Crossing the border from Ethiopia to Kenya you are immediately relieved by the culture difference. It seems that many Ethiopian people have come to take it for granted that any white person in their country has come there to give them money – perhaps not surprising as that will have been the case for a long while after the notorious famines of the 80s and 90s. But it does get quite frustrating as a tourist. The contrast is very striking between Sudan where locals kept giving us things for free to Ethiopia where you are greeted by both adults and children as “Faranji!” (foreigner) or more often just ‘You!’ or to be accurate “YOU! YOU! YOU! YOU!’ shouted aggressively as you drive past. That is if you are greeted at all, often it is straight to “gimmee money!” without any introduction. Of course we also met many very friendly Ethiopians, but this did seem to be limited to better educated people in major towns. So, you can imagine, it was something of a relief to find that this habit stopped as soon as we crossed into Kenya, where the people have been very friendly and courteous.
Great people aside, the roads in northern Kenya are appalling. I know we complained about the roads in Ethiopia but it turns out they were just the warm up. The road from the border into central Kenya is 250 miles of corrugated hell stretching across barren desert frequented by Somali bandits and with just one town half way through which is safe enough to stop for the night.
It’s hard to describe quite how bad the corrugations* are. If you drive anywhere between 10 and 40 mph the bumps seem to amplify with the cars suspension to a crashing crescendo where it feels like the car is about to explode. Above 40 mph you actually fly from one bump to the next without dropping into the trough, which makes for a comfier ride, but has almost no grip, so the car regularly skids off the road. Below 10 mph it is still extremely bumpy and uncomfy but you are less likely to wreck your car. Of course the journey will then take you a very long time and leave you stranded in the bush after dark. So there is no good option. We did a mixture of 40mph and 10mph. The first 100 miles at 40mph until the roof rack bracket sheared off, after which we did the rest at 10mph driving with one hand on the steering wheel and the other out the window gripping hold of the roof rack! By the end of the first day we had a broken roof rack, severed wires to the battery, all manner of electrical faults and two broken shock absorbers. If the bumps were bad to start with you can imagine how much worse it is after your shocks fail. It feels like you are driving a demented rocking horse and any grip you had is totally lost with the back end of the car skidding sideways at the smallest turn.
We stopped the night at Marsabit and then attempted a drive into the National Park which rises up out of the desert on a steep sided cloud-shrouded mountain. We’d been instructed not to leave the vehicle as the park is inhabited by lions and hyenas. However we were not left with much choice after the electrical fault caused Brenda to stall and refuse to start in a remote location deep in the park! We gingerly stepped out of the car and started yelling “help”, but it was pretty obvious that no-one was going to hear us, so we eventually set off on the 10km walk to the park headquarters. The walk was quite enjoyable passing through jungle with birds and antelope around whilst debating whether or not climbing a tree would be a good way to escape from lions. Fortunately after walking for just over an hour we came across a truck full of armed rangers who came to our rescue to jump start the car.
We set off on the second day of driving over corrugations praying that the electrics wouldn’t fail again. After 4 hours of agonising driving with no shocks, we finally hit tarmac. Nick can be forgiven for speeding up to about 60mph in his enthusiasm to be on smooth tar. However what we hadn’t allowed for was the herd of camels which unexpectedly ran out into the road in front of us. Nick slammed the breaks on but not quick enough to avoid hitting a baby camel. Thank god it wasn’t its mother or we might not be writing this blog. As it was the baby camel seemed to bounce off the corner of the car with a big bang. We stopped and watched in relief as it managed to get back to its feet. It was hard to tell whether it was badly hurt, so we wanted to drive back to see if we could help, but we’ve been warned that drivers may be faced with a dangerous mob if you hit a pedestrian or animal so we decided to drive on rather than face the anger of the (armed) camel herders. I feel quite ashamed about this, but there we go. We finally made it to a safe town where we discovered that the head-lamp and indicator were hanging off by a wire and there was a large dent to the corner of Brenda. But at least there was no blood!
Suffice to say our top priority now is to get to Nairobi and find a Toyota garage…
* For anyone not familiar with the joys of dirt roads, corrugations are much like a corrugated tin-roof but on a larger scale. They are formed by heavy lorries which bounce over rocks leaving a dent in the dirt, which is then amplified by every other vehicle that bounces over it the same way. Over time, the corrugations build up to stretch continuously along the entire road and across its full width, generally about two foot from peak to peak and up to one foot deep.