Who says you need to quit your job to travel or have the imaginary 365 leave days my friends think I get? When travel bug gets you, it gets you and the only way to appease it is to travel. Thus, once when I needed a breather from work ,I took a Friday off thus ensuring I had three days available to travel. I didn’really have a plan (over-rated), but I knew is I wanted to visit Meru. I managed to recruit my friend Susan to tag along as she had requested to accompany me on one of my trips when the opportunity availed itself.
Travel from Nairobi to Meru begun at “Tea Room” station which is located along Accra road within the City Center . We clearly had not done our homework to know that Mount Kenya University was holding their graduation that weekend.This thus meant the there was a shortage of vehicles plying that route and the cost had gone up to Ksh. 7oo on a route that is normally Ksh. 300/400. The distance to be covered would be 270km which would take about four and half to five hours. We however showed our prowess in “hussling for a matatu/minibus” and eventually got a seat almost two hours later.
The road is in very good condition and as you near the town, thereis evidence of much development . The journey however had its incidences everything from getting a mechanical problem to being dropped off at the wrong stage but hey-such is life.We took time that evening to know our environment, sample their meals and party in Meru.
Day 2: Saturday
We woke up early hoping to have a full packed day after getting travel tips from the locals. Shock on us when our queries of where to visit and what to do were met with the response, “Ai, huku hakuna pahali” loosely translated, there isn’t much to see or enjoy here. This saddened my heart and just upped my challenge radar-I had to discover the area for myself. I managed to get information about a winery in Mukulu area which is located in Igembe Central and it seemed like a must visit. I enjoy my wine and it seemed like it would be interesting to see a grape farm, learn how the wine is prepared, get to sample some and even carry some home. The closest wineries I had heard of are in South Africa, so what a deal to have one so close-in my country at that. The cost of the ride on a mini-van/matatu is Ksh.200 and is about 45-1hr ride. At Mukulu we asked around and were directed to take a bodaboda ride to the Mukulu Consolata Shrine.This ride officially falls under one of the most treacherous motorbike rides I have ever taken. The road (if you can call it that ), is rocky, dusty and super unfriendly on the motorbike, but hey, we were determined.
Mukulu Consolata Shrine:
At the Church, we were met by historic looking buildings. It is serene and beautiful.The inner walls are decorated with amazing paintings telling of the Christian Faith, the life of Jesus Christ as well as the History of Christianity in Kenya as well as the Church. A beauty to behold and having a Cross in the middle of the compound made it even more appealing for me.Take time to enjoy the artwork,understand the stories, reflect on yourself and your faith and say a prayer.
Tharaka tempers Flare:
When we told people we would be going to Mukulu, their immediate response was “Don’t, the tempers of the Tharaka people are better left undiscovered. People say “Meru’s have tempers, ” well, “Tharakas need a superlative description of tempers’ is what the people said. When we arrived at the winery office and enquired on a field visit, we were told to wait for someone to take us. 45min later, nothing and our patience was running low. When we enquired again, we were informed that the guide had left and the gates closed.We tried to plead our case but they were adamant. We then requested to purchase some of their wines and they asked us to pay before we even saw the product/s. Having been “bitten” before, we requested to see the product before purchase and this seemed to “unleash the Tharaka tempers” we had heard of. “The men ranted and raved, we felt threatened and eventually we were thrown out of the vicinity (verbally).Kindly note, our experience in no way reflects the whole community, just a few bad people. Dear priests and custodians of this place, kindly train your staff on customer service as they are painting your facility in bad light. I would love to re-visit and actually see the winery one day.
We then decided to head into Maua town -just to see the place before heading back. Let me just confirm-this is Miraa territory. Practically everyone walking is either carrying a bundle of Miraa for sale or partaking of it. Miraa is the main income earner of the area as I was informed. My curiosity got the better of me and I wanted to visit the “mini” miraa market that everyone seemed to be coming from. We walked to a place where lots of miraa seemed to be being packaged and engaged the young men on various Miraa queries.Did you know there are different grades of Miraa?? The higher the grade the higher the price?Miraa isn’t only for the idlers, even the elite partake it? It is paid as part of bride price?
As my mini interview was ongoing, a group of men (I think they are the mini-dons) came and started asking us 1000 qs..who we were? what we were doing? were we police? who had sent us and for what purpose? etc etc..We assured them that we were young Kenyan ladies out to discover Meru and their culture and I think our innocent nature allowed them to relax and actually educate us more.
We got back to Meru town at about 7.30p.m and had the urge to move on to Isiolo so that we could then enjoy it the whole of Sunday there. The bus stop had no matatus heading that way and thus we got our new cab friend to drive us which cost us Ksh.2000.
We arrived in Isiolo after 9pm and lets just say the hotel “Nothern Galaxy Hotel” was a true surprise-it is beautiful, clean, cozy, centrally located and pocket friendly. Many are the times you google a location only to find something compeletely different. We had googled the place, called to inquire availability of rooms and the lady had been gracious enough to give directions to our cab guy until we arrived at the hotel. We later discovered that the lady we had spoken to was actually the owner and she had remained at the hotel to await our arrival just to ensure we arrived safe and sound. Talk about hospitality or is it motherly instincts. “Asante asante”sana-Thank You.
The next morning we asked around on what one could see in Isiolo and again, the locals were all unanimous “nothing much to see”. It is sad when locals seem to either lack information on what stands out in their area as they are the best people to market or advise on it.We thus opted to walk around and see what we could discover.
Isiolo is dominantly inhabited by Kenyan Somalis with the main religion in the area being Islam. Majority of the women in the area are dressed in Burqa or buibui which covers them compeletely. In some cases even their faces are compeletely covered or in other instances only their eyes are visible.There is freedom of worship and you will easily find mosques and churches all around the area. It was impossible to engage with them as they seemed to hardly interact with other residents let alone outsiders. I wished I could interact with both the men and women, have a sit down with them, learn their culture, hear their stories, but sad to say, this did not happen. If anyone reading this lives in Isiolo or has family in Isiolo that are from the Kenyan Somali or Borana community and would be willing to host me or give me a cultural integration for a few days, I would highly appreciate. I am willing to wear the buibui, niqab or Burka for the duartion if need be, please preety please anyone???
Since it seemed difficult to interact with the communities in Isiolo, we were advised to proceed to Archers Post. The matatu/minibus ride would take about 45min to an hour and cost us Ksh.200.The area is inhabited mainly by the Samburu community and seemed like a good option for cultural integration.Upon arrival to the last stop, we asked the driver to point us in the right direction of the villages.
After staring at us for a few minutes and enquiring what exactly was our purpose, he informed us that there was a local guide who could assist. I confirm that yes, I am weary of strangers but I have learnt that it is good to sometimes give people the benefit of the doubt when my gut is silent. This is how we were introduced to Moha who eneded up being the coolest guide ever. He took us deep into the villages, gave us lots of insight on the communities there, walked us on River Ewaso Nyiro and ensured we had an amazing time. His fee-whatever we saw fit for his services at the end of the tour.
We got to enter their manyattas and got to hear about what happens in the community.That in a “Manyatta”-homestead, all of them are related in one way or another, by blood or marriage.We found an elderly lady building a house “manyatta” for her daughter who was about to be married off, had the priviledge to dance with the community, observe how they start a fire traditionally with dry grass,cowdung and small pieces of wood among others. Unfortunately, most of the morans were away as there had been a cattle rustling incident prior and they had gone in search of them. Needless to say, I left the area beaming from ear to ear.
Kindly note to keep track of time, something we didnt and when we returned to the bus/matatu park-there were no vehicles going back to Isiolo. Moha assisted us to hitch a ride from a corporate vehicle heading to Isiolo, we were allowed to shower at the hotel as we were totally covered in dust and thereafter boarded a matatu/minivan to Nairobi in the nick of time.We eventually arrived in Nairobi at Midnight Sunday, just enough time to snooze and make it to the office in the morning-back to the norm.
These random trips tend to suprise in more ways than one. A trip that was initially meant to have been Nairobi-Meru ended up being backpacking Nairobi-Meru-Maua-Isiolo-Archers Post-Nairobi, covering over 750km by road. This teaches one to be flexible and not necessarily to have a minute by minute plan of the trip. The road will reveal itself.Susan, thanks for being a sport and a great traveler-agreeing to go with the flow.
To the County of both Meru and Isiolo, you have lots of work to do with the locals. No one can better sell a destination as a tourist destination or otherwise better than the locals. It is unfortunate that the locals in your area would respond “there is nothing to do or see”, yet I believe so much is available.Perhaps you can showcase your county to your residents more so that the next time I visit, I will be overwhelmed with the options provided. To the County government of Isiolo, is it possible to facilitate for me the cultural integration I have requested above with the residents of Isiolo. Being able to learn from the people about their culture and being able to share it with the world would be an honour for me. Exposing the beaty that is culture in the area will also somewhat demistify the place and go a long way in attracting more visitors to the area.