#10. Still Alive! Two most amazing weeks yet...Yarabello to Nairobi.

Beyond the Saddle ....Cairo to Cape Town
Howard Fairbank
Tue 13 Mar 2007 09:26
  01:17.503S 36:48.633E
   Issue #10

Still Alive!                

Two most amazing weeks yet...


Yarabello to Nairobi.



Tom and I at the Prison Canteen Bar, after our lunch with the
Magistrate, Vet and Policeman! 

The owner wanted to charge us for the photo of his 'arty' bar!


Nairobi, Kenya……..12 March, 2007.


It’s been two weeks since the last newsletter, when I was in Yarabello, with just two days left in Ethiopia! Well those two weeks have been hugely challenging, and delivered an amazing diversity of landscape, weather, and cultural experiences. Arriving yesterday in Nairobi also brought the official end of Stage 3, aptly called ‘Meltdown Madness’, and the unofficial halfway point of my adventure. (It’s been two months since I left Cairo, and another two months to go!) And to cap it all, this is my first newsletter from the Southern Hemisphere, after I crossed the equator, on March 10. Lost of milestones and a huge amount of memories, the highlights of which I will try and present to you.


The last two days of Ethiopia were REALLY pleasant, as the road took me into very sparsely populated terrain, which virtually eliminated the negative people experience, while the dense thorn bush, erratic, but spectacular rock outcrops and abundant bird life ensured I left Ethiopia on a positive note! All I had read about the Northern Kenya section from the Ethiopian border virtually to Nairobi, was that it was a very inhospitable, place, and you don’t want to be there unless you have to….hmmmm! Inhospitable….well yes, very bad roads, very hot, very flat, virtual desert at times, and lots of wide open space, with very little water, or shade around. What was never mentioned was wind! Well, those who read my daily blog (http://blog.mailasail.com/howfair) will know about my 4th of March horrendous desert storm experience, which says one can now also add, ‘sandstorms’ to the list of inhospitable attributes for this area!  I was intrigued that the more affluent Kenyans have basically walked away from maintaining the road on their side of the border, yet the poorer Ethiopians have a fairly good tar road on their side? I was told that Kenyan priorities are more focused on facilitating cross border thoroughfare on their more friendly neighbours on the southern and western borders. So future Tour d’Afrique riders can be assured that the authentic ‘Meltdown Madness’ challenge will remain for some years to come!


Having said all of the above, the ‘mostly remoteness’ of this section delivered some special beauty and inner humbleness with the big sky, 360 degree ‘horizon-less’ landscape, and meetings with people who for generations now have actually made the space their home. I say ‘mostly remoteness’, because interspersed in this vacant place, were other ‘patches’ of wonder.....like the more than 2200m high volcano of Mt Marsibit, just appearing in the middle of the Chalbi desert - an ‘elevated oasis’, which had this amazing cool and misty  climate, spurning a dense, green jungle vegetation. Then there were the huge endless semi-desert plains sporadically ‘blemished’ with perfect extinct volcano cones, or enormous solitary rock outcrops seemingly out of place with the rest of the landscape (see the picture). The most exotic, and famous, example of these ‘out of place’ mountains being the impressive Mt Kenya, standing at 5199m, and creating an aberration on the horizon. (See the photo)


A diverse and harsh environment like that described above must clearly demand special attributes from the people who chose it as their home, and in the Samburu tribe (an offshoot of the Masaai) we see that. I was fortunate to have many fairly intimate interactions that gave me insight into their uniqueness, and ability to survive and prosper in these conditions. (See section later).


Finally, after almost 9 days of this madness, the road surface changed from dirt to tar, the desert started changing to unending plains of golden grass, and soon this transformed into a green and more tropical landscape, as I crossed the odd river (Tana the most notable), and the long slow descent to Nairobi commenced. Plantations of fruit trees became the norm, and the frequency and sophistication of villages increased, with the offering of all types of fruit and juices, combined with curios indicating an increased level of affluence. This, combined with the genuine friendliness of the Kenyan people, turned the last few days of this section into one of the most enjoyable of the whole trip so far. The final 35km of police escorted convoy into the metropolis of Nairobi, was the final confirmation that the ‘Meltdown’ was over and a new chapter was about to begin!


Some of the more interesting specifics…..


First experiences of Kenya….
Prison lunch with a Policeman, Magistrate, and a Vet…!


Crossing into Kenya, expectations were running high, with the thought of reduced language barriers, more developed country and friendlier local people. The Ethiopian / Kenyan border town of Moyale immediately dashed those expectations, with the Ethiopian ‘half’ being much more attractive and offering more exotic wares than the rundown Kenyan side. I couldn’t believe how difficult it was to find a place that sold a beer (not even a cold one, just any one!) on the Kenyan side….. The only place we (Tom and I) finally found was the Prison Canteen! Sounds bad, but from the photo you will see it was quite ‘up market’! Well it must have been, because the guy in a suit(!) we ended up talking to was the local Magistrate, then the local vet, joined us, and finally an off duty policeman. The restaurant staff were all on edge because the commissioner of the Kenyan Wildlife Services and his entourage were flying in for a meeting and lunch at THE place. Well each of our table mates was a unique and interesting character…..


The Magistrate jumped straight into the Death Penalty, and how they need a new president who will sign approval for the hanging of the 3000+ death row inmates in Kenya! He then proceeded to describe, in detail, the hanging process, size of rope etc, and how much of a deterrent to serious crime it would be! We were all having a few beers, and I asked him if he was going back after lunch to deliver a few sentences? Fortunately he said ‘No, he never drinks before going into court!’ The Vet explained that his main business is treating domestic camels! He gave us a long story on the high price camel owners get from rearing and selling camels, and thus how important keeping them healthy is! The policeman told us all the scary bandit stories for the desolate desert road we had ahead. Bandits are a big problem for about 600km of this road, and he proudly told us in gory detail how he had shot and killed one bandit 4 days earlier. He then told us about this ‘crazy’cyclist that cycled on his own and was shot and killed the previous month! (I thought…. Crazy?.. No, that’s how I’d have liked to have done it! Maybe not after that story now!) We finished this interesting lunch with the magistrate buying us double tots of Fuleaha, a Kenyan version of brandy!  We ended up having a form of police escort through the bandit area, but being first off most days, and before the police left I was always a bit on edge until around 11am!


The Samburu People……    


It was after the Marsabit Volcano that I started coming across these very dark skinned, thin people, dressed in bright orange and red colours, with huge holed earlobes, red clay makeup, with lots of traditional necklaces, and bracelets. Often from a bit off, it was difficult to tell the men from the women, but as one got closer the large sheathed knife pointed to the male herdsman. There were friendly to the point of greeting, but somehow seemed to know the value of their unique look, and were very aggressive on one bringing out a camera.


One wonderful, day with hard parched desert next to the official road, I decided to explore off-road into the desert and was, as usual hugely rewarded:


I came across this family of about six living in a very desolate patch of sand with just three circles of dead thorn branches demarcating their home. The first circle was their eating area, the second the sleeping and the third their socialising area. No shade, or protection from the blistering sun, and on me enquiring about water, the father produced from under three layers of cow skins, a plastic can of water. The oldest son, probably 18 years old, had a magnificent and very sharp sheathed knife attached to his belt, and was the young herdsman to their small herd of cattle. He proudly showed me the 50cm long razor sharp blade of the knife, and indicated that it was used to slice through people’s necks!  We seemed to be really communicating without a language, and eventually the young daughters and son joined us. The father eventually proudly allowed me to photograph them (See the photo). I was later told that the necklaces on the daughters are a sign that the community elders have matched them with a future husband, and they are essentially destined to marry the approved man. The approved man may never have even spoken to the girls, but somehow desires them, and then approaches the elder statesmen of the surrounding community who then through a screening and negotiation process decide whether the girl is ‘given’ to the boy or not! If successful, the girls get to wear the necklaces as a sign to others that they are no longer available for future ‘marriage’


The other picture shows a ‘full on’ Samburu male complete with red clay hair dye, and tribal ornaments. He could speak a little English, and allowed me to photograph him after an extensive chatting and trust building process.




A good example 
of a Samburu Herdsman







I had a deep discussion about the Samburu in the desert with one of our police escorts the night after the wonderful semi-lunar eclipse I witnessed at 2am in the middle of nowhere with a full moon and clear night. He told me the male circumcision process in detail, and that how the eclipse meant that boys circumcised the week before had to now spend an additional two months (vs the normal one) in total isolation, post the ceremony, because of the eclipse! Apparently the circumcision is done in full view of the community, with warm milk being poured over the boys head, trickling down over his eyes, and he is not allowed to even so much as blink through the process. This guy told me that it is becoming increasingly common that any boy who blinks is shot dead on the spot. Apparently his parents do not watch the ceremony, for fear they may see their son killed!  Real tough stuff…..but it's all in the pursuit of having a strong future tribe…..makes me wonder about the soft lives some of the 1st world youngsters of today have!


It’s the equator but it's cold……


Yes, this was strange for me……around Mt Kenya particularly, it was quite cold, and even at midday the temperature was mild, quite pleasant in fact. Ok I was at an elevation of 2000m, but still this was the equator.  Seeing the pretty extensive snow cap on Mt Kenya was also a bit strange. You can see from the photo of the little kid, waiting for the bus to school, clad in a balaclava. People warned me of how ‘REALLY cold’ it will be, well actually it was cool, but it became apparent that for people who live on the equator that is REALLY cold!  The one night they even had a log fire going in the bar!


But with crazy reference points, what is a ‘cold drink’ then…?  Well, after many frustrating, local led, tours of a village in search of a COLD, cold drink, I think I understand what ‘cold’ means…. It's when a cold drink, is taken out of the warm crate, doused in room temperature water, to ‘cool it’, and then stored in a disconnected refrigerator for sale to demanding, and thirsty cyclists!


The Craziness of us 1st world ‘Clever People’….makes one think hey!


In one of my other deeper discussions with an ‘enlightened local’ in the desert, I asked him what the locals in the villages think of us cycling through? He replied immediately saying that without exception the villagers want to know why we are so stupid to want to have the hardship of traveling their bad roads on a bicycle, when there are buses, trucks etc.


Well you, like me, understand this is development…..you start off needing just the basic needs of secure home, safety, food and water, and companionship. To get this you live a basic and relatively hard life like these villagers, but it has all the elements of good times, bad times and medium times that the human needs to feel content. The 1st world model through working hard then enables you to go beyond this and get too comfortable, and out of hardship (achievement) balance. So what we do, is we volunteer to go back and take same hardship so we can get back to the balance we had as villagers! As a villager though you never understand this, but sadly as an upgraded villager, you can never go back and REALLY enjoy the simple life again! So it seems we will continue to do these full circles…I guess the difference being, each circle is more and more on our own terms!


This same local told me about the recently elected MP for the Marsabit desert region (strong Samburu area) who was brought up there, but somehow got to Harvard, and married an American. At the age of 32, like a fish out of water in the US he came back to Kenya, ‘To upgrade his people’. His first move was to offer his mother a wonderful new 1st world house (vs her thorn ring establishment). She sadly (Or too her credit?) declined saying ‘Son, I am happy with my house as it is today, I don’t want anymore!’ Makes one wonder who is on the ‘happiest’ route, the Samburu villagers or the ‘Clever people’? I know it's not as simple as that, but this trip makes it so blatantly obvious that the ‘locals’ think us ´Cyclists’ have everything (including money), and they need money from us to follow our path and ‘better their lives’. Maybe from within, their lives are simple and better, but they can’t see it because of all the ‘better’ pictures us colonialists have shown them! This trip so far has made me question a lot of what has happened to the African people over the years, and how cultures are being lost…lots of questions? Ok enough of this philosophy stuff!


One cycling one….The horrendous day of the 4th of March!




Sunrise start on the 'fateful' 
4 March morning. 

Clear, but rocky road ahead, the worst was still to come!  

The horizon view would have been the same from all angles!



It all started the night before with the wonderful eclipse and desert sunset etc….I wrote in my days blog ‘What more could I want?’  Well next day I got it. (The photo you see with the long straight road into the desert was the start of 4 March. Somehow I seem to deal with the corrugations and stony roads better than most and so I was ready for a hard 86km saddle-bashing day, but knowing the oasis of Marsabit was the end goal. About 10km into the ride, the terrain moved to virtually 100% desert sand and black lava stone and a strongish crosswind popped up. Ten kilometers further on and a gale was blowing, driving a sandstorm that reduced visibility to less than 50 meters. With corrugations, patches of soft sand and large rocks, the road was difficult enough for cycling with no wind, as one has to keep changing course to avoid sharp rocks, and also shift weight around the bike to keep balance. Well with the wind up it became a nightmare. To this point at least it was virtually flat, but soon a few hills were to enter the equation! My speed at times must have been below 10km and hour, and fluid consumption was enormous as the passing wind just sucked all the moisture out of my ‘gasping for air’ open mouth!  The lunch truck passed me, struggling and virtually going the same speed, till it eventually stopped at a fork due to poor visibility, and they asked me to go ahead and see the best route?  The ride ended with a 20km climb of 800m up the side of Mt Marsabit volcano! Funny - as the conditions got tougher my resolve to beat them increased, and I was happy to say I got in third behind two of the racers, after 7hrs of cycling out there. Some took 13hrs and need to be commended on that commitment. But hey - did the first few beers at Marsabit taste good, mud face and all! As I said in my Blog, this ride will go down as one of my toughest 5 ever! (Given my story above, I wonder what would the villagers have thought of this madness???)




Enjoying my first cold (semi!) Tusker beer after the fateful 4 March ride through the sandstorm. 

This was after my first cleanup in the
restaurant washroom!




Nairobi has been far ‘nicer’ than I expected, but I’ll probably cover that in the next newsletter….or else be shot for too long a newsletter! (Probably already at this point!)


In ending off I have to say I feel so privileged to have been through the experiences of the last two months, and just hope the next two are as personally rewarding.


The next section of just over 1000km from Nairobi to Iringa (Tanzania) promises to be full of highlights, with Kilimanjaro, probably at the top of the exotics!


Something to really motivate me further, is the fact that Ruth will be joining the adventure in Iringa, cycling with me for three weeks to Vic Falls, where she will end with the celebrations on my ‘big 50’ birthday! I hope the ‘distraction’ doesn’t effect newsletter quality!!!!


The second of my donor funds is The African Conservation Fund, and they are active in Kenya, and with ‘donation day’ getting closer I have asked them to tell you more about the good work they have on the go there:



Getting to know the African Conservation Foundation


Currently operating grassroots projects in Tanzania, Kenya and Cameroon, the African Conservation Foundation (ACF) provides back-up and support, skills and expertise to sustainable community initiatives in Africa – working to protect the indigenous species and habitats of this continent.


Their overall goal is to change the approach of the management and utilisation of natural resources to one in which the needs of human development in the region are reconciled with biodiversity conservation.


ACF is unique from other organisations working in Africa with their focus on integrated conservation and community development. By sharing offices with local partners and working with local staff, ACF ensures that all donor funds received reach the intended project with maximum efficiency.


This focus on results on the ground means that 100% of donations received in the past 8 years have actually been used for conservation, community development and education projects. ACF is one of very few foundations that can make this statement. They do not deduct fees or expenses for organisation overhead. Those expenses are funded separately through sponsoring organisations and individuals.


In the past years ACF provided support to more than 20 local organisations in Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Cameroon, Nigeria, Togo, Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe and South Africa. They are currently involved in chimpanzee and gorilla conservation and rainforest protection in Cameroon, community based forest conservation and poverty reduction in Tanzania, as well mountain forest restoration and primate conservation in Kenya.


They are also conducting an environmental education programme for primary school children in Tanzania and Kenya, called EcoKids Unlimited.


At present ACF is looking for funds to establish a bio-cultural centre for and with the Ogiek indigenous people in Mau Forest Complex, Kenya, as well as for setting up a wildlife orphanage and sanctuary at Mikumi NP, Tanzania.


A key role for ACF is to create opportunities for African conservation initiatives to share and leverage their knowledge and thus to have more impact on the ground (www.africanconservation.org). At the moment the organisation is working on a new website, with more and interactive facilities, which will be launched in April.


In 2006, the African Conservation Network, an initiative of the ACF and its partners around Africa, won the prestigious Stockholm Challenge Award in the Environment category. They have also received an endorsement from His Holiness the Dalai Lama in 2002.


"I am greatly encouraged by the work of the African Conservation Foundation for they are motivated by the idea that nature and our environment are an essential gift that we need to protect for the physical and spiritual well-being of future generations."


(HH the Dalai Lama, August 30, 2002)


For more information about the African Conservation Foundation, please feel free to contact Arend de Haas at arend {CHANGE TO AT} africanconservation {DOT} org



The team tackles the 'big' environmental issues, but in a fun and engaging way. School visits usually take 3-4 hours, sometimes a full day, and include lessons, film showings, games, drama and art workshops and of course outdoor education, such as maintaining school tree nurseries.



Please feel free to give any feedback on this newsletter by direct email to africa {DOT} cycle {DOT} trip {CHANGE TO AT} mweb {DOT} co {DOT} za 



My tried and tested Fuji bike parked at the official Equator line mark! 

Other than the emotional significance, not so spectacular!

The Progress So Far
  • Current Section:
    Addis Ababa to Nairobi

  • Hours cycled since last newsletter:

  • Distance cycled since last newsletter:
    1063 km

  • Distance cycled so far:
    5218 km

  • Km to go to Cape Town:

A rural North Kenyan village scene, just after the Ethiopian border...

still green and mountainous, the desert to come!

One of the 'Must have' photos...Mt Kenya from the gate of Mt Kenya National Park.

 I took a detour off the main road to get as close to the base as practical. 

The guard wanted to charge me a US$20 entry fee for taking the photo!

This gives you some idea of the road condition along the 'Meltdown' path, and the huge isolated rock outcrops I mention.

Busy with....Section Three: 
Addis Ababa to Nairobi  

South of Addis Ababa, the terrain changes yet again to flatter countryside interspersed with beautiful lakes. Lake Langano is set against the Arsi Mountains and is an ideal stop to camp and take a much-deserved dip. The route then continues through Shashemene, the unofficial capital of the Ethiopian Rastafarian community. with a stop in Yabello, and a visit to the wildlife sanctuary to catch a glimpse at some of Africa 's rarest birds such as the Prince Ruspoli Turaco.


Crossing from Ethiopia into Kenya begins the “Meltdown” portion of this section because the roads in northern Kenya consist of an unpaved lava rock expanse that redefines the word bumpy. This road runs through a hot flat rock desert and then the paved highway begins signalling the start of the ascent around majestic Mount Kenya.


From here the route goes through some spectacular scenery, and includes the huge milestone of crossing the equator and some of the most drastic elevation changes on the approach to the halfway point of the adventure….Nairobi. The “Meltdown” has the most diverse changes in scenery and riding conditions: desert, mountains, and savannah. Cycling the “Meltdown” in its entirety is an impressive accomplishment for any cyclist.  


Section dates:


22 February to 11 March

The Samburu kids I met on my off road desert excursion. 

The thorn tree branches in the background are the 'walls' of their house!

Note the necklaces I refer to in my script!

And oh well...boys are always show offs!

This was just after sunset at a waterhole I found on a walk from the campsite, and had all to myself. 

Great bird life and I went back at sunrise to see impala and hyena.

The cold at the equator I refer to.... 

Close to the equator, this cute little guy waiting for his bus to school, all kitted out warmly in a 'balaclava', as I set off on the wonderful day's cycle past Mt Kenya.

Coming up....Next Section:
Nairobi to Iringa


One day south of Nairobi the Tanzania border is crossed and immediately thereafter the unmistakable Mount Kilimanjaro and its smaller sibling, Mount Meru dominate the view. The city of Arusha in Tanzania is small but vibrant and is growing fast; it is also the gateway to the Serengeti National Park and Mount Kilimanjaro.


Heading south from Arusha, the route continues along roads where one has to watch out for not only cars, but also zebras, giraffes, and maybe even elephants. The route leads close to many famous national parks including the fabulous Ngorongoro Crater, Lake Manyara, Taragire, and Ruaha, and the tribesmen of the Masai will be constant companions along the road. Eventually the route passes through the small capital city of Dodoma and then through some of the most unique, verdant, memorable and least travelled parts of Tanzania, finishing in the pleasant town of Iringa. This section called the “Snows” section might not be the most difficult, but guaranteed, it will be one of the most memorable.


13 March to 24 March

The Complete Route


  • Total Distance Cairo to Cape Town: 
    11 884 Km

  • Countries through which the route passes:
    Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia, Botswana, Namibia, South Africa

  • Sections:  
    1. Cairo to Khartoum  
    2. Khartoum to Addis
        Ababa (Sudan/Ethiopia)
    3. Addis Ababa to Nairobi
    4. Nairobi to Iringa
    5. Iringa to Lilongwe
    6. Lilongwe to Victoria
        Falls. (Malawi/Zambia)
    7. Victoria Falls to
        Windhoek (Zambia/
    8. Windhoek to Cape Town  
        (Namibia/South Africa)

  • Expected arrival in Cape Town:  
    12 May 2007

Helping Conserve Africa …
The Deal

As a subscriber to this newsletter, Thank You for agreeing to do your bit by helping to conserve Africa through our two partners:


The African Conservation Foundation:



Over the course of the trip, through this newsletter, you will get a chance to learn more about these organisations and their projects on the ground.

ACF works together with local communities to protect and conserve the critically endangered Cross River gorillas and endangered chimpanzees across the Lebialem Highland Forest Area in South West Cameroon. There are only 250-350 Cross River gorillas left in the wild.

Schoolchildren proudly show the tree they have planted themselves in Eyasi Division, northern Tanzania. The project is currently reaching more than 11,000 schoolchildren between 6-13 years of age.

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