Ripped Off In Kenya, And The Amazing Return.

What was supposed to be an early start for the Ethiopian border crossing now was looking to be a mid-afternoon departure. First things first. I had to get the bike unloaded from the lorry. My preference was to unload it somewhere away from the hustle and bustle of this Kenya border town. Getting both the bike and I suited for the ride into Ethiopia would be project. I needed to change out of my lorry riding clothes and into my riding gear. I needed to refit the bike with the top box, Jesse Bags and pack the few items I’d been carrying in the cab back into my Ortlieb duffels. Simple enough. But this is a process. Everything has its place. I’d rather set up and change without standing on stage in front of the glaring eyes of dozens of Kenyans.

As you can imagine, the bike was a dusty mess. After unloading shoes, clothing, and some bags of dolomite it took about six people to pull the bike down. Covered in white powder, sand and dirt, I only could think about the chain. It’d need a good cleaning along with the forks, brake discs. Abdulah refused to unload the bike where I wanted: an unused building just 100 meters from the border post. Instead, they unloaded me on a side dusty dirt side street. And soon enough I was surrounded by peering eyes of dozens.

Picture 6.jpg

My bike was destined to get unloaded amongst a crowd of Moyale locals.

Picture 4.jpg

Everyone wanted in on the unloading action — anything for a few shillings in this poverty stricken border town.

Picture 7.jpg

First the shoes, clothes and then the dolomite – that messy powder.

Picture 9.jpg

Huge sacks were unloaded before Doc could be freed.

IMG_7983.jpg

Despite the rough roads, slamming around and nearly tipping in the mud, the bike didn’t move.

Picture 10.jpg

A gang of ten unload the machine from its home for the past 60+ hours.

Picture 11.jpg

The poor old AirHawk “ass pad” and everything else got covered in sand, dust and dolomite.

Picture 12.jpg

It’s Alive!

IMG_7987.jpg

I tried to perform my duty as methodical as possible while keeping my eyes on my gear. At one point an inebriated man plowed his way through the crowd and pushed his face and with alcohol tainted breath simply put his arm around me and demanded, “Give me something muzungu!” He leaned over and picked up one of my gloves and started walking away. I grabbed the back of his shirt color and yanked him back.

“Give it back!” I demanded. Meanwhile the crowd backed away and I pushed the drunk into the circle. He came back.

“Give me something.” I ignored him and pushed him back again. My patience was taxed. I didn’t have much time and I knew crossing the border could take more than an hour. The last thing I wanted was to stay on the Ethiopian side of this remote border post.

The crowd just stood there watching forming a semi-circle completely around me. Perhaps thirty or forty people. “Isn’t there school today?” I asked. It was Good Friday. Even though I could hear the praying from the speakers of a nearby Mosque, this town and all of Kenya recognized Good Friday as a holy day. “Am I that interesting?” I asked again. I played a few language games and impressed the crowd with a few funny phrases of Swahili I’d learned, while I equipped the bike for my journey into Ethiopia.

The drunk finally disappeared and as I stripped down to my underwear and pulled on my riding pants, I remembered my cell phone in the pocket of my light-weight Ex-Officio convertibles. Sitting on the concrete step of a closed-up shop, I had hung my heavy BMW Rallye2 Pro jacket on the padlock latch of the store behind me to keep it off the dusty and dirty ground. I was almost ready to go. I packed away my “street” pants and then turned around to put my cell phone in the zippered breast pocket of my riding jacket — where I’ve always carried my cellphone since departing on this journey nearly three years ago. I then sat back down and put on my boots. Took only a few seconds and I popped up and went for my jacket eager to blow this town.

That’s when I noticed the breast pocket was unzipped. I reached in and came up empty-handed.

Someone ripped off my SonyEriccson PIi mobile phone. I was flushed first with desperation. Then emotionally spent. I’d spent all but about five of sixty-hours in the cab of a Mitsubishi truck across perhaps the harshest terrain in Kenya, I was hungry and while I could see Ethiopian hills just a scant few kilometers away, I seemed stuck and down and out in the dusty dump of Moyale. I wanted to cry.

With a cracked voice wreaking of disappointment I addressed the crowd while rising up my hands in angst, “Don’t do this to me Kenya!” As I walked into the crowed the space around me thinned, “I’ve travelled for more than two years and no where has anyone stolen anything from me,” I turned to the oldest and frailest man in the crowd, “do you really want Kenya to earn the first price of thievery ?” I asked.

IMG_7990.jpg

The crowd that gathered here on Good Friday staretd wiht kids and before I was ready to leave it few to more than 30 people. Who stole my mobile phone?

Silence fell and a two stroke motorbike buzzed by and stopped to listen.

“Who stole my phone?” I demanded. “I want it back right now!” I’d try anything but overreacting with anger or rage would only worsen my predicament. “Someone here saw the thief who stole my phone.” My back was to the jacket as I put on my boots, but more than 20 eyes had a clear view of the robbery. “Who stole it?” I address a young boy on a bicycle. “Did you?” I asked turning to young Muslim woman. “You?” I thrust my arm with forefinger extended pointing at the forehead of a man with five inch scar going diagonally across his cheek.

Finally a young boy who stood barely to my waist came forward, “I saw him.” Then another older guy came forward questioning the kid who spoke very little English. “Who? Where is he?” I demanded. Just then another motorcycle rode by with two older men wearing clorox clean white robes with white traditional Muslim caps. My voice cracked again with disappointment, “Can you help me please?” I asked slowly, “Someone has stolen my phone and someone here saw it happen.” The men questioned a few people in the now growing crowd.

“You must go to the police,” they insisted, while another boy offered to take me to the station. I wasn’t about to leave my bike here. My pleas for someone to go bring the police here fell on deaf ears. It’s just not done that way. Just as I was riding to the station a police truck pulled out of a side road only 300 meters from where the theft took place. And the crowd along with my informants and witnesses still lingered.

A bunch of Swahili and what sounded like an angry diatribe went on for about ten minutes. Turns out the chief of the police was in the truck. He and his deputy got out of the truck and disappeared down an alley into a maze of ram-shackled buildings, dusty tracks with goats, chickens and an idle bull. I stood and waited. And waited. Twenty minutes passed and the police were still gone. Then I heard the buzz of a small motorbike and the crowd shifted to let the bike get close to me. It was the two while gown and capped Muslim men. One of them was holding my phone.

“Is this your phone?” he asked. I assured him it was and he took the phone and whirred down the alley in search of the police. Ten minutes later and the guys and police emerged. One boy urged me to just take my phone, not cause any problems and make no report or file no charges. The police asked me to follow them to the police station where I could retrieve my phone.

I wanted to heed the boy’s request and just get to Ethiopia. But the chief, David, his deputy Joseph and Simon the sergeant explained that in order to stop petty crime they needed support and asked if I’d file a statement. I did and headed for the border.

Passing through customs and immigration on the Kenyan side of the border was a breeze. The customs agent even helped find me a money changer and let us do the transaction in his office, ensuring no funny business and a good rate. This blew me away, cause nearly every other border crossing guards shoo away the hordes of money changers and any transaction has to be done outside the view of any official. Here there were no money changer hordes. My Kenya experience ended on a positive note.

I rode into Ethiopia at about 4pm where a glitch on the passport reader (something I pointed out and perhaps shouldn’t have) in immigration caused a 30-minute delay but soon enough I was free and crossing into the 29th country of my journey.

Whew.

IMG_7996.jpg

Goodbye Kenya. Hello Ethiopia.

No Man’s Land: Nairobi to Moyale.

IMG_7925.jpg

With the rain pelting the windshield and the windshield wipers offered additional percussion to the Kenyan music blasting distortedly through the trucks sole speaker I knew I was in for a long ride. I didn’t have much information either. Sitting in

a cab with my driver Abdulah and Sofia, a young 14 year old girl crying because she didn’t want to return to her native land, I contemplated my situation. I’d ridden Doc, my bike, virtually everywhere on this journey. Now, Doc sat on atop more than 50 sacks of dolomite powder and we were together embarking on a 2-3 day ride through some of the toughest terrain in Eastern Africa.

Picture 52.png

Sofia and I spent many hours in the cab of our lorry making the journey to the Kenya – Ehthiopia border.

Initially I thought we would take the road from Isiolo north to Marsabit then onward to Moyale at the Ethiopian border. But Abdulah with his broken English explained that while longer the road through Garissa would be gentler on the truck, cargo, tires and our spines. Instead we headed east toward Thika where we made our first and only stop for the first nine hours. The small market had a fair selection of breads, biscuits, meats and soft drinks. Here I loaded up on snacks, water and even some cold cuts. At once I was excited about the adventure ahead and then I went through phases of self-doubt. Should I have ridden this leg of the trip? Did I make the right decision? Sure. I knew I’d save time and with the question still hanging in the air about whether I’d get a visa to enter Sudan. Shit. If not, I’d have to make a U-Turn in Addis and cross this desert a second time. Or head to Eritrea and hope for a ship somewhere. With my mind racing and sitting in the cab of a Mitsubishi Lorry with a 14-year old Ethiopian girl and the man responsible to take the precious cargo to the Ethiopian border.

Abdulah was tall, lanky and while he could speak in English phrases he was taken to saying yes or simply answering a totally different question, one in his mind, than the one I’d asked him if he didn’t understand me. This would be rather comical for the next sixty hours. His sidekick, the back-up driver Keisha, new about as many words in English as I in Swahili. But we managed to communicate and make each other laugh and smile. What more could you want. But it was at this market in Thika that the two of them negotiated side deals that saw about 5 or 6 passengers negotiate for a ride to somewhere in the desert.

Picture 49.png

This deep sand would be taxing and tiring on a motorcycle. Not to take into account temperatures, lack of available water and what else?

“No bus go past Garissa,” Abdulah explained. “And bus very expensive.” Garissa is about 300 km from Nairobi, and most of this road is paved. Heading due east toward the Somalian border, there are few vehicles that travel this route, and since January 2007 amidst fighting with Somalian Islamic extremists, the Kenya border has been closed. Since then several policemen were murdered by desperate Somalians trying to enter Kenya. The suspension on the Mitsubishi did its best to cushion the cab from the badly potholed road while Abdulah cranked the African music. I tried to sleep my way through it. But the beauty of the dark sky and massive full moon captivated my attention and as I dozed learning my head against the window the all to recurring jolts of the cab bounced me like a bobble-head knocking me into the window and waking me up. I’d just gaze up and see that moon and fall back into the zone.

IMG_7931.jpg

IMG_7928.jpg

The major metropolis of Shantabak. Great Boiled Goat Meat, Potatoes and Chapait.

About nine hours and 340 km later server rocking backing forth bounced my head repeatedly against the glass. So I woke. It was 4:30am. “We Garissa now,” Abdulah announced detecting life in the cab. Ahead the lights faded into a horizon of simply sand and low lying plants and thorn bushes. My confident driver seemed to drive an obstacle course or maze around the plant-life. There were no lights. No vehicles. Just a bush-covered semi-arid desert. Long behind me was the fertile and arable great rift valley, Mt. Kenya and the lands that inspired Ernest Hemingway, Teddy Roosevelt and many before and after. For us, Garissa and this vast wasteland represented a turning point. Time to head north into no mans land — though Garissa itself only distinguishes itself from where we’re going but a narrow strip of poorly maintained tarmac that ends there.

It was in Garissa, off the tarmac and still under the falling full moon we stopped for a cup of tea — the first stop in over eight hours. The small settlement consisted of corrugated metal buildings, ragtag shacks and mud, manure and stick shacks. But it was the sunrise just a couple hours later where we stopped and for the first time in nearly 12 hours Keisha took over the driving duty while Abdulah snuggled in the narrow stretch of space behind the seats in the cab. “Two hours I drive again,” he assured me. “I need sleep now.” Two hours. I know that this schedule would never work in the USA where truck drivers are monitored by satellites so that they follow hours of service regulated by the Department of Transportation and where speed, fuel consumption and idling are all logged electronically. But I guess driver fatigue, productivity and performance are measured by more rudimentary methods. I just hope that Abdulah is in touch with his circadian rhythm and we arrive in Moyale unscathed.

But there are some rules for Kenyan truck drivers. Apparently the extra passengers we’d picked up in Thika were illicit and illegal cargo on lorries in Kenya. When we came across a makeshift gate between two shrubs across the stretch of sand that was serving as our driving track I got inquisitive. A young dark-skinned man with a dim flashlight appeared out of the bushes and approached the cab. He shined the light on the cargo space and pointed it to the top of the tarp where our human contraband tried to shield themselves from the wind and cold. As Abdulah stuffed a few shillings in the palm of the torch-toting policeman, I wondered how our passengers would handle the blazing and radiating heat of the sun that was sure to beat on them in a few hours — and throughout the day.

We had passed a village of perhaps only several dozen. Yet there was a police checkpoint. I was puzzled. But this is Africa after all. “Why police here? Not many trucks. No cars. Why check point,” I fell into speaking in broken English mimicking Abdulah. He explained that the passengers were illegal but for a few shillings he could pass, even though I’m sure he coulda barreled right on through. But this was just another example of Africa and the way things work. Nobody questions it. Everybody abides. Almost everybody, that is.

IMG_7934.jpg

Boiled goat meat, potatoes and chapati. Yummy!.

By the time Keisha was booted from the driver’s seat I had seen my first camels of my entire journey. We’d passed through miles and miles of this desolate and dusty bush covered plain where seemingly in the middle of nowhere a silhouette of hundreds of goats with a herder would appear. Shadows of the massive wing span of marabou storks would float across the track we followed. Then I saw my first camels. Just a 100 meters from the truck lurking in the shadow of the bush ten or twenty camels seemingly drifted by gracefully followed by a young boy carrying a stick. Camels.

IMG_7933.jpg

Abdulah. My driver, confidant and new friend. Sitting on the floor of a Shantabak shanty sipping and slurping our lunch.

Life goes at a slow pace here in no man’s land. And our Mitsubishi lorry followed suit. More goats, hundreds of donkeys packing water from who knows where and camels it was almost six hours later and only 2200 km(120 miles) that we made the next stop. All along the way I spotted a few cellular phone antenna towers but not a shred of evidence of electricity. We were in Shantabak, not on the map — not even Google Maps. But with the diesel engine idling we entered a dark shaded structure and sat on a tattered fabric on the floor. A young woman carrying a pitcher of water and shallow bucket walked up to me and I washed my hands as she powered the water over them and into the bucket. In these parts of Africa there’s no cutlery — silverware — you simply eat with your hands. And while I must admit I was a bit concerned about the food I’d be served, the boiled goat meat and potatoes served with chapati, delicious African flat bread, and rice was flavorful, tender and perfect. I wondered if I’d be opting for Imodium or Pepto later, but using the chapati to scoop and grab the food Sofia, Abdulah and Keisha munched down the meal before heading out past the goats, camels and donkeys to yet another police checkpoint, a shop as Abdulah called it, and headed back into the desert.

Outside Shantabak we were dangerously close to the Somalia border. I spotted a Kenyan military camp on the horizon with a few vehicles jockeying back and forth while I tried to position paper, my dirty socks and whatever else I could find to create shade from the windshield as we continued through. As we plodded along at about 30km/hour (20-mph) we passed a few settlements that consisted of dome shaped huts made of sticks and the cardboard and plastic from USAid and World Food Program boxes and cartons. Some of these communities reminded me of the shabby shacks in northern Peru along the Atacama desert. But here there was no road. And we’d only seen one other lorry for the past two days, save a few vehicles in Garissa and an NGO vehicle in Shantabak. But out here? Nothing. Camels, donkeys, goats and warthogs — lots of warthogs.

Picture 57.jpg

Sunrise stop.

IMG_7936.jpg

Picture 54.jpg

No Man’s Land.

Picture 53.jpg

One of the police checkpoints we encountered in No Man’s Land.

Picture 55.jpg

We carried contraband passengers and had to bribe police at feeble checkpoints in order to pass

IMG_7953.jpg

Keisha the back-up driver and hired hand taking a smoke break somewhere out here in No Man’s Land.

As Abdulah battled with spastic steering wheel as the big lorry tried to get a grip and traction through the deep stand I assured myself that I was happy I wasn’t sweating the sand and trudging through the 104ºF (40ºC) wasteland on my bike. Nope. It was clear this would be a slow burning hell. Where does the water come from? Goat herders sit under the dappled shade of thorny bushes while others reached for the truck begging for water. I just wanted to sleep. Sleep this entire trip away. Drift. Bounce. And dream.

IMG_7946.jpg

Civilization. Power lines. But no powered vehicles.

Many hours later I spotted power lines for the first time in days. There seemed to be some development. Stucco-ish buildings mixed with thatched stick huts. The population was denser than I’d seen, too. We stopped for a cup of tea and while the temperatures scorched and the sun blinded me, the hot tea was refreshing. Standing by the side of the lorry I attracted attention. I was used to this when riding the bike. But here a crowd gathered around and just watched me drink my tea. My efforts to engage them in conversation were futile due to the language barrier. Though I managed to elicit smiles and a few giggles, one boy appeared and beamed into my eyes. “Money,” he said and just stood there. Though I new what he wanted, the pronunciation was off.

“Many?” I asked. “Many. Many what?” He just repeated the word. “Many donkeys,” I said with a grin. There’s a problem with Aid without education. While World Food, USAid, C.A.R.E., WorldVision and the many other aid organizaitons I found evidence of in Africa, it comes to a point that when a visitor – a white man in these parts – appears the population immediatley associates the visitor with hand outs. I tried to give away some bread and biscuits that I bought in Thika a couple nights back, but amazingly there were no takers. The crowd grew denser. Though I know I was an anomoly, I started to feel uncomfortable. In my animated and comical delivery I suggested that the crowed move on — go to school, with their families or anywhere but just staring at me. I waved my hands in another animated attempt to “shoo” them away. But it didn’t work. Then it occured to me how to get the crowed to move on. In these rural parts and many places along my journey there are people who are simply afraid of cameras.

“Okay. If you don’t want to go then I’m going to take a picture of you,” I said as I pulled my camera from my pocket. In breakneck speed the crowd fled in every direction. Hmmmm. That was easy.

IMG_7954.jpg

The road went on forever. I couldn’t believe there were communities out here. This red clay would turn out to be our nemesis days later.

IMG_7948.jpg

Fast break. The crowd disperses as I whip out my little digital camera. No photos. Well if they’re gonna stare at me, I’m gonna stare back with my camera!

I was tired. No real sleep for 36 hours. And sitting all this time, I was getting store. I pretzeled myself to the best I could to find a comfortable position in the cab.

We continued driving as the sun finally set and gave both us in the cab and our poor passengers sitting atop the tarp covered cargo area. We got within 60 km (36 miles) of Moyale by about 1am when Abdulah announced we’d spend the night and head out early in the morning explaining that it’d be safer to park the loaded truck in the desert rather than in the town. After a cup of tea the owner of this small guest house that consisted of open door mud and stick shacks surrounding a courtyard of sand, thorn bushes and junk, Abdulah and I shared a shack where we both conked out on mattress-less beds made of sticks.

Morning came to soon. Actually, it was still dark when Abdulah wrested me out of bed. After a warm cup of tea I made my way to the cab of the truck where I found Sofia sleeping in the cab — she opted for the comfort of the bench seat rather than the stick beds — smart girl.

We were 2-3 hours from Moyale it was 4:30 in the morning. All started peacefully and I feel asleep in the cab until the break of daylight which brought along with it the break of the clouds in the sky. Awakened by the loud crash of thunder, my eyes opened to the light sprinkling of rain on the windshield. As we passed a tiny a barely recognizable side road, Abdulah told me that was the road to Marsabit and had we made the trip from Isiolo through Marsabit we’d meet this road here. The more we drove, the harder it rained. The clouds were dark, brooding and ominous while Abdulah was now fighting to keep the truck from slipping and sliding. Our speed decreased to 10-km/hour (6-mph) and as we headed up a very slight incline of about 10-15 degrees we lost all traction and the truck slid into the gutter or the shoulder. The road was crowned just enough that unless the truck could straddle it perfect center, we’d slid down into the side. It was red clay and it was slippery.

With only a pick-axe and bare hands Abdulah and Keisha and with the help of a few of our illicit cargo passengers the team churned up dry clay from the road and mixed with a matrix of sticks and shrub in attempt to provide traction for the truck. An hour later Abdulah negotiated the heavy truck back onto the center of the road where we continued to slip and slide for about 500 feet until sliding down and then slamming into the side of the road landing at such an angle I thought the whole truck would tip over as we jolted with impact of the side of the truck. Once again the crew worked to dig the truck out of the muddy mess. We got moving again for barely 100 feet and slam. Once again I thought the truck would tip over with the impact. I wondered about my bike. I was sure the bike might break loose. Abdulah ordered the passengers off the top and me and Sofia out of the cab. When I made the long step down from the cab my foot slipped on the mud and I fell to my knees making a muddy mess of myself.

Abdulah jabbered on his cell phone while the rutted mud was filled with sicks and churned up dirt. Sometime later a British-built 4×4 Defender showed up. The boss. Dressed in a long bright white gown signifying his devotion to Islam, it was suggested that Sofia and I be taken to Moyale while the truck was dug out. One guy told me it could be several days if they needed to wait for the road to dry. But by now the rain had stopped and while we’d only gone about 1 km in just under 3 hours, I was hopeful I wouldn’t end up spending days in Moyale. In the distance to the West brooding rain clouds continued to drench the desert to the West. By now I was feeling real smart for choosing to truck through this part of Kenya. There was no way a motorcycle could ride on this wet clay. There was absolutely no traction. It was slipper and while the side of the road was thick mud, it would only cake up and clog a bikes drivetrain making it impossible to pass. Yes, I made the smart move.

IMG_7964.jpg

We scrambled and tried to make a suitable track with traction. These guys must have done this before.

I sat in the back of the Defender while the Abdulah managed to get the truck moving only to be slammed back into the side. This went on for an hour while bullfrogs from a nearby creek provided the side show and the choir. By the time the truck got moving and following us in the Defender just another km down the road we ran into another truck stuck and blocking the road. By the time that truck broke free our convoy came to another stuck vehicle. This time a 2WD Land Cruiser. Again another 45 minutes of pushing and pulling and rocking, the Defender broke free. At that point my white robed friend took Sofia and I to Moyale back to Moyale. Along the way we came across a traffic accident. Two bloody Kenyans sat on the side of the road. The slipping and sliding took its tool. We picked up the bloody and crying guys and dropped them off at the hospital. Then we were dumped off in the center of town and waited for Abdulah to arrive with my motorcycle.

I could smell the Ethiopian border. An hour passed. Still no Abdulah. They were only 10 km away. I’m sure they battled more slick and muddy muck. At 2pm – about 10 hours since I woke up only 50 km from this town, I was reacquainted with Abdulah and my motorcycle.

What an ordeal. Nearly 3 days to go 500 miles. How long would this journey been if I rode?

Picture 58.jpg

This guy almost fell as the red clay mud was slippery as ice.

IMG_7971.jpgPicture 47.png

I was afraid the lorry would tip over.

IMG_7972.jpg

Picture 61.jpg

We slid sideways like this for a few hundred feet until slamming back into the berm on the side of the road.

Picture 37.jpg

Once we broke free we’d just encounter another stuck vehicle.

No Rain, Rocks nor Rough Roads Will Hold Me Back: To Ethiopia.

Concerned about the road that goes from Nairobi north through Marsabit into Ethiopia, I’d been warned by Chris and others that the route is perhaps the rockiest and most incessant display of corrugation this side of Latin America. Glenn Heggsted, the legendary Norwegian-American who traveled around the world on the same bike a few years back blew his shock on the road, as well as three others I’d met over the last few months. Another American, a former airline pilot traveled the same road the year before decided after one day that he hooked up with a truck and had his bike trucked to the Ethiopian border. Stuck in Marsabit for two weeks, another rider bid his time in this desolate outpost while waiting for a replacement shock. Even more, a couple on two 650 BMWs spent four days and crashed several times simply trudging through the 300 miles of hell.

I don’t mind bad roads, but I also know when to be smart. I still had decent tread on my tire and my Works Performance shock, while certainly bearing the weight of me and my heavy load, has served me well on this journey. I’m sure it would make it. And I could make it — slowly and surely. To be sure, the bad road was not my concern. Two things weighted heavy on plans: time and rain.

I’m heading into the rainy season as I make my way to Ethiopia. And while the first 150 miles to Marsabit cross a normally dry desert, it’s during the rainy season that this rocky road becomes a slippery oil slick that sometimes causes trucks to get stuck and stranded for weeks. And these trucks sometimes block the way of other cars, and potentially motorcycles. If the road remains dry, I’d go for it. But going slow and even slower in wet conditions, I had one thing on my mind: TIME. Rather than put myself through hell and potentially dangerous slippery conditions that could have me spending 3-5 days riding a mere 300 miles. No thanks. I’d rather have the extra days in culturally-rich Ethiopia. So I’ve got to explore other options. So taking advise from Chris at Jungle Junction I headed toward Isiolo where I can check with police and truckers regarding road conditions.

That’s when I heard about the rain north of Marsabit and into the Omo Valley in Ethiopia. “Sure it might dry in a few days,” one trucker posited. “But more rain make very bad road,” he added. Further information led me to the same conclusion. Rains have caused trucks to get stuck outside Marsabit and north. What should I do? I don’t have the time to waste. I need to get to Addis to sort out my Sudanese Visa, and I’m gearing to make the April 9th ferry to Aswan Egypt. Sure, self-imposed deadlines, but deadlines nonetheless. I don’t want to compromise on Ethiopia so putting myself through a hellish wet and muddy road for the sake of it made no sense. I went in search of a truck.

I learned that some trucks take the rocky and muddy-when-wet Marsabit route, while others opt for the longer, sandy route through Garisa to the east and north through the desert. One trucker explained that though the route is longer and goes through sand, it’s easier on the truck tires and the cargo because there is less corrugation and the sand makes for a smoother ride. Of course, that would be in a truck, not necessarily in a motorcycle. So I called, Steve, the taxi driver I’d met earlier in the week. He provided me with negotiation and navigation through the slums of Nairobi in search of a truck.

We wandered through rocky streets where sacks of coffee, sugar, lime, shoes, fruit, clothing blocked passage ways. Passed alleys stinking of urine and drifted pass tiny shacks where sweet smells from wafts of coffee aromas contrasted with the harsh conditions in this slum of Nairobi. We were stuck for one hour trying to navigate through only three blocks. Trucks blocked intersections, the stench of bad sewage permeated my helmet while an endless array of dirty and sweaty palms were thrust in front of my helmet. Money. Some beggars cupped their fingers together and motioned with their mouths that they wanted food. But as the temperature soared from the heat of my engine, sun beating down and density of congested streets, Doc’s temperature warning light glared at me while trying to follow this taxi. I was in no position to heed to the beggars — not that I would in any case anyway.

At one time the roads through this sprawling Nairobi slum were paved. But the ingenioius planners forgot one detail: drainage. The streets have no drains, the rooms simply dump water onto the street or walkways. Broken concrete, exposed rebar and haphazardly placed markets with shading provided by plastic sheets, cut up boxes and clothes too deteriorated to wear. This is where tourists fear to tread, yet the vibrancy, energy and chaos is a feast for the eyes. But keep cool. And alert.

IMG_7917_2.jpg

Nairobi slum is a haven for ad hoc markets shipping sugar and cane, clothes, vegetables, soap and no my motorcycle. Sitting on the hood of the car on the left is Steve my taxi driver and the owner/broker of the truck that would take me and Doc to Moyale on the Kenya/Ethiopia border.

This area of Nairobi is chock full of refugees from Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea, the Congo and elsewhere in Africa. For some, Nairobi represents a safe haven and a place to do business. For others, it’s a better way of life outside the impoverished food-starved villages of lands faraway. For me it represents a possible quick way to the Ethiopian border, while providing me with yet another unique cultural experience. Plus, it would save me time and wear and tear on a motorcycle that still had miles and months to go in this journey. If I ended up in a bad situation I can accept that as circumstance. But if I go headlong into a situation knowingly that could affect safety, health or cause damage, injury or otherwise compromise my trip — it would be stupid and imprudent. At least I can make a choice. In this case, I’m going for the border and saving Doc’s ass in the process.

One thing travelers’ learn early on is that in third world motorcycle travel, everyone is an opportunist. That is, everyone wants to help you. Even if they can’t they’ll try to convince you they can. Whether it’s finding a hotel room, a motorcycle mechanic or a truck to take your bike to the border, the sheer number of people willing to help you is astounding. But they all can’t. And if somehow they manage to connect you with someone they expect either a tip or a commission from the truck owner. And today it was perhaps even more difficult identifying the brokers from the real deal.

Over the period of several hours Steve, my taxi guy, and I “interviewed” and “inspected” a number of trucks and negotiated with several would-by owners. We finally came to an agreement with one owner whose truck would nestle Doc in the back with a potpourri of other products heading to the border town of Moyale. It would cost me nearly $100 and take two days and a few hours to get to my destination. The truck was a late-model Volvo with good tires and in good shape. Quite different than many other trucks we’d checked. The owner/broker wanted his money. I told him I’d pay half in Nairobi and half when I arrived in Moyale. This concept didn’t go over well. He wanted it all — now. Even though I was told the truck would leave in an hour (it was 4pm by the time we’d closed the deal), I knew this was a dream. After all, I am in Africa. Nothing goes as planned, let alone on time.

IMG_7907_2.jpg

Steve takes up the rear as our ad hoc team of loaders heave Doc into the back of the lorry.

IMG_7913_2.jpg

The crowds hover and gather around my Jesse bags and gaze into the back of the Lorry wondering just where and why this mozungu (white man) is going.

IMG_7915_2.jpg

They try to load as much more as possible for the truck to Moyale at the Kenya / Ethiopia border. Doc sits secure atop dozens of sacks of some substance that someone will make soap from. Good god!

When it came time to load Doc into the back of the truck atop sacks of a fine lime-like consistency powder that is used for making soap, the whole neighborhood showed up behind the truck eager to help hoist the 650cc machine into the lorry. The four healthiest yet still quite feeble looking were assigned the duty and we tied down Doc in the cavernous tarp covered cargo area of the 2005 Volvo truck. I supervised the tying down and insisted we cover the bike fearing that dusty mixture would all but cover my bike in a thin coat of white crap.

Still withholding payment to the owner/broker because at 6pm the driver had yet to show up. Meanwhile, my owner/broker closed a handful of side deals as the space around doc filled up with a couple large sacks of shoes and a huge box of Kiwi shoe polish. Then a sack of close.

IMG_7920_2.jpg

With the truck all packed up and ready to go, the rain starts pouring yet we’ve got no driver.

“Hey!” I yelled and began to cause a ruckus if only for the entertainment of me and Steve the taxi driver. “I paid for that space!” I referred to the agreement that we made when I insisted that the bike have its own space in the truck so that nothing would fall on it or roll into it as we made the treacherous journey across the desert. “If those shoes are going on the truck, then I should get the money!” I felt that I needed to entertain myself and just test the limits of my broker/owner. After a 10 minute conversation where I wore my serious and concerned face, I broke down and let him know I was only joking yet I was serious about adding more product to the cargo that could be dangerous to my bike.

Another hour passed and as the sun dropped the clouds moved in and the rain started pouring. I was feeling pretty good about my decision at this point. With a driver, a back up driver and a 14-year old Ethiopian girl all scrunched in the cab of the truck we ventured into the night traffic and rainy roads of Nairobi making our way to out of the city. I felt funny sitting in the cab of one of those trucks I often passed and at times cursed. Now it was I slugging along and sitting up so high watching the other cars — and bikes zoom by. The sky was black and the windshield wipers rattled as we moved toward Moyale.

IMG_7922_2.jpg

The back of this bus is filled with colorful graphics and words and complete who I think is Bin Laden on the U.S. dollar bill. Spotted this local bus on the outskirts of the slums as we headed out of Nairobi.

Nestled in Nairobi at the Junction!

IMG_7865_2.jpg

Just outside of the city center tucked behind a tall black gate inscribed with the initials J.J. is an overlander oasis run by German ex-pat Christof. With a large greenbelt ideal of camping and parking overland Land Cruiser, Land Rovers and motorcycles, Jungle Junction also sports a guest house with several rooms, some with private bathroom, a community kitchen, dining and lounge area. And Chris’s workshop is in the condition you’d expect from a passionate German mechanic: spotless and organized.

IMG_7876.jpg

While in Nairobi I received the DHL package with my Moleskin Book and blue Sea to Summit dry gab. Thanks to Martha and Peter in Malawi!

I opted for a simple room on the first floor as my knee still bothered me from the White Nile river rafting fiasco. Even putting my kick-stand required diligent effort and tolerance to pain I’d rather not have while hanging in Nairobi.

I quickly learned that Chris was the former mechanic for the local Nairobi motorcycle dealer. A subtle fallout with management turned into an opportunity for both mechanic and dealer: Chris would be on-call for motorcycle problems that were unable to be solved by the assistant Chris himself had trained. In turn, Chris would receive a work permit sponsored by BMW Kenya and Chris would also purchase parts and accessories from them. Chris then set up Jungle Junction where travelers can enlist the services of this competent mechanic or work on their bikes and cars in the driveway — sometimes even soliciting the advise and tools of the owner.

It all makes a perfect stopover for overlanders heading the legendary Cairo to Cape Town route. Jungle Junction also offers storage for motorcycles and 4×4’s. For those people who run out of time or fear the travel north of south, Jungle Junction is a respite of safety and sanity — sort of.

Chris is the type of mechanic who not only loathes the remove and replace mentality that defines many BMW dealers and even the company’s manufacturing methods. A traditionalist he is passionate about motorcycles and prefers to fix things rather than simply replacing them — and elsewhere in Africa this sometimes is borne out of necessity rather than choice — but at Jungle Junction, Chris gets to the heart of the bike and doesn’t mind a helpful hand and is quick to offer explanation, suggestion and words of caution. In nearly 50,000 miles on the road over more than two years, I don’t think I’ve ever felt as comfortable to see my bikes in the hands of someone else.

We attacked a number of issues with Doc:

IMG_7882_2.jpg

1) Adjust valves.
Chris surmised that perhaps the nagging performance problem could be exasperated by an intake valve that failed to close entirely, causing combustion in the manifold — especially when the bike was hot.

2) Change oil.
BMW recommends ever 10,000km (6,000 miles) and it’d been since Windhoek, almost 6,000 miles, that the oil was changed. The gearbox was feeling a big rough and just getting into neutral was a struggle. The oil had been through hell and back since Windhoek. It was time.

3) Jesse Bag Brackets
Since Santa Cruz Bolivia one of my Jesse Bag compression bolts hadn’t ever seated properly in the countersunk depression in the horizontal bracket on the left side. Chris attacked this problem with fervor. I’d tried to fix this, Javier at Dakar Motors in Buenos Aires had tried, and I’d enlisted a few others along the way. Fortunately the bolt compressed very tightly and even on the tough roads of Tanzania, Rwanda and Uganda the bags have never been compromised. But my little tangle in Tanga tweaked the opposite bag and its bracket, so we did the best we could and thanks to Chris the bolt now seats properly.

4) Tailpiece support frame.
You might remember the short that we finally diagnosed in Windhoek and in doing so discovered the tail piece frame had broke. But with no time nor energy in Windhoek, I continued north. Well between Chris and his assistant David (the mechanic at BMW Kenya during the week), they removed the frame and re-welded it. This is important as it’s the primary support for the black BMW top box that holds my camera equipment.

5) Brakes
The rear brakes were on their last legs. I’d done good, too. It’d been since Buenos Aires, more than 15,000 miles back that the brakes were last replaced. I’d been carrying spares ever since. So we replaced the rear and given the front hadn’t been replaced since Bolivia, it was time I replaced those. This of course, lightened my load as I’ve been carrying these spares forever.

6) Side Mirror
When I fell in Tanzania the mirror broke. But unlike legends have it, since then my luck has been good. My tire is on the way to Nairobi after being found in the bush of Zambia.

7) Bearings
It appears that the head bearings I replaced in Buenos Aires are showing signs of notching, but I ran out of time in Nairobi and must wait until Cairo until I replace these. Wheel bearings appear to be okay, but I may just replace the entire set in Cairo anyway.

8) Electrical switches
My passing light, horn and starter switch have been acting a bit temperamental. I guess the rains of South Africa, Zambia and Malawi combined with the rains of last fall in Brasil have done a number of the switches. So we took them apart and provided a good lubing with some WD40.

I’m sure we tackled a few other items but after putting all the pieces back together and a quick test ride, Doc is ready for Northern Kenya and Ethiopia!

IMG_7894.jpg

Doc sitting happy and proud at Chris’s workshop at Jungle Junction in Nairobi!

IMG_7884.jpg

Checking the thickness of shims. Chris didn’t have the perfect size, so assistant David took to the sandpiper to make the size fit!

IMG_7895.jpg

Chris welded the tailpiece frame so that the top box would be more secure for the bad roads of Ethiopia and Sudan!

But before getting north I still had the business of Visas to contend with. It appears that I may get the Sudanese Visa in Addis Ababa in Ethiopia. But I’m told it will be a transit visa and only valid for seven days. That means making the journey across the Nubian Desert along the Nile in seven days. There’s only one ferry weekly from Wadi Halfa in Sudan to Aswan in Egypt. If my timing isn’t impeccable I could be explaining my extended stay in Sudan to the police while groveling in a Sudanese jail cell. But I’m worrying about things far in the future. More important is an Ethiopian Visa.

The Ethiopian Visa was hassle free — for the most part. This cost me another $75 and they required a passport photo and two copies each of my international driving license and a full complete page from my Carnet de Passage. The Ethiopian at the Embassy offered to let me in after hours to provide the photo copies. He stamped copies and scribbled a few things and told me to give this to the authorities at customs in Moyale – as without it they wouldn’t know how to handle the Carnet.

With all of my business in order, I was ready to make my way to Ethiopia.

IMG_7904.jpg

A farewell to Chris and Jungle Junction in Nairobi.

The Ides of March

IMG_7855.jpg

First it was the Ugandans who wanted to be sure their flag was represented on the WorldRider machine. Later the Kenyans added their flag but wanted a few shillings – I traded a WorldRider Sticker!

IMG_7858_2.jpg

It was the Ides of March that he was forewarned, the day Caesar was assisinated by the “liberators” in an attack masterminded by one friend and now paranoid foe Marcus Brutus. But I’m far from the outstretches of the former Roman Empire, yet will be riding into enemy territory. The December elections and the violent aftermath have done more damage to Kenya that nearly any event in the last half-century to most African countries. Kenya, for the most part, has been a model of the new and modern Africa: big business, bustling tourism, millions in aid money and a growing economy. But all that was torn down in a matter of days when the current President, Mwai Kibaki, claimed victory for the December elections — a victory that was clearly fraudulent and looked down in disgrace by the international community. But most of the damage came from within with the opposition taking to the streets and killing more than 1,000, injuring, raping, looting and burning important buildings and destroying roads and bridges.

IMG_7850_2.jpg
IMG_7852_2.jpg

IMG_7848_2.jpg

One must be careful riding the roads of Kenya. Not sure if they just leave the carnage of past accidents or just don’t have the trucks to clean them up. Be careful!

And today, I’d be riding through the thick of it. I’d made an appointment at the only BMW dealer north of Windhoek and south of Israel. While Kenya inspired my interest, I now had my heart set on Ethiopia and therefore Nairobi and Kenya would simply be stopping grounds and a place to take care of business. To learn more about this country, I’d have to wait and visit again in the future.

The border procedures for both Uganda and Kenya were simple, quick and efficient. I had to cough up $70 USD for a Kenyan visa and while at the border an eager group of Kenyans were quick to find a Kenyan flag and adhere it to my panniers. “You must have Kenya flag Mr. Allan,” the proud man with his teeth falling out decreed, “this for you,” he then held out his hand expecting payment while the rest of the crowd frowned upon him. I gave them all WorldRider stickers and moved on my way.

Now I was heading into Kenya’s enemy territory.

Since 1992 Kenya has held multiparty elections. But even these were controlled through fear and violence largely brought on by then president Daniel arap Moi, famous for carrying his trademarked large stick-like scepter and who was Kenya’s second president, taking the reigns from Jomo Kenyatta who died in 1978. It was current opposition Raila Odinga who supported current president Mwai Kibaki in 2002 in an effort to beat Moi’s appointed successor, Kenyatta’s son Uhuru. Kibaki won more than two-thirds the vote and in doing so perhaps ushered in a new era of perceived prosperity to Kenya. And in the five years since Kenya has flourished. But unfortunately at the expense of some ethnic groups and the poor, uneducated and youth of the country. When Odinga decided to go up against the man he supported (perhaps forcibly) in 2002, in the December 2007 elections it appeared that he won the election by a landslide. Yet waking the next morning the country learned that somehow those votes disappeared and the government declared Kibaki winner. That’s when Odinga supporters hit the streets. And Kibake’s government follow suit in retaliation.

The rest of the story was a media frenzy and a sad situation for the people of Kenya. UN head Koffi Annan spent several weeks in Kenya mediating an agreement and US-president George Bush sent Condeleeza Rice to Nairobi to offer strong words to both Kibake: “The time for political settlement was yesterday.” Yet violence continued for more than two months after the election — most of it centered in the slums of Nairobi and the northwest provinces.

At my first petrol stop an hour or so after the bordering crossing on Masero village, the young man pumping my gas offered his perspective on the violence. “You won’t have a problem,” he offered first while remarking on the interesting position of the under-seat gas tank of my BMW. “There’s no problem — for today,” he continued.

“Does that mean there might be a problem — tomorrow?” I enquired.

“If the government doesn’t keep its promise. Maybe.” he offered. When I asked if he’d take to the streets with more violence he simply answered, “If I’m angry I will.” And when I asked if he was angry after the elections, he confided. “I was very angry. Very angry.” Later riding through Kisumu I noticed burned remains of businesses, homes and even a hospital was a charred mess. The road from Kisumu toward Nakuru was the worse road I’ve been on during this entire journey. No it wasn’t a dirt, sandy or muddy mess. It was a potholed nightmare. There was no avoiding the potholes. And it was impossible to make time. And each kilometer it seemed to get worse. I wondered if I’d ever make it to Nairobi.

But soon I was climbing down from Nakuru into Kenya’s amazing Rift Valley, past Nokuru Lake and then climbing up the eastern escarpment to elevations exceeding 10,000 feet. The wind whipped and tossed my bike around in the fiercest display of wind since perhaps Patagonia. But as the sun make its slow descent the glistening lake in the valley below along with the gentle sloping hills on the horizon froze me in my tracks while I watched and wondered how these people could be so self-destructive — torching a hospital of all places. A hospital.

IMG_7861_2.jpg
The amazing Rift Valley. My photos can’t do justice. I had to get to Nairobi.

I continued into Nairobi as the last of the sun faded in my rear view. With no clue of accommodation I used the GPS to navigate to the center of Nairobi where I discovered that all of this violence has brought tourism to a stop and hotels eager to lure travelers offered amazing rates. Unwilling to explore the city many nickname Nai-robbery by night I take up the manager’s offer at the oldest hotel in town — The Stanley.

The next morning my experience at BMW was a disaster. After paying a taxi-driver to guide me through the maze of Nairobi traffic, I arrive before 9am. By 2pm I learn that my bike hasn’t been touched. And it’s Friday. They won’t work on it until Monday. That’s when I decided to retrieve the bike and head for where I should’ve first: Jungle Junction — a veritable oasis in the middle of the insanity of Nairobi — a guest house and workshop run by a competent BMW-trained mechanic. I only wish I knew earlier. And I should have.