Across East Africa with Two Kayaks

9th July 2016 – Kenya and Tanzania

I touch down in Nairobi and step off the plane. I have the unmistakable smell of dust filling my senses and the warm wind on my face. Embarrassingly, my rusty Swahili causes me to mumble through my greeting with the customs official and I make a mental note to brush up before I head off into one of the remotest parts of East Africa. Steven is waiting for me outside the terminal. He’s never late. I catch his eye with a wave, heave my luggage onto my shoulder and move through the throng of taxi drivers with their handwritten signboards.

“Twende Steven”, I say. Let’s go.


Luke & Chloe – my Nairobi support crew.

I am in Nairobi for a couple of days while I wait for my paddling partner, Simon Dunshea, to arrive from South Africa and am staying in Karen with my good friends Luke and Chloe Davey.

Simon is a friend of my cousins’ in South Africa, and has decided to join the expedition very recently. Initially I had hoped to do the expedition on my own, but the sound of a practically minded farmer on board, didn’t sound like such a bad idea…

With me based in London and Simon in South Africa, everything had been arranged over the phone and we’d only just managed to squeeze in transporting his kayak up from South Africa with mine in time for our departure.

Our journey out of Nairobi and down to Tanzania should have been completed in no time at all. However, on rounding a bend only a stone’s throw from the border of Namanga, I see a large official-looking figure step into the road. Hand raised.

It’s a sight you grow to despise seeing in Africa because more often than not, you know you’re in for a tedious battle between standing your ground and paying a bribe to get on with your journey.


View of Kilimanjaro from Arusha

“These things,” he starts, tapping the blue kayak with his baton. “these things are too big. As you can see, they extend over the windscreen. You may not transport them in this manner”.

I’ve lived in Africa most of my life and know very well that carrying two kayaks on the roof doesn’t even begin to compare with the precarious loads we see on some vehicles.

“You can pay me now, or you must return to Nairobi to buy a trailer”. His oversized fingers beckon me out of the vehicle. I can’t help but notice his rotund frame. Too many years of sitting lethargically under an acacia tree with nothing to do except stop passing cars.

Knowing that the kayaks on the roof are well within acceptable limits and weight, I spend half an hour smiling and nodding at the insistent traffic officer who, without actually asking me for the bribe outright, is talking in roundabouts about my ‘overloading’.

“Sure I’ll pay you now, but I need a receipt.”

“No, you will have to appear in court if you do not pay me now.”

“If this law exists, I have already told you I will pay the fine Mr Traffic Officer, but I would merely like a receipt.”

“You will have trouble in Tanzania if you don’t pay me now.”

“Well, why don’t I take my chances and see what they say.”

And so it goes… for 45 minutes. He gets bored with my simple remarks and smiling face. This is one battle I will not lose. We set off again. Onward to Arusha.

I am due  to spend the evening at Brad Hansen’s place. He’s an old friend who runs his Safari company from Arusha. I generally stay here on my way through Tanzania and more often than not, I spend the evening looking after his forlorn dogs on my own as Brad is always on safari or expedition, and is seldom home.

As it happens, it’s not Brad’s dogs we spend the night with, but adventurer Kingsley Holgate and expedition team member Bruce Leslie.


Holgate Expedition on their way up to Ethiopia


What a night. Kingsley Holgate is an absolute delight to be around. He is large in presence and even larger in personality. Copious measures of Captain Morgan loosens the tongue and we discuss parts of Africa we love most, talking deep into the night about adventures, past and present. Bruce has us all in hysterics, recounting stories about expedition members and their antics, and then in horror when he opens up about his stabbing out at sea on the horn of Africa by Somalie pirates. All these experiences blow me away – the lengths the team will go to to really explore Africa is incredible.

“Isn’t life a great adventure” Kingsley writes in my book as we get ready to leave Arusha.

It certainly is.

Two more days of dusty driving though the back roads of Tanzania and we pass through Tabora, and onto Katavi National Park.

Katavi is one of Tanzania’s least visited national parks but is probably one of the most wonderful. It doesn’t exude grandeur on the same scale as the Serengeti but when you’re there, you feel like you’re the only person in the park. Sadly, we had to push on and only had time to drive straight through, passing by the notorious hippo pool next to the road. There was more water here than on my previous visit where the hippos were so tightly packed, one couldn’t see the water at all…


Onward to Lake Shore Lodge, my Tanzanian home away from home.

My route was largely the same as my trip in 2013. For a map of this section click here.

The Lure of the Lake & Nairobi Nightmares – Naivasha & Nairobi, Kenya

10th – 15th August 2013

Following my crash I spent a week on Lake Naivasha at Mikey’s place. He’s got a nice big farm-style place just on the lake and it’s the perfect place to just sit and crunch through admin – mostly phone calls and emails with my insurers, all of us scratching our heads as what to do with the Beast.  I don’t think they deal with too many accidents of this magnitude… in Africa…

Sundowners turn into Bonfire BendersI spent most evenings with the Naivasha crowd, hanging out at the Carnelley’s restaurant, which was the start of a downward spiral weight wise! Chrissy has that kitchen churning out the most amazing culinary delights, there is no point trying to resist… “Small Lake” soon became a favourite spot for watching flamingos whilst sipping on gin, watching the sun go down followed by gatherings round bonfires, talking late into the night and fending off territorial hippos. I got to spend a bit more time with the hilarious and fun-filled Andy and Fleur, taking boats onto the water for day trips out to remote spots along the lake. Breaking down with Mikey at the helm only added to the adventure. Everyone was so welcoming, and I got to know the entire Carnelley clan – Tommy, Annie (Lovat’s parents) who own and live at Camp Carnelley’s, Mwezi (Lovat’s sister), a beautiful bohemian nymph who’s recently left a life in Zanzibar to live back in Naivasha, and her boys Tristan and Arlo who are rough and tough little blonde headed boys.

Camp Carnelleys

Mikey and Marley at Small Lake

Day out at Hippo Point

Karen & Chrissy

Mike and Lovat recovered the Beast from the flower farm to Mike’s yard. Knowing the steering arm was broken, Mikey and I set off with a towing “A bar” (these boys know their thing so I just nod and go with the flow). We wired the A bar to the front of the Beast before Lovat arrived with his Land Cruiser. It took us the better part of an hour to turn the Beast around in such a small space – it’s heavy and the wheels kept turning the wrong way when Lovat was pushing it out in reverse. With brute force, tons of revving, wheel spinning and smoke, we finally got it rolling behind Lovat’s cruiser. Unfortunately, with all the strain on the A bar, secured only with a bit of wire, it eventually yanked my bull bar right off near Mike’s gate and the Beast rolled into a shallow ditch… We reversed the Beast out and Mikey brought two metal bars to turn the wheels manually. The last 300m of windy driveway I inched slowly forward, with Mikey and Lovat on each front wheel levering the tyres right and left. Just as we came through the gate Mike misplaced his bar, it slipped out, he flew backwards and put his back out… The very next pull, Lovat’s pipe slipped and cut a slice into his stomach. Moving the Beast from less than half a kilometer down the road has taken two hours!

Beware of helping me out folks. Karma’s not playing nice and chances are, you’ll get a nice slap in the chops for your trouble… Luke’s Probox had a small run in with a matatu the day after he rescued me from the accident scene, Mikey was rendered immobile and Lovat sliced himself open whilst moving the Beast.  Sorry boys!!

Beast off to Nairobi on the AA AmbulanceI managed to get most of the insurance process started and the recovery of the Beast back to Nairobi was arranged within the first 5 days. It took almost a full day to unload the Beast of all it’s boxes, unbolt the roof top tent, unscrew the awning and just about gut the entire thing in preparation for it’s trip to Nairobi. All safely stored in Mikey’s store room, I knew it would be a lot safer there than in a panel beater’s yard!

I sent the Beast off with a full tank of diesel, it didn’t have a drop left when I got it to the panel beaters…

15th – 22nd August 2013

Luke & Chloe’s wooden hideaway in Karen, Nairobi

I wasn’t feeling great and decided that it might be a good idea to follow the Beast to Nairobi and get checked over at a hospital in Karen. Luke was around as he was working with horses in the area, and was leaving for Nairobi the afternoon the Beast was collected, so I got a lift back with him. He was heading up to Meru that evening and so kindly offered his place to me for the following two days. He lives in a stunning little wooden hut in a small compound surrounded by trees and horse paddocks.

Two days later, Luke and Chloe were back at home and so I moved to Karen Camp down the road where I spent a miserable week dealing with insurance issues. The Beast had been taken to Toyota Nairobi who quoted me over 2.2 million KES (around £16,000 for repairs) which was completely ridiculous. Before yanking the Beast out of their clutches, I got their assessment and was pleased to hear that the axle and chassis were all good, which meant that the Beast could be repaired! I found another local garage in Karen used by many of the expats and got the Beast moved there instead, not before realising that it had been drained of almost 80 litres of fuel whilst sitting in their compound.

The horrors of Karen Camp in Nairobi

Karen Camp is a dump – do NOT bother going there, I was paying $10/day for the smallest, darkest room with no bedding (all my sleeping stuff was folded up in the roof top tent). For 3 days I was the only guest at the camp, and with not much to do in Nairobi, this was not the best part of my trip. Was super chuffed when Luke and Chloe got back from their trip up north and spent a great couple of nights with them, Chloe’s cousins Sean and Tanith, and their friend Haz – the red wine flowed and Que Pesa didn’t know what had hit it by the end of the night!

I had been given information for a good tour operator who was able to help me organise Gorilla Trekking permit in Uganda. This all came together nicely and, knowing I might not be able to continue my journey (at least not round Lake Victoria as planned), I hopped on a plane and flew to Uganda for some rafting and trekking. Not sad to see the back of Nairobi…

I Feel Like I’ve Been Hit By a Bus – Narok, Kenya


9th August 2013

I leave Camp Carnelley’s with a heavy heart. It reminds me a little of Kariba and I don’t feel like I’ve stayed long enough. Time is short though and today I head back towards Nairobi and turn off, bound for one of the greatest shows on earth… the wildebeest migration in the Masai Mara!

The journey down to Narok is straightforward and on good roads. Narok is a local African town; full of life with the comings and goings of daily safari operators.  It’s also the last stop before hundreds of kilometers of absolute wilderness so I fill up with diesel and grab a few essentials before my three day camp in the bush. I also manage to find a gas cyclinder and new regulator to fit my two plate stove, which I haven’t even cooked on yet.

I’m about 8kms outside of Narok in the middle of nowhere when I realise I’m headed to Talek.  Talek also leads to the Mara, but the route I intended on taking starts at another gate called Sekenani.  I have missed the turning just outside Narok. I’m pretty sure I’m on the wrong road but decide to consult my trusty GPS and guide book. With a few farms on my right I check ahead for a suitable farm road I can come off onto, to head back to Narok if necessary. I see one coming up in the distance. So I indicate, slow down, check mirrors, bus behind me coming full speed, move over into oncoming lane, start turning right and BAM. I get knocked sideways in my seat, there’s glass flying everywhere, I can’t see much as there’s just grey in front of me and things are flying up at my shattered windscreen. I feel the Beast crashing through a ditch, thank heavens I leave the steering and let it run it’s course. I try the brakes but they’ve failed. Eventually I come to a standstill, in a cloud of dust, on the right hand side of the road next to a farmer’s field. What the hell just happened? I look across to my right, and wedged in a tree and mangles in farmer’s fence is the bus…

2013.08.09LCAccident (4)I see an neat and official looking man open the door and get down from the steps. He must be guy in charge on the bus.

“What the hell were you trying to do, overtaking me whilst I was turning!”, I shout through the dust with my hands in the air. He shouts back at me and says I shouldn’t have turned.

There’s not point arguing such a stupid response.

I do a quick check. The windscreen is smashed but intact, my driver side window is completely out, my door and the area at my feet have caved in and has squeezed my legs against the gear stick… I’m bleeding. I can feel it on my face and neck and look down to see it running down my chest.

2013.08.09LCAccident (25)Suddenly I’m surrounded by local bus people. I feel hands prodding my head and reach up only to be given a bloody tissue by one helpful mama who’s trying to mop up the blood on my head. The man in charge from the bus comes over and tells me that he has phoned the police and that I should go to hospital. I want to stay with the Beast. There is no way I can leave it here, with it’s windows and windscreen smashed out, and expect to come back later and find anything left. I have heard horror stories of local people taking things from crash sites before the bodies have even been taken away by ambulance – I will be cleaned out.

Crap man! What the hell do I do now? Bus man is telling me that he will get a taxi to take me to hospital. There is no way I’m going to the local hospital in god-forsaken Narok! I’m 150kms away from Nairobi, how long will it take an ambulance to get here? Do I need an ambulance? I check my head. There is a massive bump on the right side, probably hit the window or door… As far as I can tell, it’s the cut on this bump that is bleeding, and after a quick pat-down, I realise everything else is ok.

2013.08.09LCAccident (9)

I try to phone my friend Boris in Diani to ask him what I should do but he is on a fishing trip in the middle of nowhere, so I’m not holding out too much hope that he’ll get back to me anytime soon. Maybe I should phone Lovat? Then I remember that Lovat had to bail Alex out of trouble the day before. He had driven to Narok to rescue Alex’s safari truck with a bust gear box, and recovered it all the way back to Naivasha… He’s the last person I want to inconvenience. Luke seemed like a sensible guy with lots of contacts and, as he’s the last person I was in contact with this morning, I decide to call him in Naivasha and see what he thinks I should do.

“Luke, it’s Shara from last night. I’ve had a bit of an incident with a bus and don’t know who to call or what to do”.

“Pole (sorry) man, how bad is the car and where are you?”

“A bus hit my side, I think it’s a write off… I’m 8kms outside Narok on the road to Kisii”

“I’m going to make a few calls. Are you hurt?”

“Head’s bleeding but I’m ok.”

“Hang tight, I’m on my way.”

With that, I put down the phone and have a little cry…

Luckily I have all my paperwork in a bag just behind my seat and so I get my insurance papers out and call the company in the UK. They clearly aren’t much use but tell me to call them once I get to hospital. I gather all my belongings in the front of the Beast and shove everything I can see, everything from the glove compartment and under the seats into a cotton bag, before phoning Mike Diesbecq in Naivasha, He tells me Luke has left and is on his way.

2013.08.09LCAccident (18)

A well dressed mama comes to my window. She puts her hand on my arm and tells me that she is the owner of the farm next to us and that she will look after me. She shows me that she has posted her three sons around my car to make sure that they keep an eye on things for me. She asks if I want to go to hospital and that she will take me and her sons will stay with the car. I tell her I’m ok and that my friend is on his way. I have another little cry.

I get a text from Luke to let me know that he has managed to get hold of a friend who lives in the area and they are sending a mechanic to me as soon as possible. I decide to get out the car and have a look around. My door is completely crunched in and there’s no budging it, so I climb over and get out the passenger door. I take photos of the poor Beast, the damn bus, and the carnage from the point of impact to where the vehicles both stand; strewn metal, severed plastic and crushed aloes.

The Beast is wounded… my door and front panel totally crumpled, bonnet buckled, front drivers wheel completely flat. All I can think about is the fact that my trip, that I’ve spent almost two years planning might be over.

2013.08.09LCAccident (5)

The police arrive after an hour and tell me to go to hospital. I tell them I’m waiting for my friend and don’t want to leave my vehicle. They put me in the back seat of their car and take a statement from me. Jack the mechanic arrives with a small team and they go to work assessing the damage. They remove the flat tyre and put my spare one on.

Not long after the police arrive from 8kms down the road, Luke arrives all the way from Naivasha – he must have done some serious low flying to get to me this quickly. I run over, give him the biggest hug and have another cry… (that’s the last one I promise). He checks my head and we go over to the cops who are getting a statement from the bus driver. The police want me to come back to the police station in Narok and they want to keep the Cruiser in for observation.

Luke jokes with me a few days later, saying that he was disappointed to see I wasn’t in worse shape as he was hoping to put his first aid skills to the test after doing a course the week before…  🙂

Luke argues with them.  As no one has been injured, we should be allowed to recover the Cruiser back to Naivasha instead of leaving it at the police station. He’s sure there will be nothing left of it if we do. The cops agree to us taking the Beast back that same day, but I need to go back to the station in Narok to do the paperwork.

I walk over to Kamal, one of the farm lady’s sons and quietly give him some money for the family to say thank you for their kindness. He looks at his fence and asks he for more money… I explain that I’m not liable for that damage. It’s the bus that has destroyed the fence, and therefore he should take that up with the bus company.

2013.08.09LCAccident (37)After replacing the flat tyre with the spare, Jack the mechanic starts the car and actually drives the Beast out and back onto the road. There’s talk about driving the Beast all the way back to Naivasha…! Really?

Almost immediately, the Beast comes to a halt. The steering arm, obviously hanging on my a thread, has snapped and has given way, leaving the steering wheel spinning freely. We manage to get a local tow truck out from Narok pretty quickly and leave Jack to sort that out for us whilst Luke takes me and Kamal to the police station in town.

The cop shop is up some back street over 4×4 rocky terrain. It’s a tiny corrugated iron hut no bigger than 5m by 3m and seats 2 policeman and their desks. Shelves hang onto the walls for dear life. There must be over 20 years worth of paper work, all yellow and bundled together, stacked high to the ceiling. The shelves bow under the weight. After about half an hour of photocopying, signing and stamping, I have my ‘abstact’ and we are free to go.

2013.08.09LCAccident (40)We head back towards the main road and meet the recovery truck as it’s coming into town. The Land Rover is crawling along at 2km/h with it’s front tyres literally off the ground under the weight of the Beast. It’s a funny sight, Luke and I had to laugh!  There is no way this vehicle is going to get the Beast back to Naivasha, 130kms away. We park near the petrol station and immediately draw a crowd of drama-hungry watu. As the window is gone and the Beast doesn’t lock, there is still the very real possibility of things growing legs, so Jack the mechanic is posted on the one side of the Beast and I watch the other. Luke heads off down the road to a group of trucks to look for a suitable one we could load the beast onto.  He comes back with a driver who is willing to do the trip for KES 25,000 (£180).  One logistical problem, how the hell do we get the Beast loaded onto the back of the truck?

Luke decides the best way would be to find an embankment high enough, park the truck underneath and roll the Beast off the embankment. Just our luck there is a place not far out of town with something that might work.

Luke had negotiated with the recovery truck driver on a price of KES15,000 but just as we are about to load the Beast, the driver wants another KES5,000. Typical. It’s getting pretty late and all I want is to get this Beast back to Naivasha. Despite Luke’s 15 minute rant at this guy, he doesn’t budge and I end up paying him KES20,000 (£150) for towing 10km.

We find the spot and, just our luck, the embankment is the perfect height. With the truck in position, an audience of watu, Jack driving, Luke yelling in Swahili, the recovery vehicle backs up and rolls the Beast onto the truck with few problems. It’s a snug fit and the Beast is slightly too long for the back so Luke and I head back into town to buy chains and locks to secure the tailgate which we can lift to around 45 degrees.



With the Beast firmly in place, Kamal (the farm lady’s son) offers to ride with the truck to Naivasha to keep an eye on my stuff.  We give them some money for dinner on the way and Luke and I head off back to Naivasha.

It’s dark now and we stop at each road block. At each one Luke tells the police to expect the truck and to let them though.  I have also given the driver a copy the accident abstract and a copy of my driver’s licence with a signed note saying I have authorised the recovery of my vehicle. The last thing I want is for the damn thing to be held up by the police. I’m in contact with Mike the whole way back to Naivasha and he’s waiting for us on the road, it’s 9:30pm.  We go to his neighbours Andy and Fleur and wait for the truck to come in.

2013.08.09LCAccident (52)It’s after 11pm when we get the call from the truck driver to say he’s down the road.  Another stroke of luck, Mike has a ramp on his flower farm, built for loading rally cars onto trucks – and that’s where we will unload the Beast.  The tailgate is slightly higher than the top of the ramp but we prop it up on bricks.  The Beast is still able to drive forwards, but without the steering wheel, the guys have to use poles and lever the front wheels to turn it wherever necessary, a slow and labourious process. We cover the Beast in my tarpaulin and I give Kamal some more money to say thank you, he asks for more, so Luke give him the jacket he’s wearing.

Mike lives in a big old farm house and has plenty of space to take me in for the night.  He offers to have me stay for as long as I need.

What a day!  And what amazing people these guys are. No matter how many times I thank him, Luke might never realise the extent of my gratitude. I am humbled by his kindness; coming to the rescue of someone he barely knows.  I guess, after living in London for so many years, with everyone far too busy with their own lives, I just didn’t expect that someone would go to that extent to help me out. I could so easily have been stuck on the side of that road for hours with no help, possibly spending the night in Narok (where there are no muzungu hotels), potentially having all my stuff stripped from the Beast, I might even have slept in the Beast until I’d sorted myself out – that would have taken days!

But that wasn’t the case, thanks to this legendary and kind person, who shrugs the whole ordeal off like he’d do it all over again tomorrow. Luke Davey, you are a saint!

Absolutely exhausted and too tired to even contemplate having a shower to wash my matted bloody hair and body, I go straight to sleep.

Taming the Beast, UK

After over a year of searching for a trusty 4×4 that would meet the demands of an epic adventure such as this, I stumbled upon this beast of a Land Cruiser, basking in the Surrey sun. With 4 new hard core takkie tyres for rough roads, leather seats and intercooler system for those long hot days in Mama Africa, and a built-in winch for getting out of sticky situations off the beaten track, it is perfect steed for overlanding and exactly what I was after.

Since then, the beast has spent many a day out in Hereford with the Land Cruiser guru that is Julian Voelcker, who has given it a full overhaul and has completely pimped it out ready for the journey that awaits.  An axle rebuild to withstand the weight of all our katunda, new brakes for dust billowing stops in front of unsuspecting persons or wildlife, new suspension for those ruts and corrugations and snorkel for swimming through rivers like an elephant. Much happiness and Land Cruiser love ensued following this purchase.