Update 25 – 14th October 2005 – Eldoret, Kenya.

Distance Cycled : 18,929km

We’ve had something of a wildlife bonanza since we last updated you from Nanyuki – everything from furry little rock hyraxes among the alpine meadows of Mount Kenya to towering giraffes, elegant cheetahs and bucking wildebeest in the dry heat of the Maasai Mara!  We’ve also been eating lots of delicious avocadoes and pineapples, slowly learning a smattering of Swahili and getting to grips with Kenya, which has turned out to be an incredibly varied and interesting country…though we’ve had to work hard for the spectacular views given all the uphill!

So we start with our trek up Mount Kenya and the high point of the expedition – as we made it to Point Lenana at 4985 metres – too bad the bikes couldn’t be there with us but no doubt they were enjoying a week off in a hotel in Nanyuki after the rigours of the northern roads!  We were fully kitted out in hired boots, rucksacks and woolly hat and gloves but seemed to be disconcerting the locals due to our lack of one thing – a guide!  Most people attempt Mount Kenya on an organised package with an entourage of guides, porters and cooks.  After all this cycling we thought we must be quite fit and so, with much bravado,

we decided to go it alone!  We did have a map, just to reassure you and in the event it turned out to be easy to follow all the paths on our route – the rather exotic sounding Sirimon-Chogoria traverse. As we set up camp that night among the heathery scrub of Old Moses Camp, fat little cliff chats (like robins without the red bit) came to investigate as we cooked our tea.  They are very partial to gingernuts and cake crumbs as we discovered over the next few days!  Understandably they are rather less partial to smelly walking boots and quickly fly away if they alight too close!  The next night, after a splendid day trogging over a landscape of lichen-fringed boulders, tussocky grass and huge groundsels, and having been treated to a late-afternoon hailstorm, we slept at Shipton’s Camp, by now over 4000 metres up and directly beneath the towering pinnacles of the mountain.

The cliff chats were sensibly asleep when we woke the following morning and fumbled about in the freezing blackness that characterises nights on Mount Kenya – it waS 2.30am when the alarm shrilled and briefly we contemplated staying in our cosy sleeping bags!  But the thought of standing on the summit at dawn was too tempting and so we wrapped up warm and headed out into the frosty morning.  Steep scree and rocks shiny with ice crystals made for slow progress and it was hard going in the dark.  After an hour we paused to take in the first glimmer of dawn and soon a deep red glow began spreading in the east, turning to salmon and then yellow and gradually, gradually a tarn became visible below, shimmering and glassy smooth.  There wasn’t a breath of wind and beyond the edge of the massif, 60km distant, a huge milky-white blanket of cloud lay spread out, far below.  Having seen these peaks as distant fingers of rock as far ago as Isiolo, it was hard to believe we were now nearing the uppermost reaches.  It was so beautiful we had to sit and watch, despite the cold, as the peaks were lit up and turned pink and gold.  Rather like sun-starved flowers, we turned our faces upwards to try and catch the first few warming rays but couldn’t stop shivering until we were back on our feet, heading upwards again.  Half an hour later after a tricky last section, were standing on the wind-whipped summit – the air was pretty thin up there and the wind whistling so it was breathtaking in more ways than one!  Higher up than Mont Blanc, we realised we were “looking down” on the whole of Europe.  The actual panorama before our eyes was pretty impressive too, but

the wind won out and we were soon gratefully dropping down via the south-west ridge to the shelter of Austrian Hut for a second breakfast.  The rest of the day was spent doing a circuit of the peaks, dropping down into a series of valleys – all beautiful in different ways – and then scrambling out of them up steep scree slopes past beautiful emerald green tarns.  After the summit, we didn’t see another person all day – most people go straight back down to Shipton’s or continue on down the other side to Chogoria in one day – so we felt like we had the mountain entirely to ourselves.  It is really a wonderful bit of the earth and, though reminiscent of the Alps, somehow wilder and more remote because of the unfamiliar vegetation and the lack of other people. We were down by 4pm and asleep by 5.30pm!  It was all Luke could do to shovel down his dinner – having navigated and carried the rucksack and occasionally hauled Anna up steep bits throughout the day!

The next day began with a luxurious lie-in until 5.30am (!) and then it was up to the final col of the trip – Simba Col – before dropping down, down, down through a lovely valley, with rock giving way to groundsels, then grass and finally to a wonderfully lush mixture of heather, dracena and shrubs rather like rhodedendron interspersed with scabius and all manner of little wildflowers.  It was all the more lush as the rain started and so the last 3 hours along a grassy track were rather damp.  Thankfully, Kenya Wildlife Services came up trumps – a cluster of “bandas” or bungalows by the park gate where we could spend the night.  A stash of dry firewood was unearthed and so we were soon steaming in front of a log fire, cooking up our last dehydrated meal and sipping cocoa while our boots toasted in the hearth – very civilised.  A fitting end to a fantastic week in the mountains – it made up somewhat for the annual trips to Scotland and the Alps we are missing!

A few days, hot showers and plates of chips later, we were ready to get back in the saddle and so we left Nanyuki on a busy road that obviously saw a lot of tourist traffic – packed with curio shops and souvenir stands ready to waylay any unwary character sporting a khaki shirt and a floppy hat!  A “ring-road” encircles the Mount Kenya massif and affords spectactular (if somewhat hazy) views of the mountain.  An astonishing number of curio shops are apparently located at EXACTLY 0.00 degrees (!) and all day we passed big yellow signs telling us we were on the equator…and then back on the equator…and yes, really, still on the equator.  We had the dubious honour of being videotaped by an incredulous septuagenarian American, who just could not believe we had cycled from London.  So there we are, preserved for posterity in his holiday video alongside elephants from the safari and other “exotic things I saw in Kenya”!

Nyeri, our destination for the day, was rather more down to earth and an inordinately friendly place.  Finding accommodation can be a confusing experience in Kenya, as a “hotel” is no such thing – it’s an eatery.  So you have to ignore all the llikely-looking “hotel” signs and instead search for a “boarding and lodging” or B&L.  We found an especially friendly one where they served up enormous plates of “nyama choma” (fried meat) and tasty chips with veg mixed in.  We had seen potatoes stacked high in buckets all along the roadside around Mount Kenya and the locals certainly have a knack for demolishing big platefuls of chips, though no-one looks very fat as a result – it must be all the walking and manual work that makes up for the lard consumed!  There are some amusing billboards advertising cooking fat for those with health concerns, however, and at least one brand claims “0.00% cholesterol free”…erm, not very good for your arteries then.  We needed plenty of energy for the following day to the wonderfully-named Nyahururu – a name that sounds a bit like an owl hooting, I think.  The road purportedly skirted the Aberdares – a mountain range rising to 4001m – but there were a good few climbs in store for us, even if the highest peaks loomed far off on our left.  The flatter sections revealed little farmsteads and fields of yellowed grass, dusty sheep and cows clanking with alpine-style bells, as well as very friendly Kikuyu people and, mercifully, little cafes serving half-litre bottles of chilled Coke!  Our map was a little way out on the distance and so we were dismayed to find we had an extra 25km to cover at the end of a hard day…  We were determined to reach Nyahururu rather than stopping short as we had arranged a rendezvous at a rather special school just outside the town…

The school is called Kisima and, among it’s 40 pupils, is a girl called Hannah.  The connection is that Hannah’s fees are paid for by Luke’s aunt, who “sponsors” her education.  Kisima School offers seconday education and vocational training to children and young people who would otherwise not be able to get this opportunity.  The school is barely six months old and currently there is just one class of 20 girls and 20 boys, from all parts of Kenya.  What they have in common is a high level of intelligence and a lack of financial means.  They are also very, very keen and Hannah was no exception!  We had a really enjoyable few hours having a tour of the school, meeting the staff and watching an evening game of football (it takes some skill in flip-flops).  We were pretty impressed with the whole set-up, not to mention the fact that the pupils – all of whom board – have to do their own washing and all pitch in with general maintenance.

How many 14-year-old boys in Britain would have a clue how to wash a shirt?!  Hannah was ebullient and eager to show us all her exercise books and exam papers – she admitted that she preferred languages but was trying hard in science and maths.  In fact, she said “I had long hair but now I have shaved it all off so that the knowledge can enter more freely”.  It was fantastic to think that such a bright and lively gir should have the chance to attend secondary school, rather than becoming the victim of financial need.  This is a rather marginalised and poverty-stricken region of Kenya and as a consequence, quite a few of Kisima’s pupils come from the area around Marsabit where we toiled along the dreadful road a few weeks ago, en-route from Ethiopia.  We were astonished to find that one rather shy girl came from Bubissa – a tiny hamlet where we stopped for life-saving chai and chapatis one gruelling day – it might have been her older sister who served us in the little hotel!  If you would like to know more about Kisima, you can find info here.

The next day we sped southwards on a lovely road, through evocatively named villages like El Joro Orok, and past stands of rustling trees and wildflowers looking picture-perfect beneath a bright blue sky flecked with scudding white clouds.  In spite of the clouds, we were rather hot by the time we bumped across the railway tracks into Gilgil.  As we enetered the town, we passed the Gilgil Commonwealth War Cemetery which honours some of the East Africans who died in a campaign that must have seemed rather distant – not only geographically – for many Kenyans.  Modern-day Gilgil is a friendly place, if rather lacking in charm.  Once again it was no problem finding a plate of sausage and chips for lunch (we make up for all this grease by eating plenty of avocadoes, pineapples and oranges – honestly!) but rather more of a problem finding the road south once we had tanked up…  The road we had taken rather rapidly deteriorated into a narrow strip encroached on both sides by grass and acacia…but grazing by the roadside was a big herd of zebra

which rather made up for our navigational woes.  The road then came to an abrupt end but we could see a major highway below and skittered down the embankment to join the lumpy tarmac and the mayhem that is Kenyan traffic – every vehicle seemingly piloted by an absolute maniac.  Before long, we had abandoned the road for the verge and were making good progress along a smooth if rather unofficial “cycle path” (also catering to donkeys when need arose)!  More bad road was to come as we strove to reach Lake Naivasha before nightfall, and a huge thunderstorm intervened to hamper us as well – in places the lakeshore road was inches deep in rushing brown floodwater – Anna’s tactic of shutting her eyes, gritting her teeth and speeding through these mega-puddles was perhaps not the wisest approach but it worked!  We were not alone on the road, as hundreds of workers streamed home from the numerous flower farms that line the lakeshore.  The companies present here make a lot of money flying fresh cut flowers to Europe to feed our hunger for year-round blooms and, though they do seem to have reinvested some of the money in schools, medical care and housing, we got the feeling the “workers villages” were rather like ghettoes.  Perhaps the average worker does receive a reasonable wage (Homegrown, one of the companies, apparently pay five times the national average wage thugh that still comes in at only about $100 per month) but the industry has caused considerable environmental damage to a fragile ecosystem and the whole set-up somehow highlighted the difference between our lives in the West and the life of a worker in one of these farms.  How would you explain spending 50 quid on a bunch of roses to a Kenyan?  It seems so ludicrously inessential when you think about it.  It’s no wonder Africans we meet sometimes have funny ideas about foreigners and think we are made of money!

The lake itself was picturesque enough but the real reason for this detour was to visit Hell’s Gate National Park.  You might expect us not to sleep well the night before a trip to “hell” but it was the nocturnal wanderings of the resident hippos that really kept us awake.  As we cooked our dinner a pair of males were squaring up to one another down on the lakeshore – thankfully a few hundred metres away.  Their ferocious roaring and the sight of their huge jaws opened wide was a tad unsettling, when you consider we were sleeping in a tent that night!  They are only dangerous, though, if you rile them or try and injure their young, but even so it was a bit unnerving as, throughout the night, we heard them huffing and burping around the tent as they grazed on the lush lawns!  We were up at dawn, and soon speeding along to the entrance gate of the National Park and then into a wonderful landscape of grassy plain and towering red cliffs, all very fresh-looking and cool after the dousing of the previous afternoon.  We were soon riding alongside zebra and Thomson’s gazelle, both seemingly unperturbed by our presence.  Then a big herd of chunky buffalo, their leathery noses shiny with dew and with expressions of annoyance at our arrival on the scene.  The road was unpaved but smooth and rolling gently downward – perfect for bike-based game-viewing as we didn’t have to watch out for potholes or exert ourselves too much!  By mid-morning, we were climbing out the other side of the park, passing huge, noisy plumes of steam Ethe Olkaria Geothermal Power Station where the power of water heated to 304 degrees centigrade is certainly apparent.  It was a little sulphurous and smelly, however clean and green it may be, so we cycled fast on that bit.  Time allowed for a rather more genteel afternoon, as we visited Elsamere, a house-cum-museum and the former residence of Joy Adamson, a wildlife conservationist best known for the lion cub, Elsa, she helped to raise and release into the wild.  The tiny museum was quite interesting, though it did contain an inordinate number of reprints and different editions of her books – Born Free especially.  As ever, one of our reasons for visiting the place was stomach-related…the afternoon tea here is renowned and we were delighted to find there was only one other visitor as the cakes and biscuits began to be brought out in huge quantity.  Of course, ahem, the extravagance was entirely justifiable as all proceeds go to the Elsa Wild Animal Appeal which Joy Adamson founded to work for the conservation of wildlife throughout the world after her death…

It was rather late when we left and so we had a bit of a race on to get back to Naivasha before nightfall – the cakes hindering rather than helping us given how many we had weighed ourselves down with.  We were heading back to Naivasha rather than spending another night with the hippos as we had an early start then next day, minus the bikes, travelling to Nairobi and thence on safari to the Maasai Mara.  GameTrackers Safaris had kindly agreed to take us on a three-day camping safari, travelling in a converted French army truck and staying in their camp on the western side of the reserve.  We had a wonderful time, and Luke (understandably) took so many photos that we just haven’t got space for them all here, so there’s a special photo update that you will especially enjoy if you have a penchant for animals – here are a few to whet your appetite…

We were relieved to be safely reunited with the bikes back in Naivasha, and from there, enjoyed a beautiful ride along an old disused road which gave us some fantastic views along the Rift Valley, along with the far-off flamingos on Lake Elmenteita.  Unfortunately we were soon back on the new road (far from disused!) and suffered a few close encounters before reaching the outskirts of Nakuru.  We paused for lunch at a prehistoric site called Hyrax Hill and ate avocado sandwiches on the lawn before having a quick nose around – nothing too spectacular!.

From Nakuru we enjoyed a fantastic three days cycling north and west to Eldoret.  Although we really like Kenya and think it’s a good place to visit on a bike, there are certainly a few downsides and the worst of these are the maniacal drivers of minibus taxis – “matatus”, a name which sounds very like the spanish for “kill you”.  This seems to be their prime objective as they overtake on blind bends and generally hog the road regardless of oncoming traffic/donkeys/darkness.  So we decided to take a few less-travelled roads for our final week in the country and headed north to Lake Bogoria along a route described as diabolical by the guidebook.  We figured it couldn’t be any worse than the road from Moyale!  Thankfully we were right, and we had a wonderful ride along a red earth road that cut between steep green hedges, past tiny farms and fat cattle and over a few broad, rocky hills before dropping us down to the lake.  We saw hardly any motorised traffic all day and not even many other people – the road was quiet enough for a tortoise to shamble across our path without any concern that it might be run over.  Obviously traffic is a rarity in these parts!

Lake Bogoria is home to a large population of flamingos, and they obligingly gathered at the edges of the lake so we could get a good look at them as we cycled along the road that skirts the shore.  It’s really an amazing sight to see birds in such huge numbers, and particularly beautiful at dawn when the lake surface is smooth and golden and the heat of the day yet to come.  Flamingos are not nearly as pink as I had always imagined…well, at least not all of them.

Apparently the pink coloration is due to red pigments of spirulina, the algae on which Rift Valley flamingos feed.  Maybe the colour builds up with age or perhaps the greedier the pinker?  Whatever the case, they were a wonderful sight.  It was a little hazardous to let our eyes stray from the road as there was a bit more traffic on this day – ostriches, greater kudu and various other antelope to be precise.  Yet more flamingos were thronging around Lake Bogoria’s answer to Yellowstone – a series of bubbling hot springs and spurting geysers.  We were in need of a second breakfast after all that excitement, and glad that we had stopped for a meal as the afternoon wore on in decidedly hilly fashion.  By nightfall we were dragging ourselves up the final incline to Kabernet, a small Rift Valley town perched on the edge of the deep and wooded Kerio Valley.  The “Sportsline Hotel” we stayed in seemed to be something of a shrine to local-born Paul Tergat, a world class athlete of the rags-to-riches variety.  He seems to have reinvested a lot of his earnings in projects that benefit his homeland, and the area certainly seems to harbour some unusually talented runners!  Throughout the next day, barefooted kids ran alongside us (flip-flops in hand) as we tackled the steep western side of the Kerio Valley.  Admittedly with the midday heat and the gradient we weren’t exactly speeding along but they were keeping up with us for miles and miles – wearing woolly jumpers!

When we were free of the attentions of these Olympians we had nothing but wandering goats to worry about and could relish the increasingly dramatic views of the valley as we climbed higher and higher.  By lunchtime we had ground our way up to the hamlet of Tambach, in a spectacular setting among fragrant pines and deep-purple bougainvillea and backed by steep, black-streaked cliffs.  Our legs had all but given up by the time we got to Iten, so we were relieved to find this was “the top” and the remaining 32km of the day rolled through fields dotted with swirling stooks of maize, looking like giant meringues evenly spaced on a stubbly baking tray.  Despite all our efforts, and not for the first time in Kenya, night fell before we had reached Eldoret which turned out to be a few kilometres further than expected…and an acacia thorn intervened so we had to mend a puncture by the twilit roadside.  As soon as you get a puncture in Africa, you automatically get an audience thrown in for free.  This can make actually fixing the damn thing rather tricky as ten intrigued little heads bend over and block out all the light and the pump has to be prised from clammy little hands before it can be used!  Still, we made it in one piece and have recovered in the time honoured way – hot shower, sleep and lots of food!

So tomorrow we get back on the bikes after a much-needed day off and head westwards to Uganda, and into the shadow of Mount Elgon.  We’re resisting climbing this one, not least because we have a bit of catching up to do, distance-wise!  Hopefully we’ll visit another of Link’s projects in Northern Uganda and let you know what adventures we’ve been having in a few weeks’ time…


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