Welcome to my new blog Cork to Cape - the second leg of my round the world motorcycle adventure. As some of you know my first trip took me down through Central and South America on the back of a BMW R1100GS. This trip will take me from Ireland to South Africa on an F800GS. My goal is to take my time, enjoy the ride, meet new people and volunteer along the way. I welcome everyone to view and enjoy the blog, add comments and give me any advice on special places to see or people to meet. And, of course, if anyone wants to join me for a section of the journey or if there is a place you always wanted to visit, please come along.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Hakuna Matata

Day 357

Milage 29,386 (47,017 kms)

There be dragons!

With the Easter holidays coinciding with my arrival at Jungle Junction in Nairobi it was clear that dropping off my damaged alternator with a local mechanic would prove pointless, it would sit at a workshop until after the long weekend, gathering dust, before receiving any attention so, I pitched my tent and settled in for a long wait. If I were to choose a place to get stuck then Jungle Junction, on the outskirts of the city, would be my first choice. Long established as an over-landers haven on the route through eastern Africa it is an oasis of like minded souls, beaten and battered by the tough roads to the north and south. With a fully equipped workshop, two well trained mechanics and the expertise of the owner, Chris Handschuh, always on hand to offer advice and assistance it was a welcome respite from the chaotic world outside its well guarded perimeter. Rows of over-land vehicles quietly sit awaiting the resumption of their adventures, temporarily stored on the expansive property while their owners are overseas rebuilding finances or accruing the time off needed to continue their journeys. 

Entering the Southern Hemisphere
Travelers from around the world gather here to regroup, repair and recover. Roughly halfway between Cairo and Cape Town it feels like a milestone in itself, both destinations  seem within reach and, during my stay, I met more people than I had expected to as this region is now well into its wet season, many roads are considerably more challenging or simple impassable. It is refreshing to be around people who understand the motivation behind jumping on a motorcycle and driving so far, most enquiries about my journey are met with puzzled looks of consternation and more than once I’ve been asked why I didn’t just to fly to Cape Town. ‘Why?’ is a question I’ve asked myself more than once on this journey, especially since I could never have predicted how it would evolve and the changes it would bring. ‘Settlement for any length of time, in cave or castle, has at best been a sporadic condition in the history of man,’ wrote Bruce Chatwin in The Anatomy of Restlessness. ‘Prolonged settlement has a vertical axis of some ten thousand years, a drop in the ocean of evolutionary time. We are travelers from birth. Our mad obsession with technological progress is a response to barriers in the way of our geographical progress.’ Having sat with nomads in the deserts to the north I could see some truth in Chatwin’s claim that movement was the very essence of life and when deprived of it or restrained we ‘invent artificial enemies, psychosomatic illnesses, tax collectors and, worst of all, ourselves.’ It is hard to explain why it feels so right to be on this voyage, is the urge to keep moving hard wired into my primitive brain? Looking around at the fellow travelers who gather at Jungle Junction, there appears to be a common sense of purpose and drive, the camaraderie comes easily and, at the risk of sounding cliched, there is a thirst for adventure and a palpable vitality surrounding every one of them. 

Time to store boots inside the tent
The Easter weekend passed quietly, a barbecue on the friday evening saw a dozen over-landers enjoying great food and cold beer while the days were consumed with routine maintenance procedures on bikes and trucks, the packing and unpacking of gear, the consolidation of equipment and the sharing of advice about the roads ahead. The hot, humid days were followed by cool nights and the occasional thunderstorm. After the intense heat of the northern regions it was nice to sleep peacefully without constantly sweating. By Tuesday morning businesses in the city were coming back to life so I took my alternator to an electrical engineer at the regional airport to have the stator rewound. I made the assumption that anyone who works on aircraft would probably complete the task to an acceptable standard and the engineer had been recommended by a local biker. From Jungle Junction I took a Matatu, a mini-van licensed to carry twelve passengers, towards Wilson Airport, near the city centre. Matatus are the most common vehicles on the road and easily the least predictable, they can be flagged down at any time and the drivers income is directly related to the number of people on board so the incentive to drive fast and stop in a heartbeat, to squeeze in another person, appears to be their sole motivation. The Matatu I took had a few extra people onboard, I lost count at twenty four, but for pennies these ramshackle vehicles will take you across the city on a roller coaster ride of emergency stops, screeching brakes and blaring music. Road rules don’t seem to apply to the Matatus so anything goes in the race to get that next passenger, it makes for an exciting, if somewhat fragrant experience. 

The Great Rift Valley

The engineer’s workshop at the airport looked clean and efficient so I felt confident about leaving my alternator in his care.  A timescale and a price were to be agreed upon later after he’d had a chance to thoroughly inspect the damage so I readied myself for the return journey to Jungle Junction. The traffic and road conditions in Nairobi are notorious, many over-landers I met previously had left me with the impression that driving through the city had been one of the most dangerous parts of their journey and I would be tempted to concur. It is virtually impossible to drive around the city so all through traffic is channeled into its centre. The Chinese are in the process of building a ring road but it will be a couple of years before that project is complete so for the time being the center of the city is in a permanent state of gridlock. Traffic lights are ignored, roundabouts are a free for all and motorcycles are at the bottom of the food chain so it can get quite exciting. The city itself also has a rough reputation for crime and I’ve heard it referred to as both ‘Nowrobme’ and ‘Nairobbery’. Muggings are common, even in the daytime, and by nightfall the city centre is a no-go area for tourists. In stark contrast to the modern, glass tower blocks the city is peppered with shantytowns, the largest of which is Kibera, thought to be the largest urban slum in Africa and the third largest in the world although estimates vary as to how many people live in the squalid township. 

Monkey business
The most common complaint I’ve encountered from the locals in Kenya is  directed towards the scourge of corruption, endemic within world of officialdom, it infects every aspect of life within the country. Very little happens without a bribe of some sort greasing the palm of someone in authority. When it looked as though I might have to truck my bike out of the Turkana region the driver I was negotiating a price with demanded over US$1000 to get me and the motorcycle to Nairobi. Not five minutes later he was grumbling about greed and corruption within the government and I had to bite my tongue to prevent myself from pointing out the irony of his complaints. I’ve done my best to avoid any contact with those in uniform, entering the country at a border with no official immigration or customs outpost required a quick visit to the headquarters in downtown Nairobi, for the bureaucratic formalities, but this went smoothly. On the road there are random police checkpoints and, as they wave me over onto the hard shoulder, I simply wave back and keep on driving. They rarely have a car nearby and when they do they seem reluctant to use it. There is a heavy police and army presence within the capital to counteract the occasional grenade attacks for which Al-Shabaab militants claim responsibility.

The bike is taking a beating

It took four days for my alternator to be repaired and after fitting it back inside the engine casing I ran a few tests to check its output and it appears as though it is now working well although time will tell. I’m still curious as to why it failed in the first place and a internet search revealed a few forums from other riders having similar issues. It would appear as though BMW are aware of the problem as recent models of the same bike feature a slightly different design. Sadly, BMW refuses to sell the individual components of the alternator separately and the entire unit is a costly, heavy part so shipping one from overseas becomes prohibitively expensive. With a working bike it was time to make plans to move on before I got too comfortable at Jungle Junction. The traveling companions I had arrived with had long since moved on and I was keen to get back on the road. After consulting my maps and taking some advice from fellow riders I decided to turn west and enter Uganda via the northern edge of Mount Elgon. The pale grass under my tent served as a reminder as to how long I’d been camped in Nairobi but it had been an enjoyable stay and I’d completed several repairs on the bike so it had also been productive. My first destination was to be Lake Bogoria, a flamingo sanctuary within the Rift Valley about 200 kms northwest of Nairobi. After a tense drive out of the city into the surrounding hills I was soon competing for road space with suicidal Matatu drivers, as the road narrowed from four lanes to two I was forced onto the hard should several times in order to avoid a head on collision with an oncoming vehicle. Thankfully, my chosen route took me off the main highway and I was soon speeding along deserted smaller roads waving at the occasional police officer as they tried to flag me down. 

Lake Bogoria welcome party
I arrived at a campsite by late afternoon and after checking in I tried to restart the motorcycle only to have it die immediately. The battery was strong so I knew it couldn’t be the newly repaired alternator but with night approaching I decided to deal with it after a good night’s sleep. The following morning I traced the problem down to a fuel starvation issue, when I by-passed the fuel pump regulator and wired the battery directly to the fuel pump I was able to get the bike running again so I abandoned my plans to continue west and I turned back to the glorious anarchy of Nairobi in order to utilize Chris Handschuh’s intimate knowledge of this bike and all its little intricacies. It’s disheartening when a machine you have relied upon for almost thirty thousand miles suddenly develops mechanical issues, the majority of riders who attempt this route go from Cape Town towards Europe so, as their mileage accumulates, their journey takes them closer to more developed countries where parts and expertise are readily accessible. The faith I had developed in the bike’s reliability has been shattered and I now wonder about some of the more remote route choices that I was considering on my journey south. I’m learning to accept the setbacks as opportunities to understand a little more about the bike and myself, as frustrating as it can be, it’s only a machine and I’m only human. Things occasionally go wrong but it’s not the end of the world. An expression I have heard more than once since arriving in Kenya, is the Swahili phrase Hakuna matata which roughly translates as ‘no worries’.

Greater Blue Eared Glossy Starling


Unknown said...

Irish, great write up once again. Amber and I are on the other side of the continent in Morocco. We will be arriving in Kenya on May 9th. Hope you you are on the road by then and long gone, but if not then we shouldmeetupfor a round of kenyan Guinness.
May you travels be safe and your adventures great. Jason

cc said...

irish - i'm still with ya and enjoying every minute of your adventure. - colin