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On the road to Maralal


On the road to Maralal

A Cultural performance experience from the 2023 Community Land Summit in Maralal, Samburu. {Jayne Rose Gacheri, The Standard}

Did you know that you could find adventure and fun in the least expected places and travel opportunities? All you need to do is be open-minded, observant, and keen to turn every trip you take into an adventure trip.

Recently, I got an opportunity to travel to Maralal, Samburu for a three-day Community Land Summit. I travelled by shuttle, a seven-hour journey.  I had a “first-class” seat, next to James Ngare, a friendly driver who had been on the Nairobi-Nyahururu Highway for more than 20 years. He had a wealth of experience on every part of this trip.

He was full of fun and enthusiastically gave me descriptions of every interesting encounter during the trip. Ngare owns a fleet of vehicles and businesses in Maralal, but driving a PSV is his hobby “to keep me mentally alert and healthy”. 

Ngare told me in the past, when roads were bad, it would take two two days to do the now seven-hour leisure trip to Maralal. Passengers would be prepared for any eventuality, especially during the rainy season, and traders would do on-the-board businesses supplying food and.

The drive from Nyahururu is so scenic and the road so flat it feels like an endless mirage. The picture of countless thorn trees and green vegetation reminded me of the once vast Savannah grasslands on the Nairobi-Mombasa highway. 

The Samburu did not know about the acacia tree and the charcoal business until the Chinese came to do the highway, cutting thousands of trees on the path, and advising the locals to burn charcoal.

This, Ngare said, was the beginning of the massive destruction of the natural vegetation, which has since been controlled through climate change community dialogues. 

As we enter Mugie Ranch, the attentive driver tells me about the beauty of sustainable tourism, which the ranch is practising. He tells me about the highlight of the wild-life-rich ranch, one of which is Tala the giraffe, a regular fixture at the Ranch.

Her towering presence is hard to miss around Mugie Headquarters as she pokes her head in at the workshop or peers in at those working away at the main office.

As we drove through the ranch, we encountered many wildlife, among them gazelles, zebras,  oryx, and the reticulated giraffe with the most striking pattern among the giraffe family. We got to Maralal at 6.30 pm, and the driver is kind enough to drop me at my hotel - the Samburu Guest Hotel, a towering hotel in the small town.

Kelvin Mungai, the youthful manager, and his team are receiving tens of tens of guests, courtesy of the Community Land Summit, the first huge gathering after devolution. Mungai tells me, that thanks to devolution, Maralal, the capital of Samburu has been put on the map as a preferable destination. 

For four days, between the Summit and excursions, I had memorable experiences. The highlight of the summit was the indigenous participants, who coloured the event, dressed in the most iconic style and cultural inventions in history.

If the colourful parades awed other participants, they were yet to face another dominance from the indigenous people - their fearlessness, boldness, and masterly of articulating their issues, sometimes through captivating emotions, pointing accusing fingers, and disregarding time schedules, if only to drive their point home, or prove their resolve that they were unstoppable.

Maralal lies in the centre of the Samburu sub-county. Its setting in the foothills of the Kirisia Hills, at the deepest point of a mountain bay that opens towards Laikipia plains and Mount Kenya to the south, is picturesque. At around 2,000 metres above sea level and gets quite chilly at night.

The picturesque heart of town is formed by two roads lined with beautiful alley trees and long rows of colourful traditional shops. Tourism infrastructure in Maralal is picking up. Here too, the internationally acclaimed annual Camel Derby (not to be confused with the Camel Caravan) that draws tourists and visitors to the county is among the key attractions.

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