Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Kisii Town, What Is It Really Like?

I can really only look at my second home from a European perspective. But, first impressions for most people, Kenyan and non-Kenyan,  on visiting Kisii for the first time must be that Kisii is vibrant, bustling, busy, chaotic.

They would not be wrong. Kisii is all of these things. But it is more. It is big enough to boast two national supermarkets, Tusky and Nakumatt, as well as the many independent shops and stores.

It has a large open market which is open on Mondays and Wednesdays. It has the illegal street hawkers and fruit sellers that, for the tourist, offer a chance to buy anything from safety pins to local craftwork, kangas, as well as the freshest fruit you will eat anywhere.

It is blessed with several hotels. I have visited many of them and I would not hesitate to stay in any of those I have visited. They do range from the very basic (with very basic prices) to 5-star quality, but even the cheap hotels offer clean accommodation, good food and good service, although it can be a little slow - this is Kenya!

All-in-all, Kisii is what most Europeans would expect in an African town, cows and goats mingling with the people on the street, matatus, motorbike taxis, and quite a few private and commercial vehicles. But traffic jams are largely a thing of the past as the council has built a large bus park and matatus are banned from the town centre.

Kisii is situated in the highlands in the south-west corner of Kenya, not far from the Maasai Mara, Lake Victoria, Kisumu, Homa Bay, Kericho, Nakuru and the borders with Tanzania and Uganda. But it is not on the traditional tourist route, the A 104 Nairobi to Kisumu Road. Instead it is tucked on a quieter but well maintained road from Nairobi that runs through Narok and Bomet. Then close to Sotik, you take a left, pass through several typical Kenyan villages, such as  Nyansiongo and Keroka until you arrive in Kisii. This road, B3, runs through the hills and valleys and is most picturesque.

Talking to some tourists who have found Kisii almost by accident say that they left Nairobi to go to the Maasai Mara, then wanted to go on to Kisumu and the north. Rather than go back to Nairobi, they took a bus to Narok and then on to Kisii, which they found very suitable as somewhere to recuperate for a day or two before carrying on with their tour of Kenya.

Kisii is the centre for soapstone carving. The quarry at Tabaka is the only source of soapstone in Kenya and any Kenyan soapstone carvings for sale anywhere come from this quarry. There are several outlets in Kisii town where soapstone can be bought. You can also find Maasai bead and leather work for sale in Kisii, as well as more general souvenirs such as kangas.

When a white person (mzungu) walks through the town, he or she will be greeted with the call, "Mzungu! How are you?" Kids in particular will be attracted to a pale skin, there are so few in Kisii that white people are still a bit of a curiosity. Some braver kids will want to touch you, particularly your hair. They find it fascinating as, to them, it is soft compared to their tight, "wooly" hair.

So, what is Kisii really like?

It is typically African, dusty, chaotic, but also vibrant and busy. It is friendly. Europeans (wazungu) are always welcome in Kisii.

1 comment:

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