Osadabwa's Retro-Africa Ride Report: 2004 - 2005

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by Osadabwa, Feb 13, 2015.

  1. Osadabwa

    Osadabwa Don't be Surprised

    Joined:
    Mar 19, 2009
    Oddometer:
    622
    Location:
    Nairobi, Kenya
    September 14, 2004 – South Horr, Northern Kenya

    We made no records leaving Maralal. The place is too easy going and cool in the mornings. From the Camel Campsite, there’s a nice view of the low hills and thorn trees, Samburu red clothes walking through the early light trailing camels. We chatted away the breakfast, taking two cups of tea with our bacon and sausage and egg and pancake. I bought some ugly beads to dangle on Rosie for protection against the coming unknowns (Samburu juju), we bought petrol and water, fixed 620’s leaky fuel line and took off around noon.

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    Above: Descending into the desert on a track made of stone

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    Above: Along the way

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    Above: Riding down

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    Above: The overlook

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    Above: Map check

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    Above: Map check and beaded juju

    Late or not, the day kicked off in spectacular fashion. Right up into the forest we went, higher and higher into the cold, but we descended rapidly, began taking in whiffs of desert air, thorns reappeared, dust again – this after an hour of riding down steep, stony grades – we stopped down in the heat for a snack and not long afterward reached Baragoi. This little dot on the map had petrol in plenty and we stocked up, not knowing for sure what we’d find up ahead. The town was crawling with a mix of people – Turkana, Samburu, Somali, Rendille – all beads and rough expressions. Two guys kept trying to get me to give them tobacco in exchange for me taking their picture, but instead I invested in a Coke and moved down the road.

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    Above: Petrol stop

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    Above: Some B/Ws

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    Above: 620 on the move

    Once past Baragoi, the scenery only became more spectacular. Dry gullies and high hills, open and empty and dull gray – leaden trees, infinitely dense stones. Soon it began to crash toward evening. The light was low for hours it seemed while the cactus appeared and the desert jackal; the eroded hills took spiky shape upon the horizon. We flew along a straight stretch and up a rise to find a white stone with the letters TUUM and an arrow pointing to a mountain in the distance. Later, an odd old metal post box with faint white and red lettering read “Desert Rose”. Mysterious stuff.

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    Above: Straight line road

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    Above: TUUM sign on approach to South Horr

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    Above: Desert Rose signpost

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    Above: An actual Desert Rose

    The canyon engulfed us then. We descended into it on the stony ground and were swallowed up then sent up and down gullies and small eroded berms. The sun was honey on the horizon above, cutting through the dust with white fingers, leaving hard shadows of the trees across the path. Samburu were on the move with goats and cattle, making their way back home for the night.

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    Above: Riverbeds and cactus

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    Above: Cactus bud detail

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    Above: Closing in on South Horr

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    Above: South Horr approach

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    Above: Mysterious afternoon

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    Above: S. Horr Valley

    The first structures you find in South Horr are stick hovels wearing rubbish skins – Samburu homes. Tall riverine trees lined the dry riverbed and the sharp canyon walls hovered darkly above us. At the campsite, all was transformed by the ugly sight of an overlander truck and 20 Dutch tourists. At a respectable distance, an equal number of Samburu women sat rattling camel bells and showing their beadwork. It reminded me of an adolescent dance with the girls on one side and the boys on the other, carefully leaving the center of the dance floor empty.

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    Above: Katy by night

    Despite the aesthetic let-down, we pitched up, showered our bodies and lubed the bike chains. As darkness fell, we were escorted past the light of the overlander into the dry streambed and down a dusty street to a small Hoteli where a paraffin lamp sat outside between a mud wall and a thatch wall. We devoured chapatis and goat stew and chatted the evening away with Hussein, a 13 year old Somali boy. He was surprisingly easy to talk to for his age, witty and wise. A true anomaly in these parts. Walking back to the tents, we checked to see what football was on at the local movie house, though better of it and hit the sack.

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    Above: Hussein and 620 over goat stew
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  2. Osadabwa

    Osadabwa Don't be Surprised

    Joined:
    Mar 19, 2009
    Oddometer:
    622
    Location:
    Nairobi, Kenya
    September 15 (or thereabouts), 2004 – Desert Rose, Kenya

    What a day! We liked the area around S. Horr so much we decided to spend a day exploring rather than blast straight for the lake. After tracking down the bewiskered, rotund little Catholic priest in South Horr (the only man proported to have fuel for sale) to confirm that gas was available, we left for Tuum around the North side of Mt. Ng’iro.

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    Above: South Horr awakes

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    Above: S. Horr Mist

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    Above: KANU Jogoo logo near Hussein’s shop

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    Above: Milk gourd

    The track was sandy to start with but not the deadly kind of sand that kicks you off your bike, so we were zipping along. We found another little white signpost to TUUM and followed the little double track down along the mountainside on stony, thorny sandy earthy. It followed the mountians north and eventually cut due west along the top where we climbed steadily and descended to the other side. It all looked like something out of a Cormac McArthy book with the vast, empty maliciousness of the country.

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    Above: Portraits

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    Above: tough country

    Stopping to take in the view, we were approached by a local taxi – an old 1960s Land Rover – that was bumping over the rocks and sand with one man on the fender an danother on the roof under a pile of ratty mattresses. They stopped to check us out and vice-versa. I noted inside that two men carried AK-47s, though one of them at least tried to conceal his from me as I neared the driver’s side window. I asked if I should carry a gun out here and everyone said “no it’s very safe here… yhou can even sleep out in the open and nobody would bother you”. I doubted that very much, but let him get away with his rather narrow use of the word “bother”.

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    Above: Adventuring

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    Above: The taxi cometh

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    Above: Me chatting with the guys

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    Above: Retro portrait

    The riding was a grin-spinner. We were loving it. Toward Tuum we sped. It’s a hillside town of sorts tucked under the West flank of the mountain, and we entered right past the Catholic mission and parked in front of the first shop we saw. Out front, three Samburu guys and a Turkana or two sat chatting, one with his AK-77 proppped agains the wall. Outside the awning, a small group of young Turkana girls in black with high neck beads and sun-exposed breasts, the dreadlocked Mohawk and all, were selling tobacco shreds. We bought Cokes and proceeded to watch the dust settle. I was trying to figure out some way to take photos, but my few attempts were unsuccessful. I really wanted a closeup of this young Samburu boy’s earring – a thing more like a plug the size of a cigar that had “Al-Habib Retailers’ written on it. Classic. He didn’t like the idea of me snapping him, though… I think his friends discouraged it.

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    Above: At the Tuum shop

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    Above: Footwear

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    Above: Outside Tuum

    After two Cokes and some biscuits we rode our way out of Tuum. The road bent along the backside of the mountain and ran straight and smooth through a beautiful yellow short grass plain before turning toward the hills again. We passed an airstrip and descended into a small village called Wosso Rongai where the locals directed my gaze up the steep mountainside: to our surprise, the Desert Rose was there. We thought we were miles away, but only a few hundred meters separated us. Mind you, these were vertical meters…

    The road to the Desert Rose climbed straight up the mountainside. No shit, straight up. I was standing there in the village with this eccentric looking Samburu guy in his red robes, red singlet, and all manner of beadwork pointing and saying – are you SURE that’s the road? I knew we were in for it.

    We puttered back to the washout under the most beautiful trees, past a couple of women and a herd of goats to the base of the climb. Then, 620 leading, we began our ascent. It was all stones and dust, wheels just spun, the front tire hopped around, it was like trials riding, but unlike the last steep trail down in Namibia at the Kunene River, I was nailing it. Rosie and I just plodded along, head down, sucking in the air, on the verge of giving out – this was steep, very steep – and crisscrossed with stone steps as long as the bike. I was clearing it all thanks to the lower gear ratio I’d switched to in RSA. 620 on the other hand was struggling. He was stalling Katy, and before we knew it he’d pitched her over on her side. Once I walked back down the road to give him a boost and found the bike upside down in the trail. He was suffering from the same problem I had early on – bad gearing. He didn’t have a low enough gear to putter along, and couldn’t control his heavy bike at speed with that incline and uneven footing. For awhile I though he might advocate for going back, but knackered as he was, he pushed ahead and we crested the hilltop. But man were we in for a shock.

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    Above: The Desert Rose Ascent

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    Above: Knackered!

    Despite the decrepit looking signpost and the harrowing road situation, and despite it being in the middle of bloody nowhere, it turned out that the Desert Rose is not some weird little eco campsite… it’s a 5 Star Luxury Lodge! I was standing in the parking lot wondering what the hell we’d gotten into when this incredibly beautiful woman appears: Kenyan Indian girl, thin, severe-eyed… stunning… like something out of a mirage! I figured she had to be the Desert Rose the place was named after.

    Maybe so, but she was a tough one. She brought us into the lodge, a magnificent thing, perched on the mountain overlooking the valley. There were no guests there (the last had been Angelina Jolie filming a bit of Tomb Raider!), so we hoped she’d let us camp. She agreed… but we nearly fainted when we heard the price: she wanted $80 apiece! She left us awhile to think about it, but it was clear we were stuck. The climb had shaken us up and tired us out and wild bulls couldn’t have forced us to retrace our steps just then, so we bargained with her and mostly lost. For $60 per person, we were able to pitch tents on the Helipad. We could use the pool, and have a hot bath in one of the one-of-a-kind $10,000 hand carved wooden bathtubs.

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    Above: Our $60 Campsite… value for money at least

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    Above: 620 pimpin’ at the Desert Rose


    Cleaned up, we chilled out beside our tents and listened to the camel bells tinkle in the distance. The place is situated such that two towering stone monoliths frame the endless undulating plain far below. Simply fantastic. We sipped our tea, soaked in the afternoon sun and just watched the clouds change shape above us. Amazing.
  3. westfrogger

    westfrogger Moron with a bike

    Joined:
    Aug 13, 2010
    Oddometer:
    86
    Location:
    Bottom left corner of Africa
  4. Osadabwa

    Osadabwa Don't be Surprised

    Joined:
    Mar 19, 2009
    Oddometer:
    622
    Location:
    Nairobi, Kenya
    September 15, 2004 – Loiangalani, Kenya

    The sun just sat on the West side of Lake Turkana. I’m amazed. This place has always held a mythical place in my mind and now I’m here… incredible.

    The morning found me full of anxiety for the descent from the Desert Rose. Clouds were curling around the Southern mountain face, vanishing in the lower, hotter air, and the sun’s rays were slowly lighting up the mountain top. We quietly packed, ate our cold chapatis and bid our comely host adieu.

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    Above: The descent

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    Above: Down from Desert Rose

    Fortunately for us, the descent wasn’t as bad as we’d feared and we were at the bottom in no time, free of brusies and battered bikes. The ride through the previous evening’s vista was lovely and easy – apart from some rocky climbs – and we sprinted back over known territory to South Horr. It was striking how ordinary the stretch seemed in the harsh light of an average day.

    In S. Horr, the Italian priest who promised us fuel had vanished to Baragoi and left nobody in charge of the petrol. That was that. And, like the optimists we are, we decided to go ahead anyway, stopping first at Hussein’s mom’s diner for mandazi and chai with honey of course, knowing that if the other priest in Loiangilani didn’t have fuel, we’d be living there awhile. At the time, we didn’t know exactly what that would entail… now we do.

    I wisely reduced my tire pressure and we slid out of town. The valley spat us out and we left her behind in no time. Eventually, the stones reappeared and small hills rolled us under and over. It got rocky enough that I decided to put the air back up under the only sad little tree we could find near the road. The place seemed like a scene from some cliché’d Wild West movie where cowboys get a broken axle and are attacked by Injuns that come in hundreds from over the hilltop.

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    Above: Pressure check

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    Above: B/W

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    Above: Not a lot of shade out there

    At 3:00, I stopped to take a picture of Lake Turkana. The sun was in our faces and we sat atop a stone pile that made up the escarpment. Camels and sheep wandered toward us on the road. I had just said to 620 that all the complaints we’d heard about the road being stony were overblown but then we saw the light…

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    Above: Lake Turkana view and camels

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    Above: Inhospitable undersells it

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    Above: Seriously, it’s just stones

    I don’t know how far Loiangilani was from the first Lake Turkana viewpoint, but it seemed like a long way. The road was composed entirely of loose stones. We fought hard not to fall over. I could only putter along for 50 meters then I’d have to wait for my arms to regain their strength. 620 was doing no better but I’d say given the circumstances we both did as well as we could. In time, maybe 10 km at the outside, the large, loose rolling stone road ascended a bit to gravel and fist-sized stones. We were able more or less to ride then, rather than wallow.

    All along this unbelievably bleak, stoney Hell, from the escarpment to the Lake, nothing but hot black stones… there were Turkana. Here a herd-boy, there a woman carrying a bucket. And up under a tiny stone outcrop, an entire Adakar with thorn fence, Awis and all huddled. I simply can’t imagine living life the way the Turkana do.

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    Above: Stones and trees

    After another problem – namely 620 running out of fuel – I gave a naked, walking Turkana guy a liter of my water and we crested the final hill. Before us lay sandy Loiangilani. To my surprise, all the huts were constructed of thick grass. Little balls of thatch patched with cardboard and plastic made up the builings on the outskirts, all lit gold by the late light. We were too tired from the ride to care, so we found El Molo camp and paid the extortionate rates for camping because the place promised a spring-fed swimming pool. I swam a long time, scrubbing off the dust and weariness from my bones. Somebody brought us chapatis and goat, a coke or two too, and we lounged around writing and watching the stars till bed time. In the tent, the palms roared with the wind like jet planes leaving an aircraft carrier.
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  5. Osadabwa

    Osadabwa Don't be Surprised

    Joined:
    Mar 19, 2009
    Oddometer:
    622
    Location:
    Nairobi, Kenya
    September 16, 2004 – Kalacha, N. Kenya

    [For the five of you still reading… this day is one of my best memories of the trip. In a week, I hope to ride there again, but El Nino and conflicts with the wife’s calendar are making that look less likely…]

    Pen in hand just west of North Horr (if there’s a South Horr, there’s gotta be a North Horr, right?) thinking back over the endless pan of cracked, baked earth, after the long stretches of dust and sand and the hard stones of the Lake Turkana Escarpment. I’m amazed how much we’ve done in this one day!

    Up early, I snuck under the barbed wire fence to see a bit of Loiangalani without my hopeless “guide” there to tell me “no problem” or “feel at home”. I sat quietly awhile beneath a tree on a dry, stony knoll watching people walking, watching the distant lake beyond the airstrip. Didn’t take long before some guy plunked down next to me, trying to sell something. I just walked away. An old Turkana woman with rudimentary Swahili showed me a USA Oil Tin full of crystals she’d broken from somewhere, a bunch of the usual trinkets, and interestingly, a number of very large, petrified fish vertebrae none of which I bought.

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    Above: Early AM

    After a swim, a chapatti and some chai, we made for the Mission to procure petrol. He’d knocked the price up to 90/= per litre, the Good Father had. Transport costs, I guess. On the way out, I bought a pair of those old aluminium earrings from a Turkana woman by the gate, the ones that hook through a huge hole at the top of the ear and mostly cover it in the front. I’ve always liked those. Wish I’d bought another ekicholong (one-footed wooden stool/headrest), but I just didn’t find the right moment. Next time.

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    Above: The Catholic Church

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    Above: Mission petrol station and road surface

    So we were off. It was already swealtering at 9:00 AM, we were lost immediately and put back on track by an American woman behind the gate of the compound of the African Inland Church – go figure – who with the help of her adopted-looking, wild-eyed red-headed kids pointed the other way. The first hour was a feast for the senses. We simply rode slowly, letting the colors and textures of the soil pass around us. Green stone, red, white, black… even purple and silver. It was all layered out there rolling beneath our wheels. We didn’t even try to photograph it, but now I wish I had. It was special.

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    Above: Sand turns to stone

    The road climbed the escarpment. There’s no way to do it but to climb over the stones. So, million by million, we crossed the stones, kicking and flailing, and grinding and pinging. The stone fields, too, are spectacular and surreal but the energy required to appreciate it is disproportionately severe. As with all things, though, the stone fields came to an end and we were desert racers again.

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    Above: 620 klanks and plinks out of the escarpment

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    Above: Lake Turkana parting shot

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    Above: Exploring Mars

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    Above: Thorns don’t offer shade

    The plains emerged. Hard and dusty with a veneer of black gravel, perfect for flying. We rolled like thunder across the plains, often side-by-side as the track split to avoid deep dust pits. Lots of gleeful yelling to be heard. Turkana watching from the far edges of the wavering horizon must have been amused.

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    Above: This one didn’t make it

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    Above: Dusty plains and Gabra huts

    Then came Gas. That’s the name of the village. It was 12:00 in Gas. High noon and the camels were restless. This was Gabra country. We’d left the Turkana behind at the lake, and the taller, lighter, more Somali-looking folks welcomed us silently to Gas. One guy knew English and showed us to the Cokes. There were bull skulls on all the storefronts and the old men wore white head scarves. The women looked sexy after a fashion, in their flowing colourful drapery and the huts had become larger balls, more colourful, probably more permanent. Gas was a trip. I started feeling waaay out there again in Gas. And not one photo.

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    Above: Bikes in the desert

    Then we lost our way. Actually, we had our way and gave it up again, but whatever. We met a fork, took the busier, left branch. It led us to mirage city – a huge black plain with wavering edges and camels everywhere. The Gabras’ huts sat like something out of Star Wars as did the women transporting goods by camels in their characteristic high-stacking style. For me it was like visiting a dream. 620 ahead seemed to ride on a layer of ice that somehow brought dust into the air in a long white veil that hung in the air like a ghost. Huge powder holes would catch my wheel, turning the handlebars dangerously quickly, but I just gripped and grinned and screamed my way through the whole thing in ecstasy.

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    Above: Horizon

    We reached a river bed, very wide and sandy after screaming along for 20 km. The other side of it resembled Namibia tremendously. Sand dunes and all. 620 had stopped there, doubting our choices. His gut told him we should have taken the right fork. Indecision is contagious, as is doubt, and in no time, I agreed we should go back – actually suggested it – while 620 looked around him as if the answers would appear on the sand someplace or crawl out of the heat holding a placard with an arrow. So, we turned back. This time I cut well wide of the main track near the edge of the scrub, racing back towards 620 on his dust kicking run like an engaging jet fighter.

    We stopped at a long series of Gabra huts where we saw men – the women always run away – and one of them even spoke some English. On his advice, we decided that either fork would find North Horr and since we were there, we should investigate the other fork. Unfortunately, it vanished into a series of confused roads going in different directions so we had to come back, re-retrace our steps and fly once more through the dust and camels. We were chewing through time and fuel.

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    Above: The oasis is a good place to die

    At the deep sand, 620 bit the dust... literally. It was a huge heap of the powdery stuff and he lost control, bouncing up and down before pitching himself over the bars in an explosion of dust. He emerged one solid color of brown: every inch was dusted. So we decided to reduce tyre pressure and once we did, the rest of the ride to North Horr was a blast. Weaving in and over the little sand dunes, riding the embankments made by the cars and trucks. We eventually found another Oasis – a small wet place, covered in palms with camels drinking and a skeleton or two just to complete the image.

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    Above: North Horr

    At North Horr, we ate biscuits, drank Cokes and rested our horses awhile… they got fuel too. The Gabra kids were even parts scared and intrigued by us and huddled and scurried at even intervals. We paddled away through the sand, through the palms, over near the school where eventually somebody pointed to the “road” to Kalacha. The trace of a track was so thin I didn’t believe them, so I took a very willing passenger who pointed the way over a dried clay lake bed that stretched from horizon to horizon the remainder of the ride. It was a truly amazing sight. Nothing but a flat pan of once wet dust with a single truck track cutting it in two. Mountains hugged the edges of the sky at points separated by the earth from the wavering heat. Camels seemed huge and white from a distance and remained distant for ages it seemed. I was so taken with the place that I let myself run amok. Leaving the track, I swung through the surprisingly soft cracked Earth (hard on the top, soft beneath) setting my own dust dragons free behind me and leaving a single, deep track to remember me by… at least until the next rain.

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    Above: Surface change and lonely walkers

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    Above: My highway

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    Above: Land yacht on the desert sea

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    Above: One happy biker

    620 wasn’t enjoying himself though. His bike was bogging and backfiring along, spurting and spluttering like the fuel line was clogged or something. He nursed it along while I played like a maniac in the pan and we turned – as instructed – at the Oasis on the pan’s edge toward the purple mountains in the distance. Big green acacias greeted us and we wound through them gracefully.

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    Above: Kalacha Sunset

    At the AIC camp (these wazungu are serious about saving souls, living way out here and all) we showered, took a dip in their huge water tank/pool, ate at a local dive with mud walls and bags for a ceiling, then came back and crashed. The wind kept me awake most of the night.

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    Above: Kalacha moon
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  6. BCBackRoads

    BCBackRoads Travels with Gumby

    Joined:
    Mar 22, 2008
    Oddometer:
    579
    Location:
    Kelowna, BC
    As one of the five still following (seriously there must be many more silently watching) I want to let you know how much I'm enjoying this RR. Retrospective, great photography and good storytelling. All one can ask.

    Thanks, Wayne
  7. Osadabwa

    Osadabwa Don't be Surprised

    Joined:
    Mar 19, 2009
    Oddometer:
    622
    Location:
    Nairobi, Kenya
    [Cool, Wayne, thanks. We're almost to Ethiopia!]

    September 18, 2004 – Kalacha, N. Kenya

    Not surprisingly, a little overnight rest didn’t inspire the KTM to start running better come morning. We needed a rest anyway, so we decided to have a bike maintenance day in windy Kalacha. For my part, this involved giving the air filter a couple of whacks to clean it and puddling used oil on the chain. Meanwhile, Miles stripped his carburettor – for the first time ever – and cleaned the jets as best as he could in an open-sided shed in the desert. This procedure took much of the day, and only later did we see the puncture. Sweating, we struggled with tyre levers while late afternoon light and hot wind burned around the corners of the tin roofed shed.

    In between mechanical manoeuvres, we ate lunch at the same little hoteli. A young girl played coyly with a baby boy of 2, conspicuously watching us watching her while we devoured a plate of goat and a sort of Njera flat pancake. I took several dips in the AIC water tank to relieve myself from the constant furnace heat throughout the day.

    We walked to the village at dusk in search of tube patches since we hadn’t managed to stop up all the holes that afternoon, and enjoyed being able to quietly roam and observe the goings on of a distant town. A 10 tonne truck had come, and was ready to leave again. Cattle and goats in the bed and people stacked on the rack above them, the big truck rumbled from place to place in town as if to show itself off. Like it was cruising Main. Headlights and people’s silhouettes, the silver moon and a fire, an acacia tree and a Gabra hut in the rearground… wind… hot wind throwing dust into town.

    Back at the restaurant, we sat at a table by the door. The boys told us patches are called “crackers” locally because they filled the cracks… which explained the blank stares we got as we fruitlessly searched.

    Then mid-sentence, all hell broke loose. A truck drove up, the kids scattered – except the boys working the restaurant – our food hastily appeared and in no time at all the little mud hut was packed with dusty men, the single paraffin lantern shining their huge dark shadows against the walls and ceiling. There was a constant murmur, a few of the men smoked, someone spat loudly on the floor, splashing of hands being washed and demands for food filled the air. An old man with a plaster cast hat – a cylindrical muslimesque thing worn by Gabra elders – sat next to me and began mashing up his ugali with the goat stew. Everyone wanted more njera, more chapatis. Bones piled up on the tables, were thrown on the floor. Men licked their hands from heel to fingers and back again, stuffed dripping globs of meat and bread into dusty mouths, slopping at their chins, smearing it on their cheeks. Laughter, low talking, a sort of eerie primeval feast taking place before our eyes. The boys ran ragged, demanding food from the kitchen through the window, making change for the impatient men, filling water jugs for hand washing.

    In an hour, it was all over. The truck rumbled away and the boys sat down to joke about the men on it. Miles and I walked back to the camp marvelling over the scene. [11 years later, we remember it like it was yesterday].
  8. Osadabwa

    Osadabwa Don't be Surprised

    Joined:
    Mar 19, 2009
    Oddometer:
    622
    Location:
    Nairobi, Kenya
    September 19, 2004 – Marsabit, Kenya

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    Above: The Yellow Hornbill – my favourite African bird

    Today was an odd day of riding. We got up early and spent an hour re-mending 620’s tube in the cool of the hour. By the time we were packed and on the road, it was at least 9:00 and neither of us was in the mood. I rode like a zombie, aware that I didn’t even care if I were to fall over… it seemed like it wouldn’t matter, and anyway at least that way I’d be on the ground where I could rest. The scenery wasn’t inspiring in the bright full light of day – a flat, white plain with a flat, gray sky above it… dust in the road and dust in the air. It went on for miles. The only highlight was the appearance of a lodge in the middle of nowhere with a bright, red airplane parked in the scrub. Man, some folks know how to do it.

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    Above: Kalacha scenes and the bright red bird

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    Above: Remote lodge

    We had a late breakfast in Maikona of chapatti and chai – what else? – and watched the scene take shape through the doorway. A lorry was leaving, sending up dust in its wake. Like other population centres in the desert, Maikona has traditional huts on the outskirts – like a bunch of huge deflated, motley footballs on an abandoned pitch – while the interior boasts the tin oven houses and shops that make a man seem rich to his neighbours but dooms him to perpetual sweaty sleep. Camels, goats and sheep everywhere keeping the herd boys busy.

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    Above: More big desert views

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    Above: Riding the flat pan

    From Maikona, the low pan turned to stones again and we ploughed through them for the next 4 hours. At last we began climbing toward Marsabit Mountain, the large extinct volcano set dead center in the middle of the desert with a town on top. Gaining elevation by degrees, we passed grazing herds of camels and watching the foliage change from nothing at all to sparse scrub highlighted by the odd Desert Rose bush standing alone and fluorescent on an outcrop of stones.

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    Above: Desert Roses in bloom

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    Above: Starting our ascent

    In Marsabit town, there was a change in the air. Cooler here. Camels were being loaded on the towns edge, dozens of them all obediently kneeling while people arranged boxes on their backs. Being the nearest real town to Ethiopia, the influence was clear. In our hotel – the Jay Jay Centre – Islamic scenes and writing were all over the walls, weird paintings of winged horses with human heads and the like… an odd mix and very funky.

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    Above: Queue at a water distribution point, Marsabit

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    Above: A guy and his Volvo in Marsabit

    We checked around on the Marsabit – Moyale Road situation – a stretch commonly patrolled by bandits – and learned that there had been an ambush the day before. Nobody was killed, just stripped naked. Police pursued the bandits and ended up rolling over, killing 5. The Kenyan policeman we talked to dismissed the story though… “Malicious rumors” he said. Said we were very safe and could proceed without an escort.

    We ate njera tonight, real njera. Ethiopia, here we come!
  9. Osadabwa

    Osadabwa Don't be Surprised

    Joined:
    Mar 19, 2009
    Oddometer:
    622
    Location:
    Nairobi, Kenya
    September 19, 2004 – Mooyale, Ethiopia

    We rode through the banditlands.

    For six months, I have been weary of the Marsabit – Mooyale road and in a matter of hours we were through it, trouble free. Well, not exactly. Only a few km off Marsabit Mountain, 620 got another puncture which we decided not to re-re-re repair and put in my only spare tube.

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    Above: Roadside repairs on the bandit road

    The morning had already been so beautiful. Two scenes stick in my memory. A beautiful woman, dressed in red shawls exposing her sides leading a loaded troupe of 5 camels out of the stony earth in the early golden sun. An old woman and a man, leading donkeys with all their possessions, crossing the road – the nearest donkey carrying a dozen baby goats all tied up with their tiny heads bowling around in the wind looking adorable and bewildered.

    At first, the road wasn’t bad at all. We moved at a steady clip all the way to Turbi, the half-way point where we stopped for a Coke and a Chapati. The place has such a strong Ethiopian influence: bright colors, odd indian-looking images, verses from the Koran in Arabic on the walls, snatches of Amharic writing. The chapatis were wonderful, the Cokes cold, so we moved along past the 7 hills of Turbi back onto the plains toward Sololo – the banditlands.

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    Above: Riding the Marsabit-Moyale road: Turbi restaurant

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    Above: This IS the bounty of my lord

    At Sololo, we picked up the pace. Clipping along at about 80/90kph in close formation, we crashed through the dense bush bordering the Etihiopian mountains. Our imaginations made every person we passed look like trouble. A group of donkey herders crossing the road became a crew of bandits blocking our path. A smiling man emerging to see the bikes pass with his walking stick became a bandit with an AK intent on robbing us blind. It was tense at the time, but looking back it was perfectly fine.

    At last, a roadblock signalling the end of Kenya. Re rode to the hilltop of Kenya’s Moyale and were through customs at 13:30. Clearing customs was a breeze and we rolled across to Ethiopia’s Mooyale just in time to wait: the office didn’t open until 15:00. Immigration took their sweet time filling forms manually in triplicate (no carbon paper) and scrutinizing our passports against a list of PNGs. Then the customs guy checked our engine numbers and wrote down the serial number of my camera. All told, an hour of our lives elapsed there.

    We put up at a basic hotel and walked the drag past the Ethiopian Orthadox Church, the Mosque and all the shops and petrol stations in search of a beer. I had a Congolese Castel for Sam and Scott and 620 sampled the St. George because he’s English. Being in high spirits, we drank 3, watching the goings on and listening to the loud local music. One track was lovely, like old Blues, but the rest was tinny and whiny Amharic… the local favorite.

    At sunset, we crossed the road to a restaurant and had Meta beer and our first real Teff Njera in Ethiopia. As I expected, it was more sour than usual, darker colored (like a dirty washcloth), and delicious. We bought a beer for our waiter who kept us company and asked how he could get to the US to live. Said he has two years’ experience as a surveyor… best of luck amigo!

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    Above: 620 checks the map before turning in
  10. Osadabwa

    Osadabwa Don't be Surprised

    Joined:
    Mar 19, 2009
    Oddometer:
    622
    Location:
    Nairobi, Kenya
    September 20, 2004 – Konso, Etihopia

    What a nice feeling. None of the bad things I’d heard about Ethiopia have so far been true. The beer’s great, the people are nice, the kids aren’t throwing rocks at us and there are mosquito nets in all the guest houses. Even if all that changes tomorrow, it’ll be hard to cloud my first good impressions of this country.

    We popped down for an egg sandwich and a lovely shot of coffee – espresso machines everywhere – and the very best juice I’d ever had: Avocado and orange. Superb. Thickly wonderful. Who would have guessed? Paid up, we hit the tarmac. 100 km to Mega – had more njera and tibs – through the flat scrub bush plain with Boran herds hidden away in the shaded thorns and occasional earth-walled houses crumbling along the road. Then 100 km more to Lobela where we fuelled and aimed West on the dirt.

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    Above: Soil house

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    Above: Valley

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    Above: Terraces

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    Above: Pitstop

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    Above: Eating ground-nuts

    Nice murram. Never went straight for a moment. Twisting through the hills all dusty and thorny. Mountains arose. Purple first, then green. We branched and climbed into a valley and began sliding out of it past miles of terraced fields. 4:00 and we were in Konso at the corner resthouse having a Pepsi and deciding to stay. Showered off, we hiked to the center to see what was what.

    Golden afternoon light. Great for photos. There was a guy with his ’72 Fiat diesel lorry with Impala horns on the front. A woman carrying 100 lbs of cloth. The old Shell petrol station’s open-faced hand pump. Then we found the market. Animals everywhere, women too, all at work. Women made bunches of sticks for sale, fabrics, spices, salt, medicine maybe, all types of women. Some Borana, some not, all kinds: some beautiful and young, some beautiful and old.

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    Above: The Fiat

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    Above: Our Pepsi

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    Above: Konso Market before the rain

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    Above: Konso Market women

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    Above: Repurposed USA Oil tin and happy girls

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    Above: Repackaging… salt maybe?

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    Above: Stoic saleswoman

    Now full from vegi njera wat something or other, the rain having come and gone, the cool night settling down around us and the calls of the faithful to prayer, we call it a day.
  11. kiwial

    kiwial Allweatherrider

    Joined:
    Jul 27, 2010
    Oddometer:
    429
    Location:
    NZ Mountains
    Kind of...AWESOME...
    Osadabwa likes this.
  12. Osadabwa

    Osadabwa Don't be Surprised

    Joined:
    Mar 19, 2009
    Oddometer:
    622
    Location:
    Nairobi, Kenya
    September 23, 2004 – Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

    The Holiday Hotel: Heile Gebrselassie, the famous Ethiopian runner’s, very own street. It’s been a day of errands. Looking for a tyre for 620 and a battery for my Rosie. 620 is off for Djibuti soon, and I’ll be stuck here waiting for another battery to be sent from RSA. Alas.

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    Above: Detailed instructions

    The ride up was a mixed bag. Every time we stopped the bikes – to talk to one another, to look around, or to get some work done on the bikes – there was an inevitable hoard of 100s of people swarming about. They call it Farenji frenzy (Farenji being Amharic for Mzungu) and it’s disagreeable to say the least. Kids have started pegging us with stones as we ride by too. Seems like only yesterday I was saying all that stuff was overblown.

    I nearly went to see my maker twice after a rain slicked up the muddy road and I almost lost it in front of oncoming vehicles (a dump truck and a Land Rover) both of whom had to swerve to avoid me. 620’s bike has been pounding him to death – something’s wrong with the suspension. My battery died just north of Konso, so I have been push-starting it which has made life tough and got me in a shouting match with a guy who I assumed was doing me a favour by helping me jump start it when I only offered him 10 birr and he wanted 100. I’m starting to see the pride people talk about Ethiopians having.

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    Above: The butcher

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    Above: 620 getting whooped

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    Above: St George’s Beer

    On the positive side: I stopped to admire a short-legged horse bedecked in bright cloth and sporting a hand-turned saddle. The old man astride him was very pleased when I showed him his picture on the camera. Farther down the road, we met a young woman carrying water in a clay jar over her back. She was likewise thrilled to see herself on the camera’s tiny screen. Farther along still we were invited into the home of a school teacher who treated us to coffee with salt, popcorn and avocado – a real treat – and told us his tales of woe: too many people and not enough land. I remember his 3 year old son running amok shouting “Buna!” “Buna!” (Coffee! Coffee!) until the parents gave him a cup. There was 620 playing Foosball under a tarpaulin in the rain, getting cheated from what we could tell, though the others found it hilarious.

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    Above: Nice smiles

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    Above: Showing the girl her pic

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    Above: Mini photo share

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    Above: Happy man

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    Above: Not so happy man

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    Above: Feet that have seen some miles

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    Above: Family who gave us coffee

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    Above: The family

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    Above: Brightly colored graves

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    Above: Traditional house

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    Above: A man and his horse

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    Above: Saddle horn

    Now I’m in Addis until my battery issue is resolved.
    BCBackRoads likes this.
  13. just jeff

    just jeff Long timer

    Joined:
    Nov 7, 2012
    Oddometer:
    4,014
    Location:
    LacLaBiche Alberta Canada
    Hey Osadabwa!
    If there are only 5 of us following your report I am very lucky to be one of them. This is my most favorite report on the forum. I hope you have enough material to keep me reading through the long Canadian winter that is just about to begin in my area.
    To the rest of the inmates who are following this ride report.......Drop a note and say Hi to let Osadabwa know he isn't exerting all this effort for just a few viewers. A little encouragement is in order I think!:clap:clap:clap
    Best Regards....just jeff.....one of the 5!!!
  14. BCBackRoads

    BCBackRoads Travels with Gumby

    Joined:
    Mar 22, 2008
    Oddometer:
    579
    Location:
    Kelowna, BC
    Fully agree! Even a "like" or two encourages the author to keep going. :lurk Waiting for more!
  15. Osadabwa

    Osadabwa Don't be Surprised

    Joined:
    Mar 19, 2009
    Oddometer:
    622
    Location:
    Nairobi, Kenya
    [Hey guys, thanks for the thumbs up.

    Jeff, this RR won't make it much past Halloween, I'm afraid. 28-year-old me was getting really worn out of being on the road, particularly since I was alone most of the time. I was feeling guilty/nervous about not finding a job, was wondering what to do about the girlfriend, thinking about going to grad school, etc... In fact, I also remember feeling like my number was coming up... like at any moment I'd be taken out by a bus, or killed by a stray goat. 39-year-old me is glad I'm almost done with this project too!

    I'm fast-forwarding a bit this week because next week I'll be heading to N. Kenya with a band of bikers to relive some of the exotic desert craziness that thrilled me so much 11 years ago. I simply can't wait. This time, I'm on an older, uglier, and infinitely more capable bike: my XL 600 R 1985 (featured here) and have every expectation of an excellent ride. All goes well and I'll have a RR to share from contemporary N. Kenya by mid October.

    Cheers]


    October 5, 2004 – Karakore, Ethiopia

    After two weeks stuck in Addis, I’m finally back on the road. I meant to start this Northward journey yesterday but was scared off by afternoon rain and a rumbly tummy. I discovered at the Swedish Clinic that I had become host to myriad worm species – hence a painful left abdomen for the last few weeks – but a host of dewormers promised to sort me right out. This morning, though the rain was still threatening, I decided I could wait no more. By noon I had cleared the snarl of Addis traffic at last and was crawling quietly up a good, meandering tarmac road through cultivated, rolling hills.

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    Above: Ethiopia or Europe?

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    Above: Misty mountaintop

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    Above: Pedestrian (photos don't show it, but Ethiopian roads are choked with people and animals. Apparently when the Italians were chased out, the new Ethiopian leaders made a point of saying that roads were not the exclusive domain of cars and trucks, but the footpaths of the country as well. It is madness.)

    For the majority of the first hour or two, the terrain didn’t change, then it began to ascend quite steeply. Valleys cut deep in the distance after Debre Birham. The map showed tunnels to Debre Sina, but to look at it you’d think it’s only 30 km. With all the hairpin turns and altitude change though, it was closer to 90km! And a spectacular 90 km it was, too. The tunnels gave me a serious fright though. Coming out of dense fog, suddenly I entered the pitch blackness: water cascaded from the ceiling onto the gravel surface below. It was dark, slick, narrow: I feared I’d go down, but thankfully I entered just behind a truck that led me through and oncoming traffic had queued at the opposite end to wait for us to emerge.

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    Above: Big views

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    Above: Flowers and sorghum

    Out the other side, emerging at nearly 4000 M the descent was swift. A series of broken hairpin turns dropped me into Debre Sina where one of the domed Orthodox churches stood silver against the dark green foliage. I kept riding, descending as the valley opened wider and wider. Sorghum grew alongside teff. Thorn trees appeared with the increasing heat. Valley bathed in that special afternoon light. Though it was tarmac the whole way, it was slow going due to the twists and the ever-present hoards of animals and humans that walk the centre of the road.

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    Above: Late light

    I’d just ascended the other end of the vast valley and recognised a town name: Karakore – the last chance before Dessie which was by then too far to reach before nightfall. Now I’m in the hallway of the 2 storey Karakore Hotel under the only bright light in the place. The town crunches right down onto the road and up the narrow valley sides, built on stones high into the slopes. The hotel owner says this was militarily significant for the Italians because it was the only way out of the valley. I took a walk with him and a couple of his guys, had a cold shower at a nearby hotel (mine didn’t offer showers) and devoured some Njera. The Hotel keeper asked that I take a photo of his father, which I happily did: The man, 90 years old, was led down the stairs robed in black with amber colored beads and a metal cross around his neck. A timeless face of endurance he seemed to me.

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    Above: Karakore main street

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    Above: Grandfather

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    Above: Hotel owner and kids

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    Above: Father and son

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    Above: Composing in the hallway

    It was good luck to stop here, I feel, and a great way to get going again. 620 has left for Eritrea, so I’m solo again and it feels great.
    Crossed-up likes this.
  16. Dirtnadvil

    Dirtnadvil Long timer

    Joined:
    Dec 22, 2005
    Oddometer:
    1,093
    Location:
    Inside the Orange Curtain
    Your ride reports are my favorites. Thanks for posting them and taking us along on your journey.....
    Osadabwa likes this.
  17. Osadabwa

    Osadabwa Don't be Surprised

    Joined:
    Mar 19, 2009
    Oddometer:
    622
    Location:
    Nairobi, Kenya
    October 6, I think, 2004 – Korem, Ethiopia

    I’ve been confused since arriving in Ethiopia about the date. I’m within a day or two of the correct one, but after the desert of the North they all started blending together and the Ethiopian calendar which is seven years and eight days different from our own is too much math for me to deal with.

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    Above: Cactus and sunflower

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    Above: Arched fields

    I left Karakore this morning early and descended into a fertile green valley with towering mountains all around. Then, I did it again and again and again… all day long! It was one pass after the other, each with switchbacks tighter than the last. Of course, the buses like to take the inside lane which can be scary if that lane is supposed to be yours. I had a close call today where a bus, all 6 wheels in my lane, obliged me to scoot to the edge.

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    Above: Killer riding, for tarmac

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    Above: Old tanks in the scenery, courtesy the Italians

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    Above: Spectacular

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    Above: Riding and rusting

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    Above: Sorghum

    A great day, but almost devoid of human contact for most of it. I chatted with an NGO driver in some hotel where I scarfed Njera and tibs around noon. I had a nice coffee in Kembolcha but nothing more than stares and stones from the yokels along the road. In Korem, I had a nice moment with an old woman weaving the lid for a calabash and some kids, but otherwise it was a constant chorus of “You! You! You!” and a clingy guy of 29 whose English was only just better than my Amharic. I ate shiro-wat with him in a dump where seven others simply sat, stared and either chewed, measured or packed Miraa (chat), the local export drug. It’s really not my scene.

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    Above: Weaving grandmother

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    Above: What a face

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    Above: Good kids… not all are

    I think I’ll sell the bike in Addis in a week or two and be done with this ride. The original plan to ride to Europe no longer interests me, and since I can’t import the bike to the US without a costly struggle, I need to leave her in Africa. Although the riding’s been epic, I feel it’s time. That said, I feel the pressure of the end coming, and it makes me want to savor every second. The twisting and turning, the sorghum fields and cattle, the warmth of the afternoon sun and the hum of the road are all telling me: Just keep riding! I don’t know what to do.
  18. Osadabwa

    Osadabwa Don't be Surprised

    Joined:
    Mar 19, 2009
    Oddometer:
    622
    Location:
    Nairobi, Kenya
    October 7, 2004 – Lalibela, Ethiopia

    It was earlier than I supposed when I awoke – not much after 7:30 – and I was rewarded for getting moving by gorgeous greens and golds coming off the fields, purples and blues from the distant and near mountain peaks. Specks of glowing white moved toward the glimmering circular church in the see of green – old men with their robes and white turbans – everyone off to pray. The lovely, straight dirt stretch from town to mountain was the end of the linear road. From here on, it was climb or descent, never level: a variable topographical spectacle!

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    Above: Off to prayer

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    Above: Hill Villages

    I climbed, switchbacked, wiggled up the sheer faces of the mountains. The crops were in various stages of green on the terraces. No longer sorghum – all wheat and teff. Some terraces had been or were being harvested. The stalks – golden – stacked meticulously by the men, carried to them by the women. The children help too, but are quickly preoccupied by the lone farenji clattering up and over the hills. Every inch of potential land is being used out there. Stunning and a bit worrying. The hillsides are just too steep.

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    Above: Putting up the harvest

    All the way to Sekota it was the same – one towering mountain after another, green and gold and wonderful. The left turn brought me face to face with a massive mountain and as I neared, the landscape had changed. It was dry here and thorn trees dominated the highest areas where no one had yet tried to plant. Villages perched on ledges below and above the road, seemingly without connection to anything or anyone.

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    Above: Aloelike explosions

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    Above: Dry hills and stick dwellings

    It went from smelling wet and fresh to dusty. Aloe-looking plants with orange and flame red flowers added color to the otherwise gray-yellowness. The sun burned down. No shadows, no clouds. At one point, I passed through a group of folks on the way to market with chickens, skins, cloth, horses and donkeys. How much does that differ from 100 years ago? 500 years ago?

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    Above: Village below

    One pass, then another and another still I rode. In the next ice age, I’ll be skiing Ethiopia. The midway lodge can be Lalibela, where I now rest, perched high above a low plain, only the vague flatness indicating where it is. I arrived, had some lunch and a beer to encourage me to explore (it’s true, being a tourist in Ethiopia is hard work… you get a lot of attention you’d just as soon have avoided just by stepping onto the street) and left the hotel. I just meandered out of the door, ignored the you-yous and made for the first shop I found to buy soap. From there, I entered the church gate and 100 birr later I was on my way with an easy-going guide who knew quite a lot (or as much as the Lonely Planet) about the place. The churches were, for lack of a better expression, really cool. I enjoyed marvelling at the ancient ingenuity – even if the locals think God helped the masons out at night, which, if I were a mason, would piss me off. I like the old icons, the wicked looking old priests in their tiny stone holes, the funky paintings of St. George slaying the dragon and the bas reliefs of the apostles – to say nothing of the magnificent monoliths and cool connecting tunnels.

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    Above: Stone-hewn churches

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    Above: Painted ceiling

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    Above: Ancient wood door and contemporary drums

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    Above: St. George doing his thing

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    Above: Lalibela priest at St. George’s… got roped into taking this and had to pay a “donation”… only time I ever paid for a photo

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    Above: Bas-relief and mega-relief

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    Above: The crown jewel: St. George’s Church

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    Above: St. Georges

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    Above: St. Georges and a flower offering

    I’m really happy I came, twice as happy I’m leaving.
  19. WHYNOWTHEN

    WHYNOWTHEN where are the pedals?

    Joined:
    Jan 2, 2009
    Oddometer:
    836
    Location:
    closer to Baja
    I love this picture! Well done for the great RR and super pics.


    [QUOTE
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    Above: The last rays[/QUOTE]
  20. Osadabwa

    Osadabwa Don't be Surprised

    Joined:
    Mar 19, 2009
    Oddometer:
    622
    Location:
    Nairobi, Kenya
    October 14, 2004 – Dila, Etihiopia

    Sunshine Hotel right off the street. 10 birr gets you a room but not a shower, apparently. No problem since we’ve been riding in the rain all day long. By “we” I mean myself and Taka, a Japanese biker I met on the road just as I realised that my pump was broken…

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    Above: Stony fields, outside Lalibela

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    Above: A woman prepares me coffee

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    Above: Somewhat matched my mood at the time I think

    From Lalibela, I rode South to Bahir Dar on my way back to Addis to sell the bike. Some of the prettiest scenery yet. Pass after pass, greens and browns. Blue sky. Lovely. I slept at some lakeside resortish dump on Lake Tana to take advantage of a full, hot bath. I don’t remember why, but I wasn’t in the mood to be there. Tired. Ready to be done with it maybe.

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    Above: Rosie meets some cows

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    Above: A mix of things along the way

    The following day I slogged through 30 km of mud before reaching wet tarmac. About ½ way, the tarmac dried and truned back to dirt in time for the Blue Nile Gorge.Very big thing, very deep and spectacular. I dropped in and climbed back out. On the other side it was the newest tarmac I’d seen in Africa, rolling through fields and low hills, curves and more curves. A Ducati would have been happy here. Evening light and pure extacy. All the while, I was thinking it was my last day on the bike, that I’d reach Addis and find a buyer and be done.

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    Above: Rosie above the Blue Nile Gorge

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    Above: What I thought was my last self portrait with Rosie

    It wasn’t. After three days in Addis, I learned that selling the bike would be well-nigh impossible in Ethiopia. Dumb customs fact. So, I decided there was nothing to do but head back south to Nairobi.

    Today then, I set out south on the main road to Moyale in the rain, dodging hoards of people and goats and having numerous near-misses since my horn has given up the ghost… you really need your hooter in Ethiopia. Then, I got a puncture. If you’re keeping track, that’s only the second one on my bike in nearly 20,000 km to that point. High tire pressure is good for something I guess. The puncture was caused by a 4” piece of steel wire, but by the time I came to a stop, the valve was destroyed too. I had just put in my spare and reached for my pump only to find that a few key bits had rattled loose and fallen out.

    Just as it was dawning on me that I might be stuck there awhile, an overloaded Yamaha goes by. I wave, he stops. It’s Taka, a Japanese biker who was mid-way through a 2 year RTW. He dug out his pump for me and once that was sorted, we decided to buddy up for the ride through bandit country to Marsabit. He seems nice enough. Quiet, and well spoken. But cheap, damn is he cheap. Sunshine Hotel was his choice. It’s very loud here. Very loud.
    crimbo likes this.