Wednesday, 30 April 2014

The South Rift Valley, Bomet, Narok, Masai Mara, more.. and Naivasha (1)

When I departed Kenya that night in September 2013 after an eventful four-week holiday, (during which, among other things, the Westgate shopping mall terrorist tragedy happened, and only a few hundred metres too from the location in Westlands, Nairobi that I'd been visiting on the morning of the incident), I had no inkling that in a matter of months I would be back in this lively city. Yet here I was in the third week of April 2014, in Nairobi, lying in the same bed, in the same room, at the same hotel that I had stayed on my last visit. 

The wonderful staff at the hotel seemed pleased to have me back as a guest. They even joked that they'd reserved this very room specially for me, knowing that I'd turn up again soon. And while it was nice to receive such a welcome and be treated as some kind of special customer, my stay at the hotel would be for just a few hours, because this time, I had arrived in Kenya with a decidedly and altogether more intrepid mind set.

The journey to Nairobi had itself not been without its difficulties, what with a sleepless twelve-hour stopover at Amsterdam Airport. But I thought of this only as a minor discomfort, for in my mind I was undertaking a voyage of discovery. The hope was that an annoyance such as this one would be more than made up for in the end.

The trip was paid for with the few pennies that I'd been putting aside. I left my last job a few months previously, currently had no income and had been busy for weeks searching furiously for a replacement job. My bank account wasn't exactly bulging, but I managed to convince myself that notwithstanding, this short break would be well worth it, (even if the only way to justify it was to see it as a break from the stresses and frustrations of job searching).

I set out on the journey full of yearning and a desire for something different; in need of a diversion; something to take me and my mind to places we had never been. It had to be Kenya - there was a nagging feeling that I had previously only had a glimpse of the place; a nagging feeling that there was unfinished business which needed to be seen to; a feeling which translated into something like a magnetic attraction towards the place.. And so there was considerable anticipation and expectation. Nairobi, clearly, would not, on this occasion be sufficient. I wanted more..

So the very next morning after the night of my arrival in Nairobi, leaving my heavy travel bag behind for safekeeping in the back office of the hotel's reception and armed with only a rucksack, I set out of town on a bus from the bus station at Mfangano Street, headed towards the town of Kericho, in the area known at the south Rift Valley. I had taken a ten-day break from my routine in London and this was one break I was determined to wring every drop of excitement and education out of.

My plan was to hop off the bus at Bomet, the county headquarters of Bomet County, meet up with my Facebook friend Bernard in town and then later make my way with him to his home on his farm, or "shamba". Shamba is the word for 'farm' in the Swahili language. And this is exactly what happened.

Meeting Bernard in person for the first time was lovely, but spending quality time alone with him thereafter was much, much better. We two together were like a sword and its sheath, or a revolver and its holster, fitting into each other almost perfectly. And whilst our friendship had existed only over the internet and through the phone, we both knew that there was something special about the connection that we had. However, we had had no way of realising quite how intensely special that connection actually was until each of us found ourselves in the physical presence of the other.. And it was even more so after we had spent several hours in each other's company.

We always knew when we used to speak to each other that we agreed about most things, but being together in the same room brought home the realisation (for me at least), that I was in the presence of a person with whom I would never argue or disagree on any issue. This was slightly unnerving at first, but secretly, I wished that Time would freeze right there and then and come to an abrupt stop, so that I would never have to leave this place and so remain forever in the company of this awesome man; listening to his voice, watching with pleasure every time his face lit up and his lips parted in a smile. We soon discovered that words weren't needed often, because, instinctively, almost telepathically, each of us seemed always to know what the other was thinking...and then we would exchange a knowing look and a knowing smile.. Oh that delightful, toothy smile.. And I suspect too that his thoughts towards me would be of a similar hue. But let me not digress..

The aim here is to attempt to discuss, as closely as I can, the way that I spent those ten days. So let me step backwards in time a little bit and describe my impressions and observations of that bus trip from Nairobi to the South Rift Valley. 

As soon as the bus turned left off the A104, a road that runs north-westwards from Nairobi via Naivasha, the first striking observation was of the preponderance of agriculture activity wherever you looked or turned. A few kilometres beyond the junction town of Maai Mahiu the town located at the junction where the bus turned off on to the 'B' road leading westwards towards Kericho, we came upon what I considered must be the Rift Valley itself. It revealed itself to me as a very steep precipice immediately to the left of the road that we were driving on, a precipice that was little too close to the tyres of the bus, (I thought to myself) and there was no protective barrier. It seemed almost as if the road had been constructed on top of a cliff and on the cliff's very edge. The cliff itself sloped downwards sharply, almost vertically for hundreds of metres at least. And while I do not consider myself to suffer from an irrational fear of heights, I'm not a mountaineer either. Neither am I a bird..

On the other side of the road to the right, another cliff, but this one rising vertically upwards such that the road appeared to have been constructed at the cliff's bottom or base. The road was clearly on the side of a mountain, winding its way around the mountain's side in sharp, tight bends and turns, the driver of the bus being careful to avoid oncoming traffic. I soon noticed that I was the only person on the bus who appeared to be nervous. The others seemed calm, nonplussed, those who weren't dozing happily biting into their sugar cane and chewing on their roasted maize purchased from vendors who, when the bus stopped briefly at Maai Mahiu, had thrust their hands through the open windows holding cobs of maize and sticks of sugar cane.

And the bus continued on its way down this road which seemed to be located at the top of one cliff and at the bottom of another cliff on the opposite side of the road. But soon enough we descended from this mountainside on to a vast, dry, dusty plain that looked distinctly more arid than any other landscapes than I had seen thus far on this bus trip, with dust-devils blowing everywhere. The dust-devils were even visible in the distance.. as far as the eye could see..

It was cultural heaven..
That's a dust devil right there

Lake Naivasha.. There were hippos here, I heard them

At Bomet..

I was standing about 20 ft away from this giraffe..
The shore of Lake Naivasha

Author's Note: I'm working on the second instalment. Hope to get it done soon..  :)