Kenya: Excerpts from our blog December 2013, January 2014 and December 2014





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    Default Kenya: Excerpts from our blog December 2013, January 2014 and December 2014

    I have been asked by the king of travel reports, Stan Weakley, if I would post some excerpts from our (private) blog of our overland trip. We did this trip between August 2013 and December 2014.

    We have been lucky enough to have visited most places in Kenya over the years, so we did not go to the sort of places that most tourists wish to visit. Most of our blog posts on Kenya are about family and friends, but I have been persuaded to post about a few places we did visit that might be of interest: Lake Baringo; Lake Bogoria; the Aberdares; a rather intrepid route we took from the Laikipia to Kitale via the remote Kito Pass; Saiwa Swamps; the Kitale area; and the Cherangani Hills – all in early 2014. Moreover, I have re-posted the blog entries about our trip down eastern Lake Turkana from Ethiopia in December 2013 – for the sake of completeness.

    We actually entered Kenya three times. First of all in December 2013 from Ethiopia via the remote eastern Lake Turkana, and exited a month later into Uganda via the little-used Suam River border crossing. The second time in March 2014, we entered Kenya from Tanzania via the Sirari/Isebania border crossing having circumnavigated Lake Victoria. The third time, on our return to Kenya from Cape Town in December 2014, we crossed back into Kenya from Tanzania at Loitokitok and spent a few nights at Amboseli National Park.


    Journey to the Jade Sea
    Ethiopia-Kenya, 11-13 December 2013

    The bureaucracy of exiting Ethiopia proved to be a doddle. At the tiny township of Omorate on the banks of the Omo River, we found charming and helpful Immigration and Customs officers who collected our passports and papers and processed them and had them ready for us when we returned from buying a few supplies. We headed back out of what constitutes a town and after 20 kms, we turned south down a narrow dirt track. This was The Road to Kenya. Shortly, we could see the Omo Delta close on our right-hand side, and the waters of Lake Turkana in front. There was a police post with a wire across the track where they checked our passports: a few kilometres on, our GPS said we were at the Ethiopian/Kenyan border. We drew a line in the sand, wrote the names, and jumped across it. We were there!

    At the first settlement in Kenya, Ileret, we stopped and checked into the local police post, making sure that our arrival was properly noted in the Incident Book. And that was the only formality on arrival in Kenya – proper immigration and customs clearance would have to be done on arrival in Nairobi.

    We pottered on up lava slopes and through sandy pans to find a nice spot to camp overlooking the lake by a ruined old lodge. Despite the fact that we were actually in the protected Sibiloi National Park, a local goat herder appeared, and after giving him a cup of tea, he asked for some dawa (medicine) for his hip. It was a relief to have some language in common – Swahili. We tried to ask whether this was a bruise or a long-standing problem, but our miming was not up to it, so we gave him some Ibuprofen. Then his three sons appeared who had some passable English. Their father’s hip appeared to have been a trouble for some time and, despite our comprehensive medical kit, somehow we didn’t have the wherewithal to do hip surgery. So, we had to explain that he needed a proper doctor, but in the meantime suggested that the boys did more work and he took it a bit easy. Much hilarity.

    The next day we camped at Koobi Fora, the famed “Cradle of Mankind” where Richard Leakey discovered some of the earliest remains of Early Man - Australopithecus anamensis (4 million years), Australopithecus boisei (2 million years) and Homo habilis (1.6 million). Here at the Research Station for hominid palaeontological research, we set up camp overlooking Lake Turkana on a beautiful green spit of land. There weren’t any researchers at Koobi Fora so we had the place to ourselves. This is a seriously remote place two days’ drive on tracks from the nearest semblance of civilisation and everything has to be driven in or flown in to the airstrip. It is also a very hot and arid area, so working on the dig sites must be challenging to say the least; combined with the fact that Lake Turkana is alkaline and therefore not drinkable, and fresh water has to be collected from the roofs on the rare occasions it does rain here in the semi-desert. Fossils were everywhere – 4 million year old “elephants”, huge extinct crocodiles, corals, “rhinos”, and other unidentifiable creatures. In the bay were flocks of flamingos and pelicans and huge Nile crocodile, and herds of hartebeest and zebra grazed the grassy foreshore. In the evening, we heard hippo snorting around the lake.

    We had a very hot and sweaty evening, which turned out to be the forerunner of a change in the weather. In the morning, we woke at dawn to a few raindrops. However, the rain held off for what was a most amazing adventure along sandy tracks, lava flows and long stretches of lava gravel: think lunar landscape. Along with the remains of Early Man, here in Sibiloi National Park is a wonderful petrified forest – on a dry and arid hillside are the petrified remains of huge cedar trees which flourished here 7 million years ago. Six hours drive from Koobi Fora, we turned on to the “main road” – itself just another sandy and rocky track, and a few kilometres on we saw our first vehicle for two and a half days. How amazing was that? Luckily, the shock absorber mount (with Hugh’s skillful bush mechanics) had held up to some serious bashing as we were far from help. Another hour or so took us to the settlement of Loiyangalani. We had last been here 27 years ago and, although it still feels like the end of the world, it has grown considerably and there are some aspects of civilisation. It was incongruous to have mobile phone signal, be able to buy a SIM card and to buy fuel from a barrel.

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    Default Re: Kenya: Excerpts from our blog December 2013, January 2014 and December 2014

    From the Northern Frontier District across the Equator
    Kenya, 14-23 December 2013

    The following morning in Loiyangalani we woke to some proper rain. However, undeterred we pressed South, but soon came to a rushing lugga (a normally dry riverbed) and had to stop. We put up our awning, and an elderly local woman joined us in its shelter. Luggas fill quickly when the rain comes, but, happily, they also dry quickly. Within 30 minutes, the water had dwindled to a sensible level, and we squeezed Granny into the back seat and pushed across. Sadly, our last view of the Jade Sea looked more like a Scottish loch. We dropped Granny at her settlement about 20 miles further on (and so saved her a good day’s walk), and had a great drive over huge lava gravel ridges into South Horr. Just before we got there, we felt like some lunch, and pulled off the track. As we did so, the rain started again, so we threw up our awning, and as the rain increased three locals joined us. It was clearly not going to dry up soon, so, during a slight lessening, we decided to go straight into the settlement, and have our picnic there. Although South Horr sits in a lovely valley of beautiful Acacia woodland, the rain by this time was so heavy that wild camping was looking unattractive, so we pulled into the ‘Samburu Sports Club’. There they had, of all things, a basketball court under an enormous roof, into which the whole Land Rover was ushered. Bliss, though it was the most incongruous place we have camped!

    The main lugga through the town was a raging torrent. However, within a couple of hours, the rain had stopped, the lugga was dry, and we went for a little recce to see the state of the various luggas that we knew crossed the track we would have to follow the next morning. All were dry, but once again, there was an ‘orrid noise from the back wheel. Sure enough, our old friend the shock absorber mounting was in trouble again, this time having actually sheared in one corner. Happily, the manager at the campsite, Samson, had an electric drill, drill bits and some bolts and we were able to conduct a good bush repair that would see us through.

    Given the rain, at this stage we decided to head South through Baragoi and Maralal, rather than cutting South East across to the join the main road South from Ethiopia. The latter crosses a feature called the Milgis Lugga, which we knew would be a challenge given the unseasonal rain. So, we opted to go down the bandit alley, where there has been a pattern of hold-ups, but does stick to high ground. So, we drove down to Baragoi, where the trouble is likely to begin and pulled in at the Police Station. There we discussed the pros and cons, and the police made it quite clear that us having chosen to open the discussion, they were jolly well determined to provide us with an escort. So, with two burly armed coppers aboard, we cracked on down to Maralal (probably some of the worst roads we had been on all trip). We were clearly not going to get to Maralal in time for the coppers to catch the bus home, so we actually stopped the bus when we saw it approaching about 20 kms short of Maralal. It was crammed. But, no problem, a couple of locals got slung out on the roadside, and our coppers leapt aboard. We did not feel good, but the police were pleased with their tip.

    In Maralal, we took a banda at a slightly sad little place that had seen better days. After South Horr, much was damp, and we felt like some hot water. We would have happily rolled into something expensive, but that was not on offer. The next morning, we decided to risk the rain and head through the Laikipia plateau (which we love, but can have difficulties in the rain), and sure enough, shortly after turning off towards Nanyuki, we came across our first insurmountable obstacle: a bridge was gone – almost completely, all that was left was a central span. Inspecting the damage we encountered an elderly white lady, who remarked that the adjoining estate, Sosian, had a bridge and a way round. Luckily, I had had some dealings with the Manager there, and he kindly gave us permission to transit their estate. They had been lucky to retain their own bridge: they showed us photos of it completely underwater the previous day. But we had a nice little game drive through the bush and managed to get back on the Nanyuki road without incident.

    50 kms later, we bumped into a friend on the road outside his farm. He invited us down for tea in his house, a lush little oasis, with his wife. After this pleasant break (the first home we had been in since Cairo), we bimbled on into Nanyuki. Just short of the town we hit tarmac, the first we had seen for 616 miles. A comfortable night in the lovely old colonial Nanyuki Sports Club, and an easy run (with the obligatory photo at the equator) the following morning took us down to Nairobi. The family had the champagne ready for us as we rolled in. Phase 1 was complete: 9,570 miles from Wiltshire.

    So here we are, safe and sound in Nairobi; the weather seems to have righted itself, we have dealt with Kenyan bureaucracy and are legally here in Kenya now, and the pre-Christmas social whirl is on.
    Last edited by Wazungu Wawili; 2017/07/23 at 05:30 PM.

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    Default Re: Kenya: Excerpts from our blog December 2013, January 2014 and December 2014

    Escarpments, Plateaux, Valleys, Lakes and Mountains
    Kenya, 5-10 January 2014

    On our way back from Western Kenya after New Year, we did a little diversion to Lakes Baringo and Bogoria to inspect the water levels there. Both lakes (indeed all the Rift Valley lakes) are rising dramatically, and at Baringo, most of the waterfront properties are submerged. We managed to camp in the last remaining dry corner of Roberts Camp, where we had stayed in a cottage seven years ago. That cottage, which had two storeys, is now submerged up to its roof. Curiously, the water in the lake, which used to be the colour of milky tea, has now gone clear. At Lake Bogoria, which used to be a soda lake rich in flamingos, the water front is similarly inundated, and virtually all the flamingos are gone. No-one is quite certain what has happened, but it appears likely that some seismic event has either stopped the lakes from draining or opened them to filling from underground aquifers. But it is all rather grim for the tourist trade in the surrounding areas.

    Thence we wound our way on some seriously minor roads through what had been the heart of the “White Highlands”, stopping briefly at Thomson’s Falls, before going up into the Aberdares. Here in this beautiful mountain range (famous for Treetops), we were back in the afro-alpine zone where we camped for two cold but lovely nights on the moorland. In our campsite, we had friendly bushbuck and bush duikers for company – although their antics in the night around the tent and the Land Rover (which they seemed to be using as a salt-lick) kept us awake. We saw elephants grazing on Giant Heather at an altitude of 3,000 metres, and went on intrepid tracks to dramatic waterfalls. Having packed up our camp in the moorland, the track took us South-West until we came to the most gorgeous view – the whole of the Rift Valley lay below us in the sparkling morning light. The road took us down through the bamboo belt, the forest belt and on to the Kinangop Plateau. We chose not to descend right down into the Rift Valley to Naivasha, but took a newly tarred road across the Kinangop which eventually took us on to the main road to Nairobi.

    Back in Nairobi, we have had the Land Rover serviced and checked after 10,500 miles from home. There is also a major resupply of food to be done before we head off on Saturday on our way west. We are spending a week or so in and around the Cherangani Hills and Kitale in Western Kenya before crossing the border into Uganda.

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    Default Re: Kenya: Excerpts from our blog December 2013, January 2014 and December 2014

    Westward Ho!
    Kenya, 18-20 January 2014

    Needless to say, we have taken the roads less travelled. In fact, we managed to drive 450 miles (720 kms) from Nairobi to the Kitale area of Western Kenya with only 20 miles on a busy main road. Driving on main roads in Kenya is a nerve-wracking experience; there are over 3000 deaths in road traffic accidents per annum, and a friend of ours was killed on the Mombasa road after New Year. Huge lorries grind their slow way to all parts of East and Central Africa and overtake on blind summits; speeding buses with twisted chassis career wildly; matatus (small minibuses) drive erratically and furiously – often undertaking on the dirt side of the road; children run across the road, and cattle and goats wander willy-nilly. And that is all before one takes into account the state of the road surface where frequent potholes cause vehicles to veer wildly from side to side.

    What we haven’t told you is that we drove nearly 9,000 miles on the wrong (i.e. right) side of the road until we reached Kenya, and we are now happily driving on the left (i.e. right) side and will do so down through the rest of Africa – apart from Rwanda and Mozambique – they are all former British colonies and have kept up the standards of the Empire. However, sometimes in Kenya, you could be challenged to know what is the right side of the road.

    So, we love the rural roads – the surface, people, and livestock factors don’t improve, but at least they are predominantly truck free and have much less traffic. Our first port of call was to visit a friend on a cattle ranch on the Laikipia. We had a lovely afternoon and evening there.

    The next morning, we were on the dirt road just as the sun rose behind a crystal-clear Mount Kenya. We headed west on a road down from the Laikipia Plateau into the Rift Valley near Lake Baringo – part of this road had not been driven on by a four-wheeled vehicle for some time, but luckily it improved by the time we descended down the escarpment. North of Lake Baringo, we set off into terra incognita up a road which is grandly called the B4, but is really only a rough dirt track, across the Kito Pass and down into the Kerio Valley. Most of the Kerio Valley is a hot, arid place filled with thorn scrub. However, on the far side, the Cherangani Hills loomed dramatically over the valley and we reached a village sweetly called Tot Here, with rivers and streams flowing off the hills, is a green fertile strip; mango trees abounded.

    We looked in vain for a wild camping spot along the Wei-Wei River which had been recommended to us, and ten hours after leaving Rumuruti we set up camp at a field studies centre at the bottom of the Marich Pass. Although this was not wild camping, it was a very pleasant spot on the edge of a river under a thick canopy of trees. We bathed in the fast-flowing river beside bare-breasted ladies panning for gold. It was hot down here in the Wei-Wei Valley, but we cooked on an open fire and had a good night’s sleep.

    This morning we turned onto the road up the Marich Pass which is grandly called the A1. This is a pretty but rather broken-up road which is one of South Sudan’s lifelines to the world, but it was truck-free and wound its way beside the river up into the Cherangani Hills and the Trans-Nzoia Plateau. We are now out of the Rift Valley and won’t see it again until we hit the Albertine Rift in Western Uganda; we are also north of the Equator again and won’t cross back into the southern hemisphere until SW Uganda.

    We are now happily ensconced camping in a beautiful garden belonging to the Barnley family near Kitale. In the trees are Black and White colobus monkeys and birds are everywhere. The altitude is noticeable and it is much cooler. We are looking forward to a few days here bird-watching, visiting the Saiwa Swamps and Mount Elgon, and getting ready to host a bush banquet next weekend. Friends are joining us for the weekend, and Dick Barnley has found us what we hope will be the perfect wild camping spot in the Cherangani Hills, complete with a trout-stocked river, for us to set up the camp and banquet. We will inspect it tomorrow. Fingers crossed it doesn’t rain this week-end (as it is at the moment) or else I don’t know how we will cook the legs of lamb!

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    Default Re: Kenya: Excerpts from our blog December 2013, January 2014 and December 2014

    It’s Frosty in the Tropics
    Kenya-Uganda, 21-28 January 2014

    Well, our weekend in the Cherangani Hills with friends was a huge success. The Cheranganis are a steep range of hills west of the Rift Valley, rising to around 10,000 ft. Hence it is a key area for training Kenya’s great athletes. There are some forest reserves, but otherwise, as in Ethiopia, every piece of ground is cultivated or grazed. The effect, however, is charming, and the Cherangani Hills are one of the few areas of Kenya where the word ‘pretty’ is appropriate (as opposed to stunning, awesome etc).

    We spent a few days exploring the Cheranganis and doing some proper bird-watching with an impressively expert local guide called Maurice, which included visiting the Saiwa Swamp National Park to see the Sitatunga Antelope which live there. We also did a serious restocking in Kitale for the week-end, and then headed up into the hills of the Friday to get ready for the others joining us on Saturday.

    We had negotiated with a local farmer, Johnstone, to be allowed to set up camp in his meadow which ran steeply down to a flat area beside the river Murun. Along the river, the trees were swathed in Spanish Moss and, although the river had last been stocked with trout in the 1970s, there were still trout to catch. Sadly, the fish evaded the best endeavours of some of the party.

    On Saturday, everyone found our remote spot, and it didn’t rain so the legs of lamb for the bush banquet were cooked on the open fire. It was, however, very cold at night with a thick frost in the morning: not surprising as our camp was in a frost hollow at 9,000 ft but, as soon as the sun rose, the temperature rocketed. We had bought a huge stack of firewood from Johnstone, and potatoes and veg. The loo hole that he dug for us was a mineshaft – he wanted to dig it 10 feet deep, but we compromised at 5 feet. After all, seven people for two nights don’t produce 10 feet’s worth of ordure. Over the top of the mineshaft we set up our loo tent.

    After a lovely couple of days, we packed up and headed west for Uganda. After a quick restock in Kitale, we stopped just short of the border, and stayed overnight in an old farmhouse which had been converted into a lodge on the edge of Mt Elgon National Park. It was a slightly melancholy place, having been a rather grand colonial home in its heyday, but now very run down. Its decrepitude included a very large cockerel who strutted through the once grand drawing room skittering on the parquet floors. Sadly, the tourism business in Western Kenya is insufficient to sustain a luxury lodge, and so the hotel catered largely for the local trade, and the fabric was in dire need of investment. However, the staff tried valiantly to serve us with style and were very sweet. At least we were able to get a quick and relatively trouble-free start in the morning, and we rolled off to the border, just 25 kms down the road. En route we had to identify a strange clanking noise which turned out to be a broken rear disc brake shield.

    The border crossing was a tiny settlement on the River Suam to the North side of Mt Elgon. It is little used, and certainly not by any heavy trucks. There was, therefore, no queue, and we had a very painless crossing process, needing only to give the Ugandan customs official some help in filling out the Carnet for the vehicle: clearly, he had never before been confronted with such a document. We were now in our 9th country.

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    Default Re: Kenya: Excerpts from our blog December 2013, January 2014 and December 2014

    The Last Hurrah(s)
    Kenya, 19-21 December 2014

    We had an easy crossing into Kenya – our last border (Hurrah!). Amboseli was looking wonderfully green, and we booked into the public campsite. It looks like the Kenya Wildlife Service are at last getting their act together and responding to the competition. The campsite was clean, with good ablutions (albeit no hot water) and an efficient friendly lady in charge. The first morning was clear, with lovely views of Kilimanjaro with a good snow covering, and we headed out early. Almost immediately, we spotted the one predator that had eluded us all the way down through Africa: a cheetah mother with three youngsters in tow – Hurrah! Vast herds of elephant, lots of plains game, some hyena but no lions. Amboseli is a small, but perfectly formed park, at the heart of which is a permanent swamp and with the ultimate backdrop of Kilimanjaro.

    We left early on Sunday morning in order to reach Nairobi by lunchtime. The road from the Park across to Namanga was corrugated, requiring some speed to achieve a smooth ride. At one point we hit an unexpected drift in the road, and for a few seconds the Land Rover was airborne – yeehah! I was all for dropping off the camerawoman and giving it another go just to get a good piccy, but the she demurred.

    Remarkably, we got to Karen at 1230 on the dot. There champagne was cracked to a big Hurrah. We had completed 34,811 miles (55,698 km) since rolling out of our home in the UK on 21 August 2013.

    Hurrah!

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    Default Re: Kenya: Excerpts from our blog December 2013, January 2014 and December 2014

    Hurrah indeed! An epic to be proud of, and one that cannot be exactly repeated by anyone now. It shows again why one should not put this sort of thing off till later. I don't know if you ever read Parkinson's Law, in which the author wrote (more or less): The best investment of all is travel. The man who can say "I remember in Shanghai in the Old Days....." has got something which all the money in the world cannot buy now.

    Thanks again.

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    Default Re: Kenya: Excerpts from our blog December 2013, January 2014 and December 2014

    Thank you so much, Rod.

    Yes, you are right: one shouldn't prevaricate as one never knows what is around the next corner. We talked about a big "mother of all safaris" for 20 years, and then seized the window of opportunity. We were, however, in deep planning for about five years beforehand and had been on trial runs.

    Happy memories for our dotage!

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    Default Re: Kenya: Excerpts from our blog December 2013, January 2014 and December 2014

    Quote Originally Posted by Wazungu Wawili View Post
    Happy memories for our dotage!
    Indeed!
    Landcruiser 76SW.

    “Great journeys are memorable not so much for what you saw, but for where you camped”.

    At least "Once a year go someplace you have never been before" Delai Lama.

    Trans East Africa 2015/2016 Trip report http://www.4x4community.co.za/forum/...e16?highlight= from post 315.

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