KENYA - Part 5

By muriel bartol

Continued from Part 4

we slept in that morning, recovering from the long and arduous day before. we awoke in the tranquility of the Kimana Camp for the second morning in a row, and as we slowly packed up and prepared to leave, we noticed Nelson dressed in his traditional garb, most likely waiting for us to rise. we waved and he came over, friendly and jovial as usual, and invited us to stop by his Masai village before we left.

we loaded up the car and headed over, baboons shadowing us on the walk. we were very exited and deeply honored to be invited to enter the complex. as we arrived, we were greeted by chickens and cows engrossed in their morning routine. Nelson encouraged us to step on the cow dung laying about, insisting the Masai consider it good luck, and we obliged mostly because there was no other option.

we were herded to the back of the complex where each family had a stall filled with handicrafts. Nelson explained the process; we were to select the items we liked and at the end we would bargain for the lot. so we made our way, looking at every table, picking gifts and souvenirs, trying to select from various vendors, and laying our stash on a blanket. there was some calculation and consultation with the makers and finally we were shown a price etched on the designated salesman's arm

we were told to write our counter price on his arm, and after a few rounds, and being told that the money would go to the village for the school several times, we settled on a price. we knew the price was higher than in the market, but we also knew we would not have such a memorable experience elsewhere. and the money was going to their school after all.

once the bargaining was done and we were even given the blanket on which the goods lay because matt mentioned he liked the colors, we were treated to a round of song and dance.

we admired their style; the different ways they wrapped their fabric and blankets, the combinations of colors and patterns, and the jewelry their wore. so damn stylish. we wished we could pull it off at home. or anywhere really. 

first the men performed

and then the women

and then it was time to head out

we were headed to Nairobi; we had talked to the car rental place and they said to bring the car in by 5pm so they could fix the brake line.

we did a lot of driving that day. from the park all the way to Narok the roads would be gutted, dirt, with many washboard sections with which to contend. we had 60 miles (101 km) of this, and construction, ahead of us.

we had been reading about the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative, but we did not think we would see it here. But the investment China is making in Kenya's infrastructure is considerable. Signs on almost every new road and bridge are in English and Chinese. And all the foremen are Chinese. Not exactly what we were expecting to see in Kenya.

  

But then there were other moments when we were unmistakably in Kenya 

after a few hours of driving, we decided to stop at one of the many gift shops along the road. 

they had gifts, but also a sewing shop in the back. it was great to see something so familiar, so we peeked in and noticed they were using a truly vintage Singer sewing machine to make the clothes and other soft goods for sale at the front of the shop.

back on the road we transitioned from dirt road to pavement!!!! (matt was wrong about it being chip seal, BTW) our butts sent us long and profuse thank you notes.

in Narok, where the pavement became permanent, we stopped for gas and groceries.

this video is a little long, but it gives you a fair sense of driving through a city in Kenya.

At Tuskee's we parked The Beast and meandered through the store, finding great packaging that we could not help ourselves from photographing

from Narok we soon started ascending out of the Rift Valley and we found ourselves in deep truck traffic, normal for this stretch of the road

the view from the road was incredible. the Rift Valley spreading in front of us, often unencumbered by even a guard rail (!)

soon we were in the outskirts of Nairobi, and had only 10 km (6.2mi) to get to the rental place. we had a bit over an hour. plenty of time. and then the traffic started. first it slowed to a crawl. and then it was basically a standstill. 45 minutes later, with about one k to go, we called and let them know we were almost there. they would wait, they promised. and they did. we arrived a few minutes after they closed for the day. one of the mechanics stayed and he fixed the brake line in about an hour. 

not wanting to contend further with Nairobi rush hour traffic, we decided to find a hotel so we could take a long luxurious HOT shower (!) and sleep in a bed with A/C. what luxuries!!

the next morning we woke up early, had breakfast on the terrace of the hotel, and headed out. we had not yet decided our final destination. we were deciding between going to Tsavo, another national park, or all the way to Mombasa, a majority Muslim city on the coast. We read up on both, and although we were drawn to the idea of seeing more animals, we also wanted to experience a different side of Kenya. We saw there was a small community-based elephant sanctuary close to Mombasa, and decided to head there. we entered our destination on Google Maps and started driving south.

it was a long day of driving but there was a lot to keep us entertained

no construction cones? no problem! also, please note the baboons!!

some street vendors among the truck traffic

and we also saw a lot of overturned trucks. 

this one was an army truck. we were sternly told "no photos!!" oopsie.

this one was carrying giant green cabbage. oopsie doopsie!

this burned-out shell had seemingly been there for a while

as we got closer to the coast it kept getting hotter

just past Tsavo on an empty stretch of highway we saw this amazing abandoned building and wondered how it ended up there and what its purpose had been.

it was midday now and the sun was beating down on us. The Beast did not have working A/C, so we stopped for cold drinks at a gas station

and back to the road

truck on a truck

after a few more hours of driving we finally reached the outskirts of Mombasa in the early afternoon.

we left the main highway to get to Mwaluganje Elephant Sanctuary. the road was bad from the start, a dusty clay thread winding through villages, deep ruts making it a very bumpy ride. it lead us up and down hills, twisting and turning with the topography. we got a lot of confused looks from the local inhabitants as we drove by.

after a few hours as we continued, the road went from bad to worse, crossing increasingly steeper and steeper dry river embankments

then Google Maps told us to take a side road, and we followed it to what was basically an impassable ravine into a dry riverbed. we looked on the map and found a way around, so we turned around, to follow the new path. we took a right through a village, and then found a house in the middle of where the road should have continued. 

we did a 45-point turn, careful not to hit anything, especially the crowd slowly gathering to watch this curious spectacle we were putting on in the middle of their village, and muriel hopped out of The Beast to ask for directions

one woman spoke perfect English and showed us how to proceed. we were to continue on the main road off of which we had turned earlier. 

we got back on the main dirt road, still rutted, wash-boarded, and with plenty of giant potholes, but now we had a newfound appreciation that at least the water crossings were drive-able, and there were no houses that stood in the middle preventing our passage.

we noticed kids playing on their wooden homemade bicycles and marveled at their clever construction, happy to see these two-wheeled and three-wheeled wonders even in these remote parts.

the trees were now casting long shadows across the baked dusty road and the sky started to turn gold in the afternoon hour. the sun was setting. back in Nairobi we had been warned that we must not drive at night. it could be dangerous. especially out in the countryside. not sure how seriously to take these warnings they still nagged at us. in any case driving across these roads in total darkness was far from ideal.

we were racing the sun but it was soon apparent that we would not reach our destination by nightfall. against the backdrop of an incredibly clear and colorful sunset we raced over the wash-boarded red clay surface with a cloud behind us, marking our way across the landscape, 

the sun set. we were close, but we still had some way to go. driving in the dark, with the bright headlights making it nearly impossible to gauge the depth of potholes and not being able to look forward beyond a few yards, was tense and tiring. after more than half a day of driving over all manner of terrain, we finally came to a sign marking the turn off to our destination. we were there! almost...

we turned off following the sign, down a steep hill, up the other side, and suddenly the road was gone

completely washed away by a heavy rain. the sheer ditch on one side was about 3 feet deep, making turning The Beast around improbable in the darkness, with our vision blurring from deep exhaustion, and our bellies distracting us with their insistent rumbling. we knew we were close, so very very close, but we decided to make camp there. 

we hadn't eaten all day and we needed some nourishment to figure out our next move. as we stood there eating tuna out of the can, and munching on limp carrots, motorcycles kept passing us, being able to go up on a narrow footpath to circumvent the wash.

we realized we couldn't park right there; to avoid the noise and light through the night, and their kind offers of help (every single one stopped to ask if we needed assistance), we backed up and turned off a little road where we found a field.

with a little food in our belly and in a quiet and dark spot, we climbed The Beast in the pitch black, set up our tent, and somewhat nervous from not knowing where we were and unknown animal noises, but tired to our bones, we fell asleep.

continue on to Part 6...