Walking through the streets on our first morning in Kenya, I was in a hurry to secure a 4 wheel drive rental so we could make it to Maasai Mara National Reserve that night. Google said it would take something like 4 hours to get there, and I thought it was plenty of time since sunset was at 7pm.
Somehow I found myself surrounded by a large posse of locals all calling their friends who have rental car companies. A commission was at stake. After over an hour of running around I told them that if one of them wanted to bring me a new 4×4 I would pay $60 a day for 6 days, and then I just started walking to our hotel. Splitting it 5 ways (with 3 of our friends) it wasn’t that bad of a deal to get on the way to our safari adventure.
Eventually I found myself on the phone with George, who agreed to $60 a day and would bring me the 2008 Rav-4. Who, an hour later when I was actually paying, said that I should now pay $65/day. Whatever.
Somehow it was 2 pm and we were just now taking off. Being on the main road wasn’t scary because of the crazy driving or the giant pot holes, nor the unmarked and incredibly steep speed bumps. The thing that startled me were the spike strips randomly placed around the country. Most of the time they had security checks… but sometimes they were just left there.
But this isn’t about the paved roads, this post is about the major unpaved roads.
The people at Maasai Mara tell me that it’s the biggest tourist attraction in Kenya. So one would think that you would at least be able to get there on paved roads.
But no. They were paved until the last 100 miles. This road was my least favorite road in Kenya, until… later. Big pot holes, and giant rocks.
Maasai Mara National Reserve is worth it though. Some people fly right into the reserve, and some people hire drivers from Nairobi. These would have been easier but this was the cheapest option. However, given that we were driving slower than the local tour guides drive, it took 6 hours to get there.
Definitely missed sunset, but it was definitely a worthy trip as we saw tons of animals over the next few days. We spent 2 full days in the park and left in the afternoon of the third day.
Again, our goal was to get to Lake Naivasha by dinner. However…
Flat Tire # 1
About twenty minutes after picking up a Masai hitch-hiker named Moses, there was a terrible sound.
“What is that sound?”
We all shuffled out of our crowded vehicle and got to work. Here we are half way down the gravel road out of Maasai Mara and the tire was flat and beyond repair. Luckily there is a spare on the back. I was totally elated that the spare was an actual tire and not a dinky replacement wheel. My friend Daniel, who was driving, made jokes that we should start a pit crew because we changed the tire so quickly.
Flat Tire # 2
A few miles down the road we hit a rock and pulled over to find out we had another flat tire.
Carrie says she’s pretty sure she saw Moses roll his eyes as we got out of the car yet again.
Now in Daniel’s defense, hitting a rock is a regular thing on this road. It’s unavoidable- we ran over a million other rocks that trip without problems. My guess is that the tire wasn’t fully inflated and we just weren’t going to make it. The big problem was that we were in the middle of nowhere with no spare.
Suddenly a giant military truck pulled up and offered help. Really the closest town to get a new tire was all the way in Narok, another hour or more of driving. Daniel and his wife Chelsea hopped in and Moses shook our hands apologetically and joined them. Even Moses had no hope for us. There we were… 3 of us and a car with 3 tires, on a dirt road in Kenya.
There’s really nothing to tell. Sitting under a tree for hours isn’t a great story. After two hours we were discussing plots of old movies, and by hour three no one had the energy for talking.
It had been about 3.5 hours and the sun was setting and I was just unsure of how long getting rides to town would take, how long it would take to get a new tire, and how long it would take to get back. I figured at least 3 hours of transit and at least an hour of getting a tire.
But sure enough, the very same military truck pulled up with our friends and a new tire. Despite it being a rather unfortunate situation I was on cloud 9 to be on the road again before dark. It was incredibly fortunate that they met some people going there, or rather nearly there, and then going back again. And they took the time to take our friends to the tire store and all that jazz.
The Worst Road Ever
The next day we went to Lake Nakuru, which requires you to enter on the north side, despite staying south of the park and the main sites being in the south side. However, when we left at sunset, we could exit from the south but had to take a different road.
We took D320 south and it was the most paved road in Kenya. No pot holes… no lines either but nice new pavement.
Next we were to turn east and take D321 for 15 miles.
At first it was a normal dirt road.
Then it was a dirt road with a few holes.
Then it was a rocky road with holes.
The further we went the slower we had to go because the road was too bad. Somehow half an hour had passed and we were barely half way and we encountered our first obsticle course. Not enough to turn around. Just a concrete slab which appeared to be an old bridge that just ended and dropped off a foot to continue on the dirt road.
Apparently others had the same obstacle and piled rocks to make a ramp. Lucky us, as otherwise it would ruin a Rav-4.
One of these things, not too bad. But at some point the thought of turning around was more terrifying than finishing the last few miles. But the last few miles were the worst.
There is no way to describe the tension. Everyone was silent and fearing the thought of getting yet another flat tire here. We had seen not a car or light since turning onto this road. A few water buffalo and a herd or two of zebras, but no people.
On the GPS we were a mile away from the main road but it was impossible. It was like the surface of the moon. We even had one dead end but there was a split slightly before. Now unsure, we’re going steeply uphill on the rockiest of roads when we notice the first person.
We rolled down the window and stopped, and he said, “I tipped over my bike”.
Here he had a cart attached to a bicycle apparently going down this road of boulders and his bike is completely ruined.
“Yea… but is this the right way to Lake Naivasha?”
I was so concerned that his words hadn’t hit me.
“Wait. Are you okay?”
He was okay and apparently had already called his buddies. Here were four or five guys walking down the hill in our headlights.
Side note. Kenyans are really friendly.
Not sure how the next part happened, but at some points our tires were spinning. It was truly a bad road, and really steep. These five guys start pushing our car filled with the five of us. Odd, and also it just didn’t help. One of them suggested going back to the bottom of the hill and taking a right, as that road would also take us to Naivasha, and so we did.
Is this the price of adventure?
There are really no words to describe this off-roading experience where we were each thinking about what we were going to do when we get a flat tire in a giant field filled with Water Buffalos the locals describe as the most dangerous wild animal.
Between this and and the actual safaris, it’s been a lot of driving on bad roads.
Tonight (Kenya time) we get on a plane to Amsterdam, then to NYC and ending in DC. While this has been one of the best trips, I actually have the longing to go “home” for the first time in awhile. And yet, it was only a week.
“Home” doesn’t really exist for us, as you likely know. We live out of hotels. Maybe we’ll go stay with friends for a week, or otherwise we’ll be back in hotels. But home for me is just stability. Even if we do live out of hotels, we don’t normally have transit every day, as we can sometimes stay in a hotel or a city for a week or more.
Largely, I’m anxious just to catch up on work and the writing. But “adventure” has a toll on my energy level. Catching up on sleep I probably slept 12 hours last night and I think I’ll still be able to sleep on the plane. One of those weeks.
But let me ask you this…
When you think back on your best trips, are they not draining? Are your best travel stories not the ones where something goes wrong?
One of my favorite trips was Zakynthos, Greece, and we were adventuring every day. Nothing went wrong and maybe that’s why I’m more likely to go back. But in terms of best stories, it’s all bad things. The time we were stamped out of Cambodia and not let into Vietnam, the time we got lost in China, and other disasters.
What about your travels? Are “adventures” the best travel memories? For me, adventures are the best memories and disasters are the best stories. One I seek out and the other I avoid.
The safaris were amazing adventures, the roads were pure disaster.