The second instalment of my Nyanza-Western Kenya-North Rift road trip landed me in the port town of Kakamega, about 52 KM north of Kisumu city where I had just finished a 5-day stay. It takes about 2 hours to travel by road from Kisumu to Kakamega by Matatu.
I had promised I would tell you how Kakamega got its name and what it means. The story goes like this. When European settlers first visited the area now known as Kakamega and were offered ugali (called Obusuma in local dialect), they tried to emulate the local eating style which involved the use of one’s fingers to eat the popular dish made out of maize flour.
To the hosts though, the visitors were more like ‘pinching’ the Obusuma instead of ‘scooping’ it. The resulting administrative area was therefore named ‘Kakamega’ – meaning to ‘pinch.’
As I travelled around by public transport, I got street-smart and more alert. For instance, on this trip I made sure all my heavy luggage was safely inside the boot of the matatu I was boarding!
At the Easy Coach Booking office in Nairobi, I confused the baggage storage area travellers use to temporarily keep their belongings while they run a few final errands in town for a sort of a luggage check-in bay – you know, like the way you check-in your luggage in airports!
My assumption was that once I ‘checked-in’ my luggage here, the Easy Coach staff would later come to load the luggage from here into the bus I was to travel in. How wrong I had been! I arrived in Kisumu minus my bag which was still safely stacked in the store in Nairobi!
I alerted Easy Coach of my mistake and 2 days later I was reunited with my intact bag. It took longer than usual because the first bus that was to deliver my bag forgot it once more in Nairobi!
Anyway had they not handled the matter with the professionalism that they did, the situation would have been a catastrophic one because all my change of clothes was in this bag I had left behind! Kudos to the staff of Easy Coach in Nairobi and Kisumu.
I was booked in at the Kakamega Golf Club, a few metres from the Kisumu-Kakamega road. From what I was hearing, the club had just revamped their club house with a new modern lounge, restaurant and conferencing facility. It seemed they were also putting some final touches on renovation work on the 9-hole golf course.
I have this habit, which I think is common with most bloggers anyway, that as soon as I get into my hotel room, I check the presence and strength of any available WiFi connections and then the availability of cable TV and channel variety in that order.
I can do without cable TV but Internet, I find hard to be without and so like most bloggers and techies would do, I proceeded to the reception area to ask whether there is a business centre from where I could access the vital service – almost like a junkie looking for a fix.
To my disappointment the Golf Club did not have either of these services I had come to regard as standard in any hotel room. I later discovered the TV at the lounge had DSTv and that there was a WiFi connection which had been disconnected for non-payment.
Let me leave the matter regarding accommodation and amenities at the club at the point where I finally noticed my TV set in the room was the old Cathode Ray Tube type. You know, the kind with an extended behind, and move on to other matters such as having to wait for my dinner, later in the evening, for a staggering 2 hours or better still, let me really move away from this whole club stuff all together!
The following morning my fortunes were slightly improved by an absolutely amazing breakfast despite not being the usual buffet. The networking at the club lounge in the evening, meeting new and quite influential people in Kenya, was quite something.
Outside of the club, I had a chance to travel to the village of Cheptais in the Mount Elgon area, about 100 KM from Kakamega. Most of you would remember this region as the home of the once dreaded Sabaot Land Defence Force (SLDF).
SLDF was a guerrilla militia group that emerged in 2005 in the wake of land dispute issues here and caused untold havoc, leading to huge losses of life and property before it was quashed by the government. Its leader was the much feared Wycliffe Matakwei Kirui Komon, a former presidential bodyguard.
On this day, I was here for a different reason which was to visit some of the ICT projects the Anglican Development Services in this region was implementing with young farmers. I visited the project’s ICT centre in Cheptais and spent some time with the youth learning the different ways they were using ICTs to access information to improve their farming of tomatoes.
On our way to Cheptais that morning, we passed through the famous Mumias Sugar plant and the now defunct Pan African Paper Mills in Webuye. Looking at the scale of investment that went to the mill, one cannot help but feel sad that it is no longer operational. What a waste!
On my last evening in Kakamega, as I rested at the club reflecting on my experiences here and planning for my next trip to the city of Eldoret the following morning, I could not help but think of the many more exciting places and the many more wonderful people I could have met, had time allowed.
It had proved yet another memorable journey as I bid the ‘pinching’ town farewell and boarded yet another matatu to begin the third leg of my trip to Eldoret.
Once more, I noticed our driver, just like in my Kisumu-Kakamega trip, was an old mzee – probably in his late 50s or early 60s. It seemed the matatu business in western Kenya was dominated by the older generation – I guessed, perhaps, these old men were also the owners of these matatus and so they drove them to keep a close eye on business.
Tomorrow, I shall be sharing with you what I found in Eldoret. Come back soon.