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Travels & Trips

Mt. Kasigau and Taita Wildlife Conservancy

Over lunch in Mariakani I ponder over the map: Whereto next? With least possible tarmac?

I had earlier plotted a bush route to Mwatate from Kwale. Maybe I could do part of it still this afternoon? Not too much of course considering this is wildlife territory and I am still hugely impressed from encountering two elephants at Galana River yesterday.

This is a different type of coast trip: I am exploring the scenery away from the beach. The other week I chose the scenic route from Nairobi to Voi and had spent a few magical days in Mombasa, Kwale and Kilifi counties including a ride to Hell’s Kitchen and, well, yesterday’s random camping in a cage at Tsavo East’s Sala Gate 100km from Malindi.

I got to Mariakani from Tsavo East via the village route. Relaxed morning! I am dusty and glowing and discovered two enticing routes to try another time.

Now I want to ride through Taita and Taveta county avoiding Voi and Mombasa Highway.

Something like this

I call up Kivuko Ecocamp to find out if I can camp with them for the night. They’re very welcoming and inform me that given their wilderness location, food needs to be pre-ordered a day early, but I can bring ingredients and the chef could whip them together for me at a small fee.

The Route: Mackinnon Road to Mwatate through the bush (Taita Wildlife Conservancy and Mt. Kasigau)

Excited, I hit the (ironically completely empty!) highway and cover the 66km to Batchuma. Here, I buy water and bananas (I know that’s not really dinner), then branch off the highway at the huge signpost for KWS Batchuma Gate (pointing right) and Kivuko Ecocamp (pointing left).

Two kilometres in, I get to the conservancy’s gate. I sign into the guestbook and proceed.

It’s around 12km on a graded deserted road. I believe every bike can make it here, especially in the dry season. I see some birds and gazelles. A little before six, the soil and scenery changes abruptly. I arrive at the cliffy hill that houses the eco lodge.

One of the team members is so kind to take me round the hill to the camp.

View towards Mt. Kasigau

It’s quite spacious and fenced, with a bunch of bandas, the restaurant, many campfire spots and a large campsite. A place to fall off the grid and breathe!

There are some bandas up on the cliffs, too – currently under repair. A lot is under construction or repair including the ladies showers and given I’m the only guest, I take over the gents after pitching my tent.

The team shares their ugali and skuma with me. I even get fruits. I was warned not to come unprepared and appreciate the hospitality twice as much.

They talk me through the different accomodation options and price list. I don’t remember the digits but once again realized that my tent investment is making my travels affordable.

Committed people! They agree to help me figure out a route to Mwatate in the morning, possibly even escorting me. With that in mind, I retire to my tent early and read my book.

Absolute silence.

In the morning I chat with my friend Grace. She’s the badest dirt girl and runs Offroad Adventures East Africa. She gives me a few tips for the day ahead. Do you know that these guys do a recce for each of their trips, mapping out various route options, speaking with locals and elders in the area just to be 100% sure their clients will have a safe and enjoyable experience?

Imagine!

After breakfast, I pack up and two staff offer to take me up to the first junction so that I don’t get lost.

Thanks, Jason and Betrand! See you next time!
A looooong road through the bush… 20km of straightness

I ask myself how I will turn the bike in the deep ruts if I meet an elephant. I probably think about elephants a little bit too much on this ride. Because at some point I spot one right in the middle of the road in the distance.

Can you see him?
No elephant after all!

Mt. Kasigau comes closer. It’s really beautiful. Dramatic skies.

The road goes round the mountain to the west. And then I arrive in Rukanga town.

I stock up on water and have some bananas as I chat with the locals and ask for their interpretation of the grey clouds awaiting me on the upcoming 40km (mixed answers).

There’s a white guy taking a drone shot of us without announcing or asking :-S He records me riding up the main road. If someone finds the video one day, share the link 🙂

I head out reasonably convinced that I won’t get rain “because it rained 3 days ago”. Well, good then! I have 50km offroad to go to Mwatate!

Leaving Rukanga town towards Mwatate. Beautiful views of Mt Kasigau!
Straight to Maungu and Voi highway and left to Mwatate

On the next 40km I meet exactly two bikes and zero cars.

Some littu mud.
Nearly dry

Mostly it’s sweet smooth cruising
Tarmac!

I don’t want to imagine this road during rain. But today I’m having a blast and I take around 50 minutes for the 40km to the huge sisal plantation just before Mwatate.

A matter of fact sign to tell you that you will be prosecuted for tresspassing the plantation
An electric fence to duck under
Once in the plantation it’s busy with farm workers
It’s actually a public road. Hi!
12 kilometres of sisal! I mean wow!
On approaching Mwatate the beautiful Taita Hills appear. The road also passes the sisal processing area.
Time for lunch in Mwatate!
Aaaaand up the twisties to Wundanyi for the night

What a day! I was nervous in the morning but arrived happily and safely. No punctures, no mud, no ellies. Just loads of beautiful nature.

There are many more interesting treks through Taita and Taveta’s hills and bush! One day I want to do Diani through Shimba Hills from here – maybe through the Mt. Kilibasi route. And also try the road along the Tsavo East border which I missed yesterday. And I’m certainly coming to back to hike Mt. Kasigau.

These kinds of ride need a bit of research and planning. And the right tires and tools and and and.

Or you book a trip with Offroad Adventures, who will do the planning for you. Genuine, fun adventurers. They know every beautiful spot and train from beginner to expert level skills, too. Their dirt bikes are well maintained. Give Grace and her team a try!

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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.

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Travels & Trips

Hell’s Kitchen in Marafa

I had been longing to see this geological site. But I had no idea what a magnificent experience it was going to be!

The place can easily be traced on Google Maps. It’s around 45 minutes on smooth empty tarmac from Malindi, 40km through coastal landscape with majestic baobab trees, a few speed bumps and just enough light bends to keep you awake.

On arrival you pay a small community charge and decide if you want a guide or not. These are local community members who are available to take you round and may tell you the myths and legends ☺️

You can scramble around the “kitchen” for an hour or two, then enjoy the evening light and sunset.

There are also some traditional huts to see and a small local restaurant.

Quite interesting to see how the huts are built from sticks and grass

Ideal arrival time: 4pm
Avoid during the high sun, because it gets really hot and the colours don’t come out just as beautifully.
Carry some water!

I was told that because of risk of flooding, you can’t walk down during the rain season.

PS: Please have all your papers in order for the police (outbound) and military (inbound) stops at Sabaki Bridge.

PPS: The other parts of this coast off-road-trip

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Travels & Trips

The Scenic Route to Voi

Today I took the scenic route to Voi. Total 482km: From the Western Bypass via Ngong, Isinya, Mashuru, then past Kili and the 70 clicks of dirt to Taveta.

Besides scenery and some interesting rough surface I wanted piece of mind for my Friday. The vast emptiness of roads up North spoiled me!

I didn’t want to share the road with careless drivers today 🥺

The 250km from Ngong to Shell Oloitiktok took me four hours. 125cc manenos, some twists, lots of lifestock and enough tall bumps along otherwise smooth and empty tarmac. It’s quite hot and has little development, so I was happy to just keep throttling away to some smooth jazz and keep sipping from my hydration pack. Nowadays my helmet is like a lounge 🤣

Views across Maasai Land near Mashuru
Quick pic of Kili in dark clouds. Hoping it won’t rain on the off-road!

Tarmac ends in Laset. Cruising speed from Laset to Taveta was 60… Smoothest dirt road I’ve done lately (if you know, you know). Very happy with my improved speed since my Taveta roadtrip 18 months ago. The hundreds of Kms up North clearly unlocked new levels of swag!

Until I jump over a bunch of holes towards sunset and decide to slow down a bit.

I found these holes in Aug 2020. How is this road still not fixed? 😱

At Lake Chala I shake my head when seeing some ugly looking concrete tourist (?) developments but too busy maneuvering the holes to overthink it. I had been up the crater rim before so I didn’t stop this time. Veeeery beautiful lake! A must see.

I pass Lake Chala by sunset and hurry onwards

I make it to the tarmac in Taveta at 18:47 but decide to head onwards to Voi. I still feel fresh and given I want to be in Mombasa by 10am the next day, this feels like the better option. 106km should be a two hour affair, even in darkness.

Black smooth surface. Always reassuring, especially solo!

My friend who grew up in Taveta had sternly warned me from riding through Tsavo at night, remembering accidents with elephants or stalled trucks. Guess what, I run into a herd of zebras and giraffes just past 7. Shock on me! 🦓🦒

The giraffes panic between my headlight and that of an oncoming car, but somehow find their way off the tarmac. Exhale!

Arriving in Voi unscathed!


Yes, thanks for asking. My headlight is back in business! 🦸🏽‍♀️

PS: The other parts of this coast off-road-trip

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Travels & Trips

Losting around Lake Turkana – Eastern shore from Ileret south (Part 2)

I wake up in my tent to birds chirping. I open the zip to soak in the views towards Lake Turkana from the hilltop at the Catholic Mission. It’s taking my breath. Time stands still in this place. It’s as if the soul synchronizes with the ancestors who strolled around this place a million years ago. It’s equally peaceful and volatile. So much water, yet none to drink. No rains for the last 11 months.

Good morning from Ileret

Part of me longs to stay for a week and get lost here. But the toughest riding through Marsabit is still ahead. I snap back into reality. This is not a solo ride after all.

Djo waves his Good Morning from near his bike. Wow. We rode 1,000 beautiful and eventful kilometres spread over 6 hot and long days from Nairobi towards the Ethiopian border through Pokot and Turkana. We missed exploring the Ilemi triangle but arrived safely on the Marsabit side via boat last evening – our phones on Ethiopian network on arrival. 

An incredible adventure. If you missed part 1 of the story, here’s the link.

We take a recovery and exploration day in Ileret before starting the journey southwards back to Nairobi.

Day 7 – Tourism Day in Ileret

Have you looked for Ileret on the map already?

Let me tell you something. 

THIS PLACE IS REMOTE!!! It’s constantly drought struck. The majority of people around here live a nomadic lifestyle and culture. Nothing grows here that most of us would call a plant. Cattle really matter and livestock conflict occurs from time to time. Three days before our arrival the area made headlines on national TV with thousands of livestock dead from drought. Google Maps will not show you a road here. Even using satellite view you will not find one easily.  

Wakili and I have spent hours discussing riding to this place. I have met Father Florian, a German priest and Benedictine monk who has been up here since 2002, to learn about the mission’s work. After coming to Ileret, I agree with his words “To support the people of Ileret, you have to come here and live with them”. He’s not a fan of one-off charity.

The Turkana Basin Institute has an office here and one of their employees approached us at Women Bikers’ Association-K some time ago to arrange a girls mentorship initiative in Ileret for lady bikers. She’s been a friend of WBA since then and I was thrilled that I made it to Ileret and might see their community engagement work. Sadly, Richard Leakey and a senior TBI leader just passed on recently; and so she wasn’t around Ileret, but she took care of us via whatsapp and arranged our visit to TBI.

We are happy to not touch the bikes for a day, and get a lift in the mission’s car. 

4 wheels at last!

After a warm welcome by the TBI team, we get a tour of a GIZ funded hydroponics project. Skuma wiki and tomatoes in this dry and hot desert! Listening to the agronomist in charge, it sounds like research. He’s very experienced in hydroponic farming (a horticulture technique that grows plants in a nutritious solution instead of soil, and minimises water use) in other parts of Kenya, but mentions that here he started from zero, as the day’s heat and night’s cold interfere with minerals and pH value, thus the entire planting system.

Greens in the desert

The project aims to test out and establish hydroponic farming in this geography while training and engaging the local population to set up green houses and hydroponic systems near their homes in collectives. A whole water desalination machine is part of the project and water will be pumped around the place widely, because the half a dozen wells that were drilled all came out salty.

We’ve heard of so many failed agriculture projects on this trip that I’m thinking of coming back later this year to check on the progress 😉 Here’s a link to read more: https://www.turkanabasin.org/2020/09/hydroponic-gardening-at-tbi/

The main work of TBI of course is in paleontology, archeology and geology (yeah!). We are very lucky to have the Assistant Curator take his time to run us through the archaeological process and we get to see some fossils upclose.

We’re not allowed to take pictures, so you can either ride up there to see it for yourself or work with my descriptions 😀

First we start in the arrival room, where the fossils arrive from the field. They are covered in plasters that protect them on the bumpy truck journey. The items we see in this room are 1.5m to 4m years old. To estimate the age, geologists join the effort and take soil samples near where the fossil was found.

Then the fossil has to be cleaned up carefully, which could take 6 years for an elephant for example.

We see huuuuge elephant tusks and a massive crocodile head. They are at least three times size of these animals today. It’s astonishing. We’re told that the area was a huuuge forest in the past, very green with nutritious food, meaning the animals were healthier and larger than today.

Standing next to a 2 million year old elephant skull makes me feel that we humans really are just a passing drop in the ocean. I feel so furious that for the last 150 years humans have felt entitled to hunt them down to near extinction.

Next we walk over to the collection room. There is a huge documentation effort going into this: A field number is assigned, documentation of where it was found, photos, soil samples, etc. There are currently 27,000 fossils in the collection which is under the National Museum of Kenya. It’s all extremely fascinating, but what sticks most with me is the patience and dedication needed in this field of work. 

More interesting info in the probably remotest place you can think of placing it. Why can’t the “museum” at Nariokotome pick a leaf?

We chill at the mission most of the afternoon enjoying the views.

Look at those thorns, then choose the right footwear for your trip :-S

In the evening we look for fuel to make sure we hit the wilderness awaiting us with full tanks. We get fuel in bottles at 200 bob. We’re later told it’s Ethiopian fuel which is said to have lower quality. We shall find out, won’t we?

The most incredible sunset overlooking the Lake

Around sunset I spot a scorpion just outside my tent. I know NOTHING about scorpions, and I’m told they attack easily and are poisonous but not deadly. To imagine that last night I went to pee a few times in my slippers 😱

No, there is no picture of the scorpion. Just google it, it was one of the orange East African species.

Day 8 – Ileret to Koobi Fora

In the morning, Djo finds another scorpion under his tent. We pack up carefully and say goodbye to everyone at the mission, then pass TBI for a photo.  

Probably the only joint photo of me and Djo on this trip.

Today’s a short but sandy day. Around 60 or 70km to the Koobi Fora base camp, partly through Sibiloi National Park. The road from Ileret to Loiyangalani is not on Google Maps, and because satellite view doesn’t work without internet, I had traced it on satellite view and pinned it down with a million stars. Talking of needing some certainty. 

Helpful public health information

After a quick 10km on sand roads and a warm-up bike drop, the road changes to pebbly tire tracks. The rest day pays off and I am finally getting faster at this. So fast that I miss the turn to Sibiloi. At some point I feel as if we’re going in the wrong direction. Maps and Maps.me both confirm that we have to backtrack 3 or 4km. 

Beautiful bathrooms up here

We find the sign to enter Sibiloi National Park, which to our defence is slightly hidden. The rest of this day is best told in photos. 

Enjoy!

The road is basically a combination of sand and stones in varying ratios
Sometimes more pebbles
Sometimes more sand
Photo session lazima
Acrobatics: Sand riding while dodging thorns and twigs
These park markers are the only reminder that you’re still under KWS care
Meet the Queen of Sibiloi National Park!
Arrival at the airstrip cum water dam
We find a cool lunch spot with a view!
After lunch: More of the same
A bit of mud
Some stones for a change
Note: When sliding on sand, sand enters everywhere
Lifting weights at gym time
Inching closer to the beach
At a diversion you never know which route is more torture. But sand punishes a hesitating throttle hand
It’s kinda scenic I guess
Enjoying Sibiloi’s Fauna… My jeans get ripped a good one by all these thorns
When the river is the road
More sand
We pick up speed on the smooth stretches
I navigate a successful lane change!
… only to find the other lane equally meh
We’re getting close to the beach
I can spot the water in the distance
More photos. By now I had to plaster both my thumbs which had sore wounds from taking the gloves off repeatedly over my heat-swollen hands

At some point the river becomes the road. It’s silly sand for a kilometer or so. I’m not doing badly and Djo disappears behind me. When the sand ends, I wait for a minute or two, enjoying the incredible silence up here and drinking water. But he’s not showing up in my mirror. I just know that he dropped the bike. Finally. A part of me is relieved that I’m not riding with some sort of super human. I remove my gear and shout his name. Nothing. I really don’t feel like riding back so I walk back to look for him. By the time I get to his bike, he has lifted it and is loading his luggage (which he had to remove to lift the bike).

We’re extremely close to the camp, but the sand is beach deep now. Want to suffer with us for the last 1.5km (11 minutes) to Koobi Fora base camp? 

Knock yourself out with this helmet cam video (link)!

Arrival at Koobi Fora Base Camp

On arrival, we chat with the team and are informed that we’re very lucky because there is indeed rain water to drink. I nearly faint, but am told that everyone drinks it here. I relax my mind telling myself that the tank just holds water and dust, but you can never be too sure what bacteria are breeding in there.

My amazing flatmate Marg brought some chlorine tablets from Chicago in 2015, which have since long expired but I had popped a bunch in my luggage. I prepare 2 litres of water for my mzungu stomach.

At some point Djo confesses that he leaned the bike against a wall and needs help to get it out from there. At this point I don’t yet fully grasp the situation and lightheartedly offer to help.

Y’ALL! I find a huge heavy bike dug into a hole of deep sand between a wall and two wooden pillars. We try pull, push, lean, use stones, pull it lying on the ground. No progress whatsoever until we get help from staff. My biceps, again. But this makes up for at least 6 of my bike drops so I feel redeemed. 

The beach is so inviting for a swim. It feels like the perfect spot but I have mad respect for crocodiles so I have a bikini tanning session at the shore instead. Possibly paradise!

The most inviting beach I’ve been to along Lake Turkana!

Before sunset we also engage in a bit of bike care and use the nail polish to tighten a bunch of bolts on my bike. Comedy but I’m taking notes!

We make noodles and githeri for dinner. The tinned food is really coming in handy.

Let’s face it: my noodles by now are just wheat powder. But Djo is a pro and had packaged his for off-road survival.

I do a micro yoga back stretch session while watching the stars lying on top of a wall. After the encounters with scorpions in Ileret I keep my boots on all night.

Today we covered around 100km on rough and sand roads!

Day 9 – Koobi Fora to Loiyangalani

Highly ambitious, we had decided to go to Loiyangalani directly from here. So it’s going to be a long day. We’re not exactly sure where next we will get drinking water, so we fill up all the canisters and bottles from the rain water tank.

To get to Loiyangalani, we have two routes in mind: via Moite or the more visible car road which I traced on Maps, from which we would join the North Horr – Loiya road around Gas town.

Either way we have to cross Sibiloi National Park and get to Karsa Gate first.

After paying our 200 for camping to the museum ticket agent, we backtrack to the air strip in around 45 min, which is maybe half of yesterday’s time. Engines are getting hooot as we carefully manoeuvre the 8 or so kms of deep and shallow sand.

Good morning from Koobi Fora

At 9:16am we turn right at Parkmarker 14 and have another 45 km of Sibiloi ahead of us. We estimate 4 hours to the gate with breaks.

Relief when the sand ends
Back to this – for a few hours this morning
When you don’t know why you fell – sooooo annoying

It’s pretty wild as we travel on a hardly used road. There are gravelly uphills where I get stuck on huge rocks that you then remove from under your bike while somehow still sitting on it. First gear holds the bike, at least I’ve figured that part out by now. Lots to learn and laugh. Overall looooots of fun.

Sometimes the terrain is that wild that the only road option is the river. It must have been crazy muddy here a few days ago! We find it completely dried up 💃🏿

Water break
Imagine riding in this mud
Twende Kazi
Djo and camera waiting for what?
Oh, he was on standby for stone removal duty. He probably thought that’s easier than lifting my bike 😹

Another river crossing. And another one. Not the white sand but it’s darker now. At some point the (sandy) river is the road, then you cross a rocky riverbed, and a bit later you follow a rocky river as the road. It’s chaos.

We later find a video on facebook showing a landcruiser driving on this road through 1m deep water. Bonkers 🤣

Just confirming in the mirror if I’m still alive
Top speeds not above 25 km/h
I’m getting better at this!
Rewarding views!

What goes up must go down, so there’s that one gravelly descent down a mini escarpment. I try the 2nd gear engine break technique, but freak out half way through when bigger rocks show up. 1st gear would have been smarter. Still more practice needed!

The petrified forest fossil site is just before the gate. The quick 6km detour is worth it. We pass some colourful stones and pebbles and get to the petrified trees and wood stumps.

I’m even wearing my miti t-shirt!
It’s fascinating! These logs turned rocks! Now say it with a Kikuyu accent. Thank you
Back to the main road

When it’s just a few kms left, is when you get to a final massive river crossing.

We each get through 2l of water before even getting to the gate. We pay our park fees and have a quick lunch. It’s super windy here. At 2:40pm we gear up for departure. It is 120km to Loiya, so we need to hit a 30 km/h average to make it. We’ve not done this on any day this trip! The roads look pretty decent on maps satellite and we’re told a land cruiser would need 4 hours. This statement could have been cause for concern but we ignore it.

I joked with the guard that we’re not paying because the only wildlife we saw were 3 birds and 1 rabbit

We fill up the water reserve tanks with more rain water at the gate and wet our t-shirts and Balaclavas for some cooling effect while riding. Djo is using the hack he got on AMD and cools his drinking water wrapped in a wet t-shirt from the ride’s airflow.

I don’t know what exactly I expected. But in my mind the road was going to be better starting from the gate 😉 It’s in a baaaad state and we take a good hour for the first 10km. Lots of deep holes, sand crossings and rocks and we just can’t get to a sensible speed. Basically, the gate is in the park, we conclude later.

Then it gets smooth and wide. But not for long. Gravel mixes in.

At some point we get to a KWS sign-post, which we were earlier told indicates the junction to Moite. Djo had raved about the road from Moite to Loiyangalani, but we just weren’t sure about the road to Moite from here. Only one person we asked knew about its state and they said it’s enough sand to get a 4×4 stuck. We decide not to find out and stick with the main road, however annoying and slow it is.

One of those moments you replay in your mind later.

We keep ploughing forward through changing terrain. We cross several riverbeds and pass at least one more areas where the river is the road. And sometimes you just can’t tell anymore where the river is. I don’t want to imagine this place with rain or floods!  

Finally we get to a long sandy stretch, a few kilometers long. That beautiful evening light sets in and cattle cross the road. The first sign of human life since the park gate. I’m trying to make mile and I’m around 1km ahead of Djo when there’s a boda track leaving the road to the left. We’ve now learned that they tend to circumvent difficult stretches on the main road, but I also don’t want to get lost, so I stay on the main road.

I find a whole bunch of huge rocks on the road, and go down nearly at the end. Djo is nowhere to be found. No network. It’s 5:45pm. I try to lift the bike but have to remove the luggage first to succeed. It takes me some time to tie it back. Djo hasn’t caught up yet and I worry that he took the boda track and is now ahead of me. What a disaster: I imagine how he’s chasing me, yet I’m behind him. I send him a text with my GPS coordinates (that doesn’t actually go out for lack of network) and continue riding. By now it’s 100% clear that I won’t make it to Gas by sunset. 

We are still around 80km from Loiyangalani and the terrain allows no speed. There are no signs of human life whatsoever: No livestock and no huts. We haven’t passed a single car since the park gate. I don’t have lights on the bike, so I decide that I would pitch my tent on the roadside wherever I will have reached at 6:45pm and continue with sunrise. I don’t feel unsafe at the thought but considering there is no network, my people including Djo would probably start freaking out if I’m not reachable at night in rural Marsabit.

Around 10 minutes later Djo shows up from behind. Relief!!! 

He also fell (not far behind me it seems) and also had to remove his luggage 😅 Now who let who down?

We continue and reach a fairly wide and straight road. Djo keeps checking his GPX recording from a previous trip with Wakili. At some point we realize that we have deviated from their route, but are still on this wide main road, so it feels fine.

Another moment we will keep reviewing in our minds.

We miraculously cover another 15 clicks until we get to a junction pretty much at sunset. Should we take the right narrower road towards Gas or the wider one straight ahead towards North Horr? 

Which route would you have taken?

We decide that we can as well sleep in Gas. The town has been described as relatively developed with a few shops. Covering 30k in darkness seems doable with a shared headlight. 

Time for sunset pics. I have no idea why we were so calm. I guess ignorance is bliss sometimes.

Until the road turns into one deep tire track and we’re basically riding on large white stones in those tire tracks. The experience riding up the gorge to Lokitaung dwarfs in comparison. Everything is just loose, no hard surface below. Even if we get to a smoother stretch with smaller pebbles, it’s just 200m long before it goes back to the madness. 

Djo’s light is super bright so at least we know what we’re doing. He rides in the left tire track and I ride in the right one. At some point we switch (so much work!!!), so that in case a fast landcruiser shoots along the road, I don’t get knocked. (No car comes, maybe this was our wishful thinking). I am making 8-10 km/h top speed, and just not getting to a smoother rolling 2nd gear. Maybe the bike is too light, doesn’t have enough power, or my tires are too small. But I’m also really worried of falling right now, so I’m probably really slow and look down too much. I’m sweating like crazy handling the bike at low speed on these rocks in first gear, constantly tapping my feet and having all this weight on my shoulders. This is not economical on our limited water supply at all.

We hardly make more than 500m before stopping to breathe and drink. 

At least we have excellent 4G network here and check the satellite pics. The road we’re on shines bright white on the images while the surroundings are dark brown for the next 15km or so. We interpret this as the entire stretch being this messy.

We keep going and manage a good 10km (in 80 minutes), but the stops become more frequent. My pants are rubbing my thighs sore along the seat’s edges because I’m walking more than riding. I’m fairly exhausted by now. At one of our stops, Djo checks his GPX and realises that we’re near a boda track and he suggests we leave this road and use the boda track. It sounds equally tempting and nuts. As we debate the idea, his bike battery goes flat. Flat as in his lights go off and the starter is not working. With both bikes not having lights, we’re basically standing in complete darkness in the middle of nowhere.

This is exactly how it looks like at that point.

I climb off my bike and light my phone torch to explore the surroundings. Going really slow for an hour with the bright LEDs has drained his bike’s battery. We’re still stuck in the tire tracks with stones. It seems impossible to pushstart him here, even if I wanted to try, which I don’t.

We debate our options (none) and decide to pitch camp. Djo is not sold but my logic is that the faster we sleep, the earlier we can wake up and figure out our next steps with some daylight. We push the bikes like 5 metres to the side of the road and then pitch the tents in torch light, looking carefully for scorpions (none!), then I sit on my bike to snack musli bars and tinned pineapple while Djo cooks his dinner. 

It’s 21:36 when I inform my crew in Nairobi of my situation. A part of the crew, rather. I have to give it up for each of these guys. Always supportive, checking in, and dishing out encouragement and jokes. The type of people who agree to be your emergency contact on such a trip. Who pick your phone call at odd hours – after taking a deep breath of course.

I prepare the final 1 litre of rain water we have left from the park gate with a chlorine tablet. This will have to get us to Gas, which by the map is just 12-15km away. What a nightmare thought to contract a water borne disease up here!

We have a short discussion on safety. Don’t ask how this went, cause tell me what measures exactly you’d take that you’d find sufficient?

My GPX recording says that we did around 150km today. No tarmac, for those who weren’t quite sure.

Day 10 – Middle of Nowhere to Loiyangalani

I wake up to motorbike sounds at around 1am. It’s quite surreal: I can hear it for a few minutes at equal volume, then it passes outside the tent and immediately can’t be heard. The wind is that strong. This is also the first vehicle since the park gate.

I fall asleep again and wake up at 6am. I start packing my stuff in my phone’s torch light.  

We have a bike to start and want to make the best of the early sunrays before it gets hot!

Sunrise at 6:56am over Middle of Nowhere in Marsabit

Looking around, I wonder if we are mad or lucky. Or both. Kilometres of Mars like surface with no houses whatsoever.

What was the rider thinking that passed our tents and bikes at 1am? And where on earth was he coming from and going?

Have you ever jump started a 220kg bike on rock dust? Well, I invite you to try but this morning it was not working for us. We try different locations, with me pushing as Djo duck runs the Super Tenere. The bike skids and the back tire just digs up the gravel, whether in 2nd, 3rd or 4th gear. It’s just past 7am and I’m already sweating! 

At last, a landrover drives by and stops to give us a full bottle of water. These angels were on a family visit to a nearby homestead!

Plan B: We can charge his bike from my battery! Getting to my battery means removing the tank. We lever up a messed bolt and connect the two with some wires and spanners. Just as we’re realising that his bike can’t start directly from my battery but would need slow charging, a bike passes with a passenger and a goat. They offer to help push the bike “sasa tuko wengi”, they comment looking at my biceps, but achieve the same result.

The goat was on her way to the market. No, not the cinema. She patiently waits for the journey to continue
As the guys figure out the battery issue, I start packing up my tent

Back to connecting the two bikes and slowly charging up the Tenere while running my engine. We thank the two gentlemen for their help and they point us to the boda track as an Eastern Bypass for the horrible road, also passing through a village with fuel. Yes!

Our team’s electrician connects the Tenere to be charged from the Spirit generator

As we try to increase the idle on my bike to keep it running, somehow my bike goes off. It’s all one beautiful mess! After playing around with the choke and idle and finally syphoning some fuel from the Tenere, my bike starts again (on the kick). 

In total we need over 2 hours to get moving but at 9:30am we enter the boda track. It’s smooth but really narrow and quite the random route over hills and between bushes. The local riders are ninjas! 

Finally a smooth road! If we’d taken last year’s Boda track, would we have slept in Loiyangalani after all?
Signs of human life!!

We arrive in a small village called Barambate.

The whole place is bloody windy!

We each top up 1.5 liters of fuel from the barrels in a lady’s hut, which we think should be enough to get us to Gas. The boda track is far longer than the bumpy road would have been but fairly smooth.

Throttling to Gas via the backroute
Arrival to Gas Town

By 11am we enter Gas town – but what an underwhelming sight the place is. A group of colourfully clothed women is busy constructing a hut, but otherwise I mostly remember garbage and plastic.  A local rider offers to help us find fuel and water. I’m really uncomfortable following him around, as he randomly passes between peoples’ houses and swerves around.

Djo enlisting some help to our endeavours 

He’s taking us to 3 different stores, but hakuna petroli. A car convoy has picked up all fuel yesterday we’re told. How did we ignore rule 1 in Barambate? Sigh!

At least we buy water and fill up all bottles and canisters. We estimate what’s left in our reserve tanks and find that we should have enough fuel to cover the remaining 40km to Loiyangalani and turn down his offer to ride back to the other village to bring us fuel.

We end up at his house and his wife offers us ugali cabbage and and some real good masala chai.

Interesting construction – I refuse sitting inside the windowless, smoky hut. Not just because of covid…

By 2 we’re on the road from Gas to Loiya. There is nothing beautiful or enjoyable about the first 25km of this road. It’s heavily corrugated. You really feel for the bike. It’s pretty windy. Gravelly. Hot. 

But worst of all: My steering seems stuck on “straight”, I’m running on rails and nearly fall a few times. I’m having a really hard time steering into the wind and into the corners smoothly. I am not thaaaat tired! What’s going on?

On the really bad hill sections the road is reinforced with some concrete.

I catch up with Djo who’s taking pics on the concrete and I tell him something is wrong with my bike, especially on the corrugations. He mentions also having a hard time after the smooth tracks, so we keep going. After I nearly fall on that same concrete stretch in a corner, he considers to believe me and we stop again to diagnose my steering. It just doesn’t turn smoothly. Seems that the bearings are shot. This is of course a gradual process but the last 500km probably didn’t help matters. But there is nothing we can do right here. 

We have to get to Loiyangalani.

The road is a mess

I don’t know how I manage the next 30km, but the beautiful views around El Molo and Layeni certainly help. Beautiful Jade Sea!

The Lake’s water level has reached the road near Layeni and El Molo

I have not entered Loiya from the North before, but remember that small junction from my last visit.

We head to Palm Shade Guesthouse. The team tells us they expected us last night. We nod but can’t explain ourselves. But my shower is heavenly! 

Local riders point us to the one fundi in town but he’s not in as it’s Sunday. We talk to him on the phone and on naming the bike’s model, he seems optimistic that we can source a set of steering bearings early on Monday. He promises to meet us at 7am.

We have an early dinner and I’m already stretched out in bed when the lights go off later this evening as the generator is switched off. 

70km done today and some serious workout pushing the bikes around in the heat 💪

Day 11 – Loiya to Maralal

We have to get to Maralal. There’s really no option. Sleeping in Baragoi doesn’t excite any of us based on our earlier experiences there.

This is 240km of rough roads and our estimate is 8.5 hours including 2 breaks.

We agree that if my bike wasn’t fixed by 9:30am, Djo would leave me in Loiya and proceed as he has some work commitments in Nairobi coming up.

At 7am we call the fundi who promises to arrive within the next 15 minutes, which he does. Turning my steering with the bike on the centre stand, we all agree that we have to replace the bearings. We ride to his workshop and he actually succeeds in sourcing the spare part. The guys take off the front wheel and I watch him knock out the old bearings (the plastic that holds the metal balls had completely disintegrated) and chisel in the new set, while Mr. Djo IY handles the quality control of the entire surgery. Paul does a really good job – highly recommend him.

By 9:04am I test the bike and find it running smoothly. We pay Paul and head to the hotel for breakfast and packing up.

By 10:45 we head out from Loiyangalani – 240km offroad loading! We both know the route well and it feels like the home-run. 

I’m most excited about the stretch from South Horr to Baragoi as I remember it being very beautiful from my last trip (link). Back then we didn’t stop for pictures because we were warned not to (bandits). Also, the metal holding my suspension had broken off, so it wasn’t a very comfortable ride.

On leaving Loiya southwards we find the road heavily corrugated. It seems that there are more trucks nowadays and we even find a bus (!). The 30km to the wind farm are quite bumpy and not exactly fun this time round. I also nearly get knocked by a lorry.

We give the mad truck some space which gives us time for some snaps at the Jade Sea
Noone who’s been to Loiyangalani would ever forget this sight
I’m having so much fun. Bike feels new with my new bearings!

The wind is strong but mostly coming from one direction, so manageable. Once up at the wind farm, we stop to check on Djo’s exhaust, which has slightly moved from all the bumpiness.

This is the last time we see his entire toolkit. We later find that the metal holder of the tube holding the tools broke… These vibrations!! Makes you appreciate the physiology of your spine quite a bit! This must be the most painful loss of this entire trip. 😭

From here it’s a quick ride on the windfarm road to South Horr. After the wind farm road branches off the left there’s more sand, as we ride through the beautiful South Horr mountain range. We roll into town and stop at the shopping center, where I buy water and one of the fundis who fixed my suspension (and footpeg 😌) last year says hi, remembering every single GS he saw.

Approaching South Horr

On leaving South Horr we stop for pics between the trees, and a local guy ferrying two kids turns his head just a little bit too far, just a little bit too long, and drops his bike.

From here it’s a quick 40km to Baragoi. It’s very scenic but we’re trying to pick up speed where the sand allows.

This must be the last plot I acquire on this trip. With view on Baragoi town. Looks at Djo’s “Sasa, ona huyu!” pose!

As we roll into Baragoi, most shops are closed, but my lunch spot is open. It’s already 4pm as we park at Mashallah Restaurant. The lady hugs me as she recognizes me and enquires how my friends are doing. We have some really tasty pilau, chicken, kachumbari and masala tea. 

And off we go entering the final 100km for the day. We aim to finish the corrugations fast and enter the mountains leading to Maralal before it gets late. We stop at the Barsaloi junction, where there’s a sign with bullet holes by the Catholic church advertising Barsaloi as the cleanest town in Samburu (go check if you don’t believe me!) – it’s already 5pm so we have no time for experiments, but I take a mental note to try this route another time.

I start panicking as I realise that they dug up the road in an attempt to widen it. I remember a relatively smooth track through the mountain range, but now it’s rather bumpy with big rocks and holes. Or was it the rain? It probably also feels more difficult than last time because we’re gaining 700m altitude and I don’t get enough power to fly up the rocky climbs. 

Up the mountains near Marti

Either way: I’m slower than I like. Soon enough, the sun sets over the dramatic Samburu hills.

By 7pm we’re near Suyani, around 40km to Maralal. Djo and I think about our options. We aren’t feeling the idea of sleeping here and decide to get to Maralal on a shared headlight. It feels safe to continue with the wider road and slightly more traffic than we remember from last year.

There are some dark clouds building up over the mountains and this area is chilly at night. We stop to wear rain gear over our mesh jackets.

Darkness. Now we get a bit wild. Djo is riding directly behind me and around 1-2m to my right. There’s no room to swerve, so we basically just gas through the mountains. We’re doing 30-55 on the bumpy rough road and I’m doing some of it standing for better visibility. It takes some synchronising and skill to ride on one headlight! On uphills or corners I’m basically riding with zero visibility for an instance until his light catches up. It feels thrilling and I let go, setting a decent pace.

At some point what looks like a gentle bump turns out to be a ramp over a deep ditch. We can’t even see the bottom of it. My bike takes off and we’re just lucky that I was doing good speeds, otherwise it could have been a nasty fall.

At 8:30pm I text my people that we’ve arrived safely. We find the fuel stations closed and look for a simple hotel and restaurant in town. 

Day 12 – Maralal to Nairobi

Noone’s looking forward to these last 330km. Tarmac. Kenyan drivers. Nairobi air and noise.

So we fuel up chap chap and hit the road to Nyahururu. It turns out that the entire Kisima stretch has been tarmacked since I was here last, and only a few kms are missing to close the tarmac all the way to Maralal.

153 clicks to Nyahururu where we fuel at Shell. I have to slap Djo as he is nearly dozing off from the tarmac boredom – it’s extremely understimulating after an adventure ride. 

We get lunch in Ol’ Kalou and continue via the Aberdares route through Engineer and connect to the Naivasha Highway from Njabini. I am always nervous about the Soko Mjinga stretch to Limuru, moreso without headlights but Djo leads, fighting off oncoming traffic with his many lights, and we find the highway not as busy. At the Gitaru traffic, I lane split between a bunch of police pick-up trucks, who are returning from some activity out of town. One of those annoyingly hyper white baby trucks cuts off two of the police trucks and gets reprimanded. I nearly fall off my bike laughing, but instead turn left to the Western Bypass and reach home in under 20 minutes.

HOME! I stop at my mama mboga and source a huge bag of mixed greens. After all the noodles and cabbage! My askari asks me whether this is when I’m back after all these many days. 👀

It turns out that my house key was in that hip bag. My good friend who keeps my spare key makes it across town to save me from camping in my own parking lot.

After the ride is before the ride

There’s the washing to do, and the bike repair to think through. There are limbs to rest, and bruises to admire. There’s the GPX route recording to analyse and laugh about. A million photos to review: two phones and two helmet cams. It’s amazing to relive some of the scenery and hilarious encounters on the road.

Over the next days, Djo drip feeds me with photos of my unintended dismounts until my phone’s memory jams.

And mech training. Laughing through the curve balls. Dinner conversations and friendship. Mungu akubariki!

As the trip replays in my head, I randomly break out in laughter throughout my day. It feels sooooo good. I come up with the many routes I still want to try out. I plan for my dirt bike training. And I realize that traveling on the bike for weeks and months doesn’t sound such an impossibility anymore!

At  Bikers’ Prayer Day I realize just how many bikers had followed our trip via Djo’s posts on AMD and my insta page. I answer many curious questions about the trip. I also realize how few people know that Turkana is not Marsabit and that there are ways to get to Lodwar that don’t involve tarmac. If only half of you go out there and go a bit wild for a few days, I’ll be very happy!

My biker pal predicted that I will need a week to recover. I trust him, he’s a doctor 😅. That week ends today. I am still in that meditative high, that flow state. But I am also still exhausted! Nairobi noise and air pollution don’t help.

Now, there’s this badass somewhere at the beach, my partner in crime, my re-invention muse and my business ally. She understands life with a rare intensity.

Martha penned down exactly what the trip felt like so I’ll just close this with her poem. Don’t miss to buy her book!

Head over to Djo’s site and read his story about this trip in 4 parts. Incredible photography and artsy writing.

Categories
Travels & Trips

Losting around Lake Turkana – Western shore to Todonyang (Part 1)

My bike, tent, a book and me. I plan to fall off the grid completely for my January leave.

A TZ roadtrip to Lake Tanganyika sounds amazing until I read up on our neighbor’s rain seasons. Maybe I explore the greenery of Western Kenya instead? 

That’s when my pal talks about riding to some remote places up North. This hits the right spots in my brain. A ride around Lake Turkana? 

Turkwel hinterlands. Turkana Boy. Kibish. The Ilemi Triangle! Ethiopia. Finally to Ileret! Through Koobi Fora and Sibiloi National Park. And a chill return through Loiyangalani. Two weeks of stones and sand.

Security around Kibish was now better based on our intel but the big unknown was crossing the Ethiopian border considering their state of emergency and some customs and pandemic questions.

We put together our route ideas and come up with 3 options upon reaching mwisho wa nchi in Todonyang: Explore the Ilemi triangle and proceed to the Marsabit side via Ethiopia (Omorate), or if that would prove difficult take a boat to Ileret – or if all fails, return to Western from Kibish along the Ugandan border.

All 3 options sound epic. The full plan would have around 2300km of which around 750 tarmac.

A bunch of route options from Todonyang onwards

The stars start aligning nicely when I email the Catholic Mission in Todonyang and they actually respond and two of their staff happen to be in Nairobi and meet me for coffee. On the same day I bump into Hamish, an adventure rider, at Pallet and he shares good vybes and photos from a recent ride he did in the area.

Between finishing up work assignments we manage a pre-meeting to think through the logistics: luggage, tents, first aid, cooking equipment, food, tools, bike spares. I am keen to stay below 15kgs luggage. 

We plan to be self-reliant for at least 4 nights. I frisk Carrefour but the best menu we come up with were some vegetables and githeri in tins and noodles. And tortillas with tuna. Why is there more tinned cat than human food?

Life would be so easy as a pet!

I am carefully optimistic about my bike and relevant riding skills. Something always breaks on my trips (you just never know what!), but I had gotten a few crucial parts of the bike replaced recently, which were worn out by previous adventures. 

I just clocked 22,000 km in my riding career and am slowly graduating from the advanced beginner status. I’ve done around 1,200km adventure off-roading so far, nailed sand riding on my Loiyangalani trip (link) and successfully tested gravel riding with luggage over Christmas (link). The days through Sibiloi would be the most challenging, with the few people I know who’ve ridden there saying it’s difficult and rough riding terrain. 

Juuuuust in case
When you’re wondering what you’re missing!

The final question on my mind is whether my pal and I will kill each other on this trip.

Have you met Djo Thefu? He rides 7 times my engine size and I’m far more chatty than his introvert nature might handle. He’s a Tutajua Tu person (“We’ll see”) and I love some good old German certainty. There was only one way to find out.

When we exchange emergency contacts on the first day of the trip, it feels like a trust pact is signed to get each other home safe, or at least ‘somewhere safe’.

How do you write about such a journey?

One that Djo will also write about? After all he’s one of our if not the best story teller of 254 adventure riding.

Well, this is my story of riding around Lake Turkana. The 125cc story, one of a lover of the universe, of curiosity and encounter, a story of a woman singing over the bones!

Enjoy!

PS: Y’all signed up on DjoThefu Stories, I assume? We certainly hope you’ll choose to pay the premium subscription. It allows you to contribute towards the trip and writing efforts, and indulge in brain-teasing narrations for 3 months for less than a boda’s oil change.

Day 1 – To Kainuk (Turkana) via Chemolingot (off-road route)

My co-rider’s Super Tenere is faster and more comfortable, so he’s cool to ride the 400k plus to Kainuk in a day, but considering there’s another 10 days off-road following, I’m not feeling it. We agree to meet at Marigat and hit the rough road together from there. 

I arrive at Nakuru the night before in an eventful night ride (link) that has me replace a mirror and curse a driver to suffer a painful death. I aim to leave Nakuru at 8 but boy, the traffic jam is unexpected! Once out of town through Kabarak, the road is empty.

Heading northwards from Nakuru town

After unsuccessfully stopping at several spares shops for an extra clutch cable, I get some work done at the lounge of Hope Cottages in Marigat.

Djo arrives at Shell Marigat around 12:45pm. That guy looks so prepared. He could probably survive on the moon. Looking at his luggage I wonder what exactly I forgot at home and what drama it will cause somewhere in a stone desert.

Dude is oozing adventure experience

We hit the remaining tarmac towards Chemolingot. I am soooo curious how the day will go. 13 months ago I went to Eliye Springs via this route at the beginning of my offroad riding career (link) and had several heart attacks on the gravel, crossing rivers and ended up breaking a foot peg.

A lot has improved:

Near Loruk the lake had swallowed the road, but has since released it again. The tarmac is destroyed but it is dry to pass. The offroad from Chemolingot was graded and is far less bumpy, and the down hills are less gravely. 3 or 4 bridges are done where last time I had to ride through rivers (or rather ask another rider to do it for me).

Enjoyment tupu
Last time I SWEATED at this river, yo!

Oh – and my bike handling skills and confidence have gone up 10 fold. It’s an enjoyable route in Baringo and then West Pokot counties and we zoom between the hills at around 40-55. I’m relieved that we’re getting the opportunity to get in sync on simple rough roads before the more adventurous stages. I love stopping for pictures and it turns out this works well for him. 

For some reason most cameras just can’t capture this guy’s face

This is also the day Djo introduces Akoth to the general public. At this point I don’t know yet that this will be my best documented roadtrip ever, photographically speaking!

How it starts

We reach the tarmac at Marich Pass at sunset, by around 6:50. It is another 20km to our destination (Calabash – which you will find directly on the right side of the highway marked by two sign posts, not where Google Maps says it is), but I have a work call at 7pm so we stop so I can take it from there. The network collapses halfway through my call from a brilliant 4G to “don’t even try to send an SMS!”. Djo has been waiting for an hour for me, and as I give up on my call and we depart, he somehow drops his prescription glasses. We ride to Kainuk in darkness and as he notices, we turn around to look for them, but to no avail.

And this is where the losting of dear and useful items on this trip starts!

We check in at Calabash approx 10km before Kainuk around 10pm. Some locals watch a Chinese kung fu style movie on TV but the kitchen is “closed”. Well, just that it’s open and I can see the pans from afar. We convince a lady on staff to warm one of our githeri tins and cook rice for us. This simple dish tastes heavenly after a long day of dust and oxygen.

The full moon shines through the trees and I enjoy a bucket shower outside my hut. I feel tranquil and invigorated at the same time. I really need this trip: A break for myself and to link up my soul and nature. 

310km done, of which 100 rough road!

Day 2 – Kainuk to Lodwar via Naipal (the sand!)

We wake up and pack our stuff. There’s something about luggage on a bike: You carry the same same stuff, but it fits differently every single day! 

Packing up at Calabash in the morning

We head to Kainuk for fuel and water. Yeah, this picture is Kainuk in Turkana county. Street lighting and tarmac you won’t find in most Nairobi estates.

Kainuk town

From here we head onwards to Turkwel Dam on a tarmac road. I have passed this junction before. Not once. I was told it’s not safe to venture in here. And that there’s not much to see anyways.

Posing at the Turkwel Dam junction

Today we will explore this route for over 180km and let me not pre-empt, but people say a lot of things. If there’s one thing to take away from this whole story it is to choose your dreams. Give the potentially epic a chance. Lean into your curiosities. Go for it! 💃 ✨

But first we run into a barrier. We’re told there’s a 100 bob charge ya county for using this road. It doesn’t exactly add up, because there really is no other road to most of the towns behind this point. We ask for a receipt which is duly written but I’m very sure the money won’t reach the county.

Procedure muhimu

As we reach the gate of the Turkwel Dam & Power Station, the security team explains to us the registration procedure. We proceed to meet the in-charge in his office for a chat and I scout the staff quarters in search of a toilet. Yeah, the sum of these little detours is what usually gets you in trouble at the end of the day, but what’s the point of coming all the way up here without a little exploring?

Chat with the security team at Turkwel Dam

We then ride on to the dam through some steep mountain twisties with amazing views. What looks like a railway line built by aliens are the power lines to evacuate the power.  Djo shows off some cornering skills and once at the hilltop we roll on downwards until we spot water.

Y’all hold your horses please – the corners have a lot of gravel
Bikes and water bodies: Always an amazing sight!

As we reach the dam itself, we’re informed that we’re not allowed to take pictures for security reasons. Is this a technology patent issue or do terrorists need close-up photos to destroy this important piece of infrastructure? We stroll around the dam wall for a few minutes, but on realizing the time, decide to start moving.

Now, the off-road starts right at the bottom of the hill. Beautiful scenery, twisty narrow gravel track through trees and dry rivers. On dirt I usually need a few kms to sync with the bike and road for the day. Djo quickly disappears in front of me as I feel my way into the bumpy, slippery surface. I chuckle at this terrible start.

We had been told of an option of connecting from Nakwomoru to the main tarmac near Kalemngrok through a bridge, but aren’t exactly keen to do the Lokichar route. Djo in fact hates the idea and throws me a stern, disapproving look for even entertaining the thought.

It gets smooth and fun, and we drop the idea of the bridge to the tarmac fast. Riding through the villages, I get some fascinating micro glimpses into the Turkana culture. The place feels fairly untouched, much better than the highway experience. Young boys mind large herds of cattle. A mzee approaches Djo and it turns out he’s the same mzee who was earlier called by the camp staff to identify a good route for us. 

At some point I stop and retreat behind a thorny bush for a call of nature and place my hip bag on my bike. That’s the last time I see it. When I realize 20km of sandy trails later that I must have lost it, I quickly calculate whether it’s worth going back. If we go look for it, we will surely be caught in the dark up in the sandy Turkwel river near Lodwar. I have my ID, DL and spare bike key in my jacket. My power bank and first aid kit is in my backpack. Thankfully! I calculate that the hip bag only had my backup water bottle, tissue paper and sunscreen, so I decide to let it go and hope that whoever finds it will enjoy using it.

yes, that bag :-S

In one village we find a group of 20 young men sitting under trees. We park in the shade to drink some water and one helpfully approaches us in English and guides us on the way  “We’re discussing some issues we’re facing”.

As we ride into Naipa for a really late lunch, we find elders chilling under a tree along the road on the traditional pillows (with my best English let me describe it as an elevated wooden plate). As we climb off the bikes and stretch, the kids assemble in colourful wear. I am not sure if they were 50 but they were many. 

Someone points to the one hoteli, where we are served pilau in the backyard of someone’s house next to some baby goats tied to a tree. The kids stand around the bikes and watch us eat from across the fence. Some guy keeps running around with a huge knife, while another one offers to bring the bikes to the backyard, probably in hope of a tip. It’s equally magic and ridiculous. 

The lunch place has tight security

We have to keep moving, with 87km to go and the sand intensifying.

I’m getting better at sand! I raised my handlebar slightly juzi and am now able to sail the laggas standing. It’s a complete game changer on sand, as the bike’s wagging tail tickles my control freak brain far less. I use Shakir’s vroom vroom technique and it sure does work. I can’t believe my luck and practice this at different speeds and try different standing postures. Even Djo is getting better at sand! The Super Tenere is not light but we’re moving at 30-45. 

Bodas recommend a panya route that turns out to be an epic single track between trees. I start singing in my helmet. And noone is falling!

Isn’t this beautiful?
Riding along Tukrwel river, we expected sand from feeder rivers, but YO!

Then we get to Turkwel River – a 400m wide sand river that I well remember from last year’s Eliye trip. The sun is setting. We slide around in the tire tracks. Camels are crossing. We goof around and pose for pictures. 

Bodas try to block our pictures, demanding cash to photograph ‘their’ camels. It’s one magic sunset experience. I feel like staying forever, yet it’s another 40 clicks to Lodwar!! 

Beach vybes
Movie scenes

Chasing sunlight on medium to deep sand for another 25km. I lose Djo far behind me. I hate the idea of leaving him but then again he’s probably better at lifting his bike alone than I’m able to ride in sand at night. At some point I stop and he catches up with me with the last sun rays. Ati he stoped to check on a vegetable garden project he once participated in 😳

I chase after a boda to find the best tracks for a few km, when miraculously – TARMAC! I can’t believe my eyes but do not argue with fate. 

Black happiness

As we get to Lodwar town, the tarmac ends randomly and the mud puddles start. It must have rained just a few days ago. Maps navigates us to the Kobil peti and we fill up the tanks. From here we move onwards to a place we’ve both stayed in before (Gracious Guest House) and find the entrance demolished for road constructions. We can’t be bothered otherwise and ride through the neighbours plot to reach the gate.

After haggling for the room rate, we’re served some delicious fish and I’m jubilant enough to order a cold beer.

Dinner at Gracious in Lodwar

Day 2 done – 225km, of which 160km offroad/sand.

Djo and I don’t talk much over dinner, and instead exchange photos of the day. We experienced the exact same trip and I marvel at how our lenses capture and our social media posts process the moments uniquely. He’s a comms specialist and artist and I start thinking that he’s probably really good at what he does: telling stories that stick and move people.

Day 3 – Lodwar to Nariokotome

It’s a beautiful, calm Sunday morning. I sing through a whole gospel album while showering. Then we take a stroll through Lodwar looking for breakfast and top up some canned food at Kakumatt Supermarket. 

Good morning from Lodwar!

One of my biker friends who follows my road trips inquires whether there have been any mechanical challenges on this trip so far. I send him a side eye emoji, not yet knowing that I’ll later squarely blame him for how the day ends.  B, you know yourself!

Leaving the hotel through the demolished entrance is slightly easier now that we can actually see what we’re navigating.

Warming the bikes

We head out to Kalokol via the tarmac, which has been extended towards the lake. Gunias of dried fish are carried towards Lodwar by bodas.

Road from Lodwar to Kalokol

On our touristic to-do list were the Nasura Pillars, which we find freshly fenced but inaccessible. We take pics through the fence and hope that future visitors will be furnished with helpful information about this prehistoric cultural site.

The last handful of kms aren’t yet tarmacked and roooouuugh.

Once in Kalokol we enlist a welder to reinforce my right footpeg which has suffered southwards from the 100km of standing on the bike yesterday. I’m not taking it personal. He also fashions a pair of tire levers, as somehow Djo’s got lost. 😏

Djo exciting the Kalokol public

We then look for lunch and start moving up North at 3pm or slightly after. The fun begins. We have 75km to cover up to Nariokotome. Riding parallel to the lake shore will mean crossing all rivers flowing toward the lake. From Google Maps Satellite we can see at least 10 wide river crossings and hundreds of small ones. With “river” of course we mean lagga, a.k.a. sand. It had recently rained heavily which ideally would help us find juicy sand. Still: By our calculations we are at least 1 hour behind our plan already. 

The road has corrugations and seems relatively busy with proboxes and bodas. After the beautiful previous day on empty remote tracks even a car every 5 minutes feels rudely crowded. The sand turns darker and there are some pebbles and stones.

This probox is having fun on sand

We find one truck stuck in a deep muddy river. The rain must have been nuts and we’re glad we’re here at the exact right time.

The sand here feels different than the one yesterday. It’s less compact and I slide more. Sand is not forgiving to a hesitating throttle hand. I’m also trying to do good speeds and on a downhill I get overly creative with my choice of lane and randomly hit a deep hole. Of course I go down. Djo might have died of laughter behind his balaclava but helps me lift the bike without showing it. 

In my entire riding career I have dropped my bike less than 10 times. From the top of my head I can remember two drops on the Loiyangalani trip, one in Taveta sand, one in Naivasha on a slow tarmac right turn and two side stand faints in hilly Murang’a. In the spirit of letting go, I’m about to generously double or even triple my stats on this trip.

Downhill sand, uphill sand, straight sand, sand in corners. As Djo takes the long route…

After crossing a river, I realize the front light is somewhat loose. As I stop to figure out what is going on, I see that the entire metal holding the headlight broke off. It’s 6:20pm.

We try to tie it with bungee cords, but it doesn’t look like it’ll work on the bumpy road, so I suggest to remove the light entirely.

Failed attempt at repair

We unclip the connections, put the light in Djo’s bag and calculate that we have less than 10km of sunlight left – unlikely to even reach the next small town, Nachukui. We try. At some point I pass a sizely homestead and it hits me that it might be a better bet to camp at someone’s home than going to a small town after dark trying to convince someone at the shopping centre to allow us to camp.

We agree that I will go to the homestead and ask for permission. Less threatening. I talk to the lady in Swahili but as the mzee is not home, we don’t get far. Without male permission we won’t camp anywhere, reasons Djo and suggests we ride back a bit where he saw men walking.

Turns out one of them is the local teacher. Jackpot! Boniface is heaven-sent, one of the many angels we meet on this trip!

He brings the school’s gate keys and allows us to pitch our tents, and shows us where the rain water is kept. I take a shower with two litres of rain water, while Djo cooks dinner. 

Noodles with Door Knobs, it’s been said

Today we did around 120km, of which 50 tarmac.

I lie on my bike and watch a million stars in the dark Turkana night. The locals are singing and playing drums – we’re later told they’re celebrating the rains. I feel blissful listening to them – my back is stiff and hurts, so I decide to stretch a bit on the ground – reluctant considering there could be all kinds of crawling insects. After doing my part of the dinner chores (dishes), I sleep around midnight.

Day 4 – Road to Todonyang!

Waking up around 6:30 for sunrise snaps.

Last time I camped in a school yard?

The intention was to fold and pack the tents so we are out before the kids arrive. But a conversation with the teacher about the school and the kids’ realities takes longer. When their nomadic families start moving in search of greener pastures, the kids drop out for some months.

Around 8, the kids start walking in one by one placing their piece of firewood and cup in the right spots and start playing. It’s just adorable how focused they are. 

The school’s kitchen

We buy some water in Nachukui and as we cross the lagga past town, on my left I spot a tall statue on the left. We ride up the river to find out what it is and enter a whole church compound complete with a windmill and walks of the cross. We spend an hour exploring the place and one of the catechists shows us around the church. It’s a beautiful church.

Ceiling paintings that would make Michelangelo rejoice.

My favourite depiction of Noah’s Ark ever

We climb the bell tower and get the view of the area. The bell was made in Germany and has an engraving with an ubuntu type message in both German and Turkana.

Such a beautiful view, as we listen to some gut-wrenching stuff

We’re told that water is a huge challenge. Forget farming. Even just drinking water! All wells on the first 7-10km around the lake come out salty. You’d have to drill in the mountains and pipe the water down to the villages near the lake. Quite doable technology you would think! After all it would flow down by gravity.

But we’re told the politicians just come and talk. Ask for votes. Nothing happens. Over decades. So people survive on rain water and salty water. It’s nuts!

Another 10k of dry dusty throttling and we arrive in Nariokotome without much fanfare. Where the Turkana Boy was found. One of the touristic highlights of the trip!  Hopefully it’ll work out, after the Kalokol pillar disappointment. We park at the locked gate. No sign, no phone number, no nothing. 

A lady walks up to us, she is highly unwelcoming and mumbles some words that we can’t understand. Is it Turkana? Or Swahili with a strong accent? I sign the guest book as Akoth. The lady opens the gate and as we walk to the pillar, she says elfu mbili. 2k? We understand that for the last 10 days noone has signed the guest book, but wow. We didn’t expect to pay, especially with no official signs anywhere. Djo negotiates her down to 200, which is what we have in small cash. She gets properly pissed off, but given the whole exchange happens while walking we’re already at the skeleton (or rather the metal dummy skeleton).

We take a few snaps because there really isn’t much to see or read, or be told. The most complete prehistorical human skeleton ever discovered on this entire planet, and there is zero information. Facepalm.

We gear up and head onwards up North!

The scenery changes to bright sand again. A mountain range becomes visible on the left meaning we’re approaching Lowarengak. It’s a busy small town, larger than the other shopping centres we’ve passed. A mixed population and a bunch of shops and hotels. Nice flair. We strike up a boat option to help us cross the lake, should we not be able to ride via Ethiopia. The negotiations are stuck at 23k but we take the guy’s number anyways. 

After lunch at Ghana Hotel, we chat with the owner about potentially crossing the lake via boat. He suggests to get some advice from the Maritime Police Patrol so we ride out to the beach.

They are highly reserved, but share the number of a boat person on the Eastern shore, who could pick us up.

Then back to the road and upwards to Todonyang. Now the road becomes even more deserted. It feels like no-man’s-land already! The tire tracks are very faint now and we ride through bushes between the lake and mountain. We stop a boda to ask if we’re on the right track. We’re basically 20km from the River Omo Delta and the Ethiopian border. Sand. Dried mud sand. At some point the risen lake comes close to the road. 

And then: Open square kilometres of empty plains. I’m cruising standing along the lake on flat land void of any plant. Breathtaking. I repeat. Pure bliss. I don’t think if I’ve ever ridden in such fresh air – I feel like removing my helmet and raising my arms while riding. I guess the dopamine just blew my mind. 

Arrival in Todonyang – how do you describe this terrain with words?

We spot houses in the distance and a mobile phone mast. Sometimes you can’t wait to arrive and sometimes you want the journey to last forever.

We enter the gate of the Catholic Mission before 4pm. Our first day of arriving with ample day light – purely because we scratched the Lokitaung detour off the day’s route. They got a whole workshop for their cars and we fuel the bikes from bottles. It’s 180 per litre. The manager points us to the Father who shows us where to pitch our tents. I spend the rest of my afternoon washing my hair and doing some laundry. I also find that my period started – a whole 10 days early. Thankfully I have all my supplies but can’t help but wonder what triggered such a hormonal drop. Does this happen to other female riders, too?

This evening we chill with Fr. Wycliffe, who is in charge. Fr. Andrew who I had chatted with earlier, is on duty in another mission nearby. We have amazingly tasty goat and potato stew for dinner. We learn about the work of the Missionary Community of St. Paul the Apostle, their different locations and pastoral and community development work in medical, education and peace work up here in the border region (check them out under this link: http://mcspa.org/).

Cross-border trade is hardly existent due to the volatile peace and climate situation up here. People rely on livestock, and farming seems impossible, considering the water is salty. They (and most other institutions in the county) find it challenging to employ skilled locals as workers, and we realize most of their skilled staff are from “downcountry”. Over the years, they were able to place some local youths in vocational training to hopefully change that situation.

A government housing scheme for the village has failed the locals’ needs and interests. Considering no community consultation was done, the housing layout doesn’t meet cultural needs and imagine that: no latrines were built. In short: Watu walikataa kuingia and preferred their stick houses.  

The mobile phone mast that we earlier saw is still under installation and could become a life changer for the local community that is currently off-grid. Obviously Safaricom takes business decisions on where and when to install masts, but local politicians are likely to sell the mast as their achievement in a bid to gather votes in the August run-up.

Tourism is stunted by the fact that there is no official border crossing. To leave Kenya here, you have to get an exit stamp in Lokichar, Eldoret or Nairobi.

We just shake our heads listening to the stories. We also hear about the reverse osmosis machine, the youth peer mentorship program, the dispensary and the schools the mission runs around Todonyang. Their other locations have other focus areas including agriculture.

Around 60km done today – all sandy roads and tracks.

Day 5 – Todonyang to Lokitaung

Our day starts with a stroll down to the lake. The rising water levels make it a bit harder as it’s all very muddy. I am inspired to climb up one of the windmills that pump water to the mission, but quickly acknowledge my monkey skills suck. 

We saw these “Kijito” windmills from Thika all around the lake

Meanwhile, Djo walks around fascinatedly looking for some bird eggs. Did I mention that these morning detours mess up a smooth evening arrival? Hold that thought.

We then decide to take the bikes to the workshop. Djo sorts the Tenere’s cooling system with some silicone in thirteen seconds, but my headlight proves more “finicky”.

First, the workshop guys weld the metal holder back to the bike. While the welding itself takes 15 minutes, knowing which cables on the headlight to connect to what cables on the bike ends up being challenging! It’s a colourful spaghetti salad (it makes sense in German!). Thankfully Djo takes charge with the workshop team who seem ready to just plug and play with the cables, potentially causing a short. The earth cable was quickly identified using that machine thingy thing. But even with systematic testing it takes us an hour to get my high beam and low beam working again correctly. Zero network here, so I can’t call my bike people in Nairobi. Just as I lose my shit and open my mouth to suggest that we don’t really need the light working anyways, cause who even rides at night, it suddenly works perfectly! 

My co-rider entertains a discussion thread on FB about his trip with Akoth. You (I mean, I) can’t read his mind or face in person, but this long morning workshop session gets processed on facebook and has his friends chime in to discuss my good looking headlight. Live and let live!

After tents and luggage are packed, we have breakfast at 12. The priest joins us and we add lunch on top of the breakfast. We debate our route for the day:

We see two options to Lokitaung. Long route via Kokuru – at least to step into the Ilemi Triangle!! Security-wise he’s less in favour: if we meet youth herders (who are usually armed), we may be stopped for cash or gifts. We brainstorm an idea of paying a local boda to ride with us, in which case we’d be under his protection thus safe. Second option is the twisty road up the riverbed through the escarpment. When I bumped into Hamish earlier in Nairobi, he showed me epic pics of this route – I was sold already then.

The priest advises us to go back south 60km and connect to Lokitaung on the new tarmac. He strictly believes we shouldn’t do the twists, and with some probing I realize he’s concerned we may fall and get injured in a remote place with no network. Djo asks if cars can pass the route. The answer is affirmative. I catch Djo’s eyes and know exactly what he’s thinking.

We leave around 2pm, possibly the hottest time of the day. We aren’t learning, are we?

We pass by the graveyard where Turkanas are buried in a mass grave, the victims of the 2011 massacre, a result of blind retaliation between two neighbouring communities along the Kenyan-Ethiopian border. Peace work up here is tedious! So few resources and they need sharing. A single incident can easily be blown out of proportion as the priest tells us the backstory that we hadn’t found on mainstream media before.

We have reached the most Northern point of our trip and return south, crossing diagonally through the plains from the lake towards the mountains. We ride on dried wet sand soil. It’s like crème brulé. Treacherous as there could be mud under the dried crispy surface. 

Suddenly my dashboard goes off. Then when a few sandy corners later the bike stalls randomly in the middle of a sandy stretch, the starter is unresponsive. I can’t kick it either, which suggests the battery is fried or there’s a short in the system.

It’s hot. We’re standing in sand in the middle of nowhere. No tree for shade. I suggest disconnecting the battery to just run the bike on the kick. My battery is under the tank so we quickly remove the tank then Djo disconnects the battery. I would have no idea where to start and no network to google. The bike works on the kick. Yey!!

Onwards. It is so beautiful. 

Change of scenery as we approach the mountains

Finally: Network! I catch up with my pal and expert for my bike about the bike issue and he suggests we check whether a fried LED might be blocking the electric circuit. I promise to do this later. 

Suddenly a police truck appears randomly behind me in a lagga. I nearly choke and stall the bike. I let them pass before gathering my energy. It’s HOT but I kick the bike and continue. I catch up with Djo and we ride along smooth tracks crossing laggas up and down through the middle of nowhere. Finally houses and kids herding goats. A few camels.

We meet the Lowarengak-Lokitaung road just 500m from Lowarengak.

I’m so disappointed hoping we’d come out closer to the mountain but well. We turn right towards the mountains and enter a car track full of pebbles. It’s pretty rough and difficult to ride. As we get to the mountain foot 5kms later, we’re shaken and stirred and tired of pebbles and rocks.

Kumbe!

We enter a gorge that is filled with pebbles. On google maps it’s a 13km twisty road. We got that wrong. It’s actually a riverbed up an escarpment through a gorge.  There’s small pebbles, medium sized pebbles, larger rocks, sand and water. It’s incredible. We use what feels like 20 minutes for the first kilometre and stop to exchange some learnings on how to ride on this mess.

Sometimes we get to 15. But mostly I’m stuck in first gear with my feet down, while Djo’s dinosaur ploughs smoothly through the pebbles on 2nd gear. I don’t know how he does it, but he’s constantly 200m ahead of me, already around the next bend, taking pictures. I find a boda panya route to cut some of the twists, but it’s not helping me enough. 

Looks so scenic – feels so difficult!!

I don’t count how many times my bike stalls. I have to keep kicking it, it’s hot and there’s no breeze up here whatsoever.

Because I’m riding in tire tracks, I get thrown off easily if I’m too slow and hit the left or side wall of the tire track. I’m still trying to master the technique and pick up speed. 

smoooooth sailing – right?

I later post this beautiful picture on my instagram. It looks so elegant. Picture perfect. Djo must have captured the exact one moment when things were flowing, because vitu kwa ground were looking and feeling very different. I am getting brain fog and only piece the events on these 13km together later based on helmet cam pics.

Out of nowhere, I fly and land a good 2m from the bike on my right side. I’m not hurt (I think). My dropped bike leans over deeply into the second tire track. There’s no way I can lift the bike here. Fuel is running from the tank. And my beautiful new Naivasha mirror breaks! I kneel and manage to lift the bike and rest it on my thighs to just stop the fuel from pouring. Exhaustion sets in. Djo who had stopped for photos catches up and we lift the bike together. My heart is pumping but I’m hellbent to figure out riding on this surface.

I have another drop on my left side. I hate it when I fall and can’t figure out why. Where’s the learning here? I take a minute to just think and remember the main tip for offroading being lifting the gaze and avoiding to stare down. I decide to try it.

Just as I move slightly more smoothly, my headlight seems to come loose and starts dancing. As Djo pulls out his spanners, I take a 3 minute nap right there on the stones. I can’t remember the last time I was that exhausted. I sleep and drink water and laugh all at the same time. As I open my eyes, I find a bunch of kids standing around me. They seem more interested in Djo’s bike than the mzungu sleeping on their play ground.

I’m sure you will find a picture of the scene from Djo’s helmet cam in his story! He wouldn’t miss the opportunity to tell it like it is while serving akoth choma.

After catching my breath, we keep moving. Now we’re also trying to make mile. It’s 6:24pm now and we got over 8km left to go – with no idea what terrain awaits us ahead. It could get worse, right?

Then I reach a dry but slippery rock slab. It’s not too steep but I miscalculate the route vs my bike’s power and get stuck halfway. I decide it’s not worth breaking my leg trying to manoeuvre around so I wait for Djo to catch up and push the bike. The kids say that there’s a boda track avoiding the steep slabs. We discuss our options but it doesn’t look that bad and we don’t feel like going back (it’s not our level-headedness that got us here at this time of the day after all!).

It’s getting more interesting!

A minute later we hit some steep, wet rock steps and more kids joyfully assemble around us, they laugh and jump around and offer to help us push the bikes up the slabs.

I mean what the heck. How is this road even on Google Maps?

Djo is warming up to the adventure. The Tenere jumps up steep rocks with water flowing down – highest bidder to my mpesa will get the video.

Let me not lie – the Spirit needed longer legs at this point

“You’ve got the right tires for this work!” – Djo praises my bike when he climbs off. I hear it loud and clear.

Finally we get to smooth soil. Sunlight is ending. Djo tries to light my way, but this being a twisty narrow track it’s futile. It’s blinding me more than helping. A bit of up and down entering Lokitaung. A final steep rocky uphill that I gas up in darkness. 

It’s fascinating: All the dirt riding in darkness has me improve my bike handling skills drastically: The less I see, the more my body does the right thing instinctively. There must be a transformational learning point here.

Tarmac! We celebrate. 

We ask two men for a place to eat and sleep. They tell us they want none of our tents in their town but point us to a guest house where we can please leave some money in the local economy. We laugh and ride over sharing a headlight on a mix of tarmac and dirt.

The lady orders food for us. Bucket shower. Mosquitoes under the torn net. Sleep.

Not more than 55km done today but WOW!

Day 6 – Lokitaung Prison and the Lake Crossing

Morning breaks over Lokitaung. It’s actually a nicely green place between the hills. I count my bruises on my right knee and thighs. It occurs to me that if I had worn my thigh bag during yesterday’s falls, I might have injured my hip. Maybe that’s why I lost it on Day 2?

We examine the electronic issue on my bike further and find that one of the LEDs in the headlight is fried, thus blocking the entire circuit. We disconnect the headlight’s cables and reconnect the battery. My heart sings at the idea of continuing this trip with the starter working!

Morning in Lokitaung

We look for breakfast and then ride out to visit the prison where the colonialists incarcerated some leaders of the independence fight from 1953 onwards (IIRC).  As if Kapenguria and Lodwar weren’t far enough – they took them here.  How scared was this white power?

Djo posing at Kenyatta’s cell’s door

The prison is being manned by APs, one of who is a KTM 990 rider. We have a good chat about his time in Lokitaung and regret not having more time as he describes some offroad adventures around the town to various hills. Just half a day’s ride without luggage would be such a treat!

Serious offroading opportunities around town

But our next stop is on the other side of the lake. We don’t even consider taking the gorge back down (Intellectually speaking I can’t recall why), so from here we take the new tarmac road back down to the lake. Do you know how every time you hit the rough road after tarmac you have to recalibrate your brain? Well, we’re getting good practice here, with a dozen off-road patches across this tarmac road. Basically they left all the river bed crossings as rough roads. 

There are also some corrugated parts today which is how I figure out that I actually injured my leg yesterday in that fall. It hurts quite a bit on the outer side of the knee, and I have to hover the foot while riding.

The tarmac from Kachoda to Nachukui

Given the road isn’t on maps (satellite images hugely outdated), we can only guess its length. It ends up being around 60 clicks of tarmac via Kachoda and we came out pretty much near the school where we camped two days earlier.  With every km tarmac going south, we will have to cover some sand going north again 😉

By now we’re communicating with guys in Ileret. Fuel stocks are low, so we fuel in Nachukui knowing well we may have to drain it when loading the bikes on the boat.

Rule 1: Fill the tank when you see fuel!

We plan for a quick 50k on the known sandy rough road to Lowarengak passing the Turkana boy once more. But my bike is bored by doing this road again and throws a curveball: I realize that one of the two bolts holding my fork is missing, and the other one is loose. We tighten it, but within 2 km it’s loose again.

Djo asks me whether I have nail polish on me. I shake my head. “Nail polish is a very good threadlook”, he says in his matter of fact voice that will have you either pull up a chair to sit down and listen, or ignore him, depending on the shape of your ego.

We reach Lowarengak and set out to replace the bolt. I find a “downcountry” fundi. Djo has enough of me losing things and instructs me to go source some nail polish while he drains the dinosaur’s fuel into a jerrycan. I walk from shop to shop and I’m met with unbelieving and regretful eyes. They are being wonderfully Kenyan about my ridiculous request and make me feel like they usually sell a huge variety of nail polish but just today morning it ran out. 

Finally, I find a half empty bottle of blue in a salon. The lady offers to make my hair as well as my nails, but on hearing I want to use it to repair my motorbike, she nods understandingly and says “You have to try. It might work!” Life can be so simple if we lift each other up in our craziness.

I have to go back to Lowarengak for braids

While I feel very lucky to not experience any cramps or other menstruation symptoms this time round, I nearly forget that I need a toilet before the second half of the day, esp the boat ride. After that’s sorted in some family’s compound’s latrine, we move onwards to the boat. The boat guy turns out to be a broker and introduces us to another guy who’ll take us. We ride through sand, more sand and finally beach sand to the water. 

A bunch of guys are ready to help us load our luggage and bikes on the boat. Djo rides his bike into the water next to the boat and stops in the middle of the crowd. I read from the group’s body language that something is not adding up. 

Small meeting

The guys are asking for 2k! He tells them 500 bob. They load his bike on the boat and (an 8 seconds job) and walk back to deal with mine. I’m still draining fuel so they have to chill. I don’t know why they decide to have the conversation in Swahili but Lowarengak being a cosmopolitan place they might not share a language. The 5 dudes debate why this guy with the white person only gives them 100 bob each. I realize that the mama with the many kids wouldn’t get any cash if this is their maths. She speaks no Swahili and has no phone so I can’t mpesa her anything. We finally find a loose 100 to tip her. A key learning for this kind of trip is to carry lots of small change. Or large cash of course.

It’s 3:20pm by the time my bike is on the boat. Turns out the captain is actually the turn boy and the captain himself is another guy. I chat them up to pass time and to raise my levels of confidence in the success of our journey. Between 2-3 hours is the promised crossing time and I’m getting mentally ready for another sand ride in darkness. 

Before we lose network signal I let some fellow riders know where we are and what we’re about to do. Sitting in their Nairobi offices, they seem highly confident in the safety of our endeavours. My friend later tells me she started dreaming of sending choppers and bikers to the rescue. Pole for the palpitations but bless you always, N!

The lake is around 35km wide here and we’re moving between 10-15km/h depending on the waves. It feels painfully slow, especially considering I have to sit in the middle of my bench. The moment I lean to the right, the propeller doesn’t shika the water well, and I’m told “Sasa imekataa, kaa kati kati”.  There’s no network for most part of the lake crossing so I get into some meditative state while keeping my eyes on the horizon to avoid sea sickness.

Entering Marsabit on the water route

By 5:30pm we are 1km off the land on the other side according to Maps and 2km according to my visual estimation. The lake’s water level has risen so much that we’re riding the boat “on land” (Maps satellite images are heavily outdated!) for quite some time. The captain has a hard time finding a landing spot and we ride northwards along the shore for a few more kms to find a spot to reach land safely. 

What Maps says
Things kwa ground

Finally, the two jump off the boat and pull us to land. 

Our phones have switched to Ethiopian network, which is as +251 as our round the lake trip will get.

A bunch of friendly locals and curious kids await us. We don’t exactly have much cash left to tip, but the Marsabitians help offload our bikes either way. I exchange some pleasantries with the boat guys about arriving safely being more important than being on time. One day my government will ask me to surrender my passport.

We wade to the knees in smelly water with tons of dead fish scales floating and slip on muddy grounds. My jeans get soaked and Djo’s boots are full of water. 

Finding a clean plastic vessel to pour the fuel back into Djo’s bike turns out a bit tricky, and by 6:45pm all we can think of is chasing sunlight on the remaining 10km down to Ileret through the sand.

But the universe loves us: The widest lagga has been fixed up with concrete and the road resembles a slightly sandy highway. Some corrugations, which we hit with 50-60, and on arrival in Ileret, Djo spots the illuminated cross of the Catholic Mission, which he suggests to follow. I really can’t see any cross, but some teenagers point us to the kanisa and a minute later we actually reach the mission. We greet the priest who just walks into the compound from evening mass. “Hi! Are you Fr. Benedict? (Yes). Can I ask you a crazy question? (mmmhhhh, okay?) Did you just switch off the cross?”

We all laugh heartily about the cross lighting our way but disappearing midway and me doubting Djo’s sanity (I never saw the cross!). The priest shows us a few camping spots and we choose the one on the hill top, pitch our tents and scavenge the left-overs from the dinner of some cheerful NGO workers who are in town. We would have cooked (noodles!!) but instead devour ugali cabbage. The shower is heavenly and we get to charge our devices on solar and let everyone know we made it alright to Ileret! 

Day 6 done: 55+ tarmac, 50k offroad and 40km water

We’re halfway through our trip. Some incredible memories made!

Everyone’s healthy and no bike turned submarine. Team vybes are strong so far and our humour and patience sort out the little occurrences along the journey. The intimidation of riding with Kitui Djothefu has reduced, despite the fact that he’s keeping his shit together way too well while I keep dropping the bike. My bike’s mechanical issues give him something to use his brain power on, which I believe he’s secretly happy about (who rides for 6 days without music??).

Our route plan has two more day stages to Loiyangalani (which is just as good as home!). That night I bathe in the feeling of accomplishment and success!

Good morning in Ileret

Are you having fun reading this? It’s hard to write about a 12-day trip! Maybe this should have been a book instead!?

Short break before we go to part 2: Some key logistics & ride preps

Y’all have asked me questions about my experience planning for the logistics of such a ride. Here you go:

Safety Gear? 

1. I swear by my mesh jacket up here. It’s 35°C and you’re riding off-road meaning you’re highly physically engaged while riding. Sometimes you move at 10 km/h with no breeze, and sometimes you stand in the sun figuring out your next steps for a few minutes. 

2. Boots: Off-Road boots would be much more ideal to protect feet, ankles and shins. My riding boots are armoured and high but in comparison to offroad boots leave 2 areas of my legs exposed to risk: If a foot gets stuck between rocks or twigs while riding the ankle may twist or break. The footpegs can causes bruises on the calves.

3. Knees and thighs: My riding jeans is two sizes up and therefore airy enough to not sweat. Just the thought of wearing those velcro knee guards or tight jeans makes me sweat. You could also get mesh pants (Check at Gear Hub on Likoni Road!). I fell on my side a few times, collecting bruises on the side of the knee (where the knee padding does not reach). So that’s my next thing to figure out. I will also endevour to have as little as possible luggage on my body in case of falls. The hip bag got the memo and said goodbye before my first unintended dismount.

Luggage?

Knowing what to carry and what is useless is the first step. Finding the right bag solution to carry your stuff is the second, equally important step.

Basically, with these vibrations, everything will fall and tear and break. The dirt, sand and dust will penetrate all fabric and zips. 

I follow Kinga’s advice and put all my luggage including the tent and mattress into one large speed bag (a basic, dirt cheap 75l canvas bag with a roll-down closure from Germany). Good idea because the tent bag would have torn completely on these roads if I had carried it separately. I tie the speed bag down symmetrically with two (EU normed) straps with metal buckles and then fixate them further with bungee cords. After the first bumpy kilometer of a day my items would have moved around a little inside my bag and then I stop to lash the bag down again more tightly. It works pretty well after I figure it out on Day 3 or so! I love that I only have one item to watch in my mirrors. Sorry, mirror singular. Muuuuch better than losing my contact lenses because of a torn backpack zip in Eliye last year…

Only disadvantage is that my tools are inside the bag – making them hard to access during the day. They would be more ideally placed in a tank bag.

I also had a very light backpack for my water, snacks, first aid kit and power bank.

Djo has a cool saddlebag combination from Red Mamut, allowing him to store his clothes separately from the kitchen and camping equipment. It also has separate pockets for first aid kit and tools. So where we don’t camp, he can just remove the bag with his clothes and has an easier time packing in the morning than I do – my bag needs packing from scratch every single day.

Bike love?

A 1,300km rough off-road ride is not a joke on any bike.

Carrying tools, yes, sure. But do we even know if we really have all the tools for our bikes? Does that spanner which I have actually fit between that awkward plastic and metal to tighten that nut?

Check bearings, fork, suspensions and seals – and don’t be afraid to replace things before departure. Consistent use of thread lock or even use of lock nuts in crucial spots would have been really ideal (giving myself a side eye for this oversight) and saves you time on a daily bolt check. Carrying extra spark plugs and throttle/clutch cables is key. We had a full puncture repair kit incl. pump and tire levers. And the nail polish.

Medical side of things?

How’s your nutrition and fitness generally? I don’t mean lifting weights but having endurance for many 12-hour days in a row. While on the road, staying hydrated is a major strategy to safe riding. If you’re not peeing, take 10 minutes and finish a whole bottle of water, please. Start and finish your day with an extra litre. A few sachets of ORS are standard. First aid kit and skills (!) are a must. We didn’t plan to need to remove ticks from our bodies, but indeed the 1st aid kit had tweezers. An air evacuation cover is obviously ideal and rather affordable.

Knowing the route and directions?

20km up here can take 2 hours as we impressively proved enroute to Lokitaung. We used several apps with different map material to piece together our route before departure (MapsMe, Gaia and Google Maps Satellite view). In addition, we always confirmed on the ground whenever possible, even the most basic information about the terrain, road, distance, weather, safety etc. As expected, the more relevant intel comes from local riders, not people who use cars. We got it wrong a few times. Gathering info from other riders is also helpful, as panya routes exist that are not on Maps. 

Excited to find out what went down on the remaining half of the trip?

Continue with Part 2 here (link) for the deets on the Marsabit and Samburu adventures with some incredible moments with 6 million year old fossils, riding through Sibiloi National Park, advanced mechanical challenges and some bone-shattering night rides!

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Travels & Trips

Night ride to Naks

I get extremely delayed that day and leave my house at 6:35pm. The plan was to sleep at Lake Bogoria but reaching there is now impossible. I could still make it to Naivasha! For various reasons I cannot delay this ride (get the Turkana trip madness that follows here) so I summon all my concentration and head out.

As I ride up towards Limuru, it dawns (dusks?) on me that this is my first real night ride. On the highway I hate most riding on!

Turns out most traffic is coming up from Nakuru and few cars are going down.

I stop for the mandatory viewpoint picture. It’s actually really pretty watching the lights of cars lined up like perls along a road down the escarpment.

The photo sucks. I know. But try it. It’s beautiful



Most vehicles traveling in my direction are trucks. Which I don’t mind because they provide great shelter from oncoming random overtakers.

One I love most. We’re doing well at 60 together, him unknowingly making sure I’m perfectly safe from oncoming mats, though on the uphills at 30kmh I’m extremely tempted to overtake and bounce. My cam isn’t recording but I feel the urg to have a picture of the back of the truck. It’s written The Chosen One and so I stick it out on the slow uphills and we’re at Soko Mjinga before I know it!

He pulls over and 10 workers surround the truck in what I assume will include arranging of vegetables.
I stop behind him and innocently pull out my phone to take a snap.



Big mistake! My Kikuyu is, eh, limited, but clearly the crowd is not impressed. On seeing I’m white they address me in Swahili and I assure them that the truck driver is my friend and decide to bounce before it gets tricky.

The road down the escarpment to Naivasha is fairly empty. I’m actually enjoying this and see myself in Nakuru before 10. Remembering that the last 12km before Naivasha have bumps, I stick with what my headlight can illuminate: 55ish.

Mid lane position. I spot an oncoming badly lit truck. But I do see it. The black SUV behind me clearly doesn’t. I can hear the engine right in my blind spot and in that split second wonder why exactly the driver decides to overtake me now, while the previous and the following minute he would have a free lane for his stunts. Obviously he’d reconsider and get back into his lane!

You know what happens next: He squeezes between me and the truck. I hoot and slow to 35 or so. Ride on the white line. My side mirror scratches the car’s side. My bike wobbles. He passes me and slows down. Yeah. Slows down AFTER nearly pushing me to fall. Not BEFORE. It’s like he’s checking his mirror before speeding off.

Drivers don’t realise that stopping to apologize and paying for the damage would go a long way. Their story line is their car being burnt by a boda mob, which obviously happens once against every 10,000 cases of hit and run which leave bikers injured or dead or stuck with repair costs, often without their income generating asset.

I stop on the narrow gravely side of the road to breathe and realize there’s a 3 metre deep ditch. The mirror’s glass is gone. Riding to Nakuru without a mirror now? The adrenaline is still pumping through my body. It’s not a safe spot to park.

I enter town and shops are being shuttered. I chat up some bodas at a stage. Naweza pata spares mahali saa hii? It’s only 9, mapema sana.

David leads me to a busy garage where I get a new side mirror mounted in under a minute (zile za soo mbili). It’s not my model but does the job. My digital dashboard excites them and we chat a bit. I’m told that between riding to Naks during the day or the night, one is likely to choose night. David refuses to take some little fuel cash from me. This is biker to biker support.

I continue to Nakuru and it’s a breeze. The moon is bright and the shadows of acacia trees are gorgeous.
It helps that I know the route well to feel safe cruising with the trucks and mats. Weighbridge, Gilgil, Kikopey for selfies with my new mirror.

What a close shave.


I enter Naks and Maps guides me to the first best Hotel I picked from Google. I text David a thank you, affirming that I made it.

So I tried a new thing. Exhale!

This was Day 0 of my “round Lake Turkana” ride with Djo. Get the whole 12 days blow by blow account here. He’s an observant traveller, experienced adventure biker, fantastic writer and even better photographer… You MUST subscribe to his stories!

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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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Travels & Trips

Loiyangalani, finally!

The Eastern shore of Lake Turkana has fascinated me for long. The many conversations with riders about their South Horr and Loiyangalani adventures had caused some major FOMO and my curiosity was through the roof after my recent Lodwar/Eliye (blog here) and Samburu (Mt. Ololokwe) rides (blog post here).

But I had quite some respect and wasn’t keen on doing it alone. My concerns included having a puncture in the heat and managing the rocky terrain in crosswinds.

But June was coming, and an adventure was due! A friend and I put together our thoughts of touring Samburu: Going up via Laisamis, spending some time hiking Ndoto Mountains around Ngurunit (watch this video that inspired us!), then coming down via South Horr and Maralal.

Then Shakir, another adventure rider pitches his idea of going to Loiyangalani passing Chalbi. I’m excited about riding with him, because he’s easy going and there’s a lot to learn from him.

We put together our dates and route ideas and came up with a 6-day riding route: Maralal-South Horr – Loiyangalani – Ngurunit – Archers Post – Nairobi. Then we decide to add two tourism days in there to really soak in the beauty of Marsabit and Samburu counties.

The general plan had six riding days (Maralal, South Horr, Loiyangalani, Ngurunit, Archer’s Post, Nairobi) and two tourism days.

In the end, five of us commit to ride together and split the planning and organizing work. After bouncing ideas on a whatsapp group for some weeks, we meet for coffee to discuss the route and expectations.

I’m slightly intimidated by the idea of riding with 3 BMW GS and a KTM, considering my engine is 125cc and it’s not an adv bike I can stand on while riding.  You really don’t want to mess up the group in a hot desert…

Imposter Syndrome is calling! Having hacked Turkana alone, I know that I can summon the mental strength and physical endurance that really matter on such trips.  My bike has off-road tires, an upright seating position, good ground clearance, light enough for me to handle it on sand and allows me to stand up for 5-20 meters on bumpy stretches – so we’re good to go!

Day 0 – Packing & getting the chain tightened

I decide to finish packing at 7am before hitting my desk.

I got myself a 30 liter water and dust proof sack (‘speed bag’) as an upgrade from the backpack plus gunia combination I used in Turkana in December (the zip broke on only 200km offroad, so anything zipped wasn’t going to be a workable solution for what we had planned)

For myself I decide to pack light: 3 t-shirts, 3 sets of underwear, sunscreen, sports bra, bikini. Sneakers and linen pants for the evenings. Laundry soap would get me through the rest!

Health checklist: Besides a first aid kit, I carried mosquito repellant (DEET), pain killers and ORS and H2Pro for hydration. I added UTI antibiotics and an antifungal cream to my kit (the female readers might know why).

Safety Gear: Expecting 35 degrees upwards, I got a new mesh jacket from GearHub (turned out to be the best purchase I did in a while!), and decided to wear my rain gear on top to prevent getting cold on the highway. I declined mesh pants and went with my riding jeans, because they are pretty loose and usually don’t make me feel hot (I also wanted the Kevlar for the eventuality).

Bike: Full tool kit, an extra tube, puncture spray. A team member carried a compressor that is powered by the bike battery.

After a full day of finishing up work, I head out at 6pm to get the chain tightened. I had done a full service last week including replacing brake pads, so felt really confident about the bike. The mech’s watchful eye catches another issue: The left front shock is leaking oil.
Very strange because the Spirit mechanic, who is really experienced had changed the seals just the other week!

Well, here we are at 7pm, spare part shops in my area are closed. The curfew is really not helping.  I’m told to reschedule my trip, as there are no parts.  After making a bunch of calls, parts arrive at 8pm. The front tire is removed, the left seal changed and both shocks balanced with fork oil.  The local mech plus my mech do their best with phone torches (!), after a power cut leaves us in the dark on the road side.

Balancing the fork oil in the front shocks using phone torches… TIK!

I also get a quick carburetor service. It just never hurts.

At 9:15pm I test the bike successfully and head out to get a last accessory from Wambui, a light bag to carry water and snacks for the day.

On the way home I realize that the front brake is not working… Did air get into the brake system when the tire was taken out?

At 22:02 I roll through the gate. I find a fresh bottle of brake fluid which I pack, and ask around for mechanics en route.

Day 1 – to Maralal 330km

We’re heading to the desert, but it’s 15 degrees, drizzle and fog as I pass Limuru.

Fog along Tigoni. Thankfully I am wearing my rain jacket over the mesh jacket!

I arrive at Total Kimende at 8 and am lucky to get a fundi who professionally bleads the brake before the Ngong Road team arrives.

I’m trust inspired, as he does exactly what the guys do on the YouTube tutorials. Minus the safety equipment for skin, eyes and bike…

Avoiding Nakuru highway, we take the Aberdares route to Ol’ Kalou, passing Kinangop and Engineer. I spot a car lying on its roof in a field and we stop to see if we can help. We’re told the driver “is fine” and continue.

We get to Nyahururu by lunch time, fuel up at the Shell (last one until Isiolo!) and eat at the resort with a view on the waterfall.  We get some amazing coffee – maybe the last one for a week?

Iced coffee on the lawn at Thomson Falls Resort

Continuing to Rumuruti, we find smooth tarmac!

Fabulous roads around Ol Kalou. The German beauties are always a sight to the locals.

From Mugie Conservancy onwards it turns into off-road, with some gravel. We stop to soak in the scenery and I get a few tips for dirt road riding.

Lesson 1 – Vision: Look where you want to go.

Staring down at the 2-5 meters directly ahead of you means you slow down and you constantly feel like you’ll be falling.

Where you look is also important in tarmac riding, especially in cornering or with obtacles: Look where you want to go. Don’t look at where you don’t want to go (obstacles, holes, a heap of sand). Vision guides your body and by extension the bike.

But this is a bit different from tarmac, where the vision runs like a movie: On gravel or rocky terrain, you should take mental photography snaps of where you want to pass. On a rocky down hill you see that you will safely pass here and then there and then land there. This allows you to look at least 10-15 meters ahead.

Lesson 2 – The bike knows what it’s doing. But it needs momentum to stay upright

Even when it gets wobbly, the bike with the help of physics will find the best way. In summary, the bike knows what it’s doing. Don’t get in the way by trying to control the steering too much.  Keeping lose hands, and with enough momentum, small and also larger back tire wobbles will straighten out with momentum (this will later be impressively proven by Jimmie on his GS1200Adv in deep sand).

We reach town and stop at a pharmacy where we don’t just pick up antihistamines but also stern security advice about bandits up North. Then we head up a relatively smooth, slightly sandy and narrow path uphill to the beautiful Ngari Hill Ecolodge.

Sunset over Maralal from Ngari Hill Ecolodge

Excited to have made it, I unload my bike. As I tighten the side mirror, I spot an unsightly view: The left shock is leaking oil AGAIN! It occurs to me that getting the seals changed in Maralal would not just delay our departure by several hours, but also lead to no other results. The problem must be the shock itself, not the seals. I consult a few riders who all assure me that I can ride with a leaking fork, as the main job is done by the spring and not the oil. Djo suggests to tie a cloth around the shock to avoid oil on the brake disk. 10 brownie points right there!

Heading out for a 1,000 km adventure with this professional safety patch

Discussion over dinner about what we do if we meet bandits. We appoint one speaker among us, who has worked with communities up North for seven years and knows a few words in different local languages. We agree to stay calm and negotiate our way out.  The hotel staff advise us that it’s safe but we shouldn’t stop, both between Maralal and Baragoi and then Baragoi to South Horr.

Day 2 – Maralal to South Horr – 145km
Part 1 — 100km to Baragoi. Estimated 3.5 hours.

At the gas station we fuel up. As I experienced on my Turkana ride, the tire pressure devices in the North tend to not work. We use the little analogue measuring device that Shakir had brought – it looks like a cigarette.

We agree on a strict formation – no overtaking to keep everyone safe on the off-road. The KTM is leading, I follow suit, and the 3 stronger GS stay at the back

After some confusion which road is the right one, we head North towards Baragoi. The day starts with some basic dirt roads. We ride along a mountain range. Ups and downs, some gravel, some sand, rocky patches, some corrugated patches.

Heading out from Maralal into the mountains

I master 30 to 50, and we move together as a group. I’m trying to pick up speed, as the other 4 zoom through the rough roads standing on their bikes.
It’s a pretty amazing route, feels adventurous riding through tiny settlements and over hills. Suddenly we find ourselves in the wilderness, no more settlements, just nature. 

Maybe 4 or 5 more technical patches with rocks or gravel on downhill. On my Turkana trip I asked a stranger to help me.  Now I use the tips I’m given. And they work! The steeper downhill parts have some cement which is really helpful. Today we descend from 2,500 to 900m altitude (as the GPS will tell us later) and at some point I can feel it in my ears.

Oooops, a wide sandy corner that I hit at 35 where 20 would have been smarter. Serious wobbles but the throttle gets me through.  I’m so excited watching the physics work for me, too!

As I stop for a bio break, a car (the only car we meet that entire day!) stops to check on us. They tell us not to stop anywhere.

View across Suguta Valley

We get to a viewpoint of Suguta Valley. It’s breathtaking and as we hydrate, we goof around to take some photos.  We then realize that we’re looking at the area where over 40 police men were killed when trying to arrest cattle rustlers in 2012.

We finish the mountain range and get to planes. We enter a settlement called Marti, well-guarded by police. As we stop under tree for a water break, within a minute, the entire village rocks up to stare at the bikes and the aliens sitting on these bikes. Suddenly, an older lady shows up and shouts angrily “Turkana, this side!”. The Turkana children rush to go back to their side of the road.  Our friend who used to work in the North for a number of years explains that many of these settlements are separated by tribe: Each has their side of the road and mingling is discouraged. I would never have guessed.

The corrugations :-S

Around 10km before Baragoi, I hear a rattling metallic noise on the right side of the bike. I stop, but can’t spot the problem. Exhaust, footpegs, number plate: Everything seems fine. We continue to Baragoi and I try to ignore the noise.

While fuelling, one of the 30 bystanders points out that my right shock is broken. Actually, it is loose: The shock has come out of the small metal that holds it to the frame. This is stranger than fiction – how would this have happened?

Before I can think, chaos erupts as 6 self-proclaimed fundis fight over who is allowed to fix the issue.  I usually like taking my time to analyze a bike issue and consulting a few brains, before jumping to solutions.  But they energetically bring various spanners (none really fits) and finally bring an adjustable wrench and somehow hammer the shock back in its place. It seems tight and we roll on 50 meters to a lunch place.

I don’t know what this goat had in mind passing our lunch place… But we opted for Pilau, purely for the sake of time

Maslah Hotel is run by a cheerful Somali lady.  She brings Pilau and makes us fantastic spice tea.
An elderly naked man with a massai blanket over his shoulder walks by casually. No one including himself seems to notice.  To make sure I’m not hallucinating, I turn away and look again. He’s strolling up the village road commando. It’s been a good 15 years since I last saw this – it was in Sachsenhausen in Frankfurt.

I know you were all hoping for a picture of the gentleman. But these kids were much cuter!

We have 41km left to South Horr and agree not to stop because of bandits and in order to arrive by 4. Just 1km out of the village, the shock gets lose again. We load my luggage on another bike and continue.

I’m in front. The guys are allowing me to set the pace. I ride sitting on the front tip of the seat and squat/hover more than I sit. No one wants to imagine what would happen if the second shock gave in  (I’m later told that this would have been very unlikely, and the ideal thing would have been to stiffen the adjustable shock).
The bike has much more play on the gravel and sand… Nevertheless I’m doing 45-60 and starting to get the hang of the rough roads.

This was some of the smoother track. As usual, photos never got taken in the more challenging, rocky patches!

The KTM and I keep taking turns on leading the group, helping to keep a good pace, where one gets tired.
The green picks up. Finally some houses. Breathtaking scenery with mountains and trees.
I stop outside a church and chat up some locals. My swahili gets flawless once I leave Nairobi. Aha. So this is South Horr!

Entering South Horr from Baragoi sides. What an oasis!!

But where is the team? They were right behind me the entire time. My KTM comrade and I make a few calls to find that one of the GS has a puncture – on a tubeless tire.

He returns to support them as I wait at the beautiful wide river under trees. I play with the kids and chat with the church elders. A pleasant place and I can see myself staying an extra night or two doing yoga by the river all day, if the bike can’t get fixed to continue to Loiyangalani.

Kiddos and I outside the church at the river crossing in South Horr

I get the number of a mech who has welding equipment and call him up to make sure he doesn’t lock up early on a Sunday. He’s called Kimani. Aha. All the way up here. Facepalm moment.

A part of my shock is aluminium (so can’t be welded), so they chop up an old shock they got lying around and weld it to mine. It fits!

Kimani and his team run the garage on a generator, given South Horr is off-grid

The left shock is now leaking some oil from the double work over the last 60km, but I decide that there’s nothing to do here. The mechanics are professional but rather high on something. Donkeys walk around the garage and the village’s bodas assemble to watch.

Around 6pm I test my bike. It works like magic!
Fixing the puncture turns out much harder as the hole can’t be found. They put a tube into the tire (thankfully we had one!) which is taking some time. So I’ve got a few minutes to take a few selfies along the river.

Some ugali is required to pop this wheel

Just before sunset, we take some deep sand to the guest house.

Lesson 3: Lesson 1 and 2 also work on sand!

We check into the guest house. (Dashalama Guest House at 1k per person and night). The entire town is off-grid, so we charge the phones on the solar. Only one shower works at a time, but we all manage to remove the dust and sweat of a long day!

One of us heads out with the cook to speed up dinner, chooses two chicken to be killed and does his best to find a halal butcher. Great conversations on the rooftop looking at the stars, while the team prepares the chicken and ugali from scratch (on one jiko). We have dinner at 10pm. Despite or maybe because of the wait, the chicken tastes fantastic.

Day 3 – Jade Sea – 91km

I wake up at 3:30am with a massive headache.
Nervous?
Vaccine side effects? (got my 2nd shot just 4 days earlier)
Dehydrated?

I consult a few friends and down an entire bottle of water.

We take the deep sand back through South Horr and have rolex and chai for breakfast next to the fundi’s place. In fact, if you ever eat rolex in South Horr, you’ll know its cooked by our recipe. We call it Rolex GS… Prepared with kienyeji eggs. So yummy.

By 9 we’re on the road and pass the sandpit of South Horr a third time heading up North. Relatively smooth road, some corrugations, some slight sand.
We’re picking up speed.

In some heavily corrugated place, my number plate gets stuck in back tire and breaks into two pieces. I had noticed that the back seat is a bit lower due to shock issue but this was entirely unexpected! We pick two spanners, remove the number plate and put it in a top box.

If the number plate hadn’t decided to come loose, we wouldn’t have this amazing shot

I send my location to a friend on whatsapp who cheers me on considering that we’ve nearly made it! I leave the rest to get a head-start. I kid you not, 500m later my foot peg breaks and falls off. I stop the bike and take a deeeeeeeep breath. It had broken somewhere last year in Pokot (link to blog post here), and clearly right here, 8,000 kms later is where the welded replacement chuma gave in. I have less than 1cm to rest my foot on, standing impossible, gear changing needs acrobatic skills. What tf is this trying to teach me?

I turn the bike and as the guys catch up I declare “I don’t know if this bike will make it to Loiyangalani today”. They won’t have any of it, stating that we’re all in this together and that it’s easy to go back to South Horr and get it fixed. The entire team returns, meaning 22km and a bunch of sandpits extra for everyone. Positive body and otherwise language. The support from these guys is magical!

I later tell a friend that as a person who’s always there for others I’m still learning to accept unconditional help without my ego feeling triggered. Adventure rides are about the new techniques, the selfies and the scenery, but if you allow, they’re also about humanity, community and the soul.

Grinding and welding again. A new footpeg? I’ve done this before in Marich Pass, so the mech and I agree in a few seconds on the modus operandi. He quickly unplugs the spark plug to avoid a short. Meanwhile, the guys are sorting out a loose handle bar on a GS.

At 11am we head out again.

After an hour, the wind farm road (the road that was constructed for the lorries that carried the 365 turbines up here from Mombasa in 2016) joins us from the right. We’re on a wide and smooth track now. I can feel some wind but not what I expected. The road looks like it was recently cleared or graded. We hit 90 and are cruising happily, leaving dusty clouds behind us. It’s mostly downhill.  There is even some tarmac.

We get to the windfarm itself. Temperature check at the gate (yup, the pandemic is sadly still on!). A few goats and well, the turbines.

Not long after leaving the last turbine, we set eye on the lake. The Jade Sea. The cradle of mankind. Jade is greenish blue and we’re getting the best of it today.
We take photos and videos and goof around.

Finally – We can see the water!

Rolling down to the lake on a cement road, volcanic rubble and hills as far as the eye can reach.

People making a living here for tens of thousands of years. Incredible.

Maps tells us it’s 23km more to Loiyangalani.
Volcanic rocks of all sizes covers the entire place. From pebble to baby head size to football. This is what I imagine the ride up through Koobi Fora and to Ileret to be like.

It’s hotter and dryer than it looks in this picture!

Based on experienced shared by other riders, I expected a difficult ride through baby head sized rocks trying to stay upright with tons wind. But the universe loves me.
The road was recently cleared. We ride in the tire tracks.
Slight corrugations and gravel and a few rocky patches.

Around 20km before Loiya

It’s difficult, but nothing too technical. An endurance game mostly at this point.
I keep working with the changing territory. Going around 25-35.

One GS is low on coolant and starts overheating so we agree that two of them go faster and so they zoom off and disappear at the horizon pretty fast. The KTM rider heads out, too.

The sweeper is stuck with me.
He’s this patient guy who makes you feel comfortable.
I am 200m ahead of him as he stops at a cliff. I wonder if I should get a headstart or wait for him.
I imagine that he’s taking pics as I move slowly, so I keep going and wait another km ahead on a hilltop.
Good call. He catches up with me but has a front flat. Again.
We call the rest who have all the necessary tools. Our calls are unanswered and we leave texts and decide to keep going at 20-25.
Now I’m sweeping the sweeper and catch a few good snaps as we do the final 10km into Loiya.

Entering Loiyangalani. Again, the pictures are taken on the smooth parts. Don’t be fooled 😉

One group member comes to meet us with the fundi. We head to the hotel through some panya routes and amaze the kids.

Getting to palm shade, I and my luggage look like the desert

We are Dusty (capital D!) from top to bottom. It’s time for laundry!
While it is winter and only 39 degrees hot, I find the soap melted inside the bag.

The puncture is fixed pretty fast, and I sit with the guys to have my first beer in a year. The bitter cold is refreshing and invigorating.

We talk for long this evening as we know we have a rest day ahead. We get to know each other’s stories and backgrounds.

And incredibly diverse group: Not just the bikes range from 125 to 1200cc but also the professional backgrounds, races, religions and the age groups are a colourful mix.
What unites us is the love of adventure and nature and a sense of maturity and responsibility for the wellbeing of the group and trip success.
A few examples: Those sharing a dozen beers an evening were awake before 6am every day, not delaying our early departures by a minute. The Muslim riders went for prayers consistently wherever possible. And Allah was with our group all the way, there’s no doubt.

Day 4 – Tourism day at Lake Turkana
During my last visit to the lake I didn’t visit any of the islands. Central Island with its crocodiles and the crater lake is hours away from Loiyangalani, so we took a boat ride to South Lake Island. We’ve all heard of boat engines failing on the lake, so we took a dual-engine boat recommended by KWS. With 26k it is not a cheap endeavour but affordable if split in a group of 5 or more. The boat can take 5-7 passengers.

We head out on the lake on a bumpy ride riding on and against the waves. We joke about how the boat knows what it’s doing and that the captain is looking where he wants to go. Team Germany and Austria are putting their lives in the hands of Japanese engines today.
Breathtaking scenery on the island itself, we climb up and later watch some crocodiles from afar!

We’re back at 3 for a late lunch. The swimming pool at Oasis Hotel is closed, so we take an easy afternoon and later head down to the lake with some drinks and snacks for sundowner by the lake.

The junction towards North Horr… Maybe another time!

Do you still remember how to make pebbles jump on water? White Cap helped some of us rediscover the technique 😉

Beautiful sunset over the Lake

Day 5 – The sandpits of Ngurunit – 160km

We leave Palm Shade early and fuel at the petrol station in Loiyangalani.

Packing and gearing up for a long day in the sun
There’s now an official petrol station in Loiya. Right at the bus stage

After consulting about the route, we decide to go via South Horr (pretty much the google maps route) and leave the Windfarm road aside, which hasn’t been maintained well as we’re told. A friend texts me “At least you’re becoming better at sand”. Yo!

As the bus to Marsabit goes only every few days, people can book spots in this cargo landcruiser.

Let me also talk about adventure riding while female… How do you manage periods up here? No tree to hide behind and no tap to wash your hands? I’m not a member of team menstrual cups and in city-vicinity tampons tend to do the trick. Pads on motorcycle seats are just not comfortable, but I had no choice other than double layering.
As a responsible group member I choose to tell one of the guys that I might be taking a few extra and longer breaks and why.  I top up the paracetamol level in my body but no cramps on the horizon. Turns out that it’s all doable. Ladies, carry all supplies from home, extra tissue paper or wet wipes and a plastic bag for carrying the litter.

But this doesn’t turn out to be my challenge of the day. Today the WIND (all caps!) has decided to blow. I’m told it’s still nothing compared to other months, but wow. The trick is to counter steer into the wind. The wind keeps changing its direction and intensity so at times you tumble a bit. It’s quite tiring so we take a break once up at the wind farm for a small photo shoot.

Long awaited windy hair shot at Lake Turkana Windfarm Project

We change the formation to allow the GS to lead in order to cool off (low coolant levels). We manage good speeds because we know the road. I’m at the back with the sweeper and we keep stopping for photos and calls of nature.

We enter South Horr through the now well-known sandpit with deep tire tracks. Suddenly, the tire track in front of me climbs up to the left sand wall then veers off to the right.
Some local kid on a boda must have had fun here and I summon all my mental strength to go through it straight and not fly out of the track.

While parking at the lunch place, I mention to my guys about the boda guy who messed up the nice track. Turns out it was our lead, who managed to catch his bike, but a following rider ended up buying some land right there.

Off we head to Ngurunit.  It’s 70km and we estimate 2 hours!

It’s a wide road that changes between light and heavy corrugations between beautiful mountains.

Ngurunit is located in a really beautiful spot. Samburu County easily makes it to the top of the wow list!

We cross at least 5 long luggas (dry river beds with deep sand) and become better each time. 

Lesson 4 – In sand you can’t afford to slow down.  Because then the weight goes on the front tire which then digs into the sand and well – the momentum of the bike destabilizes you. Unintended Dismount follows. So what works?
There’s the easy but steady throttle technique. Works magic esp on lighter bikes. With this, I hacked 50m long deep sand without needing to tap my toes or walk. What an incredible improvement since Eliye Springs in December!!
But even more interesting is the vroooooom technique (I’m sure there’s a better name), where you gas it (short throttle pushes) through the sand (approx 1 to 1.5 twists per second) to raise the front tire and give enough momentum for the wobbly or swerving back of the bike to align and the bike to stay upright (the earlier discussed gyroscopic and other forces). 

And finally, my first fall – a direct result of slowing down in sand, as I turn to enter the gate of our lodging, Golbo Guest House.

Falling in sand is quite fun IF you have protection for shins and ankles.
Because a heavy bike falling on your ankle can mean a fracture or (better scenario) a large and colourful shin bruise… And so I learn about the difference between riding boots and off-road boots on this trip.

Dima runs this chill place with various options: Camping, manyattas and huts with shard bathrooms and self-contained rooms.

Golbo Guest House, very near the Ndoto Mountains

After watching the camels come home that night, we have dinner under a tree. Shakir entertains us with some of his stand-up comedy wins and debacles. This team’s got courage and talent!

Kids in charge of camels is a common sight up North

Day 6 – Through sandpits and tarmac to Archers Post

Today has two parts: 70km off-road to Laisamis and then 130km along the Moyale highway. Based on our calculations we’d easily make it by 4pm if we leave at 11am.

So we have 3 hours to go and see the rock slides and natural pools in Ngurunit. We elect to ride there on a pick-up truck, worried about any accidents or injuries on the homerun stretch. Honestly: If you’ve done well on the rocks and sand so far, you can make it to the rock slides (or rather up to where the car can make it, which is 500m to the pools)! Get directions from this gpx file I recorded here on Wikiloc.

It’s too much fun. We swim in the shallow water and slide again and again on the rock slides. Adults turn kids and we laugh and laugh.  You don’t even need to know how to swim to have fun here.

The natural pools and rock slides near Ngurunit – certainly coming back here!

Back at Golbo Guest house, we pack and gear up and head out towards the East. We pass through 5 or so longer sand pits in total.  Around 40km of the road is heavily corrugated, some with gravel, some with rocks. Today’s ride is becoming a stamina boot camp.

Once you hack sand riding it becomes soooo much fun!!

In Namarei I get one liter of fuel in from a kiosk selling fuel in plastic bottles (160 KES per liter). We meet an upbeat flatbed driver who drove overnight from Nairobi to pick up a car “that kufed up there”. He tells us that there’s a road directly next to the heavily corrugated road. “It’s all sand. Perfect for bikes. You’ll be fine!” (The disbelief was painted all over our faces.)

Sand and more sand. Imagine this place in the rain season, when all the luggas flood!

Then, about 15km to Laisamis we see something dark blue up ahead between the trees: Tarmac!
We pose and take pictures as if we had never seen tarmac before.

A little pre-mature, as there’s another diversion with sandpit ahead where a GS takes a nose dive.

In Laisamis entering the Moyale highway… We head south!

We fuel in Laisamis and have lunch.
Soooooooooo many people!!  It is overwhelming after the week of solitude.

Another 100 clicks on the tarmac to today’s destination. Quite boring riding. The brain is under-stimulated on the smooth tarmac but my playlist gets me through.
As we approach the Wamba junction it gets more scenic: The cat and mouse rock formation to the left. Then a police stop at Mt. Ololokwe. We are told to remove and open all luggage. Yikes.

Along the highway near Mt Ololokwe

Once in Archer’s Post, I lead the team along the 2km to the camp. But who brought all this sand here? I remember a smooth road from my last visit in March!
A split second of confusion at a deep sandy junction, hand off the throttle and I’m down. It’s becoming a joke. I only fall at the gate of the place where we’re staying.

We drop our stuff quickly in the tents and take in the phenomenal views of the Ewaso Nyiro river.

Low water levels in the Ewaso Nyiro river

I’m glad that my recommendation for the Lions Cave Camp is creating happy smiles on my riding buddies’ faces. Rose and her team prepare goat choma and I have my second cold beer in a year, sitting on the cliffs over the river.
(Cheers to Andy for this great tip!)

Day 7 – Tourism day: Game drive

We had hoped to do a game drive in Samburu Reserve. Again, being a group makes this affordable.  We pay 10k for a landcruiser that has 7 window seats.
We see lions (with 2 cubs), zebras (a special breed up here!), giraffes (the reticulated ones), elephants (at least 20 along the river), pumbas, and a whole bunch of different gazelles and birds.

We discuss climate change and listen to tales of a pioneering life-saving operation on a cheetah that our group doctor Jimmie participated in a year ago.

We decide to have breakfast at Elephant Bedroom’s terrace (a lodge) and our driver makes a quick phone call to arrange this for us.

What a delightful and magical finish to our trip!

In the afternoon some nap and others chill along the river.

Day 8 – Back to civilization – The final 320km to Nairobi

We head South through Isiolo and Nanyuki.
At Isiolo I add tire pressure to be back at tarmac levels. It’s the first Shell and working compressor since Nyahururu…
This really makes the point for buying a pump or compressor for adventure trips!

From Timau onwards the 254 drivers are welcoming us back to civilization with the shitty treatment they accord bikes. An oncoming range nearly kills me, a Vitz overtakes me nearly touching my side mirror.

We stop for lunch at Trout Tree.  Delicious food and a great setup. The restaurant is up in the tree on a platform over the trout fishing ponds!!

Somehow I had never been to Trout Tree before!

I part ways with my fellow riding buddies after lunch. How much we have experienced in just 8 days!! I will miss their jokes, the joint meals, the cheerful good mornings and their headlights in my mirror. To more joint adventures!

I’m staying an extra night in Nanyuki (Mianzi Camp) to join the ladies of Women Bikers’ Association for the annual retreat and some exciting strategy discussions and a night around the bonfire.

On the return on Sunday, I want to get off this horrible highway as fast as possible. At Kiganjo, I turn into Nyeri town and catch up with a friend for lunch, then choose the Othaya-Gitugi-Murang’a route back home. Around Gitugi, I get the best of Murang’a county’s scenery and lots of twists.

Entering Nairobi through Thika Road is always fun, when you stick to the right (fast) lane, cruising playfully with the cars and matatus who do accord me and my dusty plate-less bike some level of respect.

Once home, I stuff my clothes into the washing, and calculate my fuel consumption. I used 36.5liters on the 1302km (going by the fuel meters in the petrol stations), which is a 2.8 litre average. Consumption peaked between Loiyangalani to Laisamis (sand and wind?) with around 3l/100km.

Thanks to the amazing team, and to everyone who shared knowledge and cheered me on before and during this trip. You know yourselves 🙂

To more adventures!

Categories
Travels & Trips

Samburu ride: Stargazing on Mt Ololokwe

Have you seen those pictures of bikers posing next to Mt. Ololokwe, the table mountain of Samburu? I’ve been wanting to climb this mountain for years. Hiking, riding and swimming is a triathlon I’d sign up for.

“Archer’s Post” just rolls off your tongue in a way that you want to teleport yourself to this Northern Frontier.

Then on a Saturday I decide to finally hit the road. Armed with the knowledge that it’s all excellent tarmac until right next to the mountain, I leave early and reach Sagana at 8:15 without any stops. Boy, the clear views of Mt Kenya’s peaks after Murang’a were amazing.

While having breakfast at the café at Magunas I call the team at Sabache Camp to hear if they can help arrange for guided hiking and camping. They suggest to arrive in time for a three hour hike.

Continuing towards Nanyuki, I somehow missed the right turn at Marua after Karatina (I hadn’t checked the map properly and assumed it’s all straight). As I find myself in Nyeri town I realize my mistake and proceed towards Kiganjo where I enter the highway again. Some nice views and twists but really not a detour I’d recommend if you’re on a tight timeline.

I decide to have some early lunch in Nanyuki in anticipation for strenuous hiking in the heat.
Before Timau I find myself riding through desert locust swarms so I stop for pictures! How frustrating and scary it must be to see them settling on your farmland.

Huge, scary swarm of desert locusts just 12km after Nanyuki, right at the turn for Old Moses

At the Isiolo junction when leaving the Mt Kenya circuit, the North calls with some instant humidity and heat.

I enter Isiolo at exactly 13:59 and pass through rather quickly. When I get to the turn for Wajir and check Maps, I realize just how much of this country I haven’t yet seen!

It had clouded up, but I didn’t expect what happened next: heavy rain and hail. After a few minutes, I spot a house by the roadside and I shelter with a family just before Archer’s Post.

I start to get seriously worried about whether I’ll still be able to hike Mt Ololokwe before sunset. But no way was I going to sleep down at the camp! It is nearly 3pm and I have 50km to go.

350km into my day, I reach the destination and branch off the tarmac at the signpost.

Mt Ololokwe is literally 500m from the highway and Sabache Camp is 2km on sandy off-road. I change from riding to hiking gear, peak up at the steep mountain and watch my guide, a local Samburu Moran put together my camping equipment which he’ll be carrying for me. I carry around 2 litres of water with me and decline another bottle as I’m told that there’s water on top that we can boil. We head out two hours to sunset…

Breathtaking views during the ascent

We cover the first 600m altitude in 90 minutes. It was past 5pm and cloudy so luckily not too hot. During the day, someone may need 2 litres of water just for the climb. The Work From Home lifestyle has me walking at a third of the speed of my guide who’s carrying 20kgs of luggage and is walking in sandals 😂

At some point, as we climb the narrow steep path between rocks and trees, I realize that the ground is not just soil and sand but also digested grass.

Fresh elephant poop! I had no idea that elephants can climb such terrain. But then I know very little about elephants. “What are we going to do if we bump into an elephant?” – The highly confident and a little daaah answer: “I’ll just throw stones. That’ll scare the elephant!”. Who am I to doubt someone who grew up around this mountain?

A natural water source hides behind trees on the mountain top. Quite muddy but good for cooking.

Once at the hill top, it’s another 3km of slight ascent to get to the flat rocky part with the best view. We arrive with the last sunrays and pitch the tent. While my guide collects dead wood and lights a bonfire, I devour my packed lunch from Nanyuki and watch the stars.

Thankfully all my curious questions were answered freely this evening and I got some interesting insights into Samburu culture.

After I had somewhat missed the sunset, I was really looking forward to the sunrise. But first, a night of wild camping at the mountain top. It got chilly but I was cozy in the tent and a good sleeping bag. There’s no clean water or toilet so wet wipes come in handy. Please plan to take your garbage back down.

The sunrise comes at 6am and unveils breathtaking views towards Isiolo, Mt. Kenya and across the Samburu plains.

Camping spot sent by the universe
Panorama shot

We then return via the same route with some amazing views.

The mountain has 4 routes to climb from, and for the convenience of storing bike and gear, I had chosen Sabache Camp. It would be quite possible to arrange with the community directly, and use other routes and I’ll be happy to link interested travellers up. Your bike might be excited to sleep in a manyatta!

After a bucket shower and an overpriced breakfast at Sabache I head out for the mandatory pictures and then head back South to Archer’s Post.

My next stop is Lion’s Cave Camp in Archer’s Post for a chill afternoon by the Ewaso Ngiro river. I found it easily found via Google Maps (satellite view) and there’s also local signage.

Rose and her team are doing a great job being welcoming and friendly. Clean place with glamping or camping options. 3k for glamping with own bathroom. I found 1500 for a tent with full bedding a great deal. The mbuzi choma was finger licking delicious, and the location by the river is divine.

Crocodiles and sharp rocks near your only water source? The skills acquired through the traditional local lifestyle are on another level!

Day 3: Back to Nairobi – 300km

Monday morning is surprisingly busy on the Isiolo highway: Sacks of charcoal lined up along the road, a few dozen soldiers jogging (one with crutches), 3 UK army convoys rolling up North. Okay, in all honesty, the road is so empty that I nearly start talking to flies.

Old bridge at Archer’s Post

After a quick poll on the Inked Sisterhood chat group, to turn my left at the Isiolo junction and go back via Meru to switch things up. Beautiful smooth riding through green hills and some nice curvy roads! I wouldn’t go as far as calling them Twisties, though.

Nithi bridge blackspot defused. Boy, was I happy that I had the road to myself!

From Chuka onwards, the road becomes busier, it starts raining heavily and as the road is narrower than the Nanyuki road I can’t overtake much and take quite long until I get to Makuyu.

Once on the main highway, I immediately get a few rude reminders of just how impatient and inconsiderate drivers can be. Sigh!!

From Thika onwards: empty roads until I get to Chiromo and hit Waiyaki Way traffic. I reach home around 4pm relatively dry (hurray for carrying rain gear!).

Total fuel: 1,867 KES on 720km. My Spirit 125cc motorcycle did the trick again: Fast enough to get me around, good handling on the off-road pieces, really fuel efficient and very handsome on photos.

This is a great 3-day trip. With more leave days I would have extended the trip through detours to Wamba, Ngurunit/South Horr, Marsabit or side routes around Meru or Matuu. Each ride adds 3 new rides to my list! 😜