Kitui County isn’t quite a place you’d add to your bucket list. It’s wedged between the Kenyan coast — with its destination sites such as Mombasa, Lamu, Malindi and Watamu — and the natural wonder of the Great Rift Valley and its wildlife and history. North is Mt. Kenya and south is Mt. Kilimanjaro. Or maybe you’d visit Zanzibar just across the border in Tanzania. Or head across the northern border to Ethiopia.
But, if you do find yourself in Kitui, it does have at least one landmark. Perhaps every remote location in the world has some unique land formation that looks like every other “unique” land formation. Nzambani Stone [or rock] may just be a huge piece of earth jutting out of the ground like a zit on the face of Mother Earth, but have you ever heard a story like this.
The locals tell a story about a young lady, named Nzambi, which walked around in the Kitui forests looking for firewood. Suddenly, she found an eye-catching small stone. It was so beautiful that she decides to pick it up and put it to her breast to keep it safe. As she continued to gather firewood, the rock began to grow – bigger and bigger – until it surrounded her and swallowed her completely. Thus, the rock was given the named Nzambani, to honor the young lady. Even today, the locals say that the stone is growing and if you walk towards the rock from a certain side, the rock looks like a woman’s breast.
Zit. Breast. Whatever.
But it’s not the only myth. There’s also the one about…
Another legend is from the days when white missionaries came to the Kitui district. Supposedly, they were met by hostile locals, that didn’t want them to spread the word of Christ. One missionary was cornered by the Kamba warriors and they walked around the Nzambani Rock, looking to kill the missionary. The missionary prayed to God, and eventually stumbled upon some robes that were laying in a cave in the Rock. He put them on, and when the warriors caught up with him, they were shocked. To them, it looked like the missionary had turned into a woman – and they did not kill him. Thus – the legend says that if you walk around the stone seven times, you change sex.
Of course, this is just a legend, right? I mean, if it was true, round trip tickets from San Francisco to Kitui would triple overnight.
The trek from Kitui town to Nzambani Stone is an interesting drive. I read on Wikipedia that only 39.9 percent of the roads in Kitui County are considered good. Which to me means no potholes. Good in Kitui County, though, means you can actually drive on it. It being a dirt road. Only 2.4 percent of the county’s roads are paved.
[NOTE: Also, just to mention it, only 4.8 percent of the county has access to electricity.]
It’s a dusty place. And dry. So as cars and buses and matatus drive by, the plants on the side of the road take on an orangish tint from the dry dust kicked up by the tires. Obviously it doesn’t rain enough.
On the way to Nzambani Stone, we stopped by a store. Of course, that word is misleading to my American friends. I couldn’t even call it a corner store, the kind we have in Washington, DC, though it’s the same concept. It’s more like a wooden structure, no larger than the size of the restrooms at a 7 Eleven. But in these remote areas, just outside of what we consider remote areas, which are outside of the boonies [the shags], these little shops are godsend when riding in a car with no a/c along the equator in high humid, high temperatures.
And if you needed some rest, there’s even a hotel. Albeit no a/c. And probably no electricity.
When we — Nduku’s dad, uncle and I — first approached Nzambani Stone, they asked if I planned on climbing the rock. Since I knew there were some stairs, I answered “of course.” What’s the point of coming all the way out here in the middle of nowhere just to look at it?
So, we started the journey. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but it starts with a relatively generous incline on a skinny path through bushes, trees and loose rocks. It’s not that challenging, except for the heat, but a t-bar lift would’ve been nice. It’s actually a good climb, you’ll break a sweat, but manageable.
When you reach the base of the rock, because the rock shoots straight up in the air for 60 feet, you have to climb the stairs. No problem, right? I thought that, until I got halfway up. Not only does the rickety staircase wobble, pretending like it’s finally going to give way now that I’m on it, but gravity makes every step feel like you’re carrying the rock in your back pocket.
I confess. I got tired really quick. Maybe it was the heat. Maybe the climb. Or maybe it was these damn flies buzzing around me, sounding like lawn mowers, intent on pushing me over the side. Mean little fnckers! I was swatting all the way up. And every time I thought I was making progress, I’d look up and see that the staircase seemed to be climbing higher.
Finally, though, I reached the top of the staircase. I gave up on the killer flies, instead gripping the rails to ease the vertigo from the staircase swaying in the wind. You can’t help but to wonder if Kenyans have the same engineering expertise as in America, because this bridge leading from the top of the stairs to the top of the rock wasn’t what someone like me — let’s just say I’m not a big fan of heights, especially 60 feet in the air with nothing underneath me but air — wanted welcoming them to the top.
Whatever. YOLO, right?
The bugs seemed to disappear once I crossed the bridge. My feet welcomed standing on something that wasn’t shaking. The view — breathtaking.
As usual, I know posting photos from atop the rock can’t do the view any justice. You see Kitui town way in the distance, along with other little villages, homesteads, an entire mountain range. The shadows from the clouds crawling along the flat land below is amazing. The sheer drop, when standing near the edge, from the top of the rock to the earth below, made my @#$%s shrivel up. Maybe that’s what they mean by walking the rock turns a man into a woman?
It’s quiet atop the rock. It’s peaceful. There were only a handful of others there, and no one really talked. You just stood there, drinking in the 360 degree view of Kitui County. Figuring I wouldn’t be back any time soon, several years at least, I just marinated in the view.
But, I knew mzee and his brother were at the base, probably wondering what was taking so long. So, reluctantly, I fought my way through the flying bugs, back down the wobbly stairs, neared the bottom when I saw mzee and his brother. Apparently, they decided to climb the rock as well.
Now, don’t get me wrong, it’s not like climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro, but it’s not an easy climb. Sure, it’s just steps, but mzee and brother aren’t exactly, well, how do I say it? Let me just say that I was a bit “concerned.”
At first I waited at the base. It wasn’t that I didn’t think they could make it. Actually, I wasn’t too sure. And it wasn’t that I didn’t want to carry one of them down if he had a heart attack. I mean, I didn’t want to, but I would’ve.
It was that my legs went noodle on me. You know that feeling you get after a strong elliptical or spin workout? While dehydrating? Swatting at a swarm of flying insects on a staircase about to tip over at any time?
Feeling guilty, though, I started my trek back up. Guilty because I knew there was no way these dudes were going to climb these steps ever again. That’s not mean to say; I don’t plan on climbing them again either! And I had the camera. So up I went.