No traffic on Tana River

Savage Wilderness

White water rafting at Savage Wilderness.

Photo credit: Andreas Fox | Nation Media Group

 It was March 26 and I was in the middle of wrapping up a workshop at Lewa Conservancy. Once done, my plans were to enjoy a relaxing evening, possibly joining conservancy friends for a sundowner followed by a leisurely drive back to Nairobi the following day. We had just said our ‘thank you’s’ and taken a few group photos when we got a notification that the President was speaking.

The moment the President announced the new lockdown, followed by a mention of an 8pm curfew, I looked at the time and then at my colleagues. I had five hours to get back home. I figured I had just enough time to pack up my stuff and scramble.

Progress was slow but steady – and then I hit Karatina. Traffic was backed up at least a kilometre. By this time, WhatsApp messages were flying in, each it seemed with a new interpretation of the new restrictions. Then came a photo of the very same jam I was sat in, sent to a group by a friend. As if only to boost morale and a sense of solidarity, we exchanged live locations. It later proved to be a Godsend.

By now it was dark, but I had learned that I had until 10pm to get home. No problem! Rumours were even suggesting that those locked out would be able to travel the next day. However, I still hadn’t seen it presented on any official government letterhead. Fake news, I thought.

I crossed Tana River and passed the famous fruit stalls, when I encountered a wall of red lights. With 18km to go to the Thika Superhighway, things came to a grinding halt. What was meant to be a single carriageway was now five or six lanes wide, everyone trying to get back into ‘the zone’.

Matatus were living up to the undertaking stereotype and Google Maps was predicting it would take over 90 minutes to get to the dual carriageway. My car’s position was being swallowed from all sides, and I figured that there was no way I was going to beat curfew; worse, I would spend the night in that jam.

My friends were in front of me, in a far more serious predicament. They had a 10-month-old on board. They called me up to say they could secure us rooms at Savage Wilderness in Sagana should I wish to join them.

It was after 9pm when we pulled in. Relieved, we cracked open the now warm beers we had been transporting and laughed at the chaos. By then we knew the grace period was true news. My fellow traffic-stricken friend just so happens to be a rafting guide from the United States, so the inevitable question came up. Why not enjoy the morning on the river; after all, we had both driven past the sign countless times and always vowed to do it.  Glen, the manager, kindly organised to take us, and after a hearty breakfast we were in their bus, with boat in tow, to the ‘put-in’, 11km upstream.

He explained that the Tana was low at the time. That meant the trip would be a more technical experience, requiring more thorough navigation around rocks and eddies. My friend was salivating at the prospect.

Over a dozen rapids later, including a waterfall drop of nearly three metres, we reached a quiet stretch of the river. We paddled slowly and I learned about the huge variety of accommodation options and activities there. I vowed to come back and do another article on it all, especially when the river was higher, knowing any rafting will be a totally different experience.

Back at Savage, soaked but happy, I showered and then paid my dues (Sh3,500 for the rafting, Sh500 for breakfast and Sh3,000 for the night in a bungalow). With that, we hit the road again, grateful for the pleasant change of plans.

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