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Roadtrip Africa (9) | Oloitokitok and surroundings

caribu! In other words, welcome to my adventurous roadtrip blog about Africa. I'm Eric and I travel (already three years now) with a scooter and a car through Africa. In this blog I stay for a week in Oloitokitok (Kenya) and explore the area. Including a few illegal trips to Tanzania en Amboseli. And a flat tire in Maasai land.

Maasai flat tire service near Amboseli
Maasai flat tire service near Amboseli

In the higher realms of Oloitokitok

During the day I hardly notice that I am in Oliotokitok at an altitude of 2.500 meters. In the morning and evening it is a different story. The temperature drops towards five to ten degrees. The beautiful Maasai rugs really come in handy.

I've decided to keep quiet for a few days. Driving around on the scooter in and around Oliotokitok, roaming the market and greeting everyone. After a day or two you know half the village (and the whole village knows you). 

Oliotokitok is a town with barely 5.000 inhabitants (and then I count the surroundings for convenience). The Maasai from the area come here to do their shopping. There is a fairly large police station, as it is on the border with Tanzania. But there is no official border crossing! For that you have to go to Tarakea, about ten kilometers to the southeast. Via this border post you go south-east around Kilimanjaro and after 70 km you reach Moshi and Arusha (150 km).

There is also an unofficial or rather illegal way. At least for me. The local population does not care much about the borders. The Maasai just go where they want to go. I doubt anyone here has an official passport at all.

NB it is Covid time and that means a legal border crossing comes with a Covid test if you drive into Tanzania and not for Kenya (blog to follow when I travel to the Serengeti in December). Strangely enough, Tanzania does not have a mask obligation, while it is quite strict in Kenya (not in Oloitokitok). But no test is mandatory for Kenya.

There is a welcome sign but no border control in Ronkai, Tanzania
There is a welcome sign but no border control in Ronkai, Tanzania

The smuggling route to Tanzania

After a delicious breakfast I decide to get on my scooter. I drive through the woods and occasionally meet a motorcyclist. Usually heavily overloaded, but why I don't know yet. At a Catholic school, the road comes to a dead end. I choose another forest path. And after fifteen minutes I have left the forest and find myself in Tanzania.

There I suddenly drive on a beautiful asphalt road towards Rongai. In Rongai I am immediately the talk of the town. The cell phones are being pulled: time for selfies with the mzungu. The village chief then explains to me exactly how the border works. 'Look. Here is the sign 'Welcome to Tanzania' and there 'Welcome to Kenya'. The asphalt road continues to the Kenya sign. The Kenyans have only forgotten to continue on the asphalt road. So if you drive on, you just come back to a forest path. There is no police or customs.'

Selfies with Maasai in Ronkai (Welcome to Kenya sign is partly visible in the background)
Selfies with Maasai in Ronkai (Welcome to Kenya sign is partly visible in the background)

In this time of Covid, this is very convenient, I think. The asphalt road from Rongai continues west for another 30 km and stops in Kamwaga. On the map I see that I can just drive back into Kenya from Kamwaga. When I do, I descend and end up in Amboseli National Park…

Today it is too late to give substance to that. It is almost dark and I meander along a forest path and a lousy cobbled road back to Olloitokitok.

The cattle market of Kimana

It is Tuesday today and that means that there is a cattle market in Kimana, 20 km from Oloitokitok. I must see that!

Born and raised in Zwolle, I regularly visited the cattle market in Zwolle in the 1970s and 1980s. As a child I found it very fascinating. The Zwolle cattle market in and around the IJsselhal. At three o'clock in the morning I walked across the parking lot on Thursday night and saw those farmers with fat wallets full of green notes of 1.000 guilders park their Mercedes. Then I followed the ritual: hand clap, piss off the cow, walk away, come back and give the last firm blow: sold. That was once in Zwolle. Sometime in the 1970s and 1980s. Every Friday. 

The cattle market in Kimana
The cattle market in Kimana

Nowadays, our livestock trade has been going through the internet for decades, but in Kimana it is still just the Zwolle cattle market in 1980. 

Traders walk past the goats and cows. Occasionally they tap an animal with their stick to feel whether there is enough meat on it. And then the negotiations begin. Just like in Zwolle, it is a scene of hand-clapping. Walk away. Come back again and then suddenly that ultimate handclap. Sold! Then the animals disappear into the cattle trucks.

The cattle market in Kimana
The cattle market in Kimana
The cattle market in Kimana
The cattle market in Kimana

It is also busy on the other side of the cattle market. There I decide to give my scooter a treat. After all that sand in Amboseli, that is not an unnecessary luxury.

Scooter wash in Kimana

A perilous tour in Amboseli

Again I took the forest path and have now passed Kamwanga in Tanzania. I follow the asphalt road for about 30 kilometers on the northern side of Kilimanjaro. Then the asphalt road stops and I descend on sandy paths past some settlements. From 2.500 to 1.000 meters. After two hours I drive on cow tracks and the vegetation consists only of thorn bushes. The first giraffes have also reported. Unnoticed I am unofficially in Amboseli NP.

After a few Maasai settlements I follow Google Maps. And although I thought I had enough gas with me, the tank is starting to empty again.

Kamwanga in Tanzania at the foot of Kilimanjaro
Kamwanga in Tanzania at the foot of Kilimanjaro

The Serena Lodge – where I stayed before – now looms. Perhaps they can spare a liter of petrol. However, the reception at the entrance is not at all cordial. 'You are not allowed to come here on a scooter at all. This is national park. I'm calling the head of security!'

Serena Lodge's capo is downright scumbag. 'You just figure it out. You cannot buy petrol from us. And if you don't leave soon, we'll call the rangers. This is completely illegal and dangerous!' I point out a few Maasai walking a few hundred meters away with a herd of cows. 'Perilous? What about her? You're not going to tell me that the elephants here distinguish between Maasai and me?'

Adamant. I can't even buy a cup of coffee at the restaurant. 'It bothers me a bit. I spent two nights here last week and everyone was so friendly…”

I decide to inquire with the Maasai. One jumps on the back of my scooter and ten minutes later I have two liters of petrol. It turns out to be special gasoline. The price is three times higher than the normal rate. And it has been tampered with (so it contains more water than gasoline).

It is now five o'clock. Two more hours at most and it will be pitch dark. However, I'm getting off the road again (if there is one at all). I drive over the sand and try to avoid the thorn bushes. Until I suddenly find myself face-to-face with a male elephant. He is definitely not relaxed and comes rushing towards me at a considerable speed. Heart palpitations… I really race through everything. I don't look back, just go.

After five minutes or so I lost it. I get off my scooter and look at the result. I'm covered in blood. The razor-sharp thorns have wreaked havoc. They go right through my slippers and also through my back tire, but I don't notice that until the next morning.

It's dusk. I get help at a Maasai kiosk. I buy three liters of petrol and a Maasai will escort me to the Kimana gate of Amboseli. 'There are some fine lodges there. It's just not possible to drive to Oloitokitok now.

Sentrim Amboseli Lodge

After half an hour we are at the Kimana gate. The park rangers greet me warmly. They still remember me and refer me to Sentrim Amboseli Lodge. “A mile from here. A great lodge!'

At Sentrim Amboseli Lodge, the receptionist is quite concerned. "Sir, you're covered in blood." The first aid kit is brought in. And an hour later I am plastered enjoying an excellent dinner. Oh and why be lucky? I get a full board price of 50 euros. And that also applies to the other lodges of the Sentrim chain. Let Sentrim have one of the most beautifully situated lodges in Africa in Tsavo East National Park…

The next morning, of course, I first enjoy a delicious breakfast, lounge around the pool for a few hours and then grab lunch. I leave with the manager's phone number of Sentrim Tsavo Lodge in my mobile. After a few minutes I notice that my scooter is acting very strange. oops. A flat tire…

It takes less than five minutes before a few Maasai pass on a motorcycle. They direct me to a Maasai settlement. Seven holes is the result of a short inspection. All thorns that went through the rear tire during my flight from the elephant. Those were all tiny holes and so my rear tire deflated very slowly.

A bicycle pump, a knife and a wrench. That's all. And the Maasai have knives, bicycle pumps and I have the spanners. Fortunately I still have a new inner tube in my scooter and an hour later I am happily driving on towards Oloitokitok.

They are very happy that I am back. The ladies of the Kilimanjaro Lodge found my luggage in an empty room. 'We are so happy. That the receptionist called us last night. That you were safe and sound with them. Have you eaten yet?'

A chicken is plucked from the yard and appears on my plate an hour later.

A fresh chicken in the kitchen of Kilimanjaro Lodge, Oloitokitok
A fresh chicken in the kitchen of Kilimanjaro Lodge, Oloitokitok

In the next blog I will take a truly unforgettable ride. From Oloitokitok to Taveta on a sandy track. To then go on safari for four hours on a brand new highway straight through Tsavo National Park.


What is it like to drive more than 10.000 kilometers in Madagascar on a locally bought scooter? Or on a pikipiki (scooter in Swahili) through East Africa? In more than 20 years I have visited more than 100 countries. This has resulted in a lot of priceless travel experiences, which I would like to share with you.

– Currently in Kenya.
– Share unique travel experiences.
– Favorite destinations: Madagascar, Uganda, Japan, India and Colombia.

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