Sunday 12 November 2017

Intrepid Travel Gorillas & Game Parks - Day 16

It was only after I had lain for a while last night enjoying the cosiness of hearing rain on the roof of the tent that I realised I wasn’t actually feeling cosy at all – in fact, I was wet. Someone genuinely helpful had opened a couple of my mesh windows yesterday afternoon to air the tent, and I hadn’t realised that the one with a closed solid blind inside was also open on the outside when I shut the others at dusk. So in the rain came, onto my mattresses, sleeping bag and even the clothes I was wearing inside it since it was a cool night. But it wasn’t a huge deal: two weeks of general discomfort prepared me well. I survived.

The Exodus group had vanished during the night, like those other things that vanish in the night, so even rising at 5.15am to pack up felt like a lie-in. We had our last breakfast – omelettes – and, hooray, my last instant coffee-Milo drink, loaded up and were away by 6.45am as a rainbow signalled a less than sunny morning ahead.
Wet and misty, and also early on Sunday morning, there wasn’t for a while much to see of the roadshow, but gradually the shutters came down, and people appeared on the verge with food to sell – watching the woman clutching three cabbages rushing to our windows and then, when rejected, running along to the next stopped truck made me feel very privileged, despite my whingeing about discomforts on this trip. Men with loaded donkeys walked along by the road – no lead rope needed, they were a team – women piled up their pyramids of potatoes, some men were hacking away at the stumps of a cleared forest, and another man grabbed several chickens that were standing amongst an unsuspecting flock on a grassy bit of verge (that wasn’t going to end well).

Watching the road ahead, I saw several instances of dodgy overtaking – and then, sure enough, passed the recent wreck of a car, stove-in at the front, with people gathered around it. We’ve come across so many dramatic-looking road accidents on this trip (and heard one actually happen right behind us) – at least six in the fortnight, which is exponentially more than I’ve seen anywhere else. Something to consider, people, if you’re tempted to do a self-drive here.

On a guided tour like this one, though, there is little of that sort of responsibility; instead, there’s lots of time to observe and to think. Like, if your job is to watch over a little herd of cows or goats or sheep all day as they graze along road verges and tracks and on bits of apparently common land, what do you think about? All day long? How old are you when you’re first sent to the pump to bring back a jerry-can of water? How old when you can’t do that any more? And what happens to you then? How much skill does it take to pile up a two-metre stack of firewood on the back of your bike? And how much strength to wheel it to where it has to go? How much competition is there amongst the women waiting by the road to sell their fruit and vegetables to passing truckies? How often do those welders and grinders and wielders of machetes have industrial accidents? And how much pure talent is squandered by there being no alternative to spending your life performing these menial tasks?
And then you see something that distracts you: like a bunch of women down in a riverbed busily doing their washing in water that’s opaque orange. Or a young woman dressed to the nines in bright red, picking her way through the mud in her fancy shoes. Or people being scanned for explosives by a security guard before going into a supermarket. Or four men on the back of a motorbike carrying a long metal stake. Or a shop called ‘God Cares Auto Spares’. Or a man ushering a herd of goats along the roadside, a single donkey in the middle of them. Or smiling at the iPod when it suddenly throws up Toto’s ‘Africa’.
Finally, we approached Nairobi again, getting swept up in city traffic, the cars and people both looking much smarter. There were avenues, skyscrapers, traffic lights and, at last, our hotel again and the usual messy dispersal of the group with no ceremony whatsoever.

Upstairs was a spacious room with a bed, a shower, lights, and privacy, all now a welcome novelty. I ventured out to the Stanley Hotel, an important part of Nairobi’s history, especially the railway bit – they paused here to summon up the strength to tackle the Great Rift Valley – and famous for its Thorn Tree Café, of Lonely Planet fame. To be honest, it’s pretty sanitised now, onto its third thorn tree and the travellers’ notes these days pinned to a bulletin board instead of its trunk – not very interesting notes, either. But the coffee was good, and I appreciated the civilised niceties I’ve been without for the last fortnight.

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