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Travels & Trips

Christmas in the Wild

Christmas time. A wilderness trip it was supposed to be. Seeing if it’s true that where goats can go, a bike can go. Camping at a cliff somewhere in Kajiado.

But December just wasn’t Decembering. Torrential rain for 10 days. Was our off-road camping adventure going to happen? How much mud would we find?

I was looking forward to some adventure to wrap up an amazing year on two wheels. After Loiyangali had tested my mindset, skills and bike, I had attended some off-road training, practiced the new habits and replaced the fork and suspensions on my bike.

My 4 pals were equally or probably much better prepared. Everyone had a dirt or adv bike and spent hours and some even years on dirt to practice vision, body position and bike handling. Between us we had DIY skills, medical expertise, love for dust and lots of positive attitude. In summary, a great crew to spend Christmas in the Wild together!

On the D-Day, I wake up to blue sky. God loves us. Or maybe he wants to avoid people sitting indoors for Christmas and catching Omicron. I put together a few crucial items like clothing, bike tools, spices and halloumi plus my camping gear, and pack them in my new 50l waterproof speed bag.

Day 1 – Exploring Saikeri

We meet up with the crew in Karen for an early lunch and food shopping. We weren’t going far, but the plan is to arrive by 4pm to pitch the tents and enjoy the views before dark.  Well, some folks get delayed picking up camping gear last minute. We grab tissue, lots of water and a few food tins at Naivas and spend 30 minutes arranging the additional luggage across all bikes.

Off we go, but soon our watchful sweeper waves us down: A bag is about to fall and we fix it with some extra bungee cords. Teke teke through Kerarapon Road and Kibiko forest to the new Ngong Suswa tarmac road, where we pick up a few kgs of Mbuzi Choma at Muturi Roastman (we had pre-ordered).

Once off the tarmac, we cover the 10km rough road to Saikeri quite fast. From here I use some patchy GPX files and my memories from a previous visit to my friend’s place where we’d spend the night.  Well, I do take the wrong turn and notice pretty fast, but it’s so beautiful that I feel like exploring.

Suddenly it’s 5pm and I realize there’s little time to get lost further, so I pull up the Gaia app where I had preloaded the GPX files and she tells me to go back just around 8km then take another route.  We gun it (which is what I call 50 on the off-road 😅), happy that we got all the right bikes and skills for it.

It’s a beautiful mix of slight sand/fesh and rocky patches mixed with smooth roads. My freshly raised handlebars and dancing skills from a recent off-road training do the trick – I do much better standing than in Marsabit. It feels fantastic.

Finally we get to a rocky steep downhill that we were promised would make us sweat. I find myself half way down before I notice that this is the spot. Huge rocks, small rocks, a blind right bend. Now I can’t park the bike anymore and holding it with the brake gesture to the guys behind me to come and walk down the hill to identify the best route.

With a bit of help I manage to get down.

Nothing is ever perfect but the Honda XL 200 2010 and the BMW R1250 riding down that hill in the setting sun’s twilight come really close!

The two taller bikes are being guided down carefully in team effort, while I get to play with the kids from the area who assemble. They have a blast watching us and chatter in Maa. It’s pretty hot and some proud boys help me carry the guys’ helmets.

We get to my friend’s gate around 6pm and ride up to the cliff. Just in time to take in the breathtaking views across the riftvalley in the last daylight.

It’s really windy and we are shown a sheltered site in a valley to camp. We move the bikes there (more gravely downhill) and find spots without thorns to pitch the tents.  The caretaker lights us a bonfire and brings us two mitungis of water, a total luxury in this dry rocky landscape! There’s a latrine toilet as well – what else do you want? The hot shower has to wait!

We had brought cups, plates, a knife, camping chairs and even skewers to grill the halloumi over the bonfire!

We devour the mbuzi choma and brandy and trade stories about life.

The hyena eyes in the bushes: imagined or real?

Day 2 – Heading over to Naivasha through Suswa

Waking up in a tent is an amazing feeling! I stretch and open my eyes: I see light but no sunrays. The silence turns into two hours of drizzle, so our morning conversation happens from tent to tent. After it stops, we resurrect the bonfire. While we prepare a top class breakfast salad (tomatoes, baked beans, tuna and yes, spices) and toast bread over the fire, one of us tries to help a local rider fix his puncture. Turns out that our replacement tube ALSO has a puncture, so after an hour of work he has to give up.

Shall we stay another night? Let’s go to Naivasha is the conclusion.

We pack up the tents and head out around 12:30. We take another route to avoid the messy rocky uphill.  There still is a bit of rocky uphill and while downshifting from 2nd to 1st gear I lose momentum and a midsized rock has me drop the bike. Great learning point.

On the roadside we find an old maassai mzee and as I stop to greet him, he asks for a lift to “town”. If you’ve travelled through the hot dry remote areas, you know these towns: A collection of mabati shops near the primary school beautified with garbage heaps. The mzee climbs the Honda and as we continue on the sandy narrow route I keep checking my mirrors and smile seeing my pal on his bike with his passenger’s spear sticking out from behind his helmet.

A bit more luggage is lost and retrieved on the main bumpy road from Saikeri back to the tarmac. Once on black matter, it is time to stock up on water and say goodbye to one of us who returns to Nairobi to attend a family Christmas function.

One of the bikes needs fuel to make it to Mai Mahiu. While the three guys go back to look for those fuel bottle sellers in the nearby town (unsuccessfully), I move forward to make a few miles on the small bike. I wait at the first rough road section and friendly bodas stop to ask me if I need help. They even try to make calls to their trusted fuel suppliers but I had stopped in a patch without network. The guys catch up, we find fuel in Ewaso Kedong and head onwards towards Suswa.

The construction of the tarmac road has snailed onwards by around 5km since I was there 9 months ago, and we still find a bit of fesh fesh (volcanic sand) and rough road to play with.

A final right turn and we hit the tarmac exactly where the SGR crosses the Mai Mahiu – Narok  highway. We are famished but press on and continue to Naivasha. At Shell at Karagita we stock up on fuel and grab snacks, drinks and breakfast at “The Pantry”, a store well stocked to serve the tourist and expat community.

We zoom on along Moi South Lake Road and daylight ends in Oserian, just as the smooth tarmac does. It’s not easy to see the potholes onwards to Kongoni but lots of fun to slalom around them.  My LED headlights help!

On arrival at Lake Oloiden Campsite we ask to camp on the quiet side and ride to the far end of the grass. (Camping is 700 a person or sleep in their tents). Some land is swallowed up and the two lakes are somewhat merged because of rising water levels in Lake Naivasha.  The not so quiet side is hosting a Christmas party and the receptionist promises us the music will be “off by 10… usually… but today let’s see”.

We order dinner at the restaurant (meals around 700-900) and after pitching the tent in the bikes’ headlights, I take a well deserved shower and the camp staff lights us a bonfire. Luxury! Around 9pm we devour our dinner which doubles up as a late lunch.

Tonight’s topic is bikes. From the 94 Dakar Rally legend Yamaha TT 600 Belgarda that my friend is rebuilding to the tallness of KTMs and today’s dream dirt and camp bike, the Husquarna 701, everyone contributes and learns something.

Day 3 – Exploring Crater Lake and North Lake Road (Naivasha to Nairobi)

I wake up to sunlight on my tent. Opening the zip I soak in the beautiful scenery of Lake Oloiden in the morning light.

One of us brings an idea of passing by Crater Lake Game Sanctuary for lunch, a fenced conservancy around a crater lake just a few clicks from here. A quick phone call ascertains that bikes are allowed in and we’re told about the hiking options and entrance fees (300 for Kenyans, residents are double and foreigners twenty something dollars).

We head out along the (untarmacked) North Lake Road. We pass a family of 7 giraffes on our left and after a good 5km the entrance is on our right. We register and pay with the askari, signing an indemnity form. The ride up to Crater Lake Lodge reception is around 2km and doable for most bikes with only short rocky patches and an otherwise smooth car wide track.

We attempt to ride all the way up to the crater, and one bike makes it (the Dakar Rally one of course). Maybe the indemnity form covered human error navigating the cratery landscape rather than animals…

Breathtaking views, and a short walk up to the highest point from which I can still spot my colleagues sitting along the rim. You could easily spend half a day roaming around in the crater!

We park at the reception and walk down to the lake and chill out near the floating restaurant. The lunch option is quite worth it (4 course meal for 2k including the entrance fee). A la carte lunch options are around 800-1200.

Crater Lake panoramic view at the shore

They have lovely rooms (more like safari tents) and if you can fork out the cash it would be an amazing place to stay! Alternatively, the campsite is up near the reception and you get the views away from the crater.

I’m taking a mental note to come back for 2-3 nights and finally explore Eburru Forest on the bike.

After a relaxed lunch with engaging conversation, we gear up. Kesho ni job. But first we play with more sand and finish the scenic ride around the Lake Naivasha.

We enter the highway and head back to Nairobi with our highway game plan and riding formation (yes, bikers plan ahead for the horrible treatment by cars on Kenyan roads).

The fulfillment and happiness hormones last an extra day or two. What a fantastic ride! From leaning on twisty tarmac to trusting the wobbly back tire on sand and flowing with the rocky rough roads: This route brings out the many joys of riding!

On returning to social media I see that Desmond Tutu had passed on. There’s a book that was written about a week long conversation he had with the Dalai Lama. Two spiritual leaders of our time. Desmond Tutu asks the Dalai Lama how he stays joyful after decades of painful exile. The Dalai Lama responds with a Tibetan saying: ‘Wherever you have friends that’s your country, and wherever you receive love, that’s your home.’.

It rings perfectly true. In travelling, some say that it’s the people, not the places. And this time it was both!

Certainly planning on doing more bundus camping trips. Some insights for the packing list: All bike tools, first aid kit, large power bank. At least 1 extra cord per bike, better 2. Puncture patches and a pump are great, but not as great without glue. Nail polish remover helps with the bonfire. Tissue, wet wipes and hand sanitizer.

PS: How to avoid a hyena attack:

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