A Travellerspoint blog

Shimoni to Malawi (June 26 - July 4)

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Now I will describe some of our experiences whilst we were staying in Shimoni, a small fishing town located on the southern coast of Kenya. We had heard about Shimoni from Rob whom Chris had met in England in April. We were still hoping to find a place where we could snorkel as, so far, it had been impossible because of the condition of the sea at this time of year. It’s the rainy season here, which means the rivers pour lots of sediment into the sea. In addition, the sea is often rough, so, where it is relatively shallow, it churns up the sediments on the seafloor. These two factors combine to make visibility in the water too poor to see very much.

We had initially thought we would pitch our tent in the Kenya Wildlife Service campsite, but when we saw the site, we decided that it was not very workable (even though we would have had a large tortoise as a neighbour!). As we walked back along the street toward the town centre, we noticed Betty’s Camp and decided to check it out. Edward, the manager, greeted us and invited us to see rooms. As it was out-of-season, no other guests were staying there, and we were able to get a room for a much-reduced price. We ended up taking a room which was basically an open-air balcony overlooking the ocean and providing a great view of Wasini, an island lying parallel to the coastline on the other side of a channel some 500 m wide. We were really delighted with our room and have included a photo so you can see it too.

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Our airy room

Betty’s camp even had a very clean swimming pool which we much enjoyed using. We were the only guests. Our meals were served to us by Raphael, a Samburu (we had visited a Samburu village near the start of our Turkana trip). Raphael was tall, proud and very gently spoken, and wore purple finger-nail polish (young Samburu men often dress in the most amazing clothes and adornments!). He told us that he had dressed as a moran for few years.

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Edward, Chris and Raphael

Our first day we visited a very small beach (the size mainly influenced by the fact that we went at high tide), and we loved swimming in the warm ocean water. The next day we arranged with Saidi, who owned a small boat, to go across to Wasini Island for some snorkeling just off a jetty. We were not disappointed! The seafloor was really gorgeous with a huge variety of corals that we had not seen before. Also, there were many very colourful fish that were new to us. We felt greatly privileged to be able to experience all of this. We spent close to two hours swimming around with Mohammed, our guide. He looked after us well, floating along close to us, pushing a life ring. The crazy thing was that he had no mask or snorkel so he was hung out with us for all that time. He had patience, but was shivering cold when we eventually got back in the boat (we were nice and warm, though).

Our next stop was for lunch at the Wasini Hotel. The meal was amazing and we ended up having lunch there for the next three days. It included crab, red snapper and sea asparagus which is exposed at low tide in various places along the shore. Our table was decorated with bouganvillia and other beautiful flowers, and - of course - we had the most gorgeous view of the sea which was an amazing turquoise colour.

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Our favourite restaurant on Wasini Island

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Looking across to Wasini Island

We also visited what was known as "the coral garden", an area of old, dead coral mounds with, in places, mangrove trees growing thickly between the mounds. The first time we saw it there was no water at all and I wondered if it ever became immersed. The next time we visited was as the tide was coming in, and we watched the whole area fill up in less than 30 minutes. In most places, it was at least 2 feet deep and in some, more than 4 feet. I was completely enchanted! The women of Wasini Island have developed the coral garden by building wooden walkways - they charge a small admission fee which helps support the island community. We met the woman who was taking the fees for our visit - she ended up coming back in the boat with us when we returned to Shimoni that evening.

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"Coral garden" low tide

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"Coral garden" high tide

Over the next two days, we were part of a couple of failed attempts to go to the highly regarded Kisite National Marine Park. We had heard that the fish and corals in this park are numerous, colourful and large. We had talked to many men about being taken to the park and finally settled on one named Rashidi who seemed both honest and concerned about safety, which I like when we are sailing on the ocean. Despite our careful choice, Rashidi, at the last minute, told us he had another commitment that he needed to take care of, so he introduced us to another Mohammed who would be the captain of our boat. I took an instant dislike to this man. He had a very strong macho energy about him and I felt I couldn’t trust him but - what to do? So there we were on this boat with about 18 other passengers. We started out trip in quite calm water but then began to head out to sea, in a direction that did not make sense to us. We thought he was looking for dolphins, but when the sea started to get quite rough, we headed back toward one end of Wasini Island. I was a bit suspicious about the way the engine sounded and thought that maybe they were running out of fuel. Sure enough, when we got back to near the island, Mohammed announced that they were out of fuel and that we needed to wait for someone to bring more. Half an hour went by before a boat arrived with the extra fuel. Mohammed then announced that we would be heading back for lunch which meant we would be going in completely the opposite direction to the one we needed to go to the marine park. Despite everyone’s objection, Mohammed and his crew headed for the restaurant. We all knew that, by the time lunch was over, low tide would be past so going to Kisite would be pointless as the water there would be too deep for us to be able to see the fish and corals very clearly. Everyone was very frustrated as we realized that the crew had no intention of taking us to Kisite.

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A sailing dhow

When Rashidi found out what happened, he told us we could go the next day without paying, and that he would for sure be the captain. Our second trip was a completely different experience from the first, and we felt much more confident throughout. The water was rough as we went toward the park, and several people became seasick. Other passengers knew of a man who had died whilst snorkeling the week before, so they were pretty uncomfortable in the rough water. The long and short of this second attempt was that quite a few people insisted on turning back when we were two-thirds or more of the way to our destination. Strike 2!

I had seen a large boat, the Monsoon, come to pick up passengers at the Shimoni jetty every morning, so I decided to see if it went to Kisite and, if so, whether we could go too. Amazingly, we were told we could - for just over $100 for both of us. The trip was wonderful, and I felt much more confident in this larger boat, though the sea was really quite rough again.

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On board on the "Monsoon"

The snorkeling was really amazing. Some of the fish we saw were huge, as were the corals. I felt that we were getting an experience that we might have had were we scuba diving - but we were just snorkeling! The highlight came when we arrived at our second snorkel site and saw that dolphins were there. Several other smaller boats similar to those we had been in the days before were already there, and the dolphins seemed to be entertaining each of them. We dove into the water and, sure enough, we were swimming with the dolphins! It was an other-worldly experience - something that I have wanted to do for such a long time. I was just feet away from these majestic, streamlined beings. We had several "visitations" and then they disappeared into the blue. When I got back into the boat, I had tears of joy running down my face. I never thought I would have this experience, let alone in such a natural way.

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Dolphins!

We decided to take the trip again the next day as it felt too special to leave without seeing Kisite once more. I wanted to really take in the beauty of this underwater paradise. I knew that we would not likely see dolphins again as this is very hit or miss. The water this second day at the Marine Park was choppier than before, but this did not take away from our experiences of seeing an electric ray, several different kinds of moray eels and an octopus to name just a few of the amazing creatures and scenes that met our eyes. But the day also held its own very special treat. A turtle! We were told by our guide that was a hawksbill turtle. Not only did we see it, but for a while I was swimming less than a foot away from this beautiful creature. It was not at all shy so we were able to be with him or her for a few minutes. This was another very wonderful experience - one that made the day seem very special indeed.

Back in Shimoni, we readied ourselves to leave very quickly as we wanted to get to Tanga that evening, and it was a bit of a crazy trip. We had snuck in our snorkeling at Kisite hoping that we would be able to make it to Tanga. We started our joureny on “piki-pikis” (motor bikes). Each of us was on the back of a bike with a local person driving. Our packs were tied precariously on the luggage rack behind us. The road was deeply rutted, thick loose sand in many places, damp sand in others. How the locals put up with it, I have no idea. They are much too patient!

We got to the main Mombasa-Tanga road after traveling 15 kms on the sandy road. We left the piki-pikis and hopped onto a matatu, basically a minivan which takes about 14 passengers plus whatever else they can fit in. It was an incredlbly uncomfortable ride but we got to the border town okay. There we hired some men with bicycles to take our packs while we walked alongside the bicycles to the border. We got through easily and then continued on our way by catching a small bus to Tanga. We arrived there after dark. Our first task was to find a room to stay in. We first checked the best option mentioned in the Lonely Planet, but it was full. When asking locals for other options, Chris met a young man named Selim who works for Tayodea, a community organization that does local hikes. We knew Toydea well from our trek in the Usambaras in May. Selim very kindly showed us the way to another hotel that cost a whole $8 a night. The best thing was that he knew which bus we had to catch early the next morning to get to Dar Es Salaam from where we would take a train or bus to southwestern Tanzania. Selim had other people he was seeing off on a bus even earlier that next morning so, once he had done that, he came to take us to the station. There we were on our bus at 6 am in the morning! We felt blessed by our meeting with Selim, as otherwise our travel could have been much more complicated and slower. Over and over again on our trip we found these guardian angels who showed us the way. It was an amazing experience.

We arrived in Dar Es Salaam about one in the afternoon, much later than we had anticipated. We gave up hope of catching the train as we knew it departed at two, but when we found out that the bus that we hoped to catch to Mbeya was no longer running because that particular busline had gone out of business, we decided to take a taxi to the train station just in case the train's departure had been delayed. Basically we were trying to avoid the bus station in Dar as it has a reputation of being a nightmare, especially for foreign tourists. Sadly we discovered that we had just missed the train, so had no alternative but to go to the bus station. As soon as we arrived there - and as we had experienced elsewhere in Tanzania - we were mobbed by local guys telling us what we should do and that they should take us to a busline office to get our tickets. It was pretty overwhelming, though, with time, we learned to just walk away until we were able to make a decision about what to do. We wanted to just get out of Dar as it is known as a place where you can be robbed very easily. The guys at the station were adamant that we could not get out of town that day, then catch an express bus next day from somewhere else along the road to Mbeya (we later found out that all of them were lying to us in almost everything they told us!). We ended up having to stay in Dar despite my not wanting to, after we had bought two seemingly expensive tickets. An apparently very helpful young man named Emanuel had helped Chris buy the tickets, then took us to a nearby hotel, newly built, which was clean and comfortable. The next morning, he showed up to take us back to the station. I was suspicious about the whole thing, but what to do? When we got to the station, the bus that we had tickets for was not there. Emmanuel told us it had broken down and tried to put us on a much smaller bus. We refused this and found a larger, more comfortable bus that would be going to Mbeya. We managed to get on the bus, but soon were told that we could not have the seats we wanted. Instead we had to sit in the half of the bus that had three adjoining bench-style seats (rather than the two-seat benches we had paid for), each of which was incredibly skinny. Our seatmate was not a small man, so we were all very cramped and uncomfortable for the entire fourteen-hour trip. I was not a happy camper! To add to our dissatisfaction, we learned that we had been charged twice as much money for the ticket as we should have been (I wonder if that bus really had broken down or if it was some excuse to put us on a much cheaper bus .....). We were really fed up with some of the run around we had been given in Tanzania. We had not experienced this in Kenya.

A few hours into the 14-hour trip, the bus stopped at the side of the road and the almost everyone got off and peed behind nearby bushes. I must say I was too shy as I was the only white woman on the bus. Later I discovered that the women find a place by themselves to pee so likely the next time I might be more comfortable with relieving myself in this way. Our next stop was pretty much the halfway point on the journey. There, we had time either to buy food or to pee - there was no time for both! I don’t think we would have eaten anyway, judging by the food we saw other passengers eating!

After arriving at Mbeya and surviving our mobbing at the bus-station, we quite quickly found a hotel to stay in even though it was a bit dingy. The highlight there was meeting a Dutch couple who, some thirty years ago, had spent three years in the area as volunteers. It was great to talk to them and hear about their experiences and about just how much they loved that region. They told us that the road we intended to take the next day made for a gorgeous journey and, as it turned out, it really was! As with so many other places we have seen on our Africa trip, it is another place to come back to when we have more time.

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Bananas!

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Along the way

Our intention was to get to Chulumba in Malawi in time to catch the “Ilala”, the ferry that, on a week-long round trip, runs essentially the whole length of Lake Malawi. Our crossing the border from Tanzania to Malawi involved quite a few different forms of transport, including bicycles to carry our backpacks. Neither Chris nor I was brave enough to get a ride on a bike!

Everything went smoothly at the Malawi border other than the fact that the ATM was out of order so we had no Malawi money other than some that we had traded for our Tanzanian shillings. Little did we know that money was going to be quite a hassle for most of the time we were in Malawi. There are not very many ATMs in the country and this was our only way to get money!

On entering Malawi, we instantly felt huge relief as we had not found Tanzania an easy country to travel in. We never knew when we were being given misinformation, and we were almost constantly hassled whenever we were in town, especially at bus stations. Malawi felt like a place in which we could relax. We met a Canadian couple at the border, and shared a taxi with them as far as Chulumba. I will carry on with our journey in our next blog.

Posted by danjali 17:23 Archived in Kenya Comments (0)

Memories and More in Mombasa (June 23 - 25)

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Here it is February 2011, and we are finally in the process of finishing our blog of our African trip. It proved quite impossible to keep it up in Africa almost entirely because I could not upload the photos on the site. Instead, we continued to write about our journey hoping that we would be able to complete it at some point. I then ran into problems downloading my photos at home and have just recently resolved that issue. Our main reason now for doing this blog is for us to have this account of our time in Africa. We love sharing this with you, but as it is not current, it may not hold the same interest for you. Still we will continue with our journey.........

At 3:45 p.m. on the dot, June 23rd, Cholo arrived with his taxi to take us to Nairobi Railway Station, where we were to catch the overnight passenger train to Mombasa. We had to get there early as Dana has reserved tickets over the phone, and we needed to pay before 5 p.m. The station seemed to be little changed from the one I rather vaguely remember from when I was last there sometime in the 1950s – for a very large city, it is pretty low key – perhaps reflecting what presently seems to be the relative unpopularity of rail transport, either passenger or goods, in Kenya.

Once the tickets were bought, we waited at the station watching other passengers gradually assembling for our train or boarding other trains headed for unknown (to us) destinations. At last came the moment when, over the public address system, we were asked to board the train. We found our two-berth sleeper compartment and made ourselves comfortable. I wanted to sleep on the upper bed as this had been my favourite way back when. We soon noticed that the majority of other passengers travelling in the first-class sleeper compartments were, like us, tourists rather than Kenyans. Our journey began right on time (7 p.m.), and we were soon enjoying the rhythm of the train’s wheels passing over the rail joints, and the rocking of the carriage. Soon after the start, a train steward went by our compartment ringing a bell calling us to the first sitting for dinner. In the restaurant car, tables for four were set on each side of a central gangway. We sat with two young American women who were in Kenya as part of a larger group of volunteers at an orphanage on the slopes of Mt. Kenya. Service was rapid and efficient, and the food was tasty though, for vegetarians, uninspired and incomplete, chicken soup being the only option for the starter.

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Our train berth

Back in our compartment, we found the bedding had been prepared during our absence. Dana and I were both tired, so, almost immediately, we decided to retire for the night. Neither of us slept particularly well, mainly because of the noise and the rocking. But I would not have missed the experience for anything! I just loved every moment. Early in the morning, we were called to breakfast by the ringing bell. Again, it was sufficient without being great – and was served efficiently and very graciously. During our absence from our compartment, the bedding had been packed away – so Dana and I spent the next couple of hours hanging out of the window looking at the scenery, waving back to anyone who waved at us, and, every now and again, throwing pencils to young children who were watching the train as it passed them by.

A gradual increase in the number of people, buildings and roads indicated our approach to Mombasa, and soon (about 10 a.m.) we were disembarking from the train – and ended up at an hotel in central Mombasa.

We spent just two nights in the city as the prime reason for our being there was for me to revisit some of the places that had been important parts of my life in the two years I had lived there (1953 and parts of ’52 and ’54 as far as I can remember).

The first day, almost immediately after checking into the hotel, we wandered through the Old City area, then went into Fort Jesus for a couple of hours. Imagining parts of its long history (built by the Portuguese in the fifteen hundreds) still excited me in a similar way to how it had when I was 9 and 10 years old. Then we headed along the coastal part of the Old City as I wanted to see if there were any large dhows in the port there. Before reaching our destination, however, we encountered some concrete tiers where twenty or thirty people – mostly Arab men – were sitting drinking coffee or tea, animatedly discussing some topic or other, or quietly gazing out over the creek that separated Mombasa Island from the mainland to the north. We sat down and drank small, handleless cups of strong coffee that were brought to us from a nearby stand, then occupied ourselves gazing over the water at the far shore. The sun was setting fast, so we went to pay – then were offered more coffee by the stand owner, a slightly built man named Said. There, we fell into interesting discussions centred mainly around comparative religion, art and literature with some men, obviously regular customers, who were gathered around the stand. Storm clouds appeared to be gathering overhead, so, promising ourselves we would return the next evening, we started to head back to our hotel. The rain soon started to fall, and we were both soaked by the time we reached our destination.

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Fort Jesus

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The Mombasa tea shop

Back in our room, after drying ourselves off, we looked through various tourist booklets trying to decide where to go for supper, eventually deciding on an Indian restaurant that was about a 20-minute walk away. Although it was completely dark by the time we ventured back into the streets, we elected to walk to the restaurant after assurances from the hotel staff that we would be safe. The streets were thronged with people for the entire distance we had to cover, and neither of us felt in the least bit unsafe, either on the way to the restaurant, where we ate an unremarkable curry. or on our return.
The second day started with a long walk in hot, humid conditions – we were heading for a nearby shopping centre to replace a lost surge-protector for Dana’s computer. “Nearby” turned out to be wrong – the mall seemed to have moved, and we walked much further than we had expected. Once the item was safely purchased, we decided to go to the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) offices to enquire about how best we might get to the Shimba Hills National Reserve and/or Kisite Marine Park. We decided to take a small taxi – very fortunately as a heavy downpour began minutes after we climbed into the taxi. When we reached the KWS offices, we asked the taxi driver to wait whilst we went in and made our enquiries. The KWS person, a senior officer, was obviously dedicated to his work, was very friendly, and most helpful. As a result of what he told us, we decided not to go to the Shimba Hills, but instead to go the next day to Shimoni whence we could try to get out to Kisite.

For now, though, there were – for me – more places from my youth that I wanted to try to find – the Mombasa Yacht Club, Mombasa Primary School, and, perhaps, the house that my family and I lived in more than 55 years ago (could it really be that long!).

First, the Yacht Club. Dana and I found the taxi waiting for us when we came out of the KWS office. The driver thought he knew the way there, and, with some difficulty, succeeded in delivering us to the front gate. Once I explained to the manager my reason for being there, he warmly welcomed us into the clubhouse and let us roam around the grounds. I found little that fitted with my memories. There was a swimming pool that had not been there, and the trees were very much larger and shadier than anything I remembered. The yachts were all completely different to those that I had played around and sailed in, and the beach was much tinier (partly because the tide was high!) and more littered with debris. The next-door dry-dock, the boat-entrance to which my friend, Steve Hobson, and I had tried to build a causeway across until we were reported to our fathers who – in no uncertain terms – ordered us to desist, was still there but now securely fenced off. When we weren’t tossing stones in for our causeway, Steve and I fished there for fish that we called tembo. These and many other happy memories came flooding back, and I was happy recounting them to Dana, and a few to the manager, who was a lovely man. I left with a burgee, and two Mombasa Yacht Club centenary souvenirs – an orange polo-style shirt that I subsequently loved wearing and a booklet outlining the club’s history.

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The Yacht Club

We then taxied to the area of Mombasa (Port Tudor) in which I thought our house had been located. I recognized absolutely nothing – unsurprisingly as there were so many new houses and other buildings – so we gave up and had our driver take us to the Old Port. There, we looked at a couple of ocean-going dhows moored just offshore, then strolled on to the café for some late-evening company and discussion. We found that none of our friends from the previous evening was there, however, apart from the coffee-maker, Said, who transferred his job to someone else and took us through parts of the Old City that were new to us, including a visit to his home and family.

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Old buildings in Mombasa

At some point during the day, we made arrangements, over the phone with someone in Shimoni, to be picked up early the next morning, so we retired to bed early to get a good night’s sleep.

Posted by danjali 21:04 Archived in Kenya Comments (0)

Nairobi - Our fourth respite-June 18th - 23rd

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Nairobi – Our Fourth Respite Here (June 18th to 23rd)

As you all have noticed our blog has gotten way behind due to it being impossible to get our entries uploaded while we travelled. We still want to complete it even though it is long after the time we experienced it. So on with the travel blog...........

It’s lovely to be back staying here with Vikki and Calum – all the family makes us feel so welcome, and we cannot express how important our being able to stay here has been toward helping us feel our way gradually into being at ease in Africa. It has also been an essential component toward our keeping this account of our travels reasonably current.

There are two main events that I want to tell you about before we depart for Mombasa tomorrow evening (June 23rd) by train.
The first is my climbing of Mount Longonot with Calum last Sunday. Although offers were extended to everyone to come with us, no-one else accepted, so just the two of us set out from Nairobi at shortly after 7 a.m. We reached the Longonot National Park Gate, paid the entry fee, and were ready to start the climb at 8:45. I remember that I climbed Longonot with my Dad – perhaps a couple of times – in my boyhood, but my memories of the views are really vague. I think that my decision to become a geologist was very much influenced by the imposing presence, close to Nairobi, of Longonot and the Rift Valley.

The first few hundred metres were flat, but we were soon climbing up the grey, dusty, much eroded path up the flank of what appeared to be an ash-covered, thick lava flow, then another short flat section and up over another flow edge, another relatively flat section, and the final steepish climb to the crater edge. I had started to pant heavily after taking the first few paces on the initial uphill part of the climb, and was only saved from being thoroughly exhausted at the top by those occasional flat portions. My panting made my conversations with Calum somewhat stilted – at least when I was talking! Calum never even breathed heavily at any point throughout the Longonot experience.

An hour after we started, and moments before reaching the crater edge, Calum told me to shut my eyes, which I did. He then led me to close to the edge before, then said to open my eyes. The view was dramatic – the crater is steep sided, several hundred metres deep, and something over a kilometre in diameter. The bottom looked to be relatively flat and heavily vegetated. Because of all the rain, everywhere inside and outside the crater was very green. In one spot on the northern side of the crater’s interior some wisps of steam rose from a small vent or two.

Looking away from the crater over the plains below, we were able to see several lava flows clearly defined by their topographic differences and their different vegetation cover. Calum pointed out a lovely, lone green acacia tree in the middle of an otherwise grassy flow-top, and mentioned that one of his young sons had spontaneously given it the name “Mother Tree”, which seemed to me to be somehow perfect.

After admiring the views for a while, we decided to walk around the rim of the crater. We chose to go anticlockwise. Although the choice seemed automatic, it may mainly have been influenced by the fact that this would mean we would complete the main climbing sections earlier than if we went clockwise.
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View from Mount Longonot

This part of the journey took us almost exactly three hours. The climbs were short, but often steep – and again the path was strongly eroded in places as much of the rim was formed of soft volcanic ash. The views both inside and outside the crater continued to be stunning though the haze hid the Rift Valley’s western escarpment. We saw a couple of what we identified as Verreaux’s Eagles gliding and swooping near the crater cliffs, and two duiker on a ridge leading up to the rim.

Back at the point on the rim where we had come up, we found a few other people who had made the climb. Without waiting around much, we started our descent, which was considerably faster than the ascent – using very different muscles as we tried to prevent ourselves from going too fast. A couple of kilometres before the end, my knee started to hurt .... some kind of ligament problem .... but I was able to get to Calum’s Landcruiser OK before the pain became very intense. I was glad that the problem had not arisen earlier than it did – and it cleared itself up after a couple of days. We were back at the vehicle by about 1:30 p.m., and home by 3.

Another highlight of this fourth respite period happened yesterday (June 22nd) when Dana and I stopped updating our blog to go and see if we could find another of my old schools – Parklands Primary – where I was a pupil from Standard 4 to Standard 7 (c. late 1953 to end 1956), and where I took my Kenya Preliminary Examination to qualify for high school. Our taxi driver turned off Parklands Road into a school’s driveway – which I immediately recognised. There was the Principal’s Office and flanking it were classrooms that I once was in, with the Art Room at one end of the building. There were the playing fields where once I and my classmates played King during break, or, at other times of the year, played nyabs (i.e., marbles), or, at yet other times, British Bulldogs. And there, across the driveway from the school’s front block, was the house where Mr. Buckingham, the school principal when I was there, Lived.

But there was something confusing about the whole thing. The school’s name was Hospital Hill Primary School, and a plaque of Principal’s names, hanging beside the entrance to the school’s main office, had someone else’s name where Mr. Buckingham’s should have been!
When we asked in the main office if this had once been Parklands Primary School, no-one seemed really to know .... perhaps ....
Anyway, the school’s accountant asked us if we would like him to show us around, a kind offer that we quickly accepted.
There were substantial changes to the school that I remembered – several new buildings – a lovely swimming pool – and many more schoolchildren (attendance of about 1200).

We also net with the Vice Principal for a while. I and Dana felt truly welcomed, and – guess what – tear-filled eyes every now and again. I’m actually very glad to be feeling these emotions so deeply, and I am really happy to be sharing visits like this with Dana as it makes my recollections of my Kenya boyhood much more real for her (and for me!).

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The "old" Parkland's Primary School

Back in our taxi, we asked our driver (Chalo – a great guy!) to take us to Parklands Primary School as I wanted to be absolutely certain I was not mistaken in my memories. After a wrong turn or two, we found it. As Dana and I approached the school’s main office, I knew this was not the Parklands that I had attended. After waiting around for a few minutes, we were shown into the Principal’s office. We chatted for a bit with Rose Mureri, a soft-spoken, dignified woman who, after we had explained who we were and why we had come, started to tell us about a unit within the school where 26 students with cerebral palsy were taught and integrated as much as possible with the other 800 or so students there. She took us to the unit, and introduced us to George, the therapist who worked with each individual CP student in whatever ways were needed depending on the student’s condition – and then to two of the three teachers who were in the classroom with their students. Rose left us there, and we spent the next hour listening to, and asking questions of, Virginia and Mercy (the two teachers) and George. There were also four assistants helping to look after the students – all of them mothers of a CP student. What we heard was inspiring, moving, spell-binding! That the amazing work Virginia, Mercy and George were doing was a calling for each of them was all-apparent, and their visions about what they would like to happen to the CP students’ unit in future, given a miraculous appearance of sufficient funds, were yet another demonstration of their whole-hearted commitment to the well being of their protégés. We met several of the students, four or so of whom are able to attend regular classes with non-CP students, and they all said goodbye to us in their own assorted ways when it came time for us to depart. Before leaving Parklands, we went to have a final few words with Rose, without whose fervent support, the school’s CP unit (one of only two in Kenya, the other being, we were told, in Mombasa) would never have come into being. Our prolonged stop at this school put us behind schedule for the day (we had been planning to spend some time in downtown Nairobi, including a stop at the railway station to buy our tickets for Wednesday night’s train to Mombasa), so we asked the ever-patient Chalo to take us back to Vikki and Calum’s house, where Dana had a massage booked for the early afternoon.

We will be uploading our next entry in a couple of days. Bye for now, Chris and Dana

Posted by danjali 11:24 Archived in Kenya Comments (0)

Turkana Safari Part 2

June 14th to 18th

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.

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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.

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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!

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Turkana Homes - What a setting!!
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Turkana Fisherman

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Our Turkana Family

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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.
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Our Camel Carers

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Camel Close-Up

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Camel Walk

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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.

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Samburu Moran

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.

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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!

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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.
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Is this a road??

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The road!

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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.

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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.

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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!).

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Lake Baringo

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Pied Kingfisher

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Baringo Fisherman - There are crocodiles in the lake!!!

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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.

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Storm approaching

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.
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Amazingly he was lazing onshore

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Squacco Heron

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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.

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Pokot Women

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Pokot Women

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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).

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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!

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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.

Posted by danjali 03:31 Comments (0)

Lake Turkana Safari - Part 1 (June 9th to 13th)

Several days ago we arrived back from our ten-day safari to the Lake Turkana region of northern Kenya, one of the remotest areas of the country. We had spent months hoping to be able to do this safari, but as it is the low season for tourists, it took until just 4 days before it was due to leave for us to find out that someone else had signed up. Gametrackers, the safari company, was willing to run it if three people wished to go. This was the first safari to that area in three months so we very lucky.

Before I begin, I will outline where our journey took us. We drove to near Nanyuki and camped there the first night. The following morning we drove to Samburu Game Park (near Isiolo) and spent the night in the park in a permanent campsite that Gametrackers owns. We then proceeded across the Kaisut Desert to Marsabit, a town high on Marsabit Mountain. After camping there, we drive through the Chalbi desert to Kalacha where we camped under a huge tree. Our journey the next morning took us to near Loiyangalani on the shore of Lake Turkana where Gametrackers has a site right on the lake with traditional domed huts made of straw and branches. We stayed two days here exploring the area. After this we continued our journey to Tuum where we went on a camel walk that took us to a lovely campground at the foot of the Nyiru Mountains. We got up early the next morning and walked again for several hours until we met George with our Landcruiser. Our journey then took us to Maralal where we stayed at the campground that is used when the Camel Derby is on in August each year. Apparently, many people come from all over Kenya and the world to be there for the three-day event. From Maralal, we drove to Lake Baringo where we had a campsite right on the edge of the lake. From Lake Baringo, we drove back to Nairobi.

All in all, the trip covered about 2200 km which may not sound like much but which took us a long time to cover. The roads were, in many places, so rough that I sometimes wondered how they could actually call it a road and show it on maps as such. The erosion of the roads is unbelievable. Paradoxically, the very bad conditions of the roads in this area help keep it remote. I can imagine that, if the conditions ever improve, there will be a dramatic impact on the tribal peoples who live in the region. At the same time, the present isolation is clearly obvious, and it’s very evident that, if there were a medical emergency, it would be rather hopeless in terms of getting someone to needed care.
Our tour guide and driver was George who we found to be a wonderful man and a very skilled driver indeed. He never, in the whole time we were away, got lost which is amazing. There are no road signs and you basically have to chart your direction by landmarks which are often hills or mountains. The roads can, in some places, change from morning to night depending on where and how the wind is blowing or whether there has been a heavy rain storm. It was quite an experience!

Johanna was our cook for the trip and he looked after us very well. Each day he would have to set up his kitchen in new places, including lunch times as we were mostly on the road during daylight hours. He quietly set things up and prepared our meals. I kept on offering to help but he was happy to prepare and clean up all on his own. It was lovely as this gave us a chance to explore the areas where we camped when we stopped at lunch and supper. We both stayed very healthy on the trip I’m sure due to Johanna’s meticulous hygiene and care of the food. Sadly our hope that we would lose some weight here is not happening.........

Our travelling companion was Dan who is from Alaska and is 55 years old. We were so grateful for him signing up for the trip as it made it possible. We certainly learned a lot about Alaska as he liked to tell everyone about it including showing them numerous photos that he had stored on his camera. The locals were very interested in the photos, though I wonder how much most of them were able to really understand what he was talking about.

We started in Nairobi and drove to near Nanyuki where, after setting up our tent in our first campground, we went to visit Ol Pejeta Sweetwaters Conservancy, which includes a centre where chimpanzees have been rescued (sadly, they are still often sold and kept in captivity). They have about forty chimps living there, each with a name. Unfortunately they will not be able to go back to the wild, but they have a much better life there than they would have in captivity. It was obvious that the men who cared for the chimps really loved them. One of them told us that he could recognize them without even seeing them, but just hearing their calls. I would have loved to stay longer but we arrived there just as they were closing up for the day.
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Chimpanzee Close Up (they were behind a wire fence to keep away from visitors, but had a huge open space in which they live)

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Chimpanzees relaxing!

From there we drove to another sanctuary where there is a blind black rhino who we could get close to. Baraka (his name, which means blessing) was beautiful, though he was very blind and would often bump into things. He certainly needed to be led by the trainers to his food. It was amazing to be that close to a rhino.
Luckily on the drive there, Chris spotted a black rhino – it was fabulous to see this huge strangely shaped animal in the wild.

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Wild Black Rhino

On day two we drove to Samburu Game Park which was an easy drive. We had some great views of Mt Kenya’s peaks in the early part of the journey. The game park has really beautiful scenery as there are high hills and the Ewaso Nyiro river runs through it. The name means “brown river”, the colour coming from all the soil that flows into the river at all times of the year. There were many elephants in the park and very large groups of them, both adults and smaller and sometimes baby elephants. It was fabulous. On one of our two game drives in the park, we got so close to the elephants that there was one adult which was immediately behind the vehicle.

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This was close!

I later found out that George always tries to have the elephants behind him, just in case they charge, as he can get away quickly. If he had to back up, he wouldn’t have enough speed to get away safely, as the elephants can move very quickly. We also saw some oryx – the first time I have seen these beautiful antelopes.

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Oryx

Now Chris will continue on with our account of our time.

Just outside the game park, on our way to Marsabit, we stopped to look around a small Samburu village. In a way that was similar to the visit we had made to the Maasai village in Tanzania, we were greeted by some tribal dancing and singing, then invited into one of the huts within the village.

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Samburu men

After that we heard the children in the nursery – about eight of them – recite the alphabet and count in English and Swahili, then went to see the blacksmith who wasn’t working at his trade at the time, but who was surrounded by different artefacts that we could buy if we so wished – and then we looked at the necklaces and other beadwork that the women in the village had all laid out in hope that we would buy some items. I bought a necklace for Dana – and we left a small donation to help with the educational needs of the village. I don’t know if the latter had anything to do with what followed, but one of the village elders came up to me and asked me to put the palm of my right hand against the palm of his right hand, against which was the top of a stick that he had been carrying (as do most Samburu men). After we had done this, looking into each other’s eyes, he told me the stick was mine. I thought he wanted to sell me the stick, and asked the English-speaking Samburu who had been our guide to explain that I didn’t want to buy anything other than the necklace. “No, no – it’s not for sale – he wants to give you his stick as a gift.” I felt completely humbled by this kind gesture, and regularly carried my Samburu elder’s stick with me when we got out of the Landcruiser to walk around other towns and villages!

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Chris recieving his elders stick

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Samburu traditional houses

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Samburu woman and her children singing

Whilst we had been looking around this village, George had driven back to Isiolo to pick up two armed tourist police who were to accompany us for the next few days. So it was that we first met Charles, a police corporal, and Joel, both carrying AK 47s. I felt a little daunted by the prospect of having armed guards with us – but as the days passed and we got to know Charles and Joel better (like George and Johanna, they both spoke excellent English), we came to feel really close to them as friends, and both Dana and I had tears in our eyes when it came time for us to go our separate ways (there’s been hardly an entry that I’ve made in this blogsite in which I have not, at some point or another, told of tearing up ..... it seems I do have emotions that show themselves now and again!).

The stretch of road from Isiolo to Marsabit was one I had driven going the other way when, in 1969, I brought back to Nairobi one of the two Land Rovers that Andy Chater and I had used in Ethiopia when we had been doing our PH. D. Fieldwork. It was tarmac for some of the way, and was being prepared for tarmaccing for much of the rest of the way (I recall it was in a similar state of intensive construction back in 1969!). I particularly enjoyed the last part of the drive when we turned off the main road to go through the rain forest that caps Marsabit Mountain. We first saw Paradise Lake that both Dana and I had read about in a book written by Osa Johnston describing her four-year stay there in the late 1920s (is my memory accurate ?) when she and her husband came there to photographically record this part of the world before it was changed by western civilization.

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Lake Paradise - Its hard to see the two huge elephants grazing at the bottom!

Two large tusked elephants were grazing in the Paradise Lake crater. Later we passed by a fancy tourist lodge overlooking another smaller crater lake. Back in ’69, I had stayed in a now-gone stone house (replaced by the much more extensive, luxurious lodge) and had been bitten to death (well, not quite!) by mosquitoes, quite possibly the source of malaria that hit me immediately I got back to the UK some week to ten days later and that resulted in my having to spend a week or so in the Tropical Diseases Hospital in London. We camped that night in the grounds of the Marsabit National Park Ranger Station.

The fourth day, and we were off to Kalacha via – provided reports from other drivers were favourable – the Chalbi Desert. As we descended Marsabit Mountain, the heat and dryness became increasingly noticeable – camels were the dominant animal life that we saw (there were also donkeys and an ostrich or two) – and plant life became stubbier and more distantly separated until we came to the very flat, essentially non-vegetated, salt-surfaced, mud-cracked plain.

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Male Somali ostrich - notice the purple legs!

En route here, George had asked several drivers if the road across the Chalbi to Kalacha was driveable, and it appeared that the answers were in th:e affirmative as George unhesitatingly started out across the plain with its plentiful mirages shimmering on all sides.

These next four photos are of the Chalbi Desert:

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The impression that we were heading toward water was constantly with us. George kept up a fast pace along recently formed tracks, It seemed to me that he might have been a bit nervous about the Landcruiser’s potential to break through the surface and to become thoroughly stuck. I personally felt nervous that this could happen, though neither Dana nor Dan seemed at all perturbed as they both happily photographed our moonscape surroundings. This was to prove the only time on the trip that I felt uncomfortable about where we were going what we were doing, and I was much relieved when we began to cross more solid ground as we approached Kalacha.

The tribespeople in the town were Gabbra. In 1969, on the road between Moyale and Marsabit, I had been totally fascinated by, when I encountered camel trains of Gabbras moving from one place to another, how the animals were loaded as they carried materials needed to build huts, women and children, and the travellers’ few valued possessions. It seems that such sights are relatively rare now as the Gabbra way of life becomes more sedentary – largely to enable their children to attend school, but also to make their access to healthcare easier. I suspect that water supplies at places like Kalacha are more reliable than at the wells the Gabbra had traditionally used through the centuries that they roamed across northern Kenya and southern Ethiopia.

After spending a warm, windy night in our tent in a campground that was established by a missionary organization, Dana and I took an early-morning walk through the town and spoke to several groups of younger Gabbra residents who knew some English. Both of us revelled in this opportunity, all too rare, to communicate directly with local people, for we strongly sensed the possibilities of learning in much detail how people could live such hard lives with what appeared to be much equanimity. And their lives would doubtless have been much harder at this time last year in the midst of a long, devastating drought. This year, the long rains had come in abundance .....

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Gabra houses

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Gabra houses

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The Old and the New

The journey to Loiyangalani (the setting for parts of “The Constant Gardner”) took us across a mixture of sandy desert and volcanic-rock-strewn desert. We saw a few Grant’s gazelles, and passed through a couple of small towns. During this segment of our safari as well as before and after, Dana kept surprising me by her oft-expressed keen enthusiasm for the desert and its inhabitants. I’d never really thought of Dana as being a potential desert lover – but here she was, gasping at the many beauties of this barren land.

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None of the gasps was as strong as the one that came upon our first sight of Lake Turkana. One of its other names – the Jade Sea – was evidently well given – and remained evident from our first sighting of its waters to our last.

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Our first views of Lake Turkana

We reached our home for the next two nights, situated on the shore of Lake Turkana, in the early afternoon. We chose one of a number of Turkana-style huts to sleep in and moved our gear into it, then began exploring the nearby beaches and cliffs (mainly formed of red coarse conglomerates and cross-bedded sandstones) to the south of this Gametrackers camp.

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Our manyatta

We met a Turkana fisherman who introduced us to his father and mother who lived in isolated huts a hundred or so metres inland from the shore. They had the most amazingly beautiful faces, creased and aged by the rigours of their undoubtedly hard lives, but wisdom and humour shone from their eyes. We determined to revisit them before we left Lake Turkana, hoping that they would let Dana take some photographs.

Almost immediately after our return to the camp, Joel came out of the hut he and Charles had chosen. Dan was asleep in his hut, and everyone else had gone off in the Landcruiser. Joel came with us as did Dan after we woke him. We headed north from the camp then inland a bit to some more Turkana huts. Here we found a group of women, most of whom were gathered around a woman who was lying on her side on the ground. It transpired that she was getting her hair braided by the others whilst another older woman was grinding maize using stones. We discussed (through Joel) what amount the women would accept for Dana to photograph them. A price settled, Dana began photographing even though the light was not ideal as the sun was dropping rapidly toward the horizon. Dana and the women enjoyed sharing lots of laughter as Dana showed them some of her pictures – and they invited her to do a little braiding with them. There were children around, too, who all enjoyed the merriment. More beautiful memories for Dana and me to relive when we’re back in Regina!

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Turkana hair salon!

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Dana joins in braiding

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Turkana children

The day ended with another of Johanna’s fine suppers followed by a much-needed shower, and thence to bed.

The second part of our journey will continue in Part 2 of our Turkana Safari which we will get uploaded in 4 to 5 days.

Posted by danjali 08:28 Comments (1)

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