Chapter 7 – Kenya

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.

Kenya ... a bygone age

The Kenya/ Tanzania border  … and a car from a bygone age.

Political Map of Kenya

Arriving at the border control point in Kenya

At border crossings one of us had to do the paperwork (usually me) while the other (usually Fanny) looked after and guarded the bikes.

Riding through Nairobi… I am sure 40 years ago it would have been very nice.

Nairobi streets

Looking at the bikes in the Jungle Junction workshop

Looking at the other bikes in the Jungle Junction workshop


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 (, 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.

Camping at Jungle Junction in Nairobi… a trans-Africa adventure travelers oasis

The world record home made adventure 4×4 that has been around the world many times

Almost the perfect combination … an off road 4×4 camper with a Yamaha XT 660 on the back… how good is that?

Chris of Jungle Junction

An extremely nice place to stay in the center of Nairobi and a hub of useful information and advise

Jose and Noah from Spain with their BMW F650GS …and its dodgy fuel pump.

Adventure bikes at Jungle Junction

Other adventure bikes at Jungle Junction

Jungle Junction...A little oasis in the middle of Nairobi

Jungle Junction…A little oasis in the middle of Nairobi


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.

One of many strange adventure machines crossing Africa… (or not)

Me on one of my kit tidying up campaigns… checking Fanny’s panniers for contraband hair conditioner

Our home at Jungle Junction for a few weeks while we sort out visas and get bikes  serviced for next leg through to Egypt

Our home at Jungle Junction for a few weeks while we sort out Ethiopian and Sudanese visas and get bikes serviced for next leg through to Alexandria in Egypt

ECU cable


KTM Nairobi

My lovely bike, oh and some other people at KTM Nairobi


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.

Jungle Jungle common room and dining room.

An assortment of vehicles and an eclectic mix of adventurers

While we were staying in Nairobi Fanny taught herself to cook. Prior to this I had never seen her cook. This was to come in very useful when we got to Europe. Not only could we have healthy Chinese food,  save costs, and clear a camping space with chili pepper fog.

KTM Nairobi …… I will concede… KTMs are not cheap to service, especially here.

Stella without her wheels

Stella without her wheels

The main man called Duncan was not at his workshop while we were in Nairobi and had gone off to compete in some Rallye races in Uganda

Baby elephants at rescue center in Nairobi

Nellie and Ellie

Nellie and Ellie

They move very quickly when its feeding time and drink out of elephant sized milk bottles. They have very coarse hair on their heads, but surprisingly their skin is much softer than it looks.

A sick rhino …

Milky time

Milky time

Riding along Masai herdsmen paths in the Masai Mara … enormous fun and very close to the animals that happen to make up the great migration between the Serengeti and Masai Mara, such as Wildebeest and Zebras. We were not allowed to ride in the game parks themselves, but it seemed the animals were free to go where they liked anyway and we saw a lot.

Waiting while the BMW guys who traveled with us tried to repair their bike. One hour later they gave up and I towed the stricken BMW F650GS over 35 kilometers to the nearest town. It was a challenge and not that good for my clutch given all the streams and banks we had to cross… but I feel a sense of achievement that we made it. KTM 1 – BMW 0

Fanny and I in Masai Mara

Swollen rivers and streams … the smaller ones we crossed


A twenty liter battery acid drum on the back of my KTM for more fuel. Just above the Akropovik exhausts that occasionally spit blue flames. Very healthy no safety.

Packed up and ready to go with an extra 20 liters of fuel in an old exide battery acid drum… Not the safest thing to do… but necessity and improvisation etc… A bigger fuel tank ?  Good idea.

Another KTM rider in the Masai Mara

Another KTM rider in the Masai Mara


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.

Stopping off for lunch in Kenya with other bikers from Jungle Junction

It was very muddy on some of the trails

We literally ran into this lioness that was sleeping under a bush


What a strange creature.

My bike with an extra 20 liters of petrol in a battery acid drum I found in Nairobi. This provides about 280- 350 kilometers depending on how fast and in what conditions we are riding. I’ll admit, not the safest way and if I had the money I would have invested in the after market 45 liter tanks for both bikes. That said it worked.

Lots of mud and puddles. The great migration follows the rains and now these rains and the lush grasslands was in Kenya

Our camp site at the gate of the Masai Mara game reserve. Tea anyone?

Some of the Wildebeest that often stretched out as far as the eye could see. Definitely something to see on life’s bucket list.


I believe this is now called a “selfie” … a horrible new word that sprang up while we were on the road.

Good fun on the dirt roads

A cheetah lolloping along …. one of my favourite animals and the fastest mammal on the planet.

Our campsite and a fire ready to be lit when the sun goes down

Fanny and our Masai guide in front of dozens of hippos in the river

Going for a game drive and crossing one of many water ditches left by the rains

Beautiful antelope

There were lots of very well fed lions … not surprising given the huge number of game everywhere


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.

Fanny and I on a game drive in the park

The things you see. Fascinating.  Here a western hemisphere Homo Sapien family in a two wheel drive minibus getting stuck in a mud pool … also being watched by local Masai herdsmen and, for all we knew, some predators.

Two lionesses and about seven lion cubs “lion” in the sunshine

Buffalo … one of the most dangerous animals you can encounter in the Africa bush.

This cheetah tried to catch some prey and failed and so it has slumped down on the grass panting. It seemed unconcerned when we approach it

Its difficult to get a feel of the place from a picture, but we rode for hundreds of kilometers along mud/gravel roads like this in the bush

You have to keep your eye out. There are three cheetahs near this tree

Fanny getting to grips with riding the KTM on mud and across streams and ditches

Fanny in the Masai Mara among zebras and wildebeest

Fanny in the Masai Mara among zebras and wildebeest (background). Love this picture.

More meat …..

Fanny tucking into a kilo of chomba


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.


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 ( 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.

Jose and Noa off again on their repaired BMW… Via con Dios

Fanny cooking our dinner on the fire

Fanny horse riding in foothills of Mount Kenya

Our camp in lush fields at Mountain Rock on the equator near Nanyuki

Our friends from South Africa camped up in their safari caravans

The famous “Wobbel” from Holland … been around the world

Fellow creatures who shared our camping filed...

Fellow creatures who shared our camping field…

A peaceful place to live right on the equator

A peaceful place to live right on the equator


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.

George and Alice having finally woken up at camp 2 on Mount Kenya. I had already climbed to the summit early that morning and was now on way back to camp site as I was cold and wet and not keen to hang around.

Mountain Rock … our camp. I seem to be mincing about … unintentionally of course.

Climbing Mount Kenya


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 ( 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.

Nanyuki … equator

Our campsite was also home to sheep, goats, horses, cows, daft clumsy bulls, and thieving baboons and colobus monkeys… among others


Trout restaurant up a tree above trout pools and rivers in Nanyuki


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 lower levels of Mount Kenya

Unloading the kit

Rain forest and jungle in foothills of Mount Kenya

Looking chirpy at 1st base camp

A bit bleak.. and very cold and damp. My clothes and boots were soaking wet the whole time

Camp 1... damp and cold and a bit bleak

Camp 1… Old Moses


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.

very interesting flora and fauna on the mountain side. I remember studying about how the vegetation and soils changed on Mount Kilimanjaro and Kenya when studying geography... and now I was experiencing it for myself

very interesting flora and fauna on the mountain side. I remember studying about how the vegetation and soils changed on Mount Kilimanjaro and Kenya when studying geography… and now I was experiencing it for myself

Believe it or not... this is the elephants closest relative

Believe it or not… this is the elephants closest relative

Camp 2 … improvising with whatever clothes I can find.

Strange large cabbage plants on the slopes of the mountain

A strange world up there

The summit .. at 4.30 am…. really really cold on the equator

Frosty and cold… using my sleeping bag liner as a scarf

Stephen…my racing snake guide to the summit…

Mount Kenya … on way down from the summit

Someone else’s boots … don’t quite fit, seen much better days and now soaking wet

Not a bad view though


Josef .. my chief guide and owner of safari company …If anyone is looking for a great guide in Kenya or Tanzania give Joseph a call. +254722853625 (

The summit of Mount Kenya ... first ones of the day (early morning) and I am bitterly cold.

The summit of Mount Kenya … first people of the day (early morning) and I am bitterly cold.


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.

While I am climbing, Fanny is looking after the camp

While I am climbing, Fanny is looking after the camp with Paul and Marja.

Hiking with my guide up to camp 2

Hiking with my guide up to camp 2.. these guys have a tough job

The Summit, which I had just descended and was now hiking back down to Nanyuki

The craggy summit, which I had just descended and was now hiking all the way back down to Nanyuki

Back down… I  jogged down mostly by myself. All in all about 14 hours solid hike to the summit and back down again to Nanyuki and our camp

you looking at me?

The making of the Steve Thomas petrol filter

The making of the invaluable petrol filter. Someone needs to manufacture a really good one for adventure travelers.  I would even invest myself if someone could make a 100% efficient filter that could take out water, grit, and dust

The making of the invaluable petrol filter. Someone needs to manufacture a really good one for adventure travelers. I would even invest myself if someone could make a 100% efficient filter that could take out water, grit, and dust

The "Steve Thomas" petrol filter ... it worked really well.

The “Steve Thomas” petrol filter … it worked really well.

Steve repairing our mud guards that had been been badly bashed on both our bikes… getting ready for rocky roads to Moyale at Ethiopia border

Paul and Marja and Fanny … last stop before venturing into the wilderness of north Kenya

Fanny and Marja

Fanny and Marja having a last tab before we set off…

Bikes just before we set off towards Moyale

Bikes and The Wobbel just before we set off towards Moyale


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.

sandy gravel roads … not so bad


Up on the pegs all day …. I loved it. Tiring on the wrists though

Fanny … you have a very dirty face. Where have you been?

The Wobbel gets a puncture so I ride back to them to help them fix it… but Paul and Marja are experts and have spare on by time I get back

Meeting the locals

Shake, rattle and roll

Iconic picture of Fanny in the middle of nowhere… very gnarly road.. lots of rocks. Wonderful, actually.

video 3

KTM 990 Adventure in its element. Still taken from the wobbel of us on the go. We didn’t go fast and we never got a puncture… unlike everyone else.

video shot

Scooting along

Scooting along

sandy bit of road

Fanny and the Wobbel on a sandy bit of road

The bikes were superb … I could have ridden at 100 kph… How long I would have stayed at 100 kph is another matter. Lots of rocks to knock you off or clang the rims. So we took it steady at 40-60kph.

Me coming back to look for Paul and Marja who had had a puncture.  very barren and rocky stretch of road

Me coming back to look for Paul and Marja who had had a puncture. very barren and rocky stretch of road

We would pass or come across these trucks with livestock in the back and people perched up on top .  Sometimes we would see them repairing punctures somewhere along the 450 kilometers of rocks and sand and gravel. The roads were awful and most vehicles got at least one or two punctures along the way.

Eat my dust



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.

Getting ready to camp in a small village

I take Fanny to all the best places… look at her happy face.

Marsabit … a bit of a wild west town

We saw lots of very interesting people and each tribe had ornate necklaces, or earrings, or discs in the lower lips…


Scenery becoming a bit more sandy and mountainous

You can see Fanny’s tyre track meandering across the road to find the best route through the rocks and sand

Its like a moonscape … not that I’ve ever been to the moon. Lots of dust devils and whirly winds in the heat of the day. No vegetation at all for long stretches.

We camped at a Kenyan police post. Very kind and friendly officers

The police did drill in the morning … exactly the same orders and drill movements as the Royal Hong Kong Police in the day. British colonial legacy I suppose.

I prefer the traditional look … or perhaps a Chelsea beanie

Lots of camels as we got further north

“Hey Fanny… can you believe where we are??”

” You OK?” .. “Good, let’s gooooo”

Last camp with the Wobbel …. not far to Ethiopia now

My wonderful KTM

My wonderful KTM in north Kenya

We all made it….. a real sense of achievement


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….

Chapter 4 – Malawi

When we woke from our tent at Mama Rulas in Chipata we were confronted with a few options and had make a plan. We could either head to South Luangwa and ride along a truly awful stretch of road that had been ploughed up over the years by over-laden cotton trucks along the 140 kilometers to Mfume; we could ride northwards along sandy tracks and tar roads through Zambia to Tanzania; or we could risk the fuel issue and cross the border into Malawi. Decisions, decisions.


Riding the 280 kilometers to Mfume and back would seriously test Fanny’s riding ability, as it did mine the last time I rode there four years ago. Coming off and damaging the motorcycles is a risk you take all the time, but wearing out increasingly worn out tyres on what I remember to be very bad rocky stretches of road perhaps pushed the risk to far.  Also, we heard from my cousin, Rosie that Flatdogs bushcamp on the banks of the Luangwa River  (Website :, a place where I camped up a tree four years ago now preferred more “upmarket” guests and only offered safari tents at US$40 upwards a night… each.  We could, of course, stay somewhere else just along the river as I knew there were other campsites, but with free roaming elephants, hippos, lions and whatever ever else free camping in the bush was not a wise option. Fun perhaps, but not wise.

Flatdogs Lodge, South Luangwa

Flatdogs Lodge, South Luangwa –

Camping up a tree

Camping up a tree at Flatdogs fouryears previously with my bike as close to the tree as possible to prevent elephants knocking it over.


So I consulted with Fanny and she told me, quite logically I suppose, that she had already seen enough elephants and hippos for a while and certainly didn’t want to waste US$80 a night camping in a posh tent. I am always up for seeing more elephants and wildlife, but I had already been there and if Fanny wasn’t fussed then I did not want to put the bikes, and more importantly Fanny through an unnecessary pounding and risk coming off. I remember the stretch of road being enormous fun, but also that it was quite dangerous in places and required, on occasions, very technical and precise riding along very narrow paths and ruts where the road had collapsed leaving sheer drops several meter high on each side. The recent reports from locals suggested that the road was atrocious, very muddy, and even the experienced cotton lorries and local 4x4s were taking eight to nine hours to navigate the worst 90 kilometers of the road.

Heading off road and following the tracks through Zambia all the way up to Tanzania would be good fun,  but I had already done that as well on my last expedition, and so, since I wanted to spend time with Fanny in Malawi by the shores of beautiful Lake Nyana we decided to risk the fuel and hoped the president had thought of his country’s needs before his own and sold his new jet. Ha! As if.

What self respecting African despot would have less motorcycles and vehicles in his motorcade than the President of the USA. Certainly not the President of Malawi.  Contributing less than 0.01% to the world’s GDP Malawi is a very poor country with more than half the population below the poverty line.


At a very busy petrol station just outside Chipata, and quite near to the border with Malawi I replaced the 10 liter petrol can that fell off Fanny’s bike with a 20 liter cooking oil can that I would strap to my bike and filled up with petrol. So, in total, 19.5 liters in each of the KTM petrol tanks, 10 liters on the back on Fanny’s bike, and 20 liters on the back on mine….that should get our two motorcycles about 550 kilometers into Malawi. After that we would have to make another plan.

After I bought the cooking oil can the petrol attendant said it was illegal to fill it directly from the pump and so we filled 5 liter metal cans and then had walk off the forecourt and transfer the petrol into the plastic can. A pointless exercise really as I spilled even more petrol over the forecourt getting the petrol into the cans than I would have pumping straight into our tank. A very stupid policy that we were to face again in western China. Given the reported situation about lack of fuel only 12 kilometers away across the border there were many other people doing the same thing, although many of the 4x4s had over 100 liters of spare fuel in gerry cans and some the same in their tanks, enough for them to get all the way through Malawi.

As we were riding to the border with 20 liters of fuel in a dodgy container placed immediately above my hot exhaust pipes I was wondering whether I should have packed a small fire extinguisher. I was still pondering the risk of going up in flames when we reached the Malawi border and we were yet again confronted with the border mobs of ‘hanger ons’ and scamsters.

Crossing borders is the worst part of traveling and usually I am one of the worst kind of impatient tourist and business traveler. However, on this expedition I realized that we were at the mercy of the border officials and I successfully employed the charm offensive with every person we met and could get a gold medal in patience.

The problem with motorcycles as opposed to cars is that you can’t lock them up and leave them while you attend to everything, but this time I was not traveling solo and so Fanny usually guarded the bikes while I did the form filling and presented the carne de passage and passports to the various border stations. When I showed the immigration officials Fanny’s passport they would often demand to see her, quite rightly I guess, and I would shout at the top of my voice back to Fanny and she would run in, grin at the official and run back out again and carry on guarding the bikes. Most of the officials were OK with this as they understood the need to look after our things with all the scamsters and touts hanging about.

The bike checking process stated to get stricter and more thorough the further north we went and the process often required checking the engine and chassis numbers on the bike against the registration documents and the carne de passage. As each number was about 30 digits long and hidden deep inside the darkest recesses of the bikes this could take some time and I’ll admit on a couple of occasions the numbers were just made up as both the officials and I couldn’t be bothered to do a proper job.

I had already exchanged my Zambian Kwatcha for Malawi Kwatcha in Chipata and I was informed by immigration that my British Passport does not require a visa and since the bikes have Carne de Passages I din’t have to fill in any customs forms, nor pay any import taxes. Hurray!

I then handed over Fanny’s passport and was informed that she must go and be interviewed by the senior immigration officer and so we swapped bike guarding responsibilities and Fanny disappeared into an office. After about ten minutes I enquired what was happening and the official said Fanny was going back to Lusaka ( 700 kilometers away) to get a visa. I was speechless and Fanny was definitely looking very forlorn and not a little annoyed.

‘I thought you said you could get a Malawi visa at the border?’ I asked Fanny, but  looking pleadingly at the official.

‘She says only at the airport,’ Fanny replies pointing at the offending official who is looking decidedly unwavering in her decision to send the Chinese woman in front of her back to Zambia.

Twenty minutes later after even more negotiations we had a letter that informed Fanny she may pass into Malawi, but must go to immigration department in Lilongwe, the Capital of Malawi within 4 days and apply for a visa there.  What a result.  During that twenty minutes I had pleaded, charmed, showed pictures of my kids, showed pictures of me in police uniform, showed pictures of my friends in police uniform, agreed that the Chinese were imperial raiders of Africa and not to be trusted, and for my star performance noticed that the only document in the official’s in-tray was a bible and so I pleaded that I must get to Mass on Sunday and can’t possibly ride back all the way to Lusaka and miss yet another confession, otherwise Big J wont want me for a sunbeam any more. It seemed that riding a motorcycle with a Chinese woman across Africa was becoming a bigger challenge than I imagined.

Whether the squandering of Malawi’s foreign reserves by the President was true or not could not be established at that time, but the fuel shortage was definitely true. Lilongwe is only a hundred or so kilometers from the border but I knew we did not have enough fuel to get through Malawi and all the way to the Tanzanian border. Strangely, I was not too bothered. If you want to get stuck somewhere then Malawi is the place, to my mind one of the most laid back countries in Africa.

In Lilongwe we found a decent camp site called Mabuya ( and stayed there while we sorted out Fanny’s Malawi visa, found new headlight bulbs, ate Chinese food with over a hundred engineers from China who were building a new Carlsburg brewery and also waited at the Tanzanian High Commission for several hours, eating Chicken and Nshima (maze pap) while the largest woman I have ever seen processed our Tanzanian visas.

Head of Immigration at Lilongwe, the capital city of Malawi.

A Malawian policeman and I in Lilongwe

A Malawian policeman and I in Lilongwe.

Having lunch in Lilongwe whilst waiting for visas to be processed.

Having lunch in Lilongwe whilst waiting for Fanny’s Malawi visas to be processed. This visa cost US$100, by far the most expensive visa in the whole of Africa. Mine was free. The Tanzanian visas for both British and Chinese passports were US$50 each.

A lot of Chinese in Lilongwe.. and so a few decent restaurants

A lot of Chinese in Lilongwe.. and so a few decent restaurants

Mabuya campsite in the heart of Lilongwe.

Whilst in Lilongwe we stayed at Mabuya campsite in the heart of the city.


I took a sneaky picture of her bottom as she squeezed through the door, but the picture looked like a black cat in a coal shed so there is not much point posting it. Visa fees were US$50 for both Brits and Chinese. I noticed that Americans had to pay US$200 and Irish US$100. There were some countries exempt from paying a fee for a visa, but most were African. Strangely the list also included Singapore and Hong Kong, but my attempts to plead Hong Kong citizenship failed, despite having a permanent Hong Kong ID card. They said I needed a Hong Kong passport and I was clearly not Chinese. Crazy logic, I  thought,  and I was about to launch into my Sol Campbell is English speech when I realized it was pointless.  Fifty bucks, Pommie.

We got Fanny’s Malawi visa which was the most costly of all the visas she had to get in Africa at US$100, and also both of our Tanzanian visas in Lilongwe and then scoured every petrol station in the city for petrol. We were out of luck, there wasn’t any and so we pushed on through spectacular scenery to Silema on the southern shores of Lake Malawi. There wasn’t any fuel there either –  all four petrol stations were completely dry. There was, however, some black market petrol being sold by the side of the road in liter cans at three times the pump price and quite clearly of dubious quality and provenance, although allegedly from Mozambique.

According to each of the road side sellers their competitors had diluted their fuel with maize oil, water and even kerosene –not good for a KTM LC8 engine — and so we did not take the risk and continued northwards along the shores of Lake Malawi through African villages teeming with smiling and waving people in colourful clothes.There were loads of kids, but not many old people in this part of the world. High mortality from AIDS? Poor diet? Poverty?  Probably a  combination of all three.

After 150 kilometers I started looking for a place to stay as we would not be able to make the further 200 kilometers to Nkhata Bay where we were hoping to camp up and find fuel. My GPS shows several places to stay four to five kilometers off the main coastal road in the village of Nkhotakota and I randomly choose one called Nkhotakota Pottery and Lodge and as the sun set over the Malawian mountains to the west we rode into the Pottery that was to become our home for a week.

Our home ... by the shores of Lake Nyasa

Our home … by the shores of Lake Nyasa

Beautiful deserted beaches along the shoreline of the lake

Beautiful deserted beaches along the shoreline of the lake

Lots of log dugouts on the lake beaches

Lovely sunrises from the west

Lovely sunrises from the west

Often the beaches just to ourselves

Often the beaches just to ourselves

The Pottery is a super lodge and not only provides employment for the local people, but offers superb accommodation... not just camping, but pretty well appointed chalets right on the beach

The Pottery is a super lodge and not only provides employment for the local people, but offers superb accommodation… not just camping, but pretty well appointed chalets right on the beach


The lodge was virtually deserted apart from a Land Rover and a Land Cruiser that were parked on some sand and attached to caravans even Jeremy Clarkson would approve of — off road safari explorer caravans with every conceivable attachment and convenience a person could want anywhere in the world.   We parked up on the beach and set up camp.  As we were doing so we met our fellow campers,  George and Alice in the Land Rover from Cape Town ( and Steve and Pauline in the Land Cruiser from Durban, who were also touring Africa for a year with their off road caravans.

As we got to know each other I shared my concerns about fuel. ‘No worries’, said George, ‘I carry 100 liters of fuel and can spare 20 liters if you want’.

YES I WANT.  Not being backward in coming forward I accepted the kind offer and our tanks and spirits were replenished, all worries allayed and we settled down with cold beers to watch the light fading over the lake.

As we shared stories by the camp fire, and stared out over the huge expanse of water, we saw a bright red globe rising from the lake to the east. Unless the universe had unraveled it must be the moon, and indeed it was, as red as I have ever seen it. Later, Fanny and I enjoyed a quiet dinner on the beach that consisted of the local fish, Chomba with Nshima pap, and washed down with Kuche Kuche, the local beer.

The beer and the fish were good, but I didn’t like the Nshima very muchNshima can be made from ground maize, but in Malawi it is mostly made from Cassava, which is a white  flour like substance that comes from the roots of a ubiquitous weed and tastes like a mixture of vomit and wall paper paste and has the nutritional value of a flip flop.

Despite its taste and poor food value, cassava is found all over Africa, especially in poor countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo and Malawi and forms the staple of most people’s diet. I made a note for file not to have it again if I can possibly help it. That night I fell asleep to the relaxing and peaceful sounds of waves gently breaking on the sandy shore and the trees swaying in the breeze, my favourite sounds.

Since we started this trip it was the first time we were not cold in the night. In fact, the temperature was pretty much perfect. As usual I woke up at the first break of light and later pulled back the tent awning and watched the sun rise above Lake Nyasa and the shadow of fishermen in their dugouts. Despite the odd and very vivid dreams one gets from the malaria medication we were taking I had the best night’s rest so far; the fuel crisis was over, for us at least; and I was together with my lovely Fanny in a stunningly beautiful part of the world.

We had faced more challenges than we expected in our first month and overcome them all. Both of our bikes were in good working order and Fanny was getting better and more confident at riding. I also had to take a mental pause and ask myself where are we going, and what are we doing this for? I am no longer in the rat race – I have escaped – for a year at least and we were where we want to be. No rush, life is good and so we decided to stay put and slowly make our way up the shoreline of Lake Nyana, relax and live life to the full in a stunningly beautiful part of the world.

A red moon rising over Lake Nyasa

A red moon rising over Lake Nyasa. Not the greatest picture and any night shots seriously pushed the limits of  our budget cameras, but a wonderful reminder of an amazing evening and a beautiful location.

Many of the people in Malawi are desperately poor .. I think having seen a lot of Africa this poverty doesn’t immediately appear as bad as it actually is because of the beautiful surroundings. However, its a tough life for many people.

The local people had nothing and many were desperately poor, but they were rich in dignity and charm.

Lots of vervet monkeys in the trees

The style and architecture used at some of these lakeside lodges is very special and makes the locations even more relaxing.

The architecture and design used at some of these lakeside lodges is simple, elegant and makes the locations even more relaxing.

Superb breakfasts on the beach. Awesome coffee throughout Africa.

Superb breakfasts on the beach. Awesome coffee throughout Africa.

Fanny joining in the dancing at a local wedding

Fanny joining in the dancing at a local wedding

I started running again ....

I started running again ….

A very typical bit of road in Malawi as we worked our way north along the shores on Lake Nyasa

A very typical bit of road in Malawi as we worked our way northwards along the shores on Lake Nyasa

Little friends

Little friends

Hiking along the beautiful shores

Hiking along the beautiful shores

Fanny and I did some huge hikes along the lakeshore.

Fanny and I did some huge hikes along the lakeshore.


Usually when I am on holiday I am still at work, blackberry, cellphone and PC at the ready, responding to any hint of a new project from clients and engaging in the unrelenting task of managing a team of highly capable forensic accounting and technology specialists who want, and are clearly capable of doing my job themselves—one day. Usually a period of holiday is not enough to unwind and truly relax if you have a job like I had and many do.

Now the planning and hassles of the previous few months were behind us and we could take each day as it comes. This realization, and the fact that the President of Malawi had indeed been squandering all the national resources and funds and generally abusing his power caused us to stay longer in Malawi than we first intended. There was no fuel to go even if we wanted to.

At the popular Kande beach resort we heard that riots were occurring in Lilongwe, Blantyre and Mzuzu, the three main towns and that the police had shot dead 18 protesters.  Such violence, all too common in Africa, is virtually unheard of in relatively peaceful Malawi. While we were at Kande we met many Brits who came out to Africa many years ago and simply stayed. Timbo is one of these expatriates. He lived in a beautiful beach house that he constructed himself and is also a motorcycling enthusiast with a XT500, GS750 and Matchless 500 in his garage. Sadly when we were there none of them were in recognizable form although he insisted they were all work’s in progress.

Timbo told us over beers in the car how he met the Long Way Down team four years previously when they stayed in Malawi. Ewan and Charlie did OK, but allegedly Mrs McGregor kept falling off her BMW GS650 on the sandy track between the tarmac main road and  the resort. In fact, you can see her falling off many times at this exact spot on the Long Way Down DVD. In fairness, it isn’t easy and even experienced riders fumble and panic when it comes to riding on loose sand. Fanny, though, with just 6 months experience, and riding the fully laden orange beast managed it in one go, albeit with a bit of ungraceful sand paddling along the way. Jia You Fanny.

My ribs, which I fractured two months previously by coming off whilst racing and sliding on the big bike sand course in South Africa,  were nearly healed and so I started my running, and together with swimming in the lake each day I was getting fit again. In fact, Fanny and I would often go on long walks and during a 30 km walk through the local villages and beaches one day we found an idyllic spot where we were to camp up for the next five days, called Makuzi Lodge.

Website at:

There were lots of overlanders and young travelers at Kande Beach and because of the riots in the nearby towns the number in the lodge had  increased to bursting point, but at Makuzi we were by ourselves, camped on flat soft grass next to the beach with only monitor lizards and a troop of Vervet monkeys for company.

Funny monkeys

Funny monkeys

Local witch doctor selling medicinal herbs and muti

A local witch doctor selling medicinal herbs and muti by the side of the road. Some of the ingredients had an uncanny resemblance to Chinese traditional medicine.

the Durban guys and their bicycles on the way to Cairo

the Durban guys and their bicycles on the way to Cairo

Cyclist from Durban, South Africa who were riding to Cairo (which they did).

Cyclist from Durban, South Africa who were riding to Cairo (which they did).

Fellow round the world bikers and their BMWs who had ridden from Holland at Kande Beach

Fellow round the world bikers and their BMWs who had ridden from Holland at Kande Beach

In Malawi you a never far from Lake Nyana

In Malawi you a never far from Lake Nyana

The Dutch round the world guys at Kande

Enjoying life.

Beach to ourself

Beach to ourself

Makuzi Beach just for ourselves. We canoed to the island in the right of the picture where we swam with Cichlid fish

Gong Fu Beach Boyz

Makuzi Beach

Bikes parked on some grass right next to the beach. Each night we would sit by the fire until it died down and then sleep well to the sound of gentle waves.

Hiking about and exploring the villages

Hiking about and exploring the villages


Unlike other parts of Malawi, Makuzi is hidden between two rocky hills and is very secluded.  Here the water was calmer and there was an island about two kilometers away where we often canoed out to and went snorkeling to see hundreds of different types of Cichlid fish, some only found in this lake. There were two pairs of Malawi Fish Eagles nested in their eerie near our tent and they gave a spectacle of gliding, pirouetting and fish catching everyday.

There were also Green Pigeons, Pied Kingfishers, Great Kingfishers, Cormorants, Wagtails, Sunbirds and  LBJs. The managers, Richard and Lauren owned a couple of Jack Russell dogs, one a small puppy that would unsuccessfully chase lizards and birds all day and then collapse.

It was truly a  paradise, as good as the best places I had been to in South East Asia and was our favourite place so far.  A far cry from the chaos and violence in the nearby Malawian cities where the normally placid people were protesting against their kleptomaniac despot leader. Unbeknownst to them at the time he wasn’t to last very long, and by the time we had ridden to Sudan he would be dead and the female vice President, Joyce Banda would take the helm and try and steer Malawi and its people to a better life.

The next day we decided to go on another hike. We walked along the sand tracks back to the main road and then headed north for a while. After an hour or so we cut back to the lake and then walked southwards along the beach back to Makuzi. Well, that was our plan and it all went wrong when we reached the lake and realized there was no beach to walk along as there was a swamp between us and our intended destination. We had no alternative than to hike along village paths, through four to five meter thick and prickly reeds and wade across small steams and ponds. Very soon we were wading in thick swamps and through dense and prickly vegetation.

I remember from my Explosive Ordinance Disposal days in the Royal Hong Kong Police  that we were introduced to a psychological concept called the “well of disaster”. It basically means that there is a human tendency to keep trying to make a bad plan work rather than  stop, reassess the situation and make a new plan.  It is the same concept that gets male drivers lost when they insist they will get back to a familiar route, rather than stop and ask someone the way or consult a map (a very common cause for a road trip argument). On this occasion I was convinced we would get back onto a track in the belief that the locals must use a short cut through the swamp rather than go all the way back to a bridge across a river some five or so kilometers away.

In no time at all both Fanny and I are lost. We were waist deep in sludge and scrambling through African shrubs and trees, all of them without exception possessing some kind of well evolved defence mechanism such as thorns, itchy seeds or poisonous leaves. As I was trying to get my bearings I heard a faint voice shouting at us. After wading into a bit of a clearing I saw several villagers up above us on a bank waving their arms.  I shouted back, ‘Are we on the right path?’

A elderly villager answered in good English, ‘Get out of there, it’s dangerous.’

Well, it did feel squidgy under foot and I thought back to the scary “sinking sand”  that always featured on TV shows from my childhood such as  ‘Tarzan’, and even on distant alien planets in ‘Lost in Space’ and so I suppose it has a special place of dread in my old memory.

I looked around at Fanny and she was covered in black gunge and was laughing. I jokingly shouted back, ‘Not crocodiles?’

‘Yes’ , he replied  ‘many’

‘Where?’ I shouted back.

‘Right where you are, and lots of snakes, too’…. ‘get out quick’

I was under the impression that snakes were hibernating at this time of year, which in retrospect begs the question, where are they hibernating?  Also, for some reason I thought that there we no crocodiles near the freshwater lake.

I don’t know about Fanny, but I was frozen on the spot, nervously scanning the surrounding swamp that had suddenly become very hostile and terrifying.   The old man gestured to a young girl who was instructed rather reluctantly to slide down the slope and rescue the daft Mzungo (we foreigners).  After a seemingly long and rather embarrassing rescue we were escorted along a firmer underwater path and out of the swamp to relative safety. As we did the walk of shame covered in black slime past the entire village I muttered to Fanny that I bet there weren’t really any snakes and crocodiles and almost immediately walked past a sign pinned to a tree that warned of exactly those dangers.



Fanny and I before we got lost taking a short cut through a snake and crocodile infested swamp.

Wading over some streams and into the swamp

The swamp.. looks nice doesn’t it

A typical hut in Malawi

A typical hut in Malawi

Fanny’s orange KTM riding north along the shores of Lake Nyana

Local fishermen

Gloriously technicoloured lizards

Our campsite at Makuzi


As much as we would like to have stayed for longer, we needed to eventually press on and sadly packed up and rode further north to Nkharta Bay where we had originally planned to stay and where I had stayed four years previously and enjoyed an idyllic rest by the lake. I had mixed feelings when we arrived at Nkharta Bay as we found an extremely crowded and dirty town… and there was no fuel. Not how I remembered it at all. We definitely made the right decision to stay at quieter and smaller villages en route.

Despite the reports of recent violent riots we both agreed to move on to Mzuzu and northwards towards Tanzania. As we U-turned in the very busy market place we bumped into the three South African’s from Durban who were cycling to Cairo. We met them earlier whilst camped up at Kande Bay and they had been waiting for a delayed ferry for 12 hours by the docks to take them further up the lake and avoid Mzuzu and make up time. You have to admire and respect these mad cyclists who cross continents, but as we powered up the hill and into the mountains to Mzuzu I had to admit I’d rather be twisting the throttle than peddling the peddles.

Apprehensively, we arrived in Mzuzu and saw little of the results of the riots. It is a truly scruffy town at the best of times and so it was difficult to see what was vandalism and what was normal African urban decay. Luckily, despite reports to the contrary, we did find fuel and topped up our tanks and fuel cans and did not hang around. The Chinese and Indian businesses had been targeted by the rioters and I thought it was prudent to get my Chinese girl out, just in case.

We rode through some truly spectacular mountains and then descended down a very windy road towards the turn off for Livingstonia where we planned to stay up in the mountains overlooking the lake and kilometers of pristine beaches and mountain forests. As we turned off the main lakeside road onto the track the surface turned to rock, sharp stones, sand and boulders. It was rather technical and the rocky track wound itself up against itself with numerous hairpin turns continuously for fifteen kilometers to Livingstonia.

However, after about a kilometer I looked down the mountain and could see that Fanny had come off.  I waited for a while high up on a steep ledge but it appeared she had no intention to get back on her bike again. I’ll say this for Fanny though, she is an expert at picking up a fully laden adventure bike by herself.

I did not want to ride all the way down again and so  parked up my bike at a very precarious angle on a steep and rocky section of the track and in full motorcycle gear yomped back down to where Fanny was with her bike and she said, point of factly, ‘It’s too hard for me’.

‘No?’, I asked.


I then had a mad brain wave to ride both bikes all the way the Livingstonia by leap frogging them all the way up the mountain, but after about two kilometers I realized this was a very stupid idea as the hardest bit would actually be riding down the hill rather than up it. Also the steep rocky track was shredding the tyres and we needed them to ride through Tanzania and Kenya to Nairobi. So after wasting an hour or so I carefully rode both bikes back down the steep track to the main road and we decided to carry on north and look for a campsite else where. I was disappointed to be so near and yet not be able to see Mushroom Farm in Livingstonia. Another time for sure.

So, we continued north to the border with Tanzania and I was a bit sad to see the last of Lake Nyana, but when we got to the border we only found squalid places to stay and so in the fading light I asked Fanny if we should 180 degrees and head back to the most northerly Lake Malawi camp site we passed some 50 kilometers away and she agreed and we raced back south again.

As we entered the camp site, which was on the beach, I saw the South African off road caravans again and we were welcomed by George, Alice, Steve and Paula who were camped up and we decided to spend our last night in Malawi together and get drunk. I do not remember much else except that the next day when we entered Tanzania I had a hangover of note. It was so bad that alcohol induced dehydration was not the only cause for my bad health, and later I was to find out why.

A guy with an amazing bicycle

A funny guy with a customized bicycle doing figures of eight on the road…just for our amusement

Hiking about in Malawi

A taste of the local firewater….it would be rude not to  …. woooow cough cough!!!

What a smile

Some of the people we met on one of our walkabouts

The locals showing me how to play a game invented in England

Some more little friendly friends

Some more little friendly friends

What a stunning location to have lunch

I am just messing around for the camera … the Tanzanian immigration guy was fine and just getting on with processing our papers.