Day 56, unscheduled rest day, Sweatwaters
I woke early and went for a walk around camp before breakfast. I spent the morning in the tented lounge overlooking a water hole where wildlife gathered. I read and stared blankly into the distance. Absolutely nothing was demanded of me. I had nothing I needed to do. It was a strange feeling. The mind and body just rested and stared into the distance – suspended animation. A beer and lunch brought me back to life or at least to the land of the living. We left mid-afternoon. I was looking forward to getting back on my nasty black and orange bike.
The election results were still not in and there was still uncertainty about the rest of our time in Kenya. Our timing for travelling through Kenya could not have been worse. A week earlier would have been presented far fewer problems. We could have cycled through before the election day. But that was not to be. Hindsight is a marvelous thing. Apart from Marsabit, everywhere we had gone through had been quiet. But you don’t know that beforehand. The rider briefing this evening was bracketed with a range of contingency options. What we would do if anything happened. What we would do if they announced the results today? Tomorrow? As of now we were going to ride tomorrow. Probably. We would meet again in the morning.
We had half a dozen Kenyan riders with us from a Kenyan cycling team. For the most part they scratched their heads and couldn’t understand what all the concern was about. I must admit I scratched along with them.
Day 55, unscheduled rest day, Sweatwaters
We still had two more days of unscheduled holiday in front of us. A bunch of us decided to go to a game park for a couple of days. There was a very nice one less than 20km from Nanyuki called Sweetwaters. We booked it the day before and at 9:30m this morning were picked up by the guys from the camp and whisked away.
Sweetwaters is a tented camp – but very posh. We had booked 4 doubles for the eight of us. But it wasn’t very busy so when we got there they gave us all our own tent for the same price. A great deal. The camp is in a 100,000 hectares private conservancy called ol pejeta. After a fantastic lunch (I had salad, soup, roast pork, three cheese plates, chocolate gateau, as much fruit as I could eat) we went off on a game drive. It was very good. In addition to all the different ungulates, zebras, giraffes and jackals, we saw four of the big five: elephant, buffalo, rhino and lion. Unfortunately we did not see a leopard. We arrived back at camp just as the sun set, drinks and an equally copious and delicious diner followed. And to think we could have been riding our bikes off road all day. The Kenyan election has a lot to answer for.
Day 54, unscheduled rest day Nanyuki
I woke early and at 5am was in the hotel lobby trying to connect to the wifi. And with nobody else up yet (or very few, John Chevis was also up) I was able to get on at a reasonable speed. But by 6:30 it was unusable again. But I had got quite a bit done.
Today was laundry and bike day. The price lit for laundry was outrageous. It would have cost me as much to have the hotel do my laundry as it costs for a night’s accommodation. So it was buy some soap powder, do the washing in the sink and hang a line between two trees. I was sharing a room with Vince again. We shared the soap and he had the clothes line. We got it done.
My bike had been on top of the lunch truck for the two days we bussed from Sololo. It was filthy. First O had to put the new seat on. I keep the old one, hoping that I might get it replaced on warranty. We’ll see. I then gave it to the mechanics who gave it the once over and tuned it. They also put on my new bar tape. The old stuff was torn and ratty. I had brought some pumpkin orange bar tape with me. The original bar tape and seat were a dark tan colour. This gave the bike a fairly conservative but respectable black and tan look. The new seat was black. And with the new bar tape I now had a really cool and nasty black and orange look. I was sure it would be faster. I then changed my tires back to the road tires and got to work cleaning the bike. It took a while but by the end it looked pretty good. Back in business.
Nanyuki is on the equator. About 2 km south of town is the official sign board marking it. We had decided to mark our arrival with an equator party – costumes recommended. I went out with the kiwis looking for inspiration. The three of them were going as all black rugby team players. So they needed black t-shirts and some white out that they could use to paint on logos and numbers. In a backstreet in a little kiosk I found a Bob Marley head scarf, which was where I started. Back at camp I found some old inner tubes. I cut them up and made a dreadlock wig out of them. I put the headscarf over the wig, blackened my face to make it look like I had a scraggly Marley beard and rolled a big dooby from a newspaper. We headed off to the bar. It was good fun with lots of other good and creative costumes made out of almost nothing. Great chance to blow off some steam after a couple of tough months on the bike.
Day 53, rest day Nanyuki
Today is election day in Kenya. We aren’t going anywhere. We could see on the tv in the hotel that people were keen to vote and turnout would be high. The polls opened at 6am. People started lining up 5 hours before then. We were out on the streets by shortly after 8. Most shops and businesses were closed, which was a bit of a pain because I still needed to get a Kenyan SIM card and to change some money at a bank. The bank would have to wait until tomorrow but on a side street I eventually found a small Indian shop that was open and could sell me a SIM card. He put it in and told me it was automatically registered – didn’t need Passport or anything. But he didn’t have any credit to sell me so we couldn’t test it. I knew the reception desk at the hotel sold phone credit so I walked back there and bought some. I loaded it and tried to use the phone. Guess what? It told me I could not use the phone because the SIM was not registered. Surprise. I knew this had happened to several others. I ran into Phil Howard. He told me that the guy in the little post card shop at the hotel had a computer and could get it registered. So I went and found the postcard guy. He said no problem – of course. He started shuffling SIM Cards Between my phone and two other phones, entering information on the computer, making various calls and generally phaffing in an authoritative WAY. After an hour or so he said ok done, just put some credit on and it is good. I told him I had just put some credit on. Oh dear. You can’t put credit on before the phone is registered. So even though the credit was accepted when it was put in it had apparently disappeared into the ether. The trouble was the girl at reception had entered the credit code for me and then thrown the voucher away. So I went back to reception to pick through the garbage and find the voucher. Dirty voucher in hand I returned to the postcard guy. After a lot more phaffing and attempts to call the Safaricom office (it was closed of course because of the elections) he finally announced that it was all sorted and that I would be able to use the phone in 24 hours. I had to take this on faith. I had now spent almost three hours trying to get and register a SIM card – and still had to wait until tomorrow. I hoped the banking system was more efficient. (To cut the suspense, the next morning my phone magically worked and it only took me ten minutes to change money in a bank.)
The town was very quiet. It is a Kenyatta stronghold so there was little opposition around. There is also a British army base at the edge of town. So it was unlikely anything was going to happen. The polls were busy with long lineups but orderly and quiet. We felt free to wander wherever we wished. People were friendly. There was no sense of anxiety that I could sense. And in fact, even though it was an election-day holiday, by mid-afternoon many of the shops and restaurants began to reopen.
I spent most of the rest of the day updating the blog and reconnecting to the world. And although the hotel had wifi I had no luck getting connected. With 50 TdA riders all trying to use it, it was slow and hard to get on. Eventually I gave up and spent the evening more productively sampling a couple of beers.
Day 52, bus day, stages 42 – 44, 350km
Start, Catholic convent Marsabet
Finish, Sportsmans Arms Hotel, Nanyuki
Busses are not made for pleasure. Busses are an expedient. They get you from A to B when there are no better options. We knew that. We knew that it was the right and expedient option. We also knew that the bus we were on was as good as a bus could be in the circumstances. But nobody wanted to be on that bus. So 60 copies of the Grinch that stole Christmas got on the bus at 6:15 ready to steal the presents from the kids in the town below. The combat fatigues and guns were with us on time. We left as the sun came up.
Yesterday we covered two days of cycling, today we would cover three and about 350km. Only the first of these three days was off road. So we expected to make better time once we hit tarmac to cover the final two days of this bussed section. As we entered Marsabet we left the lava fields. We were now onto hilly and green country – we even saw some wildlife.
We drove. We stopped for pee breaks. We drove. We stopped for lunch. We drove. We hi tarmac. We drove faster. We started to climb towards Mount Kenya. We drove some more. Eventually we arrived at Nanyuki over 11 hours later. People were numb. Stares were blank. People got off the bus wondering of their legs would still support them.
We had arrived at a place called the Sportmans Arms hotel, a fairly large place that caters to people who visit the game parks nearby or who have come to climb Mont Kenya. We will be here for the next 4 days and 5 nights waiting out the election and the early results. Gotta love politics and politicians. But pretty soon we had rooms sorted and cold beers in our hands. People were beginning to dis uss how they would spend their unexpected holiday.
Dinner was an event. Although The Sportsmans Arms is a big hotel and should be used to big crowds they were obviously a bit flummoxed. All did not go as planned. I was at a table with eight people. There were half a dozen similar tables occupied by equally hungry bus riders. We gave out orders to the waitress but she didn’t write anything down. We commented that she must have a good memory, since she was also serving several other tables. In a very lovely voice she said yes of course and then proceeded to do her party trick and go around the table repeating everybody’s order. She got about half of it right then tried again and got the other half right but forgot the first half. When things started to arrive after an hour or so John’s oxtail soup became leek soup, Sandy’s vegetable salad went missing in action, as did Vince and Wayne’s ice cream, red wine became white wine, 3 beers instead of 4 came (after another half hour and repeated reminders, Wayne went into the bar and bought one), and the three people who ordered cheese burgers received them at twenty minutes intervals and without cheese. But we enjoyed it and stayed up until the wild and reckless hour of 9pm.
Day 51, bus day, stages 40 & 41, 175km
Start, bush camp Sololo
Finish, Catholic convent, Marsabet
The morning started almost an hour earlier than usual. Breakfast was at 6am sharp. We were to be on the road by 6:30. In the end we were in the bus and ready to go by 6:40. Not bad. Only one problem, our police escort had not arrived. So one of the staff dashed off in the Hilux to chase them down. An hour later they were with us in full combat fatigues with semi-automatic rifles and magazines in place. OK. We need to be cautious. I just hope they don’t start shooting at their shadows. Not quite like cycling through the south of France from vineyard to vineyard.
Thankfully the bus had padded seats. The ride was brutal. The roads were worse than the day before but nothing we hadn’t ridden before. The bus was the last vehicle in the convoy so we were covered in everybody else’s dust. I spent my time opening and closing the window, fighting a losing battle between a little fresh air and enough dust to choke a goose.at times the dust was so thick and coming in such thick waves that it seemed we were under a sea of dust. It took us 2 ½ hours to cover the first 43km. We could have ridden our bikes as fast.
Our destination for the day was Marsabet and the compound of a Catholic convent, 175 km from out starting point. It took us about 9 1/2 hours. The landscape was unremittingly bleak. A great desert of lava rock. Nobody could live there. Camels would find it hard to find a place to put their feet. Even goats would find nothing to eat. The lave rock even crowded out the ubiquitous thorn bushes. It would have been a very tough two days of cycling. So some relief amidst the general grumpiness in the bus.
The convent was on the far side of Marsabet so we had to drive through the town. Campaign rallies were in full swing. The centre of town was filled with busses. It was not all locals. At first everyone was in organge t-shirts and caps. They swarmed like the fruit flies in the Sudan. Our convoy threaded its way through. We passed briefly through what can only be described as a demilitarized zone before we came into the midst of the red t-shirted swarm. They were not yet as organized as the orange swarm. They were still getting out of vehicles and gathering in a football field at the side of the road.
Stragglers were pissed out of their gourds. It was Saturday night and was clearly going to be a bit of a bun fest. In contrast, the nunnery, a couple of miles out of town, was an oasis of calm. These nuns were clearly in business. Whoopi Goldberg would not have been out of place. Two steps out of the bus the nuns were waiting to sell us cold beer, crisps and chocolate. It couldn’t get much better. They also fed us dinner and had rooms for rent – neither as good as the beer, bit both welcome. No cycling today but we were all just as tired as just as dirty. There was no water in the taps at the sinks. But there was a trickle of water coming out of a spout about waist high in one of the communal showers. I crouched under it and tried to get clean. I’m glad nobody was taking pictures. I am sure I looked like somebody enjoying a slightly illicit catatonic fit on a gas station washroom.
It was another 6:30 departure tomorrow. So it was early to bed on the thin mattress in my nunnery cell. I think I made the guy on the crucifix on the wall cringe on despair.
Day 49, stage 38, 89km
Start, bush camp
Finish, Kenyan wildlife service, Moyale, Kenya
Since we cross the border into Kenya to day there is no race. I was up and away early. The first 15km were great, the wind was quiet, the road was ok and the land flat. Around 7:45 it all went bad. As the sun grew hot the wind picked up the road deteriorated into lumps and potholes. And the climbing began. But it was a relatively short day so not that punishing really. And now that I was taking ORS daily, I was recovering better and riding better.
After lunch we had just less than 40km to go, so not far. It was hilly but pleasant riding. I rode in a pelaton with Jan, Bridget and Rosie. It was a good group. We stopped for some ice cold cokes a couple of km before the border and then pressed on. Formalities were minimal. We were in Kenya before noon. Just as well, because we later heard that the Ethiopian immigration office closed from 12 – 2 and that those who had arrived there after 12 had to wait for two hours.
A new country means a new SIM card for my cell phone. Our first stop in Kenya was Moyale, a real border town, full of money changers and chancers, a bit of an armpit really. A few people had purchased SIM cards in local kiosks only to find that they didn’t work. I decided I would try my Tanzanian card. I was told it would roam in Kenya. It didn’t. but by the time I found this t we were travelling again and there was no place to buy a SIM so I was going to be out of communication for a few days. This was not ideal because the Kenyan elections were approaching and there were worries about security.
We stayed in the walled in compound of the Kenyan Wildlife Service. It was across the street fro the Moyale prison. The best bar in town was bar attached to the prison operated for the welfare of prisoners and staff. It was a great place. We could see the guys in striped pajamas just over the wall of the bar.
That evening we were briefed about changes to our itinerary due to the Kenyan elections. We were to miss five riding stages and we would be bussed from Sololo to Nanyuki. In 2007 over 1000 people died in riots after the presidential elections were disputed. This is the first presidential election since then and also since the passing of a new constitution. A lot is riding on this election. There are about 100,000 police and army personnel on duty. There are also thousands of neutral election observers involved. But there is still very real concern about what might happen. We have been advised by the Kenyan police among others, not to travel on election day, March 4, or for the days immediately following the election. We have also been advised not to stay in certain potentially volatile areas during the election period. We were due to have a rest day in Marsabet on election day. But Marsabet is one place we were advised not to stay. It was agreed that a safe place to stay was Nanyuki. Ordinarily we would have arrived in Nanyuki on the third riding day after our rest day in Marsabet. But in order to get there without travelling on election day we would have to arrive there on March 3rd, which meant travelling there on march 2nd nd 3rd – since it is a two day bus journey from Sololo. So we would miss the two riding days from Sololo to Marsabet, bus from Sololo to Nanyuki on March 2nd and 3rd, and then spend 4 days in Nanyuki waiting to see what happens during the election period. If all goes well we will cycle the last two of the section into Nairobi and be back on schedule. Let’s hope it works.
The decision to bus over 500km and miss 5 riding days was not taken easily and while we all recognize and accept the wisdom of the decision, we also regret it a bit. We came to ride. Even the tough bits we bitch about – and three of the five days we miss are tough off road days. Although it must also be admitted that there is some relief in missing a few tough days. At the end of the day having 6 days off the bike will also give those who need it a chance to recover more fully. And perhaps climb Mount Kenya.