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Published: February 22nd 2011
Heading towards Nairobi, there are three ways to leave Moyale, the dusty border town with Ethiopia - either bus, bean truck, or cattle truck. Until a few years ago there was no bus, and locals and tourists alike were forced to travel by truck. In the cab for the lucky, and rich, ones, in the back and on the roof for everyone else. Clearly I had the option of the bus, but I also had a sadistic desire, and moment of madness, and wanted to ride on the roof of a truck - I'd never done it before (reason enough to do it now?), I guessed you'd get great views, and it felt like the perfect arrival into Kenya.
I was hoping for a ride in the relative comfort of a bean truck - wanting to get the good views without too much agony. If you can't find, or afford, a bean truck, you get slung onto the climbing frame roof of a cattle truck, holding on for dear life as the truck hits each bump and pothole. I had a sadistic desire to travel by truck, but I'd like to think I'm not mad, and was keen to avoid
this, Luckily I quickly found a tout with a bean truck that was leaving 'right now', agreed a price, and sat in the shade, happy that a plan had come together.
I was told at 7am that the lorry would be leaving at 8.30. By 9.30 I'd seen nothing but several other lorries, and the only bus, leave town. By 10.00 I was still reassured the truck was coming 'right now'. by 10.30, with all shade disappearing, there was still nothing but a long line of cattle trucks heading out off town, leaving behind an empty town square, and the constant reassurance that my ride out was 'on it's way'. By 11.30, still nothing. By 12.00 I got the news that the truck had just finished loading, but the driver didn't want to leave until the following day. Instead, the last truck out of town, full of cattle, with space on the roof only, was about to leave. Desperate to leave town (but reluctant to sit on top of cage above a herd of large and horned cattle), I nervously climbed aboard, strapped my bag down, paid a tip to the useless tout to get him to leave me
alone, and held on. For dear life.
As soon as the truck was in gear and trundling down the rutted track, I was thrown from left to right. And back. And fore. And up. And down. And left again. And then right. And so on. The other guys on the roof (one cattle hand, and two mechanics for the truck), spotting that I hadn't done this before, told me to sit facing backwards, which protected me from the wind, but left me unprepared for each bump we hit. Within minutes I was very sore and quite bruised. On the plus side, as we bounced down the dusty road, past mile upon mile of acacia trees, with rust-red dirt under the wheels, and a scorching sun above, I'd certainly arrived in Kenya.
It took me an hour to settle into the rhythm but eventually I found a (relatively) comfy seat - holding onto the bars with both hands, facing backwards, squeezed between two water barrels to soften the blows of the bumps. The guys with me seemed to have been born on the truck, effortlessly keeping balance, climbing about on the roof, even falling asleep, yet it took me
all my strength and energy to stay in one place, and one piece. At least it wasn't raining though, and I did have the views to enjoy.
I carried on like this, through 2 bemused police check points, and for 3 hours, until we had a quick break. During the stop, and being able to move about on the truck without the fear of being thrown to the cows below, I changed places to face forwards, wedging myself between my bag and a crossbar. The wind was a struggle, and didn't help my developing cold, but it was infinitely better being able to anticipate the bumps as they came. So much better even, that for a few glorious hours, as we passed through the aptly named 'Plains of Darkness', with the endless desert stretching out in every direction, passing herds of gazelle and villages that seemed to be mirages, it felt fantastic. Windy, painful, and even dustier than Sudan, but still fantastic, and a journey I'll never forget.
Unfortunately, good things coming to an end, my tolerance ran out after about 6 hours - still 2 hours short of Marsabit. I had bruises upon my bruises, my runny
nose had become a horrendous cold, the sun got lost in the clouds and then disappeared below the horizon, leaving just the cold wind whipping around my face. The following two hours were rough. Harder even than my first journey in Ethiopia. With no escape from the cold, the dust, or the wind. I put my headphones on, wrapped my head in my scarf, tried to hide in my shoulders, and prayed for the journey to finish.
Eventually, eight hours after leaving Moyale - eight painful, bruising, sun burnt, but utterly fantastic hours - we rolled into Marsabit. I found a hotel, took a picture of myself to have a reminder of how I felt at the time, had a hot bucket shower which made me feel worse, and collapsed into a heap on the bed, looking forward to a day without buses or trucks, and a mere two days travel from Nairobi...
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