The Equator has moved, but spirit of Safari Rally lingers on in Rumuruti

Subaru Leone's Karangatha came first to win the Sikh Union club's safari rally training program held at the Stoni Athi Resort in Machakos county. [Jonah Onyango, Standard]

A much-awaited family trip finally materialised last week, venturing into the Rift Valley and crossing the Equator, to Nanyuki, even as some folks in Meru bickered where the invisible line cuts through. See, we fight not just about electoral outcomes, but also about scientific facts.

And so, the team of surveyors (or whatever you call specialists who do that sort of work), and for reasons only known to themselves, apparently marked the “wrong” spot as the abode of the imaginary line that cuts the North and South poles into two.

That was in the mid-1970s, which means generations of tourists who have been visiting Meru for pictures at Gatimbi market have been wasting their time. But villagers who have been enjoying spoils from the steady flow of visitors put up a spirited fight so ensure their imaginary line would not be shifted to another location, and where business was sure to move.

I have no idea what prompted Meru County’s Tourism ministry and the Kenya Tourism Board to re-evaluate the landmark, but they found the nearby market, at Ng’onyi, was the proper Equator spot.

I guess this dispute over the Equator should be added on to the raft of issues Azimio would like to have the government address and potentially forge a pact between the communities in the two locations.

It might be a good idea to let the two markets alternately claim to be the legitimate Equator hotspot. But if that proves too difficult to enforce, they could secure licensing so that one market hosts tourists for the low season, while the other takes the high season. This could be rotated annually.

I was seized by this matter as I drove through the wilds, not because I am in any way interested in mementoes on imaginary lines, but because I am interested in efforts that can forestall the return of maandamano.

So, we left Nanyuki and crossed the Equator—no squabbles have been reported about the location of the Equator on the Nanyuki side—and took the road to Rumuruti. In case you are wondering what Rumuruti means, this is a corruption of “remote route,” as it was christened by the Safari Rally organisers in the 1960s.                         

Buoyed by this lofty history, we decided to follow the Safari Rally route to Rumuruti. Even more remarkable, some ten years ago, the county of Laikipia leadership decided to set camp at Rumuruti so that the township could develop, instead of sitting in Nanyuki which is already well developed.

Anyway, the drive was breath-taking: we saw three of the Big Five along the way, even though I was distracted by the cacophony of billboards announcing the availability of butori (plots), some demarcated into such tiny strips, I doubt they could accommodate a mature elephant!

I could smell trouble in the air, especially if those roaming jumbos feel their space has been encroached on. But a more immediate challenge lurked ahead: a truck was stuck. It was 2pm. The rains had just ended. The earth was smouldering with steam. A pile of vehicles was building.

Inspired by the rally drivers of yore, I surveyed the land and decided I could risk it all and drive offroad, even as the youngest man of the house said a prayer: Dear Jesus, please help dad drive safely out of mud…

Possibly on the lad’s powerful prayer, we were safely delivered out of mud and safety, to proceed on with the journey. Other motorists were not as lucky. The truck remained stuck until 6pm. I don’t think this is Governor Joshua Irungu idea of a “smart” town, but one can never tell.

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