I’m lying on sacks and sacks of lemons on my way back to Mbita mainland. The heavily loaded boat is rocking me gently. I hear the waves slapping on its wooden frame as I close my eyes hoping to drift away. The breeze on my face, cool with a hint of water droplets take me back to the sweaty Island ride we just finished. My first ride on Mfangano Island, or any island for that matter.
Like any other morning in the past week, I woke up today with adventure in my mind. The day’s agenda: To explore Mfangano Island on bikes with my guide, Mulwa MC. Mr. Mulwa, or better yet let’s call him MC, was very much eager and ready to show me the pleasures of a mountain biking ride in this side of our beautiful country. An ardent cyclist who has ridden from Mbita to Nairobi and back recently, MC’s passion for cycling and life in general openly shows when you meet him.
I first heard of him when he did a charity ride from Mbita to Nairobi, #IStandWithDickens Ride, last year to raise funds for the surgery of a young boy (Dickens) in the Mbita village. Three days of sweat….and pain…and heat….and torrents of rain saw him and two other cyclists pedal 500km for this cause. Needless to say, they achieved their goal and by the time of our Lakeside Tour, he was following up on the boy’s medication.
Anyway, we recently got in touch and talked about the possibility of a ride together. And so it came to pass that on the sixth day of the fourth month of the year of our Lord 2016, I woke up in his house in Mbita ready for my island tour!
Bike or Life?
From Mbita to Mfangano Island is approximately a two hour boat ride on the crisp blue Lake Victoria waters. Having grown up on the Kisumu side where the lake’s waters are more brown than blue, I did not expect such a spectacular view. Our bikes were safely loaded on the humble vessel alongside crates of bread, milk and all kinds of food being ferried to Mfangano, Rigiti and several other islands on the Kenyan side of the lake.
As the engine kicked to life and its buzz took over the silence all around, I started wishing I had carried a novel for the boat ride because let’s be honest, just sitting on your bum and staring at fellow passengers is not exactly a favorable pastime activity. But then, I would have not only missed out on the vistas of the majestic Gwasi Hills towering over the lake and its small islands, but also the interesting conversations aboard! I would most probably not have had the chance to be indulged in the lake stories by the turn-boy, Omondi.
Omondi talked of capsized boats he has heard of (not the best of topics at this moment though) and how to avert such situations. Clearly,he has not been a victim given his expertise working alongside his brother. When the worst comes to the worst, the cargo must go. The motorbikes, bicycles, sacks, crates or whatsoever is deemed extra weight is thrown overboard.
“What about the owners of the said cargo?” I asked. “Don’t they protest?”
To which he calmly explains to me that sometimes it is the same owners who willingly suggest their items be thrown first. At the face of death, all earthly belongings are worth nothing compared to one’s life.
Subconsciously, I turned around to look at my bike lying next to MC’s. Would I want my beloved Trek thrown overboard at the face of a storm? I don’t know. Let’s not even go there! Besides, the weather looked promising on this day and so our sail was smooth.
Two hours later, our tyres touched the sand on Mfangano Island. A 50km loop around the island awaited. The heat was growing as the day wore on. We needed enough water to last the ride as MC warned that there are very few shops along the way. The island is relatively remote and the locals primarily rely on fishing to fend for their needs. Very few other businesses thrive here including farming.
We finally hit the road with as much water as we could carry. Cycling out of the main shopping center, the traffic (mostly boda boda motorbikes) thinned out gradually to a point where it was just the two of us weaving our way around this rock. It was getting hotter by the minute but the lake’s breeze kept us cool, at least whenever we were closest to it.
On several occasions the path would disappear into thick bushlands on steep climbs or rocky descents and we would not catch a glimpse of the lake. But whenever we regained the view, it was always glorious. Standing a few hundred meters over the blue carpet of calm waters; nothing else in sight…it was a breathtaking moment. I may have overused my best adjectives on this day describing what I felt and saw all through.
Then at point 30km, we stopped to have a soda and a bite. Turns out this is MC’s favorite snacking point whenever he goes round the island. Fortunately (or unfortunately, I’m still not sure), it comes up right after a very steep downhill with pebbles on the tracks. So I leaned back and pushed the Trek further forward to be more stable for the downhill thrill. Then I let go of my brakes. Set the bike loose to rattle its way down.
The Chameleon and The Motorbike
Every cyclist will tell you that a speedy downhill is VERY sensational. It tickles your senses, makes you want to whoop and scream your heart out. I’m no different. I feel it too, just as much as the next cyclist. I ululate going downhill. I yell out into nothingness with my butt raised off the saddle and my eyes focused straight ahead. It is always my happiest moment…well, until a motorbike or chameleon appears on my path!!
In the midst of my sensational “sirens”, I spotted a chameleon just meters ahead…and then a motorbike. The slow animal was crossing the road while the motorbike guy had lazily and carelessly parked his bike on the road, at the turn of a sharp bend!
To crush the chameleon and miss the motorbike or to miss the chameleon and ram into the motorbike…such were my choices. At least that’s what I thought because I did not want to lose the sweet feel of speed!
In the end however, I chose to save us all somehow. But I’m not sure MC spared the chameleon because when he came down after me, pissed off by the carelessness of the motorbike guy and I asked him about the poor animal, he answered me wide-eyed: “What Chameleon? The musician?”
The Spectacular Peace
We downed our sodas next to the fishing boats with the fishermen tending to their nets. Their hands, swift and accurate, mended the knots in readiness for the night’s hunt for Omena. I watched keenly from a small rock on the shallow edges of the lake, waves spraying cooling droplets on my legs and face. I sat their silently, my thoughts wandering farther, beyond the endless stretch of the lake before me, thinking of nothing in particular and everything all at once. In that moment, I felt peace. Our tyres dipped in the cool water, even the bikes must have enjoyed the spectacle.
And now that I head back to mainland, I hold in me memories that will linger forever. MC’s seat post may have broken on our final stretch of the ride, but we still had our fun. Another two hours on this boat back to shore. Another two hours of sailing the deep blue waters. Our bikes are safely tucked next to the sacks of lemon and even though the skies look dull, I silently hope I will not be writing about a capsized boat. So I let myself drift away with the setting sun. Wake me up when Gwasi Hills call.