I roll out of sleep in the morning and, with one eye open, I ask myself: “Is today a good day to ride?”
Do ducks swim?
I thumb my phone and open Google Maps… Where can I go today? After a while I agree with myself, “Yup! That sounds good!” The plan is to do a loop around the Aberdare Range: Nairobi – Nakuru – Nyahururu – Nyeri – Makutano – Nairobi.
At about 8 am I’m ready to leave. The weather laughs at me, it starts raining. I’m tempted to go back indoors and snuggle up with a hot cup of tea and continue bingeing on “The Real Hustle” series… I hit the start button and thread my way out through the rain, a smile on my face.
I get rained on most of the way to Nakuru, but thanks to my gear, I remain bone dry. As I enter Nakuru, my hands are freezing. I’m also a bit weary because of being buffeted by strong side winds. I stop at the first restaurant I see and order tea and chapo. The tea is ok. The chapo is the most horrible I have had in a while. I chomp all of it down, refuel, and hit the Nakuru – Nyahururu road.
The road is scenic. The rain has eased. It’s warmer. It’s an awesome ride. I stop at the view point to admire the Rift Valley. An elderly man carrying some soap stone plaques approaches me. He gives me the usual tourist run down: The Rift Valley runs from Israel to Mozambique, and it’s nine thousand and blah blah blah kilometres, etc etc. He points beyond some mountains and tells me the shimmering I see is Lake Baringo. He points down into the valley at a house with a black roof and tells me he lives somewhere near it.
I start taking some photos. He offers to take some and I hand him the camera. He tells me he used to be a photographer, but those days cameras used large bulbs for the flash.
I ask if I can take a photo of him. He says “Okay, let me sit here and pretend I’m carving something.” Now I believe he used to be a photographer. His name is Kamotho. I promise him that if I ever pass this way again I will print and bring the photo with me.
As I leave Nyahururu town heading towards Nyeri, something on the side of the road catches my eye. I make a U-turn, get off the road and stop at a small shed with bodaboda riders around it. This is what caught my attention:
The owner comes around. The other riders are cheering him, because someone with a big bike made a U-turn to come look at his bike. I ask him if it actually works. He puts the bike into neutral, starts it and plugs something somewhere. Yes, it works!
Daniel can’t believe my bike is a quarter a century old. Well, the engine is a bit newer, I tell him, I replaced the old one. He asks me to sell him my old engine so he can fit it into his bike. I tell him that that is just not possible.
“I can do it!” he says, “Those are the kind of things I do!”
He also takes time to admire my bike.
I continue on my journey towards Nyeri. The nice and sunny weather starts to give in to rain as I approach the Aberdares. I stop to put on my waterproof liner.
After I take that photo and start moving, I get mercilessly hammered by the rain. There is no fog, but the rain alone has greatly reduced visibility. The road surface is invisible due to rain drops bouncing off it. My helmet visor sounds like it is being hit by pellets. The riding pants that have kept me dry so far give up, and I can feel water pouring into my crotch and running down my legs and into my boots. I solder on.
At Nyeri I stop somewhere for a drawn out lunch. I’m in no hurry. As I leave the town, I realise that I have not put in my ear plugs properly. I stop to correct this.
“Hiyo ni cc ngapi?” someone asks. How many cc is your bike?
He is an old man, but still looks amazingly strong. He is selling items made from horns at the side of the road right where I have stopped. I move my leg and point at the place the cc is written. He seems fascinated. I put the bike on it’s side stand, get off, and go to look at his wares.
“These are for drinking,” he says. The horns are well cleaned, and have leather straps and leather caps. I buy one after he tells me I can use it for drinking uji. “These were traditionally used for drinking beer.”
“What’s your name?” I ask him.
“Mureithi,” he says, “But people know me as Mr. Horn.”
He tells me that he has been doing this for over forty years. He cleared school in 1976, and has not done much else since then. He notices that I’m trying to gauge the variety of the items on display…
“Someone stole my horns,” he says wistfully. “I used to have so many, even the really large ones from Ugandan cows. But someone recently broke into my store and stole them.”
I offer some encouragement, and tell him not to let that put him down.
He has three children. The youngest, a girl, is in her final year at Meru University.
“Did the others go to university too?” I ask.
“Oh yes! They are now abroad.”
“And you were able to pay their way through university just from doing this work?”
Oh, he is proud! You can see it in his eyes. I’m impressed!
I ask for permission to take photos.
“Next time you pass by please stop and say hi,” he says. “You don’t have to buy anything, just say hi.”
This story was first published on Facebook on February 19, 2017.