On our first day, we traveled by van out of Nairobi to the town of Kerugoya in Central Region. Once upon a time this drive would have taken us the better part of day, but Kenya has been changing as fast as any country and faster than most.
Our driver took us on the Thika super highway that cuts speedily and brutally through the Kenyan landscape on its way to the Ethiopian border. At first glance it looks like every major highway you’ve seen in the US or the UK, with long, smooth stretches of tarmac guarded by rows of oversized roadway lights. But if you look closer you will see that little accommodation has been made for how this old route from Nairobi actually functions. People on foot and on bike use the old road for their daily journeys, carving a strange, pedestrian third lane from the shoulder that frequently battles with the automobiles barreling toward…the next speed bump. Because in an area where cars and petrol are too expensive to be ubiquitous, even a superhighway cannot displace an old path.
The Chinese government paid for the highway, according to our driver, and brought in Chinese laborers to construct the road. There was some discontent about the contract, but for those we talked to, the biggest issue seemed to be that the President had chosen to spend the Chinese money on a road that ran suspiciously in the direction of his own home. Still, there is no denying the impact of the road on the businesses that range along its path. Hawker stalls and cramped, brightly painted storefronts seem to scramble with one another for attention from passing drivers. Much to our chagrin, we missed getting photos of the buses packed to the gills with soccer fans all traveling the highway to attend a tournament in Nairobi’s massive stadium.
As we left the high rises of city center and the rambling commerce of the city edges behind, the highway took on a different tone entirely. Within an hour of Nairobi we were in farm country, and the third lane earlier populated by pedestrians and bikes added oxen and donkey-drawn carts. Here the land is gently rolling, lush with farm plots and spreading trees and embedded in Kenya’s ubiquitous red clay soil. For a time I could easily imagine myself in the state of Georgia had it not been for the amalgamation of donkey carts and Lexus’ rolling side-by-side down the same broad tarmac.
For our first region, we are housed comfortably at Roswan Hotel, Kerugoya. There is no Internet in our hotel, so it will be a few days before this posts!