Lone tree between tea
Lone tree between tea

Among Sugar Cane

Our dirty and dusty road crosses through giant sugar cane plantations. Car traffic is minimal until late in the afternoon when tractors loaded with sugar cane pop up. Workers are bringing the hard day’s work harvest to one of a few sugar cane factories in the area. We find a private, affluently looking possession nearby Makutano Junction. We try to find a living soul and ask about a place to pitch a tent. Finally we find one guy who happens to be one of the three sons of the founder of this great processing plant and the co-owner of the entire enterprise. This company employs 400 people, mostly coming from nearby villages and it is led by the family of Indians who have lived in Kenya for three generations.

Sugar cane season

Sugar cane season

Impossible is nothing

Impossible is nothing

The Indian guy recommends us to pitch a tent at a tiny gas station. He ensures that is a very quiet neighborhood and for our security there will be also two armed and camouflaged police officers on guard, a man and a woman. In the evening we chat with Silas, a young police officer, who brings us to the reality of life among the sugar cane plantations. It is nice to be outside and wait until the afternoon heat has eased off before entering the tent. In the night it is gets a bit chilly.

Countryside

Countryside

Typical marketplace has a lot to offer

Typical marketplace has a lot to offer

The sugar cane plantation continue for several more kilometers and soon the vegetation and landscape changes. In front of us there is a long uphill ride, we are gaining ever more altitude. Numerous cacti, individual trees and low scrubs take over.

During the day the temperature stays warm all the time. Our road, most likely the lowest possible category, is made of protruding rounded stones, potholes, ruts from the rainy season and dust from the dry season.

Being on that road is one of many sacrifices and efforts we make in order not to accidentally find a shortcut via busy tarmac road.

Ugali, vegetables and goat meat

Ugali, vegetables and goat meat

The most suspicious meat ever

The most suspicious “meat” ever

Being already soaked in sweat I truly admire local people riding motorbikes dressed up in winter jackets and caps. The heat is at least 35 degrees and the road goes all the time in a rhythm: steep uphill and slightly down, steep uphill and slightly down.

Kericho Tea hills

Endles tea plantations

Endles tea plantations

We arrive to Kericho. This city is famous for its biggest tea plantations in Africa. It’s a genuine land of tea. We decide to increase our water supply, which in practice means increasing the number of empty bottles that we then fill with water treated with Aquaguard solution. We buy some papayas, bananas, mangoes and African donuts. There is never too many snacks for the road. I feel even more peace of mind coming to us, as we are entering even less populated areas.

Stocking up in Kericho

Stocking up in Kericho

We have left the city long time ago and for distant kilometers there are only green bushes stretching along the road. Without considering twice, we decide to find a place for a night somewhere in the area. We turn towards one of the tea plantations Unilever Tea Co.. Kenya and we get to the police station. After a brief conversation with a sergeant and then with a commander, we are invited to pitch a tent on well-maintained police station’s lawn and to use their water tap.

People collecting tea leaves, Kericho district

People collecting tea leaves, Kericho district

Tea plants

Tea plants

In the morning, a young policeman Geofrey Kipchumba welcomes us with a cup of Kenyan tea. There are also some monkeys climbing trees and playing in the garden. We eat mangoes for breakfast and hit the road.

Camping at Police Station nearby Kericho

Camping at Police Station nearby Kericho

The early morning sun casts long shadows over the green hills covered with tea plants and barely visible tiny little silhouettes carrying wicker baskets on their backs. This is favorable climate and altitude for the cultivation of tea, mostly thanks to hot days and cool nights.

Young mother collecting tea leaves
Young mother collecting tea leaves
Tea leaves have to be put carefully inside wicker basket
Tea leaves have to be put carefully inside wicker basket

Collecting tea is a continuous process. However, in order to keep the right track of it, typically work is done on one plot of a bigger field at a time, usually every few to several days. The following day the work would be transferred to the next plot while maintaining the right timing and order.

Due to the high demand for labor, some foreign companies built entire settlements of housing for Kenyan families willing to move here and take up a permanent job at tea cultivation.

Tea picker’s job requires certain skills, endurance and determination. Only leaves growing at the very top of the plant are picked and dry portion of a branch is removed to stimulate free growth of new leaves. Efficient and hard-working tea picker is able to gather about 25 kg of tea leaves during the day. It’s an impressive amount, bearing in mind that it takes over 2,000 leaflets to get one kilogram of fresh tea. It is important that the leaves are not crushed or crammed in the basket, but carefully and gently placed. It determines the quality of tea, and for that in particular, Kenya has the best reputation in the world.

Bags with tea leaves

Bags with tea leaves

After a successful day at work, the tea pickers have yet to bring a full sack on their backs to the place of purchase, where the trucks will take tea for further processing, so finally one day it would be found on supermarket shelves and in our cups.

Soon we are about to leave our tea hills. Behind the village Sotik we turn back to gravel road, a very wide and even surface. It is clear to me there are some plans to cover it with tarmac, but it has not happen yet. I guess it is the Chinese work, because some of the local children chasing our bikes keep shouting China! China! Maybe we indeed look Chinese, but after all, in Africa it is much more difficult to tell a difference between an European and a Chinese, so I understand the confusion.

It is sad to be alone :-)

A private break in Chepekei

Here comes the dusk. Nearby Shartuka village we get to know a person who takes us through the least accessible trail, through wet fields and deep marshes takes us to the entrance of school. The schools headmaster, Johan Kipkorir and teacher of mathematics and geography, John Dwino, just like most of other teachers live here permanently. They show us the place to pitch a tent and one of the students, who also lives here, brings us allegedly drinkable water.

The water comes from local stream, it is gray-brown and very muddy. After treatment with Aquaguard, we have no choice but to drink it, pretending it is transparent and clear.

John invites us to dinner at his quarters. Preparing ugali is an art, requiring vigorous stirring and maintaining correct proportions of water and cornstarch. Together we have an evening meal with cassava leaves, scrambled eggs and tea with milk and ginger.

Sunset in Shartuka

Sunset in Shartuka

Overnight stay in Shartuka Secondary School

Overnight stay in Shartuka Secondary School

John invites us to try fermented milk, which he assures is extremely delightful. In situations like this I rarely refuse, but this time I think it’s better to skip this pleasure. After all, tomorrow we plan to get on our bikes early in the morning and maybe even meet a zebra or giraffe.