115km from Nairobi to Carnelley’s camp on the southern road of Lake Naivasha.
77km to Hell’s Gate and to Naivasha and back
95km back to Nairobi
156km to Mandisa, just 16km short of the border, at Namanga (5th March)
119km to Arusha, Tanzania! (6th March)
I had an amazing time in Nairobi and also I saw just how both sides live!
My wonderful hosts Judith, and James live in Runda, a green, pleasant and wealthy private estate in the north of Nairobi. Their house, the most humble they could find in that area still felt like a palace to me, with a huge driveway, a big garden, a separate house for their staff and a huge room and bathroom all for myself. The area is close to the UN building where rich people drive huge cars with red number plates indicating they are important and have tax free status, but do nothing except waste huge amounts of money.
My hosts, thankfully were far more normal. James is a fascinatingly passionate scientist who preserves and exports flowers, and Judith looks after their 3 young kids. Even with a nanny, it’s quite an exhausting job.
They looked after me, fed me, took me for dinner and to the many luxurious shopping centres, except for the one where you could see the bullet holes from the recent terrorist attack. The other centres are now full of security guards who check cars for bombs and scan you as you enter the building.
James and Judith had lived in Naivasha before and recommended it as an excursion while I waited for inner tubes to arrive from the UK. It was a nice trip, with a long climb before a quick descent into the Rift Valley. It took me longer to get there because I missed a turning and got a bit lost. On the main road, the trucks constantly beeped at me, and forced me off the road but it was otherwise a nice ride.
I stayed in a lovely campsite on the south of Lake Naivasha called Carnelley’s, and visited Hell’s gate park which is the only park you can cycle in. The park was used as the setting when they drew the animation for the Lion King and it certainly felt dramatic. I cycled with some young guys I met and we saw Zebras, giraffes, wildebeest (pumbas), monkeys and colorful birds.
Then we left the bikes and followed a Kenyan guide into Hell’s Gate Gorge. It was formed by the flash floods and the swelling and rushing of water, which happen when the big rains come, but when we visited, the gorge was almost completely dry and so we could walk along the bed and clamber on the rocks and ledges of the gorge. The smooth curves of the narrow Gorge on either side feel imposing and cinematic. They were used as a setting when Angelina Jolie dressed up as Lara Croft in the film Tomb Raider (which was a bad film but had some amazing scenery). There are ropes in a few places with signs saying “emergency exit” which I imagine would be a pretty scary escape route if there was a flash flood! It didn’t feel they would happen any time soon so I relaxed and enjoyed it without any worry. Towards the end of the walk, there were tiny waterfalls and hot springs where we washed our hands and faces. The whole tour made for a very pleasant few hours but it’s certainly not for anyone who can’t climb up and down rocks. It is not wheelchair or old-people-friendly!
The next day I had a walk and spotted hippos who were splashing about in a large group and some fishermen (some of whom were naked and washing off the smell of the day’s catch) told me the hippos were remaining submerged because they only leave the water to eat grass in the evenings. For the rest of the day I relaxed back at the campsite, read a book called Shantaram and ate delicious mangos by the calm still water of the lake. Bliss!
When I returned to Nairobi, I waited a few more days for my inner tubes to arrive (and had to pay a huge amount to customs). After a hundred emails, DHL finally delivered, and I was ready to go.
But I was offered a chance to go fly fishing for a few days. Not a normal tourist activity, and at a fishing lodge frequented by royalty such as Prince Charles! Waiting a little longer would also give me a chance to meet up with Alex, my cycling buddy who was already approaching Nairobi. So I went fishing. The hills were covered in tea bushes and we walked through them to reach the river. I caught a fish on my first cast, too small to eat but still very
exciting. It was a great weekend and just sitting and reading a book on the green grass of the fishing lodge was hugely enjoyable and relaxing.
I said goodbye to Judith and James and their adorable kids, Louise, William and Hannah, (5, 4, and 2 respectively) and left Runda to head to meet Alex at the flat of his friend Elisabét, who is working with children at Kibera.
I spent the night with a view of one of the world’s biggest slums which just to emphasise how messed up Kenya is, sits adjacent to a huge golf course. It is another example of the massive contrast between the rich and the poor that you are surrounded by in Kenya. Elisabét was lovely, and when she wasn’t feeding me and Alex, she was filling bags with Ugali (maize flour), or beans to distribute to poor families. She also teaches for free and pays for a number of kids to go to school.
Walking around the slum is a strange experience with piles of litter everywhere and smells of food being cooked alongside the smell of burning rubbish or fumes from motorbikes and mutatus. When school finishes you get a lot of attention from kids excited to see a Muzungu. But you don’t get much hassle from the adults who are generally very friendly and it struck me that it felt more like a real community. There are bars and restaurants, fruit stalls and electronics shops. I even had some new passport photos done. In the evening we tried to go for a drink but the bars were all closed because the police were coming around to collect bribes. Corruption is rife in Kenya, and the television and newspapers are full of governors and police on trial for allegations of improper use of funds and ‘alternative sources of income’. It doesn’t seem to stop them. Elisabét knows she is working in a system where if the government and people with money cared about the poor, she would have a much easier job, but she won’t give up.
Alex and I cycled through protests in the centre of Nairobi where they were blocking the roads with buses but were happy to let us pass, and along busy roads with buses and trucks who seemed out to kill us (one deliberately swerved into Alex who had to veer off the road, and swore at the driver). It was a tougher journey than I had expected and after 156km, we stopped at a small town called Mandisa, 16km short of the border at Namanga. It was interesting to be in a place where Masai tribespeople dressed in red or blue blankets with big loops in their ears were getting drunk.
The next day we crossed the border into Tanzania, country number 17 of the adventure. The roads were great, and the views of Mount Longino, Arusha, and in the distance, Kilimanjiro were spectacular. We also saw many people herding goats or cattle dressed in dark crimson robes, shiny silver gauntlets, and jewellery made of multi-colored beads around their necks and on their heads. In fact, most of the tribespeople were in red or blue robes but the jewellery seems to be getting more elaborate the further South we go.
This blog has to end with a huge thankyou to Judith and James Kelmanson who looked after me for nearly 2 weeks almost as if I was part of the family, and to Elisabét for making ‘su casa mi casa’.