-Impossible, you never make it! Even Land Rover, no way. Too late, the rains already started. Maybe if you put car on truck. But still take at least two weeks! The bridges, gone! No road! All cars stuck. For weeks!
These were the words of the Ethiopian customs officer who gave us the final stamp that allowed us to exit Ethiopia. He was talking about the road that we had feared for so long - the main reason for our high tempo ever since we left Sweden that cold January day, two and a half months ago. It was the infamous stretch of road between the border town of Moyale and Isiolo, the town that marks the beginning of the central Kenyan highlands, some 500 kilometers away. A horrible dirt road, notorious for bringing even the most well equipped vehicles to their knees. As if that wasn’t enough, northern Kenya is also well known for its shiftas (road bandits) that makes any miraa chewing truck driver tremble with fear. Turning to our guide book for advice didn’t exactly calm us down either: ...in rain season, absolutely unpassable. Deep mud passages, swept away bridges and frequent attacks from road bandits. Almost always with deadly outcome... The information was six years old and we’d heard that the security situation had improved a lot in the last years. You were no longer required to join a speeding armed convoy for the trip but it was still a gloomy travel party that came out of that customs office, looking wearily at a sky that was dark grey and heavy with rain.
There is only one other way to enter Kenya by road and that one, believe it or not, is even worse. And the situation was not likely to get better. At least not before June, when the rain season comes to an end. Since Moyale is not the kind of town where you would like to hang out for a couple of months while the rain passes and we were not really interested in going back to Ethiopia either, it left us with no other option than to give it a try. Besides, we had a workshop in Kibera that was waiting.
So there was not really any decision to be made and despite the many thoughts that went through our heads that morning, somewhere lurking beneath was a feeling of excitement. The adventure we had dreamt so much about was now more real than ever. James had been complaining ever since Sudan that there was too little mud and that he would never get proper use out of his mud terrain tires. The way things were looking, his prayers seemed to have been answered. After all, there were four of us to push, Naala (James and Katie’s Landy) had a brand new winch and we were fully stocked up on fuel, water and food so we thought we had a fair chance of getting to Isiolo in one piece.
Crossing yet another border bridge, this time into Kenya, we were relieved to finally be out of Ethiopia even though we were quite worked up about the road that was awaiting us. And just then, as we crossed the bridge, the sun broke through the heavy clouds, warming our gloomy faces and even though no one dared to say it out loud, we all felt a little more confident in the success of our dual Landy convoy.
It would turn out to be quite tricky in some places.
The Kenyan customs officer further confirmed our hope. -You are so lucky! So lucky! No rain for five days! They fix the bridges! So lucky! The road is good! Welcome to Kenya! His words lifted our spirits considerably and even more so when we came out of the office after what must have been the fastest custom procedure so far. To make things even better, we suddenly could hear the unmistakable sound of Campbell’s Kawasaki coming over the border bridge together with Marc on the BMW. We had made a loose agreement of teaming up with them for this stretch but them having left Addis one day before us, we weren’t sure if they already had loaded their bikes onto a truck or even had tried it on their own to Isiolo. I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say that we were thrilled to see them again, here on the Kenyan side of Moyale. Even though the news about the road were encouraging, we knew from previous experience that the African definition of a good road is not always compatible with the European one and so we were happy to have, besides the good company, two more Landy-pushers if things were going to get muddy. The bikers were also happy since we could carry some of their heavy equipment in our car. So, as far as the situation allowed, we left Moyale more exited than worried.
The road was just reopened and there were many that wanted to go south.
The road was bad. Most of the bridges that had been swept away by the rain were temporarily built up again, but in that quick-and-dirty way we had come to know as true African engineering. Some were still under construction, forcing us to take detours through the bush which more than fulfilled James desire for mud and, as expected, the corrugations and the sharp stones where a true pest. But at least, this was real Africa. Mile after mile, the road stretched through some of Kenya’s most desolate territory and the feeling of adventure was definitely there. The car kept together, except for a leaking oil seal on the front axel that very efficiently greased the left brake disc, leaving us with much reduced braking power. But we had no rain. In fact, the sun was shining on us the whole way to Marsabit, a small town which was our intended stop for the night and also halfway to Isiolo and the tarmac.
Well deserved break, halfway through the Dida Galgalu desert.
Making it without puncture is nothing short of a miracle.
Coming into Marsabit, it was already getting dark and having agreed with the bikers to stay at Henry, the Swiss guy’s place, we were somewhat out of initiative since they were still on the road, way behind us. We were driving through the small town, our heads sticking out the windows for a hotel sign that could reassemble our instructions, as a young man came up to our car and asked if we were looking for Henry. - Henry, the Swiss? I replied and of course I got a yes and a vigorously nodding head for an answer. He offered to show us the way and having no better options we agreed to try it. With the man standing on our rear bumper we headed south out of town. There was no street light in the whole town and as soon as we had left the town center it was pitch black. The man directed us to go off the main road onto something that more looked like a deep muddy ditch than a road. Our suspicion rose as there were no lights in sight and the road seemed as if it would soon end on a field or somewhere even worse. We stopped twice to ask the man if this really was the right way and he consisted, claiming that we were not even a kilometer away.
We hadn’t made it all the way to Marsabit without getting hi-jacked, just to get set up by some clever young thugs, tricking us off the main road to relive us of our valuables in the dark of the night. But there was something in the man’s approach that made us trust him enough to try and see what was waiting around that bend. As he promised, after a couple of hundred meters we stood at the open gates of some kind of farm. Since the farm was completely dark, we hesitated for a while at the gates, not knowing if they would close on us once we were inside. But then some lights came on and a man was coming out from the main building to greet us.
Henry from Switzerland had lived the best part of his life in Marsabit when, some years ago, a couple of overlanders got lost and ended up spending the night on his farm. Apparently they were overwhelmed by Henry and his hospitality because after they had left, more overlanders started to drop by when the rumor had spread along the road. Henry, who is running a small construction business in town and therefore known as Henry, the architect among the locals, started to accommodate for his more and more frequent guests by building proper toilets and showers. Still unofficial, there are no signs or anything else that tells you about the little oasis just outside the town of Marsabit. You just have to find it by chance or by trusting some of the locals.
Next morning we set off on our own since James and Katie had already left early and Marc and Campbell had to spend another night in Marsabit to make some repairs on their bikes. The road continued to be bad although now it was mainly the corrugations that drove us mad. At one point the spare wheel on the bonnet started to rotate and when we stopped we realized that the whole fixture had come loose due to the vibrations. Well, that’s why we brought a pop rivet gun, so we chucked the wheel in the back and continued south.
Our spare tire came loose due to the pounding road .
In the late afternoon we finally arrived at Archers Post and the gate to the Samburu National Park, where we intended to see some wildlife and eventually spend the night. Since it was the first time any of us visited a game park, none of us really knew what to expect. We just drove in and started looking left end right for anything. And I must say that I was a little bit surprised when we after five minutes saw our first Impala gazelle. And then another one. And another one. -Its really true!, I remembered thinking.
Elephant, less than four meters from the car.
During the 24 hours we spent in the park, driving around in a maze of thousands small tracks through the bush, we saw an amazing number of animals. Elephant, gazelles, giraffe, ostrich, cheetah, antelopes, water buffalo, zebra, hippo, baboons, vervet monkeys, secretary bird and many more. Unfortunately, we didn’t see any lions this time but we did get stuck when we went looking for them along the river. It took us 20 minutes with the shovel and sand ladders to retrieve our car from the mud. It’s fascinating how the knowledge about prowling lions creates a whole new level of motivation and efficiency in the digging. When we left the next day, we were quite exhausted. Mainly from the constant decision making on which road to take. Every 200 meters there was a junction. After a couple of hours of this your brain is simply overheating.
After some climbing we were rewarded with som biscuits and a stunnign view of the NP..
The peak of Mt Kenya.
We spent the night just south of Isiolo and headed south towards Nairobi the next morning. On the way we circled Mt Kenya who was showing off her snow capped peak in a beautiful weather, quite unusual for this season. We made the obligatory stop on the equator, enjoying the thrill of standing with one foot on the southern hemisphere and the other on the northern half of the globe. The feeling was remarkably close to that of traditional standing but never the less a bit of fun.
Been there, done that...
We drove into the big, smog filled city of Nairobi in the afternoon, navigating through deep potholes on the, otherwise real-life-looking highway. It was a nice feeling of accomplishment to park the car at the campsite after finishing stage one in our project. We had arrived safely in Nairobi after over 13 000 km of adventure and we were now about to engulf in the perhaps even greater challenging task of launching our workshop in Kibera.