Day 124 Ethiopia : Deciding on a route to Kenya

Moyale-Marsabit-Isiolo to Nairobi ?

OR

Abru Minche-Omorate (Omo Vally) to Nairobi via Sibiloi National Park and Lake Turkana ?

 

Since we had started planning our adventure, we had heard some horror (??) stories about the Moyale-Marsabit-Isiolo road from Ethiopia to Kenya.  We were definitely leaning towards doing the Omo Valley route to Kenya but not having had any first-hand stories (they were all "friends of friends" stories), we had decided that we couldn't make a final decision till we heard from travellers who had done it, what the conditions were like on both routes.

The first stories relayed to us first-hand was from 3BoysOnBikes and Pete and Elza who we met in Wadi Halfa - we going south and they northbound - who had experienced their share of problems.  Of the 6 bikes that had come up, they had blown 5 shocks between them and declared the Marsabit-Moyale road as the very worst road they had ever experienced and would never, ever do it again.  Pete and Elza had also blown a couple of back shocks on their Landcruiser Fortuna and said that it was the very worst road they had ever come across.  The Grey Rovers, Jock and Marina, who we met up with in Khartoum at the Blue Nile Sailing Club were next.  They had lost part of their roof rack on the Marsabit-Moyale stretch because the road conditions had been that bad - corrugations and pot holes - and one of the big overland trucks had lost a dual wheel carrier with both spares!

So our decision was fast being made. 

But we had another couple of complications to address.  We had heard nothing of the Omo Valley route except what we had read on other travellers' blogs - this information was a bit sketchy - and we had to take into account our relative lack of off-road experience.  We had conflicting information on the state of the roads including the situation with rain and river crossings (this being the Ethiopian rainy season) and in addition we had the worry of Immigration and Customs stamps out of Ethiopia and into Kenya for our passports and carnets in a really remote part of both countries.  

Despite these worries though, we prepared to go.  Jorg and Anja had already said they were keen to do the Omo Valley route so we had addressed the issue of support for the off-roading by providing it for each other.  Iain (of Iain and Ryan) splitting up from Ryan, had expressed an interested in doing the route but needed help with additional petrol (which we carried in a 25l plastic oil drum on Sully's roof), water (we had plenty to share) and food.  So we offered him support and with our group of 2 cars and a bike started to prepare to do the Omo Valley route.

We allowed ourselves 2 weeks for the whole route Addis Ababa to Nairobi for a slow pace, problems we were to encounter that needed time to resolve and some time for lazing about at a spot that we all thought was worth lazing about in for a couple of days.  We provisioned up in Addis during our shopping sprees, topped up all our water tanks, filled the cars and bike up with diesel and petrol on our way out of Addis and left on a wet and grey Sunday morning.

So here are some first-hand facts that you may find interesting:

Trying to get information from anyone in Addis (and even down to Omorate) about the state of the roads in the Omo Valley and beyond can and be nigh on impossible.  What you hear is conflicting, locals guess at conditions based on the fact that it's rainy season and repeat stories that are not true.  Do yourself a favour and take these reports with a bucket of salt - the only true report you will get is from yourself when you see it with your own eyes.

There are loads of river/wadi crossings on the Omo Valley route that start at about Turmi.  Although we crossed this area in the rainy season, southern Ethiopia and Northern Kenya are both suffering from drought so the rains in these areas are late and haven't started.  As a result our whole route was dry and sandy even though some reports from people said that it was wet, muddy and impassable.  If, however, the rains have actually started, the river/wadi crossings will most likely be affected.  These effects may be little or large but again you will need to see these yourself to assess them.  I can imagine that the smaller rivers and wadis, even if they are raging torrents one day, will be passable the next with no further rain but the major part of the route that will be affected is the Omo River right next to Turmi - the road actually uses the river bed for approximately 500m.  The river is about 100m wide and from the looks of it when it has water, the levels can be up to 5 or 6m.  But again, check it out yourself.  Locals in Turmi reckon that it takes a couple of days without rain for the water to subside enough to cross so be prepared to camp alongside. The other river crossing to watch out for is just before Swari on the road to Wamba from Baragoi.  The river when wet has patches of quick-sand so do check this out carefully before crossing.

There is both a Customs and Immigration office in Omorate and you can get passports and carnets stamped here.

It is illegal to carry US$ out of Ethiopia without official paperwork which has to be obtained from Customs when you enter Ethiopia or in Addis Ababa.  If you are carrying US$ and haven't declared your dollars into Ethiopia then beware, if you declare them, they will be confiscated.

If you don't fancy driving to Omorate (it's a 36km round trip from the turnoff to drive into Kenya), there is an Ethiopian Immigration office 41km from the turn off to Kenya - on the Tracks4Africa maps, the office is right on the border line.  They stamp passports out only and no carnets so this might be an option if you didn't have your carnet stamped into Ethiopia and you don't fancy the round trip into Omorate.  Look out for a tumbled down corrugated iron shack.  It looks like a local house and is very easy to miss.  Even if you have had your passport stamped out of Ethiopia at Omorate and they stop you at this post, they will check your passport to ensure that it is properly stamped out.

There is currently a money changer in Omorate where you can buy Kenyan Shillings with Ethiopian Birr or US$ and although the rate isn't fantastic, for a small amount its adequate.

There is black market petrol available in Omorate - Iain bought some for his bike here.  As both cars have long-range tanks, we had filled up with good quality diesel in Abru Minche and we still had plenty of fuel on board, we didn't try to buy any here so can't confirm if there is any available but there are trucks driving into Omorate so there probably is diesel but again you will need to check this yourself.

Stock up on food and fresh items in Abru Minche (and even here it's quite expensive and some items hard to come by or not available) because after here there are very few places to stop and eat - maybe Omorate for some plain injeera - and from Omorate there is nothing until Loiyangalani in Kenya.

There is a border post on the Kenyan side at Ilheret.  Look out for the police station and you do need to register.  But they do not stamp your passport only record your details before you press on southwards.  They are happy for you to camp here so it's a great place to stop for the night but watch out for the desert winds that start after sunset - they are wicked and are about a force 7-8 and gusting up to 70mph.  This wind blows from just after sunset to around 10 or 11am every day and follows you from Ilheret to beyond Loiyangalani.

There are very few official campsites south of Lake Langano.  We stayed in a pension in Abru Minche (you can camp in the car parks in secure parking), wild camped just before Turmi, spent the night at the police station in Ilheret, Kenya.  The next official campsite is Koobi Fora in Sibiloi National Park, Alia Bay in the park and Loiyangalani, then we wild camped again in Baragoi before reaching Timau south of Isiolo. 

Park fees for Sibiloi are expensive and you are charged at the south gate on the way out.  It's currently US$20 per person for each 24hour period plus KSH300 per vehicle.  It costs KSH500 each to camp at Koobi Fora and Alia Bay in Sibiloi.  Prices for the national parks are published by the Kenyan Wildlife Service each year and Sibiloi is listed as a "special interest" park if you need to check prices before leaving on a trip.

Parts of the Omo Valley route don't appear in Tracks4Africa, so until this gets updated, it's back to navigating the old fashioned way with paper maps so make sure you have a good set for Ethiopia and Kenya. 

#1 John Cox on 8.30.2009 at 10:13 AM

Hi you two.

Good info as always have missed the up dates and was wondering how things were going.So lets know about the road to Nairobi(Jan your public is waiting)

We are filling in the Carnet application today so things are starting to move on at this end leaving date is the 15 Oct all been well.Will have to go some for that beer but we will rock up somewhere.

Take Care see you both soon.

John and Denise.

****

Hi Coxy, fab news that you have a leaving date!!! The road to Nairobi was hard via Omo Valley but wouldn't have missed it for the world.  Had 1 puncture and our Landcruiser friends blew a shock mounting (the weld bust) funny thing was, it happened when we turned onto the road to Isiolo so we can still say that the Marsabit-Isiolo road was the cause!!!. Anyway we calculated Omo Valley route to be 1003km of REAL off-road and wild, wild environment from Konso to Archers Post. Have you read the article about the comparison - no contest as far as we're both concerned? Let me know if you want our tracks as Tracks4Africa have some roads missing.

PS: Beer still chilling :o)

 

 

#2 John Cox on 8.31.2009 at 11:26 AM

Sorry Jan - I have now read your road comparison - good information. Would you have done that route if you had to do it alone? W'e'll make the decision when we get to Addis - hopefully we will meet up with other travellers. We've just been downloading tracks for Africa today and can see that there is not much information on that route. Would appreciat your tracks. Also, sorry to be a pain but how many pages in your passport have you used up to now with visas etc. I think I have enough but want to be sure?? Coxy