Kenya – Cross Country

We wanted to spend our time in Kenya in the national parks in the South East corner of the country, so our plan was to do a couple of big driving days and get there. It wasn’t a straight drive though as we wanted to avoid Nairobi’s notorious traffic jams, so we’d chosen a route that kept us north of Nairobi before turning south when we were well clear to join the Nairobi-Mombassa highway. The added benefit of this plan is would reduce our distance on the highway, it is infamous for being a dangerous road.

As we hit the road our plan was simply to drive as far as we sensibly could and find somewhere to sleep before dark.

The scenery was so different to Uganda it was wet and the fields were all green and growing every type of fruit and veg, it felt like we were driving through the food basket of Kenya. Roadside sellers, and some not roadside but standing in the middle of the road, we stopped at one and bought some honey and grapes. The vehicle was soon surrounded by sellers but they weren’t pushy and we had a really fun exchange with them.

We also crossed the equator. We know we’d crossed it in Uganda but there was no sign. In Kenya there is no shortage of signs and it turned out our road east was almost dead on it as after jumping out to photo the first sign we went on to cross the equator another 5 times that day!

The road was pretty quiet until we reached the city of Nakuru, but even that wasn’t bad for city traffic. Once through it we were out in the country again.

We wound up and down hills on quiet country roads until eventually we descended into a big wide valley. After crossing the valley floor we wound back up the hills and came to a viewpoint with a few souvenir sellers, which suggested that people must stop but there was no one else there and how quiet the road was we wondered who did come by.

It turned out to be a viewing point for the Great Rift Escarpment which is 6000k long and runs length of Africa on the eastern side. It was the hill on the other side on the valley that we came down. A cloudy day it was nice but we only stopped briefly. We had places to go.

As the afternoon wore on started looking for somewhere to sleep. We couldn’t find any campsites that wouldn’t be a detour so we found a cheap hotel that had secure parking in the town of Embu. We got there with perfect timing but long before sunset. It had taken us 10 hours to drive just under 400km.

Basic but safe they were very welcoming. They would let us sleep in our tent in the carpark but a room with ensuite was so cheap it was barely any more. So it was a no brainer. Being on the edge of town and us attracting a lot of attention when we arrived it would have been safer anyway. We could have cooked dinner by the vehicle but knowing it would be cheap we asked if they could make us dinner and was told no problem. It took about 2 hours so it was a decision we regretted particularly when in turned about to be a plate of spinach and rice. It was memorable only by the tv in the lounge area having the queen’s death as breaking news. We looked it up and the palace had made the announcement only 20 mins earlier. We couldn’t believe it, it was literally the first time we’d seen a tv the whole trip.

We slept pretty crap. The shower was great, beautifully hot, and our room had good space, a desk as well as a side table and a chair, but the bed turned out to somehow be on 2 levels and it also sagged badly. We were up and ready to hit the road at first light.

It turned out to be a stunning drive, it felt like we’d re-entered Africa after the greenery of West Kenya and there was hardly anything on the roads. The road surface was also excellent. It was probably the most enjoyable drive we had. Which was just as well as we had another 400km day to get to the first national park which meant it was going to be another long driving day.

Eventually sometime in the afternoon we turned onto the Nairobi-Mombasa highway. The road surface started out good and when we’d initially turned on it was quiet but as we left the towns behind it wasn’t long before both changed. It has to be one of the most bumpy and uneven highways we’ve ever been on and the dangerous driving the road is known for soon became visible. The slower moving trucks backed up to become convoys and those that could go faster would take risks overtaking however the biggest risk was the cars getting impatient and overtaking. We saw a few instances of traffic in its own lane having to pull off the single lane highway to avoid a head on collision with something that hadn’t finished overtaking in time.

We drove defensively and didn’t rush, sitting behind trucks until we knew we’d got a long clear ahead. It was hot and the bumpiness of the road soon got boring. The land cruiser is not designed for speeding on highways or accelerating very quickly. We were pleased to reach Voi, our destination. After getting through the busy town we on the gravel road to the national park. As is common this meant it was full of big speed humps.

Our accomodation was a safari camp in the making. Literally it is still being built, but as a result it was cheap, they’d got a shower and toilet built for campers and had the first 6 chalets ready. We’d whatsapped ahead so they knew to expect us. The big entrance gate is built and is a sign of what Simba Safari Lodge will become. We drove through it to the main camp gate. The lodge is was still breeze blocks and the camp owner wasn’t there but we were warmly welcomed by one of the workers and shown the 2 places we could camp – either by the gate out of the wind or up the top next to the national park electric fence which had a watering hole on the other side. For us there was no decision to make, we’d be up by the watering hole. On a slight slope it took us a bit of jiggling to get flat with the help of some spare wooden blocks from the workers. Elephants had been in to the water hole that morning but they warned us that visitors were ad hoc. We might be lucky or we might not.

We settled in and got the tent set up. The owner Thomas arrived. He gave us a tour of property and explained his vision for it. His father is an engineer and he is the business man. They used to run a luxury lodge in West Tsavo national park but when Covid hit the high monthly park concession fees killed them with no income so they made the decision to sell and to build a new lodge in Voi where there didn’t have the high overheads. The gardens have started to be planted, they are making all of their own furniture from a tree plantation they own, it will one day have a swimming pool and section on a rise will one day have high end luxury chalets.

He also told us stories about how they sometimes had problems with the fence occasionally being broken when the elephants find water is scarce, but that these have now been resolved (we were warned not to go near the fence and in fact we could sometimes hear the electricity pulsing through it). He also told us that they had built the bump below the lodge gate to remove the gap. Apparently some lion cubs had once got into the camp under the gate and they had a very unhappy mother lion prowling outside the gate. Which apparently isn’t that ideal.

When the workers all packed up as dusk started to draw in there was just us and the security guy. He didn’t speak hardly any English but was friendly, apparently he loved seeing the animals so would scan the fence line with his torch. He was clear though that his job was to keep us safe. Emma shared some basic chatter and a cold coke with him.

It was a warm night so we slept with just the fly net and the canvas door open with our heads that end just in case and animals came in. If they did we slept through it. Though awake before sunrise to get into the national park as it opened, Marie’s torch had picked up eyes on the fence line as she took the long walk to the bathroom. The guard made her jump as he came out of his perch on the lodge. He said it was the animal that called the lion, which after asking Thomas the next day we worked out meant a jackal.

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