29 October 2009

The dreaded Marsabit Rd

Officially it's called the Trans East Africa Highway and while yes, it is in fact in East Africa, and it crosses some of it (from Nairobi in Kenya to Addis Ababa in Ethiopia) it is emphatically not a highway of any kind. It was our only way to points North, so there was no way of avoiding it, but we were not looking forward to it.
Stories we had heard made us dread this part of the journey more than any other, what with the bad condition of the road, the potential for banditry by the local warring tribes (mostly fighting amongst themselves over cattle and land, but still, cross fire...) and the remoteness. We had been told this was the worst road in Africa, averaging 20km/h speed and that if it rained we would surely get bogged down. Some friends recently drove the same way and had to take a soldier armed with a rocket launcher, and then were still stopped at a police checkpoint to wait for an escort of tanks and army trucks. Someone else warned us that a favorite way of holding up cars is to drive a herd of cattle into the road and then threaten the passengers until they give up their valuables. One area we were driving through was actually called the Plains of Darkness, straight from Lord of the Rings, and there were only few villages along the way, but when we did have flat tyre, two cars stopped in quick succession to offer help, and for accommodation we found two lovely spots, Gadissa Lodge in Isiolo and Swiss Henry's camp in Marsabit, as well as getting some help fixing up the car from Mangia's Hardware shop.
A road can get a reputation, and it's not always warranted, and now, after having completed the Marsabit Road and having arrived without incident in Ethiopia, I think that this is one of those traveller stories, a myth of a road that represents the adventure of traveling through Africa by car, that makes even those of us who take the 'easy' route up the East coast (rather than the uncharted and seldom used West coast route with all its unstable countries and even worse infrastructure, where everyone only speaks French) feel as if we are still trail blazers. We have a long list of broken and damaged bits on the car, but really it was an uneventful trip. The one thing no-one had thought to mention to us is the incredible beauty of the landscape and the variety of traditionally living people along the way.
Damages on the Marsabit Rd:
2 eggs - crushed inside a plastic container in the fridge
1 wingnut holding on the high lift jack
2 roof rack brackets - sheared at the welding point
1 tyre including wheel rim - spectacularly blown out and irreparable
1 strawberry yoghurt container - not easy to clean from the fridge, specially combined with raw egg (see above)
2 screws holding the dashboard
1 can of coke, having lost all its fizz mysteriously and having been squished into a square shape on the bottom of the fridge
some paintwork, where the bonnet constantly bounced on the chassis, now padded to minimise the oscillation

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