During my stay in Kisii, I was asked by someone in the USA to travel to Bungoma (4 hours by road) to meet up with an organisation that is doing all sorts of research with water hyacinth, a water weed from South America that has found itself in the waterways of much of equatorial Africa.
The first thing we needed was a car, so we contacted the guy who had picked me up from Nairobi, Dennis. Of course he would hire me his car, a recent model Toyota Corolla. We negotiated a price (Ksh 3,000)and that was that.
Until it came to signing the contract. then Dennis decided that as the road was "not too good" he would prefer that I used one of his tougher cars, a Toyota Crown Mk II. It would cost me a further Ksh 500.
On the day in question, the car was to be delivered to the nearest road access we had at 7am. We were there, but the car wasn't. We phoned Dennis. his driver didn't have a phone, so Dennis picked us up and we searched for the car. We found it 100 metres down the road.
We followed Dennis to his office and garage where he filled the car with fuel and charged me Ksh 5,300. I was pretty sure that I was not going to use a tankful and spent the next half-hour wondering if I could syphon off the fuel I didn't use.
We were finally under way, on the road from Kisii to Kisumu. It is a switch-back of a road through the steep hills of the area, but it was in good condition and we made good time.
We passed through Kisumu without mishap, other than Vincent, who was navigating, only knew the matatu route, which took us through some of the more savoury parts of the town. But, eventually was cleared the town and started climbing out of the Lake Victoria basin, which is rather flat and uninteresting.
Two hours later, we were in Bungoma, another typically busy African town, full of bustle and nouise (and cattle). We met up with Salim and his colleagues in their office, where we exchanged ideas about whet weach organisation was doing and hoping to do.
We, that is Vincent and me, and Salim and his two colleagues went on a tour of their projects. At this point, I was glad to have the larger car.
First stop was at Salim's house where he showed us a press, made mainly of wood, which is used to compress partially dried water hyacinth into briquettes which can be used as an alternative for charcoal for cooking. The press was impressive, and locally built, paid for by the organisation in the USA.
Next stop was the shamba of Salim's father. He had donated some of his land so that Salim could test composted hyacinth. The land was divided into small plots, the first being a control plot with no fertiliser. All the others had been enriched with water hyacinth mixed with various other ingredients. The tests were ongoing, but there was a marked difference between the enriched plots and the control.
We discussed the possible location of a anaerobic digester in the compound. This would use water hyacinth (possibly mixed with cow slurry to speed up the the anaerobic process), to see how efficient it would be for producing methane. There are issues with water hyacinth, which i will go into on another blog. However, it should be suitable with the correct treatment.
While we were at the shamba, Salim showed me another project of theirs, cooking stoves. That's nothing new, I thought, but these are made from mud (not clay) mixed with sawdust. These burners are hand-made, although at a casual glance, they look as if they came out of a mold - they were that good.
It was a good day and gave me much food for thought, like how best to treat water hyacinth to use it in an anaerobic digester.
We set off for home (Kisii) after a late lunch (see previous blog). By the time we arrived in Kisumu, it was dark, African dark. On the road out, I was constantly swerving to miss bicycles and motorbikes with no lights and it was a relief to get back into the countryside, where i only had to avoid bigger vehicles without lights.
Then we were hit by the thunderstorms. Anyone who has not experienced an African Equatorial thunderstorm has no idea what they are like. I hit a T-junction that I did not remember on the outbound journey and asked Vincent if we should turn left. He was preoccupied with the Swahili music blasting from the radio and nodded.
Then we were in the middle of a storm. I had to stop. I could not see the road ahead. But when the rain abated and we were on the move again, I was passing signs mentioning Kericho. This town is too far to the east. We had gone wrong.
Vincent could not believe it and instructed me to do a U-turn. He was now concentrating fully, looking for anything he might recognise. He didn't find anything!
We continued into the countryside, caught up with the storm, stopped and after it had passed, continued on our way to ... wherever.
We passed a couple of lads and stopped to ask directions. As their luck would have it, we would be passing their front door on the way back to Kisii, so we gave them a lift.
The pointed out the road we needed when we dropped them off in the middle of a small, dark village, and we continued on ... and on ... and on.
We passed a Police checkpoint at the entrance to another small, dark village and started to climb. After about 5 km, Vincent thought that we should have turned right by the checkpoint, so we did another U-turn. We were running low on fuel so we coasted back down the hill for 5 kms.
What a waste of time! The policeman sent us back from whence we had come, back up the hill. But at the top, Vincent said that the lights to the right were Kisii, a reasonable assumption as it is the only large town in the area.
We found our right turn and Vincent brightened up. He was starting to recognise things. I was still worried as the fuel warning light had been on for a long time - and I was running out of cigarettes!
But, we made it. We found a kiosk open and I bought a very expensive packet of ciggies.
The next problem was what to do with the car. In Kenya, you do not just park a car at the side of the road if you want to keep the wheels. We went to the nearest hotel to the house. Ksh 250 for the night. We phoned Dennis who told us to go to his house and he would drop us home, where we finally arrived at 23:30.
Dennis was disappointed that the Toyota was almost empty - that was his excess profit gone, but Vincent and I were very pleased with the trip and could even laugh about getting lost in the wilds to the east of Kisii.