Turkana North Kenya Adventure Safari
Two mornings and two evenings saw us arrive there – to raw rugged lands where a few years back it was said ‘there where only few people have been.’ We covered the most part of the Kenya Great Rift Valley map going south to north on the Turkana north Kenya adventure safari.
When you are looking to travel over 670 km, you will want to set off early. 6:00 am was good enough for us. In another season, the changing faces of Kenya would have been distinct as we went along. In that season, most of the country was a uniform green. It was the one time that looking at the road ahead, I paid little attention to the Rift Valley scenery; the beckoning Lake Naivasha, Lake Elementaita, Lake Nakuru. Our first stop was Kitale, the last big town on our journey. One hour after Kitale, escorted by heavy rain, we stopped for the night at Kapenguria.
Early on the 250 km Kapenguria – Lodwar stretch, we realized that it was no longer the road less traveled. The long time assumption has been that it is a lonely dangerous road. Insecurity incidences in the past caused that. I was amazed with the traffic company we had. Trucks with supplies destined for Lodwar – public passenger vehicles – buses. No, it was not my first time on that road. It was the second. There is the flying option that many people use. 90 minutes from Nairobi to the Lodwar airport.
Kapenguria is an elevated area. As we drove down to Marich Pass, losing altitude, it was scenic. The Cherangani Hills gave way to the Sekess Hills, and the river meandered around the hills. North Western Kenya is where we were specifically headed. Turkana County is the largest county in Kenya.
Turkana/On the way to Turkana Landscapes:
Being a Sunday, we saw people colorfully dressed for church. Traversing Kenya for the last 11 years, I long noted that it is always like that on Sundays. You will see people coming out in towns and shopping centres in their best wears. Nothing however beats Kenya’s northern communities’ traditional attire. It is a lot like the Masai traditional dressing. The Lake Turkana Annual Cultural Festival is the place to see it all. It is now a popular festival that calls people to Loiyangalani, a small town south eastern of Lake Turkana. There, the Turkana, Samburu, Rendille, Gabra, Borana….about 14 communities show off their culture to the world – music and dance, arts and craft, traditional costumes.
Let us call the Kapenguria- Lodwar road a ‘go slow road’ where you don’t run. If you do, it will rough you up. At times we drove at a low of 10 -20 Kph. At some points the choice was going off road because it was better than the completely eroded tarmac. At that minimal pace, there was time to see around. At Kainuk, the river Turkwel flowed hard and fast. The Nasolot National Reserve sign came up on our left just a few kilometers from Kainuk. Alongside the reserve was Mount Melo, quite a high one standing at 3,000 metres. We stopped to take in the scenery and take pictures. A short distance later to the right was a signpost to the Turkana South National Park. These are some of the not so visited Kenya parks because of the location.
Turkana County also has the Sibiloi National Park and Koobi Fora Historical Site – both Unesco World Heritage Sites. The Central Island National Park otherwise known as the Crocodile Island is located in the middle of Lake Turkana – the world’s largest desert lake. Lake Turkana is a permanent alkali lake formerly known as Lake Rudolf, and also referred to as the Jade Sea, as it appears jade in color from a distance.
Onward on the adventure safari, we passed small towns; Kakong, Kalemngorok. Midday found us at Lokichar, a slightly bigger busier town. At Lokichar was the guidepost to the operations of one the well known oil exploration companies in Kenya. The discovery of oil in Turkana County made the region Kenya’s new grand destination. Taking a break at Lokichar, we got forewarning of an overflowing supposedly impassable river that we had to cross. When we got to it, children were playing in it, running across, the water up to their knees. It looked harmless but there was need for caution. There was no bridge. Vehicles were waiting on either side. On unfamiliar routes you watch and you wait. When a local vehicle waded in we followed.
The road did things – bad things. We covered about 90km from Lokichar to Lodwar in 4 hours in the company of camels, cattle, goats and sheep on the way. The communities in that region are pastoral livestock keepers. The road, changing from bad to worse sought to teach us a driving lesson. Hitting a pothole about 20km to Lodwar, we had to stop and change a wheel with a bent rim.
Arriving on the Lodwar town good tarmac road after 9 hours of rough road was an out of this world experience. Lodwar is the largest town north western Kenya. It is the Turkana County headquarters. You will get comfortable hotels in Lodwar, and shops/a supermarket to buy things although not exactly everything like in the major towns. The Lodwar airport is within the town. And so is Mlima Lodwar. Hiking it, you will get an aerial view of the town.
The seasonal Kawalase River changed every plan of our adventure safari. We were to reach a place 150km from Lodwar town after crossing the river. Turkana County is bordered by Uganda, South Sudan, and Ethiopia, and some people blamed the river flooding to heavy rains in the neighbouring Uganda. Kawalase River got swollen and furious and was even shown on national television. The rain became plan marker, our pace setter.
The way the Turkana people have preserved their culture in the face of a fast changing world is part of the allure of traveling there – to experience their lifestyle. The boy I saw suckling a cow, I learned that it was his cow. Boys in the community are given their own cow or sheep at a young age. Later, it will be their work to take livestock grazing away from the village. Girls take up domestic roles – cooking, milking, selling milk….
There is arranged marriage and marriage for love in the community. Both call for dowry negotiations – dowry being livestock mostly. The Turkana people feast in weddings and feast in burials. The richer one is, the more the cows slaughtered during the feasts. I am yet to verify this one thing I was told there. Hopefully it is something that was done in the past. That proper burial is accorded those who are married and married right. That those who died not having done it right and the youth were simply left in the bushes. In Kiswahili they told me “ndio nyang’au ikule.” To put it politely in English I will say, they were left for nature to take its course. Children are named two weeks after birth. On the day of naming, the child is starved a little bit – no breastfeeding. As the mother holds the baby ready to resume feeding, names are called out. The name that propels the child to suckle is the name they are given, believing they like it.
There are sires in the Turkana community said to foretell things; warning of calamities and wars, advising on how to avoid them and intervening for the community. They are respected elderly men. There is a small ‘stool’ Turkana men carry with them everywhere. They call it ‘Ekicholong’ – used both as a seat and a pillow. A few other Kenyan communities use it also, giving it different names.
Turkana County is arid and one of the places you, like me, may want to reach on your next safari is Eliye Springs, a village said to be the oasis in the desert, about one and half hours drive from Lodwar. It is on the western shore of Lake Turkana. The lake is 50 km from Lodwar. Another place to check out is the Elmolo bay on the south eastern shore – home to the Elmolo people, Kenya’s smallest tribe. There are other routes to Turkana. Routes that will show you why it is said that traveling to Turkana is going to a whole different interesting world – the Chalbi desert, Mount Kulal, the Lava Desert….
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