Kenya: A Brief Sojourn

Kenya from a bus

It was two hours from Arusha to the Kenyan border. Meredith and I managed to commandeer a shared van to take us to Namanga to make the crossing. Along the way our driver, Godfrey, suddenly stopped the car on the side of the highway next to another shared van whose driver was speaking with a local Maasai tribesman. Godfrey got out and after a short discussion, a giant semitruck wheel was hauled into the back of our van. He then asked us for a loan of 40,000 Tanzanian schillings (equivalent to about 18 USD) to purchase the wheel from the Maasai, which he would then try to sell in town at a profit. Not fully understanding the situation we were hesitant to hand over the money, but after Godfrey gave us his driver’s license as collateral Meredith relented and we drove on (he was as good as his word and repaid us as soon as we reached Namanga).

Our trusty steed

The border crossing itself was fairly straightforward (with customs giving just a cursory look into our bags), and I managed to obtain an East Africa Tourist Visa which would allow me entry to Kenya and Uganda, as well as Rwanda. Looking for transport to a safari camp on the far side of Amboseli National Park near Kilimanjaro, a Maasai man approached and told us he could guide our car through the bush. So we hopped back into Godfrey’s van and drove across the arid plain, along rugged dirt tracks and across the dry Amboseli lakebed to our destination (we were completely covered in dust by the end). After passing through a seldom-used park gate we spotted a number of animals along the way to the camp, inadvertently doing yet another safari.

Flamingoes, Amboseli National Park (photo credit: Meredith Saba)

The main reason we had come to the camp was to enjoy the incredible views of Mount Kilimanjaro from the northern side. Although the peak was shrouded in cloud that day, the next morning we woke to a spectacularly clear view of the highest mountain in Africa, Kibo peak covered in fresh snow (and a very different view than the southern side at that). Feeling lucky and inspired, we caught a ride with another guest (who happened to be from California) to Nairobi, where the crushing traffic slowly chipped away at our good spirits before we were renergized by another beautiful view: the city of Nairobi from the helipad of the Kenyatta Conference Center, named after the first president of Kenya who is also the father of the current president, Uhuru Kenyatta.

This mountain needs no introduction (photo credit: Meredith Saba)

Sadly our time in Kenya was very limited, and after a delicious meal of fish, beef, and ugali, we taxied over to the bus station to book next-day tickets for Kampala in Uganda. The route to Kampala took us past the edge of the Great Rift Valley and through Kenya’s western highlands, an attractive region of green hills and tea plantations. Kenya is the world’s largest exporter of tea, and watching the bucolic countryside go by from the bus window made me wish I could stay and spend more time exploring this place and meeting its colorful people. But all of Uganda awaits, and as we crossed the border at Busia and the landscape changed to a flatter, lush plateau dotted with thatch-roofed bandas (a village home), banana trees, and the ubiquitous cell phone company advertisement painted on storefronts, I knew the journey was just beginning.

Traffic in Nairobi

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