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Monday, 22 August 2011

THE HELL ROAD FROM MOYALE TO ISIOLA

The only petrol station in Moyale... "Petrol a la Donkey!"

We crossed from Ethiopia into Kenya at Moyale, a dusty, sad town situated at the beginning of the notorious Moyale/ Isiola road. Traveling south from Addis, the tar road ends dramatically at the border with Kenya, where the town of Moyale is split into Ethiopian Moyale and Kenyan Moyale. From here the road disintegrates quickly into a dusty, rutted, bone-rattling affair that continues for about 500 kilometers via Marsabit to Isiola. 

And it begins...




The road is reputed to be unsafe and the area has been prone to occasional incidents of banditry, cattle rustling, tribal violence and attacks on vehicles. It did not help to try and get information from the locals, as they seemed to enjoy embellishing on this reputation and happily told us stories about corrupt police who phone ahead to warn their cronies to be ready to attack vehicles that are traveling alone. We got the impression that this was all with the aim of getting a gig as “protection” on the route.
Soft sand... for some gliding around...

Let us try to describe to you what we encountered along the way, as the pictures do not tell the true story. After a couple of hours and just as we felt we could not take the washboard and ruts any longer, the track changed to course gravel cobble stones with deep ruts that suck your tires in and then trap them. The real challenge is that this makes it even harder to get out of the way of the wild transport trucks barreling down the road. They do not stop or slow down for you, so if you’re stuck in a rut you’d better bounce yourself out of there or bear the consequences.
Volcanic rock for miles and miles...
After many hours of this, some hidden reserve surfaces and you feel that things are not so bad. Immediately this notion occurs to you, the road turns really ugly - ridiculously deep ruts, knee deep volcanic stones, half buried rocks, more trucks, and a barren landscape reflecting the suns rays back at you.
Trucks force their way past you only to stop on the road a little while later, for the driver to hop out and use a big steel hammer to knock his leaf springs back into shape. An hour later the same truck is alongside shoving you off the road with a cheery wave.
Beautiful sunset across the empty plains...

The journey was eased by the incredible vistas though. Nomadic Samburu tribe’s people wandered with their cattle alongside the road wearing red blankets and strings of necklaces. At one point we had a dozen or more large eagles swooping around above us.
Should you ever find yourself having to travel this road, in spite of what locals may tell you (we were told that the journey should take 7 hours) you will need to allow a minimum of two full days. Fill up for the 500 km trip and at any opportunity you may find, as there is no guarantee of fuel in Marsabit. Make sure you have enough food and water for the journey as there is little along the way.

The trip took us 16 hours of actual riding. On the positive side, at no time did we feel unsafe and we did not see any evidence of bandits. This is not to say that there aren’t incidents on this route but we, happily, did not experience any of the various horror stories.

We were thrilled to reach the tar outside Isiola. For us, this meant an important milestone in our journey. This piece of the route had been a huge mental block for us and in many ways; having completed the hellish 500 km’s is a huge relief.

From here on it’s downhill with the wind at our backs.
Breathtaking Mt. Kenya looking over our campsite :)


At our wonderful little eco-campsite... no electricity... just stars!

To celebrate we had a three-hour sleep of the dead in Isiola, before taking a short road to the beautiful town of Nanyuki. Here we stumbled on a great project where a couple of enthusiastic locals have recreated a nomadic Somali village complete with camels and nomad huts. As we got off our bikes, we were confronted with a spectacular view of Mount Kenya. 
One of these camels charged at Brittany as she was coming in through the mud ;)


Our Somali hut for the night...


At 5,199 m, Mount Kenya is the second highest peak in Africa. It is an ancient extinct volcano, during whose period of activity it is thought to have risen to 6,500 m. There are 12 remnant glaciers on the mountain, all receding rapidly, and four secondary peaks that sit at the head of the U-shaped glacial valleys. With its rugged glacier-clad summits and forested middle slopes, Mount Kenya is one of the most impressive landscapes in East Africa. 
Traditional dinner...

Ready for bed... our gear hanging up to dry after being caught in the rain.

Gathering for breakfast! Such a small world we bumped into our Dutch friends AGAIN by chance... seems we don't even have to arrange a meeting point!


The setting was perfect and we quickly laid claim to one of the portable huts (huts are packed onto the backs of camels every time the nomads decide to move) and joined a couple of other travelers around the fire for a dinner of camel meat and spicy rice.

Bikes loving the bush...

Rain = mud, mud, mud!

From there it was past the equator and then on to Nairobi and a much needed service for our tortured bikes. The road was tarred but no less harrowing... the Kenyans are nortorious for their terrible driving and we got forced completely off the road by oncoming traffic a few times.
Standing under the equator... just outside Nanyuki, Kenya!
 We have been staying at "Jungle Junction," a legendary overlander's sanctuary. And have really enjoyed hearing about the amazing journeys people are doing... some around the whole continent and some even around the whole world!
Our tents in the wonderful garden at Jungle Junction in Nairobi.

Blogging beneath the rich resource of travel recommendations from fellow overlanders!

Nairobi has been quite the culture shock. It is the first time in ages we have seen an actual supermarket and we really enjoyed a wonderful lunch and a great glass of wine... which felt like absolute luxury after being in Moyale and other tiny and very poor places where the shops supplied no more than 10 items max! We felt like aliens walking around a shopping centre... filled with rows of everything you could possibly want... including Woolworths, Wimpy, Truworths, Mr Price... we could have been in Jozie!
At JJ's!

Brit's Dakar getting some TLC!

KLR stripped down...

Our bikes are very happy to have some TLC... and we shall hit the road again tomorrow! 
- Best, Rivak

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