Traveling broadens one’s horizon, they say. And also: Traveling is yearning for life; the only useful cure for the acceleration of time. Skateboarders can usually tell you a thing or two about this. Especially the ones who can look back on a proper number of years of patronizing sponsorships – like Michi Mackrodt and myself. The validity of the above sentences can pretty much be deduced from our lives: me, the one who’s halfway settled, slightly grizzled – Michi, who’s four years younger, feistier, fresher, and has accumulated a bunch of frequent-flyer miles. But how is the one who is collecting all those miles supposed to get the needed decelerating elixir of life, when his horizon encompasses countless Barca trips and travels across half the globe? Exactly: he’s always taking new paths – and someday, he’ll touch down in Kenya!
On the website of the Federal Foreign Office, you can find a bunch of travel warnings for Kenya. Next to the expectable sicknesses and wild animals, the authorities also explicitly warn of terror and criminality in all its facets: fraud, carjacking, spying, violent assaults, and so on. And I have to admit: as a white, West European skater, Kenya probably feels like some Bavarian village up in the alps feels like for an African – you are the odd one out in every case!
Obviously, the country suffers from great inequalities. The difference is that, despite all the usual clichés, it’s not the white Westerner who’s exploiting the poor but rather the (newly)-rich Kenyans themselves. The isolated prosperous ghettos with their magnificent mansions and newest SUVs border right on the shack-like slums. In both cities that we scanned for spots, Mombasa and Nairobi, there was an omnipresent hustle and bustle around us, scrimmages on the sidewalks and markets, even the streets almost burst from traffic.
"We were skating an empty parking lot when, all of a sudden, we found ourselves surrounded by a bulk of club-swinging policemen."
Frowzy Tuk-tuks are chiming, rattling Matatu minivans are roaring, and fumes daub the smell of fresh fruits and vegetables, which are being sold right on the curb. There are no streetlights at night… perfect conditions for criminals of all kind, you’d think. But actually the very opposite was the case. We were greeted friendly most of the time – the skateboards we carried probably did their bit. Everyone was excited about visitors, was open-minded and interested, joked around in a laid-back atmosphere. The only unpleasant incident occurred when we encountered the supposedly good and helpful ones.
One night, we barely escaped a military police patrol with machine guns, which wanted to lure us into a shady alley under false pretense. On another afternoon, we had less luck. We were skating an empty parking lot when, all of a sudden, we found ourselves surrounded by a bulk of club-swinging policemen. Making up some accusations out of thin air, they took us to the station. While we heard cries and blows from the next den, they blatantly told us: we can pay straight away – or spend the night in jail! Well, we didn’t let them intimidate us and were free to go half an hour later – without paying a dime!
As mentioned earlier, visual traveler and line fisher Michi chose Mombasa and Nairobi to be the most interesting when it comes to skating. The two biggest cities Kenya has are separated by 500 kilometers [310 miles, editor‘s note], but it felt like they could’ve been in totally different countries. First stop: the port city Mombasa, characterized by Arabic customs, and when it comes to architecture, it inheres a rather simple charm. Our favorite means of transportation, the Tuk-tuk, is everywhere. Skate locals: pretty much none; just on the very last day, one hyped-up dude in his oil-covered overall comes up to us. He says that he’s seen us from his car repair shop down the street. He claims to be the only skater in this city. Then he asks us for advice how to ollie higher. We quickly find out: he doesn’t have any griptape on! So he gets our last roll of Ashes and we take the closest Tuk-tuk to the main station.
"Trash collectors on miserable landfills and hailing kids from Quonsets, endless vastness of red earth and saturated green, zebras and giraffes."
A few minutes later, our driver stops at some rusty hut next to a storage siding. We look around in disbelief and, indeed, there are people selling tickets inside this Quonset hut. Yes, the night train comes twice a week. Yes, it’s the only train. Yes, railroads and train are still the English ones, colonial era… The night train was very enjoyable, second class including warm food and cold beer. Outside, you had Africa rushing by: trash collectors on miserable landfills and hailing kids from Quonsets, endless vastness of red earth and saturated green, zebras and giraffes.
The next morning, we were spat out by our time-traveling train. Nairobi: equally packed as Mombasa but more antagonisms; more poor, moor rich. A skyline in its infancy and a lot of businesses. No much-loved Tuk-tuks, just expensive cabs. Same prices that we have but only a small amount of people who can pay them. In comparison to Mombasa, a different world. For us, it was surprising to find out that the only skater from Mombasa had around 150 like-minded people here – for whom Michi rose to the position of a new skate god, the king of the local main spot: Uhuru park, mainly consisting of manual pads and flatground! The king of Hasenheide [Berlin skatepark, editor‘s note] went on a state visit – and as a hospitality gift, he ordered that all our leftover skate stuff shall be distributed equally among all locals.
Without any skate stuff and after two weeks of intense spot hunting, we treated us with a real safari at the end, royal conference with the lions, so to speak. Safaris can be experienced very uncomplicated by just taking a cab in Nairobi. The national park is conveniently located right in front of the city gates. Zebras, giraffes, and antelopes. Wilderness within one’s reach. On one side, the skyline of the city and, on the other one, true vastness. The royal conference never happened though. No lion in sight. Just not feeling it? Emigrated? Suppressed? Maybe on his way to the Mediterranean Sea…? Who knows. No lion, just us in a cab going through an endless national park. The sun starts to set and what’s left is the vast horizon.