Pole Pole in Nairobbery

Blog 42 by Mick: Pole Pole in Nairobbery

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:

  • First couple of days was study for Tanya, then her exam for her BComm at the British Council. She got another good result bringing her on-the-road marks higher than her normal life study marks… go figure.
  • Get Ethiopian Visas.
    • Once the exam was done (passport was needed for ID), we could send the passports back to the Ethiopian Embassy in Canberra to get our visas. Ethiopia is seriously annoying in that they only issue visas in your home country, so many people at JJ’s are passport-less waiting for their Ethiopian Visas from their home country. This was very easy in the end, the staff at the embassy were very competent and it was only about a 2 week turn around. I should mention a notable exception to this rule: Overlanders travelling south through Africa can get their Ethiopian visas at the Ethiopian embassy in Khartoum, Sudan in just hours.
  • Get new carnet de passages.
    • This turned out badly. We had been conversing with the AAA since Malawi to get this sorted in time. Firstly, they forgot to send the package. We had some family members lined up to receive the CdP’s to add to a package of spare parts and other documents to send to Kenya and they waited and waited and waited, and when we contacted the AAA to inquire where they were we were told they would arrive in 2 days ie, “we posted them today because we forgot”. Furthermore, there was a miscommunication with the AAA and they only issued one CdP. So when we received the DHL parcel we were let down pretty massively. We had to get the AAA to issue the other CdP quick smart and DHL that aswell, which cost us another 100 bucks in couriers. Funny how the first one took 2 weeks to issue and when the pressure was on (due to their own stuff up) they could do the second in a day…

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!

  • Get new International Driver’s Permits for us, plus new bank cards and a new Drivers License for Tanya.
    • Our IDP’s were expiring, and Tan needed new bank cards and DL after losing her wallet in Mozambique. Getting all this done was a bit dodgy in the end. I wont go into the details because there were a few ‘complications’ to get these things issued while we were overseas, but we got there. Of note and a shock to us, DHL does not courier bank cards out of Australia due to security concerns. So in the end we put a call out on FB if any of our friends were flying to Africa, and sure enough, a buddy of mine was flying from Perth to his home in Tanzania, via Nairobi of all places. So we got the bank cards sent to him, and I met him at the airport he passed them through customs to me.   Worked a treat! Our first use of the ‘human network’ rather than couriers. It was something that we would come to use again with similarly excellent results.
  • Get some replacement tankbags
    • Our Giant Loop tank bags were both failing at the zipper, so we contacted them and they were happy to replace them. Fantastic customer service. We got them sent to Nairobi, the only issue being customs wanted 10% import duty and 18% VAT. We went in and argued and managed to get them imported for free on our CdP’s. Took some significant time and effort, but it was worth it as it saved us over $US100.

Our replacement tankbags from Giant Loop – thanks guys for supporting your product and your high quality customer service!

  • Got new COMESA Insurance for another 3 months.
    • Our COMESA from Rwanda would be expiring in about a month so we figured we would update it while we had some downtime. Was a piece of cake.
  • Repair our panniers.
    • The overall quality of the Adventure Spec Magadans is not really reflected in the price you pay. We had to get patches put over rips, replace webbing, replace a bit of strapping which failed and sew on a new buckle. There is a local canvas guy who can do this. We got him to make a few things for us and he did a great job, and re-cover our air-hawks which were wearing pretty thin. Tan chose a vibrant Maasai fabric!

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.

Both bikes:

  • Straighten and reinforce front bash plate mount.
    • The bash plate mounts exactly like the B&B Offroad bashplate at the front and the mounting bracket was starting to bend, like my old B&B one was. I took it off, straightened it and beefed it up a bit.
  • Double tubed front tyres
    • We were expecting many flat tyres in Ethiopia as we had been told there is so much rubbish on the road. Plus the Turkana route is famously rocky and very hard on tyres. So we decided to double tube the fronts to add extra protection. I considered doing the rears as well but was worried about heat generation so decided in the end not too.

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

  • Make and fit new chain sliders
    • When we started on the trip I put on new chain sliders in South Africa. I expected them to last all the way to Europe and foolishly wasn’t keeping an eye on the wear. I was also expecting we would do about 25,000 to 30,000kms to get to Europe, but here we were in Nairobi with 35,000kms already done and the chain sliders had worn through and done some damage to the swingarm (mine needed repair, Tan’s only superficial). I cut some new ones out of an old truck tyre, full bush mechanic style to get us by until we can properly replace them.

The old worn chain slider and the marked up truck tyre ready to be cut.

Few little adjustments

Test fit

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.

  • Few little electrical issues
    • Both bikes had a few little nagging electrical issues, nothing serious, just needed some time to repair.
  • Redirect the headlights
    • The way I mounted the headlights and built the angle adjustability in retrospect isn’t ideal, and means that over time with vibration the headlights begin to point too high. This was the 2nd time I’ve redirected them. With a round file I cut a few grooves in the mount to try and get them to ‘sit’ a bit more stably.
  • Cleaned fork seals
    • Seemed like a good time to clean the grit that always seems to get past the dust seals.
  • Cleaned and lubed chains
    • Bit of general maintenance
  • Valve clearances
    • Both were due, but being DR650’s, both were in spec.

My Bike:

  • Tapped and remounted exhaust end cap
    • Ongoing issue with damaged threads, so I tapped them all out to M8 and refitted the end cap.
  • Rear auxiliary power plug repair due to major electrical corrosion
    • My rear electrical plug hadn’t been working for a while. Water had got into the plug and loom so it needed a fair bit of new wiring and some soldering to repair it.
  • Got someone to weld up the damage to the swingarm from the worn chain slider
    • I got a solid recommendation for a welding shop to take the swingarm to from someone who should have been trustworthy, and it backfired badly. The workshop recommended, Magnum Engineering, were seriously incompetent and very expensive. Moral of the story is, don’t trust anyone for a recommendation who isn’t a consumer ie they also buy their services, no matter their reputation or how knowledgeable they should be or appear to be. You never know what their motivations are.

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…

Tan’s Bike:

  • Welded up number plate mounts
    • The mounting tabs for the number plate mount had cracked – probably because I had mounted a second stop/tail light from it. This had to be welded up.

Sticking up the number plate tabs

The result…

  • Drill out snapped rear rack mounting bolt and replace
    • When taking the rear rack off to get to the number plate mounting tabs, one of the rack bolts sheared off from being seized by mud and moisture. This had to be drilled out, which was a mission because the bolt was high tensile and the drill bits at JJ’s weren’t the best.

Dang it

  • New connecting plug for rear auxillary power plug
    • This was more preventative, there was corrosion on the plug on my bike so I put a new plug on Tan’s and made sure this one was very water tight.
  • Weld up dent in frame where bashplate smashed into ground
    • With the bashplate off, I noticed a small dent in the right hand cradle tube. This was likely due to the donkey crash in Namibia putting a lot of force into the frame through the bashplate mount. I was pretty convinced there would have to be micro-cracks around the dent and that stress concentrations around the dent would lead to crack propagation so I welded up the dent.
  • Rebuild front brake with new components
    • The supermoto caliper mounting plate needed to be replaced due to wear of the slide pin, along with a few other pieces.

New caliper mount, new pad springs, new pads. All good to rock and roll

  • Get someone to weld up crack in bash plate
    • Magnum Engineers fucked up the bashplate as badly as the swingarm. Worse maybe.

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”.

  • Remount front fender with new ali composite reinforcement
    • The dodgy fender fix I’d done 15,000kms ago at the top of Van Zyl’s Pass using stuff I found in a campground bin was starting to crack. It was still working, just cracking, so I replaced it with a new and much better version.

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!”

  • Fit new projector glass
    • I noticed that the projecter lens on Tanya’s bike was chipped from the donkey crash and finally got around to replacing it. It was doing this job where I cut open my head; at night time with a weak headtorch I was too close while levering on the headlight with a screwdriver. The screwdriver slipped and the rest is history. Not clever.

Old and chipped vs new and pristine

  • Sparkplugs
    • Were due, so were done.

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.

  • Get a spare DL
    • Before leaving home, lie to your department of transport and tell them you lost your drivers licence and get a new one issued. Carry it in a safe place hidden away in your luggage somewhere
  • Get secondary bank cards
    • Get a family member (with the same last name) to become a secondary card holder on your account and get a second set of cards issued. Then carry them in a safe place. If you get your wallet stolen, you can cancel your cards and then just start using your secondary cards.
  • Leave certified copies of identification with loved ones at home.
    • Getting new DL and IDPs would have been much easier if we had done this. Get your passports and other relevant ID copied and certified and leave it with a trusted family member so if anything goes amiss, the information is there ready to get new cards.

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:

  • Nairobi traffic is busy.
    • If you want to go downtown from Karen, expect 45-60minutes for peak times and 30-45 minutes for non-peak, and that’s with a lot of lane splitting. If you’re travelling in a car, double those times… or more. We heard of cars spending 4 hours getting from downtown to Karen. The airport is the same, 40 minutes or so on a bike. Use the Langata Bypass for the airport or the industrial area.
  • Jungle Junction is in Karen S1° 21.767′ E36° 44.425′.
  • There is a pretty good pub near JJ’s called Purdy’s Arms.
    • They do good live music on the weekends. Meals are good and reasonably priced. S1° 20.266′ E36° 42.317′
  • Need some canvas work done? Try Savannah Designs Africa. S1° 19.038′ E36° 43.098′.
    • They will make custom bags or do repairs. Pretty good quality from what we saw and reasonably priced.
  • The central post office is at S1° 17.436′ E36° 49.515′.
    • If you’ve had stuff posted to you and you need to pay import duties or want to argue them, you need to go here. If you want to argue, bring your CdP, your smiley face and be determined. Eat before you arrive, it might take a while…
  • Need motorcycle tyres in Nairobi?
    • There are a few options. KTM (mostly Metzeler or Maxxis), Cycle Importers (Vee Rubber), or Chris at JJ’s (Golden Tyres). Or you can go straight to the importer for Golden Tyres and (last we heard) Heidenau. Call xxxxxxxxx
  • Here is the KTM dealer S1° 21.933′ E36° 44.560′
    • He is expensive but has a reasonable supply of quality riding gear and tyres, mostly off-road MX stuff. He also has some 50/50 tyres like Metzeler Sahara. Most of his stock is Metzeler or Maxxis, although I did see some smaller sized Perilli MT21 and large GS sized Conti TKC80 in there. Prepare to pay though. He is seriously
  • There is another bike dealer called CYCLE IMPORTERS who does the Japanese brands S1° 16.704′ E36° 49.150′
    • I never went into the store but did speak to him on the phone. He stocks Vee Rubber tyres and at reasonable prices.
  • Need new COMESA Insurance?
    • We went to UAP Insurance downtown S1° 17.098′ E36° 49.411′ call +254202850000 or mob +254711065000. They were quick and efficient.
  • Want to get stamped out of Kenya so you can do the Turkana Route?
    • Go to Nyayo House S1° 17.228′ E36° 49.121′ and go to the “Aliens” Entrance around the left hand side of the building. Get a ticket and go to window #6.
  • DHL House is here S1° 18.296′ E36° 49.653′.
    • They are very competent. However, if all you need to do is send something, YOU DO NOT HAVE TO GO DOWNTOWN! In the carpark of Galleria Shopping Centre S1° 20.578′ E36° 45.916′ there is a DHL Agent based out of the back of a truck who can send stuff on your behalf. Sounds rather dodge but it is all very legit.
  • You can get some good Tex Mex at Java House.
    • Located at S1° 20.602′ E36° 45.911′ at Galleria Mall. Good coffee at Art Café next door but its pretty steep.
  • Do not trust Magnum Engineers in Nairobi for welding!
    • While at JJ’s a few other patrons had jobs done by them after receiving the same recommendation I was given by a trusted source. One job was a stainless steel water tank that was cracked. It had to go back twice to fix leaks in the tank. The S/S welding was bad. The other job was a cracked mild steel roll cage fix. This was also very poorly done. They are located on Lunga Lunga Rd S1° 18.447′ E36° 52.291′.

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!!

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