It was at about 6pm on the Sunday evening, a full 24 hours after we first broke down, that we were finally able to make a decision which would see us rescued from the quagmire that had formed around us during the afternoon’s thunderstorms. Despite reassurances from various people who’d passed us during the day (mostly in Landrovers belonging to the police, army or NGOs) that there were sure to be trucks, even on a Sunday, there had been a paucity of large vehicular traffic pass us throughout the day. I can only recall three, and our problem was exacerbated by the fact that none of them were headed in the direction we wanted to go. Nor did any of them have the space to carry us – they were all fully loaded up, as African trucks often are!
However, as I say, 6pm saw our light at the end of the tunnel arrive in the form of an empty truck, headed north to Moyale, which came zooting past us as the sun was setting only to develop a puncture just metres away from our bivouac. This bought us the time we needed to explain our predicament to the now marooned driver, and for him to persuade us that it would be worth paying the extortionate 50,000 Kenyan shillings that he was asking for the job! We knew, from our previous intelligence gathering, that this was the going rate of a loaded truck, so it was a fair and unnegotiable price, but we still baulked at the idea of paying such a lot of money to do something neither of us wanted to do – travel, on the back of a truck, over the road we’d just come, back to the town we’d left over 24 hours ago, only to turn around and come back again. Still, we had no other option (other, of course, than to sit it out through the night and hope that we’d get a better offer. We now know that this would not have worked – we kept our eyes peeled for any other trucks that might have done the job, and didn’t see a sausage!).
So, having made the decision to spend a small mortgage on extricating ourselves from the muddy predicament we were in, some of the chaps (Glyn and passengers on the lorry) set about getting the bikes ready to load, while the rest fixed the puncture on the truck’s front left tyre. It was a real mission loading the bikes, as not only were they about double their normal weight because of all the mud, but there was no ramp to use. As always, the Africans improvised, and disconnected the back plate of the truck itself to create a makeshift ramp that must have been at least at 45 degrees to the ground. Somehow, through a combination of brute force and much grunting, they got both bikes up and on. Relief! We quickly tied them up, and in no time at all were on the go. No more than 200 yards down the road, the truck stopped. This time it had two punctures! One in each front wheel. Glyn said he hoped they didn’t think we’d jinxed them – and I have an idea that, certainly by the time they’d dropped us off, the driver just might have regretted stopping to talk to us!
Anyhow, it was about 10pm when we were finally properly underway. The original plan had been that, rather than travelling all the way back to our starting point, Glyn and I would be dropped off in the closest village, Torbi, to spend the night. However, Glyn was (understandably) reluctant to leave the bikes and we were just realising that we’d probably need to go all the way back when the driver stopped the truck in Torbi and announced that he would go no further that night. So we all stayed the night in Torbi, grabbing a bite of delicious nyama choma (goat meat) and chipatti for dinner. The other passengers went off to arrange impromptu lodgings in the rather ramshackle shed that passed for the local hotel, and we set about getting out our camping mats and sleeping bags and making camp in the back of the truck. By comparison to what it might have been like, it was a fantastic night’s sleep, and I was incredibly grateful to have a dry place to lay my head.
As dawn broke the following morning, the truck pulled up behind three others that were preparing to leave for the journey north. Armed guards were duly bought on board, and then we hit the road. Literally. This had to be the most bone-jarring, teeth-shattering, filling-dislodging journey that a human being can undertake. The night before we’d learned our lesson about where to sit, having at first perched ourselves loosely in the back of the truck, we’d been sent flying when it eventually took off, and after some discussion with the regulars, learned that you have to sit up on top of the lorry, close to the top of the driver’s cab, if you’re to avoid being thrown about madly like a ragdoll. Still, even here, it was not a comfortable ride, and was made less so for Glyn at the next check point, where our guard was replaced by one who stole Glyn’s perch, just as the truck pulled off. Poor Glyn was forced to stand over me, bending double in order to make sure he had a grip on the truck’s iron cage, which everyone grabs in order to make sure they don’t go flying off when you hit the bad corrugations. This position was not an enviable one, particularly as it put you right in the path of overgrown African thorn trees that line the road, and so after being sideswiped twice by these, he got justifiably fed up and manouevred his way, on the swaying truck, further back where it was more bouncy but at least out of reach of thorntrees.
Much bouncing, buffetting and bruising later, we arrived back in Moyale. The primary reason why the truck couldn’t turn around where it had picked us up was that it needed to refuel. This task completed, we were then relocated into the driver’s cab, as at that point we were his only passengers; a situation that didn’t last long, and we were soon joined by what we assumed were a family of five – mother, father, baby and two young children – who squeezed themselves into the two-by-one metres of space behind the cab’s seats.
Within an hour and a half we were headed back to Marsabit, where, somehow, we had formed the mistaken impression that we would be stopping for the night. All day we were anticipating repeating the previous night’s camping in the rear of the truck, but it didn’t turn out that way. We passed the deep impressions of our footprints in the mud at about 3:30, a full 22.5 hours after leaving the spot, and by 5:30 were finally in the place we’d spent the last 3 days trying to reach. But not for long. After a quick spot of dinner, which we refused because we were both short of money and we thought we could, and probably should, cook for ourselves in the back of the lorry, the driver got back in his cab and we found ourselves reconciling our brains to the thought of an overnight journey south on empty stomachs and a few hours sleep. There followed one of the most testing journeys either of us have ever undertaken. I remember saying to Glyn that it was like taking an overnight flight, which you hadn’t expected to take, having terrible turbulence all the way, and without the benefits of all the on-board facilities that are so easily taken for granted. It was hell. Plus, we were both fretting terribly about the bikes, as despite our efforts to secure them, they’d been bouncing about in the back of this lorry, so much so that Glyn’s had fallen sideways twice, breaking the centrestand on the second occasion, and almost destroying the last modicum of rationality that Glyn had left. More than once, we’d actually become airborne, coming to earth with a crash so forceful that it was hard to believe that the bikes could withstand the whole trip without crumbling into little heaps of mangled metal on the truck’s floor. One saving grace was that we’d sandwiched them between two truck tyres that’d been in the back of the truck, and these served, to some extent, to absorb the blows. But we were still on tenterhooks whenever we found ourselves jolting along on our seats, trying to steady ourselves and our nerves after a particularly bumpy section.
At 2am, the driver, who we now knew as Isaac, stopped at the little bar where I read that philosophical phrase, and called a sleep stop for an hour. Hurriedly we got our stuff out and without much hesitation were sound asleep. Luckily for us, he must have overslept, as we were unceremoniously woken at 4:30 and told to get ready to go in five minutes. An hour later we had made it to Isiolo, the town we’d hoped to reach within two days riding from the border, and the place which I will always celebrate as the start of the tarmac road to Nairobi. Here we also said goodbye to our fellow female passenger, her very well-behaved baby and little toddler, and realised that it was not a family of five but two separate groups who’d been stashed behind us for all this time. Another six hours, mostly in comfort, although sometimes hitting potholes that were the size of small volcanoes, and we finally rolled in to the traffic-jammed capital. Isaac, who had managed a total of 5 hours sleep in the last 60 hours, was knackered, so he drove us to his boss’s depot where we said goodbye to the remaining passengers, a father and daughter pair, waited to refuel again and changed drivers, before making the final leg of our journey to the reknowned Jungle Junction, a camper’s haven run and owned by a motorcycle mechanic – a veritable paradise to us, and one we have never been more grateful to reach!