Day 268: Die refuses to be sidetracked
Sucking in hot air as we cruise through the Great Rift Valley in Kenya. Photo: Isaac Stone Simonelli
Daily Updates are not edited and function more as daily journal entries – so if the plot seems to be all over the place or missing entirely and the tenses changes faster than a kaleidoscope, well, that's just the way it is.
THE die refuses. It refuses to be sidetracked by my antics. Though it was I who chose Lelin Campsite, as it was the most obvious option between here and Mount Elgon, the die seems to have latched onto the place.
This morning, the die tumbles from my hand, shooting down the idea of turning back to take some selfies at the Equatorial Line and see what the Equatorial Tortoise exhibit is all about – something about seeing African tortoises of all ages. A bit disappointed with its choice, I suck it up, figuring there will be another chance on the way back.
I give Rafiki's fuel tank a shake to hear how much petrol is left. There's some, enough to start the day.
We go miles with only seeing the occasional roadside sign for a church or a school at the head of some dirt road leading deep into the bush. A few meters from the road, the bush has gotten thick, while the sky is nearly as empty as my wallet – there are only a few specs of white clouds in the desert-blue sky.
“Don't forget to fill up,” reads a sign for a petrol station about five kilometers ahead.
Pulling into the Shell Gas station, I top up the tank and buy some more 2T oil. I'm going through about 500ml of oil with every tank of gas. Tapping on the odometer, I wander if the damn thing has been set to miles. It's another one of Sam's fuck-ups. Though the thing steadily rolls over and the broken speedometer reads in km/h, the distance covered versus the distance recorded isn't close. I put in about 250km yesterday. However, the total kilometers on the bike, according to the odometer, is barely more than that – not that there were a lot more miles put on her since the gauge was replaced.
We've been cruising for about an hour or so, my ass already feeling it, by the time Rafiki and I hit the turn off onto Highway C51.
Like yesterday, I'm having to be a careful not to red-line the bike. In general, you drive a two-stroke at a much higher RPM than a four-stroke. However, you don't want to be cruising in the red. It's strange how quickly I find myself in sixth gear and the needle pushing 8,000 rpm. I ease up on the gas, but the needle doesn't necessarily respond immediately. The engine whines down, the sound changing as it slows, but still the needle doesn't respond. Then, it does. Perhaps it's broken as well also.
The C51 shows up as a faint white line on Google Maps, I'd hoped that it would be a dirt trail, somewhere Rafiki's tires could dig in and we could play, despite the burden of her luggage. Instead, it's a stunningly beautiful two-lane road, glistening black with fresh paint and hardly a single other vehicle in the area.
A bigger bike would be nice. I never thought I'd say it, as I've been preaching small bikes get the job done since selling Rocinante, the Honda CB500X. However, a BMW 650 or KTM 640 would hit the spot right now. We could be racing these roads, rather than our low-speed, high RPM cruise as we worked through the Tugen Hills of Baringo County
Without a doubt poor Rafiki is overloaded. Photo: Isaac Stone Simonelli
Up one final, gentle hill, Rafiki and I then begin descending into a valley on the far side.
Beyond the valley, we gain in altitude, there are fewer and fewer candelabra succulents, with their thick heads of cactus arms stretching up into the forever blue sky like an afro wig on a tree trunk. Instead there are the sparsely distributed, yet ever-present acacia trees giving the landscape the worn-out look of a dish scrubber long past its prime. The ridge peeks and then falls back down into a valley, hills standing like an ominous wall on the far side of the rest of the valley, cumulus clouds pilling on top of each other like cartoon cars crashing into each other at a false green light.
It looks like a storm is brewing, yet whether or not it will have enough lift to make it across the tall hills is unclear, given the arid nature of the dusty landscape around us, it seem more likely that the clouds will offload their bloated bodies before making it into the desert valley.
On the far side, it's possible to taste the moisture in the air as it cools and we climb up and up and up, following the switch backs toward Kabernet. The acacia trees, who I thought would follow us to the end of the earth, give way to the sweet smell of pines as we crest the tallest of the hills. We've left the rain shadow that keeps the Great Rift Valley in this part of Kenya so barren.
Beyond Kabernet, which is a bustling, dirty little town that's not worth breaking for, we are swept into Kerio Valley.
The hot, dry air that I was getting use to comes rushing back in through the helmet as the altitude fails to take the edge off a fierce midday sun.
I quickly catch up with a battered silver pick-up truck, it's bed packed with people clinging to a wooden Presbyterian cross. On the barren highway, with the Elgeyo Escarpment rising up against the blue cloud-filled sky, the symbol resonates inside me. The power of the cross with a circle looping around the crossroads is somehow amplified by the tightly packed bodies and the great emptiness that surrounds them.
It was a striking moment on the road. And I probably shouldn't have been driving and trying to take pictures on my phone. Photo: Isaac Stone Simonelli
Seeing me pull my phone out, the Kenyans smile, laugh and break into song; their voices carrying some hymn above the sound of rushing wind into my ears.
Trickling through the center of the Kerio Valley on the border of Baringo and Elgeyo-Marakwet County is the Kerio River. I scoot over a short bridge, only aware of the water running 14 meters below as it spills into a deep water hole.
Flat, bare bedrock breaks through a thin layer of dust supporting acacia trees too far above the deep waterline to take advantage of the gurgling stream below. In the bed of the gorge, held in by vertical, stepping stone substratum are pools of murky green water which have been herded into the deepest parts of the stream, rounded river rocks are piled around them, baked dry in the sun.
Several dozen articles of clothing are spread out on the hot rocks toward the top of the gorge. The laughter of a few kids and teens splashing in the water rises up to me as I park Rafiki and pull off my helmet.
“Do you want mango?” asks a woman standing at a fruit stand catering to what few tourists come through and sit on the one bench overlooking the pool.
“No thank you.”
A tall teenager with a narrow face and a wide smile come running up to me in his green and white “Kenya” t-shirt. A few minutes later, he's got my camera in his hands and is going to town shooting up everything.
Sadly the drone footage was pretty rubbish. Photos: Isaac / that guy holding the camera
“Do you want to see them dive?” the kid asks.
He leads me to the narrow ravine that opens out into the pools. A few meters down, three steel beams stretch across over the water, perhaps the substructure of an old bridge.
Against a white-painted backdrop, somebody has written: Kerio Divers.
A handful of older teens stand nearby.
“You can pay to watch them dive,” he explains.
“No, that's okay,” I say. Then, thinking about how amazing the drone footage could be, I reconsider.
“Evens, I pay you 500 Shilling to dive so I can film it. Odds, I'll have to pass,” I explain, removing the die from my necklace.
The opaque cube hits the dusty ground. It shows a two.
“Okay, let's do it.”
To be fair, out her in the middle of nowhere, it's a pretty ingenious way to make some extra cash and is loads better than ending up in Nairobi sniffing glue to kill pangs of hunger as you beg on the streets.
One of the jumpers takes off his shirt and walks out onto the beam.
Much to my disappointment, he doesn't dive. He simply jumps, jumps so far out that he goes off camera for the drone shot. A little concerned about the amount of attention the drone is getting, I decided it's best not to try again.
Back on the road, Rafiki and I make good time and pull into Lelin Campsite before sunset. A single overlander bus load of Dutch people has recently unloaded. Outside of the tour group, I'm the only traveler present.
The campsite is high up in the hills, overlooking the valley. I set up my tent on a patch of grass next to Rafiki and order the cheapest dinner I can – ugali, sukuma and a fried egg.
Cheap eats. Photo: Isaac Stone Simonelli
Night falls. After speaking with a meteorologist in the Dutch group about the difference between tornadoes and dust devils, I slip away to call Julia.
We talk for hours. I'm pacing the grounds in the dark like a caged tiger – I can't sit and talk on the phone. A sharp acacia thorn jabs me in the foot, causing me to cry out. Her laughter bursts through the phone, filling my heart, despite the brief pain. She doesn't want me to get too injured, but a little pain seems more than deserved.