Day 272: Waking in a Stranger's Bed


I was made to feel at home by Monoo and his family. 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.

I wake up to the sound of an Iggy Azalea alarm in a stranger's bed. It's probably the bed of one of Monoo's boys. They are sleep in the queen-size bed next to where I crashed last night bed. Though Iggy doesn't get me out of bed, the farmyard roosters have me moving by 7:30am. The rest of the family appears to have been up for a while.

Monoo greats me with a handshake in the living room.

“So where are you going today?” he asks.

“I don't know yet. I need to get to Nanyuki. It looks like there's at least two different ways.”

It's possible to dip down south, go back through Nakuru and then up to Nanyuki, which is at the base of Mount Kenya, the tallest mountain in the country. Or I can go up through Kitale, through Kapenguria and take Highway B4 east toward Nakuru.

“You don't want to go north. It's not secure. There's still lots of cattle raiding,” Monoo says. “The sub-tribes are still fighting in this area, especially because of the drought. The men who herd the cattle all carry guns; they think it's the old times.”

Good thing I hadn't rolled the dice before talking with Monoo. It would be nerve wracking once I was past Kapenguria to know that I should be going with an armed escort and not have one.

“Even the police are not secure,” he says.

There's part of me that wants to put it on the dice anyway. Give that direction a one in six chance. However, the fact that so many Kenyans like the drone bag before even knowing what's inside increases the likelihood that it's one of the first things that would be taken from me at gunpoint. Beyond enjoying flying the drone it remains a potential source of income. At the moment, I'm still waiting to hear from Lovience and media manager about drone gigs. If I nail either of them, I've got a little more cash in my pocket.

Monoo goes on to highlight the majority of regions in Kenya that I should avoid for safety reason. The three counties alongside Somalia I already knew were off limits. The border with Southern Sudan, well, to be fair I didn't even know Kenya shared a border with Southern Sudan. Apparently, part of the border is drawn on maps with a clear black line, the rest is dotted; it's still disputed.

Monoo's wife has brought out a green plastic wash bucket with warm water for us to wash our hands and face. It feels like I'm lingering to see if there's going to be breakfast, but then again, it feels like putting all my riding gear and going would be rude as well.

Nonetheless, I make a move to put on my jacket.

“No, no, you have to stay for tea,” Monoo says.

One of the boys brings out a thermos of fresh milk tea and a plate piled with butter sandwiches, which seems to be a standard breakfast in Kenya.

Monoo and I sit alone in the living room eating sandwiches and drinking the piping out tea. How he manages to suck it down so fast without burning the roof of his mouth is beyond me.

“We've picked up the habit of drinking tea from the British,” Monoo says. “Kenyans don't really like coffee. We export most of it. Ethiopia is completely different though: they drink coffee with everything.”

Having had several of the butter sandwiches, which were made with the first wheat bread I've seen in the country, I slow down.

“Eat, eat, eat,” Monoo says.

Monoo refills my mug of chai, but there's only half a mug left in the thermos.

“That's perfect, thank you,” I say.

“Mama says there's plenty of tea. There's always plenty of tea,” Monoo says, translating what his wife says when she enters the room.

Squatting over a bucket of warm water in the small square washroom attached to the outhouse, I'm in heaven. Steam rises from the pail of water that Monoo's wife heated up for me, despite my insistence that I didn't need a shower. However, given that an unsavory crotch smell rose up when I peeled off my underwear, I apparently did need a shower. The yellow paint on the cement walls has peeled in many places. The blue wooden door is rotted at the bottom and lets plenty of light through. Holding a washcloth above my head I squeeze the warm water out. There's the sounds of the cows and chickens in the yard. Carefully, I scrub myself down, lathering up with soap, then running my hands back over my body to find the slick parts that I'd failed to rinse off.

“Thank you for that. I feel like a new man,” I tell Monoo when I come back. His wife is out in the yard, washing dishes.

“I think the Old Man is waiting for you,” Monoo says.

Monoo has four cows now and has grown is farm from one acre to 10.

“The farm helps for between contracts,” he explains as we step into the dirt yard. A chicken is furiously scratching at the ground, while one of Monoo's sons rounds up the cattle and the other arrives on a bicycle two big plastic jugs of well water on either side.

I run up to where Monoo's wife is washing dishes to say goodbye. She gives me a wet, Kenyan handshake and a lovely smile.

Cows and chickens were kept in the dirt yard. Photos: Isaac Stone Simonelli

Outside the metal gate of the yard, Monoo points out his new banana plants growing in a freshly tilled plot of land. A few dozen meters of dirt road later, we're back at Pastor Moses' house.

“Monoo, greetings. Come in,” Moses' adult son says as we linger near the doorway.

Though Moses vowed to be quick, as he has business to attend to, we all give him too hard of a time for him to be able to refuse tea.

“You were just telling me, how a person must stay and eat when you visit,” I tease him.

“But I'm not a visitor here. I see the Old Man in the fields. Every day we talk,” Moono says, though takes his cup of tea.

It's nice to the pastor and his wife again. I show his grown son, who is a cereal farmer, the pictures I took at the caves yesterday.

We have tea and breakfast with Moses, his wife and his adult son. Photos: Isaac Stone Simonelli

Monoo and I drink tea and eat deep fried rolls, that remind me of some of breakfast dough fried up in Thailand.

Moses says something in Somote, their tribal language.

“He says you're a great traveler because you eat and drink whatever everyone else is eating,” Monoo tells me.

“Well, you all told me to feel at home. So I feel at home,” I say.

The conversation goes back to what Monoo and I were talking about this morning: the hospitality of rural people across the world.

“In the Philippines, they would come out and stare at me. They'd never seen an African before,” Monoo tells the group, a story I heard earlier today. “They wanted to touch my skin. They thought it would be hard, but they said it was softer than their skin.”

Shortly after Monoo excuses himself, I do the same, explaining that though I appreciated the offer, I couldn't stay another day, as it will take a couple days to reach Mount Kenya.

Moses grips my hand hard, giving muscly handshake as we say goodbye.

“See, I'm still strong,” he says with a big grin.

“Yes, you are.”

Rafiki, loaded up with too much gear, and I make the main dirt road in minutes. Taking a right, we use the morning sun to guide us guide us toward Eldoret, shortly before which we'll grab Highway A104 toward Nakuru.

I don't know where we'll staying the night. The goal, however, is to make it into the dusty belly of the Great Rift Valley and stay somewhere with Wifi, so I can get some work done. The list of things I need to Google is rapidly piling up, some – such as how to adjust how much oil is added to the fuel in a Yamaha DT175 – are more important than others.

Rafiki's oil light comes on. It wasn't that long ago that I topped her up with another 500ml of 2T. She is running too rich. However, the light comes on when the tank is about half gone, so we've got time before I need to put more in.

The pastoral landscape slides by us as we cruise the mud roads, eventually meeting up with the highway. It's not that there isn't a certain beauty to the landscape, it's that my mind isn't in the right place to recognize it. It doesn't look foreign to me. It fails to capture my imagination. I want the Africa I found down in Amboseli and the Great Rift Valley. The Africa that's dusty, rugged and full of wild animals.

Long before reaching Eldoret, I pull up to a gas station with an attached restaurant and a mechanic's station housing a pair of tractors.

In front of Taliano's, the restaurant, is a small plastic table with a red Coke umbrella over it. The server comes out and starts jabbering at me in either a local dialect or Swahili, taking the piss for no particular reason.

“I'm sorry, I only speak English,” I say.

He says something to another server and a security guard sitting under the umbrella. They laugh. He throws in a couple English words, but mostly keeps speaking whatever language he started speaking at me.

There's no better way to make a person feel unwelcome than intentionally alienating them.

Once inside the restaurant, the waiter speaks English. The dice order a beef dish and I order ugali to go with it, as if eating ugali proves a point.

I've needed to take a dump since showering this morning, something I didn't realize until I squatted down and started pouring water over my head during my shower.

There's no running water for the toilet in the bathroom around back of the restaurant, but I don't let that stop me. With a couple paper napkins I nicked from the restaurant, I do my best to cover the mess in the porcelain basin.

“Let me,” the server says, pouring warm water over my hands and squeezing some soap into them at the sink inside the restaurant when I return.

After eating and topping up Rafiki's oil, I'm prepared to set back out.

The KK Security guard, a big guy flopped into one of the plastic chairs under the umbrella, starts talking to me.

“Kenyan people are perfect,” he says, or at least I think that's what he said. I can't make out the last word, even after having him repeat it a couple times.

“They are perfect. Such generous hosts,” I confirm.

“No poorer,” he says. “Everywhere they are in need. Don't worry about leaving a little something for me.”

He says that last bit several more times as I attempt to disengage from the conversation and get the bike started.

“It's okay. Don't worry about leaving a little something just for me,” he says a four or fifth time.

I am not worried about it, as it is not going to happen.

With 500 Shillings of fuel in Rafiki, we're back on the road. After Eldoret, we grab Highway B54 and begin a steady climb up into the mountains.

Cruising down the highway, occasionally redlining poor Rafiki as I go, a sign for Naiberi River Campsite and Resort appears a couple kilometers from the Elgeyo-Marakwet County line. The sign reads: Overland Stop.

I do a u-turn and trundle down the gravel road to the main gate, which reads “hoot”. Thankfully, a guard spots me before I'm forced to get anyone's attention with my impressions of an owl.

Naiberi River Campsite and Resort is a stunning facility.

The receptionist, a young woman with some red woven into her thick braids, greets me outside. It's 700 Shilling to camp, though the recent rain is going to make it cold and I can upgrade to a dorm room, which costs 1,000 Shilling.

She gives me a tour of the facility. There's an enormous restaurant and bar area with a pool table in the corner all wrapped up in the woven branches of a cocoon, as if it's a caterpillar's playground while he waits to mature. Lower down a gentle hill, a couple people are soak up the warm sun by a large, custom-designed pool.

“It's all so natural,” the woman keeps telling me.

The entire place is a gem. A gem with a single flaw – no WiFi.

Though I yearn to warm myself by the pool, enjoy a burger in the rustic-style restaurant and curl up after a hot shower in a warm dorm room, I'm supposed to have a short day of driving to catch up on work.

“Listen, if it's an even number, I'll stay. If it's an odd number, I'll have to keep looking for a place,” I tell the woman, holding out a die.

She drops it to the ground.

My heart sinks, it's a one. I'd wanted the die's permission to stay the night.

It did not give it.

The woman doesn't hesitate to shake my hand and wish me luck. She seems to know that the die's choice is final.

Back on the road, it's hard not to mope about the die's choice.

Groves of pine and cedar appear in thick, red soil. From time to time there's a place selling tree saplings or a bundled up woman by the roadside with several buckets of potatoes for sale.

I stop to look for monkeys in the highlands. Photo: Isaac Stone Simonelli

Past Kaptagat, the world starts to dramatically change. The ridge that I thought would dump us out into the red Savanna landscape reveals high-elevation rolling hills peppered with bundles of cedars and pines. Among them are patches of pasture for sheep and cattle, the yellow-green grass kept at the height of a putting green by the manic grazers. The world smells of fresh rain and evergreens as Rafiki and I follow the gently curving black asphalt through the countryside.

It's cold up here. Only when the big cumulus clouds part and the sun hits me full on does a welcome wave of warmth fill my chest. Holding the clutch in to disengage the engine, Rafiki and I zip down a long section of hill; her dirt tires hum loudly the whole way down.

A colobus monkey scuttles across a long stretch of road, looking like a goblin wearing skunk camouflage. The large monkey stares out at me from behind a couple layers of brush. His partner in crime hangs back in the branches of a pine tree on the other side of the road. Unlike the monkeys in Thailand, this species of monkey is incredibly skittish. Unable to get a good shot of either of them, I remount Rafiki and return to the road.

On the far side of Eldama Ravine, which was a lot more developed than I expected, Rafiki and I come to a stop outside of Taidy's. The nice looking property has a restaurant and accommodations.

In the parking lot, I check for Wifi.

Thank god, they have Wifi. It's starting to get late.

Rooms are 1,500 Shilling per night. It's the upper end of my budget, but I'm not in the mood to go door to door in search of a place that's 500 bob cheaper.

It's not until I'm checked in that I find out that the the entire place is running off a generator now. And though the power to the water heater, the lights in the room and the televisions are all deemed essential, the internet is not.

The receptionist promises to flip the switch for the internet at 6pm. However, by 7:30, there's still no internet.

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