Webster's dictionary: "disappointment, the frustration of one's hopes; annoyance due to failure; a person or thing that disappoints." This sums up Kenya nicely in my mind. Overrun with tourists, Kenya is the most expensive country I have visited on my entire trip. The tourist trade has affected the locals in a bad way. The country is rife with European profiteers charging Western rates and paying the locals $70usd per month for working 6 day weeks- 10 hours per day or more. Some of the lodges in the game parks charge $800usd for a single room. I stayed at a place called the Jungle Junction, in Nairobi. I left there feeling absolutely gouged. Suffice it to say, I won't return to that place.
Now the good stuff! I entered Kenya from Uganda at a little town called Eldoret. The riding was fantastic. Cruising through the equatorial highlands at roughly 9,000 feet was simply stunning. The terrain was mountainous and green. I crossed the equator for the fourth time and enjoyed road-side food that was cheap and delicious. The natives wore bright, colorful clothes- they reminded me of the clothes I saw in San Cristobal de las Casas. My first impression of Kenya was very favorable. In time I would learn a valuable lesson- avoid white people at all cost. Wherever one finds tourists in Kenya, expect to pay 100 times more than off the beaten path. When I enter a restaurant these days, I will turn around and head for the door if the place is filled with white faces. This isn't a problem on the road, just in the tourist areas- and in Kenya, there are plenty of those!
Nairobi has a bad reputation here in Africa. I believe it is somewhat undeserved. I met a fellow from Europe who had been pick-pocketed in Nairobi, but this was at a bus station. Having my own transport keeps me out of the common problem areas, namely bus and train stations. I stayed in the western suburb of Lavington rather than the city center. It is a beautiful neighborhood filled with leafy trees. There is plenty of good food there- and coffee as well. In Nairobi I watched the movie Blood Diamond- despite my lack of enthusiasm for Leo DiCaprio. I enjoyed the movie a great deal despite Leo's terrible South African accent. With all its money and power, I'm baffled that Hollywood couldn't find just ONE South African actor who could have played that role. Before Blood Diamond I saw the trailer for The Last King of Scotland. Having just come from Uganda and speaking with people about the Amin years, it gave me chills. It looks like Forrest Whittaker has knocked this one out of the park. The theater was absolutely silenced from the usual pre-movie chatter during the trailer, it was amazing.
I spent close to a month in Nairobi, relaxing and having the bike maintained. In December I flew to the US to visit family, pay taxes and TCB (take care of business!). The trip back to Colorado took almost 30 hours- brutal. I flew with British Airways and was very impressed with the service. With some 15 years spent working as a pilot and traveling with US airlines, I regret to say: the Europeans absolutely offer a better product, at least with regards to trans-oceanic flights. I now avoid US carriers at all cost.
I departed Nairobi feeling refreshed and eager to head north. I spent one night in the shadow of Mount Kenya, in a rather ugly town called Isiolo. I stayed at a nice place run by 4 Dutch couples, they take turns coming down from Europe for 3 months at a time to run the place. They are all retired and do this to stay active and bring in some extra money. Two of the couples were there when I visited. After a nice dinner they invited me for a few drinks. They had alot of questions about my trip. Very nice people. They informed me that the road north was widely regarded as one of Africa's worst. This didn't surprise me a bit, I had been told this by many people over the last few months. They explained that convoys sometimes went north with armed guards due to shifta (bandits). I also knew about this. I went to bed early that night, planning to get an early start the next morning.
The distance from Isiolo to Marsabit is a mere 161 miles. The road was fairly rough, I simply went slow. It took nearly 10 hours to reach Marsabit. The most difficult part of the trip was the scorching heat. I was glad I had traded in my heavy, black leather jacket for a nice vented one. Along the way I passed plenty of nomads. Many of them carried bolt-action rifles given to them by the government to shoot cattle rustlers. The northern part of Kenya is quite the frontier. Armed raiders sometimes enter Kenya from Ethiopia and Somalia to steal livestock- or whatever else they can get their hands on. Hour after hour passed without seeing even the smallest village. There were only occasional nomads and plenty of live-stock. As I rounded a corner I chanced upon a dead hyena. He looked to be a recent kill (struck by a car I believe) so I didn't stop- could his friends be nearby? His lips were pealed back as if in a snarl, revealing some very sharp looking teeth. At one point, on a long stretch of straight road, I saw two men standing near a tree. I stopped and pulled out my binoculars to glass the situation. I felt that if they were shiftas they would wait for me around a curve to cut down my reaction time. Through the binocs I could tell they were in some sort of uniform- and armed. As I approached them I could see they were both smiling. I stopped and as always, offered my hand and greeted them both. I hadn't passed any sort of village for many hours, and to be honest, wondered if I hadn't taken a wrong turn into the desert. After answering the usual questions, the men asked if I had seen a dead hyena (they were with the Kenya Wildlife Service). They wanted to know how far back the carcass was. I was pleased to find out I was on the right road. They couldn't agree how much further I had to go. I didn't care- as long as it was the right road!
After some 8 hours of intense riding, I was getting seriously tired. The riding was tough due to some very rough sections. Every so often I would encounter a decent stretch for a couple hundred yards- this would invariably end in a very rough fashion. It was important to focus, go slow- and not make a mistake. A broken leg here and more than the trip would be over. There were no cars, villages, etc. And there were plenty of animals who would ensure my bones would be picked clean by sunrise. Still, despite the intense heat, it was beautiful. To the west I could see the mountains of the Lake Turkana region. To the north I could see the mountains of the Marsabit region. Marsabit sits high in the hills, and is therefore COOL. I couldn't wait to start the climb!
The sun had long passed its zenith when I reached the base of the mountains. I rode through a rough little village before I started the climb to Marsabit. Just after passing this village (not on my map) I paused to photograph a couple of zebra. As I snapped a picture I heard something behind me. I turned around to see two native women standing there with some children. More natives began to run towards me from their huts. They just stood there, some smiling, some not. They simply stared at me. I considered taking their picture but decided against it. I have their memory in my head. I could feel the temperature dropping as I worked my way up into the mountains. My strength began to return somewhat. My hands were sore from maintaining a tight grip on the rough road. I was ready to stop for the day. Roughly 10 miles from Marsabit I passed 20-25 women. They were carrying huge loads of firewood on their backs. Most of them were staggering under the loads, they all wore flip-flops. As I passed they struggled to see me, many of them smiling. And that sums up Africa for me. Some 8850 people die of AIDS every DAY on this continent. On average, an African dies every 30 seconds due to Malaria. There is disease, poverty, hunger, war, famine- you name it. And these magnificent people cope with it and keep going. And even when tired, thirsty and straining under a massive load, these people offer me a smile. Just incredible.
In Marsabit I settled into a simple little hotel just off the main road. I was dreaming of a cold beer and a shower. I would have neither that night. You see, Marsabit has run out of water. Water must now be trucked in. The truck parks in the town center and folks carry jugs to the truck where they are filled, then lugged back to homes. A sign on my hotel wall read, "IF we give you water, please use it economically." I was told I could "shower" at 6pm. Native women prepared a small fire under a large steel pot of water. I was then led to a small room with a drain in the floor. One of the women carried a bucket of the warm, murky water behind me. I was handed a large cup and a used bar of soap. After disrobing, I carefully ladeled the water over my body, lathered up, then rinsed. Not bad! That night I enjoyed a nice meal at the hotel and elected to spend 2 days there to rest up before crossing the more difficult and somewhat notorious strech ahead.
There is a national park near the town of Marsabit (ironically called Marsabit National Park!). I retained the services of a local guide named Nobu to take me to the park. Motorcycles are prohibited from entering most of the parks in Kenya due to the big cats that roam there. I was able to hire a guide, Land-Rover and driver for $50usd for the day. The entrance fee was $20usd- that's $70usd for the whole deal- try that in one of the parks further south, teeming with tourists. In the park we saw elephants, buffalo, loads of birds and other wildlife. It's a beautiful place.
I left Marsabit early in the morning as I knew the road would be very difficult. I crossed another desert on this stretch, though I don't recall its name. It was brutally hot and the road was very rough. Rocks the size of pineapples were everywhere. The place resembled pictures I've seen of Mars. Some of the tire ruts were close to 3 feet deep. It was slow going. I stopped in a village along the way and ate some chicken and took on more water. I couldn't imagine having to repair a flat tire in these conditions. After 9 hours I reached a roadblock put up by the military. I was told that a vehicle was robbed at gunpoint just days before on the road ahead. I would be unable to proceed without an armed escort- the escort would cost around $10usd. I explained I had no room on the bike for a soldier. This was not the kind of village I wanted to spend the night in! Before long a pick-up truck arrived with 2 men in the front and 3 or 4 in the back. They looked like nomads, wrapped loosely in colorful robes. I struck up a conversation with the driver, a very nice man from Marsabit. They were told they couldn't proceed without an escort either. Hmmm, I thought, I think we can work this out... within 15 minutes my bike was loaded into the truck, we split the cost of the escort and I agreed to buy the driver dinner and some cold beer. Our armed escort soon emerged from what looked like a barracks. He carried an FN-FAL 7.62mm automatic rifle. Draped around his neck were 2 rifle-propelled grenades. They swung back and forth as he approached our vehicle, like an explosive set of earrings. He climbed into the back of the truck and took a seat on my bike, weapon pointing forward. And so we were off to Moyale. The next day I was glad to finally leave Kenya. What would Ethiopia be like?