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Hell Road North Kenya

April 17, 2013

A highlight on arriving in Nanuki was parking for a few photos on the line of the Equator. Some fifty years earlier a photo of yet another Hillman Imp was taken next to the Equator board. I believe this was while it was undergoing its final testing before launch but I might be wrong here. However two Imps parked on the equator fifty years apart is still quite a nice story! A lot of water has gone under the bridge since then. In fact that brings us to the next leg of the voyage.

 

At 04h00 our alarm ripped us out of our extremely comfortable slumber. A quick coffee and rusk brekkie and out into the darkness we tootled and packed our few overnight items into the Imp and off we went.

THE Imp was running beautifully and the road surface was near perfect, the weather was suspect, but the rain for now was keeping arm’s length from our line of travel. Yes arm’s length is not a lot really in the scheme of things. Well we had exercised about as much patience waiting in Nairobi as we could while waiting for a dry window of opportunity in which to surge northwards to get to Moyale via the most treacherous road in Africa. Apart from the fact that it is about 300 kilometres of shocking dirt road, the area is a known hotspot for well-armed and very unfriendly bandits that regularly gift passers-by with free entry to Heaven in order to gain the wealth of the poor individuals’ wallets etc. Well we had a theory; this weather is too rotten for even bandits to be out hunting so we did a Nelson on that aspect of the challenge. Armada what armada? Full steam ahead!

 

Steam is good, at least appropriate, because in our journey to Moyale we encountered so much rain in searing heat that the ground water after the downpours was immediately converted in a steamy mugginess that was almost unbearable.

So we had in fact quite a few concerns as we mentally braced ourselves for the dirt road; the bandits, the rainy weather, the road surface and the “we own the road bus and truck drivers”.

The road from Marsabit to Moyale in northern Kenya is almost impassable top any vehicle except good condition 4×4’s.

My co driver Geoff and I knew this.

We also were told that during the rainy season the road becomes impassable to ANY traffic.

We knew this as well.

North Kenya has rain for a few days every three to five years.  This year however it has rained there for over two weeks. Many people have died as a result of the recent flooding and the international Red Cross was delivering food to people stranded on the Marsabit to Moyale road.

The desert in this area that is normally the place of dust storms is presently as green as the Emerald Isle. So to think of driving our Hillman Imp up to Moyale on our way to London was just impossible.

Well for two guys with an undying determination, the impossible just takes a little bit longer to achieve. And since we had commenced this journey with the beginning in mind we knew we had to forge ahead.

The landscape changed and our little car responded well to what was asked of it over the dry, rutted and challenging dirt road. Camel and goat herds shared the roads with us and the arid landscape that had only a few days earlier been flooded showed how harsh it must be to exist in such an environment.

During our interminable wait in Nairobi we had read about a Beetle that had made the trip through to Moyale WHILE TOWING A CARAVAN! However this WORLD TOUR HERBIE had a distinct advantage over our African Imp, the Herbie was snow-chain shod when it became necessary. So, bully for them, they had snowies that helped them through the muddy sections, well we do not have a caravan to tow so let’s go for it! We learned also that they made it to Moyale under the cover of darkness because they were so concerned about the prospect of further rainfall that they rather risked night driving than having to cope with rain and more mud.

Well these thoughts were preoccupying both

Geoff and my minds are we were progressing through the early part of our dirt road experience. We were quite fortunate at least to have had Geoff’s excellent off-road driving skills which shone through in how he managed the challenging conditions; I found it very easy to take up the role of co-pilot over the tricky bits along the way.

We knew that rain was not far away, we could see the clouds and some local showers but as yet we had only had one heavy shower while we were on the tar road leading up to the gravel section.

Our early start and non-stop driving was rewarded with an early arrival in Marsabit. With the outskirts of the little town in sight the road turned up a small incline and when we saw the colour of the surface, both our hearts sank!!! The dry ridged track had suddenly turned into a jet black wet a deeply channelled track that had been carved out by trucks and 4×4’s. Geoff stopped just short of the obstacle and gathered his thoughts. Slipped Impi into first gear and called on its high-revving qualities to get us through. The imp sank down to its belly, and still slowly chugged along with the rotoflex couplings both churning up the mud that had by now engulfed them. With the end within our grasp, the forwards motion slowed to an unfortunate standstill.

Form out of nowhere, a Landrover came swooping down alongside us and offered to pull us. We gratefully accepted their offer and within a few short minutes we were on the road again.

Brimfilled both our petrol tank plus a further 20 litters that we carried on the roof we continued on our journey.

 

As night approached our thoughts were oscillating between carrying on in the dark like the caravanned Beetle or to rest up for the evening and tackle the remaining 150 kms at first light in the morning! We were help in reaching our decision as we encountered a few rather challenging wet stretches that seemed to be getting deeper rutted and wetter as we progressed towards Moyale.

We decided to rather take the opportunity pitching camp next to a communications tower about 25 kilometres form Turbi. The place was desolate yet there were a few small houses standing next to the towers. We greeted Mohammed who ran a small shop from his house and proceed to set up camp. Kettle on for coffee and food out to fill the tummies. As we admired the night sky with the millions of twinkling stars Geoff sombrely commented that he could see lightening on the far horizon. In fact not only on one but two horizons were there lightning flashes. Full tummies we headed off to bed at about 20h30.

 

One thing did amaze us was that here on one of the highest points on the road there was a communications tower and a few small abodes. Probably for the families that had some responsibilities over the tower itself. So we figured eight or ten adults and about a dozen or tow of kids. Well this then did NT explain there was a stream of people passing our tent almost the entire night.

It was at 01h00 that I felt the tent being pushed against my body and waking from my deep sleep I was very confused. It pushed at me once again and this time more vigorously. What the ???? Then I realised it was just a strong wind. Aw well no worries, my weight will be enough to anchor the tent and I am going to get some more sleep, goat a monster day ahead tomorrow!

Yeah right!

Yeah wrong!

That wind was only the early warning system that rain was about to sprinkle our little set-up. Sprinkle our set up it did and carried on right up to 04h00 that morning. Of course the tent leaked. Of course Geoff and I were sleep deprived as a result but our biggest concern was the fact that any rain, even a shower of thirty minutes or so would again render the road impassable. This scared me. The thought of sitting out in a desert, a bandit run desert, a desert that was now paradoxically under water, and in total we had about two litters of drinking water. So strains of the Ancient Mariner came flooding (‘cuse the pun) to mind;

“Water water everywhere and ne’er a drop to drink”

Geoff repositioned his sleeping bag a few times and at one stage went out into the storm to adjust the outside of the tent and I simply stoically lay in my by now wet sleeping bag anchoring our home from home and tried to stay warm enough to get back to sleep. It must have been sheer exhaustion that allowed us to get back to sleep.

In spite of our sleep lack we decided to stick tour guns and rise and shine at 05h00, breakfast and hit the road early before any more rain ‘rained on our parade ‘so to speak.

Under a heavily clouded sky, a sky void of stars we quietly waited for the gas stove to boil our lifesaving first coffee of the day! Our normal morning chatter and happy chirps had been converted to sombre comments about the storm in the night, the leaking accommodation and the BIG issue, the tractability of the road surface for our very low slung car.

With breakfast behind us and an early morning visit from Mohammed, we packed up camp and set back on the road.

After travelling for some 250 meters, yes 250 METERS not KILOMETERS we looked long and hard at what lay ahead of us. A black clay road completely saturated with the night’s rainfall and deeply rutted surface from large trucks’ passage in the night. It looked more than scary and in fact what we were seeing was merely the extreme iceberg tip as we were to discover in subsequent days.

We were now many days behind our schedule and we really needed to get going. But the spectre of being snagged up in the mud, in the rain- yes it was raining again – with hardly any traffic passing and even if there was, to get them to stop in the middle of a vehicle hugging quagmire would be too much of an ask.

We looked back at the comms tower spot where we had just broken down our camp and pondered returning there to again set up a now very wet tent with wet everything and sit it out for a day or ten!

Out of the rain appeared a guard in a weatherproof raincoat and a serious looking rifle (lots of people here carry around rounds and the equipment with which to dispatch them, the rounds I mean, and this rather friendly soul greeted us and quietly mentioned that the road condition a little further was very bad. In fact there were a few trucks parked in the yard of his boss who had to be towed out by a caterpillar a few days earlier.

Well perhaps we should wait until at least the rain stops and allow the ground to dry a little so we can get going again without the risk of getting stuck! So we forlornly turned our faithful little chariot around and headed over to the yard in question. It was the road construction site yard for the company responsible for that particular road upgrade.

Well although our journey had been yet again weather halted we hit the jackpot in the construction yard – we were allowed to park our car under cover and our tent as well so we were actually able to dry out our saturated tent and sleeping bags and could look forward to a nice dry night’s sleep although yet one more day behind in our schedule again.

We not only hit gold in securing decent shelter but we also met a wonderful overlander Steve from the Dragoman adventure company who has taken overland tours all over the World. So coffee and chats were duly shared over the next two days while we waited for the wet n nasty road to dry out.

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2 comments

  1. Really appreciate the updates and wishing you well on the remainder of your journey..


  2. Loving it!,The tent sounded like 2 of my very wet Glastonbury adventures.Real wet but definitely real.
    Did you not hustle all the construction crew at poker and pool.
    Ha that would be silly,but fun.



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