Monday, October 10

Nairobi & Mt Kenya


Brett: Nairobi feels a lot like Joburg, except with worse traffic (caused by people blocking the road to get one car’s length ahead) and the people are more relaxed. For the first time on the trip, there are many good shopping centres (about the size of Killarney Mall in Joburg), so we treated ourselves to a movie and lunch at Galitos (similar to Nandos). We stocked up on lots of food and also managed to get hold of Bradt guides for Ethiopia and Sudan – hopefully these will be more useful than the LPs. Kenya has felt quite familiar so far, but Ethiopia and Sudan seem quite exotic – we think the whole trip will feel quite different from there onwards.

We stayed at Jungle Junction ($7pppn camping), which is major meeting point for overlanders with a focus on the workshop (the owner Chris’ passion) where most vehicle repairs can be done. Mary was delighted to find they have washing machines for doing laundry – this is the first time our clothes have been washed by machine, and they do seem a LOT cleaner than when done by hand.

By some luck, our passports with our Ethiopian visas (which we had sent to UK) arrived at JJ even though the address is not recognised by the post office! Many people travelling North have a huge hassle over this so we were relieved it all worked out so smoothly – thanks Farleys! The replacement parts for our broken fridge, kindly sent by Robin at National Luna, had not turned up by the time we arrived in Nairobi, so we headed off to Mt Kenya.


Mt Kenya (5 Oct)

Brett: We did quite a lot of research into hiking Mt Kenya as we were planning on hiking independently rather than taking a guide & porter – a decision partly driven by cost and partly by the desire to roam around unsupervised like the wild hooligans we have become Smile. Costs: tickets cost $70 pppd including camping fees or most people go for the 3-day special rate of $150 pp for the 3 days including camping. We had been quoted between $360-$500pp (incl park fees) for an organised 3-day hike with guide, porter and food, which was not really doable since we have massively overspent on our activities budget for Kenya already. We also met a girl travelling by public transport who got herself to Naro Moru town and found a random guide and porter there (for $15 and $10 per day respectively) on the day, and paid her park fees for the 4 days on top of that. We paid an additional 300 KSh ($3) for the car per day.

We decided to do the Naro Moru route because it has dorm accommodation the whole way up so we wouldn’t need to carry a tent, and also because you can drive up to Met Station (3,000m) and start the hike from a fairly high altitude, making it easier to finish in 3 days. I did most of the driving as the road is really terrible, especially if wet, but Mary took over for the most difficult steep muddy section and did very well. The drive took us through different layers of vegetation zone with spooky mossy trees and bamboo forests. After arriving and having some lunch of lovely stale french bread with processed cheese (oh yes!), we did an short acclimatisation hike up the first section of path to get used to the altitude and get an idea of what the walking would be like. We packed our tiny day-packs with one set of clothes and food for 3 days, and then discovered we would need to take sleeping bags as well as bedding is not provided in the dorms at Mackinders camp (or any of the camps), so we strapped the sleeping bags on top of our packs with suitcase elastics. We camped in the roof tent at Met Station, which dropped to about –4 degrees C and we were just warm enough by wearing everything we had. 

Mary: Next day, we headed up from Met Station at 7:30am. The path (and road from Naro Moro town) is basically a straight line up to the peaks coming from the West. The route is steep and starts with the vertical bog, which takes a lot of jumping over muddy sections and careful route selection to keep your feet (mostly) dry. The second 5km are less steep and you head into the Telekei valley, straight to Mackinder’s Lodge ($12pppn) (4,200m). The Naro Moru trail is not very obvious, but there are markers and it is very accurately shown on Tracks4Africa, so we were fine. We made good time and got to Mackinder’s at about 2:30pm, just as it was beginning to cool down. We cooked our instant pasta over our MSR Whisperlite Stove (brilliant thing, but had some dodgy white spirits in it instead of benzine, so produced massive flames and covered the pots in oily black gunk). It was freezing at this point and we were starting to get a bit jealous of the guided hikers’ huge plates of steaming spag bol. Suddenly porters and chefs seemed worth their weight in gold, and we started scheming about doing hotel-to-hotel hikes in the Drakensberg when we get back to SA.

The organised-tour hikers all leave at 3am to start up to the summit, arriving around sunrise, and we weren’t sure it was such a great idea as we were concerned about navigating our way up in the dark, but we were eventually convinced to get up early and start trekking with a Polish guy on a guided tour. The trail was easy to find with T4A and our head torches and we would have been fine going on our own, even at that time. We thought we might be slower than the rest but were actually in far better shape than the other guy up the steep scree slope. However things began to deteriorate about 50m below Top Hut as the guide had been saying for about half an hour that we were 5 minutes away, and I had used up all of my steam. The others went ahead and Brett gave me some juice and oaty-bar to get me going again and we made our way slowly up to the top. We reached the Top Hut in time for a fantastic sunrise and were very lucky to have perfectly clear conditions – which also meant it was freezing cold. We couldn’t get warm, even huddled inside the hut, so decided the best thing to do was to keep moving and go for the summit – a further 200m or so climb up rock and snow. The Polish guy was totally knackered and gave up, but his guide wanted to see the summit (and/or make a quick buck out of guiding us) so came with us. The last stretch up to Point Lenana (4,985m - the highest point you can get to without proper climbing gear, ice axes, ropes etc) was covered in snow and has steel cables, metal ladders etc to hang on to as you scramble to the top. I don’t like heights and was totally bricking it, but it was not as bad as it looked from Top Hut. This was where the guide came in handy, as Brett was having a hard time coaxing me up to the top by himself even though we were totally safe and would have been fine on our own. The views from the top were brilliant, with glaciers, climbing peaks, high altitude turquoise lakes in every direction and we had clear views for about 100km. Brett says he would love to camp at the Top Hut one day but I wouldn’t do it without a super-warm tent and more technical clothing – I’d also like to do it in a pair of waterproof hiking boots next time instead of old running takkies, and at least have a chance of keeping my feet dry. We are both keen to come back and try out the Sirimon and Chogoria routes, as these are also supposedly very scenic. 

We headed down on our own as the Polish guy had a flight to catch, and it was actually much better being able to go at our own pace and wander wherever we wanted. The scree slope was very stable on the way up, with the stones being held together by frost, but it had started to melt on the way down, so was a bit slippery and easy to imagine rock slides starting. The structures are fascinating as the stones near the surface are lifted by thin pillars of ice 3-5cm long. The scenery going down to Mackinder’s was absolutely stunning and it was great to see everything we had walked past in the dark that morning. The temperature dropped dramatically once we reached Mackinder’s at about noon and it started snowing fairly heavily on the peaks – we were very lucky with the weather as it would have been a lot colder and possibly slipperier if we had been going up to the top the next day. We were exhausted and cold, so we had a long afternoon nap. It is common for people to walk straight from the peak down to Met Station, but we planned to take it easy to make up for the early start, and a few others we met changed their plans to do the same. We entertained ourselves with a few games of Yhatzee using improvised cardboard dice (made from a cut up oat-bar box) – at least until the numbers started smudging and you couldn’t tell what you had rolled anyway.

That night we both felt like we were getting colds just from being in the cold for so long. The walk back to Met Station in the morning was fairly easy, but we were both quite tired and were feeling a bit hemmed in by our time constraint – we had to exit the park by 13:20 so estimated we needed to be down at Met Station to collect the car by noon. The puddles in the path were frozen over, making the scenery very cool. There were lots of dassies and signs of elephants (although we didn’t see them, just the huge poops). There is a seam of rocks running through a lot of the bog, which was easier to follow on the way down, but we still got quite wet.

Finally we got to the bottom, right on time at 12, and headed straight off when we got to the car. The road was extremely muddy with huge diff-eating rocks, so we took it very slowly. About half way down, we came across a 4x4 that had been abandoned in the middle of the road (idiot!), totally blocking the way. All the oil had leaked out of both diffs and there were rocks behind the wheels so we weren’t sure if the handbrake was still working or not. The window was open but we decided against rolling the car back and to the side of the road in case the handbrake was not functional, so the only way past was to drive the left wheels up the bank and through the bushes – we inched past (2.54cmed past in metric), being careful not to bash our roof rack into his at the extreme angle. Coming off the bank,the road was extremely cambered and Brett could feel that the car was at too much of an angle, so we packed rocks underneath the front wheel to stop the car rolling. Finally we made it past the obstacle, but it took quite a lot of time that we didn’t really have. Just after that the heavens opened and the track turned from muddy and slippery into a kind of waterslide made out of red mud – luckily we had already passed the steepest bits and the obstacle, or we would have been in trouble. Coming down one particularly steep bit very slowly without touching the brakes, we started to slide sideways into the gutter and The Beast came to rest against the bank with the weight on the running boards. All the wheels were still on the ground but we were at a ridiculous angle and all I could see out of my window was mud and grass. Somehow without causing damage, we were able to keep driving, sliding the running board along the bank until we were past the steepest bit and could get back to the middle of the road. A little further on, we crossed through some deep muddy sections and finally came to the park gate.  A few km outside the park gate, the sun came out and the scenery turned dusty, looking as if it hadn’t seen rain in years – amazing how the mountain has its own weather pattern totally different to anything around it. 


Nairobi again

Mary: We drove back to Nairobi and into the last 50km of crazy road works, with a road wide enough for 4 lanes (if there were any lines) being blocked by make-shift taxi ranks and finally made it back to Junction Nakumatt to stock up and then Jungle Junction. At Junction shopping centre, Brett’s camera fell out of the car and has never been seen since. We spoke to the guards and mentioned the R word (“reward”) but it has not turned up. We are totally gutted that the Mt Kenya pics are gone as we had such great photos, and of course it was a fantastic camera as well. We looked on the internet for more Mt Kenya photos, but there was nothing really similar, so all we have included are a few pics on our way past on our way North to Ethiopia.

In the mean time we still hadn’t received the fridge parts from National Luna. Since they were not couriered but sent by post we knew they would have very little chance of turning  up at Jungle Junction (the address is not recognised by the Kenyan postal service and the property’s only signage is a subtle JJ on the gate) so we went into the main post office to see if we could pick it up or at least trace it using the tracking number. The post office is a cool old building with massive cages for boxes and chutes between the levels – despite it being a totally paper-based system, they were very organised in tracking our parcel and everyone we spoke to was very helpful. The processes are a little tedious but necessary to keep track of all the parcels coming through. Brett was like a kid in a toy store, clutching his parcel with glee and once we were back at JJs the fridge was fixed in no time – result! we can now stock up on meat for the road ahead!

We also had to get our paperwork done for exiting Kenya as we are heading north via Lake Turkana – there isn’t really a border up this route so we needed to get our passports and carnet stamped out in Nairobi. This was a bit of a mission involving driving into town to the Department of Immigration, parking where we were told to by a security guard, going in to get sorted & coming out to find the car clamped… approx $20 and an hour or two later we were free to head on to Times Tower to get the Carnet stamped – this was much easier but we did drive round and round the building looking for the correct place to park. (We will write up the details in a separate post still to come on the Lake Turkana Route). After a long day we headed back to JJ’s, where we met some lovely other travellers and spent some time chatting about everyone’s trips over a nice glass of wine.

After a bit of scouting round, Brett found a suitable replacement for his lost camera – a sparkly new Sony DSC-HX7V, which seems pretty good for a small camera. Only thing is Brett seems totally unable to put it down and this has resulted in a number of terrible pictures of me looking rough as it is far too early in the morning Smile

Blogs of the other travellers we met at Jungle Junction:

http://www.schnuefdis.org – Domi and Christina – awesome Swiss/German couple who’ve done the West coast already, travelling in a beautiful yellow Mowag

http://www.everythingexceptthehorn.com – Tamin – very organised SA girl with plentiful biltong supplies – our instant friend!

http://ctjansen.nl – Casper – travelling in a very well stocked MAN truck

http://harris.gb.net – Rich, Richard and Mo – crazy Brits who love rugby and aren’t frightened to try out the local shebeens


Car Stuff:

Swivel hub seal: It was unusually empty at JJ when we first arrived, so Chris let me use the workshop to replace a seal between the diff oil and grease of the front left swivel hub – the oil was leaking into the grease, making it less viscous and causing a slow leak from the swivel hub. It is quite a messy and fiddly job, but with the help of my service manual, the Hilux4x4 forum and help from one of the mechanics (Ben), we replaced the seals.

I also finally replaced the leaking fuel line between the tank and engine, just managing to squeeze my hand into the tight gap (caused by the long range fuel tank) to secure the clamp.

There have been quite a few small things we have needed to do on the vehicle, but they are mostly wear and tear that we would have picked up if we had owned the vehicle for longer before we started the trip. The parts have been cheap and easy to find (except the handbrake part) and the vehicle easy to work on.

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