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OCTOBER 20, 2007

Bandits & Bull Dust



Before I elaborate on our foray into the badlands of Northern Kenya, it would be remiss of me not to briefly give a run down of our luxurious travels from Uganda back into Kenya.

After a massive day pounding down the white water of the Nile River on a bouncy little raft, we awoke a little sore and keen to move on. Quickly packing we left Nile River Camp (without breakfast - for some reason they do not start up until a leisurely hour of 9 o'clock) walking out to the main road into town. Unlike every other time we have walked out to this road - there was only a lone boda boda waiting.

In a hurry, but unsure as to what to do, we stood around for a few minutes waiting for additional boda boda's to turn up to no avail. With no choice but to push onwards, we negotiated a fair price – 6000 shillings – to take us from Bujugali into Jinja to the bus stop. Now the humble boda boda is a small motor bike, a Chinese made 125cc scooter at best suited for one person. Donna gave the rider her large backpack which he placed over the front handle bars, she then climbed on behind him and put her day bag and some souvenir bowls in her lap. I then climbed onto the very back of the bike wearing my big pack and holding onto my day pack.

To say the bike was underpowered for the trip is an understatement. It i’s only about 10kms along a fairly rough but hilly dirt road. After 500 meters we saw another bike and stopped to unload me – however there was no rider to be found. We pushed on however within minutes we hit the hills. It had bucketed down during the night so thankfully our rider took it nice and slow, a little too slow however at about a quarter of the way there we ran out of petrol. With 15 minutes to get to the bus stop our rider left us with his bike by the side of the road and jumped on a bicycle that just happened to be passing by (leaving it is rider somewhat lost standing with us by the side of the road) and tore off down the road. While Donna was starting to worry about missing the bus I hailed another passing motor bike to take us the rest of the way and was mid way thorough negotiations when our faithful biker returned a little out of breath but with a 500ml water bottle full of fuel.

Piling back onto the bike we took off and after a few minutes the road went from a very muddy dirt track into a pot holed attempt at asphalt. Thankfully we hit the main road and swinging left about 1 or 2 km's along the freeway we reached a point that was designated as the bus stop – not by any sign, building or landmark, because we were literally in the middle of nowhere – it just was known by the locals as the spot where the busses generally stop – we hoped.

About an hour later the Akamba bus pulled up on the side of the road. For a few extra dollars we had upgraded from the cheaper executive class to the luxury royal. Now by African standards this bus was a gem, especially with a 14 hour trip ahead of us. The driver jumped off the bus and helped us get our packs into the luggage hold, then showed us to our seats. The seats were massive, with leg room to spare which says something considering I am the best part of six foot three (on a good day). In fact Donna was quite comical sitting there with her legs dangling below, to short to reach either the ground or the foot rest in front.

The trip to the Ugandan border was relatively uneventful. We were stamped out of Uganda by perhaps the most friendly immigration officer I have ever met. She held the whole line up behind us for a good chin wag, asking about where we lived and what we did for a living, then sent us on our way with a big grin.

Across the border in Kenya we had to fill out some additional forms and pay another 50 bucks each, yet our border woes seemed to be over as we piled back onto the bus.

We then had another nine hours on Kenyan roads to enjoy. Unfortunately the Kenyans – who have done wonders with their parks, have failed dismally on their roads. They are very very shit, and even though the bus was a luxury bus, the roads made a very uncomfortable trip.

14 hours later as we pulled into Nairobi I was happy to be met by Chris, a driver we used a few times on our last visit here. Even better was that he recognised me because as soon as we were in the taxi he revealed that all us white folk look alike. Having the driver collect us meant we missed a lot of the hassle from the other taxi men and touts, and were able to get to the Wildebeest Camp quickly and without fuss.

And the welcome was a joy, Alan the owner came down, cooked us up a hearty feed, sat around for a chat, finally showing us to our tent. To be recognised by the security guards and taxi drivers after a month away was really warming.

Then to settle into the Wildebeest beds, the most comfortable beds in Africa, with pillows to die for, aaahhh.

---

As previously stated, this time around we had decided to skip most of Kenya's highlights and head north into Ethiopia as soon as possible. Not only were our Ethiopian Visa's ticking, but we were keen for a change from Eastern Africa.

Aside from relaxing around the camp - we did finally get down to the Kenyan Post Office (after a trip to the Ya Ya Market to buy more souvenirs) and post an 8.4kg package back to Oz. I sent half a dozen books back as well as a stack of keep sakes and some paperwork. At 6,000 shillings it was not cheap but for the books alone it was worth it.

After a few weeks out of Kenya it was good to hit the Java House for some delicious burgers and some of the best coffee around.

The only slight on our week and half in Nairobi was an assault we heard on the streets out the front. We were sitting around having a few beers when we heard a woman screaming. It took a few seconds to recognise what was happening and by the time we were out on the street the attackers had fled. It turns out the women were walking to work and had been attacked by two men wielding pangas. All they took were the ladies purse and mobile phone - but to see the after effects was a reality check - one forgets very quickly where you are. At the end of the day Nairobi is still a violent place.

With everything sorted we spent the best part of five days waiting for the bus North to Moyale. We had a phone number of the bus driver, we even made a trip out to Eastleigh to get some tickets. Every time we rang the driver though the bus just was not leaving. Finally on a Friday morning we got the go ahead that the bus would be leaving that afternoon.

---

I am guessing most tourists do not venture into the Nairobi suburb of Eastleigh. To visualise what it is like, rent Black Hawk Down and watch until the end. Eastleigh is home to Nairobi's Somali population and even our taxi driver out there kept his windows would up and the doors locked. The whole time he was muttering under his breath "this is not a safe place". The roads are rough, and rubble lies everywhere, some streets are blockaded by huge mounds of rocks, others impassable due to the mud. People are everywhere and without a doubt there is a menacing feeling in the air.

At the bus booking office we were kindly informed that "there was no bus leaving today". After a few minutes of foreign language interlude a man appeared by our sides saying that the bus we had hoped to take was not leaving, but another bus from the opposition company was in fact leaving that afternoon. Well we were not fussy and after being shown the bus - it is nice to at least see what we were getting into before handing over our hard earned cash - we bought two tickets all the way to the Ethiopian Border.

Moyale Bus Services - She's got a long way ahead of her Moyale Bus Services - She's got a long way ahead of her

We grabbed our bags and threw them onto the bus taking our seats. Unnervingly it was 2:30 and although the bus was expected to leave by 4 - it was completely empty. We hung around for an hour and half and at four the only positive was the driver joining the bus and starting work on the engine - thankfully by 5 he had it started and we were joined by two other passengers, one an old lady, the other a japanese traveller heading the same way.

At seven things looked positive, our packs were taken out to be packed on top of the bus, only after a bit of verbal slanging did we achieve this as they wanted extra cash just to load them up. Finally by eight o'clock the bus accumulated another ten or so passengers as well as a massive load of goods on its roof and we were off, backwards. Our exit from Nairobi was in reverse thanks to a broken down truck blocking the street. At least the driver was not short handed, on board were at least three load boys and a mechanic who skillfully guided us backwards through the winding streets until we could move forward. The whole Black Hawk Down feeling was further enhanced by the night time ambiance with people roaming the streets in packs and fires roaring away in the rubble on the side of the road.

With much relief we set off into Nairobi's traffic and Ethiopia. Our forward movement was short lived however as by 9 o'clock we were parked in a small service station on the outskirts of the city with a transmission problem. We spent a relaxed hour waiting around before everyone re-boarded and we once again hit the open road.

As soon as things looked to be running smoothly we got a bit of shut eye, missing most of the passing journey until we pulled into Isiolo at 3 in the morning. I dared a brief exit from the vehicle however was immediately set upon by some of the local touts and beggars. Thankfully one of the load boys came to my rescue and I was shepherded back onto the bus.

At Isiolo the bus filled to near capacity and after an hour or so we were back on the road. I dozed fitfully through the night, waking in the morning to see that the landscape had turned into a dry arid desert scape. We pushed through until mid morning when we stopped in a small one horse town for breakfast. Erring on the side of caution we sampled only the unique african milky tea, preferring instead to eat our own packed snacks.

Aside from a several sightings of Gerenuk alongside the road, and numerous "piss breaks", northern Kenya was very remote, dry and thinly populated. Every now and then we would pass through a remote settlement, it was not until Marsabit that we reached any major semblance of civilisation.

The Marsabit stop was unexpectedly long - for some unknown reason we hung around for three hours which was plenty of time to restock on snacks and purchase some cokes and cordial for the road ahead.

Interestingly Marsabit was a town I could easily come back to again for an extended stay. The locals were all friendly, although very little English was spoken, additionally walking around town were several tribesman in traditional gear. They did not hassle us and were not at all interested in tourism or western ways.

Leaving Marsabit around 6 in the evening we pushed further north - only as far as the first signs of the wattle forests. At a police check point we were stopped for the evening due to bandit activity up ahead. Fairly tired half the bus opted to walk back to a guest house to sleep on thin mattresses for the night - the rest of us just took any available space we could find and slept aboard the bus.

Before hitting the sack Donna and I decided to wash up - in the bathroom mirror we were slightly amused (as were the other passengers) by our appearance. The past 30 hours had had it's toll on us. We looked racoon like covered in a thick layer of dust. With the trickle of water provided we were able to achieve some semblance of cleanliness before closing our eyes for the evening.

The next morning we were awoken as soon as the first rays of light lit the barren landscape around us. Everyone re-boarded and as we motored up to the checkpoint we were joined by two soldiers, in full military kit including some big ass guns. As they climbed on board they stopped in the doorway cocking their weapons which kind of brought home the reality of where we were venturing.

The desert slowly gave away to thick wattle scrub and several kilometer's down the road we passed the truck that had been attacked only yesterday. We slowed to a crawl as we carefully edged around it. Further up the road we passed another vehicle, this time we all had to disembark and walk one hundred meters up the road so the bus could edge over some muddy and hilly terrain to rejoin the road. More than one person was spotted peering into the surround bushes on that walk.

After several hours, and with much relief we reached the military check point at the far end of the forest. From there it was an easy hours drive into Moyale. We stopped out of town and not wanting to wait around for the bus exited with Paul, a local from the Samburu area of Kenya on a bean buying expedition. We managed to hitch into town with a local police truck which dropped us out the front of Paul's accommodation for the next few days.

Our escort disembark from the bus at the final police checkpoint at Moyale Our escort disembark from the bus at the final police checkpoint at Moyale

As always, when you travel with locals in the local manner - they really go out of there way to look after you. At every stop we were assisted with language difficulties by either Paul or Saul, a Sudanese refugee attempting to make his way back to Sudan (minus a passport). The evening we spent on the side of the road, we were given food by some of the local women who probably had very little themselves, but went out of their way to make sure we did not go to bed on empty stomachs. While we waited for the bus to catch up Paul bought us all lunch and a much needed cup of tea.

After about an hour the bus finally trundled into town and after a furious haggle with the local bus boys managed to get our bags off the roof of the bus. Saying our good byes to Paul we set off on foot with Yutaka (the Japanese traveller) towards the Kenyan/Ethiopian Border...

     
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If you are 6 foot 3 then I am 6 foot 6... Great writing news team, I told my Chiropractor about your site the other day. He visited and was raving about it last night, he says you guys should run lonely planet... Well done I say.

Heath - 05 December, 2007

Just imagine all the dramas with transport and times in Aus' - people here are not very patient are they - if the bus/tram/train is a few minutes late we would be getting cranky!!!!

SB - 26 November, 2007

 
     
     
 

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