Lake Turkana, North Kenya Tour

Lake Turkana, North Kenya Tour

Driving north towards the Samburu national reserve is a journey I have taken very many times over the years. What I longed for was to drive passed Samburu and go completely northwards. Our Lake Turkana, North Kenya tour therefore became a song that i sang tirelessly weeks before the trip.  

It is not just Samburu, I tour the majority of Kenya parks often. The north, however, is a direction I had gone only twice before this Lake Turkana, North Kenya tour. This is not the case for my friend John Kabuga. He has led tours to the unique northern Kenya destinations for the past 30 years. He invited me on this trip.

From Archers post ‘wait a bit’ bushes were everywhere. You will want to wait a bit on many locations along the way, since northern Kenya journeys are unique tours experiences.

The Nyambene hills were far off across a vast green field of wait a bit thorn bushes. The Matthews Range was on the other side. After the junction to Wamba from Archers post we made a brief ‘wait a bit’ to admire Mount Ololokwe. It was a good spot to take pictures of the mountain. People take pictures there, and then they go ahead to hike up to the top of Ololokwe. We did not go hiking but I heard that it is quite a view you will get up there. 

We left Ololokwe behind but the Matthews ranges stayed with us for a good while – sometimes appearing close, sometimes drifting away. The range is said to be 150 km long. Serolipi was the first shopping centre we reached. It was the first of several small centres we visited – all with interesting names. The roadside in this area was marked by tall red termite mounds.

Merile was the second centre. People there were dressed colourfully. Both men and women had beaded head gear. Moreover, the young men were adorned with mirrors and combs around their necks and wrists. It was a market day – a Tuesday. Bright clothes had been hanged for sale in the open air market.

The Places: Lake Turkana, North Kenya Tour

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The Matthews range was with us even up to the turn off at Laisamis towards South Horr. The short rains had made things green for the livestock but the seasonal rivers were dry. There was a lot of sand in them. I wondered how passable they would be when it rained heavily since many did not have proper bridges. Flocks of Quelea flew from riverbed to riverbed. These seed/grain eating birds are farmers’ enemies. They are considered to be pests. Quelea are nomadic and move in large numbers.

Darkness caught us before we got to camp but never mind us, there was a boy we met about 10 years old, he had a cow, and the cow had a newly born calf that could barely walk. He was tasked with helping it home. Home did not seem to be near. It is the work of men and boys to mind the livestock in pastoralist communities.

Ngurunit is a small town nestled at the foot of the ndoto hills. It is where we spent the first night, and an extremely hot night at that. At first light I was outside bird watching. Hornbills, the superb starling, golden breasted starling, and the kite are some of the birds that paraded at the camp in the morning.

We got started with a short hike to the ndoto hills. We had not gone up much when our guide stopped to receive a call. Apparently, there were elephants right on the path we took so we had to turn back. I noticed a tortilis tree branch that had been pulled down and chewed. Only one animal was capable of reaching such a height to break a branch. There had been elephant droppings at the camp also.

There is this ‘water place’ we were determined to visit in Ngurunit. It had a natural water slide with water that flowed down from between two big hills. A young Samburu warrior called the hill on the right Makinyonye, the other was a tongue twister. The young warriors knew the terrain and the ndoto hills like the back of their hand – I was impressed. 

After the Ngurunit morning excursion there was enough time to have lunch back at the hotel and then head to Loiyangalani. If we had a whole day there I would have given serious thought to doing some rock climbing on Mount Poi. I had seen Mt Poi way back after the Laisamis Marsabit junction. At Ngurunit area we sort of drove at the base of it. I was informed that it would take about 8 hours to reach the summit.

A school, a few shops, and a wide dry river bed is how we found Iluat shopping centre. We crossed the river bed and turned into what I will call the village of the rendile man. It was a small village and I quickly learned that the rendile man was a respected elder. Here also the people had colourful attire. We asked about the dressing and jewellery, and went away knowing that the village ladies wearing earrings were the married ones, while the unmarried did not have this privilege. 

Just before the Maralal Baragoi junction the landscape changed. It became rocky hills with very little vegetation. South Horr shopping centre was the biggest of those we had passed. There were more people there. The dry landscape seemed to get drier as we drove towards the Lake Turkana Wind Power Project. It was rock covered land. The road however was better. It was almost asphalt. The wind turbines went from being merely white points a distance away to becoming quite many over a wide area. We went through some security checks before finding a spot to take a good close look at the turbines. The turbines turned slowly, sometimes stopped turning, even changed direction. They were big and there is the sound they make when spinning. We saw that there is an airstrip at the  Lake Turkana Wind Power Project.

It continued to be rocky as we journeyed on. The scent of the rain reached us. Somewhere not far away it had rained. 

The Locations: Lake Turkana, North Kenya Tour

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Lake Turkana formerly known as Lake Rudolf is the largest desert lake in the world. It was our prize for the day. We parked at a place where we could see it in its vastness. It was jade in colour. It is the algae that makes it jade. The islands in the lake were visible – the Central Island National Park and the Sourthern Island National Park. Crocodiles are said to thrive there. Mount Kulal was also in the picture to our right. 

We followed the road along the shore and came across a few members of the Turkana community moving to a new village. Donkeys carried their possessions. One allowed us to take a picture.  

The Elmolo people live on the shores of Lake Turkana. The Elmolo tribe is the smallest tribe in Kenya. Only a handful of people speak the original Elmolo language now. Inter-marriage and social interaction with the bigger surrounding communities has caused a gradual disappearance of the Elmolo language. We found women constructing a hut with duom palms. It is the women who build houses/huts in many traditional Kenya communities. We were shown a place of worship where only selected male members of a certain sub-clan are allowed to enter.

The ancient rock drawings in Loiyangalani are said to be 2,000 years old. We saw some on a rock, although a big part of it had corroded. More such rock art can be found towards Mt Kulal. We unfortunately did not have enough time to walk the rocky terrain to see them. Traditional antiques, tools, and artifacts are what you will find in the Loiyangalani desert museum. The museum has lodging self catering cottages right by the lake. 

We were at a local beach before sunset the following day when a boat docked. Four young men arrived with a big catch of fish. They had been in the lake for a few days, staying there and sleeping there. Mudfish, Catfish, Solomon’s fish, and Nile perch are some of what they get. 

Gus is the flat land area where we found many Gabra people. There is an oasis there – a good source of water. Like in Loiyangalani, there are areas with water and areas without. In such places the local community journey with their donkeys in search of fresh clean water. Lake Turkana is salty and not good for consumption. Duom palm trees flourish around the oasis, and camels too, although we found very healthy ones in areas where I thought there was nothing to eat or drink. It was hot in Gus. There was a point where we thought that we were driving towards a large mass of water that moved as we moved. It was the mirage created on both sides of the road by the heat. 

We just had to go to the sand dunes. We chose the biggest. I thought it would be tricky to get to the top but it was not. It had rained in North Horr making the sand compact. Further on, I asked about the makeshift beds I saw outside huts in homesteads. I was told that men prefer to sleep outside as it is too hot in the huts, and that they go in when it gets cooler from about 3:00 am.

It was still a flat semi-desert heading to Marsabit. We passed the desert town of Elgade on our way to Kalacha. We could see the Huri hills in the direction of the Kenya Ethiopia border. On one side of the road were hills of rock while on the other side sand dunes had formed. Small Gabra villages were spread out in Kalacha. We wanted to pass through the Chalbi desert but it was impassable because of rain runoff. At Kalacha we encountered camel wealth again and an oasis. Out of kalacha, onward to Segel, was a surrounding of volcanic rock as far as the eye could see. There was a place where molten volcano rock piled up several feet high again.

It was as if there was a line separating the starkness of where we had been and the green of Marsabit. The vegetation changed in great contrast.

I married adventure is a book about Martin and Osa Johnson who at some point lived at lake paradise. Lake Paradise is a crater lake located in Mount Marsabit, in the Marsabit National Park. From Gof Redo, we passed through Marsabit town, to the park. The lake is surrounded by indigenous forest. We couldn’t spend as much time as we wanted admiring the unique lake since it was raining. The movie  Constant Gardener was also partly filmed in locations we visited on our Lake Turkana, North Kenya Tour.  

The Elegant People: Lake Turkana, North Kenya Tour

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