Camel Derby, Samburu.

I’ve always wanted to participate in the annual Camel race event that happens every August in Maralal town, Samburu country. It’s up north-west of Nairobi. About 350km away. I grew up 150km to this small and famous town. This will be the first time I see it, though.


It’s exciting planning a road trip, especially a camping one. I haven’t in a long time. Your list has food and tents and utensils and matchboxes and such. You draw the list then keep adding stuff to it and then a day to go get them. It’s fun.

It looked like a solo thing until a friend jumped in, which is great. Having someone talk over the music for 6 hours, half of it across uninhabited bush land, is good if you think of it. It’s different and not monotonous even if they or you sleep.

Going to new places with cultures apart from yours is welcome for any traveler. Maralal is not a popular tour destination. Info gathering is a maze. You find a camp site online and call. They closed 2 years ago. You dial a number and a doctor answers. He links you up with a county official who knows a manager and the manager has a camp site. You reserve and wait to see it.

I have always traveled like that; without much worry on what is where in the destination. Things always fall into place and you soon find out that surprise and anxiety make trips memorable. And you fluidly meet and interact with people. That is what we wait to see come last weekend of this month.



Escarpment to Longonot

I had not been to Mt Longonot for perhaps 5 years, until last Saturday. A longing to be outside in this cold rainy times. The road down to Maai Mahiu is becoming a favorite. It’s a scenic outlook. Way below when it’s not cloudy, with Mt Longonot, the flat lands and the road to Narok visible as you go round the corners, on your brakes between long distance rigs. I’ve always wanted to have a CB radio and talk to the truck drivers, hear snippets of their journeys and make strange friends.

You’ll find several guys roasting maize in pits dug inside the escarpment walls or in sheds on the sloping side of the road. Road people are building barriers for obvious reasons. We stop for roasted maize; two unevenly roasted but sweet combs. I stop for roasted maize anywhere. I wolf it and my friend thinks it’s because I missed food the night before. No, that’s how I do maize. A vertical hold, then gnaw and create a double empty row. Turn it around, then rapidly collapse a row after another into your mouth. You can do a lot of roasted maize that way.

The road after Maai Mahiu to Naivasha is even, well maintained and pretty flat. At 50km/h, you easily go past the fourth gear into overdrive and let it cruise. Windows up, one foot one hand in action, relax for the stereo. We talk now. We talk a bit on family, work and much of the rest is just mundane stuff.

At the KWS gate at 10am, the parking space is nearly full. People hike early on Saturdays. I wasn’t expecting that. It’s refreshing. We pay and start. After the Buffalo point, KWS did concrete stairs on a steep section that was getting fast eroded. Excellent job. We are at the rim in 55 minutes. 3.2 km.

We take a left turn round the rim, to approach the peak from that side. It’s better than from the right if you want to go there. The right side means a very steep climb in loose sand. Treacherous. We do more than half the rim with our t-shirts off. The breeze is perfect and we sweat gracefully. We’ll meet other hikers who came early and took the right way round the rim. I don’t know why many do this.

7.1km round the rim in 2.5 hours and we go down in 45 minutes. 13.4km in total. 100 kes for a shower at the bottom and you can find nyama choma too. There are about 3 shops as well. We’ll shower at home plus my friend has a severe headache so we hit the road again. Definitely a hike to repeat.

Driving South in a Stock Vehicle

I’ve of late entertained the idea of a drive across southern Africa in a stock car. That means a vehicle without any modification. Your everyday thing. I’m sold. In the last few weeks I’ve therefore spent time on You Tube learning from others who’ve taken long road trips; what to prepare, know, look out for and such. It gets even more exciting as you watch and realize how doable it is.

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You don’t need a 4×4. Some Kenyans did this in 2010 in a Subaru Forester. Others have as well. It’s about 5700 km from Nairobi to Capetown by road. 6 days or so should see you there. Given 3 weeks, this can be done, to and fro. I also found an app that helps calculate your fuel consumption, quite accurately. Add that to your estimates for food and accommodation needs, documentation including visas, vehicle checks and you have a budget. Find a partner or a couple of them. Set the time. Do it.

The road all the way down is tarmacked. If you don’t detour much to national parks, 12000km wouldn’t ask for new tyres, assuming they’re pretty new. You can carry spares of course. Service your car like you would normally. What I’m trying to say is; this is not a trip that requires corporate sponsorship. All you need it time, a vehicle, partners and a heart for adventure.

In my plans for a long time, is a backpacking trip to Cape Town from Nairobi, by public buses. I’ve even blogged about it. This I will still do, before driving down. The experiences must definitely be wildly different. It’s more exciting though being overland with your own vehicle. Choices; you stop and move when, where and as you wish. You’ve more responsibilities and with good company, there is fun to it.

Andrew documents his expeditions on You Tube. He is the kind you can learn from. He makes it simple. Nothing fancy. You don’t need millions to make such trips if you love being on the road for adventure. That’s his message here.

Before the ultimate Nairobi – Capetown trip, I’ve also been looking at Nairobi – Addis Ababa road. It’s tarmacked all through its 1573 km length. A friend and I have been working on a Nairobi – Marsabit trip, on the new road that everyone who has its photos, is crazy about. We extended it to Moyale which is only 246 km from Marsabit. Why not up to Addis then and tick off an expedition to the North from our list? I’ll blog about this, later.

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The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

A 9.2 rating has The Shawshank Redemption (1994) on top of greatest movies list as per critics’ views. These are gumshoe kind of critics. You can’t dismiss them. I don’t question this ranking. If you’ve watched it, you know the dialogue is divine, the humour whole and the lessons lasting.

There are movies that I have classified as reference material. Besides re watching them frequently, once in a while I will play specific scenes for a mental or a hearty high. We talking this one of course, plus Pineapple Express, Angela’s Ashes, One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest (Jack Nicholson is cerebral in this), Scent of a Woman, Wall Street Money Never Sleeps, Taxi Driver, The Godfather 1 & 2, My Cousin Vinny and others.

The best thing they did to The Shawshank Redemption is to have Red narrate it. He unfolds it for you. He serves it from the first scoop all the way through. We get in it from his subjective mind and that makes his experiences and that of his colourful crew humanly closer. Heywood is my man. He is brilliantly clueless. Watch him in the field pick a rock as the crew collects some for Andy’s carvings, only that it’s petrified horse dook and he is a joke. Then watch him in the library calling it “The Count of Monte Crisco” and Floyd can’t have it.

Heywood: The Count of Monte Crisco…
Floyd: That’s “Cristo” you dumb sh*t.
Heywood: …by Alexandree Dumb-ass. Dumb-ass.
Andy Dufresne: Dumb-ass? “Dumas”. You know what it’s about? You’ll like it, it’s about a prison break.
Red: We oughta file that under “Educational” too, oughten we?

What I have been thinking about is Red’s explanation of “institutionalized” after old man Brooks holds a knife to Heywood’s neck upon learning he is being let out of the slammer after 50 years. Brooks goes psycho in the face of freedom. That doesn’t make sense.

Red: These walls are funny. First you hate ’em, then you get used to ’em. Enough time passes, you get so you depend on them. That’s institutionalized.

It is an existentialist problem. If freedom is the human capacity to act as one prefers, without restraint or coercion, then nobody is, since even that which we willingly do is particularly reward oriented. You may have freedom of will but lack freedom of action or freedom of action but you lack freedom of will.

When Red is released after 40 years in there, he keeps asking the store manager for permission to go pee. That’s institutionalized. It’s some kind of conditioned prison. That happens everywhere apparently. Our social relationships, jobs, friends, businesses, favorite foods, joints are all institutions. You only know they are when you try leaving them. They have such a hard-boiled hold on you and that scares me a bit but every time. Not being free. I wonder what freedom is. Can one really be free? Is it an attitude?

Red: [narrating] We sat and drank with the sun on our shoulders and felt like free men. Hell, we could have been tarring the roof of one of our own houses. We were the lords of all creation…

Reader’s Digest. A Collector’s Choice.


Like many, I loved Reader’s Digest. The love has continued, even after the magazine went out of print. Until then I had not found a magazine so consistent, balanced, family-oriented, uncontrollably humorous, witty, thrilling, all round, little and ever green. I think this is what happened. You thought you could write and found their offices. You walked in. They gave you a pen and paper. Write us something. We’ll be in the other room. Bring it over. If you hear us laughing, you’re hired.

How I discovered Reader’s Digest I can’t remember, but I was in primary school. It was too expensive to get a new one every month, but one didn’t have to. A ten year old Reader’s Digest is as fresh as any just out of print. It doesn’t matter whether you had read it. Newspaper vendors sold old copies and they moved. My friend’s father had a subscription. Whenever I went there on Sunday afternoons, that’s what I looked forward to carrying back home. It’s something I couldn’t put down.

The magazine and its sections. The story of the story is what they called Book Choice. It’d be on the cover page and in the features. I’d read this one last because it was the longest and often, the most spell binding. To today, I remember the story titled “Judy The War Dog.” It’s the story of a pointer who became a Japanese PoW in WWII, how she saved British PoWs and her amazing survival story. Judy died on 17 February 1950 and is buried in Nachingwea, Tanzania. The internet describes her thus;

Judy (1936 – 17 February 1950) was a ship’s dog on board HMS Gnat and HMS Grasshopper stationed on the Yangtze before and during World War II. She proved able to hear incoming aircraft, providing the crew with an early warning.

Then there was It Pays To Enrich Your Word Power where you guessed the meaning of words and checked your score at the back of the page. Life’s Like That had pieces of awkward but funny life moments. Like you trying to buy a small electric indoor fountain and asking the shop assistant about the possibilities of electrocution. Well, she replies. No one’s ever brought one back! There was All in a Day’s Work too. It was about those What moments at work; “I had to tell one of our patrons that she owed the library over $15 in fines. Among the late books was The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Beating Debt.”

There was my favorite – Laughter, the Best Medicine. I’d always go to this page first; “Why are coins made out of metal? Because change is hard. What do you use to fix a broken tomato? Tomato paste. Whoever wrote this one should really catch up.”

It’s from Reader’s Digest that I read the story of Denzel Washington. How his mother had a hair dressing shop and one day as she worked on a client, the latter hysterically asked for a piece of paper. Denzel was in the shop a that time. The client wrote that he, Denzel, was going to be great. Undoubtedly, he today is. A favorite actor. After that, I’d fantasize the same happening to me. I actually just found a copy of RD with his story. Another story.

Reader’s Digest has a big impact on my English language learning, especially written. I learned suspense, new words, story plots and wrote better compositions in school. Above all I was guaranteed of entertainment and information whenever a copy came by, new and crisp or old and tattered. Like some people collect limited edition watches, vintage cars or stamps, I’ve started collecting old copies of this magazine. They’d be of great use to future generations, undoubtedly.

Here is Judy’s story: Judy The War Dog

Nairobi to Capetown. Backpacking!


Our backpacking trip to Capetown has been in the fridge for so long; 5 years! My friend and I have in the past few months nailing down the dates to finally hit the road. Last year we had set it all for early March to arrive in time for a festival in Capetown. Work could however not give. September it now is.

For a 3 week journey, the schedule is tight and exciting; at least a day in every country except Zambia to allow enough time for Victoria falls tour and a bungee jump. It means we’ll have to take night buses where possible, resting and walking the different cities by day. I’m a little apprehensive of the little time to rest, but it’s all flexible and open to adjustments on the fly. While it’s difficult to find reliable bus schedules online, blogs by backpackers have really been helpful in figuring out what to expect with timings and fares.

There are plenty of small hotels close to the bus stations, but we can only hope for the minimum comfort. I have taken long distance buses in Zambia and Tanzania and they are comfortable enough. Since we are not out for a luxury trip, that should be welcome. In Lilongwe a friend will host us for a night; a great opening to once again enjoy home-like comfort.

Fortunately we do not require a Visa for all the countries we will pass through, except South Africa, which makes arrangements way easier. Initially we planned to hit Swaziland and Mozambique after Capetown but both are off schedule for now. It would take more than a month to do a round trip by road, a month that we sadly don’t have. Mozambique is a backpackers’ heaven in terms of its history, long coastline and vast remote interior.

Besides the bungee jump, I look forward to seeing how Namibia is like. From Livingstone in Zambia, the trip takes you to Sesheke, a border town with Botswana and Nambia. You then have the expansive Kalahari desert to cross headed for Windhoek. The desert and Windhoek are places I very much want to discover. From there to Gaborone, we hope to visit the famous Okavango delta. Great places to see!

Backpacking gives you a chance to break from the usual and lose yourself for some time with only the basics. There is the invaluable chance to meet new people, try new foods, see new places and have great stories to tell your children by the traditional fire. 🙂 It’s an experience full of the unexpected which makes it memorable and very very exciting.

Photo courtesy of:

Arranged Marriages Do Work

Years ago, I worked with three gentlemen from India. Two of them were my colleagues in the same department, while the third was a point of contact on the client’s side. Our job, a sales job, was not easy. The most essential part, the one that always preceded, was laying a foundation of ease with the clients. We had to gradually build a relationship of friendship, followed by another gradual sale of our products and finally, if all went well, a deal would be won. And so we all had to get along especially off work where all ice could be broken; hiking, climbing mountains and parties. Thanks to sharing the same frustrations when a deal looked lost, we became friends. And so we talked a lot. Besides work, dating was a top topic. It was only natural for single men and it offered a chance for much needed taunts.

Once, I attempted to rid my mind of cultural influences and came to the conclusion that arranged marriages can work. I realized the best way for a young man and woman to grow into matrimony is the communal way. How communal? That leaving the job of finding you a spouse to people who know you better is just as good as finding that spouse yourself. In fact, given several factors, the former exceeds the latter in its effectiveness and ease. First, from an economic point of view, you would save more time if your folks called you one Wednesday after work and said; Surprise! Guess what champ, we have somebody. Think about it. I will come to the dating part – the coffee, the heart throbs, the lunches – later. Perhaps that is what you think those in arranged marriages miss. You can’t be more wrong!

How would an arranged marriage become? It’s is no different from ordering pizza and having it delivered at your doorstep! Recently I did that. I went online and found Naked Pizza chaps. I selected the pizza I wanted and placed a call. The lady said it would take 35 minutes. All the way from Westlands, but true, I had it in 35 minutes. That is how an arranged marriage would work. Was it possible for me to go to Westlands and get that pizza? Of course. However my end was the food. I was not careless of the means to the food – it had to be convenient and trustworthy – but the end was the food, just as I ordered it. I was happy and satisfied. Why wouldn’t the way to marriage work in a similar manner? I like you can now see that dating before marriage is simply a way of ordering events. It’s not the only way of doing things.

If you sat your people down and told them what you want in a spouse, they should be able to find you that person if they loved you. You only have to be clear about everything you want in a person, including height, colour of gums, nail texture and all. To moderate mistakes, you better be exhaustive. You can even go statistical and give them margins of error for some qualities. When both the search team and you as the commissioner are on absolutely the same page, work can start. Here is the rewarding part I have come to strongly believe, evidence or lack of it: you can never not find that person, as long as your likes and dislikes are reasonably human.

Your disturbing question may be whether love can flower with a person you have not known before. The thinking is that you need to find out, beforehand, whether you can get along, after which if the coast is clear, marriage can happen. That is sober thinking, but it’s also cultural. Are great marriages built on love? Yes they are. I however think love is both of the mind and of the heart. I have put this to test and found it to be so. While you may feel attracted to a person, the decision to date and marry them is just that; a decision. It is a work of the mind. It is logical. I have heard it said that the heart-throbbing goes away a few years into marriage and that it’s friendship which takes over and sustains. That this friendship has to be made before marriage so that even after the pimple-popping love goes, the friendship keeps together. It’s a very strong justification for the DIY subscribers.

Of my former colleagues from Indian, they reinforced this favorable observation I had of arranged marriages as we went along. What happened is that they would take leave, go back to India and come back married. I truly admired that. At one time we are in the basement of our office and we’re all single. Then suddenly we are not all single. They tell me their folks back home are already searching. That they have found some would-bes and are considering who is best suited. It was not a see, like, come event. A number of compatibility checks had to be done, including religious, astrological, familial, caste and all. The man and woman had to accept each other as well. As we made presentations to clients and as we hiked, their spouses were being lined up back home. It’s like your party being arranged in your absence and you only need to make a grand entrance. They only had to go back, finish their part of the ritual, and come back to work after a month, with their wives.

This is something that wise business people do daily; let other smarter people work for you. They will never disappoint if you trust a good team. Instead of you going for coffee dates to known each other well, how about your folks going for those dates with your potential spouse? Do you see how cool that is? Your auntie is having a date on your behalf as you apply for a visa to go to Nigeria for the Bi-annual ICT conference. She and others then gather, do the analysis and present you with the best of them all. It’s like having a second you. Unbelievable! Even more unbelievable is when this person meets you eventually and you fall in love. Not a second of both of your time spent in endless dates but here you are, good for each other, ready to get married tonight, all thanks to others who checked all boxes as you signed deals with clients. Incredibly special!

You may find it surprising that they live as happily as others who personally searched, found and married. In fact one of the couples I know better, seems to be falling in love more as days go by. There are structures that help hold them together because they both subscribe to and accept them; social, religious and such. While our cultures are different, we should appreciate that such arrangements are not in any way out of place. In fact I advocate for them because I suspect the dating games are putting a lot of our young men and women through struggles and worries that their parents, uncles and aunties should be handling and easily so. Most of them know what is good for you and are thorough, if you tried them. But you won’t.

You can love each other after marriage, although a particular cultural foundation is required. The biggest advantage, when it works, it the time saved. Perhaps even the heartache is less.