Map and information on Kenya, Click Here
Entered Kenya 9th May 2001.
Exchange Rate: 1USD = 80 Kenyan Shillings (KS)
Fuel: 1 Litre = KS55 (unknown octane)
Backpackers: – From 500 for a dormitory, 1000 for a double room.
Road conditions: – Highways OK. Many secondary roads very badly potholed.
Speed limits: – 50 in villages, Mostly 80kph on the highways.
Border crossings: Several to Ethiopia, Uganda and Tanzania. The border crossing to Southern Sudan is closed. Definitely run on Africa time here. Insurance mandatory US$10, plus a $20 road permit required. You may travel between Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda multiple times on a single entry visa.
Food & Drink: – 1.5L Water KS40, 500ml Beer KS80, 330ml Pepsi KS25, Main Meal (steak and vegies) KS350.
Note: Most photos can be clicked on to see a bigger image.
My first stop was Nairobi, for the sole purpose of getting visas. Nairobi is infamous for it’s crime, and I had no desire to spend any longer here than I absolutely needed. I only went into the city once, and managed to get robbed. All they got was a cigarette lighter, some loctite and chain lube, so I did a little better than in Bangkok. I had parked the bike in town, and had a bit of a walk around. I had my day pack on. I only stayed about half an hour. I went to leave, and a guy started trying to sell me a safari. Another came up raving about the bike, and held the front brake on to stop me from wheeling the bike away from the curb. I whacked his hand away from the bars, and quickly got going. The traffic stopped me from making my getaway. It was crawling along at a few kilometres an hour, and this guy was running along behind me saying ‘wait, he is coming, he is coming’. I was was trying to beat him off, and I couldn’t work out what he was on about, but it turns out it meant nothing, and he had unzipped one of the pockets on my day bag. His lucky dip didn’t get him much, but the fact that they can rob you in open view of everyone, and no one does anything about is disconcerting. The whole attitude in Kenya is really sad. In Uganda, this thief would have been beaten senseless. The shop staff don’t seem to care, and are really off-handed. I will even go so far as to say I didn’t find a single reason to go to Kenya, other than to get to the next country. Their visa is expensive. Their taxes are outrageous. The people are either thieves, or they don’t care if you get thieved. Many officials are corrupt. The mention of Kenya evokes images of wild game, but Tanzania has better game parks.
My problem with visas continue. The Ethiopian visa is a breeze. 2 days is all it takes, but the Sudan embassy isn’t issuing visas here any more. I have to go to Ethiopia to get it. That is my last opportunity, but I am assured it is easy there. If not, I have a problem. If I have to, I can ship my bike to Yemen, then up through Saudi Arabia to Egypt. Apparently it is not difficult to do.
The new Nairobi Backpackers is excellent, run by a Kiwi called Steve. It is about 2klm from the city, and has safe parking. It is probably the best option, and it made my stay in Nairobi quite pleasant.
Kenya is incredibly expensive for imported items like bike parts. I had bought a new rear tyre in Dar es Salaam. The exact same tyre, same brand, size, type was exactly 3 times the price. A tyre, oil filters, sprockets, ‘O’ ring chain and oil for my bike was US$600. In South Africa it was about US$250, and in Australia even less. It would be cheaper to get the parts airmailed and pay the duty, excluding the tyre maybe.
About 4 hours ride from Nairobi is the famous Masi Mara game park. In fact, it is an extension of the Serengeti park in Tanzania, and only a fraction of the size. I had heard that I could and hire a car there, but it wasn’t too easy. I asked one or the guards at the gate about getting a ride through the park, and within minutes he came back with an offer of KS35,000 (US$437.50) for one afternoon. He must have thought I had ‘Bloody Idiot’ tattooed on my forehead. I enquired around some more, and managed to get a car and an experienced guide for KS4000 or US$50.
This is coming down the mountain into the Rift valley, where the Serengeti and Masai Mara are. Even though it is lower than the surrounding areas, it is still some 1400m high, and surprisingly mild weather..
Wildlife line the road long before reaching the game reserve. Zebra, Gazelle, Wildebeest, Jackals, Vultures amongst others range freely. None of the reserves are fenced, and often cats range beyond the borders to attack the Masai’s cattle. img_0937.jpg (40903 bytes)
My main reason for going to the Masai Mara was to see cats. I’ve seen Giraffe, Rhino, Elephant, Gazelle, warthog etc in South Africa. It is always a thrill to see wild animals, but really wanted to see the big cats including Lions, Leopards, and Cheetas. Some Masai people had illegally taken their herd of cattle into the reserve to feed. This male us sitting upwind of them trying to work out how to get a feed. The Masai use stones and arrows to defend themselves and their cattle. Occasionally, they lose the battle.
Magnificent huge creatures, and still very timid of visitors. It was very hard to get very close to Giraffe
A pack of four females stalking a small herd of Gazelle.
Getting into position to attack. We lost them in the grass. I didn’t see if they were successful. Gazelle are fast and maneuverable, so most hunts go unrewarded. All these lions looked healthy, but had lots of scars from hunting. When you see the size and power of Wildebeests, one of their favourite prey, it is not hard to understand their scars. One cat had no tail.
Their prey. They seemed to know they were being stalked.
Elephant were common
More than anything else, I wanted to see Cheetah and Leopards. I missed the Cheetah, but this Leopard kept me happy. It is very rare to encounter these cats. They are very timid. I spotted this guy up the tree. The guide had missed it.
We sat there for about 15 minutes watching him. In that time, another group turned up. He was equipped with a radio and notified other cars. Within minutes, there were about 20 buses here. Most missed him though, because he got sick of prying eyes, and moved on. In contrast to the lions, he looked in pristine condition. No visible scars.
My guide said they only see Leopards every two weeks on average. I consider myself very lucky.
After the game park, I started looking for the camp sites outside the gates. There were lots of signs, but the road seemed to just run out. I thought I must have taken a wrong turn, so I went back out to the main road to check the signs again. I pulled up on the very edge of the road opposite the signs. I put my foot down to balance the bike, and it slipped. Before I knew it, the bike and I were upside down in a drainage ditch. In all of my three crashes at speed, I didn’t scratched the tank, but at 0 km/h I managed it. No other damage, but I had some spectators, and I must have looked a bit of a dill.
Anyhow, after picking the bike up and dusting myself off, I checked the signs again, and I was going in the right direction. There were at least 6 camps advertised, yet the road was overgrown. Obviously they don’t get a lot of business. Of all the camps, only three were open. Two wanted US$10 to camp, had virtually no facilities, and no other guests. I kept looking and found one where there was an American couple staying, and it was only US$4, so this was home for the night. The next morning when I paid, he charged me for the Masai guards too, which is another example of Kenyan dishonesty.
From here, I went to Uganda, then back again through Northern Kenya towards Ethiopia. On the way, I intentionally made my route past Mt Kenya, but like Kilimanjaro it was obscured by cloud cover.
Northern Kenya, Isiolo to Moyale. This road is notoriously rough. The first part is fine, as this photo shows, but it did turn into one of the worst roads I have ever been on.
Here was where I had my first real problem with the bike. I cracked the frame. I did the 260km section from Isiolo to Marsabit in 3 hours. It usually takes all day. One of the locals says it is a record, but I doubt everyone comes in to say how long they took. They looked at me funny when I arrived, because I arrived at 10am. Usually traffic doesn’t start to trickle in until late afternoon, so they asked me where I came from. I said Isiolo, and they said THIS MORNING?, what time did you leave? 7am. Their jaws literally dropped. I was riding really hard, working on the principle that corrugations are better at speed, but there were huge rocks everywhere. I hit a few, at I think that is what did the damage. I didn’t get any flats, or damage the rims, so they couldn’t have been too bad. Where the frame cracked is part of the oil cooling system, so there was oil leaking everywhere. I had it welded by the worst welder I have ever seen, but the only one in Marsabit. Incredibly, he didn’t own a welding mask, and instead of doing nice long runs, he built up a mound of little deposits so that it looks like a hornets nest. Predictably, it is still porous, and leaks, but not enough to cause problems. To get at the crack, I had to remove the seat, fairing, tank bag, tank, and front fender. At the same time, I got my leather pants sewed up again. Every seam has been falling apart one by one. Soon it will all have been replaced.
Welding, African style. I was cringing watching him work. I planned to get it fixed properly in Addis Ababa, but once I got there, none of the welders there inspired me with confidence either, so I decided the best action was to live with it. It doesn’t leak much, but a little oil makes a big mess. I estimate it is losing about 100ml per 1000km. The crack was so small, I couldn’t see it, but it is a pressurised oil system, and just idling the motor allowed us to pinpoint the crack.
After I had those problems solved, I jumped on the bike and rode the next 250km section, again rocky and corrugated, but I slowed down this time. It too is supposed to take all day. I still managed to get a flat tyre though. This was not the place to stop by the road and fix a flat. This area is full of bandits, and I was supposed to travel in a organised convoy, but I’d rather take my chances. I can’t imagine anything worse than travelling behind 20 trucks, at truck speed in the dust.
I’ve talked to others, and they reckon the bandit thing is a bit overrated, and foreigners are seldom targets. It was a big day, but I enjoyed it. I did a 2 day run in a day, fixed a flat, welded the frame, had my pants sewn up, crossed the border into Ethiopia, and still arrived 2 hours before dark.
I was lucky with the convoy situation. For the first time ever, I managed to lock my keys in one of the panniers. I have been worried I would do it one day, but the convoy was supposed to start at 6.30am, and I didn’t get there until 7am in a bit of a panic. I didn’t want to hang around Isiolo another day. I went to the barrier and registered for the convoy, then took off. What I didn’t realise was that the convoy hadn’t left. There were just three trucks at the barrier, and I didn’t realise this was the convoy. At the second section after Marsabit, I had to bribe the guard to let me continue without a convoy. It cost me a whole US$1.25. I caught the Marsabit convoy at 3pm, but I left at 12 noon. It took me three hours to catch the convoy that had been going for 8.5 hours having left at 6:30 am.
This was the same section of road that recently caught Ted Simon, of ‘Jupiters Travels’ fame. Ted travelled around the world on a Triumph over 40 years ago. He was doing it again at the age of 69 on an old BMW 1000GS. He broke a leg, but I believe he will make a full recovery and continue. He would probably have been in the hospital in Nairobi while I was there. It would have loved to have met him. I didn’t find out he was there until I got to Uganda. A girl I met there said she met him in Ethiopia, so I got on the Internet to find out where he was.
I have since met Ted a few times at bike rallies in Germany.
Go to Uganda