First of all, the police chief in Moyale (kenya side) doesn't know what he's talking about. Don't trust him.
We drove into Kenya from Ethiopia last january and after talking to the police chief on the Kenyian side took an alternative route. The convoy starts early in the morning on the Kenya side, and thus, if you want to take the convoy, it's best to cross the border the afternoon before. Incase you get held up with customs etc.
We got the impression that the route we took alone; Moyale, Wajir, Mado Gashi, Isiolo, was not uncommon. This is east of the convoy route, more towards Somalia. We began to wonder a bit when the officers at the many check points seemed so suprised to see us... In Mado Gashi, we were told at the police station that they hadn't seen white people there since the officers began their tour of "the operational area". About 3 years before. We asked if we could sleep in the compound and they advised us that it would be best for us, as there was a little "religious tention" in the area. When the district police chief later arrived, the fun really began. He was drunk as a skunk and immediatly ordered us arrested, as potential terrorists! Basically because he was suspicious that we came down this "backway route". In his drunken state, he thought we were trying to sneak into Kenya to pull off a new Mombasa bombing...
All our documents (maps, passports, car papers etc.) were confiscated and 4 men were ordered to guard us with their battle rifles!
The car was driven a bit away from the buildings (incase a bomb went off in it...) and we then spent a couple of hours convincing the police chief that we were tourists from Norway, and not Al Qaida terrorists!
This wasn't a money/bribe issue. It was a genuinally serious matter to the guy. Eventually we conviced him of who we were, and he then ordered his men to change around and guard us throughout the night against the local population. According to him, they were not too fond of non-muslims, and there had been a lot of religious violance recently.
After a sweaty night in our tent, we were given 2 officers with guns, grenades and the works to escort us to the farside (west side) of mount Kenya. For free! It took a days drive and that was the end of our journey through the Operational Area. The officers told us about some recent bandit battles, and we could see on their faces that they didn't feel quite secure driving around there. It was obvious that the stories weren't just to scare us.
What was a little scary was that the police chiefs men blindly followed his orders even though he was totaly drunk!
There are some benefits of driving this route; the tracks are sand (and a bit of mud when we were there) instead of the sharp rocks on the convoy route which will rip up your tyres. For motorcycles though, I'd say that the sandy ruts we had were quite bad. Often with dense bush on the sides, so you'd be forced to stick to the ruts...
If there are any bandits roaming around this alternative route, they definatly won't expect you to come along, unlike on the convoy route where "everyone" drives.
The downside is that the bandits here supposedly shoot at your vehicle to stop you... Unlike on the convoy route where you are "held up".
Another thing we've heard down there is that when people get a flat tyre etc. with the convoy, it just continues and leaves the stricken car/bike behind! Some convoy!
Obviously there are upsides and downsides to both ways.
If making a choice, I'd go the same way over again!
[This message has been edited by Erik D. (edited 22 September 2003).]