Entering Kenya

After a quiet night the only thing around as we packed down camp not long after sunrise was a troop of mischievous blue balled monkeys (we don’t know their name so that is a literal description). We kept an eye on them to make sure there was no snatch and grab of any of our stuff.

It was so quiet we had forgotten we were on the outskirts of a city so the traffic as we rejoined the main road came as a surprise. We quite enjoyed watching people heading to school and work.

A 2.5 hour drive to the border crossing once we were through the city the road got pretty quiet, even the heavy truck traffic that often signals and impending border seemed pretty light. We passed through some towns but it quickly felt quite rural driving through tea and sugar cane plantations until closer to the border the flat landscape turned into rice paddies, which we hadn’t been expecting.

The border crossing is a one stop shop on each side but information we had wasn’t all that much help to figure out where and what we needed to do (things change quickly and often in Africa, it was only a few months old). At the Ugandan exit we also quickly discovered that people would tell you anything rather than what you actually needed to do as the first guard told us we didn’t need to park up where we saw other vehicles and we could drive straight to the gate. The guard there then tried to send us back to the first as we were supposed to have some paperwork, he only relented because he accepted it wasn’t our fault and it would have caused chaos for us to reverse out. He wasn’t that happy about it though.

With the right paperwork we got through the first barrier. But not without attracting the attention of a fixer in a distinctive orange tshirt. We waved him away.

Knowing our information was out of date once through the gate we parked up to check that we didn’t need to do anything in the Ugandan building. Emma quickly confirmed that for the vehicle we didn’t and after a short queue in the immigration hall they confirmed we needed to do nothing for that either. Knowing it was a short drive to the Kenyan one stop border we decided this would be the best place to change some money as it was quiet and we were parked right next to an exchange office.

We know to keep our US$ for exchanging in perfect condition. We scrutinise the notes when we get them in NZ and won’t accept any that aren’t perfect and then we carefully protect them on the road. Usually that sees us have no issues but this money changer was super fussy, she examined each one in tiny detail and rejected 3 notes before we found 1 that met her standards.

To the Kenyan side we went. At the first gate we had the vehicle and bags checked. When they let us through we parked in the car park and walked back. Immigration for both sides took 5 mins. No queue and the windows were next to each other. Stamp out of Ugandan, provide evisa paperwork for Kenya, bit of checking and computer inputting and we were stamped into Kenya.

The vehicle was an entirely different story and ended up taking us 3 hours to clear into Kenya. The process was the usual many step affair, however the key to these crossings is simply to work out what the process is and then work through getting each step complete in the right order. The problem was we had a whole bunch of fixers / hangers on, including the guy in the orange tshirt from the Ugandan side who kept telling us different things, while the actual customs officer just ignored them and did his processing but nothing more. It was really difficult to work out what the next right step was and how we needed to do it.

They just wanted to get a bit of money out of us, but it made the whole thing slower and harder and that it was a stinking hot day didn’t help.

The customs officer gave us a form, which turned out to be for our vehicle inspections. Since we’d handed over all our vehicle documents Marie stayed with them at the window while Emma went to the exit gate to get the form signed to allow the inspections to happen. Marie could see Emma walk to the vehicle with someone, after an age later she was still there and had quiet a gaggle of people around her including the orange tshirt fixer. Eventually Emma headed back. The vehicle inspection paper needed to be signed by 3 people – this is what had taken the time. The lazy drug dog didn’t really do anything but the the logbook and chassis number were thoroughly inspected. They’d also found an issue in that the logbook was missing a number for the chassis number, this had taken Emma quite some talking to get away with paying any tea money but she’d eventually got the signature.

Back at the customs window the officer calculated the road tax we needed to pay. The fixers were all over us interfering and it was impossible to work out where we needed to pay it. Brushing them off we did our own thing and headed into a nearby office that looked like payment desks. One of fixers had followed us and Emma understood him saying in Swahili to the guy at the counter not to take our money. They tried to persuade us we needed to pay by mpesa (mobile money) which we hadn’t bothered setting up. The purpose was so fixer could do it for us and charge us for it.

Refusing to be forced into underhand ways of getting money (not one of the fixers had offered directly to help us in return for a fee, it was all just following and bits of ‘advice’ they then try and persuade you to give them money for helping) we went back to the customs window. Everyone started to tell us different things to do. Emma had been dealing with people and been chatty with them to try and figure out the process but being swamped by all the different info was making it really difficult and we’d had enough. So Marie very clearly told the main ones harassing us that we didn’t need their help, they weren’t helping and in fact we’re making it harder so go away and leave us alone. It had an instant effect.

Emma was able to clarify with the customs officer that she could pay cash at the bank about 500m into the border town, so off she set. Marie stayed with the documents again and the sulking fixers.

Emma was gone ages, and when she finally got back she was very hot, sweaty and grumpy. Turned out the bank was a lot further than we thought and the she’s had constant sexual harassment all the way there and back.

Thankfully the customs officer invited us into the office to sit next to him while he did the rest of the paperwork. Emma enjoyed the fan. We reckon he had heard us telling the fixers to back off and instead of leaving us to fend for ourselves decided he would help us. He showed us how Emma’s payment was already showing in the customs system and then set about printing us 3 sets of documents. As he did so he was quietly telling us what we needed to do with the next. We thanked him profusely. First we had to go behind the customs office to the police and register the vehicle in Kenya and give them a document set. One of the fixers continued to tag along and we concluded to ignore him. They stamped the other 2 sets and then we took the vehicle to the exit gate where we handed over another set.

As we got into the vehicle and brushed off fixers giving getting money out of us a last go we thought we were home free. But no -at the gate the guard tried to insist on taking the original document set we know we needed to take with us. Then he tried to tell us there was a problem with the vehicle (he heard about it chassis number issue but we had got the form signed regardless so we knew he could do anything). He tried to tell us we had to go back to the customs office so he could ‘assist’ us. Emma was quite insistent and luckily had clocked the name of the customs officer who dealt with us so kept using his name to insist he had told us we were done. Eventually the guard gave up and after an almost tug of war with the documents we got the right set, he got the copied set and we got the stamp and he let us through.

Relieved the next task we set about was getting a local SIM card. This turned into another goose chase where one shop told us they didn’t have approvals to do it so sent us to another down some back street who said don’t know why they sent you here they know we can’t do it either. They said the nearest place we’d find a cell shop that could was the nearest big town an hour down the road.

Kenya felt a lot like Uganda but with more harassment. We were just happy to be back on the road even if connectivity for navigating was a priority.

The enjoyment was short lived. On reaching the town we found the shop who also couldn’t do it and sent us somewhere else and they couldn’t either so they sent us somewhere else. Eventually we got one. It was 4pm.

Finally we were had all our admin tasks done. We looked up the nearest campsite in the direction we were going Google said it would take 2 hours we knew it would take longer and that would put us close to the sun setting (and we’re always off the road before dark, it’s too hard and too unsafe driving). Thankfully we’d got some samosas at the border as we didn’t have time to do anything other than hit the road.

Worryingly as we did we noticed they must have had a lot of rain recently, the field and sides of the road were flooded and we had ominous dark grey clouds. With no other accomodation options we pushed the concerns to one side and pressed on.

As we expected it started to turn to dusk before we had got there. We also had some light rain. We stuck to heading to the campsite but started to clock fall back options of rundown walled accomodation that if we got desperate we could come back to. They didn’t look that attractive and being next to the road to a would mean trucks rumbling last all night.

Finally we turned off onto a dirt track. Luckily it wasn’t that far off the main road before we found it. It was a proper camp ground with a big main building and huge flat area. It was dark and deserted apart from a few staff. They were happy for us to stay and they let us park up next to a shelter and cooking building. The toilet block was just through a gate.

It had been a long day and we were happy to have somewhere safe to sleep and dry place to make dinner. We quickly settled in. We were more stoked when the staff brought us a red ember fire to keep us warm, the temperature had dropped and everywhere felt damp. We put the tent cover over the roof of the tent in an attempt to keep it drier. We could still hear the rumble of trucks at night but we slept well. Thankfully we woke up to a cold damp morning but no rain.

Despite expecting an overland group to come in that night we were something of a novelty with the staff and they posed with the vehicle for photos and sent us off like long lost friends.

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