On The Road Again: Nairobi to Moyale.
I stayed on in Nairobi until the last possible day, partly because I had come to feel so at home in Nairobi, and partly because everything north of Nairobi was wilderness. Up until this point everything was easy and familiar and help was never too far away. I slept fitfully before getting up at 3am. I packed my car and did my daily checks in the dark, ready for the long haul. I had no set point to end the day, only that I would drive as far as I could. The road to Moyale is notorious and infamous amongst overlanders. The Moyale Border Post is hundreds of miles from anywhere civilised. Ying, who had been there by bus, had amused herself by telling me horror stories of that isolated part of the world. The run to the border with Ethiopia is 800km, and new road is under construction, which was a relief to me, but it wasn’t quite finished yet.
I sailed through Nairobi in the dark. The city was abandoned and I drove as fast as I liked down the wide streets and onto the motorway heading north. It was eery as I had only seen the city packed with traffic and people. What would have taken hours in the day took only minutes in the middle of the night and soon I was on the open road heading north though I didn’t see very much in the dark, I just followed the lines on the road and listened to my music, it was actually quite peaceful and relaxing. The Alfa seemed to be running happily, despite the fact that it had been sitting for so long, and had only been used for stop/start city driving in the previous month.
I stopped at a fuel station for some breakfast and petrol, I’m not sure exactly where, and continued on in the dark. I was somewhere between Nyeri and Nanyuki by sunrise, and I was rewarded with my first glimpse of Mt Kenya. I could see it between the trees, only for a second at a time, a jagged spire against the sky.
The sunrise was so welcome, as I could see the beautiful Kenyan landscape. It was so far removed from the typical image of African countryside. It was green and lush and so refreshing to look at. It reminded me of my home in The Dargle. I’ve already decided that I want to return to Kenya to go hiking here, and to explore the coast of the country as well. In fact, I hope to return to Kenya often over the course of my life, it has become very special to me.
The going was surprisingly easy. The road was the smooth and the weather was fine. The miles were falling quickly and I was in driving nirvana; the warm sun on my face and the “notorious” road stretching out before me. So far this notorious road didn’t seem all that bad at all. I couldn’t work out what all the fuss was about. Soon the landscape flattened out and I left Mt Kenya far behind. For a long time I watched it shrink in my rear view mirror.
The scenery dried out as I moved north. Soon the lush hills of the Kenyan midlands gave way to the harsh bush of the Samburu mountains. It was beautiful in its way. Here I saw my first camels, which was awfully exciting. I had driven from The Dargle to somewhere where there were camels. And I think I crossed the equator too, but I can’t be sure, as there’s no line on the ground or anything.
It started to get a little hotter as I continued north. It was mid morning by the time I reached the Samburu Mountains and the new road continued. I think when this road is finished it will be one the greatest driving roads on the continent, the scenery is spectacular.
I continued on north, but the words of a soldier I had met in Nairobi were fresh in my mind, that the road only goes to Merille River. I was hoping to make it to Marsabit by noon but at a checkpoint in Isiolo the police told me that I would be lucky to get to Marsabit that day. If I had a 4×4, they said, maybe I would go further, but not with a little car. Still, they wished me a pleasant journey (as always) as I continued on towards Archer’s Post.
Further along the road I could see dust on the horizon and I hoped that it was just wind picking dust up off the desert, but deep down I knew that was where the new road ended. The dust was being kicked up by vehicles on a dirt track. As I arrived in Merille River, just as the soldier had said, the road ended and I was forced onto the most bumpy road I had ever driven. It was a hard, white dirt with sharp stones and gravel. The corrugations would bounce me out of my seat and cause the engine to cut out. I drove hundreds of meters at a time, constantly stopping to check for damage. I didn’t believe (until I had seen that road) that corrugations could be so bad.
Occasionally the dirt road would merge back onto sections of new tar which was a relief but it never lasted long. After an hour or so of dirt and tar the tarmac ran out completely and I was in the red dirt and rock of northern Kenya. Along side the road I could see preparations for more sections of the road. It will still be a long time until this road is complete. The catch on one of my rear windows was shaken to pieces from the bumps and so I pulled over the see if I could repair it. A truck pulled up behind me and the driver got out. He told me that it was dangerous to stop here because of the Shifta (Bandits) and he gave me a length of wire to rig the window shut.
I arrived at Marsabit on time, amazingly. Marsabit is a small, dusty town, but it seems to have all you’d really need for a road trip pit stop. I found a Shell fuel station and filled up with 91 octane petrol. Some guys came over to talk to me about the car and I asked them where I could get some lunch. They took me to a small shop in a side street where I bought a Coca Cola and something to eat, and then I got back on the road. The guys in the shop had told me that it was tar all the way to Moyale. That was a pretty big relief to me. I was really tired of bumping down dirt tracks in my little sports car and was looking forward to an easy afternoon.
On the other side of Marsabit I picked up the new road heading to the border with Ethiopia. This ran through the desert, but not a desert of sand, a desert of dust and stone, like the surface of another planet. I was stopped by one last checkpoint on my way out of town. The soldiers checked my papers and wished me a good trip, as usual, but they warned me that Ethiopia would be difficult going, not like Kenya at all.
I really enjoyed this drive in the desert. I felt so free, there was no one around and the road was so smooth and beautiful. At times I could see sections of the old track that overlanders used until recently.It looked like difficult going and I was really glad to be one the new tarmac.
This new road was glorious and before long I was in Turbi, which is the last town before Moyale. I was looking forward to getting to Moyale, it seemed pretty reasonable that I should make it with time to spare. In Turbi I went through one last checkpoint before turning eastwards, running parallel with the border, heading towards Moyale, the border town of Ethiopia and Kenya.
The road didn’t go all the way to Moyale. Shortly after Turbi the painted lines ended (always a bad sign) and soon the tar ended and I was once again on the dirt track. This was by far the longest stretch of dirt I had driven, and one of the bumpiest. By now it was getting a little late but there was nowhere to stop before the border so I kept heading towards Moyale.
The desert gave way to some scrub bushes and eventually some trees as I climbed up the hill to the Ethiopian border. I descended the side of a valley and into the town of Moyale, which is over a river, split between two countries. I had been on the road for 14 hours and I was looking forward to getting through the border post and finding somewhere to rest. There was one last checkpoint on the road, but it seemed to be unmanned and the boom was up, no guards in sight, so I proceeded through but was stopped by shouts from behind. On a bank behind me some soldiers were sitting under a tree. One of them told me that I had broken the law when I didn’t stop at the boom, and that now I was in trouble, but he was sure we could “work it out”. This disappointed me because no one in Kenya had asked me for a bribe or given me any sort of trouble, but here, in my last moment in the country, my luck ran out. Right as he was asking me to get out of the car the commanding officer arrived and said “South Africa to Ireland! That’s a long way!” I told him I had been driving all day and hadn’t seen them and he understood. He told the other soldier, “We must forgive him, he’s come a long way” and they let me go. Kenya, you were a class act, from one end to the other. I made my way down to the border post, did my paper work and crossed the bridge to Ethiopia. The most difficult day, the most difficult section of the whole trip was done, so I thought…