Sunday, 9 March 2014

Meltdown Madness

How little did I know when I wrote the last blogpost... the spagetti in Yabello was evil, the straw that broke the camels back, gastro-wise...But in spite of that, we made it to Nairobi, finished the third section of the tour from Addis Abeba, Ethiopia to Nairobi, Kenya, appropriately called 'Meltdown Madness' because of the heat, the dust, the (un)safety situation, the capitalist nuns in Marsabit, the rocky and extremely corrugated dirt roads crossing the Dida Galgalu Desert and general wear and tear that damages both riders and bikes after six to eight weeks on the bike.

We were lucky that only a few days before we arrived, there had been armed fights in the border town of Moyale, a reason for the Kenyan army to send additional troops to the area, enabling us to bike through safely. Only further south, one stretch of 177 km into Isiolo we were transfered by bus, our bikes on the roofs of the trucks, because of the many armed robberies that have taken place in recent years. In spite of the comforting words of our tour director ("They are not after you, they are after your stuff. They will not do anything to you, but take your money, your phone, your bike and your clothes and leave you naked at the road side") it may have been the right decision of the organisation to cancel this stage.
But our luck did not end there; the Chinese are working hard on paving the road between Moyale an Marsabit! The infamous worst dirt road in the world... Some stretches we could enjoy the virgin tarmac, other stretches we enjoyed the deviations off the main road. This may be one of the very few places in the world where the deviations are better that the original road.
An additional factor that may have prevented serious meltdown in the Meltdown Madness may have been the fact that we were seasoned in the earlier stages: heat and desert does not upset us anymore since the desert crossing in the Sudan, and no rocky dirt road can scare us after northern Ethiopia!

Kenya has been very good to us. The landscapes are beautiful, in a few days we've seen desert, savannah, fertile highlands and a crazy city. The lower population density, and the friendly attitude of Kenyans towards tourists make cycling a relaxing activity (except for the matatu drivers that tend to drive straight into you, only to veer off a meter before they would hit you). Crossing the equator by bike was pretty cool, as was our lunch break at the famous Blue Post Hotel in Thika, where I had last been in 2005 (nothing changed), and cycling around Mount Kenya, often hiding in clouds but perfectly visible on the sunny day we rode past.

Since the border crossing into Kenya, the health situation of the whole group is improving quickly, and so does mine. Very important to enable full enjoyment of the bliss of Nairobi! The three higlights so far, in no particular order; Planet Yoghurt where you can choose between ten flavours of frozen yoghurt and about 30 toppings, the Nakumatt supermarket that has everything you may wish for and much more (dark chocolate! M&Ms! Face tissues! Cinnamon rolls!) and yesterday's garlic pizza. It is good that I have been here before and that I can dedicate my time completely to these newly discovered highlights. I feel that I can stop my weight loss here.

The bike is holding up well, so far only four punctures (two in camp, two on the road), and no mechanical problems. I am happy that I chose for a bigger gear on the downhills, and also the tyre choice works out well. On so many dirt road days I have been grateful for my nobby tyres that get me through soft sand and provide a little extra comfort on corrugated stretches! On the road the Schwalbes do their job. I get really good at changing tyres here.

Here in Nairobi we will start the next section, the 'Masai Steppe' to Mbeya, Tanzania. Two riding days to Arusha where we will be halfway the tour, which we will celbrate with three (!) rest days. Looking forward to that... visiting friends and enjoying the pleasant town where I spent some months in 2011. From there it is seven days (without rest days) of mostly dirt road to Mbeya, with the rain season about to start. I am not sure yet whether I prefer a heavy rain season which may enable me to benefit from my comparative advantage of riding a mountain bike, or a late or moderate rain season which will enable me to keep my sleeping bag, clothes and myself dry. Hmmm.... race or comfort....

A quick update for all of you who have pledged a result-based contribution to Jobortunity: I have won all three sections so far, and rode over 5.000 km, so you can calculate your pledged contribution! More to come however...