I had forgotten how grueling Capture Kenya is.
The road to find captivating sceneries is long and gorgeous. It will, however, sap all your energy. All of it. Expending creative juices while you are on the road is not just draining, most times you need to actually push yourself. It really doesnt matter where you are in Kenya.
The route map of Kenya we have is printed on both sides, with an imaginary line cutting through from Bungoma to the areas past Garissa. We started the journey in Machakos, which is on the side of the map with the southern side of the country. Its as if that line divides Kenya into two completely different places. A deliberate cleavage of the densely populated areas to the south, with their lush green landscapes and winding roads from the deserted, captivating lands in the north. Somewhere past Nanyuki, where the roads suddenly begin to dip, you cross that map, and you have to flip it.
Suddenly the plots of land do not have wheat or trees. They have rocks. Huge bolders that almost look as if they are growing from the earth. Sometimes you drive for hours without seeing a single living soul. The acacia trees seemingly littering the foreground, with hills and mountains finishing up the landscape in the background. Goats and cows have right of way. Transactions are done with bottles of water and biscuits, and almost everyone you meet is carrying an AK47. And they politely borrow water. As if you can say no to giving water to a guy with a Russian gun slinging from his shoulder with several magazines held together with rubber on the loaded magazine. But the sun here is unforgiving, even to guys with guns, and dehydration is a real and constant concern. So if you are on the road these sides, buy enough water to quench the thirst of an entire clan.
Photographers are the only guys who seem to get even more energy as the road gets grueling, as you detour from Isiolo on the last hundred or so kilometers and the sun reminds you it lords these parts, you can see their eyes glittering. They have stories of bike rides beyond Loruk, of solo rides where the bike decides to become the symbol for Murphys Law.
I think of all creatives, photographers are the craziest. We writers are sloths. We write because we cant not. Everything else in the world seems hard, and writing is what comes easiest to us. We sit and pretend we are researching as we Google strange things like extra nipples and how bananas will save the world. We plot world domination. Sometimes the story writes itself and sometimes we beat ourselves and bleed onto paper. The most dangerous thing Ive ever done is push deadlines and send first drafts. When panic meets inspiration meets adrenaline meets the fact that bills will need to be paid. Thats what a badass writer is.
Then you go on a journey like #ThisIsKenya and you realise you need to get out more. The juice to exist, which photographers seem to have in excess, starts to run out by the third day. The day starts every day at 5, sometimes at 4, and doesnt stop until midnight. If you are not writing you are on the road, on a plane, in the air, holding lights, discussing scenes, trying to get models to act natural. It all becomes hazy after the second day, as your usual slothing hours are spent moving between seeing how seamlessly nature weaves her stories and fighting fatigue.
But our trajectories are so different. Some are born to make leather, others to taste tea, others to take shape words into stories and others to criticize our work. Then there are photographers. I think, out of all the creatives, photographers were created last. All the remaining crazy was then offloaded into them and their cameras. They will sit, stand, climb, hang, bend, bow, kneel, and extend to get the perfect shot. You know how two-year-olds seem to have tricked nature into giving them some exceptions on the law of gravity? How, sometimes, they will suspend themselves from cupboards or lean so far on armrests that you are sure they will fall and break their little tiny skulls? Yet they dont? Thats photographers for you.
I ask Allan what the craziest thing he has ever done for a photo is and he takes thirty minutes to come up with a story of a lone ride to Loruk. Where I think sitting on the dusty road in the depths of Isiolo is borderline, he sees it as normal. He will not see a rock or a cliff he wont climb for the perfect shot. If everything else fits, his comfort is tertiary. Kokan will climb the roof of the car and stand so much on the edge that you get the instinct to stand behind him like one of those ushers in church whose work it is to hold people whose demons have been cast. He will lie on the tarmack and climb trees. There are different angles to get, casts to talk to, lights to fix, and sun to chase. There simply seems to be no time to think about the fact that being a photographer shouldnt be as dangerous as being in the army. It should have a longer lifespan, at least.
We are on the road to Loiyangalani, then on to Chalbi Desert. There will be detours here too which means theres no guarantee we will get to the Jade Sea before nighttime. Last nights detours meant the night found us in Isiolo, and we spent the night at a hotel where the guy kept promising us his plumber was fixing the water. Well, there was a trickle this morning, perhaps a hint of whats ahead. The roads are so straight you can almost see the curve of the earth. Network will get spotty and the sun will get even hotter. Perhaps this is what flipping the map meant.