Did you know Machakos is older than Nairobi? It was established as the first administrative centre for the British colony 10 years before Nairobi took that title in 1887. Machakos had assumed this coveted role until the routing of the Lunatic railway line snatched it away.
Apparently, this was because the railway line passed 24 KM (15 MI) too far from the town thereby denying it the chance to become the first capital city of Kenya. That, however, did not take away the town’s position as the oldest administrative municipality in East and Central Africa.
These days Machakos is a vibrant town that is, as they say, ‘the place to be’. It is no wonder it played host to the much publicised Sudan peace talks which resulted in the Machakos Protocol of July 20 2002.
Coming back nearly 4 years since I last visited, it is indeed easy to see how this town, which also answers to the name Kiamba, has indeed become that place. Here are 4 reasons that drew me to that conclusion.
1. Breathtaking Scenery
Machakos is known for its beautiful scenery accentuated by numerous hills, some of which make for good camping and hiking grounds. The Iveti Hills, on the eastern side of the town that stretches to the north, are particularly striking.
Stories are told of how, on the slopes of these hills, the revered Kamba prophetess, Syokimau, foretold the coming of the white men, travelling in the bowels of birds and speaking like birds.
Iveti Forest is the other place famed for its scenic peaks, cedar and pine trees and the exceptional romantic view that is worth a sunrise or sunset hike. From that vantage point, you can see awe-inspiring sights and enjoy Machakos town and Mombasa road which are beautifully lit at night. The forest is the second highest peak in Machakos County.
Then there is our very own miniature Niagara Falls, the spectacular 27 M deep Fourteen Falls which derives its name from the 14 distinct falls on the broad section of the famous Athi River. Once at the Fourteen Falls take a walk down the river on a rocky path and get boat rides across the river.
2. Artsy Heritage
There is no better place to experience the legendary Kamba art heritage than in Wamunyu. Wamunyu is home to some of the world’s most beautiful sculptures made mainly from wood.
3. An Air of Deep Mystery
Machakos is as fascinating as it is mystical. Take the place in Kaloleni near Ngelani on Kituluni Hill for instance. Known locally as Kya Mwilu, it is famous for a mystical phenomenon where water flows against gravity. It is not yet clear how this works but it is quite spooky when you see it in action.
Within the Ol Donyo Sabuk National Park is the McMillan Castle. Covering an area the size of three basketball pitches, the mysterious house has had villagers here wondering for more than a century why a couple that had no children needed to put up such a huge dwelling place.
So you can imagine what was going through my mind when on the way back to Nairobi, I went past yet another mysterious scene on the highway. This chicken was comfortably perched in the spare wheel of a long haul track without a care for the world and it did not seem to be in any kind of hurry to leave its ‘comfort zone.’ Go figure!
4. A Chance to be Extreme
Besides their scenic appeal, most of the hills in Machakos present great opportunities to try out some extreme sports such as paragliding if jumping off a few hillsides is your kind of thing. Time being a limiting factor on this trip, I did not give it a go, perhaps next time I will! Word is that Xtrym Adventures are the best at this around here.
According to local Kamba folklore, Machakos is named after a powerful Kamba chief and seer, Masaku wa Munyati. Masaku arrived in Kamba land in 1816 from Sultan Hamud and settled at Kiima Kimwe or Hill of the dew.
It is said, he and his clan were fleeing from an impending customary justice after one of the brothers killed a woman in Sultan Hamud. Tradition demanded that a woman from the offending clan be put to death to settle the score.
Since Masaku and his people were not eager to lose a daughter this way, the whole clan took off in the dark of the night, arriving at Kiima Kimwe, their new home.
Make a point of visiting the famous People’s Park. The park offers great space and ambience for a wide range of activities. The outdoors amphitheatre offers a chance to showcase festivals, while the vast spaces offer lots of playgrounds.