There are many things you don’t get to learn about a place until you hit the ground running, literally. You don’t realize how big a neighbouring country is or how little you know about it beyond the textbook.
Initially, we were to head to Zambia. But that’s the other thing about learning about a place. You can learn a lot about it by just paying it a little more attention than usual. Turns out the airfare to that place is out of this world. It is like flying to Bahamas or something. And it is just down here. There went my dream of visiting Livingstone and bathing in the showers of the Victoria Falls.
First of all, I know their ancestors were our colonizers but I love a lot of British things. The accent. The history. The series that come from that place: Sherlock. Merlin. The Bodyguard. The Crown (the reason I subscribed to Netflix). Arsenal at a certain teenage point in my life. A lot of things. Bernard’s Watch. Bless This House. I can still hear the theme song in my head as I type this. Like I said, a lot of things.
So I will not say I was not super pumped to step on that soil earlier this year.
Sasa the only problem was the weather. You step out of the airport and it finally hits you how cold it is. I have never been that cold in my life. And don’t forget the heat that we have been having until recently around here. At least the weather is changing polepole. I am telling you I had not worn a sweater for months this 2019 apart from that moment in London. And I am the girl that is teased for always being in sweaters by some people I will not mention. Brace yourselves my Naija brothers and sisters. The. Sweaters. Are. Back.
After getting lost in Madrid, I came back to my comfort zone for a week then headed out the next Saturday to Marseille. I was very anxious about this trip to France because it was going to be loooooong. When I say long, I mean very long. Why? Because cheap is expensive. As a newbie, I am not an expert at looking at the best flights with the shortest layovers, neither was my friend. Plus we let these flight booking sites trick us with their cookies. So much so that we later discovered that people who booked different flights months after, all got even cheaper rates and better flights. SMH. So it’s not even a matter of cheapness, it’s inexperience.
Anywho, the day came and I got relieved a bit. Etihad Airways is a cool airline with female and male cabin crew that sport very striking lipstick and perfect hair cuts respectively. And it was my first time on such a large plane. I sat next to this American girl who was quite chatty at the beginning, with some braids on her blonde hair. LOL. Total hippie. Plus since we booked these flights via Alitalia originally, I could not book seats in advance so I ended up next to the lavatories. LOL. So you keep hearing that loud vacuum flushing all the time. I can’t seem to remember what I watched during this leg. I think it was The 15:17 to Paris. I had to Google the title now. I was not sleepy yet, the best was yet to come. I got to Abu Dhabi at some minutes to 9. A few minutes into walking into the terminal, I met up with this other Kenyan who had an even longer layover, but we lost each other at the security check.
Abu Dhabi International Airport is a real swanky airport. They have poured a lot of their abundant money into making it the airport of choice for layovers. I was going to spend 6 hours here, so I decided to find the best seats in the terminal of my next flight. If I was sleepy, these would have been very helpful. I was not. Yet. I grabbed something to eat and chat up my people. I am not exactly sure what I did for the rest of the six hours. What I remember is too much a/c and people running across the terminal to their flights. I finally moved down to my gate about an hour to my flight. I was obviously starting to get real tired, so I did not like the next flight much. But hold that thought.
It’s been a while since I wrote. I guess I keep saying that. But oh well, here we are again.
Anyway, this post is going to be about Spain. A week ago, I was in Madrid (Or rather, when I started writing this post it was a week ago). And that was fun. Let’s list the fun stuff.
The first thing that hit me when we landed in Madrid (after the air conditioning) was the heat. And then how normal it seemed. I am sorry but I am one of those people who have always thought the West is this amazing place that has another kind of look and feel that is nowhere near Africa. Like maybe it is full of the bright HD computer generated scenery we see on TV. For starters, the air was the same air. And I was still the same person. LOL. Ushamba nayo?
Madrid was haaaat. Super hot. 40 degrees hot when I checked. Our flight there was not my favourite in my short experience flying. EgyptAir. The only thing I really loved from that was the layover in Cairo, not because it was a superb airport or anything but because the view of Cairo from above the amazing. It’s like they live in these many organized box-like estates that look like symmetrical cuboids from above.
When you land in Madrid and get to customs, they don’t even ask many stories. Passport, stamp, welcome. Everything was planned out for us by our lovely colleague when we got there. The driver could speak English. He drove like a Kenyan though, going way faster than the speed limit signs. We got to Santo Domingo at about 5 on Sunday. The apartment was lovely! Definitely straight out of what I see on TV and what I want mine to look like. All I wanted to do was sleep. The last time I had slept was Saturday morning at 8AM. Everyone else went out. Yeah, I am the not-fun one. LOL. So I don’t really have much to say about that day. Oh, apart from the fact that when I woke up to have dinner at around 10pm, the sun was just setting.
Someone keeps saying I should do more travel pieces, but I keep fighting it, in the spirit of keeping things under wraps. But something changed this time, and I thought it’s good to talk about travelling in its true unInstagrammable form. It started with missing my flight. You do not want to ever miss your flight, friend. If you are going somewhere in the evening, just make sure you are at JKIA by afternoon, honestly. I fought against my very instinct and ended up leaving way later and then not using the bypass. So once we were stuck in Upper Hill traffic, I knew we were done for and just pretty much gave up.
You will meet drivers who think they know Nairobi shortcuts, those that lead you straight into the bowels of the traffic glut itself claiming there is less traffic in the tiny roads. It is painful. And, I, for one, will never take a bodaboda from CBD to JKIA to beat time. I am not crazy and I love myself too much. To cut the long story short, we ended up at the gate right at the minute it closed. After confusing ourselves for another many minutes and taking the wrong escalators and turns. LOL. Also, I was not laughing that time.
We had to make very quick decisions and pay the penalty for the next flight out at midnight. Through it all, my colleague thought I was in denial. I was so collected – like, this happens to me all the time sister, relax. My dad called and suggested I ask where Miguna had been staying so I can spend the time there as well. SMH. I counted the notes at that customer service desk and it all felt so surreal. The total penalty was more than the original flight cost. But later on my colleague reminded me to count my blessings. It could always be worse. The price of a lesson learnt far outweighs the experience. We might not even have had that money in the first place and could have missed the next flight altogether. I was supposed to be mad at someone for this but I was not. Did I forget to mention the part where I left something in the Uber because of the rush? I had to smile at so many men to go backwards through departures to the starting point to meet the driver at the terminal. This involved leaving my passport behind too and coming back to an immigration guy who wanted to play with my head and freak me out by not giving it back immediately.
Not the perfect start to a travel story, right? Wrong. This is the real deal.
I was thinking of what to write today then I remembered I should have written about being on a train for the first time in my life. Okay, fine, I have been on the miniature train. The tiny train that remained the biggest reason I looked forward to Show every year as a kid. And if you understand what I meant by Show, you will likely relate, so I will not explain. After I grew up and read about the Kenya-Uganda railway and how it paved way for most of Kenyan “civilization” as we know it today, I wanted to get on the Lunatic Express. That never happened (clearly) and my chance to experience that part of history passed on just like that. So much for procrastination.
Ol Pejeta Conservancy. You cannot come to Nanyuki and not go to this place. A few days ago, the friend who recommended this place sent me a Business Daily article about the tycoon who popularized both Mount Kenya Safari Club and Ol Pejeta. I will not write this one chronologically because things fell into place from a combination of lessons.
For starters, I had no idea if Ol Pejeta works like national parks and I did not know that Sweetwaters Tented-Camp was right inside the conservancy. I thought they were two different things, even after scouring through the website. I tried to use the live chat feature within the website for further guidance but nothing gave (someone replied days later after I had already visited), so I decided to take myself there and see what would happen. Google was very on point this time. For most part, the road is great and looks newly-done, but some km before you get to the gate, the tarmac comes to an end but it is very much an all-weather road, even within the conservancy. Ol Pejeta is 23 km from Nanyuki town. According to the guide I met later, there is some politics surrounding the untarmacked part of the road. Ol Pejeta wanted to tarmac but the government insisted on doing it, thus no one did it in the end. This was also confirmed by a woman I talked to on my way back to town.
Cyrus is the name of the guide I met deep in the conservancy. He told me that Ol Pejeta means place of many fires because, apparently, the Maasai men would burn fires across the plains. I have tried to verify this on Google but can’t, so if there is a Maasai out there who can confirm or trash this, please do. 😀
Sunday was blend-into-the-community day. And what better way to do this than to go to church. When I was getting lost yesterday, I spotted one PCEA church and one Baptist church down the road from the hotel. However, a friendly guard told me that the PCEA in town was much better and was not all Kikuyu. Hehe. It’s like I look like those people who pretend not to know Kikuyu. I followed his advice anyway and walked. He was concerned about why I was walking though and I told him walking is the best option for my chill mode. As you can tell, in places dominated by Kikuyu people PCEA is a church you will see everywhere, just like home. And they keep mushrooming.
So I set off on my little adventure of Nanyuki town. As a lot of major towns in Kenya, Nanyuki is pretty linear, with buildings congregating along the Nyeri-Nanyuki road. Remember your Geography lessons about types of towns/settlements? It is not quite the short distance I assumed it was from Sporty (as locals fondly refer to the hotel) to the church. I had to ask a bodaboda rider for further direction. It gets real hot in the morning here, funny enough. I kept walking, thinking all the while that I was clearly lost, but I was not going to ask another person for direction. He said it was opposite the Nanyuki General Hospital. No way I can miss that, right? Eventually I came by an old lady who was limping to church. I could tell she was headed to church because she was wearing an AIPCA headscarf tightly around her head.
Guys, I did it. I took the road alone and found myself in Nanyuki. Thanks to the urging of someone very close to me and a few calls (thanks 🙂 ), I am here on my first solo trip. I thought about visiting one of our neighbouring countries and then it hit me, I haven’t even seen half of Kenya. Calm down, Shiku. It’s better to get lost in a place with your M-Pesa and language than in another foreign land. You can bet I have made quite a number of wrong turns thanks to Google. I know I will continue making them, but that is how I am learning. I even got coolant added without my dad’s urging. Man I am so grownup!
Do I need to mention that the road all the way to Nanyuki is almost flawless? Makes me wonder why it was even mentioned in the Madaraka Day speech when other parts of the country obviously need roads. That is what I call misplaced priorities. Side note: Juja Mall be a Ghost Mall, I confirmed that. It took me about 4 hours to get here, thanks to a few wrong turns here and there. One it the Nyeri right-turn. I could hear my dad telling me to turn in my head, but Google was quiet. And then she spoke after a few meters and I decided to ignore her. “Take a u-turn,” she insisted. Thrice. So I stopped, took a breather and turned. Lol. I am so stubborn.
No, I am not in Kisii. I was though and that’s what matters. I just wanted to use that title.
First of all, Kisii is the most beautiful town I have ever approached at night in Kenya. That’s not saying much because I am not the most well-travelled person in the world, but on the other hand it’s saying a lot because I bet half of you haven’t been to Kisii either. 😛 Yeah, I went down that comparison lane.
Anyhuuuuu, I had some nice little preconceptions about Kisii. You know, a little town with lots of people, bananas and humble houses. I have never been more wrong in my entire life. You see, I travelled to Kisii quite late in the day. If you know me, you know I hate travelling, be it by motor or feet, at night. Fortunately or unfortunately, my friends are the complete opposite. So when I asked Lilian, my very good friend who was going to be my super generous host, what time was okay for me to leave Nairobi, she said it was totally okay to leave after my afternoon driving class. I had my doubts but hey, she’s the all-knowing host, no? So I arrived in Kisii town past nine pm. And my, what a sight to behold! You see, unlike most other towns in Kenya, Kisii builds up into hills and hills of settlements. And they are all lit up, as opposed to, say, Eldoret, the town I was used to that is mostly flat all around. So you’re not welcomed by lights jotting the entire view across the road into the town like you are in Kisii. That is what you see as you approach Kisii, right into Kisii School and up into the town and way past Daraja Mbili.
I’m seated in this room, my swivel chair positioned right where the A/C fan blows its good stuff. I’m listening to this insurance guy. A new friend. Maybe friend is too big a word. Acquaintance. That’s it. He is telling me about life insurance. The first person in a while to convince me that I need that incomprehensible thing.
I won’t lie to you. I have never been sure about insurance and every other thing adulthood has been throwing my way. Anyway, he weaves a neat story about it. And I am almost sold. But not in between thoughts about how I ended up here in the first place.
If I had it my way, this blog would probably be a travelogue. I love travelling, but the only place I travel to is Eldoret. That makes it complicated because I never like coming back to it. But a girl’s got to do what a girl’s got to do. I might as well enjoy the view on the way. At this point, I am feeling like a wannabe Rupi Mangat or John Fox of Going Places. I have always envied this two travel writers since I was a kid.
Today, I invite you to travel with me to campus and experience the scenic beauty that Kenya offers along the 311km stretch of road. I live along the Gitaru-Nairobi Highway about 20km from Nairobi. (I just tried looking for my house on Google Maps right now but somehow I can’t spot it around this point. Oh well…)