Kenya, The tale of Two Turkeys.
21th December to 9th January 2006
After a five hours hard drive from Sipi falls in Uganda, we reached the small border at the Suam River. Small borders are great and usually offer the minimum of fuss and bother but getting there is usually hell and this had been no exception. I had even considered requesting a refund for the Uganda “Road Fund Tax!” After some short formalities we were now on smooth well-graded murram road which eventually gave way to asphalt.
The landscape unlike that of the rest of East Africa had a kind of South African feel to it, large organised farms with modern “working” tractors, other farm machinery and even green houses. The vast majority of the flowers, roses, lilies and bouquets, etc, in the shops in the UK, or on the internet, arrives fully prepared from Kenya and East Africa, which also includes a lot of veg and most of the organic veg, all quite crazy, really, when you think of the transport costs.
The border crossing had been so small that there weren’t any money-changers and because of the road from Sipi we arrived in Kitale late and all the banks and bureaux de change were shut. Apparently there was a 24 hour bureau de change in Eldoret which was of course shut by the time we arrived there, this being Africa and things are never really what they seem. The net result was, we had a lot of Uganda Shillings and nowhere to change them. Luckily Kenya is a bit more advanced than its neighbours and has ATMs pretty much everywhere, so at least we could get some local currency.
We had been told about a great campsite on the outskirts of Eldoret, by Martin, the Swiss guy in Kampala. Naiberi River Campsite, was quite busy when we arrived and it was dark but we still managed to find a little level spot to set up and get in an order for some food before a good hot shower. Naiberi is owned by Raj a local Indian textile baron and is managed by Ash, who can normally be found either behind the bar or with his head in a good book and is quite a philosopher.
After supper and a few beers down in the bar, which is set out a bit like a huge cave or grotto and has a stream running through it, as well as a large central fireplace – the Kenyan nights can be quite cold – we retired to bed. The following morning as the various groups left, we seized the opportunity to move next to one of the bandas, these are very well fitted out with a large sink for washing, lighting, an enormous barbeque and plenty of space to sit around and chill. Following a quick chat with Raj we managed to change all our Uganda Shillings via his brother.
We were now in a bit of a dilemma – what to do about Christmas? Normally, we try to avoid it altogether, but we had to choose whether to stay or move on and run the risk of ending up somewhere unpleasant. While we were trying to decide, I had somehow got involved in finding a solution to the site’s water shortage with some local plumbers – when there was a call from Raj to say that he’d ordered 4 turkeys and that we were to cook one of them. So I guess that was Christmas decided then, but who was going to cook the rest? A quick chat revealed that they were expecting an overland truck at 12 o’clock, Christmas day and they were going to cook the other turkeys! It was then that things got a little out of hand, with the truck arriving at 12.00 there would not be much time for them to prepare “their” turkeys, so somehow we got the job……! There was just one small problem! I had never cooked a turkey before, let alone two! The largest number of people that I had ever catered for was 12 and Raj was expecting at least 40 plus, and this was to be the official inauguration of the new campsite. Nothing like a little bit of pressure! We had to go into town to check our e-mails, so while on the internet a quick Google and we downloaded a roast turkey recipe. We met up with Raj again for a quick tour of his factory and a curry lunch with members of the West Kenya Motor Club.
With a recipe in hand all that was needed was to get the ingredients and investigate where we could cook the two birds. Raj told me to take Ash’s little Suzuki Jeep and gave me the directions to his old house and sent me off to meet Carol, his cook. The little Suzuki was definitely an interesting ride, bouncing along the dirt track to the house. I have to admit that I was expecting the worst; I’d seen a few African kitchens before and was expecting some kind of wood burning affair, but much to my surprise and relief there was a well-equipped kitchen with two working electric ovens. Following a quick chat with Carol, I revised my shopping list and retuned to the campsite.
The next day was “Christmas Eve,” we took the Suzuki into town where we met up with Raj again and hit the shops! Eldoret is well furnished with supermarkets and we must have visited them all. Raj wanted the inauguration to be something special. At the bakers we collected bread, garlic bread and sausage rolls (no mean feat in a predominantly Muslim town!) Then on to the cheese factory – yes, a cheese factory! – to taste and buy cheese before finally moving on to the fruit and veg market. It was incredible to see the Africans in the grips of the same Christmas Eve madness that you see in Europe, shopping trolleys packed full of those non-essential essentials and last minute panic buys, it always strikes me as crazy and a little immoral. The shops were packed and by the time we got back we were both exhausted!
I was glad that I had managed to talk Raj into a six o’clock dinner as opposed to a twelve o’clock lunch so we had a little time to relax and recover in the morning. At eleven we jumped into the Suzuki and bounced round to the house. There was the 10kg of turkey, we quickly got to work, while I cleaned the birds, Blanca prepared the stuffing to my modified recipe. I’d put both ovens on to pre heat but the timer had switched one off, disaster, with the timer immobilised, we eventually had both turkeys stuffed, in the oven and roasting. Next 2kg of pasta for a pasta salad, Blanca made some fresh mayonnaise for the potato salad while I prepared the veg for the salad and a stirfry, so at least the vegetarians won’t starve. It was all go! Meanwhile Carol and her staff prepared meal after meal for the old campsite. With everything under control we shot back to the campsite so Blanca could change and we could socialise a bit before going back to finish off.
Back at Turkey Central the two birds were doing fine and would be ready in half an hour, just enough time to do some mash potatoes, the stirfry and the gravy before carving the two birds……busy…..busy…..busy!
I am always amazed how things are interconnected here in Africa, Martin, the Swiss guy, had sold his Toyota Surf to Raj before returning to Kampala and Switzerland and here we were now going to use it to transport the Christmas dinner to the waiting hordes, abandoning the Suzuki for a softer ride.
It was quite satisfying to see all the food disappear and everybody having a great time, the only complaint being “where are the Yorkshire Puds?”
With the panic over, we could at last sit and relax with Raj and Ash over a few large Jack Daniels and really celebrate Christmas!
Unfortunately the down side to a little too much Christmas spirit is you need a day or two to recover, so Boxing Day was spent relaxing doing chores and preparing the Uganda story.
The problem with a great place and great people is it is always hard to say goodbye and move on. We’d had a wonderful time with Raj and Ash and if you are ever in Eldoret check out the Naiberi River Campsite (N 00 26 862, E 035 25 327) it has to be one of the best we have seen in Africa so far.
We left the campsite and continued along the road, avoiding the very bad main Eldoret to Nakuru road. The road was fairly good and the scenery breathtaking with an Alpine feel, along the top of the escarpment above the Rift Valley. As we drew closer to Nakuru, Grommet’s fuel problem returned in conjunction with a slow puncture. So rather than run the risk of wasting expensive park fees fixing the car we opted to stay outside, at Kembu Camp Site. I gave Grommet’s arteries a good clean through and repaired the puncture in the tube, (acacia thorns are a real nightmare!) and gave him a new set of Christmas spark plugs. This appeared to do the trick as we had a problem free drive around Lake Nakuru National Park. I’d been to Lake Nakuru before as a child and remembered it as a lake in the bush, full of pink flamingos, but now it’s a bit like a park in the centre of a town, something like Ngorongoro with man-made crater walls. Still despite its location and the fact that its fragile ecosystem is under constant threat from the town, it is teeming with wild life and well worth a visit. Apart from the abundant flamingo population which turn the lakeside pink and are quite comical to watch, we saw both black and white rhino along with the usual buffaloes, gazelles and reedbucks, I was actually surprised by a hippo making for the shore while photographing some flamingo and had to beat a hasty retreat back to the safety of Grommet. Still no leopard though…..!
To keep the costs down we left the park and camped at the El Dorado Lodge a very “African” place that had seen better days but it was cheap, clean and convenient. It was a little odd to see the night watchman patrolling with a bow and arrow as opposed to the usual big stick or Kalashnikov!
In the morning we headed back in to Nakuru town, with New Year fast approaching Blanca was in the grip of a grape crisis! We had to find some grapes for the Spanish tradition of 12 grapes just before the New Year begins for luck in the coming months and given our current financial situation we need all the luck we can get! Nakuru is quite a modern town and had seedless grapes from South Africa for a king’s ransom, so crisis over! Next problem: where to spend New Year?
Leaving Nakuru, we headed off for the foothills of Mt Kenya through the densely populated and intensively cultivated central highlands. This is coffee country and other cash crops abound, interspersed with forest and dry scrub. It seemed odd to pass a gliding club in Africa. It was along the road that we bumped in to Tony, a Canadian from Hong Kong who is “cycling” around Africa, we had actually seen him in Uganda and spent time with him in Red Chillies in Kampala. He had been seeking refuge from the constant chants of “mzungu!” and “hey china!” It was good to see him again and have a roadside chat much to confusion of the gathered locals. We hoped to see him for New Year but heard later he was struck down by a case of Montezuma’s revenge and spent the festivities toilet-bound. A quick stop in Nanyuki to get some money from the last ATM on the road north, we checked out the “fabulous recently opened” Nanyuki River Camel Camp and found it run down and deserted so we headed off up the road to the Timau River Lodge, yet another Indian-run place. With its log cabins and restaurant, it had a American pioneer feel to it. The place was clean with very hot showers and a superb buffet, a mix of Indian and European food. The owner is a very interesting man who had some fascinating stories of living in that part of Kenya during the Mau Mau rebellion in the 50s.
Blanca had made arrangements to meet up with the “French Explorers,” for New Year and they turned up on New Year’s Eve. It was good to see them again and hear their news and swap stories as Blanca prepared grapes for all before going to the restaurant for the special New Year buffet. By the time midnight approached, most people had drifted off to bed leaving just us, the explorers and the owners to celebrate the New Year with a rather large bottle of champagne. The Indian owners were quite bemused by the 12 grapes ceremony, with a grape to be eaten in time to the chime of in this case a spoon on an enamel bowl. But the feeling was there and if you tried really hard it was almost as if we were there at la Puerta del Sol, Madrid, Spain with the clock chiming twelve!
The following day there was some confusion with the “French Explorers” and things getting lost in the translation. They had some how assumed that we would be travelling north together and cross in to Ethiopia via Banya Fort next to Lake Turkana. Since this is not a recognised border crossing, we did not want to take the chance of being turned back at the border or face the bureaucracy in Addis Ababa. So we went our separate ways, the “explorers” north and us to Buffalo Springs and Samburu National Reserves.
At Isiolo the asphalt ends and we were given a taste of the notorious Isiolo to Moyale road, 600km of hard, heavily corrugated piste and quite possibly the worst road in the whole of Africa for which Kenya, as a developed African nation should be ashamed. At least we only had 25km or so before the turn off and the park.
The parks were wonderful and well worth the detour as they offer a lot of wild life despite the dry scrubby landscape. In addition to the usual, there are some of the more unusual animals such as the giraffe-gazelle and the finely stripped Grevy’s zebra. We also saw quite a lot of elephant and lion, including the famous lioness that has a habit of adopting orphaned baby Oryx.
After the parks we headed off north towards Lake Turkana. We were now in really wild Kenya where very few people go, the local tribes still wear their traditional regalia and wild animals can be found outside the confines of a park but the down side there is supposed to be a high risk of banditry! The area is dry, arid, mountainous and quite inhospitable yet the murram road is actually quite good, but requires a lot of imagination, luck and a GPS to get to where you want to go. Just after the park I’d stopped to take a photo and somehow we ended up giving a lift to a local Samburu man who only spoke Swahili. He was so appreciative for the lift, we’d reduced his journey time by ten days, he gave Blanca a necklace, especially as we took a little detour to drop him off in Wamba, his village.
Deciding to ignore the security issue we camped the night in the bush on a dry riverbed and had a very peace full night. In the morning, we were joined for coffee and biscuits by some local men in traditional dress, (a cheaper and much more gratifying way of getting a photo than handing over money). Moving on who should we meet just down the road in Barsaloi but the “French Explorers”, who were gob-smacked to see us since they had a 24 hour head start. Leaving them shopping we continued on and got a puncture just outside the village in front of an army camp, not the best place to stop at the best of times! The base commander and his sergeant came out to investigate and even gave me a hand to change the wheel.
Following a day of inshala navigation, some “interesting” steep, narrow, rocky bush tracks, which under normal circumstances, Blanca would have got out and walked, but uncertain of my mood, decided to remain inside for fear of being left behind…….We spent another night in the bush under a starlit desert sky.
As we got closer to Lake Turkana one could start to see the effects of the drought that was gripping the area with the scattered carcases of goats and cows. I still fail to see the sense in making a barren, windy, desolate, shattered lava bed a home, no matter how beautiful, it was hard enough driving there but to live there you would definitely need certifying.
We arrived at the Lake which is a stunning jade green and decorated with white crested waves. I did say it’s windy here, well its actually very, very windy! We headed for the catholic mission and set up camp. There are campsites at Loyangalani but the mission has a pool, yes, the whole area is suffering from a drought but the town is fed by a hot spring, hence the mission has a hot pool, hot showers and plenty of hot water. I could not help but wonder that if this spring had been in the High Atlas in Morocco the whole area would have been under some form of cultivation, but of course this being a part of Africa where the people are traditionally nomadic, the water flows as muddy rivulets to the lake, the people starve and the livestock die – well at least until the foreign aid arrives!
It was about mid -fternoon when the “French Explorers” arrived and found us soaking, well gently steaming, in the pool. Boy oh boy it was hot and despite the pool also being hot it did provided a welcome respite to the hot dusty wind. The tyre that had punctured by the army camp had a 40mm cut in it from some sharp quartz, which I attempted to repair along with the hole in the tube. There had been a strange noise coming from the front of Grommet which on investigation proved to be another failed universal joint, poor Eric of the “FE” retired back to the pool with a look of horror when he saw Blanca and I changing the broken bearing!
As the way forward would take us back up the lava rock escarpment and across the desert to Marsabit to rejoin the pitiful Isiolo to Moyale road, I decided the time had come to swap the tyres around. The worn front tyres would become the spares the new spares go on the rear and the rear tyres to the front. The strategy seemed to work, well at lest as far as Sololo where the rocks and corrugations had taken their toll on my tyre repair which had by now started to bulge and wasn’t looking that good. I’m starting to get into the rhythm of changing the same tyre whenever we stop. It’s funny that it is always the same one that fails or gets a puncture!
At Marsabit we had been asked where our armed guard was. We argued that we didn’t need one and set off – and we actually didn’t need one. But when you see all the animals dead and dying along the road side from lack of food and water, I suppose it will only be a matter of time before people will get desperate and turn to banditry again to feed themselves and their families. All the trucks that we saw travelled in convoy and with heavily armed guards!
Yet again, you have people with vast herds of cattle and goats trying to survive in such a landscape. I think there must be more sustainable life on Mars than this desolate place, than it can ever hope to support especially when the rains fail. The sad fact is that equilibrium is being restored, but still it is distressing to see the livestock dead and dying all around you and nothing is being done to assist the situation. If the road was better, water and animal feed could be transported in or the animals shipped out but this road is a truck breaker! Later while checking Grommet over, I discovered one of his leafspring shackle bolts had sheared straight through.
On arrival at the border our internal organs felt as if they had been through a liquidizer, our bodies ached from the battering of the road and we were both in a rather sombre mood with the visions of dead and dying livestock and people on the move, still very fresh in our minds. This was our first real encounter of people and livestock suffering and an area on the verge of a disaster, during our trip through Africa so far, and Kenya considers itself to be a first world African state. But one really gets the feeling that not a lot has happened in Kenya since the end of colonisation! With the situation in Northern Kenya fresh in our minds we were quite apprehensive about what to expect in Ethiopia, famous for famine, poverty and suffering?
Stuffing the turkeys
Ash and Bubbles
Raj, Ash and Mark
Nakuru park and town
Giraffes at Samburu NP
Giraffe-Gazelle at Samburu
Lioness and cub
Samburu NP landscape
Thanks for the lift…
Blanca and the Samburu people
Water for bandits
Worst road in Africa
Good grazing land?
Dead cow, one of many
Broken leaf spring bolt!