In Nairobi, Kenya, while lying on my bunk in a youth hostel, a big blonde American guy entered the room and walked right up to me. His name was Peter. I wasn’t the only one in the room, there were quite a few travelers that afternoon, but somehow, we were like long lost friends. We immediately hit it off, and as is so common with solo travelers, we decided to join our wagons for a while. He was on his way to South Africa to make some money. He had a friend working there, and in those days if you were white, you could easily get a job, especially in JoBurg. I was certainly in need of money.
By the time I arrived in Kenya I had forty dollars to my name. Not bad really, considering I had left the States four months earlier with about six hundred dollars and had spent nearly three months traveling in Europe, including a month on Crete, and had traveled overland through Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia, and finally to Kenya. I had looked into teaching English in the Kenyan countryside and calculated I would need to stay two years in order to save enough money to enable me to resume my travels. The pay was around forty dollars a month.
Peter and I made the arrangement that he would front me the travel money and I would pay him back in South Africa. In those days it was not as easy as it is today to pass through the countries that were on the way to South Africa. Several of the countries, if I remember correctly Malawi and I’m pretty sure Rhodesia, required that you show a certain amount of cash to be able to enter. I don’t remember how much it was but because of this fact we decided to look for alternative routes into S.A., and I got out my map. When we looked at the map, we could see this country off to the east (an island) that if we entered from the north and traveled to the south we would be just across from Lorenzo Marques, Mozambique, just a hop, skip and a jump into S.A. We knew absolutely nothing about Madagascar and that was part of the intrigue.
We did a little checking and found we should be able to get some kind of cargo boat from Mombasa to Majunga, Madagascar. Having secured our Madagascar visas, we headed off to the coast. It really was quite exciting to explore travel options in a port. We went to the harbor master and learned about a cement boat going to Madagascar by way of The Comoros. We arranged passage on the deck and decided to go up north to Lamu Island and enjoy the time before departure. A few other travelers were taking the same boat, a tall lanky English guy and a big Canadian from Ottawa named Doug.
Everyone bought supplies for the trip: sardines, papayas, bananas, oats, biscuits (cookies), etc. The night before cast off, we all went out to experience the bar scene near the big tusks in Mombasa. It seemed appropriate sailor behavior. I think all of us ended up with a lady of the night; I know I did. The next morning, we met up at the dock and set sail. It really is a nice way to bid farewell to a place — by boat. The Mombasa harbor is quite beautiful with the fort on one end and the old city, a mix of colonial and Arab architecture. I haven’t been back to Mombasa since then but I understand it has grown immensely. Apparently, the old city remains as it was. The new city just grew around the old.
I remember the first morning, the English guy was eating papaya with oats sprinkled on top and I joined in. Not long after the sea started to take its toll. The boat was quite small and so was tossed pretty well by the swells. It wasn’t until almost twenty years later I could smell papaya without starting to retch. For three days I lay in the hammock that someone had offered. Then finally, I regained my sea legs and began eating again. That was the end of my seasickness, and I was pretty damned hungry.
We slipped into a kind of timelessness on the deck of this boat — the blue, blue water of the Indian Ocean, the vast sky. If I remember correctly, I read the entire Lord of the Ring series on that trip, including The Hobbit. Peter and I also passed some time creating very elaborate board games. We created a version of battleship with extensive rules of engagement. The crew usually had a line hanging off the back of the boat on which they caught fish and often offered some to us. They also supplied us with rice. Rice and fish, I couldn’t think of a better meal at that time.
A day or two before arriving in The Comoros, my chickens came home to roost. While standing off the side of the deck relieving myself, it was anything but a relief — burning pee. That is one very uncomfortable sensation. I knew immediately what it meant and thought back to my night in Mombasa harbor. We were out at sea and there was nothing I could do until we docked in Moroni, the capital and port of The Comoros.
In port after being cleared by immigration, I immediately went in search of a medical facility. I found a clinic being run by some very nice French nuns. They provided me with the necessary antibiotics and relief was gained. After a couple of days exploring Moroni and the beaches to the north, we were again on our way on the sea of timelessness.
This is from the collection of stories, essays, poems and insights that is compiled to form the book From Lemurs to Lamas: Confessions of a Bodhisattva. Download a PDF or order the book Here.