Dark rain clouds greeted us on our arrival into Addis Ababa the capital of Ethiopia. The roads here swelled with traffic, where the timid stood still and only the bold got through. We found our way onto Chruchill avenue sidling North through muddled cross-roads in search of the Itegue Taitu hotel. Dividing the East and West of Addis the road took us past a series of old soviet buildings and monuments topped with the soviet star; all remnants of the Derg’s reign and their terrifying campaign of ‘Red terror’. At the Taitu we dropped our Australian compadre, Pete, and made our way to the local Overlander hangout near ‘Le Gare’ in the south. We found whim’s holland house hidden down a small road behind the main bus station. Whim, an old moustachioed Dutchman emerged from across the road to greet us. Setting up base in his bar, a little slice of holland, we made a plan for our stay in Addis. Teddy our friend from Mek’ele had put us in contact with his mechanics in Addis to get our shock repaired and we were due to meet them the following morning. Whilm’s was a little empty and further out of town so we decided to meet up with Pete back at the Taitu hotel. On our return we discovered the hotel was ‘sold-out’ of cheap rooms so we hatched a cunning plan to crash in Pete’s room with our camping gear. The only problem was finding Pete who had vanished from the grounds of the hotel. We successfully sneaked Delilah into the car park around back and began a stake out of Pete’s room in the budget accommodation block. At around 8pm Pete appeared so we hit the streets of Addis to find some food and experience some of Addis’s reputed nightlife.
After slow start the following morning we set off to meet the mechanics at the Black Lion Hospital optimistic we’d have our Old Man Emu shock fixed in the next few hours. The mechanics piled into the back and we set off to scour the streets of Addis for shock absorbers. The mechanics continued producing various brands of used shock absorber at extortionate prices. Frustrated we kept turning them away insisting on finding a matching old man emu shock, however it became increasingly clear Addis was devoid of our shock so we resigned ourselves to buying two Monroe shocks. Strangely both these shocks from a registered distributor were cheaper than a single used shock the mechanics were pushing at us earlier. Down a back alley in a slum they fitted the shocks and fixed our steering shaft bearings that had come loose. We took a short test drive with the mechanics to ensure the repairs were successful. Throughout Africa we had grown increasingly tired of the premium prices all foreigners were made to pay. Our mechanics were no exception and we were both horrified when they produced a 5000 birr invoice for work Teddy assured us should cost no more than 500 birr. A long bitter negotiation ensued with Teddy helping us to make the mechanics see reason. Eventually they accepted our reasonable offer of 1500 birr after Teddy threatened to send his ‘boys’ down. We didn’t quite know what a group of chilled out Rastafarians would do but it worked and they left the vehicle visibly upset. Fed up of the way we’d been treated but thankful of the help we’d had from our friends we headed back to the hotel. That evening we took it easy and bid farewell to Pete who was flying back out to Kenya.
The next morning we hit the road starting a two day drive down to Moyale and the Kenyan border enjoying a Jaffa cake breakfast on the road. For lunch we stopped in the town of Shasheme, the home of Rastafarian’s, in the hope of witnessing some of this curious culture. Alas, as Teddy later informed us, we’d visited the wrong part of town! Needing to make headway we got back on the road aiming for Dila or Moyale depending on how we progressed. Just passed Awasa the road began to deteriorate into a potholed mess. I was too slow in reacting to a particularly deep pothole that gave Delilah a strong shake. Thereafter a familiar bounce returned… We stopped to inspect the shocks finding that the washer and bolt had been torn from underneath one of our brand new shocks. With the spares in the back we made a quick repair before continuing on but the rather hopeful target of Moyale for the night was now well out of reach. Navigating the potholed road at night was out of the question so as darkness set in we stopped at a small hotel in Hagere Maryam, 304 kilometres from Moyale.
A short drive the next day brought us into Moyale where we had to wait for two hours whilst immigration on both sides had lunch. This allowed us some time to reflect on all we’d missed by rushing down our chosen route: the crocodile markets at Arba Minch, the Omo valley and lake Turkana. That afternoon we reached the Kenyan side of the Moyale, which seemed no different to the Ethiopian side except for the abundance of spoken English. The only realistic accommodation on the Kenyan side of the border we could find was the National Wildlife services campsite sandwiched between the Prison and the High court. Although there was still plenty of time left in the day, camping overnight along the Moyale-Marsabit was ruled out due to the notorious bandit situation in the region. So we saved our energy in preparation for a gruelling drive along ‘Hell Road’. At the campsite the accountant assured me that the USD 15 for their shoddy campsite was worth it as we could sue them if anything went wrong, apart from unforeseen circumstances. I regret asking what qualified an unforeseen circumstance: “if your dragged from your tent by a Hyena in the night then that is an unforeseen circumstance”.
Our early morning escape from the campsite was thwarted by our guard or worrying lack thereof. Eventually we woke another member of staff with our honking who graciously opened the gate for us. Ten kilometres into Hell’s road and we had our first incident. A suspicious smell of oil filled the cabin and the characteristic bounce of broken shocks returned. The rear driver side shock had torn clean in two sending oil everywhere. With the state of the road ahead we had to fix the problem before continuing. Fortunately we still had our spare old man emu shock, which we attached despite them being of different lengths. Not a car passed us as we effected our repairs in the middle of bandit country, a prime target for a lucky cowboy. Without further incidence we got back to the juddering road. Everything I’d read about this road suggested a terrible road beset on both sides by arid desert. However throughout our journey down from Addis there had been continuous rainstorms due to wet season. As a result the countryside had exploded into a brilliant green colour mixed with yellow from the flowering Acacia. Breaking our shock meant we had zero lives left in regards of shocks so we slowed our speed to an average of 12 mph meaning a very long 180 miles stood between us and Marsabit.
A few Kilometres outside a small village called Turbi the road changed from hard red corrugations into a thick mud pit. Three kilometres down the road and we met a large lorry heavily bogged down blocking the centre of the road. Overladen and deep in mud it looked beyond help. Ignoring the pleas from the stranded truck passengers two options presented themselves. Go left to what looked like dry virgin ground or follow another set of muddy tracks off to the right. Richard recommended going left, I disagreed and so we went right but we didn’t get far. In the deep truck tracks Delilah became beached on a ridge of mud at the bottom of a muddy gully. We weren’t going anywhere. Getting to work we got down the sand ladders and started digging out Delilah’s rear diff from the heavy mud. With the help of one of the truck passengers and a lot of revs we freed her coming back around to where we were twenty minutes ago. A line of rain tracking across the horizon made the pleas from the truck driver more frantic. During the rainy season these trucks and buses can become stranded for days if not weeks. After our lesson in Karma we thought it wouldn’t hurt to try and free them. Delilah was lined up and the kinetic tow rope hooked up. Engine roaring the blue and black monster started gently yo-yoing off the immovable hulk of the truck. Miraculously the truck suddenly shifted and I spurned Richard on. Accelerator to the floor Delilah slowly pulled the truck free, dragging it from its muddy prison. Cheers of jubilation rang through the air as we stood in disbelief. Quickly realising the photo opportunity we’d just missed we cursed our lack of foresight. Scrapping what mud we could off ourselves and Delilah we switched into high-diff to set-off again ploughing through muddy puddles and passing two more stranded trucks that really were beyond help.
Some way on the road conditions began to dry out returning to heavy corrugations and puddles. Occasionally we’d get overtaken by land cruisers full of armed guards clearly patrolling the road for bandits. Evidence of extensive road works taking place on the new Addis-Nairobi-Mombasa super highway, which should be finished in the next four years, was everywhere. Ironically most of the ‘bandits’ were probably now employed on the road project. Stretches of the near-complete highway teased us on the way down with the smell of fresh tarmac wafting through our windows. About 50 miles from Marsabit we finally hit fresh flawless tarmac. I could have kissed a China man! Sailing down the road we stopped at the edge of Gof Redo, one of the huge Calderas that had covered the surrounding countryside in a blanket of small rocks. Turning back to examine Delilah we couldn’t help but admire her new coat of red mud, looking like a true road warrior. In the dying light we decided to beat it into town to find some accommodation for the night. Wet and muddy we collapsed into the ‘Jey Jey Centre hotel’ to enjoy cold showers and a dodgy beef stew. The next morning holding no affection for our hotel or Marsabit we disappeared into the early morning mist for the second stage of ‘Hell Road’.
Whilst not as bad as Moyale-Marsabit the Marsabit-Isiolo road still has large sections of tarmac motorway missing. The first 121 kilometres consisted of tough corrugations and dirt track. At points it was easier and faster to leave the road diving down sand tracks winding alongside the original road. At Merille our ordeal ended, ramping the river bridge back onto tarmac. We were essentially on the home straight bound for Nanyuki three hours away. Climbing onto the lower slopes of Mount Kenya the temperature became a lot cooler and large swathes of farmland appeared. Pulling into Nanyuki the presence of the British army here was obvious with army land rovers and soldiers everywhere. Hungry and in need of internet we decided to treat ourselves at the local Doorman’s. Full of smoothie and steak baguette we set out to find Kirsty Smith, an old friend of mine from school in Singapore., at Barney’s bar and airfield. It is a favourite hangout of the british army and Richard bumped into one of his army colleagues in the restaurant. We went back to Kirsty and Julian’s house, a gorgeous old farmhouse nestled between the Aberdares and mount Kenya. Their three dogs reminded of us of our own dogs back home and the garden played host to passing groups of Colobus monkeys. Three days relaxing and recalibrating was just what we needed after the last couple of days. Incredibly thankful for their hospitality we set out for Uganda feeling a lot more human than when we’d arrived.
A short clip of the trip so far courtesy of BG:-