I once read a storybook about poaching, I can’t remember what it was called. It was about these three children whose father was a warden in a national park in Kenya, I can’t remember which one. The story begins with them striking a deal with their father: if they did well the following term in school they could become local tourists of sorts. Obviously because their father was a typical Kenyan parent he first asked them whether they thought he had money to finance globetrotting. He didn’t, and they didn’t. But the agreement was made and when they passed their exams the following term they visited different towns in Kenya, staying with relatives. Their adventures took them all the way to Lamu and back home, running into poachers and other crooks along the way. As far as I can recall, those kids ended up seeing more of this country than I had at the time, and they became heroes, all in one school holiday. The poachers were caught, happy ending for everyone.
That was years ago. I can’t even remember much about that story. Still, I think about that book often. Every time I see Facebook or Instagram photos of people on holiday, every time I read a travel blog. I’m not even a travel-motivated person. You know how people go on and on about how they want to see the world? I am not that. My attitude towards travelling is yeah, it would be nice if the opportunity came along but I don’t do things because they will allow me to travel. I like stability. I like being in one place. And I don’t even like leaving the house. The thing that motivates me about going on holiday or travelling some place is the promise of doing nothing. Lazing around guilt-free and just being. When I think of taking a trip I don’t think of touring and seeing new things. I think of beds I don’t have to make and good food that I don’t have to cook and things that I don’t have to do in a rush. Actually, things that I don’t have to do, period. The art of doing nothing. But that book makes me think: It would be nice to see a bit more of this country.
Kabartonjo. My trip here has been one of those things that lets me know I am not as proud of my country as I should be. People keep saying Kenya is a beautiful country and I nod in agreement without even knowing what I’m agreeing to. I haven’t seen much else apart from the places I have been on family holidays and school trips. Nairobi. Eldoret. Mombasa. Kisumu. For a chunk of my life that has been enough. When people say Kenya is a beautiful country I think of the escarpment and the beaches. Pretty much. I do not think Kabartonjo. Until now.
The whole area is nothing more than steep hills and forest. The roads are long and winding and either go up or down, barely a flat stretch. People walk on the tarmac road like they are not used to sharing it with cars that often. The cows here are short. No, really. They are not the normal height for a cow. Kind of like those dogs that have really short legs, but not nearly as cute.
This is how you get to Kabartonjo. You go and go and go. You think you’ve arrived where you’re going: you haven’t. You keep going. You ask for directions at every junction. You slow down every time you see a signpost. You look at the time. You gape at the scenery. Up until this point you thought that the view at Viewpoint on your way to Naivasha is the most breathtaking one you could find. You were wrong. You see trees so old you become quiet as you pass it. You know, out of respect. Trees that look like a 200-year-old sage sits at its foot and receives visitors from far lands seeking the answers to life. You keep going. You question why anybody would bring themselves all this way. You remember that people live here, and they have to come home sometimes, even if home is at the edge of the world. You think that perhaps you are no longer in Kenya at all. Surely by now you must have crossed a border somewhere, probably to Uganda. You have not. You gape some more at the scenery. You plan how you will come back to this place and build a large house on one of those hills, your holiday home, your cabin in the woods where you will turn into one of the literary geniuses of your time. You pass the signpost to the place where you are staying. You have to turn back somehow on a narrow road that is really a series of blind spots one after the other. You arrive and are shocked to realize that it has only been three hours since your journey began.
The resort sits on the side of a hill, as does everything else. A house, the owners house, is the first thing you see. It doesn’t look lived-in. Somebody comes to welcome you, his name is Elijah. He is soft-spoken, a bit shy even. He smiles a lot and looks unsure. His disposition is friendly. You can already tell that this isn’t a five-star sort of shindig. It might not have any stars at all. But it’s not important at the moment: you have found the place where quiet goes to rest.
The hills rise up around you here, shrouded in a thick greenery, like a wall to protect the pocket of solitude you have found. Only those who work for it deserve it, the rest of the world needn’t know. And solitude is the word. The loudest sounds: the wind teasing the trees as it passes by, a chicken from a neighbouring house, a crying baby from a house on another hill, distant but discernible, birds. It feels like if you talk too loudly you will shatter the stillness of these hills and maybe somehow find yourself back in Nairobi, realizing that it was all a dream. This place looks almost exactly like I pictured Makuyu and Kameno looked in The River Between. There is probably a river at the bottom of this hill. The sky is clear, a striking blue, and the air is crisp. Everything, unadulterated.
The rooms are designed like huts. Round with thatched roofs. Of course they are named after our wildlife, Kiboko, Nyati, Ndovu…It is expected. They are spread out on the slope, a few metres from one another, like a traditional homestead.
We are not here for long. We might be here only a night. We are the only ones staying in the whole resort. We might be the only ones who have stayed here in months. The food is ordinary and the staff are friendly. The facilities are nothing to write about. But everything the place lacks in modernity it makes up for. When you stand outside, you feel small, like a speck. Your problems don’t seem as big. Your phone isn’t quite as addictive as it normally is (maybe because there is no network here, but that’s not the point). Your shoulders relax. Your dreams come a little closer. It’s like magic.
I was upset when we came here. First world problems, you see. In fact, I didn’t even want to stay the night. I wanted to be somewhere where I can use WiFi and eat delicate desserts. I wanted to be somewhere where the staff are obviously catering school trained, with the mechanical smiles and answers that were crafted specifically to please and pacify. I wanted the life I am used to, ruled by convenience.
But this morning I woke up at 7:30 am. Willingly. Nobody forced me to get out of bed, the day called me outside. This morning I was the first person up, showered, dressed, ready to be alive. This morning I sat on my bed anticipating the first step I would take outside, the first breath of that cool country air, the first touch of sunlight on my skin, and I realized that for the first time in months I had had a full night’s sleep. No tossing and turning, no interruptions, no lying awake wondering, worried, tired, begging for rest. For the first time in months, sleep. For the first time in months, rest.
Happy New Year! The year is nearly two weeks old by now but oh well. Everything I had to say about new years I said last year so you can check out that post. Anyway, I went on holiday and this post was written at around Christmas time in a place with absolutely no internet connection. Still wanted to post it though, so I did. See you next Friday, sawa?