Languages: English, Bantu from the west (Swahili, Kikuyu, Gusii, Akamba, Meru), Nilotic from the north (Masai, Luo, Samburu, Turkana)
The name Kenya that now brings to mind Safaris in pristine reserves, meant not so long ago Mau Mau atrocities against white settlers and earlier still, new beginnings for impoverished ends of british families with enough political influence to get valuable land grants in that colony.
Kenya has been a crossroad for centuries as various tribes moved into the fertile temperate plateau from the north and the west and Arabs occupied the coast. The British rushed in during the great colonial land grab of the 19th century and took the best lands to install the white plantation settlers that the Mau Mau would try to eliminate in the 20th.
The Mau Mau hero, "Burning Spear" Jomo Kenyatta led his country quite successfully from independence in 1964 to his death in 1978. Power then passed into the hands of the dictator Daniel Arap Moi who still controls the country in the best interests of his friends and of his tribe the Tugen.
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This is looking back at Moyale on top of the hill over the Ethiopian border. The sign says "You are now leaving Kenya".
A little further into Kenya, there is a hotel and truck stop where travellers wait for the formation of an escorted truck convoy going south to Marsabit in Marsabit National Park.
There is no independent traffic along the dusty track between Moyale and Marsabit for it traverses guerrilla territory and the well informed rebels never fail to appear if there is no armed escort. We started our trip with three soldiers on our truck, two of them with old Lee Enfields and one with a heavy Browning Automatic Rifle. We left two at a military outpost and continued on with one.
There were two dozen passengers on our truck, six backpackers and local men and women not counting the escorts. The red head chap was the Australian backpacker, Chris Sill who had all his belongings stolen in Addis Abeba.
Native huts are few and far between in the northern desert.
Our three truck convoy stopped in this rare roadside eatery for lunch and water under the burning sun. The other two trucks also needed protection as one carried cattle and the other goats which would have been highly prized booty for the rebels hiding in this desert.
It is difficult to imagine that people can live in the dry, hot and empty desert near Marsabit but the rebels do.
An adventurous bunch of backpackers: Daniel Delamarre, a Breton journalist who had his 2 Nikon cameras, all his lenses and his laptop stolen in Addis, yours truly, Chris sill from Australia who also got cleaned out in Addis, Matt Hardy, also from Australia and Scott Gordes from New Zealand. The photo was taken by Daniel Lisk from Vancouver.
We were all surprised to see this remarkable meteoric impact crater near Marsabit that had not been mentioned in any of our travel guides. It was a great sight, an unexpected bonus.
We spent a night in Marsabit in a pretty primitive place where we washed out of a bucket for the plumbing did not work.
The menu was somewhat limited in this primitive restaurant where Matt, Scott and I had dinner.
The next morning, we went to the crossroad outside Marsabit to wait for a truck going south and met this young Masai man who had just passed the rites of initiation into the community of warriors of his tribe. He apparently had to pass down this road and approached us cautiously. His curiosity was as strong as ours as we stood examining each other in silence as he spoke no English. I had to take this photo surreptitiously from a distance for he had made threatening gestures when I tried to do it openly. After a while he went on his way.
Some locals got on cattle trucks but that meant standing up for hours so we chose to wait. The six of us and four kenyans finally got on a truck loaded with dried cattle hides headed for a Nairobi tannery. It was a rough ride for we had to hang on to avoid being thrown off the springy hides. We got to Isiolo 8 hours later (265 kms) where the driver, who had agreed to take us to Nairobi for 300 shillings, demanded and got an additional 200 shillings from each of us to take us the remaining 285 kilometres. Five hundred shillings are only 11 US$ which is not much for 550 kms but we did not like being blackmailed with the threat of being left at a truck stop outside of Isiolo at midnight.
We got into a Nairobi suburb at 7 AM, fifteen hours after leaving Marsabit, worn out and filthy. The 6 of us crammed ourselves and our bags into the only taxi available that took us to the Iqbal Hotel, a favourite backpacker refuge in the center of town.
Nairobi is a pretty rough place. After a shower and breakfast, I changed a traveller's cheque in a bank on Moi Avenue and witnessed the violent mugging of a big black man by 3 or 4 youths who ran off without anyone doing anything about it on that crowded street at 11 AM. Shops on Moi Avenue all have guards armed with shotguns for protection against theft. At least two of them saw what was going on and could have intervened or at least shot in the air to frighten the muggers but they just watched!
That evening I had some beers in the nearby Friend's Corner pub which was chock full of travellers and ladies of pleasure looking for business. The scuttlebutt going around my table was that Kenya had been spoiled for backpackers by an excess of high priced safari tourism. There was a consensus to the effect that Kenyans love the money tourism brings but they hate the presence of all these white strangers who come to look at their wildlife. Especially those who travel on a tight budget!
Matt, Scott and I did not feel safe nor welcome in Nairobi so we voted with our feet and took a bus for Kampala. It was a pity to leave so soon but we had not met the right people who could have made us feel welcome.
The Kenyan highlands are lovely to look at as you can see from this shot of western Kenya between Nairobi and Kisumu but there are a lot of other lovely places in Africa where the people are friendly, hospitable and not interested only in your money.
Tea plantation in the western highlands.
Kenya is probably OK for group tourism where the individuals are carefully herded from their five star hotel to their equally expensive safari camp and safely herded back out on a chartered flight after the specified number of days. Kenya is not the only place in the world where an excessive concentration of tourists has generated contempt and even aggressivity towards strangers. Considering the behaviour of some tourists I can't blame people to hate them when they get too numerous.
Smaller towns like Kisumu on lake Victoria are probably friendlier than Nairobi. I might visit some of them if I come back to this part of the world someday but I know I'll avoid Nairobi.