“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).
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.
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.