Early in the morning I left Moyale, cycling away from the Ethiopian border, down into the the arid lowlands of Northern Kenya.
At turns and settlements, there were speed bumps. The speed bumps themselves were not much of an issue on a bike, but each had several sections of rumble strip preceding them. In a car these would be barely noticable but on a bike they’re quite annoying, causing the whole bike (and rider!) to rattle.
Thankfully there weren’t many settlements and so not too many of these. The land here was mostly scrubland, with occasional herders moving flocks of goats and camels.
There were a few police checkpoints along the way, but I was never stopped. This road was once infested with bandits but that problem has apparently been resolved in recent years. I guess I don’t look like a bandit, nor an Ethiopian refugee!
After about 45km I got a puncture and moved off the road. I swapped the tube and started pumping it up… Until my pump broke. I spent a while trying to fix it but wasn’t having any luck.
A passing landcruiser stopped and the driver asked if I was okay. He was going to Moyale and very kindly agreed to give me a lift back there, where I could hopefully find a new pump. It wasn’t until I was putting the bike in the back that I realised this was a police vehicle. The driver, Stephen, was an off duty police sergeant.
He dropped me off back in Moyale, and I set about finding a pump. After being directed to various shops I eventually managed to buy one. I then went hunting for inner tubes. I found my way to a collection of motorbike/bike shops, but the bike shops there were closed. One of the people working at a motorbike hoped on his bike and led me through a market to an unmarked shop that sold, amongst other things, inner tubes. They had a valve type I’ve not seen before, but it was compatible with my new pump so I bought two. Judging by the relative frequency of shouts of Ferengi/Mzungu(Amharic/Swahili for white man), there seem to be lots of Ethiopians even on the Kenyan side of the border town.
Half the day was now gone and I decided to check into a hotel. I hadn’t been able to buy a sim card in Moyale so I made sure to get a hotel close enough to the border that I could still use my Ethiopian sim card. Later on I went to a chip shop – Kenya was a British colony, and it shows: they also drive on the left, speak good English and even use British plugs!
I left again the next morning. The first 45 kilometres passed much as they had the morning before, though they were not appended by a puncture this time. As I had the day before, I saw lots of people out running as I left Moyale. I haven’t seen people exercising for leisure in quite a while.
I continued riding through scrubland, until I reached the village of Turbi.
From Turbi the landscape changed to desert – pretty much just sand and rocks. I saw a few gazelle running around but didn’t manage to get a good picture.
After 80 or so kilometres of desert I reached Bubusi, another village. The people in these villages are clearly used to cyclists coming through. Normally, when people ask where I’m riding to/from, I say the name of a large city relatively nearby. Here, they follow up with “and after that, are you riding to Cape Town?” or “And did you start cycling in Cairo?”
I cycled on for another half hour or so past Bubusi, then moved away from the road and set up camp.
I was woken at about 4 AM when the wind really picked up. There’d been a bit of headwind yesterday but this was something else. I couldn’t get any more sleep with the wind buffeting the tent so I packed up and started cycling at first light.
This very strong headwind coincided with an 800m climb up to the town of Marsabit, atop a dormant volcano of the same name. The gradient was about 1-2%, enough to be felt but not enough to seem like much visibly, so it felt as though the headwind was slowing me down even more than it was.
After a couple of hours my front tyre went flat. As had been the case a couple days before, the cause was a hole on the inner side of the tube. I think my inner tubes have been weakened by the time I spent riding with a compromised rim tape on my rear wheel. I swapped the tube out and continued on.
After four slow hours I reached the town of Marsabit. I tried again to get a simcard, but they only had the facilities to register them for people with Kenyan ID cards. I stopped at a supermarket and rode out of town, descending back down to the lowlands. The downhill ended at the village of Log-Logo, and the desert began again. A while later there came a long hiss as my front wheel went flat again, for the same reason.
The valves on the new tubes I’d bought are a bit wider than the Presta valves on my tubes, and won’t fit in my front wheel. I decided to swap the tube from my read wheel to the front, and put a new tube in the rear.
With this delay it was getting dark as I reached Laisamis, which had been my goal for the day. Some curious kids ran along beside me as I rode up the hill into the town. A motorcyclist also joined me. I spoke to him for a bit – he is a pharmacist in Laisamis. He warned me against riding at night, saying the people here are “not civilised.” I assured him I was about to stop for the night, and did so, at the Oasis hotel. It was 500 shillings (about £3.30) but, surprisingly, had pretty good wifi.
As usual, an early start saw me riding out of Laisamis at dawn. There were some villages early on, until I reached Sereolipi, which was the beginning of another fairly long empty section.
Just past the village, I had several unpleasant encounters with children. Out in the bush, herds of goats or camels are often watched over by young boys. They frequently demand money or water. The first I came across, hefted a fist sized rock and was about to throw it, until I pointed at him, stared him down and firmly told him no. The next chased me with a stick. The next were a pair, one wielding a couple of spears and the other a stick. They both tried to force me to stop but I kept riding, and the one with the stick threw it at me (and missed). At least they didn’t throw the spear, as they did at a pair of cyclists that came through a week after!
Obviously it doesn’t excuse their behaviour but one does wonder what their lives are like out here. Although those in the villages go to school, the herders in the countryside seem not to go. It is an extremely difficult environment to survive in, and there are probably no opportunities for them to leave.
Once past these children and out into the desert, I only saw wildlife – a couple of ostriches and lots of dikdiks.
Archer’s Post was the end of the dry stretch, and the beginning of the end of the desert. The road climbed gently up toward the town of Isiolu, with the landscape becoming greener as I climbed. I saw a baboon, and it began to rain a little.
My legs were feeling unusually tired. I’d just done 3 days with an average riding time of over 9 hours, and I’ve had a lot of time off recently so my legs may not be used to it. I’ve also generally been riding into a headwind so I was spending a lot more time in an aggressive riding position.
Due to my tired legs I thought I might want to take a rest day in Isiolu so I searched for a hotel with WiFi. I checked into the Moti Pearl Hotel which, at 2000 KSH (£13) is more than I would usually pay but my legs were hurting, I wanted Wifi, and I had a group of annoying kids following me around demanding money.
The hotel wasn’t that great – the wifi was intermittent and, at an elevation of about 1000m, Isiolu is still a bit warmer than I’d prefer. My legs felt somewhat better in the morning so I decided to stick to my original plan of riding on to Nanyuki, where I’d be able to get a sim card (and thus internet). It’s also at a higher elevation so it would be pleasantly cooler.
Getting to a higher elevation does of course involve climbing and so, when I finally set off at 8 AM (late by my standards), it was to begin a 1500 metre climb.
Near the top of the climb there was a restaurant where I stopped for chips. I parked my bike next to the restaurant but they asked me to move it further away – then, when I was done, the proprietor asked me to bring it back to take a photo.
From there the road dropped down to an elevation of a little under 2000m as I made my way to Nanyuki. I went to a Safaricom shop and was finally able to get a simcard, then checked into a cheap hotel. I decided to take a couple rest days here.
The hotel was right next to a mall with a good supermarket. Unfortunately that also made it a target for local beggars; one followed me back to the hotel and kept knocking on my door, while demanding money. Eventually I opened the door, told him he was going to leave, and started walking purposefully towards him. He ran off and didn’t bother me again. Other than that it was a restful couple days!
Nov 6: 45 km
Nov 7: 205 km
Nov 8: 135 km
Nov 9: 162 km
Nov 10: 80 km