BootsnAll Travel Network

Isiolo, Kenya to Moyale, Ethiopia. Hard travels, again, ughhh.

Okay, I have to admit, taking a month in Uganda and stopping in every town along the way in Kenya (which included one town because it had a dairy where you could buy a kilo of cheese) had very little to do with tourism and a lot to do with not knowing what was in store for me when I got to the center of Kenya. Okay, I knew what was in store for me, and I didn’t like it.

Isiolo is the Kenyan town in the center of Kenya where the tarred road ends and the corrugated roads begin. It is also the start of distance no longer being calculated by hours, but by days. That’s right, days. Two days to be exact. And to make matters worse, Ethiopia my destination also is on the days system. Now coming from a guy who needs two to three days rest after a four hour bus ride, days is not good. Travel also changes from speedy mini-bus taxis and buses to lorries (big trucks). No longer are there seats and the inside of the vehicle. Now it is in back of the truck sitting on the cargo or teetering on the cross beams that support the tarpaulin. To some it might sound like an exotic way of traveling, but I am to a point where exotic traveling just means ass pain. Crossing barren deserts in the back of a truck under the blaring sun while your guts are turned into milk shake no longer brings the challenge of adventure travel, but sheer stupidity at why I am not in a climate controlled aircraft at 30,000 ft where travel time is back to a few hours and minutes and a cute waitress serves drinks while a movie plays in the plasma screen in the seat in front of you.

Just for some clarification, since most people in the states will never know what “corrugated roads” are as I believe they are outlawed in the US as being some sort of cancer causing, dangerous, and down right in-human, I will give a brief description so as to clarify. “Corrugated roads”, are somewhat like they sound. Corrugated being like the wavy metal sheets that are used as roofing for warehouses and basic shelters. On roads it’s the same basic concept. They are dirt roads, but they are hardened with rocks and the waves are cut perpendicular to the road to prevent potholes from rain settling into pools. What this means to a passenger in a vehicle having to drive on such is similar to riding your bike down some railroad tracks and bouncing along each cross beam. It’s great for doing vibrating talking or making milk shakes, but it is pretty much hell in every other regards.

In Isiolo, which was your standard one road town much like a standard border town, things did change culturally. It not only converted back to a more Muslim culture, but now we were on the edge of the pastoralist communities. Now you would see some more colorful characters much like the Masai people. Colorful wraps, head wear, and walking staffs were the norm. It was a good touch of what was about to come.

I had originally planned spending a couple of nights just hanging about as the usual procedure was for the trucks to leave in the middle of the night as they preferred to travel during the night or early mornings versus the brutal heat of midday. I wanted a couple of days to decompress and prepare myself for two days of traveling. I was not looking forward to it in any way.

After one night, it was fairly apparent that Isiolo was not a great place to hang out so I started to ask about my traveling options. Luckily or unluckily, that morning as I was sitting and talking with a shoe shine guy along the main road a young guy came up and asked if I wanted a truck. I told him I was and he pointed to a truck that was being loaded. He said that one was leaving within the hour. Crap. No time to ponder and bitch and whine. I ran back to the hotel, packed my stuff, and headed back to the truck. Within the hour I was sitting on the side rails of a big lorrie finally understanding what “corrugated roads” were and how “corrugated roads” easily made it to the top ten of things “Steve does not like”.

There were about fifteen of us in the back and it was a good truck as it was hauling grain which meant plenty of semi-soft sitting areas. The people were friendly enough but I never really got into any real meaningful conversations. The only real negative outside of “corrugated roads,” was when it rained and they pulled the tarp over the entire truck and we were basically shut in. Pitch black, no way to see where we were going, “corrugated roads”, and the uncertainty of how long we would be stuck that was made for a somewhat claustrophobic ride. Luckily, the drivers helper was very understanding and as soon as the rain stopped he would come back and pull the tarp back so that we could see and breathe again.

The first leg ended up taking ten hours with one fifteen minute break in a small village about half way. Outside of the ride itself, it was actually very beautiful scenery as it was your standard out of Africa landscape. As we got deeper into the desert lands, more and more native Samburu tribes people showed up on the sides of the road. Although many were modernized and had t-shirts and shorts, many were still holding to tradition and wearing the short wraps, no shirts, lots of colorful beads, colorful head gear, and some even had spears. Many of the traditional guys were painted red with the paints made of the redden earth and oil. Very different to what I had seen in Africa.

Since we left in the middle of the day we arrived late in the night in the mid town of Marsabit. Marsabit is a bit different as it is considered an oasis in the middle of the desert. It is a small mountain range that pops up in the center of nothing. It is at a high enough altitude that it has a cool climate and its own type of vegetation. Because of the diverse ecology, it also supports much wildlife including most of the big game like elephants, lions, leopards, etc. It is probably a worth while park to visit, but animals were not my prime reason to be there, so I settled for a bit of hiking around the town.

Since I am pretty much a traveling whoosy, I opted to stay there for a couple of nights rather than to proceed with the truck I got there with. It turned out to be good and bad as I got a chance to break up the trip in a somewhat decent town, but bad in that I got stuck when there were no trucks going to Moyale for two days.

I had finally gotten desperate and put a word out to all the hustlers that I needed a ride and I got a call one morning that a truck was on its way out. I made a quick deal with the driver and I was swinging on the rafters on the back of another lorrie.

This ride was a lot more interesting as we still past through the Out of Africa scenery, but we also went through a stretch of actual desert where the hard gravel road turned to sand and pretty much all the vegetation went away. The sealing point was when there was a big dust storm brewing way out in front of us. As we got closer and closer it became apparent that it wasn’t a storm but a herd of camels being herded through the desert on their way to god know where. It was an amazing sight and I was lucky enough to get some good photos. One of the guys in the back explained to me that the guys were descendents of Arabs as even the hardiest Africans couldn’t survive out in the desert.

We did run into a rainy stretch as we passed through some mountain ranges close to the Ethiopian border where a few trucks and a bus got swallowed up by big mud holes. Luckily, we had an excellent driver who’s senses were sharpened by eating ten pounds of qat (like the coca leaves in South America, a mild narcotic that brings on a sensation of calm and tranquility and numbs the senses reducing the feeling of hunger and tiredness.) He was able to not only make it through the mud pits but also to avoid ramming those that were already stuck. I held my breath the whole time as if that overloaded truck got stuck, we were screwed and it would have turned into a week journey.

Finally after fifteen hours we rolled into the border town of Moyale. I would have liked to have stayed a bit and got to know Moyale, but we arrived very late and after a quick sleep I was across the border and into Ethiopia.

My rush was that I was going to travel to the Omo Valley to see the tribal people that still live the same way they did thousands of years ago. Remember “Iron Age” is not Knights of the Round Table, but more Fred Flintstone. The best way to visit these tribes are during the weekly market days where the tribes people descend into a town and bring all their wares for trading and bartering. Since the markets only occur usually once a week I was on a fairly tight schedule and the first market was to occur the next day in the first town of Yabello, 200 kms away from Moyale.

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3 responses to “Isiolo, Kenya to Moyale, Ethiopia. Hard travels, again, ughhh.”

  1. Bram says:

    I just found your blog a week ago. It’s great. I read a few entries and decided to read the whole thing. I’m somewhere in columbia right now (well, you are (were), I’m still at my computer in not so exotic Belgium ), and I was a bit worried when there were no new entries since april, but apparantly your still going strong.nrnreh well… carry on nrnrBram

  2. nkusi ibrahim says:

    I would like to visit Isiolo and proceed to southern Ethiopia

  3. Isiolo says:

    Isiolo is where I was born and find it interesting to learn my own backyard from a Japanese especially an American Japanese. On the corrugated road is actually where I was born and the lorrie was the ambulance to the hospital now it’s interesting to note as a result of endless bounce from the rough road led to my premature birth but I’m still here healthly and up bit. I was one of those precursors to those hustlers who assisted you catch the lorrie to Moyale and I still hustle even though in different location – beautiful Vancouver.

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