This blog post covers my experiences cycling from Addis Ababa in Ethiopia to Nairobi in Kenya. Part of my bicycle tour from England to South Africa.
Cycling from Ethiopia to Kenya
Note: This blog post was written in 2007 during my bike tour from England to South Africa. I reformatted the post in 2020, but the diary entry is the original content.
Time off in Addis Ababa
Day 185 Addis Ababa 23/01/07
Took a while to get the updates online as Ethiopia doesn't have the best internet access in the world. Went to the Kenyan embassy in the afternoon to collect my passport and visa, but they weren't ready which was a pain.
At night, there was some very strange chanting going on in the room next door to mine, made all the more concerning by the fact that the Italian lady in there looks like a witch.Day 186 Addis Ababa 24/01/07
Slept, ate, internet, hired some movies. Went to the Kenyan embassy in the afternoon and the passport still wasn't ready so have to go back tomorrow. In the evening it absolutely pissed down.
Day 187 Addis Ababa 25/01/07
Slept, ate, internet, hired some movies. Went to Kenyan embassy in the afternoon and the passport still wasn't ready so have to go back tomorrow. I'm starting to hate Kenya, and I haven't even been there yet.
Day 188 Addis Ababa Friday 26/01/07
Slept, woke, felt odd and sat on the toilet for an hour. It would seem that it is unwise to eat more than twelve chocolate bars in one evening session. In the afternoon my passport was actually ready!! Celebrated by having a chocolate bar, but just the one.
Day 189 Addis Ababa Saturday 27/01/07
Slept, woke, internet, hired some movies. I kept bumping into Adam, an Argentian guy who I've got to know over the last week, who was doing similar things to me… ie, wasting time before moving on. Checked the bike over, and made a list of things which i need to get repaired or replaced in Nairobi.
Cycling out of Addis Ababa
Day 190 Addis Ababa – Ziway Sunday 28/01/07
I think I made the right decision in leaving Addis on Sunday, as the usually chaotic traffic was minimal. It took me eight hours to cover the 160 kms to Ziway, which wasn't a bad effort considering that it included the half hour of questioning by military police for allegedly photographing a secret army base.
Day 191 Ziway – Arsi Negele Monday 29/01/07
After the first hour, my legs just didn't seem to want to turn the pedals. I kept checking the bike over to see if there was anything wrong, as I'm still not sure about the rear wheel, but I didn't notice anything.
50kms was todays total, and then I called it a day. If anyone says that the Rift Valley is flat, give them a slap from me!
Day 192 Arsi Negele – Awassa Tuesday 30/01/07
A really easy two hour ride into Awassa, and along the way, the Dutch/Belgian couple that I first met in Cairo came driving from the other direction and pulled over and stopped. We had a chat for a bit, and then they recommended a campsite to stay in Awassa.
Good recommendation guys, the place was ace!! It's run by a German lady called Jana, who cooks the most amazing food in a rare oasis of calm in Ethiopia.
Resting at Awassa Camping in Ethiopia
Day 193 Awassa Wednesday 31/01/07
They had some books at the campsite, and as I hadn't read anything in English for a while, I decided to take a day off and spent it reading.
Day 194 Awassa Thursday 01/02/07
Well, I decided to take another day off as I hadn't quite read all the books, and the food that Jana cooks up is magnificent! Used the internet for a while. Yet another age of War of Empires is drawing to an end, and a guy from our clan is set to win it (with a lot of support I might add!).
In the evening, I talked for a while with a couple who had just arrived overland from Kenya, and another couple who were looking in on a charity project they are fund raisers for.
My opinion of the effect that charity has had on Ethiopia, is that for the country as a whole, it is not a good thing. Because there will always be some charity to help out, the government does not bother to invest in the countries infrastructure and development.
This means that a uniform approach to handling things such as education, orphans, HIV, drought and a host of others is non-existent. It also perpetuates and reinforces the image of white people as givers of services and gifts with no thanks needed in the minds of the Ethiopian people.
Twenty years of charity and foreign aid have not helped Ethiopia – it is still the second poorest country in Africa. That said, the couple were sincere, and they are making a valid difference to a lot of peoples lives.
Cycling in southern Ethiopia
Day 195 Awassa – Dilla Friday 02/02/07
Quite a pleasant days cycling. There were a few uppy bits, but the downy bits more than made up for it.
Day 196 Dilla – ??? Saturday 03/02/07
Not a pleasant days cycling. Far too many uppy bits, and nowhere near enough downy bits. There was also absolutely unbelievable amounts of ‘You you you' going on. At two ish, I arrived in some nameless town and booked into a cheap hotel for the night.
Day 197 ??? – Yabello Sunday 04/02/07
It was raining when I set off in the morning, and the last time that I cycled in the rain was almost four months ago in Turkey. Cycling in the rain made quite a refreshing change, with the added bonus that all but the most determined ‘You you you' shouters stayed indoors.
Of course, it also reminded me that my waterproof clothes are not exactly waterproof, but it made a change from being sunburnt.
Bad news an hour and a half into the journey when I passed a town that I should have passed yesterday, which meant more distance to do today.
The landscape has also changed. The countryside since leaving Awassa was lush and green, filled with banana trees so dense that you couldn't see the ground. (Ok, strictly speaking a banana is a herb, but I'll let it go).
Now, the trees, which are covered in thorns, are more sparse, and the ground between them is red. The going was tough, with hill after hill. There was a lot of cursing going on, and I'm convinced my rear wheel isn't going around properly.
About 20 kms from Yabello, a couple of German motorcyclists pulled over (its always Germans on motorcycles!). They said ‘hi' from Jana, and then carried on.
I was flagging badly over the last 15kms, and Yabello lay 5kms off the main road, up a hill. The town was rubbish, and all the hotels were full which pleased me no end, as the Ethiopians are very helpful in circumstances like that (ie – they are not at all).
On the way back down to the main road, the angle of the hill seemed to have changed so that I was cycling up again, or at least that was how it felt. There was a motel at the bottom which let me camp, which was a result, as I was utterly exhausted.
In fact, I almost fell asleep at the table waiting for my meal to turn up. Once it was safely in my belly, I went over to the tent, lay down, and closed my eyes. Bliss!!
Well, nearly. Five minutes later, some thumping music started up at Africa volume (that's the next notch past ten). If that wasn't bad enough, a group of pissed up blokes then sang a collection of classic Ethiopian karaoke hits until 11.30, the speakers distorting all the time. Nice.
Mega in Ethiopia
Day 198 Yebello – Mega Monday 03/02/07
Had a massive breakfast, and got underway for just past nine. To start off, the going was good, but the sheer number of hills got me in the end.
The good thing is that there were hardly any kids, although there were large numbers of people wandering around the bush with spears and guns. At 3.30 i reached the town of Mega, although it goes without saying that its not all that mega.
Day 199 Mega – Moyalle Tuesday 06/02/07
The final, lingering, painful days cycling in Ethiopia. 125kms over shit quality roads, up and down hills with the wind blowing in my face all the while. It really did feel as though the country was throwing everything it could at me in a final, last ditch attempt to break me.
Fortunately, the settlements along the road were quite spread out, so hassle was minimal. I passed quite a bit of wildlife – two tortoises crossing the road, camels, monkeys and some midget deer before arriving in Moyalle at three.
I'm staying at a hotel only metres from the border, and I'm happy that this will be my last night in Ethiopia.
At times, its really felt as though some malevolent force has been keeping me in Ethiopia, and I will be glad to leave. I hate Ethiopia. I hate the country, I hate the mountains, I hate the hills, I hate the roads, I hate the flies, I hate the wind, and mostly, I hate the people. If I never return again, it will be a million years too soon.
On a different note, I checked the internet briefly, and Excalibur, the guy from our clan, won the age in War of Empires. Go us!!
Cycling the border from Ethiopia to Kenya
Day 200 Moyalle – Marsabit Wednesday 07/02/07
I cycled the border from Ethiopia into Kenya reasonably early, and passed through Kenyan passport control with ease. On the Kenyan side of Moyalle, I found a bank, but had to wait for it to open, which gave me a chance to sort out a truck ride.
I had been advised that I would have to catch a truck for the section between Moyalle and Isiolo due to security concerns in the area.
Although the situation has improved over the last year, there had been a shooting during the night which left one person dead and a couple injured, so it was probably the wiser choice.
It seemed a shame to break up my cycle journey after travelling for so long, but I would never have experienced what I did over the next few days had I been cycling.
Anyway, I loaded my bike onto the back of a cattle truck (thankfully sans cattle) and tied it to the side. whilst all the locals made their way on to the caged roof of the truck, I made a little home amongst some old tyres and sacks by the headboard. There was no way that I was going to spend 20 hours sitting on the roof of the truck!
The craziest truck ride in Africa
About half ten we got underway on the second most crazy truck ride of my life. (The most crazy one happens later!) At insane speeds, the truck steamed down the rough gravel roads, throwing up a constant, huge cloud of dust.
Each bump seemed to jar every bone in my body and loosen my teeth, and in no time at all, I was covered from head to toe in dust. At about one, we pulled over into a village and whilst the driver and his cronies fixed a flat tyre, I had a couple of drinks and chatted with the other passengers.
It made such a change to be able to actually talk, far from the hassle of Ethiopia!
An hour and a half later, we were away once more for another crazily bumpy ride. Originally, the truck was going to carry on all the way through to Isiolo, but because we arrived late in Marsabit, the police insisted that we could not travel on during the evening as they didn't let anybody leave the town past seven.
Delphine, a girl I had been chatting too on the bus, had some brothers who lived in the town, so she gave them a call, and they came over to meet us.
Sometimes you've got to be sensible, and sometimes you've just got to go with whats happening, and this was one of those times. They invited me to stay the night at their house, and so I left my bike and non essential bags on the truck, and we arranged a place for the truck to pick me and Delphine up in the morning.
Now, when the guys said that they lived in the town, it wasn't entirely accurate., as they actually lived behind a mountain on the other side, over an hours walk away through the African bush.
It was about eight o'clock, and I'm wandering in the pitch black over mountain trails and through the bush with a bunch of people that I don't really know – kids, don't try this at home! But hey, I'm Dave, so it'll be alright!
Staying the night in a random shack in Kenya
An hour later, we reached their shack, and I was invited in. It was a simple building with mud walls and tin roof, with two rooms that housed eight people.
There was no electricity, and light came from a couple of gas lamps. I was introduced to the whole family, and everybody was really nice and friendly as we chatted whilst Mum cooked up some rice and potatoes.
At about eleven, after I had eaten, I was led by Mike to another shack of similar construction another 15 minutes away through the bush, where I was to spend the night.
When we arrived, they turfed one guy (whose name was also Dave) out of bed, and thats' where I slept the night. Unbelievable friendship and hospitality. I've only been in Kenya one day, and I love it!
Day 201 Marsabit – Isiolo Thursday 08/02/07
I woke up with the alarm at five, and after a breakfast of chai and chapatis (just like being in India this!) we set off for a trek across the mountain to the rendezvous place with the bus.
Of course, being Africa, the meeting time of six a.m. turned out to be 8.30, but somewhat miraculously, my bike and bags were still onboard, so thats ok!
Unfortunately, however, a few more people had joined the truck, which meant that I had lost my comfy nest against the headboard, and was positioned somewhat catastrophically above the rear wheels.
Today then, was THE most crazy truck journey of my life! With total disregard for the passengers he was carrying (especially poor me!), the driver went twice as fast as yesterday, and four times as dangerously.
It was impossible to position myself in a place where I didn't get thrown around like a rag doll, and either sitting or laying was immensely uncomfortable. Eventually, I found it easier to stand and hold onto the side, springing up over the worst sections, and clutching on for dear life.
At 1.30, at the junction towards a town called Wamba (which was coincidental, because I have been reading Ivanhoe, and Wamba is one of the characters in the book), the driver pulled over, and informed us that he was picking up a load of goats. Excellent.
This would mean an hours journey into Wamba, and hour to select and load the goats, and then another hour back to the same junction if he went very fast.
Plus, we would have to share the back of the truck with a load of goats. Cheers mate, but I should have known the guy was unreliable, as his truck had Arsenal and Highbury painted all over it.
Hitching a ride on a truck in Kenya with a bicycle
The passengers and myself decided to leave the truck to stay at the junction in the hope that we could flag down another vehicle to take us to Isiolo, and failing that, we could always leap back onboard when he returned.
It gave me a chance to get to know the other passengers and experience their frustrations of daily life on the transport in Northern Kenya I suppose!
There were a bunch of army guys who were pretty sound people, and they liked my bike, so I let them have a go on it. During the next four and a half hours only three vehicles came past, and none of those would take us.
At six, we finally managed to get on a truck and we were on our way (during this time our original transport had failed to reappear). It was dusk as we travelled, and although I was tired and filthy, I was also happy, because i managed to see some wildlife wandering near the road such as zebras, giraffes, antelopes and monkeys. Excellent stuff, although the ride was far too bumpy for me to take any pictures.
We arrived in Isiolo, and myself, Delphine and a couple of the army guys went in search of a hotel. At 250 shillings a night for a single room it was pretty good value, and after a shave and a well needed shower, we all headed out for something to eat, and then I returned to the hotel where I slept like a log.
Oh, I forgot to mention that in Kenya they drive on the left, which is a mark of truly civilised people the world over.
Day 202 Isiolo Friday 09/02/07
We all met up again for breakfast, which was a monumental event for me, because there were sausages… Kenya is great! Afterwards, Delphine showed me around the town, and we visited a few hotels just to see what they were like.
Used the internet for a bit, and then we walked over to Delphines sisters house, which is on the hospital grounds because she is a nurse. I watched a bit of TV whilst they cooked chips (marvelous). In the evening, I had sausage, egg and chips followed by a Guinness – this is more like it!!
Day 203 Isiolo Saturday 10/02/07
A nice relaxing day off to give the bumps, cuts, bruises and flea bites a chance to heal. After breakfast, I used the net for a bit and read a newspaper.
Went to Delphines sisters house in the afternoon for a meal and watched TV. They put some Kenyan music videos on, one of which featured two dancing midgets, which was quite worrying.
Cycling from Isiolo to Nairobi
Day 204 Isiolo – Nanyiku 11/02/07
I left at eight, and the first four hours were uphill which was quite tough as it was outrageously hot, but with the hassle and abuse of Ethiopia long behind me, I didn't really care too much! Everybody is friendly, and i can actually take a break at the side of the road without being mobbed by people.
The last two hours of the days cycling were downhill, which was a joy. I'm camping in the grounds of a hotel which is expensive, but I figured that I can abuse the buffet (or in my mind eat as much as you can) breakfast.
Day 205 Nanyiku – Sagana 12/02/07
I totally demolished their breakfast… they were very happy, not. A good days cycling with my full stomach, and I made good time. Not a lot to report.
Day 206 Sagana – Nairobi 13/02/07
Had another good breakfast, and then set off for Nairobi. Although I had a flat along the way, I made Nairobi at two, and once again somehow managed to navigate myself to where I needed to be without the aid of a decent map.
I'm staying at a place called Jungle Junction, which is where every overlander who has their own vehicle seems to end up at when in Kenya. Highly recommended!!
The place is one of those wonderful oasis you stumble across whilst travelling occasionally where it is comfortable and relaxing, and also a great source of practical information.
Chris, the German guy who runs it, is a bit of a legend, and is also a motorbike and bicycle mechanic which is a bonus for me! It's a really good campsite, where people travelling can meet up and swap practical information on road conditions and such like.
Needless to say, I am the only nutcase on a bicycle. In the evening, I went out for a meal with three people staying here, which was very nice.
More from this bike tour
Next update – Travelogue 23 – Cycling from Nairobi to Dar Es Salaam
Previous update – Travelogue 21 – Cycling from Gondar to Addis Ababa
Start from the Beginning – Cycling from England to South Africa