Biked: 165 K Elevation: 1,230 masl
Namanga – 3 K North of the Kenyan/Tanzanian border
It was a long ride day today of 165 kilometers. We started the day near the Ngong Hills on the south side of Nairobi with a long 10-kilometer police escorted tight convoy. Due to the rolling hills and traffic we had to go fairly slow, so it took an hour. We passed along the west side of Kenya National Park. It took another hour before we were out of the suburbs of Nairobi. Then the landscape was a combination of shrub land and pastureland. With the combination of lower elevation and less rainfall, there is considerably less crop agriculture south of Nairobi compared with north of Nairobi. On both sides, however, I was struck by how much charcoal production there is. Nylon sacks originally used to handle 50 kilograms of grain would be packed full with charcoal production and stacked by the side of the road for sale. I saw one sign for Eco-charcoal, which is supposed to be charcoal produced in an environmentally sustainable way. It would be interesting to know what that means.
We got back on the main North-South road at the town of Kajiado. The entire route today was paved; however there was a 10-kilometer section of road construction. There were no flowing streams today. Except for small plots along low areas, there was very limited crop agriculture. I was somewhat surprised to see as much fencing as I did. I only saw one greenhouse complex. It was on the far left hand side of the road. On the right hand side of the road was a herd of wild zebra. I also saw Thomson Gazelle numerous times today. A couple riders sighted giraffe.
We entered Maasai country today. They are traditionally semi nomadic cattle herders, and generally do not like to have their pictures taken.
At one dry streambed site there was a group of Maasai with livestock getting water which was being pumped out of a well with a diesel engine.
Boy, it seems as if we blew through Kenya rather quickly, but counting back I see we have been here for 13 days. Early tomorrow we enter Tanzania.
The highlight of the day was seeing Mt. Kilimanjaro in the clouds off in the distance. I was relieved to see it still has snow and probably ice on top, but I am scared that may go in my lifetime. A recent Kenyan Daily Nation newspaper article on global climate change talks of more severe droughts and more torrential downpours. Yikes.
Biked: 0 K Elevation: 1,661 masl
Nairobi Kenya – Rest Day at Indaba Campground
Today is a rest day and in this blog I will give some reflections on my experiences in Nairobi, both from today and in the past. I first visited Nairobi 30 years ago, in 1979. At that time my sister and I were Peace Corp Volunteers in Eastern Zaire. We met our parents in Nairobi, as then it was difficult to get into Zaire. My sister saw Nairobi as amazing white, lots of wazungus. Our parents saw it as pretty black. I suppose it sort of depended on where one is coming from. I next visited Nairobi several times in the late 1980s while my wife, Hedera, and I worked on a USAID agricultural project in Somalia. A brief visit in 1994 was followed with the MSID program site visit in 2002.
Over those 30 years, Nairobi has been the commercial hub and center of East and Central Africa. The Bounty has had only 3 rulers: Jomo Kenyatta, Daniel Arap Moi, and now President Mwai Kibaki, so it has been stable. Nairobi’s skyline has shot up and many new modern buildings, yet the original downtown marketplace remains.
30 years ago, if you wanted to call international you could only do it at the downtown central post office. Now cell phones are everywhere.
30 years ago, you had to change money at only government banks and it took multiple forms and much time to complete a transaction. Now there are ATM’s scattered throughout the city and suburbs. Obtaining shillings is a breeze (or should be a breeze) if you have a credit card.
30 years ago, it was not difficult to walk across major streets and it was difficult to walk across major streets. It was also difficult to find petrol and diesel. When you did find them they were sold out of jerry cans. Now modern gas stations are frequent. 30 years ago, there was no internet. 30 years ago, there was virtually no fast food, except street venders having sambosa’s and chai. Today I and a couple TDA riders had pizza from a chain that offers free delivery and all you can drink Coke products for about $6 U.S.
30 years ago eating chicken was a special treat. Now there are fast food chicken joints advertizing, “we’re ‘kuku’ about chicken.”
There is more obesity evident today. I certainly noticed it at the pizza place we ate at.
Evident today, perhaps even more evident than 30 years ago, because it is more expansive are the slums like Kibera, but also evident today is a sizeable affluent educated middle class. Nairobi today is vibrant. Perhaps more vibrant then I expected.
Biked: 95 K Elevation: 1,661 masl
Nairobi Kenya – Indaba Enterprises Campground
We have passed through Nairobi and are now in the Southern Suburbs of Karen, which is named after the Karen Blixen, in or near the Ngong Hills.
Today we traveled about 110 kilometers. Most of it was on the A2 highway coming into Nairobi from the north. It amazes me that over 50 bicycles can move successfully through this much traffic and this many people without any major incidences.
Traffic on the A2 was heavy and relatively fast since entering Kenya, and for the next 6 countries, which is the remainder of the route to Cairo, we will be riding on the left side, not the right side. From Moyale to Isiolo on the grained and rocky roads it really did not matter where on the road one was. You just had to find the sweet spot. Since Isiolo, it is best to stay left.
Today we passed several large tea and coffee plantations as well as the big Del Monte Pineapple facility near Thika.
There continued to be many small fields or ‘chambas’, with various crops at various growth stages depending on water access.
We stopped near the town of Thika were there are a series of very beautiful waterfalls. At Thika our road became 4 lanes which helped with traffic issues. Shortly after Thika all TDA riders congregated and we started a 30 plus kilometer tight convoy into and through Nairobi. With a police escort and Kenyan bikers assisting, we were able to flow reasonably smoothly, yet it took 2 ½ hours.
Indaba Enterprises is a South African company contracted by TDA to supply 2 truck support vehicles for the ride. The original 4 Indaba drivers who have been with us since Cairo (Wimpie, Jansie, Rannelle, and George) will all be replaced here in Nairobi with 4 new Indaba staff. Indaba specializes in transporting tour group in Eastern and Southern Africa, and they have facilities here in Nairobi and in South Africa.
We are also losing Randy, the TDA tour director, for the first ½ of the tour. Randy will take a short break then do the logistics and help direct a new TDA tour through South America which starts later this summer.
A quote to remember Randy by is “remember, a bad day on the bike is still better than a good day at the office.”
Biked: 110 K Elevation: 1,100 masl
South of Sagana – Sagana River Campground; One Days Ride North of Nairobi
110 kilometers traveled today. All of the ride was on tarmac, and it was more down than up. The wind and heat were not a problem. We are camped on the Sagana River at an elevation of about 1,100 masl. It was another fascinating day of agriculture. Upon leaving Nanyuki to the South, we passed mainly fenced pastureland. I suspect the soils here are less fertile or have poorer water holding capacity than the soils north of Nanyuki. At about the turnoff to Nyeri we started seeing more cropland, but not the vast slightly slopping wheat fields like yesterday. Instead there were smallholders’ paddocks on sometimes seriously sloped hillsides. Rarely would you see a monocropped field. Instead you would see fields with banana trees, mango trees, coffee and tea trees, corn, cassava, cowpea, potatoes with vegetables like tomatoes, carrots, onions, and cabbage all interplanted. These small fields are pretty much all hand worked. We passed numerous milk collection points and several dairy processing centers, but no big (meaning more than 20 cows) dairy operations. We also passed one larger coffee plantation.
Near our campsite I stopped and talked with a woman farmer for 45 minutes. She just moved back to the area from Mombasa after her husband died. She had some money to farm and has family in the area who farm, but you could tell she was an innovator. She pumped me for ideas. She buys water to irrigate vegetable crops prior to the rains coming in order to get a jump on the market. She said it is currently relatively dry and that the last two big rainy seasons in April have been poor. She uses manure, TSP and DAP in the hills, not broadcast. On her melons she sprays an insecticide to control insects. Her efforts have not been all that successful.
The highlight of the day, besides a swim in the Sagana River at the end of the day, was a “photo op” at the sign just south of Nanyuki marking the equator.
Elevation at the equator was listed as 6,389 feet above sea level. Total mileage covered on this bike trip since Cairo has now surpassed 5,000 kilometers. There are still miles and miles to go, and I looking forward to it.
Biked: 71 K Elevation: 1,850 masl
Nanyuki, Kenya – Sportsman’s Arms Hotel & Campground – 2 Ks North of the Equator
Today’s ride from Isiolo to Nanyuki, a distance of only 71 kilometers, was spectacular form an agricultural perspective. Already at Isiolo there was more field crop agriculture evident. At 1,520 masl we began the climb to the highlands around Mt. Kenya. From Isiolo one can begin to see Mt. Kenya, when the clouds are favorable. Rainfall events must be picking up as we actually crossed a flowing stream. Looking south from Isiolo one could see the golden fields of what is known as the white highlands. For a distance of 20 kilometers from Isiolo to the Meru turnoff we gained 750 meters in elevation. The next 10 kilometers toward Nanyuki we gained another 500 meters in elevation. At times it was a deceptive climb. It looked like one was going downhill, but actually it was a 3 to 5% incline. Kenyans on bicycles loaded with bags of potatoes, onions, and other produce would come flying down that slope as we would wonder why it was so tiring a ride up what appeared to be downhill.
As we climbed we entered the vast wheat fields of the White Highlands. Tractors and agricultural businesses were evident. The fields were machine planted and machine harvested. Some of the fields had been harvested, but most had not. In one field there were 3 New Holland Combines harvesting wheat. These fields were as impressive as one would see in North-West Minnesota or North Dakota. Weeds were controlled with herbicides, and tracks through some fields indicated a fungicide was probably sprayed. Not all the fields were wheat. There were also impressive fields of canola, again which would rival anything we would grow in the states. Absent, however, were any obvious huge grain storage facilities.
At one point today we topped 2600 masl then we had a nice descent in to Nanyuki at about 1850 masl. At that elevation we passed many (15 or so) huge greenhouse complexes which are typically trucked to the Nairobi airport and exported to Europe. We also passed many farms with specialty crops like lima beans, field peas, and potatoes. Less obvious, but still present, were Khat or myra tree plantings.
By chance at one point I passed an ongoing agriculture field day sponsored by the Cereal Growers Association. Wheat and sunflower varieties were labeled in English as to recommended elevations at which to plant. Some field equipment was on display.
All in all it was one of the most fascinatingly diverse agricultural days of this trip so far. Also, it was a good short ride on pavement and a much needed recovery day for me, in spite of the early climb.
Biked: 87 K Elevation: 1,520 masl
Isiolo – Rangeland Hotel and Campground, 7 K South of Isiolo
If yesterday was brutal, today was even more brutal. We only had 87 kilometers to ride today, with the promise of the last 10 kilometers on pavement. However, by about 9:30 a.m. – approximately 30 kilometers into the day’s ride, I was basically shot even though I was walking a lot. I was overheating and could not seem to cool. I walked up on a group of TDA riders who had stopped as Carola, one of “the Flat Queens,” had another flat. They could tell I was pretty stuffed. I sat on a rock and baked. Taryn poured some water on my head, which helped. There were still riders behind me and the TDA staff sweep as well. I walked on, and rode some, and then walked some more. Carola walked a ways with me until and I told her to go on, as the sweep would pick me up and call me in so a vehicle would come back and get me. She rode on after setting me on a rock in the shade. EFI (riding Every Fantastic Inch) looked like it was ending for me. At that moment, if the truck had come by, I would have gotten on.
One of the morning wake-up songs on the TDA truck radio at breakfast was stuck in my mind. It goes something like “When you think you’ve had too much of this life, well hang on…And everybody hurts sometimes. So, hold on, hold on…” I think the song is “Everybody Hurts” by REM.
After a bit of time resting on the rock, I rode some more and walked some more. A couple of riders passed and then came Erin, today’s morning sweep. “I’m going pretty slow,” I said. She said, “Take your time, we’ve got all day.” Eventually we made it to a Coke stop at Arches Point, which is a Kenyan military camp. There, a number of TDA riders were taking a break. A few went on, and one was going to have the lunch truck come back to pick him up. After about a 45 minute rest, Tom and I took off together. Tom, who is from England, is TDA’s youngest rider this year at age 18. Our goal was to make it to the lunch truck by 1:00 p.m., after which time they pack up and pick up slow riders – like we were today. We made it to the lunch truck, at which point we again rested for an additional 45 minutes. We decided to try to ride on. The after-lunch sweep was Erik, and he rode with us. A long story (including a fall and lots of encouragement from Tom), but we made it to Isiolo.
I had a real desire to arrive in Isiolo. In February 2002 I visited Isiolo as part of an MSID site visit with a team of 5 or 6 faculty members from the University of Minnesota. MSID stands Minnesota Studies in International Development. It allows undergraduate and graduate students from the University of Minnesota or other universities an opportunity for a semester, 2 semesters, or a full-year study aboard experience. I was totally impressed with the quality of experiences students were obtaining through the MSID program.
I was also very impressed with Chip Peterson, the MSID director, and team leader. He was a hard working Peace Corps Kennedy Kid from the early 1960s, and previous to that an outstanding swimmer at the University of Minnesota. A real inspiration.
Anyway, we did an MSID site visit in 2002 to Isiolo, and at that time, coming from Nairobi and the south I thought Isiolo was at the end of the world.
I so wanted to make it to Isiolo by bicycle from the north – the other end of the world. I did, but at the end of the day I could not hold food in. It was coming out both ends. Truly not pretty, and I will spare you the details. Minnesotans are known to say ‘well, it could have been worse,’ but today, well, I am not so sure.
Tomorrow promises to be an easier day. It will be all pavement and shorter. There will be a climb but we have already climbed to 1,520 masl at Isiolo. By sundown I again crashed.
(Not in original audio-blog: By far this was my hardest day. I suspect I had some degree of heat stroke by about 9:30 a.m. Fortunately in the afternoon there was some cloud cover. Yesterday’s dehydration carried on through today. Violent eruptions from either end is a very accurate description…)
Biked: 87 K Elevation: 850 masl
Bush camp along road north of Isiolo
We are maybe one days ride from Isiolo. Brutal sums up the day. Absolutely brutal. Because of our low elevation last night, the evening never really cooled off and I had a hard time sleeping. We only had 87 kilometers to travel today, but the roads continue to be rocky, gravely, and sandy. My body was sore and my health could be better. I had a hard time maintaining any sort of speed across the bumps and once slowed it was hard to have any advantage of wind cooling my body. I felt somewhat unstable on the bike and resigned myself to walking the sandiest and rockiest parts.
The 87 kilometer took me over 9 hours to complete. Do the math and that is an incredibly slow pace. I was one of the last to finish. I believe the sun and heat was taking a toll on me.
One of the challenges for me, and everybody, on riding this type of road is to be able to find the “sweet spot” – to be able to look ahead and see which path or rut has the least sand or rough rock to power through. Sometimes there are only two ruts or paths. Other times there are four or more. One does not want to spend too much time wandering back and forth instead of going forward, but one does want to keep on the sweet spot when possible. This is more so true for one on a fixed frame bike, as opposed to a mountain bike with front wheel suspension. Those with suspension can flow more smoothly over the bumps.
In any case, it was a rough day for me. After the ride I felt sick but did manage to drink two cups of soup. Dinner however was another story. I had no desire to eat. Instead I went to bed early (by 7:00p.m.). Our elevation tonight is about 850 masl and is has fortunately cooled slightly.
One more day’s ride on these rough roads until we get to Isiolo. I look so forward to Isiolo.
There was no crop agriculture today. Just Savanna bush, scattered herds of cattle, goats, and camels.
Biked: 97 K Elevation: 580 masl
Laisamis – camped near secondary school
Today we traveled at 97 kilometers from the volcanoes at Marsabit. Our current elevation is 580 masl, so we had a good descent out of Marsabit, but the rough rocky gravely road meant a slow day for me. Typically we start riding by 7:30 and today I finished at 3:30p.m. That meant a lot of sun and wind exposure. The temperature was 40 degrees. For really the first time, I finished all my water prior to reaching a Coke stop near the finish.
Once out of Marsabit there was no row crop agriculture. For the day we only passed a couple of small villages. We did pass numerous herds of cattle and groups of women and girls carrying milk to one of the villages. Fascinating.
The soils appear rocky and sandy. The road was comprised of rock, sand, and gravel and was very corrugated, making for a difficult ride. There were scattered shrubs and acacia trees but no grass to speak of.
Off in the distance we could see various mountains, and at one point I thought I saw Mount Kenya, but it approached much too quickly. I expect when we do first see Mount Kenya the top will be in the clouds, especially if we first see it later in the day.
The Kenyan people here are very friendly, and eager to greet us with a “jambo” or “karibu” followed by a “una enda wape?” sometimes all in English. Often they would say or indicate “no picture” and I would say okay or “sawa sawa”. Then they would say ”okay, photo”.
The people are ornately dressed with lots of head ornaments and necklace beads. They remind me some of the Maasai people, but they are distinctly different.
Tonight we are camped on the grounds of a secondary boarding school. The TDA director, Randy, gave a presentation to about 150 or more students in the evening and gave the school master some pens, pencils, and cash. It was a nice gesture.
([Not in original audio-blog: Early in the morning I had a bout of diarrhea. I went over to the latrine at the school. At about 5:00 a.m. students started arriving in their classrooms to study. I walked into several of them, just looking around. In one room there were two posters on otherwise barren walls. One poster was the periodic table. The other poster was an advertisement for an Oxford University Press book on ‘Climate Change’. Here in close to the middle of nowhere, students are exposed to global climate change information. What is the take-home lesson here?)
Biked: 0 K Elevation: 1,340 masl
Rest Day – Marsabit – Marsabit Kenyan Wildlife Service Camp and National Park
We had a needed rest day today. Laundry, bike cleaning and a trip to the ATM machine at a bank in town took all morning.
Queued to use the internet with other TDA riders, then after lunch of pilaf rice, beans, black-current Fanta, and chai, I wandered the market area.
In the late afternoon we had a brie or cookout. TDA staff started a charcoal grill and the riders were responsible for purchasing food from the market to cook. I had bananas, a mango, cooked onion, a potato and a nice slab of beef. The beef section was some loin and rib from cut with an ax on a wooden block.
Relative to what we have come through recently, Marsabit appears very prosperous. No doubt it is due to the elevation, good Basaltic or volcanic soils, and unique microclimate created by the volcanoes which rise from the otherwise desolate landscape.
Here in town the homes are spread out. It is common to see papaya and mango trees and some vegetables growing in the fenced areas around the homes.
There are lots of livestock here and many butchers in the market.
I saw much more white corn than sorghum or wheat at the market, a good indication of more rainfall – again associated with the volcano we are on.
Kenyans make a paste out of the white corn called “ugali”. It is typically eaten with a meat and vegetable sauce. I ate a lot of ugali when I was in the Peace Corps in Eastern Zaire, although there the ugali was made out of the roots of the cassava but I have seen it often in Ethiopia, and again here in Marsabit.
The chai here is very good. It typically comes with lots of sugar, and supposedly here in Marsabit with camel’s milk. I do not know for sure if it is camel’s milk, but I do know it was good.