Escape to Nairobi: For Visas, Parts and Old Friends

27 September – 14 November 2012

My long breakdown in Tanzania had pushed my trip to go in a new direction. As longtime followers of this journey know, I’ve been pursuing a distance masters over the past three years and I was due to give my last exams for the degree in South Africa. So, I planned a route that would get me to Johannesburg by early October of 2012, after which I had planned to ride up West Africa. But this prolonged delay in sorting out sanDRina’s issues ate into that plan and I made the call to return to Nairobi and take my exams there and then see about fixing sanDRina. However, I knew that if I returned to Kenya, the trip plan would change due to timing of expiry dates on visas. After accepting these changes, I boarded the bus in Kibondo and arrived back in Nairobi.

It wasn’t a hard decision to return to Nairobi, since I was coming back to a great bunch of friends. I did my exams and got the results; passing with distinction for the full degree. Once the studies were completed, I waited on some parts to arrive, attended a rally raid, renewed visas and then boarded a bus back to Kibondo and sanDRina.

Good to be back in Nairobi. I spent the first few weeks crashing at Davide’s place, here. He’s got a lovely house with a wonderful garden that was just the perfect place for me to be reviewing my course notes on sustainable forestry and land management. The exams took place in early October and went smoothly. A few weeks later I received the results and got rated distinction for my thesis work and the entire Masters of Science in Sustainable Development degree. It was a great experience through SOAS at the University of London and let’s see where this degree takes me when I get to India.

A welcome back dinner with my old friends in Nairobi. Diana, from Colombia, is feeding Mica, from the States, with some spinach, as Max, from Belgium, looks on in glee. Davide, from Italy, is concentrating on his chopstick etiquette while Carrie and Margarita from the UK stir up the…

…hot pot! We discovered this Chinese Hot Pot place that was run from a Malaysian family’s home in Nairobi. Super tasty. The pot is split into spicy and non-spicy broth. As the broth cooks on a hot plate, various ingredients are added in, like sliced meat, seafood and veggies. A very interactive dinner.

I was back in Nairobi without my own two wheels so I reached out and Ash, an Indian-Kenyan who had been following my trip for a while, said that I could use his Honda XR250. This bike was a hoot to ride. My first dirt bike was the DR650 and I hadn’t ridden any of the smaller bikes, so I thoroughly enjoyed blasting through Nairobi’s traffic on this nimble and quick bike. Thanks, Ash!

After a few weeks in Nairobi, Milan, my mechanic friend, invited me to spectate at a Rally Raid event that was being held on and around Mount Longonot, a prominent volcano in Kenya’s Rift Valley.

Milan, on the right, was entering in his first race on a Honda XR500. And our friend, Jorge also entered on his Kawasaki KLR650.

Gerald was part of our group for the weekend and here he just came in to our pit stop and is being shown which way the other racers went.

Off around Mt Longonot.

Milan coming in to the pit stop. The raid is more about following directions than outright speed.

Our pit crew. It was my first time to spectate at a rally and there’s a lot of down time just hanging out and drinking beers until all the racers come through. Good times.

The weather was acting up and provided for great shots. Here, a front is working its way across the volcano.

These kids showed up and had some sass about them.

Jorge coming in at last for his pit stop. He was so lost it wasn’t even funny. But he had the right attitude; just get to the finish where some cold beers were waiting.

Dhruv, Milan’s brother, and Sharad fueling up the KLR for the last leg to the finish line.

Storms working their way across Lake Naivasha. Kenya is beautiful.

Besides bikes, a lot of other vehicles were there. A modified Range Rover charging in front of some goats.

A buggy coming in for his pit stop.

Another buggy charging across the beautiful landscape around Mt Longonot.

A modified Land Cruiser on the last leg with Mt Longonot looming in the background.

The pit crew having fun on the rally course after the racers had gone through.

A hartebeest sprinting away into the rain mist.

Our campsite at the base of Mt Longonot.

After a few more weeks, all my visas were renewed, parts had arrived from the US and I bought some tools for Ramadan, my mechanic friend in Kibondo who was watching over sanDRina. Time to board the bus back into Tanzania.

A farewell sushi dinner. Goodbye Nairobi Crew. Was awesome to see all of you again.

Next: Tanzania, Part 2: sanDRina is Cured and the Journey Continues

Previous: Tanzania, Part 1: Down the Western side and Bike Problems

Video: Jammin thru Kenya | Lake Turkana Route

31 July – 5 August 2011

As I get ready to leave Kenya, I remember back to the epic journey that I had when I entered the country from Ethiopia, riding the rugged route along Lake Turkana. Here’s the video from that journey. It’s a bit long at 17 mins, but I think it captures what it feels like to ride a Suzuki DR650 over hundreds of miles of sand, rocks and corrugations through vast, changing landscapes.

The video features music from my good friend, David Abraham’s band, The Koniac Net and his debut album One Last Monsoon. Music by The Killers and The Temper Trap also mixed in.

There are exciting moments of fast riding,
where sanDRina and I are dancing on the gravel,
feeling the rhythm of the terrain.
And there are moments of slow riding,
where we struggle in deep sand and over huge rocks,
where the terrain challenges our momentum.
Those moments remind me that we are at the mercy of nature,
playing in her deserts and forests,
tapping into the energy of life.

(if the youtube copyright police block the video in your country, like in Germany, click here to see it on vimeo.)

Click here for more videos from the trip.

Kenya, Part 11: Hells Gate, Lamu and Elephant Orphanage

7 July – 11 August 2012

In the last few weeks of my time in Kenya, I went around and visited some of the country’s attractions, namely Hells Gate National Park, Lamu and the Elephant Orphanage near Nairobi.

The beautiful cliffs of Hells Gate National Park, about two hours north of Nairobi.

The columnar basalt face of the cliffs.

Fischer’s Tower, one of two volcanic plugs that protrude from the ground and provide an excellent peak for rock climbing.

Lots of zebra were around when I visited and…

…they showed disinterest in me by showing me their butts.

Hell’s Gate is so named because of a narrow gorge that runs through the park.

The sculptor of water at work. This thin waterfalls was cutting its way back into the rock and creating this narrow gorge.

The hike down the gorge was exciting, narrow and slippery in places…

…but well worth the effort for spending some time in these natural rock cathedrals, all carved by water.

The other volcanic plug in Hells Gate, Central Tower. This is the core of an extinct volcano. Once the magma hardens, it can’t be easily eroded unlike its surrounding rock and given enough time, nature produces these prominent rock sculptures.

Leaving the park and noticing a relative of Pumba crossing the road. The Lion King crew is said to have spent time in Hells Gate getting inspiration and appreciation for the land.

A few weeks later, I went down to the coast with a group of friends from Nairobi for a weekend in Lamu, an old island town on Kenya’s north coast.

The central square in Lamu Old Town, which was established in the 15th century and is known as one of the original Swahili settlements on Africa’s east coast. Many different peoples have come and left their mark on Lamu, starting with the Chinese in 1415 when survivors from a shipwreck settled on the island and mingled with the locals, followed by domination by Portuguese traders and then liberation by the Omanis who allowed Lamu’s culture to flourish. The Chinese are back as they are helping Kenya build a huge port in Lamu to facilitate oil exports from South Sudan.

Lamu is characterized by its narrow streets and lack of vehicles. Walking, donkeys and boats are the modes of transport here.

Riding a dhow across the waters in the Lamu Archipelago.

Our group came to Lamu to celebrate the 30th birthday of Davide, a close friend from Nairobi. He’s quite an eccentric character as besides being a motorcycle rider, he’s an archer and sailor and what better way to ring in his third decade than sailing on traditional dhows in the beautiful locale of Lamu.

Relaxing in dhows, sailing by mangroves and…

…enjoying an epic sunset in Lamu. (Photo credit: Davide Piga)

The days were spent relaxing on the many beautiful white sand beaches in the Lamu Archipelago. Dennis and Musini, our local fixer, bringing a cooler of Tuskers ashore.

A great weekend spent with a lovely group of friends. Welcome to your thirties, Davide.

The streets of Lamu are filled with donkeys and… cats. Lots and lots of cats. There are actually established cat corners, where groups of cats will congregate and wait to be fed by generous shop keepers. Sarah loves cats and we lost her for a while here.

Enjoying a chai (tea) in the evening near the square of Lamu Old Town.

Walking thru the narrow streets of Lamu and wondering how much or how little has changed since centuries past.

Back to Nairobi and visiting the Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage, where they take in orphaned baby elephants and work on reintroducing them back in to the wild when they’re ready. They are usually orphaned when their mothers are killed for their tusks. It’s sad that poaching still continues today and it’s only because there’s still a demand for it. `

They had babies there from 3 months to 3 years, after which it’s time to get back to the wild. But before that, it’s all play. They bring out the elephants into a corral and allow visitors to get up close. This guy was looking super cute in the way he drank water. He would snort some up his trunk, get it to his mouth and…

…then spray most of it out. It must take forever to get a good drink at that rate, but…

…so much fun!

The caretakers at the orphanage really loved their babies and it showed through when they fed them these huge bottles of milk, which is the main component of their diet. I found out there that the milk is based on human milk formula, instead of cow’s milk, which is too fatty and difficult for the elephants to breakdown.

A fun moment when one elephant is trying to suck up milk from another elephant’s mouth.

A contrast in brown skins. The elephants are pretty accustomed to the daily visiting humans and it was amazing when they would just stand there, next to the rope drinking water and allow us to touch them. I discovered that their skin is really oily, which must protect them from the sun and the elements.

The hairy back of an elephant or… an alien landscape…

The wrinkly, muddy butt of a baby elephant.

The orphanage also takes care of rhinos and this big guy was…

…blind and couldn’t be reintroduced to the wild because he would be killed by other dominant male rhinos.

My last weekend in Nairobi and I brought friends from different circles together for a barbeque at Davide’s house.

Saying goodbye to the many great friends that I made in Nairobi. I’ll miss you all and who knows, maybe I’ll be back…

Next: Uganda: Fertile Land of Lakes and Rainforests

Previous: Kenya, Part 10: sanDRina Rebuild in Nairobi for RTW Part 2

Kenya, Part 10: sanDRina Rebuild in Nairobi for RTW Part 2

April – August 2012

During my break in Kenya, I acquired some sponsors to replace gear and parts that had worn out during the first part of my trip from Chicago to Nairobi. I also got some sponsors for a few new jazzy parts, like Pivot Pegz. But the major items for this rebuild on sanDRina were to replace bearings and the braking system and fix my spark plug thread issue. Milan, an Indian-Kenyan biker and mechanic helped me out with the rebuild at his family’s workshop.

sanDRina’s last rebuild was in Sao Paulo (October 2010) and now these are the stats for when this second rebuild happened:
Trip Mileage: 74,954 kms (46,555 mi)
1998 Chassis Mileage: 116,814 kms (72,555 mi)
2003 Engine Mileage: 86,080 kms (53,466 mi)

I had a big list of tasks for refreshing sanDRina and this is everything that was done:

-Bearings replaced: Front and Rear Wheel, Steering Stem, Swing Arm, Shock Lower Mount (sponsored by All Balls)
-Brakes: installed new Front and Rear Wave Rotors with Pads and SS Lines (sponsored by Galfer)
-Brakes: installed almost-new Front and Rear Calipers and Master Cylinders (bought from a DR teardown, 2006 with 6000 miles)
-Front Forks: replaced oil (10w), replaced oil and dust seals, made new polyurethane spacers, installed new SealSavers (sponsored)
-Rear Shock: could not rebuild here so just did an eyeball check on the spring and dampening and all looks good
-Shock Lower Mount and Dog Bones: replaced with almost-new parts (from 2006 DR)
-Rear Wheel: Installed new RAD hub and spokes (sponsored)
-Mounted new Rear Kenda K270 Tire (been carrying it since Bolivia!)
-Axles: replaced front and rear with almost-new parts (from 2006 DR)
-Installed Pivot Pegs Mk3 (sponsored)
-Fenders and headlight cowl repainted (Olive color matched, but only in glossy, not matte)
-Fabricated new Swing Arm Chain Guide
-Welded crack in chassis near subframe mount
-Fixed leaks in tool tubes with silicone
-Made rubber gaskets for Safari tank brace
-Seat Re-upholstered (to cover hole caused by sliding boot buckles)
-Repaired Right Pannier dent and installed new gaskets and pucks (sponsored)
-Bolts replaced for Happy Trails pannier frame and greased with Copper Slip
-Installed new Mega Tool Tube (sponsored – thanks Devin!)
-New Highway Pegs installed

-Installed new Vapor (bought used on ADV)
-Installed new Touratech GPS mount (sponsored) (gave the old one to a Dutch DR rider)
-Installed new Shorai Lithium-Iron battery (sponsored) (sold the old one to a local KTM 640 rider)
-Installed replacement Air Horn (Stebel Nautilus compressor died)
-Reconnected Solar Panel wiring (got cut in the Top Box)
-Checked wiring harness for chaffing and any other irregularities (all good) and sprayed connector terminals with rust inhibitor (no dielectric grease available)
-Rebuilt VoltMinder (battery voltage monitor) (grime was causing erroneous readings)
-Checked SwitchBox connections (all good) and resealed for weather-proofing
-Aligned Auxillary LED lights (right side mount bent down from Turkana crash)

-Installed new NoToil Air Filter (sponsored)
-Replaced gasket for Air Box Cover and Oil Filler Plug
-Fixed exhaust mount to subframe (vibrating bolt chewed the mounting hole into an oval)
-Replaced header bolts with studs and copper nuts
-Fixed Spark Plug thread issue, brass inserts fitted
-New NGK CR-10E spark plugs
-Piston cleaned with wire brush, rings reseated
-Conrod to Crank bearings look good (adequate side-to-side play and no up-down play)
-Cylinder Lining looks good
-Oil change and cleaning of Scotts SS Oil Filter
-Carb rebuilt with new internals: slide, float pin, air screw, springs, etc.
-New fuel lines and fuel filter
-Lubed Throttle and Clutch Cables (including mounted spare clutch cable)

Two touring DR650s in Nairobi. I met Mike and his lovely DR here, who’ve traveled down the west side of Africa and were coming up the east. It was nice for the girls to have some company while we talked about the differences and similarities of our bikes.

Replacing the front rotor with parts from Galfer.

The clutch that I installed in Mendoza, Argentina, was finally starting to fade after lots of mud riding in Ethiopia. Nice shot of the clean internals in constrast with the dirty externals.

sanDRina stripped down in Milan’s shop in Nairobi for a three-week rebuild.

We checked the axles and noticed some wear, so I contacted a guy who was parting out a clean DR in Arizona with low miles and acquired a lot of chassis parts at a low price.

RAD rear hub installed with new spokes and Galfer Wave Rear Rotor installed. Thanks for the parts donation! Kenda K270 Rear Tire installed. I’ve been carrying this tire all the way from Santa Cruz, Bolivia! Not my smartest decision but hey, I have a new rear tire now. It only needs to last till South Africa where I’ll be picking up a new set of sponsored Heidenau K60 Scouts.

Brake calipers replaced with almost-new parts from a very clean 2006 DR that was being parted out.

New front and rear brake master cyclinders and SS lines from Galfer.

Milan pressing on the new steering stem bearings.

It was a good thing we were replacing the swingarm bearings because they were destroyed.

Uh oh, loose chain riding (in Brazil and Ethiopia) lead to the chain eating through the chain guide and a bit into the swingarm.

Fabricating a new chain guide from thick rubber sheets.

Milan cutting me some new polyurethane spacers for the springs in my front forks. The old ones were deformed.

We couldn’t rebuild the rear shock, but Milan’s experience allowed us to check the dampening ability of the shock and all looks good.

Lots of fun moments working with Milan. Here, we’ve just installed the almost-new shock lower mount and the dog bones are going in next.

My Stebel Nautilus Compact air horn stopped working a while back and with the help of Milan’s brother, Dhruv, we figured out that the compressor was dead. I was lucky to find this replacement, which seemed very similar to the Nautilus, except that it wasn’t packaged for a motorcycle. It got painted black.

The new air horn came with two huge trumpets that got mounted on the front fender. It changes the look of the bike a bit but I like it.

Bolt hole for the exhaust mount had become an oval with all the vibrations. A bigger hole and bigger bolt fixed that.

On the engine, I had Milan take a look at my spark plugs threads. In Switzerland, I discovered that the inner spark plug was cross-threaded and it broke when I tried to remove it. The quick fix then was to rethread the hole but it was too loose, so the threads were banged in and the spark plug held. That fix worked up to now but Milan recommended putting in brass inserts with new threads.

The cylinder head was removed and given to a specialist shop for fitting the brass inserts. Since we were in the engine now, might as well check up on the piston and all these deposits on the piston head revealed that sanDRina was not running properly for a long time. Milan wire-brushed all that off.

Milan heard a ticking noise and suspected play in the piston pin, so we removed the cylinder and did notice wear on the piston pin. He said thicker oil and more frequent oil changes should fix that. He checked the state of the conrod and all looks good with adequate side-to-side play and no up-down play in the bearings.

Cleaning out the threads for the cylinder head bolts.

We opened up the carb and noticed that the old slide had a crack in one corner. It was on the engine side, so it wasn’t affecting the bike that much but it was probably a sign that this part was ageing. New slide got installed along with other parts for the carb, such as float pin, air speed screw, etc. Milan reseated my float needle and now the carb doesn’t leak fuel if the petcock is left open for a bit.

The cylinder head installed on the engine with new brass inserts for the spark plug threads.

sanDRina got treated to some proper motorcycle engine oil. Milan did an excellent job on the engine rebuild. Previously engine compression was at 105 psi and now it’s at 130 psi!

The bike doctor listening to the engine with a stethoscope during the first fire up to make sure that there were no unusual noises coming from the camshaft or the camchain. All sounded good.

A crack in the frame was noticed near the subframe joint. The crack probably happened from riding fast over the corrugations on the Lake Turkana route with my big Top Box on there.

Benefits of good ol’ steel frames: just weld her back together.

A welding job nicely done.

Painting the fenders after lots of cracks and chips. The color was matched but only glossy was available, not matte.

Fixing a dent in my right pannier from a fall in the sand along the Lake Turkana route. I also replaced all the pannier gaskets and pucks and the bolts were regreased with copper slip.

New Pivot Pegz Mk3 were installed. Allan Smith, the CEO of Pivot Pegz contacted me and wanted to send me a set. I also installed some new highway pegs, which also act as frame sliders.

Touratech GPS mount being replaced. Thanks for the sponsored replacement, Touratech USA! I gave the old one to Mike, the Dutch DR rider.

New Shorai Lithium-Iron battery going in, weighing less than half of the old Yuasa lead-acid one.

Thanks to Milan for all the fantastic work he did on sanDRina. She’s feeling like a new bike and should be good to go till India.

Next: Kenya, Part 11: Hells Gate, Lamu Island and Elephant Orphanage

Previous: Kenya, Part 9: Back to Nairobi and Watamu Revisited

Kenya, Part 9: Back to Nairobi and Watamu Revisited

March – May 2012

After two months in the field, I returned to Nairobi to complete the report writing and get back to some city life. I celebrated my birthday, went to some yoga classes, did some second-hand clothes shopping and enjoyed cooking for myself again. It was good to revive our Food without Borders dinners and picnics. For Easter, a bunch of us went down to Watamu, a second visit for me, but being such a beautiful place warranted a repeat visit.

At the end of my fieldwork, some friends from Nairobi come down to Machakos for the weekend and we went on a hike up the Kiima Kimwe volcano. Scott was super excited to see some livestock.

Taking a break on this huge outcrop about halfway up. The land around is pretty flat, except for a few dormant volcanoes.

Chris, my enumerator from the field team, feeling a bit nervous sitting on the edge. He came along for the hike since he’s lived in its shadow his whole life but had never hiked it. He was also useful when asking for directions from farmers on how to go to the top.

Towards the summit it got pretty steep and wild. We had to bush-whack through.

But the view was great. Flat all around and we could see for miles.

The hike was relatively easy for the most part, except the final steep ascent.

Sarah watching her step on the way back down over smooth and slippery rocks.

Mica saying hello to this plant that extended a friendly arm.

As we neared the main road, kids from the villages ran out and were super excited to see wazungu (foreigners) and they each grabbed a hand to walk with.

A nice end to the hike up Kiima Kimwe, looming in the background.

My last night at the guest house and in the field was a feast on the balcony with good friends from Nairobi.

I made it back to Nairobi on my birthday and what better way to celebrate than cooking a chicken curry for friends.

Chicken curry, potato curry (thanks, Jeremy), roasted eggplant, dahl, brushchetta and rice.

Getting surprised with a birthday cake and it was my favorite, chocolate cake with chocolate icing.

A nice moment with great friends.

A round of tequila shots at the Tree House club.

Meeting Danielle in Nairobi. She’s also a bike traveler and rode solo from her home in New Zealand thru southern Asia, the Middle East and down to Kenya on a Suzuki DR350. She’s also a part of the Jupiter’s Traveller program and it was fun to exchange travel stories.

Enjoying Kenya’s Tusker beer over some Ethiopian food at Abyssinia Restaurant. They say Nairobi has the most Ethiopian restaurants outside Ethiopia.

Meeting up with Girum Berhane, my Ethiopian housemate from college years at Purdue University. We studied mechanical engineering together and lost communication after graduation. 9 years later, he finds me on facebook and sends a message saying that he’s living and working in Nairobi now. It was good to catch up and reminisce about the old days. People obviously grow and adapt to their surroundings as the years go on but I was happy to see that the core doesn’t change.

I attended some yoga classes put on by the Africa Yoga Project who use yoga to empower communities. The classes are free and everyone’s encouraged to attend. The atmosphere was fantastic for a session of Power Yoga. The dance studio we were in at the Sarakasi Dome was packed with no space between mats and the instructor told us to communicate to our neighbors with our breath. After class, they provided a subsidized Indian lunch at the nearby Hare Krishna temple.

Getting close and friendly with our neighbor yogis. This was an exercise where we used a partner for strength and balance. The program trains volunteers to become yoga instructors and that allows them to then go out and offer private sessions as an income source.

Carrie and I made friends with some of the yoga instructors and they took us shopping at the second-hand clothes market at Gikomba.

I bought a nice pair of jeans for $6 for the rest of my time in Nairobi. Most of the clothes come from the UK or the US and I think many of them are donations, which are wrongly resold by the government to these merchants.

Walking back from Gikomba and taking a whiff of this huge pot of Githeri (beans and chickpeas stew) boiling by the roadside, in anticipation of lunch.

Ingredients that went into a pork chop marinade to be pan-fried with onions and served with couscous. I missed cooking for myself when I was out in the field for two months.

I wanted super thin sliced onions and the knife on my Leatherman Wave was the tool for the job, after a few pulls through my knife sharpener.

The almost done pork chop with fried onions.

Sarah and all the wonderful Egyptian food that she made for a Food without Borders night. She’s quite the cook.

This was a nice moment. Carrie had a full plate and was still eyeing some more items and Davide shows up and asks politely if it was ok if he took one whole kebab.

For Easter break, a bunch of us from Nairobi wanted to go down to the coast and Watamu was the chosen place. I’d been there before and was happy to go back again. We took a night bus from Nairobi to Mombasa and I stayed up all night sitting next to the driver to see if their reputation of dangerous driving held up. Yup, it definitely did. We almost crashed three times, all due to ill thought-out overtaking moves.

Ahh, the beautiful beaches of Watamu at low tide.

We were walking along the beach and this group of fishermen asked for our help in pulling this boat up on the beach. A funny picture, since we all seem to be pulling so hard for nothing, because the angle of the rope to the boat was too large. We repositioned ourselves in front of the boat and she moved up onto the beach.

Out for a snorkeling trip and everyone had a sip from our bottle of Laphroaig single-malt whisky.

Audrey’s reaction after having strong tasting Laphroaig. I think she prefers her wine.

Passing by mangroves with their roots exposed during low tide. Most of the Kenyan coast is covered in mangroves, which capture and store more carbon than rainforests.

Mica’s fabulous sunscreen job. If he left it like that, I would’ve gotten a nice smiley face sunburn.

Davide about to throw some water on the unsuspecting Jeremy on the roof of the boat.

Audrey serving it up during some beach volleyball, with the water just a few feet from the court.

They had this pet turtle at the place we were staying at and Davide wanted to film it eating a carrot. He waited like that for a long while and was finally rewarded with an interesting video.

Sunrise in Watamu and fishermen coming back from an early morning trip.

We bought this red snapper for Ksh1,200 ($13) from the fishermen who brought it to land and they cleaned it right there on the beach, which was covered in dried sea weed.

Audrey and the red snapper on the beach at Watamu.

Kahinde, the caretaker at our hotel, prepared the red snapper for Ksh500 and we had a fabulous last lunch at Watamu.

A parting shot from Watamu with the rocks looking like a rhino or some beast with its tongue out…

At a picnic at Davide’s house where there’s a huge backyard with lots of trees.

Diana spreading some nutella on scones that Carrie made.

Pretty random food for a picnic. We had crepes, tamales and a bean sprout salad.

Next: Kenya, Part 10: sanDRina Rebuild in Nairobi for RTW Part 2

Previous: Kenya, Part 8: Research Fieldwork in Makindu and Visit to a Gurudwara

Kenya, Part 8: Research Fieldwork in Makindu and Visit to a Gurudwara

February 2012

For the second half of the field work for my research into gender and agricultural water management, I moved to Makindu. It’s further down the highway towards the coast and lower in elevation than Machakos. The land was considerably drier and the farms were bigger as the terrain wasn’t hilly. The farmers here were more enterprising that those in Machakos and were producing honey and other crops, like tomatoes along with maize.

I witnessed a food aid distribution and while feeling for the farmers whose plight has driven them to stand in line for food hand outs, I was warmed over by their smiles and laughs. Most of the farmers I interviewed were in poverty conditions, but they weren’t moping about their situation; they were just putting up with it and asking us researchers what they could do to improve their farm productivity so that they could once again become self-sufficient.

I stayed at the guest house at KARI Kiboko, which is near the town of Makindu where there is a Sikh Gurdwara – their temple. I visited a few times and enjoyed the tranquil setting among the hustle and bustle of a Kenyan highway town.

At the end of my stay, I visited another KARI research station, this one in Naivasha and took in the beautiful settings that Kenya has in abundance.

Who goes there? It’s a giraffe among the acacia trees on my ride down from Machakos to Makindu. What a beautiful location to be doing research, on the African Savannah…

The farms were bigger in Makindu and more spaced out, so my field team grew a bit bigger. Our guide for the area happened to be the local Pastor, who conveniently knew where everyone lived and rode a motorcycle. Pastor and I would go ahead and inform the farmers that we were coming, so that they could be back at their homestead when the field team arrived. I also enjoyed being on a bike much more than…
Continue reading “Kenya, Part 8: Research Fieldwork in Makindu and Visit to a Gurudwara”

Kenya, Part 7: Agricultural Research in Machakos, A Gender Perspective

January 2012

I was taking a break in Kenya primarily to conduct research for my masters thesis in sustainable development. I was taken on by ICRISAT (International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics) to conduct research on gender and agricultural water management use under a bigger farm water productivity project. I spent my first few months in Kenya getting settled down and getting myself acquainted with the research and formulating a satisfactory research proposal, which got me some funding to cover my research expenses.

With all that taken care off, I moved out of Nairobi to my field site of Machakos and Makindu in Eastern Kenya for the months of January and February to collect the data for my thesis. I was looking into whether there were any differences in the way farms run by women differ from farms run by men in their use of agricultural water management, which refers to how rainwater is effectively used on the farm to manage crop water requirements. The two locations I was doing my research in are considered semi-arid areas, with Makindu being drier than Machakos. The primary source of water for crops is rainwater. A successful farm would be one where the planting of crops was timed perfectly with the rains and one where rainwater was being captured for use during the drier times.

ICRISAT was partnering with KARI (Kenya Agricultural Research Institute) and they provided me with a guesthouse for my stay at their campus in Katumani, about 10 kms outside Machakos. I was the only one at the guesthouse and thus had my own personal cook for my stay. There was no running water but the tranquil setting in hilly Machakos country is just what I needed after the past few months spent in the busy city of Nairobi. I enjoyed the clear night skies and enjoyed a return to a simpler life that comes with living at a remote research station.

Members of my field team in Machakos, Chris Musyoki and Francis Mbondo. My data collection would involve conducting interviews with farmers and taking soil samples from their farms. Since I didn’t speak the local Kikamba language, I had two enumerators, Chris and another guy, Bill to take the questionnaire surveys for me. Francis was one of the farmers in the area and has worked with research teams before and he knew the location of all the farmers that I wanted to interview and thus he was our farmer guide.
Continue reading “Kenya, Part 7: Agricultural Research in Machakos, A Gender Perspective”

Kenya, Part 6: Watamu Beach Trip and Naivasha Christmas Camping

December 2011

While traveling might seem like a holiday to some, there’s come a point when long-term travelers actually need a holiday from their travels. And I think a beach holiday is just what I needed. Christina, David and I headed down to the small fishing village of Watamu on the Kenyan coast for a few days of lazing on the beach before Christmas.

After that, with a different group of friends, I went to Naivasha for some cabin camping over Christmas, where we butchered a few chickens and went on a relaxing bicycle ride around Lake Naivasha.

Road trip to the coast! David and Christina in a borrowed Mitsubishi Pajero iO. Beautiful baobab trees along the coast from Mombasa to Watamu.

Traveling in Kenya with four wheels. The brown route was our trip down to the coast, following the main highway till Mombasa and then turning north for Watamu, which is just south of Malindi. Click on it to go to the interactive version in Google Maps.

We took a small short cut to avoid going thru Mombasa town and this dirt route was pot-holed in places. Local kids would wait with a bucket of dirt and once they saw us coming down the road, they would throw the dirt in the pot holes and then run alongside us, asking for a tip for repairing the road.

Baobab trees are iconic all over Africa and they feature in many local legends. One goes like this: when the great spirit created all living things, the baobab tree got up and started walking around, frustrating the great spirit, who uprooted the baobab and stuck it back in the ground, upside down, giving it the roots-exposed look.

Ahhh, relaxing on the beach at Watamu. We stayed at a small guest house and found this thatched hut that was in the process of being made into a restaurant. The beach was patrolled by hustlers, also known as beach boys. These guys would approach tourists and get them anything they wanted, for a fee. The first thing we got was a fish lunch, served in this hut. Then, our beach boy, Fanny, started pressing for a snorkeling and scuba diving tour.

A fishing boat coming back to Watamu, passing an outcrop of volcanic crag that makes up the coastline here.

In the evening, more fishing boats returned and this catamaran returned with a huge fish…

…that was gutted straight away on the beach.

Everyone wanted to pose with this beautiful marlin. I asked the fishermen who was buying the fish and they said it would be one of the many resorts that catered almost exclusively to Italian holiday-makers.

The next morning we used Fanny’s services to go on a low key snorkeling trip. He secured us this dhow and said his father and younger brother would be manning the sail and rudder.

Fanny’s father looking very fit for his age, pushing us out to deeper waters. He spoke Kiswahili and Italian. I managed to communicate with him with my Spanish.

Riding a dhow in the waters off the Kenyan coast.

Christina diving down to chase some fish.

Back in the boat after some snorkeling and riding the winds of Watamu. Our captain was taking us to the different coral areas.

Christina having a look under the water to see if it was worth diving in.

Fanny’s little brother manning the rudder on our way back.

Back to the beach after a nice morning out on the dhow. Fanny had a fish lunch ready for us when we got back. The dhow trip and lunch cost each of us Ksh1,200 ($13).

The retreating tides revealed stripes in the sand and allowed us to walk across to some rock outcrops for the afternoon.

Next to us was an exciting natural show going on by these crabs. They stay buried under the sand until the tide goes out and then come up and start excavating their homes once more. They walked sideways and held a stash of sand under one set of legs, which would get flung out away from their home.

A homeless crab challenging the current owner for his home in the sand. When a hole looked like it was unguarded, a homeless crab would enter and if there was a crab in that hole, they would come out and start…

…fighting. Crab Fight Club in Watamu. The stronger of the two would get the hole in the sand.

On our way back to the beach, we spotted this fish stuck in a sink hole, yearning for deeper waters way out there.

We used one of Christina’s flippers to rescue the fish and take him out to the sea.

The public beach at Watamu with daily football practice. Fanny told us that Italian property developers were eager to buy up all the good land by the beach and build resorts for their clients, but the local residents were fighting back and wanted to keep the public beach open. They won their case but on condition that they had to develop the beach front, which resulted in this football pitch and the few thatched restaurants like the one we ate at.

A beautiful end to the day in Watamu with its natural harbor.

David standing on the edge of the rocky cliffs and looking out…

Christina flying her Maasai blanket in the strong breeze coming off the Indian Ocean.

Windows in the rocks. Erosion slowly workings its way through this outcrop in the bay.

Enjoying an evening meal under lantern light at the beach.

I woke up early to catch the sunrise and just at twilight, the moon was still high up in the sky.

Something big and bright is coming up over the horizon, mixing its strong orange light with the blue hue of twilight.

Fishermen wading out into the waters and casting their net.

The Sun showing its face through the clouds on the horizon.

Fishermen’s shadows cast on the golden waters of Watamu.

While Christina went on a scuba diving trip, David and I explored the coast north of Watamu and came across this surreal-looking beach, where it seemed that the land just blended into the ocean. There were no waves and the waters looked like they belonged to a lake and not the same ocean that we swam in just further south.

David using his sunglasses to frame us for an artsy photo. Christina was beaming as she finally got to swim with dolphins at Watamu Marine Park.

A hearty meal of a big slab of ugali (hardened maize porridge), grilled chicken and sukuma wiki (kale).

Wiling away the hot afternoon with a game of Wizard, which was similar to Uno. We played this almost non-stop during our beach holiday.

The tide was out and the sun was going down behind the craggy volcanic shores of Watamu.

I really enjoyed the variety of beautiful coastline at Watamu and vowed to come back again.

Marooned boats with nowhere to go until the tide came back in.

Fishermen carrying their catch into town as they walked in from the beach.

A postcard from Watamu.

Enjoying another meal by the beach under lantern light. Most of the local beach restaurants shut down at sundown, but the owner of this place was willing to prepare a fish fry dinner for us for just Ksh200 ($2.15) per person.

A 15 second exposure with my Canon 50D using a 50mm lens pointed at the sky captured Orion and some of his neighboring stars. The Pleiades, or Seven Sisters, are in the upper right. Here on the equator, Orion appears sideways as he slowly rotates in the sky from being straight up in the northern hemisphere and having a sword to being upside down in the southern hemisphere and turning his sword into a tie.

The end of a few lovely days lazing in Watamu, with Christina and David at Malob Guest House.

Scenes from the road on our drive back. This was as we neared Mombasa.

Water delivery of 20L (5.28 gal) jerry cans for just Ksh20 ($0.22).

Mega matatus and their crazy liveries.

The road out of Mombasa was packed with trailer trucks and I followed the matatus as they navigated an off-road path next to the highway. They’re on a mission to make as many trips as they can in a day and that prompts them to take whatever route possible to get to their destination.

Driving through Tsavo National Park where it’s the survival of the fittest for the animals and the survival of the biggest for vehicles on the road. Size matters on Kenya’s highways and if a truck is barreling down at you, it’s up to the smaller vehicle to get out of the way. I cursed at the arrogant drivers the first few times and then just gave in and moved over on to the shoulder.

After a few days in Nairobi, I headed north on another road trip with a different bunch of friends towards Lake Naivasha for Christmas weekend. Driving down the escarpment with a view of the Rift Valley below us and Mount Longonot lurking in the background.

Lake Naivasha, one of the Rift Valley lakes in Kenya, is a popular getaway for Nairobians due to its close proximity. We got to Fishermens Camp and…

…Jeremy brought out the Laphroaig, a peaty single malt scotch whisky.

This was going to be a cooking and camping weekend. We had two chickens that Richard here brought with him live from his fieldwork station in western Kenya. He’s preparing the dough to make some chapatis on the grill for dinner.

The chicken slated to be our dinner that night. It traveled a long ways from western Kenya and now would serve its purpose in feeding us.

Scott was going to help me in the butchering of the chicken and since this would be his first time to be holding down an animal that was going to get its head chopped-off, he was feeling a bit uneasy. I gave him a glass of whisky. Laphroaig cures all. My machete that I’ve been carrying since Bolivia was called up for duty. (Warning: animal beheading next two photos. Not safe for vegetarians or the weak of heart.)

Chickens are known to move around a lot after getting their heads chopped off so I instructed Scotty to hold the wings down real tight. I raised the machete in the air and…

…with a swift motion came down right on its neck. That first blow broke its neck but it wasn’t fully dead yet. Another chop and its head was off.

Scott and Sarah trying to play it cool while Richard and I cleaned the bird nearby.

Richard roasting the chicken on the grill.

After a delicious meal, we relaxed around our little campfire.

The next morning, Jeremy, who’s quite the chef, was poaching some eggs for a special breakfast creation for his 25th birthday. My MSR camping stove coming in handy.

We rented some bikes and cycled around the lake for the day.

Not sure what the sign is trying to say…

Impala in the bushes around Lake Naivasha. We also saw zebra and baboons.

I was at…

…Lake Naivasha and enjoying pink flamingoes filling the sky.

Driving back to Nairobi and capturing a view of the Rift Valley. It never gets old, especially with Mount Longonot on the horizon.

A fun weekend with friends from Nairobi.

Next: Kenya, Part 7: Agricultural Research in Machakos, A Gender Perspective

Previous: Kenya, Part 5: Life in Nairobi and ‘Food without Borders’

Kenya, Part 5: Life in Nairobi and ‘Food without Borders’

August – December 2011

When I left Chicago at the start of this trip, I had a vague idea of taking a long break somewhere in Africa. Besides a desire of getting to know one place really well, in contrast to my transience while on the road, I needed this break to conduct research for the distance masters that I’m studying for while traveling.

I’m pursuing a Masters of Science in Sustainable Development from SOAS in London and as it’s a distance program, I just study for the courses on my laptop and take the yearly exams at a British Council. My first year exams were in Sao Paulo and my second year exams were done in Nairobi. The third and final year of this program consists of a research thesis and it can be done on a wide range of topics that fall under Sustainable Development.

My interest is in Natural Resource Management and I was searching for a place to conduct research in this topic. Two weeks before arriving in Kenya, my father came through with a contact at ICRISAT-Nairobi who was looking for a masters research student. My research at ICRISAT (the International Crop Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics) would be on gender and agricultural water management. I spent my first few months in Nairobi focusing on my coursework and exams and putting together my research proposal. Field work was scheduled to begin in January, 2012.

Having settled on my professional duties for my break in Kenya, I set about temporarily settling down my personal life. After being on the road for a year and a half and living minimally during that time (1 pair of cargo pants, 4 t-shirts, sandals), I began to acquire stuff. But, since I knew I would be disposing of this ‘stuff’ when my time was up in Kenya, I acquired all of it second-hand: used jeans for $6, used sneakers for $5, etc.

I made many new friends during my travel from Chicago to Nairobi and while I cherish my solitude, I was looking forward to a more regular social life during this break. I met lots of interesting people in Nairobi and a few of them have become very close friends now.

If you’ve been following the journey, you know that food is close to my heart and I was looking forward to cooking on a regular basis again. Soon after my arrival in Nairobi, I hosted a couple of dinner parties where I served up my chicken curry and met my new friends. My circle of friends developed into an idea called Food without Borders where members take turns in hosting and cooking some food from their home country. A simple, but rich concept.

Following are select photos from my first few months in Nairobi. Karibu (welcome).

Soon after settling down in Nairobi for my extended break, I began to acquire stuff, such as a pair of used jeans, some used sneakers and… a little motorcycle for city riding. sanDRina was running just fine on the open savannahs but she doesn’t like riding in traffic. Plus, city riding, with its frequent braking and accelerating, would cause unnecessary wear on this world-traveling motorcycle. With help from a friend at the research institute, I was put in touch with some local mechanics who knew of this bike for sale. It’s a Kinetic GF 170, an Indian bike with a Korean engine from Hyosung. The bike had pep, disc brakes and a styling purple livery. Her name is Lara.

Having a snack of a boiled egg with kachumbari (salsa) for Ksh15 ($0.16) while Ken, a mechanic friend, did a servicing on Lara (new oil, plugs, etc.).

Having dinner on the patio at the place I was staying at. I made a stir-fry of brinjal (egg plant) with cauliflower and some smoked masala that I bought in Argentina. Brian, on the left, was also living in the same house and is a freelance journalist from the American East Coast. Before coming to Nairobi, he was based in Cairo and was reporting from the front lines during the height of the Libyan conflict in 2011. He regaled us with stories such as taking a medical supply ship into Misrata. Next to him is Randy, from Vancouver, whom I met in Ethiopia and got in touch with once he got here. He’s very out going and met Dani in a shopping mall just because she had a Canadian flag on her backpack. Dani later introduced me to her circle of friends.

I found the place I was staying at through CouchSurfing and my host, Patricia (from Michigan) was kind enough to let me stay for free for the first three months; thereafter I paid a modest rent. To give back to CouchSurfing and help build the network in Nairobi, I hosted a CookSurfing event, which is a basically a dinner party where CouchSurfing members contribute and get to know each other. Here, I’m mixing in the tomatoes for the last stage in my chicken curry.

Dinner patrons contributing to the CookSurfing dinner by washing all the dishes. It’s good to be the cook.

Randy was staying in a cheap hotel in downtown Nairobi and this was the scene outside his hotel – a late-night fruit market.

Enjoying an almost-vegetarian Kenyan meal of njahi (black beans), cut-up chapati, sukuma wiki (stir-fried kale) and a small piece of meat. Most Kenyans can’t eat a meal without the taste of meat. Sukuma wiki is a Kenyan staple and translates roughly into “push the week,” because for Kenyans who can’t afford meat at every meal and only eat it at the end of the week or on Sundays, they get by during the week by eating lots of sukuma wiki, which is highly nutritious and easily available.

Nairobi is a comfortably-developed city, boasting Wal-Mart-like supermarkets, called Nakumatt, which have similarly poor-tasting vegetables like those found at hypermarkets around the world. I don’t want my vegetables to just look good and be blemish-free, I want them to taste good and for that, I sought out the local markets that are scattered around the city. I discovered Kenyatta Market with its better-tasting produce, friendly sellers and cheaper price.

I kept coming back to the same stalls every few days to buy just enough produce for a couple meals and developed a nice friendship with these ladies. Brenda, here, was quite lively and always smiling.

Spot my helmet. Eva, on the phone, was my main lady at Kenyatta Market. She had most of everything I was usually cooking-up and rounded-down my tally to the nearest 50 or 100 shillings. After a few weeks of repeatedly coming back and developing this friendship, I asked them if I could bring my camera to take some photos. They were all quite shy and agreed only if I brought them the photo prints. Deal.

Smiley fish ladies, next to the vegetable stalls at Kenyatta Market. They were selling tilapias from Lake Victoria and it was the same price to buy them raw or deep-fried. They were even more happy when I brought them the print out of this photo.

One thing I enjoyed about briefly settling down in Nairobi was the chance to cook on a regular basis. I usually made stir-fries or lentil curries. Here, I’m about to make a stir-fry with day-old rice, onions, garlic, green chilly, broccoli, brinjal and beetroot and seasoned with cumin, fresh cilantro, dark mushroom soy sauce and some smoked masala powder that I found near the hippy town of Bariloche in the Argentine Patagonia.

Getting a flat tire fixed on Lara at a boda-boda stand for Ksh100 ($1.08). Boda-boda is the name for motorcycle taxis in Nairobi. I can fix a flat on sanDRina as I’m carrying all the tools required for that repair. On Lara, I wasn’t carrying any tools but didn’t really need to, since getting a flat fixed in a city is a simple task. Plus, it gives me a chance to interact with local motorcycle riders and see their culture. They love fitting radios with loud speakers on their boda-bodas.

A masala vada at the annual Nairobi South Indian Food Festival. There’s a sizeable population of Indians in Kenya and they’re made up of those who came over generations ago (with the British) and those who’ve migrated recently as the economy booms along. My parents put me in touch with a family in Nairobi who originate from a place near to my parents’ villages outside Chennai. My South Indian hosts fed me excellent food at their home and brought me along for this fantastic food fest. I was surprised to see so many South Indians, as most Indians in Kenya are from the north. I had some super tasty Chicken 65 and these masala vadas (a deep-fried, spicy, chickpea patty, similar to falafel).

Richard, a Brit from my institute, preparing an Italian dinner at the house of an Italian, Davide. This was the birth of an idea known as Food without Borders, a simple but rich concept of taking turns and preparing food from a cuisine you know to share with other global citizens. At my CookSurfing dinner, I met Davide, a fellow CouchSurfer, geek and biker. He said he loves hosting dinner parties and asked me to prepare my chicken curry for a growing, mutual circle of friends. At that dinner, we noticed that most everyone was involved in research or international development and playing off the concept of Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors without Borders), the idea of a group called Food without Borders slowly emerged. Richard offered to cook the first FwB dinner and having spent a considerable amount of time living on farm in southern Italy, he had picked up the cuisine and is making home-made gnocchi here.

I always say the party’s in the kitchen. Davide and Diana sharing a joke, with Mica looking on. Diana is from Bogotá and leads the Africa office of a Latin American NGO focusing on disseminating development knowledge to those who can make a difference. She has lots of energy and is always super positive. I practiced my Spanish with her and was happy to keep in touch with it. Mica is from the American East Coast and is the head of the Africa office of a British NGO focusing on climate change adaptation. He’s super tall, up for anything and a biker, too. Davide comes from a political science background and moved up through the UN system to become a knowledge management expert at UNEP (UN Environment Programme), which is headquarted in Nairobi.

Dinner was almost ready and the boys are setting up the table while some new recruits to Food without Border enjoy bruschetta and shisha. Sarah is an Egyptian-American and is with UNEP and Laura, a Canadian, was at the World Agroforesty Centre, a sister institute to ICRISAT.

Dani and Alex, arriving just in time for…

…dinner. A delicious meal of tilapia in a vinegar sauce, prepared by Richard and a salad prepared by Jeremy, a Canadian also at the World Agroforesty Centre.

Food without Borders getting off to a great start. What’s better than sharing a good meal with a great bunch of friends…

After dinner conversations…

Our next Food without Borders dinner was American Thanksgiving at Sarah’s place. Everyone pitching in for the food prep.

Turkey was really hard to find, but it was still Thanksgiving with a baked chicken, gravy, lots of stuffing, mashed potatoes and my favorite, sweet potato casserole with tonnes of brown sugar and topped with marshmellows.

I stayed for a while with Bekcy Gitonga, whom I met through CouchSurfing and this was a typical view out the back of some Nairobi wildlife. Those were some mean looking street cats and the strange thing was that they fought a lot with each other but found safety by staying inside these barbed-wire rolls. They’re snarling at me for taking this picture.

Lara, safely parked for the night inside a gated and barbed-wire secured compound. Nairobi is a big African city, with lots of developed areas and lots of impoverished areas and that inequality opens up opportunities for crime, which Nairobi is famous for, earning it the nickname of Nai-robbery. That fear prompts everyone, who can afford it, to live behind gates, barbed-wire and security guards.

Having dinner at the home of friends of my sister. Soon after arriving in Nairobi, I contacted Shalini, standing on the left, and her sister, Leena, taking the photo, as they went to the same medical school as my sister in Manipal, on the west coast of India. They regularly took me out for meals and invited me over for delicious home-cooked food. Nupur, sitting on the left, also went to Manipal for medicine, and Tina, standing on the right, is a cousin who lives next door and works in her family’s hospital in Nairobi West. Shalini and Leena’s father, in the green, immigrated in the 70s and set up a successful construction business. And the other two elders are Leena’s in-laws, who are visiting from Hyderabad. Aunty made some delicious South Indian food in a North Indian home.

A variety of Indian pickles on the dinner table and the ever-present tub of curds (plain yoghurt) that goes perfect with spicy food.

A bunch of wazungu (foreigners in Swahili) partaking in some Indian food at Nairobi’s Diamond Plaza food court. Indians are all over Nairobi but Diamond Plaza could be considered headquarters as it resembles being back in India the most. There was excellent food, like butter chicken and garlic naans, grocery shopping with Indian vegetables, like tindora, and shops selling sweet and savoury snacks.

Enjoying my first dosa in Nairobi at Diamond Plaza. It’s one of the staple foods of my region and could be described as a crispy, rice crepe that’s eaten with sambar (lentil curry) and coconut chutney. This was a pretty pricey treat at Ksh500, but I soon discovered a place that was selling them for only Ksh200.

Paying our waiter at the end of the meal. Just like the experience at nyama choma places, where competing waiters accost arriving customers to choose their restaurant to eat at, the myriad food stalls at Diamond Plaza send out their waiters to do battle and get customers to order from their stall. The food is almost identical at each stall and the prices are the same. I got fed up with this behavior and declared that the waiter who kept quiet and was polite would get our business and it happened to be this little guy.

Ho hum, nothing to write home about, just a typical downpour and mini flood on Nairobi’s main highway. The rainy season had started and I got myself a pair of gum boots (rain boots) for riding in the rain and sanDRina was better equipped for Nairobi’s road floods than most of the cars. Good thing that the city is at elevation, around 1,800 m (5,900 ft) and is pretty hilly, as the water usually drains away quickly.

When it rains, it pours! It’s a bit scary crossing water-covered roads as you never know where a huge pothole is lurking and the rains easily destroyed the roads around the city. There are two rainy seasons in Kenya, one called the short rains that falls from October to December and other called the long rains from March to May. The short rains were lighter in intensity but more constant and the long rains came in more proper tropical downpours with the sun soon coming out.

A Food without Borders barbeque and Christina, a German girl from my institute and office mate, made these grilled dough boys.

Skewers of meatballs and pineapple and zucchini and peppers.

The kitchen at a small restaurant at Kariokor Market in Nairobi. Chapatis being stacked up in ready for the lunch rush hour.

Christina and a goose that was slated to become our dinner. Christina said she wanted to prepare a typical German Christmas Dinner of roasted goose so I found out that geese can be bought at Kariokor Market. Hmm, it’s a live bird meaning that someone’s going to have to butcher it. I warned Christina not to get friendly with the goose; she wanted to give it a name.

The goose went on quite a journey. Here, a helper from a poultry shop, who helped us find the goose, is bringing her in a matatu (public bus).

Getting the goose into my top box…

…and he’s safe for the ride. I cracked the lid open to allow air in. That Happy Trails top box is fantastic. It can fit a whole goose inside comfortably.

The dinner was going to be prepared at the guest house of the British Institute in East Africa. When the goose was put in the top box, its feet were tied but that came loose and as I took the goose out at the BIEA, he broke free. Godfrey and I ran after it and finally caught it.

Another friend had offered to kill the bird, having had previous experience but then had to pull out at the last minute and the task fell on me. Having never killed an animal that I ate before, I was a bit nervous, but being a geek, I turned to YouTube for wisdom. I found a video from a permaculture farm in Australia on how to humanely slaughter a goose and applied some tips that I learnt. I told everyone around to be calm as the bird can sense the tension. I slowly stroked its head and laid it across this wood limb. Taking a practice from the Khoisan Bushmen of Botswana (that I saw in the movie The Gods Must be Crazy), I said a little prayer thanking the bird for providing us with this food and promised to treat it humanely and then the machete fell and its head was off. I used the newspaper to catch the blood spraying out and after a few minutes, the convulsions stopped and I breathed a sigh of relief at having just butchered my first animal that I would prepare and eat. I was on a personal quest these past few years to get closer to my food and my stance on meat has been that if more people could come to terms with the fact that they are killing an animal when they eat meat, perhaps there would be fewer meat-eaters on this planet, which would greatly reduce our carbon and water footprint. I’m not against eating meat, but I think a reduction in global consumption is in order.

Video of the goose slaugther. Warning: Animal Beheading at 1:10 and 1:23!! Not Safe for Vegetarians or the weak of heart!
(Click here to see it on YouTube)

Then followed my first plucking of a feathered-bird with help from Chris and David, interns at the BIEA. It’s a slow process that provides an opportunity to chat and tell stories and get close to this animal that we just butchered. After about two hours, all the feathers were off and then I made a cut in its lower back, fed my hand under its spinal cord and pulled out all the internal organs.

After cleaning the bird thoroughly, Christina seasoned it and roasted it in the oven for about 3 hours.

And voila! A roasted German Christmas Goose Dinner. Christina said her mother was very proud of her.


3 Brits at the British Institute in East Africa: Chris, Pete and David. They’re all wearing gray… maybe in homage to British weather.

Christina and I were invited to the wedding of our other office mate, Christine Wangari. It was a beautiful ceremony held in the grounds of the UN Recreation Center on a bright day, just at the end of the rainy season.

Budding agricultural researchers in Africa. Christina and I at the wedding. She’s doing her PhD at a university in northern Germany and came to Kenya with ICRISAT to conduct her fieldwork in western Kenya.

The wedding was good fun and lots of music and dance was involved. Here, the bride and groom are arriving, being led by a dance troupe into the wedding tent.

Food at the wedding of fried chicken, chapati, kinyegi (mashed potatoes with kale) and lots of other vegetables.

The maid of honor caught the bouquet as Christine flung it over her back at the end of the ceremony. Christina was strategically standing at the back.

Settling down in Nairobi gave me a chance to do things that I missed over this year and a half of being on the road, such as attending concerts. This was a performance by the project known as BLNRB-NRBLN, which is a collaboration between the Teichmann brothers in Berlin and the Goethe Institute in Nairobi that plays off each city’s electronic music talent.

David and Christina caught in a dance moment.

Davide had a nice swimming pool at his apartment and we had regular pool-lounging sessions where some food was grilled, football was played and of course…

…charging in and…

…making big splashes in the pool.

I was looking-forward to seeing how my break in Nairobi would go after being on the road from Chicago and was happy to have met so many interesting friends and experienced different aspects of this large African city. Next up is a trip down to the coast…

Next: Kenya, Part 6: Watamu Beach Trip and Naivasha Christmas Camping

Previous: Kenya, Part 4: Into Nairobi and End of Part 1 of my RTW Journey

Kenya, Part 4: Into Nairobi and End of Part 1 of my RTW Journey

6 – 10 August 2011

Successfully riding the Lake Turkana route was a major accomplishment for me and it was an exciting end to the first half of my round-the-world journey. I was planning on taking a break in Nairobi for a few months and the drive from Maralal to the capital felt like a short hop compared to the rest of the journey.

The offroad that started in southern Ethiopia continued past Maralal and touched tarmac in Rumurutri. The convoy was now reduced to just Peter and Jill’s Defender and sanDRina and after spending the night in Nyahururu, we crossed the Equator and entered the Southern Hemisphere. Hitting the highway at Nakuru was a bit of a development shock after being in wilderness for the past week and we celebrated our completion of the Turkana Route in proper Kenyan style – having Nyama Choma (barbequed meat).

After taking refuge in the overland traveler asylum of Junction Jungle in Nairobi, we all got properly stamped in at immigration and that signaled a break in my travels for the next few months.

We stayed at the Yare Camel Club and Camp in Maralal and captured these athletes in preparation for the International Camel Derby that was being hosted in a week’s time. These dromedary camels originated in East Africa and have been used as pack animals through the drylands in the region, but during the derby, it’s all about speed and strength. The competition is serious but amateurs can also enter and race these beasts through the streets of Maralal.

A signboard south of Maralal indicating the way to Isiolo, east of here. As Maralal is the gateway to the Lake Turkana crossing into Ethiopia, Isiolo acts as the gateway to the primary crossing at Moyale.

Carlos split off and wanted to ride a bit more offroad in the west and would meet up with us in Nairobi. It was great to ride with him.

sanDRina was back to her usual configuration with both side panniers back on. I thanked my overland companions for taking turns and carrying my heavy panniers. Riding without them definitely made the Turkana Route more enjoyable.

Peter and Jill spotted something exciting as we rode past the Mugie Wildlife Conservancy…

…a giraffe and some zebra. I had seen giraffes when I was a kid in Zambia, but seeing them again in the wild was a wonderful experience.

This giraffe was trying to bend down to drink some water but was very nervous and kept looking around and hesitating.

When he felt comfortable enough, this tall animal slowly bent its front legs in a coordinated movement to get its tall neck closer to the ground and…

…finally managed to bring its tongue in contact with water on the ground. It looked very graceful and probably required a lot of strength to keep that pose just to get a drink.

Back on the road and enjoying the last offroading for a while to come.

The scenery changed the further south we went and it became greener and greener, until…

…we hit the tarmac at Rumurutri. That was about 900 kms (560 mi) of offroad from southern Ethiopia to here; the longest stretch that I’ve done. We aired up our tires and…

…enjoyed the sensation of smooth roads. That looks like rain clouds, but it stayed away.

I spent the night in Nyahururu at the Olive Shade Lodge and for Ksh600 ($6.45) got secured parking for sanDRina and a hot shower.

The next morning, we crossed the Equator on the way to Nakuru.

My GPS told me we were crossing into the southern hemisphere, once more, after being in the north since my Atlantic crossing with Grimaldi.

Peter and Jill wanted to see the Coriolis Effect demonstration and I was up for it since I hadn’t seen it when I crossed the equator in Ecuador.

When the water is drained from this green tub south of the equator, the floating wood strip shows that the water spins in a counter-clockwise direction. Then we walked about 10 m (33 ft) north of the equator and saw that the wood strip rotated in a clockwise direction and then right on the equator, there is no rotation and the water just drains straight down. It was pretty cool to see the Coriolis Effect in person and to realize that yes, you are standing on the exact position of the equator of this massive planet. The effect comes about due to the rotation of the Earth and can be seen on the large scale in weather systems; hurricanes spin clockwise in the northern hemisphere and counter-clockwise in the south. What I didn’t know was that the exact position of the equator moves throughout the day by about 15 m (49 ft), which I think is due to the wobble in the Earth’s axis.

Riding in the southern hemisphere and enjoying big trees once again.

At Nakuru, we hit the major highway through Kenya, which takes cargo from the port in Mombasa through Nairobi to Kampala in Uganda and onwards to Rwanda and Burundi. But that was for later. Right now, I was turning left and heading for the capital.

It was a shock to be on a highway after all these kilometers in wilderness and not to mention riding on the opposite side of the road for the first time on this trip. From Kenya into Southern Africa, they drive on the left side of the road, a vestige of British influence. But being a bike makes it easy to switch sides except that now right turns are longer than left turns.

Riding the escarpment of the Eastern Rift in Kenya and passing Lake Elmenteita, a shallow soda lake. It is one of many Rift Valley lakes in Kenya.

We stopped for lunch at a roadside stop that was chock full of barbeque houses, with waiters from every restaurant accosting arriving customers to eat at their place. We settled for the Pink Rose Butchery, as it was at the end of the line and offered a bit more peace than the others.

The butcher at Pink Rose holding up a leg of mutton, the most typical meat for Nyama Choma (grilled meat).

A huge rack of goat ribs and African Sausage on the smokey grill.

Celebrating the end of our journey down Lake Turkana with a feast of grilled mutton, liver and sausage. Oh yeah, there was other food too: the green stuff is mukimo – mashed potatoes with kale and onions; french fries are known as chips in Kenya, just like in the UK; and I was super happy to find out that chapati is a staple food in Kenya, a vestige of the long-standing Indian influence in Kenya (who were brought over by the British to work on the railway).

The last leg into Nairobi rides high up on this escarpment offering grand views across the vast Rift Valley.

Kenya’s Rift Valley, blessed with great views and fertile soil.

My GPS directed me through Nairobi’s streets straight to the overland meeting point of Jungle Jungle in Nairobi’s Lavington suburb. My arrival into Nairobi signaled the end of the first part of my motorcycle trip that started in Chicago in March, 2010.

Chris, walking up to the motorcycle on the right, runs Jungle Junction and opened up this house in a large ground to overland travelers. He provides an excellent work shop where travelers can get their tired bikes and cars fixed. There’s also WiFi and hot laundry – luxuries for travelers on the road. He’s very helpful to travelers and has been a base for the overland traveling community in East Africa for many years.

His large front yard is open to camping and it was good to meet other travelers and feel at home.

Jungle Junction acts like an asylum for overland travelers, a place where you’re not called crazy for wanting to give it all up to pursue wanderlust. This is Chris and Elayn’s home-made buggy that they’ve been traveling with from Australia. Chris is a suspension engineer and it was good to talk about automotive dynamics.

Philip, from Germany, was another asylum seeker at Jungle Junction. He had traveled through West Africa before on a big 600cc motorcycle and was fed up with the weight of the heavy bike and so for his next trip, he decided to just fly in and buy locally-available small-engined bikes, like this Honda 150cc scooter. On this trip, he was going from Mombasa to Kinshasa, all the way across the DR Congo. He was so inspired by all the tubes that I had on sanDRina for storing parts and tools that he went out and bought some PVC tubing and made a few for himself.

Lu at Nyayo House, taking care of paperwork in Nairobi. I went with most of the travelers in my convoy to the immigration office where we got officially stamped into Kenya, which was a strange feeling after being in the country already for more than a week.

Riding with Guy and Lu in a matatu, Kenya’s most preferred mode of public transport. They are usually decorated pretty wildly, although the government has tried to tame and regulate them.

Having dinner with Ferdi and Katie, whom I met a Tim and Kim’s first and then traveled the Turkana Route with. They were continuing on further south and I told them to report back to me on routes and places to see when I get back on the road next.

And with that comes a conclusion to the first part of my journey that started in Chicago in March, 2010, criss-crossed Latin America, crossed the Atlantic and came down eastern Africa to Nairobi. I was going to be taking a break in Nairobi to do research for the distance masters that I’m studying for. It was going to be a change of pace from traveling to not moving for the next few months, but I’m highly adaptable and take change as it comes.

Next: Kenya, Part 5: Life in Nairobi and ‘Food without Borders’

Previous: Kenya, Part 3: Camping in the Bush and Ride up to Maralal