We definitely didn’t take the touristy route when we entered Kenya. We didn’t realize at the time how dangerous the area was; due to tribal conflicts. We started to get an idea that we weren’t exactly welcome by the locals when our big, bright yellow truck received glares from the tribespeople, many of whom were poised to throw rocks our way. Just a few of them were friendly and allowed us to take pictures. I missed our temporary passengers that rode with us on our truck when we first crossed from Ethiopia to Kenya – two Kenyan police officers who needed a ride to the next big town a few hours south. They told us some crazy stories and showed the guys some disturbing videos of violence in Somalia (There is a much darker side to Africa than the safaris and fun things we did). The officers were also happy to show off their big bundukies to the ladies and offered to let us touch them. (“Bunduki” is Swahili for gun, what did you think I was talking about?!) 😉 We later learned that 38 Kenyan police officers were ambushed and killed by a large group of the tribespeople we passed during our trip. We hope that the kind officers we met weren’t some of the victims.
That night we set up “bush camp” in an area that seemed slightly less threatening according to our driver. As the two women on cooking duty that night prepared our dinner, a group of us walked a mile or so into town to the local “bar” for a Tusker (one of Kenya’s local beers). There was no electricity in the small shack-like bar. We sat in complete darkness and drank our warm Tuskers. By the light of the moon, we saw the shape of a local tribal man in a complete ensemble decked out with feathers, carrying some type of weapon. We all froze in fear as the Australian girl with us turned on her blinding headlight to get a better look. “Turn it off! Turn it off” we told her. It was a little spooky walking back to our camp in the complete darkness, seeing shapes of other tribal men not knowing who we’d (literally) run into. Bryan loved this evening because that’s the unique experiences he most enjoys during our travels. The scary part for Bryan occurred the next morning as we were packing up camp. I was returning from the bathroom (aka a bush), when our driver (in his Welsh accent) said, “Kerstin (as he called me), you might want to go check on Bryan because judging from all of his screaming it appears he got bit by a spider.” As many of you know, spiders are Bryan’s few great fears in life. He was rolling up our tent when a big (about 6 inches long), ugly camel spider hiding underneath bit his toe. Luckily, camel spiders are pretty harmless and he survived (besides the emotional scars).
The next day we had more new passengers – a lot more! We continued our drive through the tribal regions of Northern Kenya. Along the way, we started seeing Samburu women. They were beautifully adorned in colorful garments and dozens of intricately designed rainbow-colored beads on their heads and around their necks. The name “Samburu” comes from the Maasai word for “butterfly” (referring to the bright colors worn by the tribe). The Samburu are closely related to the Maasai tribe. As you can imagine, Bryan and the rest of our group really wanted to take pictures of these women. But by now, we know that you NEVER take photos of people without asking permission first. So we buzzed our driver (in the front section of the truck) to let him know that we wanted a “photo stop.” Our driver pulled over and asked if it would be okay if we took their pictures. The man with the large group of women told him no. Our driver asked where they were all headed and found out they were walking nearly 5 miles to a wedding. So he offered them all a ride to the wedding in exchange for photos. They happily agreed and filed in our truck. Luckily, our overland truck had a maximum capacity of 25 passengers and there were only 11 of us, so there was plenty of room for the dozen or so women and two babies. The women were all carrying dried-out calabash containers (like a squash or gourd) filled with goat’s milk to give the bride and groom as wedding gifts. Much to our surprise, a couple of the women began chatting with us in English. They were as curious about us as we were about them. The women beside me asked where I was from, and when I told her Washington D.C. (it’s easier than telling them Stafford), she was extremely excited. “You’re from the same village as Obama!” she exclaimed. “So how is he doing?” I didn’t have the heart to tell her our “village” of Washington D.C. was enormous and I didn’t run into Obama buying goats and vegetables at the local market like she probably imagined. So I told her he was doing well as far as I knew and had a great time at the recent inauguration ball (this was in January). 🙂 As we soon learned, most of the Africans in this region we met loved Americans because we were from “Obama-land” as one local referred to the U.S. Obama’s father was Kenyan so they are very proud of their “favorite son” (Barack Obama Senior was killed in a car crash in Kenya in 1982). We even saw women wearing President Obama wrap dresses.
That same day, three of our 11 passengers were ill. The Danish girl (Marie) on our truck woke up extremely nauseous and had been trying hard not to throw up during all of this. Well, if you’ve ever smelled goat’s milk (or at least African goat milk) you’d know that it stinks . . . bad. It just so happened that the Samburu woman beside her was carrying a very full calabash container of goat’s milk that spilled on Marie’s leg. This sent her over the edge. She had to buzz our driver again to stop. She bolted off the truck and threw up on the side of the road. But we had a nice talk with the Samburu women and took some great photos of them. Strangely enough, when we later learned about the ambush of the 38 Kenyan police officers we found out that the tribe involved was the Samburu. This prompted me to read some of the news reports to figure out what was going on. It turns out the Samburu have been violently evicted from their lands by the police. They have been beaten, raped, forced from their homes (which were often burnt down), and their livestock (their means of wealth) have been stolen and often slaughtered. No wonder these poor people were on edge when we drove through.
Another interesting aspect of our travels in this region was the condition of the mostly dirt roads. They were just plain ridiculous which is another reason why there aren’t many travelers in this area. The holes in the road were more like craters. We had to hold on tight to avoid flying out of our seats and injuring ourselves. We were just fortunate that this wasn’t the rainy season in Kenya. We’d all seen photos of other overland travelers covered in mud trying to push their enormous trucks out of the mud pits. Our truck crawled slowly along, maneuvering through one crater at a time while the sick passengers puked in buckets, out the windows, or buzzed to stop. Yes, it stunk for them but the rest of us were having an awesome time. These were our first encounters with wild zebras, giraffes, and even a cheetah we spotted crouching in the tall grass.
That night Bryan and his cooking partner Charlie prepared dinner over our nightly fire. We all thought it was lamb (even the cooks) but we later learned it was goat meat. Afterwards, far from any resemblance of civilization, we fell asleep in our tents listening to the cackles of nearby hyenas. We enjoyed the sounds despite the fact that our driver informed us earlier that evening that hyenas are fast, large (can weigh up to 190 lbs.) and have the ability to eat their prey quickly, bones and all, because of their big, sharp teeth and powerful jaws. The ride may have been bumpy and somewhat dangerous, but with all these awesome travel experiences in just a few days we definitely didn’t regret taking “the road less traveled.”