A Travellerspoint blog


Day 186 – The Wheels Are Falling Off

26th March 2012

sunny 32 °C

The sweet tones of our ten dollar mobile phone rang a pre-dawn chorus and roused us all too suddenly from what had been a fair night’s slumber. It was five thirty and it was still very dark.

There was a chill in the air that we hadn’t been used to around those parts and we chose not to shower. This decision was reinforced by the fact that when my forehead had accidentally touched the shower head the previous evening, my vision had shot rapid pages of white then black as the alternating current fiddled with my synapses. By six o’clock it was still dark but the sky had begun to lighten as we bade farewell to Clare and readied ourselves for the trip to the border.

The canvas covered vinyl seats creaked beneath our bottoms as we nestled in to them and the day slowly began to arrive above the hills surrounding Marsabit. The ignition key clicked once and the current began silently flowing, warming the glow plugs and readying Redvers. Two more clicks and that ‘ole deep throat grumble came to life. White knuckles gripped the cold steering wheel as Redvers slipped through the gates of a sleepy hotel in a waking town. Out on the road the wheels began what would be a relentless and fruitless search for forgiving ground having to force every inch forward through a wall of gravel and corrugations; no inch would be easy. The gears slipped smoothly from first into second as the grumble lightened and Redvers began to stride. Up into third and the wheels began to rise from the gravel, into forth and Redvers himself rose, no longer forcing his way through the gravel, now only sailing; three and a half metric tonnes of metal, hippo and human flesh floating over the abrasive river of stone beneath them. On the stereo, Bill Withers was holding onto notes indefinitely as we glided past craters with seas of green at their depth. The orange sun had broached the hills in the east and was casting its warm glow on the cold earth. Men wearing rifles and very little else cowered as they walked, shielding their faces from the dust with what little cloth they wore. There would be no time for pleasantries, no respectful slowing as we passed pedestrians, no stopping to say hello; only a brief wave before Redvers and his trail of dust engulfed any who walked the same road. And so it continued for five hours. We passed caravans of camels, endless rows of cattle and huge herds of goats; there were many armed individuals, none of which cared more than to wave a friendly hello or send a half hearted request for water in our direction. The dry scrubland passed by us and the sun climbed high; cold turned to hot as kilometre after kilometre flashed by.

Redvers had dealt with the road admirably; the road surface had improved dramatically during the second half of our day. We were only forty kilometres from the border as we slowed a little on entering a small Burana village. Redvers shimmied and we felt bumps that weren’t there. We broke hard as the back end suddenly dropped down. A harsh grinding noise rose up and a wheel, our wheel, went flying past the passenger window, bouncing off the ground and careering into the a thick acacia bush. We came to a stop.

We got out of the car and saw a thirty metre excoriation in the red earth where Redvers had dug his wheel-less brake disc into the ground. I picked my way through the scrub to retrieve the stray wheel that had become lodged firmly amongst the thorns. The tyre was good; the wheel was superficially damaged but seemed OK.

How the hell had it happened? It was the same wheel I’d so anally tightened the nuts on one day previous. If I hadn’t have been so pernickety about the correct torque setting I’d have called myself an idiot for not tightening the damned things. Anyway the wheels were actually falling off this was definitely another notch up the problem ladder. We needed another plan. With wheels flying into bushes and white men chasing after them through the thorns wearing only flip-flops and shorts we’d generated a fair amount of attention. The customary crowds were beginning to mass as we set up the jack to inspect the damage. The ground had worn a hole through the steel of the brake disc guard and the remaining metal had wrapped itself tightly around the disc. The disc itself had only superficial damage. The shock, oh another damned shock, had bent a little whilst trying to stop a three tonne vehicle literally in its tracks and the wheel bolts seemed fine but the nuts were nowhere to be seen. The crowd had already formed around us and with our rural location, there wasn’t a lot of English to be spoken. Laura hauled out the tools and as I tried to use them they were swiped from my hands. But it was no Mozambique; it was to be a lesson in kind heartedness. Every man had something to say, each trying to communicate with us even though language was lacking (on our part more than theirs.) I wasn’t allowed to jack, the hammer to beat the brake guard back into shape was taken from me. The guys didn’t just want to help, they were going to help. Eventually, with a ‘two heads are better than one’ approach we worked out how to remove the mangled brake guard, we took off the bent shock and hammered it back into shape. Whilst we finished off refitting a new wheel and a re-worked shock, Laura went for a walk with a local teacher, who spoke excellent English, in search of the missing nuts. They found four of the five and each had their outer most threads sheared inside them. We were still confused but a post mortem could take place later. As thoughts of reward passed through our heads, we recalled Mozambique and the problems that had resulted from attempted generosity in a crowd. Handshakes, heartfelt thanks and smiles besotted with eyes full of warm friendship would be the reward. The smiles that came back to us told us that would be all that was needed. Yet again we were back on the move.

We made Moyale not long after two o’clock. We found a cafe for a late lunch and after a short wait passed through Kenyan customs. The Ethiopian customs involved sitting in a large fairly empty room whilst a huge man dressed immaculately in smart suit trousers, highly polished loafers and a pristine, perfectly ironed, high collared white shirt unbuttoned from the neck to a point half way between his nipples and his belly button, switched leads between several computers and generally appeared a little confused at what was happening. Eventually he squared us away and we crossed the road to customs. They issued a vehicle permission form, for no charge, and it only took half a look through the back door to realise that Redvers wasn’t worth a full inspection. Goodbye Kenya, hello Ethiopia.

We pulled into the Koket Borena hotel and I began to have another look at the damage whilst I was still filthy. The shock still needed a little more attention and so I started to work. I would be assisted again, by a short Ethiopian chap who was generally a complete hindrance. He spoke no English, he took my tools from me and then made the situation worse, repeatedly endangering us both beneath a car supported only by two jacks. Biting my tongue I avoided losing my patience until finally, with the job done I offered him a beer as compensation. He didn’t want beer though. He pointed at his dirty clothes, at his dirty hands and mimicked the international ‘rubbing together of fingers’ sign for money. He’d been useless for 90 percent of the time but I did feel sorry for him and so I gave him 50birr (two quid.) He got angry and asked for more. I got angry and told him that I was grateful for his help but it was now definitely time for him to piss off.

Whilst I’d been beneath Redvers, I’d noticed, as boyfriends are prone to, a well dressed man speaking to Laura. His name was Biruk and he was a tour guide. The fact that he was only approaching us an hour and a half after we’d entered meant he was a clever one at that; he’d waited until we’d settled in.

He was offering guided tours of South West Ethiopia. We were on a budget but more important we were busy. He suggested that he should return later, or, if we liked, he would have us over for a traditional coffee at his house and if we approved of that he could serve us dinner. We accepted and arranged to meet him at six.

With the car finished for now, we settled in to a Saint George beer before Biruk collected us and escorted us to his home. We met his wife briefly as she left for church and for the next hour and a half we drank some fantastic coffee, met his daughters Elsa and Hannah, both of whom were truly adorable, but Hannah especially so; she climbed over us, giggling softly and toying with our Faranji (Ethiopian for Mazungu or white man) hair whilst we looked through photos of Biruk’s previous tourist trips. We liked Biruk, he seemed honest; we also liked what we saw but were busy trying to work out whether or not visiting the tribes of South Omo would actually be a pleasurable experience. Our guide book had laid out the terms of engagement for us with tourist fees per tribe, village fees, ceremony fees and fees per photograph when photographing tribesmen and women. It would be an interesting trip but would probably be painful a one. We agreed that we didn’t want to miss it and we arranged to leave the following morning,

We chose to walk back through town, it was dark but it was nice to be soaking up the atmosphere of another culture. A culture that failed to shine through the voice of a young boy sat with his friends across the road; they were sat beneath a shady tree on an already dark night and his voice rang clear, “Fuck you, you sons of a bitch!”

Posted by ibeamish 23:57 Archived in Kenya Comments (1)

Day 185 – Bloody Brilliant Fun

25th March 2012

sunny 32 °C

The room in the mission had been a comfortable one, but it was there that we experienced the first effects of living in an atmosphere hazed permanently by dust. Our bogeys were the colour of the ground, our hair had long stopped being clean but worse was that the dense mass of the earth in the air was now affecting our throats. Thick sticky mucus was the body’s frontline fighter against the particulate bombardment. Mucus so thick that it stayed strung across our airways when we woke in the night struggling to breathe. Mucus that took seven or eight swallows to clear if ywe were lucky or, failing that, needed that most repugnant of noises as a nasal snort turns into a guttural rattle whose high notes have a squelchy quality and a slug of green is drawn into the back of the mouth. The only question that remained was whether to spit or swallow. Both the weather and its consequences were disgusting in the extreme.

It was time for day two of the ‘Great Trek North’ and incidentally, the day that carried our greatest risk. Apparently most of the troubles happen between Isiolo and Marsabit. We were forewarned that the first section of tar had been completed to a point 140 kilometres north of Isiolo which was half of our days driving. To be honest, bandits had slipped down our list of worries after meeting Clare’s drivers and the huge guards that had slung across their broad shoulders big shiny rifles. There were no rusty Kalashnikovs here, the convoy formation would have the guards at point, Redvers in the middle (like a true general: in the thick of it but able to see the battle ahead of him) and Clare at the back ‘covering our six,’ if that is the correct American parlance.

The road had a lot to live up to. Hailed by most that traverse it as the ‘worst road in Africa’ it was with some anticipation and in trepidation that we’d awaited our chance to cross it. We hit the dirt 130 kilometres out of Isiolo and we immediately stopped to pick up some Chapattis. It was there that we met a man called Hussein who was born in Merile, the town we’d stopped in, and whose family live in Manchester. We laughed as he complained that he’d visited Anfield but the area had “more Somalis than Scousers.” With a bag of hot chapattis in hand we had no further reason for being there. It was time to go.

The next few hours were some of the most fun driving we’d ever done. The roads were hideous, baked, hard ground with small rocks jutting out at awkward angles, interspersed with grave size potholes and the occasional boulder poking six inches or more from the ground. Like the iceberg that downed the Titanic, these boulders were anchored below the surface by 90 percent of their mass; what was above the surface was enough to send Redvers into the air, and back down with a bang, when we hit them. Redvers shook, he rolled sideways and back and forth as tricky sections were taken at reasonable speed and he bounced and banged as he went in and out of holes, tackling both divets and full-on excavations.

The real fun came when we started using the sand tracks at the sides of the road. These tracks were alternative routes made by previous drivers to avoid the suspension jarring tooth rattling hell of driving on the main road. The tracks were a web of criss-crossing intertwined pathways of varying quality but all better than their stony counterpart. Some had deeper sand than others, some had become corrugated but others allowed full speed ahead. The three vehicles drove alongside each other, each choosing their next ‘fork in the road’ and switching back and forth as great plumes of sand erupted like cocks tails from their rears. From the sky it would have appeared that three beetles were hurtling across the sand leaving a cloud of dirt in their wake. Redvers was born for it; Somers and I wore grins like imbeciles as we covered the ground a hundred metres at time. The sand though, could not last forever and intermittently we had to return to the hard jaw aching, shaking corrugations of the main road.

Alongside the road we passed local tribesmen clothed in full warrior regalia, spears and beating sticks in hand, going about their daily business. We saw necklace adorned women; some whose necklaces were so bulky that should the lady lie on her belly, her forehead would not be able to touch the ground. We were too busy for voyeurism and so we ignored the desire for photos; the road was providing all our excitement needs. It was bloody, sacrificial, terrain. We could feel our tires being eaten by the sharp edged rocks that spiked the road’s surface, we worried that our suspension was getting hammered and we knew that we were hopelessly overloaded, in part due to a hippopotamus with weight issues and in part due to our full fuel and water tanks.

And so, with just thirteen kilometres to Marsabit, our overnight stop, the inevitable happened. The left rear shock exploded. We’d come through a nicer section of road travelling reasonably quickly and fatally had begun to enter the beginnings of the dust trail left by the car in front. We hit a rough patch and bounced through, belatedly braking as we did. The banging made our teeth clench and our muscles tense. Our twisted faces winced in vicarious pain and then gave way to inquisition and realisation as the familiar tap, tap, tap of the broken shock resonated from Redvers’ rear. The first tricky section was quickly followed by a second and the sound of the tap was joined by the smell of hot rubber. We stopped. Somers jumped out. The shock had indeed exploded, the two halves had separated and the upper section had been punctured by the lower. The second section had bounced the suspension spring out and it was now rubbing against the wheel; it was Namibia all over again. Clare’s vehicle had stopped with us and the guards in front had pulled up and come back to see if we were ok. Thankfully many hands made for very light work and after replacing the rear shocks in Lilongwe we still had one spare; the jacks came out, Redvers’ bum went up, the wheel came off, the bad shock came off, the good shock went on, the wheel went back on and the nuts were tightened to the correct torque, Redvers sat back down, we all shook hands, the ignition fired and we pulled away. Some damage had been inevitable we were surprisingly philosophical about the pummelling.

We drove without the pomp and imposing ceremony we’d displayed earlier in the day. Our tail was between our legs with the realisation that we were the weak link in the ‘Kenyan convoy.’ It was then, not entirely a sorry sight, when the guards’ Land Cruiser pulled over ten minutes further along the road with a broken shock of their own. It was removed for repair later on; one more car part on a long list of the road’s breakages.

We trundled into Marsabit mid afternoon, relieved to have covered what may have been the most dangerous part of the entire trip but tingling from some of the most spectacular and most fun roads we’d yet encountered. We were filthy with African dirt that provided a fake tan of sorts and also served to dye grey hair ginger.

A tour of the town revealed little to our excitement. We checked into Jey-Jeys, a motel type residence and set our alarms for 5.30 am.

Posted by ibeamish 09:30 Archived in Kenya Comments (0)

Day 183-184 – Leaving Lian and the Road North

23rd-24th March 2012

sunny 29 °C

Lian had been heaven sent. A stressful few days had been turned into a blissful retreat but the time to leave had come, we bid her farewell and wished her good luck for her move south to Harare. We left safe in our new found knowledge that cucumber makes an excellent addition to a gin and tonic.

Since it would have been foolish to turn down the opportunity to travel with an armed escort we’d been in touch with Clare and had arranged to meet her at Archers Post, forty kilometres north of Isiolo. This was a straight slog that covered 310 kilometres of new tarred road (with randomly placed speed humps on the main motorway out of Nairobi.) Our plans were soon modified when Clare phoned to say that her guards had received reports of gunfire in Archers Post the previous evening; a dispute between Samburu and Turkana livestock owners. Not wanting to turn up late, or at all, to a gun fight, we shortened our sights and aimed for Isiolo. There was a Catholic Mission in town and Clare was sure that we could find a place to stay, sanctuary even, on our journey north.

An early start, quiet roads and slick surfaces made for a straightforward drive. We pulled in just after lunch and booked a twin room; unsurprisingly there were no double beds in the ‘Left Footer’s’ mansion. We nipped across the road to find a cafe for a cup of chai and a bit of spinach and ugali; the church security guard insisted on escorting us as we went, advising that although the town is normally safe, the neighbouring tribes will intermittently attempt to resolve their differences by attacking each other, stealing each others’ cattle or conning each other in a sale. All three scenarios normally involve or end in the use of guns. He described to us the scene as children run screaming, bullets whistle overhead and bodies fall while scores are settled. Drama aside, the weather was far too nice for fighting and we’d left town without breakfast; we had lunch to eat.

Incidentally the weather has been a little too nice. Isiolo and the rest of Northern Kenya are waiting for the rains; at present it is a dry and dusty desert savannah. As you speak, your mouth dries with a layer of silt on your tongue and your hair becomes thick and dry with grease and red earth every day.

We met Clare for a drink later that evening and ate in another restaurant in town getting our first taste of camel, (they were ‘out of goat.’) We were looking forward to a bit of camel spotting over the coming days.

Posted by ibeamish 09:27 Archived in Kenya Comments (0)

Day 182 – Bandits or not, we're leaving Kenya

22nd March 2012

There are two routes out of Kenya into Ethiopia one travels through Turkana country up alongside Lake Turkana. It’s longer than the alternative but far more scenic and far more rugged and is so remote that driving alone is not advisable. Also, according to most reports, it is currently where the highest risk of banditry lies. The alternative is a quicker route, tackled in two to three days driving through Isiolo, Marsabit and onto Moyale. The route has had its fair share of stories but the most recent ‘serious’ incident was a French guy being shot in the face last year. Whilst everyone tells us its currently fairly safe and we obviously think it is, no one can give guarantees, you have to take your chances, drive aggressively over some of the worst road surfacing in Africa and hope it’s not you they’re after.

From the extensive knowledge garnering we’ve done gaining information from lots of people who’ve travelled the road it sounds quite like the bandits are opportunists; they are predominantly cattle rustlers stealing each other’s cows using guns as their threat. We’d decided that there were a lot of advantages to tackling the route alone; we wouldn’t need to hang around for the slow folk, or rather, they wouldn’t have to hang around for us. We’d avoid being in amongst a dust cloud for two long drives, we’d avoid attracting attention being just one vehicle and we could dress Redvers down by splashing water and then dirt onto him. We could also drive aggressively choosing our leaving times early in the morning to get a head start on the locals. However despite this we had one more option. Clare who we’d met at our ‘croquet weekend’ was in Isiolo doing more research and would be travelling the most dangerous part of the trip on the 25th March. By her side would be an armed guard and in the car in front would be another. She’d kindly offered that we could join them and we’d decided we’d be foolish not to accept. With that in mind we asked Lian if we could stay with her for two nights once more readying ourselves for the journey ahead.

Posted by ibeamish 07:59 Archived in Kenya Comments (0)

Day 181 – “You’ll Need to Speak With the Warden”

21st March 2012


We woke before sunrise to make the most of our last safari. We said farewell to Sentero who insisted on having his picture taken with Laura and we drove down into the park with Jackson for our game drive. Jackson wanted to head to town so we left him at the gate and we drove around the park, the highlight being a pack of wild dog lazing near the road.

Our ticket allowed twenty four hours in the park and so we knew we had to leave before 11.30am. We did leave and just outside the gate I pulled over to get a fresh shirt from the back of the car. It was then that a park officer approached us with our tickets stubs and asked where we’d stayed the previous evening, we told them that we’d been in the village and they got annoyed that we hadn’t taken advantage of their $25 per person campsite. We were fairly irate with them when they suggested we had to pay for another days entrance and we ended up speaking to the park warden, where we sat down and told him about our fantastic evening and that the Kenyan Wildlife Service was doing foreign visitors a great disservice by charging so much for access to parks and for accommodation within them. We left with him apologising for any dampening effect the episode had had on our experience but we felt sorry for the reprimanding Jackson would in all likely hood receive for reducing the parks income.

We drove back to Nairobi stopping to try on some white sheepskin hats, (think 80’s Russian ladies on the French ski slopes,) only to find they didn’t fit. We bought a sheepskin rug instead and continued back to town, straight to the Yaya centre and straight to the DHL office. Our passports still hadn’t quite arrived, but they were somewhere in Nairobi and their arrival was imminent. We decided to go for a bite to eat before collecting them. Finally after twelve days of international phone calls, we had our Ethiopian visas.

That meant we could head back to Jungle Junction to see if there was anyone that wanted to form a convoy across Northern Kenya. We pulled in to a ghost town; where bikers and overlanders had filled the camping area so tightly on our previous visit, there were now just empty spaces. We stayed for the night but there was no one that would be of any use travelling north, we’d reached decision time.

Posted by ibeamish 07:58 Archived in Kenya Comments (0)

Day 180 – Sleeping With The Maasai

20th March 2012


We left Crater Lake to enter our first and sadly last Kenyan National Park. We were confronted with a dichotomy of National Park and geothermal power station fighting it out for space as water pipes encroach, creeping alongside the park’s roads and steam outlets form plumes of billowing white rising from the acacia bush. The chemical smell of sulphur hung in the air as giraffe wandered alongside huge steel pipes suspended two metres above the ground.

We stopped at the rangers post and met a Maasai chap named Jackson who was a community guide. He offered to guide us through the gorge to see the gorge, its ‘hot rocks’ and natural vents. We wandered through a steep walled gorge desperately trying to overtake a large party of Iranians as they helped each other up the steeps sections. (I’ll never tire of watching fat men try and climb steep walls: their arms can’t reach beyond their belly with any strength and their knees don’t come higher than mid thigh, which is normally where the most dependant section of gut hangs.)We passed them eventually and our sociologist/geologist ratio flipped. The soft limestone rock had been engraved by visitors passing along it but is washed clean every rainy season. Small streams of water flowed down the rock walls, water that was hot enough to scald your fingers when touched. Bright grass-green algae grew on the walls in the heat of the water, vents surrounded by bright red deposits and bright yellow sulphur roared their steam into the sky. The ground was peppered with deep black, shiny obsidian rock; a remnant of the lands volcanic nature.

Along the way back we passed through Jackson’s village and visited the school, eventually arriving at the topic of where we’d be staying that evening. Jackson suggested that rather than leaving to go to back to Fishermans Camp we could stay with him in the village. We accepted his offer and suggested that first we would go on an evening game drive and then retire. He agreed and craftily suggested that we slot in a trip to the shops too. We couldn’t really decline the suggestion and so we headed out of the gate on a quick food run. AT the shops we found the ‘Travellers Butchery’. A small lean-to hut attached to the side of a building; on the inside was a man with a knife, a set of scales, a couple of blue bottles and half a cow strung from the ceiling. He wanted £2.40 a kilo and so I asked for the fillet which I could see was untouched. It came in at about 600 grams and cost a princely sum of £2.40, apparently you have to pay a bit more if there are no bones.

We got back to the village and set up the tent amidst keen onlookers. We started offering ‘tours’ and soon had three or four kids on the roof, climbing in and out of the tent. Downstairs we began cooking, butternut mash, pasta with tomato and bacon sauce (from a packet) and fillet steak with salt, pepper and a little garlic. We’d suggested a ‘food share’ and so now we were cooking for eight; Jackson’s father Sentero, Jackson, Jackson’s son Jacob and three other young lads as well as ourselves. The ladies were staying indoors as this was an all male affair, Somers permitted, and the elders had already instructed the children to light a fire. We’d met Sentero earlier; he was born in 1944 long before his home had been declared a national park and long before geothermal power stations had starting drilling deep below the surface of his land. We’d been shown the levelled area where Kengen, the power company, had planned to drill yet another channel into the landscape, but the villagers had fought them off and retained their right to stay in their homes. As a semi nomadic people, they’d leave eventually, but they weren’t to be forced. In fact, Kengen has bought them more land around twenty kilometres away and so when it comes to moving the Maasai village will simply be relocated to the new plot.

Sat above the gorge we’d earlier walked through, the sun was setting and the fire starting to crackle. We sat around talking football and schools, power stations and traditions, tribal tendencies and government prerogatives. Sentero spoke a little English, himself having visited France, Spain and England in his sixty eight years but he elected to speak Maasai to us with his son translating as his eyes held our focus and we listened closely to his intonations long before we knew their exact meaning. He blessed us, he blessed our journey and he told us that we were welcome to be with him in his home. It was beautiful, if heavily clichéd, it was what every white man idealises as an ‘authentic African experience,’ but it was a truly wonderful experience. Eventually our food was ready and we all shared plates of butternut, pasta, fillet, ugali (maize meal,) salted beef and spinach. We were told that the Maasai eat lots of meat and that their tradition of drinking their cow’s blood is now reserved for women immediately after giving birth and for those who are very sick. The procedure involves using a sharp spear to pierce the cow’s jugular vein and then around one or two litres of blood could be collected before packing the wound with soil to staunch the bleeding. One cow could be bled around twice per year. Sentero suggested some chai was in order and so we retired to his hut where we sat around the fire and drank sweet, spiced tea. It was around this time during a period of brief but ear-piercing silence that I involuntarily let out a little sharp crack of a fart. I was mortified, everyone had heard it. Our guests were far too polite to acknowledge it; that is, until they realised that although the hut was silent, Somers was in fact splitting her sides with laughter and only now was her laughter starting to become more vocal. With that, Sentero, Jackson and Jacob burst out laughing with Sentero sagely adding, “That’ll be the ugali.” Conversation soon resumed and eventually, exhausted, we retired to bed, thanking our hosts for a brilliant evening: Ashe oleng. Oleng, oleng, oleng.

Posted by ibeamish 07:56 Archived in Kenya Comments (0)

Day 178-179 – Naivasha and the Crazy Dutch

18th-19th March 2012


We woke, climbed aboard Redvers and ventured out of Nairobi and travelled North West to Lake Naivasha. Naivasha is flower country. Huge greenhouses occupy hectare after hectare making use of the sun and its warmth and the readily available fresh water from the lake to produce blooms that are distributed the world over. Wepulled into the Fishermans campsite which was a nice enough place to escape to but the weeds had grown high obscuring the view of the lake. We entertained ourselves by watching the monkeys steal food from some fellow tourist’s tent and spoke to a couple of crazy Dutchies who have had experiences may of the same problems but have taken to dealing them with aggression. Every time the police had stopped them, the girlfriend Raine, who incidentally confessed she needs anger management lessons, began foul mouthing the constabulary whilst getting out of the car and storming away up the road, still cursing, whilst the boyfriend, Mika, is left telling the cops “Why do yoush all want my f#*king money, you craishee poh-leesh jusht want to rip ush off!” They’re trying to curb their enthusiasm now that they’re in Kenya but the four letter f-word seems to be their preferred method of communication in all affairs with the law. They’ve also been to some of the big game parks and found that not only were they very expensive they also had silly rules like a US$500 fine for killing an animal in the road. With that in mind they’d stopped at the park headquarters on leaving the Maasai Mara to report that they needed to pay a US$1000 fine for the two mosquitoes that they’d swatted against their windscreen. The warden was apparently less than impressed.

We still hadn’t shaken the budget demons and so we sat down again and did some more accurate sums trying to take into account every eventuality. Working from our ‘worst case scenario’ we realised that we’d need substantial reserves in cash by the time we arrive in Egypt to make sure that no one is left behind. Sadly, Uganda and Rwanda had to be axed and with them the chance of seeing Gorillas for a bargain basement price of $800 for an hour. We’d had a lot of fun further south and with so much uncertainty further north, something had to give.

The following day we said goodbye to the heroes from the Netherlands and we drove around to another spot called Crater Lake which is an extinct volcano with a lake in its crater. We stopped on the way to see Flamingos in their tens of thousands lining the shores of Oloiden Lake. We went for our penultimate safari spotting some giraffe, eland, Thompson and Grants gazelle and plenty of warthog.

Posted by ibeamish 07:54 Archived in Kenya Comments (0)

Day 172-177– Damned DHL and Two Hour Visas

12th – 17th March 2012


The ensuing ten days were spent in the luxury of Lian’s house whilst calling DHL Nairobi, the Ethiopian Embassy in London and DHL UK. Nairobi had no idea what was going on. Despite the embassy having cleared our passports within two hours of receiving them they had now lost them in the system so that they weren’t retrievable within the five minutes that the DHL collection bike gave them each day he came. DHL were useless, we couldn’t get a story from them that matched the embassy’s and we were left not knowing who was telling the truth. As the saga played out we soon realised that the five day turn around promised was going to be at least ten.

With passports and visas somewhere in the system we took some time out to act like full blown tourists in Nairobi. We watched orphaned elephants with at least seventy other white crazies all seemingly identifying with the elephants more than the others. It was brilliant though, and they did cool stuff and one even looked at me; like, really looked at me, I think he was trying to tell me something.

After that we did the next best tourist thing which was to visit the giraffe ‘sanctuary.’ Seven Rothschild giraffe hang around being fed pellets by humans stood on a platform at giraffe head height; just like in the wild. Naturally we put the feed in our mouths and got ‘giraffe kisses’ whilst taking photos.

In an attempt to once and for all fix Redver’s electrical problems we stopped by at the fancy garage, Schumacher’s, who reckoned at worst, the ‘fix’ would cost £200 but since he couldn’t fit us in until the next day we carried on our way. Twenty minutes later we’d found a back street garage in Karen, the wealthy Nairobi suburb, and a chap named Julian fixed it for twelve quid. It turned out that there was a faulty earth connection beneath the car; it was that which was responsible for the clicking relays. The radio now works independently of the headlights and the indicators indicate independently of the radio. Redvers was in perfect working order.

With no passports we wouldn’t be leaving Kenya anytime soon but we found more than enough entertainment amongst our new found friends. We had a board games evening where we played our first game of ‘Risk’ and were comprehensively trounced: and when TJ invited us to her toga party we promptly turned a kikoi and a sleeping bag liner into two quite superb togas and headed off beers and wine in hand.
On our penultimate morning Laura and Lian went horse riding in Karen and enrolled the horse vet on a mini tour of duty for later that afternoon. A quick lameness investigation and a foal with a swollen knee served to remind me of what it is I do when employed and also halved the price of the morning’s riding. The local expat bar was the Rusty Nail, the rugby was on and we were drinking again.

The DHL saga continued as useless Edna handed us over to stressed Anne who became more stressed as we suppressed our anger. By Friday, one week after sending our passports and four days after DHL had been asked to collect them, our coveted travel documents were still ensconced within the walls of the Ethiopian Embassy. They advised us that they would be collected on Monday and delivered on the Wednesday, twelve days after sending them. With that in mind we decided we’d have one more night in Nairobi before we went to try and see a bit of Kenya.

Posted by ibeamish 07:52 Archived in Kenya Comments (0)

Day 171 – A Spot of Croquet?

11th March 2012


Hangovers and bleary eyes led to fresh coffee and American pancakes prepared by TJ. But what better to cure a hangover than more gin and tonic and a lunchtime game of croquet? Fulfilling every requisite of colonials abroad we stood with our collective pink skin sweating beneath our wide brimmed hats under the heat of the African sun. The land dropped away from the garden affording views across the savannah if the Great Rift Valley whilst our sun cream plastered arms and legs trundled around an ill kept croquet lawn and we fumbled balls through hoops becoming ever more competitive.

Somehow, certainly not by skill, Somers and I won, but it really didn’t matter. There were no prizes and no winners’ ceremonies. Instead we had a ‘team photo’ posed with sternly serious faces in front of the thatched summer dining area. In black and white the picture could go down in the annals of history as the inaugural Kapiti Plains Open Croquet Championship.

Somewhere amongst the fun and games of the night before Lian had offered us a place to stay whilst we awaited the return of our passports. She had asked us again during the croquet and that had sealed it. We thought that it was a fantastic idea and accepted her offer gladly. After another hair-raising drive back to Nairobi we pulled into Lian’s driveway that afternoon to see a Rhodesian Ridgeback, a German Shepherd and a bear of a dog; Charlie, Zuka and Squidge were there names. The driveway led to a huge house set amongst expansive gardens that gave temporary residence to three tortoises and a marauding group of monkeys. We settled into our palatial accommodation, had another gin and tonic and watched a DVD before it was time for bed.

Posted by ibeamish 07:51 Archived in Kenya Comments (0)

Day 170 – Ex-Patriot Games

10th March 2012

sunny 27 °C

We enjoyed one more leisurely morning before the effects of our austerity cuts were to be felt. (We’d bought all our nice food the day before.) Will called to say that he and his friend Clare would only be leaving at around one o’clock and so we had another little tidy up and relaxed amongst fellow travellers at the ‘Junction.’

An hour after setting off we were still stuck in Nairobi traffic outside of the football stadium. There was football match on where the local Nairobi side, Gor Mahia, was about to exit the CAF Confederations cup. They were entering a game 4 nil down from the first leg, they’d need five goals to progress and instead they fell to a 1-0 defeat. They’d lost 5-0 to a Mozambican side called Ferroviaro. The low quality of Kenyan football aside, we were stuck in traffic. Whilst queuing we enjoyed our most varied range of hawked goods yet, Del Boy would have been proud. In our hour on the road we could have purchased: the usual warning triangles and steering wheel covers, beaded car seat covers, ice-creams and vegetables, crisps and cold drinks, sunglasses and hats, t-shirts, skirts, socks and boxers, any of a choice of board games, Monopoly, Risk and Scrabble, football t-shirts and scarves from any major league, windscreen washers and sugar cane sellers and to top it all we could have bought rabbits, kittens and even puppies, the latter available in a variety of breeds.

Once out of the traffic we endured another forty minutes fighting for our lives along a road driven by some of the worst drivers we’ve ever seen. Overtaking was a game of chicken, vastly underpowered and overloaded vehicles pulling out into oncoming traffic, goading them, willing them, literally forcing them to move off the road and allow the manoeuvre to be completed. Undertaking, overtaking, anything goes, and surprisingly there was very little use of the horn. Preference it seems is given to aggressive light flashing. This worked in our favour as it turns out that our ‘relay replacement scheme’ to fix Redvers’ electrics has been fairly unsuccessful and we are intermittently without a horn.

After a little misunderstanding about what equates to ‘two kilometres’ we found Will and Clare parked next to police officer at the turn off onto Kapiti Plains Farm. It was really more of a ranch enclosing a vast acreage of golden yellow scrub with sparse hardnosed green acacia holding firm amongst the dried grasses. We pulled in and met the rest of our fellow gatherers: Ravi, Annie, Lian, Emelie and Tatjana (TJ). All, in some way connected with an organization named the International Livestock and Research Institute (ILRI.) The weekend getaway was in celebration of Annie’s birthday and we settled in quickly before readying ourselves for a brisk walk to the top of the hill that backed onto the farm house to watch the sun rise whilst we drank chilled sauvignon blanc. The vista was stunning and the walk besieged by an endless onslaught from a booming population of ticks. Every two hundred metres or so there would be a group stop whilst we de-ticked ourselves. In our socks and on our legs, all looking for the places where the skin is thin, the air is damp and the temperature warm. Groin and armpit are ideal spots and so the challenge was to stop them before they made it, bit down and started transmitting juicy tropical diseases to our immunity lacking bodies. It was a bit of sport really, I scored around twelve, Somers had insecticide sprayed herself and scored seven or eight, but some of the others were rubbing tens of them from their arms at a time.

The sun sets quickly in Kenya and we were soon marching back down the hill thinking of gin and tonics and food. Lian, a fellow vet carrying out a PhD on porcine tape worm, had prepared our meal of Thai Green Curry. It was bloody brilliant except for the fact she’d overdone the chillies by about three fold. The dinner table conversation came with hilarity through watering eyes and running noses; gin and tonic consumption increased rapidly in a fruitless attempt to extinguish the raging infernos that had been unleashed on our senses. The music came out and the dancing began; we even learnt our first steps of tap; albeit less impressive when you’re wearing leather soled loafers and standing on the soft green lawn.

The evening was saddened when we discovered Nairobi had suffered another grenade attack. Apparently the Somalia based Al Shabaab (the Mujahadeen Youth Movement, or the ‘Al Qaida Kids’ now they’ve earned their first terrorism badges) were responsible for the four grenades, six deaths and sixty seven injured. (There is a conspiracy theory that the grenades attacks are Kenyan government ordered to keep up public support for Kenyan military interventions in Somalia.) The threat of terror was in the air in Nairobi, we’d be avoiding the centre during our stay.

Posted by ibeamish 07:50 Archived in Kenya Comments (0)

Day 169 – The Budget Review

9th March 2012


Before we made plans for traversing bandit riddled landscapes and dodging their rusty AK-47s and Martini-Henri rifles we needed Ethiopian visas and like good little boys and girls we headed straight to the DHL office at the western style mall called The Yaya Centre. DHL saw us coming (they see everyone coming) and charged us a hundred and ten quid to ship our passports to the Ethiopian Embassy in London and then return them to Nairobi. We managed to get the price down a little bit when they took off the insurance and the ‘express’ delivery option but they still took us for close on ninety quid. Still, there was little else that could be done in our situation and we managed a smile as we handed over our passports to Edna, deliberately ignoring the sign stating ‘It is illegal to send money.’

An hour later we were back in the office, and Edna was pointing at the illegal-to-send-money sign whilst we opened our parcel and took our payment in cash out of the envelope; who’d have thought DHL had x-ray machines! It was Friday afternoon; Edna informed us that the passports would be in the embassy on Monday afternoon or Tuesday morning. For the last six months, Laura had been teeing up a chap at the embassy named Yared and he’d assured us a rapid issuance of both visas. We reckoned that by Wednesday or Thursday we’d have our passports in hand. If we were paying through the nose at least we’d be getting a decent service.

We’d been in touch with an old mate from university called Will who was doing a PhD out at Busia, a Kenyan town on the border with Uganda. He’d told us that he and a few friends were planning on going out to a farm for the weekend just an hour from Nairobi and had asked did we want to come along. We did, and we told him so, and then we sat back to enjoy our new surroundings at the Jungle Junction campsite in Nairobi. It was about that time that our first serious budget crisis started brewing.

We’d started with a budget in US dollars per day and had been nicely underneath it so far, but, our initial budget had only really been estimated to cover around six months on the road rather than the eight the trip appears it will eventually take. Day to day costs had been easy to account for, the price of food, beer and accommodation were all relatively cheap; we were camping nineteen days out of twenty and shopping with a budget in mind. But the real problem, we were beginning to realise, was that north of Kenya everything becomes a little bit grey, especially on time scale, visas and ferry services. First was our problem of obtaining an Ethiopian visa, a feat only possible from the embassy in your home country. We were onto that, the unknown would be known in one week’s time. But that was only our first issue. Our second issue would be obtaining a Sudanese visa. This is easiest to obtain in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, when ascending Africa, but we’ve no idea how long that’ll take and we’re informed it’s not cheap, especially when we’re paying David Cameron for a letter to say our passports are real. Our third issue will be the ferry across Lake Nasser from Sudan to Egypt. It runs once a week, it doesn’t hold many vehicles and the passenger ferry leaves before the vehicle ferry. There is a brand new road alongside the lake but the Egyptian government owns the ferry, and it’s expensive, and it’s busy; with this in mind there is no border control along the road, just soldiers. The only border control point is at the ferry terminal. The ferry costs we already know, but the costs of ‘fixers’ to arrange visas and ‘guards’ to look after Redvers whilst we’re on another ferry and in another country are more difficult to predict. The very idea of leaving Redvers behind is frightening.

Our fourth problem is by far our biggest; our exit strategy. At the end of this trip we need to leave North Africa; an area that hasn’t seen so much political and civil unrest since the British were ‘doing their thing’ not far from a hundred years ago. The ferry from Egypt to Italy has been suspended indefinitely because it goes via Syria, and Syria is having a bloody inconvenient ‘moment’ in its national history. Our Plan B was really our original Plan A and was to drive through Libya. Eighteen months ago tourism was building nicely and you could drive the road that passed alongside the Mediterranean visiting coliseums and battle fields along the way. From Caesar to Rommel and, more recently, from the UK to the freedom fighters, there’s some history in those sands, but anyway, our plans were scuppered when Gadaffi was suddenly declared persona non grata. That trans-Libyan route would have led us to Tunisia and its capital, Tunis from where we could have sailed to Italy and driven home to the UK in just a few days. (This incidentally is still our preferred exit route at the time of writing, but will require a very careful argument with Libyan officials in Cairo when requesting a transit visa.) If Plan B goes wrong then we have to think about cargo ships; Alexandria in Egypt to Turkey is apparently the only real route we’ve heard about and that anyone has been able to use, but its hellishly expensive for Redvers and we’d need airplane tickets, otherwise, maybe we can drive to Israel and find a boat. The original Plan C had been a jaunt through Syria, but, well that’s not ideal anymore either. Still more extreme plans are to drive back south and choose any port from Port Sudan in Sudan, Mombasa in Kenya or Dar es Salaam in Tanzania. If budgets didn’t exist we could even drive into Saudi Arabia, on into Oman, catch a ferry across the Gulf of Aden into Iran and then get out through a something-istan and into Turkey. There is also chatter about ferries from Israel, but we’ve only found passenger ferries so far. All in all we have lots of options but costs on each route vary and none are cheap, none are straightforward and none are easy. The only easy aspect of it all is seeing why leaving Africa is our biggest stress.

With our budget altered a little and our fixed costs calculated there didn’t really seem to be a crisis, we cut our days planned for Uganda and Rwanda, cut ‘big spends’ on climbing Mount Kenya and tracking Chimpanzees and set out targets for Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt: then we had a cold beer because, after all, we were still on holiday.

Posted by ibeamish 09:34 Archived in Kenya Comments (0)

Day 168 – Looking like Idiots

8th March 2012


Our most straightforward border yet traversed us from a land of painfully annoying cops with new toys and an attitude to match, to a land of extremely pleasant cops without the toys and with a far more pleasant disposition all round.

As was our custom, we slowed down on approaching a checkpoint. A normal situation involves us slowing down well in advance and in doing so showing a certain respect for the officers. In return as we approach the officer will normally respond by waving us through. However one particular cop kept his eyes fixed on Redvers and his hands by his side as we slowed towards him. His lack of movement meant our deceleration was maintained until finally we stopped next to him. A rather bemused looking Kenyan officer asked “Can I help you?” as we suddenly realised we were essentially stopped dead in the centre of the lane on a national road. We quickly realised we looked like prize idiots and fabricated some questions about speed limits before driving off again. We left a bewildered police officer stood in the road watching our red faces disappear into the horizon.

Our journey towards Nairobi took us onto a ‘motorway’ with three lanes in either direction. This was sheer bliss. We now had easy access to overtake slow lorries and dilapidated coaches. The only problem was that not a single driver had any clue about where they should be in the road with so many lanes to choose from. Lorries seemed to quite like the outside lane, the opposite to the UK, but not all lorries. Coaches didn’t appear to see any white lines and fast cars just dived in and out through impossible gaps using the hard shoulder as a fourth lane as and when required.

Lucky to be alive, we pulled into Upper Hill Campsite in the north west of Nairobi. A very pleasant spot but was very quiet and had no other overlanders, for their company, and the formation of a convoy through the bandit country of Northern Kenya, we would need to visit Jungle Junction, a campsite just down the road.

Posted by ibeamish 09:29 Archived in Kenya Comments (0)

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