Rusinga isn’t all that big but if you were to circumnavigate it you would cover 21km. In the fierce sun these distances mean that the most common mode of transport on the rough, dirt roads is the piki piki. The motorbike. Nothing beats a good piki piki journey for fun. I’ve had many memorable rides out here, none perhaps more so than the one I took with Morven when we visited Kakamega Forest…
Morven was fresh off the plane from the UK. We’d followed that up with a ten hour bus journey and had reached the nearest town to the forest just as the light was dwindling. It was also raining. We moved between the ranks of piki piki drivers trying in vain to pronounce the name of where we wanted to go (Isecheno) but were met with non-plussed shakes of the head. No-one knew where it was. Eventually we met a taxi driver who firmly informed us there was no way we were getting to Isecheno that evening; the roads were impassable due to the rain. He advised we stay in Kakamega Town for the night and see whether the roads dried out.
This was not what I wanted to hear. I wanted to wake up in the middle of the forest in our little tree house accommodation!! So I pressed on until we found two drivers who spoke no English, almost no Kiswahili but had foolhardy hearts. By this point however it was dark and the rain was getting heavier. We were committing all the cardinal sins of piki piki journeys and I just hoped Morvs had a strong spirit of adventure in her!
Soon it became more than clear that listening to the advice of the taxi man would have been the wise option. The roads were churned thick with mud and the way ahead was pitch black with the forest looming ominously around us. I quickly realised that it wouldn’t take much for our drivers to decide they’d earn a faster bob or two by robbing us and dumping us somewhere on the roadside. Trying to push these thoughts away, I concentrated on holding on tight.
The road was so slippery that our drivers struggled to keep the bikes upright. Of course, it wasn’t long until the inevitable happened. I was anxiously looking ahead, checking to see if Morven was ok, when I saw the bike slide from underneath them and watched as Morven fell off into the waiting, loving arms of the pool of mud below…In a remarkable show of good will she laughed and got back on. It was at this point I started to ask “how far?”
When I had booked our accommodation the lodge manager had told me it was just a thirty minute drive. We’d now been going for one hour but I put it down to the poor driving conditions. Cautiously, I asked my driver “how long?. “Twenty minutes” came the reply. Twenty minutes passed. “How long now?” I asked again. “Twenty more minutes”.
When we hit the two hour mark I asked again, trying to keep the rising panic out of my voice. “Twenty kilometres” came the reply. NO!!!! Now I couldn’t hide my panic and refused to go any further until we had gotten careful direction from the lodge manager. After some reasoning with myself I concluded that if these guys were going to rob us they would have done it by now, and with that uneasy “peace of mind” we carried on, arriving at 9pm after two and half hours on the back of a piki piki.
Despite such adventures I still love the piki piki. And being here on Rusinga has given me the perfect opportunity to try and learn to drive. Oscar is my trusted driver, only 45 minutes late on average and he never overcharges! On Saturday we hit the grass air strip, used by wealthy guests of the nearby luxury lodge, for our first driving school. I’m not a natural driver but after an hour I could start without stalling and after two I had the confidence to carry passengers on our way home! I’m hooked.