Ride Overland With Kanchan & Nick

  • Ethiopia: It’s time to get out of Africa!January 27, 2013 04:57:55

  • Kenya Part 2: Return to the land of Kalasinghas and what next?January 10, 2013 03:20:39

  • Uganda: A lush, green paradise!December 26, 2012 02:45:22

January 10, 2013

Kenya Part 2: Return to the land of Kalasinghas and what next?

Again, easy border crossing  into Kenya. Instead of going the Kisumu way, we decided on going to Eldoret. It was chilly and started to rain decently hard as we rolled in. Eldoret is kind of a messy city. The roads were a bit tight and bad and with water and silt it was not pretty. We rode around the whole town trying to find a place that was cheap with good parking and we found nothing. As we were riding around we saw the Nishan Sahib of the Gurudwara. Thank you God!  Again we were welcomed with open arms by the Bhai Sahib and his family. Interesting thing about the Gurudwaras in East Africa, they all have great accommodation. With a small donation or around 500 kenyan Shillings, you can stay in a safe environment where your bike is parked safely. In many  Gurudwaras such as those in Kisumu and Eldoret, many families including non-Sikhs as well as pandits  from the mandirs sought refuge in the Gurudwaras during the 2006 riots during the elections. In East Africa, a Sikh is known as a Singha or Kalasingha and they are greatly respected completely different from anyone else. People have a tendency to ask what are you? When we said we were Kalasinghas, people’s demeanor changed.

The next day we headed out towards Nairobi and found ourselves running low on gas…but unfortunately in Eldoret and surrounding areas we were out of luck…no petrol. Finally we lost our patience and  got some petrol on the black market. We bought about 5L for about $2/Liter…the guy who sold it to us assured us it was pure, but we also used coffee filters to catch any particulate. We said a prayer and set off! Luckily, the guy’s word was good and we got to Nakuru where we were able to fill up. Seems petrol was tough to find because of Christmas…no tanker drivers working! Second time we had trouble finding gas, first was in Malawi.  Eventually we got to Nairobi and set up camp at Jungle Junction (the overlander place to be I guess) where 4x4s and bikers traveling through Africa meet. We got stuck camping and drowning in water. It rained continuously for a couple of days and we had a backload of laundry to do. Our Redverz tent had never had to sustain constant rain but it did pretty well and we didn’t have any leakages.  In the meantime we got to know some of the other travelers.  Including bikers from Germany on diesel powered Royal Enfields and South Africans on BMWs to name a few.

We had to get a Sudan visa in order to move on towards Egypt. Under much persuasion (took the entire day) for the rude embassy guy to take our application. On top of that we had to go and ask the American Embassy to write a letter on our behalf stating that we are citizens wanting to travel to Sudan for tourist purposes. John at the embassy told us that the US Embassy does not issue such letters and the Sudanese know that. He offered to call the Sudan embassy to talk to them but he couldn’t get through at first. But when he did, he was hung up on twice. The guy ( bald headed guy who always looks pissed off) who took our application and told us it may take 3-4 days since they needed to send “it” to Khartoum. What “it” was…we’re not sure! Because after much follow-up every other day, we found our application sitting in his drawer at the embassy 10 days later. After demanding to see the high commissioner and having a supposedly earnest conversation with him, they handed us our applications back saying our applications have been rejected…although the rejection box on our application was not check marked and the reason for rejection or the embassy officials signature was not completed (of course). We told the guy if he didn’t want to give us a visa (or if the country of Sudan does not want to) then sign your name on it and formally reject it. But of course, these guys, of these “certain” countries have no good reasoning and can’t look you in the eye either so it’s basically like reasoning with a 2 year old. What ticked us off was the lying. To keep us hanging in Nairobi for days, killing our patience and wasting our money was far from cool.

In the meantime, we rang in 2013 at JJ’s  with a BBQ with our fellow travelers. The weather, staying in non-ideal conditions, and the visa disappointment had us a little mentally, physically, and emotionally spent. There was a good chance that we would not get our Sudan visa in Addis Ababa either but we had an Ethiopian visa and there was always an option of Djibouti so we decided to try our luck. For the New Year, we decided to go visit the Makindu Gurudwara which is in between Mombasa and Nairobi.  It’s basically THE holiest for East African Sikhs. Not only is it popular with Sikhs but its a safe stopover for the night or for a free meal for Muslims (although there is a mosque next door), Hindus, Christians, also tourists!  We ended up staying one night and had a chance to meet some Sikh families from Nairobi who were pretty active at the Simba Union Club (like a Punjabi country club).   Dipi and Ambi,  and many other families treated us for a Sunday brunch at the club and we had a great time partying it up!  The next day we fitted our front tire and we also meet up with our Nairobi Indian Biker friend, Karthik who introduced us to Ethiopian food!

We didn’t feel like wasting the Ethiopian visa and there seemed to be a lot to see in Ethiopia itself but there was one big…not big….huge(!) hurdle in front of us…the Isiolo to Moyale highway! 400kms of suspension breaking, banditry mayhem that should not be tried alone. Except…we were alone.  No other traveler was going north so, with our usual optimism in tow and good ol’ Punjabi “Koi na!” (“No worries!”) we pushed on to one of the most feared roads….We couldn’t find anyone to go on the road with us and other bikers had left since we were waiting for our damned Sudan visa. So we had to do what everyone told us not to, go alone. We rode from Nairobi to Isiolo which was tarred and spent the night camping out and eating masala fries (the best ever!) at what seemed to be the only campsite. The real crap was set to start tomorrow as the tar was going to end 140km in Marielle. On top of that it rained 5 days In a row before we left (also at night) so we knew we’d be in for some mud. So why is this road so bad? Well if you get a dry run, it’s much easier. But there’s still big rocks, big stone gravel, sandy parts and ruts to deal with. Many bikers and even 4x4s face damages due to roads like broken shocks (supposedly the BMW curse)!  Also the scarcity of petrol, food, water and people or law enforcement makes it a bit frightening. In the past years there has been much inter tribal warfare as well as kidnapping and attacks on tourists. Constantly, along the route to Marsabit (kinda like a midway point) locals tried to stop us either for water or just for no reason. We decided since we were riding alone we wouldn’t stop. Many times we found ourselves alone surrounded by lava rock and bushes. Random herders walked around with automatic rifles and Samboro tribesmen walked around in brightly colored fabrics with linear designs and silver jewelry. All was well until two young tribal guys tried to stop us but Nick did not feel safe enough to do so. The road was pretty rough with ruts so we couldn’t move too fast. I looked to my right and saw the two guys running almost parallel with us.  Nick tried to go a bit faster when they threw a couple of spear shaped long sticks that ended up hitting our tent. We sped as fast as we could but in reality it wasn’t that fast. I quickly opened up my camera and pointed it at the guys which made them run into the bushes! *Whew* close one! After that Nick and I were a bit shaken. We ran into major black sticky mud later on…either side of the bike the mud was built up.  Nick literally had to slowly crawl along the walls. Somehow the big just wanted to go down and we fell! We couldn’t pick it up and had to wait for help to lift it up.  Eventually after crazy ruts later, we got to Marsabit, found a guest house and settled in.

We got up super early in the next morning and headed out. We passed through Marsabit National Park which is made up of old, old volcanic craters and a perfect Tarmac road being built by a Chinese contractor which was running parallel to our dirt road.  What torture to see that paved road blocked off by huge piles of rocks!  The scenery was amazing and made us feel so helpless and at the mercy of nature. Hadn’t felt that since being in the Himalayas. And that’s exactly how we found ourselves, at the mercy of the terrain. We thought we were going down a dry mud hill but there was wet red mud underneath. The bike fishtailed three times almost sideways, swinging like a pendulum. And trust me, a fully loaded BMW going sideways is not a pretty feeling. Nick almost controlled it but we found ourselves sliding down and then falling. The bike was at a crazy angle in piles of mud. After waiting a few minutes, we removed the panniers and lifted the bike out. Soon the terrain changed a bit from sandy dirt to gravel and the road stretched for miles and miles. It was the most desolate landscape I had ever seen. Sand was littered with lava rock except for the odd rock structures that looked like abandoned huts. Every now and then we would see camel caravans and mostly Muslim herders and ladies with lots of silver jewelry, tattoos, and black henna. It was no doubt interesting but the terrain and muscling the bike was taking a toll on Nick. BMWs are notorious for the rear shock to go out. Every hour we would stop and let the shock cool down.  We also changed our suspension setting to ‘hard’ so the shock would compress less. About 80kms short of Moyale (the border town of Kenya/Ethiopia), we tagged down a bus going from Marsabit to Moyale.  We convinced them to take the two side panniers and me (!!!) on the bus.  Plan was that Nick would follow behind as close as possible. The bus was packed!  And of course being the faranj (foreigner) it was a staring contest. I stood for the first hour and after our first stop at a small village where the bus unloaded so people could go to the bathroom and get a cold drink, I got a seat between a guy with a broken arm and a burkha-clad woman. Overall the people were really nice and strangers offered me water. The lady next to me would get really excited to see Nick speeding beside us on his bike which was good because I could not see him at all behind us or the road in front of us. As for the actual ride, I have never been rocked like that in my life. The bus went full speed over ruts, corrugations as if it was invincible. Many of the young guys were chewing on khat, a kind of plant that has stimulant activity and is only legally grown in Ethiopia. In the last big village of Silolo, the bus picked up an armed askari (guard) who sat on the steps of the bus.  The terrain changed a bit and on either side of the bus we were surrounded by bushes, good hiding spots for bandits I guess!  Two guys who had been chewing khat nonstop since I had gotten on, literally jumped off the bus while the bus was still moving!  As we went storming on, my mind was with Nick…how was he faring?  Basically for him it was a rally!  He felt like he was doing the Dakar trying to follow the bus!  The bike was definitely moving much easier without the luggage and pillion! Eventually we got to Moyale (Kenya) but the border was closed! Uuuuggghhh! We found a guest house and called it a night….we could not believe that we survived the road from hell!  I think if it’s dry it’s still better but the mud made it worse as well as the constant stress of the rear shock going out.  We would never do that road again

But before we wrap up Kenya, a few words…

Never in our trip or in our lives have we felt so welcome by non-family or strangers as we have by the Punjabis of East Africa. For 2 months all of you have been acting as our family by feeding us, providing us a place to stay, talking to us without any selfish intention or doubt, and wielding out hugs, handshakes and kisses.  Never have we been so accepted for fulfilling our dream…not even in the US or India.  Thank you for everything and all the encouragement and support which has made us push on! You guys have reminded us of what helping the community is all about! Jambo and Asante Sana!

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