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Travels & Trips

Kigali to Nairobi via Fort Portal (Western Uganda)

My month in Rwanda is coming to an end. Beautiful riding and new friendships. I enjoy Kigali’s bars and cafes with views across the many hills.

But Nairobi is calling.

I want to use the back route and explore Western Uganda, avoiding the main highway. I take leave and have around six days to get back home; covering around 1500km.

To be honest, I didn’t plan much. I just wanted to float.

How it ended up going:

Want to catch up on how I got to Rwanda? Here are the earlier episodes:

Now a solo return to Nairobi – using the scenic route!

Day 31: Leaving Kigali

That was fast. Or maybe I have just figured out the border procedure by now.

Remember to keep left – you’re back in Uganda now!

By the time I arrive in Kabale, it’s raining. The mountains North of Kabale are covered in thick clouds. I put on the rain gear and ride up North navigating the twisties carefully.

Quick photo stop at the arguably most important statue in East Africa. It gets hot again!

The road branching off left at Ntungamo towards Fort Portal does not look very inviting. It’s narrower and a bit pot-hole-ish and cloud towards Rwenzori Mountains are increasing. I’m torn. The whole point is adventure. Remembering the thousand rumble strips on the main highway and violent drivers, I turn left.

I spot some crater lakes on Maps and note it’s 79km to go. A little more than an hour without photo stops. I hit the road.

It never works without photo stops. And rain gear stops.

At some point I get to a roundabout. There’s a left and a right turn, but no straight. There is a Shell petrol station. The first one for a month, as there’s no Shell in Rwanda. I get excited for a minute. V-Power! Civilization!

Then it dawns on me that there should not be a roundabout on my 79km. And no T-Junction. Something is off. I pull out my phone and realize I didn’t press Start on Maps, and missed a right turn. I’m 30 rainy km off in the wrong direction. And how is it 3pm already?

Great. But there is a road up North which I decide to follow.

Until.

Yes, I can continue straight. Through 30km hilly offroad on a rainy day. Or not. I decide to backtrack to the junction I missed.

It’s 4pm now. And from here it gets PRETTY!!

At Ishaka the road from Mbarara joins us from the right. The whole area has very sensible tarmac and very little traffic.

I pass a bunch of crater lakes, each worth a visit and picnic. Then I pass some viewpoints and ride down into empty vast Savannah.

Queen Elizabeth National Park! A Ugandan biker had recommended Kazinga Camp but they are booked out. I find Tembo Lodge on Maps and ride in.

Even a welcoming (!?) hippo! I am given a sensible rate for room and dinner, and decide to spend the night here. But not before exploring the rough road into the National Park with the remaining sunlight.

It’s beautiful sunset riding, but sadly I get to the park gate within minutes. “Bikes are generally not allowed, but exceptions can be made.” Understandably, this is not an option at night…

The team at Tembo has three vegetarian dinner options. It’s yummy but the ten thousand lake flies make me flee to my room very fast after dinner.

Day 32: Rwenzori Mountain Range and Fort Portal

Tourism day! 114km to Fort Portal – all along the Rwenzori Mountains, maybe stealing glances at the glaciers and peaks above 5,000m.

If yesterday’s scenery and empty roads are anything to go by, today will be beautiful!

In Kasese town I get into a misunderstanding at the Total petrol station. I have to ride and get cash from an AMT, as my VISA card is not accepted. The attendant follows me closely on a boda so I don’t escape with the 5 litres of petrol.

It’s all very beautiful scenery and peaceful riding. I filter through Booking.com and pass by the recommended The Dutchess to check out the rooms and vybe. There’s a room with a shared bathroom within my budget, and I bump into the manager who gives me some tips to explore the area in the afternoon.

He’s not as enthusiastic about me riding to Ntoroko, a fishing village at Lake Albert, and mentions the UG-DRC border being more volatile and less hospitable due to smuggling activities. What looks like a cute peninsula along the lake according to him is an overgrown area, with no café or restaurant and is not a place to make friends – if at all I want to go there, I could ride to the UWA (the KWS equivalent) bandas, take a photo and return without talking to anyone to avoid trouble!

I’m of course tickled to do it anyways, but then he raises another idea: A hidden escarpment, with an offroad ride through some mountains to hot springs.

Now that sounds like a sensible afternoon!

I cannot wait to offload the luggage and head out!

Quickly leaving Fort Portal behind heading westwards

In the hostel there was a mention of an escarpment. But in no way did I expect to find this:

What heaven! It gets better with each corner. The tarmac is washed out in some spots by the rain, but it’s 99% great.

The valley is very beautiful too. Soon I’ll have to decide if I turn right towards Lake Albert or go straight to the Hot Springs.

Hot springs it is. Before long, the “old road” branches to the left. A chance to explore some off-road? I’ll take it.

There are some houses and farms. I stop to greet a boda who tells me I shouldn’t bother with the route. It’s steep. He and his passenger both fold their arms indicating a 45% gradient. I tell him I want to try it. He eyes my tires and says “Okay, but be careful.” But of course, yes!

It takes me a good hour for the 15kms over the Buranga Pass, mostly because I take a hundred photos in all angles. The map is thoroughly confusing. I can see the tarmac road directly below me but I’m at least 400m above it! How on earth will I get down? Just how steep will that squiggly road be?

It’s getting late, so I get to practice some of the cornering techniques Grace and her team showed me… and before long I get to the tarmac near the Hot Springs.

There’s a small river somewhere along this green space, it’s the border to DRC. In fact, at some point my phone roams on DRC network and adjusts the time backwards by an hour – confusion much!

I stop at the junction to the old road to buy some water and catch up with the bodas. My guy is also there and nods in acknowledgement. I now think he hasn’t been to that other side in a while.

The sunset across the valley is just the killer!

Usually you wait for the road to clear to take pictures. This place is deserted. So I wait for some minutes just to get some action on the cam!

Day 33: Fort Portal to Kampala

I don’t know what to expect. A Ugandan biker had suggested that I go via Hoima instead of taking the direct road. “The Government is constructing the road”. This would add 100km to my route to 400km total. I want to maximize the time in Kampala with my friend and her kids.

The first 30km are BEAUTIFUL! Smooth tarmac through tea plantations. Then it gets a little rough, but nothing too bad with the right playlist (Thank you, nani!)

Just around 100km into my day, I find there’s not much tarmac left around the potholes. You can imagine what cars and trucks do if they find crater-like potholes on their side of the road and there’s “only” a motorbike on the oncoming lane.

My plan to arrive in Kampala for lunch is out of reach, as I’m averaging 40/50 only.

And it gets worse as I get closer to construction. Or rather, the road was graded in anticipation for construction. It’s many kilometers of gravel with dust.

Finally, I pull up at the petrol station at Mityana. I’m covered in dust. The water I drink tastes dusty. The bike has a dust layer – which just looks horrible on a red shiny bike!   My first attempt at a non-earth coloured bike – I might be too lazy for this in the long-run… I try to clean the helmet and visor without scratching it.

A white guy chats me up, who is caging and stayed in the same hostel in Fort Portal. The Shell staff can’t agree whether the road continues as bad or gets better from here.

It turns out to be better from here onwards and I reach Kampala by 3pm.

The roads in Western Uganda were fairly empty, much safer than the main highway through Masaka. Now it’s just a quick 20km dash on the Northern Bypass to my friend’s place. An overspeeding SUV overtakes me closely in my line while I overtake a slow truck. Completely and unnecessarily putting me at risk. There’s something about Ugandan roads that takes some adjusting.

My friend welcomes me warmly and we catch up on life over dinner! Steamed Matooke and G-Nut Sauce!

Day 35: Back to Kenya

How close to Nairobi can I get? It’s 650km!

I leave Kampala early with plans to have breakfast in Jinja and by miracle reach Nakuru today. Same route as five weeks ago!

After fuelling in Mukono, I head out Eastwards towards the forest. The roads are empty, and aside from some slow moving trucks I’m making good progress.

In Jinja, I want to try a local hipster looking breakfast joint I had scouted online (The Hangout Jinja). They unfortunately don’t allow me to park inside the compound and I don’t feel like parking on the road with my luggage strapped on the bike. I find my way to Java instead where the askari waves me to park next to his chair at the main door.

Around 10am I head out from Jinja with plans to reach Busia by 12.

As I pull up at the border in the same parking spot, the same cop stands guard. She asks me where my friend is. I admit that I left her behind somewhere in Rwanda. She must see a lot in this job, because she just nods. Border clearing is quite fast, but I cannot find my Safaricom SIM card anywhere. I had made a little paper envelope for it, which is torn. Damn it!

After navigating the horribly rough road welcoming people to Kenya, I spend 45 minutes at Busia’s Safaricom outlet to get the SIM card replaced. I have all kinds of currencies on me, but zero KES. You just never know. m-pesa is water and water is life.

From Busia to Luanda the road is empty. At the Shell in Luanda, the attendant asks me where my friend is. I admit that I left her behind somewhere in Congo. The guy looks at me with big eyes. Havana, we must have left quite an impression!

In Kisumu I ride through town, leaving the bump-infested bypass aside. It’s sunny and hot. It’s four days to elections and I expected campaigns but nothing much is going on.

Lunch!

From Ahero, I continue towards Muhoroni. Clouds are gathering over the mountains. I consider the Kericho route, but don’t see myself escaping the rain either way.

The rain starts in Koru and sunlight ends right after.

I have around 40km left to Londiani Junction. I meet a bunch of bikers who are heading westwards this Friday evening (for elections?). My gloves are soaked and Riftvalley August nights are chilly! At some point I stop on the road side and pull up booking.com on my phone and filter through the accommodation options. To reach Nakuru I’d have to use the highway and I wasn’t feeling it on a Friday night on wet roads.

I find a decent looking place and navigate there with my last 4% of battery. The road is a disaster, with a million potholes and deep trenches at the edges.

And this is how I find myself in Molo that night. Molo! Go figure!

The manager at Green Garden Lodge tells me to use a small connection road from Molo to the main highway, as the Molo road itself gets even more horrible up to Nakuru.

Day 36: Molo to Nairobi

In my wisdom I had packed one change of clothes in my small bag, and don’t need to repack the big bag that morning.

I leave before breakfast and navigate to the highway

I find the Molo stretch empty, the Gilgil area empty, the Delamere area empty. Miracles happen!

After breakfast in Naivasha the emptiness continues. It’s spooky. This highway is never this clear – and it’s 3 days to elections!

Well of course from Soko Mjinga it gets busier, but I travel behind a truck and all goes well.

Nevertheless, I am happy as I reach the Limuru swamp. There’s this little road safety statue on the left side, a completely destroyed car which aims to remind drivers to be careful.

And BOY did we have some bad encounters on this trip.

A total of 1530km since I left Kigali.

I am mesmerized from the beauty I saw in Western Uganda. I’d love to do it again and explore some of the valleys more, maybe hop over to DRC, though maybe with a faster bike.

I had religiously taken photos with the relieve app during the last 1200km of the trip. Around 80 or so pics. Now it turns out that the free version of relieve only allows 10 photos per video. So I activate the free trial of the paid version which only allows 50 photos. I end up removing many nice photos. What crap! I create and download the video and delete the app.

Whoever had a question about the Spirit’s top speed, here comes your answer!

Here’s the video link.

Thank You!

Thank you Havana for inviting me on this incredible adventure and your friendship!

To the new friends made in Rwanda and Uganda, we shall soon ride together again.

To Paul, so many bikers and non-bikers have reached out to me and shared their recovery wishes.

Thanks to the bikers and WBA who have been so enthusiastic about putting together a first responder training with me, so that we can be well-prepared for the eventualities. For August we’re running a safety campaign, learning more about the many puzzle pieces of safety on two wheels. (Get the videos on IG under the hashtag #safetyWithWBA — link)

For my little virtual escort whatsapp group and everyone who kept checking in along the journey: Thanks for being available, for commenting on my photos and keeping me company even if you had mad FOMO in the office 🙂

Dear Reader, thanks for joining me on my first trip outside Kenya and hopefully not the last! Please comment on this post with more idea and experiences for great routes!

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Categories
Travels & Trips

Rusizi & Nyungwe escapades

What’s the plan for the weekend?

We have to extend our temporary bike import permits. They were only valid for two weeks. This can be done at any customs office of Rwanda Revenue Authority. Now, we’re around 100km in any direction from the next office.

We went North to Gisenyi last weekend (get the story here) and decide to go South to the Rusizi border for the paperwork.

We get up early and head out before 6am. The goal is to get to Nyungwe Forest for lunch, as we missed to see this famous forest last weekend.

It gets more beautiful by the minute!

Not everyone’s awake yet fully. At one of the many sunrise photo stops, a side stand is MIA and Mugabe goes back to sleep. His left eye comes off in the process.

I can’t figure out how to fit it back to the holder and we end up taping the lamp to the bike – at least the cable won’t get damaged by dangling along the hundreds of km we have ahead.

See how the road snails along the lake? Incredible riding!

There’s a long steep downhill and I’m riding behind one of those ninja cyclists who’s flying downhill at high speeds… I’m trying to keep up with him in the corners and my odo hits 72 as I spot the speed camera and let him go 🚲 💨 😂

After 90km of beautiful twisty riding we enter the RN6 highway that connects Butare to Rusizi/DRC

And then it gets really chilly and I instinctively know what comes next

Time for roadside breakfast overlooking tea plantations

Before long we descend back down to the Lake and enter Rusizi town. This is the Southern end of Lake Kivu and a river is separating Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo here.

Within two minutes we arrive at the border point Pont I (There’s also a Pont II)

We park and look for the customs office. Upon presenting our objective, we’re informed that yes, it can be done here, but we will need to pay the fee in cash and only in USD. What on earth? How unexpected. All we have is MoMo.

We find a momo agent, a forex and get a sensible rate

From here the procedure has several steps, including showing our logbooks, a physical bike inspection, taking of photos, approvals, printing of a new permit and another approval step.

In short: a lot of waiting

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Ladies and Gentlemen: The Congolese border has running water in the toilets – unlike Busia!!

Similar price: 200 RWF (20 bob) and I’m told “Il faut payer” – slightly more polite than “Lipa Kwanza” but same message.

We find out that the paperwork can only be extended by one month at a time. If you plan to use your foreign vehicle in Rwanda, you’ll be making regular trips to customs offices.

After around 90 minutes: Success! Our bike permits are extended and we pass by Emeraude Kivu Resort for coffee and ridiculous views across the lake, river and Bukavu town on the DRC side.

Next stop: Nyungwe Forest!

It’s about 60km to Uwinka Visitors’ Center and beautiful relaxing riding.

We enter a huge dense forest, the highway cuts right through it!

To enter the Canopy Walk we will have to wait for two hours, because there’s no guide available. 3pm? That should be our departure time if we want to get home with sunlight.

We decide that a selfie will have to do

They have a nice cafeteria built into the trees so we order drinks, then chill and enjoy the green views

Tish and Chiri join us for lunch.

It’s been two weeks since we rode together from Gatuna! Lots to catch up on.

No, I wasn’t the only one talking!

It takes the restaurant 90 minutes to prepare 4 burgers, so we head out quickly after lunch

And what an epic collection of bikes awaits us!

We have 115km to get back to Kibuye. There’s enough food in the fridge and room for guests – we invite the guys to join us at the lake house.

The forest is foresting. On departure we get rained on for 10 minutes and maneuver a loooong wet snakey downhill safely. At the turn back towards the lake we leave the clouds behind and the ride back is divine. The golden sun rays hit the mountains from the right angle!

Before long we get to the hair pin turn we saw in the morning. Breathtaking! Isn’t this the perfect place for a drone shot?

Tish rides ahead. Doesn’t the iPhone take good snaps?

Staying alert is becoming difficult. 290km of cornering is not a joke in terms of concentration!

We reach home just before sunset and goof around taking pictures

I’ve been drooling over the golden Transalp XL 700V over the last two weeks 🤤. I’m shy riding her but so excited that I can actually lift the bike while having one foot flat on the ground. One day 😇

A short sunset cruise around Kibuye town to top off the day.

The friendly soul who contributed an amazing reggae playlist to this beautiful evening: Barikiwe!

I know you’re all curious what happened. Well, there were beers involved, and stories and incredible kienyeji chicken. The muscly huge type that even has meat on the neck.

I can tell you about the morning, though. Because I wake up at 5:45 with the first sunrays, totally famished. I grab some chicken and enjoy the sunrise on the veranda. Then I go back to bed for two hours to catch up on sleep.

When I wake up the second time, the guys have whipped up an amazing breakfast. Next we sort out a few issues on our bikes including Mugabe’s left eye.

There is a general hangover in the air and we shelve the idea of riding each other’s bikes around town.

Before long, it’s goodbye, as the guys have at least 3 hours to arrive back to Kigali.

What a chill and beautiful weekend ride! 291km for us, and a total of 466km for the gents. And two speed tickets 🙈

PS: Curious about the return trip to Nairobi? I went through Western Uganda and it was breathtaking

PPS: There’s nothing like receiving July weather memes from Nairobi sitting under blue sky in the sunshine.

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Travels & Trips

Up and down Lake Kivu

This month I’m working from my friend’s house at Lake Kivu. Over the weekends, we wish to explore the beauty of Western Rwanda together on two wheels!

Havana and I rode to Kibuye, Karongi district from Nairobi. You can read all about the 1373km trip through Uganda, incl. our preparations check-list on this earlier post.

Kibuye/Karongi town itself is rather quiet, and has a rural feeling to it. The main feature is the lake. It’s just sooo beautiful 😍

Some impressions of town:

The lake so awesome! One night we go for a sunset photo shoot.

And before long – Weekend 1 is here!

We plan to ride South to the famous Nyungwe Forest on Saturday morning, and ride through Butare back to Karongi. The return route will include an 80km off-road stretch. We decide to split it into two days and find a nice place to stay in Nyungwe Forest and make an advance booking.

The plan:

(Spoiler: It never happened like this…)

Two long days in the saddle again? We’re still suffering from the 3 long days on our bikes on the way here! We’ve been sleeping early to combat fatigue and be effective at work. One evening I decide to scavenge facebook for a massage place. We succeed and book two deep tissue massage therapy sessions for Saturday morning. They are back to back because there’s only one therapist, but by 11:30 we plan to be on the road!

Lovely place. Friendly team!

While Havana is having her treat(ment), I head out fuel the bike and then tighten the chain. It just takes 3 minutes and I was honestly too lazy during the week.

The chain situation

I pull out my spanners. I quickly realize that the chain cannot be adjusted further with typical means. The back axle is at its furthest point out. 😲 Kids assemble and watch me curiously while I think.

Havana shows up from her massage incredibly relaxed while I’m getting some advice from my friend in Nairobi about the chain issue. Can I find a fundi to remove a few links? Will it be tight on the back sprocket or is it just too worn out?

We agree that it’s not worth risking to head out like that and call our trusted local boda to point us to the right fundi.

He’s somewhere near the main bus park. Yes, that’s the main bus park of Karongi town. See your life!

Havana makes new friends while the fundi gets to work

We’re welcomed and the chain is out in 5 seconds

Fundi turns into dentist and knocks out two chain links

The old chain is stretched too much. It’s not sitting neatly on the sprockets whatsoever. This is not great!

There’s something I haven’t yet mentioned about Rwanda. The language is Kinyarwanda, which I don’t speak or understand. If you interact with the common man you gotta figure out how to communicate – remember that you’re the guest here! Some people speak some Swahili, others speak some English, and there’s also a bit of French (but my French is just too rusty).

Around my bike we have our trusted swahili speaking boda who doesn’t speak english, the fundi who speaks a little english but no swahili and around ten bystanders who speak in hushed Kinyarwanda to each other. We make the triangle communication work somehow and add in just enough pointing and sign language to cook up a plan.

There’s a new Chinese-made chain with the right specs (as per the manual!) available. It’s 10,000 RWF, approx 1150 bob. Our friend in Kigali calls his fundi but we can’t seem to find a Honda chain and sprockets in Kigali fast enough, so we go with this one. It fits like a glove!

Kinyarwahilinglish is a perfectly functioning language!

As I pay, the fundi tells me he is still new and has a lot to learn. I found his chain work sensible and encourage him to check out youtube videos but he lacks a smart phone.

We take selfies and bounce!

The Plan, version 2

It’s nearly 1pm, so we can’t do the original plan anymore. We agree to do a quick dash up the border town Gisenyi, close to Goma. It looks like an epic route with a million twisties!

We head out from the fundi and ride up the hill leaving town. In the first corner I realize that my back braking power is zero. At least I know what’s going on. My DIY mentor would be so proud of me. I stop to adjust the drum brake’s cable that is now totally loose given the back axle was moved all the way front.

Now we should be set! Let’s head out!

A final glance at the incredible view across Lake Kivu! Soon, the road moves away from the Lake and we ride through a mountain range. It’s just corner after corner for an hour. We get ino a good riding rhythm with some photo stops, happy smiles as we both bob our heads to our playlists.

There are deep trenches along the roadside. An amazing rain water management system along the slopes. Some good thinking was put into constructing these roads!! We get the purpose but it doesn’t make it less scary in corners…

Roads are fairly deserted but one thing that stands out are the well behaved mini buses ferrying people and goods from town to town. We also meet small children chilling out in the trenches and watching us curiously. Some jump on the road in excitement and wave. The speed limit makes sense after all!

The views!

It looks like it might rain. We’re trying to make mile but it’s also really cold suddenly, so I stop to put on my windproof rain jacket over my mesh jacket.

And then:

Are we in Karirana!? Wow! The last thing I expected were tea plantations. I start wondering what came first: the cold or the tea!

We should be close to Gisenyi now, and soon descent back down to the Lake!

Can you spot the Lake in the distance? We haven’t seen a lot of people on this afternoon’s route, but now the road is getting busier. Lots of people are walking. Many bicycles ferrying cargo and very few bodas.

We enter Gisenyi and cruise along the lake shore

Passing by a brewery!

We are at a few hundred metres away from Goma, Eastern DRC! How epic is this!? We HAVE to take a selfie at the border! I put the border post on my Google Maps and bluetooth guides us down a road until we reached a well-armed and closed barrier.

We are a bit puzzled. Are we even allowed to take photos here?

We watch some local women shout and scream at the unmoved soldier manning the barrier. The whole situation is not very inviting. A screenshot might need to do!

YESSS!

It’s 2 hours to darkness and we’re a thousand twists from home. But first things first: Lunch!

What an inviting sign post! We pull over and find a beautiful garden restaurant.

We’re served with the most yummy marinated grilled fish. By now Havana and I can read each other’s minds. Kwani, what’s the rush! Let’s sleep here and explore the town a little!

We get through a few local beers and a friend who happens to be in town joins us. I learn that Gisenyi is a party town and attracts weekend guests even all the way from Kigali!

Some people may or may not have gone to sleep while others may or may not have gone out to experience post-covid nightlife!

Sunday I wake up with renewed ambition to get a good border picture!

After breakfast we pack up and explore town a bit

Near La Corniche

We pass by the Rwandan side’s airstrip, which is literally across the border fence from the Goma airport. Just a reminder how weird this border business is!

We reach the border area and are a bit more courageous today. We ask the soldiers if we can enter and take photos. While one answers yes, the other answers no. “Don’t take photos of offices” is the conclusion. 👍 We park the bikes and take a stroll down past body scanners towards DRC.

We see cargo (diapers!) but not sure if it’s flowing east or westwards. One final conversation and we get permission for selfies at the final barrier!

Of course we get permision – because we’re glowing, happy, harmless tourists!

We’re excited! Why didn’t we carry our passports? We’d have hopped into Goma for lunch!

Next stop: The beach! We find a Serena hotel on Maps and decide to go for juice and to chill a bit more before riding back home.

It’s other-worldly. We are standing at a 5-star hotel’s beach in Western Rwanda staring at the water towards DRC. The news of the recent refugee crisis and the R23 rebel group’s strikes? We know of it. We can’t see it.

Expats are playing with their kids in the pool.

People are swimming, watching us curiously with heavy boots on their beach. Biker manenos 🏍️ 🤣

We chat over some fresh extra tasty juice and gear up to start our return journey.

I pretend to take photos of Havana but really: I’m just here for the colourful Kitenge clothes!

We’re going to be riding back the same route we came yesterday

Today we are more relaxed and well fed. The new chain is working and we know what to expect on the road: Corners, hill climbs, hairpin turns, long descents and views! 🐍🐍🐍

Exactly!

On one of those looooong winding roads I follow a bicycle loaded with gunias of produce. These people are fit!! They just push the bike plus load uphill. You won’t see many motorcycles as in Kenya or Uganda.

He’s doing a clean 50 downhill! Leaning into the corners with his heavy luggage on tiny bicycle tires. That’s real skill!! I’m very impressed and overtake him to stop and take his photo but as he shoots by me he’s too fast and I miss him 🤣🤣

Sometimes you see the road you passed a minute ago juuuuust across a valley

The road turns left, but you can see it re-appear on your far right

By the time we get back to Karongi we have graduated with a Masters degree in Lean Angle Management!

The Lake welcomes us home

We chill for the rest of our Sunday, intoxicated by our dopamines and endorphins!

Maybe next weekend we’ll make it to the famous Nyungwe Forest?

Update: yes, we made it. Get the story here!

And the return ride to Nairobi was also mesmerising, via Fort Portal and Queen Elizabeth National Park in Western Uganda. Link here

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Categories
Travels & Trips

Lake Kivu Roadtrip

My biker pal’s job moved her to Lake Kivu in Western Rwanda. She had brought her clothes and favorite coffee mug with her by plane, but life was not complete. She was raving about the incredible roads, beautiful scenery and amazing riding once Mugabe would make it to Rwanda. Mugabe is Havana’s bike, a hoooot blue Gixxer 155. 

We kept chatting as she settled into her new home, about the farmfresh food, the good air, beautiful lake views – and so we cooked up a plan to ride down together and for me to stay for some weeks before riding back to Nairobi.

How to prepare for such a trip?

Ages ago I lived in Uganda and had visited Rwanda several times, but riding there over a quick long weekend!? 

Our preps included 

  1. Setting expectations. Two full blown adults spending 4 days or rather 3 weeks together. How would we ride safely together? Keep the mood upbeat considering it was going to be exhausting?  Spend our days as we would both be working demanding kick-ass jobs, once in Rwanda?
  2. Route planning: With 280cc combined, how would we split the 1300kms? Into how many days? Where to stay and eat lunch? What’s the climate/weather along the route? What are the heavy traffic areas/times, and how would we avoid riding into the night?
  3. Paperwork planning: What’s needed to cross the border? Ride legally and safely outside Kenya?
What Google Maps says

Check-List for our East Africa roadtrip:

Must haves

  • First aid kit and skills
  • A trusted buddy to share our ICE details with and be our trip’s “virtual escort”. Esp if alone, share live trip updates so they can check up on you. Thanks to the one and only for offering to be on stand-by!
  • A waterproof document envelope thingy, because:
  • Passport/ID: We both didn’t need visas, but as a Kenyan resident I needed an interstate pass to avoid visa fees in UG+RW (print from eCitizen)
  • Logbook – which should be in your name. If bike is not in your name, take logbook and a letter from the owner outlining your travel itinerary to KRA in town before departure so they issue you a temporary permit. They will ask to stay with your logbook, but if you will cross another border on your journey, you can’t leave your original logbook with them of course. So just explain that and go with it.
  • Valid driver’s license 
  • COMESA insurance for the bike. This is an extension of your normal bike insurance, so has to come from the same company
  • Yellow fever vaccination certificate
  • Covid travel requirements – at the time we travelled, a vaccination certificate was enough to cross the land borders. This may vary! We still took a rapid test to be sure.
  • 4 copies of everything, as you will leave copies at each border.
  • There are no payments at the border.  Unless you want to tip a broker to help you figure out where to queue (which really isn’t needed)
  • A pen to fill in the immigration form.
  • Enough cash for fuel, accomodation, eventualities. Do not rely on your bank card or mpesa to work. We carried USD (in fresh 20$ notes from a forex bureau) and KES. I couldn’t find RWF in Nairobi and the UGX rate I was offered in forex bureaus was crap, therefore opted to exchange at the border. Knowing the official exchange rate can help you negotiate.
  • Know the country’s road rules. e.g. TZ and RW have speed limits! What do yellow or white lines mean? etc
  • ATGATT – don’t go easy on that just because the roads are less busy or it’s hotter than home.
  • A clear, free mind: Safety mindset, defensive riding 101%
  • Check if your private health cover will sort you beyond Kenya. Get details on how it would work and phone numbers 
  • Bike tools, serviced bike incl. a thorough bolt, chain and bearings check

Important stuff

  • An evacuation cover. What if you crash and there’s no good hospital around? How will you reach home in your injured state? Check out e.g. AMREF Maisha cover (link) It’s a good idea even in Kenya, but the cover for neighboring countries is slightly more so you might need to upgrade if you have one.
  • Data bundle. To create FOMO inducing insta posts, update your trip buddies, call your fundi on whatsapp, etc. Roaming on another country’s network with your SIM card can be expensive.  You could rely on wifi in the hotels, but how will you deal with an emergency? I bought the Airtel One Africa bundle for 1100 KES for 10GB which covers UG, RW and 10+ more countries. It worked magic: A seamless online experience.
  • Enough airtime on Safaricom to make emergency calls. Airtel network might be low in some places. Safaricom tends to roam on the stronger networks. 
  • Power bank. Adapter for Rwanda-shape sockets

Nice to haves:

  • Look up accommodation options in advance to avoid looking for places late at night. Go through the reviews at the comfort of your home. We made bookings on booking.com. Some hotels allow reservations without upfront payment or entering card details. Or get their numbers from Google Maps and make a booking via whatsapp. It tends to help if someone expects you at night in a foreign land (we will come back to this later :-S )
  • Emergency contacts of bikers on ground in case you need assistance. You might be a loner and don’t want to mingle. Fine. But at least get a number and let them know you’re visiting.  Or you might make a dozen new friends and have the cultural immersion of your lifetime!
  • TP, wet wipes, musli bars, basic meds like pain killers…
  • and so on…

Soooooo, how does the border crossing work?

The border procedure has two aspects and you have to clear them with both countries. Once you understand the logic and are confident you have all papers, you will not worry much about needing an agent/fixer to help you at the border. 

1) Immigrations for yourself (ID/passport, yellow fever vaccination certificate, covid vaccination/test certificate, they’ll take your fingerprints and photo)

2) Customs for your bike (Logbook and copy. Copy of ID/passport. All copies will stay with them. They will register you in their system and issue you a temporary permit to take the bike into their country. They might counter check the chassis and engine numbers, so know where these are on your bike.)

3) To ride legally, you need a COMESA insurance cover for your bike and of course a valid DL. You probably don’t need to show these at the border but at police stops.

So much for the preps! It’s a full-time job in itself!

Here’s our story of riding to Lake Kivu 🙂

Day 0 – Head start to Naivasha

We wanted to reach Jinja on our first day. And we wanted to reach before sunset. This was going to be an overly ambitious ride from Nairobi, and with our “small bikes” we would need to leave around 4am – in full darkness and with July cold.

A biker friend was willing to host us in Naivasha for the night, so we left Nairobi on Friday at 4pm. Quick viewpoint stop and hot drinks at EsQoffee.

We are soooo ready!!!

I want to say it was an uneventful ride down to Naivasha, but we meet a few naughty drivers on the road. Once in Naivasha, we pick up pizza and proceed to my pal’s house where we have chats over dinner. We debate the best route (Eldoret? Kericho? Londiani?) and settle with Londiani, with some uncertainty of where we’d find a great breakfast along that route. After a hot shower we set our alarms to 5am and sleep early, dreaming of the next 1200km and two border crossings.

Day 1 – Naivasha to Jinja

We head out from South Lake Road by 5:45am and enter the Nakuru highway with the first sun rays. Our ride through Gilgil is freezing but we’re making good speeds and before long the dual carriageway welcomes us to Nakuru.

Sun is up – Nakuru at 7:10am

After a fuel, water and toilet break we head out towards Londiani. There’s a rather narrow uphill section with lots of tree twigs indicating broken down trucks. We count at least four (or were they just parked!?). I had replaced my front tire just before this trip but the grip is great so far.

Google Maps maneuvers us off the highway towards Londiani junction and from here it is a breathtaking journey. We start to feel our empty stomachs but can’t spot any breakfast places. Even the few kibandas look closed!

These three beauties!!!

Then we spot a signpost on the left: Koru Country Club. It’s a petrol station with choma and what looks like a restaurant! We enter and park the bikes. Many sets of eyes on us as we climb off the bikes and celebrate our progress so far! 198km in 3.5 hours! Not bad 🙂 Fresh Juice, and a hearty breakfast.

10am. 305km to go.

Next stop Kisumu, we agree.

We pass through sugarcane fields and that smell near Muhuroni’s sugar factory can wean you off sugar, I want to believe.

This is not a stop. It’s just a photo break

On approaching Kisumu town, I spot the signposts indicating the bypass. Google Maps on my bluetooth is quiet. Maybe I forgot to click “start” and going straight will get us into a huge traffic jam in town? I turn and take the bypass. Big mistake! The bypass has over 20 huuuuuge, steep and violent speed bumps. It’s not just annoying to ride over but we’re also slowed down by the trucks as they navigate the bypass at snail pace.

We finally get to the airport and stop for pictures, high fiving ourselves for the progress. Havana is just toooo nice. I would have been pissed with the lead for that choice of route, yo!

From Kisumu it’s another 110km to the border. With our late breakfast, we say let’s push through and eat at Busia. We run into lots of slow trucks on a narrow uphill towards Maseno. Once past Luanda, the road is empty. Until we find ourselves in the middle of a political rally in a small town. A good hundred bodas and maaaaany people are standing/walking on the road. They are going in our direction but still – we could get stuck in the middle. I signal to Havana whether we want to stop and wait this out, but we somehow manage to squeeze through.

Before long we enter Busia town. Trucks are lining up along the roadside waiting to enter the border area. A guy starts running next to my bike speaking with me for a good 600m. I’m listening to music in my helmet but figure that he’s one of the agents that wants to help you with border clearing for some cash. We had agreed not to use one, so I keep riding and we enter the huge border parking lot. I ask an askari where to park, and the agent answers. I tell him we won’t use his services politely. He keeps running next to my bike.

Once parked at the border office, I tell him off less politely and we ask a Kenyan police officer for where to start and she points us to the KRA counter.

And suddenly another man and a lady walk up to us. He takes photos of us, the bikes and they walk up to the other vehicle. By now I was a bit tired of the unsolicitated photography. I asked him who he is and why he’s taking photos. He states being a police officer. I stare at him in disbelief and say it’s been few strangers taking our photos and whether he has any ID. He says he’s from church pointing to his clothing, and so he didn’t carry ID. I say something that might not be very polite to repeat in writing.

After processing our papers on the Kenyan side, we proceed to the Ugandan side. The only negative experience is the toilet. I arrive there with swaths of women who just got off a long busride, clearly pressed. We all get yelled at that we should not even consider using the toilets without payment. In short “Lipa Kwanza! Ni nini!”. I mean, woooow.

Uganda side immigrations
Selfies after exchanging money at a pretty sensible rate with some guys walking around with huge bundles of notes. They wear coats with numbers and seem registered.

We roll into the UG side of Busia. Total one hour and 15 minutes 🇰🇪 -> 🇺🇬 . It looks the same. Until we see the Shell petrol station. 6180 UGX per litre. That’s 195 bob! We consider turning back just to fuel in Kenya @ 160. Well, not really, coz small bikes don’t mind such issues toooo much.

We look for lunch!!

Steamed matoke, skuma wiki and beef stew at a Kibanda. 6,000 UGX is around 200 bob.

I switch mobile data from Safaricom to Airtel. My Airtel Africa bundle works perfectly.

Excitement! We are in Uganda. Smooth border crossing! 117km left. We had been told there might be some construction along the highway. We leave Busia at 4pm with optimism we’ll make it to Jinja by sunset.

I’m entering honeymoon state. Few cars. No drama. There’s one diversion for bridge construction but it’s short and fairly painfree. We’re riding through open green fields and it’s nice riding. A mix of Kenyan and Ugandan number plates.

Around 60 km in a probox kinda car approaches me from behind. I’m following a line of cars, there’s oncoming traffic and we’re all going at around 80km/h. In short, there’s nowhere the car is going. He comes reeaaall close to my number plate and starts flashing his light. I ignore him but start scanning the side of the road for an escape route. There is a narrow gravelly path before a deep ditch – it’s a 15cm step down from the highway. This is when the big boys show the car dust, but what to do? At some point he disappears from my mirror. Not a good sign. He has entered my blind spots and is right next to me. A hand can fit between my and his mirror, but not more. He basically pushes me to the side and I carefully ride down onto that ditch-y path to avoid being hit. What an asshole. He and his passengers even have the guts to open all their windows and gesticulate that I should be riding “down there”. I stop the bike for a few seconds and breathe. After letting a few cars pass, I get back on the road. As fate has it, the cars are building up at an uphill, and I overtake all cars including my friend. I avoid seeking eye contact. We know how this could end.

Honeymoon ends abruptly. By the time we get to Jinja, I have another 2-3 cars pointing me down to that “side lane”.

Ignoring all emotions, we continue riding safely and before long enter Jinja town. By now it’s beautiful evening twilight. We still have time to ride down to Lake Victoria!! A quick Maps check tells us there’s a road along the shores of the lake and we can ride back up towards along the Nile.

We hit the road and find tarmac ending soon.

We get a bit unhinged and follow a steep single track down to the water.

Mugabe does well in his tarmac shoes!

We find this railway bridge across the Nile. Lots of people walking and bodas cruising on the walkway under it, as we look for a the best photo angle

Aaaaahhhh!!!

After saying hi to various local riders, we ride back up to the tarmac.

Jinja roads are fairly deserted.
As we cruise around to get a vibe of the city….. well and find our hostel

We check in at Jinja BaseCamp for the night. We didn’t pick it based on rating/recommendation but because it was the only accomodation within our price range where we could make a booking online without card details. The team was welcoming, there was free drinking water. The room was not exactly spacious, but we only needed to shower and sleep. The manager was so kind to help us order dinner in from a restaurant.

Imagine, we finished it all!

We inform our people of our arrival. 517km done! Smooth border crossing. Sunset pics at the Nile.

What else do you want?

Day 2 – Jinja to Kabale

We wake up early, pack up and load the bikes. We’re out of the gate by 5:30am because the goal is to have breakfast in Kampala – a quick 82km away – and be out of the city before the Sunday traffic locks us down. But first we look for fuel in Jinja. There are two Shell petrol stations, both still closed, so we end up at a no-name pump.

Various Ugandan bikers had informed us that motorbikes are not allowed to use the main bridge over the Nile and we didn’t find it worth the risk of being arrested. I chat up a car driver and ask him about the route to “the other bridge”. He is visibly confused that bikes are not allowed to use the main bridge. His passenger even challenges me to use the bridge and see if I’m being denied entry. On seeing the passenger’s white police uniform, I decide to withdraw from the conversation and that Google Maps will serve us just fine. But the driver ends up talking to a boda guy to take us across the bridge.

And off we go through a dingy, dark, muddy rough road 🙄 . The sh*t bikers go through, I tell you!! In the end we arrive and ride over an older but functioning bridge and on the other side I tip the boda.

From here we finya the bikes out of Jinja. We really want to get to Kampala before the city wakes up! But first we have to cross Mabira Forest at night. It’s pretty chilly and I follow a Noah who lights the way for us. He doesn’t seem exactly sure of the road, which works for us as we average 70 on the bumpy road through the dark forest. At some point I realized it’s a KCN number plate. The guy is equally new here like us 😉

Once through the forest, the sun rises
We ride through misty hills
There’s always time for selfies!

We ride through Mukono and I marvel at how the place has developed. Obviously – it has been 10 years since I last visited!

We get to Kireka and have the choice of going straight through town or turning left to take the bypass.

Remember what a bad idea it was in Kisumu to take the bypass? It’s Sunday 7:15am so we decide to cruise through town. Within a few minutes we pass Banda and take the Lugogo turn, then Upper Kololo Terrace past the airstrip with a few glances over town. Empty roads and I’m so thrilled to be riding in Kampala. This is where I started my biking career back in 2010: as a boda passenger.

Within a few minutes we park outside CJs and enter for breakfast. Havana’s friend joins, and a few members of Uganda Bikers Club as well. We have a great time. It just feels wonderful to know you’re part of an East African community of like-minded people. They even offer to escort us towards the southern side of the city although they are heading out the other direction for a CSR ride for Rhino conservation!

On leaving the restaurant, we find traffic bumper to bumper.

Our hosts take us through busy city roundabouts, where at some point a boda falls right in front of my front tire. His two passengers quickly pick up their many little boxes and abandon him to pick up his bike. We get to the Northern bypass and our escorts wave us goodbye at the final turning.

The next 66k takes us ages for some reason. Or maybe it just feels slow. Up and down on a very straight road with a small engine can feel like that. 

Stop to change the playlist. Maybe that will help!

By the time we get to the Equator sign, we wonder if the day will ever end. 11am and only 160km done! 343km to go to Kabale all the way down near the Rwandan border!

We continue towards Masaka, then Mbarara. I can’t say that I enjoyed this part of the ride. Soooo many rumble strips. I remind myself how to stand on the bike hinged forward at the hip, disconnecting the upper body from my legs. I learned this in a recent offroad training: You want to avoid that these violent vibrations affect your inner organs.

Louder for the people at the back!

At some point we ride through a very long swamp. Dried and fresh fish is being sold along the roadside. I’m curious and stop but the language barrier prevents any conversation.

Then I see a bus approaching from behind. It’s an open empty road. I’m doing 85 so he’s easily doing 100. I’m used to busses in Kenya overtaking me closely, at least halfway in my lane. The opposite lane is EMPTY and he has at least 800m open visibility to overtake smoothly. But this guy doesn’t move to the other lane by even a single inch. 

At some point he’s just a few metres behind me. Seemingly happy to roll over me. I move off the road. In the next town find him at a speed bump. Of course. Overtake or not? Obviously some drivers get pissed by this, thinking you’re challenging them while you really just want to get to your destination. I let him go.

As if this wasn’t crazy enough: A bit later, again on open empty roads, an oncoming car pulls over from his side of the road to drive towards me in my line, looking directly at my face.

My conclusion at this point is that while Uganda might have less traffic and fewer careless drivers, there is a special breed purposefully putting you at danger.

We find more and more rumble strips and it gets hot. We take another water break and make it to the lunch place just before Mbarara by 2:30pm, an hour behind the plan. We find two bikes in the parking lot. Our escorts from Rwanda made it here before us!

A beautiful golden (!) Transalp and a Suzuki DR 650 😋

Get-to-knows and conversations over lunch. Two experienced riders had come for us all the way from Kigali – crossing the border just to welcome us. Wow! One had a pillion, a female motorcycling enthusiast who is just getting into riding.

Have you noticed that when adenture riders come together, it’s always story o’clock? Who knows who, who has been riding with whom to where? How did you get into riding and which of all your bikes was your favourite? Which was your best mechanic and what blunder made you divorce him?

We share about our ride so far. Havana and I can’t belive how much has happened on this trip already. It is just yesterday that we left Naivasha! And now we’re having lunch in the South-West of Uganda!

All Foods with G-Nut Sauce! I had missed this 🙂
Pic before departure with the Ugandan cranes

By 4pm we get on the road. 155km to go. We clarify that our engines are a bit smaller and we all look forward to a chill ride.

Once past Mbarara, it’s bikers’ paradise! Light twists, a wide new highway with gentle speed bumps. The scenery! This must be East Africa’s best kept riding secret!

I keep stopping for pictures and the lead with his pillion has to keep turning to look for us. But boy, it’s so beautiful! It’s a wide empty highway and we adjust the riding formation slightly every now and then.

We’re around 40km from Kabale town, our destination for the night, when the road gets steeper and twistier. My bike struggles a bit with speed up the hills and thankfully there’s a climbing lane. But there’s a certain red bus that doesn’t like the idea of four bikes being on the road. He overtakes us very carelessly, just for us to find him at the next town’s bus stop alighting passengers. I don’t have a great feeling overtaking him, but we really want to make mile and get to Kabale before dark. The guys still need to ride back all the way to Kigali today!

Viewer discretion warning: If you are not comfortable reading about an accident, consider skipping to Day 3 now.

On a long winding downhill, we’re doing 80 or so and the bus rushes by Havana and me carelessly again. I’m riding in second position and suddenly everything happens very fast. The next thing I see is Paul separated from his bike, both lying on the tarmac. The three of us stop our bikes. As we run to him, my accident response theory spools off in my head “Secure the accident scene. Provide first aid. Arrange medical help.”

Havana and I get into first responder mode, speaking to him, helping him remove his helmet. I look at his leg. Something is not right with the angle of his ankle. There is a bleeding wound. I remember a first responder video I watched a few weeks ago: I kneel into his artery at the thigh and use my shawl to tie his leg – in a bid to stop the bleeding.

Meanwhile, Tish and Stella secure the accident scene. We’re in the left lane of the road, but we don’t want to move to the side before we have a better grasp of the injuries. Villagers assemble and help put twigs on the road and wave down traffic. This being a hilly area, network is on and off. We make a few phone calls to Nairobi and Kigali to get advice. Paul is in pain and needs qualified medical attention. We are 20km from Kabale town. After a few minutes, a car stops and agrees to take the injured to the hospital. The first good Samaritan today! A few men help him into the car and Stella goes with him, Tish riding behind the car. We agree that us girls would stay behind to wait for the police.

It’s getting dark now. We look for the car that was involved in the accident and speak to the driver and his passengers to hear if they are injured, which thankfully they are not. We take lots of photos and wait for the police.

A guy in tshirt and jeans walks past, taking photos of me standing next to the three bikes. I ask him who he is. He smiles. I ask him to delete the photos. At this point I can only think about Paul’s ankle and I don’t find it appropriate for our photos and that of an accident scene to be in people’s phones. He laughs and walks away.
Surely!

When someone tells you the police is coming, you wait for a police car or a uniformed individual. Or maybe that’s just me.

It’s taking a bit of time for said police to arrive. We’re still standing next to the bikes on the road side and catch our breath to calm down our adrenaline rush. We look for some water and wet wipes to clean up. A villager suggests moving the bikes to avoid further accidents. We count our belongings and ensure we have all bike keys.

And suddenly another man and a lady walk up to us. He takes photos of us, the bikes and they walk up to the other vehicle. By now I was a bit tired of the unsolicitated photography. I asked him who he is and why he’s taking photos. He states being a police officer. I stare at him in disbelief and say it’s been few strangers taking our photos and whether he has any ID. He says he’s from church pointing to his clothing, and so he didn’t carry ID. I say something that might not be very polite to repeat in writing.

The issue is cleared up, when another car driver stops and offers to help. I request him to call the police as we’ve been waiting for nearly an hour. He makes a phone call that is answered by the kitenge-dressed gentleman. 👀

After a quick assessment of the scene they suggest that it’s safest for us to ride to Kabale town. They explain that they’ll take possession of the bike and car and we can go to the police station the next morning to file our statement. The police officer goes on to say we were lucky that our helmets or belongings were not flossed from the bikes while we were distracted.

We carefully ride through the twisties in complete darkness and our LED lights are really coming through for us. Once in town, we ask for directions to the hospital.

On entering A&E, we catch up with our friends. The wound is bandaged and pain killers are administered, but no doctor, surgeon or nurse is available to look into the cause of bleeding or run relevant tests. Some plain-clothed individuals walk around and watch us curiously. The lady at the desk is glued to her chair. We quickly realize that the hospital is not staffed or equipped to deal with this type of injury.

But how do we transport an injured person across a country border? We need excellent healthcare real fast. I call AMREF to find out about the procedure and cost of air evacuation to Nairobi. They are willing to pick him with an air ambulance incl. doctor with the first sunlight from a nearby airstrip after payment of 16,120 USD.

Meanwhile calls to Kigali are made and someone offers to arrange dispatch of an ambulance to pick Paul at the border. And this is when I get a WhatsApp mesage from the manager of the lodge we were meant to stay at “Are you still coming tonight?” – I tell him we had an accident and he immediately comes to the hospital with his friend and two cars.

We see that the two wounds are bleeding again. Unfortunately there is no staff in this hospital who are able to help us. We use bandages and two techniques to control the bleeding: Applying direct pressure and tieing two tourniquets (Google it, I’m also posting a video below the post!). We get phone advice from a doctor friend on managing a 3-4 hour drive to Kigali. This is our best option. The car has a logbook and we estimate that if they leave now, they will meet the ambulance somewhere between the border and Kigali.

And so the patient enters a second car. One bike will ride behind the car to speed up the border process. After all he wouldn’t be able to queue at the counters. Us girls are staying to handle the police case in the morning.

On leaving the hospital we wonder whether it’s sensible to still ride down to Lake Bunyonyi to the place we were booked at. It would be nice to at least see the lake – plus how would we find a safe hotel in this sleepy town at 9pm?

The hotel manager drives ahead of us, until we get to the turn-off the tarmac. 9km offroad he says. “Not too bad”. I take the lead and before long we find ourselves on a bumpy, dusty, steep road. I can’t see very well because of dust but this feels like fesh fesh! What the heck.

Then we descent down to the Lake. We can’t see much but it’s a winding road along cliffy edges. I just hope that Havana behind me see the edges, too!

Once at Bunyoni View Resort, the team wips us up a very late dinner. What angels! There’s a power cut and our phones are nearly dying. We chat to stay awake until we get an update from Kigali. We discuss our experience at the hospital and reflect on our medical response knowledge. Around midnight we hear that they arrived at Kigali’s hospital.

We thank God for the miracle and go to bed.

While we are tired from the long day and the 503km in the saddle, we don’t get much sleep this night. The emotions from the day are still settling.

Day 3 – Kabale (Southern Uganda) to Kibuye (Lake Kivu, Rwanda)

We wake up early to birds chirping and breath taking views across Lake Bunyonyi. Update from Kigali is that the first medical procedure was successful. We snack a musli bar enjoying the good news and morning sun on our balcony. Then we pack up and load the bikes. While charging our phone and having breakfast, we return a few more phone calls and ascertain worried bikers in Nairobi who got word overnight that our mutual friend is doing well and in the best hands.

The lodge’s manager shares some tips about the police procedure. We are grateful for his support as we do not know what to expect in another country, but it sounds similar to realities in Kenya.

The ride back to town. What beauty!!
Passing by a quarry – explains the fesh fesh like dust last night!

We proceed to Kabale Traffic Police to file our statement and leave some required documents. It is a really smooth experience, with the OC expecting us and explaining us the process from A to Z. I am very impressed with the professionalism we meet in that office.

En route to Gatuna border

We continue to the Gatuna border around 1pm.

The border crossing is smooth 🇺🇬 -> 🇷🇼 and within an hour we meet two bikers who have come for us all the way from Kigali. We are really grateful to see them, these guys truly know how to be amazing hosts!

The excitement to ride on the right side of the road!!! I had been waiting for this for months. From here it is twists, smooth tarmac, more twists and empty roads. The Kigali bikers show us how to spot the automatic speed cameras. I am not exactly tempted to push beyond 60 much. Most Kenyan friends on whatsapp chats are shocked to hear about the 60 km/h speed limit. Blame the 125cc or my fatigue if you must, but the twists and amazing scenery are enough to enjoy this ride at leisurely pace.

Speed camera – your fine comes via SMS – fully automated!
Water break goofing around with bodas

At some point our pal says “from here it’s all downhill to Kigali” – wueh the next hour was one of the best rides of my life 🤯 🏍️ 🏂

Once in Kigali, lane splitting and weaving through bodas needed full concentration to stick to the correct side of the road 🤣

This golden Transalp 🤤 🤤 🤤

After goodbyes to our friends in Chigali, we continue towards Western Rwanda, the shores of Lake Kivu. But first we have to get out of town.

There’s quite a number of steep uphills and we are stuck behind black exhaust coughing trucks going at snail pace. Imagine just how tempting it is to overtake then seeing a continuous yellow line and noticing a dozen local cars NOT overtaking! Can never happen in Kenya 😤Well, we aren’t planning on getting arrested today! So we get serious clutch balancing practice and enjoy the fact that no-one overtakes us in a dangerous way or cuts us off… Finally, we see our chosen lunch restaurant on our right!

It’s 4:45pm as we gear up after lunch: an beautiful extremely twisty 120km up and down hills are awaiting us. Zeeerrooo speed bumps! Less than 5 cars on the last two hours!

There were some 40km with bad tarmac and lots of sandy potholes but we took it in a stride.

You know the sunset riding paradox, right? When you are seriously running out of sunlight but keep stopping for photos!

We squeeeeeze that twilight to at least make it past the bumpy stretches.

After unforgettable sunset views across the mountains, we still have another one hour of darkness. The roads are now smooth and the road demarcations are painted using reflective paint, which makes it so much easier. Can the GoR please share their procurement contact with GoK? Beautiful cruising!! The twists, a random unlit bicycle or villager walking on the road makes us restrict ourselves to 50/60.

As we get to Karongi/Kibuye town, Havana takes the lead to her house. I see her seriously cutting the corners, knee downs and all. Shock on me! I mean she knows her town but really! Was I thaaaat slow all day? Isn’t this a bit risky!?

There’s a point we ride along the waters of Lake Kivu glistering through palm trees. Oh my!!🌴

A few more turns – and we enter the gate.

How do you park a bike after 1373km?? Should they not be sleeping inside?

We check in with our people in Nairobi, Kigali and Kampala. We’re relieved to hear that the healthcare at King Faizal hospital is working like clockwork for our friend: scans, first procedure to clean the wounds, blood, preparations for surgery etc. We celebrate all the things we did well on this trip and reflect on the journey and many encounters.

Already feeling at home!

And this is how we rode to Lake Kivu from Nairobi in under four days.

With an unstoppable appetite for life and adventure, years of riding wisdom gathered on the road and leaning on each other and the East African riding community.

The next day is a work day for me. As I boot my laptop in the morning to catch up with my various clients and projects, I overlook Lake Kivu and realize just how much beauty we have in East Africa.

In the evening we take a sunset cruise around the lake. We meet another biker and enjoy the magnificence of nature together.

Post Ride Reflections

Am I ready to respond appropriately in an accident?

That evening I catch up with one of my doctor biker friends in Nairobi. He says we did great. We still doubt ourselves. We ask ourselves how many bikers have first responder skills and knowledge. We lose a lot of bikers and boda riders on the road because of unskilled response in the first crucial minute. We see a huge opportunity to educate ourselves more and more: Be it through in-person training, online courses, YouTube, etc.

For example, here’s a good video on how as first responders we can identify life-threatening bleeding and 3 techniques to stop it.

Unfortunately many online learning resources are based on the realities of more developed healthcare systems and need contextualizing. It dawns on me that we have to take action if we want to reduce mortality on the road. More training, more awareness.

How might we make riding with a well-kitted first aid box just as obvious as riding with our helmet? Would short training videos in local languages showing first responder techniques using locally available materials get uptake?

Safety gear. Without a top quality helmet, armoured gloves and German (I said it!) off-road gear, things could look a bit different for our friend right now. He was scanned from head to toe in Kigali: No concussion or internal organ bleeding! Knowing the risks of riding, ATGATT is an appropriate investment. My personal takeaway is to invest in a chest guard, neck brace and better boots for myself.

To Paul, you’re a great human. I was told you are generous with your time and mentorship to other bikers. And I admire how you keep your faith and humour in such trying hours. We wish you speedy and full recovery. We can’t wait to see you back on two wheels soon!

Tish and Stella, I learned so much from you two. The best team I could have wished for that Sunday.

To Havana, what a riding buddy you are! You’ve pushed yourself so much in the last two years, it’s super inspiring. You dived head first into the sand, the mud and the night ride. Go girl! Thanks for fun stories, positive vybes, and allowing me to bring in a bit of structure to our adventure. 🙈 PS: I’m still recovering from your knee downs on the last 2kms. The fact that it’s a one-way street does not console me the slightest! 😶

To all who support us and cheered us on before, during and after the ride. Who shared advice and tips and checked in with us. You are what makes this biking community go round!

Let’s keep raising the bar!

Dear reader, thanks for staying with us to the finish! We will explore Rwanda over the next weekends and share our stories 🇷🇼 🏞️ ☀️

Please leave your comment below, your questions, your suggestions, your reactions. And please send recovery wishes and healing vybes for Paul! 😎

More rides from this Rwanda trip:

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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.