1 – 5 December 2009 – Addis Ababa to Nairobi

We said goodbye to Wim and headed out of Addis, South for Kenya.  En route to Addis we had not been able to buy any food or water, fortunately we carry plenty with us, so we went in search of a recommended Novis supermarket where we could stock up again.  It turned out to be an Italian based store and all of the goods were imported.  Whilst good for speciality foods, the day to day stuff like veggies were not good quality and the final bill was more than we would have paid in the UK!!

Our route took us through the Southern Rift Valley of Ethiopia which was very different from the highlands.  The farms were bigger with more varied crops and the cattle looked healthier – probably because of better access to water.  For the first time in Ethiopia the people didn’t ask us for anything – obviously this area more affluent.  The landscaped changed yet again as we drove close to the Abavata Shala Hayek National Park and through a wide valley with high plateaus in the distance.  The road was lined with stands of candelabra cactus peppered with the brilliant red of ponsietta plants.  With banana plantations all around it was very reminiscent of the rain forest of Central America.  All along the route there were people selling potatoes, aubergines, tomatoes, onions, bananas, pineapples and figs plus each small town had a bakery – we could have got everything we needed along the road and saved some money in our expensive supermarket in Addis!


Bye bye Wim....................                    Bye bye Addis..................                   Now what about these polytunnels....


At last some colour in the land........................................................................................

We stopped overnight in Dila before it got dark.  With so many people still on the road and so many potholes night time driving is not a good idea.  We stopped at the Park Hotel, sounds posh - but don’t be fooled, and caused quite a stir when we erected the roof tent on their driveway.  At first JC had a problem explaining that we didn’t need a room and that we would camp – one young guy in a white coat could speak some English and appeared to be the Manager.  Eventually we made ourselves understood and the crowd looked on in amazement as JC climbed up onto the roof of the Toyota and erected “our home”.  Sure that these inquisitive people would want to have a good look around, I quickly made up the bed then came back down the ladder to find himself, with our small atlas in his hands, surrounded by boys, showing them all of the countries we have visited.  They all looked on in amazement and then a young teacher from the local university came along – he spoke English and had many questions, including “What is the purpose of your trip?”  We got a big smile when we replied “To meet interesting people like yourselves”.  The crowd were all happy to pose for a photograph and we felt sure that the word had got out about us because, as we sat at the bar later, more people came past to have a look including another bunch of lecturers from the university who, as I had expected, climbed the ladder for a look inside.  Our room was a lot better than their’s at the Park Hotel.  The young Manager really looked after us.  He took us to their “sister” hotel and organised our supper, his English improving all of the time.  He said he would come back and escort us back to the Park but we told him we could manage – still he came back to ensure the food was good!

The music was blasting out in the hotel restaurant and the small palm fringed huts were covered in fairy lights, the food was tasty and the locals very friendly.  When we returned to “camp” our Manager was waiting for us again and when we said we would be leaving early the following morning we said our farewells which include a huge hug of “respect” for JC! 


The boys at the Park Hotel.................         In his usual position even in Africa.....

The music continued late into the night, the mosque call to prayers rang out at 0430am, and the church bells started ringing at 0530am so we didn’t have any problem getting an early start!  As usual the road was already full of people walking.  The children here walk miles and miles to school.  No cars to drop them at the school gate, carrying their books and a bottle of water, they smiled and waved as we passed by.  The only other vehicles on the road since we had left Addis were small minibuses , tuc tucs, lorries and some 4 x 4s ferrying tourists around.  It was hard to find a place to stop for breakfast and JCs dream of a couple of fried eggs cooked up in our kitchen soon disappeared while we made do with bread and cheese again!!

As the forest receded from the road the plains were red like the dark red soil in Arizona with strange red stalagmite looking structures pointing to the sky.  Not man made, we wondered if they could be giant an hills or something?  Then, we saw our first wild life – a baboon.


Anyone any ideas about what these could be..................................................................... 

We reached the border with Kenya and the whole process of exiting Ethiopia and entering Kenya took less than an hour – result.  The Kenyan immigration officer gave us a warm welcome and wished us a “Merry Christmas” in his country.  Are we so close to Christmas!!

We camped just through the border at a small guest house where we camped in their garden, used their hot showers and were able to prepare a decent supper without the whole world looking on. 

The Lonely Plant says “ You don’t explore Ethiopia for a relaxing getaway- Ethiopia is monetarily poor and travel here is tough, both physically and mentally....”. Whilst our trip through this country has given us a very close insight into its problems we are none the less glad to be into Kenya and looking forward to another adventure. 

During the night, the car alarm started going off.  Was it someone trying to get into the Toyota? Was it a wild animal sniffing us out? Or, was it just a moth that set the lasers off in the interior.  You guessed – it was just a moth!!!  The next morning we drove back to the border and into town to see if we could find Roland, as we had arranged to meet and drive the Moyale-Marsabit-Isiolo road with him.  We couldn’t find him anywhere, so set off alone and were waved down by a visitor from our campsite the previous night.  He had told us he was in the army on border patrol and that morning he was looking for a lift back to his unit about 13 kms away.  We picked him up and on the way he regaled us with stories of the CIA at a local Chinese “boarding school”,  how the local people drive their animals onto the road and then try to charge tourists for running them over and gave us advice like “don’t stop if you see anyone in the bushes with a gun and only stop at proper police checkpoints”!!  Not good to hear when you are heading onto a road with reputation of the infamous Moyale road with tales of banditry and tourists being escorted by police with rocket launchers etc etc.

Forget, the Dalton Highway, the Mokee Dugway and even Ruta 40 this road is renowned amongst African overland travellers.  It’s rough but maybe not as rough as tales told at the end of it with a cold beer in your hand and a rapt audience impressed with your adventurous spirit.  Perhaps we were lucky, on the first section of Marsabit it had rained to dampen down the sand but not enough to turn it into a sea of mud.  However, the corrugations and deep gravel ruts turned it into a bone shaking, teeth jarring journey like no other.  It took us over 9 hours to drive 248kms but on the good side, we didn’t have to be escorted nor did we have to carry a rocket launcher carrying police officer with us! 

Not a lot of other traffic on the road but we saw others having problems. We stopped at a broken down truck who was doing a quick bodge job fastening up his exhaust then we stopped to help some people in an old Toyota whose prop shaft had broken.  We gave one of their passengers a lift back to his village – not a lot of conversation but I am sure he appreciated our help.  At the end of an exhausting day we arrived at Henry’s Rest Camp in the Marsabit National Park and had an early night as we still had another 275 kms of this road to do!! Throughout the night, the wind below and we heard sharp squalls of rain.  The people here will be celebrating, in Northern Kenya they have had no rain for two years, causing serious drought.  For the first time on this trip, we had to pack the tent away wet.  Back on the road to Isiolo, things didn’t get any better.  The rain had made things worse and for the first fifty kms, it was slippery mud, washouts and deep ruts before we were back on the nightmare corrugations.  It’s a good job that JC has had a lot of experience driving on mud – eh Geoff – sometimes it felt like we were on a trial section at a rondenez (not sure if that is spelled correctly) for hour after hour.  With promise of a better road ahead from a local policemen we gritted out teeth and just got on with it.  The poor old Toyota was really taking a bashing but was doing us proud.  Many time we wondered how “the kids” would manage and especially where Roland and his motor bike were.




All along the road - it just never gives up.......................................................................

Once again, we stopped to help someone else – a couple of boys in a broken down Mercedes truck.  They had been sat there for 2 days waiting for spare parts to come for Nairobi and would likely have to wait another 2 days.  With no food and only any water they could get from passers by they were struggling, so were very grateful when we offered to take one of them to the nearest town to get some food and more water.  He loaded  canister on the roof, half full of diesel – don’t know why – could only imagine that he wanted to use it to trade for food!!

Now it really feels like Africa with the colourful tribal women on the road – bright splashes of colour to brighten our day, with their vibrant, wide, beaded necklaces.  Apparently the more beads they have, the richer their husband.


The tribal ladies..............                     The boys we helped...................        Crazy truck drivers on the road pity those up on top........


Well, we managed without any punctures but we had to stop and fasten the front grill with cable ties and then just 80kms from our destination at Isiolo JC had to replace the bottom bushes on the front shock absorbers which had completely disintegrated in the heat and constant jarring.  Note to other overlanders – use poly bushes and carry spares.  Finally we hit the blessed tarmac – wonderful.  By the time we reached Gaddisa lodge we looked like a couple of gypsies, the Toyota was caked in mud and we weren’t much better especially himself who had spent time lying under the vehicle either checking or making “a stitch in time” to get us along. 


A stitch in time.....................              Another one for Faye...............

This didn’t stop Peter and Rita, our Dutch hosts for the night, welcoming us like old friends and after a hot shower we gladly joined them for a lovely meal whilst they told us all about their time in Kenya and their special projects helping the local children, as well as giving us lots of tips on places to see along the way.  A great place to stay, especially with bacon on the breakfast menu – the first time since we had left Europe!! www.gaddisa.com

The air here is more humid the land is green and bountiful with huge fields of wheat  (measured in square kilometres and not hectares) and with two harvests a year Petch’s gang would have plenty of work.  I would never be able to get JC to leave and go travelling!!

We crossed the equator and are now in the Southern Hemisphere for the second time in a year!  The road, with some potholes, is wonderful compared to what we have had the past couple of days and we are heading for Nairobi and “Jungle Junction” where we will spend a few days relaxing, giving the Toyota some TLC after her.


Big farms around here.........................................................                          Into the Southern hemisphere again this year!!!

Coming into Nairobi was another game, lots of detours and nightmare drivers overtaking on any side they feel like, dust flying everywhere and markets full of people alongside of the roads.  Rita had warned us about the driving – could it be worse than Cairo? – yes it could!  Gloria and the nav got us successfully through the city and, as we sat outside the gates of JJ.


Coming into Nairobi..........................................................................             

I wondered would this be yet another traveller’s fantasy where their descriptions of the facilities bear no resemblance to what it is actually like.  For the first time they had it right, everything you need is here – camping in a beautifully tended garden, meals provided if you need them, use of a kitchen to cook your own food, clean loos and showers with hot water, laundry service, a workshop for servicing, a lounge with free internet connection and a book exchange facility.  As one Aussie we had met on the way here told us “they close the gates and shut out Africa”.  There were lot of other Europeans, particularly German bikers – so lots of other information available from other travellers.

We spent our first day cleaning the dust from the inside of the truck, getting the washing sorted, updating the web stocking up the fridge etc etc plus wondering how everyone else was doing on the road, especially Roland, who we haven’t seen since leaving Addis Ababa. 

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Then as I sat at my computer late in the afternoon JC shouted “look whose here” and there were Roland and Tamara who had an absolute nightmare journey on the road, having just missed us by minutes at the border post!  To top their problems with the road, they had heard fighting and gunshots as they camped in Isiolo!!  Tamara, was quite distressed as you can imagine and even talking about going back to Germany.  I think we convinced her later to, relax for a few days and then give the rest of Africa a chance.  Certainly, my own feeling is that the best is yet to come!

During our stay we have met Bob and Marie who have been travelling for many months already.  Bob is British and Marie is originally from Madeira but moved to South Africa when she was quite young.  They have given us loads of information about what to see and where to stay in the months.  They are heading North now back to Europe.  We really have appreciated their information and company.  Tonight Bob is cooking bangers and mash for him and JC and they are both looking forward to that.  Our time at JJs is almost over now, all of the administration is complete and we are ready to hit the road again.  Sadly the others have not yet arrived but we will leave them some information regarding our route so that maybe we can meet up again somewhere along the road.

Let’s hope I am right and the best is yet to come!!!!

Thanks for your messages – don’t forget us during your mad Christmas preparations.