Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Great Moyale road into Ethiopia

After spending 2 weeks at Jungle Junction we had quite a bit of repacking and organising to do in our panniers, and managed to leave around lunchtime. We headed to YAYA centre to get some more good meat for our braai that night, and to meet David for spare tubes.  We then hit deadlock traffic trying to head out towards the Karen Blixen museum, until Nick sneaked a back route he saw on the GPS.  Teeny was only interested in seeing how similar the house is to what is shown in the movie ‘Out of Africa’, and unfortunately we didn’t get any pictures because we would have had to pay for them.  The Karen Blixen area is definitely one of the upper class areas of Nairobi with large properties with huge gardens, hidden behind big walls and CCTV at the entrances.  The coffee plantations are still there along with a very upmarket golf club.  From this affluent area we moved into a not so wealthy neighbourhood of Nairobi before hitting the freeway with middle-mannetjies of tar.  We climbed the hill up to the Great Rift Valley viewpoint where the temperature dropped dramatically and Nick decided to buy a sheepskin beanie.  Unfortunately the views weren’t as clear as we had hoped, but still a spectacular sight looking out onto the valley.  We continued carefully watching in all directions for the crazy Kenyan drivers until we reached Lake Naivasha.  The road to the campsite was filled with donkeys, cattle and lots of people with flower farms in greenhouses on either side of the road.

Phillip with his chinese motorbike, he is going east to west across the congo on this, RESPECT !!
David, supplied us with spare tubes before leaving Nairobi
Rift Valley view point

Line of tourist stalls at the Rift Valley view point

Sheep skin beanie !!

Carnelley’s campsite was beautiful, large fever trees (we think) covered the campsite leading down to the large Lake Naivasha. We met Kathy and Jonathon and were given a beer to welcome us there after our long stay at Jungle Junction.  That night we braaied the meat we had bought, had homemade rolls on the fire and sipped good South African wine.  Kathy tempted us with cake and pizza if we stayed another day, and deciding it was a great spot to relax - we didn’t argue!
The next morning we did a bit of washing and relaxed in the sun looking out onto the Lake with the huge flock of birds in the middle. The rain started in the early afternoon and continued well into the night.  Kathy made a delicious marble cake for afternoon tea, even though she wasn’t feeling well, and in the evening we munched on the most tasty pizzas we have had in a while chatting to Jonathon about his master’s thesis.  He is studying the effects of the flower farming on the local communities surrounding Lake Naivasha, and we were amazed to learn that there are 57 commercial farms surrounding the lake. 

Dinner with Jonathon and Kathy

Home made bread

View out onto Lake Naivasha

Carneleys restaurant


Jonathon and Kathy

In the morning we packed up and instead of back tracking to Nairobi along the road, we took a secondary road through rolling hills of tea plantations and smaller villages.  As we started on this road we saw big, grey clouds up ahead and quickly put on our rain gear before riding through a heavy downpour, which luckily only lasted 30 minutes.  The sun came out and at Thika we met up with the A2 main road heading north, a double laned highway which only lasted about 15km.  We took a break on the side of the road where the single laned highway began and watched the kamikaze drivers of Kenya at their best.  As  we were putting on our helmets to get going again the bikes decided to try a domino effect with Teeny’s bike hitting Nick’s and both landed on the concrete floor with a thud! Damn - another 15%  less packing space for Teeny!  The drive was relatively easy on good tar road and quietened as we headed closer towards Mount Kenya.  The rain started again just as we found a place to camp, and we were lucky to have a thatch roofed area to set up our tent and relax under watching the rain pour down.

And the rain started

Scotland ??

Always good entertainment when trying to put on our rain suits !

The skies had cleared in the morning and we hoped to get a glimpse of Mount Kenya, the second highest mountain in Africa, but the heavy clouds and storms only allowed us to see its base. We were heading towards Archers Post, where we had planned to meet Stewart, a fellow traveller from Zimbabwe that we had met in Jungle Junction.  We passed the equator, for the third time, at the town on Nanyuki and realised that this is the more common route travelled by tourists, because the moment you stop you are bombarded by locals wanting to sell you something or show you how the water spirals in different directions on either side of the equator.  We had our Jagermister shots at the equator (thanks Lali), took a few pics and carried on heading north!  As we moved further away from Mount Kenya the landscape became much drier, barren and less densely populated.  We passed the town of Isiolo, which seemed a bit surreal as we had heard the name over and over in discussions we had had about the hard northern Northern Kenya road. The woman’s camp at Archers Post is located right on a river looking out onto the dry, rocky terrain.  Stewart arrived about an hour later and we spent the afternoon swopping stories about we had heard about the Moyale road each of us with great anticipation as it was finally our turn to see and experience it for ourselves!  That night we enjoyed our last tasty Kenyan cuisine watching the moon rise over the river.

Drink at the equator, thanks Lali !

Water jugs used to show the change in water spiral

Looming storm

Our first sign of Moyale

View at the womans camp, Archers Post

Contemplating the 2 days ahead....

Stewart teaching us some tricks with the camera

The results ! thats the moon

Compliments of Stewart !

Ready to leave at 9am the next morning, our destination was Marsabit approximately 200km away with 80km good tar road and the rest pretty tough going corrugations.  Luckily and very thankfully Stewart offered to carry our bags with sleeping gear, tent and water and petrol canisters to lighten the load on the bikes.  We passed beautiful granite domes and cattle and goat herders with AK47’s slung around their shoulders which brought to mind the stories we had heard of bandits along this notorious road. We moved through the last town on the tar road, and as we hit the corrugations a group of children on the side of the road waited for Nick to pass before cutting Teeny off. She battled between first and neutral unable to get into second gear all the while having stones thrown at her and being pushed across to the deeper corrugations – Not Fun especially as it was the start of the road she had been dreading since the start of the trip!  We stopped 5km down the road and decided it would be good to stop at 20km intervals to let the shocks cool on the bikes. It became evident how harsh this landscape with barren uncultivated fields of rock and sand.  We moved slowly, not more than 30km per hour over short but high corrugations, while Stewart was able to move a lot faster in his Toyota Hilux.  A better road then appeared on our right although it was smoother than the corrugations there was a lot of sand.  We found Stewart under the shade of a tree waiting patiently for our first 20km shock cooling interval (SCI).  This became a very welcomed sight as we rounded a bend or road over a hill to see Stewart and Artful (his Toyota Hilux) waiting for us.  For the next 100km’s we had 5 SCI’s, which involved spraying the shocks with water and taking a few pictures with what energy we had left in us.  The road was tiring, we never managed to go faster than 35km, and as we approached Marsabit, the town on the hill, we had to contend with a grader churning up soft loose gravel into difficult riding terrain. We hit buried rocks and while trying to maintain balance, dodge the oncoming land cruiser and overtake the grader all the while having children scream Mzungu at us!  As we drove through the hills towards our campsite we had an escort on a piki piki following us in. We arrived at Henry’s camp and were happy to see cold beers chilling in a fridge, YAY we had conquered the first leg of the Moyale road – high fives all round!

Stewart and Teeny went into town to find petrol, and it was amazing to see how the people had changed and the language too. It seems that there is a mix of Ethiopians in this town and they were quite interested to see Teeny riding a bike while Stewart was in a car! That night we were spoilt to 6 packets of bacon and sausages, the content of Stewart’s fridge which had stopped working!  The wind started howling that evening and after arranging to be up at 4:30am to leave at first light the next morning we snuggled into bed.

Sunrise, the start of the big day


The first 80km , LOVELY !!

The rest - a good patch !

First casualty, a split pannier weakend from the corrigations combined with the Namibia wipe out !!

Amazing sand storm

Trying to find a bit of shade


Our bacon fry up YUMMI !!
We woke up the next morning to a chilling breeze and darkness, we packed up quickly and set out just as the suns light had hit the ground and sparrows started to fart!!  The newly graded road out of Moyale was great, managing to finally find 3rd gear we started the day excited that the road may have improved! This was short lived when the newly graded road became soft gravel, and we moved back onto the old road full of corrugations.  We passed what we believe to be the Marsabit crater, and watched the sun coming out from behind the hills in the distance.  Then began the rocks like marbles. Deep  tracks carved into the loose rocks made the going quite slow as we tried to keep in the tracks avoiding the high hills of rocks on either side.  A few wobbles and near misses we arrived at our first 40km SCI.  As it was still very cool we weren’t there for long and decided to stop after 30km to see how the shocks were doing.  If the road was not corrugated, it was full of marble rocks and we were again forced to go 30km per hour.  The hills had nearly disappeared in the distance turning the landscape into a never ending flat landscape scattered with varying sizes of volcanic rock, we saw a dead camel on the side of the road, the cliché desert picture.  We came across a huge herd of camel crossing the road, Stewart had mentioned earlier that this was a picture he was dying to get. We later learned that not only did he get his picture but also got a little herder chasing him with a stone after he noticed Stewart taking the pictures!!  It was after this stretch that the road got very very difficult as we hit the mid-day heat.  We passed our first group of over landers one in a vitto and the other in a large orange lorry it had taken them 3 days to do the stretch we planned to do that day. Stewart later told us that he had chatted to them and the reason they had taken so long is that they had to move rocks out of the road due to the lack of ground clearance on the vitto ….hmmm move rocks out of a road which is renowned as one of the rockiest roads in Africa, surprised it only took them 3 days !!
The houses we passed on the sides of the road were purely wooden hut structures with skins and cloth worn from the strong winds and beating sun. The people were surprisingly friendly, focussed on protecting their herds of cattle and camel and walking vast distances to find water.  There were times when we thought the road had improved yet these moments were short lived as soon as we changed into 3rd gear around the next corner lay corrugations or rocky terrain .This became quite frustrating and both of us hit a wall and were thankful for Stewart’s words of encouragement and cheery disposition at each SCI, we could not have asked for a better travel companion! The last 50km the road seemed to get busier, and the people spoke a language very different to the rest of Kenya and we hardly understood that they were asking for lifts into the next town.  We arrived at Moyale, the border town, a 12 hour drive and camped at the Kenya Wildlife Society at student prices – thanks to Stewart’s professional negotiation skills!  Stewart went looking for beer, and when he came back we had another round of high fives and chinked to having completed what we now term the ‘roughest’ road in Africa!!  A quick 2 minute noodles and climbed into bed for a well-deserved rest, but excited for what lay ahead in Ethiopia the next day!

Early start calculating the route ahead

Marsibit crator

Volcanic rocks surprisingly light

A whole lot of nothing

and more nothing

Marble stones

We left the campsite at around 9am the next morning. The border was only 3km away, and took us an hour to get through both sides. No additional charges, and changing over to driving on the right we were set on our way to explore Ethiopia.  As we moved through Moyale, Ethiopian side, we started hearing “YOUYOUYOUYOU” – its difficult to explain just how fast they say it, and the smiles on their faces when you turn to wave at them.  We had planned to go to Yabello, approximately 200km away.  The drive there was not quite what we had anticipated Ethiopia to be, as the roads were empty, good tar and straight and long – a reminder of the roads in Namibia, almost 4 ½ months ago, 8 countries ago, 14 000km ago – shoo – can you believe it!!! We passed hundreds of white termite mounds, like nothing we had seen before and some of them looked like they had had faces carved into them. 
We arrived at Yabello early afternoon and had a good western lunch of burgers at the motel. Now we had been warned about the toilet situation in Ethiopia. Well, while Stewart and Nick waited for their lunch Teeny went to the bathroom to change out of her riding gear…..she came back with a look on her face like she had seen something that she had never seen before…she even battled to describe it to us, gross does not even begin to describe it, lets just say that scene in the movie Trainspotting would be a very distant second to this!!
 Then we went in search for coffee!  A little stall on the side of the road with benches inside and tiny cups which are filled from flasks full of coffee, and a touch of sugar added.  Teeny tried her first ever cup of coffee and was pleasantly surprised at just how delicious it was.  As you may know Ethiopia is known for two things, its athletes and its coffee (oh and its starving children?!) As we sat there chatting to the owner and locals, watching them eating chat, we were amazed by just how friendly they were and how they struggled to talk to us with their broken English.  One elderly local came into the stall and placed a packet down in front of Teeny, she wasn’t quite sure what it was but they were egging her on to eat it – it was only when she opened the packet that she saw a worm a huge Mopani type worm…uggggggggg!!  She politely put on a smile, giggled and said “thank you but so sorry I can’t”! They laughed at her reaction, and offered another cup of coffee!
That night we feasted on our first Ethiopian dish, WOW…lamb tibs and ingeera and a beef firfir. Spicy and rich and very moreish!! The lamb tibs were served in a small bowl with coals beneath it to keep it hot whilst you are eating. Full bellies we headed off to bed. 

Ethiopia good tar roads

Saint George beer

Lamb tibs

The next morning we travelled north towards Awassa. This stretch became the Ethiopia we had imagined. Green rolling hills and mountains, densely populated with the increase of “YOUYOUYOU” and very sneaky donkies goats and cattle, oh and old men. As Stewart encountered, this old man stood on the side of the road watching him approach then at the last minute did a little hop skip and a jump in front of him with Stewart having to slam on brakes and do some very impressive evasive driving to avoid ending his live. According to the bradt guide this is common practice as they believe that if they survive this their life will be extended hence why the old people are the ones to watch out for !!!
As per Ewan`s description in The long way down, the landscape could remind one of Scotland or Ireland with bright green fields and a fresh cold mountain breeze with threatening rain ever looming in the distance. We stopped on the side of the road for a little break, and lots of the locals from the village came running out to see us with great curiosity. They gathered round us but were completely harmless and did not bother us as much as we thought they may.
We rode through some light rain and decided to stop in Dilla for lunch. As we enjoyed another delicious Ethiopian meal the heavens opened, and we thought it best to spend the night in Dilla instead of pushing on to Awassa. Lalibella pension had rooms available for us, our first bed in almost 2 months, after getting rid of all the cockroaches in the bed we had a little afternoon snooze and then went out to Delight for dinner. A delicious rice and vegetable fry up (no meat available) and a pizza (with out cheese) we headed back to watch movies on the TV !!


Lalibelle Pension motel

Next morning cleared up beautifully for us and we hit the road to Lake Langano, stopping in at Awassa for a look at the town.  A very clean town with lots of new buildings going up and roadfs fulled up with tuk tuk`s.  After a hearty lunch we went looking for the rasta museum,and were amazed by the banana art that they do there. They use 3 parts of the banana tree and don’t add any colouring to the art using only natural shades from decay to make their amazing art work.
The last 60km to the lake opened up into a lovely road where we found our campsite right on the lake. It was very basic but very beautifull and a good place to chill for a few days.
The next few days were spent doing washing, relaxing and playing cards. We also went to the neighbouring lodge for a drink the one afternoon were Stewart got a very big fright when our bill arrived (please see video!!) On our way back to our camp site the wind howled bringing in a massive storm which we luckily caught the tail end of.

Hawassa with Lake in the distance

tuk tuk`s

Washing day !

Lake Langano

Stewart enjoying his G&T before he saw the bill !!!!

EISH big storm brewing in the distance

We left Stewart there to wait for his friend and drove the last 200km to the capital to Addis Abbaba. Entering Addis we hit a huge traffic jam, but lucky for us on motorbikes we managed to weave our way through the chaos and through to town. Wimms Holland house location was incorrect on the GPS but with a little help from Stewart and some locals we managed to find it and set up camp before the afternoon rains came through.
The next morning we decided to explore Addis and first stop was breakfast, some cake, croissant and coffee and we were ready to go. For a capital city we were quite surprised not to be haggled by people begging for money or trying to scam us. We got a little bit lost walking down a road full of auto spares shops (almost like Umgeni road in Durban) but were easily re-directed the way back to the town by some friendly locals. The supermarket we found was fascinating with shelves tocked to the roof with just about anything you could think of, you ask for something then he moves a ladder and collects what you looking for from a shelf somewhere up near the roof!! That afternoon the rains poured down and we sat and watched movies and played cards.  Our plan from here is to head North to Mekele to see the Danakil Depression stopping in at the stone churches in Lalibella onto the Simien Mountains and then out to North Sudan.  

A sad farewell to Stewart, with one last game of cards

Bus station right outside the closed train station

Train station

Addis abbaba

Fuel station and restaurant

expensive but tasty coffee

Fruit stall

PS. lots more pics of the North Kenya road to follow soon, thanks to Stewart