May 12, 2010 GMT
Tales From Nairobi



It's the middle of the day here at Jungle Junction and I've just made some tea in the kitchen with the help of a torch.
This is now the serious rainy season.



A noisy thunder storm is circling overhead blocking out all the daylight, the power has gone off, and there is no mains water.


But never mind, I'm no longer camped in the grounds - they flooded out a few days ago. So I'm in a proper bed in a proper room.
And the wisdom of rolling up the lounge carpet is there for all to see. The night before last, the rainwater was two inches from entering through the back door, which is about ten inches above the garden path outside. Making eight inches of flood water, at its height, across the camping area.
So the occupants of the three tents, crazy enough to be camping in this season, including me, found space in the lounge for that night.
The difficulty was wading through the floodwater to reach your tent to retrieve whatever you needed for the night. Like mosquito repellant, which was badly needed in the lounge that night. There was no way to be sure of walking on the zig-zag pathway, hidden by the water, rather than in the squelchy muddy flower beds either side.
But, all three tents stayed dry inside during the night, which they wouldn't have with people inside them.


Last night wasn't quite so bad. Still not possible to see the pathway under the water, but the tents were on grass once again instead of on water.
And again, the inside of my tent stayed dry, but was invaded by hundreds of tiny ant-like creatures that seemed to be multiplying ferociously in this wet weather. A similar thing had happened a few days before, and they had invaded my tent through two small holes in the floor. I repaired those, but it was a mystery how the holes got there. They were definitely not caused by thorns or spikes or anything similar.
This morning there were five new holes, allowing hundreds of the insects inside, and still a mystery as to how the holes get there. It was lucky the rain stopped during the night before the floodwater reached the tent floor.
It looks to me very much as though the creepy-crawlies are chewing the holes themselves, which is pretty bad news if the floor of the tent isn't proof against such activity. So I took some photos which I'll email to the makers in Derbyshire and ask what they think. Whatever that is, the tent is pretty useless for now in wet weather, or anywhere these insects exist - which could be everywhere in southern Africa for all I know - and is now packed away.
Just as well maybe. In the time to write this, the water has risen about four inches on the grass outside. Time for more tea......


............... and now the light has returned, the rain has ceased, and the waters are receding. That was three inches of rain in twenty minutes the locals tell us.
But it's easy to become blase about being in Africa, especially if you're English and it's the rainy season. I've run out of breakfast stuff and need to visit the supermarket a few miles away to stock up, with only an hour and a half of daylight left. So I study the clouds, their movements, and calculate that I should be able to dodge any more cloudbursts if I'm quick, just like going to Waitrose in Caterham on a rainy day back home.
But this is Kenya, and I find that the tarmac at the bottom of Kingara Road has disappeared, buried under the mud washed down the hill by the day's rains. So this isn't like going to Caterham after all - I must remember that!
The knobbly tyres get me across the mud OK, then it's back into Caterham mode when I enter the supermarket. Weetabix and McVities Digestive fill the shelves and there's even Guinness, albeit a 'Foreign Extra' version, brewed here in Nairobi, not on the River Liffey.
Then back into Kenya mode once again in the car park outside as everyone calls "Jambo! Karibu!" when they realise from my numberplate and luggage that I'm a foreigner.
And I reach Jungle Junction just before the big black cloud that was following me.
The supermarket, by the way, is in the suburb called 'Junction', hence the quaint name of this overlanders' bolthole, although it is actually in Lavington.


If power returns, and the internet is connected, maybe I'll post this update. But Scott, a Canadian on an F650 BMW riding around the world has just returned from the Eritrean embassy. Eritrean visas are like gold-dust just now so Scott invented a story about a Canadian-Eritrean twinning association of which he's the president, printed a letterhead at an internet cafe, and set off earlier today on his umpteenth visit to the embassy in his quest for a visa. He's just announced that this afternoon he had a personal audience with His Excellency The Ambassador so I'm sure there's going to be an entertaining and lengthy story to listen to.


Personally I'm hoping that someone will arrive soon who's going north and has travelled up Lake Tanganyika on the ferry. I've had a few recommendations to travel down the west side of Lake Victoria, into Rwanda and Tanzania and thence south to Lake Malawi via the Lake Tanganyika ferry. But I've met no one who can confirm that motorbikes are carried on the ferry, and the road alongside the lake has more horror stories attached to it than the Trans East-African Highway. Which might just mean that it's a brilliant road to ride.


............... the next morning, and it's sunny and dry, the power is on so there's a possibility of internet.
Scott was promised a visa by the Eritrean Ambassador yesterday afternoon and he's just returned from the Embassy waving his passport with visa inside. So in celebratory mood he leaves shortly to Moyale and the Ethiopian border. I'll leave when the time feels right, and when the odds of riding into three inches of rain in twenty minutes have lengthened a little.
In the meantime I have a brilliant large-scale road atlas of the whole of Africa to study for my journey south, very kindly given to me by Gareth, a South African living in Australia riding from Cape Town to Germany on a KTM Adventurer. This map even has detailed Lat and Long grids so is dead handy for entering data on my ancient GPS box.
So thanks are due to Gareth for that. Not only from me, but from a New Zealand/Japanese couple going north to whom I gave all the maps north of Nairobi from Gareth's atlas. I kept the maps south of Nairobi, so the whole atlas will get good use.


Gareth's story of visa difficulties is similar to Scott's. He was planning quite sensibly to obtain his Ethiopian visa here in Nairobi. As were about four other north-bound groups who have been stranded here for around a month. Three weeks ago, the Ethiopian embassy here stopped issuing visas to non-Kenyans. No ifs or buts - no more visas for foreigners - no reason - end of story.
And there's no way of entering Ethiopia without that visa obtained in advance.
A British couple tried, departing about two weeks ago for Moyale, along the length of the Trans East-African Highway (yes, THAT road!) They thought they'd at least attempt to obtain visas at the border. But no, they were refused and had to drive all the way back here along the same road. They then did what all the other stranded groups have done, sent their passports and applications to the Ethiopian embassy in their home country.


That's what Gareth did. But the Ethiopian embassy in South Africa wanted to know how he was entering the country. We'd not heard of anyone being asked that before. Consequently they wanted to see his carnet and other bike papers, which told them that his bike was registered and purchased in Australia. Oh dear - no visa for Gareth - he could only enter Ethiopia on a vehicle registered in his home country.
So he too has been here for quite a few weeks, and recently received his passport back from South Africa with no visa. Last week he visited the South African Embassy in Nairobi to check if they could help. Well, as luck would have it, the South African Consul knows his Ethiopian counterpart quite well, made a phone call, and wrote a letter for Gareth to hand in at the Ethiopian embassy carrying a special request for a visa to be issued. And it was. So Gareth departed north about four days ago.
Now only one traveller is still stranded here, from England. He has his Ethiopian visa, issued by the embassy in London, in his passport. But his passport has been stuck in the customs office at East Midlands Airport for the last two weeks or more. It seems that UK customs didn't like the idea of his passport being returned, not to his accommodation address at Jungle Junction, but to a DHL office in Nairobi (where he had arranged to pick it up).
That's taken about a million phone calls to sort out and he hopes to be away north by the weekend.
So I see I have to be grateful for obtaining our Ethiopian (and Sudanese) visas so easily in Cairo.
And everyone says the same - Ethiopia is one of the big highlights on this route, as we have found, so everyone is determined to get into the country.


Now some photos - if the internet is working. A busy morning at Jungle Junction after the rains have receded. Remember, they come to you via Mombasa and the optical fibre cables along the Mediterranean..........
Here, big black afternoon clouds are gathering once more.




JJ1.jpg



JJ2.jpg



JJ3.jpg
Scott (centre) loads up his BMW ready for the off.


JJ4.jpg
Still loading.


JJ5.jpg


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Some of the camping area churned to mud.


JJ7.jpg
And waterlogged.




Posted by Ken Thomas at May 12, 2010 04:55 PM GMT
 



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