May 03, 2010


The road up to Nairobi was in an equally poor condition but the surrounding countryside was spectacular. The countryside opened up into flat, rolling, grassy plains and I managed to take some great photos of the oncoming storm.

My first impression of Nairobi was not a good one. The road entered Nairobi from the slum area – the busy streets were all covered in mud and everything was wet and dirty. I had been recommended to stay at Jungle Junction which is a backpackers / campsite run by a great German guy called Christo. Christo also has a fully equipped workshop that he and his team use to fix up the damaged overland trucks and motorbikes that attempt the trans-africa routes. Christo ended up being and invaluable source of help and has given some great information / advice on the dreaded northern stretches of the Kenyan roads – often referred to as the “road to hell” from most travelers who have attempted this route. I will be heading up there in a few weeks time.

That weekend I met up with Beau and Caroline, an English couple who, together with Caroline’s dad (Ken) are travelling down Africa from the UK on their 200cc motorbikes. Beau, Caroline and I spent the Sunday at the David Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage. The team at the orphanage do a great job rehabilitating orphaned elephants (from the various Kenyan National Parks), back into the wild. It was great to see and we really had a great time feeding the young elephants and learning more about this great program.

On Monday 19/4, I took my motorbike in to the local KTM dealer for a much needed service. In true Kenyan style, the owner of the dealership only arrived at the workshop at 09h00 and had disappeared for lunch from 11h00 – 14h30. I spent my time in the workshop helping the local african mechanic and showing him exactly what to do because he had never worked on the bigger KTM Adventure’s before – I would have serviced the bike myself, but it needed to be serviced by a KTM dealer in order to keep the warranty.

Later that day Olly, Huon and Jonny arrived from Malindi. It was really great to see them again!! Good bunch of guys. That night we headed into town to catch up with one of Jonny’s mates and her friends who were in Nairobi as volunteers for a few weeks. The girls spent the evening complaining about how awful Africa is – which really annoyed Olly and I - I think they were expecting Africa to be more first world?? We all ended up in the Flamingo Night Club (I think), being accosted by the african hookers who were trying their best to alleviate us of our western money. Olly and I decided to rather donate our money to the cause of trying to get hammered. Once successful, we plucked up the courage to hit the dance floor. Neither of us are particularly great dancers, and by the end of evening we were very enthusiastically proving that to everyone ha ha!!

The next day Mel arrived (yay!) from the Ngorogoro Crater and we all went out to dinner at Carnivores. I must admit that the meat that was offered was some of the best that I have ever tasted! Carnivores truly deserves its reputation as being one of the top 50 restaurants in the world. We really pigged out and had a great time catching up. It was good to have all five of us back together again!!

The next evening was meant to be a quiet one because we planned to take a bus to Jinja (Uganda) the next day. But when the five of us are together, there is no such thing as a ‘quiet evening’. As it turned out, we were still in town partying at 5am – the bus was to leave at 8am! We decided that sleeping was cheating, so we rushed home, grabbed our bags and headed back to the bus depot. By the time we got there the bus had left, but we were told that there was another bus at 10am. We managed to sneak in breakfast and a few more beers :-) before boarding the bus at 10am for the 12 hour bus trip to Jinja.

The bus was awful to say the least. I don’t think that the suspension had ever been repaired / maintained since the bus was built in the 1950’s. Any small bump on the road was amplified through the bus and we ended up being catapulted off our seats and into the roof on some occasions. Quite annoying when you are tired. We went through a huge thunderstorm along the way and I think I would have been dryer on my motorbike than in this bus – the bus leaked water everywhere. At around mid-night we reached the Kenya / Uganda border post – it was still pouring with rain – there were hundreds of people and we had to line up in the pouring rain! Luckily, being ‘Mzungu’ (white) we were quickly ushered to the front of the que and got all the paperwork done.

We arrived in Jinja at around 2am and headed into town after being ripped off by a taxi driver who quite obviously did not even have a drivers license – he managed to stall the car at least five times (maybe more) on the 5km trip. When we got to the backpackers in town, we were told that they were full! They did, however, manage to get us in to another backpackers further down the river and after a few celebratory beers we headed off there. We were all soooo tired and it wasn’t long before we crashed to sleep.

We woke up the next day to the most stunning view. The backpackers that we were at (NRE Backpackers) was situated on a high bank overlooking the Nile River! Below the restaurant the White Nile begins its long journey snaking its way through Uganda, Sudan and Egypt towards the Mediterranean sea. Below us, huge whitewater rapids fought their way through the ravines. Fish eagles floated majestically through the air terrorizing the fish below. Truly beautiful.

We spent the day recovering from the hectic bus trip. We had wanted to do a tour of the Nile Special Brewery which my flat-mate from university had built – but was told it was not yet open for tours. Sorry Harvey – but it is a good beer though (and at a wopping 5.6% alcohol, you can’t go wrong).

By the evening we were back to full spirits again and headed into Jinja to find a restaurant. The restaurant owners were silly enough to have a dart-board installed in the restaurant. Mel had told us about this game that her and her mates played at university called “Treadmill Darts”. Basically you run at full speed on a treadmill which is facing 90 degrees to the dartboard and you try your best to hit the bulls-eye. We obviously didn’t have a treadmill so we started by playing “Running on the spot darts”– running at full pace – and trying to hit the dartboard. Mel was hilarious and she had both Olly and I on the floor in absolute hysterics ha ha. I am giggling just writing this  I think the only safe thing in the restaurant, when Mel was throwing, was the dart-board ha ha. The darts were going all over the restaurant and we managed to get quite a crowd of people laughing at us whilst ducking from the odd rogue dart. The game then moved on to “Star-Jump Darts”, “Under-Leg Darts”, “Push-Up Darts” and Olly’s invention “Cowboys Darts” which was my favorite – with cowboy darts you start with three darts in your pocket and with one quick underhanded draw you flick your wrist and try and get the dart to hit the dartboard. Absolutely hilarious. Great fun - one of the best nights I have had on the trip! Thanks for the laughs. Later Jonny and Huon joined us and we took over the X-Box games – good fun shared with great mates!!

The next day Mel, Olly and I got up early to go White-Water Rafting on the Nile. Jinja boasts some of the best white-water rafting in the world. The White Nile at its source (Lake Victoria) is very powerful and with the recent heavy rains makes for some great rafting. There are numerous rapids ranging from grades 1 to 6. We hooked up with Jack and Ryan who had recently finished studying law at Oxford. They are great guys and together with Kirk (Captain Kirk) our guide we made up a team of six on the raft. We had a great day – rather scary at times on the rapids and only managed to flip the raft once! Quite a feat considering that most of the other rafters spent more time in the water than in their rafts. We finished the day with a much needed braai and a few beers.

Later that evening we hooked up again with Jack, Ryan and some of their travelling mates (George, Jasper and others). We started playing a drinking game called 3-man. As the boys had bought along a funnel, they decided to adapt the game slightly which resulted in a funnel full of beer being downed for breaking the silence on every 6 and 4 dice combination thrown – those of you who have played 3-man will know what I mean. After about an hour, Olly and I had about 4 beers each through the funnel because we couldn’t stop talking / laughing at each other. Quite an evening – we ended up in town again - and had a huge argument with an armed security guard who had caught Mel urinating in the bushes behind an ATM. It wasn’t until his boss arrived that he decided to let us go – I think he was just looking for money. Doos.

The next day we said cheers to Mel who was heading further through Uganda and into Rwanda. I plan to catch up with her again when I get to Ethiopia. It was sad to see her go and I am sure there were some tears shed in our group hug. Olly, Jonny, Huon and I then took the midnight bus back to Nairobi. The bus trip back to Nairobi was just as bad. I didn’t get any sleep the whole way back.

The next day was to be our last day together as Olly was heading back down to southern Africa for a few weeks, and Jonny and Huon were flying back to the UK. That night we went out to this French / Swiss Restaurant that gives Carnivores a good run for its money. The food was amazing and the owner / chef was very proud of his restaurant and the quality food it produces. He also gave Olly and I complimentary vodka that was made from glacier water – which was quite nice actually. Later, we headed back to Jungle Junction and shared a few last beers together.

The next morning I took Olly to the airport at 5am on my motorbike. It was sad to see Olly go. He and I have become really close friends over the past few weeks. Friendships like this, that are made along the way, are what really make my trip worthwhile. We have agreed to hook up at the end of my trip for a few days in Italy. I am already looking forward to it. Hu and Jonny are also truly legends and such quality mates – the three of them are awesome people and we have become great friends – I am sure we will hook up again for another holiday or two!! Hu and Jonny left later that day for the UK. I was grumpy to see my mates go. Deserters.

Over the last few days, the Ethiopian High Commissioner in Nairobi, had decided to stop issuing Ethiopian Visa’s to foreigners. I went to speak to him and he was having none of it – he couldn’t even give me a good reason as to why – I think he was just trying to flex his authority - so that left me stranded in Kenya for a while, whilst I try and organize a visa through the Ethiopian embassy in South Africa. Unfortunately there is no other safe way to get me and my bike into northern Sudan – the other options are Somalia / Eritrea or through the Dafur region – none of these routes are too appealing!

I decided to take a couple of days off and take a tour to some of the Rift Valley lakes, while I wait for my visa. I am glad I did! My first port-of-call was Lake Naivasha. The road from Nairobi to Lake Naivasha climbs high up onto a plateau before plummeting down into the Great Rift Valley. There are some great lookout points from the top of the plateau over the Rift Valley. The Great Rift Valley spans over 9600km, from Israel in the north, to Mozambique in the south. The area around Lake Naivasha has one of the largest remaining expat communities in Kenya. The tea-coloured lake itself is home to an incredible variety of birds, including fish eagles and flamingoes. The surrounding countryside is a major agricultural area. Huge commercial flower plantations are also grown here for the international market.

I decided to take the ring-road around the lake which was quite beautiful. Huge, yellow-coloured umbrella trees are sporadically littered across the area and it gives the area a truly African feel. (The movie ‘Out of Africa’ was filmed in this area). Along the way, I decided to visit the Crater Lakes National Park, one of the very few national parks in Africa that you can visit on a motorcycle. It is such an invigorating feeling driving through a nature reserve on a motorbike – it feels as if you are a part of it – but too be honest it can get quite scary and you feel quite vulnerable. I did manage to take some great photos of Nyala, Eland, Giraffe, Zebra and some smaller antelope.

I had lunch at an awesome restaurant on the rim of the volcanic crater overlooking the lake that had formed within. The birdlife here is spectacular – Dad, you would be in your element. I spent about two hours looking at hundreds of different bird species that for some reason have flocked to this area. Birds from as little as a few inches tall, to huge great cranes are to be found here in varying shapes and colours. I could have spent the whole day there but had to move on as I planned to see Lake Nukuru too ..

I arrived at Lake Nakuru just in time to watch the sun setting over the lake. Quite beautiful. That evening I stayed at a tree-house lodge (Kembu Lodge) which was absolutely awesome. Food was great, beers were cold – just what I needed after a long ride.

The next day (1/5), I headed across to Lake Baringo. The drive to the lake was stunning and truly african. Along the way I crossed the Equator for the first time on my bike! (I had crossed it in the bus to Uganda, but that doesn’t count). This is my second big milestone for the trip after having crossed the Tropic of Capricorn in Mozambique. I checked the co-ordinates on my GPS and it seems that the sign had been placed about 200m south of the actual equatorial line ha ha – only in Africa.

I got to Lake Baringo just after lunch. Lake Baringo is encircled by mountains and dotted with picturesque islands. This is a well renowned place for bird-watchers who come here from around the world to view the abundant birdlife. The lake is also resident to a large crocodile population and the local hippos add a frisson of excitement to any stay here. I spent the afternoon walking the shores of the lake and managed to take some great photos of the animal-life and the huge storm that was developing over the lake.

That night I stayed at the Tamarind Resort which was very competitively priced and had great food.

The next day I headed to Thompsons Falls. The ride was great and climbed its way back up the plateau. The falls are quite spectacular, but not nearly comparable to Victoria Falls. At the falls, I managed to take some photos of the local Kikuyu tribes people who were dressed up in their traditional clothing. Their outfits and the cakes of make-up and mud smeared over their faces make for quite a fearsome sight. I had lunch at the Thompson Falls Lodge before heading back to Nairobi.

After returning to Nairobi, I found out that the application for an Ethiopian visa had been rejected in South Africa. The Ethiopian embassy in South Africa rejected the visa because I was in Nairobi and said that I should apply for the visa there – so I was caught in a bit of a stale-mate, the two embassies’s arguing about where it is that I should apply. As I was getting nowhere, I decided to go to the South African embassy in Nairobi and ask for some assistance. I requested to speak to the SA High Commissioner to Kenya as I was fed-up with dealing with people who held little influence. Unfortunately he was busy but I met up with the Deputy High Commissioner, Mr. Thulani Nyembe, who invited me into his office for tea. As it turned out he went to the same university as me (Wits University) at about the same time that I was there, so we had plenty to talk about. He also showed a genuine interest in my opinion on South Africa and it was great to talk to someone, in a highly diplomatic role, that is so positive about South Africa’s future. I told Mr. Nyembe about my problem with the Ethiopian visa and about my trip and the charity work that I was doing. As it turned out, Mr Nyembe was a good friend of the Ethiopian Ambassador to Kenya and he promised to sort the issue out – he also left me with his personal contact details. Within a few minutes I received a call to take my passport in to the Ethiopian Embassy together with a letter of support from the South African government. The next day the visa was issued. I was also invited to a formal tea the next morning with His Excellency Tony Msimanga, the High Commissioner and South Africa’s Ambassador to Kenya. Mr. Msimanga had been told about the charity work that I am doing and wanted to find out more about it. He also thanked me for being a ‘true South African’ and I, in turn, thanked him for his help in getting the Ethiopian visa and thanked him and his team for the excellent job that they were doing representing South Africa in Kenya. The South African embassy has been a great help and it makes me proud to be a (half) South African.

The next day 8/5 I headed north. The first section of the road, from Nairobi to Isiola is great. The road is in good condition and runs alongside the ridge of the Great Rift Valley offering some spectacular views. It then winds its way around Mount Kenya and its very fertile slopes, before dropping down into Isiola, the start of the “Road to Hell” section (Isiola to Moyale). This 600km section of road has often been referred to as the “Road to Hell” because of the very dry, desolate landscape it goes through, as well as the exceptionally bad road conditions that have taken many casualties over recent years. It is also a dangerous section of road that has been renowned to be patrolled by bandits seeking their fortunes from the vehicles that travel through.

My initial intention was to travel with a Canadian friend I had met in Jungle Junction – Scott Parker. Scott is a film editor who has taken a year off from his demanding career, and is touring the world on his BMW 650GS. Scott had been waiting for his Eritrean visa for two months and was expecting it to come through at any time, but unfortunately (this is Africa) he was told to wait a further four days (always next Tuesday) for his visa. I was already behind schedule, so decided to chance the trip on my own. In hindsight, this was probably not the greatest decision I ever made …

I reached Isiola at about 12h00 that day and thought I would try the 270km stretch to Marsabit – I mean, it is only 270km and I had 6 hours before dark! Easy! The first 80km from Isiola to Marsabit has recently been upgraded to tar (by none other than the Chinese – a pattern I have seen forming all the way up Africa) and I managed to make good time. But then the ‘fun’ starts! After 80km the tar stops rather abruptly and you are left to negotiate the dirt.

The first section starts off with huge washboard type corregations on the road that have been caused by the huge trucks that speed through this section. The corregations aren’t too bad as long as they stay in sync – once the front and back wheels get out-of-sync it feels like the bike is slamming on brakes as the front and back wheels start fighting against each other through the peaks and troughs. After a short while my arms started to ache from the constant hammering on the handlebars. The bike suspension also takes the first of many beatings. The corregations carry on for about 60km’s whilst I negotiated the smoothest route on the track. But then the thick sand starts. The bike seems to start doing its own thing in the sand and all you can do is hold on and hope that it doesn’t venture off on its own mission into the huge ditches next to the road. By 18h00 it was starting to get dark and I still had about 80km to go. I was averaging only about 20-30 km per hour! I had to decide whether to risk camping overnight or to head on in the dark. As the area is still riddled with bandits I had been warned against camping next to the road, so I decided to continue on. Needless to say, I eventually got to Marsabit at about 22h00, extremely tired and sore. That night I camped at the Henry Swiss campsite, alongside a group of Hollanders who were heading down to SA for the World Cup Soccer. They were stranded in Marsabit awaiting parts for their two Unimog overland trucks which both had broken their suspensions on the section of road I was to travel the following day – Marsabit to Moyale.

The next day I started off at about 7am hoping to get an early start. The first section of road is again corregated, but much easier riding than the soft sand. From Marsabit the road winds up through a few volcanic cone craters, before again dipping down onto a flat isolated section to Moyale. There is absolutely nothing here, but the scenery is amazing. Complete nothingness and dead quiet. I only passed one passenger truck on the whole 240km (11 hours) section from Marsabit to Moyale.

If I had thought that the previous day was bad, this section was just ridiculous!! The first section was covered in these small granite stones that were similar to riding the motorbike on marbles. The bike was sliding all over the road and what little strength I had left was on trying to keep the bike upright. To top it off the temperature was a whopping 39 degrees Celsius. The next section of road went into a thick powdery type dust that blew all over and was quite suffocating at times. I am sure it did not do too much good to the bikes air filter! Everything was covered in this thin dust and I had to stop every few minutes to clean my visor so that I could see.

Along the way I passed some young Turkana warriers and took the opportunity to take some photo's.

The last section of road was the one that had stopped most overland vehicles in their tracks. Recent rains had made this section almost impassable. The road is covered in thick mud that has been cut into very deep tracks – sometimes two meters deep into the road – by the large trucks. This makes this section almost impossible to pass in a normal 4×4 where the wheel clearance is just too low. Luckily for me, it hadn’t rained in the last three days and this section was beginning to dry up. I managed to negotiate my way around the majority of the deep tracks and in some areas had to make my way off-road through the surrounding bush to try and miss the deeper sections. A lot of time was spent next to my bike helping it along through muddy sections. Eventually at about 6pm I arrived at the border town of Moyale, totally broken and sore.

As I rode into Moyale there were a few locals that started clapping which I thought was a bit strange – at the time I thought it might be some welcoming custom here. I later found out that mine was one of the first vehicles, in the last three weeks, to have made it through the “Road to Hell” section because of the recent heavy rains they had experienced in the area. Also my bike got through in one piece which is truly remarkable – I met a South African couple in Moyale who had attempted the road on their new BMW 1200 Adventure’s, one of which had broken down in Marsabit with suspension problems (a common problem for these bikes – see “Long Way Down”). It cost them $US 1000 to have the bike trucked the 270km from Marsabit to Moyale!!!

That night I had planned to stay at the Kenya Wildlife Services campsite, but at a cost of $US 50 per night, with no electricity or warm water I told them where to go and stick it. I later found a dodgy guest house (that normally I would not let a dog stay in) for only $US 6 per night – I was too tired to look for anything better and before long I was fast asleep, whilst the bed bugs / mosquito’s / flea’s got too work.

The next day I got up early and headed to the border post, which was a few hundred meters away from the guest house. I managed to get through the Kenyan side in about five minutes. No issues. I also managed to sneak in this photo of a border official showing his skills in rifle management – it does not seem as if toes are important in the Kenyan army ha ha.

Jaag maar aan.


Anonymous said...

Hey Bok, well i think it is safe to say, you will not be quite the same after such an amazing experience!!! Sounds like you are making some super memories!!! and having a great time!!! muck love Tam

Anonymous said...

We are thoroughly enjoying reading about each leg of your long journey and your fascinating descriptions of people, places and the cuisine you encounter along the way. Would have thought that your poor liver would have required a service before your bike! You are obviously having great fun and we are happy for you.
John & Teens

Anonymous said...

Hey you've gone feral!!! At least if you do anything dodgy you can shave and get away with it!! Sounds like you are having an amazing time love getting the news so we can check up on you. Love Gilz, Tim and baby bump

Anonymous said...

Boks, if it wasn't for the reference to 3-man I would never have thought it was you ;-) Brilliant blog, really enjoyed reading it! Cheers, BGM

Anonymous said...

Boks... sounds like you're having a blast! Nice Bokbaard what you have. Keep the updates coming! Cheers Mango

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