I’m not a naturally trusting person when it comes to those that I do not know. I tend to see people as always having an agenda; especially in circumstances where I could be perceived as a naive tourist. But in Kenya, we had to rely on local knowledge and people in ways that I never had to before. We were so out of our element, and guidebooks were so unhelpful- that we had no choice but to rely on them. And in the end, I am so glad that I did. Because it taught me to allow myself to trust people more easily, and embrace their willingness to welcome me into their country. This change of heart allowed me to experience so many hidden gems within the country. Here are a few quick blurbs about some of the people we met:
- David: David was our guide through Hell’s Gate National Park in Naivasha. Not only did he bike the entire 20km journey with us, he led us down into the park’s gorge and guided us through different climbs and he treks. He told us the park’s history, and how it was named Hell’s Gate because when the volcano erupted in the 1800s, it looked as if hell had broken loose as lava burst through the rock. He encouraged us throughout the ride, saved our picnic from the baboons, and was eager to tell us about his life. 10/10 the best guide ever. You can see him in the orange in the featured image.
- The Reggae Band Bus: Picture this; after spending five hours negotiating with the reception desk at our hostel in Kilifi, we needed to catch a matatu (a mini bus that drives passengers along a semi-set route) to Mombasa. It’s about a two hour drive along a main highway, so it should have been pretty easy to catch one. We struggled for a moment, and some locals took it upon themselves to flag one down for us. To our surprise, it was not a formal matatu; but instead the tour minibus of a Reggae band. They told us they were heading to Mombasa and invited us along for the ride. So without much delay, we hopped on in, handed over 200Ksh (about $2, a higher than average matatu fare but fine) each and headed on our journey. It wasn’t until I got settled that I realized we had essentially just hitchhiked- something I would never do back home. I got a little panicky. But as the band started singing to us and teaching us some Swahili-Reggae songs, I calmed down. We spoke of our different lifestyles, what we were doing in Rwanda, and discussed stories of discrimination. Apparently Rastas like them are not always liked in Kenya, so they were surprised that we were so willing to hop on what they called the “Rasta Band Bus.” It was a beautiful joining of souls. If we had more time in Mombasa, we would have totally gone to one of their shows.
- The baby elephants: Okay so not a person. But- those of you who know me best know that I’m not an animal person. I think they’re cute from a distance, and I love dogs…but really only if they don’t shed. However- the baby elephants (who are all orphans) at the David Sheldick Wildlife Trust captured my heart. I find myself looking at the 50+ photos I have of them whenever I’m feeling down because they’re just too cute. I was proud of myself for taking the time to do something that I wouldn’t have normally made time for; just because this place came so highly recommended from locals.
- Katana: Katana was the housekeeper at this amazing Airbnb we stayed at in Lamu; but he was so much more. He cooked us our meals and also acted as our babysitter when we wanted to go out at night. He took us to the local spots, to the market, and helped us get some souvenirs. He was the warmest person and most generous host I’ve encountered- and a great cook. Basically, Katana is everything a girl could ever want in a husband. Men- be warned; Katana has raised the bar.
- The Captain: So truthfully, I’m not really sure if he really is a captain. In Lamu, everyone is a captain. He was always on the boat with us though and always made sure we were well taken care of. That floating structure in the back of the photo is the floating bar that is just out in the middle of the sea. We stopped there to replenish his Guiness supply (always served warm) and he invited us to come party at the bar a few nights later. Him and Katana made arrangements for us to get a boat there, and it was one of the coolest places I’ve ever been. People from all over the world spent the night dancing under the stars, all bonding over their shared love for Lamu and the water.
- That matatu conductors: Matatus are the privately owned minibuses that pick up and drop off passengers along a select route. They’re like the original shared taxi. The matatu each have a driver as well as a conductor; or the man that slides the van door opens, negotiates a price, communicates where the van is going, and crams as many people into the van as humanly possible. They always treated us with the utmost respect and helped us to know when to get on and off and showed us how to position ourselves so that even more people could fit into the minibus. They also gave us many tips and tricks for traveling across the city.
- All of the people whose names I never caught: We were helped by SO many different people. We got lost constantly. We got stranded in Nairobi not once, but twice. We met locals who would climb up palm trees just so we could have a taste of fresh green coconut water. Kenyans are certainly some of the most hospitable people that I have encountered. I feel so lucky to have gotten the chance to have met so many wonderful people- and I hope I get to go back soon.
Though the people I described above were outstanding individuals, we of course encountered some people who were less than so. I had money stolen from me, and we had to deal with constant street harassment throughout the entire trip. While embracing this level of increased trust was amazing for me, I am still a strong advocate for always making sure that people stay aware and alert when in unfamiliar places. My greatest realisation is that when traveling, there must be a balance between trusting people and being cautious- and I hope it is one that I continue to develop throughout my journeys.
PC for featured photo; Ann Singer