The group of barista champions, international coffee folks and locals loaded into our beefed up Toyota Landcruisers and headed north out of Nairobi. After sitting for hours the day before in the capital’s notorious gridlock, it was refreshing and unexpected to find ourselves on the open road motoring quickly down a six-lane superhighway.
The highway is a main arterial of life in Kenya, and a wide range of trucks, buses, cars and motorbikes dodge and dart their way along it. Pedestrians and bicyclists use the shoulders as thoroughfares and others just sit and watch it all pass them from the vantage point of the innumerable stores, houses, shanties and mansions that spring up in the mighty road’s wake.
Our first stop was the SMS office in Thika. SMS stands for Sustainable Management Services, and it is part of a larger organization called Ecom. Ecom also has dry mill facilities, the Highland Coffee Co., and after Wycliff the general manager gave us a presentation at the SMS offices on the work his company is doing, and the unique nature of the Kenyan coffee market, we headed over to Highland to see the dry mill which is located a few miles away.
Much of the land around SMS and Highland has historically been under coffee cultivation, but as land prices rise, many farmers have been bought out and the land turned over to housing and other development.
We traveled further north, however, and met a family that has been farming for ages in the region, and plans to continue to do so. In fact, at Chania Estate they still have French Mission coffee trees that have been producing since Ivan Rule Harries planted them in the 1920s. It is amazing to see a plot of 90 year old coffee trees, but Boyce Allen Harries, Ivan’s grandson, showed great pride in the family’s farm and gave us a tour of his farm and facilities. Then we met up with his wife, Georgina, and their son, Russell, for a terrific lunch served in a glade by a swollen river.
The rain which had pelted us on our drive in the morning made a brief return at lunchtime, but we ducked under the shade of some trees and enjoyed a marvelous afternoon before hitting the road once more to our night’s rest further north in Nyeri.
You can read about our first day in Kenya here.