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May 16th, 2010 | Africa

Leaving Nairobi…

Leaving Nairobi was a disconcerting experience for me… I was packed and ready when Steve arrived in the taxi to lead me to where the truck was waiting… I was excited to be back on the road again, continuing on this journey which has become my life for the next few years… But I was also sad that I was leaving a family that I had grown so close to in such a short space of time…

I had an amazing time staying with the Gauntletts’… A big thank you to Louis Barnard, without whom I would not have met this wonderful family. I was made to feel at home from the day I first arrived there, and by the time I left I felt “part of the family”.  You know the feeling…when you can go into the fridge or the cupboard for something to eat or drink, and not feel awkward about it….that’s the feeling…!!

On my second visit, after my little sortie to Rwanda and Burundi, it was like coming home in a way, and although I was away for almost two weeks, it felt as though I’d only been gone a day…

Angela and Gemma Gauntlett bid me goodbye...

The pocket dynamo that is Angela, drove me around Nairobi despite the hundred and one things she has to do on a daily basis, and after every busy day, she still found the time to conjure up the most amazing meals…

Roger had made his driver available to take me to the Sudanese Embassy when it was pouring with rain, and while we watched sport on TV in the evenings, gave me a fascinating insight into the “World of Coke”, and filled my head with so many interesting facts about the business, that I wished I had written them all down… I’ll keep the flag flying Roger!!

While I sorted through my gear prior to my departure, Gemma had made a “goodbye card” for me, and shyly presented it to me as I was loading the bike… In the one corner was a drawing of a little girl with tears on her cheeks with the words, “We will miss you Ronnie”… That had me swallowing hard… I had to look away and pretend to be fiddling with the bike so Gemma wouldn’t see the emotions written so plainly on my face…

Roger was playing golf, Abby was at a friend’s house, and only Angela and Gemma were at home when I left. Our goodbyes seemed over too quickly… One minute I was hugging Gemma and Angela goodbye, the next I was out on Karen road, following the taxi… At one point I felt like riding back to say goodbye again…

You can understand then, why I was a little misty-eyed on the road to Eastleigh, where the truck was waiting…

A few adjustments had to be made to get the Big Fella into the truck...

Close to an outdoor market and a bustling taxi rank, there is a large transit depot where goods going north to Marsabit and Moyale are dispatched from. The truck I had booked space on was already fully loaded with rice which had been imported from Pakistan, as well as cases of Coke, Fanta and Sprite… I could not see that there would be any space for the Big Fella, and was about to get on the bike and head back to Karen, when the depot manager rushed up and pleaded with me to wait, while they rearranged their cargo. After offloading many bags of rice, and moving umpteen cases of cold-drink out of the way, we managed to get the bike onto the truck and wedged firmly in place with the bags of rice that had been offloaded to make space… We had stripped the bike of its panniers and along with the duffel bag and my tent, we packed them into the back amongst the rice and crates.

Behind the driver’s seat was a narrow bunk, and I put my tank bag with all my cameras in it there, as well as my backpack, jacket and helmet. This took up half the space and I figured, space for the driver’s kit… I had assumed that I would be the only passenger on the truck… I was dead wrong… First a guy arrived with a big suitcase, which was unceremoniously hoisted into the back of the truck and dropped down onto the crates. Then another guy arrived with a few bags of his own, and wedged himself in along with my gear on the narrow bunk. The first guy and I sat up front and finally, at 5.00pm, we were off…

Traffic was a nightmare, and it took almost an hour to get out of Nairobi, and then another four hours to get to Nanyuki, which was only 195 km away… We had been stopped at a weighbridge just outside the city, and found to be “only a few tons” overweight, according to the driver… Money had changed hands, and we were on our way again…  The road passed between the Aberdare National Park and Mount Kenya National park, crossing the Tana River before it did so… Kadir, who sat next to me up front, gave a running commentary of where we were, what we were passing and what the places were famous for, which made the journey far more interesting than I had expected. The driver, whom we dubbed “The Captain”, did not speak much English, but got into the swing of things and added his own bits of info as we drove along… Many of Kadir’s sentences were started with, “The Captain has told me to tell you….”…

Late evening traffic in Nairobi...

I did not get a glimpse of Mount Kenya as it was a moonless night, but Kadir’s description of it made we wish we were driving in daylight hours… Apparently most of the trips to Moyale begin during the day, so that the trucks can ride through the desert of the northern areas at night, when conditions for both vehicle and passengers were cooler…

Nanyuki is a well known town for a variety of reasons…It was famous for its flower farms and also for the British Army base on its northern outskirts, where soldiers came to train in preparation for being posted to Afghanistan. Nanyuki also lies just a few kilometres north of the Equator, and this was my fifth crossing of this landmark! I had swung back and forth between the hemispheres over the last few weeks, but this was the last time I would cross the Equator before flying over it from Singapore sometime during the first quarter of 2011…

Nanyuki is also the home of Kuki Gallmann, author of the book “I Dreamed of Africa”. She runs an animal orphanage and a private game farm here, to where visitors can be flown to in light aircraft, to spend a few days in the bush… We passed the landing strip, where a number of Cessna were parked, confirming that this was a popular place for tourists. She is an ardent environmentalist, and writes articles for many magazines and newspapers here in Kenya and abroad… Kadir told me about her with a measure of pride, which I found touching… Directly to the East of Nanyuki, lies the Sweetwaters Game Reserve, another popular destination for both Kenyans and travelers from abroad.

After stopping to buy potatoes just outside town, we headed north again, bound for Isiolo, a town which deserves the name “The Last Outpost”, if ever there was one… We arrived there at 2.00am, where the “Spanner Boys” checked tyres, springs and anything else that needed to be secured before the long and torturous road to Marsabit and Moyale began…

“Isiolo never sleeps,” Kadir said, “there is always traffic passing through here and shops stay open to serve the drivers and passengers…”

The truck "Sabran Jamilan", which means Patience in Arabic...

People wandered around, chatting to drivers, vendors ran from truck to truck, selling food, fruit, water, and most importantly it would seem, Miraa… This is a plant that grows in various areas in Kenya, and is also known worldwide as Khat… It is chewed by many, and comes in a variety of “strengths”… The Captain preferred a much stronger type to that of Kadir, and explained that his Miraa was the “whisky” of Miraa, whereas the type Kadir preferred, was like the “beer” of Miraa… Between the Captain and Kadir, they went through four or five shopping bags of this drug, before we reached Moyale, and neither of them slept a wink in all the 30 odd hours it took us to get there… I was astounded that it had such an effect on them… Can you imagine driving on a road that requires your full attention at ALL times, for 30 hours straight without taking a few hours break to have a kip? Potent stuff, this Miraa…!! Any wonder it is listed as a “banned substance” in many countries around the world, but apparently, it is exported in huge quantities and earns the growers vast sums of money…

“Miraa growers are rich people here in Kenya…” Kadir advised… “They have big houses and nice cars…”

Later, when I could no longer stay awake, I was tempted to try the stuff, but decided against it, because I had read somewhere that it can have a few unexplained side effects, and the last thing I needed was a report in the local newspapers, about a Mazungu that was last seen running off into the desert, pretending to be riding a motorbike, and singing “Born to be Wild” at the top of his voice…

Commonly known as the "Road to Hell"... Nairobi to Moyale on the Ethiopian border...

The Chinese have been given the contract (surprise, surprise…!!) to build and surface the road from Isiolo to Moyale, and have made a good start of it, by tarring about twenty odd kilometres on the northern edge of town… The stretch from Isiolo to Moyale, is the last un-tarred piece of road joining Cape Town to Cairo! In a few years time (and it WILL take them a few years, believe me…!) you will be able to ride from the southern tip of Africa, right through to its most northern tip in Tunisia, all on tar!! But do not try doing it in a Fiat Uno, because in some countries the term “tarred road” is used rather euphemistically…!!

Many “die-hard” over-landers are unhappy about the tarring of this section, and consider it a “badge of honour” to be able to say “we made it through “the Road to Hell” as it is universally known… I disagree with their sentiments… There is hardly a vehicle that has ridden this route and not been adversely affected by it in some way… Even those huge six-wheeled trucks that are kitted out with every imaginable piece of equipment, battle through it… The Captain and Kadir, who have traveled this road for over twenty years, told of many incidences where bikers had been killed, and trucks written off… Never mind the thousands of adventurers who had to be rescued, and their bikes and vehicles towed to Isiolo for running repairs over the years…

I cannot see the point of taking your expensive bike across an area where the chances of writing it off, or incurring thousands of dollars worth of damage, is so high? Far better to complete your journey through to Cairo or Cape Town, with a vehicle you can still use afterwards…

Here’s hoping the Chinese get the job done as quickly as possible, thereby “opening” the route to Cairo for more travelers to use, many of whom I am sure, are deterred by tales of mishap and hardship on the road to Moyale…

©GBWT 2010

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