Day 342: Racing to the Musafir
The last time I was in Kilifi, it was for the an epic New Year's Eve event. Video: 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.
(It has also come to our attention that the day count has been muddled somewhere. We're doing our best to get them back on track -- Ed.)
MY RIDING pants are on, though I stand bare-chested in Lovince and Liz's living room.
The die falls from my hand onto the couch.
It's a one.
I take off my pants, making my way back to the bed in the guest bedroom.
The die has demanded that I get a little more sleep before getting on the road to Kilifi. However, I'm out of full-day delays.
“Just a little more sleep,” I tell myself.
What was supposed to be a couple days in Nairobi to get the throttle cable sorted and a new SIM card organized as bloomed into an entire week.
Coming home to Nairobi. Coming back to good friends. Coming back to completely relax. It felt too good. A lot more would have gotten done if Liz and I weren't binging on the television series Reign, which is about Queen Elizabeth I. But, to be fair, I don't regret a moment of it.
After 11 months on the road, it's easy to think that all I have to do is make it another month and a half.
“That's nothing. That's easy. I can do that,” I tell myself.
The issue isn't making it to the end. The issue is my entire thought process. It needs to be re-framed: If you told a friend that you were spending six weeks in Africa, they would rightfully believe that a seriously-long and epic adventure was afoot. So much can be seen, learned, appreciated, and loved in six weeks.
Why simply attempt to endure it when I can hit the reset button on my mental travel timer and jump on the road with the same bright eyes I landed with in Brussels for my first solo international trip more than a decade ago?
First, however, sleep.
Last night, we went out to Gallileo Lounge for “a drink”. Three drinks – it was happy hour – later, Lovince, the crew, and I were headed out to Js Place for one more drink. I thought we were getting chicken after the drink, then meeting up with Liz, who was being responsible and already on her way home. I figured a box of fried chicken and one more episode of Reign would be a perfect way to close the night.
I was wrong.
After Js, where the dice ordered me a shot of Sambuca instead of forcing me to propose a threesome to the couple next to our table, I thought we would have chicken. It was past 2am at this point.
I was wrong.
One bar later, thankfully I was out of money and could just chill and wait, we were headed home, with chicken.
We got back at 4:30am. Like zombies, we nibble on what was left of our fried chicken.
The plan was to be up in an hour and a half to ride nearly 500km to Kilifi.
Just as I was pondering if the Die's Will was for me to actually sleep for a bit longer or if it was to rest – what would happen if I couldn't fall asleep? – I passed out.
A shrill alarm reminds me of the reality at hand.
Shirtless, Lovince walked in earlier telling me I should stay another day in Nairobi.
However, if I stay another day, I miss the boat, literally.
Offloading a pile of gear I don't need into a closet at Liz and Lovince's place, my bags are lighter as Rafiki and I get back on the road.
We navigate our way through dense, chaotic Nairobi traffic to Mombasa Road, which provides a straight shot to the coast.
The gentle grassy slopes that hug the road once it breaks free of the tangle of Nairobi give way to the red, arid landscape that seems to cover much of the country. Up the shallow inclines, lorries weigh down traffic. Cars zip pass the slowly plodding semi-trucks, heading directly into oncoming traffic as they do so, but never cutting it so close that anyone hits their brakes – not that anyone would necessarily hit their brakes under any circumstances.
I pass everyone on the shoulder. Tiny, jarring speed bumps every few dozen meters rattle Rafiki as we go, but they aren't as bad as being stuck in traffic.
On any motorcycle, 500km is a long day. On a little, two-stroke 175cc Yamaha, it's an especially long day. Without the top speeds of a bigger bike, Rafiki and I are forced to be satisfied with simply cruising and taking in the landscape as we go.
Tomorrow, I'll be on the Musafir. The traditional East African trade ship – one of the three biggest in the world – is setting sail from Kilifi to Lamu. The boat and the dice rescued me from a sour, downward spiral shortly after I arrived in Kenya the first time, when I found out that Kibo had no interest in working with me.
The carefully crafted boat is more than floating logs, it's a platform for an international community to spread message of peace, freedom, and unity. They've invited me along to produce a drone video in exchange for the ride to Lamu.
As the Mombasa Road begins to bisect Tsavo East and Tsavo West National Park, its edge becomes ragged, the burnt edges of a pirate map. There's less traffic, which means I'm not forced to take the several inch drop from the shredded edge into the soft brown dirt that banks toward a steady line of acacia trees that stretch toward the horizon.
I scan the scrub lands for signs of wildlife. Several months ago, I would consider the idea ridiculous. Now, I know there's a real possibility of stumbling across zebra, giraffes, baboons, or gazelle. And, if I'm supremely lucky, I might even spot a lion – it's not unheard of.
About an hour ago, I filled up Rafiki's tank and took lunch at a dinner called Oasis. It was nice to peel off my jacket, back brace, and helmet to cool off while waiting for a pile of goat, sukuma wiki, and ugali to arrive at my table. Earlier, I had passed much of the work being done by the Chinese on the high-speed rail between Nairobi and Mombasa.
Cresting a small hill, the world opens up in front of us. The landscape has been carefully molded so that our imaginations can set free Americans – native and cow herding – to battle for the opportunities that seem to lie in the wasteland before me. It's a place the Lone Ranger could be found casting silver bullets. It's a place that could inspire the designers of West World.
Scattered through the bright blue sky, which stretches over the land like listless cat on a summer's day, are piles of cumulus clouds. They are all too white and too fluffy to offer anything but texture to the sky. They won't bring rain to this desert-like landscape.
With no music playing. With no podcasts seeding the soils of my mind. There is a great deal of silence in my fox-eared helmet. Silence filled with the sort of conversations we've forgotten are important to have with oneself. Silence that clears the rooms in your head for new guests, surprise guests, to enter with their own strange perspectives, thoughts, and observations.
A lorry passes the vehicle in front of it, swinging into my lane, fully aware that if there was a head-on collision he had little to lose. The truck comes barreling down toward me, moving back into his lane moments before forcing me off the road.
A few minutes later, another truck does the same.
Up ahead, far up head, where the heat rises from the road making the vehicles shimmer, a lorry is plowing along in my lane. It's not passing anyone. It's just steadily trucking along in my lane.
There's nobody behind me.
I've not passed anyone headed to Mombasa for nearly a half an hour.
“Am I on a one-way road?” I wonder. “Is it possible that this somehow turned into a one-lane highway without me even noticing?”
I ease up on the gas as the truck closes in on us. Quickly, I slide off the edge of the ragged road onto the dusty shoulder. The juggernaut flies past in what I had previously considered my lane.
Back on pavement, I give Rafiki speed, only to again be forced off the road by a semi-truck – I'm invisible.
“Fuck these drivers,” I mutter into my helmet as a third truck strong-arms me off the road.
Not until I catch up with a lorry headed the same direction as I am, about fifteen minutes later, do I come to terms with the fact that this isn't a one-way road – the truck drivers are just assholes.
Rafiki's tank is filled in Voi. There's a major road cutting toward the coast from here, but not the one I need, as it leads to the Italian mob-run resort town of Malindi, which is north of where I need to be by the end of the night.
I knew I should have turned off my phone when I was having lunch to conserve the battery, as I didn't need directions until I reached Mariakani. Unfortunately, by the time I do reach the sliver of a town, the phone is dying and the sun has set.
I plummet into the dark, finding my way onto C107, which cuts across the blackened countryside toward the coast, preventing me from having to drive all the way south to Mombasa and then turn north on B8 to Kilifi.
My phone dies, and, with it, my directions to Kilifi.
A single headlight rolls up and down the hills in front of me; the tail light of the motorcycle glows like an ember.
We crest a hill in the limited light provided by Rafiki's dim headlight only to be blasted by the brights of an oncoming vehicle. Momentarily blinded, I hold Rafiki steady, slowing her down.
“Oh, Fuck, I'm off the road,” I mutter, feeling the texture of the ground beneath Rafiki's tires change.
Carefully, I ease my girl back onto the road.
We pull into the Kaloeni gas station at the crossroads of C107and C111. The sides of the road are lined with dozens and dozens of young men lounging on their piki-piki motorcycles. They smile and laugh. An older attendant fills Rafiki up.
“Where are you going?” he asks.
“Kilifi. Is it that way?”
“Yes, that way is okay.”
“Where are you from?” he asks.
“Very long drive.”
He smiles. The situation – lost in the dark in the Kenyan countryside with all the money I have in the world in cash on my person – could have felt threatening. Instead, there is the warmth of rural hospitality, even in this bustling little center.
Though the gas station provides a bright, glowing orb of electric light. The small wooden storefronts and markets are painted in shadows and dance with the flicker flames of candles. It's as if I've stumbled into a pirate outpost a little too deep in land for it to be of any use to true seafarers.
Back into the dark, I head east, toward the Indian Ocean. In the distance, the light pollution of a city paints the night sky with pale, unappealing colors, yet is a beacon of civilization.
“Perhaps that's Kilif,” I think.
It's not until C107 Ts into B8 near a mighty, gnarly baobab tree, under which a string of motorcycle taxi driver's wait for work, that I recognize where I am. Something about the intersection jogs a memory of passing by the tree and the drivers nearly three months ago.
The tension tying small forget-me-knots in my shoulders lets them come undone.
Distant Relatives, what feels like yet another home away from home, is bustling when I arrive. The team remembers me from New Year's Eve and welcomes me back with open arms.
It's pizza night, which means the expat community has joined the backpackers for a beer and some of the best-priced pizza in the country. Many of those joining the Musafir boat trip are already on the ship, their bedding spread out across the deck.
Unable to shake the fog from the better part of a dozen hours in the saddle, I do my best to charge Dorsey II and prepare for shooting the magnificent Musafir as we set sail for Lamu tomorrow morning.