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Africa » Kenya » Nyanza Province » Kisumu
July 1st 2006
Published: July 1st 2006
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Bonjourno! Another VERY long one, but it has been two weeks, so lots to cover, and I promise you it’ll make you think in places. It’ll also definitely make you laugh at me. Enjoy the photos - the connection here is good, and the photos are low quality so it really didn’t take long to upload them. Thought I’d treat you near the end of my travels, especially after the blog length. But it’s quantity over quality. Have fun.

I survived Nairobi! Quite chuffed by this statement I am, especially as I went back through the city and stayed a night in the doomed River Road district. I would have normally bypassed this place, but Afsan had kindly dropped in from Boston, and having got on well climbing Mt Kinabalu together, a catch-up drink seemed the order of the day. It actually gave me the opportunity to explore Nairobi some more, the nice bits that is, and found some relatively pleasant areas, such as a few small patches of grass with no other people around…

However, ignoring standing out in the crowd like an elephant in a rabbit farm when arriving and departing with my big bag, the real test was to come that evening, walking back, alone, after midnight. It had been a good evening, catching up with Afsan, meeting her friend Maina, and a random from Toronto called Steve, anguishly watching England play, and dashing across the road to another bar during a powercut in the 81st minute! With few possessions on me, I saw no point in taking a taxi, and instead started the Mission Impossible soundtrack in my head as I covertly dodged my way back to my hotel, shifting past the hoodies and the prozzies, as if I was playing rugby once more. It was quite fun actually, in a morbid sort of way. I’m strange like that.

Lake Naivasha was the next port of call, though the ‘1hour trip’ took an agonisingly slow 6 hours; even the locals were getting restless - but it’s ok, as I passed the time eating sausages from window vendors. In Kenya, there’s a number of forms of public transport: round town it’s either an Indian-style beaten up rickshaw, a taxi on its last legs, or a poda-poda, which is basically a bicycle with a seat precariously perched on the back wheel. Intercity, it’s a choice of
Jon's tent at Fish Eagle Campsite, NaivashaJon's tent at Fish Eagle Campsite, NaivashaJon's tent at Fish Eagle Campsite, Naivasha

Thanks Jon. It survived the first tropical storm too!
either coach, bus or matatu, though the choice is not always available. If it were, matatus (or chicken buses) would be a thing of the past - they leave when full (thus, much of the cause of my prolonged 6hour journey), then stop everywhere on route, to somehow squeeze in even more passengers (ditto), are poorly maintained and driven often at such reckless speeds that riding in one could be considered an adrenaline sport.

I camped at the Lake for 3 nights at a place called Fish Eagle Inn, which had all the essentials - trees for shade, western toilets, decent food, a friendly guard, bikes for hire, lots of annoying monkeys, scary birds and a big TV for the footy. Is it tragic that much of this month is planned around TV locations and footy times? It was a really great couple of days, cycling on a decent mountain bike (a necessity on these roads) through the beautiful Rift Valley. Formed around 30 million years ago, and regarded by many as the cradle of humanity, the valley is gradually widening as the African and Eurasian plates diverge, and will one day form a new Atlantic, but I’ll be
Crater LakeCrater LakeCrater Lake

and probably ruining my shoes
minerals back in the soil long before then.

On day 1, I cycled 20km to Crater Lake sanctuary, typically getting a puncture at the furthest possible point from home, but for a small tip, Mr Gate Keeper kindly fixed it for me. A nice man, who seemed to have a kind interest in my well-being, as having explored the sanctuary on foot for five hours, I was two hours longer than the ‘average’ exploration time, causing him to radio round a mini search-party. Oops. I was enjoying myself so much, I didn’t want to leave, as it is not everyday you can walk right up to wild giraffe and zebra on foot, with no other people around, no safari vehicles, no annoyingly loud radios, and fortunately no predators. Just one man, one camera, one silly hat. The crater lake itself is one of the many volcanic soda lakes throughout Kenya’s Rift Valley, and where the flamingoes are to be found, feeding off the nutrient-rich lifeforms. Ok, so I only saw twenty myself, but they’re still the first twenty I’ve ever seen in the wild. Flamingo time comes later.

Cycling around, there were dormant/extinct volcanoes everywhere, and Lake Naivasha
Look! Some big orange things over thereLook! Some big orange things over thereLook! Some big orange things over there

walking round the animals :)
too, making for some wonderful sights. Yet another magical experience that continued into day 2, cycling this time through Hell’s Gate National Park, so named because of the 500ft-high red-rock escarpments that flank the 2km valley in between, home to more zebras, countless warthogs, and glass-like obsidian scattered all around. In addition to the wildlife, the park is also home to Africa’s only geothermal power station and an incredible Petra-like gulley system formed from the emptying of a lake many thousands of years ago.

It was while exploring this gorge that I happened to fall 10ft due to trusting an untrustable branch, which, unlike when I jumped from a 2nd storey window at the Grammar (to those who were there), was slightly more unprepared! Somehow, I miraculously survived with an elbow graze, and attempted to climb again and continue exploring through the gorge. It was a day for personally stupid events, as I also later decided to clean my muddy feet in a small waterfall, only to discover, through pain, that it was in fact, a hot spring.

Nevertheless, Hell’s Gate is an exciting and spectacular park, and recommended for anyone traveling alone with little money, using public transport, and trying to see some natural environments in a country where it’s decidedly hard to do so without lots of $$$. Like the groups who kept coming to the campsite in their big yellow safari trucks. No freedom, these passengers just nonchalantly stare into space as if they’re off to jail, often on big 2wks/1month tours - seems horrible. It also means they never see anything of true Kenya.

For example, earlier I stopped off at a local village for a much-needed Fanta (bare in mind I’m in a strange country where soda is cheaper than water), with everyone staring at me - “mzungu, mzungu” (“white guy, white guy” in a slightly derogatory tone), as if I was the first westerner in their village. The usual idleness persists in town - the odd street vendor selling corn, shops that appear to have no custom, plastic little strewn everywhere, and men sit and do nothing in shade, killing time, because they have no jobs and the women presumably do all the work, looking phlegmatic and abstracted. However, all the kids say ‘how are you’, instead of ‘hello’, which makes a pleasant change, and are pleased when I reply in Swahili.

Anyways, while the tourists set off in their yellow trucks and khakis, I signaled down a local passing bus, and hitched my way to Nakuru, Kenya’s fourth largest town for another couple of days. Nakuru is in the middle of an electoral campaign and one that’s reaching national attention for the amount of money sickeningly spent by the candidates every week (over 1 million shillings, or $14k). I asked one local who they would vote for: “the one who saves the most money for the people and spends the least on the campaign.” If only someone told the candidates this.

Despite the microphone noise from the electoral trucks and posters everywhere, Nakuru was a pleasant little place, and I just simply did my usual activity of wandering around and eating in local cafés, where ‘ordinary meals’ = 3 minutes, and ‘special meals’ = 5 minutes. I spoke politics to some locals around the subject of ‘the rich get richer and the poor get poorer’. While chewing miraa (twigs and leaves that give off a euphoric effect and predates coffee in its deeply rooted cultural traditions - matatu drivers use it to stay alert too; whether this is
Nakuru ElectionsNakuru ElectionsNakuru Elections

Spot the man with the Swiss Bank Account
a good thing or not, I’m not sure), they told me that Kenya has no future except in a people’s revolution. I also strolled down to Lake Nakuru National Park, past the typically shocking array of suburban environments seemingly unfit for human habitation. Lake Nakuru, famous for its flamingoes, is too expensive for me, but I did manage to find a hill overlooking the lake, and the sight was incredible. No blue. Just pink everywhere. And so I left a little distraught and jealous at those able to get closer.

Continuing across Kenya to Lake Victoria, my next port of call was Lake Bogoria, where, I hoped, I would also see flamingoes without having to use up as many dollars. Despite dodging two brave tortoises on the roads, and passing five-metre high termite mounds, the journey had a special meaning for me as we crossed over the Equator! Unfortunately, we didn’t stop, but I managed to get a passing blurred shot of the sign as evidence.

I planned on hiring a bike for the day to cycle down the bike-worthy western side of the lake, but annoyingly, this was plagued with problems, and ultimately I discovered I’d been
Who's the daddy?!Who's the daddy?!Who's the daddy?!

and the termite mound's pretty big too
cheated by Eric, a man I befriended and helped find a bike with, which at the time seemed difficult. “Let’s try the butcher.” No bike. “Let’s try the chef.” No bike. “Let’s try the carpenter.” Bike, which I paid 600S for, 1000% more expensive than India, but a standard Kenyan price. To cut the story short, it broke the next day, completely, due to bad mechanics, 10km down the lake!! So I had to walk the bike back in the heat for two and a half hours - not a happy bunny! Exhausted and thirsty, I asked for my money back only to find Eric had sneakily taken 400S I gave to the owner and disappeared, while the owner, on hearing I was back, made a quick exit on a passing lorry. Haha. It’s only a matter of a few dollars, but it’s the principle, and I should’ve trusted my instincts. Still, it’s the first time all year so I shouldn’t grumble, and the funniest thing is how confusing this whole operation was over $5.

That aside, I did make it to the flamingoes and hot springs, which were very pink and very hot. Not as many as I had hoped, compared to Nakuru, but still many thousand. The lake itself has only a mean depth of five metres, and the flamingoes swirl their heads around in it, often in water temperatures of 60oC, catching the organisms by scooping twenty bill-fulls of water every second. So despite the bike debacle, I left seeing what I’d come to see and prepared for the match. That evening, all of Africa stopped doing nothing and found a TV for the Ghana/Brazil game and fully behind Ghana, I tried to relieve the day’s frustrations and settled down to watch too. Sadly, like this entire World Cup, it was marred by atrocious refereeing. Finally, to complete the crap day, I got soaked on my 2km walk from TV to tent, and it continued to rain all night, but Jon’s tent was a savior once more with only a couple of puddles.

I’m sorry, I have been moaning a lot haven’t I?! No need to any more though as these final couple of days have been grand. From Bogoria, the next and final destination before Lake Vicky was Kakamega Forest, the last surviving virgin rainforest in Kenya and an extension of the Congolesian Rainforest. It took five bus connections and a poda-poda to get there, and I passed through the breathtakingly misty Cherangani Hills, on some surprisingly good roads for a change, but this only meant the matatus drove faster! “Pole, pole! Sitaki kufu!” (“slowly slowly, I don’t want to die!”). Kakamega itself is a thriving market town and I enriched my senses for an evening before continuing to the forest the following morning.

I met a very friendly and knowledgeable guide called Nancy, who took me round the forest telling me lots of fascinating facts that one only ever needs to know for a game of Trivial Pursuit, such as where a monkey drinks and which plant cures prostrate cancer. A guide was a necessity too as none of the trails are marked, although I did go for a walk on my own, employing the art of wooden sticks for arrows on the ground. It made a change to see monkeys other than Long-tailed MaCaques, and there were plenty of Black and White Colubis Monkeys, and Blue Monkeys to keep me amused with my nerdy binoculars for hours, before retiring to bed with my oil lamp.

Nancy also invited me to her family’s home - the first Kenyan thatched, mudhouse I’d ever been inside of and very cosy, with lots of cushions, calendars and a cat. But the real treat came the following morning, getting up at 5am and climbing, by torchlight, a nearby hill, in time for sunrise. The jungle was slowly waking with a flooding cacophony of sound, and the stunning view from above the tree-tops, covered in mist as far as the eye can see, as the sun slowly rose above the horizon, was indescribable in words. Coming back, we took a detour into a bat cave slightly smaller than Batman’s, but with hundreds of bats, their wings flapping about my face, testing that old manhood of mine from New Zealand once more.

And that’s my journey across Kenya complete - I said goodbye to Nancy, balancing myself on a poda-poda, and took two matatus (one of which ran out of petrol) to Kisumu back on the south side of the Equator once more, where I am now. It’s Kenya’s third largest town and situated on the edge of the great Lake Victoria, the world’s second largest freshwater lake. It’s been an interesting two weeks and besides what I’ve said here, I feel I’ve also gained a greater understanding of the country.

The situation in Kenya is difficult to describe, that I dare not say too much; it’s best if people come to see for themselves, as long as they keep their eyes open and don’t spend all their time in big, yellow safari trucks. On the surface, things seem good and sights are no different to the poverty I’m sadly used to seeing in Asia. There’s free primary school education, much traffic on the roads, many are taking hold of a new work-ethic, whether it’s selling yoghurt through a bus window or making coffins on a street corner, and public transport does at least exist and is cheap. Even the subsistence-style mud and straw huts make a more positive impression on my eyes than many of the concrete dumps you see around.

However, look further and you notice the incredibly poor road conditions (though, this is not hard), hospitals only present in the major towns, businesses in towns and villages struggling to get 10 customers a day, one fire station to serve all of Nairobi, and the odd slums seen on the passing buses.
Bat caveBat caveBat cave

just one of 100s flapping about my head! gahhh
Reading the national newspaper, an even bigger picture emerges - corruption is a common story and there were two recent 2-page spread articles I read: the first discussing a squatter settlement of people relocated by the government and then deliberately ignored and now forgotten; the second explaining how of Nairobi’s 3 million people, only 200,000, less than 10%, have access to clean drinking water. Well, at least it’s allowed to be reported in the national press, which is more than can be said for many stricter countries. Though, when a newspaper in Kenya is 7 times more expensive than its counterpart in India, and few own TVs or even have electricity, one wonders who gets to hear these issues…

Something for me to think about at the Queen Vic…




Additional photos below
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Modern Nairobi - Uhuru ParkModern Nairobi - Uhuru Park
Modern Nairobi - Uhuru Park

one of those 'safe' patches of grass
Modern Nairobi part 2Modern Nairobi part 2
Modern Nairobi part 2

I daren't get my camera out for the not-so-modern bits


2nd July 2006

Bats and warthogs
Despite my geographical leanings, I'm drawn to the wildlife - I love the cute little bats and hairy creepy crawlies, but that warthog is soooooo sad.
9th July 2006

la vida loca?
Hey! you are still on the move goodness i thought that you were back in England already. clearly i haven't been in touch with my computer. Your life is still interesting...mine is hectic i got a 20-25 paper due this Thurs. oops i just realized it 2 days ago. bummer. i think that i just want to fly out and meet you near giraffes! then we would go and meet the blue monkey hehe and offer some cookies and tea. Oh if fun wishing could only come true... I'll check back on your wonderings once i get myself out of this paper writing mess. big hug! adieu

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