A nice email from Peace Corps volunteer Nick Demille, based in Kajiado in Maasai-land, about a recent trip in the Akamba country, east of Nairobi. His thoughtful blog Salamu Kenya! is well worth a visit.
"If you're looking for "deluxe accommodation" in Kitui, head for the Parkside Villa. You'll find sprawling grounds, several bars, a playground for the kids, a great sound system and Kitui's best nyama choma [roast meat]. The rooms are small but clean, and they have mosquito nets and hot showers when the electricity is up. A room for the night cost 700 shillings (£5/$10), but if you need a quiet break from the road, this is it. The grounds are on the north side of town past a school for the blind, but simply asking locals will get you there as it's tucked back on a side road. If you're feeling a bit more adventurous, and want to rub elbows with the local crowd, head down the hill from the end of the tarmac surface and across from the Pastoral Center to Kitui’s own Tourist Hotel. This is a clean and comfortable guest house where 400 shillings buys you a bed with a mosquito net and hot water for bathing. They also have a rather nice garden patio bar area where lively locals, Akamba music and a pool table can be found – as well as Kitui's coldest Tuskers. They also serve breakfast her, included in the rate, and the staff are friendly.
Approaching the Tourist Hotel, you can see an enormous, oddly sited boulder on the eastern horizon – Nzambani rock. This prized local attraction makes a great half-day excursion. If you have a few hours, head out onto the dusty Mombasa road, just down from the Kitui Medical College, and catch yourself a matatu headed east to Chuluni. On the way you pass through the town of Wikilili (several small stores, and some good places to catch a quick bite to eat – not gourmet cuisine, but cheap and with exceptionally friendly service). Once you're in Chuluni, ask the matatu tout to drop you at the road to Nzambani rock, where, you should be able to see the conspicuous landmark. From the road – a wide, dirt single track heading into the bush – you get the most stunning views. Once you get nearby, you see that you have to pay to climb the boulder, but but it's very much up for discussion – haggle like you would for anything, and don't pay more than Ksh200.
There's a final ¼ mile to walk to the base of a rickety metal staircase scaling the rock. The concrete and steel supports are loose and decaying, and the entire structure sways in the wind, so take care. Once on top, you can wander freely, soaking in the panoramic views across the district. To the west you look towards the hills of Machakos, and to the east is the South Kitui National Reserve. This is Wakambani at its best, scattered with small villages and chiefs' camps. The boulder isn't a must-see, perhaps, but it makes for an unforgettable little back roads adventure.
Local Akamba legend has it that if you run round the top of Nzambani seven times, you will change sex – fortunately, there's no danger of accidentally performing this unappealing feat. More prosaically, there's a small snackbar on the summit, but it doesn't offer much and is often closed. As well as bringing plenty of sunscreen, glasses and hats then (there's no shelter from the equatorial sun, and you will want to linger for photos), you'll want to bring snacks and drinks."
Photo © Nick Demille