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The Road to Samburu

Central Kenya
August 18, 2018

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Out of Nairobi, you drive north on the A2 heading towards Mt Kenya. Nairobi becomes suburbs, rows of metal shacks along the roadside: barber shops, small stores advertising M-Pesa, hardware stores. Out in front, women selling vegetables spread out on the ground on tarps. Motorcycle taxi drivers hunched over their handlebars, waiting for a fare. The roadsides begin to thin, green hills, small family farm plots. The road begins to descend from the high plains where Nairobi sits, down to the valley. The small valleys along the way remind me of Costa Rica: tropical, hilly, small shacks for homes, the occasional larger house made of cinder block. Men walking on the roadside. Women and children carrying jugs of water.

After a couple hours, the road levels out to a plain below, where Mt Kenya rises up to the northeast. But today it's hidden by clouds-- normal for this time of year, a waiter tells us later. We stop near Ninyuki, where a black and yellow roadside sign marks the equator, for some pictures. But a small village of curio shops also marks the spot, and a small band of friendly but persistent fellows usher us into their shops. We get away only $10 poorer, a pretty good escape.

Continuing north to Isiolo, the land becomes increasingly arid. As we approach town, the roadsides again begin to fill with rows of shops and crowded stalls of markets. Now, more of the people working these small businesses wear Muslim garb: scarves for women, the long shirt and knit cap for men. We are closer to the northern frontier and the vast desert that stretches out to Ethiopia and Somalia. As we pass thru small towns, the local police have laid strips of metal spikes across the road, a narrow opening between them. Joel, our driver, says at first that these are to collect money for the local upkeep of the roads. But later he tells us they also help the police watch for and keep out unsavory characters coming in from Somalia. The police wave us through, stopping us only once.

On the road north of Isiolo, we're surprised to see a beige mass blocking the road ahead. It's camels, a few dozen of them, being herded along by two boys. We gape and open our door, shoot video. "Hey, man!" Says one of the boys as they pass. "Hey man, how're you doing?" I say. "Fine," he answers, and they move past.