June 30, 2007 GMT
Nairobi, 30 June 2007

After spending nearly a fortnight in Addis we were happy to leave. Not that it was bad there at all, though the sagging mattresses in our hotel and increased incursions by the bed bugs was beginning to get a bit wearing. Our joy to leave was in anticipation of heading South and in relief of some light tinkering which made the Bullet's rattling engine sound mildly better and which saved us from an expensive and time consuming rebuild...

So off South we set. We decided not to head direct to the Kenyan border but to do a quick loop which took in the Rift Valley Lakes and allowed us to oggle local tribesfolk from the 'comfort' of the bike. Our plan to skirt under the rainy season went well on the first couple of days of riding. Leaving Arba Minch and heading off the asphalt for a 120km ride to Konso, (the Gateway to the famous Omo Valley, most known for women in the Mursi tribe wearing large lip plates), we discovered what the rainy season can do to an earthen road. The ride started off good and local folk didn't disappoint with the carrying of large spears, pangas and the occasional Kalashnikov. This is for protection against cattle rustling and the occassional tribal war that flares up rather than to scare tourists! It shortly became evident that it had recently rained, a lot.

stuck in the mud after Arba Minch

The road had been washed away in several places with rivers appearing where none had been and large and very deep puddles in the middle of the road. Having blasted through a couple and got covered in brown water from head to toe it seemed a good idea to skirt around the next one. A mistake as we discovered to Sascha's consternation that the ground next to the large puddles is in fact glutinous mud. The bike could stand up by itself in the bog, it was harder for us as the consistency combined intense stickiness with an equal measure of slippyness. After heaving and struggling to keep boots on feet for a while a group of locals turned up. Given promises to cross their palms with silver they were happy to use their combined strength to heave it on to dry land.

river crossing towards Konso

The Ethiopian / Kenyan border can't really be described as anything more than a dump. At least on the Ethiopian side there is a tarred road. Cross into Kenya and it's dirt roads for the next 500 odd kms. Throughout Ethiopia the chewing of 'qat' is a popular past time. It is a mildly narcotic leaf. Down South and in the North of Kenya there seem however to be a good few professional qat chewers, such that you could consider it a bit of an epidemic. Still, there is not a lot else to do around there. Curious as to what it is all about we gave it a go in Arba Minch and were pretty disappointed. Two hours of chewing bitter leaves and keeping them in a pouch in our cheeks gave less effect than an expresso followed by a pint of lager. Locals had told us that Arba Minch has the best qat in all Ethiopia but then someone else from Addis told us that they were wrong and their qat is little better than cabbage, so maybe that was the problem.

river crossing towards Konso

The road from the Kenyan border town (Moyale) to Isiolo, just more than 500kms South, carries a bad reputation. It's dirt road all the way and some coming up had promised us tyre shredding volcanic stones and unfriendly locals. True, there has been banditry on the road but not much in the last couple of years according to the police there. There are checkpoints all along the road and they've mostly given up driving in convoys with armed escorts. In fact we found people to be only friendly and kept exercising the waving muscles we had developed in Ethiopia.

The area is very tribal and tribes change in the space of just a few kilometers. Whereas in Ethiopia some seemed to be happy waving tribes and some were scowlers (not so nice when they carry big machetes and spears) all in Kenya were happy wavers. It was absolutely amazing to ride along a road where people looked much as they must have or millenia, men and women wearing loin cloths, lots of jewelry and ear plugs. Wildlife was a treat too with gazelles running across the road and in the distance ostriches were spotted.

Not that the road was plain sailing. There were stones aplenty. Lots of people described it as like driving on broken bricks. We would describe it as more like driving on stones. Some large, some small. It was wearing being bumped around so much and there's yet more welding to do on the now very patched up Bullet but ultimately we did 500kms in two days, each of about 7 hours so it can't have been that bad can it?

sascha and bike near marsabit

Now we find ourselves in Nairobi. After more than two months in Ethiopia and Sudan we've been luxing out in the shopping malls and buying plenty of cheese and other homely goodies. There's more remedial work to be done on the Bullet - firstly worn out swinging arm bushes were remade and replaced and then in doing so we discovered that the frame had fractured. It seems that this is mainly down to the pannier frames fracturing and flapping around combined with the swinging arm giving an affective hinge to the back end of the bike oscillated the frame more than it could cope with! But like the Black Knight in Monty Python's Quest for the Holy Grail we declare 'tis but a flesh wound'.

With all this time working on the bike and relaxing in Nairobi enjoying the leafy suburbs and cafes we were beginning to think that the 'Nairobbery' epithet that it has gained to be without base but then my wallet was pickpocketed today so it's all true! You've got to hand it to them though, an amazing piece of fingersmithery saw the wallet disappear from a zipped up pocket of a clip-fronted bag sitting on my lap whilst sitting on the front seat of a minibus. True professionalism! Though it's always a bummer to be thieved from at least we only lost about 50 quid with no harm, let alone awareness, to the person.

Our extended time in Nairobi has given us opportunity to think about route and Sascha has now booked her flight home from Jo'burg early September so we've got about ten weeks to ride through Tanzania, Malawi and Mozambique and our pace needs to up a wee bit!

Posted by Richard Miller at June 30, 2007 04:33 PM GMT

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