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Archive for the ‘Kenya’ Category

Isiolo is a dry and windswept town in northern Kenya. From its main street we can just make out the summit of Mt Kenya now 100km to the south. It is the last town of size before heading north 500 km through the desert to Moyale and the Ethiopian border. Marsabit lies almost halfway and offers some reprieve for those wishing to break the journey.

Isiolo Kenya

Isiolo Kenya

We are keen to keep moving as our days in Africa are now limited. The locals are dressed in torn jeans and faded football tops. Their eyes are red from chewing mira stems, a natural but powerful amphetamine. All of the 4WD’s have left but there is a bus that passes through around midnight that may have room on it. We are not keen on taking the bus and pursue the 4WD option instead.

Details are sketchy and mira induced men stumble over their words offering conflicting advice. Kala who handles his mira better than the others seems reliable. Basically we will have to be on the street tomorrow at 6am and wait for vehicles to come through. Nothing is certain but the only other option is to wait by the road tonight and hope there is room on the slow moving bus.

We register our plans with the local police. The way north is for now calm. Only a few years ago vehicles were required to travel in convoys with soldiers to protect them from armed bandits known as shifta. The situation can change at any moment but the officer is not overly concerned by our crossing and takes down our details.

I walk back to the hotel and pass by Sleek Cutz. One of the men sees my beard and beckons me inside. I could do with a cut and trim and there isn’t much else to do in Isiolo. I see on the table in front of me a pair of scissors, might I actually have found an African barber who cuts hair with scissors? Before I find out we need to establish the price. He starts off with 250 shillings about $3.00 USD but even I know this is too much. I offer 100 and he feigns deep disgust. He points to a sign on the wall but without realising, it indicates 80 shillings for a cut and beard trim. I quickly leap on this. He clasps his hand to his face embarrassed; his colleagues are much amused. Strict instructions are given I don’t want a repeat episode of my butchering in Arusha. He reaches for the clippers and delicately trims my sides leaving the top at a longer length. It turns out that the scissors are for cleaning his fingernails.

Only the best work in "Sleek Cutz"

Only the best work in “Sleek Cutz”

That evening we are kept awake by the local nightclub for most of the night. The music blares until 5am giving us a 30 minute window for sleep. There is no polite way to put it, we both feel like shit as we walk out to the main road alongside the prostitutes that have kept us awake. We wait for an hour but no vehicles come through. More brokers approach us but Kala is quick to see them off. Rumours of a man departing at 9am filter back to us. Our hotel has also told us that a guest is leaving for Marsabit in an hour but this is only halfway. We allow him to leave and wait instead for the car going to Moyale. His vehicle is parked outside our hotel but he seems more interested in a late breakfast and rounding up other passengers. The sun is starting to get high in the sky and still no departure. At this rate we won’t reach Moyale by nightfall.

Emma

Rick returns looking deflated, apparently we are not leaving until 10am, now we sit and wait. You certainly get opportunity to measure how calm and collected you can be for extended periods of time. I sit and wait and stare at the green jobko tel shop across the road. Studying the suitcases in the window I wonder which one I would buy. Distracted I watch dirty plastic bags blow down the street. Blaring music begins as the local nightclub re-opens. Greg speaks to Jeremy; the hotel manager about the delay. He sums it up perfectly, be patient he will come.

I start to think about the sleep I might have had when Kala excitedly runs through the door. There is a 4WD at the petrol station filling up and it has space for three. He is leaving now. We are in doubt as to what to do. We have a man who we have been waiting for all morning. Now we are being rushed off to another car on the other side of town. We have waited long enough, our patience has run out. We agree on a price of 2500 shillings about $32.00 USD.

Kala our broker in Isiolo

Kala our broker in Isiolo

The 4WD is an extended wheel base. It has 4 rows of seats in the back, 3 people per row. The leg room is ridiculous but we manage to squeeze in. Kala bids us farewell and we pay him 500 shillings for his services; he has worked hard to find us a ride.

The road north starts well and lures us into a false sense of security but after 80km the asphalt abruptly ends. The sun is now high in the sky. The pale dirt road ahead stings your eyes. Ripples of heat rise from the horizon. A Samburu women drags a reluctant mule. Her arms and face are black as the night sky and wrinkled from years in the sun.

Heading north from Isiolo

Heading north from Isiolo

We stop to fix our second flat tyre, we only have 1 left and we are still over 300km from Moyale. The scenery outside is beautiful. Large mountains rise out of the desert but it is a harsh beauty, lonely and desolate. I admire the toughness of the Samburu people. We are so soft compared to them.

11 Flat tyre

The road is heavily rutted and we are slowly being shaken to death; provided the dust does not choke us first. My legs are going to sleep and I have little room to move them. The shadows are now getting longer but still no Marsabit? We come into a small town but a local informs me that this is not Marsabit, I feel dejected.

Samburu and mule

Samburu and mule

We start to climb up and over a pass. As we gain height we leave the intense heat of the desert behind. We pass through some forests of large tress and shortly before dinner we reach Marsabit. It has taken 10 hours to get here. The thought of knowing we are only halfway is crushing. Our driver has both spares repaired while we look for something edible in the tumble down town.

13 passing land

30 minutes later and we are back on the road. The sun is now setting, I admire the colours to my left. Sunset in the west we are heading north; good.

We pull over near a huge hole in the ground. It is over a kilometre across. Three million years ago a meteor hit here leaving this vast depression. Now we are here looking at it. The men in our car start their prayers for the evening. It’s a tranquil moment. Light crimson on the horizon, cool wind blowing and listening to the soft prayers.

Sunset prayers

Sunset prayers

We push through the night, there are no lights, and no markers not even a track to follow. We are driving across sand. I wonder how the driver knows where to go. We stop and turn around, he has become lost. I wonder how far ago it happened. The damage is small just a couple of kilometres. I have no watch and I do not want to know the time. It must be very late. There are shouts inside the car, and debate breaks out. The driver veers to the right and soon we drive up an embankment and onto an asphalt road. Beautiful smooth black asphalt, like an oasis in the desert. Our speed picks up as does my excitement.

The driver pulls over and lets one of the passengers drive for a while. He has been awake for three days and now not even the mira can keep him going. The asphalt runs out after 20km. I cannot understand why this section in the middle of nowhere has been built, I assume it’s to give people hope.

I start to drift off and have micro dreams. I can see the lights of Moyale ahead but every time I open my eyes there is just darkness. Please let me see lights. The bag on my lap now feels like a small car. I have no where I can put it. My legs are tingling, my back aches and I am exhausted.

Finally we see lights ahead. We drive through littered streets lined with corrugated iron. We approach a gate that is locked. The driver blares his horn. A sleepy man in a dirty singlet opens the gate. This is where we will sleep tonight. We are in Moyale. The room is basic and dusty, and costs us 200 shillings for all three about $2.50USD. It must be the cheapest triple in the world. We lock the door and lay down, it is 2.30am. It has taken us 17 hours but we have made it.

Tomorrow we cross into Ethiopia.

Dirty from the Journey

Dirty from the Journey

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Leaving Nairobi for the last time we make our way north along the rim of the Great Rift Valley to Lake Nakuru. The township is around 4 hours away in a mini bus that is thankfully not over loaded. One seat per person is a surprising and blessed relief.

Matatu departing Nairobi

Matatu departing Nairobi

Arriving just after midday we take lunch in a Chinese restaurant of all places. There is still a few hours of daylight left so we decide to try and organise a driver to take us into Lake Nakuru national park tonight and pull back one precious day. We find a small agency down a side street and up a flight of stairs. Negotiations are swift and within an hour we are in a 4WD van and headed into the park which is only 10 mins away.

Heading along the Rift Valley

Heading along the Rift Valley

Our plan is to take in a short drive tonight and then get dropped at a remote camp site near the southern end of the park before being picked up again the following morning. Nakuru is famous for its rhinos and it’s not long before we spot two white rhinos by the side of the road. The white rhino is larger and more sociable than its black cousin that we worked so hard to see in Tanzania.

White Rhino Lake Nakuru

White Rhino Lake Nakuru

James (who looks like Spike Lee) takes us next to the aptly named baboon cliffs. It’s a splendid view of Lake Nakuru. For Emma it is a special moment. Her grandfather was stationed in Kenya for many years after world war two with the British army. Her father grew up in Kenya and both have told Emma of stories about living here around Lake Nakuru and Mt Kenya.

4 emma nakuru

We make our way to the campsite as dusk descends on the park. We work quickly to set up the tents in the fading light. A fire is lit with some difficulty but eventually we are seated around flames alone in the park. There are no fences, no Masai guards like we had in the Serengeti, just us and our tents for protection. We consume a meal of tomato and chutney sandwiches and drink a bottle of water. It’s a simple dinner completed with a chocolate bar.

An hour after dinner as we are chatting we hear some hyenas, they are close. We try to scan the woods with our low powered torch but it is useless. I am not entirely sure I want to see eyes reflected in the woods tonight anyway. Feeling a little excited and nervous we hear a sound to our right about 50 to 100m away. It is a deep growl. We all freeze for a second and then in military precision we huddle around tightly with the fire between us and the direction of the sound. What the hell was that? We are all in shock, the power and closeness of the noise has really put us on edge. It definitely sounded cat like. It takes a good hour before our pulses return to normal and we retire to our tents with the embers of fire still going.

Scary night of camping on our own

Scary night of camping on our own

James collects us the next morning. He is fairly certain that it was not a lion, as there is only one pride in Nakuru and they are located about 10km away on the other side of the lake. Leopards however are common around this part of the park! That was not mentioned last night when we were dropped off!

Nakuru is sadly not the lake it used to be when Emma’s grandfather was stationed here. The millions of Flamingos that once called it home have moved away due to the water becoming too fresh and no longer supporting the algae they feed on. Still we manage to find a small flock and using ones imagination we peel back the years to her grandfather’s time.

Flamingos Lake Nakuru

Flamingos Lake Nakuru

After resting for the night in Nakuru, we are up early again and headed for the Matatu stand. Breakfast is enjoyed by watching a music video played repeatedly over and over, no one seems to notice or care. The street outside our hotel is cracked and muddy and filled with large puddles from last night’s rain. I looks for all purposes like a model of the rift valley we have been following for so long.

Today we are headed for Nanyuki. The town affords close views of Mt Kenya and is also only 2km north of the equator. There are two matatus headed for Nanyuki this morning. The conductors both malign the each other vans viciously. He will take 5 hours. He will take longer to leave. This man is a thief. It’s like watching insult tennis. One van affords more room in the back. We are keen not to have our bags shoved under seats among motor oil containers, so we go with Nanyuki Express. Richard assists the conductor by walking the streets with him to help drum up business. The pitch is simple and racist; see even Muzungus are coming with us, come now this is a VIP bus!

Nanyuki Express Ticket Office

Nanyuki Express Ticket Office

We head north to Thomson Falls along a C road that is heavily crevassed. From there we turn east along a D road for disaster before finally crossing an F Road for field. We cross the equator back and forth 5 times before finally coming to rest in Nanyuki.

It’s the same procedure, mobbed by touts we retreat to some shade and sit down to relax. No we are not climbing Mt Kenya; they have heard it all before but this time it’s true. Richard and Emma go looking for a room while I chat with the local guides. I really do feel sorry for them sometimes as they try so hard to scratch out a living. I wish I could give them all some business but it’s simply not possible. We try to give them respect at least but after long journeys that too is not always the case.

The equator is for the overland traveller an important milestone. We crossed the tropic of Capricorn in Namibia now three months later we are on the equator. A man with highly sensitive instruments; a match and a bucket of water with a hole in it, demonstrates the coriolis effect. Water flowing down a hole spins clockwise while the water in the southern hemisphere spins anti clockwise. The doctor walks 30 meters either side of the line and sure enough the affect is working. When the water bucket is placed right on the equator the match does not spin at all. I am dubious as to whether the coriolis effect is that sensitive but I decide to enjoy the show and leave my cynicism in check. We pay the doctor 200 shillings for his polished performance.

Crossing the Line

Crossing the Line

Mt Kenya is shrouded in cloud currently but we take a risk and head 10km east by motorbike to the Fairmont My Kenya safari club established by the actor William Holden in the early 1950’s. The lodge is set on manicured lawns in front of an Alice in wonderland style hedge maze. We stroll through the gardens. Tomorrow we must move onto to Isiolo to prepare for the crossing to Moyale and the Ethiopian border. We really only have tonight and early tomorrow morning to see the mountain exposed. Shortly before sunset we are granted our wish. The clouds part and the summit of Mt Kenya is revealed. It is a very different mountain to Kilimanjaro. The summit is a cracked and exposed volcanic plug that is technically very difficult to climb. Most people only trek to the third highest peak. We are much relieved to have seen the summit and count our good fortune.

My Kenya Africa's 2nd highest mountain

My Kenya Africa’s 2nd highest mountain

Tomorrow we head for Isiolo the Wild West town of the north. The crossing to Moyale is possibly going to be the hardest and most dangerous part of our journey through Africa.

Adventure awaits.

 

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There is excitement in the air this morning as we depart Nairobi. Our immediate concerns with visas are resolved and we are heading to Amboseli National Park. It has been many weeks since we last saw Kilimanjaro in Moshi Tanzania.We round a bend on a ridge and catch a view of the snow-capped summit in the clouds. The great loop around Tanzania, Rwanda, Uganda and Kenya is closed, it is an electrifying moment.

Kilimanjaro is even more magnificent when viewed from the north in Kenya. Even from 80km away her long sweeping shoulders fill the horizon. The Massai in southern Kenya also seem to surpass their Tanzanian neighbours. The men have fine long braids dyed red. They wear bright white head pieces and metal jewellery. They are a striking race of people, tall and elegant.

Masai lady selling jewelry just outside the park

Masai lady selling jewellry just outside the park

The Tawi lodge sits in a forest of acacia tress and has uninterrupted views of Kilimanjaro. It is located in its own conservancy just outside the main gates to the National Park. This is actually an advantage as for every 24 hours you spend in the park the fee is $80.00 USD!

Our Bungalow under African stars

Our Bungalow under African stars

We enter the park around 4pm for a quick 2 hour sunset game drive. Amboseli is famous for its elephants. It is almost the quintessential Africa. Elephants, acacia studded savannah and the snows of Kilimanjaro. What it is not renowned for is big cats, so it comes as a surprise when only 30 minutes into the park we spot a cheetah sitting upright in the long golden grass about 80 meters from the road. We stop the car and sit and watch. With her are two playful half grown cubs.

The Cheetah mother

The Cheetah mother

The light is fading and the mother starts to move. To our left about 100 meters away is a small group of Thomson gazelle. Her shoulders stiffen and she sinks lower to the ground. The cubs instinctively stop playing and hide below the grass. The mother closes in inch by inch. The spectator is forced to choose sides. Twenty minutes later she is now only 40-50 meters away. The snows on the summit of kili have turned golden. The savannah is now in gloom. The mother charges. Her acceleration is remarkable. The gazelle skittle in all directions like tan ten pins. It all happens so quickly it’s hard to keep focus on. The cheetah darts left then right then stops. She has failed. We watch her panting and out of breath. After five minutes she starts the long and disappointing walk back to the cubs. They see her coming and sprint towards her with amazing speed themselves. They are excited to be with her again despite there being no food on the table. The park is closing and it’s time to leave tonight but this is has been a much unexpected bonus.

Sunrise over Amboseli

Sunrise over Amboseli

Morning breaks and we are up early to catch the sunrise. It seems such a shame to be leaving the crisp white sheets of the lodge so early, especially as we are so acquainted with budget hovels. The colours in the morning are soft and delicate. A light mist hangs over the plains. The weaver birds are singing loudly, it’s a magical time and soon the warmth of our beds are forgotten.  The stars of the park have alluded us so far but it’s not long before we see them gathered around the swamps in the eastern part of the park. A family numbering around 10 slowly trudge towards us. We park and wait. They cross the road just behind our car. They are covered in white powder and they seem larger than the elephants we saw in the Serengeti.

DSC07372

The babies look a little uncertain for a moment then follow behind their massive mothers.  They walk one behind the other in perfectly straight lines. Only the big males are on their own. We watch in amazement. Kilimanjaro huge and still has seen days like this for 2 million years.

Zebras and Kili

Zebras and Kili

Our last morning and we opt for a lie in. After taking breakfast we retire again to our villas to soak up our last views of the White Mountain. Richard who is about 50 meters to our right is staring into the bush with the same concentration of the cheetah we saw on the first night. Remaining silent he amusingly imitates an elephant by placing an arm to his nose. We walk towards his villa and then spot a huge bull drifting through the brush. How such a huge animal can be so quiet is puzzling.

Sucking up the views one last time

Sucking up the views one last time

He makes his way past us to the water hole. We close in slowly to watch him drink. It is an entirely different experience to watch a fully grown male elephant from the ground with no vehicle. He is now only 30 meters away. He paws at the water with his huge legs. Flaps his ears and trumpets loudly. He turns and sees us. He stares at us for 10 seconds then lurches up out of the water. All that stand between us is 30 meters, a low voltage wire two feet off the ground and stupidity. We freeze unable to move as we wait for his next movement. Pulses are rising and we turn to look for an escape route should he charge. After a long stare he turns away and walks to the other side of the waterhole where he resumes playing in the mud. It’s a great way to end our time in Amboseli.

The male elephant turns to look at us

The male elephant turns to look at us

We now head north towards the equator and Africa’s second highest mountain, Mt Kenya.

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Nairobi

The journey time from Kampala to Nairobi is 12 hours but we somehow manage it in 16. It has been a night of musical horns, high beam lights, pot holes and very little sleep. We crossed the Uganda Kenya border sometime around midnight. Emma was nearly arrested for public urination behind a bus in a very dark corner.

Bus from Kampala to Nairobi

Bus from Kampala to Nairobi

It is nearly lunch as our bus negotiates the tight dirty streets of east Nairobi.I am not entirely sure why but the rule that bus depots shall be located in the filthiest and most run down part of town seems universal in African cities. For this reason I try to wait before I declare Nairobi a dump.

Downtown Nairobi

Downtown Nairobi

We make our way out of the automotive spare parts section of the city and into more attractive streets lined with trees. To our left are the skyscrapers of downtown Nairobi, the first we have seen since leaving Cape Town. Our ride to The Upper Hill Guest House is about 10-15 minutes from the CBD. It is a lovely compound shaded by vast eucalyptus trees and is conveniently close to most of the embassies; which means it is in the nice part of town. It is run by Jesse an American who is both talkative and likable and eager to share her deep knowledge of Kenya with anyone.

Jesse and Jenny at the upper hill camp site Nairobi

Jesse and Jenny at the upper hill camp site Nairobi

Weighing heavily on our minds is an Ethiopian visa. We have been rejected in Uganda and the internet is littered with stories of those that were declined in Nairobi. Without this visa our way north is blocked. We will be forced to send our passports back to Australia and wait for their return. Time which we can ill afford if we are to make it to Pakistan by the 9th August. This date is our only deadline on the journey. Our Pakistan visa will expire on the 10th. There is little point extending as we are already at the end of the trekking season in Northern Pakistan and are meeting friends from the UK in Skardu on the 16th.

Emma shows the way to the Ethiopian embassy

Emma shows the way to the Ethiopian embassy

Beyond Ethiopia more problems and red tape await. We still need to cross Northern Kenya, Ethiopia, Sudan, Egypt, the Mediterranean Sea, Turkey, Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and China. It is a bureaucratic transport and visa nightmare. The Stans are among some of the most difficult visas to get in the world.

We could enter Pakistan directly from Iran; a journey we did in 2009, but recent well planned and organised kidnappings of a Swiss couple and then two Czech girls in the last 6 months on the bus from Taftan to Quetta have convinced us not attempt this crossing. Besides central Asia is an unexplored region of the world we are keen to see.

We make our way to the Ethiopian consulate armed with Passports, Photos, US Dollars and well-rehearsed sob stories. We are first questioned by an office clerk, who depending on one’s circumstances will allow you to proceed to stage two. Discouragingly we watch a few Muzungus get turned away in front of us. My palms are sweating as it is our turn to approach the counter.  We explain that we have been travelling continuously for longer than three months since leaving Australia and that we were not able to apply for a visa in our home country as it would have expired before reaching Ethiopia. He stares at us without comment, flicking through our passport pages he hands us a form each to fill in and informs us his superior will need to see us first. A sigh of relief this looks promising. Rick who is standing next to us is rejected. He has not been travelling for more than three months and advised he should have obtained a visa before departing. A young South African is also rejected for the same reason.

We fill in our forms and wait to be called. We take Rick with us in an attempt to have him reconsidered. For anyone familiar with Seinfeld this is a Soup Nazi moment. We enter with straight backs and clasped hands looking grateful for this audience. The lady behind the desk has a cross tattooed on her forehead and Amharic writing on her neck. I try not to stare.

We are given opportunity to plead our case. I explain that we are on an overland journey and have been travelling for longer than three months. I am then required to show her all our stamps and dates as proof we have been making the journey. She informs us she will give us a visa but only for 30 days; a date will cost us later but that is for another story.

Her gaze turns to Rick who has no form and she seems a little perplexed as to why he is here. I explain that Rick is my nephew and we are travelling together, his circumstances are not the same as ours but we would be grateful if we could continue our journey together. Just as Rick’s non requirement for a visa in Rwanda helped us, so our situation now helps him. She agrees to give Rick a 30 day visa as well.

The Nairobi Java House

The Nairobi Java House

We rush to the bank to make a deposit for $30.00 USD each then bring the receipts back to the consulate. Once submitted we are told to return at 4pm to collect. Time to celebrate we all go for a milkshake in one of Nairobi’s upmarket cafés. The relief is overwhelming, no need to send our passports back to Australia and now we can concentrate on travelling again; for now anyway.

Visited the baby elephant orphanage in Nairobi

Visited the baby elephant orphanage in Nairobi

 

 

 

 

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