As promised a few weeks ago, today’s post covers a Waterfowl Census closer (to my) home. There are 2 categories of census: those out of town and others near Nairobi. Thika Sewage Treatment Plant falls in the latter. And so I was eager to attend this one. At least I didn’t have to wake up at an insane hour to make it, since it’s so near. Or so I thought. The day threw me a big surprise!
This census was held on a Sunday. After taking breakfast and bidding my peeps goodbye I set off. I gave myself an hour to get to the location. Three Black-headed Herons flew overhead. The waterfowl had already began to give me a show- this would be a good day. From the last matatu stop I decided to walk to Thika Water and Sewerage Co. the (supposed) venue. After a few minutes Norman from Nature Kenya called to say he and a few others were at Ananas Mall. Oh no! That’s in the totally opposite direction! They would wait for me to reach them and catch a lift, but not for long.
I weighed my options: getting a motorbike, going into Thika town to board a matatu to the Mall, or giving up altogether and heading home. The first meant spending a lot of money on fare but I was low on cash so that’s out. How could I give up yet I had looked forward to attend a census close to home? So I walked back to get a matatu. I told Norman not to wait because I was clearly late. As I was going to the stage I experienced street harassment from some shameless men. Why can’t they let ladies walk in peace? Aargh. My day was going south fast.
I finally arrived at the Mall and called Norman for directions. He told me to look for a bike guy and ask him to take me to Thika Sewage. I found one and explained the situation. Contrary to my expectation he said there are several sewage plants in the area, so I should ask the others exactly where they are…I gambled with the little airtime and made the call. They said Thika Sewage is well known so we shouldn’t get lost. The bike guy insists there’s more than one sewage plant. My phone refuses to load Google Maps. What to do?
I decided to go to the plant the bike guy said was most likely. The charge? 150 shillings. Gulp. I told him I only had 100 and he agreed. If we ended up at the wrong place, I would be doomed. Left with only 10 shillings. So off we went. Riding on narrow, dusty paths in residential estates, onto the main tarmac road then back to neighbourhoods. The sun was blazing and the seat leaned forward, making for a very uncomfortable ride.
We went on for what seemed like eternity. Just when I thought we had arrived, the guy would keep going. The route was rocky. Finally we arrived at a plant site but it was under construction. This can’t be it. I knew the Thika one was fairly old. With trepidation we approached the gate, and asked if this was the place. The guard said no, and pointed to the left. Indeed, we saw the plant in the distance. “Just follow the fence and you’ll get there,” she said. We tried, but there was no path! It was worse than the Elementaita bushes. Sigh!
Bike guy suggests we go back and look for a route to get there. I was upset, tired and doing so many mental calculations. But I agreed. We wandered around looking for the way. At some point we found ourselves in a maize farm. I could see the plant in the distance, but no road to get there. We asked a passerby for directions and ended up in another residential estate. Panic began to set in. I have watched enough Criminal Minds episodes to know such scenes don’t end well. Lost, with no money, carrying an expensive camera in the company of a stranger…what if he decided to harm me?
As a last resort we decided to walk and see if we could find the gate faster. We crossed a tiny stream and went up an incline and…hallelujah! We were at the right place, though not at the gate. It was a break in the boundary fence and we walked through. I have never been so relieved in my life. Bike guy asks me questions about the census, we marvel at our bush adventure. Maybe he thought I would give more cash because of the extra distance covered but I handed over the 100/-. And remained with 10/-.
I was immediately struck by the beauty of the place. it doesn’t look like a sewage treatment plant at all. More like a picnic chill out spot. I took a few shots then joined the others. There was a steep bank to climb, then a downhill section full of prickly plants, then a stream to be crossed by jumping. I nearly fell in! It felt like paramilitary training.
For all our troubles we were rewarded with many birds: Egyptian Geese, Sacred Ibis, Common Moorhen, Spur-winged Plovers, Black-winged Stilts, Barn Swallows, Garganey, various Egrets, Yellow-billed Ducks, a family of White-faced Whistling Ducks with 15 young ones, and loads more. The ponds where the purification process starts have that sewage smell, but as you go down the line the odour disappears and the water is clear. I think there are even some fish.
We wrapped up the census and had lunch under a tree outside the gate. A flock of Glossy Ibis flew overhead giving a fantastic view. My shoes were full of prickly seeds from the grass. I was glad I made it despite the many tribulations. At last I got to see where the pungent smell we detect while at home comes from. Yes, that smell reaches our estate several kilometres away.
When lunch was done we boarded the vehicles to head home. The route we followed was far away from the one bike guy used. I was dropped near home and I used the 10/- I had for a matatu ride. And that, folks, is how I was left with 2 shillings. Yup. One, two. I had never been so broke in my life. But I was glad to have found the census crew otherwise I would have been stranded with no hope of a solution.
My arms and legs were still aching a few days later from holding on to the bike so hard. That’s when I realised kutumia nduthi inaweza kuwa kazi ngumu (riding on a bike can be hard labour)! By the way when I checked Google Maps, the sewage treatment plant is in the middle of nowhere- literally. The area doesn’t even have a name on the map. That was quite an adventure, one I would like to have again minus the drama of course.