Recently I completed yet another spectacular Kenyan journey, this time, through the eastern region, travelling across 7 counties and nearly a dozen major and small towns in 5 days of the best and worst experience of Kenyan roads.
My journey started in the town of Thika which has the triple blessing of housing the Chania Falls, the Fourteen Falls on the Athi River and Thika Falls. The town, in Kiambu county, also hosts the Ol Donyo Sabuk National Park to the southeast.
From Thika, we headed to Machakos town. This marked day one of our odyssey. Machakos, founded in the late 19th century, was once prefered as the administrative capital of the British colonial government a decade before Nairobi finally snatched this honour away.
Today Nairobi holds the mantle of being Kenya’s commercial, political and tourist hub but some people still feel Machakos could have been a much better choice.
In Machakos, I traversed the Kamba town of Kithimani where I got a first-hand feel of the controversial tarmac road constructed recently by Governor Mutua under the banner of his ‘Maendeleo Chap Chap’ initiative which seeks to deliver development to the people rapidly. The road looked pretty ok to me.
I actually had a hard time figuring out what the fuss had been all about, especially considering that a few years ago, this road was practically impassable. I was especially fascinated by the road’s solar street lights and wished it had been at night to maximise on the experience!
From Kithimani, we headed to the town of Kyosoni and later arrived at the vibrant town of Matuu, where we spent a night of darkness courtesy of a day-long blackout that had hit the otherwise busy town. We later learnt that a power outage had hit the section of town we were spending the night in – it was a bit of an odd night that puzzled even the locals.
The next morning we set off for Masaku town and about an hour’s drive or so later, I was standing by the shores of Kamburu dam, about 50 KM from Embu town. The dam, which is the second major power station in Kenya, was commissioned in 1974. When we visited, the water levels were so low one would mistake it for a river.
Standing there by the shores of the dam was the highlight of this day’s tour. Our stay in Kamburu was not long and soon we were on our way, headed to the town of Kivaa to visit a sacred hill named after the town. Here we heard the inspiring story of how a community came together to save remnants of an ancient ecosystem on the hill that was dying away.
In a few years, they managed to cover the hill with hundreds of indigenous trees in an effort to reinstate it to its former glory. Today the place is a beautiful biodiversity site fast growing as a major tourist attraction managed by Kamba elders. I found the weather here oddly cool and welcoming.
Away from things sacred, we hit the road once more, headed for Embu county, once the headquarters of the former Eastern Province. I was surprised to see, after nearly 4 years since I was last here, the town had not changed much.
Our humble abode in Embu was the Eden Park Safari Lodge. A relatively decent accommodation facility with a reasonably reliable Wifi connection and generous breakfast. I particularly enjoyed the nice hot showers from the solar-heated water.
We bid Embu farewell as we penetrated the dry but spectacular landscapes of Tharaka Nithi. This part of Kenya is really hot this time of the year. But the picturesque rocky scenery is mind-blowing and one soon forgets the heat and the nagging insects.
It was depressing to see massive crop failure in an area regarded as one of the country’s food baskets. Cereals were especially affected.
The towns of Marimanti, where vibrant cereal markets are an event to watch, were quiet and slow. The farmers here had not harvested yet again for the third season in a row!
We had seen signs of drought and huge crop failure in Machakos. But what we saw in Tharaka Nithi was deeply worrying. Might Kenya be looking at a possible drought and even famine?
Day 5 of our trip took us through the upcoming town of Mitunguu and into the trading town of Nkubu. Nkubu has registered remarkable growth over the last decade.
A great part of the town is easily accessible by decent tarmac. Among the most fertile and best-watered parts of Africa, tea, coffee and dairy farming thrive here.
From Nkubu, about 15 KM away, lay the ever-active Meru town. Meru, ripe with captivating colonial tales dating back to 1911, is the 6th largest urban centre in Kenya. It came into existence that same year with Edward Butler Horne as its first District Commissioner.
Locals quickly nicknamed him, ‘Kaangangi’. The name means the little wanderer. His short stature and frequent travels around Meru contributed.
In Meru, our journey ended as we set off, once more, for the green city in the sun – Nairobi. These had been 5 unforgettable days of traversing some of the harshest yet amazingly beautiful places in Kenya. We experienced the undiluted beauty of a terrain largely untapped for its tourist potential.
We saw a number of sacred hills and even crossed several dry riverbeds where mighty and feared rivers once flowed. But we also saw great community initiatives helping to revive a disappearing ecosystem. Many projects in eastern Kenya were engaging in tree planting to help reclaim the riparian. This eastern Kenya trip was a truly remarkable journey of discovery I would not mind repeating.