Missing Mount Kenya

Last month I caught a glimpse of Mt Kenya all the way from Nairobi when it was briefly visible for an hour in the morning. Then I got a chance to visit the area and see the whole thing from up close, I thought.

The drive:  Nanyuki is marked as being about 190km from Nairobi. The drive up is pleasant except for some bad stretches of road. The dual carriageway from Nairobi to Thika turnoff is quite bad, indicating the volume/level of commuter traffic between the towns. It’s much better off till the end of the dual carriageway and on to Makuyu, passing Kakuzi, and the Tana River power station. There’s a “no trespassing” sign there which is a shame because Kengen could make some money from visitors to its power sites like Turkwell, Olkaria, and along the Tana River.

Drive non stop through Sagana, Karatina, and finally the turnoff before Nyeri town and off through Kiganjo which has the famous police training school where the climate starts getting cooler. The road is smooth and fast now but like many roads in western Kenya, it is a good thing to slow down when you see a town because there are unmarked bumps – for residents demand that you admire their town and buy their vegetable or animal produce when you slow down.

Naro Moru is the first of the six police roadblocks we have passed to stop us, but only for a moment. When I last made this trip in 2002 there were about 20 roadblocks between Nairobi and Nanyuki. Next trip I will take a lorry and see what the cops on this route ask for. Anytime you drive a pick up (even empty) you are stopped and can be asked anything for anything from “give me a cigarette,” to “why are you not wearing a seatbelt?” No time to stop for fish today though.

Get to Nanyuki town and look for a place to stay. When you have Safari Club money, you can stay at the Mt. Kenya Safari Club – but this is a budget trip so you have to stay at budget places.

Travel lesson learnt;– When you get to a new town, esp. one with that gets many tourists, find out where the tour van drivers stay. These guys always know where the best budget packages are with clean rooms, hot water, safe parking, and good food.

Nanyuki had two hotels that meet their definition – Ibis Hotel and Simba Lodge and they were just about right. But the hotels can get full, if there are many vans of tourists in town, so get a booking done before you go looking for dinner.

Camp George massacre

The place to eat nyama is a small banda called Camp George about a kilometre from the Sportsman Arms hotel along a twisty route. It looks like Nerkwo but the meat is to die for. Order meat, and unlike Buffet Park, you’ll get what you ordered and in record time.

One problem with eating nyama choma is one never knows when to stop. If you eat a burger, it gets finished, you wipe your mouth and say that was a good burger. But with nyama choma, you eat until you’re full and there’s only fat and bones left on the table. Afterwards, you feel like a lion who has no interest in gazelles grazing nearby as your belly is too full.

The Watchman at the hotel assures that you’ll see the mountain if you wake up at six. It’s much colder now after 8 pm but you don’t feel it, because you’re full of doba and Tusker, so you drink lots of water and go to sleep.

Up at six up and sure enough there’s the peak of the mountain visible in the morning.
music video shoot

Eat breakfast, watch a music video being shot outside hotel, and go off to cyber café. I have been to some towns where the internet is a rare thing – some cybers only open for a few hours and remain closed on Sunday and Holidays. They are also very expensive. But right in Nanyuki there’s the Marina, a pleasant roof top bar & restaurant that has a very fast cyber, with new machines and costs 1/= per minute.

By the time, I leave the cyber face, Houdini has performed and Mt. Kenya has once again disappeared behind the clouds and weather patterns it creates.

The journey continues – and maybe the leeward (dry) other side of the mountain will have a clearer view.

Other side: On to Meru, which is 80km away on the other side of the mountain. The road is under repair and the weather remains cool, with low clouds obscuring the mountain.

Pass thought Meru town which is a large and busy town. Do a bit of business and get moving – as it is almost noon and Nairobi is almost 300km away.

The road from Meru, Chogoria, Chuka and into Embu is quite tiring. It is very twisty, which means you can’t sustain speeds. Quite a bit of it is under repair. There are roads crews ripping up patches of it and laying new carpet. There are also groups of boys who scoop heaps of soil onto the road and demand a token from passing motorists.

The scenery is beautiful with forests, farmland and more banana trees than I have ever seen do the landscape. Still no sign of the mountain, but its presence is felt as we pass dozens of bridges, each full of roaring brown waters from the mountain flowing to the lowlands. I have no idea what a miraa bush looks like, which is a major cash crop in the area for export to Somalia.

Get to Embu, tired, sweaty and hungry. We make the mistake of stopping to eat at a sleepy restaurant. The Waitress literally had her head on the table and no customers in sight. When we asked her where to wash hands, she directed us to the Shell petrol station next door. Coming out of the bathroom we noticed several cars parked and the smell of fresh food and we decided to eat at Shell’s Kirimari restaurant.

Another travel lesson learnt – when in a new town, (for the first time) eat at a restaurant at a petrol station on the highway. There are no standard restaurants like McDonald’s, but these highway points are frequented by many travellers (even the police were having a late lunch there) and they have standard menu – in this case, rice and beef stew made a great lunch that made us all feel better and energized.

saved by Kirimari lunch

From Embu on down to Mwea the climate gets warmer as we descend now. Stop in Mwea to buy the obligatory sack of rice. It’s high-quality grain that’s only available in Nairobi at much higher prices. Next time I’m here, I may take a detour to stay at Masinga Dam. After Mwea, it’s back to the main road and Nairobi – and still no sign of the mountain, despite going around it in a day.

Where in Kenya?

air force buzz

10 thoughts on “Missing Mount Kenya

  1. Anonymous

    Banks, next time you go to Nanyuki way, try the Bantu Lodge (I think its called Mountain Rock now). The ka-place has real nice vibe. Plus, they offer horse riding to some of the Mt Kenya bases. And all at a budget price. The recent time when i went to Meru, we went to some small township on top from Meru town and that had the most stunning views of Mt Kenya-the peaks actually looked like they were 30 minutes away by foot.

    The Nariobi-Thika road-we need a dual carriage all the way to Pangani.

  2. Ssembonge

    Banks, I didn’t realise Nerkwo is that popular. Is it still there?

    What about Sanasana? Last time I was in plainsview I saw a massive wooden structure and the whole place had changed. I can’t remember the exact details cause I was only passing by.

    BTW, it costs $10 (waived for members and their guests) just to get into MKSC, that is just for entry. They have lovely cottages with a fireplace. I can’t remember how much it cost, cause I didn’t pick the tab.

  3. acolyte

    Next time in Nanyuki try a nyam chom joint called Kungu Maitu. One of the best nyam chom joints in the town if you ask me.

  4. Kudrinketh

    Good stuff banks, maybe next time you could make the climb and give us a review.As a scout I remember scaling N’gong Hills and feeling like being on top of the world.But Mt. Kenya makes N’gong hills look like an ant-hill.

    Anyone has an idea of what town(with electricity and running water) around Mt Kenya offers the perfect mountain backdrop,and what the real estate market is?

  5. Holy Cow

    Your post has brought back sweet memories.
    Visited Mt. Kenya between 20th to 23rd October 2005. Spent a night at Mt. Kenya Safari lodge in Nanyuki, then used the Sirmon gate to the park. spent the 1st night at old Moses campsite, spent the 2nd day trudging up the Mountain, was rained/snowed on but got to Shipton, the last camp before you reach Lenana.Managed to reach Point Lenana on the 3rd day very early in the morning.
    Its worth the visit.
    I’ve also been to Mt. Elgon but didnt climb to the peak, managed to get to endebess bluff.

    Early this year, was in Meru, spent the night at the Pig & Whistle. I admire the roads in the region, they are better off than the ones in Western kenya.

  6. bankelele

    Coldtusker: mucho

    Unyc: great trip. I stayed in Nyeri in ’02 but didn’t venture to the town this time. It would have been nice to see the difference

    MainaT: Will try the bantu lodge next time. I also need to check out Naro Moru & sample some of the local fish there.

    Ssembonge: Nerkwo still there, though there are 1,000 variations of it around now in every corner of the city. Sijui Sanasana?
    – MKSC is for when I beome an MP

    acolyte: I’ll put up Camp George against any other joint in the town for Nyam chom!

    Kudrinketh: Longonot the only mountain I have climbed so far. Mt. Kenya not my league though theer are some intersting hiking/running groups in the Mt. Kenya forest area

    joe: You got that right! one of my goals for ’07

    Holy Cow: Unfotuntaly didn’t have a chnace to enter the park this time. I want to visit Meru NP again on my next trip and see the Abredares elec fence impact.

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