302: Drone Recovery En-route to Bagamoyo
Dorsey II, being held by a friendly Maasai man a week ago, has become a source of income for me as the lean months on the read begin. Photo: Isaac Stone Simonelli
MY HEART is racing. Dorsey II, my drone is gone. I knew when I strapped her down to Rafiki with a bungee cord that she was a little loose. But she was only a little loose.
If it wasn't for a thick, middle-aged woman swaddled in traditional African grab flagging me down. I still wouldn't even know that Dorsey II is missing. The woman, riding pillion behind a small Kenyan man on Chinese motorcycle, was shouting and pointing behind me when they passed me.
Afraid that maybe the luggage rack had come loose, I slow and stop. The bungee cord is strung out behind Rafiki like the battered tail of a dead animal. Back down the long stretch of road behind us, there is nothing.
The drone backpack is gone. So are my red flip flops, which were secured to the top of the drone bag.
Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.
My breaths are rapid and shallow as I suck air.
I go to start Rafiki and race back down the road in search of Dorsey II, but there is a nasty clattering from the back wheel. The luggage rack has almost completely broken off. One side is catching in the spokes of the bike.
Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.
I need to be fast now, before someone takes the bag and I lose my drone – my primary hope of making a little more money and an essential part of documenting Dice Travels.
Rapidly, I wrap the bungee cord around the rack, lifting it away from the wheel.
The woman who alerted me to the bag having fallen has stopped ahead of me. She's waving me toward her. I know that she's just going to tell me something I already know: my bag is missing. However, she's persistent.
“The Jubilee colored matatu picked up your bag,” she says.
“Really? Thank you so much,” I say, ready to bolt down the road and find the matatu, though I have no idea what a Jubilee colored one looks like.
“Wait here, wait here,” she says. “They are coming. I'll show you.”
A large truck, the head of a string of traffic making its way up the hill, passes us.
“There, that one. They have picked it,” she says, pointing to a red and yellow bus that zooms past us.
In my head, I imagined that the bus, knowing that the bag was mine would have stopped when they saw me. I am the only white person with fox ears on his helmet in Africa – it's not like they don't know to whom the bag belongs.
But the bus doesn't. It zips past, without hesitating. If the woman hadn't alerted me to where Dorsey II was, there's would have been no hint, no sign, that this bus was carrying such precious cargo.
Rafiki's front wheel nearly jumps off the asphalt as I crank on the gas, racing after the bus.
A couple hundred meters up the road, it pulls into a bus stop to pick up and drop off passengers. I sail past it, parking Rafiki directly in front of it. There are no questions as to why I've parked where I've parked.
I dismount and take off my helmet.
There is a moment of reluctance, as everyone watches me. The caller on the bus, the one who rounds up passengers and collects fees hangs out of the door, looks at me. He hesitates.
Then he holds out Dorsey II.
“Amazing! Thank you so much. Asanti papa,” I say with my Kenyan slang.
I resist the temptation of checking the drone in front of everyone. The backpack is designed to protect the drone. I'm sure it's fine.
I'm sure it's fine.
Surely, it's fine.
The woman strides up to me.
“Thank you so much mama,” I say, deeply grateful. My mind is still racing, failing to find clarity about giving the woman money. It's too preoccupied with the reality of having nearly lost my second drone on this trip.
“I feel so sorry if you lose the bag,” she says.
“Seriously, thank you so much. I'm so grateful,” I say, securing the drone down.
“You have to tie down tight. Use that lock,” she says, referring to a chain lock I'm carrying across my shoulder for locking up Rafiki at night.
Though I don't think it will help much, I make an effort to find a way to use it to secure the box.
“Thank you again,” I say before climbing back on Rafiki and driving away.
Should I have given the woman some money? I probably should have, I think as I look for the turnoff toward the coast. Am I becoming ungrateful to the people who are helping me? It seems like those who are getting the most money out of me are the ones who are cheating, while those who deserve to be rewarded the most are being rewarded the least. Maybe I'm becoming too cheap.
Police are pulling over cars at the turnoff toward the coast. However, they don't flag me down as I take to the dirt road that cuts above the Pande Game Reserve.
Since there's no school on the weekend, the dice were given three options: Go to Dar el Salaam, Bagamoyo or stick around Kibaha.
Last night, the die tumbled to a show four – there seem to be a lot of fours recently.
Bagamoyo is on the to-go list of Mustafa, an Egyptian friend who is now holed up in Dar el Salaam.
We agreed to meet in Bagamoyo. We'd leave at about the same time. He'd take the bus 60km north from Dar el Salaam, while I'd take Rafiki 60km from Kibahala.
On the dirt road toward the coast, we leave behind the small villages and cement shop-houses that were at the start. It becomes a smooth, hard-packed sand road, a complete pleasure for Rafiki and I as we skirt the reserve, enjoying the shade of trees over head.
After the better part of an hour, we pop out on the well-paved Bagamoyo Road.
Engine running, I stare at my phone, trying to ignore the young man who's approaching me.
“Do you have a hotel?” he asks, once he knows his presence is felt.
“Yes,” I say, driving off.
I'm looking for Firefly Lodge, it was recommended to Mustafa by a friend of his in Dar el Salam.
Down a cobblestone road toward the lodge, I begin to take in the little town. Bagamoyo is a charming, old German town abreast the sea. The road Firefly is located on is lined with old, plaster-walled buildings. About as many of them are being used as have crumbled beyond salvaging, leaving only their skeletal remains: a handful of walls and empty windows revealing the ocean or the sky as the roofs themselves have long since fallen in.
Welcome to Bagamoyo. Photo: Isaac Stone Simonelli
A wooden sign hangs over the dark doorway to Firefly. Straight through two rooms, one must step over a wide lip of a tall door frame – similar to the design in the Jim Thompson House in Bangkok. The lips in the Thai house supposedly stopped ghosts from entering rooms, as well as prevented babies from crawling out. It's possible to see directly through the narrow front part of the building to the courtyard, where a circular blue pool is shaded by tall coconut trees in a tropical garden filled with cushions and the raised platforms of numerous salas.
It wasn't going to be the last time I found myself at Firefly Lodge. Video: Isaac Stone Simonelli
It also costs 60 dollars for a room.
“Okay, let me just talk to my friend and see what he says,” I tell the receptionist, a pretty, exceptionally dark skinned woman with a deep fuchsia weaves in her thick braided hair.
Firefly lodge is close to the Bagamoyo beach. Photos: Elizabeth Narwold
There's no phone reception here. Sitting beneath a banyan tree I stare at my phone. Even when the bars come back, still impossible to make a call. There's no internet connection either – obviously.
We'd anticipated the trip here would be about an hour or so for both of us. However, it took me almost two hours to get to Bagamoyo. I'm worried that Mustafa has already arrived. Without a connection, I can only hope he shows up at Firefly, or I can drive to the bus station to see if he's there.
Unable to find the bus station while putting around the dust white streets of Bagamoyo, I head back toward Firefly, pulling up at Nashe's Cafe.
“Do you have internet?” I ask, peeling off layers of riding gear, including my boots.
I take a seat in a pleasant, small courtyard downstairs.
Already feeling a bit like I'm on a holiday, I order a Nutella shake and a bottle of water.
I get online.
Mustafa is suffering. He's baking on a packed bus in the tropical heat.
“I'm still about 40 minutes away,” he writes.
We decided that it's best for me to wait at Nashe's Cafe for him to arrive, since it's the only place I'll have an internet connection.
About thirty minutes later, Musta appears in the doorway sporting a big grin, pale blue eyes and his lion's mane of hair.
“Dude, so good to see you,” I say. “How was the ride?”
“Fucking miserable bro,” he says. “I hate this country.”
I laugh. While I've been slowly plodding around Kenya, he's gotten the vibe for Uganda and Rwanda, as well as Tanzania. The latter is at the bottom of his list.
It's good to have someone to bitch with.
Back at Firefly, it turns out that though the rooms are 60 dollars a night, but they do have a huge, empty dorm room, where the beds are only 15 dollars a night.
“What do you think? Up to you,” Mustafa says.
I think it's a bit more money than I'd like to spend, but it's not worth the hassle of finding another place, especially because the lodge is so heavenly – in fact, it has the same chilled out, homey vibe as Distant Relatives in Kilifi, Kenya.
A group of four white girls is chilling in the shade of one of the salas as Mustafa and I check in.
We head into town for lunch, where are also able to pick up flip flops for me, so I can get out of my riding boots.
Suddenly, I feel like I'm on holiday.
Maybe this is what I needed. It seems ridiculous given that I've only been back on the road for about two weeks or so, but a cold swimming pool to cut the debilitating, humid heat on the coast and a companion to share a couple laughs with appears to be the best medicine for my funk.
“Dude, so I feel like getting drunk. We should just buy a bottle of something and maybe chill out here,” I suggest.
Mustafa, who isn't a big drinker, is, nonetheless, game.
An overly friendly Ukranian in a Zanzibar safari hat and wearing a hkutmatata t-shirt points us down the road to the best place to buy alcohol.
“So we'll just roll for it then,” I tell Mustafa after we find ourselves mostly indifferent to what booze we buy.
The choices are: cheap blended whiskey, Magic Moments Vodka or Chocolate Vodka.
I forgot my necklace with my die in it back at Joseph's place – at least I'm praying it's there. However, I'm always packing additional dice. So, I hand a big red one to Mustafa and let him roll.
He laughs at the simplicity of the process.
Magic Moment vodka it is.
A man who looks very much like a bishop stands at the far end of a street that dead ends at the beach. He holds a golden cross in his hands. Behind him is a thick crowd of Tanzanians prepared to march.
“Now if we were Australians we'd go back in there and get a six pack, crack open a couple beers and sit down, and be like: 'Fucking hell mate, look at that culture',” I say.
Mustafa laughs. We don't go back in and buy a six-pack of beer.
Back in our dorm room, I start mixing vodka, mango, Sprites in empty water bottles. I'm sure there's a real name for such a cocktail, I just don' know it.
The dorm is huge, though it feels cozy, as it's sectioned off into three sub-rooms. The beds are thick pads placed on raised cement platforms. It's dark and cool at this time of the day.
It's fairly late in the afternoon at this point. We didn't get on the road until about 11am, so it's about 4pm by the time we start drinking.
“What do you think about God?” Mustafa asks. Both of us are chilling in the pool, beating the heat in style.
We're already at the what-does-it-all-mean level of tipsy.
By the time the sun's down, we're seriously happy campers.
“Want to play cards?” I ask Mustafa.
“Sure, but I only know four-player games.”
“Okay, why don't you see if any of the girls want to play? I'll grab the cards from the room,” I say, indicating the young women in the sala who I noticed when we dropped our bags before lunch.
Mustafa is chatting up the women when I get back, but has yet to see if they want to play cards.
The night rolls on. All seven of us jabbering away by the pool. I've done a couple magic tricks, but a single game of cards has yet to be dealt. What non-drinking game do you play with seven people?
“How old are you guys,” asks Kathryn, a brown-haired girl from Connecticut.
“I'm 31,” I say.
Mustafa is 27.
The two Danish girls are both 21, as is Katie, while Lila is only 19.
“Do you want to play a game of pool,” Katie asks me.
We all migrate down to a bar-sized pool table with snooker pockets to play doubles.
Lila is sitting between Mustafa and me, flirting with both of us a little. At one point, they're holding hands. She's a fascinating woman.
“That's exactly what I did,” I say after she explains that she was accepted into a university, but deferred so she could spend the year traveling. It's hard to reconcile her age with the depth and breadth of her experiences. She's lived in China for a couple months, farmed in Peru and trekked through the Amazon.
“I'm the youngest in my family. My brother is ten years older than me,” she says.
“That's still younger than you,” Katie chimes in to make a point.
“Yep, I can do the math,” I say.
The number of players thins out as Lila and me – who didn't even realize that we were playing as partners for part of the game – lose a third match in a best two-out-three against Mustafa and Katie.
“I really need to shower. It's important to shower,” Mustafa says. It's been his drunken mantra.
Lila and I are on a big outdoor bed next to the pool table chatting face-to-face about travel and life, holding hands. It's funny because if you asked me to describe Lila in this moment, I couldn't. I'm too close to her right now to take her all in and I hadn't noticed before.
Katie recently headed to bed, while the Danish girls left awhile ago. Mustafa, who still needs to shower, is asleep next to us on the mat. He wakes up and excuses himself before wandering off to wash.
Lila's face is so close to mine for a moment that it's 80 percent of the way to kissing. Our lips, motionless and separated, linger in close proximity for a split second before the moment is broken. I should be drunk, but I'm not. Neither of us is. She's had three beers over the course of the evening and I've had nearly half a bottle of vodka, but nothing I can't handle in good form.
Further down the line of our conversation, the opportunity again presents itself. This time, our lips meet.
At first, it's a tentative, soft kiss, but starts to gain strength as we build momentum like Sisyphus's boulder once it has reached the top of his hill.
For a moment, I worry about writing this up on the blog. But something about the distance between the experience and the story going live has emboldened me to act with less conscious restraint.
Our tongues are twisting, lips wet. My hands have found their way under her shorts. Yet, right now, in this moment, all I can do is stare at three misquotes devouring my right foot.
“Do you want to take this inside?” I say.
“We can't go to my room. I share a bed with my roommate.”
“Sure we can. I'm sure Katie won't mind.”
“I think she might.”
“Okay, there's plenty of extra beds in the dorm room.”
Lila is momentarily struck with indecision.
“I don't even know you,” she says, which, to be fair, is kind of true.
“Up to you. Whatever you want is fine,” I say, my hands still moving over her body. “What about this: You can choose numbers and roll a die?”
I was pretty bashful explaining the project to the girls when we were all sitting in the sala – I can't help it when people are so enthusiastic with their praise. Given that the premise of the trip was already explained, Lila doesn't miss a beat.
“Do you have one with you?”
I don't have one. However, I do have the random number generator on my phone, which has a dice function.
I select one die to be rolled.
“Okay, you choose the numbers,” I say, handing her the phone.
At this point, she could give us a five in six chance of going back to the room or a one in six chance. It's up to her.
“Evens, we go to our own beds; odds, we go back to your room,” she says, tapping the screen.
It's a five.