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Kenya 1

Travel Journal

18.09.2006, Yabelo, Ethiopia – Moyale, Kenya, 214 km (part 2)

What a pleasant difference to Ethiopia! At the customs buildings were no kids or beggars hanging about. Everything looked neat and at every door were signs saying “It is your right to be served, do not accept to pay bribes!” and “No to corruption!”
We filled out our visa application and got our passports stamped (3 months visa for 50 USD). Next door we got the Carnet for Tembo stamped and there was no road permit charged (usually 50 USD) although the guide book and other travelers said so. Lucky us – well, not so lucky in the end we had to pay 40 USD when leaving Kenya at the border to Tanzania. When we asked about the road conditions to Marsabit we were told that the road was not too bad and that there had been no shifta attacks lately. “They very rarely attack tourists. Very rarely.”
There was a convoy leaving at 9 am the next day, but we decided to leave earlier without the convoy, so we could drive at our speed.
With the help of an Ugandan doctor we managed to find the Kenya Wildlife Service and set up our camp. The spot was lovely and the people working there were very happy about the distraction. There were some ostriches walking about and we enjoyed the rest of the day idling along ignoring the fact that we were about to hit the most dangerous roads of Kenya.

19.09.2006, Moyale, Kenya – Marsabit, Marsabit National Park, 261 km

We woke to grey skies and a slight drizzle. Had the Ethiopian rain reached Northern Kenya? The worst roads ahead of us and then rain … again. We asked the very nice and helpful lady from the Kenya Wildlife Service and she said that it is just a small shower, the first rain in months. Well at least the shifta will stay away then – hopefully. When she heard that we were about to hit the road to Marsabit the lady looked worried, then told us to wait and ran to the KWS office. She returned with a can of tinned pineapple and gave it to us together with her best wishes …
Still, we didn’t feel like eating anything and drove to the police checkpoint in Moyale. There we signed a logbook and the policemen assured us that the shifta will stay away today :-). They opened the barrier and off we were on the famous Moyale-Marsabit Road.
In the beginning villages lined the track and children were on their way to school, looking very smart in their school uniforms. The road was actually surprisingly good and we made good progress. Slowly the villages disappeared giving way to dry bush land. Once in a while we saw the odd shepherd appearing with his goats, but apart from that we were very alone on the road. We kept on looking nervously behind every bush expecting some armed shifta to jump onto the road at any time. But nothing happened. Once in a while we saw men carrying rifles over their shoulders wearing dubious military outfits (not one piece fitting the other). We always greeted when driving by, hoping the rifles were for self-defense rather than offence.
The rain stopped and gave way to blue skies and a murderous heat. After a final police checkpoint somewhere half way, we entered the Dida Galgalu Desert. The road deteriorated to a track covered with sharp stones. There was no escaping. Left and right of us stretched an endless desert of sand and stones. No bushes or trees anywhere. We rattled along over heavy corrugations and sharp stones the entire car shaking and every bolt coming loose. I glued my eyes to our GPS watching the little arrow slowly moving towards the final destination. After seemingly endless hours of bouncing through the desert we slowly started our ascend towards Marsabit. The road got better and our mood improved equally. We actually got chatty and joked around and felt the tension of the day slowly disappearing. After 7.5 hours we rolled into the dirty little outpost of Marsabit. We even got there early enough to go to the bank and do some very basic shopping. We managed to buy some bread and we bought our first six pack of Tusker beer for an outrages amount of money in a very local bar. This done we drove on to the campsite at the gate of the Marsabit National Park. We were welcomed enthusiastically by the park ranger on duty. We were the first visitors in days. The campsite is 200m from the gate and turned out to be the most lovely and remote place. The national park covers the area of Mount Marsabit that stands in a strong contrast to the surrounding desert: the mountain is covered in dense vegetation, there are several crater lakes and the forest is teeming with wildlife – the most famous being elephants with extremely large tusks.
So we enjoyed a lush green campsite with huge old trees while just 1 km away there was the dusty and hot outpost of Marsabit.
The rest of the day we spent recounting the tales of today’s drive, licking our wounds, tending to Tembo and drinking the first cold Tusker. We decided not to drive on the next day and to enjoy the clean air and shady trees for an extra day – quite frankly, we didn’t look forward to the next stretch of road from Marsabit to Isiolo (Samburu National Reserve) as it was supposed to be as bad, as dangerous and as corrugated as the Moyale-Marsabit road.

20.09.-22.09.2006, Marsabit National Park, Kenya, 33 km

The next day we were greeted by dense fog and rain – we were getting used to that … However the fog lifted quickly and gave way to a perfectly sunny day and so we decided to extend our stay some more. The ranger laughed when he saw us walking to his house: “Karibu, you want to stay another night?”
We spent the first day checking every nut and bolt of Tembo – readjusting and tightening them. Jens even found the reason for our “Tembomat” problem (random acceleration). A small coil spring had fallen off, not pulling back the accelerator anymore. Jens managed to find the little spring in the depth of the engine, where it got entangled and stuck – it probably hung there since Libya. The spring got refitted with some normal wire and the problem was solved.
The next day we drove into the park. The park is lovely but because of the very dense vegetation it is difficult to spot many animals. However we saw buffalo and later also the famous elephants. We stopped at a spot overlooking Lake Paradise – the biggest crater lake. But since it was around noon no animals could be seen. While we were enjoying the view two park rangers appeared and invited us to drive down to the lake to wait for the animals. We did so and spent the time chatting with the park rangers about animals, Kenya and Europe, while sitting on the roof rack overlooking Lake Paradise. We were actually quite glad when the rangers really turned out to be rangers. When we saw them approaching our car, three men with AK-47s in combat gear, we thought for a moment that driving down to the lake had not been a good idea (knowing that we were the only visitors in the park). The rangers told us to stay till 3 pm, then the elephants will come to drink. They said good-bye to us and continued their patrol.
At 3 pm sharp Jens discovered the first elephants moving towards the water – magic. We watched them for a long time and on our way back we even saw more elephants directly at the gate, not far from our campsite. We got frequent visits from a large baboon family at the camp. However they were very shy and did not approach us – quite contrary to baboons in more touristy areas. It was quite fascinating to observe them and the closeness to human behavior was sometimes startling.

We also drove into town to stock up on bread but were not successful. A typical African conversation:
Me: “I would like to buy some bread please.”
Clerk: “No bread today.”
Me: “Oh, is there somewhere else in town, where I could buy bread?”
Clerk: “No, no bread in town.”
Me: “Well, will there be any tomorrow?”
Clerk: “No, not tomorrow.
Me: “Ok, WHEN, will there be bread again?”
Clerk: “Maybe the day after tomorrow, maybe not. When the next truck with bread comes to Marsabit, there will be bread.”

The evenings we spent drinking some whisky around the fire (actually we finished off your whisky Daniel & Leoni. Thanks a lot. It kept us good company and we managed to smuggle it through all the Muslim countries … almost unnoticed), listening to the sounds of the bush. We enjoyed the solitude and collected our courage for the next stretch of road.

23.09.2006, Marsabit, Kenya – Samburu National Reserve, Kenya, 251 km

Finally, we couldn’t put it off any longer. The next 250 km on corrugated and shifta-ridden roads lay ahead of us. The first contact with tarmac will be in the town of Isiolo, but before that, we planned to stop over in the Samburu National Reserve.
When leaving Marsabit we gave two policemen and one AK-47 a lift on our roof rack to their post of duty. They assured us that the road was quite safe and of perfect quality. Right. Well, not quite so. The roads never are what the locals say, because most of the locals don’t travel on these roads. That is a key learning from this trip! To make it short … the road was a t r o c i o u s. It was actually worse than the stretch Moyale-Marsabit, at least concerning corrugations. We were hobbling along at 10kph and I thought that my head would explode any minute. Also there were dense bushes next to the track and I felt a lot more unsafe on that road, because one couldn’t see anything left and right of the road. We did see some wildlife though: plenty Dik Diks (always in pairs), some antelopes and one jackal. A sign that we were nearing a national park. We also saw many shepherds in their beautiful traditional attire of bead necklaces and bracelets indicating the entry into Samburu country.
After hours of blasting heat and neck-braking corrugations we reached the dusty hamlet of Archer’s Post, with the gate to the Samburu National Reserve nearby. We stopped to buy some bread (Mama, welcome to my shop. Next guy, same shop: Mama, you want bread? No problem. This is my shop … and so on) and were harassed by the entire village’s unemployed and drunk male population begging for money. What a lovely little place. That’s where you want to stop and hang about some more … We made a beeline to the gate of the Samburu N.R. Our first real national park! Because of the outrageous lodge prices we opted for the camping option which turned out to be directly on the river and very scenic, however it was just a short drive from the Samburu Lodge, where we stopped for toasted sandwiches with a perfect view on the big crocs in the river, cold beers and a decent toilet.
The Samburu National Reserve offers the stunning setting of a lush river dividing an arid desert. Hence one can choose between rocky savannah setting or thick river vegetation which makes driving in the park interesting and fun.

24.09.-25.09.2006, Samburu National Reserve, Kenya, 74 km

We spent the next two days in the park. We went for early morning game drives followed by a “monkey-safe” breakfast on the roof rack at our camping spot (with river view!). We spent the heat of the day at the Samburu Lodge observing tourists instead of wildlife and in the afternoon we where back scanning the park for animals – trying to avoid the hundreds of white mini vans. At night we listened to the sounds of the park, sitting on the roof rack, sipping G&Ts. One night a lion was roaring right across the river sending chills down our spines. A huge croc was also positioned right across the river from our camping spot and we could see its eyes reflecting the beam of the Maglite.
We were very lucky on our strolls. We always encountered large herds of elephant and on every tour we met a lioness and her mate, taking a time out at the river. They were lying right on the path and we could have given them a tickle from our car window – which we decided not to do … you should see their paws!
We also saw a cheetah having dinner. Although this encounter left me wondering … The cat was biting off a perfectly clean piece of meat, at top game driving time at a perfect observation spot, surrounded by 20 white mini vans … Did they feed her? Or did she really hunt down something small at 4.30pm?
We were the only self-drive tourists in the entire park. At the Samburu Lodge we had a ball observing the white, overweight, elderly tourists dragging their 50kg camera equipment to the white mini vans, when the “game-drive-alert-whistle” went off.
The drivers of the mini vans couldn’t believe we actually came down from Moyale and Marsabit and kept thumping our backs and looking at us in disbelieve: “You can thank God, you are here alive!” Well, we do!
We enjoyed our very individual game park routine and were always overjoyed when we managed to spent some time with the lions, without any other car around.

26.09.2006, Samburu National Reserve, Kenya – Timau (Mt. Kenya), Kenya, 125 km

Although we hadn’t managed to spot a leopard (“don’t be silly, all leopards are spotted!”), we had to leave the park at one point (it is just too expensive!). We were longing for tarmac and a supermarket, running virtually out of all our food supplies. So Nairobi was next big goal.
For today however we just wanted to leave the northern deserts behind us and enter the fertile lands of the Mount Kenya highlands. The last kilometers from Archer’s Post to Isiolo were taken with clenched teeth, knowing that tarmac couldn’t be far. And finally we could see the grey surface ahead of us. We had made it!! We had passed through wild northern Kenya with its bandits and bad roads and actually had partly enjoyed it. At a police checkpoint we signed a book, confirming our survival and then we were back in African civilization. Street vendors, broken ATM machines and shops closed for lunch. We hurriedly filled up our tanks and continued south towards Mt. Kenya.
Just after Isiolo the road gradually ascends leaving behind the dry and hot desert and slowly entering lush vegetation. Large farmland dominates the landscape and at some spots we felt like driving through Europe. However, we could not see Mt. Kenya although it must have been right in front of us. But there were just clouds billowing up obscuring any glimpse on Kenya’s highest mountain.
We stopped at the Timau River Lodge just outside Timau for the day. The lodge offers camping on thick grass in a retirement home setting of small huts and nice gardens at the foot of the mountain (which we still couldn’t see). We had vegetable curry and chapatis and realized when the sun started to set, that we were at 2.240 m altitude and it was FREEZING! What a difference to Samburu, just 100km down the road. We put on every piece of clothing we could find and hoped to make it through the night :-)
In the afternoon a Dutch couple (Sonja & Jereon) traveling through Kenya in a rented Range Rover joined us on the campsite. We exchanged some travel data and decided to go on walk together the next day.

27.09.-28.09.2006, Timau (Mt. Kenya), Kenya, 0 km

Well, we survived the night … barely … but yet we did. The owner of the lodge had told us that the best (and only) view to Mt. Kenya will be in the mornings between 6-7 am. The lodge sports 2 special mountain view points (supposedly the best in the entire Mt. Kenya region). So, with chattering teeth we climbed out of the tent a 6.30 am and through thick eyelids indeed had a great and clear view onto Mt. Kenya. Once the sun was out, it got hot again. After a hearty breakfast we went on the forest walk, promised by the lodge owner to be a nice two-hour walk through the Mt. Kenya foliage. However it turned out that our guide was more keen on showing us a village school (which was interesting all right and we even managed to scare a little girl), a trout farm (‘you can sit and have cold drinks’; ‘these are our rooms’; ‘here are our trout, you just cannot see them, because the water is so muddy’) and the village. We managed to stop him on the way to the village and returned to the lodge via the forest and that was actually a very nice walk. In the afternoon we had cookies and tea under a rain shelter (as it rained) and at night we had dinner at the open log fire.
The next morning after enjoying the Mt. Kenya view again Sonja and Jeroen left for Nairobi (their flight was due the next day … hehehe) and we settled for another day in the clear mountain air and sun. Since we were planning on meeting our friends Antje and Jens in Arusha (Tanzania) on the 10th of October and Tembo still needed some serious attention, we decided to skip the trip to Lake Naivasha and headed for Nairobi instead.

29.09.2006, Timau (Mt. Kenya), Kenya – Nairobi, Kenya, 227 km

We left Timau for Nairobi early. The air was brisk and the sun shining. We were exited for today just a few kilometers south of Timau we were to cross the Equator. But before that Tembo gave us a start when he started shaking heavily on a rough bit of road. It seemed like the rough roads of Northern Kenya had shaken his steering. On normal tarmac he was still doing fine though and so we decided to continue towards Nairobi.
Right after Nanyuki we crossed the Equator. There was a small sign indicating the Equator and there were a multitude of curio shops hunting for tourists. All the white safari vans on their way to Samburu N.R. stop here, ready to be ripped off. We managed to shake off the touts but we did not manage to take a picture of the famous sign without a group of tourists underneath. Clever entrepreneurs demonstrate to anyone who didn’t ask for it, how water on the northern hemisphere flows differently through a funnel than on the southern hemisphere … so what! But they charge you for it. Anyway, we took our pictures and continued. This was our first equator crossing on land in our own car!
Slowly we left behind the fertile slopes of Mt. Kenya and entered the outskirts of Nairobi. The traffic congested and the roads got worse. Thanks to our GPS we managed to navigate through the city and found our camp of choice “Jungle Junction” in Lavington without any problems. We were greeted by the German owner Chris (see also “Kenya 2” travel diary) and set up our camp. Jungle Junction sports some real washing machines and so we happily handed over our dirty clothes from the past weeks.

30.09.-10.10.2006, Nairobi, Kenya, 126 km

The time we spent in Nairobi is quickly summarized. After recovering from the past weeks, we gave Tembo to the diesel experts at F.I.T.S. (S01 18.293 E36 49.664) who kept him for many days, readjusting the timing chain. This, of course, took longer than we thought and was also more expensive. This led to many tears and discussions, since we wanted to be in Arusha at the 10th of October to meet our friends Antje and Jens and spent the next 3 weeks together with them in Tanzania.
For the German national holiday (3rd of October) we gate crashed the party at the Residence of the German Ambassador. We accompanied our host Chris (who had an invitation) and enjoyed the free wine and free pretzels. The setting was in a lovely garden under old trees, a band was playing and this was so different from the past months on the road. AND we were the only car with a German license plate … all the other Germans came with their LandCruisers and chauffeurs. Pah!
Also at Jungle Junction were a Dutch couple (Hans and Margret) that lives in Arusha – actually they have moved back to Holland by now. They were very nice and we had a great time with them. While Jens and Hans worked on the cars and got spare parts, Margret and I went to check out the Nairobi shopping malls. We even checked out the curio shops across from the Sarit Center, but were driven away by the high “muzungu” prices and the constant “sista, sista, come lookie, lookie at my shop”.
Finally Tembo was back to normal – actually even better than normal (“Now it drives that you want a fifth gear!”, our engine man Robert said when we came to pick up Tembo. And that was exactly true.) and we could get going towards Arusha, Tanzania, where we were to meet Antje and Jens! Juhu. We couldn’t wait to see friends in Africa!

11.10.2006, Nairobi, Kenya – Arusha, Tanzania, 289 km (part 1)

The drive to the border of Namanga was quite uneventful. Leaving Nairobi it slopes down into the Athi Plains and the weather got warm and dry. Antje had asked us to look out for foldable safari chairs in Nairobi’s streets and to buy some, since they were cheaper in Kenya. However we did not see one chair – and so the hunt for safari chairs will accompany us for the following weeks.
As old and experienced border crossers, we left Namanga quickly behind us and entered Tanzania.

Summary Kenya #1:

Kenya’s North was always the one place I worried about most before starting this trip. Notorious for its bad roads and bandits. Once this part was behind us, Kenya was a lovely place (well we loved the North as well, actually). Marsabit, Samburu National Park and the Mt. Kenya region were pleasant and not very touristy. Check also our “Kenya 2” travel diary. In short: we loved it and we will come back!

Costs: Kenya is not cheap, yet it is not outrageously expensive either. In the countryside away from mass tourism life is cheap (camping on Tiwi Beach cost 200KSh/2,20 EURO p.P.p.n.; in Nairobi at Jungle Junction 400KSh/4,40 EURO p.P.p.n.). Entering a national park or buying cheese in Nairobi is more on the expensive side. 1 liter of diesel cost between 60-75 KSh.

Driving: driving in Kenya’s north (north of the town of Isiolo) is dominated by maneuvering over bad to really bad roads. There is no tarmac and the roads are heavily corrugated or covered with sharp stones. In addition there is the problem of bandit attacks on cars. On the other hand one does not have to worry about speeding busses/trucks and traffic in general is non-existent.
Kenya’s south is dominated by heavy traffic and partly bad roads. Especially the road from Nairobi to Mombasa is quite dangerous because of the thousands of trucks and buses frequenting the 2-lane “highway”. Driving in Nairobi at night is dangerous because of the high crime rate. Driving in Nairobi during the day is a bitch because you are always stuck in a traffic jam – like in Europe.
We got frequently stopped by police at police checkpoints – however they were mostly friendly asking where we were going. Only twice they wanted to see our road permit and our insurance papers.

Nach oben


Camping spot in Moyale at the KWS/ Campingplatz in Moyale beim KWS 
The road to Marsabit/ Die Strasse nach Marsabit 
Reaching Marsabit N.P. safely/ Sichere Ankunft im Marsabit N.P. 
Our camp in Marsabit N.P./ Unser Camp im Marsabit N.P. 
Game watching in Marsabit N.P./ Auf Tiersuche im Marsabit N.P. 
Cold drinks, food and crocodiles at the Samburu Lodge in Samburu N.R./ Kalte Getränke, Essen und Krokodile in der Samburu Lodge im Samburu N.R. 
Elephants up close - no tele necessary/ Elefanten ganz nah, kein Teleobjektiv nötig 
Pussycats asleep - how cute can a carnivore be?/ Kätzchen beim Schlafen - wie süss Fleischfresser doch sein können 
Mt. Kenya at full glory at 7 am - view from Timau River Lodge/ Mt. Kenya in voller Größe um 7 Uhr morgens - Blick von der Timau River Lodge  
At the Residence of the German Ambassador in Nairobi for the 3rd of October celebration - drinks and snacks for free!!/ In der Residenz des Deutschen Botschafters in Nairobi zur Feier des 3. Oktobers - Getränke und Snacks umsonst!! 
Crossing the equator - watch the tourists being ripped off next to Tembo :-)/ Überquerung des Äquators - neben uns werden die Touristen abgezockt :-) 

Nach oben


Kenya Wildlife Service, Moyale, N03 31.081 E39 03.008
Public Campsite, Ahmed Gate, Marsabit National Park, Marsabit, N02 19.225 E37 59.184
Public Campsite, near Samburu Lodge, Samburu National Reserve, N00 33.964 E37 32.090
Timau River Lodge, Timau, Mt. Kenya, N00 05.129 E37 15.128
Jungle Junction Camping, Nairobi, S01 17.325 E36 45.635

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