The Road to El Wak, Mandera

Dusty! The road to El Wak. This is all you see for about 300km from Sololo

It was a three-day journey to El Wak. Granted, we took the longer route, rather than going through Garissa and Wajir, we went north through Isiolo, Marsabit and on to Sololo and finally east to El Wak.  But wait, I get ahead of myself.

Day 1. We drove from Nairobi with two Christian Aid consultants, Eston- the livelihoods, climate change and emergencies officer and he is also my coach, the driver Martin and myself. Again, like so many times this year I found myself to be the only woman in the car! It is part of the package I suppose. First stop – Isiolo. It’s a beautiful road past through Nanyuki, Timau and on to Isiolo. One just cruises on the flawless tarmac and watches the massive tracts of wheat glowing golden in the evening sun. Isiolo is also the last stop before you leave what I found out is known as ‘Kenya-A’.

Day 2. To proceed safely northwards, we had to hire two armed escorts to ride in a vehicle ahead of us till Marsabit some 277km away. Christian Aid has a ‘no weapons’ policy as do many humanitarian organizations working in insecure environments.  And the highway bandits happen to love the all-too-common white landcruisers driven about by so many NGOs.  The tarmac road ‘ends’ after Merille and the bandit territory begins. The Milima Wamba ( Wamba hills) and the wilderness between Laisamis and Loglogo are knows for their ambush-ready bandits.  At one point, our escort was speeding way ahead of us and barely had us within eye-shot. When they finally slowed down at a bridge, they excused themselves by saying that if they travelled slower, their Hilux would not cushion them from the rocks and bumps on the road. (Eyebrow raise- comfort-loving army men, hmm?) We travelled without incident except when our escort got a puncture in the middle of nowhere just before our arrival in dusty Marsabit.  But that was promptly dealt with in less than ten minutes and we were off again.

On arrival in Marsabit, some four hours after leaving Isiolo, I was hit by a wave of (dusty) nostalgia of the many weeks I had spent there not too long ago. We even stopped for lunch at the Nomad Trail hotel and I had their legendary pilau nusu na mboga. The waiters remembered me! We dropped off one of our consultants and in less than an hour we were off again, headed northwards to Moyale. That was the bumpiest, roughest most unforgiving ride of my life. We drove through Chalbi and Turbi deserts and it’s all rough, black igneous rock. Merciless. It felt like being thrown into a blender and shaken about relentlessly for about five hours. As though in protest, the latch holding the land cruiser’s bonnet down gave way and we had to drive at 20 km/hr for the last hour of the trip lest the bonnet come crashing back through the windscreen. We didn’t make it to Moyale, despite my campaigning for some injera, wot and bunna for supper on the Ethiopian side of the border. The latch had to be fixed and it turned out to be quite a drama. Martin the driver, took it to a ‘chomelea’ juakali guy to fix it but he didn’t do it properly so that the latch was stuck and the bonnet wouldn’t open. No problem, right? Wrong. They had undone the battery terminals before fixing the latch and so the car wouldn’t start. Eventually, the latch had to be sawed through and fixed the following morning since it was getting dark. We spent the night at a guest house run by the mission hospital in Sololo. I need to say that I witnessed in mortification the biggest, hybrid mutant cockroach ever in the history of evolution in the bathroom. End of story.

Day 3.  One of the consultants and I had to proceed to Takaba, from where the local partner would pick us up and take us to our final destination El Wak. After using sisal rope to tie down the bonnet of the car (some call it innovation, some call it being gangsta), we were on the road again by nine thirty am. This was total wilderness driving. The road was much less bumpy than the road from Marsabit to Sololo, but as though to make up for that, it was ridiculously dusty. It didn’t matter whether the windows were open or shut, this dust was aggressive and invasive and was maliciously determined to bathe us. It was a losing battle and so we accepted our dusty fate. We arrived in Takaba some five hours later whereupon we learnt that our partner had not arrived to pick us and was actually two hours away. There was no lunch in the town to speak of since it is Ramadhan and so we had sodas thankfully and were on the road again to El Wak.  125 km, 3 hours later we arrived in El Wak covered head to toe in dust and utterly exhausted but all together happy to have made it. Our destination after three days of travel?  A sandy, dusty little town solidly in Kenya-B where the Al Shabaab are known to frequent, about 9 km away from Somalia. Welcome to El Wak.


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