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Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Kenya Take 1 - Nairobi, Karen, Karen Camp and onwards to Uganda.

Crossing into Kenya (didn’t The Mock Turtles sing a song about this place? “Kenya Dig it?” or something like that?) we were already against it: On our first day back into Dar-Es-Salaam from Zanzibar, Chris let us know that he’d booked our upcoming gorilla treks (in Uganda) for the 28th September and the 29th September. As it was now Friday 24th Sept the idea was to bomb it through Kenya as quickly as possible to make sure nothing stopped us seeing the gorillas. Our only intended stop-off was in “Karen” (a suburb of Nairobi) where there was a decent-sized “Nakumatt” (Kenya’s answer to Morocco’s Marjane or South Africa’s Shoprite) for us to stock-up on snacks, food for lunch and a few cook group supplies. There were aslo a few ATM’s on the complex grounds and a Western Union right behind too – so we all took the opportunity to get some dough, however...

The Gods were working against us getting to the gorillas on time. Yoichi’s card got swallowed up by one of the ATMs – and this was right at the very end of the afternoon (as the banks were closing) so there was no hope of getting it back that day. Luckily, Karen happened to be the place where we were due our one week layover and Chris (and overlanders in general, it seems) was very familiar with the place and took us to ‘Karen Camp’ which is in fact the place we were due to be staying at (and picking up new passengers from) in a few weeks anyway.

Karen Camp was not too far from the Nakumatt, so we got there within minutes and it was actually quite good to be able to pitch our tents and still have an hour or so of proper sunshine to spare. The campsite was a big spacious one with an ample grassy area complete with trees that weeped sap constantly as noisy crows and playful vervet monkeys watched on. The entire yard doubled up as a truck workyard (there must have been at least five of six different trucks from various overland companies all waiting to be used or in a state of disrepair) and there was a well-stocked bar with plenty of places to chill out in the main building. There was even a proper pool table which Laraldo and I made the most of (I know what you’re thinking, but not in that way).

We all spent the night enjoying a bottle or two of Tusker as we caught up on emails (you could rent a dongle/modem thing from reception and top-up with data packages as necessary) and the next morning Yoichi got up early and took a taxi into town to try and sort out his bank card. Most of the rest of us jumped into the resident mini-bus which took us to the Nakumatt again for about 150 Kenyan Shillings per person. After a short shopping spree (Laraldo and I both needed new earphones) we were back at Karen Camp waiting for the Yoichmeister. Eventually he returned but without a bank card – he was told it would take a couple of weeks! (So we could have carried on to the Ugandan border after all and worried about the card upon our return to Nairobi.)

We all hopped on Ruby again and got out asses in gear so we could make a dash to get as close as we possibly could to the Ugandan border. It was a long drive day, complete with freak rain and hail storms that came out of nowhere, pissed it down and then went away again as rapidly as they came. Chris finally decided to call it a day at about 9/10pm and found us a marshy-looking area (admittedly looking all the more damp thanks to the aforemntioned rains) slightly off the side of the road where we could bush-camp. Lara and Jules put together a quick dinner which we chowed down quickly before hitting the hay (literally in our case – the mossy undergrowth was so thick and spongey where our tent was that our groundsheet became one giant grassy mattress. Pretty comfortable!).

Given that we were still well and truly running out of time to catch up with those Ugandan silverbacks, an early morning start was a must. I think it was about 5.30am or so when we all piled into the back of the truck and got ready for take-off. As Chris reversed Ruby back along the muddy track to the road, the wheels began to spin.

Oh we go.

Off we jumped and out came the mudmats and shovels. Cue the digging, deliberating, pushing and generally everybody pretending they knew what they were doing. Twenty minutes later and with everybody a little bit muddier, the first rays of sunlight were beginning to were the first rays of hope for moving on.

Chris gave Ruby a decent rev and at first we thought it was sure to get her out of the fix she was in, but then, the plot thickened. The driveshaft broke. I have know idea what one of these is either, but it was big, heavy, apparently important and gave off a decent display of sparks as it broke. Balls! (On that note, what do you call a dog with metal balls and no back legs? Sparky.)

Didn’t I tell you the Gods were against us? First Yoichi’s bank card, then this!

Yep - that's a broken driveshaft on the floor. (Homeless's leg on the left bares testament to why you shouldn't itch mozzy bites.)

Chris (foreground) & Matt getting right in there underneath Ruby's belly.

There wasn’t really much we could do about this because, as luck would have it, Norm had taken off most spares off Ruby before he left for his one month holiday at home in Oz. We accepted defeat and got the kettle on, the stools out and made ourselves at home under a little thatched roof that the local farmers use when it rains. After a bit of unsuccessful tinkering and a few of us gathering up some gravel (from the road) to put under the tyres (for traction when it eventually came time to try and leave again) Chris resolved to call the workshop and get one of his colleagues to bring a spare driveshaft up from the Af Trails workshop in Arusha (Tanzania) and help fix the problem.

We made ourselves at home under a thatched roof the locals used.
We accpeted defeat and put the kettle on.

As everybody settled into their brew, I saw fit to play Stealer’s Wheel’s “Stuck in the middle with you” (the song made famous by that brutal scene with the tortured cop in Reservoir Dogs). The song is now a highlight on my iPod’s infamous “Stuck” playlist (alongside “All i need is a miracle” by Mike & The Mechanics, “Don’t worry, be happy” by Bobby McFerrin and The Beatles’ “Help!”).

Whilst this put a smile on most people’s faces, Ronaldo was not too happy: he’d just become the 5th victim of the now notorious but still at large, truck thief. He’d had $400 dollars taken from a zip-loc sandwich bag in one of the pockets of his day-pack. I’m sure you’ve already read about Lara’s money going missing in Zanzibar, then Matt, Kerry and Sonya’s at Snake Park, just before the Serengeti. Now this. A running total of over $1,000 had so far gone missing. Needless to say, everybody was shocked, angry and somewhat disappointed – we’re all travellers on a budget. We all worked our asses off to get the money up to pay for this trip. Now somebody has the nerve to do this?

It was the last straw for all of us – something had to be done so we encouraged Chris to do an entire truck search of everybody’s individual lockers and backpacks. Chris wanted to do a cavity search but we said this wasn’t needed (joke). So as the African sun – now high overhead – beat down on us, we waited patiently but with suspicious glances being fired off left, right and centre (nobody was immune from suspicion, yet nobody was yet guilty as there was still no evidence). One-by-one we were called to enter the truck and take Chris (who by the way, had got up that day with a bad cold) through our belongings in our locker. The process was painstaking but necessary and although none of us held out much hope for finding the money, we did think it would be enough put the frighteners up whoever the thief was (if this didn’t help, we all openly gave our opinions of what life would be like inside a Kenyan prison, focussing mainly on shower routines). Needless to say, the whole time we moped about outside the truck, locals gathered around begging for food and handouts, seemingly oblivious or indifferent to our plight. Berbs and I passed the time practising some slingshot action on a milk carton with a few local old boys who were amused by the whole thing.

The local kids liked having their photo taken. Kimbo didn't.

Locals gathered around begging, seemingly indifferent to our plight.

The kids were so happy when I gave them a pack of biscuits to share. I gave them to the smallest, quietest kid but within seconds the big guys had crowded around to ensure the spoils were divided equally.

This lad was more interested in Kimbo than the biscuits. "Me, I don't want food. I want white husband (sic)." (I think he meant 'wife'.)
As expected, nothing showed up in the inspection and as the last person finished taking Chris through their stuff, the heaven’s opened again and we all piled into the back once more. Realising that the spare driveshaft may still take some time to reach us, Chris came up with the contingency plan of getting us to “Adrift” ( a campsite in Jinja, Uganda) by mini-bus and he’d catch us up with Ruby when she was eventually fixed.

Hiding from the rain. CW from L: Berbs, Gab, Yoichi, Pat, Homeless, Kimbo, Kezza & Matt

These two wee scrotes joined us getting shelter from the rain in the back of Ruby.

We were in the back of Ruby for about an hour before our transport arrived and we all braved the downpour and traded the back of Ruby for the back of a mini-bus (Homeless, the ever-faithful truck’s apprentice, stayed behind to help and keep Chris company). The rain continued for the entire journey to the Ugandan border and to add to the spectacle, we were treated to an impressive African electrical storm. As the thunder rolled on and the lightning flashes made cobwebs across the sky over the hills in the distance, we all had time to think about the last few days...

It had been a baptism of fire for Chris – he’d taken us on as substitute driver for a month whilst Mark was away. From the moment he picked us up in Dar-Es-Salaam (after Zanzibar) he was treated to the news of the theft of a couple of hundred dollars from Lara’s bag. Then Gab came down with malaria. Then at Snake Park (just prior to the Serengeti) there were more thefts: Sonya had 100 Euros taken from her bag and Matt and Kerry had about $400 taken from the their money stash which had been locked up in ‘the security’ of the onboard safes. Now Ronald had $400 disappear, Ruby’s driveshaft was broken, Chris had a cold...and to make matters worse, it was pissing it down.

"There's more...thing..."
Going into Uganda, there was a feeling of discomfort and unease amongst us. We were supposed to be excited about the gorillas and our two week sojourn in Uganda, but none of us could relax knowing that a criminal still lurked amongst us taking advantage of the trust shared amongst such a tight-knit family of backpackers. In a sick way, it added another element of excitement to the trip. As scenarios from Cluedo and scenes from Gosford Park sprung to mind, I have no doubt that everybody started to secretly crave a mac like Peter Falk’s “Columbo".

Unfortunately, this wasn’t the last we heard from the thief...but you’ll find out more about that later...

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