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Published: March 3rd 2011
I'd arrived in Marsabit in the pitch black of an African night, and it wasn't until the following morning that I had a chance to walk around and realise that I'd ended up in an unmistakably Kenyan town. The first thing that stuck me was how the colours had changed. In Ethiopia, the wheat and tef fields gave the country a golden glow, but here everywhere you looked you saw red - the rusty corrugated iron roofs and walls of every shop and shack, the red dust and dirt that blew through the streets, and after the truck journey, my sunburnt skin as well. Ethiopia already seemed like a distant memory. I found my way to a dark and pokey cafe near the market - no more than a small room at the front of someone's house - sat on a rickety home-made chair, and ordered a cup of sickly sweet, and horribly milky tea. As I sat there, watching the market outside go by, women selling their crops, and men cycling past on rusty squeaking bikes, the radio in the corner of the room started playing 'Nkosi Sikeleli Africa'. I'd made it. After three months, and countless journeys, here I
was in Kenya, in the heart of Africa, and the soundtrack just couldn't have been scripted any better.
After a lazy day recovering from the previous three days of travel, catching up with emails, and drinking yet more sickly sweet and horribly milky tea, I caught a bus south to Isiolo the following morning. Compared to being sat on top of a cattle truck, the rest of the journey was fairly uneventful, if incredibly bumpy and dusty. You could have almost called it comfortable compared to the previous trip. The highlight of the two days was a lunch stop in the Turkana village of Laisamis, surrounded by miles of seemingly endless desert in all directions. As we stepped off the bus, it felt like we were stepping back in time. The men, naked from the waist up, clothed in bright fushcia coloured robes, wearing extravagant headdresses of feathers, and carrying spears and clubs, and the women, several also topless, and with enormous brightly coloured necklaces weighing down their shoulders, could have been from another century. It almost made me wish I'd had time for the tribal region of Southern Ethiopia, and definitely made we regret not being able to see Loyongalani - it seemed so exotic to me, like nothing I'd ever experienced before, and as if life here hadn't changed in millennia. There's just too much to see, and just not enough time to see it all.
The low point of the journey was the stopover in the frontier town of Isiolo - where the developed and populated central region meets the badlands of the northern deserts that stretch to Ethiopia. At first it seemed like a fairly friendly town, but as night set in the streets became filled with glue-sniffing kids, bottles in hand, shoe-less and with dirty, torn clothing. As they saw us they started jumping, shouting, arguing, screaming, and babbling incoherently in high pitched tones at the white tourists in their midst. It was one of the worst moments I've ever had travelling - unnerving, heart-breaking, soul destroying. And it wasn't helped by seeing the streets littered with empty glue bottles in the morning. Where do they get them from? And if they buy them, who on earth sells glue to 10 year old children, and ruins their lives in the process? Needless to say, we didn't spend much time walking about, and headed back to the hotel, awaiting the bus early the following morning.
At 6am the following morning, and with the sun rising over the now empty streets, I boarded the bus to Nairobi. Eight days after leaving Djibouti, after six long, and sometimes painful, journeys, from the Red Sea, to the center of Ethiopia, and then south through lush tropical forest, over barren featureless deserts, and acacia dotted scrub land, I was finally approaching the city. By midday I would be half way between Cairo and Cape Town, half-way through my journey, and in a way, half-way home as well. Unfortunately, I'd also be in the most violent city in Africa...
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