Lake Victoria: The adventure is still continuing.

Back at Hotel Bimoss, the rain started tipping it down, and all the flying rain fly-termite things had come into the hotel and restaurant.  I heroically (!)  attempted a plate of chips for dinner, the choices being fried meat, fried fish, ugali, and chips.  Tom – ever the culinary explorer – opted for fried cows’ intestines.  A joy to behold and smell, as sick as I was! Tom will forever live with my new nickname for him:  Bowel-mouth.

Purchasing more unidentified amoeba meds from the lady in the corrugated metal shed, I went to sleep, hoping desperately to be cured by the morning.  I wasn’t.

However, we had a strict timetable to keep, and after suffering through another plate of eggs, we boarded a bus to Homa Bay.  We are still not sure how the bus managed to get us off the island, and onto land.  We are guessing there was a causeway.  There were definitely no boats involved this time.

On arrival in Homa Bay, we found our hotel, checked into a room (fairly clean, good bar – great shout, Lonely Planet).  We decided on a stroll around town, soon to realise town consisted of one street, and there was genuinely nothing to do.  So, as we would, we parked ourselves at the stylishly named “Mega Pub”.  Once again, tables and chairs on the street.  From where, we were suddenly confused to see long queues of people, dressed in identical attire, shuffling up and down the street in time to the music pumping onto the street.  Very weird behaviour.  Soon more queues appeared.  What on earth was going on?

People started gathering, the shufflers took up a formation, and lo and behold- it turned out to be the local choir, giving an Easter gospel concert!  The children were torn between staring at the choir, and staring at the mzungus.  It really was an entertaining day!  Soon it became overcast, and we ran back to the hotel as the first of the rain started to fall.

Back at the hotel, I became increasingly ill, and unable to bear my tears, Tom heroically decided to hunt down a pharmacy in the rain.  He soon returned with:  unidentifiable medication (purporting to cure typhoid, and gonorrhoea), and immodium.  At last a medicine that would help!  Maybe I would survive the 8 hour trip back to Nairobi the next night!  I slept early, while Tom enjoyed the football on TV with the locals at the bar.

In the morning, it was back on the bus, and back to Kisumu.  In these areas of Kenya, the daily bus leaves when it is full.  Full meaning, 2 backsides on every seat, and standing passengers.  Dosed up and queasy on meds, we sat on the bus, in the bus station for an hour and a half before we even moved.  But eventually we were on our way, and at 2.30 arrived in Kisumu.

Needing a break from the dirt, we headed out to the posh Kiboko Bay Resort, who allow day visitors to use their facilities and pool.  Typically, after a quick lunch and changing into our swimwear, the clouds broke and the heavens opened.  We whiled away the afternoon, with beers, and chat, until it was time to go back to the bus station, and board the long night-bus back to Nairobi.

I will leave you with the following info:  this time the bus did not break down, I managed not to poo or puke on myself,  and since then, I am fully back on the food and booze.

 

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Lake Victoria: The adventure continues.

Waking on Saturday morning, to Tom going down to pre-order our breakfast, I soon realised all was not well.  I also soon realised that the toilet of door-inclusive-delight, was soon to be known as the toilet of doom, and I was unlikely to escape it for much of the weekend.Nonetheless I headed down for breakfast, Tom assuring me that eggs of any sort cure stomach trouble.  I still don’t know if this is true, or just part of Tom’s egg obsession.  Anyone know by the way?

Anyway, I hopelessly asked the hotel-keeper whether there was any way of getting medicine on the island, or failing that, could I find some aloe vera somewhere (I am a dab-hand at whizzing up a bit of medicinal aloe juice).  Grinning, “Come with me, I’ll take you to the pharmacy”.  Gleefully, I skipped off after him, only to stop in front of a shed in the garden, about 20 yards away.  Aha.  This sort of pharmacy.

A stern looking “Mama” opened the, erm, hole.  “Mmm?”, she grunted.  “I’m sick,” I told her, “Do you have any medication??”  “Ahhaaa, you have malaria!” she announced.  “No, no, not malaria, I only arrived yesterday.  I have a sick stomach”.  “MMmmmm.  Come round to the front counter”.  Round I waddled to the front counter, to have 2 huge pills thrust at me.  “These will cure you”, she announced.  For 150 bob, this promise didn’t sound too bad.  Thanking her, I sped back off to the hotel, to guzzle my pills and hope for the best.

After a quick lie-down, we had to rush to get the daily boat to Mfangano Island.  An hour and a half fishing boat trip into the centre of the Lake, to visit this island promising beautiful mountains, ancient cave paintings, and much more.  As people and food and water were piled into the fishing boat, I soon fell asleep, despite the waves lashing at the sides of the wooden boat… and I woke only an hour or so later, as we neared the island.

As the boatman came around asking for ticket-money, the man next to us (who claimed he had spotted us the day before on the island) insisted on paying for both of us.  Kenyans are truly some of the most hospitable people ever – he was just thrilled to welcome us to his island.  We clambered out of the boat, to be met by George, the island tour guide.  Given my dwindling health, I was sad to announce that I would have to take the afternoon boat back to Mbita, as I could not cope with a night of camping free of all facilities.  I was already feeling decidedly peaky.

So George rushed us off on motorbikes, to hike up the mountain to see the cave paintings that are one of Mfangano’s unique attractions.  Village children were in raptures to see the “mzungus”, and we barely put our arms down for the amount of waves and greetings we had to return.  A group of three children rushed over, and presented me with a large, crucified beetle.  Hmm.

We set off up the mountain, me slowly but surely becoming more and more sick, and faint, and having difficulties climbing up a rocky mountainside.  Eventually I had to give up, and sat down on a memorable big rock, urging Tom and George to go ahead and visit the rock paintings.  So sadly, I can’t actually comment on the cave, or the ancient paintings.  I was asleep on a rock on the mountainside.

Soon Tom and George came hurtling down the mountain, “We just spotted the boat, it’s about to leave!”  Great.  George had rung the boatmen on his mobile, and urged them to wait for the mzungus.  So even I had to muster all my energies, to bomb down the mountainside, scramble onto a motorbike, and charge back to the boat “dock” (bit of sand).  Thanking George, we hopped on the boat, next to a huge sack of stinking fish, and set off back to Mbita.

Lake Victoria

Seeing as it was Easter weekend, Tom and I both had 4 consecutive days off work.  This meant serious thinking and careful selection of where to travel to.  4 days are not to be wasted.  We settled on Lake Victoria, an 8 hour over-night bus ride to the West of Kenya.Getting on the bus on Thursday evening, we settled in for the long ride.  We quickly fell asleep, and woke only hours later to the strange puffing and wheezing of the bus motor.  Oh dear.  The bus was moving incredibly slowly, there was absolute darkness outside, and we were in the middle of nowhere.  Soon, we broke down.  Out hopped the driver and co-driver, with mobile-phone torches and a screw-driver.  Much tinkering and banging and engine revving later, off we sped, only to grind to a halt again soon after.  More tinkering and banging and engine revving (an hour or so passed meanwhile), and we were back on the road – for good, this time.  It was a lucky escape.  Even with the delay, we pulled into Kisumu bus station at 7.30 a.m.

First things first, some breakfast.  As we are wont to do – we plonked ourselves down at a table at a local cafe, much to the bewilderment of the locals.  A quick glance at the menus, and I ordered an omelet.  “No omelet today”, announced the waitress.  “How about fried eggs?” … Fried eggs were fine, I assured her.  Go figure.  After a yummy breakfast that filled the hungry gaps in our tummies just so, we hopped on the back of a motorbike, and dropped by the Kisumu museum.  Lonely Planet promised us a wealth of information about the geography and history of the Lake.  Sounded like a good place to start.  Well, Lonely Planet lied.  There is one exhibit at the Kisumu museum, which houses a few African pots, a bit of Maasai jewellry, and a stuffed lion.  Outside, one can view a fake Luo village (complete with individual huts for each wife), and a snake pit – with no snakes, and a tortoise pit – with huge, sad tortoises sat around in their tiny enclosure.

We quickly left, and found a matatu to go to the ferry.  Our first destination was Mbita Island.  Accessible only via an hour long ferry journey, once again, we were accompanied by curious stares by local people taking their children and chickens over to the island for Easter weekend.

On arriving at Mbita, we realised that the island was another type of Africa- a type that appeared to have grasped even less Western influence than the rest of Kenya.  We wandered over to the bus station/marketplace/cattle grazing ground, and found the Elk Guest House, to have our lunch.  The Elk features 4 tables plonked on the street/marketplace, and a lady deep-frying freshly caught tilapia over a fire.  Choices pretty limited, we went for deep-fried tilapia, chapatis, and Tusker.  It was a feast hungrily devoured with our fingers.  To much more amusement of the locals.

After lunch we checked into “the fanciest hotel in town”, the Bimoss hotel.  There were semi-clean bedsheets, a lock on the door, and a toilet WITH A DOOR (to my endless delight – little did I know at this stage that I would spend much of the weekend there).

Back down onto the street, we called a motorbike guy, who took us off to Tom Mboya’s mausoleum, whizzing past large monitor lizards on the way.  Tom Mboya was set to be the second president of Kenya, before he was assassinated aged only 39.  His mausoleum now sits fenced off and locked off from public viewing, monitored by the Kenyan government.  However, next to the mausoleum, in his old home, sits a museum in his honour, cobbled together by his countless brothers and sisters (in true Luo fashion, Mboya’s father had numerous wives, each of which gave birth to 5+ children).

His half-brother gave us a tour of the shabby museum – “these were his shoes, this is a photo of his briefcase, these were his wife’s cooking pots, ….etc etc”.  However, he explained, much research goes on at the “institute”.  Firstly, the family united are trying to establish which side of the family Mboya’s intelligence came from.  “Given the high facial resemblance, we have concluded his brains came from his maternal branch”.  Right.  Proper science then.  “Now we are trying to find out which of his brother and sisters might have Tom Mboya’s very same brain.  Some of them look very much like him, so we are researching which of those that look so much like him might also share his very same brain.”  Good on them for asking questions, but still a few steps to go before the shack becomes a centre for genetic research I sense.

Back on the motorbike, we soon realised there’s not much else to do on Mbita Island.  So we headed back to the Elk Guest House for drinks, and as the sun went down, we retreated to our hotel bar, for a nice fried tilapia for dinner.  Oh the variety 🙂

A Spontaneous Roadtrip around Central Kenya… part 2!

After the 7 hour drive the night before, I announced to Tom that he was driving next, and so we warily got on the road, with Tom driving (and me shrieking in fright at every bump in the road, sure that he was about to write-off the car 🙂 ).After a 5 hour drive, we arrived in Nyahururu (also known as Thomson’s Falls).  This time, we had splurged, and booked into the Thomson’s Falls Lodge – a lovely hotel sitting right besides the waterfalls, with the garden bar/restaurant overlooking the water.  We sat down for a Tusker, asked for a guide to come and collect us, and with no further ado we were off hiking down the hills to the bottom of the waterfalls.

At the bottom of the falls, we met a group of young Kenyan teenagers – who came upto our guide and had a whispered conversation in Swahili.  “They would like to know if they can have their photograph taken with you”, our guide announced to me.  So, I did my (bizarre) duty once again in Kenya – and stood for photographs with 5 or 6 different groupings of kids.  Much to Tom’s amusement, who stood there laughing at me.  The photo sesh was finally over when their camera ran out of battery.

We continued up the slippery rocks, right to the base of the falls, where we were sprinkled with water from the falls.  There was not as much water as usual in the waterfalls, given that Kenya is suffering from a severe lack of rain:  the rainy season due to start imminently.  But it was still a beautiful sight – well worth visiting.

We struggled back up to the top of the hills, and our guide suggested we take a walk out of town, to a small watering hole that hosts a family of hippos.  Out we walked, through the fields, passing groups of local Kenyans having parties out of the back of cars in the field.  We made it to the watering hole, where, literally, we were able to watch the hippos from around 10 metres distance.  Apparently these hippos are used to people – living so close to town – and so do not seem to attack.  We took a few snaps, and finally left them to it, as they were clearly keen to get out of the water to have their dinner.

At night, we enjoyed a nice dinner and then beers in the strangely English country pub style hotel bar:  large fire crackling in the fire place, man playing the accordion in the corner…

With the help of our guide, we had decided there was nothing much else to see in Nyahururu – so in the morning we sat at breakfast, contemplating our next steps.  I wanted to visit the equator at Nanyuki, and Tom wanted to pass through Nyeri.  Giving each other a plotting grin: “Shall we go for it, and just do both?” 🙂

So, off we set at 9.30, destination Nanyuki.  After 10 minutes on the road, we were flummoxed by the number of cars flashing lights at us, and pointing to our wheels.  Worried, Tom got out of the car on 2 occasions, to inspect our front wheels (the passing drivers appeared to be point at our front wheels).  Having established that nothing visible was wrong, we continued.

Another 10 minutes later, a car overtook, and stopped in front of us, gesturing wildly for us to stop.  Out Tom got again, this time noticing the matter:  our back tyre was flat.  Out in the middle of the Kenyan bush.  Oh dear.  Oh dear oh dear.

Seeing our dismay, the man in the car infront got out, and assisted: you need to change the wheel.  Right, ok, change the wheel.  Seeing our panic, he hopped in our car (to my even further panic). ” Let me direct you to a mechanic!”  he announced, leaving his own car and passenger in the road.  So off we went, to a nearby village, where the local…well… mechanic/builder/handiman, came out to see what was going on.

Tom and I stood by as, in the blink of an eye, our car wheel came off…and much jacking and pumping and screwing was done.  Within 15 minutes, our car wheel had been changed, and we were being charged 150 bob for the help.  (We were expecting thousands, 150 bob roughly equivalent to 1£).  We dropped our friend back at his abandoned car, he asked for no remuneration for his troubles… and off we went again.

After a scenic drive through the Aberdare national park, we made it to Nanyuki.  It turned out that there is not actually anything to see at Nanyuki.  So after a quick lunch, we stopped at the “Equator” signs for photographs.  The “teacher” there gave us a demonstration of the Coreolis Effect:  20 metres north of the equator, water draining through a punctured bowl drains in a clockwise direction.  20 metres south of the equator, the water drains in an anti-clockwise direction.  On the equator itself, water drains in a straight line down through the hole.

We hopped back in the car, and off we set to Nyeri.  Nyeri is currently in the news in Kenya due to a growing phenomenon, of husband beating! (Hah!)  Men have been setting up support groups, and it is widely covered in Kenyan media – these poor men, victim to their vicious women.  I hoped to take notes from these women, clearly they know a thing or two about keeping men in line 🙂

However, we bypassed the centre, and went to the Outspan hotel, home to the cottage of Lord Baden-Powell, founder of the global Scout movement.  His home is now a museum, mainly filled with scouting memorabilia.  He is famed for having stated: “The closer to Nyeri, the closer to bliss”… this perhaps being true of his picturesque tropical cottage home, less so of the town itself.

Having completely our tour of central Kenya, we set off back to Nairobi – leaving Mount Kenya in the distance, and heading into the bustle and smog of Sunday night Nairobi traffic mayhem.

 

A Spontaneous Roadtrip around Central Kenya… part 1!

At 4.30 on Friday afternoon, I got in the huge car – lent to me by the family I stay with who are on holiday – to somehow find my way to Tom’s house.  It didn’t take long for Africa to strike:  the road to Tom’s house is closed for repairs, and the only bypass is still under construction and has no access roads.  So already 20 minutes late, I had to drive all the way to the start of the bypass, to then drive all the way back, and reach Tom’s house in a state of flustered sweatiness…The plan:  a relaxing weekend in Kericho.

I was in charge of driving, Tom in charge of directions.  A potential recipe for couple disaster? 🙂

Off we went, with google maps confidently promising a 3.5 hour drive, and the house staff at my house telling me “Gabi, if you’re a really reeeeally bad driver, it will take you 5 hours”.  It turns out I must be a horrific driver.

Half an hour after leaving Nairobi, we reached Limuru – little did we know that fields and fields of tea were available on our doorstep.  Tea plantations being our main motivation in going to Kericho – home to the big tea plantations that export yummy tea around the world.

After 2.5 hours of driving, we reached Nakuru, the second biggest town in Kenya…and promptly stopped for dinner.  This was not going to be over in 3.5 hours- we were in for a long night, we realised.  Dinner consisted of our favourite:  nyama choma, chapati, and kachumbari – all hungrily devoured with our fingers, much to the amusement of the locals, who always seem bewildered by our appearance in the most dingy of local hang outs.  Then it was back in the car, and onwards to Kericho.

Having reached the turn off to Kericho – a horrible excuse for a road: more potholes than road surface – Tom happily announced “we’ll be there by 11”.  Just for us to run into a diversion, pointing us down a rough dirt track.  Off we turned, at 20 km/h… after 15 minutes of bumping along up hill, we turned around, sure we had missed a turning.  Stopping locals to ask for directions – locals who did not speak English – we got to try our Swahili knowledge, and fail sadly.  But we did glean that we had to turn around once again, and continue uphill on the dirt track.  An hour and a half of bumping later, we were high up in the mountains, in the pitch black, with absolutely no idea where we were… and a growing sense of alarm.

The occasion lorry started to ease our panic:  surely, lorries come from big towns.  If we continued, we were bound to find some sort of civilisation.  Yet on we bumped, through the wilderness.

Finally, at around midnight, we came out into a village… and found the other end of the roadblock, that had subjected us to the huge diversion.  “The Tea Hotel is just past the petrol station, before town” said a helpful security guard, so with renewed hope we ploughed on, and soon enough pulled into the Tea Hotel at Kericho… finally having reached our destination after a 7 hour gruelling drive.

First things first, we ran into the hotel bar – demanded two Tuskers, and collapsed into comfy armchairs in the corner.  The Tea Hotel is an old colonial relic – the bar boasting high-backed arm chairs, and a tv in the corner.  The hotel is decaying sadly, a ghost of its former glory – like many a colonial palace in Kenya.

After a couple of beers, it was time to face facts:  we did not have a room in the hotel, we were camping, and our tent was ominously wrapped up in the boot of the car.  We plodded out to the campsite in the grounds of the hotel, and at 1am, in the pitch dark, set about putting up our tent.

Much to our merit, within half an hour our tent was standing (relatively solidly), and we were still a couple (not having had a single tent related fight).  We settled in for the night, on the very bumpy ground, wishing we weren’t so cheap (aka. adventurous) and had paid for a room.

We woke at 7.30 in the morning to our annoying alarm, telling us it was time for breakfast – in preparation for our tea tour.  The tea tour was the point in our coming to Kericho – a fine walking tour of the plantations was promised, watching the tea pickers at work, and a guide of a production factory to conclude.  Our guide arrived, took us out into the grounds of the hotel, and stopped at the first plot of tea.  After a short speech, she announced “I wish you would have booked a day or two in advance, I would have booked you on the real tea tour.”  Fuming, I pointed out that we had booked, a week in advance.

Little was to be done, there was no tea tour to be had.  So by 9am, we were finished with Kericho – the swimming pool being out of order, the tea tour having been ruined by hotel’s incompetence, and well – Kericho not having much else to offer.

After a bout of teary anger, and flick through the Lonely Planet, I turned to Tom: “Shall we just pack up and go to Nyahururu, it’s only a 4 hour drive, and I’ve always wanted to go”.  And so our relaxing weekend in Kericho turned into an epic roadtrip around central Kenya…