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Overland in Kenya

*This blog is penned by Shaun, who is filming Spencer Conway on his overland trip around Africa.

I met up with Spencer in Nairobi, Kenya to retrieve his diary camera footage and do some additional filming. He was staying at a place called Karen Camp run by a colourful character called Duggie. Karen Camp is a regular stop-over and repair shop for over-landing outfits, so there was plenty of activity with drivers, vehicles and eager travellers as they prepare for trips all over Africa.

Spencer was in good form and recovering fast from the shock of the shooting incident in Northern Kenya. The Tenere was back on the road, repaired by a guy called Rick, who restores old bikes found in sheds and garages all over Kenya. He had all sorts of machines from Indians, Enfields, BMWs and Moto Guzzis. As spare parts are hard to get hold of, Rick managed to straighten the Tenere’s rear rim and re-spoke, weld a new lug on the rear calliper and fabricate new fixings for the panniers which had all been shot away. After a couple of days filming in Nairobi, Spencer was keen to get back on the road so we decided to head off to Arusha which is just over the border in Tanzania.

Fortunately, while at Karen Camp, Spencer had met laid-back Aussie Jim Wales. He’s an experienced over-lander who is now running a logistics business which operates throughout the continent. When asked if he could help us out with the filming for a few days, he said “F**k ya, but I’ve got to be back in Nairobi to get married on Tuesday.”

It was good to leave Nairobi – a city of contrasts. On the one hand you have palatial suburbs with decadent properties and servitude, a throw back to a colonial era and on the other hand poverty. Nairobi’s central slum called Kibera is the second largest slum in Africa, housing over 1.2 million people, all crammed into approx 1 square mile — shocking.

After a couple of hours on the road, which could change from newly laid hard-top to dirt and pot holes without warning, we arrived at the Tanzanian border. It was a typical chaotic scene of heat, dust and confusion, as locals and seasoned travellers pushed and shoved their way through the bureaucracy. To add to the mix, a constant stream of 4X4s would deposit khaki-clad safari tourists who were reluctant to step out of the safety of their air-conditioned vehicles and were forced to rub shoulders with the real Africa and look black authority in the eye.

Strangely, US citizens have to pay twice as much for a visa than any other nation – a telling charge for wealth and privilege?

Another hour on the road and we were clear of people, shacks and roadside vendors, and had entered open savannah. For me this is the picture that typifies central Africa. A ribbon of tarmac stretched ahead striking a path through the vast grassland, acacia trees randomly dotted the landscape, standing defiant against heat and drought. In the distance, Mt Meru, with its crater-shaped peak marked our destination, Arusha. To the east, we could just make out the snow-capped Mt Kilimanjaro.

Entering Arusha at dusk we headed straight for a place called Maasai Camp, on the outskirts of town. Spencer pitched a tent and Jim and I roughed it in a couple of basic rooms. After a couple of beers an enthusiastic decision was made to visit the Ngorongoro Crater, which was about a 3 hour drive from Arusha. Ngorongoro is one of nature’s phenomena – formed between 2- 3 million years ago the crater is 100 square miles in area, providing a self sufficient ecosystem full of herbivores and carnivores which have been eating, breeding and dying there for hundreds of years.

After a sleepless night at Maasai Camp which, unbeknownst to us, turned into the local rave till 5am, we set off bleary-eyed to Ngorongoro. The African roads, or should I say drivers on the roads, are responsible for some horrific accidents and sure enough Jim and I witnessed a near fatal incident right infront of our eyes. As a car over took us, it lost control and cartwheeled 3 times before landing upended in a ditch. I was hesitant to approach the scene of such carnage, expecting lifeless mangled flesh and bones. But, miraculously, the driver had hauled himself out of the wreckage and was immediately on his blood-soaked mobile phone. 30 yards away, thrown from the car, his passenger was sitting up dazed, but conscious, lucky to be alive. It was a messy reminder of the dangers of travelling and what Spencer is exposed to on a daily basis.

Another hour on the road and Spencer broke a rear spoke. We decided not to try and push our luck and abandoned the bike with some people we met and continued in the truck. Unlike most UK 4X4s which suffer the odd speed humps and baby sick at most, Jim’s truck had seen it all. It has bumped, bashed and crashed its way through thousands of miles of African roads. However, although sturdy and robust, it over heated as we made our way up the steep incline to Ngorongoro. Jim, being resourceful, immediately commandeered my precious drinking water and set about pouring several litres into a very thirsty Nissan Patrol. I became a little concerned as I saw the last of my cholera and typhoid-free H2O disappear into the metal belly of the Nissan. It was alright for the well-seasoned Jim and Spencer, as they had spent so much time in Africa that their tummies could likely even handle a drink from local ditch water.

By the time we got to the entrance of the conservation area it was too late to make the drive into the crater, so we decided to enter but make camp in one of the designated camp sites on the rim of the crater. After a little filming before we lost the light, Spencer showed off his bush tucker skills and cooked up some chicken and beans on an open fire. It was a welcome feed, and I was impressed by his hot rock cooking technique. As we enjoyed a bit of amateur star gazing washed down with a dusty bottle of brandy, I suddenly noticed 2 huge white tusks appearing from the darkness. As my eyes adjusted, a massive bull elephant nonchalantly wandered into our campsite and silently meandered passed us within 20 feet before disappearing into the undergrowth to snort some vegetation. Although this was a surreal moment for a chap from Bethnal Green, I do believe that even Spencer and Jim were a bit in awe. Strangely, one of them elected to sleep in the truck that night, leaving me out as bait — nice.

Next morning, Jim got us up at stupid o’clock — well before sunrise to make the descent into the crater. The best time to witness any kills was early morning, as most of the predators are active over night. After a little Aussie negotiation between Jim and the gate-keeper, we were free to enter one of the most remarkable places of natural history in the world. As the mists cleared, zebra, wildebeest and gazelle appeared in numbers. A solitary hyena sniffed the air scavenging for a scent of a kill and a group of foxes darted through the long grasses alert and suspicious of noise and smells.

With the mist burning off rapidly, even more of this extraordinary place was revealed: a distant lake with flamingoes, a watering hole with a hippo, a pair of black rhino and a vast herd of buffalo. Having been brought up on a rich diet of David Attenborough I could not help but hear his rhythmic enthusiasm as I gazed at this wildlife cocktail. We drove around the many tracks that criss-cross the crater in search of big cats, but only got a distant glimpse of a lion cub high up on a hilltop. Ngorongoro Crater is extraordinary and bizarre, I highly recommend it if you’re in that part of the world.

Our time was up in the crater and Jim had a 12-hour-drive back to Nairobi for his own wedding scheduled for the next morning. After retrieving Spencer’s bike, he deposited us back in Arusha and set off with no sleep, a packet of biscuits and a water leak. He made it.

Jim very kindly put us in-touch with his mate Chris Gee who runs an overlanding outfit, which has a base in Arusha called African Trails (africantrails.co.uk). Mark Pearce, a fellow countrymen of Jim’s who was looking after the place, took us in with the customary “no worries mate,” and offered us the floor in a shed which we could share with the resident rat and a couple of lethal biting spiders.

After a restless night’s sleep with the rodent, Mark lent us his pick-up so we could meet up with Ronnie Bender of Adventure Bike Africa who subsequently put us in-touch with Per Bjerre of Dustbusters so we could get Spencer’s bike checked and replace the broken spoke.

Per has become a bit of a legend in the area and is a phenomenal off-road motorcyclist. He’s not only built up a reputable adventure motorcycle business since 1991, but has also built his own motocross track in his back yard — obviously he wins all the races! Per was more than happy to check over the bike, fix the spoke and give Spencer the confidence that although the rear rim needed replacing, it would probably make it to South Africa.

With only one filming day left, Mark and his Aussie spirit guide took us out to film the sun rising over Mt Kilimanjaro which was apparently ‘very cool,’ as most of the time it’s covered in cloud. We attempted to round up some wild zebra for the shot but strangely they weren’t interested, and they wandered off to be black & white somewhere else.

The road beckoned for Spencer, willing him on to Malawi and Mozambique. Whereas I, and a vomiting child, took a 6-seater Cessna back to Nairobi. From there I was relieved of my fluids and rode a virgin plane back to Blighty.

Over and out, Shaun.

You can support Spencer Conway’s trip here.

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