Exploring Kenya Part I: Arriving and drive up north to Maralal

Before we started, especially I was worrying a lot about what to expect in Kenya. We were discussing since a couple of months, but it was always just a kind of background noise in our travel planning without getting any more concrete. The plan was to visit one of Annika's old school friends, who was staying a couple of hundred kilometers north of Nairobi with her family, working as missionary. As time passed by, their mission was coming to an end. So, beginning of the year there was a "now or never"-decision to be made. A couple of Facebook chats and discussions later, we booked the flights. Of course, we did some research before, but I didn't have the best nights sleep after everything was settled. To be responsible for just yourself or for two small additional creatures as well makes quite a bit of a difference. But after a lot of reading and changed travel plans - first I wanted to rent a car myself, and we took a driver instead - I got more and more inspired and keen to see how it's like. Many websites called the traffic the most dangerous thing in Kenya. Now I understand why, but let's get started:

We arrived in Nairobi after two 5 hours flights, stopping in Dubai, which interrupted our night sleep quite a bit. But during the flight the kids slept more or less well, so that we could bare the slow immigration process, which meant waiting more than an hour in a pretty short but slowly processing waiting line. Before arrival we got and paid the visa online, which was a surprisingly smooth experience. A modern web site leads you through every single step and then you quickly receive the necessary papers. I always dream of having a similar bureaucratic experience in Germany, but I guess that'll never happen.

Driving through Nairobi

The drive through Nairobi is quite an experience. Lanes are opened next to the road, where you actually need a 4x4 to drive. If the blinker is not seen or an urgent lane change needed, reaching with the hand out of the window seems to do the job. We saw two broken cars on the road on the first few kilometers and jammed traffic all over the place. The first impression of the city was that it was pretty chaotic and calm at the same time. The only ones who actually seem to enjoy that nothing is going forward are salespersons going from car to car with drinks, snacks, obvious and not so obvious things you might need. They offer you their products at the window, but mostly polite and not pushing you, mostly nice and not angry. With those guys helping you out during your 2 hours ride for 30km through the city, you don't need to go shopping afterwards.

Nairobi leads with 62.44 Minutes in Average in the top five cities in Africa with the worst traffic, followed by Cairo in Egypt (51.56 minutes) and South African cites Pretoria (49.00), Johannesburg (45.15), Cape Town (44.15) and Durban(53.12).

The flow of the traffic could be ruled by traffic lights. But police officers are overruling them, letting the traffic go for quite a long time into one direction before giving the other direction a chance to cross. And the police officers are overruled by the motorcycles, who don't care. My suspicion is, that the traffic could be smoother without human interference, but honestly I'm not so sure either! Another thing were the public buses. Each bus had a topic, many of them praised English soccer teams. The music was loud, the bus was packed and they were the next craziest drivers after the motorcycles. Entering and exiting the city, flashing cameras allow for tracking down vehicles going in or out. According to our taxi driver it's one measure to improve the security after the terror attacks a couple of years back.

Only two hours down the road, yet so many new impressions when we arrived at our hotel. The kids could play in a really peaceful garden, counting the huge bats flying over us. Finally we got some pizza and went straight to bed. All but Niklas were tired. When he finally fell asleep, the rest of us could too.

Great rift valley

The next morning we started the drive around 400 km up north passing Nakuru towards our destination for the upcoming week: Maralal. We were lucky that Helena, a colleague of our hosts Eva and Ove, was able to give us a ride, as she was going the same way. Leaving Nairobi towards the north east, not so far from the capital, we were stunned by nature for the first of many times in Kenya. The road goes along the Great Rift Valley, with its endless landscapes, volcanoes and a steep drop at the edge.

The Great Rift Valley is a name given to the continuous geographic trench, approximately 6,000 kilometres (3,700 mi) in length, that runs from Lebanon's Beqaa Valley in Asia to Mozambique in South Eastern Africa. (WIKIpedia)

Impressions

Already on our drive towards Maralal, we grasped a lot of different impressions of the country and people. We noticed fantastic landscapes, unexpected wildlife and the life of the people living in small towns and in some huts and houses in the wide lands north of the cities. Here, too, traffic is crazy.

Traffic

I wrote a lot about the traffic in Nairobi, but it deserves a second mention here. Outside the city the traffic is not as dense but faster. The drive towards Nakuru is mostly a two lane road, used by many means of transportation. You'll see a donkey carriage and a motorcycle, which has loaded as much as the donkey carriage. Roads are narrow but can be made broader if needed. People like to pass everywhere, especially where you don't see what's ahead. If another car comes towards you, everybody flashes with their lights and hope for the best, that there is space for everybody. For example, we were going up a hill and there was a horribly overloaded truck, which couldn't go faster than maybe 20 km/h. The hill top was a couple of hundred meters ahead and it was not visible what car will come. The second truck with max speed of maybe 40 km/h started passing the first one and was again passed by a car. On two lanes, not seeing what's ahead.

ESTIMATED ROAD TRAFFIC DEATH RATE PER 100,000 POPULATION 29.1 IN KENYA, 4.3 IN GERMANY

Luckily with Helena we felt really safe. The driver who brought us back to Nairobi was excellent as well. But you cannot always predict what the others are up to. And that's the risky part.

People

The further you get away from Nairobi, the smaller the towns get and the more the people change. Smaller towns show up along the road with small shops and markets, where they sell the goods they have. Fish, where there is a river, veggies, where theres a field. The towns are loud, noisy and smelly, especially as open fires are burning where it's needed. Away from even the small towns the clothes of the people change. In bigger towns and cities the clothes are similar to what we are used to, but in the countryside the people are wearing more colourful, traditional ones. Every now and then you spot bright red, yellow or blue spots in the deserted land.

Further north the ground gets dryer and there's almost no agriculture anymore, just cattle, goats, camel and sheep as the only source of income.

Kids are taking care of the cattle. Sometimes they are alone sometimes in teams. As it's getting dryer the further north we are going, it's getting harder for the shepherd to find pasture for the herd to eat and water to drink. Often there are conflicts, especially during the drought, when people fight for the small resources they have to share.

17 Mio. people or 36% of kenya's population have access to unimproved or surface water only

Water supplies are an issue in some regions of Kenya. Especially on the country side where most of the population lives. Everywhere you see mostly women carrying the heavy water containers. Keep in mind that 1 liter equals 1 kg. And the distance is sometimes as far as 10 km.

Wildlife along the way

We hoped to see wildlife in Kenya. Therefore, we planned to go to the Nairobi National Park and to be sure to the Safari Walk, Giraffe Centre and Elephant Orphanage in the city. The plan was to show the kids where the animals are living that we can see in the Zoo here in Munich. What we saw on our trip to Maralal already exceeded our expectations. Zebras, monkeys, game, birds and warthogs were just along the road.

Zebra enjoying the shadow next to the road. A warthog eating behind it.
OVER THE PAST 30 YEARS, THE POPULATION OF THE GREVY'S ZEBRA HAS CRASHED FROM 15,000 TO 2,500 WITH OVER 90% FOUND IN NORTHERN KENYA. CURRENT THREATS TO GREVY'S ZEBRA INCLUDE LOSS OF HABITAT, COMPETITION FOR RESOURCES WITH DOMESTIC LIVESTOCK, POACHING FOR MEAT AND MEDICINAL PURPOSES, DISEASE AND DROUGHT.

But then something happened that we couldn't even dream of, and which left the kids speechless. The car had to stop for a couple of giraffes crossing the road. The kids had a hard time believing what was going on. After a while of silence Niklas noted: "Hey Mom. Giraffes!" :)

Around 21.000 Giraffes are lIving in kenya. Depending on the speciEs their number decreased by 50-70% in the lasT two decades

Some more impressions

About me

living in munich. parent of two kids. husband. software architect. enthusiastic about biking, hiking, photography, cooking, baking. traveller. idealist. optimist. caring about nature. passionate runner.

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Created By
Daniel Wilms
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