I am taking advantage of a fast internet connection (open 24 hours!) to get caught up on my blog. Internet cafes have been nonexistant since Addis. I have written not one but two entries – one on Ethiopia and the other on Kenya. I have also uploaded more pictures to flickr of Sudan, Ethiopia, and Kenya.
The road from the Ethiopian border at Moyale to Isiolo, Kenya is a 550 km stretch of some of the most bone jarring road I have ever ridden. We had heard tales from other overlanders of football sized rocks covering the road, potholes that could swallow an entire motorcycle, and tire grabbing fesh-fesh (deep chalky dust). The road also has a reputation for bandits. In the past, tourists have been given military escorts through the area. However, the border official assured us that the road from Moyale to Marsabit was now safe. He recommended, however, that we stop in Marsabit for the night, because riding in the dark on the road from Marsabit to Isiolo was dangerous. At the time I thought he was talking about the road conditions. I would soon learn otherwise.
When we first crossed into Kenya, the road was actually a lot of fun – there were sections of hard packed dirt as well as gravel. It felt good to be off the tarmac, although my joy was somewhat tempered by residual pain from my crash in my right elbow and shoulder. I hadn’t even noticed the pain in my shoulder on the day of the crash, but that is what has stayed with me the longest (and is still bothering me). I have positive signs for a rotator cuff injury and certainly some pulled muscles in the axilla region. I don’t know how Ted rode with a separated shoulder and broken wrist last year. My injuries were far less severe and yet I found that the constant jarring from a road that should have been pure pleasure to ride was tempering my enjoyment.
Still, I was excited by the stunning scenery – Kenya was what I had always imagined Africa to be. There were open plains, stands of Acacia trees, big skies, and wildlife galore. In one day I saw gazelles, zebras, baboons, coyotes, Okapis (deer with black and white stripes), carrion birds, and countless rabbit-like animals (but larger) running across the road.
The further we went, however, the worse the road became. Soon we were navigating our way along ruts a foot deep that were littered with boulders and loose gravel. There were giant potholes and the road had dangerous washouts along its edges. Water had carved deep channels during the wet season that could easily bottom out even tightly wound shocks. The road was so rough that I dropped a pelican case. When I stopped to reattach it and secure it with a tie down, I noticed that my license plate was gone. The entire plastic panel was shattered and missing as well. My tail light and both rear signal light wiring was also sheared off. I went back a few kilometres to look for my license plate, but soon gave up. I have since made one out of a piece of aluminum and black paint that is better than the original anyway.
We had been planning on riding to Marsabit on the first day, but we were slowed by a number of factors. First, Rosa’s electrical problems seemed to have made a comeback. After I stopped to fix a loose pelican case, I couldn’t get the bike started. Tom and Jerry had to push my bike through the rocks to try and bump start her. It took several attempts to get her going fast enough.
Later we were slowed when Jeremy crashed twice in rapid succession. Luckily he wasn’t hurt in either case, despite launching off his bike at speed in rocky terrain. We decided to camp in the rocky plains bordering the road and continue in the morning. We were treated to a spectacular African sunset before finding a small clearing well off the road free of rocks (which seemed to cover the ground uniformly in all directions) in which to pitch our tents.
We found enough wood from prickly bushes to make a fire and cook instant noodles to go with our canned corned beef and cheese. It was a simple yet tasty meal (everything tastes better when you’re camping) and it felt good to camp in the wild again after staying in hotels through all of Ethiopia (partly because of the cold rainy weather and partly because there were few places where you could stop without drawing a crowd).
The next day we bump-started my bike and continued to Marsabit. On the way we came across a middle-aged Australian couple two-up on a V-Strom heading the opposite direction as us. They told us that they had seen Sam and Peter the previous day on the other side of Marsabit. They also told us that the road after Marsabit would be incredibly rough. It actually turned out to be a breeze compared to what we had just ridden through. I wonder how the Australians handled what was in store for them considering that they believed they had already ridden the roughest section.
In Marsabit I found a place to get my rack welded, but the whole process delayed us a couple of hours. It was starting to look like we wouldn’t make it to Isiolo in one day after all, even though at one point we had thought we might make it all the way to Nairobi (insert laugh track here). The riding was challenging and fun at the same time, the scenery breathtaking, and the concentration of wildlife seemed to be on the rise. It was what I had imagined riding through Africa would be like, and more. We thought we would ride until it got dark and then camp again.
Tom blazes by at over 90 km/h on the dirt road from Marsabit to Isiolo, Kenya
When the sun had sunk below a mountain range, we decided to ride for maybe another half-hour and then find a place to camp in the bush before it got too dark. We set out for the last leg of the day. Tom and Jerry had each stopped at different points to take picture/video, and I was relatively far ahead of them. Darkness was falling as I came around a corner and saw a Land Rover jeep stopped on the side of the road facing me. Other vehicles are rare on this road, so I slowed down to see if they needed any help. As I pulled up I saw that three Kenyans were changing a tire. All of them looked spooked. I asked if everything was alright. It was not.
They were frightened because someone had just shot out their back tire with an AK-47. I looked down and saw that the damaged tire was riddled with bullet holes. “Please do not go any farther. Go back please,” they kept telling me. I thanked them and turned around, hoping to intercept Tom and Jerry before they got any closer. Whoever had shot out the tire was only about a kilometre further down the road. I soon came across Tom and t
old him the situation. Jerry pulled up soon after – his headlight was no longer working. We decided to go back 20 kilometres to the last village and stay in a hotel.
We were riding in close formation with me in the lead when I heard a bang and my motorcycle suddenly lost power. For a split second I thought I was being shot at. My motorcycle came to a stop. In my irrational state – I had imagined I was being shot at after all – my first thought was that my clutch was blown. The engine would rev but the bike wouldn’t move. With bandits nearby no less.
Just then the three Kenyans drove up in their Land Rover, the tire changed. They agreed to load Rosa into the back and drive Rosa and I to the next village. Tom and Jerry followed. With no head light, Jerry rode his bike up an embankment on the side of the road in the darkness. Eventually they found a way for Tom’s headlight to light the way for Jerry by riding side by side.
While sitting in the back of the truck with Rosa, it occurred to me that it wasn’t the first time that I had heard a bang and had my bike roll to a stop, engine running. The same thing had happened to me back in Toronto when Ted and I had changed my chain but somehow forgotten to put the clip into the masterlink (un-Macher-like but nobody’s perfect). My problem was not the clutch – it was of course my chain. That was good – we had a spare chain and we could put in on in the morning before setting off. Then we could still reach Nairobi the following day.
In the end we didn’t make it to Nairobi the next day. Jerry’s head-light still didn’t work and as dusk fell I suggested that we stop and stay in a hotel even though we were only about 150 km from Nairobi. Tom must really have wanted to get to Nairobi because he volunteered to ride Jerry’s bike without a head-light into Nairobi. I believe my exact response was “That’s just stupid.” In turned out to be a moot point.
As it was just getting dark, I spotted a sign for a hotel that was supposedly only 300 metres ahead. I rode about a kilometre before stopping on the side of the road to ask the others if they had seen the hotel. Tom said he would ride back to the sign and see if he saw the hotel. He did not, but got directions – the hotel was actually farther up the road. The 300m was apparently a gross understatement. When we pulled out to go to the hotel, I couldn’t see Jerry in my mirror because he had no headlight. I initially saw Tom’s headlight. When I got to the hotel, however, Jerry pulled up but there was no sign of Tom.
Tom had had the misfortune of losing the drainage screw on his fork, causing his fork oil to come gushing out all at once all over his front tire and onto the road. He had slid out on his own oil spill and his bike had gone spinning down the road. It was much the same as when I slid out on a corner in Peru when my fork seals blew covering my front tire in fork oil. When you lose traction on oil, there is no sense that something is wrong. You are happily riding one second, and the next your are sliding down the highway wondering what the hell just happened. Luckily in both my case and Tom’s, there was no oncoming traffic. Tom ripped his waterproof pants, but he was unhurt. Crashes on the highway are so much more dangerous than crashes off-road because there are so many more hazards – other vehicles, concrete barriers, road signs, etc.. I was relieved he was alright.
We would finally limp into Nairobi the next day. We made for the Overlander haven of Jungle Junction, a converted mansion in an affluent suburb with lots of room to camp on the grounds (although we opted to stay in bedrooms inside). The place is owned by a German, Christoff, who is a mechanic with a fully equipped shop right on the premises. You are welcome to work on your own bike in the yard (using Chris’ tools) or have Chris work on it in his shop. Today he got to the bottom of the problem preventing Rosa from starting (a connector to the starter motor had ripped out) as well as welding and reinforcing my rack and fixing the wiring to my tail light and rear signal lights.
Nairobi is a modern city with great restaurants and shopping malls. There is a lot of wealth, but it is behind walls, security guards, and electric fences. Nairobi is nicknamed Nairobbery by its inhabitants, as 37% of residents have been mugged in the last year. Still, we are enjoying going out on the town and experiencing “civilization” once again. We even watched “The Dark Knight” (awesome movie!) and discovered that you have to stand up for the Kenyan national anthem before every show.
Tomorrow we hope to finish the bike maintenance and head to Masai Mara National Park in southern Kenya to witness what the Lonely Planet calls “the greatest wildlife spectacle on earth” – the wildebeest migration across the River Mara. Right now is the perfect time to see it. The National Geographic and BBC film crews are only there for 3 weeks, and the first week has passed. We will see it at its best.