Tired of making travel decisions? Isaac Stone Simonelli was, so he allowed the dice to make the decisions for him.
A die tumbles from my hand onto the green felt of a pool table in Thailand. If it’s an even number, I will depart for the frozen wastelands of Mongolia after a short jaunt through Vietnam; if it’s an odd number, I’m bound for
How did I come to this point? How did it happen that the friends I make, the women with whom I fall in love, the adventures I struggle through, and even the food I eat are being jostled by kinetic energy, gravity, torque, and friction as they manipulate a single tumbling cube?
Mongolia versus Kenya wasn’t the first roll of the dice. I’d already been on the road with my dice and a Honda CB500X motorcycle for nearly five months.
Unlike most trips, where we start with a budget and a time frame, my travels started with a premise, a simple premise: allow die rolls to determine the majority of decisions faced while motorbiking throughout the world with a limited budget for an entire year. It would be 365 days of testing fate, enticing serendipity and letting go of free will – if such things exist at all.
Every day we draw on limited decision making resources. Apparently, we tend to make better decisions earlier in the day and shy away from difficult choices (or make poorer decisions) late at night. This journey was born out of this theory of decision fatigue, because what decision really matters in the long run? All of them? None of them?
Maybe just some of them.
So, what’s the difference between Mongolia and Kenya when it comes to the experience? The details, of course, are vastly different, but the reality of it is that travel always comes back to who we meet along the way. At this fundamental level, Mongolia and Kenya have equal value – who knows who I’ll meet?
The die comes to a stop. It’s a “one”: Kenya it is.
It’s a rough landing at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport: after reaching an agreement with a Customs Officer not to confiscate my drone, I find myself at Sister Sarah’s orphanage in Kayole, which I had found through Couch Surfing, the online travel community.
I was fearful that the orphanage might end up being a trap, where they would expect me to give them money in exchange for hospitality. I had wavered on whether or not to allow the dice to decide where I slept when I landed in Kenya. During my layover in Doha, however, I give the decision to the die: a 66/33 weighted split in favour of the orphanage.
All the fears that I was setting myself up to be scammed are washed away when I meet Sister Sarah. However, after a nap, I’m led to a supermarket, where she and two orphan boys start filling a shopping basket with a football and more than $60 worth of other bits and pieces. I put my foot down on buying cologne – I can’t even afford cologne for myself. Head swimming with frustration and anger, I cough up the cash and settle my bill at the front of the store.
This is not what Couch Surfing is about. If I wanted to spend $60 when I landed, I would have booked a hotel. I sit down with Sister Sarah and explain. She’s distraught by how her actions are understood. It’s a healthy communion, and I leave the next morning. Though I can’t bag the dice for throwing me in the deep end, I need to find shallower water if I’m going to last.
The goal is to get back on the road immediately, but it takes nearly a month to secure a motorcycle – a 2006 Yamaha DT175, named Rafiki.
By the Will of the Dice, we are headed to Mount Elgon. The night before we got on the road, an awkward list of destinations was drawn up: 1) Mountain lake near border of Ethiopia 2) Hell’s Gate 3) Place with Bees 4) Random map drawn by dude at Karen Camp 5) Mount Elgon – recommended 30 seconds before making the list 6) Lake Victoria 7) Nanyuki 8) Baringo.
This time, an octahedron die (numbered one to eight) was cast – because sometimes you have more than six good options.
With Rafiki, I work my way through the Tugen Hills of Baringo County. Up one final, gentle hill, I then begin descending into a valley on the far side.
Beyond the valley, we gain altitude, there are fewer and fewer candelabra succulents, with their thick heads of cactus arms stretching up into the forever blue sky like an afro wig on a tree trunk. Instead, there are the sparsely distributed, yet ever-present acacia trees. The ridge peaks and then falls back down into a valley, hills standing like an ominous wall on the far side of the rest of the valley.
And there, at the base of Mount Elgon, an old Kenyan man takes me in, feeds me in his small mud-brick house and provides a place to sleep at his neighbour’s after joining me on a hike to the Elephant Cave.
A week later, broken down on the outskirts of Amboseli National Park, a Maasai equipped with putty rescues Rafiki and me, patching up her oil pan. The following month, I’m out of fuel in an arid stretch of no-man’s land of Tanzania, with no Tanzanian shillings left in my pocket, as I race toward the Kenyan border. A local officer tucks Rafiki into the back of his sedan and takes us to Namanga.
Day in day out, the dice and serendipity collude to bring me face to face with some of the most enchanting, kind-hearted people I could ever meet. Month after month, life moves this way for me – never knowing what’s next until it’s creeping over the horizon.
Rarely are the planned aspects of a trip the highlight: it’s the chance sighting of a lioness taking down a gazelle or the friendship found in a local dive bar that we cling to years later. And though I am no longer on the road, no longer skating by thanks to the generosity of countless strangers, the dice continue to bend my life as they tumble from my hands.
Isaac Stone Simonelli is writing a book about his dice-based adventures. Follow his
adventures on www.dicetravels.com