First days in Kenya

Today is my 90th day in Kenya, important because that's the day my tourist visa expires.

Not to worry, I got it extended.

When you drive out of Nairobi for the first time into the more rural areas one thing that strikes you immediately is how dramatic the landscape is, I'm told Kenya is one of the wider points of the Great Rift Valley, but it is an amazing spectacle regardless. The formations that make up the rift valley also contribute to the weather, the cloud formations you see set against the rising hills and mountains are a photographer or artist's dream. Which is lucky for the guy i'm visiting, he's in love with clouds and a lot of his work is based on the landscapes of Kenya.

I’m currently sitting on the veranda at the home. I’m renting a house in Naivasha with a Kenyan friend of mine from school named Dave - along with some other friends of ours. Looking out across the lake only the slightest patch is visible, it’s one of those rare days where the hyacinth and papyrus has entirely choked the spot in front of our house, the view is so restricted, it’s as if another 500 metres has been added to the garden and you could go and explore this new transient swampland with all the new bird and wildlife it brought with it. If you did you’d probably get pretty wet and come face to face with a hippo…

When I was a child my Dad taught me a trick to work out if you moving on a boat. It turns out it is pretty useful for figuring out if large floating masses of lake vegetation are moving… or if you’re going to have a choked up view for the rest of the week. The floating island here in front of me wont be blocking two thirds of the lake for much longer, it’s on its way slowly on its journey around the lake.

I’ve been renting this house, right on the lakeshore since the middle of May.

It was a month before that, that I arrived in Kenya. I was here for the celebration of marriage for another of my friends who I went to school with, Henry. He ended up marrying a childhood friend of Dave’s called Sissa, all very confusing I know. Henry was moving to Kenya to be with this girl and had gotten married in the UK shortly later the year before. The celebration was held in a bar called the ‘Lily pond’ which in the town of Nanyuki, on the edge of Laikipia and near the foot of Mt. Kenya.

The party itself was quite the celebration, as far as I remember anyway… Dave, myself and another of Henry’s friends Doug had best man duties so we made speeches along with some other family members, the night swiftly became more and more lubricated with alcohol, the immediate period before upending my stomach contents in one of the lily pond’s ponds (although i’m told i missed) is not all too clear.

Nanyuki, as Doug commented isn’t the prettiest of towns… In fact he was pretty hopeful the town we were driving through was not Nanyuki when we stopped. Due to its colonial heritage, the proximity to a number of parks & conservancies (namely Mt. Kenya national park) there are plenty of nice people in the area to visit. Its proximity to Mt. Kenya also has another side effect, it rains a lot… due to the mountains rain shadow. I’m told it as well as Mt Longonot which I can see from this veranda would have stood higher than Mt. Everest before it erupted - although a quick google search disputes that… Perhaps it would have stood higher than Mt. Everest 2.6 million years ago when it erupted if Mt. Everest wasn’t as tall as it is now at that time. Who knows!?

So Nanyuki is in Mt. Kenya’s rain shadow and rain it did. The rain was half the reason we all remembered to head inside at the wedding and gave us an excuse to make some speeches. It also contributed to one of the more enjoyable periods of off road driving in Kenya (or anywhere) so far. We were off to the hotel Henry’s family were staying in, termites were swarming all over the place and there had been a decent amount of rain. We got off the main road and started down the dirt towards the hotel - it should only have been a 10 minute drive if that - however the roads appeared to be made up of clay or something like it, this turned the place into a veritable ice rink. Luckily for the car and everyone in it, I wasn’t driving - the driver was Dom another of Dave & Henry’s friends from England but who lived and worked in Kenya… Dave was also heading down there in his own car (which he very proudly never needed to put into four wheel drive). Here it is on a much nicer looking day.

Both their driving was pretty impressive despite the conditions, we spend a lot of time sideways, diagonal, screeching along fenceposts, sidling along ditches, and narrowly avoiding sliding off strangely placed cliff edges, but we made it there in the end and it was all a lot of fun. (The hotel & dinner were nice too.)

My first night in Kenya was the one two days previous to this, I was staying at an old family friend of Dave’s. I got to sleep in a large tent (so large it had a king size bed!) and Dave slept in the sauna which had been politely left unused while he was using it! It had been about 9 years since I was last in the country and I had forgotten how wonderful and also quite obtrusive this place was at night. I could barely sleep with the calls of nocturnal birds, the chirping, buzzing, and burping of all sorts of insects (or dudus). I remember being awake to watch the dawn - that happened a lot over the first few weeks - it’s amazing to hear the dawn chorus, essentially a changeover from nocturnal to daytime creatures. My second night in Kenya was the day of the wedding, I slept in Henry’s guest house on the floor and I passed out pretty much straight away. No trouble there.

Leaving Nanyuki, Dave & I got up late. Much to the distress of Henry & Sissa. Henry had planned to leave early with his parents & sisters, drive to Baringo over the Rift Valley escarpment and head to Island Camp on Lake Baringo later that evening; Sissa was to follow in their smaller car on the more sensible route along the main road. Because we were late I missed out on the initial off road journey - also missing a rhino - and accompanied Sissa, but in the end and after some speedy driving we got to Nyahururu about the same time and I swapped cars - admittedly leaving Sissa to drive alone - so in the end luckily I got to head up to Muchongoi and then down the Laikipia plateau to Baringo a similar (probably) route detailed here. It was my second time doing a variant of this journey and the views are stunning as you come down the valley to Baringo.