De Addis Abeba a Ciudad del Cabo (From Addis Ababa to Cape Town)


Surviving the road to Hell
December 26, 2011, 12:50 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Hope you all had a very Merry Christmas wherever in the world you are.

We’re in Kenya, 4km from a little town called Nanyuki which is at the eastern foot of Mount Kenya. We’re camping along the river in a place called Nanyuki River Camel Camp and are just going to chill for the next few days before we plan our next stop. Our Christmas was quiet but nice – cooked rice and beans on the fire for Christmas lunch, relaxed in the afternoon with the resident dog and tried to avoid getting chased by the geese and then had dinner, also cooked on the fire, with camel milk tea and a game of backgammon before bed.

We’ve had a few days of travelling hell to get here so here’s an update:

Dilla to Moyale
Another long day which started with a walk to the bus station at 3.25am (we were told the day before by the bus steward that the bus would leave at 4.00am and we foolishly believed him). The bus left at 6am and 10 hours later we were in the charmless border town of Moyale. We stayed on the Ethiopian side as it’s apparently better than Kenyan Moyale. Hmmm. Accommodation options on the Ethiopian side seem to be limited to brothels or pee-smelling hovels with cold water bucket showers so I won’t even contemplate the Kenyan options. We opted for a pee-smelling bucket shower room close to the border so we could make a quick getaway in the morning. After getting our Ethiopian exit stamp on the afternoon we arrived, we walked down the road and into Kenya to get our Kenyan entry stamps before walking back to Ethiopia as illegal visitors (when enquiring at Kenya immigration whether it was ok to go back to the Ethiopian side to spend the night, the officer said he didn’t care as it wasn’t his country. Fair enough).

Moyale to Marsabit – start of the road to Hell and possibly one of the worst days of my travelling life
By 6.00am we had walked across the border into Kenya.  Although I was quite relieved to leave Ethiopia behind me (the last three weeks have been tough), there are a few things I am starting to miss already such as the choice of food (we’ve had beef stew and chapatis for our last five meals in Kenya), early morning buses so you have more chance of arriving at your destination with a bit of daylight left and most importantly tarmac!

Our 6.00am bus (thankfully we were spared the cattle truck) left at 8.00am and soon after departure, our nightmare began. With over 526km to cover (400km of which is on a corrugated dirt road), the road from Moyale to Isiolo in central Kenya is considered to be one of the worst in Africa. It’s called the ‘road to Hell’ and now I know why. Your bones rattle, your cellulite shakes and grown men are reduced to tears (it was close, I tell you) – you think it’s never going to end. Lucky for us, after 17 hours, 5 punctures and just half of the distance covered, we arrived exhausted and caked in dust at Marsabit (even as I write this and read it back, I still can’t put it all into words just how horrible the bus trip was. How I wished I was on a plane to Cape Town instead of a battered old bus in the middle of the desert). I suppose that if there was anything positive about the whole experience, at least We didn’t come across any shiftas (bandits) – the route is historically notorious for banditry – along the way.

Our bus was due to carry straight on to Nairobi but with no spare tyres left, they decided to spend the night and start again in the morning. We couldn’t face getting back on the bus so stayed in Marsabit for the day. There’s not much in Marsabit (the surrounding hills are pretty though and there is a national park only 2km from town but you need your own transport to explore), however, we still had quite a productive day and got some more Kenyan shillings and a new SIM card. I was also quite excited to discover tins of Milo and slabs of Dairy Milk chocolate in one of the little grocery stalls which alone seemed to stock so much more than any of the stalls we came across in Ethiopia (that was probably the only time it felt like Christmas for me :-) For a small dusty little town you can’t help but like it just a little bit – the people were all really friendly and helpful and no-one hassled us or stared at us (except for the toddler who ran off crying to hide behind his mother at the sight of us ‘wazungu’ (white people)), which makes us like Kenya already despite not having seen very much of it.

Marsabit to Isiolo – part 2 of the road to Hell
Anxious and impatient for the day to begin so the bus journey would end, we left Marsabit two hours later than scheduled (as expected) and set off for round two. Thankfully, there wasn’t much bone rattling or cellulite shaking and a lot more smiles than tears. The road (if you can call it that) was still pretty hairy at times though but our driver was brilliant – at one point he even went off-road off the dirt track and was driving in the sand to avoid the corrugations and ruts in the road. I think it was then that I had to laugh at our situation and remind myself of the reason for travelling – there we were bundu-bashing in the northen Kenyan desert in a rickety old bus loaded with Kenyans on their way home to see family for Christmas, members of the Rendille tribe who’d joined us along the way (I couldn’t help but be intrigued by the headdresses of the tribesmen. The tops of them were colourfully adorned with a row of buttons and attached to each button were some beads with an individual artificial rose with feather insert sticking out of the rose) and us two wazungu causing dust swirls as we sped by.

And then just when you thought you would never experience it again, we spotted it in the distance – TARMAC! So the last 125km to Isiolo were heavenly – we even managed to do a bit of wildlife spotting (apart from the usual sightings of goats, sheep, camels and donkeys) and first passed an ostrich and then later an elephant on the side of the road.

So after just 8 hours, no punctures, still no bandits and not as much dust, we arrived in Isiolo as survivors and had an ice-cold Tusker beer to celebrate!

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4 Comments so far
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Feliz Navidad Alberto and company. Menuda aventura, anda que no te quedan autobuses chungos por coger. Espero que la siguiente etapa del viaje vaya mejor.
Un saludo desde el hastio de estar prácticamente solo en el curro un 26 de Diciembre.

Comment by Rafa

Just think of the stories you’ll be able to tell your grankids! If I got to sit on a bus with tribemen on it, you know I would have a massive cheesy smile on my face – just like with the monks in SE Asia. Drink, eat and be merry Isiolo style! x

Comment by Valerie McIntosh

Well it certainly doesn’t sound like ‘Felices fiestas’ but definitely interesting/memorable ones!!!!! Enjoy the rest of the festive season, hopefully with something more than beef n rice!!! xxx

Comment by Berni

Indeed a memorable Christmas! and I’m sure you’ll appreciate a treat of “nice” accommodation! Take care and travel safely. Love to both of you x x

Comment by Cheryl




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