"Into The Heart Of Darkness" Kenya Travelogue by travelinxs

Kenya Travel Guide: 4,354 reviews and 11,819 photos

The Death Express

Across the borderline awaited a twenty-ton cattle truck that would take Becks and I on the track south, traversing a scrub desert renowned as the most dangerous road on the Cairo to Cape Town journey.

Rumors abounded. A dozen killed a few weeks previous. Forty the week before. Even Paul Theroux had been shot at here.

Gangs of Shiftas, bandits, mostly from anarchic Somalia, roamed the northern Kenya border, raiding villages and attacking trucks traveling in convoy on this, the only track running south from Ethiopia.

A few days previously the daily convoy of eight trucks had run the gauntlet. Two of them had crashed and overturned on the terribly pot holed dirt road, killing most on board.

Yes. I was nervous.

We climbed the high sides at the back and dropped into the vast, cavernous iron hulk. There was only a quarter load of solidly packed, 50kg sacks of sougham lining the truck bed and a few locals sitting on girders above along with two soldiers on the cab roof armed with AK-47s. We took off without any convoy though, which was my initial concern.

Within a couple of minutes we had reached the trucks top speed. On this road, every overlander I had met had damaged their vehicle. Smashed fuel tanks, broken springs; Ali had a bad scare apparently when his Defender had crashed, bending the steering rods. The road was hell. And we were in a twenty-ton truck thundering along at full speed.

The closest comparison I have is a ride in a large powerboat in heavy seas. The truck would frequently lift clear off the ground, to come crashing back down, nose first, sending up a huge cloud of dust and grit that swirled into the back to choke us. I made the assumption that this was just to clear the most dangerous Shifta area, close to the border and so we hung on, terrified for our lives.

After an hour the truck stopped in the middle of nowhere and a group of young men and women ran out from the bush and climbed on board. Despite the girls being dressed in Kenyan clothes of bright sarongs, I soused the group out when I noticed their watches set to the Ethiopian time format, so I sprung a little Amharic on them and they replied without thinking. They were obviously illegal immigrants heading for what they hoped would be a better life.

We continued. Hour after hour. The convoys always made this desert crossing over two days, stopping off at Marsabit on the way for the night before continuing on to Isiolo the following day. But I learned we were to do the entire route in one go. That was just suicidal.

Later, on entering the Kenyan security controlled area, we were frequently pulled by army checkpoints. The illegals were asked for their papers, but of course they had none. The driver would then disappear with the soldiers out of sight for a chat and, no surprise, we were allowed through. I wandered what amount of cash was changing hands.

As the day wore on, so we endured. The violent slamming motion in the back was crippling. Later, I was to discover my debit card, in my money belt around my waist, had been snapped clean in half.

I remember thinking please, please just let us live through this. I knew that one mistake, one miscalculation on the track and we would roll off and crash and our chances of survival at this speed were slim to none. We tried to focus our minds on other things, anything, as the fear and fatigue drained our resilience.

Sometime, long after dark, we pulled into a restaurant shack, somewhere, lost in nowhere, in the endless desert.

I climbed down the outside of the truck, blinded by dust, a ghostly gray figure, stumbling over a low barricade to sprawl into the dirt, coughing, choked.

We sat on a wooden bench and considered our options. We were stuck in the middle of a dangerous desert. Yet if we continued, now in the dark, the driver trying to concentrate after ten hours, the risks were immeasurable. Fifteen minutes and four cigarettes to decide. We clambered back in.

After fifteen hours we made Isiolo. Alive.

Falling from the truck we hugged in jubilation. That was, without exception, the most terrifying ride of my traveling life.

After a night in Isiolo, we left under the shadow of the glacial capped Mount Kenya and crossed west. We had never planned to spend much time in the country, a decision that proved wise as the aggressive attitude with which we were met at every turn just spurred us on.

Two days later, we arrived at the tatty border crossing and took a bicycle taxi each, perched on the cushioned rear pannier racks, into Uganda.

(.. continue)

  • Page Updated Dec 31, 2007
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