When writing on travel, we emphasise a lot on fancy destinations and offer many tips on how to make memorable road trips. We often, as a result, end up overlooking the subtle nuances of travelling upcountry. The fact is, most of our Kenyan road trips terminate in an upcountry destination. It will be a crime if I do not highlight a few of these unique factors to consider when travelling upcountry in Kenya.
Bring Your Convenience
Of course, not all rural areas are the same. Some are more developed than others. However, most rural Kenya lacks the luxury and convenience the city has. For example, a reasonable area of Kenya still does not have access to electricity. Some of the residents choose to use solar power, while others make do with what they have. You will find them charging their phones at the small centres near their homes, and using candlelight or lamps for light at night. You will thus have to carry power banks, flashlights, and your source of entertainment, if necessary. You can also opt to do away with all the luxuries for a while, and experience the real deal.
Culture is Very Much Alive
In the metropolises, culture is hard to uphold because of the diversity of the inhabitants. In rural Kenya, where one or two communities dominate a region, this is a different story. Culture and traditions here still play a massive role in people’s daily lives. In smaller villages where everyone knows everyone else, a visitor is easily recognisable and blending in becomes paramount. For example, in most Kenyan cultures, the young should always greet their elders with respect. It might require doing a small bow or even shaking with both hands. In the Maasai culture, for example, the older men place their palms on the heads of the younger ones as a form of greeting and blessing. You do not have to follow all the traditions, especially if they are not your own, but at least try to be respectful.
A huge mistake that city dwellers make when travelling upcountry is dressing liberally. Again, it is not that rural Kenya is a prison. It is just more particular about the smaller details that urban life ignores. It is more conservative in most aspects of life, including dressing. While in some areas, they might not say anything about you wearing differently, you will get stink eyes and whispers. There is no specific dress code for any rural area, but the general idea is modest dressing. That means covering most of your body, especially for female travellers. Avoid very short and revealing clothes, especially when in the company of elders. Typical rural Kenyan attire includes deras, lesos and kangas, which are not only affordable but also comfortable. Some of these like the Somali Dera are quite fashionable these days.
Unless you are on self-drive, you should be ready to put your feet to use when travelling upcountry. Most rural Kenya does not have an intricate transport system, as is the case in the city. Majority of the country folk trek to their destinations and back. When it is necessary, then bodabodas come into play. However, for the most part, you will have to walk to get to your destination. I suppose this is not such a bad thing given the fresh air and beautiful scenery most of rural Kenya holds. It is at the same time an excellent way to keep fit, so you get to benefit either way.
Bugs are Real
Rural Kenya, due to its undisturbed vegetation, carries different kinds of bugs and animals including geckos, lizards, spiders and sometimes snakes. Of course, they will not be crowding the roads or flooding the house, but their presence is always probable. You should therefore always ask about dangerous areas to avoid any mishaps, especially if you are travelling alone. It would help if you also carried insect repellents to keep off the mosquitos and other biting bugs. If by accident a bug you do not recognise attacks you, make sure you get help from a local as soon as possible. They have indigenous knowledge of how to handle such cases.
Most rural Kenya leads a community-oriented life. If you are staying in a family home, you will notice this very quickly. People visit each other throughout the day, and as a visitor, you might have to engage with them. You might be taking a walk, and a total stranger stops you to enquire where you are from or where you are going. While this might seem odd to a city dweller, it is the norm in rural Kenya, given their close-knit existence. However, you should always know that not all individuals are genuine and well-wishing. Therefore, listen to your instincts at all times, and get away from anyone that might make you feel uncomfortable.
Cold Bucket Baths
Did I mention that most rural areas in Kenya do not have electricity? Even for those that have, instant showers are not probable, unless you are staying at a hotel. Therefore, brace yourself for cold bucket baths during your stay. They are not as bad as they sound. Just picture yourself playing splash with friends in a pool. If cold water terrifies you, try taking your bath at the end of the day as opposed to early in the morning. That way, both your body and water temperatures will be a bit warm.
Lastly, food in rural Kenya is mostly farmed fresh. The menu will not be as diverse as the one in the city, but you can be sure fast foods will not come your way. Most rural Kenyan homes rotate their meals around three or four typical meals. These include Ugali, rice, chapati, and githeri. If you are in Central Kenya, you might be lucky enough to have mukimo added to the rotation. Only those in rural Coastal Kenya might have the advantage of more meals since coastal foods are more diverse than inland ones. The benefit of these meals is that they are healthy and nutritious. You should, however, check the portions because it is almost like a rule to overfeed the visitors as a sign of welcoming them.
The Kenyan countryside is a sharp contrast to the city. For a first-time traveller, it might seem too much to take in at once. However, with enough interest and flexibility, you will find that it is easy to adapt and even enjoy yourself while there. The scenery and rich culture especially are enough to make you make an effort. When are you next travelling upcountry? Will it be your first time? If not, what was your first like? Let us know and feel free to add other useful tips by commenting below.