Kenya: meh weather, but nice people

We had heard some stories about fake “road taxes“ that Kenyan border officials tried to coax out of travellers, so we were a bit concerned when we reached the Ugandan-Kenyan border. Turned out to be the friendliest border crossing yet, and when Anne – after some chat about the benefits of open borders in Europe – came out of the office, all carnets and passports were stamped, no fees, no bribes, just smiles. Jan had waited with the bikes and was at that time, as happens always, surrounded by a group of men. He was answering all kinds of questions on how fast the bikes go, how much petrol we use, and if we want to sell them…

A guy who was introduced to us as “Obama“ (because apparently related to the U.S. president) asked if we had kids, and, when we denied that, he declared that he had twins and that he KNEW we would also have some. Anne was not as delighted as Jan about this divination, but we promised we’d come back – “With the twins!“ – once we had gotten them.

The roads after the border where not in the best shape, mostly due to deep ruts created by the masses of heavily loaded trucks passing on this route from Mombasa to Uganda. We had also been warned about the traffic, but found it ok-ish. Nothing can shock us anymore it seems after the escarpment in Tanzania – as long as there is a hard shoulder where we can stop and let the crazy ones pass, we are fine.

The first big town we came through was Eldoret, ugly, traffic jammed, but with a superbly stocked Nakumatt supermarket and an ATM, so we stocked up on food, money and airtime, and left as fast as we could. Several people had recommended to stay at the Naiberi Rivercamp, and though we normally avoid Overlander camps, we followed the recommendation this time. Good decision! Different to other campsites, the Overlanders are parked in a whole other area, while the private campers are directly down at the river, next to a nice bar that closes at 6pm (no parties here!) and a lovely little pool. We used the last rays of the sun to jump into the latter, but jumped right out again – way too cold!

The next morning we left early, as we had decided to try and make it to Nairobi that day. We had our first real rain day then, making us put on our full rain gear which always makes us look like wannabe-astronauts. We stopped for lunch at a little roadside marketplace, basically a short street with what felt like 20 butcheries – apparently famous across Kenya. Our Nyama Choma (Chesa Nyama for South Africans – Barbecue for the rest of the world) consisted of goat meat and goat liver, chicken and mashed potatoes with peas, tomato relish and spinach for sides. We ate until our tummies hurt, fed the cat that was waiting next to our table and packed the rest for later. Next stop: Nairobi! Thanks to a combination of GPS, Google Maps and luck, we found our destination, the Black Rose apartment block, without delay. Here we could stay with our friend and colleague Bettina, who had been working in Kenya the last months (after she could no longer work in South Sudan, her actual work designation).

Nairobi for us was mainly: Administration. The first and most important thing was to pick up our second set of passports – which our friend Oda in Berlin had managed to get equipped with Ethiopian Visa and send it to Nairobi, where our other friend Doreen had received it and kept it safe for us (we would truly be screwed without the help of our friends on this trip!). With these passports, we could then proceed to the Sudanese embassy to once again try our luck. After our first three attempts to get the Sudanese Visa had failed – in Berlin, Lusaka and Kigali – we were finally successful in Nairobi! In general, we managed to sort out some longstanding to-dos – we bought a laptop (as our tablet-solution was really not working at all, neither for picture storage nor blogging), had a big rain/sun/ground sheet made (both for rainy season in Ethiopia and August in Sudan!), put on a new rear tyre on Jan’s bike and repaired his broken ABS cable. Apart from a shopping-walk through the city, we only visited one touristy spot, the Kazuri pottery, and otherwise hung out with Bettina and Doreen, watched the world cup with the GIZ colleagues, and slept a lot.

So after nearly a week in Nairobi, we were finally (kinda) ready to go on again. We got up on Tuesday morning at 2:30 am to say goodbye to our friend and host Bettina, who was leaving for Germany. Took another quick nap and then got up and packed the bikes. We had initially planned to leave very early – to skip the traffic, as was recommended to us – but it was 9:15 when we finally rolled through the gate. We were a bit concerned therefore, but either we were really lucky or Nairobi traffic is ok after 9:15, because that’s what it was. Maybe it’s also because we compare it with Dar es Salaam. But we think this would actually be a good timing for any big city: after just 20 minutes we had crossed the CBD and found ourselves on a 4-lane highway out of the city. Easy as pie.

The weather though just as predicted, gloomy-dark and cold, which negatively affected Anne’s mood (“We must be closer to Germany than we think, the weather is already here.”). At least it did not rain, but by half past 11 we were cold and hungry enough to stop at a real restaurant and get some hot tea, coffee and lunch. Prices on the road are very different to prices in Nairobi, luckily, so this unplanned stop did not break the bank. The strong Masala tea and hot food restored our strengths, and we had a lot of fun with the staff from the restaurant. We were the only guests, and we were crazy white people traveling through on motorcycles, that was entertainment enough for the whole crew (and the people outside at the gas station checking out our bikes). After exchanges of emails, facebook contacts and lots of picture taking with phones (the last ones through the windows of the restaurant as we rode of), we left to find out if Mount Kenya is as pretty as they say.

Unfortunately, Mount Kenya is as grumpy as Mount Meru and Mount Kilimanjaro, and thus covered itself in clouds. We had taken the scenic Eastern route around to get a good glimpse of the mountain, but though the route was very scenic indeed, and the views to our right often beautiful, the mountain to our left stayed invisible. We guess we have to come back another time. On our way around Mount Kenya we crossed the Equator for the third and last time of our trip. Stopping there once again created a big gathering of people, among them some Piki-Piki riders. Luckily in Kenya nearly everybody speaks quite good English, so we could actually have more of a conversation than in Uganda or Rwanda. And of course, we took some pictures as well – us with the Equator sign and of course the whole crowd.

Our destination for the day was Isiolo, a town that is important mainly because it’s on the road North. Nothing much here otherwise. Our fellow motorbike riders, Florian and Istvan, had passed through Isiolo a few weeks before us and camped behind the police station. Before trying out the same option, we first went to the Kenya Red Cross, an idea by our friend Doreen from GIZ Nairobi. We had a nice chat with the guys there, but they were quite concerned of us staying overnight, as their site lies in the middle of quite a poor area. Though we did not feel threatened, we understood that they did not want any Mzungus to get into trouble at their place, and tried our luck with the police. Here Jan was greeted with a warm “Welcome back!” by the OCS (Officer in Command of the Station), who thought he was that other blond-haired whitenose Florian. We were shown to the ground where the police officers have their houses, and after kicking away some donkey shit and stones, we had a nice place under a tree for our tent. The policemen in Kenya, as probably in most places, don’t earn much. But we were still a bit surprised how basic living conditions were here: Tiny shared houses, a sometimes-working-sometimes-not communal tap, pit latrines and a whole lot of trash around. The guy in charge for the day was James, who was very helpful and showed us around. After our big lunch we were not really hungry – and too lazy to cook – so Jan got us some cool drinks from the canteen, and we sat outside the tent eating some of our padkos and exchanging pleasantries with the curious kids. We “retired” to our tent early, as there was not much to do anyway. James was apparently a bit concerned by our lack of dinner, and after we had already politely refused the hot water and the lantern he offered us, he brought by some tins (pineapple, beans and peas), and was not to be refused this time. The pineapple tin was actually great, half-frozen still and thus a nice cool snack for the hot night. We fished the pineapple pieces out of the tin with our fingers, sitting in the tent by the light of our head torches, feeling like 10-year olds on their first camping outing. The next morning we packed up early, and after eating the bean-tin with some bread for breakfast (and now feeling very much Bud-Spencer-and-Terence-Hill for that), we said goodbye to James and left the police lot at 8:15. We were starting the stretch of road that we had most anticipated, talked about and heard about since planning for this trip: The Marsabit Road, a.k.a. Moyale, a.k.a. Hell Road. What a ride it was going to be!

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