Sunday, December 3, 2017

Gilgil, Kenya to Nairobi, Kenya: Winding Down Now

Much to our surprise and delight, breakfast was included with the room in Gilgil. Much to our dismay, it was not a buffet. This is, of course, an understandable way for hotels to save money, especially when serving cycling tourists. We were served two cups of coffee or tea to order, a small omelet, two pieces of toast with jam (actual jam!), and a single piece of sausage. Jacob scarfed his down in just a few minutes; being I wasn't feeling sick (for once) I took just a little longer. Out of curiosity we asked for seconds and were told the price would be 450 KSH each – about $4.50 – which, even by American standards, is arguably bit much for packet coffee, toast, two eggs, and a single piece of sausage. The morning before we had both had 4 eggs, hot chocolate milk, and plenty of bread for 330 KSH combined – about $3. The contrast was ridiculous.

In any case, we continued on. That morning continued the zebra sightings that had begun the day before. We must have seen 50 by the end of the day, many quite close to the road, not even fenced in. We wondered how, or if, they were managed: were they wild? Raised for meat (a sad thought, but a definite possibility in Africa)? Who knows...

We stopped for lunch and were pleasantly surprised by the personality of the waitress. She was quite kind and bubbly, spoke very good English, and even seemed to understand it. She went through the menu with us, made some recommendations, and we only had to ask once when we wanted more. After we got our food she came and sat with us and told us about her life and how she wanted to move to America. We told her she could probably get a job as a waitress or help, but that she would probably have to pay for health insurance, so Europe might be better. There are many great things about America, but many not-so-great things... she seemed a little dismayed, but was still quite kind. It was a nice break from the usual dining experience we have: not really knowing what we're getting, not being able to communicate what we want or that we want more, not understanding why it costs what it costs...

After lunch I noticed my front tire was bulging out of the boot I'd put on a few weeks earlier, so I decided to put on my spare tire. Schwalbe will apparently send you a new tire if your sidewall goes, so that will hopefully be waiting for me in Minneapolis. But of course, who says the new tire won't have the same problem? Time will tell...

As I changed the tire, some kids stood by and watched. I've taken to just staring back at people. I can't really think of anything else to do, unless I have the energy to engage and talk to them -- which, given that hundreds of people try and get my attention a day, I usually don't. Suddenly one of about 11 walked by, tapped the tire I was working on as if he owned it ,and continued walking to the porch of the store next door. I looked up at him with a blank expression and shook my head. He smiled huge and raised his eyebrows incessantly, over and over again, nonstop. This is very common in Africa: though I think it's just how people say "hi," I can't see it any other way than a cocky fratboy trying to assert himself. I continued shaking my head with an empty expression, and he continued smiling and cocking his eyebrows like a broken robot.

Sometimes when people do this I just want to say, "Hey. Something's wrong with your face." But I don't. I just went back to working on the tire.

Just as I was finishing up, it started to rain. We made it to the next city, at the base of our climb out of the Rift Valley, and it started to pour. And so we climbed out of the Rift Valley, up a narrow, busy road, in the pouring rain. It was quite nice, actually. Rain, for whatever reason, makes it easier to focus – maybe because there is more to focus on. Up we went, being quite defensive so we didn't get run over by all the trucks and buses. The buses are the worst, by the way – they rarely give more than 2 feet, and some of their axles are misaligned, so they drive crooked. As they pass you, they get closer, and closer... (some of the trucks just cut you off).

After the climb the rain let up, and we made it into a small town that I'm not even sure I would call a town, it was more like a square. Around the outside were buildings, and around the inside were slum shacks. The only bar offered accommodation, 500 KSH (about $5) for a one bed room, but with enough space for two bikes and someone to sleep on the floor. The bathroom didn't have a door, but Jacob and I were well past that by now. For dinner we walked around the square and settled on a vendor selling sausage, potatoes, and ground beef samosas off his grill – we tried a bit at first, then brought more back to the room, then went out and got more, and some Kenya Cane (a hard liquor made, I guess, from sugar cane) to celebrate our last night cycle touring together.

All told, it was $3 of food, and $3.50 for a quarter of Kenya Cane. I had two bites of sausage, but decided it maybe wasn't the best idea to have more than that, so ate mostly samosas and potatoes. Jacob had a lot of sausage. It was very rich. He would pay for that over the next few days. Okay, we both would – we share bathrooms.

The room amenities - a bar of soap and some toilet paper.

Wait -- did I say "our last night cycle touring together?"

Indeed. It was one more day to Nairobi, and I'd decided I needed to return home. I used the SIM we shared to buy a plane ticket, making it official. If you've been reading along, you know I've been physically sick, and that has made me homesick. To be honest, though, I think it's been coming for a while, and the past few days had just been the impetus. When riding through Turkey, before I even left for Africa, I thought hard about going home – but Africa would be different, I told myself. Maybe I'd feel differently. Maybe I'd want to continue on. I should just try Africa for a bit.

I did. I'm glad I did. I enjoyed many things about Africa. But I've been away from home for almost 8 months now. I'm not able to enjoy cycle touring anymore because my head and heart are yearning so much for home.

I will make an official post when I get home about what's to happen with postcards. I plan to send a round from either Nairobi or Minneapolis, and then again from Istanbul in March. Yes, I will still visit Ogulcan in Istanbul in March, as planned. Whether I will continue the tour again from there to India, I cannot say. My gut is “no,” that I'm ready to be home for a long, long time. But maybe being home will inspire me to continue again. I just don't know right now. Whatever I do, I plan to continue to live out the ideals embodied in my “what” and “why --” in short, prioritizing experiences over possessions, choosing to spend money on travel instead of a car and a big screen TV. Those things have not changed.

In any case, the next morning we got up and continued to Nairobi. I got a flat tire – a nail – a grand send-off for my last day of riding, but that being the only real tribulation (aside from biking through a dense, hilly city), we eventually made to the Yaya mall, where the only “modern” bike shop in Nairobi was. Jacob's pedals were loose, after only 10,000 miles; his seatpost had broken a number of times in a number of places; he was out of spare tubes, and he wanted to see if they had tire sealant – which no doubt would have made the nail in my tire a non-event, not to mention the many thorns we'd had over the past few weeks.

Malls tend to cater to... people who don't want to eat ugali fry, shall we say, so we also found pizza and ice cream. It was glorious. So, so glorious.

We paid for it, of course – $10 per pizza and $5 for a bowl of ice cream – but it was worth it. My stomach was happy. Yes, I ate a whole pizza and my stomach was happy. Something familiar, it said.

Then we tried to visit immigration, but they were closed. “Come back on Monday,” they said. Just our luck – we had tried to visit immigration in Eldoret, a few days earlier, but they had also been closed. All we want to do is be legal tourists! And give them our money! Why do they make it so difficult!? (I hear being a legal visitor to the US is even more difficult. I'm sympathetic)

So, off we went, towards Jacob's friends just outside of town. Charles and Darlene run a boarding school to get kids off the streets. Talking to them about their mission and the effects they've seen has been immensely interesting – basically they take kids in around 13, many of whom have been involving in drugs and theft and just getting by day-to-day, and teach them English and math and skills for getting a job. By they time they are 18 they are ready to go out into the world, and many land stable jobs and are doing quite well. Their website is here if you want to learn more.

When we first arrived in their home we could smell chocolate cake. It was the best smell. After a shower and putting our laundry in a real laundry machine (!!!), we sat down, were passed a piece of warm cake and coffee, and told, “Welcome to civilization.”

It was a really, really happy moment.

After cake we were walked to where we'd be staying, in the second floor of the water tower on the boys' campus. We met some of the boys – all spoke good English (“except 'yes' in Swahili is a negative response to a negative question,” said Charles, “unlike in the US”) and they spoke loud enough we could hear them, not all that common in Africa. The water tower had two beds; running water, including a hot shower; and wifi. We could eat with the boys, we were told, or we could go back to Charles and Darlene's for tilapia and vegetables – which didn't mean “boiled kale.”

Heaven, again, awaited us. I don't think I'd ever been happier to see broccoli, or sweet peas, or carrots, or green beans. The tilapia was good too, of course, but... having been sick of boiled kale for two weeks, I hadn't had many vegetables.

We slept very, very well that night. And we slept in. For once I didn't feel like I had to get up to go somewhere: to get out of a hotel room by check-out or before breakfast stopped being served, to make a certain number of miles, to appease a host. For once I could just lie in bed in the morning and... not worry about anything.

Like whether breakfast will make me want to vomit.
I have come to appreciate so much the small things in life. Food my stomach doesn't want to vomit up. Vegetables. Freaking broccoli. Ice cream. Sleep -- in a bed, not behind a bar, without an alarm (of the sun, a schedule, or otherwise). Electricity. Running water. A toilet with a seat. A toilet that works. A bathroom with a door. Water that doesn't make you feel sick. Tap water that doesn't make you feel sick. The list goes on. Really, I should make an entire post about things I appreciate more now. I probably will. But I'm going to watch a movie... something else I missed being able to do.

Finally, I can rest.


  1. You've experienced and learned and grown so much. What a whirlwind and cacophony of experiences to take in and process. I will be interested in seeing how your reflections on Africa and the Ethiopian and Kenyan people evolve over time, if they do. The boy certainly seemed cocky.. what is his life like to make him that way and how is it that that is that acceptable there? You have braved and experienced so much that few people ever do. Your courage is amazing. Despite that, I am so deeply happy that you are coming home. I am glad that your ideals have not changed. I so respect your courage and strength to be yourself in a culture that makes that very difficult. Love you and can't wait to see you, Mom

  2. Welcome home Kylassie!!!!! Can't wait to have you stay with us.