I’ve been called many things – China, Cheddar and Shanya to quote a few – but being named after a river in Kenya has its upside too; I love to travel and I put my wanderlust down to my parents’ choice of name.
My parents met in Africa, at Thika, about 40 km north east of Nairobi, and here they began a leisurely courtship, oftentimes walking beside the River Chania to the Chania Falls. They never lost their love for East Africa, so when I came along some years later they couldn’t resist calling me after a waterfall… it was either to be Chania or Victoria!
My Dad used to tease me and say I was named after a muddy river. Unimpressed I searched for information about Kenya, and came across the Flame Trees of Thika by Elspbeth Huxley, a novel about an unconventional family who settle in Kenya and start a coffee plantation.
My appetite whetted, I started to plan a journey across Africa with the Chania Falls as my ultimate goal. Eventually I set off on an overland trip from London to Harare via West Africa – many thousands of miles of travel and an experience that would turn out to be wonderful and formative in equal measures.
Six months later I arrived in Harare, Zimbabwe (the end of the line for my overland truck) and began planning the final leg of my quest. My only option was local transport, so I simply got on a bus marked ‘Nairobi’. Many, many stops later, I arrived in the capital and immediately began to search for people to share a taxi ride with me to Thika.
In Kenya a shared taxi means up to 10 people, with their children, babies, chickens and huge bags of produce. Once the taxi was full to the rafters, the driver maneuvered himself in and off we set. Perhaps not the most comfortable journey I have ever taken, but by this point I felt I was with kindred spirits.
Finally we arrived at Thika and now I just needed to locate the river. After several contradictory directions, I finally found my namesake. Not as impressive as Victoria Falls in Zambia I agree, and a little muddy in parts, but I still felt fit to burst with pride that I was named after something real, something that was so much part of the Africa I had come to love deeply over the past months.
I did have a paddle, but my abiding memory is of a delicious cold beer at the Blue Post Inn overlooking the Chania Falls. Why, I wonder, didn’t my Dad tell me about this!
Since this youthful trip, I’ve visited East Africa many times and I now plan holidays in Kenya for other people. There are just so many iconic places to experience like the national parks of Masai Mara, Amboseli and Meru, and the vast sandy beaches on Kenya’s Indian Ocean coastline. I’ve been luck to see such spectacular scenery, Africa’s Big-Five and to meet so many fascinating people, but I’ll always cherish the memories of tracking down my muddy namesake.