Kenya– Chapter 7
The first thing we noticed at the Kenyan border was an elderly couple being towed in a magnificent MGA sports car behind a Toyota pick-up. Whilst we were mingling with the crowds waiting to clear customs I remarked to the owners on what a splendid car it was and inquired why it was being towed. The lady, in an extremely plummy English accent, replied that she and her husband were Kenyan and had been having a wonderful adventure, but sadly their dear old car had broken down, but they were muddling through and confident it was just a minor glitch in their grand plans to drive across eastern Africa.
In the chaos of the border crossing, which in reality was no different to any of our previous crossings, I thought that the image of the classic British sports car and their vintage owners presented a rare snapshot of a bygone era when style and unflappability in the face of adversity were the way things were done. Later, I witnessed the old fellow being messed around by an oafish customs officer who insisted that his stricken MGA be towed back, all of some 50 yards, to an inspection bay to be looked at. From where it was parked, towing it back was going to be very awkward and the customs officer could very well have got off his ample bottom, walked over and inspected the vehicle where it was already. Nevertheless, the old chap was too gentlemanly to complain and resigned himself to this completely unnecessary and troublesome task.
Fanny and I, armed with passports and the Carnet de Passages for our motorcycles, breezed through the immigration formalities. I made good use of the Tanzanian vehicle licenses that were valid for three months, and the supporting yellow Comesa insurance documents that would cover us for the remainder of the African countries we planned to travel through, after of course I made some minor amendments and circled some additional countries that I thought should have been included on the certificate in the first place.
I was asked by an immigration and customs official how long we planned to spend in Kenya to which I replied about thirty days. He then demanded that I hand over US$20 for each bike as additional import duty, or whatever. “I thought the carne de passage covered all the import costs”, I complained? It seemed not. For any period above seven days an extra charge was levied. I then asked, ‘If I say we are going to spend just seven days in Kenya how would you know if we stayed longer?’
‘We wont’, he replied.
‘I’ve changed my mind, we’ll stay seven days’, I quickly corrected.
‘OK’, he replied, ‘No charge then, ‘Enjoy your visit’.
As I was leaving the official added, ‘Which border will you leave by?’
‘Not this one, Sir’, and with that I scurried off to the bikes that Fanny was guarding and we got going again.
Either side of the Tanzania/Kenya border is pretty much the same geographically, but Kenya was clearly influenced by having many more people. The main north/south road which passed through beautiful African bush lands on the Tanzanian side, now passed through dusty, crowded and very scruffy villages which got closer and closer together until they were just an catatonic sprawl of dusty grey mayhem. The traffic density had multiplied to saturation proportions and the Chinese road construction activity was in chaotic full swing with endless diversions onto appalling gravel roads, across small streams and occasionally open sewers.
When we could we weaved our way through anarchic traffic conditions coming in all directions and coughed and spluttered in the dust and black diesel fumes all the way into the center of Nairobi which to my mind might have been pleasant once upon a time, perhaps when the MGA owners were in their twenties. There were parks and tall building, but like modern day Lusaka, the infrastructure hadn’t kept pace with the growth in human numbers. Too many people and too few who give a damn.
I followed a track on my GPS towards a campsite in town called Jungle Junction (http://tracks4africa.co.za/listings/item/w171200/), our intended rest stop while we serviced our motorcycles and applied for visas for Sudan and Ethiopia. But first, we scanned the centerof the muddled city for a place to stop and find something to eat. After weaving about in the maddening traffic and crowds we stopped outside a Kenyan version of KFC and found a willing “lurking person” to guard our bikes for a few shillings while we had a break. I don’t really trust lurking people as a rule and so I found an observation spot on a balcony where I kept a constant vigil on our KTMs and our worldly possessions while we munched through congealed oil covered in bits of chicken and lard. Quite tasty, actually, in a calorie explosion heart clogging sort of way.
We then went back to our bikes which by now were surrounded by dozens of people. Luckily they appeared to be intact and we thanked our bike guard and handed over the agreed fee. A quick blast of our Akropovik and Leo Vince exhausts and the crowd reared backwards and we headed out of the center of the city towards a more leafy part of town.
It is here in a residential area behind tall gates and high fences that we found our small oasis for a few weeks. Jungle Junction, famous to overland adventurers is owned and run by Chris, a German chap who used to work for BMW Motorad in Kenya. Chris run a very nice lodge and has a well organized and fitted out workshop and garage.
It also had a good sized lawn for camping and a small lodge with rooms for the wealthier guests. The main house had a sitting room, dining room, and kitchen that all residents could use, and there was free WiFi that worked most of the time. Outside in the garden and driveways were an assortment of adventure motorcycles in various states of disrepair, adventurer campers and trucks and other weird and wonderful vehicles that were crossing Africa.
Some had given up, some were in for repairs and some just taking a well deserved break and like us applying for visas or waiting for spare parts to be shipped in from various parts of the world. Everyone had stories of daring do, adventure and misfortune.
Soon after arriving and setting up our camp we saw vehicles limping in from various parts of Africa where the treacherous roads had broken them down into their component parts, often destroying their shocks, suspension, fuel filters, fuel injectors, tyres, bearings, electrical systems and frames. Some bikes came in on the back of trucks and were unceremoniously dumped onto the lawn, together with their distressed and fatigued owners.
Chris had seen it all before and I realized that there was a pecking order for his attention. BMW bikes came first, naturally, then other motorcycles, and then vehicles with four wheels or more. This upset some people who thought that their needs took priority, but Chris had a business to run, a life to lead, and only so much time and was, for all intents and purposes, a bush mechanic. I got to like and respect him very much and he was very good to Fanny and I as we went through what was to become a rather frustrating time. He was a fountain of knowledge on routes, weather, road conditions and general local know-how and with his friendly staff made us feel very welcome.
There were already some people at Jungle Junction who had been there a few weeks for whatever reasons. Some waiting for parts and repairs, and some taking stock before heading off again into the bush and deserts. It reminded me of entering the Officers’ Mess on the very first day I joined the Royal Hong Kong police back in the mid eighties. The more senior intakes at the training school had taken up the best positions in the “Mess” and lorded it over the newbies. Here in the sitting room of Jungle Junction in Kenya the “seniors” had done the same. There was a particularly irksome Australian who had taken up residence who was seemingly the world’s authority on everything to do with adventure travel. In fairness he did have some credentials to this claim. He was a former Dakar Rally mechanic, had built a very impressive adventure car that looked like a huge Caterham 7 with a tent on its roof and had a diesel engine that could run off old chip pan oil.
He had already entered the Guinness Book of World Records by traveling 250,000 kilometers around the world—the longest for a home built car. What he did though to upset me from day one was to endlessly criticize our bikes and was the prophet of doom about every aspect of our trip and planning. According to Digger, our bikes were going to fall apart, we would not find any fuel, there would be no chance to get Ethiopian visas, and if we did managed to get on the road to north Kenya I would be murdered and Fanny raped, or worse, Fanny murdered and me raped.
He was of the school that believed the only adventure motorcycles were the old style bikes he owned himself, maybe the Honda Africa Twin or perhaps the Yamaha XT 500 and that the modern electronic fuel management systems on bikes like our KTMs were not appropriate for adventure riding. In fact, motorcycles that did not run off steam were totally unsuitable for the task and the only really suitable vehicle was his mutant Caterham 7 thing. According to him, if you couldn’t repair the bike with a flint strapped to a stick in the back end of beyond you were not worthy to be a member of his “Destination Unknown” adventuring community.
His boastful exploits about journeys in the Congo and Amazon rain forest would have been interesting under any other circumstances, but he went on and on until I decided with Fanny that we would have no more conversations in his hearing in English and so we switched to the Mandarin channel until he got bored of me and found a Kawasaki rider to persecute. He only turned his attention back to me again when he overheard my stage whisper that it was possible to cross the river between north west Namibia and Angola on a rope pulled pontoon which I had done a few years previously. “Hey! Charlene”, he bellowed to his other half who was cooking pies in the kitchens, “this pom reckons you can cross into Angola from the Skeleton coast”…. “Nooo Way” came an Aussie reply from within a cloud of chip fog in the kitchen.
What I had neglected to share was that the pontoon could only take a vehicle with a maximum of two wheels. I would like to think that one day when Digger of the Bushveld is stuck on the banks of the Cunene River in the north of the desolate Skeleton Coast looking towards the other side he thinks back fondly of me. He’ll be OK, though. No doubt in true adventure survival style he could cook up his wife’s large and prosperous looking buttocks and use one half for fuel and the other for a tasty roast with lots of crackling. Don’t blame me… its the bloody Larium malaria tablets…they give you all sorts of strange thoughts.
My efforts, however, to champion the cause of KTM were not helped by several limping into Jungle Junction with fuel injector problems. They were not alone. In fact, many different types of bikes were limping in with the same problem. All bikes have their Achilles Heals, and for the LC4 and LC8 engines that power the KTM 640/690 and 950/990 Adventures (respectively) the three main ones are … or at least used to be on the older models:
1) the fuel filter, and in particular its inaccessibility and difficulty to replace easily in the bush. Also, there is no space along the fuel line to add another fuel filter (as you can do with some other older bikes).
2) The clutch slave which had a tendency to fail; and
3) the water pump which also had a tendency to break and allow radiator coolant to escape into the engine oil.
Its a well known and obvious fact that KTMs, and indeed most modern bikes, do not like bad fuel, especially the low octane and contaminated petrol commonly found throughout this part of Africa. As a rule, motorcycles, and any other vehicles for that matter, do not like fuel mixed with kerosene, diesel, water, or dusty red sand, and sadly that is the cocktail that is commonly served up at most petrol stations, particularly the road side vendors who sell fuel from grubby yellow cooking oil drums.
I was not really aware of the clutch slave issue and we never had a problem anyway, but when we did get to the UK, as a purely precautionary measure, I replaced the standard ones with more robust after market Oberon clutch slaves. Could I tell the difference? Not really, but they looked pretty.
We had not brought spare water pumps with us because they were too heavy and in the end we did not need them either. The water pumps had already been fixed on later models, and many older models had already been upgraded during routine servicing cycles. I did, however, bring spare petrol and oil filters for both bikes…. and just as well as these would have been difficult to source on the road in Africa and were items that needed replacing during normal servicing and oil changes.
The other thing I had not done and perhaps should have known about was to have sourced an ECU diagnostic and mapping program, installed it to my laptop and had a USB to ECU cable to connect to the bike. Without attempting to go into detail I do not really understand myself, modern KTMs do not have carburetors, but rather electronic fuel injection systems, much like modern cars and so when things go wrong tuning with a screw driver and unblocking jets with a piece of copper wire will not suffice anymore.
What is required is that the electronic fuel injection system is connected to a computer that will check all the electronics and adjust the mapping to differing conditions …such as type of fuel, octane levels, altitude, and none standard exhaust systems like the Akropovik and Leo Vince cans we had on our bikes.
My view about adventure travel is that one can do it using whatever vehicles one likes, and so called bush mechanics and maintenance will inevitably change with the times. If you can afford to buy and have the space to carry the latest tools and spares, that’s fine. If not one must improvise using whatever one can get one’s hands on, be it a rock or an electronic ignition diagnostic kit. There is no need to be afraid of new technology and modern electronics on motorcycles and cars. We all carry smart phones, ipads and laptops nowadays and these small and light bits of kit can be uploaded with all sorts of useful electronic tools, maps and “how to” guides and manual.
Later, after I had already paid KTM Nairobi an astonishing amount to connect both bikes to their computer for just a few minutes, did I find out about, and download, a free program called “ECU Tune” from the internet. However, I could not use it because I did not have the necessary ECU to USB cable. Later I would get hold of the cable, but in the end we never needed it. The bikes were fine, mostly due to good maintenance and (as I describe later) filtering the fuel before it went into the tanks.
The main reason for stopping in Nairobi was to get the bikes serviced. I can’t think of any other reason to stay there for any length of time as it’s a bit of a dump. Its polluted, dusty, smelly, overcrowded, run down, a bit boring, falling apart at the seams and a bit edgy… apart from all that it’s alright.
Later, when we were in Addis Ababa in Ethiopia we caught a glimpse of some news on the TV that over a hundred people, mostly children had been burnt alive in a ghetto only a few kilometers from Jungle Junction. Apparently some people had been stealing petrol from a tanker and it exploded, tragically incinerating them as they were scooping it up, probably into dirty yellow oil drums to sell to people like me.
The KTM garage in Nairobi is run by a man called Ian Duncan, and I had contacted him repeatedly in advance about tyres as we made our way to Nairobi. When we arrived he was not around and had in fact disappeared off to Uganda to compete in a rally race and the garage was left in the hands of a teenager called Adam. Adam told me they weren’t really interested or geared up to deal with adventure bikes and only really looked after the rally cross and enduro type bikes that KTM are famous for. That said he was energetic and keen to please and so we did manage to book the bikes in for a service, albeit at an extortionate price for the pair. When we came to collect the bikes later that day I found that the chains had not even been adjusted or oiled.
‘Oh!’ Adam said, ‘Oiling the chain will be extra’. So much for a professional bike service, huh?
As for tyres?… we had no luck. We would have to try and find suitable tyres for the tough roads ahead from somewhere else, most likely at enormous cost and delay to our schedule.
Kindly, Fanny’s aunt, Song Feng Mei who lives in Polokwane, north of Johannesburg, came to our rescue and went to a local motorcycle shop, the infamous “KR Motorcycle (Pte) Ltd; Straat 92, Petersberg 0700, South Africa” with the exact specifications and sizes for two sets of Continental TKC80s which are the ideal tyre for our bikes and recommended by KTM for the gravel, mud, rock and sand roads that lay ahead. My good buddy Dan Kaufman from Cape Town managed to call on some contacts that would be able to airfreight the tyres from Polokwane to Nairobi airport.
So, while we were waiting we decided to risk a trip to the Masai Mara on our balding tyres where, in late August, three to four million wildebeest were grazing as part of the greatest migration on the planet.
But first we would go to the baby elephant sanctuary and see some of the rescued elephants and rhinos that had been orphaned, some because the babies had got separated from their herds, fallen down drains, or got stuck, but mostly because they had been orphaned because some idiot Vietnamese and Chinese still have some ridiculous need for ivory trinkets and rhino horn and have killed their mothers. In fact, while we were on the expedition the West Africa Black Rhino became extinct. Dead as the proverbial dodo. never to grace the planet again.
I really hope the Asians (and let’s not beat about the bush .. they are Asian) who actually bought the very last West African Black Rhino horn meet the same fate as the dodo. I am quite sure that if things continue the way they are that I will see in my lifetime the complete extinction of the rhino species. Poaching levels of ivory and rhino horn are increasing exponentially and the solution is not an easy one. Its as if the rhino has 15 kilograms of gold stuck on the end of its nose and wanders around free in impoverished places with poor security, incompetent law enforcement and corrupt authorities. With the economic growth in China and more money to spend of traditional medicines the smuggling of endangered African animal parts is only going to increase. I fear, just like the war on drugs, that the battle to protect these animals will be lost.
Anyway, for now, at this sanctuary in Nairobi the keepers spend all the time with the elephants and try to replicate the socialization they would ordinarily get in a natural environment. They even sleep next to their baby elephants in hammocks. At this sanctuary the infants wean on elephant sized bottles of milk until such time they are big and healthy enough to go to the next stage, an intermediary location away from people before they are finally released into the wild.
The healthy baby elephants are shown to the public for one hour each day, for a small fee to help towards their up-keep and running the sanctuary, but some of the animals are injured and are cared for in the hospital while they recuperate and get well enough to be released back into the wild.
Elephant numbers have been actually rising due to successful conservation efforts, but the increase in both elephant and human populations has and will inevitably lead to conflict, a conflict in which the elephants will lose. Elephants only have a few calves in their long life. The population of African humans, on the other hand, fueled by AID from the West and do-gooders like Bob Geldof are rising dramatically, with each family being artificially aided, regardless of resources and sustainability, to produce 7-9 off-spring, who in turn multiply again putting a strain on finite resources, space and food.
Tribalism continues to place loyalty to kith and kin before logic and efficiency. Tragically, Malthusian population checks such as war, disease and famine will continue to make life miserable and tough for Africans. And what of all the African animals and natural resources? Traded with the Chinese for tarmac roads and concrete hotels in a seemingly inescapable new era of dependent colonialism.
You have to ask why Africa has to import everything from China. Why can’t they build bicycles and plastic bowls themselves? The raw materials come from Africa and there are enough people idling about everywhere without jobs. But I may be wrong and Geldof and his rich hippy friends correct. Heart strings will be pulled and guilt manipulated by Sunday afternoon TV campaigns in the west to “spare a pound” to feed all the starving Ethiopian and Somalis babies so they can grow up to beg for money, throw rocks at motorcycles, kidnap hostages and extort money from shipping companies. Do I sound contemptuous? Perhaps I am. TAB.
I am sure most people who read this couldn’t care less about my ramblings concerning environmental conservation and the evil secrets behind the Chinese R5 shops that have sprung up across South Africa. After all, “Here comes Honey Boo Boo” is about to start on the telly and the delivery man is due with a family sized KFC bucket of tikken and tips…ho ye!. Anyway, too much thinking and fretting, back to the big bike trip. We decided to set off to the beautiful Masai Mara for some happy thoughts and a chance to see something natural and special before its turned into “glorious peoples number one” Africa world adventure park with polluted grey/green lakes to peddle fiberglass swan boats on, live chickens for little Xiao Long to throw to the dog that looks like a lion, and a garish parade with loud canto pop and people dressed in cartoon rhino, dinosaur and dodo costumes. I told you, its the Larium wots to blame.
The distance between our intended destination at Aruba Bush camp at the Masai Mara gate and Nairobi was only about 350 kilometers but the road conditions to get there were tough, and because of the heavy rains some of the routes were blocked because the river crossings were too deep.
We decided to ride there with reduced luggage which I would carry on my bike and together with a couple of Spaniards, Jose and Noa who arrived at Jungle Junction with their BMW F650GS on the back of a truck having broken down in southern Ethiopia. Jose and Noa had had a terrible journey to Nairobi in the back of a truck for four days and on one night been abandoned without food while the driver disappeared without explanation to nearby villages to rest.
This road from Moyale that straddles Ethiopia and Kenya, which we were to travel along later, is notoriously bad and renowned for having bandits and highway men who allegedly set up ambushes along the remote desert track. A story was circulating about a French couple who refused to hand over their goods at an ambush and the man was shot in the face as he tried to escape. Then again I have heard the same sort of things happens in places like London, Bristol, and indeed Burton on Trent on market day. There are bad people everywhere, but I will concede that Somali and north Kenya probably has more than its fair share of them.
With the Spaniards’ BMW now fixed by Chris at Jungle Junction we all set off out of the grime and decay of Nairobi towards the stunning Rift Valley escarpment and down a thousand or so meters into the Masai plains and villages that stretch out towards the unmarked boundaries of the game park.
For the first 150 kilometers we rode on decent tar roads and by midday we stopped in a small town for a spot of lunch at a local restaurant. In time honoured fashion we pointed at someone else’s food and said we’d have that… 2 kilograms of Chomba, (roasted goat meat on the bone) and chips…very delicious, but perhaps not for everyday unless one wants a Diane Abbot like bottom.
After our carnivorous lunch we went for a ride in the town to look for the petrol station less likely to serve up the usual kerosene/grit fuel mixture that ruins our engines. As normal, while re-fueling we attracted a huge crowd who would ask the same questions about where we had come from, where we were going and how fast the bikes could go. Our answers of South Africa, China and 240kph were usually met with incredulity and disbelief.
After about 10 kilometers we turned off onto gravel tracks that got progressively more challenging as we headed further into the Masai Mara. Fanny had been improving her riding skills all the time and we considered this a training exercise in preparation for what was about to come. What we had not banked on was thick gooey mud and long stretches of deep puddles, and in one particularly bad section Fanny dropped her bike and got absolutely covered causing both her and her motorcycle to remain a reddy brown colour for the remainder of the trip. A suitable baptism to “off roading” I thought.
Often when the track was very bad we would ride up over the banks and onto the herdsmen tracks that would weave through villages, woods, bushes and grasslands. This was what adventure motorcycling is all about and it was enormous fun.
About 35 kilometers away from our destination the Spanish crew’s BMW stopped and never started again. Their fuel pump was apparently broken again and after a futile hour of trying to make a multi-meter out of bits of wire, a battery and a bulb they admitted defeat. I suggested I towed them to Aruba Bushcamp where at least we could camp before it got dark. It was apparent that the animals, including the many lions and hyenas did not recognize the man-made perimeters of the national game park and so it was definitely not a good idea to be out in the open after dark. This meant that I was now to use the tow rope which up until now had remained coiled and strapped to to crash bar, and also employ the towing skills I learned from Leon and Wayne at Country Trax in South Africa on my big bike sand course (highly recommended for anyone who is thinking of riding a BMW 1200GS, Ducati Multi Strada, Triumph Explorer, Yamaha Super Tenere, Kawasaki KLR or KTM 990/1190 Adventure on anything vaguely off road).
After a briefing to Jose about keeping the rope tight and securing the ends offside to nearside foot pegs on our respective bikes we edged forward, sliding and weaving in the gravel and mud. Occasionally we would have to descend into muddy streams and power up out again, keeping the speed constant and the rope taught. On one occasion we got it wrong and I catapulted Jose and 200kgs of BMW off the side of the road, through the air and into a ditch. Both bikes fell leaving Jose lying prostrate in a ditch. I inquired if he was OK and he just said that he’d like to lie there for a few minutes staring at the sky. After what seemed like an age I inquired again and he said he was ready to go on, and so I hauled him and our bikes out of the ditch (not that easy in mud) and set off again, both of us getting better at the towing and being towed experience all the time.
At one location the road was too muddy and we rode off road in the middle of the plains alongside thousands of wildebeest and I managed to take some video whilst towing the BMW. It was very tiring and very technical, but I found some time to look around and reflect on what we were doing. I certainly wasn’t going to forget that it was a KTM towing a BMW and I was going to enjoy gloating over this for some time to come.
As we were getting in our stride and I was getting used to my bald front tyre being yanked sideways every now and again I noticed in my mirror that Fanny was no longer behind me. I had been keeping to a pretty steady 30 kph, with all of our luggage, a Spaniard and his BMW tugging on my LC8 engine and its clutch. The sun was going down and I was not entirely sure where we were as the GPS just showed our position in the middle of no where. No indication of the road, or our destination. The GPS just showed a green background with a bike symbol in the middle. Dilemma…do I carry on with Jose, or go back and find the others? In the end I discussed with Jose whether it was OK for me to leave him and his stricken bike in the middle of lion country as the sun was setting and he replied with a southern European shrug and said, ‘no worries’.
So I turned the bike around and rode rather anxiously—perhaps at reckless Dakar Rally pace of 120kph plus– along the mud and gravel tracks. After a few kilometers I saw Fanny’s orange headlight weaving in the fading light through the bush and when I came alongside her I could see she was head to toe in wet mud again. I was relieved she was OK and making progress, but I was my usual terse self and reminded her in no uncertain terms the situation we were in and the urgency with which we should get to camp before it gets dark. Fanny was a little annoyed with me and said she was doing her best. ‘Well make your best a little better’, I said rather too harshly.
‘TA MA DE’, she yelled back, quite rightly.
I theatrically skidded my bike around and tore off back to where I had left the Spanish Omelette stranded in the bush at dusk surrounded by one of the largest concentration of predators. Luckily I found him uneaten and wandering about taking sunset pictures of the Masai plains and wildebeest and so I finally relaxed a little. In fact, we were only three or so kilometers away from the relative safety of Aruba Bush camp and its human settlements which was just as well as within a few minutes it was pitch black and the air filled with the sound of various beasties and birdies howling, growling, squawking and squeaking.
When we arrived at Aruba Bushcamp we were warmly welcomed by the staff who had been expecting us and I felt a mild sense of cheng jiu gan (sense of accomplishment) and quite a bit of ru shi zhong fu (sense of relief) as Fanny reminded me, keeping up my Chinese lessons and practice. After our now extremely well practiced and fast pitch of our tent and tidy up of our kit and bikes we went to the very nice game lodge restaurant where we had a superb dinner alongside various people who were on their safari holiday and who had arrived with Gucci style suitcases and luggage, wearing kharki green and leopard skin pattern “Out of Africa” ensembles, and no doubt having had far less exciting journeys to Masai Mara on Virgin Atlantic or private charter flights. I reflected on this and on the fact that its true… money can’t buy you everything.
The food and cold beer was very welcome and we ate in exhausted silence until a very muddy Fanny suddenly piped up with, ‘I think I’ve mastered this off roading now’. Indeed, she had done extremely well, but still had a lot to learn and she still kept dropping her bike unnecessarily and making me mad as I would have to keep repairing the damage and banging out the dents in her panniers. But really, she really had done very well and made a lot of progress and I was very proud of her. Not bad for six months riding experience and on top of a thousand cc best of breed adventure bike.
The next day we went off in search of a vehicle and driver who could take us for a game drive into the Masai Mara park. Motorcycles, as we learnt trying to get into the Serengeti in neighbouring Tanzania, are not allowed in game reserves. I have actually ridden my bike in a game reserve in South Luangwa in Zambia and I have to say on reflection it really isn’t a good idea. It does scare the animals. Elephants in particular hate motorcycles, and stating the obvious, it isn’t very safe.
After wandering about the local village and inadvertently running into a pitched and very noisy battle between a pack of village dogs and a troop of baboons we found a driver who was willing to accept a lower fee than that offered by the drivers in Aruba camp. He showed us his Land Cruiser which looked perfectly up for the job and he asked, as it was just the two of us, whether he could bring his friend, a Masai herdsman who was a great game spotter. Perfect.
The safari was awesome and lived up to all our expectations and more. We drove with hundreds and thousands of wildebeest and zebras which could be seen as far as the eye could see. The plains were spectacular, surprisingly lush green in colour and teeming with life. It is real “Lion King” country and must have influenced the animators of the movie with the scenery and atmosphere. I really liked the Kudu and Eland antelopes which were in huge numbers and looked very shiny and healthy.
Fanny was really taken with the warthogs and how they ran along with their tails up like aerials with the babies following behind in single file. We followed a mother warthog and her babies into the bush and were surprised when they suddenly doubled back towards us in alarm. We immediately saw why. They had literally run into a lioness and roused her from her sleep under a bush. She seemed a bit put out by this and was looking left and right in a confused manner as if dinner had just landed on her plate and then disappeared.
We looked at the lioness for a while and she looked back at us and then we reversed away and immediately got a puncture. Fanny and I looked at each other with amusement and with a little bit of apprehension, ‘Now what?’ We were a little surprised when our Masai guide jumped out the vehicle right next to the lioness, kicked the tyre, muttered something in Swahili, threw at rock at the lioness and then asked us (from our lookout on the roof of the Land Cruiser) to keep an eye out for her mates while they changed the wheel.
A bit of fun and drama added to the tour, after which we carried on, spotting cheetahs, buffalos, hippos, giraffes, eagles, vultures, jackals, and of course thousands and thousands of wildebeest and zebras.
There was a leopard up a tree across a river, but there had been a lot of rain and it was flooded and we couldn’t get across the swollen river to get a better look. The high waters also took a few human victims and on several occasions we rescued fellow tourists who were stranded in their two wheel game mini buses in the middle of rivers, their occupants looking anxiously and nervously out of the windows.
I think it was one of the best game drives I had been on. Our driver and guide were great fun and very knowledgeable, we were at the right place at the right time to see the great migration and the weather was kind to us. We got up early the next day, abandoned Jose and Moa to get their bike transported back to Jungle Junction, to get repaired yet again and we headed off along Masai herdsmen trails and across the vast grasslands and bush back towards the human settlement and detritus of Nairobi.
Fanny was going from strength to strength and at one stage we rode off road together with thousands of running wildebeest twisting and turning like a large flock of birds. We decided to stay off the dreadful road as much as possible and followed trails inaccessible to cars and four wheeled vehicles through village after village and across lush mountain pastures, navigating through zebras, antelope and Masai domestic cattle and goats.
We decided on a second helping of chomba for lunch when we got to the first town and then carried on through the Rift Valley plains that were churning with dust devils and mini tornadoes in the early afternoon heat. We had been lucky with the weather so far, but as we ascended the great escarpment the sky turned black, the heavens opened and we got truly soaked.
When we got back to Jungle Junction we learned that our passports, which we had to courier to Beijing for Fanny, and to London for me in order to get Ethiopian visas had not returned yet. Always a worry being in a foreign country without your passports. But no choice. The tyres, however, were en route and the next day I went to Nairobi International airport to get them.
I knew they were being held by customs and I was prepared for some hassle and delays and to part with some cash to release them and that is what I got. Five hours faffing about filling in forms, explaining to officials, pleading that the tyres were not being imported permanently, and negotiating with whom I should part with cash and how much. Eventually I was taken into a warehouse where two boxes were opened up. Like a parent who gets red headed baby, I nearly fell off my perch when they came out. Not only were the tyres not the Continentals we ordered and needed, they were the sort of tyres unsuited for anything but driving on tar roads and we had the worst roads just ahead of us.
DIS AHHHHHHH POINTED!
Extremely annoyed and frustrated, I paid the duties and custom fees for the unwanted tyres and returned through the crazy traffic of Nairobi city centre directly to KTM. They said they were experts at fitting tyres and I was very much hoping I could exchange these tyres for anything remotely off road orientated.
Soon after I arrived at the KTM garage Fanny joined me, having ridden solo through the city, and we pleaded with the KTM Nairobi staff to part exchange the unwanted road tyres for anything with a tread. They refused, and so I had no choice but to buy whatever tyres they had in stock that fitted our wheels. Despite going against Adam’s recommendation, I bought Pirelli MT/21s for the front and fitted the standard Pirelli Scorpions MT/90s to the rear. A wise choice as it happened and despite everything a bit of luck.
Sadly, in the process of fitting these new tyres, KTM did a Friday afternoon job (which it was) and scorched and scratched all our black wheel rims in the process. So much for the professional tyre fitting service KTM Nairobi promised. I would have done better myself with three kitchen spoons, a blind fold and a bowl of soapy water in the bush. Later I would become very accomplished at tyre fitting and puncture repairs in BFNW, but now I was just plain annoyed at their incompetence. As the adage goes… if you want a job done properly ….. !!
I remembered the Long Way Round series and the guys getting let down by KTM back in 2004 and it seemed they still haven’t learnt about increasing their market share of adventure motorcycling by supporting their customers. BMW have decent enough adventure motorcycles, not as good as KTM to my mind, but where BMW excel themselves is in after sales support. KTM? Could do better… says the school report.
The reality is following the “Long Way…” expeditions, that the BMW R1200GS is now the all time best selling bike – ever -, having sold half a million in the last few years. Ducati, Benelli, Aprilia, Yamaha and Triumph are also pushing hard in the growing adventure bike space and I really hope KTM will not only make 650, 800, 1000 and 1200cc adventure bike versions, but think carefully about their marketing, brand image and after sales service. BMW definitely have a lead on KTM in this respect. We intend to go to the KTM factory in Austria next year and I am wondering if there will be any interest in our feedback (post note from May 2013 Post note….the new KTM 1190 Adventure and R version are looking like awesome globe trotting machines, as for KTM marketing and after sales service we wait and hope.
Anyway, I lugged the unwanted tyres back to Jungle Junction teetering in a tower on the back of my bike, together with the old front tyres which still had a few thousand kilometers left and so they were salvaged for use by other adventurers whose 21 inch front tyres might be even worse. I told our sorry story to Chris Handschuh and he didn’t sound surprised. He very kindly offered to buy the Dunlop road tyres sent erroneously from South Africa and we kindly accepted. Chris had earlier offered to fit the tyres for us and I wish we had had the BMW Nairobi guy do the job rather than KTM Nairobi. We contacted KR Motorcycle (Pte) Ltd in Polokwane who sold the wrong tyres to Fanny’s elderly aunt, but they were uninterested and unapologetic. Like a lot of sales and business people I have encountered in South Africa they couldn’t really give a damn once they had relieved you of your cash. Or in this case Fanny’s aunt. Mei banfa, you zhe yang zao gau de Nanfei shengyi ren.
We were still waiting for our passport to be sent back with Ethiopian visas via an agency (www.VisaHQ.co.uk). The reason why we had to take the risky option of sending our passports out of a foreign country back to the capital cities of our respective countries was that the Ethiopian High Commission in Nairobi refused to issue visas to anyone except Kenyan citizens and residents and our attempts at persuading them otherwise were unsuccessful. We attempted to get support from the British and Chinese Embassies in Nairobi, but they were both uninterested to help us.
The British officials were truly disappointing and unhelpful. They wanted eighty pounds just to issue a standard verification letter … a letter you can print off the internet for free and which is actually of limited value. “One should of got one’s visa in London, shouldn’t one?”, I was told with a sniff. “Well one has ridden one’s motorcycle from South Africa hasn’t one”, I replied, but already Ponsenby-Smythe or whoever had turned on his heels and gawn. Clearly under achieving British diplomats were sentenced to Nairobi in much the same way as sheep thieves used to be sent to Australia.
The Chinese officials at the embassy in Nairobi were equally as unhelpful, in fact worse. I find British officials are rarely corrupt….at their worst just they are just snooty and gormless. However, at the Chinese embassy we were dealt with (unusually I might add) a particularly corrupt, repulsive and nasty individual who made it clear we would have to part with a lot of cash to get him to do anything… that I would describe as “consular”. Ta zhen shi yi ge shabi – not a phrase I learnt at Tsinghua University I might add, but an accurate description of Mr. Fubai. Luckily the letter we got from the very supportive and professional Chinese Consul General in Cape Town, the lovely Ms Li Li Bei, was very useful and this allowed Fanny, and strangely also myself, to successfully apply for our Sudanese visas there in Nairobi.
We later heard that some people found a stamp maker who made up Kenyan resident chops for their passports, with which they successfully applied for visas from Nairobi. Given my previous profession I am not a big fan of forgery, but nonetheless marveled at this ingenuity. Being long time adventure travelers, these (lets just call them resourceful travelers) advised me that one should always carry a date stamp and an old coin to make up official looking entry and carnet de passage stamps when traveling through third world countries with ridiculous red tape and unreasonable procedures. Necessity prevails I suppose.
While we were mooching about waiting, Fanny had started doing something I had never seen her do before. Cook. In China, where we normally live and work, great food is found everywhere, is absolutely delicious and is cheap. There is no point cooking in a city like Shanghai, nor indeed Hong Kong or Beijing. Fanny subjected not only me to her experiments, but also any other hungry lost souls at Jungle Junction. In fact she got very good and said she thoroughly enjoyed cooking, which was a good thing because we were going to have to do more of it later on.
Whilst on one of her shopping expeditions to “Nakumatt”, the ubiquitous supermarket chain found throughout Kenya, Fanny bumped into our friends from Cape Town, George and Alice. We first met them in Malawi when they rescued us by giving us some fuel and then later in Tanzania. After catching up over coffee, they invited us for a barbeque with them at their nearby campsite, Karen Lodge and we braved the awful traffic in the dark and rode over. Riding at night is a big “No No” and I was repeatedly alarmed along the way at three abreast sets of headlights coming straight towards us. One vehicle in the lane it should be in, one in my lane and the other on the verge that I really needed to swerve off onto. Having miraculously made it to the camp it was with great relief when George kindly paid for us to stay at the lodge overnight, which also meant we could have a few toots together and ride back in the daylight, soberish.
Thank you, George.
The next day we bumped into several British guys who had been driving a German fire engine from Cape Town, but had given up on their intended destination in Germany because of worries about safety, visas, quality of roads, and how to cross from Egypt to Europe. The same challenges everyone has I thought. The fire truck had originally been driven down to Cape Town for the World Cup in 2010 by some young Germans and now five out of the six British guys, all in their sixties, had thrown in the towel… much too early in the view of George and myself. All that was needed was for two mechanically minded and adventurous Brits to fly down to Nairobi and join the remaining chap to carry on what would have been an awesome adventure. Takes all sorts I guess, but what a missed opportunity.
Fanny’s passport arrived back from China with a month long visa for Ethiopia that had already started on date of issue in Beijing, but mine was still missing. Fanny had got a Control Risk colleague of hers, Brenda (she was also an ex-colleague of mine from Downhill & Associates days) to help her in Beijing, but I had no one willing or able to help me in London, my family are useless, friends too idle etc.. and so I had to use a visa agency called Visa HQ. However, because of weekends and UK public holidays I could not contact them until the following Tuesday and when my passport was eventually tracked down it had been found to have been placed in the safe at Jungle Junction the previous week, having been addressed to a female who once stayed at Jungle Junction a year ago and must have been on the Visa HQ database at the same address.
Anyway, we had the bikes serviced (sort of), had new tyres (sort of) and had our visas (eventually) and so we could not wait to get away as we had stayed in Nairobi far too long. Our plans to go to Lake Turkana and Omo Valley were scuppered by having the wrong tyres and by reports of heavy rains which had turned the trails into streams and mud. In fact, we had been advised against this route by several locals, including Chris who said we would also struggle with fuel. That said, in retrospect I wish we had taken this remote and interesting route and just “gone for it”.
We heard our Dutch friends, Paul and Marja aboard their Mercedes truck/mobile home, the “Wobbel” were going to head north to Moyale via Mount Kenya and they had offered to carry some of our kit for us to lighten our load and also carry some extra petrol in proper Jerry cans. Paul and Marja and the “Wobbel” had been on the road for two and a half years and already driven through the Sahara and southwards through the west of Africa. Nothing seemed to faze them and they were in no hurry and so they seemed the perfect team to travel with.
I told George and Alice (www.macsinafrica.com) that I would consider climbing Mount Kenya with them provided I could find some suitable clothes, a pair of boots and that it was not too expensive. Fanny had absolutely no intention of getting wet and cold, nor paying good money for the privilege of doing so. She decided to relax and guard the camp.
I was delighted to be escaping from Nairobi and its grubbiness, dust and road diversions and we were soon climbing up into the foothills of Mount Kenya and back into lush African bush. In fact, we were in lush rain forest as we had now reached the Equator.
We decided to set up camp at a beautiful lodge, “Mountain Rock” near the town of Nanyuki where the British Army have a base and prepare for operations in Afghanistan and train the UK special forces in rock climbing and whatever else they do.
Nanyuki is also notable for two other reasons: firstly, the equator passes through it; and secondly, every sign or name of business has a religious connotation. Shops have weird names like the “Blood of Christ Auto Repair”, or the “The Lord is Merciful butchers” . It seems if you want to make money in Africa you are either a mobile phone operator or a Christian church.
When we got to Mountain Rock, Paul, Marja and the “Wobbel” were already in residence on a green pasture next to the river. So too were the South African off road caravaning club: George and Alice from Cape Town; and Steve and Paula, the Brits from Durban. There did not appear to be anyone else, except for a troop of baboons, including an alpha male that had been spray painted blue and had a bell around its neck. This sentence was imposed upon him because he was repeatedly convicted of stealing and fighting and had lost on appeal.
There was also a large troop of black and white Colobus monkeys in the trees; an assortment of frogs that produced a cacophony of warbles, croaks, clicks and burps and often got blamed for repeated farting noises; a herd of cattle, the bulls of which would often ruck and jostle into our tent; a flock of sheep /goatie things, an eerie of eagles, a river full of brown trout and several termite mounds of ground sheet eating insects.
We put up our tent very wisely on a small mound as each afternoon it would rain very heavily and flood the pasture and leave a small island on which our tent was pitched. After the down pour the water would drain away quickly, the sun would come out and it would be very pleasant again. Occasionally the river looked like it was going to burst its banks and wash us away. It was evident that it had done so in the past, but we were assured by the lodge staff a lot more rain would be needed before we would float down river in our Vaude Mk II tent. Nevertheless, Steve and I set up marker sticks in the bank which we monitored like hawks. I also made a large and impressive fire that lasted the whole six days we were camped up, often bringing it back to life after the heavy rain with a cup full of Kenyan petrol mix.
Despite me being less than enthusiastic, George seemed very intent that I should join them on their climb up to the peak of Mount Kenya and had arranged with some local guides for a five day hike. I met the chief guide, Joseph, a former Kenyan Olympic boxer, at Nanyuki. My attempts to talk my way out of the ill fated expedition by claiming lack of kit were countered by being coerced to hire a very well worn pair of Hi-Tech size 12 boots and a Chinese made day backpack. George maintained that my motorcycle jacket would be more than adequate to keep me warm and so I was set up to climb a 5,000 meter mountain on the equator with snow on the summit. Mount Kenya is just a few meters shy of its more famous brother, Mount Kilimanjaro.
I couldn’t help remembering my last snowy hike early in the year with Andrea and Gary Corbett on Kinder Scout near their home in High Peak, Derbyshire and the very professional kit I borrowed from them that kept me warm, dry and cheerful. There is no bad weather, just bad clothing was their mantra. The same when I hiked Snowdonia the previous year with my old Metropolitan police colleague and good friend, Alan Jones.
Both the Corbetts and Alan Jones were ex-mountain rescue team members for their respective areas and kit freaks with the very best togs. I also remember paragliding off the summit of Mont Blanc in Chamonix many years ago and being very ill from altitude sickness on the way up. I was decidedly unprepared and under equipped for this expedition and a little apprehensive, but as always up for doing something new and a challenge.
The beginning of day one did bode well. The mini bus taking us to the Mount Kenya park entrance got stuck in deep mud and after forty minutes of rocking the van to and fro it continued on its bone shaking and bumpy ride before dumping George, Alice, myself and several porters at the start of the hike. After 10 steps in my hired boots I realized that the seams were cutting into my heel and so I repaired them with the remainder of the duct tape that had not been used on Fanny’s bike.
I was also a little uneasy about the porter’s bags which were to carry all the provisions to various camps … plastic shopping bags! Lack of professional kit aside, we started off and I remember from ‘O’ level geography that Mount Kenya is wet and has very different types of vegetation and climate as you ascend. At the base there was tropical rain forest and it rained. Half way up it was very boggy with large cabbage-like plants everywhere and it rained. The last bit to the peak was steep, icy and snow covered rock and bitterly cold. Nevertheless, each stage was quite interesting. The rain forest section had huge deciduous hardwood trees and bamboo forests and was home to various animals such as elephant, buffalo, leopard and monkeys.
I found the going a bit slow and so I abandoned George and Alice and teamed up with a young racing snake porter called Stephen, a 6 foot 6 inch university student who was earning money portering during his holidays to pay for his college fees. Later I found out he was born and brought up on a small farm by his elderly grandmother at 3,600 meters. His tolerance to altitude and the fact he was 30 years younger than me kept me on my toes, but even so I was huffing and puffing like a fat chick at a cup cake sale.
The first camp, called Old Moses was at 3,300 meters and was bleak. There was no electricity, no heating or fire, basic bunk beds, and it was perpetually cold and damp.
The only place even more miserable was the next camp further up called Shipton camp. At 4,200 meters it was as bleak as Old Moses, just colder and even damper. As I raced there too quickly I had to hang about in freezing cold and wet clothes with nothing to do and no way to get warm. Fires were banned outside and the only wood from the big cabbage trees was toxic.. allegedly. One of the guides suggested I hang my wet clothes up and after 6 hours they were just as wet, only colder. I smelled pretty badly and had no choice other than to have an icy shower of the smelly parts and put on the only semi dry things I had left which made me look rather odd.
I decided I was too cold and miserable to acclimatize to the altitude and would move forward my plans, ascend the peak at 3 am the next morning and then leg it in my damp clothes 55 kilometers back to the gate…all in the same day.
At 2 am I woke up, had some coffee without milk (because milk makes you more nauseous at altitude), stuffed some biscuits in my face and some in my pocket and put on my uncomfortably damp clothes and got on with the ascent with Stephen. He was promoted from porter to guide as it would be me who carried the rucksack and it was Stephen who knew the way. It was pitch black and fortunately all I could see when I climbed was a circle of light from my Chinese made head torch which illuminated about 2 meters in diameter and nothing else.
I was going well but as we started to climb the rocky bits near the top I had to walk 10 steps and then stop for 10 seconds to catch my breath and then start again. I got to the peak well before anyone else in less than two hours and sat huddled in my motorcycle jacket with my sleeping bag liner as a scarf with frozen solid boots and numb nuts wishing the time away for the sun to rise.
I tried to take some pictures of the summit but my fingers would not operate the camera controls and I put them quickly back in my winter bike gloves where the feeling came back several hours later. As soon as there was a glimmer of light on the horizon I agreed with Stephen that as we were freezing we should go and so we hurtled off back down the peak passing people still ascending. A few asked me, ‘Aren’t you waiting for the sunrise?’
‘No’, I chattered inaudibly with my sleeping bag liner wrapped around me like a scarf.
We got down very quickly, trotting down the paths like fell runners and I was back at Shipton camp before it was properly light. I did manage to get a few pictures coming down and was grateful I could not see the sheer cliff drops on the way up.
Back at camp George and Alice were still asleep in their maggots and so I decided to wake them and tell them of my revised plan to get off the mountain as quickly as possible as all my clothes were wet, I was freezing cold, nauseous from the altitude and generally miserable and grumpy.
George, clearly pleased that I had woken him, said, ‘What about the hotel on the other side?’
‘I’m afraid I’ll miss it…. you guys enjoy it’, I replied ‘I have to keep moving, see you back at the camp’
Joseph, the head guide said that I was a bull elephant, a compliment I think and congratulated me on my quick ascent and gave me some encouragement for the hike back, not that I needed much to get off that damned cold mountain.
I tried to eat some breakfast with the others but felt sick and so after a swig of something hot I motored solo back along the boggy paths, across the streams and lose rocks, up and down valleys and ridges, passing miserable Old Moses camp and back down through the rain forest to the park gate.
Having started the yomp at 2 am, ascended the peak of Mount Kenya and hoofed it all the way down I got back to Nanyuki town by mid afternoon. A real mountain marathon of about 55 kilometers.
I was still wet, but felt much warmer and after a coffee and a cake I returned the remains of my boots to Stephen, gave him as handsome a tip as I could afford and then discovered that nobody was at the camp. Never mind I thought, I will have a warm shower, but alas no, the fire under the boiler had not been lit yet. Dooh!
When Fanny and the others returned to Mountain Rock an hour or so later they were surprised to see me as I was not expected for another 72 hours, or it might have been that I was completely naked. Either way there was a lot of commotion. I was very glad to be back and eventually did get a hot shower, a change into dry clothes, a warm by the fire, but still had a headache of note.
Fanny broke the bad news that while I was away the baboons had raided our tent and eaten all the Paracetamol, a tube of Germolene antiseptic cream, all my vitamins, including a packet of cod liver oil tablets and some of Fanny’s face cream.
If that’s not enough to turn your fur blue I don’t know what is. The damp and cold of Mount Kenya had also helped give me a very bad chest infection and luckily our neighbour, Paula Thomas from Durban had some very good antibiotics that cleared it up in a few days. She also added that the tablets will clear up any venereal diseases I may have. So that was good.
The remainder of our time at Mountain Rock was spent preparing for the most difficult bit of our trip, the road to Moyale. Steve Thomas had been working hard making us a fuel filter out of a Milton disinfectant bottle, a washer made out of an inner tube and an old Lister petrol filter he found in town.
This piece of improvisation was to prove an extremely important aid to our expedition as I could now filter all the fuel before it went into the petrol tanks. The design of the KTM 990 Adventure does not allow for additional filters to be placed along the fuel line and my earlier attempts to make funnel filters out of stockings, gauze, socks and anything else were rather disappointing. I also managed to source several bottles of octane booster and some bottles of injector cleaner. zhong zai yu fang.
Fanny Craddock, now an expert with a fire and pan was preparing our food and provisions for the next few weeks in the middle of nowhere. Noodles with veggies, noodles with meat, noodles with ginger nut biscuits, and noodles with noodles. We did take a break from Fanny’s mian tiao and went to a nearby restaurant called “Trout Tree Farm”. So called because all they served was trout from their farm which you ate in the dining area up a huge tree with views of the surrounding trout lakes and the rain forest full of Colobus monkeys.
This would be the last larnie place we would enjoy for a long while and two days later Fanny and I set off towards north Kenya. For the first 280 kilometers the road was perfectly built Chinese tarmac, weaving through stunning mountain scenery not unlike remote parts of Namibia. The weather also got warmer as we descended from the foothills of Mount Kenya, the bikes were handling really well with the knobbly Pirelli MT21 Rallycross on the front whistling slightly on the tar. Then suddenly the road turned from perfect tarmac to dreadfully corrugated mud and stones as we entered a very African looking village with people wearing very colourful tribal clothes and jewelry . It was here where we saw the Wobbel again and were greeted by Paul and Marja.
Paul and Marja had already gone ahead of us in the “Wobbel” with our extra fuel and water. They had bush camped the previous night while waiting for us and had got to know many of the people in the village already.
After we arrived we had some local food and prepared our bikes. One of the prudent measures was to reduce the weight of our bikes as much as possible and since we were camping each night with Paul and Marja we decided to take off our metal panniers and store them inside the Wobbel. The panniers and bags would have caused even more wear and tear on the bikes as they bounced and crashed along the corrugations and rocky road surface.
I guess we could have carried them but there was no need as for the next three days we would be traveling, or at least camping with our Dutch friends and could therefore take advantage of their assistance off-loading some of the weight. We then pointed north and tried to keep just ahead of the Wobbel (the globe trotting Mercedes bread van) and set off at the racing speed of 25-30 kph and sometimes were reduced to even slower as we tackled a surface that looked more like a dry river bed strewn with rocks and sand than a road.
Fanny was doing really well until she hit a bank of sand and went completely out of control, narrowly missing one of the few trees we saw for the next 500 kilometers. During the crash her windscreen and mirrors came off and we decided that from then on “Stella” should be ridden topless for the remainder of the Moyale road section as it would be cooler and safer and I couldn’t be bothered to put it back on again.
I had to admit that the riding was tough and I was nervous the violent shaking was dismantling the bikes to their component parts and perhaps even smaller. On my own I could perhaps ride very much faster along the corrugations and hit the sweet spot where you glide over them, but doing so presented a risk of seriously damaging the bike when eventually the front wheel would clang against a sharp rock sticking out of the road, possibly throwing me off, and possibly damaging the wheel rim and tyre walls. We had seen a KTM 990 Adventure ridden by an Australian who said he had done the whole section in a day at over 100 kphs, but despite his undoubted riding skills his bike was severely damaged due to several serious falls and his tyres? Well they were completely shredded and in all had lasted less than 2000 kilometers. Nope. Slow and steady was the name of the game and I had to get Fanny and her bike from one side to the other intact and look after our bikes until the next service in Egypt, and potentially another set of tyres in Europe.
Fanny had one more fall in deep sand and the bike went over the edge of an embankment and was incredibly difficult to get back up the sandy bank again. With a huge amount of effort the bike was manhandled back up the bank and righted. Those KTMs are tough bikes and so is Fanny. She dusted herself down, got back on the bike and we carried on.
Sometimes I would ride with earplugs in to drown out the racket of wind and other worrisome sounds caused by being thrown about on rocks. Rocks would constantly “dink” off the belly plate, wheel rims and frame. Often hitting our footpegs and boots with clunks and pings. Other times, I would listen to my Chinese lessons or music. Joy Division, New Order, UB 40 and Faithless would be common albums, sometimes the Tiesto podcasts and sometimes Vivaldi and Albinoni, although the latter classical music would often make me ride too fast and not concentrate as carefully as I should.
I reckon 99% of all motorcycle riders would really struggle on this road for so many days in the blistering heat and unrelenting dust. Not to mention shy away from riding through an area where there is a real risk of bandits shooting you. Only a few days later when we reached Addis Ababa did we see the news on the TV that a British tourist had been shot dead and his wife kidnapped in north Kenya by Somali thugs, not too far from where we had been riding.
When it got to about five O’clock each day and we still had an hour of daylight we started to look for a place to camp. As we had started late the first day we did not get as far as Marsabit as we originally intended and so as we entered a small village we decided to ask the local police if we could camp on their grounds and they agreed. Fanny and I were absolutely filthy but we dusted ourselves down as best we could, put up the tent, and then had a very welcome cold beer with Paul and Marja whose 15 second camping preparations extend only to putting their table and chairs outside so they can crack open a beer.
Marja cooked a delicious Indonesian style meal and Paul and I later took a bottle of whiskey over to the police station to express our gratitude and numb the aches and pains with our new neighbours.
The village was interesting in a “never seen it before” sort of way, but this particular village was blessed with more than one idiot. In fact it had three who would not leave us alone as we prepared our bikes and tents for the night and bounded about like the Michael Palin character in the movie, “Life of Brian”. They did this for hours and despite threatening to shoot them with my catapult, electrocute them with our zapper or pepper spray them they just carried on jumping about saying daft and annoying things until one of the police officers came up and threatened to shoot them. I could really do with a Kenyan police issue AK47.
The next day we packed up, had a look around the sprawling scruffy village for anything that looked like food, but there wasn’t any and so we had some of our supplies and got going again. The unrelenting road continued from 8.30 am to 5.30 pm with half an hour break in the dusty and slightly threatening town of Marsabit. A sort of half way point. We had a very welcome lunch, refueled our bikes and got some water for the days ahead. The only hassle we had was from a “chancer” who tried to charge us for stopping in the middle of nowhere. We didn’t have to tell him what to do, Paul and Marja did a good job of expressing what we all thought of his entrepreneurial parking fee business plan. We had originally intended to camp in Marsabit as there is actually a game farm and a good place to stay, but we had arrived there far too early given the previous days delays and so we carried on.
The scenery on the route, I expect, was absolutely stunning, but I could rarely take my eye off the road, such was the concentration needed where we had to fight every meter standing on the foot pegs absorbing none stop shaking and rattling and twisting. Occasionally we would power the bike through mounds of gravel and huge sand pits with the back wheel snaking about violently. Huge sharp rocks would often threaten to puncture our tyres and did so on two occasions to Paul and Marja’s Wobbel, in addition to a number of trucks and buses we saw changing wheels in the middle of nowhere. At one stage in a very remote and barren section of the road that looked like an alien planet the Wobbel went missing and I elected to ride back to find them.
As I cruised back the way we had come about 5 or so kilometers I could see the stricken wobbel, starkly contrasting against the surrounding nothingness in a sea of fuzzy heat haze in the rocky desert. As I got nearer I could see Paul bent over the rear wheel mending a puncture and Marja videoing taping me riding back towards them. They didn’t actually need any help as they were experts at mending punctures, but the incident allowed us to get some rare video footage of me riding in this amazing bit of the planet.
As they were perfectly alright and having a beer while the tyre inflated with a very slow and pump I decided I better ride back and make sure Fanny was OK and having ridden the same rocky stretch of the road to Moyale for the third time in the day I saw her and her KTM far up ahead in the heat haze, completely surrounded by a vast expanse of desert and looking every bit the quintessential round the world adventure motorcycle rider. Covered in dust and sitting by the side of the road having a tab she looked the part and I was very proud of her. She was doing fine. In fact, like me she was thoroughly enjoying herself.
This stretch of road was very isolated and we passed though a massive desert of strange and rather hostile looking volcanic black rocks embedded in sand. As we got further on we occasionally had to avoid trucks charging down the road with livestock in the back and human passengers on the roof. These trucks created huge plumbs of dust behind them that lingered in the windless conditions. Despite the harsh road and challenging riding I managed to take quite a bit of video and a fair few photographs. On the whole I was relishing the challenge and really enjoyed riding a superb motorcycle in a location very few people know about, let alone venture to.
Our hydration packs were a God send and we both had to make a concerted effort to take small sips the whole time. We were both getting in the rhythm and again Fanny was riding really well and riding at just the right speed, taking it in turns with me to lead. It was difficult to choose the correct track on the road as all options were equally bad. One could fight the thick sand at the sides of the road or bash on through the rock fields, troughs and ridges. Any good track we decided to navigate along quickly petered out and we would then have to ride up over a sand bank or gnarly rock to find another.
As it got near to our “find a place to camp” time we entered a small village called Torbi where the road passed over a small mountain range and again we asked at the local police post if we could camp up for the night. Again they agreed. Unlike the previous police camp this one was amazing and located on the hill side with panoramic views across huge expanses of desert. It was Fanny’s turn to cook for everyone and both of us managed to get some water from the police station well and fashion an outdoor shower to wash off some of the grime and smell before we climbed into our tent and collapsed. We were at the exact site, (incidentally shown in the Long Way Down TV program), where dozens and dozens of little school children were massacred by “brave” African men with machine guns and machetes. TAB….That’s Africa Baby
In the morning I had a chat with the outpost commander and shared a few police stories and watched the police officers doing their morning drill. As a former Royal Hong Kong Police Drill & Musketry Instructor I recognized that all the commands and drill movements were the same as those in Hong Kong, the link being that both were former British colonies. They did seem surprised that I knew the drill commands, but I resisted the temptation to bark out, ‘As you were’. We are very grateful to the hospitality shown to us by the police in Kenya.
Day three of the road to Moyale was more of the same, except that there were loads of camels everywhere and very remote African tribal people going about their business in the middle of seemingly nowhere wearing beaded collars with ornate piercings and colourful face paint. It was like something from the Discovery channel. I guess due to the remoteness and harsh conditions that things had not changed for centuries.
Again Fanny and I ploughed on, with the Wobbel following up behind us. Another long day on the foot pegs and the webbing between my forefingers and thumbs were beginning to throb and ache quite badly. Fanny had been riding superbly and it proved the wise advise given by Leon from Country Trax that extreme off road riding is a mind game. My confidence in the ability of the KTMs was vindicated and despite the aches I was loving it.
By early afternoon we started climbing up into the mountains that separate Kenya from Ethiopia and we knew that our destination, Moyale was not too far away and indeed within an hour we started riding through the outskirts of a noticeably Islamic town.
When we got to the very busy centre of Moyale we seemed to be the only foreigners around. We didn’t want to draw attraction to ourselves while we waited for Paul and Marja to arrive at the border town, but being in the state we were in and on two dust covered huge motorcycles we could not anything but. Not that we cared much. We had made it and we both had a strong sense of cheng jiu gan and relief.
We had some local street food to eat and some fruit juice and then sat by the side of the road until we were reunited with the Wobbel as it wobbled up the road. Moyale spans the border and after some failed attempts to find a suitable and safe place to camp up, we decided to suffer the hassles of a late border crossing while fatigued and ride into Ethiopia.
Next chapter………..ETHIOPIA ….
.Stone throwing kids, rock hewn churches, Wims Holland Guesthouse, excitable aggressive people, Ethiopian New Year, coffee ceremonies, the biggest turd hole in world (Addis Ababa), stunning mountain vistas, lush valleys, twisty mountain passes, bowls of Tibis, Man U vs. Chelsea in a boisterous cinema, ticks & fleas, ‘ YOU YOU YOU, the catapult comes out the bag and is used in retaliation….