Saturday, March 20

A Year (or Two) in Kenya: A visit to the Central Highlands

Three-day breaks from the center and the work and the kids are special things. At best, they come only once a month. At worst, maybe every other month. They require a delicate balance between the need for peace and the urge to explore and experience as much of Kenya as possible. They require planning.

Sometimes all that planning goes to pieces.

Our three-day venture earlier this week started well enough. We may have gone out three hundred shilling when we decided to drop our first matatu for a second when it was only a third full after two hours, but that was minor. We made it to Nyahururu on roughly the schedule we hoped for and dropped to spend some time at Thomson's Falls, the city's raison d'etre. On our first matatu, the conductor tried to convince us to pay him another three hundred to drop us right at the falls. We ignored him, and we were right. They're only a fifteen minute walk from the general drop. They may not have been Niagra impressive, but they were nice. You could follow a path down the valley to the very base of the falls to feel the spray and smell the rot.

Lunch was milk and cake from the supermarket, and we were back on the matatu, this time heading for Nyeri. I have mentioned the general sense of traffic safety in Kenya before. Turns out, I was underestimating a bit. It's one thing to hop onto shoulders to pass hauling trucks and swerve all the way across the road to avoid potholes on relatively clear and well-maintained roads. It's another completely to do that where there's construction roughly every twenty minutes. Drivers didn't much appreciate the men waving red flags at them. The first time it happened, our driver didn't put his foot on the brake until the man on the road had to jump out of the way. Then he threw his hands up as if to ask "What did you mean with all that waving?" Kind of made me appreciate all the police checkpoints, about five in the eighty kilometers between Nyahururu and Nyeri. Kind of made me have a better appreciation for the sticker inside the matatu exhorting passengers to report "overspeeding." Forced me to take a break from The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. It's hard enough to read between jolts and jumps on shock-impaired matatus. Reading through sudden accelerations, decelerations and turns is impossible. Call it a character flaw, but I have to see if certain death is coming or another near miss. Did allow me to enjoy more of the landscape., though. Kenya's highlands may lack the majesty and grandeur of the Rift Valley, but they have their lush, rolling green hills and valleys, and those aren't so bad.

And so we arrived in Nyeri, late in the afternoon. And things started to fall apart. The plan was to find a tour agency before dinner that day to arrange a full-day tour of Aberdare National Park, Kenya's second "premium" park after Lake Nakuru. Turns out, there are no tour agencies in Nyeri. We only found out about the tours arranged through Outspan Hotel when we found the Ministry of Tourism, closed, and the woman walking past outside asked us what we were looking for. Outspan Hotel was over a mile out of town, and it was raining. We walked. I grew an inch from mud sticking to my shoes. We learned that Outspan only arranged two-hour afternoon game tours for sixty dollars American. Neither an ideal time nor an ideal price. We then learned that, as residents, we qualified for the much-reduced resident rate of two thousand. We just had to arrange our own tickets which could only be bought from the park headquarters thirty kilometers outside of town.

The next day, we didn't walk. We took a matatu. We walked through the headquarter's gates. We were told we weren't actually residents. She took print-out off the wall and everything to prove it to us. Apparently, four letters on the back of our alien cards mean we are only on an extended visitor's pass and totally responsible for the full sixty dollar American non-resident entrance fee to Aberdare. Again, not money that we had. So we left. Instead of seeing elephants, water buffalo, black rhinos, bongo antelopes, bush pigs, giant forest hogs, black leopards and black servals, we had a picnic alongside the highway outside the park headquarters and then visited the grave of Lord Robert Baden-Powell and watched The Hurt Locker, House and The Matrix: Reloaded with Rifftrax. Not a total waste but not seeing elephants, water buffalo, black rhinos, bongo antelopes, bush pigs, giant forest hogs, black leopards and black servals either.

We hurried to Nairobi the next day. Finally started buying souvenirs for my family and finally visited Westlands. I guess it's supposed to be the more posh part of town, the part where the whites and Indians live and hang out, since it has two American-style malls, but really, there are suburbs classier than it. Not that I'm complaining. I got to see Alice in Wonderland and hang out in a bookstore that had a selection beyond those required for school.

And that's how the adventure ended. Two out of three goals accomplished. Not bad. Could have been a lot worse. We'll see what happens next month. I'm hoping for a visit to Mt. Elgon via Kisumu but have no idea how many other people will realize we're not actually residents and how that will impact the financial situation.

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