Lake Victoria and Tea Country
From the Serengeti, we head north to Musoma on Lake Victoria. We have been travelling seven weeks and we are all getting a little weary. But a very pleasant stopover on the peaceful lake with an upgrade to a motel unit overlooking the water revives us. Tanzania is one of three countries that borders Lake Victoria, the others being Uganda, which we visited in 2010, and Kenya, where we will be in a day or two. There are obviously still large fish to be caught in the lake, for a fisherman comes by showing off his catch, three quarters of a metre long and twenty to thirty kilograms in weight.
It is Saturday evening and two different wedding parties arrive for photographs on the lake front, providing entertainment for the muzungu. The parties are serenaded by bands on the back of vehicles, one with live musicians and their instruments. Radiant brides in full white regalia, dapperly suited grooms, beautiful adorned bridesmaids, flower girls and page boys, flamboyant mamas in the latest fashion, guests swaying to the music – everyone loves a wedding. Martin and Graham ask if they can take photos and the wedding parties are only too happy to parade their finery. Judy and I are more hesitant to intrude, watching in the background.
As we leave Musoma next morning, we are met by a stream of young bikers carrying charcoal bags into town. One after the other, precariously balancing their loads, they step it out uphill, straining with all their strength to get to the top of the slope. Then they mount and fly downhill at full speed, oblivious of the danger should the heavy load topple over, expressions of intense pleasure on their faces. Charcoal is big business in Africa, causing severe deforestation in city hinterlands. Dar es Salaam, for example, burns 12,000 tons of charcoal every day, we read in a magazine in the motel.
Near the Tanzanian-Kenyan border there are a number of police check points and we are asked questions indicative of increased security, like where we have come from and where we are going. At the border, chaos rules; there are no signs or lanes indicating where to go. We come to a barrier where we stop. It is apparently the gate into Kenya. A man asks us if we are leaving Tanzania. Yes, we reply. Well, you have to go back to passport control, he tells us. We have inadvertently driven straight past it. As we turn around two men tell us where to park – in two different places. Form filling and passport stamping follows. Now we are ready and in line to go through. But we are told to clear the road and wait. Where can we park? The road is narrow with no lanes and little parking. Martin manages to back into a small space and we wait. A long line of trucks rattle past – it is obviously their turn. Eventually we are issued through into the Kenyan side.
In an old office at the back of a building reached via a narrow passage way, there is enough room for one official behind an old desk and for two people to stand waiting to be served. There is nowhere to fill in the form we are given except outside in the narrow corridor against the window sill. I line up at his desk and he fills in my visa; I inspect it and see he has put today’s date twice, both for the day’s date and for my exit date from Kenya. Am I destined to stay in Kenya for good or should I leave today to avoid trouble? I point it out to him and after some consideration he changes the month to August. Good, now I can stay in his country for three months, though actually all I want is a couple of weeks. As I leave I notice new buildings beyond the fence, not quite completed; so soon there will be much better facilities.
Out of the Kenyan gate, heading towards Nairobi, the street is thronging with people, trading, dealing, buying, selling. Away from the town travel is slow with heavy traffic, occasional deep pot holes and vicious speed bars. In addition, Martin has to carefully watch the edges of the road, for the seal is often much higher than the side gravel. The locals find that the most convenient place to pass the muzungu is as he slows down to cross the judder bars; Martin needs eyes in the back of his head!
It is Sunday and Kenya is going to church. Deliverance church, Redeemed Gospel church, Calvary Covenant church, King’s Outreach church, East Africa Pentecostal church, Trumpet Tabernacle church – these are some of names that I note as we travel. As well, there are the usual denominations - Catholic, Presbyterian, Anglican, Baptist, Seventh Day Adventist and so on. Along the side of the road, well dressed church goers make their way to their local place of worship; families with little children beautifully decked out, men in suits or white shirts, women in elegant outfits and bright fabrics. In the supermarket Christian music is playing, but I suspect its style is European rather than African, and on the back of a mini bus I see a depiction of Jesus, but he is white; shouldn’t he be olive complexioned or even black? Would that not be more appropriate?
The day has been fine and sunny but in the early afternoon heavy rain begins to fall. Torrents of water run across the road and down both sides. Little children huddle under coats, and stall holders attempt to shift their merchandise into shelters. Four men scurry into a shop carrying a coffin covered in bright blue velvet fabric and three others squashed onto a motor cycle in their Sunday best suits hunch their shoulders as if to avoid the pouring rain. Africa looks miserable and dirty in the rain. But not everything looks poorly. We pass through a village with street lighting, grass lawns around the houses and fenced rural lotments beyond the homes, and I wonder why it is so trim. Someone tells us that the region is one of the densest rural areas population wise in the world.
The road climbs higher into the western hill country of Kenya. The landscape is a rich tapestry of different shades of green. Most rural houses have corrugated iron roofs and are scattered across the cultivated plots rather than grouped in clusters to form villages. Soon we enter tea territory. The plantations are brilliantly green and immaculately clipped; pickers make their way through the narrow corridors, baskets under their arms or on their backs, gathering the fresh leaves. Orderly rows of small identical cottages line the gentle slope, providing housing for the plantation workers that seems of a superior quality to other rural houses.
Our accommodation is the Tea Hotel at Kericho, a former elegant and substantial colonial guest house surrounded by a tea plantation. High ceilings, wide entrance way and hall, large lounge with graceful French doors opening onto the patio and garden, four course dinner with utensils stylishly laid out, waist coated waiter there to serve just for our table – it all speaks of a past glory that is now ebbing away. For the hotel shows little evidence of maintenance and repair. Roof tiles are cracked and broken and light bulbs are missing in our bedroom – yes, we have upgraded again because of the rain and the long hours of travelling.
However it is a pleasant stay with the gardens providing a relaxing place to wander. Martin spends half an hour next morning in the car park with a hose and a bucket of water washing the Serengeti off the land rover, greatly improving its appearance and my ability to stay clean as I get in and out of my seat. Meanwhile news has reached the local tourist trinket vendors that we are staying in the hotel and they arrive in the grounds to display their wares. Inevitably we make some purchases. The morning, after yesterday’s rain, is clear and crisp, and we head off to Nakuru on our way to Nairobi.