The road between Moyale at the border and just south of Marsabit in northern Kenya is known as the worst road in Africa. It used to be both because of the conditions of the road and the fact that there were road bandits and attacks happening, but thesedays the security is much better and we hadn’t heard about any attacks for a very long time. But we still wanted to do this drive with plenty of time and not risk having to camp wild on the side of the road – there are no places to stay along the way. And we were happy to still have the company of Rick in case something would go wrong.
But as we had entered Kenya we had some errands to run in town – and it turned out Brian and I for some reason couldn’t withdraw any cash with our visa cards at the ATM’s! So we ended up spending some time phoning the bank in Sweden, who said it was probably just the chips that couldn’t be read and that we just try get money over the counter. When that failed we had to rely on Rick for cash – again – so we were quite lucky he was there!! So, a bit delayed we decided to start heading south and it was already lunch time. Starting to drive the main problem with the road was some really big mud puddles and a lot of pot holes and uneven tracks. We estimated we would be averaging at 30 km/hour – meaning the 240 km to Marsabit would take 8 hours… We would only get there after dark. But we didn’t have much choice but to push on, now that we had started.
The first few hours were okay, just slow – and Brian was quite enjoying the driving! But then we passed the town of Turbi (the only town along this entire stretch) and after that it was Kenyan desert – dry plains with lots of rocks. Soon it also turned out that the Chinese have decided to come in and rebuild the road. So we drove at least half of the way on a diversion road, which was probably even worse than the original! All the big trucks working on the road are using it and the corrugation was horrible. The cruiser started making all sorts of worrying noises and rattles and Rick had to stop not once, but twice, because the chassi of his motorbike broke into two pieces from all the vibrations. The bushes that Brian had changed in Addis wore out one after the other. Towards the afternoon we lost sight of Rick who couldn’t wait up since it’s even worse for him to drive in the dark and because we had to make several stops checking the bushes.
By the time the sun started setting I started feeling a bit uneasy. We didn’t have that much longer to go, but it just felt like it was taking forever. At a very slow speed you start feeling like an easy target and I couldn’t help but wondering who might be waiting around the next bend. Being really tired after a long day of shaking, vibrating and bouncing probably made me a bit paranoid. Eventually Brian had to pull over and completely disconnect the shocks. They had now not just worn down yet another set of bushes but pulled through the mounts! This made the ride smoother, but we were bouncing like a boat on waves with every bump and gaining speed we would also gain momentum. It was tricky driving but the only way to do it. So we crept along at a fairly low speed the last kilometers and finally we reached a police check point just outside of Marsabit. The young police man seemed a little surprised to see us out at night but was very nice and let us through without a hassle and after that I could finally relax. And shortly we reached town and Rick must have heard us coming because he was standing outside the first hotel at the outskirts of town, waving at us. He quickly introduced our accommodation for the night and we just smiled at it all, sooo relieved to finally have the worst road in Africa behind us.
So it was the Ababuro Guesthouse that I mentioned earlier that we came to that evening in Marsabit and it was such a quirky, cool place. Rick said it looked like something from From Dusk Til Dawn. (Will try post some pictures later.) The staff was super friendly, the rooms were funny but fine – hot water showers! – and the food was good.
So the following day Kenneth, one of the staff, took Brian and Rick to the town’s mechanic to get the motorbike and the cruiser back into shape. I stayed back writing, as you know, and when they came back in the early afternoon some new plans had been made. Due to the heavy rains in the morning Rick was going to put his motorbike on the back of a pick up truck heading south and Brian had decided we might as well pack up and tug along, since the road conditions might be really bad and it would be good to travel in convoy. So we hurriedly ate lunch and packed up our stuff. Coming into town we found that the roads weren’t so bad, they had already dried up pretty well, so we decided to just drive ourselves. Brian and I still couldn’t withdraw cash for some mysterious reason and called the bank a second time. They promised to send us new cards if we had a somewhat permanent address to give them in case the problem wasn’t solved – but we were once again lucky to have Rick and be able to borrow some cash until the next bigger town, where we were going to try our cards again or simply stay there until we could make a plan for cash.
And so, we had another 30 km of bad road left – and it was horribly bad still but nothing we couldn’t handle – before it was over. And by the time we reached tarmac it was probably the best road in Africa! Recently built, wide with proper shoulders on each side, clearly painted lines – and no traffic! What a dream! We drove down to Isiolo where we made a stop and decided to split up after weeks travelling together, since Rick had a tighter deadline. Brian and I managed to withdraw cash (phew!!) and then we had lunch at a pretty typical African restaurant. ”No, we don’t have that. No, don’t have that. That we don’t have yet. Maybe in 45 minutes or so. That? No we don’t have that either.” There’s no point in claiming that it says on the menu that they have it! In this case it was so bad that we just laughed eventually and ordered nyama choma, roasted meat (usually goat) and some samosas (the nice meat filled kind, not the enormous once full of lentils that we had in Ethiopia). We said our goodbyes and left Isiolo.
Brian and I continued down to Timau, not too far south, close to Mt Kenya, and reached our campsite early for once. Brian had found a campsite on the gps and wanted to do some more work on the car before it got dark. It was really nice arriving in the early afternoon and setting up camp instead of pitching up at sunset or even after dark, which had become a bad habit of ours lately. And what a place! Kentrout, as it was called, turned out to be this sleepy little old farm where you literally camp in a garden – or in little really old cottages with low ceilings and dark wood beams. There were trout ponds, putting fresh fish on the tables of the restaurant, serving both locals and tourists, which was set right by the stream coming down from the mountain in a lush forest.
Being low season, we had the place almost to ourselves, just sharing the lawn with an older German overlander couple. Brian got started working on the car and I wasn’t very useful around there so I just walked around taking photos. I got Brian to take a break and come with me to the forest just outside the farm – there were Colobus monkeys! This was a first for both of us and we really enjoyed it. The group lives in the forest nearby but frequently visits the farm to plunder the potato field. They have been fed with carrots before (their favourite apparently) so they’ve gotten pretty used to people and even came down to take pieces straight out of our hands. The biggest one obviously placed himself close to us, preventing the younger ones from getting any treats. So Brian started throwing carrots into the air, to one sitting just above us. And it turned into this game where the monkey quickly got the idea and managed to catch a few pieces!
The afternoon passed quickly and by 18.00 we were served dinner – a bit pricy, but tasty (yes, I had trout) – and then Brian had to finish the car work in the dark. By that stage it was pretty darn chilly and since there was a bath tub and no shower in the bathroom we decided to have a hot bath! I’ve never had a bath where the water was so murky I couldn’t see the bottom of the bathtub, so I don’t know how clean it made us, but at least we got warm!