Saturday, March 15, 2008

Moyale, Ethiopia...and the road from hell


is that a mercedes in the back of that truck? (isiolo, kenya)

Jeremy (the white guy). Very cool guy from my hometown of Calgary. He's now living in London as a music producer...

The desert north of Marsabit. Ethiopia is somewhere over the horizon...
I was walking around Isiolo last night hoping to spot these transport trucks that were suppose to materialize. Isiolo's a dump but I needed provisions for the eventual ride to Ethiopia. The supermarket described in LP no existed. So, I tried some of the hole-in-the-wall stores on the main street.

Isiolo wasn't as scary as I was led to believe (even at dusk). There were a lot of people on the streets but they all seem to be busy. I came across a truck. Unusual load I thought. In the back was a yellow car. A mercedes benz! The same people whom I met at the Upper Hill Campsite in Nairobi... They had to be here, somewhere. What were the odds of meeting them again? I started my semi-desperate inquiries.

"Where are the mzungus who own this car", I asked the closest loiterers around the truck. Some guy leads me to a street front hotel. The reception said they were gone (checked out). They're supposed to be in a bar. Which bar? For a one street town, there was a shitload of taverns in Isiolo. DON'T PANIC, I thought to myself. First bar nothing. Second, nothing. Third, zip. We entered the fourth bar, got past the sleazy owner, to find the familiar mzungu faces of a wild haired man and a hot blond woman sitting at a table littered with beer bottles. Our eyes met. They were as surprised to see me as I was to see them. At the same table were 2 other mzungu men (later I found out they were Spanish - Luis and Antonio.

They (Anna and Jeremy) insisted that I join them on the truck. I didn't think twice and took them up on their offer. I went back to the hotel to pack. Hastily bought some provisions. Went back to the bar to meet them. We loaded up the truck. It was dark by the time we took off at 8 PM.

Within minutes, we ran out of tarmac. The road was horrible. Full of potholes. The truck shook like the devil as we drove over brutal corrugations in the road. The chattering of my teeth would give me a headache. Anna and Jeremy was in the back with the mercedes while I was up front with the Spanish guys. The reverberations of the truck didn't seem to affect the Spanish as they kept up with their contiguous bantering.

After the first break, Anna suggested I move to the back. I wholeheartedly obliged. The rest of the time I drank sweet wine, had shots of whiskey, and listened to good music. Suffice to say, the road didn't seem so bad after that.

We reached the sleepy town of Marsabit, almost at the halfway point, at 4 in the morning. The streets were deserted. We stopped in a nondescript compound lit by a single lonely street lamp. I was exhausted but my legs begged to be stretched. I walked out into the darkness. The starry sky was brilliant. Being so close to the equator, I could see the North Star and the Southern Cross in the same sky. I was exhausted and headed back to the truck hoping to catch a couple of hours of sleep before moving on.

We were rudely awakened by the blast given off by the truck's engine. Damn, it was only 6 AM. Seemed like everyone had deep slumbers. During the night the Mercedes hood ornament went missing. Some kid was walking around with a nice piece of bling hanging around his neck. Further inspection revealed damage to the paint job. Sometime last night a chair had fallen on the side of car. Jeremy and Anna were pretty pissed. "The Manager" thought the situation was rather amusing. He would suffer the wrath of both my friends. They just railed on him. Let's just say he fell into line for he rest of the trip.

As were were departing, we encountered a white guy walking by the road. We stopped. Apparently, Jeremy and Anna knew him. Tom had arrived a few hours before us. He too was on the way to Moyale but this was as far as he got. He climbed on board. En route he informed me that he didn't have an Ethiopian visa!

The scenery beyond Marsabit was surreal and pretty stark. Just outside the town, I saw a huge crater (at least 2 km wide and 500 m deep). I suspect the remnants of a volcano. We were surrounded by plains of scrub and broken by numerous brown volcanic cones dotting the landscape. Occasionally, we encountered camel trains and flocks of sheep tended to by nomadic tribesman.

We finally reached Moyale at 1500h. Only the last kilometre stretch of the road to Ethiopia was paved. We could have spent the night on the Kenyan side but after the torture of the past 36 hours just wanted to get the hell out. The border routine went off without a hitch except for Tom. The Ethiopians wouldn't issue him a visa on the spot. The only legal options were to head back to Nairobi and apply for one or have his government plead his case. Two daunting prospects. He walked off rather pissed off at himself for checking the visa situation beforehand.

See also, this entry...

Moyale is here: N03 31.909 E39 03.123.

Out of Canuckistan - A travel blog, Mar 15/07
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1 comment:

Steve H. said...

That desert pic looks like Mars.