The queue on the border of Uganda was a long one and this time the only offer I got to speed up the process was from a young guy who expected a fee of $100, to which I laughingly replied that I’m from Africa myself and didn’t need a visa for Kenya, I would manage on my own. Continuing along in the queue I was approached by a young man asking me in Afrikaans whether I was from the Eastern Cape, having seen my bike’s number plate, and said I came from Barkley East. I was absolutely amazed and asked him whether he listened to Ephopenie Radio, the station in his home town. Then it was his turn to be astonished and asked how I knew this. I told him I work for Sentech that broadcasts radio and television signals across the country, including his town. The world is a small place, isn’t it. He turned out to be a missionary in Uganda. I only had to go through one office and after 30 minutes I exited again.
Following the picturesque road to Nairobi I came to Upper Hill, packed with 4x4s and upon asking for the owner, I was told he had gone to town. I waited 30 minutes and then moved on to the other backpackers lodge. The woman there welcomed me warmly and told me what a pity it was that her husband was out, because his dream bike is the African Twin and here one stood. She then rented me a canvas tent for the night. Also booked at the lodge was a group from the UK and unlike the Aussies, we connected very well and the food was excellent. Taking another day for laundry and bike inspection, I went out to explore the city and have a nice lunch at the Nairobi mall. As night was falling, I grew quiet with increasing apprehension over the upcoming leg of my journey.Early the next morning I hit the road to the town of Isiolo, the start of the dreaded dirt road. A highlight of this part of my trip was reaching the equator that according to my GPS I had ridden along a few times. I had hoped to see Mount Kenya, a mountain many aspire to climb, but with an overcast sky it was not to be. A brief stop in a nearby village and a nice chat with the locals later, I continued on my way. Upon arriving in Isiolo, just after 13h00, I headed straight for the first police station to enquire about an army escort to Marasabet, a must against robbery so close to the Somalian border. I was glad to hear that it had been quiet for some time and an escort wasn’t considered necessary, because research had told me that these escorts drove at such speed that it was difficult for motorbikes to keep up. The police did advise me to take enough water along and I had also read that road inspections were sometimes undertaken to ensure tourists have the necessary provisions. By this time I was hoping I would find other motorcyclists taking the same route through the stark Kaisut Desert.
I found a lovely spot to overnight just 5km outside of Isiolo, but once again I was camping all by my lonesome. Though I can say that the meal at the restaurant that evening was excellent.
I took the time to thoroughly inspect my bike, because from here on out it was make or break. My 3 litre Camel tank, strapped to my back, sure came in handy for the water I would need to take along. This, together with the extra fuel on board, made for quite a heavy load.
The road from Isiolo to Moyale, through the Kaisut Desert, is the road from hell. Long Way Down, by Charley Boorman, about three BMW motorbikes describe how the camera man’s shock absorbers broke off. I had also read of bike frames splintering and people dying on this road. The big question was how to get my bike upright if I fell, because even Charley and his team ploughed into the ground a few times during the Dakar rally. The desert is composed of lava stone as sharp as a knife, cleaving open many a tyre. The next three days would determine the outcome of my journey. I even wondered whether I should load my bike on a truck, as I read others have done, better safe than sorry – right?! Thing is, I’m not such a big man and don’t have the upper-body strength to lift the bike once it’s down. I also have no experience riding on sand and didn’t have the time to go on a training course, deciding I would learn from experience on this road from hell.
Down I went to the dining hall, for the breakfast included in the overnight rate, but I was to tense to eat and pushed the food around on my plate like a naughty child. The waitress even wondered if there was something wrong with the food, because I wasn’t eating, and so I told her of my fear about what awaited me. Her next question was whether I believed in God and when I replied I am a Christian, yes, she sat down beside me and prayed for me while holding my hand. Then she told me that I would not fall, I would not get a flat tyre and that there would be people along the way that would take care of me. It is with this assurance that I hit the road.
The dirt road got worse the further I travelled. After an hour I became lightheaded and had to stop. It was sweltering hot and the struggle to keep the bike on the road completely drained me. There wasn’t a tree in sight that would offer me a shady resting spot (as is clear from my profile photo) and I was quickly dehydrating from the effort to navigate the treacherous road. So I sat down right there, gulped down water and rested for half an hour. A quick inspection revealed the first damage to my bike, the number plate was gone. How could I possibly cross borders this way and where was I going to get another one made? I continued on, stopping every 30 minutes or so to rest and allow the shock absorbers too cool down. The rutted road tested my bike to its limits and a few times I almost went down, but by some kind of miracle I got myself out of trouble each time on this heavily loaded bike. This 600km would take me three days.
I would sleep in a village 57km from Marsabit that night. While enjoying a Pepsi, a man by the name of David offered to go to Marsabit and organise me a truck to transport my bike to the border town of Moyale. I tried to dissuade him, knowing it would cost me a whole lot of money, but he was insistent. I was so tired that I just said (in Afrikaans): Ag, David just fu*/@ing go ahead! My bike and I made it to Marsabit just before nightfall, still in one piece.
David waited for me at the filling station with the news that he had booked a room at the hotel. “What a cheek”, I thought to myself, but I’ll never forget the room cost a mere R18.00 per head. David organised me a bucket of cold water to wash off the sweat and grime, it was heavenly, and even made me coffee, just dumping the coffee right into the kettle. I quite enjoyed his company and didn’t need to spend the whole evening all on my own again, although I did wonder what his services were going to cost me. He had disappeared so fast earlier that I didn’t have a chance to negotiate. Apparently the trucks only drive at night, because of the heat during the day, and would pass by at 02h00 in the morning. Right there I decided to take on day two on my own, because there was no way I was going to load the bike that time of the morning.
Early the next morning David and I headed to a shop to replenish my water supply. If nothing else, you’ll always be able to get bottled water in Africa. We were still chatting when we heard a car hoot and with that David said farewell and went to catch his lift, with me right behind him to pay him for his kindness. He refused the money, but I just stuffed it into his pocket and wished I had a business card to give him.
The road wasn’t any better that day and I had a few close calls, regularly stopping to rest. Upon arriving in Turbi later that day, I found a place to sit and enjoyed a cold Pepsi, deciding I would continue on tomorrow. I asked around for a room, which turned out to be a bed without a matrass but I was so tired my tent matrass would do.
After changing into shorts, I promptly had a look at my bike and found it had held up nicely. This village didn’t have television, internet, radio or even a post office. They had no idea who Nelson Mandela, South Africa’s world famous former president, was. Unpacking my books and with the aid of an interpreter I showed them a map of Africa and my homeland, soon my audience grew. One child screamed bloody murder whenever his mother carried him closer to me, scared senseless of this white man, and even the biscuit I offered had to be given to him by a local. The hotel owner’s husband died at the hands of Somalians, stealing their livestock, and the government didn’t lift a finger. As the sun was setting, the interpreter took me to the room the hotel owner had prepared for me, complete with a brand new duvet she had received from a traveller. This old woman considered me a friend, not a tourist. I took her in my arms, holding her close, and her eyes filled with tears. I’m not ashamed to say, so did mine. These people have virtually nothing in this world, but will even give you the little bit that they do and that is the wonder of this kind of trip and of the people of Africa.
That evening she prepared goat’s meat and offered me camel milk to drink, after which I climbed into my beautifully made-up bed in my grimy state since there was no running water. Early the next morning everybody was already up, waiting on me. I learned from the interpreter that I only had about 10km more to go until the desert came to an end, from there the road improved greatly, and close to Ethiopia you once again find tarred roads. It suddenly hit me like a bolt of lightning how everything the woman in Isiolo had prayed for me had come true, my bike didn’t get a flat tire and along the way people took care of me, like David and the grandmother in Turbi. How I wished I could let the woman know I had made it safely, but I didn’t even know her name.
I crossed over the Kenyan border into Ethiopia without problem.