Ode to the Wanderlust – Part III (Road Trip Edition)

(1) Riding a Cargo Truck

As any adventurous boy will have you know, the best spot to sit when riding a lorry is up on the roof. You sit amongst the cargo, balancing yourself with whatever is closest. As the truck dips in and out of pot holes and ruts on the road, you swing along, all the while hoping that nothing comes crushing down on you.

This is how I remember our moving trip from Gikambura to Em Bul Bul in June 1990. I don’t remember anything about the packing, but there certainly must have been some since the truck was full by the time it rolled out. Moving companies were unknown back then. You relied upon your friends and family to help you out. If you were really lucky, you got a bunch of people to work with you on loading the truck, and also accompany you to your final destination so they could assist you in the offloading. In return, you were expected to offer lunch.

From Gikambura to Kangawa, most of the road is paved; but there were several spots where you had to watch out for hanging branches eager to slap you across the face, or gouge your eyes out. The fun thing to do was see how long you could wait before you ducked out of harm’s way. The longer you waited before evading impending bodily harm the tougher and cooler you were. I mostly lost to my more daring age mates.

Unloading the truck is a pain in the neck, and trying to fit into the neighborhood is even worse. I have minimal tough guy skills in me, and the band of brothers whom we moved amongst immediately figured that out. There were 4 of them, and the youngest 2 were the most spoiled. Unlike myself, they could always rely on their elder siblings to back them up and rescue them out of any scuffle. I was all I had, unless I wished to commit social suicide by appealing to my parents, or even worse, my younger sisters.

K and T loved to torment me. There was a path that cut across their farm leading to our house. We all used it, but my presence on it irked them way out of proportion. To re-calibrate the balance of power in their favor, and to avenge all other trespassers whom they could do nothing about, they focused all their energy on me. Sometimes they’d  throw stones at me from the safety of their home. Those were the polite moments. When they felt more emboldened, they’d accost me on the path, and begin to interrogate me. I can’t recall the essence of the interrogations but like all bullies, I’m sure they weren’t lost for insults – real or perceived – that I had to atone for.

To this day, relations have never quite warmed between our two families. I suppose in many ways, we’ll always be the ‘settlers’ who occupy their land. Never mind that K’s and T’s parents were involved in the sale of their later brother’s land to us.

(2) Datsun KQW 047

To this day, there’s something extremely alluring about antique cars. I love the sense that these vehicles have enjoyed a full life before arriving in my own. But even more, I love the capacity to coax them back to health, repair them, mend them, and give them a new shine. If there’s ever a car I’d love to own it would have to be my grand uncle’s Datsun KQW 047. The thing was a dark cream/beige/yellow. I’m sure someone would claim it was brown. But brown says nothing of the promise that this vehicle held for me as a small boy.

It probably has something to do with how this very car delivered to me a pair of twin sisters, with my mom in tow from wherever she’d disappeared to for a couple of days. Mostly, however, my looks of awe at this Datsun have to do with the fact that we used it often on trips to visit my maternal grandmother in Juja.

(3) 5-Door Nissan Sunny

Nowadays hatch-back vehicles are all the craze, despite most families owning several cars and hence having no real need for the extra space. Back in my day, the cargo space offered by a 5-door Nissan Sunny was perfect for stashing the kids on a long road trip. Because of this, our first stop was always the Ngong Road Uchumi Hyper – after all you can’t go to Shagz without sugar, vegetable oil, tea leaves, salt, unga, etc. – and the groceries would be stashed into the back, alongside our skinny adolescent bodies.

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In my adult life I have continued to love the road trip adventure. Folks are always asking me why/how I can enjoy driving more than 6 hours. When I tell them of my trip, in a truck no less, from Miami to Durham, North Carolina, and then in a sedan to Nashville and on to Kentucky they just stare back. They shake their head in that you’re-mad kinda way. But the truth that I truly enjoy the open road. I’ve driven out in Aussie from Adelaide, back towards Victoria (unknowingly), only to end up in the most fascinating small towns, farmland and abandoned homes. The American South was great for an autumn road trip. I started off in Indianapolis, non-stop to Nashville, and on to Birmingham. From there I criss-crossed Montgomery, Selma, Tuscaloosa, Jacksonville, Mississippi, Little Rock, Arkansas and on to Memphis, Tennessee.

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