Monday, May 23, 2005

Now I know why tourists visit.

So I had quite the adventure this weekend. I'm going to break this blog down in two parts simply because there's so much about it. So on Friday, had the day off work which was part yay and part urghh because I hate missing even an hour of work. So much happens and today is Monday and I feel so out of the loop. Anyway, I didn't even know how I would get to Eldoret, which is where we were headed. I'd say it's about oh, 250 miles north-west of Nairobi. We (2 brothers - B1, B2, B1's best friend and his wife Bf & Bw) decided the night before over much needed beers as we'd been running around trying to get things finalized. Bf and I decided to take a bus that would leave Friday morning at 8 am and B2 and Bw would take the evening bus that day as they both couldn't get off work early. B1 was going to drive himself as he had loads of errands to run before hand and wasn't sure when he would be coming.

Friday morning, up way before the roosters, packed (forgot usual because B2 was rushing me out the door. We picked up Bf and Bw and drove to the bus station. We left super early because it's located somewhere on Haile Selaisse Avenue, which has the world's worst traffic and for no apparent reason. Seriously, it gets log jammed and when you finally squeeze through, there was no point to the traffic in the first place. Anyway, we went to buy the tickets, which were incredibly reasonable. 500 Kshs (which according to Fx rate on Friday is about $6.50). We couldn't get the 8 am to Eldoret but we could take the 10 am to Kitale, which is about 50 miles further but stops in Eldoret. We had time to kill so we actually left a luggage with B2, as B1 would pick it up later and bring it with him and save us the agony of lugging our clothes around. We had an awful breakfast at the Green Corner restaurant. (I will mention the names of places where service and/or food sucks in hopes that they may improve, which I doubt, but also as cautions to visitors). Their lunches btw can be good but avoid the breakfast unless you want to be disappointed.

Anyway, walked around Nairobi for a while as we still had a while to kill. Unfortunately, everyone seems to sense that you're getting ready to leave town and suddenly the phones start ringing and emergencies crop up all over the place. I left Bf (an attorney) on his cell phone and decided to check into work to leave some last minute instructions. Big Mistake. Never, ever go to the office when you're on holiday because you'll get bogged down. I did but it made the time fly and when I joined up with him later, still on the phone, we jogged back to the bus station and barely made it. Jumped on the bus and at exactly 10, we were off. Btw, we used Easy Coach, excellent service, they leave on time and unlike many of their competitors do not make any unscheduled stops. Their buses are clean and there's a conductor/assistant driver who maintains the peace and most importantly keeps the driver awake. They also search all passengers prior to boarding to discourage would-be thugs etc so it's one of the safer alternatives.

Leaving Nairobi was quite enjoyable. Relishing everyone very much in the rat race of life when you're finally relaxing is a mean but pleasant tonic to your own busy schedule. We cruised through Nairobi, into the outskirts where the area is very crowded, poor and slum like at some stages. Leaving the city, you'll notice how dirty it can get, even it there was a torrential downpour the night before. Bf finished his calls and settled down to read his book. I chose to enjoy the view as I hadn't seen/appreciated it in ages. The overcrowded houses and shops soon give way to lush, fertile farms and by the roadside are many farmers selling their crop. Cabbages, carrots, rhubarb, potatoes, pears, oranges....the variety is endless and you can always bargain. The prices are already ridiculously cheap compared to the city grocers and are quite fresh. The only thing you have to worry about is chemicals if any were used. The one thing I noticed was as we passed the many small shambas (farms), if you looked closely you'd realize that most if not all the people working on them were women. And usually you'd see their children helping or if they were too young, sitting beside there very busy mothers. What was alarming was when you'd pass the small little villages, you'd find so many men sitting in the shade, watching buses and other vehicles go by, some chewing miraa (herbal hallucinogenic which is quite legal) or some even napping. You'd see sagging benches with men just chatting the morning away while the women broke their backs. Go figure; they're not kidding when they say women are the backbone of Africa.

As you head north-west toward Nakuru, which is the only stop before Eldoret, the view gets
unbelievable. It's the rainy season so the landscape is a gorgeous green with occasional dry patches. Let me just say, you really have to visit Kenya. The country's landscape is absolutely stunning. Making your way toward Naivasha, Mt. Longonot (which I climbed when I was a kid) is revealed. The road is a sweeping drive between hills and into small valleys and in the beginning you get glimpses of the terrain. But there's an extremely long section to which the view on your left is visible and let me just say, wow. The drop is quite sheer and it's a little unnerving because you realize how high up you are. The mountain is supposedly a dormant volcano and it has been but you never know. The view stretches out as far as the eye can see and it's magnificent. Hell's Gate, the mountain, all part of the Great Rift Valley. At this point we started descending toward a small town called Naivasha. I shouldn't say small because it's home to a growing flower industry. The climate and the Lake Naivasha, all are factors to this growing export, which goes mainly to Europe and lately to Dubai of all places to be distributed further on. Some many miles later is Lake Elementaita. It is home to a large flock of flamingoes but alas the lake is drying up...very quickly. From the road, all you see is a patch of pink on a lake in the middle of nowhere. But when you get closer, you'll notice there's a large section of dry bed where water once was. The problem is that no rivers or a constant water source appear to feed into the lake and factor in the ozone issue, it cannot sustain itself and is heavily dependant on the rains. It was quite sad to see all the lodges and campsites that were built on the shores now quite a distance a way from the new shoreline. The scenery continues to be mesmerizing and you can actually see Maasai farmers grazing their large herds all over the place.

We continue on toward the town Gilgil that is quite close to the Aberdare National Park. I told you before about the Rhino Charge competition, which is going to take place this weekend and they hope to raise money to build the electrified fence that will keep the animals in and people out the park. Right around here is when the road gets bad, and I mean awful. It's at the Delamare Farm, which specializes, in dairy products, a range of meats including game meat. You may have seen the whole debacle surrounding the farm's owner who shot a ranger in self defense but the country is deeply divided because he's a white Kenyan farmer and the Attorney General dismissed his case quite rapidly causing an uproar. In all honesty, he was in the right as he was protecting his farm and workers, it's just the expediency with which the AG decided to dismiss the case (a matter of one month while there are many who have been lounging in jails for 10 or more years under similar circumstances) is what is alarming about who really is in charge here. I digress...the road gets incredibly horrible here. You'd think something would be done about it since it leads to many tourist attractions such as the very popular Nakuru National Park - has every animal you'd expect to see and in a much smaller area than the Tsavo parks in the South East. it also leads to the Aberdare national Park and to Nakuru, which is a growing business and tourism hub. But politics in this country are ROTTEN and that's the only reason why the roads are in such an appalling state.

Bf was asleep at this time but that mattered little to me because while looking around, I saw Zebra! Right by the side of the road. I climbed over him and went to the other side of the bus, strapped myself in and spent the next half hour marveling at the game all around me. There were herds of zebras on both sides of this very busy highway and in some sections, Thompson gazelles and antelopes. I was the kid on safari, nose pressed to the window, mouth open in a wide grin. I looked around to see if Bf was watching and I saw him sort of cringe and slide lower into his seat because of my eagerness, which was embarrassing. Lol, he later said that he wanted to hold up a book and pretend he didn't know me, while the other passengers looked rather bemused at my excitement. There were also baboons all around and I can't even describe how giddy I was when I watched to warthogs that had obviously been rolling around in the mud, cross the highway, right in front of the bus, tails ramrod straight in the air as the trotted quickly to the other side. Lol, I was giggling like a tourist....well I guess I am. In between all this you'd see many herdsmen with their cattle, literally a few feet away from the wild animals. I asked B1 on the way back on Sunday who's land it was that the animals roamed on and he really didn't know. I think the animals come from the Aberdare National Park and cross over to the other side to the Nakuru Park so the upcoming event to build the fence is really important. It's not uncommon to see the rotting carcasses of Zebra or antelope by the side of the road but I guess I should just think of it as deer crossing the highway. Still sad though.

We got to Nakuru on time and had a fifteen minute stretch your legs break and then back on the bus. This is where the land takes on the more agricultural feel that is this countries primary income earner. Tea farms, coffee though this is done more colder climate regions. Corn is the primary crop but more and more farmers are diversifying their products. You'll find more pumpkin, chili, passion fruit...etc. being grown and there's quite the market for these products. They also tend to be easier on the environment. Also, one promising thing I saw was despite the enormous deforestation that had plagued the Mau forest, there's actually a lot of money in tree farming so more and more farmers are turning to that as an alternative for large pieces of land that have been largely and traditionally overused for corn farming hence giving the soil a second chance and creating sustainable forests.

Ok, I sound like a National Geographic special so moving on. The road was still awful until about 30 miles outside of Eldoret where it eventually evened out. Eldoret has a new airport that has more and more passenger flights coming in from all over the region. It's also an excellent hub for various NGO's and the UN to service cargo flights to the North, particularly to the refugee camps that contain Somalis and more recently the displaced Darfur residents from southern Sudan. I will note that if you go further out beyond the city toward Kitale, there is a junction, which is home to a herd of giraffe! Lol, no, didn't get that far. Bf said that he appreciated my enthusiasm and excitement and said as a Kenyan, it's so easy to under-appreciate what we have. Normally he's angrily honking his horn at slow moving Zebra but said he'd start to take notice of any animals or routes they may be on for me.

We got to Eldoret on time and checked into our hotel. It was no Hilton but it sufficed. Has a very dorm room feel to it and if you're picky about your accommodations, probably not your cup of tea. the rates were great, about $20 for B/B. The ride back was pretty much the same, a lot of traffic typical of a Sunday back into the city. I was with B1 this time in his truck and so I got to know more about the land. I was disappointed though on the way back there were no warthogs.

1 comment:

ArsenalGal said...

Where's the middle part of the blog? Tell us about the wedding rituals, etc. lol. I wish I was on the road with you!!!!!!!