Naiberi River Campsite
My first surprise in Kenya was that at the
border the polite customs official accepted the $50 note with the torn
corner that I'd been trying to get rid of since Mozambique Island. My next
was that the first small town I had had two ATMs that accepted Visa cards,
and so I arrived with a tank full of cheapish fuel at Nigeria River campsite
near Eldoret, where Paul Dutson was supposed to have been organising the new
campsite for Raj.
As it happened things hadn't worked out,
and Paul was planning on heading to Arusha to manage a truck park, but in
the meantime we had an amazing roast dinner that stretched over two days and
involved a variety of animals non of whom died in vain...
Once we'd finished our respective
impressions of digesting pythons we, that is Paul, his girlfriend Emily,
Paul's mum, and Keith, her boyfriend, set off for the Massai Mara for three
days at the Fig Tree Lodge. We dropped the camel off at the Kembu campsite
along the way, and continued in an old and decrepit Land Rover 100 V8 that
ran with optional third and fourth cylinders. as well as a collapsible
exhaust and a novel modification to teh air conditioning that involved
taking the air directly from the exhaust outlet. OK, I'm being unfair
becuase teh road was exceptionally bad, but it was more by luck than
sound mechanics that we maanged to arrive at all.
Although it was high season we managed to
get pretty good rates - about 4,000 shillings each, or $50, for which we got
luxurious tented accommodation (these are tents that include en-suites and
all the conveniences of a modern hotel room) as well as as much food as we
could eat, and it was pretty good eating too.
After a couple of days of storing up
reserves for the road to come I concentrated on the serious business of
finding my elusive leopard, and set off at dawn on our final day with a
Massai guide, William, who was exceptionally talented at spotting - er -
other land rovers.
So there we were, climbed in small groups
of 4x4s, finding lions aplenty, when suddenly a
leopard strolls out of the tree-line,. And
then another. And then a third. Bloody typical - you wait thirteen months
and then three turn up together. At one point the third leopard passed a
couple of meters from our vehicle, and in front of our very eyes got into a
squabble with a troop of olive baboons and had to make a hasty retreat - but
of course that was when my camera decided to run out of batteries, and so
all I got was a telling off for swearing in from of the wild-life.
Back at the Kembu campsite (Kembu is
Kiswahili for Chameleon, of which there are many in the area), and we had
yet more relaxation (and a haircut for me) leading up to the new year's eve
party. This was a great spot for the occasion - not too crowded, but Andrew
and ZoŽ were the perfect hosts, and it really was more like staying with
friends than staying at a campsite. It was a sad moment indeed when we had
to say our goodbyes - Paul and his party were heading on to Mombassa - for
me it was the road to Nairobi.
Nairobi, 6 January 2004
Nairobi, or now-rob-me - has a daunting
reputation, but I've found that it's no worse than, say, Dakar - you have to
stay street wise as everybody is looking to scam you, but generally I've had
no problems. The Ethiopian visa was $63 and same-day service, I've sorted
out my rear springs by adding the helper spring which they insisted wouldn't
fit in Jo'berg - the boys at Bush
Rover seem to know what they are doing, and it was a good opportunity to
hang around in Karen, named after Karen Blixen who wrote Out of Africa.
Just up the road is the house where she
lived, and although most of the furniture was sold off when she left Africa,
it's still well worth a visit. Half-an-hour up the road in the Ngong
hills lies the grave of Karen's lover, Denys Finch-Hatton, who died in a
plane crash. The incongruity of having to pay 200 shillings to visit the
grave soon wears off; it's a quiet and evocative site, with a neat garden
that is filled with the scent of rosemary. After he was buried a pair of
lions used to visit his grave according to local legend, though nowadays
you'd be lucky to find a lion within a few hundred kilometres.
A coupe of Swedes have turned up at the
Nairobi Backpackers where I'm staying - they are also heading North so it
looks like we've got us a convoy.
The road North from Nairobi is notorious for
both its banditry and the appalling condition of the roads. Clive and
Virginie, whom I'd met in Rwanda, and who invited me for dinner in Nairobi,
went over a lot of very tempting options, but regardless of my route I was
always going to have to face at least one days journey along. In the end I
decided to miss Lake Turkana and head directly North, skirting West of Mount
Kenya to Isiolo, then Marsabit, then Moyale. The Swedes were staying on in
Kenya for a few more days so we arrange a possible meeting in Addis.
I took a leisurely drive to Isiolo, and the
following morning picked up a passenger who just happened to be a policeman
with a Kalashnikov whose family live in Moyale. The drive is a mixture of
pleasure and pain - Northern Kenya is little visited, and once you get
beyond Isiolo you start seeing tribesmen wearing skins and headdresses that
are the sought of thing you only see in tourist pageants further south. It's
arid country, and if you stop people are likely to ask for water, rather
As for the roads; it's hard going with
rough surface rather than particularly bad corrugations, though I gather the
conditions are constantly changing according to traffic and weather. My
suspension was taking a beating but with my double spring set at the back I
was getting an obscenely comfortable ride, all considered. As it was I
stopped at midday with one of my headlights handing loose - 4 screws had
managed to make good their escape for that one!
At about halfway through day one we were
passing a village when a stone smacked into my rear window. I stopped and
Shade, my escort, and I inspected the damage - an ominous chip in the glass.
A group of retreating children were raising a cloud of dust behind us.
"Shoot them" I said to Shade, gesturing to
"They are running away" he replied.
"Well give them a little lead then." I suggested.
That night I stayed at a Catholic mission
in Marsabit - a peaceful spot for inspecting what was left of my radius arm
bushes. The following morning as I was packing up I slammed the passenger
door shut and the pressure was enough to blow out the rear window. Shooting
is too quick for the little buggers. After getting piece of plywood cut to
size and inserted I was back on the road by 10:30 a.m. with every intention
of getting across the border before it closed at 6 p.m.
At first it looked as if I had no chance -
the road got steadily worse and I was averaging 20km/h. Ahead an impressive
mountain floated surreally above the horizon dead ahead - getting no closer
it seemed as hour after hour passed. It must have been visible for about
100km, because it wasn't until I got to the halfway point for the day
(120km) that I reached the mountain, and the road suddenly improved.
Taking advantage of the surface I slipped
in to rally mode and put my foot down - always fun except for when you
fly... I was having great fun- but the hitch-hikers that I was picking up
along the way weren't quite so sure.
Everything was looking great until about
20km from the border when my engine started suddenly losing power - only for
a second at a time, as if I had some sot of fuel blockage. I started
thinking that maybe this was where my turbo was about to die on me... a
seriously expensive repair...
It was 5:30 p.m., border formalities took
ten minutes, and then it was across the frontier into Ethiopia.