After an enjoyable relaxing week at my warmshowers host Giel (pronounced heel) and Wies (pronounced Vees) in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, it was time to get the flight to Nairobi in Kenya.
Ouagadougou had been a surprise, more modern than other West African towns I’d visited and development going on in many areas. There is a large ex-pat community and throughout the week I bumped into several people more than once.
During the week Wouter arrived along with his sister flying in from Belgium. After emailing John who I’d met at The Sleeping Camel in Bamako, it turned out he was now in Ouagadougou as well. And subsequently so was Albrecht! This was the third time Albrecht and I had met since leaving Camping 7 Palava at the start of Senegal almost 2,000 miles previously We enjoyed a few nights out together visiting a couple of restaurants and a few bars, even attending a Jazz and music festival at the French literary institute, pity the rainy season decided to illustrate how just how much rain it was possible to dump in 1/2 an hour…. Oh and the music was outside.
Luckily I didn’t need to search a box to pack bike in as Wouter who I have been travelling with since Senegal was meeting his sister. I was able to reuse her box.
Travel not by my own power or completely under my control tends to stress me a little. This was no exception. Dismantling and packing the bike, reorganising my luggage so that I didn’t have any knives or fluids with me in my hand baggage etc. Wouter being experienced in flying with a bike was a great help in boxing the bike in such a way that it is less likely to be damaged. When I arrived at my hosts Giel had flown back from the Netherlands and the airline had lost two of his bags. This scenario for me would also be a nightmare with as each bag and box containing essential items I need to continue my travel. After all I can’t cycle far if my box with my bike didn’t arrive.
I was picked up by a taxi at 6:30, nice and early to take me to the airport. Life in Ouagadougou was yet to get going, only a few Motos were whizzing down the side roads and most of the roadside food stalls were yet to get setup.
Arriving at the airport early, I met up with John for a coffee and a last natter. John and Albrecht both find themselves in the same situation as I did, that is borders in front of them going south being closed. Travelling with a bicycle it’s relatively easy to hop on a plane and take your bike and kit with you. OK the airlines charge extra for the bike (81,000 CFA about £98.00), but still you can take a bicycle on a plane relatively easily. John being on a motorbike and Albrecht in a Toyota Landcruiser, it’s much harder to simply switch countries and continue, the options are very limited. Either find another route or a container to put your vehicle in. Fingers crossed they sort something out soon.
The flight to Nairobi with Ethiopian airlines went smoothly and all my luggage arrived and more importantly so did the bike, all arriving in one piece.
On arrival in Nairobi, screening for Ebola is taken very seriously, a form has to be completed that includes contact details and then your temperature is checked.
I was met by a taxi that had been pre-arranged to take me to a contact, Ben and his family in Nairobi who I’d been put in touch with by Paddy, a cycling friend from home.
Having somewhere to go to allow me to reassemble the bike and sort out things like buying maps, getting SIM cards, getting local money etc makes life a lot easier. Thanks Paddy, Jo, Jack and Daisy for making me very welcome.
After getting the bike put back together, I could relax for a while and set off rested the next day. Travelling through a more affluent area of Nairobi one thing that struck me was the amount of security. Many houses have guards and are surrounded by electric fences.
The previous year there had been a bombing at one of the shopping centres in Nairobi killing many people. The security as I entered a small shopping centre near Rosslyn, Nairobi was high. First passing a security guard before parking the bike, several security guards, some armed with assault rifles walking around the complex. Before entering the complex properly I passed through a metal detector and had my bag searched. As someone who has only just arrived in Nairobi, it is difficult to understand such a high level of security or to ascertain whether this is warranted or the perceived risk is really that high?
In the local shopping centre, they still have a Woolworths Store, not related to the one that went bust in the UK
Kenya appears to be far more developed than many of the West African countries. Shops have far more choices, travelling out of Nairobi and many smaller towns have supermarkets and I am able to buy things like peanut butter, strawberry jam and several types of bread, it is like being back in Europe. Cadbury’s chocolate is on sale and is advertised on huge bill boards. I satiate my desire for chocolate by buying a bar and then because I can, buying too much food that has been missing during my travels through West Africa. Rice (without stones in it), John West mackerel in tomato sauce, jam, peanut butter, curry powder. Before I know it I have bought 2kg of food!
Foods like bananas which are grown here are very cheap, 5 Kenyan Shillings each, around under 4p each.
Roadside fruit sellers with lots of Bananas in Kenya
Travelling out of Nairobi and getting onto a ring road, I eventually cross through several checkpoints and one weighbridge checkpoint. Having already spoken with several local people I had been told that corruption in Kenya is rife. A sign by the weighbridge is indicating that it is something that the government is trying to combat, or at least look like it is being addressed.
While I am taking the photo the parked car I am in front of beeps at me, it’s the weighbridge operators and an attractive lady asks me what I am doing, after explaining my travel she then asks if she can accompany me, of course I say yes knowing that there is no way she would actually follow, life on a bike is not always as glamorous as it looks.
Riding through another market town, a lady selling tomatoes shouts out “Marry Me”, two proposals in one day.. luckily I can ride faster than a lady chasing me with a handful of tomatoes.
Chelsea doesn’t appear to be as popular in Kenya, Manchester United shirts and logos are more common.
My first night wild camping in Kenya is a bit of a struggle, the east side of Mt. Kenya is densely populated. Much of the land is not flat or suitable for pitching a tent, the land that is flat is cultivated and people are everywhere. After travelling an hour in the dark I finally find a suitable resting place in amongst some coffee plants.
My alarm is set very early as I know people are likely to start working at first light. Even getting up at dawn I am already found by the farmer, Walter. He is astonished to see a tent in his coffee plantation and after a smile and a brief chat to explain why I am there he invites me to his house for tea where I meet his family. He recently bought a new cow which he is proud to show me, she is a fine looking Fresian heifer and cost him 50,000 Kenyan Shillings, about £340.00
While I am drinking my tea, Walters brother Symon arrives and they are keen to introduce me to their mother and sister. The whole family live close to each other and are very welcoming. They grow coffee, bananas and other fruits and have between the family several cattle.
After being sent on my way with a bunch of bananas, I continue my route. The scenery is fantastic and hills and valleys are everywhere around the mountain.
In the towns there are small stalls selling sausages called Smokies for 20-25 KSH each, they are very tasty and make a nice snack or even a nice addition to an evening meal.
Further round the mountain I come across my first Tea plantations and see people working hard to pick the tea.
Leaving Felix and Margrate, I head toward Nanyuki to meet up with another contact through Paddy, Shem and Paul who arranged for me stay at Kongonis Camp. On the way I pass the town of Meru and several people I speak to tell me there is a good chance I will see wild elephants by the side of the road. Scanning left and right as I ride I look out for a glimpse of elephants, I see big piles of dung, but no elephants, just signs warning of crossing elephants and electric fences to stop the elephants crossing everywhere. I see Toucans calling to each other in the trees but my camera doesn’t pick them up and no elephants.
My second night wild camping also proves difficult, I find what looks like an ideal place early before it gets dark. Being near the equator the hours of daylight and night are equal, so the time riding is limited. The location I find looks ideal, overlooking a valley. Once I start cooking tea I am spotted and three young Kenyan lads come to talk to me. They are friendly but one mentions they are poor and enquires about me helping them financially (he is wearing Nike clothing, or at least copy Nike clothing). I explain I am travelling for a long time with no means to supplement my funds and apologise that I cannot help at this time, I explain that in my country I am not a wealthy person, that I travel by bike, it is cheap as I do not need to buy petrol. I only need to buy food and visas. They then start whispering to each other in Swahili. There is no need to whisper as I only understand a few words in Swahili, but it is enough to make me feel uncomfortable as whispering means they are likely to be talking about me, so I pack away and continue and it is now getting dark.
A mile up the road I bump into 4 women walking down a hill and one calls out, so I stop and talk. They tell me it is dangerous to travel at night and kindly offer me a place to put my tent in their village. One of the women Margaret introduces me to her husband Felix and we walk to their house where I am able to put up my tent. They kindly feed me in the evening with rice & beans and in the morning give me breakfast.
Just before I reach the Town of Meru I cross the Equator and briefly pause to take a photo. I will be passing again on another road going south. While I am stood talking to people interested in my ride a group of 10 or more touring motorbikes zoom by, jumping over the speed ramps and not stopping or slowing, missing the sign or maybe not interested.
Along the road I spot a very small chameleon crossing the road, he won’t last long with his slow walk, he moves one step, rocks, pauses and then takes another step continuing this slow walk he will surely not make it across the road. After taking his photo I place him safely far from the road.
Once I have climbed to over 8,000 feet coming out of Meru, the landscape changes a lot, the ups and downs are spaced out and then the long descent to Nanyuki starts.
Kenya is also home to many weaver birds, this small tree was full of them, busy coming and going feeding there young.
The descent to Nanyuki is brilliant after so much climbing. My legs had forgotten what a hill was and they were reminding me they hadn’t seen any in while by aching like mad, a good feeling as I had lost muscle tone and put on weight, bring on the hills. I’ll never get my Strava KOM’s back when I return home without a bit of pain now, I think I am slower and less fit than before I left.
Coming into Nanyuki I reach Kongonis camp, a plush complex with good food and accommodation.