Our guidebook of Kenya considered the road south from Lodwar towards Kitale “diabolical”, an hardly recognizable stretch of pavement laid in the 1980s and abandoned thereafter. After ten kilometres, when Pierre had what felt like a millionth flat tire, and a white truck approached our location on a parallel sandy track, not bothering with the decaying highway, our thumbs went up one more time and…instantly!

The truck driver and his assistant were on their way back to Kitale from delivering milk to the Kakuma Refugee Camp, a two-way journey they take on twice a week. It took fifteen hours to cover two-hundred kilometres! Every time I thought the road could not get any worse more “bomb craters” would materialize. With the conversation on political corruption, resource mismanagement and tribal separation going on inside the cabin I began to see this highway from hell as a clear example of how the north of Kenya does not exist for the central power. The rolled up bills slipped into police men’s palms by our driver at every checkpoint made me angrier with every kilometre that passed. At one of those road barricades a corpulent officer asked for our passports, then mumbled something regarding the FIFA in a thick accent. “Sorry but we are Canadians, so if you’re talking to us about football we don’t know anything about FIFA”, we babbled. He looked up at us and enunciated loudly, “Gimme certificate for yellow fifa!”

I praised the truckers as they dropped us off at the end of a trying day in the cool air of the Chenangi Hills, “I don’t know how you guys do this twice a week!” “ We sacrifice for our families”, the gentlemen answered. The drive teleported us to a planet of green rolling hills, corn fields and slick pavement. From Kapenguria we descended to Kitale, with views on Mount Elgon (4,321m) on the Uganda border, and continued quickly to Eldoret, where we needed to receive our entry stamps into Kenya. A travelling break was declared, we obviously were exhausted with no fight left in us. Our ten-week journey on Ethiopian roads had left us in a sombre mood…and we had the right prescription against it coming from Canada.

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Leaving Lodwar without any resolve or spare inner tubes, but with a computer that stopped functioning and Steve on our minds. It takes ten kilometres and a flat tire to give up! Turkana County, Republic of Kenya.
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Colourful cow town! Kitale, Trans-Nzoia County, Republic of Kenya.
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“El Niño is coming! You better hurry up on these bicycles!” Uasin-Gishu County, Republic of Kenya.
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The truck ride from Lodwar might not have been the easier option after all. It left me with prickly heat on my thighs and Pierre with a sore knee. Resorting to a “taxi” to reach the immigration office to receive our entry stamps into Kenya…ten days after crossing the border! Pierre later limped to the computer store and found out many small bits in our laptop had come unglued during our crossing of Turkana. Eldoret, Uasin-Gishu County, Republic of Kenya.

In May 1990, Pierre left his native Quebec City with his friend Steve Bellemare. On their loaded mountain bikes, they travelled together for almost six years in North America, Europe and Asia. When I first met them in Whistler, in the spring of 1992, they had morphed into the Velcro Brothers, the ones that stick to you—for their adhesive properties!—and they were a vision of big hair, Lycra, warmth, fun and freedom. Twenty five years after their first kilometres together, Steve—with his mtb and panniers—was flying to Nairobi to join us for a month!

Steve showed up with a contagious smile, an “it’s all good” attitude, one and a half litre of microbrew by Microbrasserie de Charlevoix, 2015 maple syrup from the Bouchard’s sugar shack and a box full of goodies: Michelin inner tubes and tires (no more flats!), Shimano cassette and cables, MSR stove, tent and water filter, Therm-a-Rest Prolite sleeping pads, MEC shorts (sent mine to the laundry in Mekele, Ethiopia and never saw them again!), Giro helmets and Seal Line bags, Christmas two months early!

On the first leg of “Steve’s biking holiday” we climbed up to Iten, at 2,400 metres, where the St. Patrick’s High School and High Altitude Training Centre pump out most of Kenya’s long distance runners, the best in the world. Then, the road roller-coasted down to the Kerio River and up the Tugen Hills, before descending to Marigat in the Rift Valley, a stone-throw from Lake Baringo.

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Steve is here! Celebrating our reunion with Dominus Vobiscum and La Vache Folle! Eldoret, Uasin-Gishu County, Republic of Kenya.
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Day 1 as a trio. On our way to Iten. Uasin-Gishu County, Republic of Kenya.
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Leaving the cool air behind and descending into the Rift Valley and Lake Baringo. Baringo County, Republic of Kenya.
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Kenyan food is perfect for bicycle travelling: rice, cormeal, potatoes, chapati or spaghetti, kale, beans, beef, goat, chicken or fish served in pairs or combos. Plus, the portions are huge! Marigat, Baringo County, Republic of Kenya.

Starting in October every year the “short rains”, falling in brief bursts, come to Kenya and this year experts have announced an El Niño year with even more rain. Kenyans have been waiting anxiously for the needed water, especially in the drought-afflicted north, so it is a joyous occasion when a two-hour thunderstorm is the backdrop of our beef stew dinner at the Thirsty Goat Pub on Lake Baringo’s shore.

Baringo is a fresh water oasis in a dry-thorn country, its 458 bird species the biggest tourist draw along with its population of crocs and hippos, the latter making a racket munching and plunging, and keeping Steve awake all night!

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Lake Baringo’s water level rose up over a two-month period two years ago destroying lakeside properties and vegetation. Nobody seems to know why. Baringo County, Republic of Kenya.
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Hippo family enjoying the morning sun. Baringo County, Republic of Kenya.
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It is said that Baringo crocodiles are too small to attack humans. Wanna go for a swim? Baringo County, Republic of Kenya.
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Captain Baringo. Baringo County, Republic of Kenya

From the north-west corner of Lake Baringo we attacked a dirt road heading east up to the high-desert Laikipia plateau to Samburu County, crossing Pokot, Turkana and Samburu villages. There were ostriches, giraffes, zebras, baboons, lots of elephant dung, beehives, terrible corrugation, a few drunks, stories of highway robbers, cattle rustling and desperation brought on by the drought.

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“Oh! Steve! Did we mention dirt tracks and warm beer for the next week?” Laikipia County, Republic of Kenya.
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At the time of the British protectorate over Kenya a settlement scheme saw landless aristocrats, aventurers, big-game hunters, ex servicemen and Afrikaners travelling to the cool, fertile highlands to start huge farms. After WW1 the Soldier Settlement Scheme made the white settlers grow to 9,000, something bitterly resented by Africans and Indians. When independence came in 1963 many white settlers sold their large properties to the government and left, but others decided to stay. We were now riding along Mugie Ranch, a two-hundred square kilometres estate owned by white Kenyans, now a sanctuary to a number of species, including the endangered reticulated giraffe. Laikipia County, Republic of Kenya.
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What is it going to be? Kisima, Samburu County, Republic of Kenya.
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Of the many pastoral peoples of Kenya, the Samburu are historically, linguistically and culturally closest to the Maasai. Cattle herding is paramount to Samburu life as it is the basis of relations between in-laws and the principal currency. In the face of an increasingly dry climate many have turned to herding camels, better equipped to survive in the desert.  Maralal, Samburu County, Republic of Kenya.
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Steve trying on on a pair of “5,000 miles” sandals made of recycled tires at the Young Plastic Boys’ Co-Operative Self-Help. Maralal, Samburu County, Republic of Kenya.
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Our Indonesian machete getting a much needed pedal-powered sharpening. Maralal, Samburu County, Republic of Kenya.
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Boys will be boys in front of the Catholic mission where Father Raphael and Father Mark surprised us with en-suite rooms after we had asked permission to camp inside their compound. The priests operate a primary school, another example of the Catholic Church filling in the gap in education and health care in northern Kenya. Kisima, Samburu County, Republic of Kenya.
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Ground ripples around Ewaso Ngiro river canyon. Samburu County, Republic of Kenya.
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Samburu space sneakers! Once in Ludungokwe so many highway thievery stories went around that we headed to the Catholic mission for the night. The priests were driving back from collecting wood, their job made easy by elephants that fell trees for them! Father Carlos and Father Leo are from Colombia, their congregation has been working in development in Kenya for 33 years, anything from education to agriculture and borehole digging. They are funny, warm, welcoming and a mine of information regarding local customs and surrounding countries where they have worked in the past, “nomads by profession”, they say. We shared a rabbit dinner with them, a specie Father Carlos has been nursing on the mission’s experimental farm in hope of creating greater food security for the community. The priests reckoned having no time to attend the Pope’s visit next month and rushed off to the garden and Samburu classes after rolling their eyes at the rumours of highway bandits, “So melodramatic are the villagers sometimes. Go in peace!”, they reassured us. Ludungokwe, Samburu County, Republic of Kenya.
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Steve riding off-road—a break from washboards—by the dramatic Ol Olokwe, the Samburu’s sacred mountain. Lerata, Samburu County, Republic of Kenya.

After reaching the freshly paved road coming from Moyale on the Ethiopian border a great silence accompanied our pedal strokes to Archer’s Post, from where the A2 Highway started climbing to the Central Highlands, passing the hectic mayhem of Isiolo before reaching the wheat and potato fields surrounding Mount Kenya.

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With the Samburu National Park and Buffalo Springs Nature Reserve near-by, you never know what will climb up on the road. Samburu County, Republic of Kenya.
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Still smiling! Within sight of a shower, plate of french fries and cold beer Steve has a flat tire! Isiolo, Isiolo County, Republic of Kenya.
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plus one has been invited to stay at the Borana Lodge, part of the Borana Conservancy. Apparently 70% of Kenya’s wildlife subsists on these private conservation areas. Let’s check it out! Borana, Laikipia County, Republic of Kenya.

For Borana Lodge I am at a lack of words and space here to describe what is happening, so I will start the next post with it. For now, let me enjoy my bubble bath, with a view on a giraffe climbing the ridge in front of our bungalow—first time I bathe with my glasses on! Kwaheri!




Equatorial meanderings! (Kisumu, Kenya - KM 17,055)
The only way out is through! (Lodwar, Kenya - KM 15,680)

One Comment

  1. Steve Hoge

    Surprised to see you are experiencing some good-looking paved highways again.

    Will expect the FULL report from Borana, incl menus, wine list, complete wildlife sightings, etc 😉

    Would also be interested to hear in future posts the actual details of your route-finding techniques, esp in the absence of established roads. Local intelligence? Satellite photos?

    Be well -Steve

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