Day 362: Motorcycle Breaks Down in Kenya, Again


Jesus, Rafiki is a lazy-ass motorcycle. Photo: Isaac Stone Simonelli

IT'S HARD to believe. Truly hard to believe. Yet here I am, on the side of some road in Kenya with a broken motorcycle.

This morning, I wake up before Linda, turning the alarm clock off so it doesn't wake her. She's been struggling to sleep well. Now that she's peacefully asleep in her bed, it doesn't seem right to wake her.

There's a lovely, deep darkness to the room, a coolness that makes the warm covers pulled up across my torso even more comforting.

Last night, Linda wanted to sleep in separate beds. I figured something was wrong, but she assured me that nothing was wrong, she was just tired and wanted a good night's rest.

I knew how that sounded.

But after questioning it, I decided to believe her.

Unable to fall back to sleep despite the night's darkness still having a solid hold on the morning hours, I sit on the edge of the bed and yawn.

Eventually, I rise to my feet and pull on a pair of jeans. Outside, the cool air caresses my bare chest, energizing me as my feet are painted wet with the dew on the grass.

I'm headed down to the lake. I can't get all the way down to the water, as there is an electrical fence between me and it. The fence is there not to keep me away from the shore, but to keep the hippos away from me.

There's only one set of campers, perhaps Chinese, sitting with their backs against a silver car, their feet pushed out toward a low burning fire. The smell of burning wood fills the grassy grounds, rising up into the umbrella branches of the yellow acacia trees.

The bright white light of an overpowered flashlight catches my white body. I ignore it, working my way toward the fence.

There is the sound of mouthfuls of grass being torn up by the roots. Heavy, rapid ripping as a grazing hippo enjoys her early snack.

The fence gate is closed. She can't get in. I sit down in the grass on my side of the fence and listen to hear eating in the darkness, a deep smile welling up inside me.

A security guard approaches to see if I'm okay.

“Yes, just came to look at the hippos,” I say.

He shines the torch straight on the mama, bring her bulbous bulk into view. There are three hippos in the grassy stretch between the fence and the lake. The other two are smaller: her children.

“Thank you very much,” I say to the guard before turning around and walking back to my room.

My German Princess is awake.

“Where did you go?”

“I went to see the hippos.”

I lean down for several kisses before crawling back into my bed.

I check my phone. Linda sent a message: Where are you, my silly boy ?! (.. Without goodbye kisses.. )

Like infatuated high school lovers, we're not supposed to part ways without our lips touching. Not even for the tiniest of things. The one noticeable exception has been when she's been on a video call to her boyfriend. Though it's only happened twice, it seemed like an inappropriate time to insist on a goodbye kiss. Not surprisingly, she hasn't mentioned it.

I get back up to give her a couple more kisses to make up for those she'd missed out on when I left.

It's not much past 7 am when Linda crawls out of her bed naked and into mine. We cuddle beneath the blankets. My arms wrap around her, pulling her warm body against me. There's nothing sexual, just warm bodies with happy, sleepy people inside them.

“We should get up to see the hippos,” she says in a soft voice.

“Agreed.”

Linda spots the hippos first.

It's a bit later in the morning than the last time we were out looking for hippos. The herd has already left the deep muck and water flora for the waters just beyond.

I take the 200mm zoom lens off my camera and switch it with Linda's lens. A beautiful, small smile is my reward.

They are too far off to get a really good shot with Linda's lens. I sit back on a hump of swamp grass and watch Linda cradle the zoom in one hand as she snaps away.

Linda has an excellent eye for photography. Photo: Isaac Stone Simonelli

The birds are out, though even they are quieter now than they were the first morning we came out. Some geese are not honking on and on and on like Hanoi traffic.

“Should we look for another hippo family?” I ask. Yesterday, Linda was talking about trying to find more hippo herds after we found out that they themselves had sectioned off pieces of prime lake real estate.

“Don't you want to get on the road by eight?” Linda asks, knitting her eyebrows as she looks up at me with her big soft eyes.

“Meh, eight or nine will be fine. It will be a quicker drive since I'm headed back alone and don't need to drop you off at your place.”

So we continue on walking the lake's edge, passing a sign in a big field that reads: Beware! Hippos Grazing. Extremely Dangerous!

The undeveloped grassy sections between the electric fences and papyrus plants are less well kept than the campgrounds. There are more acacia thorns littering the ground, which my bare feet are quick to find.

As the morning warms, I take off my hoodie. Linda lifts up her sweater to switch to my lighter hoodie, her small bare breasts catch the warm morning light. She spots a local man deep in the weeds, heading out to fish. She waves to him, unabashed about her nudity.

“Here put this shirt on instead,” I say.

I take off my blue button-down dress shirt and hand it to her. She protests for a moment, but then allows me to slowly button it up for her. She looks like she's straight out of “Risky Business” with the dress shirt hanging low on her body.

Hand in hand, we continue our morning walk until we come to a long wooden bridge stretching out into the water. There are no hippos here, but we walk out to the end anyway. A kingfisher is perched in the branches of one of the dead trees stretching out of the lake.

At the end of the dock, I steal a couple kisses. Photo: Isaac Stone Simonelli

Only last year, Linda's mother saw a kingfisher for the first time and she was delighted by the sighting. I point the bird out so Linda can take a couple photos for her mom.

On the way back, Linda is moving slower and slower, pausing to take a few pictures of superb starlings.

“Are you trying to stall us parting ways?” I ask, pulling her close.

“Maybe,” she says with a smile. “Do you want to have chapati and chai in town?”

“Of course,” I say.

Last night, she'd been excited about the prospect of getting to miss me while knowing that our paths would cross again so soon – she's joining me on a trip to Mpala Research Center with a group of friends after Dice Travels wraps up. Now, however, she doesn't seem so keen on the idea.

There is the usual puddle of oil under Rafiki's belly. Some of the dark liquid has a red tint to it, which means that it's the T2 oil – not a big deal. But the black, dirty oil staining the sand below is a bit more of a concern.

I check the engine oil level. It's fine.

We're good to ride.

Part of me is grateful that there are no giraffes visible from the road as we ride into Naivasha. I need to get on the road back to Nairobi. I'm dropping Rafiki off with Wicky, the mechanic I trust and then picking it up later tonight so I can drive to Kilifi and sell her – wrapping up the final logistical hurdle for Dice Travels.

We drive to the far side of town to where we had breakfast yesterday. The woman recognizes us and starts preparing chapati, mandazi, chai, and eggs.

For a few minutes, we're both buried in our phones. And then, only she is. It's amazing how little time Linda spends on her phone when we are together. There isn't constant messaging, but rather long bursts a couple times a day. Now, however, she's handling some logistics about the cable TV account at a house that she doesn't live in in Germany anymore. I wish she'd put the phone away. She's got a long matatu ride to Edlorad today and not so much time left with me.

After our big Kenyan breakfast, we pop back into the center of town, rolling up the main street, from where she saw the buses leaving.

“Stop here,” a man calls out, as we cruise into the matatu station. I ignore him, pulling into the thick of dirty white vans.

Unlike vultures, the matatu touts don't circle us before rushing in, bombarding us with “my friend”, “come with me”, “where are you going”, “this bus”.

A crowd of them circles us, pressing in close as they shout over each other, all eager to make a few extra bob out of a mzungu.

“You don't have to grab me,” Linda says to one of the men, pull her her hand away.

I didn't see what happened, but I presume he'd just tried to pull her toward one van or another. There's the sharpness in her voice of someone who is not happy or comfortable with the situation.

“Get the fuck out of the way. Come on get out of the way,” I hiss at the crowd, taking her hand and pressing through the circle. I leave the keys in Rafiki in the engine as we head toward a bus that says it's headed toward Nakuru, where she'll change matatu for Eldoret.

“Don't be like that,” someone calls out in protest.

I don't care what they think about how I'm acting. They've crossed a line with Linda, which is crossing a line with me. Plus, part of me, believes that she'll find the mini-outburst attractive, something I wouldn't want to miss out on.

Once I've kissed Linda goodbye and she's safely in a matatu, I head back to Rafiki hoping that nobody decided to go through the bags.

Everything looks in good order.

“Just talk to them,” someone is saying to the side of my face as I put on my helmet. I can feel that a few of the men are angry with how I treated them, but there's no point in confronting the situation.

I kick Rafiki to life. She gives a two-stroke roar before we take off.

It's distracting to come to terms with how many of my thoughts revolve around Linda, coming back to her again and again as Rafiki and I fly down the open road through open pastures, goats, and sheep.

I'd hoped to go to Hell's Gate for a bicycle ride or even hike into Longonot while up here. Instead, the days were spent with a laptop and Linda and hippos. Over and over again I found myself thankful that the dice sent us up to this hippo paradise.

Before making the steep slope out of the Rift Valley, which stretches from the Red Sea to Mozambique, Rafiki does something strange. At first, I can't put my finger on what it is, but something is not right.

I pull the clutch and try to downshift.

I can't.

There's a strange sound.

We're stuck in fifth gear.

If I'm forced to a stop, there's no chance of getting Rafiki rolling again.

I stomp on the gear peddle.

It moves up.

It moves down.

But it doesn't make a lick of difference.

I play the clutch as we pass through a small town, letting Rafiki's engine rev as we poke forward behind a huge semi-truck. It gets worse as we try to climb out of the valley in fifth gear.

The steep, winding road snakes up. Lorries grind forward. I make several dangerous passes on blind corners to keep my speed, because losing speed means losing all mobility. We gain some speed, but are again forced to a near stop as it becomes impossible to pass a string of lorries.

Rafiki and I crest the valley. By the time I've managed to navigate to Mombasa Road, Rafiki is in a bad way. Her engine roars as if she's in neutral. Her power is slipping.

“Please, let's just make it back to Nairobi. Let's make it back to this mechanic and get you sorted out sweetheart,” I silently pray.

We gain speed rolling down a long hill. Though Rafiki sounds like she's doing the work, I'm sure it's all gravity. My fears are confirmed as we start rolling up the other side: we roll to a stop on the side of the road.

There's nearly no battery left on my phone.

I message Lovince. He responds at first, but then falls quiet as my phone battery quickly drains ticking down like a time bomb in an action flick.

I'm giving Lovince live updates: three percent, two percent, one percent.

“Please communicate something,” I write into the online void.

Two men on a Chinese motorbike, driving the wrong way down the road, pull over to see if I need help. I tell them that I'd already messaged my mechanic. As they drive away, the passenger yells: marijuana. A spliff hangs between his fingers.

Rafiki and I are edged up against a metal rail, alongside a thicket of tall grass.

I look up from my phone, a pickup truck with its hazard lights flashing stops a few meters up the road.

I walk Rafiki up to the pickup, pretty sure the man has stopped to help.

“Can I help you?” he asks, as he exits the passenger side of the truck.

“I think you might be able to.”

“I'm Joseph,” the man says, shaking my hand. “I saw you and had a feeling inside that maybe you needed help. I turned around.”

Joseph is right, I did need help.

Big, elaborate stickers on the back window of the truck read: With Christ All Things Are Possible.

“I thank god. Now you have a friend in Kenya,” he says.

There's a message from Lovince. He's trying to organize a car for me.

“Thank you, but don't worry about it, bro. Someone is giving me a lift,” I write back.

With a little difficulty, we get Rafiki up into the back of the truck and mostly secured, while my bags are put inside the cab.

“That's my uncle,” Joseph says, pointing to a small lorry as it passes us

“Really?”

“Yes, he drives that truck.”

For a moment, it looks like we might be locked out of the truck, but we aren't.

“Where do you go?” Joseph asks.

I do my best to explain. He kind of gets it, but isn't so sure.

“You can drive?” Joseph asks me, offering his keys.

“No, I think it's better for you to drive.”

“Okay. I thank God that we now know each other,” Joseph says.

A couple kilometers of small talk down the road, we spot Joseph's Uncle's lorry on the shoulder of the road. It has a flat.

He climbs in, taking the wheel for Joseph, who really doesn't seem to like to drive, despite having a beautiful new truck.

With a bit of difficulty and heavy traffic on Ngong Road, we make it to Wicky's shop on the outskirts of Kibera.

“I've never been so close to Kibera,” Joseph tells me as we back the truck into the shop.

Wicky doesn't greet me as we unload the bike. His face looks a bit ruddier to me. So much so that I'm not even sure it's him.

However, whoever it is, gets to work on Rafiki.

I profusely thank Joseph and his uncle for the lift. They refuse to take any money for the lift, writing it off as God's will.

“Now, if we ever need your help, we know you will be there for us,” Joseph says before the drive off.

Wicky confirms that the gears aren't engaging. He's going to have to take the whole engine apart and see what's wrong.

“Some guys,” he mutters to himself with regards to the shitty work done on poor Rafiki.

“Thank you so much. Just let me know when you know,” I say.

With big saddlebags slung over my shoulder, I begin walking along the outer rim of the Kibera Slum toward Lovince's house. Liz should be home.

Sweat is pouring down my face as I move in the bright sunlight. Surprisingly, no taxi driver offers me a ride. Though I'm completely comfortable, there must be something written on my face to keep them from even asking. Not often does one see a heavily clad mzungu stomping through this part of town with big bags slung awkwardly over his shoulder.

After a desperately needed shower, Liz and I settle into our spot on the balcony, falling into our usual flow of conversation. She's recently back from the US with plenty of stories and life logistics to share.

By 6:30p, my confidence that I'll be getting Rafiki back tonight wanes.

There is a sick, sinking feeling in my stomach as my imagination starts playing out all sorts of unfortunate scenarios: Maybe I was wrong in trusting the mechanic. Maybe he's stolen the bike. Maybe he's started pulling parts off of it to resell them.

I doubt it.

I doubt that there's anything wrong at all – outside of what's wrong with Rafiki. However, it's been two hours since he's communicated anything to me.

The last message I received read: Am Checking The Mistake.

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The Proposition

THE premise is simple: Allow die roles to determine the majority of decisions faced while motorbiking throughout the world with a limited budget for an entire year.      It’s 365 days of tempting fate, enticing serendipity and letting go of free will – if such things exist at all.

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