A long time went by before I was able to understand this trip. Sometimes, the present is not understood until it becomes the past. Kenya belongs to a continent of origins, remote and distant, and for now, for better or worse, many of its vast and beautiful rural areas remain far from the globalised world.
In a matter of two weeks I had organised everything. Bought the tickets from Buenos Aires to Mombasa, got the necessary vaccines, packed my things and let my friends know I was leaving. “I’m going to Kenya for a month, alone, just my backpack and camera, nothing else.” It was a long flight to Mombasa. I was very tired and somewhat nervous about it all. At the airport in Mombasa the image of a rhino gave me goosebumps. I had arrived.
— Mombasa —
The first morning I was woken by the heat and the unrelenting racket made by the many crows that inhabit Mombasa. I looked outside the window to see Africa for the first time: bonfire smoke on the sides of the street, women selling fresh fruit right outside our building, next to them, I saw other women with beautiful braids in their hair, and a little further away, a man selling plants. Here, life takes place on the streets.
I enjoy travelling alone and getting to know different cultures, in the most simple and genuine way possible, simply by being there, and merely observing. Trying not to alter what I see, to be inconspicuous. But in Mombasa, I was noticed right away. I am a white Argentinian, in a city where almost everyone is black. It was impossible to remain unseen.
The first few days were filled with nervousness and anxiety. I was alone in a place completely different to my own, full of tension and expectations about what the trip might become. Was I going to be able to adapt to Africa? I just wanted to let go, come to know the locals, let down my resistance, and give myself up to whatever had to happen.
Two days went by and I decided it was time to get out of the city. Venturing into the more rural areas of Kenya would be better than staying in Mombasa. Leaving my big backpack behind, I grabbed my camera, my flip flops, swimming trunks, and my kikoy — a traditional man’s wraparound worn on the Swahili coast of East Africa, especially in Kenya. It protected me from the sun and from the stares too. I took a tuk-tuk to the south of town, then a ferry, and then a three-hour matatu — one of Kenya’s colourful buses. My destination was Wasini Island, a small island in the south, where people usually snorkel for a few hours and then leave. I wanted to stay, at least for a few days.
School children on the road from Mombasa to Kilifi / She was sleeping in the matatu along the way.
I was greeted by Abdullah, who was surprised to meet a foreigner who wanted to stay longer than a few hours. I got on a small boat and crossed the island with two guys who were carrying huge machine guns, which they used to absentmindedly scratch their feet and faces — I had never seen such big weapons.
— Wasini —
Wasini is a coral rock island that during its hey-day was a popular summer destination for retired and wealthy Europeans who wanted to enjoy the heat and beaches of Kenya. The day I arrived, there was just one dutchman and me, and the rest of the island was a small fisherman’s village. Abdullah cooked a fish for me with great care, and later made me visit the “tourist attractions,” which meant very little to me.
I met someone who said he would take me over to the other side of the island along a path that would pass through the mangroves. I told him I had very little to tip him with, as I had left all my money in Mombasa. He gently insisted on taking me and I followed him. We walked through the island for a long time and I started to worry, thinking about where this stranger was actually taking me. The sun had started to set and as is common in many places in Kenya, there was no electric light.
We kept on walking until we finally reached the other side of the island. The mangrove trees continued all the way into the sea, and it was a very beautiful sight. I calmly took a breath, my guide had not deceived me. At that moment I felt that if I had managed to get to such a remote place with a complete stranger, then it meant that the rest of my trip would turn out alright. It was a feeling I had. Complete trust.
— Kilifi —
I spent a few days in Wasini and then returned to Mombasa to continue northwards along the coast, towards Kilifi. In Kilifi there was a very impressive hostel, but when I entered I had the feeling of being out from what I have been seeing. Luckily, I decided to walk towards the beach, where I found a beautiful sunset.
The beach was deserted. It was actually an estuary, very serene. I loved rural Kenya, so far away from the cities. As I sat with my camera I saw a kid walking in the distance. As he approached me I waved, then he waved back and continued to walk. A few hours later, the kid returned and I went over to have a chat. He responded by asking me if I knew how to hunt crabs. His name was Buda.
We became friends and I met all of his brothers and sisters as well. They were many, and lived on the coast with their aunts and cousins. Most families in Kenya live with their extended family, and the women are in charge of the houses. Men are absent most of the time, often spending time with friends, away from their homes.
Full of joy in the ocean / Fishermen and family in the early morning
I quickly became very fond of Buda and his siblings, and they became fond of me. Every time I came down to the beach, they would arrive to greet me. I spent whole days on the beach, sometimes helping them gather wood for making fires, or finding things their mother had asked for — I learnt a lot about their culture and way of life, which was not always easy. Buda and Nuzrah were the eldest siblings and spoke better English. They taught me a lot of words in Swahili, their native tongue.
One of the days we spent together I brought them a football, a water gun and a jumping rope. We played with them, they taught me beach games, and every now and then we would all go for a swim. It was with great grief that I said goodbye to these children, as I had to continue travelling towards the west of the country. They stayed with me until I left, and their mother also came to say goodbye.
Portrait of Buda / Jumping rope / Portrait of Mwanaisha
— Amboselli —
I took a tuk-tuk back to Mombasa, thinking about everything I was experiencing. It felt so powerful and different, making me reflect on my own life, and how grateful I was for the opportunity to travel. The following dayay I left for Amboselli National Park. Enormous and open, there were no fences around it. Animals are not easy to see. You might spend a whole day walking around and only encounter a few zebras.
But the immensity and beauty of the landscape was truly dazzling to me, sometimes reminding me of my native Patagonia, similarly wild and empty in its own way. I also thought about the devastation humans have caused to the natural environment, and the complex challenges local and international communities face as they attempt to tackle and reverse this.
I spent my whole childhood fascinated by documentaries on Animal Planet, or Discovery Channel. I could not quite believe I was there, in these vast landscapes. The animals were so big, so strong. They had very little to do with the image I had of elephants in zoos or television. And the trees, they were so magical, I really have no words to describe them.
Masai walking in the early morning / Just a beautiful tree, in my first moments in the park
A long time went by before I was able to understand this trip. Sometimes, the present is not understood until it becomes the past.
When I travel, I seek to explore places that will surprise and challenge me, and from that surprise create beautiful experiences and photographic visions of what I have witnessed. Kenya belongs to a continent of origins, remote and distant, and for now, for better or worse, many of its vast rural areas remain far from the globalised world.
THIS ARTICLE WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON MAPTIA.
Fran Provedo is a photographer and Architect from Argentina. Passionate about nature, and what is invisible in it.