Kisumu - Lake Side City at the Source of the Nile
Updated 21st Feb 2012
This article is about Kisumu City in Kenya. Kenya is on the Eas African Coast, with Somalia, Ethiopia and Sudan as its northern Neighbours. Uganda is the Western Neighbour withTanzania in the South. The East has the scenic Indian Ocean Coastline with numerous world heritage sites including the island of Lamu island.
Kisumu is Kenya's third largest city after Nairobi and the port City of Mombasa. It is the second largest in the Lake Victoria basin, after Kampala in Uganda. Kisumu’s origins as a town can be traced to the arrival of the Uganda Railway in 1901 from the port of Mombasa. The train went into service in 1903. The terminus was first called Port Florence, though the locals called it Kisuma. This was later changed to Kisumu. It is likely that the locals met at Kisuma for barter trade long before the arrival of the railway. Ancient pictures show a thriving market in Kisumu. The gulf on which Kisumu (1,131 m, 3,711 ft above sea level), is situated at Winam gulf, which is part of the larger Kavirondo Gulf on Lake Victoria. Lake Victoria is the second largest Fresh water lake in the world and the source of the River Nile. The City is the headquarters of Kisumu County which will soon elect a Governor. One can get to Kisumu by road, rail, air and boat, depending on which direction or country one is coming from.
Before commercial jetliners came into service, Kisumu was a landing for the British Flying Boat Passenger and Mail en route from Southampton to Cape Town. The City is surrounded by agriculturally rich neighborhoods where large-scale farming of sugar, and irrigated rice are grown. Ground nuts and cassava are important products for the local community. The climate of Kisumu, as some pictures will show, can support large scale production of coconut but this has not been exploited. Some of the attractions in Kisumu are the Mount Elgon National Park, the Kakamega Forest, the Saiwa Swamp and the scenic Lake Victoria. Other attractions are Dunga point (where fishermen land their catch) and Hippo Point, where one can see hippos and crocodiles.
Kisumu has a Friendship status with the City of Cheltenham, United Kingdom. Though it is commonly referred to as a City, It has never been given a city charter. It also has a Sister City status with Roanoke, Virginia and Boulder, Colorado, both in the United States of America.
Polution of the lake by locals and industry is a major threat to the ecosystems. The water hyacinth weed has also been a menace to fishing for over a decade now. All efforts to get rid of it using biological, mechanical and even human labour have been in vain. The people of Kisumu have learned live with the weed which is a floating mass.
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Oginga Odinga Street
The Kisumu Municipal market has more order than many markets In Nairobi. There is space for the buyers to walk through. In Nairobi markets there is so much competition for space, that buyers wade through produce on the ground. The City planners should plan for many more similar markets as the city is growing.
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Food and Drink
Breakfast at the Novelty is something to look forward to. There's cornflakes, fruit and juice followed by tea or coffee with toast, egg and sausage. As if that is not enough, you can add boiled arrow root if you like. It's always in a hot pot on the table. What's more, before the egg comes, the chef asks you how you want it done.
When in Kisumu, try eating in joints that are frenquented by the locals. Fish and ugali is the favourite. I prefer Chapatti and Beef stew which is harder to find. Do not be surprised if the meal comes without any cutlery. People culturally use their bare hands to dexterously pinch at the fish bit by bit. A chunk of ugali is molded in the hand into a neat ball. A hole is thumbed into the ball and the cavity is used as a vessel for the stew or greens. If you haven't tried it, you'd better, otherwise just ask for the cutlery and it will be obvious you are a stranger. While you are at it, do not use your left hand to eat!
Visitors from Nairobi will miss Nyama choma joints. Most places have roast chicken beside the fish. Goat meat is very rare. When I found a spot with goat meat I ordered a roasted half kilo without delay. It is a rare commodity unlike in Nairobi.
Make sure you have a bottle of your trusted brand of mineral water at all times. Being a lakeside City, Kisumu is hot and humid. you will dehydrate very fast and some of the brands sold by hawkers cannot be trusted.
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Jomo Kenyatta Park
Public Transport to Kisumu
There are many transport companies that operate on the Nairobi Kisumu route. Many of the Nissan 13 seater vehicles have the word shuttle or prestige in their names. They charge the least and will take you there in record time - 6 hours. Buses take up to 9 hours but you will feel safer in the bus.
The bus company with the best safety record, besides courtesy is the EASY COACH. They however have not computerised their ticketing which takes too long to write by hand especially during peak travelling periods like Easter and Christmas. One can be in a queue for up to an hour. It will be better to do advance booking two weeks earlier during those periods. Fortunately you can book your tickets in select Uchumi and Nakumatt supermarkets, besides the bus station itself. The bus station is near the railway station, opposite where the American Embassy that was bombed in 1998 stood. A comemoration park was built there after the embassy was demolished and relocated.
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This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2012 Emmanuel Kariuki