Posts Tagged ‘Isiolo’

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.


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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