I was three weeks into my Cape Town to Zanzibar trip when I discovered that Henry’s name was actually Henly.
We were sitting together at The Three Monkeys Restaurant in Victoria Falls and I was trying to find him on Facebook.
“How do you spell your last name again?”, I asked.
“K.i.n.y.u.a.”, he said.
“I literally can’t find you on here.”
At this, he took the phone from me and said, “This is because my first name is Henly, not Henry.”
WHAT? I had been calling him Henry for weeks. How could I go so wrong? And this is where I learned that ‘r’s and ‘l’s can be tricky in Africa. Names are important to me, and so, I was mortified. But, Henly flashed me the smile that he was renowned for and assured me that all was well.
This is how all of us on the tour referred to Henly. The guy that just couldn’t stop smiling – a true “whistle while you work” type of fella. And all of us got to spend quality time with him because he held the most important position in the troop – camp cook.
This tour was participatory camping; which meant that at some point we were going to have to be on truck duty, dishes duty or cooking duty. Henly was the hub of this. The kitchen is generally the epicenter of the home and the same rang true for the camp. Whether we were setting up the kitchen or drying the dishes, chopping the vegetables or fetching water, Henly was there, with a calm sense of command and an ever-present smile.
With Henly we made fried kale, kudu steaks, beans, lamb chops, fried rice, pork chops, salads of varying kinds and ugali (cornmeal paste from Henly’s Kenyan home). Without us, Henly typically made breakfast because we were pathetic. While he was whipping up crepes and French toast, boiling water for tea and frying eggs and bacon; we were sleepily rolling up tents and hauling our gear onto the truck.
An alarm clock was not necessary. Henly, and our driver Ben, were on task in the wee hours as we had many early starts. We would be nudged out of sleep by their gentle murmuring, and the occasional (maybe purposeful) clang of a pot.
I asked Henly if he ever missed his family while being on the road. The guides, cook and driver can be away from home for close to 100 days at a time – 48 days one way, 48 days back home. He said at the beginning it was hard and he missed everyone. This was his 12th year working for Intrepid as a cook.
“You get used to it,” he said, “I have made a new family, the one you make on the road. People on the road start to look for me if I’ve been at home too long.”
Watching Henly set up shop along the road and in various camps was something to behold. He had such ease at making a kitchen at every stop, whether we were diverted to a new lunch spot because elephants had taken ours, or in a bush camp in the middle of nowhere. It’s hard to imagine a time where this would have all been new.
But he was nervous on the first few trips. Beyond cooking, the cook has to stay within a budget and negotiate the ever-changing demands of those with special diets, which meant that he was often cooking more than one version of the same meal. But Intrepid was careful to grow the experience in stages. He was put on 1-week tours for 2 years, a year doing 2-week tours, and then, in year 3, embarked on the epic Kenya to Cape Town tour.
I found myself wondering how people get themselves into these types of jobs. When I was in high school, all my guidance counsellor had for me was ‘teacher-nurse-lawyer-accountant’ options. Bleh. Where was the little box that said, “Cook on Epic Overland Journey”?
Henly spent 1.5 years at the Nairobi Cooking School, learning exactly this. He had an uncle that worked in tourism and would tell magical stories of the places that he saw and the people he met. Henly imagined a world outside his own 4 walls and took the steps to make it happen. He wanted to see Namibia and found Spitzkoppe to be his favourite spot. I can’t argue with him there. Namibia was also the reason I ventured to Africa.
Henly and I were sitting on the truck one steamy Malawian night, the stars were starting to appear, my group had dispersed to sit on the beach or have a Savannah cider in the bar. I had all the windows open on the truck, trying to catch a breeze. I was sitting at the table, taking advantage of the truck lights to catch up on some writing. And, that’s when I took the opportunity to chat with Henly about life.
It was the perfect set-up to wax poetically about life.
“Whatever your dreams are,” he said, “follow them. When you wake up in the morning, you have only two options: wake up and chase your dream, or, second choice, go back to sleep and keep dreaming your dream.”
I asked him what was the biggest highlight on any of the trips that he has made around Africa. Not surprisingly it took place in Namibia; the truck got stuck.
He regaled me with a tale of 22 travellers, all trying to figure out how to get the truck unstuck, in the middle of nowhere. Eventually, everyone gave up and slept on the truck.
I laughed, “That’s a highlight? It sounds like a struggle.”
But no. He said that him and the driver knew they had to take some sort of action, so they walked 2 km to a small farm owned by a San Bushman. The Bushman couldn’t speak English, but after many charades, Henly and the driver returned with 4 horses. They hooked up the horses to the truck and heaved it out of the mud.
“That is the day that I truly knew the meaning of horsepower!”, he laughed. It was clear that Henly had pride in solving this problem, which I’m sure gave all those on board a phenomenal story in which to remember the Namibian outback.
Henly wants to get married and have kids one day, but for now he’s content chasing his dream as he ambles around Africa with Intrepid. He says he’s “proud to be Intrepid”, as I think any of us that take on one of these journeys are. He considers the people he works with family, and feels heard and supported by them.
It takes a special person to take on a job like this. Constantly changing situations, new faces, early mornings, long truck days, distance from friends and family. But Henly seems to take it all in stride, with a happy disposition and a bizarre well of energy that I wish I could tap into.
“The smile you have at the start of the day,” he said, “let it be the same smile at the finish of the day.”
Couldn’t have said it better myself.
(Image credits from top to bottom: Carla Powell x3, Rob Lendon, Carla Powell, Rob Lendon, Carla Powell x2. All photos taken on Intrepid’s Cape Town to Zanzibar adventure.)