Having got this ready, I returned to stay at the Bomen Hotel, there being no easy place to camp. At the hotel, an American woman called Deirdre asked for a lift to Ethiopia, as she was hitching, and had spent the previous 4 days recovering from Malaria, and there had been no alternative transport in that time other than paying for a lift on the back of one of the trucks. This was to prove one of the more interesting experiences of the trip.
Friday 3rd December 1999
Deirdre and myself managed to get to the police checkpoint at 06:00 ready for the convoy - except there wasn't one. So we set off with the soldier on the road to Samburu GR. I had travelled this road previously and was praying that someone might have done something to fix it. No such luck. The first 40 km took 3 hours, as it was still raining and the road was very muddy. It was not actually necessary to get into 4-wheel drive, but the vehicle slid around a lot as one avoided the worst of the potholes and mud.
After this first section of the road, it looked as if it might get better. However, just as I thought it was safe to speed up a bit (to 30 km/h), there was a sudden bad patch, or corrugations. After a few hours of going slowly, with occasional times when I would speed up, only to hit heavy corrugations again, I decided to try the faster option (which all the other smaller vehicles were doing - OK all was only 3, but 3 out of 3 seemed a reasonable percentage). It was probably here that I made a mistake - although that is pure hindsight. With bad corrugations, one has the choice of going very slowly - approximately 10 km/h and just suffering as the vehicle vibrates itself to pieces, or taking it at about 50 km/h in which case the vehicles travels more smoothly, but the suspension is worked very hard. It only took a few minutes before an ominous thumping started.
At first it was not clear what the problem was, but after stopping a few time and checking the springs and drive shaft, the problem was spotted. It took a bit of finding, simply because it was (to me) so unexpected. I had broken the shackle mounting on the rear left spring. This meant that the rear spring was simply bouncing on the chassis, which was, of course, the source of the noise. Anyway, there was nothing to do but to slow right down, and just get to Marsabit, where I might be able to get it fixed - nothing less than a full welding set would handle this one.
Eventually (as it seemed) we reached Marsabit - at about 15:00, i.e. taking 9 hours to cover 280 km. Stopping at the first garage, we asked if they could help. Quiet laughter, followed by a team of "mechanics" who removed the wheel and springs in a matter of seconds. Before I knew it, the shackle mount was welded back on, and the spring re-attached, discarding the U-bolts as they had been twisted with the movement of the axle over the worst of the bumps. OK, it did take about 2½ hours and 500 KSh, but I doubt many people could fix it that quickly. Obviously I wasn't their first client with this type of problem. Anyway, I have to say that this repair lasted for the remained of the trip.
From the garage, it was a short trip up to the National Park campsite. The soldier wandered off to stay with a friend, while Deirdre decided that she wasn't prepared to risk camping in a national park, and so found a cheap hotel to sleep (supposed) in. The drive to the campsite confirmed my opinion that the Kenyan road authorities are completely mad. Driving along a muddy deeply pot-holed gravel road at the reckless speed of 10 km/h, I had to cross about 5 speed-humps, all of which were so high and steep that it was necessary to slow down! Anyway, after two km I reached the gate to the park, where there was a very pleasant camp site, with running water (no-one else I have met believes this, because it appears that to find running water there is a very rare event).
Ostrich, Long-tailed Fiscal & Superb Starling were seen near Samburu and Vulturine Guineafowl were common along the road, but not much else of note (given I was concentrating on the road).
Saturday 4th December 1999
While I managed to wake at dawn, it was cold, wet and misty. Not what one expects when camping on a small mountain in the middle of the desert - but that is what makes Marsabit such a special place.
On leaving the park, I needed to pay the required fees (having arrived after the office was closed. Here started one of the most embarrassing moments of the trip. When last in Kenya, the fees were US$ 30 per person, US$ 20 to camp and US$ 30 for a foreign registered vehicle - making US$ 70 to stay one night in a national park. Now it used to be possible to camp at a park entrance camp site for just the camping fee - which was still ludicrously expensive, but safer than anywhere else. Anyway, they wanted 200!. Big argument about how they must be joking. 10 minutes of discussion, and the manager arrived. Further argument until one minor issue was clarified - they were talking KSh! The government had dropped the price, so the total package for entry with a foreign vehicle and camping was now 200 KSh - i.e. about US$ 3. Much apologizing and laughter, and I left at about 06:30.
An Ethiopian trip: 27/11/1999 to 17/01/2000Giles Mulholland 31 January 2000