The Worst Road in Africa - Part Deux

Trip Start Jul 25, 2006
Trip End Ongoing

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Wednesday, October 25, 2006

The second day of the trip, the road began to dry out as we moved away from the rain, and into the lava plains.  The road became jagged, stone filled, and rutted.  This is where I invented a new word - "chuddering".  A cross between shuddering and chattering, it describes a sensation that the bed of the truck is bouncing backwards off the frame, even as the truck itself continues forward.  This is the type of pounding that displaces internal organs.  At some point during my exhausted, only partially lucid state I imagined the following conversation.
Mr. Esophagus:  "Well, hello there Mr. Spleen.  I haven't seen you up here in... Well, come to think of it, I've never seen you up here before."
Mr. Spleen: "Hey Esophagus.  Yeah, it's a mystery to me too.  One minute I'm hanging around the old abdominal cavity then, BLAM, here I am talking to you."
Mr. Esophagus: "Strange old life, huh?  Hey, what did you think of that goat and rice dish he had last night?"
Mr. Spleen: "Oh man, don't get me started..."
Apparently my brain was being pretty rattled around too.
Despite the road being so bad that parts of the truck were breaking off (the tail gate handle next to me, for example), the human body is an amazing thing that seems to adapt to the most extraordinary circumstances.  Even though my back, spine, and head ached from constantly smashing into the iron bars around me, I began to notice and even marvel at the landscape around me.  Over a two day period we passed through savannah, desert, and an alien lava field landscape littered with millions of pieces of bowling ball sized black lava rock.  The few times I dared to stick my head out of the back of the truck, with my view unobstructed by the roll bars overhead, I marvelled at the sheer size and presence of the sky.  It was through this arid wasteland that I saw colourfully dressed pastoral people walking with their herds of goats and camels across the landscape.  This was a harsh land, and I expect it bred tough people to be able to survive in it.
I will admit my glimpse of a wild animal in Africa was disappointing.   Though Ethiopia had innumerable donkeys, camels, cows, goats, and some very exotic birds, I had not seen a wild animal in the whole country.  It wasn't until crossing into Kenya, that poster child for safaris, that I spotted my first.
It was a squirrel.
How lame is that?  Fortunately, this was almost immediately followed by a family of about fifteen baboons, and that was pretty freaking cool.
Finally, finally, we made it to Marsabit.  Bums numb, bones rattled, and brains addled, we stumbled to the nearby Jay-Jay Centre, dropped our bags, and had a rest.  Then Joseph and Akmad, both Kenyans, headed out to try and find us a ride heading the rest of the way to Nairobi.  Marsabit was a small, muddy, run down, and frankly unfriendly place but felt nearly cosmopolitan compared to the tiny, very occasional villages we had passed in the last two days.  The guys managed to find a bus leaving late afternoon for Nairobi, non-stop (yet another lie) through the night.  In Kenya, as opposed to Ethiopia, buses were allowed to run at night.
If this bus ride had happened without the previous experience of the pick-up truck, I would easily dedicate a whole entry to it.  It was the worse bus ride I have ever taken.  It was nearly as uncomfortable as the truck, ruined my knees which have developed serious problems since, and the roof threatened to cave in due to weight of the baggage on top.  In fact, it cracked in a number of places allowing waterfalls of rain to fall into the bus during the entire night.  It was unpleasant.  I have nothing good to say about the bus ride but this - at one point in the night, while massive thunderheads over the Kenyan plains duelled with lightening; I sat sharing my ipod with an Ethiopian, listening to British hip-hop, while driving down the Great Rift Valley of Africa.  To me, this was a quintessential travel experience.  Other than that, the road was nearly as bad as before, and bus was a cramped, window missing, falling apart tin can slapped on the back of a flatbed truck.  It constantly broke down, adding an extra eight hours to our already tortuous trip.  Around noon the day after we set out, we finally arrived in Nairobi.  Pained, cramped, and thoroughly disagreeable, I made my way to a hotel and finally lay down on a clean, comfortable bed.  What was supposed to be a day journey ended up taking three days.  The worst road in Africa was behind me.

Click on the movies below to watch the whole sad, sorry story.  Viewer warning: occasional strong language may be heard.  Also, the videos from the truck are only representative of the very best conditions of the road.  These were the only times when it was smooth enough for me to risk letting go of the rollbars and taking out my camera for a few seconds.  Enjoy.

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