Vetting of the items in my backpack (police commissioners?)

At the end of 2013, Kenya witnessed an intense vetting process of police commissioners. Whether one believes the process was successful or flawed, we all collectively agree it was quite intense, difficult questions were raised and in certain instances, several skeletons came crashing out of the various closets we chose to look in.

As I prepare to leave on any backpacking trip, I toy with the idea of applying an equally rigorous vetting process for all the clothes and other items that I will be lugging on my back for those 1-2 months....and so it goes....

The Kenyan Explorer: White shirt, can you explain why you think you are the perfect candidate to make it to the short list of tops in the backpack

White shirt: (clearing throat)..Well, The Kenyan Explorer, I have 10 years of relevant experience in a similar field

The Kenyan Explorer: Please elaborate....

White shirt: Well, there was that one time you wore me to climb Mt. Longonot, and I did not disappoint

The Kenyan Explorer: Would you have me believe that based on that one experience you are fit to take on a 2 month trip? The Andes is not Mt. Longonot. Is it not also true that on that same day you proceeded to get soaked in sweat and did not have the decency to hide it?

White shirt: (stuttering)....Well, it wasn't my fault. I am a white shirt after all. I don't absorb heat as much as the black shirt, but of course I will get dirty and sweat will be noticeable

The Kenyan Explorer: Hush! Are you trying to cast blame on your fellow contenders?

The Kenyan Explorer: Moving on! I am done with you white shirt! Brown socks, it states here that you have a thread count of 1000. Could you explain to all those present, how you came to amass such a high thread count?

Brown socks: Well, I got it from my previous position

The Kenyan Explorer: Really? It states here that you started out at your previous position with a thread count of 100. 

Brown socks: (nervous giggle), well, I also had some side hustles

The Kenyan Explorer: Can you elaborate

Brown socks: I did some odd jobs at my previous station and I was able to earn additional thread count

The Kenyan Explorer: So, the rumors are true. Did you or did you not earn your wealth by sabotaging cream and black socks?

Brown socks: (Clearing his throat): That is not true. I earned it fair and square

The Kenyan Explorer: From what we have heard, you made a job out of destroying your peers and taking on their thread count! You are a traitor!

Brown socks: Please, please let me explain

The Kenyan Explorer: No, your time is done. Let me move on to the next candidate - "super pretty bra with the metal wire that occasionally pokes the wearer." "Super pretty bra with the metal wire that occasionally pokes the wearer", what are you doing here today? I believe we kicked you out at the previous round

"Super pretty bra with the metal wire that occasionally pokes the wearer": Well,, I am here to defend my case. I feel that my name has been muddied by evil elements in the closet

The Kenyan Explorer: Please elaborate

"Super pretty bra with the metal wire that occasionally pokes the wearer": I have served for decades in this position and there has never been any issues raised against me. In the past years, though seeds of discontent have been sown by my enemies. In particular I will point out "Super ugly bra that offers maximum support", "Super pretty bra that offers no support" and "push up bra of unknown comfort levels". These newcomers have come in to usurp my position. They know I have served well. 

(Screams in the background from the named bras): Haki yetu! Haki yetu! Down with the old, in with the new. Kazi kwa vijana, pesa kwa wazee! (We demand our rights, Down with the old, in with the new. Work for the young, while money goes to the old?)

The Kenyan Explorer: We do not need this drama. Moving on to the next. "Holey sock", what are you doing here?

Holey sock: A lot of negative things have been said about me, but I want to let you know that this wardrobe was built on my sweat. I was here when the closet was full of threadbare shirts. I have earned these holes.

The Kenyan Explorer: This job requires a sock that can stand both high and low temperatures and effectively protect the wearer. Are we to believe that you are up to this job?

Holey sock: I believe I have. My years of experience make me perfect for this job. My holes also do not prevent me from doing a great job. At the last review, there were only two major holes, and they are at the unimportant toes. I also represent an under-represented group. Red mid-calf socks with my type of experience are in short supply.

The Kenyan Explorer: Oh, look who we have here. "Pretty silk top" what is your value proposition for this job

Pretty silk top: (sashaying to the table): I am extremely unique in that I combine functionality and class. In this new territory, you will need an item that helps you in certain types of classy situations

(Angry voices from the crowd): Did you hear her? She thinks we are not classy? She thinks us we are for being worn at the bar, and she is the one for dinners?

The Kenyan Explorer: Quiet! Quiet! Let "pretty silk top" finish talking

Pretty silk top: Yes, as I was saying before this riff raff jumped in, I am the perfect item to carry with you for those lovely dinners, exquisite parties and so on.

The Kenyan Explorer: Would you have us believe that the stories are not true? Is it not true that you do not really work well with the other commissioners? That you are always demanding more? Did you not once say, "I cannot go to work without being ironed?"

Pretty silk top: That was taken out of context. I was just saying that I need different terms to work well. 

(Angry voices from the crowd): Drama queen! Drama queen!

Pretty silk top: (shouting): Can you bunch of torn, tattered, wrinkled clothes shut up!

The Kenyan Explorer: We cannot have this. Whoever comes on this trip has to be a team player. We cannot have items that need preferential treatment. On this trip, "all clothes are created equal and none is more equal than the others." 

The Kenyan Explorer: Yes, lipstick and nail polish, I see you have come in a bit late. Tell us why you should make it into the backpack

Lipstick and nail polish: I think we speak for our fellow comrades - the other lipsticks and nail polishes - when we say that we are the single most important item for this trip.

The Kenyan Explorer: I agree with you. Let me put you in the backpack right now. 




My melodramatic departure from Brazil (visas will be the end of me)

I am writing this from the airport in Sao Paolo at 5:30am. I am here on transit from Bahia to my Peru flight. My flight left Bahia around 9:30pm. There were a few mishaps during the day that made me nervous I would miss my flight. I had been told that the bus to the airport would take one hour, but it ended up taking two. I made it to the airport just in time. For some strange reason my backpack now weighs 17.2 kg, and I left Nairobi when it was 14.5kg....Is someone stashing drugs in my bag? Who knows? Anyway, the flight was uneventful. It was 2.5 hours and I was lucky that the airline lady in Bahia told me to get my bag in Sao Paolo and check it in again. I had assumed that my bag was checked in all the way to Cusco, Peru. I got to Sao Paolo at midnight and wanted to immediately check in for my 6am flight to Lima, Peru, but there was no one at the counter. It turned out to be good luck though cause I got a chance to change out of my summer clothing. The AC is really really high at the airport. I am now in jeans, a top, heavy sweater and a scarf...Around 3:30am I went to the counter to check in and that's when the drama started.

In Kenya I had been told that the only visas I could apply for were Brazil, Chile and Argentina - because the rest of the countries I was going to don't have embassies in Kenya. I made various calls and was notified that for the rest of the countries, I would be easily able to get a visa on arrival. When I got to the counter, they asked me for my Peruvian visa and I explained my situation. On their end however though, the information they have says that a Kenyan citizen needs to have a visa in advance. They had to cancel my ticket, and I can't get on the flight to Peru. Obviously by this point, I am beginning to stress out. What will I do? I can't stay in Sao Paolo indefinitely. I need to leave Brazil - it's getting too expensive. Will I have to buy another ticket? Oh, gosh, how much?

I went over to the airline office and I almost hugged the woman when she told me I can change my flight for one to Bolivia that leaves tomorrow. I don't even mind the 10 hour layover. The fact that I will not be charged for a new flight was enough to make me break into song and dance. So, for now I am siting at the airport awaiting 8am, when she can hopefully be able to issue me my ticket. After this long drama, I feel like treating myself and staying in a hotel close to the airport....if the prices are not too crazy, that is.

Anyway if all works out I am off to Bolivia - which was meant to be my destination after Peru, and where I can definitely get a visa on arrival, and hopefully find the Peruvian embassy and apply for a visa there - fingers crossed!

The end of Carnival in Rio (the blur...)

Jumping back to my last days of Carnival in Rio, before I left for Bahia....I can only refer to it as the blur. As evidenced in my post on the first day of carnival in Rio, these people go hard.....Waking up early, not really eating, drinking way too many beers, walking for miles as you follow the large trucks and the was chaotic. I still have no idea why the trucks have to move. That part was annoying. Why can't the party just stay stagnant.....all that uneccessary exercise in that hectic crowd. 

So on the second day of Carnival, we left the house at 9am. We went to different Carnival parties for a few hours. After that my friend, his girlfriend and I decided to go to the beach. It's a bit of a sucky story. As I mentioned, you can't really go for Carnival with a bag. You have to store everything on your self. The first day I had put my money in a certain place, and when I got home I kind of forgot about it until it fell out. I thought to myself, "Oh! Bad idea. That is how you will lose it at Carnival." I moved the money elsewhere. The new location though also housed my phone. I got nervous that if I pulled out my phone to take a picture, I might drop my money. Finally I moved the money to my sock. I thought to myself, "When will I ever have to take off my socks at Carnival" When we got close to the beach, we obviously took off our shoes and socks. I only realized the error of my ways when I was already at the beach. I retraced my steps and frantically searched for the money I had dropped, but of course it was long gone.....sigh....stupid! 

Feeling bummed out, I decided to go home and plan my departure to Bahia. I had planned on taking the bus and thought it would be an easy process......was the longest thing ever. Brazilian websites all want you to be truthfully and faithfully committed to them - for life! The bus company's website was crap. It must have been made on MS DOS or something. The page wouldn't translate, would keep hanging or having data validation issues. I had to create a profile that included my home address data, lots of biographical information buy a bus ticket. Finally an hour or so later, I had completed the form. The website had an error message along the lines of "Oh snap! Did you just say you're international? Ahhhhh. Ok. You can't buy the ticket online.....please call us on this toll free number (which for kicks can't be called from cellphones, yep....look for a landline! Fun, fun!")

After all this drama, it was an easy decision to buy a flight ticket online....which I also needed to fill in loads of information for, but that at least worked also for internationals. It was Sunday night, and my ticket was booked for Tuesday morning. I knew I had to go hard on Monday.

Monday we left the house at 10am for the Carnival parties. I was very ambitious in the whole going hard thing.....I have patchy memories of dancing, drinking, taking pictures, dancing, drinking, taking pictures.....rotate. We all got home at 7pm.....The night has to end early when you start partying at 10am. I got home and started panicking "Oh gosh! I need to be at the airport at 6am. I haven't packed. I can't pack in this state.....I think I will oversleep and miss my flight." My friend is a real sweetheart. He packed my bags as I kept on micromanaging him in between the few bouts of consciousness I had. "Oh! Don't forget my shoes!" "Did you check under the bed?" My poor poor friend. I really do owe it to him that I made it to my flight.....that was a poor state I was in on that Monday night. 

The one issue that kept on disturbing me in Rio was the thought of "Where are all the black people?" Brazil is the country that has the largest population of black people - second only to Nigeria. I had seen a few black people during Carnival but very few among the revellers. There were lots of black people selling beer to the crowds, lots of black people picking up trash, lots of black people selling souvenirs, but very few black people enjoying carnival. I asked my friend about the lack of black people, and he agreed that race issues are still a major problem in Brazil. It really felt sad to see this form of economic slavery. He told me a lot of black people in Rio live in the favelas. The situation reminded me of one time I went to remote parts of Tennessee and Mississipi. It felt so depressing to see that even though there were some really beautiful places, black people were on the periphery. Nice restaurants - no black patrons, just black waiters. Nice hotels - black cleaners..

Brazil really is a place that makes me reflect a lot on race. It's hard not to think about it - especially when here in Bahia, which was the entry point for over 30% of all the slaves that were taken from Africa.....Anyway, will write more later. 


South America Itinerary (part 1)

I was lucky enough to talk to a Kenyan last year who had once backpacked through South America. She is the one who convinced me that this was a great idea, and that it could be done easily and affordably even by someone who has little if any experience in the region. She also saved me from making one major mistake I made when planning the 2012 Eurotrip - being overambitious. In the 6 weeks we spent in Europe, we went to 14 cities in 12 countries. It was madness. Sometimes I would wake up so exhausted and have to remember what country I was in. Is this Czech Republic? Hungary? We would get off trains, rush into the city to see the main attractions, eat as we walked, head back to the hostels to quickly shower and change - go out and party like maniacs, and very likely go straight from the club via the hostel to catch our next train. Madness, I tell you.

I feel like my South American trip will be slightly less chaotic from a time standpoint, but probably more chaotic from an everything else standpoint given that I have traveled quite a bit through Europe, speak English and German, but have never been to South America, and I know only a few words and phrases in Spanish.

So what does my itinerary look like? I leave Nairobi for Rio via Dubai this Monday. I get to Rio on Tuesday afternoon. I will thankfully be staying with a friend, which is pretty great given I don't know any all. I will be in Rio for 8 nights experiencing the sights and sounds, and more importantly going for Carnival:-) I have no words to explain how excited I feel when I say "I am going for Carnival." I instantly hear music playing, see people in exciting costumes and imagine all the fun we are going to have. Sigh...After that I somehow get to Salvador in Bahia - which is way on the other end of the country. When I am in Brazil, I will figure out whether the best option is to take a really long bus there or to fly. I heard I can get some pretty cheap flights if I look in the right places. You are probably wondering where Bahia is and why it is in my itinerary. Before 2004, I had no idea about Bahia.One day I was listening to my friend's Anjelique Kidjo CD "Black Ivory Soul" and the first song was titled "Bahia." It fascinated me and I started reading up on Bahia.

Bahia is the most African state in Brazil. It was the center of the early Brazilian slave trade and close to 80% of its current population has black ancestry. Yoruba derived traditional religions are still followed in some parts. It is the home of capoeira - a unique dance that consists of martial arts and minimal body contact (someone recently told me that the reason the dancers don't touch is because historically slaves could do capoeira only on Sundays and they wore white on Sundays. One had to avoid getting dirty..) Bahia is also the home of Samba and is also said to have one of the best cuisines in Brazil.

After Bahia, I will travel to Peru. This is the part I have little clarity on. I am sure the journey will entail something along the lines of a 24-48 hour bus ride and a 2-3 day boat ride on the Amazon river. I love traveling and I can sleep anywhere so I am not particularly worried about it. I am sure I will figure it all out once in Brazil. In Peru, I am most excited about going to Machu Picchu. I will be in the country for 8 nights so I am sure I will get to see loads. I have not booked any housing in Peru as I can't really predict when I will get there and what exact places I will be. I am toying with the idea of couchsurfing rather than staying in hostels when there.

After Peru, I will go to Ecuador. There is lots to see in Ecuador, but I am most fascinated with going to the Galapagos Islands where Darwin conducted quite a bit of his research on evolutionary theory.

That covers the first half of the trip, but I am sure reality will be more exciting than the plan. The one thing I keep reminding myself is that the best laid plans of mice of and men often go awry, but as long as I am enjoying the journey it doesn't really matter to me if I am not sticking to my itinerary.


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