The Challenge of driving into Kenya

So I have to be honest – today, it is actually possible to drive all the way from London to Addis all on tarmac and a few ferry boats (OK there are few sections where it is a little bumpy) but possible in a normal car. However the section from Ethiopia into Northern Kenya is different. There are two main routes, either Moyale to Marsabit on the East or via Lake Turkana on the west.

Stuck in the mud!

Most people take the Moyale route, but it was an area that bothered me for a long time – the year before we left there was severe draught, causing conflict between tribes. It is also close to Somalia, which has its own problems, often spilling over to this area. The area is known for its banditry and after reading Spencer Conways blog at who got shot at on his motorcycle (so much so that he had to abandon his bike for a time) we decided to look for another route….

The only real other route is near lake Turkana – in Kenya the roads are better on the west side of the lake but there are two problems with this, firstly there where reports of conflict in the area, particularly after the heavy rains (climate change appears to be creating real extremes in this area) and it means crossing the Omo river which feeds into the lake. Currently there is no bridge over the river (though there is a new one “about” to be put in place at Omerate) and the only way to cross the river with a vehicle is through a Greek guy who owns a pontoon, average price per vehicle; $800!

So it seamed like the best option was to drive down the east side of lake Turkana. It wasn’t going to be easy and probably wouldn’t be a good idea just to travel on our own. If you look at google maps or on a Michelin map there is no road (or even track). So the “Facebook Turkana Team” was formed. Before I left the UK I had been in contact with Hugo on Facebook, he was planning a similar trip but leaving a couple of months after us. We shared a few non facts and kept in touch. Hugo, who is travelling with Isabella in a almost new landcruiser (“its a turn key job – I just want to put the key in a drive” explained Hugo) met a German guy called Stephan on a motorbike in Sudan, who we bumped into in Gondor Ethiopia (and I recognised him off Hugo’s pictures from Facebook…)

Planning in Ethiopia

The team

Two landcruiser and a motorbike is was for our drive into Kenya, we met in Turmi in Southern Ethiopia which was the last place to get Diesel (Konso was the last place where Stephan was able to get petrol for his bike, which was swilling around in our boot mmm). After a shortish drive to Omerate we were able to complete all of our Ethiopian visa process at 7pm on Sunday evening (try doing this in Europe!) we then where allowed to camp at the customs building. Only problem was the rain….. would we actually be able to get anywhere or just get 20km down the road and be stuck for weeks, until the road dried out? Hmm thoughts for the night. Omerate was a fun boarder place with OK food, lots of beer but impossible to get water of fuel. We just about managed to change our last remaining Ethiopian Birr into Kenyan Shilling (at a very bad rate). It is actually only 30km away from Sudan (which is oddly the mountains in the distance – our experience of the two countries is the reverse!)

Ethiopian customs at Omerate (there is no Kenyan Boarder officials, you just register with the police on route and get stamped in, in Nairobi). The bike was in a big puddle the night before this photo was taken.

Ethiopian Customs

The next morning it was sunny and dry, We drove back about 10km from Omerate to the road to Turkana, after the previous nights rain it had dried out quickly – perhaps it would be easy! Then we reached our first river crossing – which we all managed fine, as with the next few river crossings.

The Road to Turkana

Coming from Omerate the Road to Turkana is by the green sign on the right (small tack on this photo) GPS; 4*44’50″N 36*10’30″E

In a Landcruiser you don't get wet!

You get wet crossing rivers on a motorbike

Showing off the lovely solar panels

Nice angle to show the Solar panels off!

River crossing in Ethiopia

Then from what seemed like and reasonably flat nice area – deap mud appeared!

Hugo and Isabella where in front and promptly got stuck. Me, thinking (or not really) the best thing to do would be try and drive round and pull them out from the front. We then promptly got stuck (nice and deap!) First rule broken; if one vehicle is stuck don’t get the other one stuck! (Motorbikes are useless at pulling out 2.8/3.5 tonne landcruiser out of the mud!)


After a bit of digging we got the White landcruiser out (it was still moving) it was then driven forward and got stuck about 300 meters away. So we started to dig the solar landcruiser out. The mud around this part of Turkana is very sticky and slippery. Trying to use the highlift jack was difficult as the base just kept slipping or sinking. I still think it would have been possible to get out, but and little 4×4 appeared over the horizon. We had not seen any vehicles on this trip so far (and wouldn’t for some time after) so it was a bit of a surprise to see this little Russian made 4×4. It was owned by a local catholic mission and they kindly offered to pull us out. It was an amazing little vehicle and pulled us out with relative ease. After driving around a slightly longer way around we were all free!

Over the 5 days of doing about 100km a day we got stuck twice (the second time we managed to dig ourselves out without a tow) and the white landcruiser 6 times (they where often in front), Stephan got stuck on his bike once (which was more funny than anything as you can just about lift a bike out the mud with enough people)

Hugo and Issabela Stuck in the mud

So mud was the landcruiser’s enemy, while sand and rocks where the bikes. Following the bike was often slightly alarming, watching it fishtail over the sand / rocks but even after coming off on average 8 times a day Stephan was still enjoying it! (As long as we took photo’s!)

Piking the bike up

Down again...


The roads and scenery changed every couple of Kilometers, from rocks to cliffs and mud to sand. It was spectacular.

Every so often there was some mud to cross (we actually didn’t get stuck in this section)

Mud (we are not stuck here!)





A bit more difficult on a bike – wet feet Stephan?

Wet Tenera

Camp on the road with nobody around!


Splashing through rivers got the Solar panels very muddy (they don’t work very well with a layer of mud on them)

Muddy Solar Panels..


I knew we were approaching a town when my mobile received a message “Welcome to Kenya, thankyou for choosing Orange” (made me jump and nearly fall of the road…)

North Horr was a desert Oasis. Palm trees sand, food (at a slow pace, made even slower by the fact that we were seriously hungry!) and cold tusker. It was also the first real place we had come across people (for days now it was just us 5) so it was nice to meet different people. We also managed to get safe water from a local pump (but make sure you ask permission first if you come this way)

Muddy landcruiser!

From North Horr we bumped over rocks to the banks of lake Turkana at Loyangalani. I now understand why Kenyans like to come up here to escape – it really is a place where you feel like you have travelled hard to reach.

Rocks Rocks Rocks

Hugo and Isabella moved on quicker to Maralal while we took our time, giving lifts to locals and enjoying the scenery. Then camping just outside of Maralal and taking our first showers for days! (and sorting out the vehicles a bit).

Giving lifts to locals (yes that is a gun..but they where friendly and a bit amused by us)

Giving lifts to locals

In the back of the landcruiser with a gun

and as Stephans luggage was in the back of the landcruiser one went on the back of the bike!

Lifts to locals

At GPS co-ordinates 0*10’55N 37*0’31E we came across our first piece of Tarmac for about 1200km! It was thine old tarmac with big potholes, but still tarmac.


Muddy bonnet

After a little loop around Mt Kenya we drove into Nairobi – a city which I have visited a few times before, but this time it felt different. Much more European, much more “normal” after the places we had seen on this journey so far.

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