A moment in time - Northern Kenya / Porsche 944
Hitting the piste on one of Africa's most notorious tracks; a 300 mile trail of mud through bandit country. In a Porsche 944.
(Taken from 'Survival of the Quickest', the book describing the AfricanPorsche Expedition.)
Coarse drum and bass rhythms thundered out from the Porsche’s stereo as we left Moyale, a synthesised voice chanting monotonically over a melee of hypnotic beats. Backing accompaniment was provided by the Porsche, and by Kenya. Wide tyres scrabbled on the saturated mud track, making a guttural sucking noise as the rubber separated from the mud, which became a dull buffeting sound as the heavy muck was sprayed against the car’s underside. A staccato drumming sounded out as the unwelcome rain hit the windscreen only a foot or so from our faces, while the wipers squeaked with their futile attempts to clear it. The exhaust droned away in the background, sometimes barking urgently to steal the show when the revs built against the slipping clutch while powering out of some water-filled pothole. Finally, the whistling wind tickled our ears from the open windows, which were letting in cooler air to counteract the heater, still jammed on hot.
We were in the middle of the adventure. The crux. The eye of the storm. Even in the dry, northern Kenya had promised some of the toughest, most dangerous terrain of the trip. The rains had arrived four days before us, and turned the rutted dirt tracks into an unforgiving mush. We would not see tarmac again for over three hundred miles - the distance between London and Edinburgh. It was going to be an interesting few days.
As well as the challenges of the terrain, Northern Kenya also threw up more sinister obstacles. Sparsely populated and beyond the reach of the law, the area is a haven for those who play by their own rules. The porous Somali border is nearby and banditry is rife, with shiftas targeting vehicles on a worryingly regular basis. Veteran travel writer Paul Theroux was shot at when he travelled this way, and when Ewan Macgregor and Charley Boorman, along with their support crew, passed through during their ‘Long Way Down’ expedition, they had armed guards travel with them in their big four-wheel-drives. We had no such luxury, only crossed fingers. Armed robberies and carjacking are a way of life here, and have given the area an intimidating reputation, as well as an irrational allure.
As well as the shiftas who prey on folk passing through the area, northern Kenya is also a hotbed of inter-tribal conflict. The area’s sparse natural resources and limited water sources are barely able to sustain its meagre population, so in times of hardship conflict between tribes often arises. In the good old days, these squabbles would leave a few unfortunate warriors worse off from encounters with spears and machetes. Today however, the ubiquitous Kalashnikov machine gun makes disagreements considerably more serious. These battles over resources are seldom reported in the Western press, being fought between combatants who care little for outside opinion, but despite this, occasionally news of a tragedy creeps out. In 2005, around sixty members of the Gabra tribe were killed when a school at Turbi, near Marsabit, was attacked in revenge of a previous theft of goats and cattle. Shortly after our visit to the area, over three hundred died in a tribal battle near Moyale. But more often than not, the news never reaches the outside world. This part of the world is truly one of the last remaining lawless wildernesses, seldom penetrated by governments or journalists.