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Trucked Off

Greetings from Kenya! I guess it's time I updated you on what has happened since I came to this wonderful country! Well it all started to get good just as soon as we'd crossed the border...

...The whole border crossing palaver took a couple of hours, which isn't too bad, and we soon found ourselves in the Kenyan side of Moyale. We paused for a while to change money (those of us who hadn't done it already on the black market), and to get some food...which was a bit of a problem, as the Kenyan bit of Moyale is predominantly Muslim, and Ramadan was still on, meaning dawn to dusk fasting. We had to make do with chapatis - which appear to be Kenya's national form of bread - such a difference from the sour, spongy taste of injera, Ethiopians slant on the whole bread business! I think the biggest difference I noticed, just yards from Ethiopia, was that we were able to walk around the small town with out being followed and dogged for money etc.. Instead of "you" and "give me...", we heard "Jambo" and "how are you?". It made a very pleasant change!

As well as picking up refreshments and money, we had to stop here to hire two armed policemen, who would accompany us in our journey south, as far as Isiola - an area said to be renowned for shifta, or bandit, activity. Our guards hired, we headed down into Kenya, stopping to fill up our jerry cans at a nearby spring, where the water tasted sweet, so I decided to stop wasting money on bottled water (no adverse effects so far, so a good call!). We drove on roads that were rough - but much better than we'd encountered in the north of Ethiopia - through hot, exciting, African-looking scenery, some of us sat up top, bandit-spotting and giggling. Conditions in the back of the truck were bumpy and uncomfortable, as always, so I stayed mainly up the top - with my black work gloves on to protect my healing hands.

We camped that night at a small settlement called Tolby, where there is a police camp and little more. The town has no electricity, although the small cafe, lit by an oil lamp, sells soft drinks from an old fashioned cool box. Walking back from here, I was hit in the temple by a stone - either a very good or very lucky shot, as it was pitch black! I was unscathed, as was my enthusiasm for Kenya. That night, Natalie and I opened up the flaps of our tent, and slept with our heads sticking out - I saw 10 shooting stars before I fell asleep!

We left early the next morning and arrived at Marsebat - the town that stands approximately halfway through bandit country - around 1400. After showering and having a really tasty lunch, some of us spent a hectic, pleasant afternoon in a local drinking establishment - a cross between an off licence and a bar - where a small crowd gathered outside to watch with curiosity the mazungu (Kenyan equivalent to Faranji) inside. Following that, I almost had dinner...I say almost, because, while the meet eaters had to wait nearly two hours for the food that had been ordered in the afternoon, us veggies had to give up hope when we were told two and a half hours after arrival, that they actually didn't have the ingredients to make ours!! Arguments ensued for poor old Jade, who thought that his arguing days were behind him on leaving Ethiopia!

Another early start the next morning saw us arriving in Isiola a while after nightfall - a local passenger truck that had left at the same time had taken only five hours to make the same journey. Just as we (or at least I) had convinced ourselves that the tales of bandits were exaggerations, if not lies, we stopped for lunch at a truck stop, and saw a lorry with an undeniable bullet hole in the windscreen in front of the driver. Hmmm, maybe our driver, Paul, was telling the truth when he said he drives through that area in fear of a bullet n the head!

This was the day that the boards at the front broke, rendering the 'seats' at the front unusable. Also a day of blowouts and electrical fires; of one passenger vomiting violently from the rear of the vehicle, as the guards deemed the area too risky to stop in. It was also the day that we spotted zebra from the road, and - wonderfully - our first giraffes!! Fantastic - made up for all the problems - even the fact that our dinner later that night took another 2-3 hours! This is a country where you have to learn patience.

The next day we set off - on tarmac roads!! - to the town of Nanyuki, near to the equator, where I wrote last. One of the running wheels blew noisily as we drove into town - all our spares had been used, so this constituted a problem! We stayed that night at a rather swanky hotel complex, in tents near to a noisy nightclub. I had found out that day that the owner of the company, had not bothered to reply to my very polite, but unhappy Email of two weeks previously, so vowed to get drunk. I bought a cheap bottle of vodka for the occasion, and was most successful in my mission! I crashed & burnt quite early, missing out on what was by all accounts a rather bizarre, prostitute-ridden night in the nightclub!

The next day I spent mostly on Email, spending a mammoth 7 hours on the thing! The people in the Internet cafe where well impressed with me - not surprisingly, really - and said that I had set a record in the place! The next day about half of our number - including my little-chicky-sister - were to embark on a climb of mount Kenya - fair play to them!! I, on the other hand, set about researching the coast, and how to get there, determined to do something other than spend two weeks killing time, and slowly making the journey to Nairobi (a mere two and a half hours away) for the 15th December, where we would meet the new truck and new passengers.

Natalie and her fellow mountaineers set off around ten the next morning. I had intended on staying around for another day, as we had hoped to go to nearby Sweetwater Park - home to the big five - the next day. On hearing that the driver intended to go to Nairobi for a replacement tyre that morning (thus putting back the trip to the park for another day), I decided to go with him, so he could assist me in getting the bus to the coast. Somewhat tearfully, I hurriedly sorted out a daypack full of stuff I would need, and my dive gear, and set off with him around 1200.

We took a share taxi to the capital, crossing the equator just out of town, and passing through some beautifully lush scenery on the way. After arriving in the dodgiest part of Nairobi, we tried two of the three bus stations in the vicinity, and were told that the buses for Mombassa that night were fully booked. Fortunately at the third - just as I was starting to resign myself to spending a night in 'Nairobbery' - Paul managed to secure for me seat number 48 on a 49 seater! Lucky or what? The bus was going all the way to Malindi, so I wouldn't even have to change, just board a matatu to Watamu when I arrived.

Then Paul took me to Nairobi Park Services - where I must meet the truck on the 15th. I hung there until it was time to get a taxi back into town for my bus. We got there by matatu - my god, they sure do pack 'em full! A matatu is basically a Nissan or similar minibus travelling on a set route. Before they set off they wait until they are full...then cram some more passengers in...then some more...then stop on the way to squeeze more in - I counted 24 people at one stage! I was laughing to myself - I kept thinking, "surely they can't fit anyone else in?!" - but they did! I definitely did the right thing by going to Nairobi with Paul, although my departure was a lot more rushed than I would have liked - he was a great help. So in the evening I go the taxi from the campsite into town - where the driver got me to lock the door, and cautiously dropped me right outside the office. I collected my bags from the bus station, and as my bus was already there, boarded.

I was seated up the back of the bus, and as the roads for the first 200km or so are not too good (just as well the truck's not going that way!), the journey was quite bumpy, leaving my back even more sore than it had been from the truck! We also broke down for a while...it was almost like I had never left!! I was sat next to a tax collector from Malindi, and had a most interesting and frank conversation, discussing the differing views and cultures from our two nations. I slept for the second half of the journey, and was surprised when I was awoken at 0530 to be told we had arrived in Malindi. I left the bus, and waited a few minutes for the matatus to start running, being ushered into the front seat as soon they did. As I looked out of the window, I saw in the pale dawn's light, the morning star glowing brightly above the thin crescent of the moon. "That's got to be a good omen", I thought to myself, and indeed it was!

When we arrived in Watamu, the money man (? tout? ticket collector?) on the matatu said he knew of a good place to stay, and brought me to the Beachview House, which is run by an elderly German man and his much younger Kenyan wife. There isn't any budget accommodation in town, so I am having to splash out a whopping 900 Ksh (around 7.50 quid) a night, but for this I get a self contained apartment - toilet, shower, fridge, gas ring - and a 4 poster bed!! - and use of the swimming pool.

After a cup of tea, I took the three-minute stroll down to the beach...and just couldn't stop the smile from spreading on my face - it is soooo beautiful! Fine, dazzling-white sand, fringed with palm trees; small wooden boats moored on the beach; interesting little islands of volcanic rock, sticking mushroom-like out of the sand, where the waves have worn them away at the bottom. Small pools containing fish, starfish and crabs, left by the receding tide. Sail boats along the horizon, filled with early morning fishermen. Locals wading out with nets. It certainly made a wonderful first impression on me! Oh yes...the village also boasts two cheese shops!!!!

I went diving yesterday - on the way to the pick up point, I unbelievably (I don't know why I say that, it's par for the course by now) twisted my ankle yet again! I don't know, I really shouldn't be allowed out of the house, let alone around the world! I did it worse than at Nanyuki, but not as bad as in the Middle East. It's bruised & swollen, but I can walk on it...and I didn't let it stop me diving - not after I'd got up at 0630!! The dives were great, and we saw dolphins in the surface interval in between - though they swam off before we managed to jump into the water.

So let me leave it here, before I top my last Emailing record.

I hope this Email finds you all well, and enjoying the run up to Christmas. Have a drink for me at your Christmas parties, and I shall spare all of you a thought, whilst sunning myself, or diving, or relaxing here at the coast!


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