africa – kenya 2012.
‘The lamb is here for evidence’ a police officer commenting on the animal out of the front of the police station after a local was caught spending ‘quality’ time with it.
Our first port of call in Kenya was the police officer for a meet and greet but more importantly to arrange the logistics of our police escorts for the next 5 days. Reported robberies along this first 500km barren stretch coupled with the recent deaths of 40 locals in clan fighting helped us to make this decision. Next stop was to the market to stock up on food and water for the next 3 days as wouldn’t be seeing any other ‘towns’. Knowing we had the comfort of space outside of our panniers thanks to our armed convoy we bought up big, with whatever the various market stalls had to offer which really wasn’t too much. Packets of noodles, vegetable, eggs and some nourishing spam made up most of our meals over the following days. Due to the isolation and the poor road conditions as discussed below the logistics made it that bit harder for the shops to stock staple items like pork belly, seafood and ice cream.
This section from the border until Isiolo over 5 days was reportedly the hardest we would face due to its isolation but more so the road conditions. With the fact that we had average speeds on sections/days of 8-12km it didn’t disappoint. The road was horrific whether it was corrugations that you noticed your speed increase as you ‘descended’ into them before ‘climbing’ out of repeatedly, sand that offered no ability to keep your handlebars straight or just simple massive rocks that constantly kept you in a state of bouncing or wanted to pierce your tyres (sometimes both.) Despite the physical challenge of this being difficult i.e. I fell off several times it was the mental challenge of having to concentrate all day without being able to turn off. It was a constant state of mental engagement as you decided on the better path to chose which at times involved continually crossing from the left to right and back the left of the road. Overall it was certainly days full of opportunities to test ones mental strength and endurance knowing that at the end of the day we had to reach our destination however long it took. Considering the lack of marked destinations we spent most nights in fenced off police camps, which normally resembled a fence and some steel/brick huts. Setting up camp at one of these locations (a communications station) we were quickly told that due to the abundance of snakes a safer option would be sleeping on the buildings roof under the stars. Not a bad alternative.
For these days the surrounding environment didn’t sway too much from open expanse and the dotted scattering of thorn bushes. Sights weren’t really abundant which worked out well considering our concentration was normally 2 feet in front of us. The fact that only several times did we notice people calling it home as seen in the dust ruled towns or the occasional randomly located hut was further evidence of the inhospitable environment of it all. These ‘towns’ offered a non-placed distribution of tin huts, painted to offer some differing identity for its owner. Each was loosely located near the road with worn trails linking each demonstrating that not much has changed here for a while. The locals we seen seemed to offer an understanding that this is where their entire life would be spent bordered by the surrounding expanse of nothingness and no connections to other opportunities. Trying to explain our journey or at least our daily destination was hard knowing that in many instances the we were conversing with wouldn’t of had the fortunate opportunity of leaving their birth villages. This said lives may change when the proposed sealed roads gets completed, a linkage that could possibly offer alternative options. We were assured that this wasn’t happening anytime soon with local pockets getting lined as a priority over the current dirt track. My experience after riding on it would say it’s going stay in current state for a while and the selfish side of me is am happy to say I rode (conquered) ‘The Great Northern Highway’ in this condition.
For the one town we passed through each day we took the opportunity to shield from the sun, restock on fuel (food) and see how many soft drinks one can consume in a sitting (Justin won!) It cannot be understated how amazing a cold bottle of sugar can taste in these instances. It should be said that I’m now on a 4-month soft drink hiatus as I think I sufficiently had my fix for a while. As we crossed through different districts we swapped our envoys with the associated regions police allowing us to have new guards each day. For them it either meant the positives of a day out of the ‘office’ or quite a nuisance knowing that they had to drive along at a snails pace all day.
Our guides didn’t fend off any attacks which was a tad disappointing as in a peaceful way we were pretty keen to see the capabilities of their rocket launchers or even just a grendade. Despite being let down by a lack of ambush scenarios (a let down for us, but a relief for our loved ones at home) it was nice being able to vocally engage with the differing guards of each day assisted by the fact Kenya was once English colonized. Meeting ‘Arthur’ at one of our camps was a highlight; he offered an insight to his daily life, the distance from his family (3 days travel) and how to make DIY weight lifting equipment. Despite the isolation and accompanying distances he accepted his position and made the most of it with a constant inspiringly infectious smile. Added to his days was common ‘incidents’ with armed groups coming over from the Ethiopian border. This certainly made each of our desk bound jobs more appealing, commonly safe and a little normal.
After 5 days the asphalt greeted us leaving behind a tactical experience that our bikes and bodies were happy to leave behind for now. This new surface also left behind the smaller dusty communities but rather built up areas with matching populations along with associated requirements from hotels to hamburgers, atms to milkshakes and some necessary hot showers.
With our bikes taking an absolute battering throughout the journey thus far we utilized an early afternoon arrival to devout some service time. It should be noted that this spare time also allowed Shane and I to have a beauty session enjoying a matching ‘pedi’ and ‘mani’. Back to the bikes… We replaced the oil in our internally geared Rohloff hubs. Our bikes were also given the once over ensuring each bolt was tightened as required, a routine we all did on a regular basis early on the trip but one that wasn’t as needed as time went on. Once in the capital we received our sent package of replacement tyres which we welcoming installed. Considering we were approximately halfway through our trip our bikes (besides Shane’s spokes) were holding up really well, proof that all of Gavan’s research coupled with the fact that we self built out bikes was paying off.
The middle of the country offered the highlights of skimming the sides of the snow peaked Mount Kenya, long descents and the introduction of hot chips a luxury that was a stalemate for the next few weeks and one that didn’t get tiring in a hurry.
Our second last riding day of the country delivered us into the capital Nairobi also known by its unofficial name of ‘Nairobbery’. A suitable hotel was chosen one that was sufficient to mark our halfway efforts whether this was by the full continental breakfasts, the pools, the room service or the fact that it was even star rated. Either way it was something that differed just a little from our rather basic accommodation types over the last week. We utilized the two days off with a lot of time spent by the pool, visiting the giraffe sanctuary and just generally adjusting to life in a big city. With dates of this rest stop aligning with my birthday I lapped up a self-indulgent day. Breakfast included a packet of killer pythons that arrived as part of our tyre package from home, massages and some beers. Fortunately through a friends network we also got an invite to the Australian embassy, which coincidentally was hosting its monthly barbeque. Despite thinking our lycra kits might have held some comedic value for the consular staff we instead opted for formal clothes. An afternoon was spent cruising through the capitals finest shopping centre looking for suitable (clean) clothes with each of us requesting comments as we modeled blazers, shirts and slacks along with our formal footwear of thongs. All of this whilst being mindful that most likely the hotel staff would be offered the clothes upon our departure. With us offering different appearances that challenged our now perceived normality we handed over passports and stepped into a little piece of our home country in the middle of Africa as demonstrated by the sausages with bread and ‘coopers’ beers. With numerous hours spent chatting to differing expats we ventured onto a themed carnivorous restaurant before finishing up a local bar with local bands. At 3am it was called a night, the latest for a long time.
Whilst in the capital I also unsuccessfully tried to get my camera fixed. This point and shot was such a luxury to have as whilst the SLR was tucked into a pannier I kept the smallest of the town in hands reach for constant photos. It didn’t get fixed… As a very last minute option we rode past the Canon distributor and I bought a new one, a belated birthday present. It should be noted that 1 month later this new camera died.
The final day in the country was a long haul of 165km to the Tanzanian border. A day that allowed some additions to our existing wildlife list of the current hyena and elephant with ostriches, impalas and gazelles. Breaking for a drink stop also allowed us to witness our first Maasai warriors, a community that is synonymous with their jumping abilities aided by their thin tall defined bodies. We witnessed the traditional costumes with accompanying spear and mobile phone.
Our last night was as per most showers, eat, reading for less then 3 minutes and bed.