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April 27th, 2010 | Africa

Changing Hemispheres…

Yep!! This posting comes to you from the Northern Hemisphere! Today’s Crossing of the Equator was a non-event I’m afraid… After passing through the village aptly named “Equator”, I checked my GPS to find that I was still a few points south of the fabled 0’ 00’’.000’’’ mark, and slowed down expecting to see a large sign in the next kilometre or so… After a few minutes I saw it!! It was about a metre high, rusted to hell, and to make matters worse, was well below the level of the road… Our Chinese friends, who had built this “new” road, had left the sign on the level of the old road! There was no way I could get the bike and the sign in the photo, unless I clambered down the embankment and took a shot of the bike with the sky as a background… I sat looking down at the sign, and then remembered that in the next week, I would cross the Equator four times!!! I would rather wait for a better opportunity to take a proper photo to commemorate the event…

Monster Overland truck...

Another Overlander parked at the Jungle Junction...

Before leaving Nairobi, Angela and I drove out to the Jungle Junction, to see if any of the mechanics that Chris employs were on duty… Chris had advised that he was on leave in an earlier email to me, but on the off chance that he had left a small crew at work, we went over to investigate… The driveway of the Jungle Junction was crammed full of huge overland trucks, many of them on their way to South Africa for the World Cup… Chris was in fact in situ, but was definitely on holiday mode!! We agreed that I could bring the bike around next week to fit the new tyres that I had carried with me from Lilongwe, and have new brake pads fitted…all at the standard BMW rates…!!!!

I told him that I was on my way to Uganda and Rwanda, to which he replied,

“In the rainy season…? You know of course that Kenyan rain is born in Uganda, so if it is raining here, then it is bucketing in Uganda…!”

The Rift Valley lies below me, as I work my way around the edge of the escarpment...

With this wonderful piece of news roaming around the inside of my skull, we left to do some shopping and then returned home so that I could get all my kit sorted for my run to Bujumbura and back… I considered leaving a lot of my kit in Nairobi, which I would collect on my return, but in the end decided that with my luck, I would end up needing a tent and sleeping bag in the next week or two, so decided to cart most of my gear with me… Especially my rain suit!!

Murphy can, in the blink of an eye, travel all over the planet… I was taking no chances that he had discovered my whereabouts and was lying in wait for me somewhere around the shores of Lake Victoria…

Roger had suggested that I wait until the traffic had died down before venturing out to the A104, which led northwest towards Uganda. At 9.00am, after telling Angela I would be back in “about ten day’s time”, I rode out of Forest Lane to do battle with the traffic… This time Miss Garmin was on the ball, and I was on the A104 a short while later.

Kenya is not big on roadsigns... This is one of the better ones you will find out in the countryside...

Nairobi lies at about 1800 m.a.s.l., and the road climbed steadily along the edge of the Rift Valley Escarpment, until the altimeter showed 2500 m.a.s.l. … This came as a surprise to me, as I thought I would be descending down into the rift valley, and not climbing even higher than we already were… What came as an even bigger surprise was the cold… A light wind was blowing and after an hour on the road, I had to switch on my heated grips, as my fingers were losing all feeling… At one point, a little north of Naivasha, I actually considered pulling over and putting my rain jacket over my riding jacket to stop the cold from getting down into my bones… then the road began dipping again and I rode in brilliant sunshine, towards Giligil and Lake Elmentatia… The Chinese had been at work in this area as well, and in some parts the road was in excellent condition, so much so, that the Big Fella lost his head for a while and it was no surprise when the long arm of the law stepped out to “tell us a question”…

“Park your bike properly over there, take off your hat and proceed to that car over there…” I was told by a big burly fellow…

This looked serious… There were six traffic cops all together, and they were clustered around the one who seemed to be in charge, peering into the screen on his radar gun…

“This is an 80 km/h zone, and you were doing 116 km/h…” were the first words out of his mouth…

“But I have not seen a sign indicating what speed I must ride since leaving Nairobi!” I exclaimed.

“Yes…well the people are pinching the signs to make charcoal burners, but ignorance of the law is no defense…!” he said with a smile… “You must pay a KES 5000.00 bond to us, then go to the magistrates court in Naivasha to be fined…” he said, hauling out a receipt book…

“That seems a lot,” was all I could say…

“But you were going very fast… In fact, you passed one of our officers a short while ago and he called to say that he could not even read your number plate when you passed him… This 116 is much less than you were doing before…”

There followed about ten minutes of the usual “negotiations”, before we settled on a donation to the “Kenyan Traffic Officers Unofficial Retirement Fund” of KES 2 000.00 (about R200.00). The Big Fella seemed contrite when I explained that due to his exuberance, he had cost us the equivalent of a tank and a half of petrol…

Flamingos on Lake Elmentatia...

With a wave to the gang of thieves, we set off again, and passed Kikopei and then stopped adjacent to Lake Elmentatia, where in the distance I could see huge flocks of Flamingo… The lake was too far from the road to see them clearly, but I took a snap of the scene anyway…

Just north of the Lake Nakuru National Park, I entered the town of Nakuru itself, and was pleasantly surprised at the size of it… Large traffic circles kept the trucks and buses flowing smoothly, and a short while later I was out on the road leading towards my destination for the night, Eldoret… I passed a small herd of Zebra, grazing on the side of the road, and assumed that they were part of the National Park… The road here threads its way between a huge stand of Fever Trees, and it reminded me of that stretch of highway between Richards Bay and Mkuze, on the way down to Durban…

One of the better sections of road, where I could afford to stop and take a photo...

I had considered taking the B4 north past Lake Bogoria and Lake Baringo at this point, but there was a huge bank of dark cloud hanging out there, and I was sure I would have been in for a wet ride on this 80 km detour to Eldoret, so I kept going along the A104, and after passing over the Equator, the road rose up to over 2900 m.a.s.l., passing through plantations of pine forest, before dropping down again to the town of Eldoret.  The road surface over the last 60 kilometres is in a terrible state… Seems like many things “Made in China”, it was only meant to last a short while…

Front entrance to the Klique Hotel, Eldoret...

Most of the product imported by Uganda and Rwanda is trucked from the port of Mombasa on the east cost of Kenya, along this road. Hundreds of trucks use this road daily, and with nary a weighbridge in sight, overloaded trucks have pressed the tar down to form a “middle-mannetjie”, which extends for almost 50 kilometres… The ruts are so deep in places that there is no way out of them… If you are unlucky enough to be caught in the right hand rut, and get stuck behind a truck doing 30 km/h, that is where you are going to stay for a long time… On a number of occasions, I scrapped either my boot tips, or the crash bars… The road is also quite narrow in places, and the trucks seem to miss each other by inches when they pass…  Not pleasant conditions for riding…

View to my left from my balcony...

View to the right from my balcony... Admittedly, not a pretty sight...

Eldoret was founded by a group of South African farmers, who, after the Boer War, sailed up the east coast of Africa, disembarked at Mombasa, and then  trekked across the interior until they reached this area… They settled down to farm, and judging by the neatly fenced off pastures and productive farmland in the area, they must have had SOME positive influence on the local inhabitants and their descendants…

I stopped to refuel, and only after the Big Fella had swallowed 16 litres, did I realize that I did not have enough money to pay for the fuel… My “donation” to the traffic officers had dented my stash of Shillings… I only had enough money to pay for half the petrol, and with a promise to return shortly, I dashed off down the road, and 4 kilometres later, found a Barclays ATM, drew cash, and then rode back to the service station to pay the balance of what I owed… The fact that these guys trusted me to do this, speaks volumes about the friendly people I meet every day… I wonder if I would have been allowed to leave a service station in South Africa, without leaving something of value behind as collateral…?

There is basically only one decent hotel in Eldoret, and that is the Klique Hotel… It is just off the A104 which passes through the centre of town, and at first I thought the entrance was via a supermarket, but was then directed down a narrow alley behind the main entrance, where I was able to park the bike in the basement of the hotel, away from the prying eyes and inquisitive fingers of the locals, who had gathered en-masse when I pulled up at the front entrance….

After checking in and convincing the receptionist to give me the password to their wireless internet connection, I climbed the four flights of stairs to my room on the top floor and settled down to a bout of navel contemplation…  Later that evening I discovered that there was a disco attached to the hotel, evidence of this got the windows rattling…

The Health and Public Safety Inspector has not visited Eldoret in a long time... All the switchgear and cabling is in easy touching distance...

But it was all good…

I had crossed the Equator, and another interesting day, filled with beautiful scenery was behind me…

Tomorrow I would be crossing into Uganda…

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