Day 292: Maasai Mechanic Rescues Rafiki
A Maasai mechanic swoops in to save the day. 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.
CHANGING the engine oil at the Shell gas station on the southern outskirts of Kimana at first appeared like a golden opportunity to exercise pro-active motorcycle maintenance, rather than reactive maintenance, at which I reign king.
Before first light, the weaver birds in the basket nests dotting the umbrella acacia tree above my tent began to chirp. Later in the morning, the black-billed magpie began their screeching. I missed sunrise, but at least the sun isn't so high that the tent is cooking me.
It's 10am when I finally emerge from the orange dome. Facing the famed Kilimanjaro, there's nothing to see. Where the mighty snow-capped mountain should be are gray sheets of clouds, the same clouds that marked the beginning of the horizon in every other direction. They aren't rain clouds; only clouds meant to obscure Kilimanjaro. You'd have to know for a fact that the majestic mountain was there to tell someone nearby, and even then they wouldn't believe you.
After burning a couple drone batteries filming Rafiki zooming around the dirt roads near Amboseli National Park, I figure it's best to be responsible. The luggage rack needs to be welded and I'm expecting a couple important emails: one from Top Journey about the possibility of becoming their Team Leader in Africa with regards to producing drone footage (the details are so vague, I don't have any hope that it will work out), one from Elizabeth from Adventure Rider Radio and one from Phuong Hoa Le who is a journalist for the the VietJet Airlines' online travel magazine.
There's concrete a stretch of building with several business in it all under the name Kilimanjaro Mechanic. There are two mechanic shops, a welder and a general store. I explain to one of the mechanics what needs to be welded on the rack, grateful to see him remove the rake from Rafiki before working on it, ensuring he doesn't melt the bloody thing to the frame of the bike.
I roll the die.
It's a two, which means I get to wander off and find lunch, rather than watch the the men work.
Earlier, I made a lap of the one-street town clinging to the highway. Among the wooden stalls selling colorful bags of onions and tomatoes and beaten cement buildings I scanned for a WiFi connection.
The town specialized in red onions. Photos: Isaac Stone Simonelli
A sign on the other side of the road reads: Pizza Productive Restaurant Come Try Us, which looks promising.
However, the die shoots the idea down.
A block later, I wander up a light blue spiral staircase to a little cafe / restaurant above a salon and a general shop. A narrow caged-in balcony, with chairs lined up at a bar table for people watching, overlooks the highway. There's a wild-haired white man sitting in a plastic chair, happily sipping tea.
“Because of your carbon foot print,” the fuzzy headed Austrian tells me, explaining why he takes seven to eight week holidays once every few years. We talk briefly about plastic bags, as there is no more accurate marker of a Kenyan town than the street side littered with half-buried bits of plastic and the ground trampled like a derelict garden left to cattle and goats.
We agree that Thailand is just as bad, if not worse when it comes to plastic bag consumption.
There's a flirtatious glint in the eyes of the young woman who takes my lunch order. She's beautiful with a triangular chin, dark skin and a lovely body. Our eyes do all the talking. I'm filled with a warm buzz. It's nice to have someone look at me like she is.
“I think I will take tea,” I say, delaying my departure for another ten minutes.
The bill is 250 Shilling. I leave a 100 Shilling tip, though it's not the type of place one tends to tip. She smiles. Yes, I tipped her because she is pretty and her eyes flirtatious.
“Is that a good reason to tip?” I ask myself. No, but it's the reason.
“I hope to you see you here again soon,” she says as I'm leaving.
“I'm sure you will.”
The rack is on Rafiki and ready to go. On the way back, I take the responsible route and pull into a Shell station to top up the tank and pick up an extra bottle of two-stroke oil.
This morning, a few locals stopped to watch the drone. On the screen, I saw the two men on a Chinese pikipiki come to a stop. They, in a sea of white dust, were staring up at the drone. The pair followed her back to me. I explained how Dorsey II had a feature that allowed her to follow me when I drove the bike.
The men carefully examined the drone. Photos: Isaac Stone Simonelli
One of them, Jonathan, apparently checked Rafiki's engine oil while I was putting the drone away. It was low, he told me.
With a two-stroke motorcycle, you don't go through engine oil very quickly. In fact, you can run it on empty for the better part of 100km, something you can't do with a four-stroke, as poor Donkey found out in Vietnam. However, when the man at the Shell station suggested changing the engine oil, it seemed like a good idea.
“Sure, why not? How much does it cost?”
It costs 200 Shillings for labor and 700 Shilling for the new oil.
It's a golden opportunity to exercise pro-active motorcycle maintenance, rather than reactive maintenance, at which I reign king. Or have I mentioned that already?
Storm clouds to the south are sweeping up toward us, not vicious cumulonimbus, but a dark gray sheet. The air has cooled, rain is coming.
Once the oil is changed and the chain lubed. Rafiki and I are off, racing down the 22km stretch of bumpy road that broke me yesterday.
The way back to camp, like the way out this morning, is fun. Without luggage, I can stand on the pegs, letting my heels sink and my arms remain as loose as possible as Rafiki bounces below me. I give her a little gas and we ramp over a speed bump, the front tire catching air, the back tire momentarily growing light, but not leaving the ground.
If I was driving slower, there is no doubt I'd spot giraffes. However, I don't want to be rained on and didn't put the rain cover on the tent back.
We come peeling into camp ahead of the rain.
Once the rain cover is on the tent, I turn to Rafiki.
She's gushing oil. Okay, not gushing, but a steady, heavy drip is falling from her between her pegs.
The Maasai man knew what to do. Photos: Isaac Stone Simonelli
The damn mechanic must not have tightened the bolt. I get down in the dust with a wrench and start turning the bolt, pulling a few strange bits of tissue paper out as I go. The bolt tightens, then comes loose again, like a tire momentarily gaining traction as a motorcycle peels out.
Around and around and around we go. But to no avail.
Felix, the young man who organizing my meals for me, is on hand. He drags an old Maasia man who I believe lives in the blue Chevy truck parked on the other side of the acacia.
The man, wearing a shuka, arrives with his slender, polished walking stick in hand. He heads back to the truck to look for another bolt.
The oil is coming out so fast that we'll be lucky if there is any in the machine once we've shored up the leak. With the side view mirrors unscrewed and removed, I gently roll Rafiki on to her back, pointing her leaky bottom straight up into the gray sky. The leaking stops, though gas is now slowly dripping out of the tank. Rafiki isn't the type to want to fall on her back – she's too old for such silly games.
A section of threading in the oil pan is missing. It's not that the threads are stripped, its that the piece of metal where the threads should be has been knocked free and is gone, leaving a black, gaping hole.
The Maasai man, whose name I never caught, gives me a little smile, sparsely filled with teeth. In his hand is an orange Tupperware of exhaust putty, which, in a different context, could easily be mistaken for hardened hummus.
He spreads putty on the inside walls, then replaces the bolt before mounding more putty around it. He wets his hands with water from my bottle and continues to mold the putty.
That bolt going to be a bitch to pull off next time Rafiki needs an oil change, I find myself thinking.
However, this is a bush fix that's going to hold thanks to our Maasai mechanic.
Gently, I roll Rafiki back on to her wheels.
Felix points at the clutch lever, which is dangling from the handlebars. It cleanly snapped off. I try to remember hearing it break, but can't – not that it makes a difference.
“We can call a motorbike and then take this piece as an example and buy a new one,” Felix suggests.
“Okay, that sounds good,” I say. The Maasai seems to be saying that we should weld the pieces together. However, I'm with Felix with this one, lets buy a new part, if it isn't too expensive.
“How much for a new piece?”
“I don't know. But if I'm not wrong, no more than 1,000 Shillings.” “Okay, that's fine. And how much for the motorbike?”
“600 Shillings.” “What? 600?”
“It's 22 kilometers to town.”
“Okay, fine. So, should I go?”
It's decided that Felix will go with the motorcycle driver and take care of finding the extra part. However, Felix continues to stand around with a bit of an idiotic blank look on his face. We've talked enough circles around the plan for it to be a green light, yet he's waiting for something: money.
I should go find the extra part. I know that. However, there's piles of writing to be done in the open-air restaurant today and, at this rate, I'll get nothing accomplished.
I give Felix 3,000 Shillings, more than enough for the driver, 500 Shillings for the Maasai mechanic and the spare part.
Away he goes.
The color of the sky maintains a uniform gray color, continuing to mask Kilimanjaro like an elephant on the other side of a smoke and mirrors magic trick, as the day slips by.
“What's that? You said new? That's not new,” I snipe at Felix.
In his hands is a heavily-worn, midget of a clutch lever. The silver metal shows through the black paint.
“Just try it,” he says.
“That's not what we agreed to. How much was it?”
“1,000 Shilling,” he mumbles.
“I'm not paying 1,000 Shilling for that. You said new.”
The Maasai mechanic takes the piece from Felix and is trying to see if it will work.
With a great deal of effort, he manages to get the piece screwed on, though when the bracket is tightened down on the handlebars it seems too small; the screws are barely able to hold it.
I grab the clutch, it only moves a few centimeters before catching on the headlight switch box.
“This isn't going to work,” I say.
Felix agrees to go back into town tomorrow morning with me and Rafiki to get her properly fixed.
“Just try it,” he pushes.
I roll Rafiki back and kick start it.
I pull the clutch, not that it matters, and kick start Rafiki. She jumps to life than immediately stalls out, because the clutch isn't engaged.
“It's not working.”
“I did just try. That's what I just did.”
Felix wants to try, but I shake him off and give it another go. This time Rafiki comes to life and we putt around the dirt parking lot. She seems to work fine.
“Okay, but tomorrow morning, we go back and get this sorted properly,” I say. “Have you paid him yet?”
Felix hadn't paid the Maasai mechanic yet. I worry that he might not, though he was the one who originally prompted me to give him money.
I don't ask for my change, as I still have to pay Felix for diner tonight, which went from 1,000 Shilling to 500 Shilling after I threatened not to eat at all.
It's past 6pm and starting to get dark. Dorsey II and I head out with Rafiki to see what wild animals have wandered out of the park.
(At what point should I start being concerned about the fact that my closes friends on this trip are inanimate objects that I keep destroying and discarding?)
Standing up on the pegs, I roar toward the devil road, where I'm most likely to spot tuskers. Rafiki bounces along, jumping speed bumps as we jet down the road, my head swiveling, searching the low green stretch of bushes out to my left for “unusual boulders” – elephants.
Three minutes later: there they are. These three enormous gray creatures, cutting voluminousness figures in a way that only elephants can.
Dorsey II goes in for a closer look. They're magnificent: long white tusks, enormous ears. Looking at them through the screen, interacting with them with the drone, puts me on a cloud. It's electrical.
The elephants wonder off the national park grounds to where I was. Video: Isaac Stone Simonelli
Dorsey comes a little too close. The bull elephant flags out his ears, swings his trunk and stomps one leg, sending up a cloud of dust. He's starring straight at the drone, unafraid, but cautious. He's ready to battle the buzzing machine if it comes much closer.
The small family of three elephants turn and walks away, Dorsey follows. Again and again they meet. Even through the screen, I can feel the elephant's eyes. I can see the intelligence. I know it's dominance. The lion is not king out here; tuskers rule the savanna.