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Travels & Trips

Tsavo East Ovanaita from Malindi

There’s two places I’ve been wanting to ride to from Malindi. Yesterday I visited Hell’s Kitchen – an incredible experience!

The other desire was exploring the Tsavo East area – well knowing I can’t enter or ride through the national park by motorbike. But I really want to see Galana River which passes just by the park gate. It would be Tsavo East “light”, but still! And maybe someone would offer a safari in their land cruiser 🤭

From Malindi to Sala Gate via the C103 it is 107km on tarmac. Quite doable! I am broadly headed to Nairobi after this but need to figure out how. I can’t ride to Voi through the park. And I certainly don’t want to take the tarmac via Malindi and Kilifi.

So I scout three return route options with the help of different maps and a very experienced off-road friend. I plan to speak to the KWS team on the ground to choose the safest one considering the risks of elephants and punctures.

I ring up some of the lodges around the area but their accommodation was out of my range. And they wouldn’t offer camping although I had my tent 😣

So I call the KWS Tsavo East team and ask about their campsites. They are inside the park – inaccessible by bike. A real fix!

Maybe I’d just do a day trip to the river and return? It would be really rushed and annoying. As I’m asking about my off-road return options to Voi, I’m informed that with special permission I might be allowed to camp at the park gate.

Now that sounds like a solution to me!! I head out around 12 after a lazy morning and a bit of chain love in Malindi.

A few settlements on the first 40km
Then it gets deserted
The junction where the blue road branches off. Around 40km of bush to the next settlement acc to Maps. Trust-inspiring!
At the same junction I find a miraa chewing local resident who states having no idea where the road goes to. Well, one day we shall find out.
Final kms to Sala Gate – I’m absolutely alone
It feels like Tsavo already! Gazelles on the road sides
Some former lodge just before the park gate. I guess I won’t be having dinner here!
Arriving at KWS Sala Park Gate

The fact that I had spoken with an in-charge on phone before arriving helps and the team considers where to allow me to pitch my tent. There is some elephant poop between their houses and I don’t like the idea of camping under the tree which makes the most yummy midnight snack for ellies. My request to pitch my tent inside a cage structure is granted.

It’s around 5pm and I want to go out and explore the river. Can I still get dinner at one of the camps and return with sunlight? I decide to call up Crocodile Camp and order food ahead. I also pay my park and camping fees now. The KWS team asks me to “Stay Safe”, considering this is the time animals move towards the river to drink. It’s 5km back via the tarmac and around 3km offroad towards the river. A slightly sandy dual track, nothing too technical.

I didn’t see them, until I saw them!
Beautiful views from Crocodile Camp’s restaurant over River Galana
Crocs lazying around River Galana

Besides watching crocs, I get to see a lion chase a baboon family on the other side of the river. The food is fine but I find it a bit expensive. There’s no power to charge my phone (generator comes on later). The team is a bit confused why I’m leaving so hurriedly and tries to convince me to come tomorrow and stay with them. Well, well… I start the bike by 6:15pm. A peaceful, uneventful 8km back to the park gate. A few zebras, gazelles and birds. You can see the scenery in the helmet cam footage.

I find the KWS team having dinner. I join them for a conversation and we end up chatting into the late evening. It’s interesting to learn how they make live in this remote place work. At least there is cell phone network, a tarmac road and a regular water truck, unlike in Sibiloi where I visited a few weeks ago. We find one scorpion running around the place but no mosquitoes given it’s the dry season and fairly windy. They make some calls to consult on the best route for me and I’m told that a couple of riders have taken the serve lane along the park border before “and were fine”. It’s 100km pure lonely bush through wildlife territory, and I am not planning to take this route alone. As noone really knows the state of the yellow route, I settle on taking the green route back. Around 70km rough roads and 110km tarmac to Marikani sounds like a relaxed morning ride!

And then it’s already time to sleep! My tent in its cage feels very cozy. In the morning the KWS team tells me there were no elephants and not even hyenas. “They must have been scared of you ;-)”. The team welcomes a few safari cars that have come for morning game drive

My plan was to leave around 7am, but by the time I’m packed up, I’m served tea and njugu for breakfast to gather strength for the journey. Wonderful hospitality.

I backtrack the tarmac quickly. I run into some Northeastern looking camel herders, who say they don’t know which road goes where because they’re also new here. And then branch off at Baolala to the south. I top up my water, and the kiosk owner is a rider and tells me that this is not one of those smooth rough roads.

Baolala Shopping Center

And yes, I enter a bumpy road with lots of annoying stones but gladly it gets smoother and slightly sandy after a few minutes. It’s an enjoyable morning, sharing the road only with bikes and no cars. The road is extremely straight and passes through shopping centers and schools, up and down hills. It’s sooooo green and lush, right behind Arabuko Sokoke Forest.

I’ve been hydrating well! At a junction I ask to use someone’s toilet. It’s quite re-assuring to watch your bike while using the bathroom.

Then Google Maps suggests a turn and a weird squiggly route. I zoom in on satellite view and decide that I will ignore this and go straight. There’s a river crossing but it seems there is a boda route.

I enjoyed this track even more: wild and narrow

It turns into a single track and before long I find myself in a lady’s compound before a steep descent. I ask the lady “Sijui kama nimepotea!” “Eh! Kuna Mto huko chini.” – “Iko na maji?” – “Eh! Na mawe na mchanga. Kila kitu. Wata wengi wanapitia hapa, wanafikiria ni shortcut. Lakini huwezi pitia. Rudi tu, kuna daraja pale.” (She said this with much more clean swahili of course, but this is what I understood.)

I end up taking the “detour” after all…
I am so proud to manage the steep sandy gravely twists down to this river crossing
Onwards it gets drier and duestier
Trying not to throw dust at people when passing them
Sad to see the charcoal – but gotta hand it to the rider for the technique!

Before long I get to Jaribuni, a place I was excited about visiting purely due to its name.

It has beautiful trees, too!

Sadly, the off-road fun ends here: I get properly dusted by many construction trucks on the graded road. Finally I enter the Kaloleni tarmac at its most beautiful hilly bends and do the final 40km to Mariakani, where I fuel the bike and look for food for a late lunch.

This was a peaceful day exploring rural Kilifi – delightful riding. I feel very excited to one day ride the blue route (after equipping myself for puncture eventualities) and the red one (not alone).

Sala Gate area is certainly worth a visit – and if you’re a more patient negotiator than me, maybe one of the lodges along Galana River can create a biker or camping package for you.

Over lunch I consider my onwards journey towards Nairobi. After all, the mission of this journey is to avoid the highway! Read about crossing Taita Wildlife Conservancy trip here.

2 replies on “Tsavo East Ovanaita from Malindi”

Thanks ☺️ often, the short trips to explore a new road can bring such amazing encounters

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