In anticipation of an upcoming cycling safari we are hosting in January 2015, our very able team set out to taste the water. The pre-cycle tour was to map out and inspect a safe route for the cycling tour. The goal at hand was to familiarize with the routing in order to facilitate for precision planning. They ended up having so much adventure and fun; they share their experience in our blog.
The team members comprised of;
• Eric Sindiyo – Stared driver guide
• Peter Mungai – Handling reservations for the tour
• Coleman Karanja – Coordinating logistics and operations
• Michael Mwaura – Camping specialist
• Frans Staal – Biking safari specialist and tour / group coordinator.
The pre-cycle inspection tour started on an interesting note; we set out not knowing where we would sleep, eat, bathe or take a dump. We packed up our trusty Land Cruiser with tents, sleeping bags and mattresses, cooking utensils and a gas cylinder for cooking. This particularly made us un-easy as we had no idea what to expect on the way, if we would get secure camping grounds and if there were any animals in the way. The plan was to use the camping gear as a last resort as our itinerary literary indicated ‘sleep or camp somewhere’.
The approximately 520 km drive to Diani in the South Coast was very eventful. This is where the cycling tour should begin at. We made several stops along the way; bathroom break, lunch break, stretch-your-legs break, supplies break, another bathroom break, no-reason break… well,; we made just about every necessary break. Over our lunch break, we took the opportunity to teach Frans a tactic or two on getting additional food from the hotel for free. We call it a ‘sossa’ addition, a corrupted version of ‘saucer’. We all ordered for fries and steak and within minutes we had finished eating. We complained to the waitress that our fries were too little and we requested for sossa fries. She went to the kitchen and returned with a plate full of fries and went ahead to equally share it out for us, everyone getting their saucer portion. Fraans was amused and amazed at this and was quite impressed that we got free food. But we warned him, this doesn’t work at every hotel and restaurant.
We got to Mombasa in the heat of the evening and hopes for a swim were high given the escalating temperatures. Well, it was disappointing as we did not get a chance to swim, none the less we had the luxury of a hotel room on our first night. The following morning was a very early departure. Into the abyss we went.
The start of the routing was very smooth and all was going like clockwork… until we stopped to ask for directions to Kilibasi. This is where the getting lost started, driving in cycles for hours. Finally we got directions from one of the locals who had relocated here from Meru in Mt. Kenya region. We were quick to figure this out after one of her son’s warned us about one of our tyres saying “haina meruki” – a mix of Swahili and Meru which loosely translates to ‘the tyre has low pressure’. We had already had one puncture earlier and pointing out to our tyre got our stomachs turning in panic. On checking, the ‘meruki’ (pressure) was fine; just the right amount of pressure we needed to traverse these animus terrain. Quite a relief I must say!
At this point, we confidently had our fingers pointer out at the ‘John-know-it-all’ who was getting us lost. We agreed from here on, we use the GPS and nothing else for directions. Armed with directions from the local lady and trusting on our GPS, we embarked on our journey to the unknown, and then it started to rain. Having driven quite a distance away, we were damned… we had a second puncture… in the rain! At least it was not the ‘meruki’ tyre, otherwise we would have seriously started to question our judgment. As Eric took charge, unbolting the replacement tyre from the back of the cruiser, we couldn’t help but sigh in defeat… ‘There goes our only remaining spare tyre’. How could this happen? We were literally in the middle of nowhere! It was that moment when a dark cloud perches atop your head. Five grown men overcome by a great sense of fear and hopelessness. What will happen if we get another puncture? How far is the next town? Where shall we find a professional tyre fixer in nowhere-land? We hadn’t anticipated this and it threw us aback.
It was getting late into the evening and it was clear that everyone was very tired and hungry. We had been eating peanuts all the way and a made a few local stops for fruits. We had been reduced to eating fruits and nuts like monkeys. Yesterday’s fries and steak at the roadside hotel seemed like a luxury. Now the real camping mode has set in. After a long wacky day, Frans did not fancy the idea of sleeping ‘thin’ in a tent or in a cheap lodging / hotel. He needed a miracle! He checked his GPS and saw a Taita Hotel mapped to be 14km away. We followed the tracks that led to the main road and onto the path to the hotel. Arriving at the Taita hotel we were glad to find it was the famous Sarova Taita Hills Lodge. We called our office in Nairobi to organize for accommodation for Frans at our rate, otherwise they would have demanded he pay the rack rate. Plus we didn’t have dollars for that anyways. Frans was elated… thrilled to be precise. Finally a little luxury!
As for the rest of us, we had to find alternative camping accommodation – remember, we were camp scouting to facilitate precision planning. We had to tow the budget and plus the lodge was full. We drove to a place called Agnes’s Place. She owns the only bar and lodging in the locale and was very excited to see 4 strong men walk in and ask for dinner, bed and breakfast. We were happy that Frans didn’t have to spend the night here with us. There were so many mosquitoes I’m sure they would have sucked him dry. The following morning we commenced; well rested and fed.
After driving for hours, getting our tyre fixed and securing several camping sites along the way we got to Loitoktok town. It’s a big town and we were advised to ask the local Catholic Church for camping grounds. The reception was the coldest we had received the whole safari. After we were denied ground we headed to the next Amboseli Chapel where the pastor agreed and welcomed us.
After securing this ground we headed on not knowing this will be an even tougher drive than the one before. The trusting GPS indicated we take a left turn at Makutano Junction. From here we asked for directions to Selegei River for the next camp. We were given direction and told do go at our own risk. To say the road was bad would be an understatement. We got to a point the road was completely washed out and looked like an un-cultivated stretch of land. In simple terms, there was no road ahead… just traces of a once beaten track. Unbelievably the GPS insisted the road we were on is major government road and should continue on.
We were ready to retire for the day and the idea of setting up camp started creeping into our minds. Not until we noted the giant elephant foot prints all around, the fear being trampled on by elephants got us going. We were lucky we had our 4×4 cruiser and it got us through the very rough terrain. In most cases, we almost got stuck in the mud but our very experienced driver guide got us out in no time. We finally got to the end of the road where the flood waters had completely washed it away. We were forced to turn back and look for an alternative route. By now darkness was sipping in and the idea of setting camping was inevitable, but the fear of elephants and camping right in the middle of the waters way, made us decide to drive to the nearest town Emali for cheap accommodation.