Equatorial Kenya

26th August 2013

Monday was an early start as Ruth, Silas, Rahab and I drove “up country” to visit the ministry of Simon Mwaura in northern Kenya from his base in Nyahururu.

Downtown Nairobi was quickly left behind as we climbed north past the grim slums that ring Nairobi and on into surprisingly misty rolling green pine forests very reminiscent of a cool Scottish hillside. Imperceptibly we had climbed up to 8,000 feet as we turned a steep corner to be faced with the famous Rift Valley.

Unfortunately Kenya wanted to continue masquerading as the highlands of Scotland and the “Internationally Recommended View Point” looked more like a view of the Cuillins of Skye on a bad day!

Our roller coaster ride continued with a 3,000 feet drop into the Rift Valley in only a few miles, twisting along the hillside dodging impatient motorists overtaking lumbering lorries on the long climb in the other direction. And then we were excitedly sweeping back up to the equator at 7,747 feet.

Although we had both been to the southern hemisphere before, being at the equator was a first for Ruth and I. Perhaps I expected some distinct geographic indication that we were there but no, just like that seemingly arbitrary border between Scotland and England, there was nothing to mark the transition from southern to northern hemisphere except a rather worn sign by the road and – even at this remote spot – the inevitable souvenir stalls.

James, the wizened old man at one of the stalls, softened my usual Scotsman’s guard against buying anything (!) by promising a simple physics experiment to prove we were at the true equator. So having bought a rather nice hand-painted soapstone globe with an unscientifically thick equator, James went on to demonstrate to a skeptical audience that water going down a hole spun anti-clockwise a few meters north of the equator, clockwise a few meters south, and went straight down on the equator. When I told him he had convinced a Doctor of Physics he proudly said that henceforth he would call himself Professor James!

It was only another few miles and we were in Nyahururu to meet Simon, his wife Lucy, and his lieutenant, Henry. And what a surprise as we discovered exactly where we were staying. Thomson’s Falls Lodge turned out to be a wonderfully preserved colonial masterpiece set in beautiful gardens overlooking a spectacular waterfall. The first European to discover this spot, in 1883, was a Scot called Joseph Thompson who later became the first European to walk from Mombasa on the Kenyan coast to Lake Victoria.

Perhaps it was homage to Joseph that the 1930’s lodge and cottages – despite the beautiful English style gardens – reminded us of a highland hunting lodge. This view was only reinforced when the staff insisted on lighting an open fire in our room – something we were very grateful for a few hours later as the cold dark fell.

Was this really equatorial Africa? As we drifted off to sleep we couldn’t help but be amazed at the ever changing face of this wonderful country, wonder whether we would ever be able to get our head around it, and wonder whether we could really have any role to play here.

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