Monday, 10 December 2007

Slip Slidin' Away

We enjoyed Swiss Henry’s slice of heaven in Marsabit so much that we ended up staying for two nights. It was the best campsite we had been in for ages, with clean, hot showers, a small round shelter (which we used – it was raining) and, of course, the bakery. It was a great place to relax after the rough journey to get there. We had heard that there was only 300km of rough, corrugated road remaining, and from there smooth seal all the way to Nairobi. Well, that might depend on what way you go.

We certainly had the first 300km of rough, corrugated road. Marsabit is quite high, and when we left it was raining in the mountains. The road was wet, so what is normally a dirt road was now a mud road, but that was okay. Once we got lower down the surface was dry and hard, and that was where the corrugations began. Big corrugations, and no matter what speed you go it feels like the car is going to shake apart.

We travelled slowly, to ease the trauma, and we were in no hurry. Just before we were planning to stop for lunch there was a loud “Bang!” like a large rock hitting something solid, accompanied by a new smell. “What the heck was that!?” I asked as we stopped to check it out. The tyres were okay, but looking under the car there was a lot of oil dripping from somewhere, and a trail of oil on the road behind us. I’m sure my sun tan completely disappeared as I feared the worst. Could this be the end? Closer inspection was required.

Fortunately (on the grand scale of things) it turned out to be one of our front shock absorbers. We had heard of others who had shock problems in Kenya and Ethiopia, so had been driving fairly conservatively to avoid suffering the same fate, but in vain. Anyway, we could drive on and fix it in Nairobi in a couple of days, although it was a pretty bouncy trip from there on. At times we felt like we were in a boat, bouncing over the waves. Despite the problems, we still made it to our planned destination of Isiolo that evening. At this point in our journey, we have covered about twice the distance we did in the Suzuki SJ in the Mongol Rally last year, but we have definitely had more than twice the car trouble!

We had planned a slight detour to Lake Naivasha enroute to Nairobi, and despite our faulty shock absorber, decided to stick to this plan, and to see how it went. Our route took us close to Mt Kenya, although we couldn’t see it as it was covered in cloud. Next on our “Tourist’s Checklist of Things To Do in Africa” was crossing the Equator, marked only by stopping for a quick photo next to the touts and me welcoming Catkin to the Southern Hemisphere (although I keep forgetting that now that we are in Kenya she is South African - perhaps because she hasn’t shouted yet for winning the Rugby World Cup…). I’ll tell you one thing though – it’s a lot colder and wetter around the Equator than we expected! At least we should begin seeing a lot more of the Southern Cross from now on (I managed to see it just before dawn on our second night in Kenya, at about 04ºNorth, low on the horizon). If you’re interested, the sunrise at the moment is about 0615hrs and the sunset 1830hrs.

Things were going well, so we decided to head for the lake. Our map showed a fairly direct route in that direction, with only a short section where the road was unsealed. What followed was a exiting afternoon of mud, which is great if you are a pig or a hippo, but not so great if you want to get somewhere before the sun goes down. Our first unscheduled detour took us up a track that kept getting narrower and less well defined until we finally decided to turn around when it started going in the wrong direction. It had been raining quite heavily, and by this time the dirt roads were getting very slippery. On our way back to our last known “point of certainty”, we came across a minibus that had slid of the road and was having trouble getting going again. The passengers were very well dressed, and not really in a position the push it out in the conditions. Never mind, Camel Trophy Land Rover to the rescue. As we pulled up, I could see them all eyeing up our winch, and our fate was sealed. We couldn’t get past anyway!

The only other time we had used the winch was to pull out a few old tree stumps in Kerswell Green, but I tried to make it look like I knew what I was doing. The Superwinch made light work of it, and in no time at all the bus was back on the road, and I was being thanked profusely by the driver and all the passengers. Catkin had made good use of herself taking photos and slipping over in the mud! Back on our way, we found the right road and things were going well. Until we turned off the right road onto another wrong road.

Once again we found ourselves on a narrowing track, and our GPS was telling us that the direction we were heading in wasn’t the one the map was telling us we should be going. It was getting late in the afternoon now, so we decided to carry on, as we knew we were heading toward the largest town in the area, and there we could reassess our plans. The track surface was wet clay, and quite slippery with it, so we were taking it pretty cautiously, crawling down hills in first gear low ratio. We were going okay though, until we came across a truck in the middle of the road, with lots of people milling around, looking suspiciously like it was stuck! The driver jumped in and had another go at driving out in order to get out of our way, but only succeeded in sliding completely into the ditch at a precarious angle. Once again we saw sparkles in the eyes of the onlookers when they noticed the winch on the Camel. So we got to use it for a second time. This time, however, the truck just kept sliding along the ditch, and was refusing to pop out onto the road. To begin with, we were only making it worse. Someone suggested filling in the culvert trench that had been dug across half the road width so that we could drive past and pull the truck out backwards. Catkin had the best idea though. When they opened the back of the truck for something she saw it was packed full of soft drinks and wheat! “Get it all out!” she told them. So we waited while everything was unloaded onto the mud. Even after unloading it was still a struggle, but eventually the truck came out back on to the road. Cheers all round! The driver, who had been looking very worried, was now very grateful, but as Catkin noted, failed to offer us a Coke each for our troubles.

Not much further down the road we edged past another truck stopped on the slippery road, and then proceeded to get our front and rear wheel on opposite sides of the ruts in the road. We were heading sideways down the hill, and I won’t tell you what Catkin said. But it was okay, I told her, because I had the diff lock on. Always seem confident is the key. At the same time we had some mad drunk running alongside us trying to ask us something or give us a present, I don’t really know what he was up to. I had to ask him to be quiet because I was trying to concentrate on driving. Eventually he gave up in disgust, or perhaps shortness of breath.

Further down the road we came across another bus stuck across the road, and while we were waiting to see if our recovery services were required again, a van got stuck behind us. We were trapped! Luckily, both got their passengers to push them out of trouble.

When we finally got back to the main road, it was getting close to sunset, so we started looking for a campsite. Nothing to be seen, so in the end we cut our losses and decided to head directly for Jungle Junction in Nairobi, arriving well after dark. It had been a long day. Luckily, arriving in Nairobi at night was not quite as bad a arriving in Cairo at night.

Jungle Junction is a place for overlanders to stay, meet other overlanders, swap tips etc. It’s a house in the suburbs with a huge garden for camping, and also has rooms, laundry services, a communal kitchen and so on. It’s been quite quiet while we have been here, but it was good to see two Swiss backpackers that we had met in Bahir Dar in Ethiopia.

Our first job on the Saturday morning was to try a find some shocks. Well we certainly got a shock when we asked what the price was. They are majorly expensive here. Tip to any other overlanders planning to travel through Kenya – bring a set from home! After shopping around, we found a set from a reputable company that were only double what we would have paid in the UK, instead of five times the price at the first place we went to.

Since then we have installed the said shocks, changed the engine oil and filter, been to Immigration to register our arrival in Kenya, to Customs to have our Carnet stamped in and Catkin has washed the car. We have also finally been able to catch up a little bit on our internet-based activities such as email, banking and the all important blog.

From Nairobi we finally made it to Lake Naivasha, staying at Fisherman’s Camp, where hippos come out of the water at night to graze on the grass on the other side of the electric fence.

After passing through Nairobi again we have made it to Tiwi Beach on the Indian Ocean coast, as a staging point for our advance to Tanzania. The beach is just what you imagine a tropical paradise to be like, and we are parked right down by the sand.

Originally we had planned to go through Uganda and Rwanda, but have decided against it now for various reasons too boring to go into here. And no Kenyan Game Parks for us unfortunately, as we are quite attached to our arms and legs, which is what they charge you here to get in (maybe they feed them to the lions). Zambia and Botswana will hopefully provide in that department, at a more reasonable cost.

P.S. Tractor Fans: I forgot to mention last time that after Egypt we started seeing Massey Ferguson’s all over the place again, although not too many in Ethiopia. I think Turkey still leads with the most though.