|Title:||about shiftas, stones and mud|
|Location:||sololo, kenya (683 m)|
|Text:||51 079 kilometres on the road
"i had seen poor roads on this trip but this one was spectacular […] but the worst of it were the loose boulders. broken and very sharp, they were so large they sent the truck in a toppling motion as it climbed them and plunged…"
paul theroux's description in "dark star safari" of the road ahead had been very inspiring for last night's nightmares. i had just started the book and gone right to page 157 where he describes his experience on the isiolo – moyale road. after less than two pages i put the book down. it only confirmed the terrible descriptions by the locals in moyale: stones, stones and more stones, 250 kilometres to moyale – and shiftas, local bandits, highwaymen who had just recently robbed a truck with 40 passengers on board.
"nothing you haven't seen already, don't worry," ralph and others had told me about the road. "but don't drive it when it rains!"
it rained this morning. well, it drizzled. "don't worry," the locals told us, "it's only here in the mountains. it will be dry once you're down in the desert". it made sense, just like yesterday…
we drove through dense fog, as we descended the mountain but the drizzle did stop when we reached the desert plain. the road was stony, but nothing to worry about. "nothing i hadn't seen before".
within the first hour witek's bike broke down twice. nothing serious, we fixed it. but again we had been leaving late and now i worried that we might not have enough time to get to moyale. "it's different to travel in a group. you can't always have it your way!" i thought. a few hours later i would be more than happy not to be on my own.
soon the road turned into what theroux must have meant when describing "…loose boulders. broken and very sharp, they were so large…" it was gravel. all right, it was big gravel, but nothing outrageous or impossible. "nothing i hadn't seen already". i hoped that this was it, hoping that my over confidence would not be punished by a real 'big-boulder-nightmare' later on the road. it wasn't.
true there were some hairy parts but they amounted to less than a dozen kilometres it total. the rest was relatively stony and full with thick gravel. it was not exactly pleasant but not a problem at all.
100 kilometres after marsabit the road became less stony and eventually turned into a smooth piste which was easy to ride. i knew from other travellers that the part close to marsabit was the worst and my initial worries completely subsided. the worst part was behind us and i really started to enjoy the ride through this enchanted landscape.
i guess one always needs to worry about something. now, that the road was good i started to think about shiftas. would they attack three guys on motorbike? probably… 'as long as they don't shoot us i don't care,' i thought.
i was still thinking about shiftas when my worries swung back from robbery to the road: it was a black wall, just north of us, stretching all the way to the horizon and it was approaching us quickly. rain was coming out of the north. "don't drive it when it rains, dammm!"
it his us just as we entered a little village where we found shelter under a roof. it was a massive downpour, biblical. within moments everything was soaked "it will pass in ten minutes" the local policeman told us and he was right. the rain passed and we drove on under grey sky, the remaining rainless clouds heavy, but high above us.
it had only rained for ten minutes, or so. but it was enough to turn the beautiful piste into a nightmare on mud. this wasn’t the thick steady mud of archer's post; this was as slippery as soap!
we skid forth and back on the piste, trying to find the best parts. bartek was the first to fall. then it was witek's turn then mine. we still took it with humour, hoping that the conditions would soon improve. "it's only pretending" i thought.
bartek is a good driver and in these conditions he's well off on his light weight KTM bike. he's also a bit stubborn and took off doing his own thing. witek is not a bad driver but he's not as experienced and i was simply too clumsy on my heavy BMW. the two of us struggled and advanced very slowly now.
when witek got stuck it took us more than 15 minutes to dig him out (bartek was not to be seen). then it was my turn: i skid on the mud and the back wheel slipped. that alone would not have been a problem: accelerate a bit and the bike gets back in line.
but the temporary loss of control caused by the skid sent me right into the next mud hole. here both wheel started to slide and i came out of the hole sideways. i saw the edge of the road coming closer; i saw it like in slow motion but there was nothing i could do and then i was off the road.
i got completely stuck when i tried to get back up the bank and onto the road, i had no chance. i looked back and saw that witek had loyally followed my example and was equally stuck twenty metres behind me.
we decided to see the funny side of it and started to dig each other out. our smiles slowly dissolved on our faces as we were fighting the mud. it was exhausting and amazing! i had to completely unload the bike and it took the full strength of both of us to move it inch by inch into a more favourable position. the act was repeated with witek's bike
when we were finally back on the road we were both exhausted. we drove on gingerly, trying not to fall. with every time you fall you loose more strength and confidence. we had no traction because of the mud that covered the wheels like an additional layer.
we were not moving much faster than at walking speed and moyale was another 100 kilometres away. it seemed endlessly far under these circumstances. we slipped and slid on the road but we eventually caught up with bartek and together we managed to get to sololo, a tiny village in the middle of nowhere.
bartek wanted to continue and make it to moyale which was another 80 kilometres down the road. i would have joined him, although reluctantly as i dreaded what might expect us on the road ahead. my arm was hurting from one fall and i gladly sided with witek who was too exhausted to continue. we decided to stay in sololo.
bartek went into his room and wasn't seen until the morning. he didn't seem happy about spending the night here.
ibrahim, the village, chief was a nice and talkative man: "i have seen many of your friends" he told me enthusiastically. "many sleep here, the road is too bad. i rescued your friend teddy after he fell off his bike last year!"
funny, how people here think that all bikers are well-acquainted friends. but the name teddy rang a bell. "…come off his bike…" on this road? that must have been ted simon, the author of "jupiter's travels".
and indeed it had been ted simon, then over 70, on his second trip around the world. he had had an accident on this road and ibrahim had brought him to sololo from where he was flown to nairobi with a broken leg (or was it his arm). in nairobi he stayed with my friend christoph, in the same house where i had just lived for a month and a half. "i must write ted" i thought and took a photo with ibrahim that i could send along.
but the village chief was good for another surprise: he told me about two germans on "very small" bikes. i had met two germans on vespas in malawi and from ibrahim's description there could be no doubt. they had also been here after their 'bikes' had broken down. this is definitely not a road for vespas.
i must have fallen asleep as soon as i had touched the bed. but i believe to remember some prayer to the rain god, a desperate and urgent one, before i passed out flat.