I have visited Kenya several times in my life, it is the birth place of my mother and some where I still have family. My most recent visit to Kenya was to attend a wedding reception for my sister in 2008. That will be the last time I ever visit Kenya, something that is only confirmed by the recent terrorist attack there that has been all over the news.
Timing for my trip couldn’t have been worse, I was due to arrive just after the presidential elections of 2007. The Kenya election results were contentious, with claims of corruption when President Kibaki was reinstated. Whilst I considered cancelling my trip, my family assured me all would be fine, so off I went. Arriving in Nairobi it became quickly apparent that things weren’t safe in this city. There were guns everywhere I looked, and whilst we were staying in a secure compound, I was advised that I couldn’t leave the house alone.
So there I sat in a gilded cage. Staying in a “good” part of town, everything around me was lovely, but I couldn’t enjoy it. Even a trip to a shopping centre in Nairobi was like visiting a jail; we had to get through armed guards and barbed wire just to get in the car park. For someone raised in the wide open spaces of Melbourne, being caged in like this was pretty close to my idea of hell.
Due to extreme tribal rioting, as a result of the elections, most of the roads out of town were closed. This meant visiting places like the Masai Mara or Mombasa were out of the question unless we flew there. We decided to escape to the nearby town of Lake Naivasha for a weekend away, it was lovely and peaceful… until we heard reports of machete wielding tribes only a few hundred meters away from our guesthouse. Getting us out of there safely became our number one priority. A flurry of phone calls to security officers ensued and we packed our vehicles. There were three vehicles to get us all out, we drove off-road through fields at high speed, trying to get back to Nairobi as quickly as possible without being seen.
Thankfully we made it back safely, but the “thrill” of that experience was more than I could bear. I love adventure and excitement, but I never wish to put myself in the position of being in imminent danger or at the whim of unknown fanatics if I can avoid it. This was not an environment I wish to travel in, to let alone live.
So shaken from this experience, I left Nairobi to visit the seaside town of Watamu, that was not affected by the tribal warfare that had taken over much of the rest of the country. Watamu was lovely and we stayed in an incredible open air building, but it lacked the culture of the country that I had come to explore. I am sad that I didn’t get to really see Kenya properly on that trip.
All my other visits to Kenya had been as a child and my memory of them is faded. I do however recall camping in the jungle with my uncle and being washed out by rain… and a congress of baboons. It is one of my favourite childhood memories, crazy red assed animals swinging around the jungle with the contents our entire kitchen!
I ended up escaping Kenya for a while, going on safari in Tanzania and visiting Uganda as well, which provided some perspective on how other countries in the region can be. Uganda in particular was nothing short of amazing, such a beautiful and peaceful country. Perhaps the memory of unrest and hard times has mellowed that population now, but more on Uganda later.
Even 6 years later, the memory of that trip to Kenya is still fresh in my mind. Whilst I still have close family there, I know I will never return preferring to spend my time travelling to places that are less volatile.