Day 338: Possessed Motorcycle Huffs and Puffs Through Tanzania
So Rafiki wasn't feeling the let's drive through Tanzania vibe. 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.
RAFIKI is out of the gates like a race horse on crack. Her little 175cc two-stroke engine whines as petrol free flows through her veins. We ramp up a small dirt hill leading out of overlander zone behind Firefly Lodge in Bagamoyo, bolting for the cobblestone road. It's our first real ride together since escaping Zanzibar. It's a long run to the Kenyan border, but Rafiki is possessed: I'm not holding the throttle down as she charges ahead.
I pull the clutch. Her engine's whine sounds like a swarm of angry drones. Quickly, nearly panicking, I hit the red kill switch.
Rafiki is silent.
What the hell was that?
I check if the throttle sticks. It doesn't.
Gently, I put her into neutral and then start her again. The engine jumps to life – petrol gushing into the system. My gloved fingers spin the idling screw, first tightening it all the way, then loosening it to the point that it nearly falls out.
There's no change in the sound of the engine.
I kill her. Then start her again. Fiddling with the throttle cable – thankful I have a replacement if it comes to that – I'm able to settler her a bit. She's not lurching beneath me, but she's drinking far too deeply, even without me on the throttle.
We work our way out on to the street, taking a right in front of Firefly. Several wrong turns later, Rafiki's engine dies because now the idle is set too low. I spin the screw and start her back up.
On Msta Road, we're headed toward Arusha, which is 568 kilometers away.
If an earlier start was in the cards, the goal would to be arrive in Arusha tonight. The next morning, we'd press on to Kenya. However, I don't own a pack of cards with an early start in it. Early mornings are like the joker cards that were discarded when a new deck was opened by someone who doesn't appreciate the importance a joker can have in some games.
When I woke up on the far side of the massive, multi-walled dorm room that Flora and I are sharing – in a bed I secured to allow myself the privacy of a wank and the chance to sleep naked again – Flora was already finishing up her morning yoga routine out front.
While waiting for our balsamic-reduction tomato sauce and eggs served with heavenly crisp bread, I sit behind Flora to give her a back massage. The need to be hugged and touched as an essential part to a person's happiness was something Flora often spoke about at The House of Giggles. Earlier today, she'd given me a quick massage; my head hung forward, my upper body melting in her hands.
Before the eggs arrive and after giving Flora a massage, my phone bings.
It's a message from Adam.
The owner of Firefly put me in contact with Adam, who's capable of securing a blank vaccine card with the yellow fever information filled out and officially stamped.
I checked with the hospital in Bagamoyo yesterday to see if they could issue me a replacement yellow fever card. They couldn't. They can only give out Hepatitis B and C vaccines.
I don't need another vaccine – especially a yellow fever one. I've gotten it twice in my lifetime because I lost my previous vaccine card. The most recent one, which I did get jabbed for, was among the important documents that were stolen in Kizimkazi.
Adam didn't have a contact in Arusha from whom I could pick up the card. Instead, the card had to come from Dar es Salaam and it needed to come fast. Otherwise, I would be forced to try my luck at the Kenyan border without it, which could go bad – very, very bad.
“Can't you just give the card to a dala-dala driver and send it up to Bagamoyo in the morning?” I had eventually suggested.
The local transport networks that crisscross the entire nation with people packed into vans like electronic in a new mobile phone, also provide an informal goods delivery system. In Zanzibar, a driver would stop to deliver a bucket of fish to someone or place a car part down in the grass on the side of the road before we zoomed away. How the caller knew who to give items to or where exactly to leave them always baffled me.
Adam agreed: a dala-dala driver would do the trick. The money was sent down to him via M-pesa, which is a way to send money via mobile phones without a credit card or bank.
The message I receive from Adam this morning confirms that he managed to get the card and would be sending it in a dala-dala with the license plate number T810DHH.
The driver should arrive at about 12:15 with the card.
Flora and I slice up the avocados we bought yesterday and mash them into one of the most beautiful breakfasts we've had in months. Sitting at the low table, Flora is happy, her golden mane is brushed and bushy around her face, her eyes glowing. She has had tears lodged somewhere in her soul, since leaving Laurence – someone who opened her eyes to the fact that people as wonderful as him are out there. However, she's not yet been able to find a way to pull the plug and let the tears flow. I, of course, offered to be super mean and make her cry, but she didn't like that idea.
I feel guilty about my first impression of her. More I feel guilty for having to share my first impression, because though I've never been physically attracted to her, she is without a doubt a very beautiful woman. More importantly, as they would say in Swahili: xxxxxxxxxx – which means your soul is beautiful. She walks a fine line between questioning the world and seeing it with clarity. She's both resolute in her beliefs and flexible.
She reads me the answers to a few questions a friend sent over to her, asking what she is afraid of and what is her definition of happiness.
We'd talked about these on an earlier draft and I thought she should expand on her answers. The depth of her thoughts on the subjects and honesty makes me smile.
“What are you afraid of?” she asks me.
“I don't know. I would have to think more on it,” I say.
“What about losing the ability to use your body? Think about it: one night you go to sleep the next you wake after a stroke and can't move.”
“You have to believe it as a real possibility to be afraid of it,” I say.
“But it is.”
“Intellectually, I know that, but you have to feel it. I don't think I have a lot of fears because I don't feel their possibilities as a reality. I'm anxious and nervous about officials and police because of the drone and the motorcycle and I think that it's possible for issues to arise – I can picture that reality. I can feel it,” I say, trying to better explain my point.
It's conversations like these, where Flora doesn't hesitate to dig in and be completely honest, challenging and accepting that make me aware of how lucky I am that we've crossed paths, and hopeful we'll cross paths again.
That said, I'm not one to make a big fuss about goodbyes.
At the dala-dala station, I thin man in drab, over-sized clothes of an original color that is now impossible to guess, puts down his phone and waves to me.
That's my guy.
He hands me a white envelope with the word Bagamoyo and my phone number scrawled across the top. He seems unwilling to let go of our handshake, gently holding my hand for several more moments, as if hoping it will produce cash.
“The man said you'd pay me,” he eventually says, as it becomes clear that I'm ready to leave.
I open the envelope to examine the card. Ir's in English and French from the Ministry of Healthy, Community Development, Gender, Elderly and Children. It's a International Certificate of Vaccination of Prophylaxis.
Inside, the medical section has been filled out and dated for March 23, 2017 with a blue pen in neat handwriting. The personal information section is blank.
So, I got a new Yellow Card, which wasn't yellow. Photo: Isaac Stone Simonelli
“What? He was supposed to pay you. How much?”
The driver wants 2,000 Shilling. I consider giving him the cold shoulder and walking away, but I don't. Even if he's double charging, it's only a dollar, and he did provide a valuable service.
I dig a crumpled 2,000 Shilling note out of my pocket and hand it to him.
Flora was supposed to be right behind me to catch her dala-dala to Dar es Salaam and then a flight to Malawi before heading to a yoga training course in South Africa.
I don't even consider hanging around the bus station, but start walking back, head buried in my phone and half wondering if we're going to miss each other.
I look up. There she is, big pack on her back and a small one across her chest.
It's an awkward hug with the little bag between us.
She takes it off. I presume it's so we can have a better goodbye hug. Instead, she hands it to me.
“Oh, I'm walking you to the station?” I ask with a smile.
Delaying her departure by a few more minutes, Flora suggests we pop into a chips shop for chips mayai. I'd been craving a big serving of ugali with small dried fish sauteed with onion and tomatoes, but I'm not going to turn down the chance to share another meal with Flora.
Twenty minutes later, she's getting on the dala-dala and I'm headed back to Firefly.
My engines are revving to get on the road. It's time to be moving again.
Msta Road is a beautiful two-lane highway with a dotted white line running down the middle. I could enjoy it if Rafiki wasn't still running so hot.
My hands reach down to play with idle screw while I'm driving. Her engine races. I don't need to be touching the throttle for us to be moving at a descent clip in top gear. I start unscrewing the throttle capable, trying to loosen it.
“I'll oil it all when I spot the next gas station,” I tell myself.
The countryside is so wet, so green. The shrubs are lush with foliage; the landscape is dotted by larger trees, swaths of healthy grass.
Tanzania is blessed with water, and what a blessing it is. It's hard to believe that its northern neighbor is suffering from a sever drought that is tearing the fabric of the nation, revealing an ugliness beneath the dusty red landscape of central and northern Kenya.
Spread out across the flat landscape are small storm systems. Rain hangs down from the gray clouds like the tentacles of jellyfish. There are four or five such giant marine animals floating in the sky around me. Directly ahead is one too large to still resemble a jellyfish – it's simply a mass of gray clouds, a veil of rain sweeping the world below it.
I slow down, hoping that perhaps Rafiki and I won't catch the storms as we race toward them.
Rafiki buck and choke and sputter and bucks again beneath me.
She's a near-drowning victim desperately gasping for air, but mostly being smashed in the mouth with wave after wave of water.
She sputters and dies.
We roll to the side of the road. I kick start her. The engine fires, but she doesn't come to life. I kick and kick and kick and kick, pulling down hard on the throttle.
Nothing and nothing and nothing and then, she coughs and the engine roars.
We're off again.
Off, but not moving smoothly. For about five minutes, things seem to have gotten better, then my dear friend shutters. She shakes and quivers and bucks and struggles to get fuel into her engine like a junky coming off a heroin high.
We keep moving, me rocking back and forth as gas hits the engine and then fires dry and then wet and then dry again.
At the bottom of a gently rolling hill, she dies.
Maybe the saltwater or sitting in the tropical sun for a month has caused the throttle line to stick. Dipping my gloved finger into some fresh, honey-colored oil, I dab at what where I believe the throttle line attaches to a lever on the engine. Surprisingly it doesn't move at all when I twist the handle. Even when the engine is running and I push it there is no difference.
With a bit of effort, as the first drops of rain begin to fall around us, Rafiki chokes to life and we are off. However, she's not happy.
“I'll have to bring her in as soon as I find a mechanic's shop,” I tell myself.
Lush green rolling hills surround us. There's no sign of a village or a shop.
Rafiki dies. We play several more rounds of this game the old girl has invited.
Why she coughs back to life and what kills here is inexplicable.
A certain fear fills me as I check her tailpipe for blue smoke, a sign of oil being properly mixed with the gas. If the oil isn't getting mixed in, it won't take long for her engine to seize, the pistons ripping apart like they did in Poor Donkey's engine. There's no smoke. That, of course, doesn't mean that the oil isn't being mixed in. It only means that we're running so fast that it isn't being mixed in too rich.
“As soon as I find a mechanic I'll get her taken care of,” I tell myself again.
Rafiki dies again. This time, on the side of the road, my gloved hand follows the throttle cord from the handlebars to wherever it connects to the rest of the bike.
What the hell did I oil earlier? I squeeze the back brake. The piece I oiled previously moves.
Sigh. It seems that the only thing my idiocy knows is no limits.
I'm parked in front of a fancy roadside restaurant and event venue. I consider asking for help. Then, Rafiki comes to life.
She starts riding like there was never a problem in the first place. Like a lover who takes a hard day at work out on you and then sits down at the dinner table with a smile as if they hadn't just called you a worthless sack of shit because you forgot to empty the dishwasher – again.
We're cruising, smoothly cruising. The few people we occasionally pass are no longer staring me jerk my way forward as if I was practicing for a rodeo.
Up ahead is Msata, a proper-sized town, where we'll turn onto A14 toward Arusha.
Rafiki is fine. Without being able to speak Swahili or find a mechanic with excellent English, I'm not going to be able to explain what's wrong with my Yamaha DT175.
We smoothly sail through town, me praying that she starts acting up so I can show someone. Having no idea what the issue is, I don't even know how to recreate it to show a mechanic.
Five minutes out of town, as we're headed up a rolling hill capped by a police checkpoint. Rafiki goes back to chugging and choking.
Up ahead, a police officer in his pristine white uniform and cap talks to a stopped truck driver.
Please don't pay any attention to me. Please let me just get to Kenya without any problems.
“Rafiki, did you really have to throw a fit this close to police officer? You couldn't have died when we were in town and help was on hand? What were you thinking?” I mumble into my helmet.
I kick and kick and kick the starter. My muddy boots do their best to bring her to life.
The engine sparks and runs. We're off.
My eyes are locked on the road ahead, doing everything to avoid attracting the attention of the officer – everything but removing the perky bright orange fox ears attached to my helmet.
We're through and then she silent – dead.
Rain has been visiting us off and on for some time now. Never a hard pour, just enough to keep me wet, as if I were one of God's fern and she was concerned that my leaflets might wither if they were ever dry.
At The House of Giggles, I was never dry. I was wet from the sea. Wet from the rain outside. Wet from the rain inside. And I was drenched getting smuggled out of Zanzibar – apparently being wet is a constant state of being rather than something to shun.
Slowly, slowly, stopping regularly we make our way through Wami Escarpment. The Wami River is engorged, its brown water flowing through trees and over grassy islands. The rain comes down harder for a moment and then the sun is out in all its tropical brilliance. On the way back up the valley that cuts through the escarpment, Rafiki dies.
A young man on a Chinese motorcycle, pulls up next to us.
He doesn't attempt to speak to me, but instead communicates entirely with gestures.
“What's the problem?” he wants to know.
I point at the fuel tank and give it a thumbs up.
He doesn't understand.
He offers to drive up ahead and bring fuel back.
I shake him off. Waving my hand for him to come closer and look into the tank, where the fuel is visible. He doesn't get off his bike. He keeps trying to offer to get fuel.
I want to scream.
It's like the guy has blinders on. He's decided what the problem is and his mind is playing on loop.
Then again, at least he's stopped to help me.
I should be grateful for that.
I am grateful for that.
It takes a bit more effort, but I'm eventually able to convince him that I have petrol.
He wants me to follow him to a mechanic. They man is damn good at universal gesticulation.
Rafiki comes to life.
A rainbow, its arch flat, as if designed to expand a great river, stretches out next to us as we ride. It's not a long rainbow, but its vivid colors splash across the low, lush forest.
My breathe catches. It's possible to see exactly where it starts and where it ends. Only 50 meters away from the road, the rainbow runs alongside us, a horse keep pacing with the pack. The start point and end point are not fixed, but moving at our pace.
We crest the hill and Rafiki begins to throw a fit and dies. She quickly starts back up.
This is ideal. This guy will be able to explain exactly what the issue is to whichever mechanic we're going to visit.
There's a cluster of wooden shacks, a motorcycle taxi stand and plastic bottles of yellow petrol for sale where a muddy road Ts into the highway.
We turn down the wide dirt road, freshly re-worked and muddy from recent rains.
I'm delighted this guy found me. There's no way I'd push this far down the road looking for a mechanic. Rafiki's dirt tires comfortably dig into the road as I follow him. We ride up and down several hills. In the distance, there's a little village.
Several large colonial era buildings appear. There's the tall steeple of a German church. In the same yard is another building that dwarfs the mud and stick homes of the village. The white and blue building has arch after arch running along its side. It's probably a school or a health center.
Rafiki dies on the steep slope.
Silently, the guy tries to convince me to leave her and come to the mechanic shop – we're nearly there. Standing in the mud, I refuse to leave Rafiki and all my possessions.
She comes to life. A minute later, we're rolling onto the firm, muddy lot in front of the mechanic's cement-walled shop.
There are five Chinese motorcycles on their center stands in the yard. A cluster of young men lounge around them. A few meters away, there is a thatch sided building with a tin roof. Beneath the roof is a small bar-sized pool table cluttered with more young men.
Later, trying to recall the moment, I can't for the life of me remember if the young man who brought me to the mechanic spoke when he explained the issue to the mechanic who was roused from a nap on the back of a motorcycle inside the four-meter by four-meter shop.
The mechanic immediately starts troubleshooting the issue. I crouch down nearby, watching him, soaking up the thought process behind how to fix a motorcycle – given how I deal with the rain, soaking up stuff is looking like my strong suit at the moment.
He attempts to start Rafiki, but – thankfully – she refuses.
A crowd of young men watch the mechanic work on Rafiki. Photos: Isaac Stone Simonelli
He pulls the fuel line out to make sure gas is flowing into the carburetor. Petrol starts spewing from the tube. His fingers go to the switch that on most other bikes allows you to shut the fuel line off. However, the Yamaha DT 175 doesn't have an off valve. It's got regular, reserve and something else – but no off. I try to explain that, but he doesn't understand. My confidence wanes faster than one of Jupiter's moons. He's fingers are fumbling to get the tube back in place, fuel is going everywhere – fuel is like blood, it always seems like there's more coming out than there really is.
I want to reach in to help him, but hesitate and am then blocked by his body. I sit back on my haunches and watch. Eventually, he gets everything reattached.
Next, he pops off the cap on the spark plug, which I already know isn't the issue. He takes it apart, snips off a bit of the coating around the a wire and then screws it all back together, securing it back onto the plug.
With a screw driver and and hammer be begins trying to loosen the cap to the throttle slide. The whole carburetor shifts as he tries to loosen the cap. He asks one of the boys to hold it in place on the other side.
The gray cap comes loose. He unscrews it, pulling a long loose spring out.
He pops something of a brass needle that adjusts the washer plate at the bottom of the screw and puts it all back together.
Why hadn't I thought of that? Oh, because I'm the kind of guy who lubricates the back brake instead of the throttle.
The one beautiful aspect to busting up a motorcycle is that every time it's something new, you learn how to fix that particular issue.
And to think that I considered bad fuel a possible culprit. I don't even know how a bike acts when it's sucking on bad petrol.
I look up at the small collection of boys and teenagers sitting the bikes watching the mechanic work. My eyes take in their noses, their ears, their hair, their mouths, their entire faces. It hits me: I hadn't looked at anyone since arriving. I consider myself a king of eye contact, of open smiles to strangers on the street, yet I rolled in with my eyes on the mud and they had never left that part of the world until right now.
“Why is that?” I wonder. “Do I feel that vulnerable that I'm shying away from any human interactions – isn't that a terribly counter productive way of handing the situation?”
The mechanic takes Rafiki for a test run after she starts up without hesitation.
When he gets back, he tunes the idle screw.
My baby is purring like a happy cat getting plenty of love on a rainy day.
Knowing full well that she has her moments of pretending that nothing happened, I take Rafiki out for another test ride. It's nice to be on the wide dirt road with no jacket and no helmet, just the cool, wet air against my face.
There are a few cement homes, even one that looks like it's made out of western-style bricks, or perhaps painted to look like that. However, most of the village comprises mud huts, a grid of branches showing through the brow, earthen plaster. With more time and maybe the confidence of a having traveling companion wanting to explore as well, I can imagine that driving down this road could offer many hidden treasures. Who would have thought that there would be these colonial buildings perched on the hill so far from the main road? Probably anyone who knows the region, but certainly not me.
An older man who watched the repair says its costs 1,000 Shilling, but means 10,000 Shilling. I decided not to argue and pay. Though it was a relatively simple fix, I'd have been more than five-dollars fucked if they hadn't rescued me.
Back down the dirt road, the silent man who'd taken me to the mechanic pulls up next to me on his bike. He rubs his fingers together, asking for a little money – money he deserves.
I reach into my pocket and find a dirty, crumbled 2,000 Shilling bill.
He gratefully takes it.
His hand cuts across the air to sign that my debt to him is canceled. Then, he presses his palm against his chest in thanks. It's at this moment I begin to wonder if he's a mute.
Back on the main road, Rafiki purrs between my legs. It's a total joy riding her as the countryside slips by.
The sun fills the world with golden light before fading from the sky. Up ahead the Usambara Mountain range takes shape, lumps on an otherwise smooth horizon. Clouds hang heavy around the earthly projections.
There are parts of the road I remember and long stretches I don't. How much longer to Mombo? Do I really want to navigate up to Lushoto?
It's amazing how long the sky holds onto the light of the sun. Long after I would have considered it dark, I look to the east and to the west, surprised to find that the blues of the west are still lighter, with hints of soft pinks.
As dusk deepens, swarms of winged insects create low-flying traffic on the road. One hits me hard in the forehead, like a pellet from a gun. I shift my visor down a little lower. I can't close it all the way, as the uncleaned piece of plastic makes it impossible to clearly see what's ahead of me. When it catches the light on an oncoming truck, it disperse the light, completely blurring my vision. However, being smacked in the face by countless bugs only makes me want to keep my eyes closed as I drive, which is also not good for visibility.
Before I even make it to the junction with B1, true darkness has eaten up the world around me.
There is so much countryside in Tanzania. Not uninhabited wilderness, but countryside. Countless miles of boonies only occasionally interrupted by a large spec of human activity.
Now that it's dark, the darkness of the of the wild, undisturbed by electrical lights, snuggles up against me. Now it's dark, there are less bugs out and I can lift my visor and drink in the fresh night air.
I'm swinging between staying in Momba, at the foot of the mountains, or driving deep into them to Lushoto, where I can possible make a drone video for Top Journey. Additionally, I've heard there are German cows that provide the essentials for heavenly yogurt produced up in the coolness of the mountains – which I missed last time I came through.
There's also something comforting about coming back to a place. I'm tired of constantly being confronted with a world that is entirely new. I need something familiar to settle me, to ground me. I've been to Bagamoyo three times and this will be my second time staying at St. Benedict's Hostel, where I'm dreaming of falling back into my routine of ordering a tall thermos of milk tea and a stack of bread for dinner.
I've not eaten dinner yet. In fact, I've only gotten off Rafiki to fix her or put gas and oil in since I got on the road this afternoon.
Shortly after another gas break, which sucks up 18,500 Shilling. The red, oil-warning light comes on.
The light comes on when I'm about halfway through the tank. I should be find getting to Lushoto, but do I really want to push my luck?
Today was more expensive than expected. I forgot how fast a person goes through money when they're on the road. I've blown through about 40,000 Shilling and not even paid for a place to stay.
Am I going to have enough cash on me to get into Kenya? I start adding and subtracting and estimating as I drive through the darkness.
It's not looking good, not good at all.
I might have enough to make it to Kenya, but I'll need a Western Union transfer of my remaining 400 dollars almost immediately. I'd hoped to slide by without touching it by securing another payment from Top Journey for drone videos, but that seems impossible now.
I have 50,000 TZ Shilling – which might be enough to cover my fuel costs to Kenya. I have 100 US dollars, fifty of which I need for a Kenyan visa. And, I have 40,000 Kenyan Shilling, which might last me two days in Kenya.
This is going to be really tight.
My father's automated email reply to my request to have the last of my money sent via Western Union to me did little to help me keep things in perspective:
“Thank you for writing. I will be out of email contact until April 18. I will respond to your message when I return.
“If this is an emergency, please keep in mind that in around 6 billion years the Sun will have used up most of its nuclear fuel, initiating a series of events that will result in the Sun becoming a red giant and ultimately expanding in size beyond Earth's orbit, swallowing up our planet and turning it into a desiccated, lifeless cinder. This should help keep things in perspective,” it reads.
We're running abreast the mountain range, the natural obstruction forcing the road to move around it rather than through it, guiding traffic toward Moshi, toward Arusha.
It's as if tightly woven constellations have fallen from they sky, landing on the mountain ridges. The tiny halogen lights, burning a bright white, cluster together among the dark waves of mountains. Each tiny glowing dot could be a giant ball of gas light years away with planets and life circling around it. Instead, they are only a few miles away, settled deep into the darkness of the mountains. Yet, they do have life circling them.
I turn right into the mountain toward Lushoto .
A road sign at the base of the narrow road winding deep into the Usambaras Mount Range warns of steep, winding, dangerous roads ahead.
My focus slips away. Even knowing that my focus isn't what it should be does nothing to bring me back to the present driving conditions.
The outside edge of the narrow road is unmarked before it drops away into the valleys below. Instinctively, I gravity toward the middle of the road, only edging toward the steep drop-off when the blinding lights of oncoming traffic appear around a sharp bend.
The red oil light buns brightly below my chin.
I'm playing with fire. I should stop and put some oil in. But there's no light here. My phone is too dead to use and my headlamp completely died at The House of Giggles.
I push deeper into the mountains, Rafiki sometimes swaying across the road like a drunk.
“How long have I been on the bike?” I wonder.
The cold from our gains in altitude cuts through my clothes, which thankfully dried out in the warmth of the late afternoon sun. The chill digs in deeper and deeper as I ride.
“Where is this place? Was it really this far away from Momba? I knew it was a drive, but this long?” I think. “Then again, moving at this speed and wobbling around the road makes it all take so much longer.”
There's the glow of sporting stadium. A big American sporting stadium pouring light into the dark sky somewhere behind two mountain ridges. What in earth could be producing so much light up here?
It strikes me with the speed of a shooting star: the moon. The big beautiful moon is rising somewhere behind the mountains.
I want to stop to bask it in its glory, but I have to push on. It's too late already. I need to get to the hostel. I need to sleep.
The night presses in against me and Rafiki as the cold continues numb my senses and my worries about the oil levels nag on and on and on.
Weaving up the mountain passes, taking it all slowly, I'm surrounded by enormous, straight-trunked eucalyptus trees. Every corner looks familiar. Every corner reminds me of a corner that's only five minutes from the hostel.
Or at least the bar with the giant Coke bottle serving area that was farther from the hostel than I had expected it to be when I visited last time.
Yet, every bend is not the bend I remember. The road narrows as it makes its way over tiny cobbled, keystone bridges that look as if they were built under German direction many years ago.
“Oh, Wow. Wow!” I say, slowing Rafiki.
Across the valley the moon, only a day past full, glows like a translucent pearl held up to the sun. It sits in a bowl created by two mountain peaks, black daggers jutting into the sky. Below it all is a swath of stars. More than a hundred little lights, that aren't actually stars, yet are spread across the valley face like constellations never observed by Galileo; human constellation that maintain the majestic mystery of natural design. It could be vignette from Lords of the Rings, a small Elvin village. It could be anything a person's imagination could craft, its beauty unfocused and deep.
If there was only someone with whom to share this moment. Someone who would encourage me to stop and get off Rafiki to fully soak up the spectacle. However, there's not. It's just me and Rafiki, and she's so focused on her desire for oil that I doubt she's even noticed how bright the moon is.
Ages later – after many more false starts – the turn-off for the hostel appears. Up the dirt road, I find the gate locked.
“Jumbo,” I call out. “Jumbo.”
I'm greeted by silence. There are, of course, other places to stay, but the familiarity of the hostel is drawing me back.
Leaving the keys in the ignition, I jump the gate and start walking toward the rooms.
A man who speaks only Swahili approaches me with a large, thick club. He's wearing a heavy, long black jacket.
“Rooms?” I ask.
He relaxes a little; I'm a mzungu looking for a place to sleep.
We bring Rafiki in and I indicate that I'd like to stay in Room 9. It was the cheapest room they had when I was here last.
Once my bags are inside, I grab a hoodie and jump the fence again – it's past 9pm, but there's probably somewhere still selling ugali or chips.
Across the street, up on a steep slope, there's a bustling crowd of people near three boiling pans of oil. A bald man with smooth, brown skin is making three young women chips mayai. A couple meat skewers sit on the grill, the flesh speckled with spices and dark red from marinating for hours.
I order two skewers for myself and chips mayai before taking a place on a narrow wooden bench.
I look up and see faces. I did it again. I'd rocked up to a place, but my eyes had only gone to the inanimate objects around me: the small pan used to make the french fry omelet, the grill, the glass case full of freshly deep-fried potatoes, the meat, and the smart phones the young people around me were starring into.
Forcing my eyes up, I take in their faces, a small black lump on a young girls nose, something that could be considered a beauty mark by some.
I drink in the people around me.
The dish is served with a dollop of red cabbage coleslaw on top, I consider sending a picture back to my bush girls at The House of Giggles – we often fantasized about red cabbage.
On the way back to the hostel, I hear a ruckus of life in the building behind where I was eating. I get a glimpse of a bar. There's the sound of a rack of pool balls being opened up on a small table.
Again, I find myself wishing someone was here. Wishing for a travel buddy, who would go, “Hey, come on. Let's check it out.”
Of course, that's where the die comes in. The die could send me there, but I don't want to go there alone. And for the die to work, I must have the will to roll it.
Back in bed, pleased with dinner and the warmth of the cook who fussed about to ensure I had an ideal experience, I bury my face into a copy of The Green House by Mario Vargas Llosa. The old, worn pages smell of vanilla as I press them against my nose.
“Maybe I don't have to leave this warm blanket cocoon to turn off the lights,” I think.