Across Kenya

Friday, October 21, 2011  at 6:58 AM
Written by: Chris Coulon.

Today we left Nairobi and struck out West, using a fairly new bus service (bus services in Kenya come and go annually) by the name of Trans-line.  Our destination: Rusinga Island!  Located on Lake Victoria, it can be found nestled in the Southwest corner of Kenya straddling the borders of both Tanzania and Uganda. 

sunset mbita kenya
The sun setting over Lake Victoria.

As usual for Nairobi, our journey began in a gridlocked traffic jam.  However, as we slowly made our way, we were pleasantly surprised to find buildings being replaced by banana trees, the stockpile of cars petering out and the dust/exhaust haze lifting to reveal a long and narrow road snaking its way across the savannah; caked on either side was the the red dirt that has come to be so definitively African.  The flow of pedestrians along the both sides of the road never stemmed during our entire cross-country trip.

Outside of Nairobi, we found ourselves traversing the savannah and watching Maasai tribesmen herding their cattle.  Even today, they often remain in their traditional garb of reds, blues and black tartan blankets draped around them to shield themselves from the piercing rays of the sun.  Many of their necks are adorned with necklaces and hoops comprised of thousands of brightly colored beads.  Their presence here, juxtaposed against the early succession of modernity, serves as a perfect metaphor for the current state of development Africa, as Africans attempt to hold onto their traditional heritages while also advancing into the modern world.  Many of the villages along the way comprise of huts made from mud with straw roofs standing next to larger, not necessarily more recent, concrete complexes

sunset mud hut mbita kenya
Evening outside our compound.

As we continue along our journey the environment begins to become increasingly arid.  The ground here is cracked and broken—the only evidence of previous rains.  Dust devils pick up here and there, some little more than wisps and others stretching more than fifty feet into the air spitting out dust and pebbles as they grind their way across the flat expanse.  Residents here have constructed fences to retain their livestock and define their land by growing and trimming cacti to form straight, rather prickly barriers.  Continuing westward, the land begins to rise as we enter into the Kenyan highlands.  Kenya is a predominantly dry country and its major forests are located in the East where the land is much higher and as a result so is the precipitation closely followed by the vegetation. 

All along the highway we cannot help but notice the plethora of schools, one thing is for certain: the major highways of Kenya at least, do not lack for educational structures.  Students are easily identified as they run and play along the edges of the road in their brightly colored school uniforms ranging from loud purples, sky blues, forest greens, and shocking reds.  The children are lost in their own little worlds up until their realization that there are two mzungus on the passing bus; at which point they chase after us, all yells and waves. 

inside mud hut mbita kenya
Danalynn Groggy in the morning.

At 16:30 we finally reach the end of our journey’s first leg, we get off in Homa Bay.  It is a small town, which on most maps looks to be the second largest town in the region and lives up to its reputation with a collection of small buildings interspersed by dirt roads on the coast of Lake Victoria.  Danalynn still has two and a half hours of work to do at an internet café, but we decide to push our luck and search for a vehicle to take us to our next stop an even smaller town thirty kilometers to the Southwest; we hope there is internet.  Transportation between these small towns is similar to that in rural Morocco; in other words you find a guy who owns and has parked his car in a designated area (I use the term designated VERY loosely) and you tell the owner your destination then you proceed to wait until the car is “full” at which point you all split the cost of the ride.  Simply put the more people, the cheaper the ride.  In our little car, build for five, we managed eleven people: four in the front (the driver was courteous enough to share his own seat), five in the backseat (one of these was a toddler and very packable) and finally, two more crammed into the back with the luggage that didn’t make it onto the roof. 

All in all we got our price down to $2.50 a person and our driver literally put the pedal to the metal.  We flew past 30km/h signs at 90.  Cows, chickens, goats, their shepherds, women laden with large bundles balanced upon their heads and even children all dove off the road before our mad-cab.  Their only warning is our driver’s incessant honking as we careen down the pothole-riddled windey road. 

Sorting Beans with Mary
Me helping Madam Mary separate beans for the children's lunch.

Night is quickly approaching as our crazy train pulls into the small town of Mbita.  This is predominantly a fishing village and made up mostly of one room shacks with the occasional building.  We find a nice chap who speaks English and as it turns out knows our host (most people here we come to realize know most other people).  He directs us to the town’s internet café where we shoot of a quick email to get Danalynn’s work for the day covered so that we can continue on our way.  Once the professional part of our day is concluded, we each hop on the back of an exhaust spewing, puttering motorcycle, aptly named Boda Bodas, and take off on our moonlight ride around the island of Rusinga and the last leg of our journey.

Our path finds us travelling on a dirt track/road under the light of the stars and a full moon.  Due to our new proximity to the equator, the evening is warm and mildly humid as we make our way along the coast of lake Victoria.  The only clouds to be found comprise a distant thunderhead off in the distance creeping over the lake from Uganda, lit up every ten seconds from the bolts of an electrical storm.  It is a great end to a long day’s journey and I cannot help but think to myself: Central Africa, we have arrived.     
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