This one swam right up to us. Dane, who had driven us up to Nungwi and initiated the snorkel trip and I were wading, watching it. Stephi kept a keen eye on it. I swam after it, diving down to play with it. When it came close to Stephi she suddenly panicked, splashing at it, kicking with her fins to scare it off.
“What the hell are you doin’?” I laughed. “Are you scared of a remora?”
“They can stick to you,” she said, as she flailed her arms every time it approached. Dane and I laughed. “It’s true!” she tried to convince us. “They don’t only stick to sharks. You saw the huge, ridged suction cup on top of its head? If they stick to you, they can leave a huge bruise. The only way to get it off is to kill it.” She splashed again in a panic as it returned. I laughed and dived down.
I hovered at about 3 meters, keeping an eye on the fish, watching Dane dive down to 5 meters. The remora then swam up to him and snuck in close to his back, almost touching him. Dane didn’t notice, focusing on the coral he was exploring. Suddenly, the remora twisted into position.
Stephi already ripped out a bubble-exploding scream which had Dane whip around to me and I pointed up in exaggeration to stress the situation. Dane raced up to the surface, the remora having been millimetres from attaching itself to his shoulder.
“Are you serious?” he couldn’t believe it.
“I told you!” Stephi exclaimed.
The remora, realising it had no one to stick to, swam off in search of a more hospitable host while the current carried us to the boat.
It would’ve really sucked had it latched on to Dane.