Welcome to my new blog Cork to Cape - the second leg of my round the world motorcycle adventure. As some of you know my first trip took me down through Central and South America on the back of a BMW R1100GS. This trip will take me from Ireland to South Africa on an F800GS. My goal is to take my time, enjoy the ride, meet new people and volunteer along the way. I welcome everyone to view and enjoy the blog, add comments and give me any advice on special places to see or people to meet. And, of course, if anyone wants to join me for a section of the journey or if there is a place you always wanted to visit, please come along.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Distant Relatives

Day 416

Milage 32,012 (51,219 kms)

Kongo River sunset
The wave of momentum that brought me to the East coast of Kenya has receded leaving me fighting a growing sense of inertia, unwilling to embark on the next leg of this long voyage, torn between the unknown and the known, where I am comfortable. The friends I arrived with have long since departed to return to their lives elsewhere and for a while I thought it would be best for me to leave too before the loneliness settles in and I find myself with no other company than my own. Had I stopped anywhere else I would have moved on many days ago but this region of the coast has an allure strong enough to soothe my wanderlust, for now. It has been refreshing to spend time getting to know a region and its people, however briefly. I have found a peaceful retreat far from the busy roads and pathological drivers, on the shores of a large lagoon by the Indian Ocean. Thatched cottages nestle amidst the dense jungle on a hillside overlooking the azure waters of Kilifi bay, the atmosphere here is nothing short of magical, attracting an eclectic group of travelers and explorers from around the world. The natural surroundings, fresh air and distant hiss of the ocean waves make for the perfect place to challenge my growing feelings of disconnection. The nature of this journey often sees me drifting through countries, briefly meeting new people but always being drawn further south towards my intended goal of reaching the end of the continent. Each departure brings with it a mixture of excitement at what lies ahead and sadness at saying goodbye to the friends I have made along the way. With time to stop and reflect the realization is beginning to dawn that, for me, what makes life truly worthwhile is genuine, meaningful human contact.

Helping out at a local school in Kilifi
The people I have met and the energy I have felt during my extended stay at the Distant Relatives EcoLodge have made this entire journey worthwhile. It is hard to describe the sense of serenity that envelops this secluded location but it has been a long time since I have felt so at peace with where I am, grounded and complete. On leaving Ireland I’d always considered if I found a place along the way that felt perfect I could always stop and settle down for a while, the sleepy town of Kilifi could be that place. Cork to Kenya has a nice ring to it. Sadly, the region comes with it own unique set of difficulties but it attracts a host of interesting individuals who have been insightful, inspiring and enlightening. There are the determined group of young men and women building a traditional dhow along the coast with the intention of sailing it around the world, the dedicated film crew spending years inside Tsavo East National Park documenting the incredible and often tragic lives of its residents, the brave young woman with autism walking around Africa with two camels raising awareness of disabilities amongst remote tribal people, the quiet architect devoting her career to addressing the housing crisis facing the world’s poorest, the talented young photographer living in the slums of Kampala capturing the essence of life in the faces of its people, these are just a few of the amazing individuals with whom my path has crossed. And then there is my own companion who I brought along with me, Hendri Coetzee, ‘the greatest African explorer you have never heard of’.
Another deserted beach
Hendri's book
I worked with Hendri on the Zambezi River as a guide many years ago, we shared many good times together but as our lives drifted apart I lost touch with my old friend until I stumbled across his obituary in an adventure magazine in California. It initially came as a shock to hear of his death and I had hoped it was not the Hendri I’d known all those years ago but deep down I knew it could only be him. As our paths diverged I’d often arrive at a river only to hear he had just left the area but I was sure we would meet again at some point. As news of his death slowly filtered down through the news channels the details of his final expedition became clearer, snatched from his kayak by a large crocodile on the Lukuga River in DRC, Hendri had achieved more, in his short life, than many could hope to achieve in several lifetimes. Shortly before his death Hendri had been working on the manuscript for a book documenting his impressive list of expeditions. When Living the Best Day Ever was finally published in 2013 I was determined to pick up a copy to read of all his remarkable accomplishments. I finally located the book in Jinja, Uganda, but I’d had little time to give it the attention it deserved. It is only now that I have had the chance to sit peacefully and listen to Hendri’s voice. I’ve read many tales of adventures in foreign lands but this book stands apart form the crowd. What I’d thought would be the standard fare of lists of achievements turned out to be one of the most beautifully written, insightful books I have ever read. What begins as an account of a daredevil descent of the Nile River, from source to sea, gently evolves into the story of a much deeper journey into what drives his desire to explore Africa’s darkest regions. As he matures so does his prowess at capturing more than just the moment, delving deep into his own motivations and discovering that the true adventure lies within all of us. I assumed the book had such an effect on me because of the nature of my own travels or the brief friendship I had shared with Hendri but I have since met many people outside of our sphere who have been equally as touched. 

Takaunga coast, Kenya
Not far from Kilifi is the Tsavo East National Park, I drove through it on the way from Nairobi to Mombassa, the sparse vegetation of grasses and thorny Acacia bushes is dominated by massive Baobab trees randomly dispersed throughout the park, their thick trunks sharply contrasting their comical, spindly branches. As Kenya’s largest park, it is home to a diverse selection of wildlife none more impressive than the red elephants of Tsavo. These noble behemoths coat their hides in red mud to protect them from heat and insects and have long been a popular tourist attraction. Embedded deep within the park, a dedicated film crew is spending years patiently gathering footage of these enormous creatures and it is within this region that the largest elephant in the world, Satao roamed freely across the plains, until recently. I was fortunate enough to meet several members of the film crew and listen to their stories of life within the park, I had been ignorant to the story of Satao but the account of his savage slaying at the hands of ruthless poachers needs to be shared. Africa is throwing open its doors to foreign investment, selling off its natural resources at an alarming rate. No single state is pursuing these resources more aggressively than China, I’ve seen first hand evidence of this as I have moved south through the continent, infrastructure improvements are underway everywhere to facilitate a more efficient extraction. The Chinese often import their own labor from China and frequently use convicts for the dirty work, sometimes abandoning them when a project finishes. The far east has long been obsessed by a false belief that ivory brings luck and Africa has struggled for decades with the plague of poaching. All these factors combined with modern GPS tracking devices, night vision technology and automatic weapons have left Africa’s wildlife exposed and vulnerable, none more so than the elephants. Official statistics claim that approximately 90 elephants a year are butchered for ivory in Tsavo but it is widely believed the actual numbers may be ten times that amount. Collusion, corruption and apathy contribute to the problem. I’ve only seen pictures of Satao as he towered above his companions, his dark skin contrasting with his colossal white tusks, those who worked closely with the animal believed he was conscious that his proudest feature would make him a target, he would often try to hide them amidst the sparse bush. In the end it was a simple arrow fired from a primitive bow that took Satao down. Coated with a potent poison it is likely he suffered an agonizing death and we can only hope he was dead before his faced was cut off with chainsaws. In the last picture I saw of Satao he was lying alone, faceless, legs splayed, coated in vulture droppings amidst the red dirt of the Tsavo plains.

Diani Beach
The coastal region I am staying in has seen some disturbing events unfolding over the past two weeks, on June 15th and group of gunmen hijacked two vans before driving into the nearby village of Mpeketoni where they systematically murdered at least 60 people. Initial reports suggested it was the Somali Islamist group, al-Shabab, but in a recent development the Governor of the region was arrested by the Kenyan police adding to local suspicion that the attack originated closer to home. The attackers appeared to have targeted members of the ethnic Kikuyu tribe, the same tribe of the president of Kenya. The attack, which began in the evening lasted well into the night before the gunmen moved on to another village. In Mombassa, to the South, there have been more disturbances, targeted assassinations and riots as the security forces wrestle to control the situation. Growing up in Northern Ireland has left me somewhat skeptical of the official reports issued by the government and most of the locals seem to agree. Civil unrest and fear are powerful motivators when governments wish to impose more draconian laws upon their people. 

Late night sessions
Yet another inspiring individual I met while staying at Distant Relatives is the unstoppable Abby Brooke, driven by a desire to spread awareness of disabilities throughout the continent, Abby has embarked on a walk, not just any walk, she plans to cover the entire continent with two camels and a positive attitude. Disabilities within rural villages are often attributed to witchcraft and those afflicted are often shunned or hidden from their own communities. In a bid to enlighten and inform Abby is determined to show what a person with a disability is capable of.  It will take her many years to complete her journey but she has already walked extensively throughout Kenya and with her contagious enthusiasm and drive I doubt anything will stop her from achieving her goal.

Sundowners on my birthday
During my stay on the coast I’ve had ample opportunities to play with some of the most talented musicians in the region, jamming late into the night at the bar or on the beach I’ve learned much from each of them but I realize I still have a long way to go. Bringing a guitar on this trip was one of the best decisions I could have made but I am still, very much, a beginner with lots to learn. The more I know, the more I realize I don’t know but this path is not about arriving at the destination, it’s about all the incredible experiences you have along the way and Kenya has provided many of those. I will move on some time but for now I feel content, surrounded by good people in one of the most beautiful locations on earth. With my bike taking a well deserved break and my physical progress temporarily suspended it has given me time to focus on my inner journey.



cc said...

yes yes. good stuff, brother.

GrowNoma said...

great report from across the world, thanks for the stories and pictures!