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A captivating drive through Machakos

 A road trip across Machakos County [Courtesy, Jayne Rose Gacheri]

A road trip across Machakos County showcases some of the most dramatic landscapes, such as the beautiful cascading Mua Hills. As we take a “ride of honour” through the town, my guide, Alex Mbuvi, let me into the history of Machakos. He paints a vivid image of the former administrative centre for the British colony.

He explained that the town of Machakos was established in 1887 by Sakshi Shah, making it 10 years older than its sister town of Enkare Nyirobi (the place of cold water), which the colonialists later called Nairobi.

According to the historical narrative from Mbuvi, the British IBEA company established an upcountry station at Nzoi before moving it to Machakos, named after the local Kamba Chief, Masaku, “a big hairy man who lived on Kiima Kimwe, a lone hill (he later pointed it out to me on our way during the drive) on the Ivetti range east of the current town. 

He narrated a legend foretold by Syokiman, a local prophet, who spoke of the coming of strangers with fire in their pockets, later to be followed by the coming of a fire-eating snake (the railway). Later, Fort Machakos, as it was subsequently named, came under attack in 1892 and got George Leith, as its first administrator.

The officer, who loved whiskey, was loathed by the Kamba community as he became a nuisance, grabbing supplies from the locals and refused to pay for them. The hatred “shot to the rooftop when he did something unfathomable considered by the community as sacrilegious - he felled an Ithembo tree (the equivalent of the Agikuyu Mugumo) at the summit of Ivetti Hills.

That set in motion happenings that saw Machakos missing out on becoming the commercial, political and capital city of the country. As we venture past the local police station, Mbuvi pointed at two pillars and an engraved marker, that he explained were once the entrance to Fort Machakos.

Sadly, the railway did not pass through the Fort, due to a famine that killed a third of the locals, and the engineers feared they would not get labour among other reasons. 

The highlights

After exploring Machakos, we ventured into the town’s backyard. We drove through daring hilly passes and remote roads, to challenging tracks and dramatic landscapes, making this, a most exciting adventure and road trip for me in a long while.

 Our countryside drive took us through some sweeping roads as they winded their way through dramatic and moody landscapes [Courtesy, Jayne Rose Gacheri]

Our countryside drive took us through some sweeping roads as they winded their way through dramatic and moody landscapes, past historic sites and wild wilderness.

This, alongside the narration by an experienced and humorous Mbuvi, who in an exemplary way tells the story of ancient Kamba myths and rich history thread woven into the county’s fabric.

Less than two kilometres from Machakos town, there stands this majestic imposing landmark. To some, it is a mountain, while to others it is a hill.

This is the Kamba community that revered Kiima Kimwe Hill. On top of Kiima Kimwe, stands a big Kiuumo tree, which served as the legendary Chief Masaku’s shrine in an era gone by.

Mbuvi says it is still against the Kamba customs, to cut down a tree around a shrine, or even to collect firewood. Those who break the laws regarding shrines are fined.

Given the increasing number of churches around it and deforestation, it is noteworthy that the shrine continues to be considered Masaku’s shrine. 

On our way back, through Kagundo Road, from a distance, we saw another imposing and famous shrine - the Komarock Shrine.

The story has it that Mary, the mother of Jesus appeared here some years back. This caused many Catholic pilgrims and other visitors to trek to the site to pay homage, while others did so out of curiosity.

It is one of the Catholic shrines across the country used as an important pilgrim and worship centres by local and international visitors, making it an attraction listed in Magical Kenya’s tourist attractions. 

Unfortunately, time did not allow for us to make it to another popular site, a hill that defies normal gravity.

Here, Mbuvi explained, if you pour water, it trickles up the hill against the expected normal act of flowing down the hill. If you left your car on its own here, with its handbrake disengaged, the car would slowly move uphill instead of downhill.

Next was a a drive up Mua Hills. You can literally feel the upward endless rise, and by the time, you have scaled to the highest point, the view of Machakos town in the evening amber sun is jaw dropping.

Unfortunately, as beautiful as the views were, we had to reluctantly make our way back to Machakos before being caught up by dusk.


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