By Joseph Maina
My three-day tour of Kiambu kicked off on an overcast November morning, with a trip to the Fourteen Falls. It was just after 10am when I made a beeline for the Kenya Mpya bus stop along Nairobi’s Munyu Road, adjoining Luthuli Avenue.
The bus cruised the 41 odd kilometres to Thika while making a few stops along the way, arriving an hour and a half later. Plenty of buses and 14-seater matatus ply the Thika-Nairobi route, offering a range of choices for the road traveler. The buses charge Ksh50, but with limited options for music and other onboard entertainment. Matatus charge higher fares, sometimes up to Ksh100.
The journey takes you along the elegant Thika Super Highway for the most part and cuts through decidedly urban settings throughout, branching off to the left at Jomoko as you enter Thika, an industrial town once affectionately dubbed the Manchester of Nairobi. Taking time to sample the sights, I ventured into downtown Thika, observing the pace and vibe of this wonderful town.
Official Kiambu County projections for 2017 put Thika’s population at 171,430, making this the third most populous town in Kiambu after Ruiru and Kikuyu, respectively. Thika’s CBD is a veritable beehive of activity. Folks move about with the tempo and haste reminiscent of Nairobi, yet with the geniality of small townsfolk.
Music blares from speakers strategically located in retail shops selling electronics, with garish advertisements dotting the buildings. For the first time in a very long while, I saw bicycle bodabodas angling for clients alongside motorcycle bodabodas. There are numerous tuk tuks in the CBD, which reminded me of Mombasa, and I occasionally saw Mombasa-bound buses zooming past.
I took a hefty lunch at Simmars Restaurant in downtown Thika, and I must say I thoroughly enjoyed their chicken, before leaving for Fourteen Falls at around 1:30pm Matatus playing the route to the Falls charge Ksh100 and can be picked next to the gates of the Red Cross office along Kenyatta Highway. The matatus ply Muguga, Kilimambogo TTC, Fourteen Falls, Donyo-Sabuk, and Tala-Kangundo.
My journey to the Falls took me along the road to Garissa, going past some of Thika’s famous brands such as Gretsa University, Tusky’s Ananas Mall, Leather Industries of Kenya Ltd, Mount Kenya University, and the stately St Andrews Anglican Cathedral.
This is flat country, as the road traveler will see throughout the journey. Rains had pounded many parts of the country in the days preceding my visit, and Thika was especially hard-hit. Pools of stagnant water on both sides of the road had brought a sad end to many economic activities.
Among the highlights of my trip was seeing a bodaboda shed by the roadside almost completely submerged in the water. For forty-five minutes I sat through the matatu ride to the Falls, sampling the sights of expansive pineapple plantations, extending as far as the eye can see, and alternating with mangoes, some fruiting at barely a metre’s height. Buses from Garissa occasionally zoomed past, alongside numerous lorries carrying sand.
The matatu’s conductor would inform me that they harvest the sand in Masinga. Leaving the road to Garissa at Kilimambogo, we branched off to the right and immediately touched dirt road. Small-scale farms dot the landscape to the right, mingling with pineapple farms to the left, and a short distance later I was dropped off just before Athi River, separating Kiambu and Machakos.
From here, it is just a 10-minute walk through scrubland to the Fourteen Falls, whose raging waters can be heard hundreds of metres away. A duo of kindly gentlemen welcomed me at the gates to the Falls, each wearing the yellow dustcoats with the words Kiambu County Government emblazoned.
Entry charges start from Ksh 100 for adult citizens. It cost an additional Ksh 150 to enter with my camera, while video cameras attract a Ksh 500 charge. With a guide, David, in tow, I savoured the site of this breathtaking feature, with Kilimambogo Hills nestled in the background.
The mists and roar of the Falls make for a tantalizing feel, with excellent photo opportunities. Highlights include an adventurous crossing of the river, a boat ride, and seeing local youths plunging from the top of the falls into the swirling waters below, a depth which David said goes to twenty six feet.