Kakamega

The weekend before last, – having read Lonely Planet Kenya cover to cover – I decided I wanted to visit Kakamega, a tiny rural town in Western Kenya, 8 hours journey from Nairobi.  And to do this, I dragged along my trusty travel companion, Tom, who most probably hadn’t read the Lonely Planet entry, and wasn’t fully aware what he was getting himself into.

We set off on Friday night, meeting at the Easy Coach bus station in downtown Nairobi.  We soon realised we would definitely be the only wazungus taking the bus – ever, but were also pleasantly surprised by the fairly reasonable state of the “coaches”.  With a mere half an hour delay, we were off on our all-night bus journey to Kakamega (to the utter bewilderment of any Kenyan we told we were visiting Kakamega… “WHY?”)
I cannot even begin to describe the type of journey we had.  The bus seemed to be going off-road on some mental bus rally challenge, judging by the way we were flying out of our seats.  At one point when I managed to fall asleep in the early hours of the morning, Tom woke me, as based on the movements of my body and head, he was concerned I might be having a seizure.  TIA, people, TIA.
At around 5 a.m. the bus came to a stand still, in what appeared to be the middle of a random side road, somewhere in the middle of nowhere.  No one moved.  The bus driver got off.  Another stop, we assumed.  However, after 15 minutes of waiting, I managed to pester Tom to go and find out how long until we reach Kakamega.  We were in Kakamega.  “Why is no one getting off then?”  Tom enquired.  “They’re probably praying,” responded the helpful bystander (everyone was pretending to be asleep).  This sort of nonsensical response is now commonplace to those of us living over here.  So Tom and I also pretended to be asleep, in the hope of not being forced off the bus into the pitch blackness.  After a short while however, some one barked at the passengers united in Swahili, and people started moving…so we also shuffled off the bus.
The only hotel in Kakamega is the Franka hotel… a seriously dodgy looking place.  I begged for tea.  We were told the “kitchen isn’t ready yet”.  So we wandered next door to the “Western Cafe”, where we were finally served a cup of tea and coffee.  Not being satisfied, we went back to Franka’s, where I received a cup of tea with oil swimming on the surface… but my real concern was to barter the price of a room down, for me to take a quick shower.  I should have been wise enough to know that this was taken as a sign that I was the newest, -white (commodity) – prostitute in town, and with much grinning and winking the waiter organised a “room for half an hour”.  No comment on the state of the room.  We swiftly exited, after a refreshing ice cold shower…once again, to much winking by the waiters collected in the reception.  Clearly, the sex life of white people is very active at 6 a.m. according to African folklore.
With it still being so early in the morning, we took a stroll around Kakamega (the whole two streets of it), before stumbling upon the market.  For all those thinking of passing by, at Kakamega market one can buy: tiny dried fish, tomatoes, onions, potatoes, and flip flops made of tyres.  Nothing else.  Maybe a bit of spinach.  However, we were akin to a travelling circus, with many jubilant shouts of “mzungu!”, and me being handed a baby to hold at one point.  (I have since been told by a friend from Kakamega, that white people are so rare, it is considered a privilege for a white person to hold someone’s baby).
By 10 a.m. it was definitely Tusker o’clock, and we desperately wandered the streets of Kakamega looking for a suitable drinking hole.  Eventually a friendly matatu tout took us into a “bar”, which had a bar, and space to stand next to the bar.  That is, until we were guided through the secret side door into the back…
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