Sunday, June 20, 2010

how many PhDs toes it take to change a flat tire... or, the five Sunday sighs

So this is my first Kenya post, but also my last Tanzania post, since it spans the day Brian, Kevin, Vince, Adam and I drove from Arusha to Nairobi after the Natron field season.

We were all ready to get on to our next projects, I think - so ready that we forgot to pack any lunch for ourselves for the 7(ish) hour trip. Oops! Brian and Kevin were heading to Nairobi for a few days before going north to the Turkana region for more research; Vince and Adam were spending just a few days in Nairobi visiting a friend of Vince's before going back to Tanzania and flying back to the US.

The trip went pretty smoothly; well, most of it. We crossed the Tanzania-Kenya border without much incident; if you bring a Kenyan vehicle to Tanzania you have to leave your original log book (= car title) on the border, which always makes me a bit queasy, but I've done it several times now and they always find it and return it to me without any issues. So: vehicle log book? check. exit stamps from Tanzania? check. visas and entrance stamps for Kenya? check. We were on our way!

We stopped in a town called Kajiado, maybe halfway between Namanga (the border town) and Nairobi. I had been noticing that the steering was feeling a little difficult to control, but I thought I was just tired or something... well, I think I'd had a slow leak in one of my tires, and we stopped in a gas station to get some snacks (drinking yoghurt, peanuts, cookies, water, soda - ah, road food!) and I realized my tire was FLAT. But I thought, no problem - we're in a gas station, after all, I can just either get it patched, or inflate it, or change it. Well, it was Sunday. And the gas station had no electricity. So the air pressure thingy wasn't working. *sigh #1*

No worries, right? We can just change the tire! I think Vince and Adam were enjoying the adventurousness of the tire-changing, though it began to wear off when we realized that the high-lift jack and spare tire were underneath the back seat, so not only did we have to open the back door (which wasn't closing properly so we had strategically wedged a water bottle inside to keep it closed - best explained in person or with a diagram), but we had to take everything out that was so carefully packed. *sigh #2*

So, jack retrieved. Flat tire removed. Spare tire put on. Ready, set, go! Well, we drove about 10 feet and the locals (who had gathered to watch the white-people-changing-a-tire Sunday afternoon show) started yelling and pointing. Huh? The tire was wiggling pretty seriously as we drove away. *sigh #3* Crap. Now we have to unpack the car again, get the high-lift jack again, and try to put the tire on properly. Well, it turns out my spare tire rim was bent. So we decided to drive very slowly with the wobbly tire. We were over 100 km from Nairobi, and it was probably 4:30 pm at this point. And did I mention that my electrical system was a bit f*cked so my headlights weren't working? That meant driving into the city, well past dark, wtih no headlights *sigh #4*

About 100 meters down the road, we passed a little strip of shops. Outside one of the shops wqas a Land Cruiser, a similar model to mine. With not once, but two spare tires attached to the back. I had a crazy thought: what if I offered to buy one of the owner's spare tires? So we pulled off the road and asked in the shop/bar/restaurant if anyone knew who the owner was. A few minutes later, the answer came back: "He's around, but not quite here right now." *sigh #5* We drove off, ready to do headlight-less battle with Nairobi roads.

But about 10 minutes later, that Land Cruiser came speeding past us and pulled over. Whoa! So I pulled over. Turns out the owner had been found, and wanted to see if he could help us. Things were looking up! Long story short, I negotiated for an only very slightly unreasonable price for the tire and rim, which I had to pay for partly in Kenya shillings (glad I'd kept some from my few days in Kenya in early June!) and partly in US dollars. The owner of the car even said he was a mechanic and gave me his phone number in case I ever needed help in the future.

And in sum, our VISA moments:
Late afternoon snacks from the Kajiado petrol station: About $7.88.
Spare tire plus rim bought right off another car: About $218.
Getting to Nairobi just before dark, weary but safe: Priceless!