Before I left Kenya I spent a week in Sagana doing some long awaited white water activities that included a near drowning. With special thanks to Savage Wilderness, read about it here:
Posts Tagged With: Kenya
A guest post by the wonderful Gypsy Queen who opened her mind and heart to the ways of a bartering nomad. She showed me love, art, inspiration, creation and fed me words of wisdom which I adhere to every day (well, most days).
She comforted me during every hospital visit where I was at the whim of the doctors. She introduced me to a bounty of awesome friends. And she provided a patient ear to chew on whenever my heart and soul needed unraveling
If you’ve ever met her, then you know she truly is an Unbound Gypsy Queen.
Check out her amazing talent on Facebook: Unbound Ether Photography.
From the Gypsy Queen:
Please note, I don’t call or refer to myself as the Gypsy Queen but do so here because the Nomad King has generously given me this title in his memoirs and for continuity’s sake, I must respect that in this missive.
It is necessary to admit that I never thought I’d be looking at the opposite side of the Indian Ocean before me. The same trade winds that blew north along the eastern-facing Kenyan coast one year ago, are the ones that are blowing along the western-facing Indian coast, where I am sitting now, one year later, in the little seaside village of Ashvem in Goa, India.
It has been several months now with this testimonial on my plate of things to devour, process and respond to. From day one with the Nomad King, timing has been everything and this missive to The Universe is no different.
Milestone Moments in one’s life have to be patiently awaited for, and even then, it’s only in hindsight do we realise the beauty in those moments. All the pieces of the puzzle needed to fall into place to bring you to that Milestone Moment. When that last dot joins the rest, completing the circle and finally, realisation sets in.
I think of it as Resolution.
Yesterday was one of those days for me. Almost one year ago the Nomad King and I first collided on our paths in Kilifi Creek along the Kenyan coast. I was living and helping build Musafir the boat, and grow the community that surrounded it.
Little did I know that this scruffy, ruggedly handsome Nomad that washed up on our shores was about to jump start my life and put it straight into high gear. Unbeknownst to me at the time, he was exactly who I had asked The Universe for, just two weeks prior to our meeting.
But that’s a different story.
Freedom has always been a major theme in my life but never once did I imagine that I was about to be exposed to a new kind of freedom, one I only vaguely knew existed, let alone imagine my own journey taking a radical twist the day the Nomad King and the Gypsy Queen met.
I have the spirit of a gypsy, one who must simultaneously follow the wind and intuition, the stars and the dusty road, the fires of the heart and rhythm of the earth, for they are all one and cannot work alone, in order to truly be happy and healthy in life.
The day we hit the road for the first time a new kind of adrenaline became known to me. My whole being was vibrating with a sensation, a whisper almost, of a whole new world tingling at my fingertips. Each physical step forward, packs and tents and camera equipment included, was a step towards the Unknown.
And what greater high than the Unknown?
Every facet of bartering and hitch hiking reminded me of a way of life that addresses the need for living simply that is almost entirely lost to us today – in theory and in practice. Traveling without money, relying on the kindness of strangers to voluntarily take us to the next destination and then, conjuring faith in humanity, all the while constantly renewing this personal relationship with the earth’s geography, space and time.
All vital aspects of bettering one’s connection to the pulse of Life and The Universe.
I thought I was already pretty well connected, so imagine my surprise when I discovered I had only just scratched the surface, that below sat a locked box of life’s mysteries and the Nomad King held the key.
And open that box I did! Quickly. For the road has many teachers, and one must keep up! Every lesson learned on the road with the Nomad King made up for every wasted day that I spent trying to get an education in formal schooling.
He showed me then, and continues to show me a thousand different ways how a person can give and collect love and kindness. Every barter was a gift that we received and a gift we gave in return; a pure exchange of respect and compassion. Every story swapped, every song, every article, every photo, every second of footage, every peal of laughter, every meal, every sanctuary, every kilometer, hug, handshake and ‘hello’ is given and received in gratitude. Very quickly this cup of gratitude spills over, washing over one’s being like a glorious swell.
A surfer’s wet dream.
Though I have bartered many things in my life, I never fully realised the power that lay in an exchange devoid of anything that even remotely smells like money. I’ve always loved to barter, little keepsakes and presents sent out and returned into the world; reminders of a kindred spirit’s touch.
Sometimes leaving something behind in a place that you may never return to again is like leaving a piece of your legacy. It has always felt like that for me with every installation the Nomad and I created together. A part of our story, not just a barter, but a mark that we were once there. That we loved, laughed and created something beautiful . Something that place inspired in us. Our response to the world in the form of beautiful artwork, song, written word.
Through the life of a Gypsy and a Nomad many kilometers are traversed, many souls encountered, many connections welded together on a string, like beads, each individual but essential in completing the Whole.
So from place to place we travelled, each time making a mere outline, allowing the dots to complete themselves, not worrying about plan B (at least not the Nomad. I, on the other hand, had to learn that there is never a plan B), and simply trust in the process.
Many a time the Nomad gently tossed my philosophical ideas about The Universe back at me – The Universe will never give you more than you can handle, being a favourite. An undeniable truth (among others) that would always bring me back to my centre and the moment I’d let go of fear and doubt, the road would magically open up again, sending us just the right ride, or just the right barter, right when we needed it the most.
For example, 70kms shy of our day’s final destination at the lakeside town of Kisumu, Kenya, while waiting for almost an hour by the roadside with barely a car stopping for us and with the sun setting, I frustratingly asked the Nomad what plan B is.
And he looks at me simply and says, “There is no plan B. Just plan A – we get to Kisumu.”
It took a while, but the moment I resigned myself to whatever fate befell us, a pick-up truck slowed down and the kindest driver the road has ever sent me (I say ‘me’ because I know the Nomad has met many a kind driver and I don’t want to take anything away from them), not only took us to Kisumu, but paid for our bed and a couple of meals for our bellies.
On the latter half of our Ugandan trip in Mbale, the Nomad fell terribly ill and between a dozen bathroom calls had to be rushed to the hospital with a horrendous ear infection.
The kind souls of Sukali Hostel where we were being hosted, let us stay for days without insisting that he perform. Insisting he get better first, feeding and providing us shelter without question.
Cut to yesterday:
This Gypsy is in limbo at the moment, hanging out along the coast while my new roomy and I await our monsoon retreat to begin in our new home in the hills of Goa. My friends Adrien, Justine and Emma left on their mini-vacation to the big, bad city of Bombay, leaving me to my own devices.
Having been back in India almost a month now, I’ve had to shift gears once again and adapt to a more conventional way of life here. Namely, paying for transportation, accommodation and meals.
Earlier this week I found some distant relatives in a wonderful creative space called Vaayu where artists, travellers and surfers flock to during the cooler, busy seasons. The end of the season is upon us, most places have shut and the majority of people have begun heading for the Himalayan foothills where life is much cooler.
On Thursday morning I made a sincere intention, took a leap of faith and approached the Vaayu tribe to see if I could barter work – any type of work – for a bed. Though there are many people out there who are doing this, it was the first time I was approaching a community/business to let me in, without having any money to offer, alone and in India.
They have never been approached in this way either, although they do host an artist residency program which attracts a very colourful group of people, which has made them open to the barter way of life and those that live it.
Needless to say, they accepted my offer and even offered me three meals a day. So here I am now, working on this piece, reflecting on my life and watching the last dot connect itself to all the other dots that have led me to this moment, closing the circle – a Milestone Moment that marks the end of one chapter in my life and the prophetic beginning of another.
As the Nomad King likes to say, “The end is the power of the beginning.“
And I have all this because one year ago, a scruffy, ruggedly handsome Nomad washed up on Kilifi’s shores and I followed my gypsy heart.
I’ll call this, Resolution.
Although this one happened a few months ago, it took me some time to come to terms with it. Here’s a short account of my climb up Nelion Peak on Mt Kenya with the awesome folks at African Ascents as published in Africa Geographic:
A few months back, I headed up 4,985 meters on Mt Kenya’s Point Lenana, third highest peak in Africa. It was one of the toughest, physical and mental moments I have ever been through.
Thanks to Julian and Tom of African Ascents and to Stocky, Face and Turkish for the great company and Jacob the machine and Joffery the camp cook.
Click here to read about the experience.
A few months back, in preparation for my ascent of Africa’s second highest peak, Mt Kenya, I joined African Ascents for a fly-fishing expedition. Here’s a snippet as published on that wonderful platform, Africa Geographic magazine:
“Do you want to try and get a lift from here or should I take you to the tarmac road?” Jeremy asked at the intersection.
We had just come off Alex’s Incisor, a 65-meter rock that we climbed in preparation for our ascent of Mt Kenya’s peak with African Ascents in the Aberdares National Park. My next destination was to reach Nyeri, on the other side of the range.
I looked down the dusty, desolate road. I had a tent with me, warm clothes and an apple. “Yeah, I’ll get off here, mate,” I grinned. “Part of the adventure.”
We parted ways and I began to hike in the direction that would take me to the highway to Nyeri. I had no idea of the distance but I was still high from the morning’s climb and I had at least four hours of daylight ahead of me.
Worst case, I’d pitch a tent somewhere.
Three minutes later I was almost kidnapped onto a bus. Instead of money, I played a few songs on Ol’ Red which took me as far as the junction where a left turn would take me to Nahuru and a right turn to Nyeri.
We bounced over shoddy roads as the conductor hung onto the side of the bus screaming repeatedly into my ear the names of people on the road and the villages we passed. It’s not the noise of the bus was so deafening that he needed to scream. Let’s just say that I and my left ear were happy when he was swapped with a softer-speaking conductor.
I was squashed into the front row with my backpack and guitar. I had to lean out of the window, which the conductor kept banging on to notify the driver to continue after we stopped. I waved at the villagers who smiled and eagerly waved back from their laidbackness on the grass. Two hours later, half-deaf but with a smile on my face, struggling to believe I had just scored a free ride on a bus in the middle of nowhere, I thanked the driver and conductors when they dropped me at the intersection.
That’s what I love about Africa. Everyone is eager to help and money isn’t always a factor. Especially when I tell them that, “Music is my currency.”
The intersection was crowded with boda-bodas and matatus. I hiked up the road deterring away the wants of the riders and drivers to take me and as I looked back to see what potential ride was coming up I stuck my hand out for the pick-up truck that rolled to a slow stop.
“I need to get to Nyeri,” I informed the driver and his co-passenger after they let me in.
Ophia and Alicia happily conversed with me as I regaled my travel stories. I was telling them of my experiences in the Masai Mara National Park and how I had obtained a shuka (a traditional Masai blanket from the village elder).
“The Masai live like animals,” Ophia spat in disgust.
“No,” I corrected him. “They live with animals. And besides, humans? We are animals. We all live as animals just in different settings. The Masai are very friendly.”
Ophia pondered on this as we passed what appeared to be a blue-roofed village.
“What’s that?” I asked them.
“It’s displaced people,” explained Alicia. “In the 2007 election violence, 600,000 people were displaced by Odinga (then president) supporters and were forced to live where you now see.”
“You mean, those folks are refugees in their own country?” I blinked.
“Yup,” he said.
I was a bit shocked by this revelation. The complexity of Kenya’s – and indeed – Africa’s politics – were something I don’t think I’d ever comprehend. Especially since I don’t even try.
“You guys want some water?” I asked, trying to find a way out of the political conversation.
They politely declined and after they let me borrow their phone to call Aleks, who I was visiting in Nyeri (and had no idea that I was arriving), the guys went out of their way to drop me off at the Barclay’s bank.
“We are just passing through Nyeri,” Alicia said. “But no problem. We can take you to your friend’s.”
Have I mentioned the friendliness of Africans yet?
I waited at the bank for a few minutes as I waved ‘goodbye’ to my ride and hopped into the car Aleks had organised.
I looked forward to defrosting from my Aberdares experience with a hot shower.
“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.
“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.
Shit. I braced myself for the impact as the oncoming car slammed its brakes, locking them and coming at us like a rocket, tires spewing blue smoke. Roger, the truck driver I had caught a ride with from Nakuru to Eldoret, calmly hit his brakes. Along with Wilson who was lying on the bunk and Kamau who was squeezed in the middle, we all asked to be spared by whatever divinity drives us – Roger the Dodger.
I just hoped it wouldn’t hurt as I clenched every muscle in my body. Even the ones behind my ears. Oddly enough, with Ol’ Red straddled between my legs, all I could think of was, Don’t let the guitar get smashed.
In the last minute, the driver of the car, upon seeing that he wouldn’t be coming to a full stop without using the truck as a barrier, figured that the smart, life-saving, thing to do would be to swerve towards his right and come to a final halt in the ditch.
Breathing out, I looked back to see that he was alright as we trucked along. Roger tsk-tsk-tsking as I slowly released everything that was clenched. Perhaps preacher David, who picked me up from Nairobi, had sent out a prayer for me. I had hiked from Parklands (where the legend that is Chris hosted me for the evening) to Westlands what felt like 4 K’s in Kenya’s morning sun.
I attempted to hitch along the Uhuru highway (A104) but to no success until I finally caught a ride with Teche.
“I’m a chef,” he said as he drove me five minutes down the road, going out of his way to take me to a better hitching spot. “I specialise in Japanese cuisine.”
“I know how to roll sushi,” I said, reflecting on my days as a manager of a pan-Asian restaurant back in Lorne. Thanking him, I hopped off and, waving on every matatu and bus, began to hitch.
After an hour of nothing I hiked it down the road to the next bus stop where there was shade. I set up shop and for the next hour worked my left arm like a windmill until the only vehicle to stop was one driven by a cop who asked if I was alright.
“Yeah, just trying to hitch a ride towards Uganda,” I said.
“I’m sorry, I’m just around,” he smiled.
“You sure? You don’t wanna go up country?” I asked.
He laughed and wished me well as he drove off. I waited a little longer before deciding that I should hike again. I picked up my gear and turned around to discover a black, tinted-window Toyota Hilux awaiting me.
Where the hell did it come from?
I approached the window and was welcomed by David.
“I’m just heading to Limuru Town, about 20 K’s down the road,” he said.
“I’ll take it,” I grinned, loading my gear into his backseat.
“When I was in Switzerland,” he reflected, “a stranger helped me out and I made a promise to myself that I will always help a stranger in need.”
“Well,” I grinned, “if I ever bump into that stranger I’ll shake his hand.”
The conversation went into the standard, “Not married? Do you plan too? No kids? Do you plan too? Not going back to Australia? Do you plan too?”
I gave him the lo-down of my philosophy – Expect nothing, always get something and plan nothing, you’ll never be disappointed which blew his mind.
“Wow,” he said. “I have never thought of it like that.”
He dropped me by the highway where ten minutes later I was picked up by Philip.
“I’m a policeman,” he said as we headed towards Nakuru, 157 K’s north of Nairobi. “I have been based in Mombasa but now I’m in Nairobi.”
We drove on shooting the breeze. Two hours later he dropped me by a service station where a truck pulled over with Roger the Dodger, Wilson and Kamau who picked me up at 14:00 on the dot.
“We are going to Eldoret,” Kamau said.
“Sweet,” I handed him my gear.
“It is very far,” he continued, trying to discourage me.
Eldoret was 156 K’s north of Nakuru. It should be a two-hour drive by any standard.
“I got time,” I said, handing up my guitar.
“It will take four hours,” he said.
Four hours?!? Welcome to the slowest truck in Africa carrying bags of cement.
At 18:30 we arrived in Eldoret where I was directed to the Hotel Comfy which rejected my barter and sent me to the Hotel Horizon which accepted.
The next morning, after breakfast, I walked back to the highway and through Eldoret, almost getting lynched by the matatu and taxi drivers that were fighting over who will take me.
“Where are you going?” they shouted, trying to grab at me as though I were Michael Jackson.
“I’m going that way,” I grinned and kept walking, ignoring them. They appeared to be in shock that a human would actually utilise their legs for walking.
I finally managed to make some distance between the town and the passenger-craving drivers when Steve pulled over.
“Where are you going?” he asked.
“Uganda,” I said. Before I could say anything more he commanded me to,
“Get in. I can drop you about 30 K’s before the border.”
Steve is a civil engineer who runs his own company and has been politically appointed to collaborate in putting together a new department for the county of Kakamega (Kenya is divided into 47 counties. Each with their own governor. Kinda like states. Just counties).
“These roads are being built by the Italians,” he informed me as we bumped along an uneven road. “They’re not very good at building roads.”
It wasn’t just the Italians playing the construction game of Kenya. The Israelis and the Chinese were also partaking with better outcomes.
He dropped me off in Myanga where I had barely taken five steps to get over the speed hump when a blue Nissan Pathfinder pulled over. Dusty and full of electronic equipment, Oscar and Moses were doing map surveying for Navtech GPS.
“Moses, you splitting the seas?” I asked him.
“Yeah, I’m gonna take you to the Promised Land,” he chuckled as he turned up Xzibit on the radio. “I love old school gangsta rap.”
After explaining my ways and that I was based in Kilifi for the past four months, Oscar told me how he had proposed to his then fiancée in Kilifi Creek, the very creek I was living by with Musafir.
“I hired a Swahili dhow and we had some wine at sunset and I proposed.”
“Nice one, mate,” I grinned. “Did she say ‘yes’?”
“We got married last year.”
They were kind enough to drop me off at the border post where the boda-boda (motorbike taxis) riders began to hassle me. One guy, with a huge smile, decided to take me for free to save me the walk.
I was stamped out of Kenya (to which I shall return in November) and went to get stamped into Uganda.
Continued in Hitch Hiking in Uganda – Part I