FACT: I haven’t always been the adventurous kind – Not up tall trees, neither over neighbourhood walls. But my fate changed and I have been dying to tell this story. I wouldn’t tell it to everyone and anyone who will listen.. but I choose to maybe because it helped me discover a side of me I didn’t know I had. A ‘Ballsier’ side that embraced the risk of a foreign country with less than 200 Euros in my pocket. I like to give this story of how moving outside my comfort-zone is probably the best thing I ever did in February 2013.
My host picked me up from Schipol Int. Airport and we started the journey ‘home’. It was an interesting 1.5 hour train ride. So many Dutch people use public transport. Well… more like the usual public transport like trains, trams and buses as well as bicycles to move around. They have so many bicycles that they even have ‘Orphan Bicycles’ where owners move out of the city and forget to take their parked bikes. The Council cuts the lock-chains off these bikes and stores them in their facility and later sells them at a public auction for half or 1/3 of the price. Very Cool. I spent about 4 days in between Amsterdam, Utrecht, Dordrecht, the Hague and Rotterdam seeing different things and meeting different people. I even met 2/3 Kenyans who live and work there.
I spent one night 7th Feb milling around in Amsterdam (specifically around Dam Square and the shopping street) and sampling the night life there. I met Eva, a Russian girl who runs her boss’ souvenir shop. She left Russia at the tender age of 19 because her family was too oppressive to new ideas. She wanted to see new things and have new experiences so she backpacked across Russia all the way to Holland to start a new life. She now lives, works, and goes to school in Holland and visits home once in a while to see how everyone’s doing. Something about having major responsibility thrust in your face at an early age makes you rise to the occasion. I saw that in Eva – Unbound youth I decided to call it. What’s above is a shoe shop I went to and the DJ was taking requests from women as they shopped. Interesting marketing concept.
Figuring I had about 4 days left after the conference I was attending (and having seen most of Amsterdam anyway), I planned a trip France overnight. I had planned to take the trip from Amsterdam to Paris with 2 Kenyan friends; Michael and Gabriel. We were to meet at the hi-speed tracks on the morning of the 8th Feb at7.45 am to buy Thalys tickets and then head out seeking adventure. On the morning we were to leave, neither of them showed up. They were ‘supposedly’ unable to make the trip because of various reasons. I could have turned round and traveled the 1.5 hours back home but I had come too far to quit. ‘Home’ was 1.5 hours by train meaning I had woken up by about 5 AM just to make it in time to catch the 6.02 AM train fro Dordrecht. I had taken a shower as it snowed outside – I had sacrificed too much to abandon this sudden trip. I bought the ticket – The Thalys ticket ain’t cheap – cost about 120 Euro and this is because you have to get off a train at Antwerp in Belgium, get off that one and get on another train to central Brussels and then another train to Brussels Zuid-Midi then board the final hi-speed to Paris. Each transition has about 7 minutes from the time you get off till the time the next one leaves so you’ve got to be quick about it. Also, trains leave at the exact time they say they will leave; not a minute earlier or later. Super glad I traveled light – Only had my laptop, an extra pair of pants, extra socks and boxers, 2 tshirts and a toothbrush. I was specifically going to attend BeMyAPP at ISART Digital for the weekend hack-a-thon. Oh! I also had my passport and a bag of sandwiches. Thank You Nilla for that. *Wink*
Finally arrived at Gare Du Nord in Paris in the evening.Woohoo, now I could practice High School French on real French people.
You know that feeling you have when you’re sure you’ve made a mistake? Like when Mwas in that popular Award-winning Kenyan film – Nairobi Half Life – got to Machakos Bus Station and realized he was in very new territory? I felt that. Not knowing someone in a new place can be frustrating. Tried asking for directions from 2 random couples in the street but I kept getting this weird “You look like a Hobo and we don’t have money to give to a Hobo‘ look. Quite displeasing. Asked the 4th person where I could find an orange Shop to buy a SIM Card – Surprisingly he stopped and took me where I could buy one. We walked around for about 45 minutes just looking for an Orange Mobile Store. I began to think he was going to lead me into a dark alley and rob me. Haha! Thank God he didn’t. Finally got me a SIM Card and WhatsApp’d my sisters to tell them I was in France. My ‘new friend’ asked if I knew where I was going after that. Of course I didn’t so I was honest so he asked for my map with the name of the place I was looking for. He recognized the place so he also bought 2 metro tickets, his and mine, so we could go together to the other side of town. After 30 minutes of navigating through the underground tunnels to connect trains, we finally arrived at Le Bastille.
I was going to ISART Digital to meet Pierre Forcade, a guy I’d only chatted to on email after I saw his event on Lanyrd. But first, we had to find me a cheap BnB to check-in to since I was super tired (I hadn’t slept for about 2 days because I spent the previous nights seeing the Dutch nightlife). We walked in and out of about 7 BnBs looking for the cheapest and most decent one. I remember thinking to myself, “God! This is one patient stranger.” At every new BnB, location he would ask the receptionist how much a night costs. I would translate to Kenya Shillings and then we would converse in broken English and I would often shake my head. We would then leave in search of the next best thing. We finally found one with hot water, a clean bed and a heater for 35 Euro a night exclusive of breakfast. I figured I could find a random walk-in restaurant to have Stroopwafels and hot coffee each new morning. Coco (not sure if its Cou-Cou or Cucu or CousCous), my guide, then left and gave me his phone number. He asked me to call him in case I needed anything. I remembered I needed toothpaste for the next morning so I left the BnB to look for a supermarket at about 7PM. It gets dark quite early during the winter so I had to navigate using streetlights being careful to take note of landmarks I would used to find my way back. Found a store half an hour later and got my stuff – decided to do a bit of exploring before going back.. and then I Got Lost. Isn’t it weird how everything looks the same when you’re lost? You’re never sure if the block you passed 5 minutes ago is the same one you’re looking at in front of you. Stayed lost for another 2 hours before I found a policeman to help me. I rode on his motorcycle back to the BnB – I would never have found my way back; I was about 2 KMS strayed from the main path. Again, thank God for La Police.
Morning couldn’t arrive fast enough – couldn’t wait to get up and go exploring. Early the next morning, Stroopwafels in one hand and a cup of black sugarless coffee in the other, I joined a group of protestors I met just outside the restaurant.
The group of about 50 protestors were shielded by police at the front, on the sides and at the back. I have never felt safer being a protestor. They must have been protesting against something to do with taxi charges, ‘paper’ or something. I can’t really remember. In the afternoon, I set on a mission to find the Eiffel Tower.
Got lost twice in the underground Metro again. By the time I found the correct route, I was so good with the map that I was the one showing other tourists how to get from point A to Point B – I was trying to restore the Goodness Balance that ‘Couscous‘ had shown me the previous day. Helped anyone and everyone I could that day.. Everyone except a homeless guy on the train who lost his phone. Yes, I kid you not – a Homeless guy living on the train had a pickpocket nick his phone – funniest thing you ever saw.
Finally found the Eiffel and took pictures. Also met Shirley, a Brazilian doctor who’d saved and saved and saved…… and saved some more just to travel out here. Also met an exceptionally happy jolly couple who’d just gotten married around the Eiffel Tower. There was a horse and carriage around so I assumed it was theirs post-wedding. Young Fresh Love that made me think of myself. I kept thinking, “This guy really pulled all the stops for this. All women who see this will have extremely high expectation from their ‘husbands to be’. Also visited the Musee du Louvre, and took some pictures.
All in all, it was a good few days of random food from random restaurants and random conversations with nice and weird People.
There’s a lot more I will write about this trip; this is just a tip-iceberg scenario but I had to get started and this is post Numbero Uno. @jpmuga met me in the streets of Nairobi and asked me what motivated me to be so bally about this. I didn’t have a ready answer because it mostly just happened. I guess I followed what I consider Casey Neistat‘s 2 most valuable pieces of advice:
- When Nothing’s for Sure, Everything is Possible
- The Adventure doesn’t Begin until Something Goes Wrong
Watch Casey’s Do More with Nike Video below. Hope it challenges you as much as it did me:
Given a chance, I would do everything the exact same way! If not with more uncertainty. I will post more pictures from the adventure here. Thanks for reading.. If you can, leave a comment below.