Red earth, green hills

Rode aarde, groene heuvels 6To go from Kenya to Uganda we can choose between different border crossings. The most commonly used border crossing is in Malaba on the main highway from Nairobi to Kampala. A busy checkpoint where the freight traffic to the Ugandan capital also crosses. Further north, on the slopes of Mt Elgon, we can also cross the border at the little town of Suam. A gateway that is not used by many travellers, because the road to the border is not paved. In the rainy season the dirt road turns into a slippery mud path that is impassable for most traffic. Although the rainy season should have started a month ago, there has been almost no rain. The road should therefore still be in good condition. And when we look at the blue sky we hope it will stay dry the next few days.

Suam is situated north-east of Nairobi. To get there, we follow a scenic route passed the lakes of the Great Rift Valley, along Lake Naivasha and Lake Nakuru for the third and last time. This time we ride from south to north. We have a beautiful view over Lake Nakuru and the craters that rise above the green countryside. On the busy road that runs along the steep hillside to the top, we see a cyclist on a packed bike riding up. It is clearly an overlander. We drive past him and park our bikes at the top of the hill to wait for him. There we meet the Argentine Enrico.

Rode aarde, groene heuvelsHe speaks little English and we speak little Spanish, but with hands and feet we come a long way. He has sent his bike to Morocco and rode from there along the west coast of Africa to the south into Nigeria. From there he took a plane to Kenya to continue cycling to South Africa along the countries in the east. Before he cycles to the south, he first makes a tour around Kenya. It has been a long time since he has seen any tourists and he looks genuinely happy that we stopped. We exchange information and advise him to go to Roberts Camp at Lake Baringo. Then he gets on his bike again, because it starts to get warm in the sun and he still has a long way to go.

From Nairobi we have back-tracked a little, but from Nakuru we start riding roads that we have not ridden before. We ride through the green hills and pass the equator for the fourth time. We will take three days to get to the border with Uganda and spend the first night at a nice campsite in Eldoret. We can feel that the long evenings at Jungle Junction in Nairobi have taken their toll. We both have dark circles beneath our eyes and that evening I fall asleep in the restaurant beside the glowing fire pit while my cold tonic slowly gets warm. It cannot hurt to get some more sleep.

Rode aarde, groene heuvels 4The next morning we set off early and drive on a dirt road to Kitale. There is a lot of traffic on the road is busy and we must constantly pay attention, especially overtaking motorists are a problem. We have a strong suspicion that the Kenyans obtain their driver’s license when they buy a carton of milk, because their driving is really special.

On the road we see a lot of motor-taxis, called “Boda-Boda’s”. In every village there is at least one taxi stand. Often consisting of no more than a shed with some low wooden benches where drivers sit (or rather lie) while they wait for their next customer. They all wear a fluorescent vest with advertising on the back for a new governor or a local telecom provider. They mostly wear a helmet, one of the only traffic rules that does seem to be observed. The motors are made in China and are “light”, often only 125cc. They are decorated with lights, a radio and cheerful colours. They have a long seat for passengers, which sometimes fits three customers. And if it does not fit, the driver himself sits on the tank! Most particularly is all the luggage they carry: large bags of charcoal, 10 crates of Coca Cola, clusters of live chickens that are held together by their legs, bicycles, beds, corrugated iron plates. Anything you can think of can be transported on their motorbikes.

At the gas station, we are often waiting among the Boda-Boda’s. They look at our motorbikes drooling and ask a million questions: “What is the engine size?”,How many miles per litre?”,How fast can it go?” and “What does it cost?”. They usually offer to exchange, while pointing to their shiny Chinese mopeds. But not only the motorbikes are studied in detail, also our suits, our ’flip-up helmet’, the microphones which we speak in, the Camelbak we drink from and the GPS. And then there are still the surprised looks when I take off my helmet and they find out that I am not a man! I have yet to see a woman driving on a moped or motorcycle in Africa.

Rode aarde, groene heuvels 2We are heading for Kitale. Our guidebooks tell us that most foreigners that come to Kitale are volunteers working in the city. And indeed, at the cosy B&B where we find a camping spot there are indeed quite some volunteers, mostly from the US. A group of young American girls who work at a local orphanage, a group of older Americans from a Christian organization that provides aid through health education, but also students who are doing research for their thesis. We pitch our tent next to a number of large white tents from UNHCR. Not so long ago, there were some troubles in northern Uganda forcing many Ugandans to run to Kenya as refugees. A large number of them found a temporary shelter in Kitale. The situation is better now and many of the refugees have returned to Uganda. The tents are empty and are now used for guests of the B&B.

At the end of the afternoon our phone rings. Our friend Ross! His adventures in Kenya have taken him to Kitale! He asks whether he can join us. Off course, great! The campsite is in one of the suburbs of Kitale and is not easy to find. On the phone, we explain how to get here. At the Total gas station to the right and then right, left, right. While Peter sits outside with the guard waiting for Ross, the phone rings again. Ross had found the Total gas station and followed the route, but ended up in a dodgy part of Kitale. Only then we find out that he entered Kitale from the north and not from the south like us. He then tries to follow the instructions in the other direction. The sun has set and without lights in the street it is very dark.

Rode aarde, groene heuvels 3It remains silent, we do not hear any motorbike roaring yet. The phone rings again, he cannot find it. It is now more than two hours after his first phone call and the situation in the dark streets is becoming less friendly. With the help of the guard, we find out that there are two Total gas stations in Kitale! Ross gives his phone to a local boda-boda-driver and we give ours to the guard of the campsite so they can chat to each other in Swahili to discuss the route. Ross can then follow him to the campsite. About 10 minutes later we hear the loud sound of the BMW. There he is! Quite a relief to be honest.

We eat together and hear his stories about an elephant with flapping ears that came after him, food poisoning by a strange lady and tough off-road trails. A real adventure! Happy to see our good friend, we crawl into our tent and he in his hammock.

Rode aarde, groene heuvelsThe next day we continue towards Suam, the border with Uganda. Ross’ plans are not really clear yet. He will first drive with us to the border and will see from there. Before we leave Kitale we refuel our three motorbikes at one of the two Total gas stations. As always, there is a group of Kenyans around us in no time asking a hundred and one questions. This time the crowd is so big that Peter can even lift his feet while sitting on the motorbike without tumbling over, his motorbikes is stuck between his ’fans’. With a full tank we drive a little further to buy some water. Again a group of people is around us. Peter almost disappears altogether, I can only see the top of his white helmet.

We drive onto a dirt road to the border. A beautiful route through an area where not many tourists go. People stop along the side of the road and watch us pass with open mouth and big eyes, scared when we raise our hands to wave. The sand on which we drive is deep red and lights up brightly in the sunlight. It sticks out beautifully against the bright blue sky and deep green fields around us. We hurtle further into the hills and see Mt Elgon. A green ‘pimple’ in the landscape with some faint clouds at the top. The road is getting more narrow as we ride up into the hills and get closer to the border.

Rode aarde, groene heuvels 5We drive down into a valley and we have to stop at a barrier that has been placed over the road. We are at the border with Uganda! Beyond the gate the road leads further down to a bridge over a small stream where a farmer just lets his cows drink. On the road are two ladies that wear beautifully coloured dresses and are chatting. In a field on the other side of the river children are playing. A gardener is cutting the flowers at the side of one of the building along the road. It is a lovely scene that reminds us more of ‘The Shire’ from ‘The Lord of the Rings’ than of a border crossing.

Ross has come all this way with us and now decides to just join us to Uganda. Time for new adventures in a new country, why not? Great! On the Kenyan side of the border are several small buildings where beautiful flowers grow. Above the door is a sign that says “Customs”. This is the office where we will have our carnets stamped. The door is open and inside is a gentleman that is reading a newspaper. He welcomes us warmly and asks us to take a seat in one of the chairs in front of his desk. After a brief chat, he takes our Carnets and turns some of the pages. Then he looks up and admits that he has not come across these documents very often. He would like us to tell him what he should fill out. I help him with the forms and make sure that the stamps are put in the right place.

Then we can move on to immigration in one of the other buildings. On the porch at the entrance are two soldiers. There is a third man that is showing them some jeans that he is selling. The soldiers study the jeans and hold them in front of themselves to see if the size is right. There are not really busy with watching the bridge, the actual border with Uganda.

Rode aarde, groene heuvels 4 (1)In the office of immigration and emigration we are welcomed by a friendly guy in his late twenties. He wants to know where we are from. His eyes widen when we tell him that we drove from Amsterdam to Kenya. “On these motorbikes?”, he asks. He shakes his head in disbelief when he writes our data in a large notebook and he puts stamps in our passports.”What a great journey! I can not believe it!”.

Once we come out of the office again and start our motorbikes, the soldiers stand up out of their chairs to lift the barrier for us. We drive over the bridge, past the farmer and his cows and are stopped ten meters further by a police officer with an Ugandan flag on his shirt. After he has checked our Kenyan exit stamp, we can continue to the Ugandan immigration office. We come into a building where two women are chatting and laughing loud. One of them is braiding the hair of a small girls, attaching pink beads at the end of each braid. Ross looks at the ladies and asks: “[I]Is this a beauty salon or the immigration office?”.[/I] The ladies smile and indicate that this really is the place to get stamps. One of the women takes our passports and after we have paid $50 per visa, she pastes a lovely visa sticker in our passports which she even makes more beautiful with a stamp.

Rode aarde, groene heuvels 3 (1)Then we drive a little bit further to another office for a stamp in the carnet. Also on the Ugandan side they have not seen many of these yellow books before. But after some instructions the stamps are placed on the right page. The formalities are completed. Now we will look for an exchange office where we can change our Kenyan Shillings. In the small village we find a little house with a sign “Forex”. Two men show us to a room in the back of the shop behind shuttered windows so the other customers cannot see the big stacks of cash. The room is painted in a bright orange color. On the walls are all sorts of flashy posters. A small office that only just fits four people.They are delighted to welcome us to Uganda. They count our money and change it at a decent rate.

After Ross has also changed his money, we ride on. The route is really beautiful! On a bright red dirt road we drive higher and higher into the green hills. After every turn we have a new stunning view. To the west we see green hills interspersed with red paths. To the east endless green plains where some plumes of smoke raise high in the sky. We drive through small villages where people stand to watch us. Some run off the road, but others wave warmly and put their thumbs up as we pass. If we stop to take a picture or to drink some water a large group of people comes to meet us. There is always someone who speaks English and can translate for the rest of the group. If Ross starts his motorbike and revs the engine the group of people splashes apart. The children run off the road to watch us ride off from a distance.

Rode aarde, groene heuvels 5 (1)In Uganda it has not rained for a long time. The road is in good condition, but very dusty. Our motorbikes, our suit, our luggage and even our faces are all covered in the bright red dust. At the end of the day we arrive on the tarmac and we drive on a lovely winding road to Sipi, a small town that attracts tourists for its waterfalls. We set up our tent at “Noah’s Ark Hotel and Campsite” where we have a beautiful view over the valley. We brush the worst dust of our suits, wash our dusty red faces and enjoy cold beers and the sunset with our friend Ross. Welcome to Uganda!

Distance travelled to Sipi: 15,234km (9,466 miles)

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| Leonie | AFRICA, Kenya, Uganda

3 Reacties (Comments) - Red earth, green hills

  1. Jan en Anna

    Wat beleven jullie toch een mooie avonturen en wat maken jullie veel nieuwe vrienden! Heerlijk om steeds weer mee te kunnen genieten van jullie verhalen en foto’s.
    bevalt het nomaden bestaan nog wel of hebben jullie zo langzamerhand toch soms last van heimwee.
    Liefs, Jan en Anna

  2. Frederike

    Jeetje, Oeganda is wel uitzonderlijk mooi zeg!

  3. Marloes

    Heerlijk voor ons om via jullie verhalen nog na te genieten van onze reis. Heerlijk ook voor jullie dat je zo lekker de tijd kunt nemen en geen race tegen de klok hoeft te maken.
    Geniet! En safe travels