I should apologise in advance for this blog post – it may be a bit boring. It involves the mind numbing administrative bits of overland travel, the bits which set overlanding aside from regular duel-sporting/adventure riding as you sort out life’s problems on the road in cities you’re not familiar with. Hardly entertaining reading but a necessary part of keeping the wheels rolling so it gets a mention.
Anyway, the immigration and customs formalities on the Kenyan side were a breeze. It was funny that on the Ugandan side I had been warned by some random fella I sitting and chatting with while waiting for the customs agent to come back to work from his afternoon snooze that Kenyan’s were far more money focused and not to be trusted. Ugandans, on the other hand, were very friendly (which they are certainly are), very trustworthy, and all round good guys. I nodded and smiled and pretended we hadn’t heard these sorts of things before at other borders; its funny how neighbouring countries can be so similar yet so adversarial. This was certainly the case here, the Kenyan border officials were great, very easy to talk to, and best of all, pretty quick and competent.
It was something that got reinforced quite a few times over the next month; Kenya is the powerhouse of East Africa for a very good reason – shit works… for the most part anyway. Yeah, it can be a little slow by western standards but their bureaucracy works and their bureaucrats are generally pretty competent. Very few times were we answered with the ‘wide eyed blank stare’ that can be quite common around these parts. It was quite refreshing. Yeah bribery is rife for locals (we heard a story on the radio while in Nairobi that Kenya had just been ranked in the world top 10 for corruption) but they seemed sufficiently embarrassed by this that they exclude the average traveller from it.
So back to the riding… we spent the night in the first major town we came across, Kitale. We saw a few potential hotels and stopped to chat about our options, and as per usual, we got mobbed by a bunch of kids and some potential helpers who were hoping to swap some assistance for a tip. While discussing, a bloke walked past who was the manager at a nearby hotel who invited us in for a look. Fair enough, better then standing around scratching. Tan went in and it was clean and secure and cheap enough, so we took it.
The shit thing was that while Tan was inside, I chatted with the kids. They had a ‘minder’ of sorts, not too sure what the actual arrangement was, but he was an adult who as hanging around with/supervising these 8 or 10 kids. Turns out the kids were all abandoned and homeless, generally the unwanted children of prostitutes. This fact was later confirmed by the hotel manager, who referred to them as “the street urchins”. The kids spoke varying qualities of English but were all quite polite, and a couple had the ubiquitous bottle of solvent/glue that poor kids with little to look forward to in life sniff around these parts. And other parts. It was pretty bloody sad, and no amount of me telling them to “get that shit out of your face, you’ll fry your brain kid!” would get them to do otherwise.
Makes you realise that these poor kids lucked out in the birth lottery and were essentially born into a guaranteed shit existence. Sure there might be some rare and exceptional kid that has the ability to drag themselves from these circumstances to success, but for the average person, your basically up against it from the start. Maybe that sounds a bit pessimistic, but to be honest, that’s basically the way it is. We westerners on the other hand, pretty much won the birth lottery and have all sorts of opportunities which simply don’t exist here. Case in point; how many Africans do you see riding their motorbikes around the world? Anyway, that maybe a bit a rambling, but its meetings like these that don’t happen unless you travel to weird and out of the ordinary places, and they ram home just how lucky Tan and I are to be doing what we are doing.
Heading to Nairobi – we got some rain
The ride to Nairobi the following day was a pretty boring 400km of tar with the usual assortment of lunatics trying to run us off the road. We made it to Jungle Junction after a false start (JJ’s moved out to Karen a few years ago and if you’ve got the old version of Tracks 4 Africa you’ll get sent to the old location) and we settled into the campground after a beer.
This is Schalk, a South African making his dream of riding Africa happen. He is on a budget so just took what he had and went. We met up with Schalk later in Ethiopia.
And so began an unexpected month of administration, bike maintenance, logistics and other random issue resolution. We were expecting about 2 to 3 weeks of down time but it ended up a bit over 4 with delays and general stuff ups. We organised our new carnets, but then they forgot to send them. Then when they finally did, they only sent 1. So we had to get the second one couriered. Then, when doing one more last minute job in the night before we were planning to go, I managed to cut open my head. That delayed us a few more days… pretty silly.
These guys are a French family and are about 6 months into a 3 year trip around the world with their family. They gave us lots of good tips for Oman. They also gave us some warnings of what was to come for us in Ethiopia. They were very kind and thoughtful and cooked us dinner one night after we received some terrible news that a friend of ours had died very suddenly. That is one of the shit things of being on the road, you are a long way away.
There was one significant benefit of this though, apart from a competitive entry to scar competitions. The day we should have left, Tan went to the local shopping centre and a bloke who has been reading our Ride Report on ADV Rider recognised the bike and invited her to lunch with his family. Turns out this guy grew up in south western Ethiopia with his parents who are missionaries there, and he later lived there with his own family. He suggested we go visit them… off course she said yes! How good an offer! We had our first contact in Ethiopia…
This is Roman, a Czech Guy who flew into Nairobi, bought an Indian made Bajaj Boxer 150cc (the big bore!), got some cheap luggage and 2nd hand camping gear and went riding for 4 months. All up this entire setup cost him about 1500 bucks including all the licensing and logbooks.
All in all our experience was pole pole (pronounced po-leh po-leh, means “slowly slowly” in Swahili) in Nairobi, or Nairobbery as it can be known for its reputation for petty crime. Anyway, I’ll try and itemise what we did to keep it compact and so you can flick through pretty quickly, but hopefully there is a few bits of useful info.
Karen and Peter from Tracks 4 Africa, they were about to head up the east side of Lake Turkana
Looks can be deceiving, this guy’s name is Richard and he is a real hardcore adventurer. He bought this Yami AG200 new in Gaberone, Botswana, rode it through Bots and SA then headed north and rode through the very middle of DRC from south to north, entering from Zambia and leaving through Uganda. It was the 4th time he had crossed the DRC. The first time was the standard Kinshasa to Matadi and into Angola leg which most overlanders do. He did this in a 4×4. His second, also in a 4×4, was the famed N1 from Kinshasa to Lubumbashi. The 3rd, he flew into Nairobi, bought a little Bajaj Boxer 150 and rode it across the top of DRC into Central African Republic, got caught in a bandit attack near Bangui, then up the west coast of Africa and all the way home to England. He replaced the motor in Morocco for about 200 bucks. And to put it all in perspective, Richard is mid sixties I’d guess. I’ve now got a goal to aim for in 30 years! All his buckles on his AS Magadans had failed and been replaced too.
Administration and Logistics Jobs:
An option we considered while we were having issues with our CdPs. In ‘Nakumatt’, the local major supermarket chain, you can buy Chinese motorcycles. This was an Senke 125cc for 78000 shillings, less than 800 bucks and with a helmet!
Our replacement tankbags from Giant Loop – thanks guys for supporting your product and your high quality customer service!
All 4 of the bags needed work done to them, this one got a new strap, new buckle and a handful of repairs done to the cordura. Hey AS, lift your game!
Some of the little bits of pieces we got made for various needs. They fixed my pants zipper too.
Bike Maintenance Jobs:
With 35,000kms done in Africa, the bikes were due for a bit of love and attention.
I used the tube that split at the seam in Uganda and another that was full of patches as the donors for the tube lining. Made fitment a bit tougher but saved us a lot of flats
The old worn chain slider and the marked up truck tyre ready to be cut.
Few little adjustments
Cutting out #2. I used about ten 100mm cutting discs to make both. Not sure if it was low quality discs or the steel plys in the tyre?
Final fitment, looks pretty ok
I was hoping they should do the job for a few thousand km. In fact, I recently took them off with about 14000kms on them and they lasted very well.
The damage to the swingarm from the worn slider.
And Magnum Engineering’s handiwork… I used JJ’s driver to deliver the job to the workshop and pick it up and nearly flipped my fucking top when I saw this and the bill. I later went into the shop and found out they had been tig welding 6061 aluminium (alloyed with zinc) with 40xx series (alloyed with silica) arc welding rod as filler. And the gas flow was too low. So they contaminated my swingarm with silica and ally oxides! Just fucking great…
Sticking up the number plate tabs
New caliper mount, new pad springs, new pads. All good to rock and roll
The repair done in Namibia wasn’t the greatest, there wasn’t enough penetration (like my orginal weld) and it cracked again. An this is what Magnum Engineering came up with…. Holy shit I could cry
Not enough gas… too much heat… check the porosity!
…… the horror… the horror…
So much heat they actually warped the plate… So I took the bashplate back to them and demanded an explanation. I got to talk to the welder who did the job and quickly realised the poor guy had no training and no supervision. I told him I made the bashplate and asked to see what he had done. That’s when I found the 40xx series arc rods being used for tig filler of a 5083 job. I started talking to him about the various grades of ally and his eyes just glossed over, the poor guy had been thrown in the deep end and had no idea.
So we found some 3mm plate which I had an educated guess was 5005, cut some thin strips of filler with a guillotine and buffed them up. We then completely ground out the last weld and cleaned the job up spotless and set up the welder. I turned the current up to about 125 amps (he was trying to weld 6mm ally at 90amps or so, hence he had to go very slow and had huge heat build up and warped the plate) turned the gas up and got started. About 3cm in the the power went out! Karibu (welcome to) Kenya! I went back in the next morning and the welder had done the job already and finished up with this. A bit wobbly, but not a bad effort. I then had an almighty swipe at his boss for not training his guys, not supervising them, giving them jobs they weren’t skilled for, giving them unsuitable consumables, and charging idiotic sums of money for crap work. I tried to talk to the owner of the workshop, an English guy, but he “wasn’t available”.
Putting the finishing touches on the repair. This one was 4 or 5 layers of Tusker can.
And the end result. We later had a guy mention how he liked the Tusker sticker, and I was like “that’s no sticker, that’s structural!”
Old and chipped vs new and pristine
Some tips for Overlanders we have learnt the hard way:
We definitely wouldn’t have wasted so much time in Nairobi if we had done a few things differently before we left home.
We got a very unusual request from a guy through our blog – would you like to be interviewed for a potential TV project? Yeah ok, sounds like fun and we had nothing better to do; we’ll do it.
The first interview went really well, so well infact…
…he came back with a full crew to redo it.
Here’s my turn, from a different angle of course.
The crew. Ken, the movie man is second from left, and his super perfectionist camera man is far left.
A few tips about Nairobi from those who spent too long there:
More overlanders, this is Matt and his family and they came down the west side of Lake Turkana after spending some time in Ethiopia
And this is Glenn, a missionary who works between Tanzania and Kenya and rides a well used XR650R. After having our swingarms out, I could see some wear on the bearings. So I ordered new swingarm and rear suspension linkage bearings to be sent to one of Glenn’s missionary buddies who then brought them to us in Nairobi tax free. That’s the human network in action. This is us on our way out of Nairobi. You can tell we have been sedentary for a month and beers have been reasonably priced!!