Howzit Howards

Trip Start Apr 19, 2009
Trip End Dec 20, 2009

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Where I stayed
Henry the Swiss

Flag of Kenya  , Eastern,
Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Given the fact that you are reading this implies that we are alive and well. This should be a source of comfort to all worrying parents, grandparents, siblings and friends. Please remember this fact as you read on about our trip through northern Kenya. For whilst the telling of this event in retrospect turns it into an adventure, we were not always sure that it would not suddenly metamorphose into a nightmare…. But I am getting ahead of myself…so here goes the story of the infamous 'Marsabit Road'.

As you travel along the East African Highway, somebody will invariably moan, groan, warn or whine about the road from Isiolo to Moyale (northern Kenya – Ethiopian border). As we travelled north the knowing nods of travellers coming from the opposite direction increased. They would shake their head and warn us that all we had seen and done thus far was chocolate-pudding-eating in comparison with the dreaded Marsebit Road (as the entire 500km route is nicknamed by travellers). As the distance to this feared stretch though semi-desert decreased, our apprehension grew. More and more Marvin and I tried to keep a positive attitude…...

‘Ach it can’t be so bad. Kann ja nicht so übel sein.’

‘People always exaggerate about these things. Alles Bangemacherei.’

‘We are driving a LandRover. Hmmmmmmm………………………….’

But there is a limit to positive thinking and so we decide to take some additional precautions…

  1. Pray
  2. Look for best (and consequently quite expensive) LandRover workshop in Nairobi (Schumachers-‘The Fine Arts of 4x4’) for final major service and overall check for the LandRover. A mortgage payment and double shock system later, Bertha is ready for the road.
  3. Decide to travel the dreaded route with fellow Cape Townian overlanders Bryan and Diana (Cape – Cape), also driving LandRover Defender (never a bad idea to have some additional spare parts along). That we became friends and thoroughly enjoyed the evenings and mid-day beers together came as an added bonus
  4. Enquire at the Isiolo police station (imagine a mix from a Wild West outpost and apocalyptic nightmare…..) about the safety conditions along the route. We are very emphatically encouraged to take two armed guards (complete with G3’s, the German army rifles, extra ammunition and rocket launchers) on board as there have been recent violent tribe clashes in the area. People have been shot and killed four days ago. We comply.
  5. Pray again!
At 6am with our two heavily armed para-military soldiers on board we hit the road. Shortly after we leave the two young guys start rummaging around in the back of our car.

‘Can I help you?’ I enquire in my most polite ‘I-don’t-want-to-piss-off-rocket-launching-young-men’ voice.

‘Just clearing the windows for a clear shot’, the one soldier calmly responds as he loads his gun, extends the nozzle past our fridge through the window and scans the bush for danger.

‘Yes, of course, what a silly question!’ a nervous laugh escapes me. Must work on my army conversational style…or perhaps we have just woken up in the wrong movie…in a wrong Rambo-type movie.

The road from Isiolo to Marsebit is bad, very bad! Turns out the road from Marsebit to Moyale, the ‘good’ road, is equally terrible. Both LandRovers crawl over the rough surface through the swirling dust at little more than 20km/h. It is hot and desolate – only a few hardened nomads and their camels braving this inhospitable country. After nearly 14 hours of solid travelling we reach Marsabit, tired and beaten.

The traveller grapevine had once again done its job and so we knew of a ‘campsite’ in Marsebit at ‘Henry the Swiss’. Turning down another rough and equally dusty road we come upon Henry, his Swiss accent still coming through strongly in his English (and Swahili) even after 30 years in Kenya. Upon seeing Marvin and my identical red T-shirts with the white cross (we had planned to pose as the Red Cross medical support team in the event of real trouble with other rocket launchers) he bursts into a big smile and welcomes us in Swiss German. Henry shows us the dusty but clean and welcoming patch of campsite and the charming little cottage. We enter the cottage with some foreboding, you learn not to expect too much when travelling in such remote and non-tourist orientated areas. Inside the mud hovel, however, a warm and welcome room is laid out - the perfect shelter from the relentless dust and wind of the day. We all have a deep and restful night.

Early the next morning we are off again. The commanding police officer at Marsebit had assured us the previous day that the route Marsebit-Moyale was safe and without any trouble. There was no need to take any armed guards. Great news……after 11 hours of dusty and hard travelling, and only 30km from Moyale, we are suddenly stopped by a soldier alongside the road.


‘Good afternoon officer, is there a problem?’

‘YES, there is an ambush up ahead, you must wait here until military re-enforcements arrive!’

‘Oh! So it is not safe to go on?’


We wait….we wait some more….we wait…. Suddenly a huge dust cloud can be seen coming towards us….The re-enforcements have arrived!!!!

2 fully kitted out Howards (old American artillery and infantry tanks)

2 trucks with 20 armed soldiers

2 LandRovers with even more heavily armed soldiers

They scout the area. It gets dark. They scout some more. After another hour we are instructed to follow one of the LandRovers for safety and proceed in convoy to the border. The rest of the re-enforcements stay behind to secure the area of the 200-500 Bandits around. At 21:30 we finally arrive in the little border town of Moyale and fall into bed.

Tomorrow we'll be in Ethiopia!
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