After our lovely stay in Tsavo National Park, Des and Cam drove on to Nairobi. On their way they dropped Yael and me at Voi train station so we could get back to Mombasa where we’d be picked up by Alice, the lovely driver that collected me from the airport when I arrived. Yael and I weren’t going back to Nairobi yet because we needed to keep working on the wall and I had a flight booked from Mombasa to Nairobi that left a few days later. Upon enquiry Kenya Airways revealed that to not use my plane ticket it would cost me US$250 and if I simply didn’t show up they would cancel my flight from Nairobi back to London at the end of March. So back to the volunteer house it was!
We drove out of Tsavo and along for about twenty minutes until we reached Voi. The sleekly modern, glass panelled train station looked so preposterously out of place surrounded by the dusty shacks and ramshackle buildings of the town. We drove back and forth a few times, trying to find out how we could actually get into the station, but after asking four or five people we managed to figure it out. We pulled into the car park and Yael and I got our stuff out of the boot.
It was time to say goodbye.
Okay it wasn’t a proper goodbye because we could see each other when we were all back in Nairobi, but it wouldn’t be the same. Oceans Four, as we had become known, wouldn’t be the same without our ocean. It was the end of a chapter. I hugged Des and Cam and thanked them for everything. They had been so fantastically generous and we had had so many adventures that parting ways didn’t actually feel real. My brain couldn’t process the idea that after two months of being in their constant company I wouldn’t see them.
“Bye, dogs,” Cam said and after a pause added, “I guess you were alright,” I laughed,
“Wow, thank you.” Yael said. “That was so heartfelt,” We all looked at each other for a moment, no one wanting to be the one to walk away first, because that would make it real.
“I can’t believe this is the end,” I said.
“Hey, this is not the end.” Cameron said forcefully, “We’ll see you in Nairobi,” I smiled and nodded,
“Have a safe trip, yeah?” Des said, “Keep us in the loop,”
“We’ll let you know when we’re back at the volunteer house,” I said. Des glanced down at Yael’s bare feet.
“Do you have shoes?” He asked and Yael laughed.
“I have a flip flop,” she said and dropped it down onto the floor. “I can hop,”
“Only one?” Des asked, confused.
“The other one is back in Diani I’m afraid and these are the only pair of shoes I have. All my others are back in Nairobi,” Des shook his head and took off his own flip flops.
“Take these,” he said. I could see the surprise on Yael’s face and she said,
“What? No, Des of course I can’t take your shoes,” she shook her head.
“Yes of course you can. You’ll need them,” he placed the flip flops down at her feet. “See? I’ll be just fine,”
“Thank you so much Des,” Yael said, clearly touched by this act of kindness. Des was always looking out for us. I can’t remember who it was that turned away first, but Des and Cameron needed to keep driving and Yael and I needed to buy our tickets. They got back into the car and I flinched as the doors slammed shut with a finality that I hadn’t quite prepared for.
“Safe journey dogs,” Cam called out of his open window as Des pulled out back onto the road.
“You too,” we called out, waving goodbye. We watched as they drove off, the ‘Oceans 4’ we had written in the dust of the boot still visible as the car pulled away.
Yael and I turned to each other, “Jeez, can you believe it’s over?” I asked.
“Nope,” Yael said and we trudged up to the ticket office. Thankfully it was cool in the station and, despite a very alarming video about rules and regulations on the trains, it was pretty pleasant. We had quite a lot of time to kill, giving us plenty of time to watch the creepy animation explaining that it wasn’t safe to leave your cattle or large rocks on the railway tracks.
“God dammit Yael, we’re gonna have to move the cows,” I joked as the animation wiped out the herd in a splash of comically bright red blood.
“Aw, man what a shame,” she said laughing and we were ushered onto the platform by an official where we waited for our train.
When the train did come we were delighted to find that it was air conditioned. The tracks ran right next to the National Park and at one point Yael nudged me and pointed at the herd of elephant that were walking along next to us. I’ve been on many trains but that was most definitely a first. We both listened to music and stared out of the window, watching everything go by.
Yael sent me a few photos from Tsavo, so that I could have them on my phone. I flicked through them until I reached the one of all four of us at our sundowner spot. Suddenly the parting that hadn’t seemed real hit me all at once. I could feel the emotion of it bubbling up inside of me as tears welled up in my eyes. What an incredible experience. What incredible people. I tried to blink the tears away but they spilled down onto my cheeks. Oceans Four. Come to a close.
Embarrassed, I used my hand to hide and brushed the salty streaks off my face so that Yael wouldn’t notice. I was grateful that she was staring out of the window so I had a moment to compose myself. I took a deep breath and scrolled on through all of the photos I had taken so far in Kenya. There were quite a few but now the feeling of sadness had passed. Now looking at these photos I couldn’t help but chuckle. There were nice photos of us all working together and stupid photos of us when we were drunk. Photos of us on the beach, on the boat, underwater – so many different times and places and experiences. Pretty freaking awesome if you ask me.
We pulled into the station a couple of hours later and sadly left the air conditioning behind for Mombasa’s exhausting 40 degree heat. Once we were in the car and on our way Yael leaned forward to ask Alice if we could stop at City Mall as we went past.
“There’s something I need to get,” she explained, “Ice cream,” So when we pulled into City Mall we hopped out of the car and dashed into an Italian restaurant where piles of pillowy looking ice cream were laid out in their freezer. We ambled slowly out of the mall enjoying our giant ice cream cones, not wanting to leave the coolness of the building as Alice’s car sadly lacked air conditioning as well. However, there was only so long we could spend window shopping at the local SIM card provider so we got back in the car and finished the drive back to Kuruwitu.
Yael and I spent the next couple of days down at the wall. We would wake up before the sunrise and amble our way down to the beach, still blinking the sleep from our eyes. We would then sit down on the sand and wait for the sun to rise, watching as the sky filled with bright orange light. Once the sun was up we would go in for our snorkel. Somehow when you snorkel at dawn everything feels so crisp. The water is cool, calm and clear, the sand undisturbed by waves and feet. Somehow an hour and a half would pass and we would reluctantly wander back up to the volunteer house to shower and have some breakfast before departing for the wall.
The wall was just as much fun as it always was, if not more. We would take it in turns putting on music, chatting and occasionally attacking each other with paint. I turned her into a cat. She turned me into Pippi Longstocking. What more could you possibly want?
One day we were working and by lunchtime we were both starving and ever so slightly sick of the sight of the wall. The perfect excuse to go to the beach bar one last time for lunch. By now we were really good friends with the people working there and they winced when we told them we were leaving.
“We will miss your presence,” Mish, one of the waitresses, said.
“When will you be coming back?” Bianca asked me.
“I don’t know,” I replied honestly, “Hopefully some day soon,”
To be honest those vegetable tacos with chargrilled pineapple salsa are worth the trip back from the UK. Although that might have been because by the time they arrived we were so hungry, a pile of grass clippings probably would have tasted gourmet. Festus, one of the waiters, even brought us a bowl of chips on the house and we were so touched by the kindness of the people around us.
On our final afternoon we sat on the boat, moored in the lagoon, drinking the last two ciders Yael had brought down from the fridge at the house. We had finished the wall, or at least we had reached a point of completion where Yael could come back and add the final scene later on. I think there were also a couple of tiny details she needed to add, like dotting the ‘i’ of Kuruwitu, but for all intents and purposes we were done. We basked in the late afternoon sun, enjoying the lapping of the waves.
The idea of leaving the sea made me want to cry, but I was excited about moving on to a new phase in my trip. Two months was quite a long time to spend in one place and I was eager to see more of Kenya. But as we lay on that boat I knew that it wouldn’t be long before I was back in the sea, because I never feel such passion and purpose as I do when I’m in the water. I know that understanding the world’s oceans and conserving them are what I want to spend the rest of my life doing and I feel pretty lucky to be so certain about that.
The following morning, our final morning, Yael and I went down to the beach to watch one last sunrise before I had to go.
Alice was coming to collect me at 6:30am so we had just enough time to see it before I had to run back upstairs to my suitcase which was all packed up, sitting by the front door. We spread out cushions from the beach bar out on the sand and waited for the sun to show itself. When the light spilled out from between the clouds and set the water on fire I dragged my unwilling feet back up to the volunteer house to wash the sand from between my toes.
It was a real shock to have to wear socks again.
Yael had said many times over the last couple of days that she hated goodbyes and would avoid them at all costs. As I shoved my ridiculously heavy suitcase into the back of Alice’s car Yael came outside and hugged me.
“Now just so you know this is not a goodbye. I’m seeing you in Nairobi,” she said firmly. “I’ll see you again in no time,”
“Exactly,” I agreed. “Definitely not goodbye,” I said, but hugged her one more time just in case and pushed my backpack into the back seat.
“See you later, freak.” she called out.
“See you,” I shouted back with a chuckle. I buckled my seatbelt and heard the rumble of the engine starting.
Time for a new adventure.
Here’s the wall: