Taking out Traffic Cops and Finding Heroes – Naivasha, Kenya


7th – 8th August 2013

See all my photos from this trip to Naivasha here on Facebook

Upper Hill Campsite, Nairobi – I wake to the news that Nairobi airport is on fire, no flights in and no flights out.  The guy staying next to me at the campsite is getting married in Uganda in a few days time and is due to leave today… of all the things that could delay a groom, Hollywood couldn’t make this shit up!

2013.08.1Naivasha (47)I spend the morning organising the Beast a bit better. After some time travelling in a confined space, you soon realise that the packing system you had in your head before setting off was not the packing system that is most convenient.  I have a bit of OCD and like like with like… However, despite the fact that similar things SHOULD go together, they just can’t.  It’s impractical, for example to have all your toiletries with you at all times, so I devised a few pantry areas where I will store all those non-daily items. Certain things need to be in easy to reach places and some can get shoved to the rear of the boot behind everything else. Things I need every day move to the front boxes, like dust cloths, the torch and toothpicks.

Upper Hill Campsite, Nairobi

I ordered some flag stickers in the UK before I left, for all the countries I will be visiting on my way down.  I clean the back window and decide on how to fit all the flags on in a nice sequential order.  Vitalis, my handy mechanic at the Engen garage, has the morning to find me hubcap that will match my other three (have no idea where one of them ended up, but thought it might be a good idea to get one on with the amount of dust my Beast churns up).  I have numerous cups of tea in the Upper Hill lounge and use the time to upload a few photos to Facebook, but find myself pulling my hair out with frustration at my pre-paid “wazi wifi” which is super slow and unreliable. Vitalis has the part by 2pm so I collect that and set my Garmin for Camp Carnelley’s in Niavasha.

Coming out of Nairobi, I end up driving through the most god-awful slum to get out to the main road.  It’s streets are absolutely filthy, rubbish piled high, dilapidated roadside shacks with vendors, and precarious moments at every turn.  Chickens running for their lives, bicycles weaving in my path, matatus pulling out with no indication, unobservant children running after a ball, it’s a miracle no one got a bull bar nudge.

The main road to Naivasha is just as dangerous as all the rest.  There is a steep climb out of Nairobi which brings you to a pretty breathtaking drive down into the escarpment.  It’s a single lane so inevitably you get your usual drama with lorries trying to overtake other lorries, in oncoming traffic, with a sharp death drop to one side… standard Kenyan driving. At one point we actually had a second “climbing lane” on our side.  A truck was trying to overtake another truck at at fraction of a kilometre faster, so cars just started overtaking through the middle of the two trucks.

Near the top of the escarpment I drive past a typical traffic road block (polisi looking very official, standing round chatting).  They don’t indicate that I should stop so I carry on without slowing.  I notice one or two along the way showing me the universal arm waving up and down to slow down, and it gets more frantic as I pass. I’m not even going at pace so don’t take much notice. A few minutes later, heading down the escarpment, an old banged up white car, boot almost touching the tarmac, overtakes me at high speed and slows right down in front of me. I see four guys inside.  A hand with a radio comes out the passenger front side and signals for me to pull over. Bear in mind, I’m currently driving down an escarpment road, with a sheer death drop to my left and now I have this unmarked, dodgy vehicle swaying in front of me to slow me down… I saw a few wooden curio stands, built precariously on the edge of the road (above death drop) and stop there. These four guys jump out of the car, all in plain clothes, brandishing radios and guns on their hips and come running over to the car – police or hijacking?  Ready to go into fight or flight mode, I brace myself for a quick getaway… could the Beast run them all over if I flawed it now, ramming their car off the edge of the cliff for good measure?

Still unsure, I keep my window up as they start shouting at me through glass.  They say my jerry can has come off the roof and has hit one of the traffic cops on the side of the road.  I must get out the car and take a look at my roof to see it’s missing.  At this moment, all my survival instincts kick in… similar to the “you have a flat tyre” con, they’ve seen my jerry can on the roof and they’re trying to get me out the vehicle to check! I stay put and have the sense to ask them for ID.  One whips out a worn, laminated card with his picture on it – man, I could have made one of those on my home PC, so how the hell do I know that it’s genuine?

I keep on with the same line, pleading remorse, “I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean for it to fly off”.

“You need to come back”, the main guy demands.

“I don’t want the jerry can, I have spare. You guys can have it”, I just want to get the hell out of there and do not want to go anywhere with these guys.

“You need to come and see the injury our fellow officer sustained…”, no man come on! The jerry can was an empty light plastic one, surely can’t be that bad?

“Please tell your fellow officer I’m awfully sorry”

Eventually they resign themselves to the fact I have no interest in trusting their plain clothes, their scrunched laminated police IDs, or their clapped out mode of transport (they probably flagged down a passing car to chase me).  There is no moving me from the vehicle, and no getting me to come back with them, so they give up and leave with final words to reassure me that they are genuine polisi and that it will be safe to get out once they leave and check that the rest of my roof cargo is properly secured.  With that, their banged up car shoots a plume of black smoke into the air, and with the bumper dragging sparks on the road, makes a U-turn in the face of oncoming traffic and speeds back to where it came from.  I take a moment to compose myself and get out the Beast.  Checking the roof I realise that my jerry can is missing… and can myself at the thought of this white plastic container flying off and belting one of them on the head!  Eish! How many road points do I get for that?

POW Built Catholic Church near Naivasha

Just down the bottom of the escarpment, Boris had told me to look out for a small Roman Catholic Church built by his grandfather and other Italian POWs in WWII so I stop and take a look around.  I spend time chatting with the groundsman who is mighty proud of his garden.

Nearer Naivasha, as I’m turning in off the main highway onto the South Lake Road, I pass Steve Halton on his bike. He had been with me at Upper Hill Campsite and I had convinced him to come and stay at Carnelley’s on his way up to Turkana. Bear in mind, he is CYCLING! I can’t believe he’s done that massive escarpment climb and incredibly dangerous road on a bike!  He’s carrying almost 60kgs of gear! I had a hard enough time using my foot on the accelerator to get up the escarpment road!  I stop him briefly for a chat and take some photos of him with his camera (when else does he ever get the opportunity to photograph himself riding?).  Steve follows behind and gets to Carnelley’s an hour after I do.

Camp Carnelleys, Naivasha

Arriving at Carnelleys, I park the Beast and take a look around.  This amazing campsite is right next to Lake Naivasha and is full of beautiful trees. I take a short walk up to the bar and restaurant and meet Chrissy who is flying about, preparing food for a small party later that evening.  Lovat and Chrissy Carnelley are great friends of Boris and Bruce.  They have insited I come to the lake to see them and assure me it will be a fantastic stay!

I set up camp near the water and go about my daily routine of opening up the rooftop tent and pegging it down.  Steve arrives a little later and we go over to the restaurant, where I proceed to order a lovely indulgent meal (you’ve never tasted food so good!).  Steve chats to me briefly before leaving to go and make himself noodles for the tenth night in a row, he’s on a budget, I feel awful…  Lovat Carnelley comes over and to say hi and I see another friend of Boris’ called Alex is here with the Carnelley’s too.  Steve comes back later and we get chatting, I don’t get the opportunity to talk to Alex, and before I know it, he’s gone to bed.  Apparently Alex has a big safari tomorrow with guests he needs to collect and take around the Masai Mara for a few days – he’s getting an early night!

Carnelley’s Campsite, Naivasha – I wake up to the most amazing sound of wild birds on the lake, what an incredible view from my lofty mesh window with the sun rising over Lake Naivasha.

Lake Naivasha

Steve Halton is heading off and we have a brief chat over some weetabix.  He is finding biking on the main roads impossible due to the number of close shaves with buses and matatus, and has decided to take the longer, unpaved and rougher tracks to get from place to place.  He’s headed up to Turkana and will do the less-travelled Western side.  When you think about how much water you need on a daily basis for drinking, cooking and cleaning, you can only carry so much on a bike, and the fact that the Turkana is in a desert, it’s absolute madness to me!  He’s going to push on through Ethiopia and Sudan where he believes water is stored in clay pots along the desert routes – I wouldn’t chance it – he’s got serious balls!  Good luck Steve – wishing you safe travels!!

Steve Halton, riding North towards Turkana

The Land Rover George Adamson was killed in.

Exploring the area, I visit “Elsamere”, Joy Adamson’s house on Lake Naivasha where she spent her latter years. It’s been turned into a small museum full of all sorts of personal effects she and George shared.  

You get to watch a documentary of Joy before enjoying tea on the well manicured lawns overlooking the lake.  George’s Land Rover sits under shade.  It’s the one he was shot dead in, by poachers, and is a stark reminder of how much these pioneers put on the line for wildlife… and it’s still a battle our conservationists fight daily!

Elsamere – Joy Adamson’s home on Lake Naivasha

Continuing along the Southern road to Crater Lake Park, I drive headlong into an abundance of herding animals – giraffe, wildebeest, buffalo, warthog and zebra as far as the eye can see.  As the name suggests, this park is set on the side of a crater and is extremely dusty under-tyre with ash from it’s eruption a zillion years ago.  This soft, fine, white dust gets in everywhere and I fear my old electric windows might seize up with the amount of winding up and down I have to do between taking photos and driving…  There is a short climb up to a stunning view point which overlooks the lake inside the crater. I spend a bit of time up here before setting off down through a massive troop of baboons – shouting at them to bugger off and wielding a stick like a light saber, they scatter, glancing back with jaws completely ag(ape)…

Crater Lake Park, Naivasha

That evening, I set up camp all over again and head on over to the restaurant.  I had been in touch with Mike Diesbecq since meeting him at the Mombasa party with Boris and Bruce a month earlier.  He lives next to the Carnelleys and comes over to say hi.  Lovat, his dad Tommy, Mike, Johnny Keith, Tarique and Luke Davey are all at the bar and we have a great evening together.  Sitting next to Luke, he is the unfortunate one on the receiving end of my stories about the trip and my many plans ahead.  As I am going around Lake Victoria to Uganda and Rwanda, Luke mentions that he is a horse dentist who travels regularly around the lake to see various polo and riding horses, and and kindly offers to get details of some of his contacts to me in the morning. As his phone is dead, I should sms him the following day, and he’ll send details on to me.  There’s nothing like a good recommendation from friends, and so I thank him for the kind offer and head off for another comfy night’s rest in my lofty hideaway.

Little did I know just how kind and heroic young Luke was going to be in the very near future…

Broken Buckets and the Joy of Coincidental Reunions – Shimbas and Tsavo, Kenya

1st August 2013

Check out more photos on Facebook here.

After stocking up with last minute snacks and food at Nakumatt for my 4-5 day game drive, I headed down the long sultry coast road of Diani. Past the ladders above the road for the Colobus monkeys, the dreaded unannounced speed bumps, Shakatack and the sign down to Forty Thieves – how does one grow to love a place so much after such a short stay?

The earth up at Shimba Hills is a stunning red colour and the forest feels like it’s on top of you at times.  It’s just spectacular. Rolling along the red track, taking in the views as the road winds it’s way through the hills and villages, past some farmers fields and livestock along the way then CRACK… I nearly jumped out of my frikkin skin! It sounded like lightning, but the windscreen was suddenly covered in water (like he heavens had opened up, but just over my car, in one truckload of water). I realised my 50l shower bucket on top of the roof rack had come loose, fallen forward onto the windscreen and smashed. I’m so fortunate the steel tap didn’t shatter or even crack the windscreen (this Beast is a toughie).

My home-made shower kicked the bucket – Shimba Hills

I stopped the Beast and got out to check the damage… my shower had most definitely kicked the bucket… At this point, a truckload of locals pulls up over the horizon from behind. The driver starts shouting at me with his hands in the air, annoyed at having a vehicle in his path. I pointed slowly to my broken bucket, gave him sad eyes, and toed the area where the water had soaked into the earth (there was a full on river!). The driver’s tune changed when he saw my misfortune, and pitiful cries of “pole” were heard from the traveling onlookers as the truck rolled slowly by.

“Pole pole” is the Swahili word used for “slow”, but at this moment in time I realised that “pole” (in singular form) must be the term used for “ag shame”.

The drive through the Shimba Hills was magnificent, it’s so lush and beautiful. I carried on through a couple of small villages, waved at the passers by, old men on bikes, children walking along in groups, herdsman… but no one waved back. Then it dawned on me that my side windows were tinted and that they couldn’t see my enthusiastic greeting. I made a mental note to wave from the windscreen area in future.

Villages on the way to Tsavo

I turned left at the end of the dirt road and made my way up onto the Mombasa-Nairboi road (the section on driving this road just about needs an entire post for itself). The driving in Kenya (as mentioned previously) is pretty horrendous and this road, in particular, serves as the only route for ALL import and export for the whole of East Africa. The railway line for cargo is just about non-existent so everything arrives and leaves by truck – every single goddamn container-baring one of them, heading up and down this road…

Driving this road takes nerves of steel, eyes in the back of your head, timing, advanced driving skills and a massive helping of pure luck. It really is a matter of leap frogging your way around the caravan of trucks, with each overtaking opportunity resembling something like this…

  • drive at 50km/h (with nothing in your windscreen but truck)
  • ear on the side window for an additional 4cm viewing range, pull out slightly to the right to check the road ahead, pull back sharply to the left as oncoming trucks approach,
  • repeat x20,
  • ear on the side window for an additional 4cm viewing range, pull out slightly to the right to check the road ahead, see a 100m strip of clear tarmac ahead,
  • check wing mirror and blind spot just in case you missed a sneaky matatu (taxi) and to ensure you’re not being overtaken from five cars behind,
  • foot flat and turbo boost to 100km/h,
  • eyes wide, heart pounding as truck bares down lights flashing (even though a reasonable distance away),
  • hard left quickly back into the 7m gap left between the next two trucks,
  • rapid deceleration to 50km/h again (with nothing in your windscreen but truck)
  • continue to repeat the process whilst witnessing the most horrendous driving in your life; trucks overtaking cars, the slow overtaking the even slower, the fast overtaking anything and everything… on blind rises, over solid lines, on the dirt next to the road, five cars in a row past seven trucks in a row – I could go on and on.

Talk about a crash course (!!) in East African driving…

I turned off the road at Buchuma Gate at the southern point of Tsavo East. A buffalo skull welcomed me at the gate and the lady behind the counter took some time to absorb the fact that I was indeed on my own and wasn’t hiding a small companion in my cruiser.  Maybe they get lots of cheapskates trying to get into the parks for free (which isn’t without just cause at $65-$80 per person per day).

I have had this many times over since… “You alone?”, I look over my shoulder, ensure there really isn’t someone I’ve forgotten, and shrug, “I guess so”.

Dry and parched landscape of Tsavo East

I drove up the hot and dusty track towards Aruba Dam with not much game on the way. I did spot some elephant in the distance and, as you tend to do when on your first game drive after a leave of absence, shot around 20 photos of the reddy grey lumps in the distance. Aruba Dam was dry which was a bit of a disappointment as the guide book had really bigged it up. I took a smaller road down next to a river and saw more elephant, a little closer this time (cue another 30 snaps of distant reddy grey lumps). The sun was hanging low in the sky so I pressed on to the public campsite for my first real night of camping. Stoked to finally have the opportunity to camp out in the bush with no one about (I didn’t pass a single car the whole day!), I drove into the almost desolate (but for one other bakkie) campsite.  I was leaning, elbow out my window, reading the do’s and don’ts on a signboard when from the bush I heard my name being yelled. Could this be the sad deluded voice of loneliness calling me in my head? I turned to where I thought the voice had come from, lifted my sunnies and squinted to get a better look.  Running towards my car is none other than Dan Sorrell (my fellow Saffa and total trouble maker from Mombasa Backpackers)!

Sundowners with friends in Tsavo East

TTC 5: I had no idea Dan was planning on coming to Tsavo, he had no idea I was either.  We had said our tearful goodbyes days earlier in Mombasa… I was there for one night and one night only, and we were the only two cars in the campsite.

Dan was camping with Ivan, Anneloes and Fay so I came over and set up camp near them. We had sundowners in a dry river bed accompanied by a guide who Ivan chatted away to happily in Swahili.  Watching the sun dip below the horizon whilst sipping on Patron – what a way to end the day! We had a braai in the presence of the Captain until the early hours of the morning. Awesome first night!  If only I could have a chance bumping into of friends every night on my travels, I’d be so chuffed!