ALICIA WANGARI JN

Climbing Kili and Seeing Whales

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It’s a lovely weekday evening. After a long day I want to be a couch potato and have some peppermint tea. My German friend who’s working for an international agency wants to drag me to this forum where she meets with expatriates who live and work in Nairobi. She calls.

“Alicia, you know I hate being late…”

“Relax. I’m looking for my clutch bag…”

I’m not so keen on going but I owe her one and she has an Uber waiting downstairs. The night is young and I’m glad we’re driving on the opposite side of traffic. We get there in less than twenty minutes. It’s a fancy rooftop bar and we get our drinks then join a chatty table that’s too full.

One guy seems to have grabbed everyone’s attention. He’s narrating how he just finished a six day Mount Kilimanjaro climb. He shows us pictures at the peaks and explains how extraordinary the experience was. Nothing compared to the hiking he’s done in Egypt or even South Africa’s Table Mountains. An Asian next to me speaks of the high altitude at Mount Kenya which is more challenging than Kilimanjaro.

These are the expeditions I’ve had on my bucket list for a few years now. I nudge the Asian who is from Hong Kong (another bucket list destination) and we chat more about his climb. Turns out he paid a mere two hundred dollars – a very good deal. He promises to give me contacts of the tour company. He also brags of how he climbed in five days as compared to the recommended six.

“You must be really fit?”

“Not really, I smoke… They say it’s an added advantage in high altitudes.”

In the circle there’s also a professional diver sharing his experiences snookering in the different parts of the Kenyan coast. Maybe I need to pick that up as a sport as well, but I’m not sure if I have to be a good swimmer first. We talk of the corals that are slowly disappearing from the sea. The scientist in me makes a mental note to do a bit of research on the same – such a story would do well in the environmental quarterly.

My German friend is into diving and they abandon me for a bit as they get into it. She’s been to Watamu, Malindi and Diani and a dozen other places around the world.

The hero who climbed Kili turns to me and asks me the most absurd question.

“Have you ever seen a whale?”

“In the movies?”

“No…”

Clearly I’m new to diving. In his years of diving he’s always been hoping to see a whale and none has come his way. I wonder if he has a death wish. What size is a whale again? He throws the question to the table and my German friend did see a whale in Australia while on vacation. It’s proud moment right there, as she explains the close proximity she enjoyed with one of the largest creatures that has ever lived on earth.

In the spirit of meeting more new people, we move to another table. It’s not as animated. Nothing can beat the mountain climbing and whales conversations. One pilot is talking of Lake Turkana as one of the best picturesque places he’s been to. After a few minutes he introduces himself to us and passionately talks of his business chartering planes on the side. I’m impressed that with such a busy schedule flying, he’s able to pull it off. He explains he’s going to slowly make an empire, “See what Richard Branson did.”

How time flies! It’s close to midnight. My friend comes over for us to leave. The pilot joins along and gives us a lift home. On the road he shocks us with the number of African businessmen who own jets nowadays.

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