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Travels & Trips

Loiyangalani, finally!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Day 0 – Packing & getting the chain tightened

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Day 1 – to Maralal 330km

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

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

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

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

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

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

Iced coffee on the lawn at Thomson Falls Resort

Continuing to Rumuruti, we find smooth tarmac!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunset over Maralal from Ngari Hill Ecolodge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Heading out from Maralal into the mountains

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

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

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

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

View across Suguta Valley

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

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

The corrugations :-S

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some ugali is required to pop this wheel

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

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

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

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

Day 3 – Jade Sea – 91km

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

At 11am we head out again.

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

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

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

Finally – We can see the water!

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

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

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

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

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

Around 20km before Loiya

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The junction towards North Horr… Maybe another time!

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

Beautiful sunset over the Lake

Day 5 – The sandpits of Ngurunit – 160km

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

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

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

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

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

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

Long awaited windy hair shot at Lake Turkana Windfarm Project

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Golbo Guest House, very near the Ndoto Mountains

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

Kids in charge of camels is a common sight up North

Day 6 – Through sandpits and tarmac to Archers Post

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Laisamis entering the Moyale highway… We head south!

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

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

Along the highway near Mt Ololokwe

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

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

Low water levels in the Ewaso Nyiro river

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

Day 7 – Tourism day: Game drive

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

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

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

What a delightful and magical finish to our trip!

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

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

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

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

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

Somehow I had never been to Trout Tree before!

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

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

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

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

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

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

To more adventures!

Categories
Travels & Trips

Samburu ride: Stargazing on Mt Ololokwe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Breathtaking views during the ascent

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Camping spot sent by the universe
Panorama shot

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

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

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

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

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

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

Day 3: Back to Nairobi – 300km

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

Old bridge at Archer’s Post

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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

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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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Travels & Trips World topics

Stockholm

In July I attended the wedding of my friends near Stockholm and took the opportunity to see the city and meet old friends. Here are the pictures of my trip through the city and its surroundings.

My first impression was that there’s a lot of water. The city itself is built across a dozen islands, which gives it a unique flair. An island for museums, one for swimming, one for the old town, one with a natural park, you name it. Approaching the airport, you fly across the archipelago with thousands of them! Very beautiful 😀

I heard a lot about high equality between women and men in Scandinavia, but seeings the uncomplicated way of dealing with femininity with my own eyes was just liberating: Women are cycling with flying mini skirts and no one gives a second look. Male toilets with nappy changing unit. Ladies toilets have simple plastic bags as bins and not those “automatically disinfecting, push the pedal, then put your pad on the flap bins” you see else often. Adults simply change into swim gear on the cities beaches and again: no stares.

The most remarkable thing about Stockholm to me was that they have instituted a sort-of human right of access to a bicycle. You simply pay 32 Euros and you get access to rental bikes for 6 months! And not those annoying 30-minute slots common across the big cities in the West – no, you get the bike for 3 hours straight!

What do do in Stockholm?

Visit the parliament for a free tour in English! Very recommended for its beautiful view from the 6th floor and the architecture. It was also very interesting to hear a few facts about democracy. For example only in Sweden and Norway the parliamentarians are sitting organized by region not by party! There’s a ladies room in the parliament showing pictures of famous “first women” in Swedish politics. The room also features a mirror, where female visitors can see the reflection of the potential future prime minister of the country. A fantastic conversation to have with school classes and other groups of visitors!

Don’t miss out on a drink on a boat bar near the old town, watching the sun set slowly between 9pm and midnight. You’ll walk home in the twilight, it just doesn’t get dark in summer in Sweden!

I also did the early morning boat tour, getting a nearly undisturbed insight into smaller islands. Below are some pictures of the defense equipment still installed on the island to protect Stockholm city (but unused).

Another highlight for me was the museum of photography with a great video installation about Chinese migratory workers.

On the day of the world cup final we were lazying around with the German friends and family of the couple. We ended up playing football. As i was in a dress and flip flops, I started carefully at first to test the shoes. Later I even scored with the left foot. We had a couple of trees on the pitch, which made it even more exciting and surreal.
Another exciting physical challenge came in form of “a slackline”. We tried to walk across a rope spread between two trees.
This weekend I really found new joy about physical mastery which I hope to continue in London 🙂

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Travels & Trips

4 relaxing days on Menorca

Together with my friend Caroline I went on a long weekend trip to Menorca. As the spring season had just started, we were nearly alone in the hotel, the beaches, the car parks… Instant relaxation! We enjoyed the history, amazing food and landscape.

Colour code = blue, green and white!

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Travels & Trips

When it’s raining flowers

A garden museum near Waterloo station? In an old church next to a palace?
How random, but triggering our interest to enter.

And suddenly it was raining flowers on us!

Let’s treat ourselves and enjoy small joys like world wonders!

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Travels & Trips

A day with mum and the Seven Sisters

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My mum visited for Easter and with another friend we visited England’s south coast. Three German ladies out in the wild.

A lovely day on the cliffs imagining life on the south downs with lots of sheep before electricity and piped water.

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The deep, emotional stuff Travels & Trips

Skewed memories

Isn’t it strange what happens when you go back to a place you visited in your childhood?

Everything seems bigger in memory than to your mature eye today.

It’s much less of a movie scenery but much more of a processed reality.

Walking on a pebble beach was more fun, now it feels more of a muscle workout.

Reminder to self: Memories are just where you laid them. Don’t stop creating new ones!

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