Saturday morning started just as planned with Mike waking up at 5am to catch the common transport they had arranged to the base camp at the foot of Mt Kenya. The previous day he had gone to the tour office to pick up his hiking gear, and met some few other hikers who were all excited about the trip. They were considering their transportation options and Mike found himself enjoined with them as he was on the same mission. There was an option to hire a vehicle from the tour company with a guide and another of getting their own way to the base camp from where the actual mountain climbing would start.
One of the hikers suggested the second option by use of a common car. He said he had a spacious van that could accommodate the five hikers comfortably and was willing to offer it if the rest would share the fuel. That sounded good and simple mathematics helped conclude that the option was way cheaper than hiring the tour company vehicle with a guide. There was a unanimous decision on the use of the common transport and everyone seemed happy. They had agreed to meet at the office block car park at 6am the following morning.
Soon after Mike had left for home, he had this strange feeling like he had made a rash decision. It was like he’d have needed more time to consider the transport options or even get to know the people he’d committed to travel with a little. He realized he’d not even gotten to know their names, but just brushed the thought away. He reasoned that they all could not be wrong, after all the tour company told them a lot of people do that. With that, he went home and decided to sleep early as he had a long day the following day. Somehow he’d managed to avoid the discussion on the plans for the trip with his family especially the elder son who was characteristically curios of every of his father’s action. He was at a stage where every sentence started with why and was followed with another why after the answer.
Come Saturday morning and he woke up with the same strange feeling like the shared transport was not the best decision, but again he brushed it off. The anticipation for the hike ahead and the expectation to behold the peak view he’d only seen in a distance made all other feelings insignificant. Freshening up and a hot cup of tea he was out of his house by 5:30. He’d pick his ride with Jose, the neighborhood taxi man just outside his house and was at the rendezvous just 5 minutes before the meeting time.
With everybody seeming rather excited about the trip, it only took at most ten minutes for all to arrive at the meeting point. The last one was the van owner and as he drove into the parking lot, there was a sudden silence for a couple of seconds and then broken suddenly by one in the party that looked in his mid thirties, “I sure hope this is not the van”. That seemed to have been the thought in everyone’s mind for as soon as the driver came to view, everyone burst out laughing, and almost in unison exclaimed “It is the one”.
Incidentally, as the discussion on transport took place the previous day, no one had bothered to ask the van owner about the van, to know the specs. They had all made their decision on his word that it was very suited for the trip. In the minds of most of them, it was a modern comfy vehicle. What they were seeing before them was a 1979 VW kombi, spacious yes, but comfy, not so sure. It came in with that characteristic VW rattling sound that announced it’s approach some couple of meters away.
When the driver parked just next to where the rest were waiting, he walked towards the rest with a broad smile and a morning greeting, “Hey guys, here we are.” . He first got to Mike who extending his hand introducing himself , “Hi, my name is Mike – good to see you this morning.” “My name is Deno aka Bully”. Mike had thought it’d be good to at least start knowing each others’ names. He could guess why Deno was also known as ‘Bully’ – he was big and looked like he’d bulldoze his way to anything.
As he moved to greet the rest, a pattern for introductions had been established and all said their names as Deno shook their hands. Besides Deno and Mike, there was Kioko, Tito and Msumba.
While they loaded their stuff at the space behind the rear seat of the van, Deno demonstrated the complete opposite character to his appearance and his other name, Bully. He literally picked everyone’s luggage and loaded it in proper arrangement. He then proceeded to invite the rest to his car asking them not to mind the age with a joke, “old is gold, you know”. As they entered the car, there was some more silence – it was evident that all were expecting a run-down interior, but to everyone’s surprise, the vehicle was very well kept. It was comfortable and neat. The smoothness of the drive or lack thereof was still however to be experienced.
Being early in the morning, the drive through the Nairobi CBD was quick, a complete contrast from the daytime characteristic traffic jam. All was quiet in the car until they got to Muthaiga when Tito broke the silence with a compliment to Deno, “A nice car you have here Deno.”. “Thank you, it’s my baby, I call her supuu.” Deno responded with an obvious sense of pride. “I rehabilitated it last year from a friend’s junk. It still has its issues, but so far so good”. Msumba and Kioko soon joined in the conversation about the car that soon advanced to their passion for cars.
All the while, Mike had not spoken a word and had felt a little alone as he sat on the back seat. Tito had sat on the passenger seat next to the driver while Kioko and Msuba sat in the seat immediately behind the driver. Mike had somehow been lost in his own thoughts when he noticed them take a turn off Thika road at Keno. So far he’d assumed that Deno knew the route well, but when the turn happened he thought it best to ascertain. “Are you sure we were to turn off there, Deno?” Instead of Deno replying it was Tito who quipped, “I think so, at least that is what it shows in the map.” That is when Mike realized that Tito had assumed the role of a co-driver and was using a copy of the map, each received from the tour company, to advice Deno on where to turn. He had forgotten all about his when they had decided to go as a group. He simply said, “Oh, ok” and sought to retrieve his own from his bag. He had this feeling that they should not have taken the turn, but then, who was he to question the map?
As he sank back to his seat, he started looking at the map now in his hands to at least understand where they were. By this time it was around 7:30 am and the sun was already rising in the horizon. The yellow light shone quite well into the car and enabled him to look at the map clearly. After a careful check he realized what could have happened with Tito. It was true that the turning would still lead to Nyeri and eventually the base camp of Mt Kenya, but it was much longer than the more direct one through Sagana. In addition the route they had chosen would take them through the hilly terrain, the slopes of Aberdare ridges are made of which was to make the drive even longer. He decided to against his urges keep quiet and hope for the best.
After the conversation on cars had died down, Deno had put on the car radio, an obvious addition to the vehicle and set it to a popular FM station. There was a morning show on air that seemed to keep everyone attentive. This was a good welcome to Mike as he could focus on his thoughts without the feeling of need to keep conversation going in the car. He found his mind going back to the events of the last couple of months that had led him to take up this trip.
As he did so he found himself going further to his earlier days in high school when he had left his rural home in pursuit of higher education using this same road. For six years, he had traveled this road every beginning and end of a school term and the future had been very promising. He had aspired to get a good education after which get a well-paying job and buy all the things that he had not enjoyed through his primary school teacher mother’s salary.
He had watched his elder sister go through school and get a good job with a leading bank and really aspired to live up to the standard she’d set. In addition, the sister had become a Christian during her own high school years and that also had really instilled an admiration for a Christian life in Mike. He could identify an obvious relationship of her faith and success she had in her life. It had therefore not taken too much persuasion in the christian union for him to be a confessed christian when he in high school.
As he reflected on his early days compared to his current life, he wondered why he still seemed not to have a sense of direction. Outwardly he seemed to have everything working for him, even though he didn’t feel like it. He had all he had hoped for when growing up, but there seemed to be something he was still searching for that he could not place a finger on. He had a good education by local standards, a good career, a wife and two children and until recently, he’d been a leader of professional peoples’ club in their church.
Mike was startled from his thoughts by some rattling sound from the vehicle and then an exclaim from Deno, “oh no , not again and not now”. The vehicle had just started an ascent up one of the many down and up of the hilly landscape when the rattle sound from the engine had suddenly become loud and then the vehicle lost power for the climb and got to an eventual halt. Apparently, the vehicle had developed a problem that Deno was familiar with as he’d had his mechanic repair just the previous week.
As the group stood outside the vehicle to contemplate what to do next, he explained that the problem was related to the fuel supply and he’d been advised by his mechanic not to allow the fuel level to fall below a certain level. If that was to happen there was danger of air getting into the fuel system which would require a specialized process to rectify. It had dawned on Deno that they had all forgotten to fuel the vehicle in Nairobi and now the fuel had run below the allowable level, and even if they were to refuel, they could not proceed with the journey.
They all started looking at their maps to figure out where they were and how they were going to get the quickest help. Deno apologized to the rest of the team as he politely told them that he’d have to take the car back to Nairobi. Tito was quick to add that he’d not let Deno go back alone and would be joining him. It was obvious that the team that was envisioned before was crumbling and everyone seemed to think of his own welfare. All the while, Mike had not spoken as he was glued to the map. He told the rest that they were somewhere between Kangema and Othaya with Kiriaini as the closest town they’d just passed. He had in mind getting some help first for Deno and his car and the rest and then himself. He had made up his mind that even if the rest were all to go back, he’d proceed with the trip with whatever means that was available. Just then, an old land rover defender with a lone driver was approaching from the side they were headed. Mike indicated to stop the car and luckily for them the driver stopped the vehicle just in front of the kombi van.
The driver of the land rover was very kind as he listened to their predicament. He offered to tow the kombi to Kiriaini town and carry whoever wanted to be dropped in the town. Mike asked him whether there were public vehicles available towards the side they were going and he said there were, only far and in between. After tying the kombi to be towed behind the land rover, Mike shared his decision with the rest that he’d take his chances and wait for a public service vehicle there to proceed with the journey. Kioko and Msumba decided to go back and try getting their transport from the town. Mike took his bag from the kombi as they waved each other goodbye.
After the other party left, it was not until after around an hour that the next vehicle came and Mike waved it to a stop. Within the one hour, he had studied his map and figured he’d take around three connections to make it to the base camp. As if to encourage mike, the matatu was going to Nyeri and had space for one more passenger.
The ride was relatively uneventful and he arrived in Nyeri around at 2 o’clock in the afternoon. He had again been lost in his thoughts during the ride and had almost forgotten what his trip was about until as he walked to the Nanyuki matatu stage. Nyeri town being on a hill top provided a very clear view of mt kenya especially on a clear sky day like that day. When he saw the mountain peak clear again, his passion for the climb was reignited and he felt more energy to keep going. He was however to experience more frustration in his pursuit as the matatu took another one and half hour to fill passengers to capacity and set off to Nanyuki.
He arrived in Nanyuki around 4:30 and spent another 30 minutes to get a vehicle to the base camp. He only made it to the base camp around 6.00 pm. He was surprised at himself because even though he knew too well that he could not make the climb that hour, he still had a good feeling of having made it this far in his quest.
He reported to the camp reception to find them closing the office for the day. His fears were confirmed by the information that the team they were to go with had left in the morning to return the following day. Incidentally the climb was only made with teams which went every two days meaning the next team would be making the climb after two days, by when he’d be required back at work in his office.
He spent the rest of the evening listening to tour guides that were at the camp sharing their experiences in their many climbs up the mountain. The feeling he had hearing from those that had done it and helped others do the climb was much better than the one from reading on his research. It felt more real to hear it from people that had experienced it first hand, but it still fell short of satisfying the longing for an experience of his own.
That night as Mike went to sleep, he had resolved that even as he had to go back to Nairobi the following day, he’d stop at nothing at making his next trip a success. With the lessons learned from the experience of the day, not to mention the experiences shared by the seasoned climbers, he’d be better prepared next time.
Stay tuned for part 3 of the story.