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15 July 2009

Did you know – The famous Masai Mara National Park in Kenya got is name from the people who inhabit the area, called the Masai and the Mara river which divides the park.  The park covers about 1530 sq km.  Most of the reserve is open grassland or savannah.  The Masai Mara is also known for the annual wildebeest migration which normally takes place between June and October each year. It is estimated that more than a million animals make the annual migration.  We were lucky enough to witness some of this.

We crossed the Ethiopia/Kenya border late.  We decided to stay at the police station on the Kenyan side that night and to head off early the next morning.  There was also a ‘pit’ that we could use for the car, which was good.  I took an hour or so going over (and under) the car to check everything was tight and make sure it is ok for the road to come.

So it was time for the dreaded Moyale to Marsabit road and then on to Isiolo.  Everyone we’ve come across has said it is the worst road they’ve driven.  Alex and Katie were a bit more apprehensive about the road than us, probably because they haven’t really traveled on bad roads before and the fact that their Landrover (called Carol) is a bit older than Pumbaa.  We’ve come across some pretty bad roads in Russia and Mongolia and it would be very interesting to compare it.  Our slowest day for example in Russia was about 180km in 12 hours. They still offer armed escorts on the road as well because of the problems they’ve had in the last 5-10 years or so with banditry and‘shiftas’.  We decided not to have an escort though.

We left Moyale at 8 in the morning.  The first bit of the road was ok, but it did get worse the further south we went.  All in all this part of the road wasn’t that bad. We took it slow, traveling between 20 and about 40km/hour.  There were some short parts where you could go a bit faster.  You can travel a lot faster on the road, but I’m just about 100% sure that you will break something or loose something.  There are a lot of sharp rocks and big corrugation. Everyone we’ve spoken to before have had something break or they’ve lost something.  Poor Alex and Katie have been spending loads on oil for the Landrover too. I think they probably use more oil in the car per day than water they drink.  As far as I know, the record is almost 5 liters of oil in one day…scary stuff!! They hope to have it fixed when they get to Kampala in Uganda where they’ll be spending a bit of time.

After spending the night in a camp called Henry’s Camp in Marsabit (a Swiss guy owns it), it was time to tackle the second stretch to Isiolo.  This was also slow going but not too bad as long as you take your time.  I think a lot of people think that it is always good to drive fast on corrugation, but it’s definitely not the case. Some of the corrugation is just too big and it shakes everything to pieces.  That’s probably why everyone breaks something on this stretch…because they don’t drive according to the conditions.  We made it to Isiolo in one piece that night after a long day on the road and were happy to be there.  The Landrover unfortunately didn’t escape it all.  There were some massive cracks on their rear suspension.  I’m not convinced that it happened on this stretch of road, because it was covered in mud, and we didn’t go through any mud.  I’m sure it got worse though.  I think Alex was getting a bit fed-up because every day seems to bring on a new problem.  After a bit of talking, I think he realised it’s not that bad.  A bit of welding and it will be ok again to finish the trip. It was also our last night with them after traveling together on and off or about 3 months.  It was really nice to travel with someone and we’ll have to get use to being alone again on the road…just the two of us!!!

We went our separate ways the next day. Alex found a place to do the welding and they were going to Uganda (they only had a 7 day transit visa for Kenya) and we were heading to Nairobi. It is a very scenic drive – going around the eastern side of Mt Kenya.  We also reached a big milestone that day – we crossed the Equator.  It really felt that we are in the home stretch now.  It is great to be back in the Southern Hemisphere.  It is surprisingly cold though.  We have to wrap up warm at night, and use our sleeping bags at night again.

Kenya has been so different already in the few days we’ve been here.  Most people can speak English (they learn English in school) and everyone is so friendly.  They almost always smile and make you feel very welcome.  We got to Nairobi in the late afternoon and headed for Jungle Junction (JJ).  It’s a well known stop for most overlanders.  There were a few people there when we got there, including Stuart and Sue (a British couple on their way to SA, also traveling in a Landrover) who we met for the first time in Cairo at the Sudan Embassy.  JJ is really a nice spot.  It is owned/run by a German guy and he has a workshop there too.  I think he is a BMW master technician and knows a lot about bikes.  It was time for us to relax a bit and we decided to stay here for a few days and to watch the last test of the British and Irish Lions tour of SA.  Having the workshop there also meant I could change the oil and filter again and have a bit of a clean out again.  It was also time again for me to rotate the tyres. You can now start to see that they have done a lot of mileage – still,they should be ok for another 15,000km until we get to SA (at least I hope so).

We’ve heard from some people that the wildebeest migration is already in the Masai Mara park in Kenya and we decided it was time to spot a bit of wildlife.  We left Nairobi for the Masai a few days later.  We stayed at a camp just outside the park on the western edge. The park is ridiculously expensive. You pay for 24 hours and it cost US$60 p.p per day entry fee and then another US$25 p.p.p.n for camping.  On top of that, you pay Ksh 300 for a vehicle (about $4).  We got to the gate at 6:30am and spent the whole day in the park.  We left the park when the gates closed at 7pm  .It was very nice there, we saw thousands and thousands of wildebeest, a lot of zebras, gazelles and impalas.  We also saw a lot of giraffes, but only managed to see 2 lions (a male and a female).  Luckily, there were lots of elephants around (and some had very young babies too), loads of hippos and we also saw the massive African buffalo.  If I had to guess, I think we must’ve seen at least more than 100,000 wildebeest (probably loads more – it is very hard to estimate…). They were everywhere. Unfortunately, we didn’t see them cross any rivers.  There are also a lot of different bird life, including the secretary bird, massive storks and off course the eagles and vultures.  It’s pretty awesome to see the vulture clean a carcass from an earlier kill. A bit gross, but nevertheless impressive.

We headed north after this, to Baringo Lake.  This is one of only a few fresh water lakes in the area.  We found a very nice campsite called Robert’s Camp, right on the lake and also not too expensive either.  We ended up staying here for about 3 nights, having another clean-out (there is just soooo much dust everywhere) and just relaxing a bit.  We even managed to wash the car (not sure why though, because it will only take a day to get filthy again).  There are also loads of different birds here, also some crocs in the lake as well as some hippos.  They hippos come out at night to graze and they were probably about 10 meters from the car the one night.  A scary prospect when you are there without knowing about them.  It’s a good thing we sleep inside the car…It was time to move on again and we decided to spend a few more days in Kenya and then go to Tanzania to go to the Serengeti.  We will then travel back to the coast in Tanzania before going back to Mombasa on the Kenya coast for a bit of R&R.

We got to the Kenyan border town after dark (not ideal, but we took a wrong turn somewhere along the line) and decided to stay at the border the night and then cross the following morning.  It took about 10 minutes to leave Kenya – all you need to do is get your Carnet stamped at customs and fill in an exit immigration card before you get your passport stamped.  The Tanzanian side is also easy.  Complete the immigration card (a visa costUS$50 p.p – we thought that was a lot, but American and Irish pay US$100 p.p and Pakistanis pay US$200 p.p!!!!)  Once you have your visa, you go to customs and stamp your Carnet and pay another US$20 for that.  You don’t need a carnet though, you can simply complete the declaration if you like.  Easy as that!!

Off to the Serengeti in the next day or so, but probably have to re-mortgage the house first for the entry fees…They are well known for exorbitant prices here too.