Since 1902

Come to the north with me

“What do you do when you are stuck in the rut that is Nairobi life?” asked a friend. Whenever that question comes up, my answer is always simple. I drive out of the city.

In fact, it has been our family tradition to take a long drive away from the city once in a while.  Every year, we take a road trip to the unknown, to that place in Kenya with unpronounceable names, but where life still happens.

I have taken my now six-year-old son to these trips ever since he was one. Still, his mother had her apprehensions when I recently suggested we take a trip to the north.

“Which north?” she asked.

“Kenya’s north, the arid north. What they call the other Kenya.”

“But there is nothing there to see,” she said. I have lost many arguments but I never relent when I make up my mind on going on a road trip, or any trip for that matter.

Yes, we were taking the trip up north. We were going to see, well, ‘nothing,’ as missus put it.

I have been up north a couple of times on official business, never on leisure. This time though, I was excited like a young boy in a candy shop. Driving long distances infuses in me the right doses of adrenaline.

The stretch between Nairobi and Nanyuki is punctuated by greenery. Mount Kenya stands high and is perhaps the demarcation between ‘Kenya’ and that place that time forgot.

At nine o’clock, we made a pit stop at Barneys, that enchanting restaurant by Nanyuki Airstrip. If you are driving north, please just stop here, stuff yourself with their renowned milkshake (and carry some!) for you never know what lies ahead.

Millionaires’ hub

From Nanyuki, traffic thins as you head to Meru or Isiolo. Large wheat farms, well-tended forests and plains lie on both sides of the road. This is Laikipia, Kenya’s high country and home to rich aristocrats. Laikipia is the millionaire’s playground. By lunchtime, we were in Isiolo. This is perhaps the last frontier before heading to what was formerly dreaded bandit territory.

Kenya’s north was once known as the Northern Frontier District. Armed bandits reigned supreme and needed little provocation to kill. Traversing the region from Ethiopia border to the city in a week was an accomplishment. The roads were just but a rumour. Vegetation thins, opening up vast swathes of barren landscape devoid of human habitation. It looks forlorn, desolate but serene. Here, life – and time – seem to stop.

Looks though can be deceiving as we soon discovered. My media friend in Nairobi had mentioned that this region has some of the worst roads on the planet. He was wrong. The road to Marsabit, and onwards to Moyale is perhaps one of the best paved in Kenya. The road is part of the Government’s efforts to open up the region to investment through the Lamu Port South Sudan Ethiopia transport corridor (Lapsset).

So we drove on, egged on by a desire to discover what lay beyond the vanishing point, the part of the straight road that seems to touch the horizon. I wanted to relive the experiences of legendary Mohamed Amin, Duncan Willets and Karl Amman who immortalised their travels here in the book, Beauty of Samburu, Shaba and Buffalo Springs.

Beautiful Samburu

A signpost near Archers Post indicated that Marsabit was 493 kilometres away. True, we had come a long way but even with my unbeaten enthusiasm, I was not willing to subject my family, more so the young chap, to more torture.

We were now in the heartland of the Samburu. At Archers Post, we parked and watched as morans in the resplendent headgear and decorations walked by. Their straight gait accentuated by the elegant hairdo made them a spectacle.

The men are complemented by equally graceful women. Like the desert rose, Samburu women sparkle and flourish, life in the harsh terrain notwithstanding. They must have been God’s immediate gift to the barren land.

In a small outpost like Archers Post, strangers like us stood out like a sore thumb. We stood over the Ewaso Nyiro Bridge. To our right was Samburu and Bufallo Springs National Reserves. To the left was Shaba, the haunt of Joy Adamson who chose the amazing vista as the location to release Penny the leopard back into the wild.

We needed to rest our tired bodies somewhere in Samburu country. Was it going to be Samburu, Shaba, or Bufallo Springs? Find out next week.