Kisumu Dala, the City by the Lakeside
January 1, 1970
by Yvonne Cherry
Kisumu is one of only three cities in Kenya and is popularly known for being the home of the Luo tribe and the place to get the best fish from Lake Victoria. It wasn’t one of my top bucket-list destinations in Kenya and the trip there was not something I quite looked forward to at first because it is a 6-hour drive from Nairobi! You are about to find out why I was wrong to think so poorly of this lakeside city, fondly called Dala (meaning home) by its resident Luo community.
We set off for Kisumu with a little bit of excitement and trepidation about the journey ahead. A few hours in, we felt far more relaxed and had embraced the open road as we approached Kericho town. There are at least three routes to Kisumu and we opted for the scenic route through Kericho where we were treated to beautiful views of the tea farms as far as we could see. It also helped that the road was not too busy and thus we could proceed at a reasonable pace.
By late afternoon we arrived in Kisumu where the heat was so overwhelming that we stopped for some ice-cream at the Nakumatt Mega City which is right on the city’s outskirts. We then proceeded to the lakeside to have some of the city’s most famous fish right by the lake. To our surprise, the lake was covered with hyacinth and so much so that we could not even get a glimpse of the water beneath. At first, we assumed this was so because we were on one side of the lake but when we arrived at our hotel, the Acacia Premier Hotel, we realised from the rooftop view that the entire lake was covered by hyacinth! It seemed that we would not be getting a view of the lake throughout the weekend.
As the sun set that evening, we were treated to a beautiful sunset right from the view in our room on the 3rd floor. We were also fortunate enough to be overlooking the Kisumu International Airport and thus caught some glimpses of airplanes landing and taking off that evening. The 6-hour drive finally began to be worth it from the comfort of our plush hotel room.
Having taken a slight break, we opted to check out the nightlife in Kisumu. As we couldn’t reach one of our resident friends within the city, we checked out the hottest joints online and proceeded to their locations. To our surprise, these hotspots were all deserted with barely any sign of life around them. This was quite a shock for us Nairobians as in our very own city, we go straight out after work and thus places are filled to the rafters by as early as 8 pm. Fortunately we did manage to get in touch with one of our friends who then directed us to a hidden part of the city where we could enjoy some drinks with some company. Upon our arrival, we discovered that this area was quite busy despite literally being an open space with a bunch of tables. It turns out that in Kisumu, everyone goes to this place to warm up before going to the hotspots in the heart of the city to dance the night off. After a few drinks at this open-air pub, we left for what is arguably the hottest place in town, Signature Club. The deserted place we had earlier dismissed was now crawling with dancing bodies and in no time, we joined in the party.
After spending most of the next day in bed as the rain came down with deafening thunder and lightning all over the city, we woke up refreshed and ready to explore the must-visit sites on the third day. Our first stop was the Impala Sanctuary, a few kilometres from the hotel. After paying the entry fee, we got to walk around the stone path and see the beautiful animals within the fenced areas. The main attractions were obviously the carnivores (lions and cheetahs) and the impala who were roaming about and not fenced in like the rest of the animals. I was most taken by the lone giraffe within a wooden enclosure because this giraffe seemed to crave human contact. Any time a guest got close to its area, it would quickly walk to where the guest was and try to poke its head out for a rub or perhaps a snack. We were also fortunate enough to see a small part of the lake that had not been completely covered by hyacinth and it finally felt like we had seen most of what Kisumu had to offer. Somehow, we seemed to have bypassed the leopard’s enclosure on our tour and one of the staff at the Sanctuary was nice enough to point it out to us on our way out. It was the best way to end our visit there.
We then proceeded to the Kisumu Museum and I was quite excited about it because I had seen online that there was a Snake Park within the Museum. After checking out the main exhibition hall, we went to the fish aquarium where we got to see a lot of different fish species as well as some exhibits of their skeletal structure. Of course we recognized the fish we most popularly consume at first glance being the avid fish eaters that we are. We then proceeded to the Luo village exhibit where we got to see what a traditional Luo village looked like and explored the huts within to understand better how the ancestors lived. Our final stop was the Snake Park where we were greeted by a very friendly guide who told us a bit about each of the snakes in the enclosure. At the time of our visit, the resident puff adder had just given birth to 50 snakes and the little ones were all over the glass display. It was quite a sight to behold for us and even more so when the guide let us know that only about 3 or 4 of those young ones would make it to adulthood as they would cannibalise each other as they got older. We also got to see a python’s eggs as the resident female python had recently laid a few and was sitting on them to incubate them. Also within the Snake Park was a tortoise den and a crocodile pen with two massive crocodiles.
Having tremendously enjoyed both visits to the Sanctuary and the Museum, we opted to return to the hotel and have lunch by the poolside with an occasional dip in the rooftop pool. This last afternoon’s sunny view of the city from the hotel rooftop was the perfect way to end a most wondrous trip to the fabulous lakeside city.