NAIROBI TO ISIOLO TO LAKE TURKANA TO MOYALE TO AGERE MARYAM TO ADDIS ABBABA
23 JUNE : NAIROBI TO ISIOLO
Left Jungle Junction early in the morn around 5am. Quite a job even at that early time of the morning to negotiate trucks, buses taxis, etc., until we reached the outskirts of Nairobi after which the traffic thinned out.
Hooting, cars cutting in front of you are the order of the day and even the busses don’t stand back, taking a gap whenever they can. The Bulldog is not used to being below a bus and truck on the pecking order when it comes to acceleration, but simply had to swallow his pride and wait his turn. Over many years of heavy traffic the tarred roads have taken a beating so much so that the wheel tracks of each lane have subsided and you can almost let the steering wheel go and the car will follow the road like a train on a track. The downside to this being that there is a very pronounced middle mannetjie that makes it very difficult to swap lanes without first crossing a mountain peak into the next adjacent set of “train tacks”.
It was still dark and we were climbing a hill when the left rear wheel of the Bulldog gave way. In Kenya there are no shoulders to the roads, only shear drop offs, but luckily in this instance there was a good shoulder on our left so we managed to pull off without causing much damage to the tyre. Inspection showed that a large metal object had embedded itself through the tyre and had shredded the tube beyond repair. Later we reached a small town and at a little service station they were able to install a “gator” and a new tube….all for the princely sum of only R 260! Again one must say the service and attitude of the Kenya people is magic. The metal object removed from Bulldogs tyre was also presented to us as a momento…… a six inch long piece of 10x10mm square steel bar which now stands proudly on our dashboard as if it were an endurance trophy we had won at a survival outing!
For some reason, and I think it was due to poor information gleaned from local maps an/or incorrect co-ordinates entered into our gps’s by Mike, we had headed out of Nairobi on the incorrect road .This came to our attention when we were heading a bit too far west. We stopped at the side of the road and between the Bulldog, the Ice Van and Lipstick we were unable to concur which way we should now head. Luckily one of the local population, who by the way spoke king’s English, advised that there was a flyover 10km’s ahead and we should take this off ramp. He was adamant that this road would then take us across to the desired main drag heading north.
We simply could not imagine a flyover being in existence here in the outback of northern Kenya.
To our amazement we reached the flyover a little further on, comprising a good concrete bridge but with only with a muddy cattle track as an approach. We decided that this must be the off-ramp that the chap had spoken about, engaged four wheel drive and crossed over the top of the bridge heading in an easterly direction. The road was pathetic and we wondered if we were now paying the price of having chosen an incorrect route. Eventually the road improved and we entered state forest. What a lucky break! The views were awe-inspiring. Lots of hills and dales, beautiful trees, tea plantations as far as the eye could see (like Lusikisiki), nature reserves, greenery, small mountain passes, etc., a pleasure to feast your eyes on even though it was costing us additional time on the road.
Eventually we reached the main drag north. This unplanned detour had cost us about 2 hrs. Even the garmin was embarrassed.
We had breakfast at what looked like a police canteen. No general public to be seen except police vehicles and personel everywhere. Looked like this was their normal first stop before proceeding to work at around 9am. We ordered a full house that consisted of black coffee (milk cost extra), then a plate consisting of bacon, pork sausage, two slices of bread, a small omelette, butter, jam and a mystery relish. After this came a great bowl of fruit salad……all for the price of R 25!
We were heading to pass Mt Kenya on the left hand side and then would have to have to decide whether we would turn off to Lake Turkana or continue straight on to Ethiopia. This road north from Isiolo through Marsabit to Moyale at the border is known as the road of the devil..500km’s of shear hell and also with uncontrollable security issues. Driving in a convoy would be a must and if we were to have a breakdown we would become vulnerable to attacks from bandits in the area. All other overlanders that we had chatted to regarded this as the most treacherous hurdle on the way north After much debate the Ice Van and Bulldog voted in favour of Lake Turkana route so that is where we where heading. This would also mean an extra day in Kenya.
Off interest we have seen hundreds of donkeys in all forms right up to Addis. They are used extensively to pull carts, carry water, cart goods, etc., they seem well looked after and there are simply hundreds of them roaming freely wherever you go : quite a danger to motorists. Camels are also well used and we have come across massive camel trains both in the outback areas and in the small towns. It was quite amusing to come up behind a truck transporting camels only to see there long nexks and heads appearing above the side of the truck like periscopes scanning the horizon in different directions. We have also seen the use of two cattle spanned in to pull carts. We purchased a grain bag size of charcoal for R 40 that is now strapped on to our roof like a transkei express together with all the other belongings we also have strapped on top of the Bulldog, our beloved transporting genius.
We still find charcoal bags being sold in there thousands on the side of the road. This seems to be one of the biggest items of trade so far in our travels. The quality of the charcoal is fantastic and we are yet to understand the exact process of how it is made although it seems that the locals simply bury the burning logs and leave them to smoulder and the remaining embers are then recovered.
This is a massive product in Africa and it is one of the main income producing items for the locals, maybe even greater than agriculture!
Mt Kenya was misted over so we could not see her but what a gem when we turned off to have lunch at a trout farm. The trout were delicious but the main attraction was that the entire restaurant was built as a tree house. The entire structure hang from the center of a massive bunch of trees with different levels, staircases and suspension bridges connecting all the various dining areas. Beers are kept cold in one of the trout ponds and are brought up in a bucket by block and tackle. A rare type of monkey inhabits the trees and become your hosts during the dining event. Very quaint and special….much like the Swiss Family Robinson or Tarzan homes I would think.
The equator came along and we stopped to take photos of the line of latitude demarcating the northern and southern hemispheres. Rene tested the theory of the water turning clockwise or anti-clockwise and found that at the equator it did neither…it simply dropped straight out the bottom of the basin.
Further on we arrived at the summit of a climb and the great Rift Valley lay down in front of us. This was to be the start of a complete change in terrain and vegetation. We were at quite an altitude before descending down in to the valley.
The tar road remained in good condition as we traveled through the plains of the valley with huge mountains looming in the distance.
We arrived at Isiolo in the evening and headed to the Gadana Hotel which had a swimming pool the size of a small olympic training pool. For what reason we still don’t know, but unfortunately it had been drained for repairs. The hotel was owned by a Hollander but was being managed by Vera, a Danish women, and her husband, one of the locals. Vera had come out to work for an NGO some time back and had now been married to a local guy from Isiolo for 9 years. They were very helpful in assisting us to plan our route to lake Turkana the next day. The rooms were spick and span and cost a mere R150 each per night. We made our own food and they provided kitchen facilities.Vera and her husband joined us for irish coffees before we hit the sack
24 JUNE : ILLIOT TO LAKE TURKANA
Departed Isiolo at 5 am. A brand new tar road leading north with the only detours being the bridges along the way that were still under construction. All being built by the Chinese which seem to be taking over in Africa right from Maputo and up to where we are now in Dar. The bush had been decimated for a width of at least 400m either side of the road during construction. What an environmental nightmare.
50kms short of Laisimu we hit the “road of the devil” Average speed of 10km’s only. Shock absorbers and suspension taking a hammering. Absolutely no relief anywhere whatever line you may take.
Along side the road we viewed numerous buck including impala and gerenuk, a strange long necked buck, very similar to an impala. Also viewed hundreds of small grey duiker, always in pairs. These continued to be abundant wherever we traveled in Kenya and Southern Ethiopia. We called them “desert rats” from that point on. Unfortunately the Bulldog tramped one of the “rats” later in the trip, an incident that was unavoidable and required us to reverse back over the injured buck to put it of its misery. Very sad occasion!
Eventually reached Laisumus and asked for directions to the turn off to Turkana. A local chap hung on to the back of Bulldog and lead us in the right direction to the required left hand turn off.
What a relief, we were now in desert with soft sand roads cruising at 80km’s and hour in places.
Bird life was good, eagles in trees, hornbills, starlings, lbj’s, rollers, etc. A mountain appeared in the distance that appeared to have smoke coming out of its crown, much like a volcano. We reached the mountain and had breakfast in a dry river bed, sardines on pro vita followed by a cup of coffee. Would have made a perfect bush camp site.
Passed nomadic goat and cattle herds in the middle of nowhere always accompanied by two herders and one donkey to carry provisions. Who knows where their permanent place of residences existed, if at all.
Continued our route forward crossing dry pans where roads split all over the place only to meet again after the pan. We were now deep in the Kaisud desert with the Ndoto mountains far to our left. No other cars to be seen become and it became more sparse as we moved on.
The tribal dress of the locals are very much like the masai, red dresses and, strange shaped headdress made up mostly of shiny items,….. sticks and spears in hand. We stood with these guys for photos but you had to move fast as the bodily smells were not too pleasant. No showers or shield deodarant available in the desert.
Camel trains with every camel having a wooden bell attached round its neck. Donkeys with pierced noses with ropes threaded through. Desert Rats scattering all over the place at the sound of our oncoming cars, probably also due to Uriah heep blearing from our speakers.
Wells in dry river beds. Local women fetching water at the wells, bare breasted and stretched necks with layer after layer of necklaces from shoulder to underside of chin.
Very sparse with intermittent thorn trees only. Odd community that live in igloo shaped huts. Gathering places in the shade and school class being held complete with blackboard under tree.
Nearer to lake Turkana things changed dramatically. It became a complete lunar landscape with no vegetation at all, only trillions of volcanic rocks of all shapes and sizes. Looked like the rocks had rained down from heaven. The road became rocky and treacherous with sharp tyre-unfriendly outcrops.
The view down on the lake was awesome…..a massive expanse of water far beyond what the eye could see, right in the middle of nowhere. Permanent hot dry wind and no vegetation for miles around the lake. How was this lake ever formed? We had breached our goal which had been a dream of ours, and of course Kevin’s for many years. We had come…..just because…it was there!
We reached an oasis about a km back from the edge of the lake and set up camp at Palm Shade. This was a stopover for many overlanders and the camaraderie was wonderful. Germans, Swedes, Brits, etc., etc., all swopping notes, ideas and information on routes. The camp itself was rudimentary but it brought welcome relief from the sun and the ablutions were quite fine.
Went fishing and we caught a couple of small tilapia look alike fish. This fulfilled our dream of catching a fish in lake Turkana. A dream that Kevin had initiated many years previously.
There are small tribes living around the lake right in the middle of the most barren areas imaginable. They simply have to hunt as there is absolutely nothing else to eat. The ones living near the lake are able to fish, much like they do at Situ Island. There are a couple of dhows also to be seen but these are obviously out of the financial reach of the locals.
25 JUNE : LAKE TURKANA TO MOYALE
We headed north in the morning with the aim of entering Ethiopia through a small border post in northern Kenya called Huri Chisa. No one could tell us whether there were customs officials based here and whether it would be possible for us to have our passports stamped, but we decided we would try in any case.
The initial exit out from Turkana was rocky and then we proceeded into another desert again called Chaibi. We were having another great day and this seemed like our first proper cross-country excursion through a desert and other pure African country side where no one else had ever been before.
Salt pans everywhere and the Bulldog became a free spirit traveling at high speed, dough-nutting and weaving around small mounds of desert sand in all directions followed by clouds of dust resembling a rally car in full flight.
Unfortunately the front right wheel bearing was starting to weep grease again and this became a worrying factor. Although we had all the spare parts and tools to do the repair we really needed to reach Ethiopia by nightfall.
Jackal, gemsbok, gerenuk, grants gazelle and the Rats to be seen on our way.
We arrived at the border and only found a police station. The police officer advised that we should not enter Ethiopia at this point as we would then be travelling without proper papers. He also advised that Mega, the next town in Ethiopia would not be able to assist with stamping our passports and carnet’s. Instead we headed east and drove along the border until we arrived at a town called Sollolo and then re-joined the main drag (the road to hell) for 80kms of bone jarring travel up to Moyale. We noted other landcruisers tackling this road at a speed of about 80kms so that they would fly across the top of the corrugations. We did the same and it was quite hair-raising and dangerous fighting the wheel to keep the vehicle in a straight line. It was a case of either flat out or nothing, and we chose the latter.
Amazingly our wheel bearing hung in and got us to the border post at Moyale in the evening. We decided we would have the wheel repaired on the other side of the border immediately after entering into the Ethiopian side of Moyale. It is interesting to note that Moyale spreads across the border and is in effect two different towns. The locals are allowed to travel freely through the border post.
The screws that secure the front grille of the Bulldog had worked themselves out during the vibration on the road to hell and thanks to the wonderful invention of cable ties, the repair was done quick and easily.
We camped that night in the grounds of Kenya Wildlife. Basic facilities were good enough.
26 JUNE : MOYALE TO AGERE MARYAM
It was Sunday morning so the Kenyan side of the border opened only at 9 am.
Being a muslim country and not observing the Sabbath the Ethiopian side should have also been open but it took about two hours of phone calls and messages to get the officials to come to work. Eventually they did and were very pleasant. We were issued with a special permit to travel through Ethiopia. This is the only paper that you need and overrides your carnet. Luckily we had not chosen the option the previous day to enter the country “unofficially”as we would be in big trouble without this magic piece of paper.
Swopped money into new currency : one Birre equals R2-50. We are finding things very cheap in the country as we travel along. Food is great and the coffee is irresistable.
Right hand side driving! This is a new one for us and makes overtaking very difficult. The passenger has to look for oncoming traffic and advise the driver when to overtake. Straight line driving is a pleasure but circles and high traffic areas are a nightmare. Have to have strong nerves and avoid normal in-bread re-actions when making a split decision of which way to go. Crossing the road by foot is also important as the oncoming traffic comes from the opposite direction you are used to.
We found a mechanic at Omar’s Garage in Moyale that resembled nothing short of a chop shop. Trucks and cars in a million pieces all over the place. Local “mechanics”in grease caked/covered clothes shouting and screaming at each other from under cars, inside engine cavities, inside cabs, etc., in order to swop tools and information. We were allocated three “grease monkeys” who sat on their haunches for entire two hours whilst doing the repair. A piece of old cardboard was placed on the sand next to the wheel and each part was placed on top of this as it was removed, only to covered in sand as each spectator stepped over the cardboard “parts storage shelf” I had negotiated a price of 300 Biere for the job but also had to buy grease and petrol to clean the parts. Also had to chip on for the use of his own liquid gasket material.
The bearing was found to be in perfect order and we replaced the seal with a new part we had bought in Mombassa. All parts were thoroughly cleaned, re-greased and replaced methodically and the repair was complete. Probably better than any franchise garage. Total cost of around R 225 rand for a very complex job!
It was around midday when we headed north through beautiful green countryside. Reasonably good tar roads. Beautiful country side. Everyone lives next to the road so open land only really available behind this. Very fertile with lots of water. Lots of farming activity. Vegetable stalls along side the road selling mangoes, charcoal (always), tomatoes, onions, bananas, pineapples, mainly.
Reached Agere Maryam in the evening and found a small hotel to stay in. Very much like an hotel in Nqeleni or somewhere similar in Transkei.
Upon opening the door to our room the stench hit is like a stiff uppercut from Mohammed Ali. We started wretching on the spot. After much persuation we fetched our own bedding and mattresses from the Bulldog and slept on the floor.
The evening went well, lovely bar area, beers were great (called St Georges) and the food was wonderful. Drank ourselves into a trance in order to face the inside of our rooms.
High tailed it out of the hotel early in the morning as there was no water to be seen and you simply could not use the ablutions in any case. Had our last wretch only as we drove out of the hotel grounds.
27 JUNE : AGERE MARYAM TO ADDIS ABBABA
Did our ablution alongside the road after leaving the outskirts of Agere Maryam. This was a much better option than using the hotel! Very mountainous area early in the morning with rain and mist slowing down progress. Very beautiful scenery. Eventually reached a town called Dila where we had breakfast at a quaint restaurant…..magic coffee and “burger specials” good food and dirt cheap.
Heavy traffic blocked by trucks made the route into Addis very long and tiring. Eventually found a suitable hotel and this where we now are for two nights. Cost is 80 dollars per night including breakfast for two people sharing.
Feels like luxury after coming out of the bush. Re-grouping, repairing cars, repacking cars, getting washing done and getting blogs up to date.
Cheers for now from “woof woof who let the dogs out” the motto of the Bulldog