“Name’s Harley,” said the heavily bearded Kiwi as we shook hands in a break I took between songs.
I was strumming on Ol’ Red by the fire at the Nile River Camp with the Gypsy Queen, Teresa, Saleem and a couple of Austrian girls with their German friend. Carlos the Mexican buzzed around and the Nile River was silent with a lightening storm on display over the horizon.
Harley and his Swedish partner, Emmelie, were driving from Cape Town to Stockholm in their Land Rover Defender, nicknamed Chewie.
“After Chewbacca,” Harley grinned. “Been on the road for about seven months now.”
“We have two months to reach Sweden,” added Emmelie. “We have to reach a wedding in Canada from there.”
A Dutch couple, Nico and Youska, had met the couple driving through Namibia and had bumped into them here and there over the African continent. They too were at the camp and enjoying my music (not to brag or anything). I was chatting with Harley while GQ chatted with Emmelie, both asking the same questions simultaneously.
“Where ya headed next?” we asked.
“Tomorrow gonna head to Sipi Falls and camp there for the night,” they answered separately, “then we gotta get to Karen in Nairobi and get the car serviced before we head off to Ethiopia. Gotta leaky fuel tank.”
“You’re heading to Nairobi?” I confirmed, turning with raised eyebrows to GQ who just received the same news from Emmelie.
Well, this was a blessing. GQ and I were going to hitch to Nairobi the next day. I still had a day to spare on my visa so, “Would you be willing to take on a couple of grubby hitch hikers?” I asked.
Harley looked at Emmelie and they both nodded. “Yeah, not a problem mate. We can squeeze you in.”
“You know what,” I grinned, “even though you’re a Kiwi, you lived in Perth so lemme playa AC\DC in reggae.”
Harley grinned and I strummed Highway to Hell, the thought of seeing Sipi Falls and riding with our two new friends sparking some fire on Ol’ Red. Just after midnight GQ and I thanked the folks at NRC and headed up to the Nile Porch where we sat in front of our safari tent overlooking the still waters of the Nile River chatting with Saleem. At four in the morning we went to bed.
We were meeting Harley and Emmelie at tennish so we had a few hours to sleep. After heart-felt goodbyes and promises of our return in January to install more art pieces, we hit the road with a breakfast stop in Jinja at a place called The Deli.
It was here we parted ways with the Dutch couple and headed off to Sipi Falls, travelling on broken roads that seemed to have been washed away in the El Nino rains covering the region. We drove past Mbale where GQ and I, squashed in among our packs, pointed out Wanale Falls and told our story of climbing it in the rain.
We arrived at a recommended campsite, Crows Nest, that overlooked the majestic Sipi Falls that came off the foothills of Mt Elgon. On the other side of the mountain lay Kenya.
We pitched our tent opposite the falls so the first thing we’d see in the morning as we unzipped ourselves from our mobile home would be Sipi Falls. Harley and Emmelie set up their rooftop tent and later joined us on our ‘balcony’ as we observed our green, watery surroundings.
We later conveyed for dinner at the bar, bringing together our grilled sandwiches (courtesy of The Black Lantern restaurant) and soup in a cup powder that Emmelie boiled up. The manager of the bar happened to be the owner of the property, Brian, so I went to barter with him for the night.
“I’ll write up something about Crows Nest and you’ll be mentioned in our hitch hiking video (coming soon),” I explained to him.
“No problem,” he said. “I will give you my email in the morning so you can send me the information.”
“Sweet as!” I grinned at GQ who was grinning back.
The next morning, after a shared breakfast of toast and some jam GQ got from The Black Lantern, Harley and Emmelie thanked us. “I think they thought we were involved in the barter so they wouldn’t let us pay,” Harley grinned.
It hadn’t rained during the night and Nico had warned that the road was very bad. Brian had said, “It’s very tough.” A local at the bar had shook his head and simply said, “Good luck.”
But none of that deterred us as we tackled the dirt track and drove around Mt Elgon towards the smallest, ramshackle border post I had ever come across.
“Your visa expires tomorrow,” noted the Ugandan immigration officer.
“Yeah, that’s why I’m leaving,” I said, sadly.
I was stamped out and while Harley and Emmelie were sorting out the paperwork for their car GQ and I walked over the border to Kenya where I asked if they, “Issue an East African Visa?”
“No, you have to go to Busia for that,” answered the immigration officer.
Merde. My outline was to get the EA visa which would allow me travel to Uganda, Rwanda and Kenya over a period of three months at a cost of a hundred dollars (the Ugandan visa on its own is the same price).
Now I’d have to get my second tourist visa for Kenya at $50 and get my EA visa when I returned to Uganda with GQ in January.
Ce la vie, no?
Having been easily cleared by the officials on both sides of the border we trucked on. We were hoping to reach Karen, on the outskirts of Nairobi that night.
“My friend Lucy is having a Pope party,” GQ read the invitation off her phone. “We’re all welcome. She lives in Karen.”
The illustrious Pope was visiting Kenya the next day. A man of his stature causes the entire shutting down of an African city. When President Obama came for a 2-day trot, Nairobi was under siege by security forces. Roads were closed and now with the Pope, the city’ll be shut down for his 3-day stroll. In fact, the Kenyan government declared a public holiday for the Pontiff’s arrival the following day.
We drove down the A104, stopping for lunch in Kitale with the great timing of the rains pouring down while we ate. As soon as we finished, the rains stopped. Chewie had issues aside from the leaky fuel tank. Its door locks, the stereo and the critical windshield wipers that died on us upon entering Eldoret just as the sun disappeared behind the bank of clouds that unleashed their wet fury on us were just a few.
“Was it your intention to buy a broken car?” I asked as the couple laughed.
The idea was to reach a campsite in Iten (pronounced, ‘Ee-ten) that overlooked the Great Rift Valley. But with dead wipers and darkness fast approaching and another 80 K’s to cover, GQ suggested we stay the night in Eldoret.
On my hitching to Uganda two months prior, I had arrived in this same city on Africa’s slowest truck and had bartered a night’s stay at Hotel Horizon where the manager was taken by my travel stories and choice of lifestyle.
“Hi Hilda,” I called her up from the hotel as she wasn’t working there that night. She remembered me and gave us directions to a small guest house she was operating somewhere in downtown nowhere of Eldoret. Blinded by the rain with heavy traffic we somehow made it to Lavilla Guesthouse, sliding on the muddy road on the way. We were warmly met by Hilda and Kip, son of Chris, Hilda’s Aussie brother-in-law who I met when I had spent the night at Horizon.
At 19, Kip had a wealth of life experience having grown up in Canberra, “Sorry mate,” I said upon hearing that. He has lived in Dubai and was schooled in the UK. I couldn’t manage a barter but I did negotiate a hefty discount that all parties involved where happy to accept.
The next morning we parted ways with a group photo and a, “Say ‘hi’ to your folks,” to Kip.
We took the back road to Nairobi, up and down and through the Great Rift Valley in an area that not only had I never been before, but even GQ, who has travelled extensively around Kenya in her six years of living here, hadn’t been.
The Great Rift Valley stretches between Mozambique and all the way up to Syria along the Syrian faultline (although, it’s not Syria’s fault to be on that line). An impressive sight with waterfalls cascading over dominating cliffs. We pulled up at a lookout point where an entry fee of 200 Kenyan Shillings was stated on the sign – only it was for vans and tour buses.
“We’re a private car,” Harley said.
“You can’t charge for a view you did not create,” I threw in.
“How can you charge for something that god created?” challenged GQ. The poor guy, having been used to dealing with tourists and not travellers (the difference? Tourists see, travellers experience) backed up.
“OK, OK,” he said. “At least support us by buying a soda.”
“We don’t drink sodas,” I countered as we admired the view for a moment and figured we’d get a better, free one further down the road.
We weren’t disappointed when we pulled into a broken glass-ridden car park and graced our eyes with the ever flowing plains of the Great Rift Valley. We continued on, trucking past sisal plantations. As we were making our way to Nakuru, I suggested that, “We could do lunch at my mate’s camp, Punda Milias.” A place GQ and I had bartered and spent four days with Danny and his then fiancee-now-wife, Queen.
“Sounds good,” Harley and Emmelie agreed.
I called Danny to warn him of our arrival once we crossed the equator in Baringo, with the lake of the same name glistening from the valley floor on the horizon.
“We’ll be here,” he said.
An hour later we had introduced all parties to Danny and Queen who showed us their new toy, a 1974 FJ Landcruiser. “Original owner,” Danny beamed proudly.
“Its only had one owner since 1974?” I said, shocked.
“Yup,” Danny grinned.
We ordered lunch and after Danny showed us around Harley said, “I think we might bunk here for the night.”
Danny upgraded all of us from pitching our tents to using the Punda Milias bandas. We planned to hit the road the next day but a long night of drinking had laid out Danny and Harley.
Danny had shuffled into the bar in the morning after going to bed at three am. “You’re not allowed to bring any more of your friends over,” he grumbled jokingly (I hope) at me, blaming Harley for his hangover which was instantly cured with a ten o’clock beer.
And with the Pope’s arrival and Nairobi being shut down we had no choice but to stay another night.
“Besides,” he continued, “it’s Thanksgiving. I’ve got a 12-pound turkey in the oven, chef’s making sauce, stuffing, the works. So you gotta stay.”
I looked at GQ who had grown up in Canada and has done the Thanksgiving thing. “Never thought I’d come to Africa and have my first ever Thanksgiving,” I shook my head in wonderment as the TV showed the Pontiff’s addressing of the Nairobian crowd.
Two million people had squeezed into the city to see the man with the pointy hat.
For sunset we headed over to the Sunbird Lodge to take on the view of Lake Elementatia before we finished the night by the fire at Punda Milias.
The next day we hit the road with fresh spirits (aside the tequila shots Danny and co had partaken in) and after four days with the amazing Harley and Emmelie, we parted ways at the turnoff to Karen. Since the Pope was leaving for Uganda that afternoon, the roads were opening up.
After we parted ways and the couple continued on to Karen, GQ and I hiked down the road where I managed to flag down a car. GQ knew Nairobi quite well so she took over the conversation with the driver who just happened to be going in the direction and into the very neighbourhood we needed to reach Atah’s place where we were bunking up for the week, writing up all our adventures in Uganda.
“What do you do?” I asked him.
“I’m a taxi driver,” he said. “But I don’t mind helping you.”
Twenty minutes later we were dropped off and hiked the 2 K’s to Atah’s house.
My previous single hitching record was two days on a truck from Iringa to Mwanza in Tanzania covering a distance of 941 kilometers with three truckers that barely spoke English. Now it was broken with four days from Jinja to Nairobi, covering 880 kilometers in a car that had a Kiwi, a Swede, an Aussie and an Indian. It was one of the best hitches I’d ever had thanks to our new friends, Harley and Emmelie.
Expect nothing, always get something.