Thursday, July 31, 2008

So Far Away From Me

I write from Nairobi. We've arrived after far too many days in Ethiopia and a rather harrowing ride down the Bandit Road.

We last wrote from Gonder where we had arrived after a night spent on the road in the mountains. After that day we took our bikes into be serviced at Six's in Gonder. He's a rather famous mechanic and he did fine work. He's also willing to try his hardest to rip off foreigners. He tried to charge us $1000 US for less than a day's work. We didn't bite but all future overlanders should be forewarned.

After two days in Gonder we started out for Addis. We didn't make it far before we had to turn back. It's Sam's story to tell and I shall leave it to him. For now I will just say two things. First, we spent four days in and out of various government offices; at one point narrowly avoiding an arrest by bluffing that it was Sam's right to call our embassy before detention by the police. As the police station had no functioning long distance phone and no police officer had credit on their mobiles we walked away. It's a two-bit affair in Gonder. Second, I've never been more impressed by Sam's composure and level-headedness. And those are two qualities you want in a person you are relying on to go with you across a continent.

We finally left Gonder and headed to Moyale at the Kenyan border. We made the journey in two and a half days, but not before having our breath stolen by the beauty of the Ethiopian countryside and the Blue Nile valley. And not before having several sheppard boys throw rocks andswing sticks and whips at us as we rode by. Indeed, our friend Steffan was nearly knocked off his bike by a boy (more likely a teenager based on his size) who had a real home run swing. This lead to a rather nasty confrontation with a series of villagers that ended with the boy's umbrella shredded in pieces. It's rainy season in Ethiopia and it's going to be a wet one for the boy. It's rough justice in Ethiopia.

As if to confirm how rough this justice is, I was hit on the head by another sheppard boy five minutes down the road. This too almost caused a crash and lead to another rather heated and badly communicated confrontation with a series of sheppards. By the end of our time in Ethopia we became accustomed to whips on the back and rocks to the windscreen. It's enough to say it soured me on the country a little.

We crossed into Kenya at Moyale and began our journey down the shifta or bandit road. It's worse than I ever imagined. The road is a 510 km track of washboard and lava rocks broken up in the middle by the town of Marsabit, perched on the side of a volcano, and ending at Isiolo where the tarmac to Nairobi begins. We were making great time on the first day before hitting the lava field at kilometer 120 or so. Within forty kilometers we both had flat rear tires. We spent an hour working on the tires in the heat before paying a driver to put them on a truck and take us to Marsabit where we repaired the tires the next morning. We rode with the forty other passengers who snoked compulsively despite the dozens of leaky kerosene containers and who were constantly concerned we were going to steal their packages. We arrived in Marsabit in the dark.

We left for Isiolo the next afternoon. We were again making great time, flying over the washboard at 80 km/h. But something had to give and I blew my rear shock at kilometer 160. We then slowly rode 70 kms to Archer's Post, mostly through the dark, where we called it a night. I had little control and crashed twice on the way, once pinning my leg under my pannier until Sam could pull me out. See 'compusure' and 'level-headedness.'

The next day we rode the final 30 kms of dirt to Isiolo and the 300 kms of tarmac to Nairobi. It was a bouncy ride for me, to say the least. We've spent the last day at Jungle Junction repairing the bikes. It's a legendary place for overlanders and well-deserving of its reputation.

We leave tomorrow for Arusha and then Dar. For those of you following the trip closely you'll know that this signals the excising of Uganda and Rwanda from our itinerary. We've lost too much time in Alexandria and Gonder to do this leg of our trip and we've cut it out with no small sadness. I've wanted to go to Rwanda for many years now, but it's still so far away. Another time.

We've had a lot of challenges on this trip and it's been much more difficult than expected. I've gone to bed quite discouraged on many nights. But I've also felt fortunate each morning to face another challenge and to have another day more interesting than the one before. I could write for a long time about the stark beauty of the things we've seen and the richness of the things we've done. The short version is that I am a lucky man to have seen such things.

It's going to be a race to Cape Town but it's something to which we look forward. It's so far away from us now.

Keep looking ahead. (And wish us luck!).

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hey Peter and Sam,
I have been following with great interest each one of your entries. It does sound like Africa is giving you guys, and your tires, a lashing. Keep your chin up. All the hard ships will be more than worth it when you take that first sip of beer in Cape Town and you look back on the years of memories you made in a few months of ridding. I am more then jealous of the adventures you are leading. Few have seen and done what you guys are doing. I look forward to hearing more. Be safe.
Jab and then twist Tucker.

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