Day 277: Dice snag best deal to tackle Mount Kenya
I can't afford an expedition to the peak of Mount Kenya, I think, even if it is cheaper than Mount Kilimanjaro. Photo: Isaac Stone Simonelli
THE die lands on a four.
I was hoping it would be anything but a three or a four. The other options sounded so interesting, while three and four were the disappointing bottom end of the range.
Here's the breakdown: one or two, go to Mount Kenya Safari Club, where I can pet a cheetah; three or four, walk around dusty Nanyuki and take pictures; five or six, take the drone out on an epic motorcycle ride. Which would you rather do?
Guess it doesn't matter now, the decision is out of my hands.
The one decision I did make today was staying in Nanyuki another night. I need more time to figure out what's happening next. And, despite, the smell of oil and shit in my dirty room at PeakView Hotel, I continue to find the place charming.
I woke early, but refused to leave bed, falling back asleep until 9:30am.
Sleep is what I do when I can't handle the world. It's also the one thing in life at which I am unquestionably good. So, I stayed in bed and slept. With check-out at 10am, there was no reason to pack my bags and leave today. Besides, where was I headed?
I spend most of the day on the balcony of the restaurant downstairs from my room. It's nothing glamorous, just a little strip of cement jutting out of the building, overlooking a dusty park and the daily lives of locals, most of which is obscured by thick clear sheets of plastic strung up on the outside of the balcony to protect it from rain that's not coming.
But once the die was rolled, there was nothing else I could do.
I grab my camera, an extra lens and head out to the street to capture Nanyuki on February 6, 2017.
Daily life here isn't too different than other medium-sized towns in Kenya. Photos: Isaac Stone Simonelli
After telling a couple backpackers fresh off the bus that PeakView Hotel was not so nice, but they could get a room for 700 Shilling, I'm spotted by hiking guide.
The man saddles up next to me, introducing himself as Patrick.
He introduces himself as Patrick several times as he searches for the rhythm of a sales pitch.
“There are many things to do around town. We have hikes up Mount Kenya. We have...” he drones on and on.
I'm barely listening, not turning to face him when I'm prompted to reply.
“So what do you want to do?”
“This. I just want to walk around and look at the town.”
“That's very good. There are many things to see in town. Do you want to come see my office? We can talk about what options there are.”
I can't shake this guy without any amount of body language. Short of literately fleeing the scene, I think there is little I can do to get him to leave me alone, which is all I want.
He walks next to me, step for step up the main road.
He gives a short laugh.
“There are many things to do...” he begins to say again.
“Yes, but are there anythings to do for free? Those are the things I can afford.”
“No, everything costs money, sometimes just a little money though, because everything is run by the government or somebody. Walking around town is free though.” “Exactly. I don't need to come to the office to talk about that. I'm already doing it.”
Patrick is tenacious if nothing else. He has two clients already lined up to hike Mount Kenya tomorrow. They leave at 10am for a four-day, three-night trip to the peak. If I wasn't down to my last 1,000 dollars, I'd be interested in the pitch, but with a budget of 15 dollars a day, why consider it?
“I can give you a very, very good deal,” Patrick says.
“I don't want to hurt your feelings. So, you can tell me, but I'm sure I can't afford it. I'll trust you that it's a very good deal, but I really don't have any money.
“It will be a very good deal!”
“How much money do you think I have?” I ask.
“I don't know.”
“Guess... Okay, listen I have 1,000 dollars to last me three months in Africa.”
“Here you can make money go a very long way,” Patrick says. “I can give you a good deal for 450 dollars.”
“That's half of all the money I have left. How can I do that for four days?”
“Okay, you tell me how much money you can spend.”
The conversation goes on like this as we continue to walk.
“I don't know, 120 dollars,” I say.
It turns out the 120 dollars won't cover the park fees.
We start breaking down the numbers: 150 dollars for the park fees, 65 dollars for accommodation and something for the guide. He's hustling and angling as best as he can. Anything on top is good for him. It doesn't cost anything for him to make space for me in the car to the base or to prepare a little more food. He's got one French and one American client lined up, both have already paid.
We try to do the math.
“Here, come to the hotel and we can sit and talk.”
In Ibis Hotel restaurant, Patrick ignores the waitress, who looms above us, until she leaves.
If I give him 10 dollars a day for his time, it comes out to 265 dollars. I tell him I might be able to do 260 dollars.
“Give me a couple hours to think about it,” I say.
“Please, you cannot tell how much paid to the others,” Patrick says.
“Of course,” I say. I was in a similar situation when I helped a guide round up a clients out in the deserts of Egypt a decade ago. I know the deal.
Outside, we shake hands.
The total, 260 dollars is a huge chunk of all the money I have left, but it's hard not to believe that this is the Will of the Die. Did the die not send me out on this silly walk? Is this not an absurd deal? Though failing to go would be a financially-wise decision and certainly not a violation of the rules for Dice Travels, it seems like it would also not be within the spirit of the law.
I mull the idea over. I told Patrick that I would let him know before 9pm.
I'm back to walking the dusty town. Several turns later, I find myself on the outskirts of a market. I line up a couple shots with the camera, a couple people happen to be in the frame – branches in a picture of a tree.
“You took a picture,” one of them says as I walk past.
“Yes, taking pictures of the market.”
Kenyans, especially those going about their daily business, are not fans of having tourists point a camera in their direction. It's made me timid about taking pictures at all.
The market is a strip of rubble road, with plastic bags ground into it, lined of wooden stalls stacked with fruits and veggies. The first 10 meters is all booths full of small onions and tomatoes, later on we get to the fruit. There's watermelon, avocado, passion fruit, mangoes and a prickly yellow oval-shaped fruit that I can't put a name to and don't recognizance At the far end of the fresh market is a sea of clothing.
All the clothing is used Western garments. Photos: Isaac Stone Simonelli
The mounds of clothing are dominated by whites and pinks. It looks like a well-organized landfill. The first wave of vendors have tarps on the ground, each inside their own wooden frame. Further into the market, the clothes are heaped on tables. There's a trough of wrinkled, used dress shirts, another pile of women's underwear, a leopard print thong catches my eye. However, it's the t-shirts that I'm interested in. I absently wonder if there are any of the D.A.R.E shirts that were part of the anti-drug campaign at Lakeview Elementary School when I was a kid.
One of the woman working here is asleep on her table, curled up in the jumble of soft clothing. She's not the only one napping or on the verge of turning things over to sleep, most of the women drowsily eye the world caught in the light of a late-afternoon sun.
There is a table of socks, some are thick woolen ones that might be good to come back and buy if I end up going to Mount Kenya tomorrow.
Back at PeakView Hotel, I settle down on the narrow restaurant balcony.
Out in a dirty park square, next to the bus station, a crowd is growing at the volleyball court. It's a two-on-two match. The crowd is thick with people hanging on the outer fence of the park and others standing three, four deep around the other sides of the court.
I work on the laptop, sipping milk tea and eating mandazi.
At the next table down is a tall, lank man chewing on mira stems and drinking tea. He's long face and his skin filled with red tones makes me think he's Somalian.
“Are you a journalist,” the man asks.
“Yes,” I say, hands still typing away.
“With who? Maybe you can help me.”
“I'm freelance. I don't know maybe we can. What's going on?”
It turns out he was injured in combat serving in Somalia as part of the Kenyan Defense Forces. Though Somalian by birth, he's a Kenyan national. Unable to work because of the damage done to his knee, the man is due compensation, which has already been dispensed from an international organization to Kenya.
However, the buck seems to have stopped within the Kenya government bureaucracy. He's unable to make enough money to support his family. It's been three years. When he asks questions, he's told he's asking too many questions, that the money is coming.
Afraid that he could mistep and lose everything, he's in a catch-22.
“Let me get your contact information,” I say. I might hike Mount Kenya this week, but when I get back maybe we can figure something out.
I don't have the right contacts to break a story like this. If it was the only thing I was doing, I could probably dig at it and figure it out. However, it's not. I have Dice Travels.
I chew on the idea of the story. It has enough important elements that perhaps it could be pitched to a bigger news outlet. But where would I go after I talk with him and get his side of the story?
Worries for another day.
I send a text to Patrick.
“Okay, I'm in. What do I need to bring?”