Finally, I left my house at 9.30 am…after all the investigations and frustrations caused by the disappearance of my shoes. I’m advised by a loyal and trustworthy friend, Bouke, to consider this a pilgrimage of sorts, and just hit the road pedaling on my bare soles…much to my disapproval. You see, much as I had entertained the idea of being a Barefooted Santa, I wasn’t ready to seem madder than what my friends and family had already perceived. So Bouke, thank you very much for your suggestion but I was not going to Mecca, it’s just Mombasa :)!
On my bike at last, and that feeling of “yes! I’m about to do this” spreads all over me. I feel warm inside, scared a bit too but mostly eager to see how the road will treat me. I still couldn’t fathom what may come out of my little crazy adventure but I believed that things would never be the same again after this ride. I could have a terrible experience, you know…accidents, illnesses (a running stomach perhaps) or worse, get eaten up by the man-eater lions of Tsavo (my greatest fear!!). On the flip side, I could end up having the best time of my life, interact with nature, people and places, and most of all, have a cool story to tell, just like this one.
In my years as a cyclist, which are remarkably quite few, I have learnt that a banana is a cyclist’s best friend…both male and female cyclists for that matter. The nutritionists would tell you a single banana contains 422mg of potassium which is a crucial mineral for any profusely active and sweating cyclist…ask me no more, I’m no nutritionist :)! So it would only make sense if i carried a whole bunch of bananas for this 150km ride, right?
That meant passing by the next door fruit vendor to get my juicy dope. I choose to take a freshly blended juice of different fruits, banana included of course, plus a few bananas that I would sparingly and discreetly consume on my way to Kitui. Remember a self-supported cycling tourist has to travel as light as possible lest your bags confer with gravity to pull you back while you are Contador-ing a hill!
Now on the road at last…my positive attitude…check, food and water…check, the power of my mazgwembe (calves)…double check! I’m doing this! I’m cycling to Mombasa just like I had always wished! “You are definitely crazy…oh yes, you are insane” my subconscious whispers in the background. To shut him up, I break into a soft song…
“I did it all, I did it all…
I owned ever second that this world could give
I saw so many places and things that I did
Of every broken bone,
I swear I lived…”
This goes on for a while as I navigate through the craziness of Kayole to get to Kangundo Road. You see, Nairobi to Mombasa is only 498km on the main highway, but I was doing 600km instead. Why? Because I wanted to trade the scary sight of long and threatening trucks and trailers for a view of the long stretch of hills…Because I needed to hear the humming of birds, if any, and the whistling trees…and the yelling kids..not the screeching of a million tires fatter than my bicycle’s.
The route less pedaled
So I took the longer route, the route less pedaled (I suppose) and hoped for major rewards. And it didn’t take long before I was wowing at the sights just after Joska, 20 or so kilometers into my ride. I couldn’t help stopping to see the landscape…and read signs of “Plots for Sale” and wondering what bank I had to break to buy me an acre around there. Picturesque dry river beds, thorny trees dancing to the music of the wind and the vastness of the quiet fields was a total relief from the frenzy of city life. I almost jumped into a pool of water at some point for some duf mpararo (skinny dipping) with some kids at this river :).
One hundred and thirty kilometers still to go, I hope back on my bike…half whistling…half singing. I look to the right…and to the left, and on both sides I see the distant blue hills…static but beautiful. I feel the wind on my skin cooling the heat of the Ukambani sun (or maybe suns). A drop of sweat trickles down my brow and as I lift my hand to wipe it, I glare at the road ahead. The long winding black snake with its yellow and white lines stretches out far into the horizon. No cars in sight! Just my bike ruling the road for at least 5km before the occasional vroom. I feel satisfied with the route I chose, I feel like I can pedal forever on this road…under these circumstances and never get tired or bored…I feel alive!
The Place To Be…
I kept pedaling, hands resting easy on the handlebars and my thighs and lower legs working the pedals. My eyes kept darting from the road, to the people, to the scenery while also looking for crazy signs. I spotted a special pub just before I got into Tala called “What Else Pub”, and I vowed to come back for a drink there…and whatever else they have :). Anyone with me?
All this time I had been cycling, I swear I hadn’t spotted heaps of trash or plastic bottles lying aimlessly by the road side. Maybe I was more concerned about the road and the scenery and the thought of my adventure…but not long after, I came across a lady, wearing coveralls written “Machakos County, The Place To Be”, picking all pieces of trash by the roadside! All hail the Governor of Machakos County for such a noble initiative!! Though, I still believe all of us, particularly travelers, should embrace a culture of cleanliness and a sense of responsibility for our surrounding.
Kitwii or Kitui
Leaving the lady behind to tend to her “stately” duties, I steered my thoughts back to the ride. I remembered being told that Kangundo is hilly and as I approached it, I came to terms with that reality. But I consoled myself that after Kangundo, there shouldn’t be any more hills to Kitui (how misinformed I was!). The climb to Kangundo was my first tough one but rewarding too as the scenery just became more appealing. Green plantations on the side of the road, tall trees and the cooler breeze were more welcoming as I got to the junction of Kangundo and Machakos.
I chose not to consult my google maps app and instead ask a local for an estimated distance from Kangundo to Kitui…after all, the locals know best, right? The guy I stopped was first mesmerized by the fact that I cycled from Nairobi to Kangundo (that was before I told him my intended destination) and when I asked about Kitui he was like “Kitwii or Kitui?”. Both words sound the same and somehow the former (simply a market place) is considered the smaller version of Kitui.
A very long and partly confusing description of the ups and downs of the route I had to follow to my destination, 100km away is all I got from him. Back on my bike again, through Kangundo town and onto a nice dirt road past Kitwii (or Katwii) to Mwala. The sights are just amaaazing…the road feels too smooth for a dirt road, and it’s mostly downhill! YES…you can imagine I was cruising past the villages and herds of livestock…past quiet shopping centers where wazees (old men) sat under trees discussing the law of the land (i guess)…past young children playing around and past the renowned (well, not exactly..) Mango Academy which only served to remind me of my bottle of juicy dope!