The biggest town in Ukambani, the bustling, good-natured trading centre of MACHAKOS, is, after Nairobi, the main urban focus for the Kamba people. Imperial British East African Company’s first upcountry post, Machakos was established in 1889, and is therefore ten years older than Nairobi, 65km to the northwest; the capital was moved to Nairobi in 1899 as Machakos was bypassed by the Uganda Railway, then under construction.
Distinctly friendly, and overwhelmingly Kamba, Machakos has a backdrop of green hills and a tree-shaded, relaxed atmosphere to its old buildings that is quickly endearing. The weaving of sisal baskets (vyondo) is a visible industry and a major occupation for many women, either full-time, or behind the vegetable stand in the market. Machakos effervesces and it’s a great place to stay for a day or two, especially on Monday and Friday, market days. Look out for (though you can scarcely miss) the truly splendid and quite venerable mosque and the fine, upstanding Catholic cathedral, Our Lady of Lourdes. Despite its significance, you can walk round the compact centre of Machakos in twenty minutes.