June 14th to 18th
14.06.2010 - 18.06.2010
So we continue on with our Turkana safari. We are way behind in uploading our blogs due to complications with getting onto the internet successfully but we will endeavor to keep up with our adventures. Just so you know we are in Livingstone Zambia at the moment and we begin our 3 week overland safari to Cape Town through Zambia, Botswana, Namibia and South Africa. Now back to Lake Turkana....
The next day (June 14th), we first drove north from Loiyangalani to an Elmolo village. The Elmolo form the smallest tribe in Kenya. At one point when the tribe was still living on Lake Turkana’s South Island, their number was as low as 99 members – they were moved off the island to the eastern mainland, where they now occupy two villages and number in the low thousands, in large part because they have married into other tribes. We were given a tour of the village by Number Two, an Elmolo guide who spoke good English. The Elmolo live on a diet that essentially consists solely of fish, and they rely on Lake Turkana for all their water needs. This combination has led, we were told, to their having discoloured teeth and various bone problems that seem to be more inconvenient than medically serious. We were shown their fishing rafts and boats, the inside of their huts, and, inevitably, their wares for sale. These were laid out inside a relatively large brick building and did not have all their makers sitting beside them, so we felt more at liberty to examine the Turkana-style stools, knives, bead work, dolls, calabashes and so on in greater detail than we have when the makers are sitting there pressuring us into buying things we know we don’t want so move on quickly without looking at other wares that we might have considered buying. I ended up buying a stool (to carry along with my stick in typical Turkana fashion) and a Samburu-style woman’s headdress.
El Molo drying fish to send to Nairobi
We ended our visit to the village by going up the hill at the back to see the cemetery on the other side, and to admire the view. Then we piled into the Landcruiser and went back to camp for lunch, stopping on the way at the Loiyangalani desert museum which was, unfortunately, closed.
In the afternoon, we took a boat ride (motor, to Dana’s relief!) to an island that was a few hundred metres out from the village we had gone to in the morning.
Lake Turkana View
We again stopped at the museum (it was situated on a bluff overlooking the lake, so was as accessible from the water as it was by road) only to find it still firmly locked up. We circumnavigated the island in order to see crocodiles which usually sunned themselves on the western side but which, that day, decided to lie elsewhere. We disembarked at Loiyangalani so that we could visit the Turkana section of the town (it has four sections occupied by different tribes – the other three being the Samburu, the Elmolo, and the Rendille). We watched our second Lake Turkana sunset from amongst the huts that cover the hillside we were on, smiled and touched hands with many friendly and curious children, and exchanged greetings with generally-more-distant teenagers and adults.
Early the next morning, immediately after breakfast, Dana and I walked to the huts occupied by the Turkana fisherman’s family that we had met our first afternoon at the lake. Only the mother was there with a couple of grandchildren and two men whom we’d not seen before. Though we were disappointed the father had already left with, presumably, the animals, we were happy to give the mother some money and to take photographs of her and the others who were there (Dana and I had felt great resistance in other places to paying people for permission to take photographs of them as elsewhere we had usually found that people liked to be photographed ..... in northern Kenya, however, we felt that making a contribution to the families’ income was right and natural as there were so few ways for people to earn any money). We had a lovely fifteen or twenty minutes with the family, then headed back fast toward the camp as we knew George wanted to leave as early as possible for our next destination, Tuum.
Here we will include some more photos of the Lake Turkana region. It may be that I included them in the last blog but it has been so long, that I have forgotten. So you may seem them twice!
Turkana Homes - What a setting!!
Our Turkana Family
Our Turkana Boat
Once on the road southward, it was not long before George stopped to tell us that this would be our last view of the lake. We were sad about this, but told each other that we would definitely be back – sooner rather than later!
We stopped several more times – once to admire some superb desert roses in full bloom, another time to help a vehicle that had stopped because it had a punctured tyre and no jack (reminiscent of our own situation back in the Serengeti), and, a bit farther on, in South Horr where we bought some locally produced honey and a few pieces of jewellery, and saw may Samburu moran striding along the road with supreme pride and confidence, chests bare, their reddened hair carefully braided, short swords at their waists, resplendent in their feathered headdresses, other beaded adornments and brightly coloured (often vivid pink) cloths wrapped around their hips.
Upon arrival at Tuum, we ate a swiftly prepared lunch before watching three camels being loaded with our overnight tents and other camping gear.
Our Camel Carers
Unloading the camels
We conversed all-too-briefly with Angelina Cowan and her two youngest children before we set off for the campsite, little over an hour’s walk away. Following the three loaded camels which were led by their carers, and accompanied by our two armed tourist police, as I walked along the rock-strewn path with occasional outcrops of solid rock, I was vividly reminded of the many times when, in southern Ethiopia in the period from ‘67 to ’69, I had followed my three mules loaded with camping gear and food, led by their muleteers, and accompanied by an Ethiopian guard armed with a 303 rifle, as we traversed very similar terrain. When we reached the campsite, we pitched our tent then explored a nearby stream.
We weren’t able to go upstream more than a few hundred metres as the boulders became too large to easily go around or over, so we climbed up the steep valley side and headed back toward the camp. A Samburu moran on his way to his home for the night, surrounded by many cattle, called to us and showed us .... a pair of reading glasses that Dana had earlier realized she had lost somewhere on her way to the camp! He asked us if we would give him some money in exchange for them, which Dana was glad to do. He also generously agreed to let Dana photograph him. He spoke excellent English, so we were able to ask him a bit about his life before he told us he had to get going to be sure he got home before dark.
The next morning, after breakfast, the camels were loaded up again and we continued our camel walk southward along the western foot of the Nyiro Mountains.
Joel, one of our tourist police and one of the camel carers
The first part of the walk was over undulating terrain similar to that we had traversed the previous evening, but after an hour or so, we entered a wide, flat, grassy plain. The camel carers asked if any of us would like to ride one of the camels – Dana volunteered, so a camel was made to kneel, one of the mattresses was taken out of its bag and draped over the top of the frame to which sacks were attached to carry baggage, then Dana was helped onto the “saddle”. I took a few photographs of this operation, of the camel rising to its feet, and of its taking a few steps. Somehow, the balance was way off, so that Dana began leaning uncontrollably to one side. The camel was asked to kneel again, and Dana dismounted, relieved to be back on firm ground!
My camel riding attempt!
No-one else wanted to try riding for it was evident that the saddle arrangement was unstable for riders if not for baggage, so we all continued on foot, turning west toward the road where George would be waiting for us with the Landcruiser. The rendezvous was made as planned, the camels unloaded, and we started for Maralal by retracing the final few kilometres of the previous day’s journey, then turning off along a track that was new to us. The condition of the road became steadily worse as we proceeded along it .... in many places, especially after we had passed through Baragoi, erosion had removed the topsoil so that we were driving over bare rock, and needed to use 4WD more than we had anywhere up to this point.
Is this a road??
One of the gorgeous views of the Rift Valley. Sadly, the view was not as clear as it could of been, but still beautiful.
We stopped briefly at some quarries, known as the Kikuyu quarries, where Mau Mau captives had worked back in the 50s (the rock was welded tuff that probably formed useful blocks for building). To make road conditions even more challenging, we were rained on. This resulted in the Landcruiser’s slipping on muddy rocks, which made Dana understandably nervous on a few occasions. George was unperturbed, however, and drove on confidently and safely. As we approached Maralal, the road became much flatter, but the ground was thoroughly marshy and the road became a mass of intertwining, twisting tracks through which George picked a way without getting stuck or lost. We eventually came to where we would be staying for the night – the Maralal Camel Club. We had a choice of camping in the grounds or, upon payment of a few extra dollars, of staying in one of the bandas which had hot showers. Tempting though the latter option was, we chose to camp, in large part because we knew this was the last night that Charles and Joel would be part of our group. Later that evening, however, we made use of the Camel Club’s bar to watch the Uruguay-South Africa soccer match in Pretoria as it was on the TV there.
The morning of 17th June was sad as we bade farewell to our two guards and, more to the point for us, our friends and companions of the preceding week. Both Charles and Joel had been amazingly warm, friendly and helpful, and we were sorry that we were now going our separate ways – they back to Isiolo, we to Lake Baringo for our last night of the journey.
Our Safari Trip Group Photo
The road improved throughout the morning, and we passed more vehicles than we’d seen for days. Close to Lake Baringo, the road actually had a tarmac surface in a reasonable state of repair! We reached the campground in the early afternoon, set up our tents, had lunch, and went to organize a boat-trip. Gametrackers offered an hour-long boat-ride as part of the safari, but we elected to double the time and paid a small additional charge. So – we set off in a good-sized fibreglass motor boat at about 3:45 p.m. We went slowly along the lake shore where we saw numerous pied kingfishers and where one of our two boatmen bought three small fish from fishermen who hand-paddled themselves around on small rafts made of some kind of locally grown balsawood (this in a lake that has a profusion of hippos and crocodiles!).
Baringo Fisherman - There are crocodiles in the lake!!!
Magical Lake Baringo
Then we started to cross the lake, heading for an island that, reputedly, generally had crocodiles warming themselves on the rocks. As we went, we saw a heavy rainstorm masking the hills on the shore to the southeast.
We began to go around the island, and as we got to the far side, found the wind picking up significantly. We saw a couple of crocodiles, and then a fish eagle that the boatmen whistled and waved their arms at – then one of them threw one of the three fish into the water about 10 metres from the boat ..... the fish eagle swiftly swooped down and snatched the fish out of the water. In the meantime, the wind had continued to strengthen and it was clear that rain would soon reach us, so we pulled into a bay on the leeward side of the island, clambered onto the shore, and began climbing a hill toward a small house (there were several houses on the island, apparently belonging to the single fisherman who lived there with several wives, each of whom had their own little hut). We arrived at, and were admitted into, the hut a few seconds before the storm let loose. For the next 45 minutes or so, the rain bucketed down in torrents and the wind blew with much force. We were hugely relieved to have found shelter with a young woman and her month-old baby, but were worried about our tent and all the items in it as we had decided against putting on a fly sheet! We were eventually able to reach George and Johanna by phone, and were assured that everything back in camp had been taken care of. Then, as quickly as the storm had started, it abated. The vegetation on the island looked fresh after the rain – and when we got back to the boat, the lake-water was much calmer than it had been when we landed.
Before going back to shore, the other two fish were thrown to the fish eagles. The boatmen gave indications of when to photograph in order to capture images of the eagle retrieving the fish from the water, but attempts to do this were unsuccessful. By the time we were back close to mainland shore, the time was after six p.m. and darkness was just beginning to approach. However, we had time to see a few hippos raising their heads out of the water to breathe, then quickly submerging again. We also saw hundreds of white egrets and herons, along with a few cormorants, standing in low bushes lining the shore. A few minutes of hippo- and bird-watching, then back to the dock to disembark and head back to camp for our last night. We found there had been no rain at the campsite – only some very strong winds. We could hardly believe that we had been through such a heavy rainstorm when located just a kilometre or two away!
The next morning, we rose early, packed our belongings, took down the tent, ate breakfast, then went down to the shore where Dana had already been photographing a largish (c. 2+ metre-long) crocodile gliding to and fro through the water. A smaller crocodile had emerged from the water and was lying motionless close to the lake edge. Dana and Dan took more pictures of it, then, led by George, we walked around the campsite looking at the many different birds flying around.
Amazingly he was lazing onshore
Evening gathering of birds
Dana wanted to visit the campsite shop as it had some relatively high-quality items on offer there, so she and I went there whilst George, Johanna and Dan finished packing the Landcruiser .... then we set off for our final cultural event of the journey – a visit to a small Pokot family village. This was probably the least commercialized village-tour that we’ve yet experienced.
Pokot Love Dance with Dana
The men and the women there (perhaps 15 in total) were amazingly welcoming – the women wore goatskin dresses and numerous necklaces, and their hair was distinctive with longish (10 to 15 cm) oiled braids. We were shown inside one of their huts, and treated to an archery display (Dan and I both shot four arrows, each managing to hit the target – a tree-stump – once).
Chris testing out his skills!
All the adult villagers gathered to dance and sing farewell to us – and invited us in turn to join them . Just as we were leaving, we decided to buy one of the half-dozen necklaces that had been hung on a tree for us to look at – it’ll bring us fond memories when we’re back in Regina.
And so we started the final stage of our journey – one which would end in Nairobi. We had one more stop, though – for lunch on the Equator. As Johanna was getting the meal ready, Dana, Dan and I were given a short demonstration of how Coriolis forces make water draining out of a hole rotate clockwise to the north of the Equator, anticlockwise south of the Equator, and not at all directly on the Equator. Hope I’ve remembered the directions of rotation correctly! It was really cool!
Back in Nairobi, we descended from the Landcruiser in the Sarit Centre carpark, took out all our belongings, and awaited our taxi for fifteen or twenty minutes. Once the taxi was loaded up with our gear, we bade a last farewell to George, Johanna and Dan, then headed to Vikki and Calum’s house to rest a bit and prepare for the next stage of our African adventure.