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Travels & Trips

Samburu ride: Stargazing on Mt Ololokwe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Breathtaking views during the ascent

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Camping spot sent by the universe
Panorama shot

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

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

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

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

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

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

Day 3: Back to Nairobi – 300km

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

Old bridge at Archer’s Post

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Travels & Trips

Turkana Roadtrip

In all these years I’ve never been to Northern Kenya. The idea of watching the sunset by the beach along Lake Turkana and riding through desert is so enticing! Between Turkana and Marsabit I decide to do the former, hoping it’s the easier and safer choice for a solo trip.

I ride a small engine bike, a Spirit built on a Honda 125cc engine and with around 8,000km experience consider myself an advanced beginner. I wasn’t sure if I can do both, Lake Turkana and the border to South Sudan in 10 days, but I was going to take the decision once up North.

It became an eye-opening 11-day trip on less than 35k including food and bike service. After great responses and many questions on my Instagram posts, I decided to pen down the details for those curious to try out Northwestern Kenya!

Day 1 – Nairobi to Lake Baringo – 278km

I set off towards Nakuru via the Mai Mahiu route. There’s a curio shop with a rooftop terrace and toilet called 8th world wonder. I can chill there all day, but I move on quite swiftly after devouring the breakfast snack I carried.

After lunch in Nakuru, it is 1.5 hours beautiful riding on good tarmac towards Kampi ya Samaki. There are random deep (!) potholes so don’t daydream as you might find yourself in the ditch. I stop for the mandatory equator pics in Mogotio.

Last Shell is in Marigat and I fill up to the brim!

If you arrived early or had an extra day, you could take a boat ride to the island.

Flooded conference hall of Soi Lodge

The rising water levels in the Riftvalley lakes are a real disaster. At Baringo, hotels, houses, churches, football fields and farms are gone.  Land erosion from all the feeder rivers and no strategies in place… I’m told that it’s been rising since around 2012. I had watched a few documentaries but seeing it in person and talking to people who were born here is crazy.

Day 2 – 165km – Lake Baringo to Marich Pass

At this point I had two options.

The first route is via Iten up to Kapenguria… Beautiful Twisties and great scenery but around 100km extra.

The other one is to Marich Pass directly on what is called a national highway and is marked yellow on google maps, but which turned out to be a (for me) very difficult off-road riding experience.

Honestly, most riders should just take the long tarmac route. I was advised as such but the adventure spirit took over. Of the 165km, around 60km is tarmac. I ended up taking 8 hours without much of a break.

Skills required: Sand riding, making dozens of miles on rough roads, river crossings, down hill on rocks covered by sand. I mean what were they thinking?

Note: I didn’t see fuel on this entire route, so fill up in Marigat – but probably there’s a no-name pump in Chemolingot as well.

The route comes roughly in 4 parts.

Part 1) Tarmac

While it lasts (around 60km), this is a smooth road with great bridges, which has transformed the area and accessibility. There are even bus stops and pedestrian crossing signs, which feel out of place, because I see a car every 5 minutes or so, but I guess it is all part of a bigger plan.

You would be misled to believe that you’ll be in Marich in 90 minutes, but…

Just after I set out up north, I get to a spot where Lake Baringo has flooded the road. It’s just 100m by boat or a 5min diversion up a sandy hill. Honestly: This is the point of no return. If you find this part hard or annoying, don’t even consider what’s ahead. Take selfies, turn around and take the Iten route.

The lake has submerged the highway

On Google Maps there’s a right turn in Chemolingot. Very adventurous people might consider this short-cut to Turkana, but I was advised against it (not much of a road and risk of insecurity) and went straight. Get at least 2l of water here and ensure you have enough fuel for 200km in the tank. After passing Chemolingot, you move up the hills until you get to oversee much of Baringo county.

Ostriches along the road
Can you imagine that this river had no bridge over it until recently?
The new bridge looks quite cool
Leftovers from the old road in the river bed
Beautiful riding up the hills after Chemolingot

And then tarmac ends. Quite ceremoniously actually, with a sign saying that it will end 🙂 Construction to continue this road to Marich Pass could be starting soon or in 2030.

The truck driver takes a few seconds to breathe before heading to the rough road. In a minute I’ll know why!

Part 2) 8km technical riding over the pass up to Barpello.

What comes next is a massive access and actually human rights problem for the rural communities living here!

I took two hours for this, including guiding the bike downhill, or waiting to watch local bodas do stunts at rocky patches and rivers, then copy their approach. You go until you’re tired but the blue GPS point only moved by 1km.

Beautiful but difficult to navigate: The pass between Chemolingot and Barpello

Then the bike went off and starter not working.  Tried to kick it but it seems that in the heat I didn’t have the required force. I stop a boda who kicked it for me. Chit chat with two other men, one who was riding downhill in my direction.

From here, he refused to leave me alone, stating he’ll be going at my speed until we reach the tarmac. I told him he might get bored, but he was quite adamant.

Just 100m before town I was ready to pay someone to get my bike down the remainder of the hill.  My companion refused the entire idea. You can do it!

And I did.

We buy more water in Barpello but our pitstop is cut short once drunkards approach us asking for coins.

Part 3) Riding through rural Baringo and Pokot

And suddenly it’s 1pm and you’ve got 87 km of off-road left to the tarmac..

Beautiful nature and bush land. With my Pokot companion and guide, I am cruising along sandy rough roads, with intermittent stoney patches and dry and wet river beds. People wear traditional warrior attire and kids stare curiously.

Another dry river crossing

I later learned that this entire area which borders three counties has fights between the Pokot and the Marakwets. Most of what we ride through is Baringo county and calling it “East Pokot” as my companion did could be considered taking sides in an issue that I know too little about. Woke me therefore edited this out of my social media posts.  At Kolowa we take a right to avoid an area where there was insecurity and fighting just the week before.

It’s quite rough murram and we’re going at between 15-35.

Somewhere, and I can’t say where and why, the bike slips on the sand gravel mix and I fall. My footpeg breaks, and I will be riding without footpeg for the next 55km!

Part 4) An area with larger rivers that carry water

This starts when we cross the impressive Kerio river, which is the center point of the area: People are taking baths (separated upstream and downstream by gender), bodas are being washed, laundry is done, camels drink, and people relax under the trees at the shore.

This is the only bridge on the entire stretch. Up to Sigor we will be crossing around 6 rivers, and I proudly did 2 by myself and my fellow rider did the rest for me. They have some large rocks in a row that you can step on but I realized that the locals just wade through the river. I slip once and continue with wet riding boots. Not a terrible idea at 30°C.

Would you ride through this river?
Here is your national highway in West Pokot near Lomut

Bridge construction was ongoing. Apparently floods had taken them away 9 (!) months ago, and this being a national road, the county government was uninvolved. a huge mess for these people to access civilization (you know: hospitals, government services, a market for their produce)! I saw dozens of women crossing the river by foot. There are no matatus here, but proboxes, so the same women were then competing for spots in these proboxes. I didn’t see any social distancing here.

Finally we reach Sigor and have lunch at 5pm. We then continue for another 20 minutes through beautiful scenery just in time to reach Marich Pass for a beautiful sunset.

Chill riding in the evening light
Finally: Tarmac in Marich Pass
Sunset in Marich Pass

If you have time, you should stay a day for hiking on various hills around Marich!

I would also like to give my riding companion an award for being concerned, supportive and polite along the way and helping me sort out accommodation.

I stay for 500 KES at Marich Parkroad hotel. There was also a 2,500 KES option, but all I wanted after this day was safe parking, a clean bed and a shower which was delivered by the team in a bucket.

At night, the news on the hotel’s TV talk about the impeachment of the Nairobi governor. Nairobi seems like on another planet. Completely irrelevant to life here. 

Day 3 – 199km to Lodwar

After getting a new foot peg welded, I get back on the road towards Turkana. Don’t mess up with fuel today!! Only the rare no-name small gas stations but hey, if the bike is thirsty, you can still use those.

Leaving Marich, I ride along a beautiful mountain range (including Mt Mtelo, West Pokot’s highest mountain). It’s 20km to Kainuk, which marks the official entrance into Turkana county. The excitement was real!!

If you’d like a 2-hour detour, branch left to visit Turkwell Dam Power Plant just before entering Kainuk. It’s tarmac and I’m told very beautiful to visit.

Turkana has an amazing old vs new flair, as infrastructure upgrades are ongoing

After breakfast in Kainuk, it’s 78km to Lokichar. The heat is setting in!! I’m getting used to the sandy crossings of seasonal rivers and become faster.

I must have passed a hundred of these seasonal river crossings. Coming here in the rainy season would be risky

It’s a pretty good road but it gets quite windy at some point. I consider staying behind a lorry to avoid being surprised by the winds but it gets boring.

Around half way in Kalemngorok I get some fuel. Then, suddenly, black smoke ahead! The lorry which overtook me while fuelling is lying on the roadside, its cargo burning.

I stop besides a boda who is also watching the scene. “Wacha hii kitu iishe” he says, only to continue riding 10 seconds later. The famous Kenyan patience!

After overtaking the fire swiftly, I park the bike at what I think was a safe distance (we know very little about burning vehicles, do we!) and, concerned about the driver’s safety, ask other bodas whether the person taking pictures of the truck with his phone is the driver, which he indeed is.

The driver said the brakes failed and he noticed smoke. So the only way to stop it was to crash it. He and his co-pilot got out fine but I imagine all cargo got burned, as there would really be no fire engine or even water near to stop it.

As villagers assemble, I take off.

Getting to Lokichar, I am fairly exhausted. Because of the bike repair, I started off too late, and ended up riding in the noon heat. I have lunch at Mash’allah, a restaurant run by Mohammed on the left side of the road in the shopping center. After eating Pilau, I sit in their back yard for 2.5 hours, watching a whole Netflix movie (downloaded!) and drink 2.5 liters of water to get back to normal.

From here it is another 89km to Lodwar. (No fuel in between). I also can’t find any gas station with air an pressure machine, and as I don’t want to experiment blindly with the tire pressure, I set out with a rather hard front tire…

The first 40km is rough road. I was told it’s smooth, but people: smooth is something else! The trucks and proboxes thundering over it at 60+ have made the road bumpy and heavily corrugated. I took around 2 hours for this stretch and my shoulders hurt. Thankfully it is late afternoon by now and hot but not deadly anymore.

Dusty, bumpy, straight

Around 30km in, I find another travel mate, who works around Kakuma and supports the construction of a dam for agricultural purposes there. He is upbeat about the trip, promised to ride at my speed and told me it’s 30 more kms to the tarmac. This is when I decide to get a pickup to carry me and the bike on the way back. Thankfully he is wrong and we get to the tarmac around 5:05pm. I take a mental note to figure out the tire pressure at the next petrol station to avoid further torture.

Life begins at the end of the tarmac they say. Well not with a corrugated rough road…

Then 50km of new Chinese tarmac with beautiful bridges that will hopefully withstand the floods and seasonal rivers far better than the old road. This is part of the Lapsset development, meaning the first 40km should be done in a year or so as well.

Cruising into the sunset with Turkana settlements by the road. Some parts have loose chippings, where you need to get down from 80 to 20 reeeeal fast.

So you build this beautiful road, then pour loose gravel on it?

Lodwar is not a place you want to arrive at in the evening without knowing where you’ll sleep. Accommodation ranges from 500-5000, some mid-range decent hotels were closed or full, but most were noisy budget lodging.  Certainly I wanted AC!  After riding through town for a bit with my gear sticking to me and not finding a quiet place with a gated compound, I go back up to Stegra Hotel at the beginning of town, which was luxury lodging in comparison to the previous night and finish my day with chicken and laundry.

The more affordable option would have been Glorious Hotel along the main road between the two bridges – 3k for single.

Day 4 – to beach or not to beach?

I start the day chilling at the pool and drinking tons of water. The whole point of going to Turkana was to see the Lake. I was excited to see the cradle of mankind (read more here) but now, 50km from it, I was TIRED.

On my way to Canaan

On my third bottle of water I’m having a discussion with myself about the state of the road to Eliye Springs.  If Google maps says 1.5 hours and a local Boda takes two hours including photo opportunities (as I’m told by a waiter), then how long will I take for the 66km?

I WhatsApp a rider who did this route before and he suggests I might take 3 hours as it’s lots of sand riding. So I decide to give myself 3.5 hours.

Now, what I learned on this trip is that you have to triangulate information and contextualise who gives you said information.  This same road was described to me as smooth off road, as murram and as sand. The local bodas go at double or triple of an advanced beginner’s speed. An experienced off-road adventure rider will find something “doable” where you feel like giving up, and advice of locals who don’t ride, but are being carried is useless. Besides the adventure of Wakili and his two friends I had little detail to work with. (By the way, read those stories. They’re long but incredibly entertaining and have great action camera imagery of interactions with locals and officials: link and link)

Now, how is the road to the Lake?

Google Maps shows two options from Lodwar to Eliye Springs, and I chose the longer route via the Kalokor tarmac road. 20km of tarmac, then you branch off to the right.  The first 20km are murram with short sandy patches. Beautiful desert savannah. No sign of human life whatsoever, not even the usually ubiquitous discarded plastic bottle.

Suddenly I realize that the bike sounds different. Must be the heat affecting my head… I keep going just to realize at the next water stop that I lost half my luggage somewhere. Not just my snacks but also my toiletries including my contact lenses, sunscreen and glasses. Draaaama. I turn and go back a few km to find it untouched on the road.

Then the scenery changes: It gets slighly hilly, I see goats and a few manyattas, pass beautiful Turkanas in traditional wear (my gosh, their elegance and the neck jewellery) going about their live (e.g. breastfeeding while walking) and longer and more common, longer sandy patches (10-30m long). We exchanged waves of hands with a few ladies. In full gear I must have looked just as out of this planet to them as they did to me. I didn’t take pictures cause I felt like I was riding right through these people’s living room.

This patch could be around 15km long.  The whole experience is just so beautiful. As the sun slowly sets, some camels show up. The entire desert scenery is just breathtaking. You wish time could stop yet again I’m already 45 minutes late, so try to speed up.

I imagine sleeping out here or knocking at a Manyatta (how do you do that, by the way??), communicating with hands and feet that I need a place to sleep. Then I wonder about scorpions and other crawling things.

At sunset the camels come home

The last 10-15km are really difficult as you’re now riding on pure sand, which is up to 20cm deep. I just didn’t hack it.  Where the sand is not deep, it’s totally corrugated and a mess to ride on, also.

Sand riding is an art on its own. A Prado is sliding past me at 50, where I’m doing 8. I hardly get to second gear. At this rate I might finish my fuel faster than I wish.

Well, I didn’t fall and I kept moving, albeit at 3km in 20 minutes. I keep checking the GPS and the blue dot just isn’t moving closer to the blue mass. It’s 6:30pm now and as I don’t see well at dusk or darkness, it becomes a challenge to anticipate anything. My wrist also hurts (from an accident in July and the fall in Pokot two days ago) and controlling the bike in sand becomes harder.

A Red Cross jeep tells me I’m on the right track. At least there are vehicles now, closer to the lake (I later find out why: There’s a better and more busy route, and I took the wrong route which noone really uses). 

Google maps says 6 more km. Yo! 

I mean, if you decide to take this trip alone, you are alone with your bike and fully reliant on your skills and attitude and who you meet along the way. But at this point it feels nice to know that three humans who care about me know where I am, and one is ready to jump on their bike and make the 750km in 8 hours just in case. When passing the Eliye Springs Airstrip sign, the air evacuation cover suddenly also made a lot of sense.

I can see a roof in the distance, and the glistering water of the lake. At this point, I call the camp just to make sure they’re expecting me and send troops if I don’t show up. I’m not sure the message gets through to the lady who laughs on the phone, but hey.

Junction where the “road” along the shore from Kolokol meets the Eliye road

Somehow I manage to get to the village square and by now it’s pitch black dark.

Up here it doesn’t get dark, it gets black!

I stop a boda and find it has two teenagers. Thank God. I ask them whether they both know how to ride. Of course they do.

Mnaweza kunisaidia? Nataka kuenda Eliye camp lakini sijui njia. Excuses, but it works.

I slide back and one of them jumps on my bike and is so excited to ride it down to the beach for me.

He covers the remaining 2km in what seems like 2 minutes in slippers while walk-riding my bike through deep sand at like 25kph. Miracles.

As we ride, we chat in Swahili and he talks to his friend in Turkana. He claims it’ll take him 45 minutes to Lodwar and I’m thinking of giving him business taking me back to the tarmac a few days later and I take his number.

I’m shown to my manyatta, and as I walk along the beach, I listen to the waves and palm trees whispering. I get out of my soaked, sticky gear and take a loooong shower between palm trees and immediately feel great.

Traditional Turkana huts are built of sticks and are easily dismantled matching the nomadic lifestyle

Then I lie on a bench on the beach and watch the stars while sending SMS on my safaricom kabambe to my friends that I made it alive. Please do NOT come here relying on Airtel!

The stars!!!

Honestly: Stay for a few days, there’s lots to do:

Netflix (downloaded) and chill. Swimming and hanging out along the beach. Short boat trip along the shore. Half or full day trip to central island (crocodiles, flamingos…) or Marsabit side. Climbing or riding along the sand dunes. Sunset dinner in the dunes. Making friends in the village. Eat fish. Go fish.

You could even move here for a few weeks and do your “work from home” or digital nomad job (in this case you may simply fly to Lodwar and boda to Eliye!). 

Be mindful of

  • Ants. They didn’t care about my mosquito repellent. I had them all over my luggage and my bed on the first night. Only few bites but itchy like hell.
  • Heat. Not less than 4l water per day. Pretty cool: you can drink water from the Eliye Spring, which the team at Eliye Springs Resort treats with WaterGuard every morning.
  • No AC. This is a beach camp, not a 5-star lodge. There’s a nice breeze on the shore and with enough hydration it’s quite doable.

The lake’s water level came up by at least 2-3m between March 2020 to December. It swallowed the entire 60m of beach, and a number of houses in the camp. The upside is that you can now swim in the shade of palm trees.

Reasons offered by people I spoke to included more rain in 2020 (on the Ethiopian side from which rivers feed the lake) and less condensation due to cloud cover. As the lake has no river outlet it regulates itself through condensation alone. This being the highest water level in around 10 years, some locals say this is where the lake used to be before…

Evening mood at Lake Turkana
Boat tour along the shore

I was explained that Kenya Power runs a solar minigrid here, which functions most of the time. The camp has a backup generator as well.

Accommodation at the lake: I had two camps to chose from and given Kristine Kamp hadn’t responded to my phone calls, I ended up at Eliye Springs Resort. This turned out to be an excellent choice, with a friendly Austrian owner, an amazing chef from Malindi, and a team that did their best to make my stay worthwhile. They were busy doing some repairs, as the lake had claimed some of the beautiful bomas. Check out their website and give them a call to book (the booking form did not seem to be working). Manyattas with shared bathrooms are 2k per night but you get your own key to a shower and toilet, which are in a central place between palm trees. Sensible deal.

Day 6 – Return to Lodwar

I book a local rider (and probox driver and boda pilot) to take me back to Lodwar in the afternoon. I ask him to take me half way to the tarmac but he begs to differ stating that that route isn’t in good shape and that it’s long. You should have seen my face! 🙄

He recommends using a different route which I recorded as a gpx on Wikiloc (link) but is more or less along the lower white line you see on Google Maps (coming from Lodwar you’d start out on the street with Jesus Hill and Lodwar High School).

Before taking off we pass his house and he changes shoes from tire slippers to sandals (right!) which gives me a chance to greet his grandmother.

We have a great flight, doing 40-50 on the flat pieces and 20-30 on sand. I watch him navigate the terrain closely and he explains to me how to handle the corrugations.

Beautiful ride back to Lodwar from Eliye
Entertainment on the pick-up truck

On that route, I only remember one long river crossing, providing a 100m sand experience, where even he had to walk-ride the bike.

Wide river crossing with lots of treacherous sand to play with

Another highly recommended activity in Lodwar is climbing what’s called Jesus Hill on Google Maps. Opening hours 8am to 6pm, entrance fee 50bob. A spiritual spot not just for Catholics, and overseeing the city and entire area from there is beautiful!

View from “Jesus Hill”
Strong catholic presence in Lodwar: The Shrine of the Immaculate Conception with a Jesus Statue

Day 7 – Day trip to Kakuma – 250km return

The original plan was to go to the South Sudanese border. Lokichogio to Nadapal is 50km rough road, but all the rest is smooth with minor diversions. With my wrist still bothering me, I am not looking forward to extra rough patches. I therefore change my mind, leave all my stuff in Lodwar and go with an empty bike on a day trip up north.

On second thought, you could leave most your things here and carry clothes for two days and still ride all the way up. In Lokichogio you could stay at Kate Camp at 3k per night b&b.

Beautiful views all around

The ride to Kakuma is beautiful smooth new wide tarmac for the first 80km.  Amazing scenery with beautifully shaped mountains, villages with the traditional round manyattas, anthills sticking out of the bushes like chimneys and Turkanas with their red robes fluttering in the wind. Lots of camels.

Then you use the old tarmac which is just as fine but doesn’t have the bus stops and zebra crossing signs that the new one has.  I had around 3km rough road diversion where new bridges are being built, but it’s all doable.

Bridge construction over a wide seasonal river, soon allowing all-year smooth road transport to South Sudan

On entering Kakuma town, I realized that I didn’t know what I had expected. A few shops, eateries, mosques and churches and two bank branches – the place is literally 800m long along the crumbling tarmac edge of the highway. All else are dust roads. Once you cross the bridge, the UN office is on the left, WFP on the right and then a dusty road (soon being tarmacked) leads up towards Kakuma camps 1, 2 and 3. Bodas were busy transporting people and it generally looked upbeat.

I had had this picture in my mind of tall NGO offices and cafes where aid workers hang out.

A friend who works at the UNHCR office gets me a visitor’s pass so we stroll around the compound as he explains to me his work and the general context at Kakuma and Kalobeyei.

We have lunch at Cairo Hotel just along the highway. It’s a new place and Ahmed and his team are keen to provide good service in a green environment. Food was slow but tasty. We had goat meat and fish pizza (what else!).

There are also restaurants within the camps. A friend had recommended Franco’s (Ethiopian food) in the camp. I’m sure there are many places to discover in the camps!

You can just ride up to the camp and explore it. It’s open and you’re free to interact with the inhabitants. Or leave the bikes, gear or luggage at Cairo and boda around.

Cairo Restaurant in Kakuma

I ride back towards sunset and the experience is to die for. I wish it could stay 6pm forever!

A glimpse of the Turkana language through the names of towns

Day 8 – From Lodwar back to Kapenguria – 262km

In preparation for the rough road and on my pilot’s advice, I reduce the front tire pressure further to 22. I should say that my pilot lessons really paid off!

I use his advice and go faster on the corrugations. It works! I master the 40km rough road stretch in half the time (75 mins) and with far less discomfort. I do a top speed of 45 and averaged 30. Yey to progress and new skills!

When I first googled Lokichar, it talked about being “situated in the heart of the dusty and arid Turkana basin in the Rift Valley” and I still don’t know what it means but boy the place is dry and hot. The 50km before and after Lokichar were the hottest on my trip.

Lokichar’s market

While in Lokichar, I asked for a safe and clean place where someone could sleep and was pointed to Black Gold Hotel. I guess give them a call if interested to stay over here.

Beautiful and swift riding back south as I know what to anticipate. I listen to music and somewhere between Short and Sweet or Live and Die in Afrika I realize that not all the anthills look like chimneys of bread factories, but some have other interesting shapes. 

Kainuk along the main road

After a short stop-over in Kainuk to get a few bolts tightened I am back at Marich Pass in no time. Being much less exhausted than the week before, I appreciate the view of the green hills.

What followed from Marich Pass to Kapenguria is beautiful riding, breathtaking landscapes with mountains and rivers, twisties carved into the mountains, and a bunch of stupid probox drivers who wanted me off the road.

I’d say plan 2.5 hours with photo and picnic breaks.

Looots of things to do in Kapenguria/Makutano:

  • Kapkoris Hill viewpoint
  • Kapenguria Museum, including a highlight on the Pokot culture and the Kapenguria Six (incl. Jomo Kenyatta)
  • Sit on the balcony of Rafiki Hotel Restaurant for people watching
  • Ride out towards Mt Elgon area or Suam border point (though I was told the road has lots of potholes atm)

I stay at Samaritan’s Hotel for 1500 excl. breakfast. Clean place, warm blanket and hot shower. Safe parking for bikes through the back gate.

Sunset from Kapgoris Hill Viewpoint

Day 9 – Back to the beaten track 😀 270km to Nakuru

Based on intel received from my biker’s group that there shall be gifts waiting for me in Kitale, I was eager to take a photo at the “Welcome to Kitale” sign which I suspected was 30 minutes ride from where I stayed.

But just before Kitale town, my bike developed breathing problems, choking on the throttle.

Covid???

How could I possibly have run out of fuel? I should have at least 3l left by my calculations!

I keep going a few more meters until the bike goes off right outside a boda shade that turns out to be a fundi base, as well. I’m just the luckiest person.

One boda offers to get me a liter of fuel. They’ve got an old coke bottle reserved for that purpose.

We pour it in and on starting the engine it flows right out through the overflow pipe.

Excellent! 

We switch off the petcock and fundi Martin is called who removes the carburetor. We see a whole spoonful of dirt at the bottom of the chamber. He cleans the carb and blows through the jet (yes, yes) – and I’m all set. He suggests that it was dust coming in from the airbox, and not dirty fuel.

Cleaning the carburetor took Martin less than a minute

After a nice brunch in Kitale, I hit the road to Eldoret which turns out to be a 6km long traffic jam – the town really deserves a bypass. After Eldi, I branch left and take the Eldama Ravine route. It’s empty and becomes more scenic and scenic.  It’s quite chilly and for the first time in 1300km I’ve got use for my sweater.

I get some farm-fresh carrots and munch away at a beautiful spot.

Even the cows were dreaming

In Eldama Ravine I nearly get knocked off the road by some entitled white guy in a pickup truck coming at me in my lane at 50+.   His arrogance pisses me off so bad and I can only imagine how locals feel like. Once again I muse over the calm acceptance Kenyans accord misbehaving foreigners (at least his forefathers were foreigners).  This just rarely happens anywhere else, does it?

I’m so annoyed that I miss the turn. Instead of going right towards Nakuru highway, I branch left and reach Mogotio area, which feels oddly familiar. At the equator sign it finally hits me that something is wrong.

With this small detour, I get to Nakuru at sunset. I spend Christmas with an Inked Sister and her family who shower me in hospitality.

Final day – Back to Nairobi

I take the final 190km home in the afternoon. It’s Christmas and everyone on Nakuru highway seems to be in some special kind of hurry.  Cars going left, right, under and over each other. And since when do trucks overtake trucks on the hard shoulder on the left?  To avoid all the mess I take my time and ride at 60 behind a nice big truck until Naivasha, where I decide to take Mai Mahiu route back, which turns out a brilliant choice, not just because there’s little traffic and I get to watch zebras crossing the road but also because Mt. Longonot and the escarpment just look gorgeous in the golden evening light.

After a chill cruise along the Gikambura route, I get home and check on my statistics for the ride: 1805km (of which 235km off-road) with 4400 KES fuel (not sure how much I lost when the carb was blocked in Kitale). I took 575 photos in 11 days, testament to this amazing trip

Sorting through the photos I feel really accomplished and proud that I made the time for this amazing experience.

Please go and enjoy the North! It’s more fascinating and harder and easier than you think!

FAQ: How to prepare and how to pack for this trip?

  • Sync all counties you’re passing through offline on Google Maps. You WILL want to see the GPS position and there will NOT always be network signal.
  • Off-road riding skills. Don’t do this if you’re not comfortable with 40km rough road. It’s too hot to learn it there!  Possibly do a basic off-road riding training, especially if it covers sand riding.
  • Research your route: I spoke to 2 people who had done this route before. I researched accommodation and called a few to get a feeling of the prices. Mapped out distances and routes.  It won’t work out exactly how you planned in the end but it’ll help you make better decisions in the moment when the original plan goes out of the window.
  • Get to know your ideal rough road tire pressure. On some parts you will ride on rough road with stones but even worse dozens of kilometres of corrugation caused by cars, matatus and trucks hammering down the road above the allowed 50. It’s literally like riding on waves like iron sheet, I can’t explain it better. So for the tarmac heroes like me, experiment off-road before going until it makes sense and you’re good at 30 kph. For example my ideal tarmac front tire pressure is 35, while rough road became bearable at 22 (29 and 25 was still bad).
  • Fully serviced bike: Oil, brakes and chain is obvious but you also don’t want a cable or spark plug to angusha you.
  • For remote rides like this I recommend an air evacuation cover (like Amref at 2500 per year). You don’t want a serious accident or illness treated in a faraway hospitali
  • Mental readiness: Don’t do it for someone else or because of group pressure. Do it because you’re curious and you’d just as much love to do it alone. At 35 degrees on your bike in a sandy patch, you’re alone. Your riding buddies can only cheer you on, but it’s going to be draining for them to pull you along.
  • Riding experience? I’d say you should have 5,000km under your belt and not less than 800km in one go. My Taveta roadtrip was a great preparation for this one as it gave me first experience with heat, sand, off-road and long kilometres on highways.
  • Mechanic skills? Knowing how to change your spark plug, patch a puncture, a torn throttle cable etc might be advantageous because chances of such incidences are naturally higher on longer trips, but I found fundis along the way and a fair number of bodas frequent the highway in Turkana and can hopefully assist getting a fundi to you.
  • Power backup? I had no power cuts along the entire journey, but I didn’t go too rural. I guess a power bank is great and I also carried a kabambe phone just in case (make sure the SIMs are interchangeable).
  • What to carry? Sunscreen, some snacks, laundry soap. Tissue paper. Body armour if you have instead of your riding jacket, but I managed with my all-weather jacket by leaving the zip open under my reflector. First aid kit. Your bike’s tools and a puncture solution (I had the spray can).  I carried way too many t-shirts. In the heat, things dry fast, and you could easily do laundry every evening.
  • Luggage? If you don’t have a fancy luggage solution for your bike, a backpack with bungee cords will do. I had put a gunia around mine to prevent dust from entering and it tore. Generally speaking, everything too light will tear on bumpy roads, so carry something sturdy.
  • Take two extra bungee cords. You just never know. Maybe you’ll need to transport a goat to the next village after hitting one. Just kidding.

FAQ: my bike is a Honda125/Boxer/Star, can I make it?

What I realized on this trip is that all along on every single kilometre, right from Nairobi to the Lake Turkana beach, there is someone using a boxer, a Honda, a TVS Star etc.
So I would say that it’s not about the bike actually.

As long as it’s well serviced (chain, oil, air filter, cables etc) and you know the bike well, you’re good to go.

What is more important is planning the route and knowing your skills and how many km you can cover in a day. I broke it down into 200-280km per day because I like taking breaks to avoid getting very exhausted.
I know that some people may ride to Kapenguria in one day (or Wakili all the way to Eliye and back – lol)! It’s something my bike can do, but I personally don’t prefer to do…
What’s the longest ride you’ve ever done? If you’ve done the typical longer day or overnight rides around Nairobi (to Oloitoktok, Lake Magadi, Wote, Sagana, Mt Kenya circuit) then that’s good preparation.
For this ride, you need to have optimum riding attitude, proper street riding skills (incl. highway lane positioning, twisted roads etc) to conserve your energy for that last stretch.

Two mistakes I made that would make it easier
1) About riding in sand. The best idea would be to leave Lodwar at 6am towards the lake so that you get there before it’s too hot. I left in the afternoon but I ended up getting there by darkness which is not great… The sand might be more difficult than you imagine so plan ample time
2) The other mistake I made was not drinking enough while riding long distances. You may ride for 100km around Nairobi without drinking much and be okay but in the rift valley and northern you sweat much more and after 200km you’re dehydrated and you loose energy and concentration…

Categories
Travels & Trips

7-day roadtrip through Taita Taveta and Makueni

To help contain Corona, we have really contained our love for travel in the last 5 months! Confident in my social distancing skills, I was ready for an adventure and to see a new part of the country for my birthday leave and settled on Taita Taveta.

I had seven days, my motorbike (a Spirit built on the Honda 125cc) and a limited budget. With around 5,000 km riding experience, I count myself an advanced beginner and had never done much more than 220km in a day.  Therefore I did quite a bit of research and talked to a few peeps to plan and anticipate my route. 

The plan ended up being: Nairobi to Taveta via Oloitoktok. After a few days around Taveta, head over to Taita Hills. Back home via Voi and Mombasa Road with a detour via Makueni’s Wote. 

Main questions in my head were: How will I handle the trucks and oncoming traffic on Mombasa Highway? Can I hack and enjoy dozens of kilometres on rural rough roads? 

In summary: It all went well and the area is breathtaking. Y’all should go there and maybe this blog post will be helpful if you’re thinking of it. 

Day 1: Nairobi to Taveta town

This is 320km long and comes in 3 stages:

First stage is 130km along Mombasa road

As you’d expect, the challenge was the oncoming traffic, where mats, cars and lorries come at you in your lane. But that piece has a good run-off area which you need to be ready to use. After the Machakos junction it gets more scenic and less busy. I’d recommend leaving Nairobi at 6-7am so that you get to Emali by 9/10 and are off the highway before it gets too busy. I didn’t follow my own advice and left Nairobi at 10 and got to Emali at 12:45 after a few photo stops.

After passing Emali town (get fuel and water) you ride over a bridge that’s worth stopping on to soak in the views of Emali and the railway (old and new). During the SGR construction a higher new bridge was built here, but the old bridge is “kinda” still there, with 15 metres missing in the tarmac, looks like an excellent spot for a sunset date if you ask me…

Stage 2 is through Maasai land up to Oloitoktok

This is 100km of excellent road. Very enjoyable. You’d easily make it in 1hr 15 but I kept stopping for photos.

Especially once you pass the cement factory it’s pictureque. Cattle herded by kids, gazelles grazing, a watering hole directly at the road (dry now). Lots of beautiful acacia trees and hills. 

A word on fuel: The last Shell before Voi on this entire route is 10km to Oloitoktok. I ignored it, as I was in full swing, thinking that Oloitoktok must have a Petrol Station.

Now, Oloitoktok town itself is sadly totally underwhelming. I got harassed while fuelling by some kids on bodas chewing miraa.  Maybe the lunch places were closed because it’s Sunday?  What I hoped would be a nice lunch break ended up a 1min maps check at National Oil. I got biscuits just before the tarmac ends (Oil Lybia in Laset).

Stage 3 is the rough road stretch. 72km from Laset to Taveta Town

The bodas in Laset said that it’s not too bad.  Well, I am new to this… I took 1hr for the first 12km. Passed a couple of stretches with 20cm deep sand. Stones, potholes, you go at 15km/h.   At one spot I slipped off the sandy road into a gully. The boda guy who helped me get the bike out said that Taveta is 70km. “So 2hrs?”, I ask. “You’ll be there in one”, he answered. Lol!

In summary, I took 3.5 hours for the 72km and learned a lot about riding in sand and how to relax your shoulders with all the sliding and how to cover miles on bumpy uncomfortable ground.  

Sometimes the white part is best to ride. Sometimes the black. Sometimes the sand. Sometimes the hard parts inbetween the sand… YO!

It’s not too scenic, but lots of trees to rest under if you had snacks. I didn’t stop to take any photos of the really bad patches. It’s safe generally speaking. But there were around 4 parts where floods had taken away the road, and they’re not very visible as there are many small hills. You might actually fall in a 3m deep hole 🙂  I ended up following the local bodas, as they really know the route and that worked out well. 

The last 20km were VERY pretty as the sun was already setting. I really started enjoying riding the waves on the sandy road with around with 35 km/h… I felt like a hero!

Didn’t stop too much, as I started to worry that I might get to Taveta after dark. Again, leaving Nairobi early would give some allowance for breaks or punctures (thorns!!). 

Then you get to the small bridge near Lake Chala – the sign you’re nearly there. You can’t see the lake as it’s a crater lake, but it’s very pretty that side. If you were earlier, you could go take a dip in the lake… Here is where I realized that I’m sandy up to my knees and the bike needs a serious wash. I started to feel like I’m on vacation 🙂

The most lol part was the junction that on Google Maps is a junction between two roads next to the railway line. While planning my trip on Google Maps, I envisioned myself turning right here towards town. But things kwa ground…. It is literally a sandy patch with bushes in the middle of the road so I went on straight. Note that some stones lying on the road indicate deep holes, so don’t take them as a joke. 

I got to the tarmac near Taveta at exactly sunset from which my hotel was around 15 minutes away. And what an amazing highway it is! The road was pretty empty (the border is closed, and curfew in place with Corona). Youth are listening to music hanging out on the bridges along the road. A girl is learning how to ride and is carrying her boyfriend. Women are taking walks chatting. I later learned that people waited for this road for over ten years…

At Green Park Hotel I had an amazingly warm welcome. Clean rooms, friendly staff, safe parking, I’d go here again. I had called earlier to book (1500 for bed and breakfast)

Day 2 – Day trip Lake Chala

I spent half the day relaxing, chatting with hotel staff, seeing the town and catching up with an old friend. It was interesting to learn more about the local history, the realities of living near the TZ border (remember how this border was drawn) and the economic opportunities.  I mean who knew that our tomatoes come from Taveta? I was also told that the Oloitoktok-Taveta route will be tarmacked by a Chinese contractor in a year or so. (“This is Worldbank money. Our government won’t touch it, so we’re optimistic that this time the road will actually be made.”)

I should also mention that Abdallah is an experienced bike mech (Shop called Hayeez opposite KCB) and I got a few nuts & bolts tightened and the chain oiled after the bumpy and dusty Day 1.

Lake Chala is a crater lake and getting to the rim is now the real off-road riding. The one you see on YouTube.  Or you can park downstairs or half-way and walk up. It’s only 5 minutes walk. There’s absolutely nothing up there, no bar, no soul and no noise – it’s beautiful! Carry water and swim suit.

Knowing the route and terrain well from last night, it took me 30 minutes from town to reach there. I’d say spend 3-4 hours on the Chala trip, so you get an hour or two to actually sit and relax and soak it all in. Maybe walk around the crater top or walk down to swim (it’s steeeeep!! Only excellent swimmers please)

Day 3 – Day trip to Lake Jipe

Let me start by saying that if at all you decide to go to Lake Jipe, you should enter Tsavo West and get to the KWS Bandas (500m from the park gate). I found no other place along the lake impressive (the lodge isn’t on the water and was out of my budget). The village itself is dusty, garbage heaps and you won’t get close to the lake or find a spot to truly relax (heat!). 

You could leave Taveta early and get here by 11 to spend the day along the lake. You can’t swim (hippos and crocs) but you can hire a boat ride (1k per person), or simply hang out.

If you were to stay overnight, the KWS bandas are a great option (book early!) which are 3k for a unit (1 double and 1 single bed, so up to 3 peeps) or 500 for camping. Check KWS website for latest prices and booking phone number. What I learned with KWS is that the team on the ground can give you all details (weather, state of the road, is their tent still intact, does the meko have gas) so call and get the direct number to the KWS Tsavo West Jipe Gate team.

It’s all extremely simple, think campsite. Shared outdoors showers. The rooms are small and very basic but are 20m from the waterfront, with a clear view on the lake and of the Tanzanian hills. AMAZING!

Bring all food and charcoal. And mosquito repellant, towels, slippers and soap. There’s gas and sufurias in the kitchen, but I’d bring dish washing soap just to be sure. For a barbecue bring charcoal or buy from the nearby village. They have a tent they said they could put up but again – call in advance to confirm. 

Now – the road from Taveta Town to the park gate isn’t great. The first 10km are doable (upto the castle which sadly seems closed to the public), then 10km rough road which was recently dug up and pretty messy. The last 10km is sand riding… Some patches are like a beach. The cruising and sliding is real fun! 

From the park gate it’s 500m to the bandas. I was escorted by a ranger on a motorbike. Note that riding past the Bandas is not allowed as per KWS policy. I understood this policy intrinsically, when there was a single male elephant crossing the road ahead of us to get a sip from the lake (can you spot them on the pic?). It’s beautiful, you pass impalas and guinea fowls also.

There is an option to reach here through the Maktau gate but you’ll pay the park fees and also it’s not allowed for motorbikes. If you’re doing this entire route by car, it’s really recommended! You could exit through Maktau directly towards Taita Hills.

You really can’t get lost, but as I’m using the red mobile phone network, I had synced the entire county on Google offline maps, meaning I could always see where I am using GPS even when the signal was weak.

Day 4 – Taveta to Wundanyi

No reason not to leave early. PLENTY to see and experience today!

It was around 1 hr to Maktau, mostly riding through the national park. As the border is closed, I was mostly alone on the highway, with less than 5 cars on the 40km that you ride within Tsavo West. Sadly, fires had razed all flora near the road, so animals were very few. Thankfully it was uneventful with a few zebras and gazelles, and no elephants. There were strong side winds, so with my light bike I managed around 50 safely. 

Next is Maktau where some 100 year-old history of the county comes to life. You can see the old railway line and station, and the Indian war cemetery… (I wondered where the African troops were buried and remembered) There were barracks worth 40,000 people here during World War 1. It’s now a dusty town with a police stop.

DO take a stop at Sarova (now managed by Pollmann’s). Have a coffee at the pool – you deserve it! They got two hotels but you can only ride to the first one (Taita Hills Resort). It’s around 25km after Maktau. 

They have a small exhibition about the first world war sponsored by European budgets in commemoration of the centenary of World War I, covering lots of facts of the war: The British and the German thinking, the strategies, the different events and fights. It talks of the Indians that were shipped to build the railway from Voi to Taveta. The war ships. It talks about the 15 African porters who stood behind 1 frontline soldier carrying supplies through the Savannah. All in all interesting to read as it was certainly not covered in my high school history classes.

Remembering that the European capitals are 9,000 km and a month away drives home what an incredible mess colonialism was. 

What they don’t even attempt to describe are the impacts of the same tribe/community fighting on both sides had on the local people and their communities and economy. We have a small mention that some of them “lost their will to live”. We don’t learn how this area and its people did between 1918 and 1963, how it came under Coast province and what that meant up to 2010 for life and people here. You’d have to find a well-informed and open-minded local to tell you that.

Back to the hotel: Location is excellent with great views from the rooftop viewpoints. I found the food average for such a fancy place. If your pocket allows, you can book a game drive, stay for a night and watch animals from the rooftop view points.  They had just reopened after a 4 month Corona break and were still booting (or rather I hope so). Sadly, they were not ready for motorcyclists, as no car could be found to get me to the more beautiful second hotel (Salt Lick).

Next stop: Wundanyi and Taita Hills

The Taita Hills side of the county is a completely different experience: Green, lush and hilly.

The ride from Mwatate up to Wundanyi was gorgeous. A smooth tarmac road is winding up the hills and takes you from 850m to 1400m asl. The tarmac ends in Wundanyi, but you can explore the various valleys from here on rough roads. I stayed at Taita Rocks Hotel, which was affordable, clean and had warm blankets for the cold night. They also got great views from the room’s balcony and decent food.

You could take a whole day or two to hike the different peaks (Wuria is 2228m high!) but I had around 4 hours and got to 2 peaks before it started raining. If you’re into off-road then go for it, otherwise just get a boda guy to take you around. They’re truly ninjas.

Someone had given me the number of a local guide who knew the best points to reach the peaks from. We had a great time, we used his bike, and he showed me his hometown. I really enjoyed taking videos instead of riding myself. The weather here changes every 20 minutes and it rained the entire evening and got pretty cold at night.  

Final 1-2 days – Return to Nairobi via Mombasa Highway

The distance from Wundanyi to Nairobi is 370km. You can do it in one day or break it in two. Either way: Leave early!

I passed Voi at exactly 8am and reached Mtito Andei at 10am for breakfast. In my opinion the best place to stop is “Midway Refreshments” with organized parking, clean toilets and tasty food. Why was it not there when we used to take the bus to coast and they dropped us in these filthy dingy places at 2am?

So how is Voi to Mtito Andei? 

It went surprisingly well. I think the stars just aligned for me: The highway was empty, the truck drivers were in a great mood. I did well with my average speed of 70. Some trucks overtook me. Others I overtook. When the road was messy, I stayed behind a slow moving truck to be safe from oncoming traffic.  

It is very spectacular and you feel like stopping for pics all the time. While you can’t stop at every single beautiful Baobab tree, I did where I felt it was safe to do so… 😀  

I found riding past the maximum security prison at Manyani quite the experience, and imagined the meeting where it was decided to put it in the middle of 20,000 km² savanna full of predators.

Wakili had given me some tips for the highway, so I don’t want to keep them to myself: The 100km surface is almost entirely rough and quite bumpy. Some sections are smooth but they do not stretch far enough. Most of this section doesn’t have any safe run off areas as the edges of the rather narrow highway are not paved. You’re likely to encounter a good number of wild animals including elephants, gazelles, giraffes and zebras. You will need to be most vigilant in this section. There’s a 60km stretch which is nothing but a national park with no human amenities like houses, Petrol stations, shops etc. In other words, don’t screw up between Mtito Andei and Voi. You don’t want to be stranded here. Good thing is most trucks and buses will let you have your right of way due to lack of safe runoff areas. Keep your headlights on, own your lane and be willing to slow down when the crazy incoming drivers disregard your presence and overtake at your peril.

From Mtito Andei onwards it’s just a matter of staying concentrated. There’s good run-off space and it’s still quite scenic up to Makindu.

Once you reach Makindu, you’ve got two options: Continue up to Nairobi directly on the highway, or take the detour via Wote. You’ll add 35km to your journey (and probably 1.5 hours) if you take the detour. But it’s excellent tarmac, a break from the traffic and BEAUTIFUL riding and a chance to explore Makueni county.

From Makindu to Wote is approximately 75kms via Kathonzweni. A straight road with good tarmac and minimal traffic. Halfway through Wote town, take a left turn for the road to Nairobi. That’s where the fun starts. It gets twistier and twistier, passing the famous Makongo Viewpoint.  This curvy 50k stretch with great views was the highlight of my trip in terms of joyful riding. I avoided Machakos town, but took the left turn at Konza which got me back to Mombasa road. A fast, virtually empty road save for occasional grazing cows and no speed bumps.

If you want to break this up into two days, you could ride up to Wote and get accommodation there. From Wote to Nairobi is still 130km and with the Athi River construction and traffic, you need to be fresh. I found Wote a nice town with friendly people. (I had lunch at a place called Becky’s Garden which yes, is a garden restaurant. They also got rooms for 1k). While I had a hotel along Mombasa highway, I would not do it again as I found these motels not pretty or serene or affordable. Sleeping in Emali for example is such a buzzkill from the beauty of this trip.

wote

wote

The total was 1,100 km on the road across 5 counties. I used fuel worth 2386 KES which speaks to smaller engines being affordable travel mates 😉

Finally, a word on road safety

ATGATT sounds obvious, but takes commitment in dusty 30 degrees (at some point my gloves wouldn’t even slip back on after taking pics) and when riding in areas where boda riders wear t-shirts and tyre slippers. With more luggage space someone might carry a body armor for the hot areas and leave the riding jacket in the hotel for the day trips. And I also got the Amref maisha basic cover (it’s 2500 per year), juuuust in case.

Overall, truck drivers were fantastic to me on this entire trip. They slowed down where needed, made space and waved me through. It’s great to see so many truck drivers actively show me as a biker that they have seen me, as it can be quite intimidating otherwise. Yes, colour, yes, gender. But still. The trip also allowed me to empathize with their work, after seeing them collect tomatoes along the 72km off-road stretch, watching 4 trucks turned over along the highway and seeing these dusty towns where they’d sleep or eat. One would need a strong spirit in this job! 

All my 5 or so risky situations were caused by cars: Oncoming cars pulling out from behind a truck, moving into your lane, seeing you clearly, flashing their light and accelerating towards you. This sucks always, but it sucks most when there’s no safe run-off space. They literally look into your eyes expecting you to get out of their way, when really they are in your way. The second thing I wish car drivers could remember is to give bikes a full lane when overtaking us (Highway Code Section 52 states this clearly as a requirement). If we have this beautiful wide road, then why would you decide to nearly hit my handlebar with your mirror? It would also help if car drivers understood that at 100 km/h they are causing quite a bit of wind that affects a bike if they overtake too closely.

road safety

Categories
The deep, emotional stuff World topics

Epilepsy and 1900 KES monthly

The reason why I don’t want to have a car in Nairobi (besides the ones we all think of: jam, repairs, cops, cleaning…) is that I could miss out on what makes life. You see, Kenya is a walking nation and many real human encounters happen while walking.

After lunch I walked to the nearby mall (beautiful sun today) as just before the entrance a lady walking in front of me collapsed and had a seizure. I stopped to support her face and head. While shaking, she injured her face and tongue on the tarmac and started bleeding.

The medication she needs to control her epilepsy are 450 per week and 1900 a month. With Corona and no work, she doesn’t have that money, she told us after she recovered and sat up against a wall in the dirt. She had visited her sister to get money but in vain. As she walked home she had 3 attacks, me witnessing the third one.

During Corona, do you touch a bleeding stranger? Support her back while she sits? A few others walking nearby stopped and after initial concern helped and one lady offered to accompany her home on the same bus (another 4km walk was ahead of her). The mall security got her water to clean her face. The security chief and I went to the pharmacy and got her meds for some days days and gave her bus fare. (Why do the fancy mall pharmacies not sell generics?)

Can you believe it? She cried from exhaustion. 1900 a month and even worse, the generics are nowhere to be found currently, another lady who stopped and who previously suffered from epilepsy but recovered, explained.

I could have gotten mad at our health system failing us and her.
But I know that we need a civil society stronger than our challenges.
I got the opportunity to have a conversation with 5 previously unaware strangers about this disease and how we can support.

I remembered the saying that God has no hands but our hands.
Don’t walk past someone in need, if you can help.
Do a first aid training. And please learn and educate others about epilepsy. It’s noone’s choice, not contagious and it’s not a curse.

#epilepsy #nairobi #sisterskeeper #firstaid

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The deep, emotional stuff World topics

Noise pollution & your health being at the mercy of others

Yesterday my friend Gigi and I refused to pay the fare on the bus, as the driver had ignored our repeated requests to reduce the volume of the deafening music.

That threat quickly led to the desired change. The volume came down and finally we could communicate verbally with the conductor: “Will you pay our hospital bill and hearing aids when we need one?”

My friend told the crowd: “Now you think the loud music is cool and I’m a crazy woman. But in ten years you’ll be deaf and remember me!” She further explained to the other passengers what influence loud music has on the human ear, especially when exposed at a young age.

I couldn’t tell whether the mothers on the bus holding infants were listening or understanding. Certainly the adolescent males on the bus laughed it off.

Low information of issues affecting health in the general public.
It’s the same issue with cars and bikes driving directly behind lorries and their passengers inhaling all the unfiltered Diesel smoke for several minutes before overtaking. Similar to cabbages being stored on the muddy road side, where village sewage flows.

Learned helplessness frustrates me so much: This is not an earthquake or flood which can only be controlled through action on a macro level. These are the actions of human beings right in front of our eyes. We HAVE influence on them.

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World topics

Help – What to say when islamphobic statements are thrown around?

It was at a barbecue in Nairobi’s posher neighbourhoods that I lost it.
We talked about the proposed security bill, actions of Police and Defence Forces and how Kenyans may never hear the truth about events like Westgate and killings of Muslim clerics if not for courageous investigative journalists.

Then, as if she intended to bring the conversation to a good end, the lady in her late 20s next to me says that “not all Muslims are bad”.

After weeks of feeling angry and helpless, I exploded.

“Would we ever even consider saying that not all Christians are bad? We know that Christian extrimists are funding an aggressive and dangerous anti-gay and anti-contraception movement.
Would the words ‘not all Americans are bad’ even pop up in our heads even after the recent CIA-report and Guantanamo?”

She weakly defends the anti-gay movement as less deadly and more convicted says that “we humans believe what our leaders tell us” and that it’s a “problem of the majority being uneducated”.

I tell her that I have little respect for giving up responsibility for our actions, for generalizations and for self-defeating language.
I ask her why not more people go to mosques to ask questions or if that’s scary to just google “what does the quran say”.

I can’t quite grasp this is happening in a country, a continent, where both religions where brought in from outside and have lived side by side for over 100 years.

She says “people” like short-cuts.

I feel like telling her about my Muslim friends, how bright, funny, hospitable they are. How some of them take their religion more and others less serious. How my Shia and Sunni colleagues got along extremely well despite millions of victims in related conflicts. How Somali-Kenyan youth are turning against the FGM practice. How the vast majority of those affected by “Muslim” extrimism are Muslims.
But I don’t. I feel alienated.

I’m still angry and helpless.
I’m looking for ways to make a difference.

Categories
The deep, emotional stuff

The gift of health

In the coastal region of Kenya I shared a (public transport) motorbike with a stranger this morning. It’s not just physically intimate to do that (at high speed) but in these brief conversations any topic can be discussed – between strangers.

(The gentlemen are conversing in Swahili, where it sounds more simple and poetic at the same time.)

Driver asks the other passenger: “What were you doing there?” – “I was trying to offer my services!” – “Oh you are in business. How is it going (/flowing)?” – “We thank God for giving us health.” – “Yes, we are blessed” – “If you have health it’s better than to have a lot of money”

Off he jumps and dashes to his bus.

I thought the exchange serves as a great reminder.
For most of us who read this (= internet users) our key resources which will run low or dry one day are our time and efforts.

Let’s invest them to truly fulfil the potential we were given.
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The deep, emotional stuff

Weekend wisdom

This has been a weekend full of reflection, as I’m about to wrap up my third year in London and preparing for a few months on the move between Kenya, Brazil, India and Europe.

I wrote down three of my insights.

We’re only in transit in this life and to seize our opportunities, we should travel light. In conversations I’m realizing how blessed I am: My roots are strong and my wings even more so.

Call it prayer, the law of attraction, looking ahead with fresh eyes, but when you’re honest about what you want in life, most likely life is going to give it to you.
It’s okay to ease my self-protection and to courageously let go, the eyes on horizon, walking in faith.

Patience with myself led to increased patience for others.
You’ve got to allow others to develop at their own speed. I commit to opening safe space for those close to me. I commit to improving my sense for others. I commit to allow others their own learning experience.
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Travels & Trips

Dartmoor get-away

I spent a few days in the South West of England, in Devonshire. Just me, my bike and my rain jacket 😉

Very recommended in this area: The book ’50 Hikes across Devon’, a lunch at the Warren House Inn, the Youth Hostel in Bellever (great fireplace and no mobile phone coverage!).

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World topics

The cost of secondary ed in Kenya

Last week I wrote a blog post about child poverty in urban Kenya, my observations from years of community engagement in Mukuru and a few suggestions on what can be done. I got great responses on the text, thanks everyone! Keep spreading the link and sending me your comments.

In this post I want to dive deeper into the cost of providing a child with secondary education. The aim is to inform all who are interested and to document my experience for those planning to start this rewarding endeavour.

I’m going to show how incredibly expensive it is and how the current system affects especially vulnerable children (which I defined in the former post). Most of this will feel informative to foreigners and will sound familiar to Kenyans. Often though even locals are surprised at the cost and awful logistics around Secondary Education.

At the bottom of this post I’ll break down how providing a child with simple secondary education and extremely basic nutrition and clothing easily costs over 1000 USD (100,000 KES) per year (using 2014 data).

  • Short-notice admission – Now how it works is that you get the admission letter from the Secondary School only mid January and the deadline for payment is around 10 days later. For vulnerable children in specific, this is challenging, as most donors and sponsors (local or international) will only start considering to support a child after seeing the letters.
  • Distance – Cost of schooling in Nairobi is very high and the chances of being admitted to Nairobi day schools are lower, too. When submitting the list of schools they’d prefer to attend, our children therefore tick boarding schools in the rural areas. So most of our children attend schools between 4-10 hours travel away from Nairobi. I believe the emotional impact is high. Having lost parents and guardians when young and now deciding to live away from friends and trusted teachers who effectively brought up the child. Financially speaking this means they have to travel 12 times a year (to and fro for every of the 3 terms and in the half-term breaks). It also means that to attend the annual ‘parents day’ our volunteers incur costs, too.
  • Transport costs – Gas prices tend to go up and down around high travel seasons in Europe. We all know this is an effect of the local market, not actually the global oil price. In Kenya traditionally around the christmas season the bus tickets get more expensive and this “tradition” has now extended to the opening and closing dates of schools. Since night bus travel has been outlawed in Kenya (at the point of writing), the prices have again increased.
  • Inflation – When our first two kids were admitted to secondary schools in 2011, their fees were around 300 Euros annually each. Of course, there were additional costs of buying a school uniform and other items. Now fees have nearly doubled, also owing to increase in food costs and teachers salaries. While this is a natural turn of things, it doesn’t help low-income parents or guardians to send their children to school.
  • In-transparent fees – Some schools’ fee breakdown includes things like “bus maintenance fee”, “holiday tuition”, “award money”. Rarely accountability is provided; we have yet to see a bus, any holiday tuition or the impact of an award.
  • Additional expenses – The food provided in the schools is really basic and children are expected to carry some pocket money to pimp their meals (e.g. buy sugar locally for example for breakfast tea). You’ll also want to think of renewing clothing, getting additional books to support practice etc.

Secondary School Sponsorship Cost Breakdown

This picture shows an approximate breakdown of costs for a child to start in 2015, quoted in Kenyan Shilling.

Every year in Upendo, we have at least 10 graduates who have good enough grades to attend Secondary School. We have been able to find sponsors for 2-3 graduates in the last 4 years.

Please get in touch if you would like to help in 2015! The costs are high but the outcome very rewarding. You can mobilize family, friends or colleagues to cater for a child together.

And what happens to the others” you may ask. Every year we also have a couple of graduates, who are talented in working with crafts and have interests in learning tailoring, carpentry or other vocational skills. For example two girls started a 3-year tailoring course with an organization. If you would like to find out how to support our graduates in learning these skills and starting up a small business, we’re interested in exploring this with you!

Important tips for anyone thinking of sponsoring a child through your own effort (not through us I mean):

  • Don’t do it without knowing the child or believing you have understood his or her situation enough to willingly give. A four-year commitment is ideal for the child. Spend at least one day with the child, visit their home, talk to the family, neighbours, teachers to cross-verify the basic information. If you are planning to be a “light touch sponsor”, you will need a trusted relationship with the close guardians. They will visit the child for parents day, they will discuss with the teachers and school nurses, the child will know them much more than she/he will know you.
  • If you are very short of time, you can take a short-cut by talking to established institutions, like international NGOs or church-run schools (NOT private schools run by so-called pastors!) to point out children and families to you. Insider knowledge comes through trust. And trust is earned – often over time! Also remember that they might worry you could be unreliable or have second thoughts regarding the children under their care.
  • Accountability issues. Often, numbers will change in the course of the year, the child might have a sickness which needs costly medication, suddenly a certain fee pops up that wasn’t discussed before. Always use your common sense, ask for written proof, ask for references and actually talk to them. Ask for photos and letters from the child, the scanned report card. If you’re abroad, get them verified from a third party on the ground.