The land of a thousand smiles

The land of a thousand smiles

As I am about to spend my last night in Africa (at least on this trip), it is hard not to be sad about leaving Kenya. Especially after the 4 day bike trip and the day trip on the Nzoia river that I did with Simon. It was one of those experiences that I could only dream about, and then all of a sudden I realize that I am living my dream!

On day 1 of the bike trip, we got a ride from Iten to Cheptongei, a small village not too far from here. As we were preparing the bikes, a small crowd of kids gathered around us, in the cool morning. We were at probably something like 2500 m of elevation but that day we did a lot of climbing to finally reach over 3000 m. It was hard work (at least for me, Simon seemed to just fly effortlessly), but what a treat to bike in such a beautiful place. That is the good side of climbing, the view is always better on top, but we also enjoyed a few stops here and there, for chai, mandazi, chapati, fruits or whatever we could find to refuel!

One of the “hoteli” where we stopped for lunch

Having Simon was really a huge bonus, not only did we laugh a lot, but it also made this part of the trip very easy as he was really like my personal guide! He could communicate with the locals, knew what food to order, where to go, and he also helped me improve my bike skills… I still have a long way to go!

Simon patiently waiting for me

Very few mzungu travel to the places where we were, and especially on bicycles, so we were constantly in the spot light. As we approached schools, kids would go wild, screaming and running to see us, adults were either waving, laughing as if someone had just told them a really good joke, or wanting to shake our hands, some young kids would scream in terror, but everywhere we went, we seemed to be the attraction of the day.

We shook many hands!

Several times kids started running next to us, and Simon being so much faster than I am, I would always end up with most of the kids, running and running next to me. If we stopped to eat, everyone would look at us, but it was almost always done with big smiles, hand shakes and spontaneous “karibu” (welcome).

We certainly didn’t beat any records in terms of distance, but I truly enjoyed discovering this part of Kenya and stopping here and there for short or long breaks, which was just as much fun as riding.

On our second day, we visited a cave near the village where we spent the night. It was quite a side trip, quite a way down the valley, but it was well worth the effort to get into the cave and out on the other side of the hill. We were pretty sure that we were the first tourists in 2019!!

In the cave…
…and out on the other side!

Then we kept climbing until we reached a small village where we were going to spend the night. Unfortunately for the guest house owner, he took too long to find the key for the room, so we decided to continue and eventually found a nicer place to stay: Nyarkulian.

A nice view on the way to Nyarkulian

Friendly people, gorgeous views, and great conversation with Andrew and Anthony, amongst others. Amazing sometimes to find very well educated people in some really remote parts, and to see their keen interest in learning about life outside of Kenya.

Sunset in the Charangani Hills

We had planned to leave early-ish the next day, but there is no such thing as leaving early in that place. Breakfast came very late, but that gave us a chance to spent an enjoyable moment on top of a hill, watching the village slowly waking up. It also gave us time to visit a first school, where the little kids sang a beautiful song for us and I fell once again in love with Africa.

Our bikes in front of our hotel room

Then we had breakfast, but we could not leave until we had visited Anthony’s school. We had to do a short presentation to two classes and eventually to the whole group to save time and answer some questions from the students. I was very intimidated but at the same time I didn’t want to be anywhere else, what a treat to be there!

Greeting the students in Nyarkulian

Then we had to sign the visitor’s book and answer a lot of questions from the teachers. We talked about Canada, Australia, kids, marriage, jobs, politics, plate techtonic, geography, and, very flattering: they would not believe that I am 44 years old! Simon also told them that I was a ninja, and it is unclear if they believed it or not…

So with a very late start (almost noon!) we finally left Nyarkurlian, to go back to Kapyego. It was hard work, the hills were steep, both up and down, but I was having a blast!

More nice views on the way back

Back in Kapyego, I felt at home (it was our second night there, after all!) and we received once again a warm welcome.

We had another pretty late start, maybe I was starting to get into African mode! Very enjoyable anyway, for people who hardly knew each other before this trip, Simon and I got along really well.

Small hill
Bigger hill…

The last day of the bike trip was just as amazing, lots of downhill into a gorgeous forest, more stops to admire the scenery or just to enjoy “being there”, more locals to greet, more thumbs up, more kids running… And more climbs too.

Easy section in the forest

We arrived mid-day in Kapsowar, a bigger village where we finished our trip. From there we managed to get our 2 bikes inside a matatu and drove back to Iten. Of course, we stopped here and there to pick up more passengers, and ended up in our row of 3 seats with 7 people and… a chicken! When the owner of the chicken left the matatu, for some reason I just started laughing and couldn’t stop. I had seen similar things before, but for some reason (tired? overly happy?) I just thought this was the funniest thing. I love Africa!

Back in Iten, we got ready for the next adventure: Simon took me down a beautiful river in an inflatable canoe. He dropped me off at the starting point and did the shuttle with the vehicle. Meanwhile half the village came to see me, it was a Sunday, so all the kids were also there, and they couldn’t wait for Simon to get back to see the 2 wazungu paddling down the river. I couldn’t wait either: it was super hot in the sun and I was getting tired of explaining that I didn’t want to get married…

But it was all worth it, the trip was amazing, it was a very different and fully enjoyable way to explore Kenya. We saw beautiful birds, hundreds of people along the river, hundreds if not thousands of smiles (ah, those african smiles…), and many naked bums as we passed people washing in the river. Fishermen, kids, adults, dogs, and occasionally a moment of peace and quiet with no one around. Fun rapids, especially with a skilled paddler behind me, we spent the whole day on the river and then went to visit one of Simon’s friend for supper.

My future house in Kenya 😉

Some experiences are so perfect that it is hard to put them into words. This one month trip has been so diverse that I feel like I have been here much longer. It is hard to summarize or to conclude: I am sure I will think about this trip for a long, long time. It’s been such a privilege to be here and to meet so many people and to learn a little bit about their life. There is so much more to say about what I enjoyed here, but since words are not enough to share this experience, maybe the videos that Simon made will give a better idea…

Day 1:

Day 2:

Day 3:

Day 4:

To all the people who made this trip so special: asante sana! We shall meet again…

6 thoughts on “The land of a thousand smiles

  1. Certainement un de tes plus beaux trip à vie. J’ai hâte de te voir et de te soutenir dans ta dépression post-Africa, hi hi.

    Les vidéos parlent beaucoup….ça va te prendre une go pro pour les autres voyages 😉

  2. Les sourires africains t’ont contaminé. Il n’y a pas un endroit sur les photos ou les vidéos (bien appréciées) où tu n’affiches pas un super sourire. On dirait que tu es pays du bonheur. Bon retour et fais attention aux chocs thermiques…

  3. Just amazing to see, and I’m absolutely delighted to see you living the dream and happy. Anytime you’re coming through Vancouver please let me know, I would love to catch up and hear more about you and Simon and your adventures!

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