Whisperings of Cheper | Part 4

Trouble checks in! There’s a long stretch of road that is just a sand basin, pure deep sand. There are very few car tracks and absolutely no motorcycle tracks. Motorcycles don’t pass here. Riding slows down to a crawl. Looks smooth in the photos, but believe me, it’s a sandpit!

We are about 100 kilometres from Loiyangalani. For sure, we are not making it there. We change our target destination for the night to Gas town. This is the “highway” upon which we dreamt of cruising. All this time, no one passes by. Not a car. Not a motorbike. No one.

Here is just dance session.
Large regions of sand and craziness.
Zooming in on Maps shows how vehicles go off the main road to avoid going mad. We don’t know this, and we are going mad now. The squiggly section of the red line is where I next fall in the sand.

We stop to evaluate our situation. It’s about an hour and a half to darkness. We are hardly doing 15kph.

Discussing our options. It’s clear we are in deep shit!

Akoth goes ahead.

I fall, but Akoth doesn’t see it, she keeps going. I have to take some bags off to lift the bike.

Bags off. This is the reason why I got quick release bags.
Restrapping bags.
Onward soldier!
Looks smooth and nice, but you can see the dance in the handlebars!
I try to ride the side of the road. It’s better, but deep trenches and ridges force me back into the sand basin.
The torture goes on forever…
…and ever…

I finally meet Akoth, she is stopped after the crazy sandy section. She tells me that she also fell just a little after we parted. That was just comedic! 40 minutes to cover 5 kilometres!!

Giving each other some quick sort of therapy for the trauma we just endured!

We keep going, but soon we have to stop again and figure out this shit. It’s getting dark. Akoth wants a plan. My plan is simple: we keep going. But she doesn’t have a headlight. The road is terrible, we have graduated from crazy sand to crazy gravel. It’s a difficult ride. We are slow. And another problem: we have not fuelled since Illeret. We are not sure we have enough fuel. We agree to keep going, and try to make it to Gas.

Another stop to confirm with each other that we are actually in deep shit, that this is reality, and not some bad dream we shall wake up out of. Yep, it’s shit. Deep. It’s hit the fan biggly. Monumental covfefe!

All this time, we have met absolutely no one. Not a single soul.

We find a sign and a junction. A very cute sign… Complete with a nice little cute gable roof over it. But nothing is written on it…

“Very useful sign!” quips Akoth, smarting with sarcastic frustration.

We check our maps. The road to the right looks less used, but it is the one to Gas. The road straight on goes to North Horr. We take the right. On my GPS, I loaded the track I used last time, and we are far from it. I’m a bit confused about that, wondering why we are on a different road.

We take the right.

Akoth goes ahead, to make use of the little remaining daylight. I take some photos before following along.

The road is still crazy, difficult to ride gravel, with two deep vehicle tyre tracks. One has to stick to the tyre ruts. If you touch the walls of the ruts you risk losing control on the gravel. Lighting such a road with artificial light doesn’t help matters, It’s even more difficult to read the road, and more so for Akoth who soon has to rely on my headlights.

Vast landscape of nothingness…

Akoth says she sees better with the white light than the yellow one. I switch my main headlights on to the high beam, in addition to my yellow spotlights, to get the bright white light.

Another stop to check our sanity.

We are tired, but we plod on. We have to ride in a certain formation for my headlight to be useful to her. It makes things even harder. I need some momentum to ride the gravel well. Akoth is slower and coming down with fatigue too. She has been riding such gravel with ease, but is not doing so well now. The sudden stops throw me off my rhythm. It’s been kilometres upon kilometres of going up a long incline. We keep hoping we will reach the horizon, and on the other side, the gravel will end. We will be able to cruise faster. We consider camping out here, but we do not have enough water. We keep praying to happen by a settlement, a manyatta, people… But none appear. We are tired, but we plod on…

And all this time, we meet no one. Not a car. Not a motorbike. No one.

Suddenly, it hits me why we are not on the path I recorded on my GPS two years ago. I rode to Sibiloi with a friend, and now I remember that we left the main road and followed some motorcycle paths for many kilometres before coming back to this road. We did not pass through his section. The motorcycle path was way better. We should be on that motorcycle path!

I tell this to Akoth, and we check maps to see where that motorcyle path rejoins this road. Maybe the road will be better after that. It doesn’t. It runs kind of parallel to the road we are on for a long distance. Cofveve!

Akoth goes down.
We keep going…

I look at my GPS and see that we are approaching where the motorcycle path joins this road. We reach it, and I notice that it doesn’t join, it crosses this road from the right and goes on to the left. I rush up to tell Akoth I think we should turn left and follow it. We stop and discuss it for a moment…

“Is my light getting dimmer?” I ask Akoth.
“Yeah, it is.”

I switch off my bike’s ignition in horror. I flip all my light switches off, switch the ignition back on, and try to start the bike…


My battery is flat.

Suddenly it’s quiet. As quiet as an expansive gravel-floored tomb.

And dark. Pitch black. Except for our phones’ screens.


Whisperings of Cheper | Part 4 Read More »

Farcing the Daasanach Fora | Part 1

Illeret. It is said to mean The lugga of blood. It is said that a long time ago, the Daasanach people (the tribe that lives in Illeret) held a circumcision ceremony at the lugga (riverbed crossing) and Gabra men attacked, and killed all the initiates. The lugga was red with the blood of the slain. Hence “illeret,” the lugga of blood. No, this won’t be a blood and gore story, I promise. This will be a story of venturing into the unknown, facing fears, and being surprised by how much joy a little trust births. The trust that the unknown people you shall meet in an unknown territory will be nice. The trust they have that you are not coming to them with ill intentions.

Early 2019, I had never heard of Illeret. Neither had I ever heard of the Daasanach people. If you follow the east coast line of Lake Turkana, Illeret is the last major town before you get into Ethiopia. I saw it on Google maps, and my curiosity perked. This is a story of how Illeret went from being just a blob on Google Maps, to smiling people. Chapatis at a village hotel. The carpeting in a Daasanach hut. A dog chewing at a boy’s shoes at church mass. Yes, a dog attending mass at a small beautiful church. Mass during a heavy unexpected storm. And forcefully throwing a drunk old man off my bike.

I was yelling “Shuka!”

NOTE: This story was first published as a Facebook Note on January 19th, 2020. The trip began on December 27th, 2019, and took ten days.

This story is in 4 parts. It will do you well to read them in the correct sequence. I have woven this story as a tapestry over the four parts. Skipping any portions (even photo captions) will result in threads coming undone at the end. One might, as a result, fail to understand obscure references at the end. You will get all the juice out of this story if you chew it patiently section to section. Alright now, I will tell you the whole story from the beginning. Sit down.

Prologue | The plan, and lessons from the past

Last year, Timam, Tina and I did a motorcycle trip to Nakodok, the border of Kenya and South Sudan. It was an awesome trip, and we had so much fun together. However it taught me the value of planning well (even if you don’t eventually stick to the plan). I felt like, during that trip, we rushed through places and hardly visited them. We spent what was supposed to be our rest afternoon visiting Kalokol and fatiguing ourselves down to Eliye Springs. We did not know how close we were to the beautiful Crater Island, and we left Eliye Springs without having set an eye on the Eliye Springs. Kind of a waste. I was quite overcome with mirth when, back in Nairobi, one of us declared “I have been to Eliye Springs, and can confidently say there are no springs there.” I know the springs exist, because I have visited them before.

This time I take time to look up what attractions are in the areas I hope to pass through. I find out about the Desert Museum, I read up on the El Molo people and their sacred shrines, I read up on Koobi Fora – I go through as much material as I can find about the area.

The initial plan is to reach Loiyangalani in a day, spend the next day visiting the museum and the El Molo people, before going on north. The plan is to also have some rest days. Both Timam and Tina express interest in joining in on the trip. Tina can’t because she does not have enough days. Timam comes to my place on 20th December, and we each draw up our desired trip plans. Our plans don’t agree. I make it clear that I can spare a total of 10 days for the trip, and intend to be in no hurry. He wishes to be back home earlier. By the time he leaves, we are not in agreement at all. I get the feeling that I shall be doing this trip alone, and start preparing myself for that eventuality. I have been planning this trip alone for months now, anyway. The option of it being a solo ride is not so unwelcome.

I start with the bike. I have already put in fresh oil and new tyres.

I go to Muthee Mutitu who helps weld up some cracks in the frame. My bike has the tendecy to crack a lot.
I service the front forks.
I lay out the stuff I intend to take with me. Only things missing here are my safety gear, luggage bags and camel bag.

Pre-trip bike problems

My plan is to go upcountry for Christmas, then come back to Nairobi on 26th, and start the journey on 27th. By 23th, Timam has showed intent to still come along, but I’m not sure he will come all the way all the days with me. On 23th too, I realise with trepidation that my bike is NOT ready for any trip! It is overheating. Oil on the radiator cap suggests a blown head gasket. Travelling to hot regions such as Northern Kenya with a blown head gasket would be impossible. The trip upcountry has to be cancelled, I have to quickly fix my bike.

Luckily, I already have fresh gaskets that I had purchased a while back. Luckily also, I do most of my own repairs and maintenance. Three years ago I took this bike apart and rebuilt it, putting almost every component in its place myself. On 24th I bring the bike into my compound and start stripping it up.

Oil on radiator cap.
I put the bike on the verandah, so I can work even through rain.
Front end stripped off for easier access to the engine.

On 25th, I begin tearing into the engine.

Cylinder and cylinder head.
Pistons hanging out. One shows of bad mixture.
Muthee Mutitu comes over to help. He cleans the cylinder head and laps the valve seats. He saves me about 4 hours’ work. He doesn’t charge me anything, says it is his Christmas gift to me.
New and old gaskets.
Cylinders back on.
Doing the valve clearances. It’s easier to do them with the cylinder head on the bench.
By 10:30pm, I have the engine back together.

The next day I bolt everything on. I’m a bit nervous because the trip begins in less that 24 hours. I usually don’t like working on my bike, and immediately embarking on a long trip. I prefer riding the bike around town for some days first to make sure everything is ok . But this time it will be a leap of faith. I cross my fingers and hope everything is ok with the bike.

Back on her feet. Now for a road test. Trip begins tomorrow!!

Day ONE | 27 Dec 2019

I wake up in the morning and start packing up the bike. I had not properly figured how to strap the adventure bags, since I have never used them before, and this takes me some time. Timam tells me to carry for him the three man tent. He is coming on the trip, after all, and I’m to meet him ahead, because he is at his folks’ home in Meru.

All luggage on bike, including tent for Timam. Ready to begin the trip.

I’m supposed to leave at 6am, but run late and leave at 8:30. The idea of doing Loiyangalani in a day is already nose diving. It’s a quick ride to Nanyuki.

Leaving home.
Thika Road.
I meet a group of bikers enjoying their holidays on the road.
And another.

The bike is running well. It seems the repairs worked out fine. I will still have to monitor the temperature, especially when we get offroad. At Nanyuki, I give Timam a call. He tells me that he is in Meru town. We agree to link up at Isiolo.

Checking the equator at Nanyuki.
Trying to get a shade near big brother.
Big rig heading somewhere north.

I meet Timam in Isiolo. We repack things. I hand him the tent. He gives me two five litre jerry cans to carry. We may need to carry extra fuel somewhere along the way. I must mention that we are not sure about how the trip will be, or how the roads will be. We have had conversations with a couple of people who have travelled that way, but everything is still uncertain. We have no idea what the towns/villages look like, whether we shall be welcome, where we shall spend the nights… It’s a big leap of faith. To put it another way, we really have very little idea what the hell we are doing.


We grab a quick lunch, and are soon on our way to Laisamis.


They stop to check on us. That’s a live sheep in the crate.

Some two boys walking a cow find me stopped and ask for water. I don’t have any water in bottles I can hand out. I let them suckle at my camel bag. I have to communicate to them using signs that they must bite for the water to come out.

Before Covid-19 made the world weird.

We arrive at Laisamis. This is where we begin our offroad riding. It’s late afternoon, and we know we can’t make it to Loiyangalani today. We do not know where we shall spend the night.

Shops at Laisamis petrol station.

After fuelling up, getting some cash, stocking up on bits of supplies, we hit the road towards Loiyangalani. It starts off with a bit of tarmac for the first fifteen kilometres, then gives way to a well graded gravel road. The road is well made, as it has been used by trucks taking materials and supplies to the Loiyangalani wind power project. Our plan is to follow this road till Loiyangalani. What we do not know is that the new road does not follow the old road and is not on maps, and we keep losing it along the way.

We reach the Milgis Lugga that has some water in it. I’m in front, and I do something stupid. Since I can see vehicle tyre marks going into and out of the water, I don’t bother to check the depth before crossing. There’s a deep-ish ditch under the water and it catches me by surprise, I almost drop my bike in the water. My shin-high boot sinks in the water till it’s almost pouring in through the top. I recover, though, and power out of the river.

Farcing the Daasanach Fora | Part 1 Read More »