“I think I’m going to Kenya, honey. Ana is leaving soon and it’s my chance to get to know Africa. I don’t know, it’s a bit risky, but I think it’s the right time to go.”

In a matter of two weeks I organised everything: bought the tickets from Buenos Aires to Mombasa, got the necessary vaccines, packed my things and let all 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 giant rhino gave me goosebumps. I had arrived.

The first morning I was woken up by the heat and the unbearable noise from the 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 fruit right outside our building, next to them, other women with their hair arrangements, and a little further away, a man selling plants. Everything happens in the streets. Life takes place on the streets.

This is Eddie. He lives inside a garbage container in Mombasa. I gave him all my clothes the day I was leaving the city. 

I enjoy travelling alone and getting to know different cultures, in the most simple and genuine way possible, simply by being there, merely observing. Trying not to alter what I see, to be inconspicuous. But I noticed right away: I am white, in a city in which almost everyone is black. Impossible to remain unseen.

The first few days were filled with nervousness and fear. 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, put down my resistance, and give myself away to whatever had to happen.

From the travel diary: Mombasa – February 7th, 2015.

I have travelled for more than a day between the airports. I need to rest my body and mind. Release tension and anxiety. Let the body arrive. I am sleeping at a big house with Juan and Ana. The bed is covered by a soft mosquito net, which is very nice. Will I be able to adapt to this place?

Two days went by and I decided it was time to get out of the city, venturing into the rural areas of Kenya would be better than staying in Mombasa. I left my big backpack at Ana’s, grabbed my camera, my flip flops, a bathing suit and my Kikoi, which protected me from the sun and from the stares too. I left the house and took a tuk-tuk to the south of town, then a ferry, then a 3-hour Matatu. My destination was Wasini Island: a small island south of Kenya, where people usually snorkel for a few hours and then leave. I wanted to stay, at least for a few days.

Buda playing in water.

I was greeted by Abdullah, who was surprised to see 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 scratch their feet and face with – I had never seen such big weapons! They had already warned me: “get used to it quickly, things are different over here”

Wasini is a coral rock island that in its good years was a popular summer destination for retired Europeans that wanted to enjoy the heat and beaches of Kenya. Today, it merely had me and a dutchman as its only visitors. The rest of the island was a small fisherman’s village. Abdullah very caringly cooked fish for me and later made me visit the “tourist attractions”, which meant very little to me.

I met someone who said he would take me to the other side of the island through a path that would take me to 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 it was common in many places in Kenya, there was no electric light. We crossed our paths with a fisherman with whom I tried to start a conversation, but communication turned out to be very difficult. I asked to take a picture of him while he was preparing his bait. We kept on walking until we finally reached the other side of the island. The trees  continued all the way into the sea, it was a beautiful sight. I calmly took a breath, he had not lied to 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.

Fisherman with his family in Kilifi starting work early morning.

I spent a few days in Wasini and then returned to Mombasa to continue my way up north through the coast, towards Kilifi. In Kilifi there was a very impressive hostel. But when I went in I had the feeling I was no longer in Kenya, but in a place that had been turned European. Luckily I decided to walk out of the hostel and towards the beach, where I found a beautiful sunset. 

Fisherman at Wasini preparing the bait.
Little sisters playing near their home in Kilifi.

The beach was deserted. It was actually a creek, very serene. I loved rural Kenya, far away from the cities. As I sat with my camera I saw a kid walking in the distance. As he passed near me I waved, he waved back and continued to walk. A few hours later, the kid returned and I approached him to have a talk. He responded by asking me if I knew how to hunt crabs. His name was Buda. We became friends and I met his brothers and sisters as well. They were many and lived on the coast, with their aunts and cousins.

Most of the families live in small groups, in which women are in charge of the houses. Men are absent most of the time, often drinking with friends, away from their homes.

I quickly became very fond of them, and they became fond of me. Every time I went to the beach, they came out to meet 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 of things about their culture and way of life. Buda and Nuzrah were the eldest of the siblings and the ones who spoke better English. They taught me a lot of words in Swahili, their native tongue.

Portrait of Nuzrah.

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 go for a swim.

It was with great grief that I said goodbye to them, because 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 Mwanaisha.
Jumping rope was gift from me to the family I stayed with.
Portrait of Buda.

I took a tuk-tuk back to Mombasa, thinking about everything I was experiencing. It really seemed like I was in a movie, it was so powerful and different.

The following day 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 only to see a few zebras. But the immensity and beauty of the landscape was dazzling to me, sometimes reminding me of my native Patagonia.

Morning of the zebras at Amboseli National Park.

I spent my whole childhood watching documentaries on Animal Planet, or Discovery Channel. I could not believe I was there. The animals were so big, so strong. They had very little to do with the image I had of elephants in zoos or television. The trees were so magical, I really have no words to describe them.

From the travel diary: Masai Mara – February 20th, 2015.

I arrived at Masai Mara today. Life is amazing here, there is so much diversity of everything in such a little space. Birds, insects, mammals, plants and Masais all living among the animals. I cannot believe any of this, it is like a movie. But it is real. I want to accomplish so many things in one trip, and that is precisely what I have to avoid doing. 

Might it be that I am here to see  only what I have to see, and what I’ve already seen is everything?

The end of my trip had arrived. I had travelled through all the coast of Kenya, and the south of the country almost up to Lake Victoria.

Early morning at Tsavo.

A long time went by until I was finally able to understand my trip. The present is not understood until it becomes the past. I took the trip to find what I’m always looking for when I travel:  the places that remain at the margins of the globalised world. Kenya belongs to a continent of origins, remote and distant, for better or worse, from the globalised world.

I will always attempt to continue to see places that are remote, genuine and original, where I can be surprised by whatever meets me, and from that surprise create beautiful experiences and photographs. 

TEXT AND PHOTOGRAPHY 

Francisco Provedo