Adventures in Africa

Chapter 5 - Preparing to Climb Mt. Kenya

Half an hour before reaching our destination we are stopped in a roadblock. There is a gathering of 20-30 young men and women. They want money. When the driver refuses they shout and start to shake our matatu in order to turn it upside down. The driver pays them 50 Shillings but they want more. Without any other choice he throws 200 more Shillings and takes advantage of the time they count the money to sneak the car out of the roadblock. He stirs fast, hoping to escape from them. The mob who wants more money starts to chase us and when it realizes that our driver succeeded to escape, the people throw at us stones. We are really shocked. If these people had recognized us inside to matatu, they would have certainly robbed us. The driver explains to us that the robbers are students from the nearby university, who protest in this way the killing of a fellow student in Nairobi by a policeman. The central station of Nyahururu looks like a small model of the one in Nakuru. I'm still shocked from what happened so I ask the driver if he can bring us "special" to the lodge. Normally I settle the price of a service beforehand, but not this time. Fortunately, the driver receives our generous payment in the end of the drive without any problem.

On the lodges loan we pitch the tent and rush to the attached restaurant. Im still shocked and feel that I want to see as many whites as possible. In the restaurant we meet an American couple. The girl is a Peace Corps volunteer who serves in Guinea, and she makes us laugh by funny stories about the Guineas and sarcastic jokes about Africa. Did you know that the Guineas take their goats in the airplanes? Or, did you hear the joke about the African and Indian friends who studied together economics in England? One day the African visits his friend in India. The Indian has a nice villa and a Chevrolet. The African asks his friend "How did you become so rich?" The friend replies "Do you see the highway nearby? Well, I get 10% from the toll". The African is very impressed. Five years later the Indian happens to be in Africa and visits his friend. He cannot believe what he sees: A huge castle with a swimming pool, and in the parking - 10 brand new limousines! "How did you become so rich?" He asks astonished. "Well, do you see the highway nearby?" The Indian looks around, sees nothing, and says to the African "I don't see anything!" "Of course you don't see" replies the African pointing to his pockets "It's all here!". The moral is, if you didn't catch it, that the Africans care only about themselves, and not at all about their country. After this entertaining evening we go to sleep and almost succeed to forget our previous "adventure".

If we want to climb Mt. Kenya we first have to get there. We have a lift with the American couple till Nyeri. There we get on a tiny Peugeot 504 which serves as matatu. We make a rough estimation: there are 2 long sits along the sides of the rear cabin. There is place for 4 people in each sit, lets say 5 Africans, so overall 10. There are already 4 people inside when we enter the car. Two more come and we are full, but we know that the driver will try to squeeze 2 more. These 2 arrive, and we are surprised to see that the driver is still waiting. Two more people come with a lot of luggage, which is loaded on the roof. We are already 12 and the driver makes no sign about his intention to leave, on the contrary, he opens the engine cover and starts to check it. 4 more people come, and somehow they squeeze inside. We feel like pieces of mashed meat, or if you want, sardines in a fish conserve. An African couple decides that it is too much for them and goes out. Now there is relatively space inside...

Well, I won't make you tired and conclude that only an hour after we went inside, the matatu left with... 20 passengers on board. Half an hour later, towards the middle of the way, only 6 passengers are left, all sitting in comfort. The driver, who apparently couldn't stand our happy faces, asks us to move to another matatu, which has already 10 passengers on board. We are clever enough to sit near the driver in the front cabin, in relative comfort. That day we did the 60km distance between Nyeri and Nanyuki in 3 hours.

Nanyuki turns to be a small nice town. Immediately we are offered by guides to go and climb the mountain. We tell them that we are in no hurry and go to find a nice motel. Generally speaking, in Africa the lousier the hotel looks the more bombastic is its name. We stay in "Nanyuki river lodge" which is OK. Don't even dear to go to "Las Vegas" motel or to "Hilton" guest house!

The strategy of the persons who offer themselves as guides is simple: they want to tie you to them and go to the trek as soon as possible. The time is working against them - maybe you will change your mind, maybe some other guide will offer to you better services for a cheaper price. Our strategy is also simple: we want to postpone the deal as much as possible exactly because of the reasons stated above. As today is Friday afternoon, we tell them that us, as Jews, cannot make any business until Saturday evening. We hear their offers but do not reply. One guide, Francis, looks more reliable than the others do. He gives us an offer for a 5 days package including everything: transportation, accommodation in huts, food, entrance fees and guidance. He also shows a recommendation letter in Hebrew. The reason why we prefer recommendation letters in Hebrew and not in English is that the holder doesn't have a clue of what is written there. Like that, in the Hebrew recommendation letters you read more objective information. It happened to us several times that somebody showed us a recommendation letter where it was written in Hebrew "Don't go with him, he's unreliable", or "He is a good guide. We paid him for the package 100$" (The prices and numbers are of course written in Hebrew). We settle with Francis to meet him next evening when we will try to agree about the price and discuss the food (both Tali and I have our particularities). It will be something like fish, goat meat (Francis recommends it strongly), and lot of fruits and vegetables (excluding Papayas and Bananas that we don't like so much).

Next day we stroll along the streets of Nanyuki and hear some more offers, much less than in the previous day. The reason is that everybody knows that we "belong to Francis". We eat lunch in a restaurant. Me, I eat chicken in curry sauce and rice (nice), and Tali eat Kinyenje, a traditional dish of mashed potatoes with spinach (very good). In the evening our culinary experience continues we fall into a "meat garden". It's an open place like the bear gardens in Kampala, but it is devoted for meat. If in England the beer goes in quantum of half pint (i.e. you order half pint or 1 pint etc...) than here the meat goes in quantum of half kilo. The fresh pieces of beaf are shown on the counter and you point to the one you want. When the meat is ready (they make it well done which kills all the bacteria) they bring it on a wooden plate and cut it into small chewable pieces in front of you. The meat is quite hard but good. What surprises me is the low price - around 1$ for half kg.

Next morning I shave thoroughly. We start our trip today and I have to look like what is written in my student card - a 21 yeas old student! otherwise I will need to pay triple price for the park fees. Also Tali has to pretend, but her job is easier - she is already 4 years younger than me, and... doesn't need to shave! Our team consists of Francis the guide, Paul the cook and Amaruru the porter. The later is a 2 meters high and 36 years old person who wears a suit. He was also a porter about 2 decades ago, when the park authorities built the huts on the mountain. There is even a section of the path which is called on his name. Amaruru is so much in physical shape that he looks 10 years younger than he is.

Our team consists of Francis the guide, Paul the cook and Amaruru the porter.

From the first meal of the day we have an impression that we are lucky with our team. Lunch is not only tasty but also is served in a decorative manner. By the park gates we meet 2 Israeli girls who have jfinished the trek. They look exhausted and tell us that during all the time it was raining, that they didn't reach the summit and that they pity us. Although it was indeed cloudy we decide to continue as planned and just hope to be lucky...

From the first meal of the day we have an impression that we are lucky.

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Last modified: Sat Jun 12th 20:05:00 IST 1999