"We are hoping to complete the official border crossing today so we can eat and sleep in Kitale tonight," I confirm to our Kenyan guide. "This is possible?"
I'm expecting a reassuring yes.
What I receive instead is a firm no.
My heart drops. What does he mean, it's not possible?
We've just crossed the river dividing Uganda and Kenya. I had begun to relax: the plan was coming through. But I'm realizing quickly that our Kenyan information has come up short.
For example, we expected a gentle downhill slope for the whole Kenyan side. But in fact we begin with a brutally steep uphill in muddy buffalo tracks where there is no trail.
Another example: we expected just one guide, but here are three guys. Why are there three, for the two of us? Do we have to pay three guys?
The third, crucial example: we can't legally cross the border today?
Apparently not. We've been hiking for four hours, but now he says there will be four hours more, an hour in a vehicle (wait, do we have to pay for a vehicle?), and that won't even get us to the Suam passport control point, which will by then be closed.
It's not a heartening thought, but at least the Kenyan soldiers let me hike fast. And the trail (non-trail) is very wet, but my feet are already soaked, and the rain is lessening.
I'm hiking in the altitude with my big pack. I pause every thirty seconds to let my heart rate lessen; it's pumping hard in the thin air.
At last, we crest at the caldera rim below Elgon's impressive Kenya-side peak.
The border crossing is out of my control, so I don't worry. Better to enjoy the walk. My strides lengthen. The scenery on this side is more dramatic: cliffs, waterfalls. Beautiful through the falling rain.
I imagine my lungs welcoming the denser air as we begin to descend. It's our sixth or seventh hour of walking. We pick our way down through boggy peat beside a river for a couple of hours more.
At last, I see the tracks of a road. A military vehicle, a truck with benches in the covered bed, is waiting. Eileen and I are invited into the cab.
There is some weirdness with money. Our guide needs to be paid– this is 3,000 Kenyan shillings. In cash. Now.
Eileen pulls out our Kenyan money, $100 (10,000 Ksh) acquired during our stopover in Nairobi. 3,000 to the guide. What about the two unexpected security guys? They want 3,000 each too. What about porter service? Our guide carried Eileen's bag, and wants 1,500.
Good thing I carried my own bag: 3,000 times three plus 1,500 is more than we have. She gives the guy the last of our Kenyan cash and an American $5 bill.
At least we can pay for the vehicle ride with a card. How much is that, by the way? 12,000 Ksh. That's about $4. No, that's the Ugandan conversion. $12. Is that right? Two decimal places. We're a bit tired. Oh. $120 surprise expense.
But what's our option? We gave up our ability to have choices when we entered the park, days ago. The two of us in our damp clothes climb into the passenger seat of the cab.
The road has melted in the rain into a slop of red clay soup. Luckily, we're riding with the military: big truck, four wheel drive. Our driver is indomitable, drifting more than driving the muddy slopes. He's very cheerful, bursting into startling laughter as he chats with us. Our wheels slip precariously towards the edges of the sloping road.
After an hour, we make it to the park office intact. The border crossing is a drive away, but it's already closed.
The park service makes arrangements for us to spend one more night on Mount Elgon. It's a long discussion, but ultimately there are no choices: this is the place we will sleep; here is the price. This is the cost to be driven to the border.
My dreams of a hot meal will have to wait. I have some raisins and groundnuts, so that will have to do. But we’re safe. We’re being taken care of. Legal emigration means freedom in the morning– onward to choosing our own adventures.