Friday, July 22, 2011

The Turkana route

After a welcomed family reunion in Nairobi, followed by an exciting tour around Kenya on 4 wheels, we mount our iron horses again. They have had their fourth oil change since we left home nearly 30k kms ago. We are carrying only 2 used spare tires now and it feels almost as if we will be riding home from here. One major challenge separates us from the smooth tarmac roads of North-East Africa: instead of plying the reputedly dreadful Marsabit-Moyale road, we decide to dare the “adventurous” route via Lake Turkana. Having crossed more than a few regions considered dangerous or desolate and overcome the horrible roads of DRC, we don’t let the stories from other overlanders about tribal conflicts, fuel shortage and sandy tracks discourage us. Our passports and carnets are stamped out in Nairobi since there are no immigration or customs offices at the border and we are armed with 27L of spare fuel, which should enable us to ride up to 900km without filling up.

First halt is in front of a traditional Somali hut at the Camel Camp in Nanyuki, at the foot of Mount Kenya. The snow-capped giant has not only his head but also his feet in the clouds. 


Up north from here, the region has a bad reputation due to armed banditry. Young men tend to use their AK-47’s not only for protecting their livestock, but also for raiding their neighbors’ herds and robbing cars and trucks. We are not completely at ease, and the information on road conditions and safety that we manage to get locally remains vague. Most locals don’t seem to know the road we would like to take to Maralal.

It starts as an improvised dirt road bypassing badly potholed tarmac, then branches off to become a decently paved road, but soon we are on a proper gravel track. It leads through unexpectedly desolate landscapes, where private parks boast considerable amounts of wildlife. 

Through the backdoor – a knee-deep muddy stream – we enter the Loisaba Wilderness, where we are escorted by the rangers, since we’re not supposed to be there. If only there would have been a signpost...

Riding through the grass plains dotted with hundreds of zebras, I hear my chain slap for the first time in 15k kms, not nearly as much as the 22k I did with the previous chain and sprocket set. I hope a few extra drops of chain lube will get me to Addis Ababa. It is not the chain, but Isabel’s front inner tube that subsequently exhales its last breath after a so-called snakebite. Two colorfully dressed Samburu boys watch us replacing it before we ride the last kilometers to dusty Maralal. 

From there, we climb into the wet and cold Highlands of Northern Kenya. And we thought we were going to the desert… We find ourselves ploughing and sliding through puddles of mud and wonder how the infamous Toyota Corolla bush taxis meet this challenge… 

High on the very scenic plateau, we are even treated to a violent shower that turns the road into a riverbed. Slippery boulders and stretches of mud require all our attention for the next hours, but gradually the sun breaks through and the landscape becomes more arid. Lonely camel herdsmen and boys carrying guns greet us curiously. 

A few kilometers after the shacks of Baragoi, the road meanders down into a valley. The view is breathtaking. The road turns into a fast but fairly rocky track and I quite enjoy the riding, standing on the footpegs and balancing through the curves. 

South Horr is even more dusty and sandy than Maralal, and notably hotter. We spend more time there than we wished for though, since I have to repair another puncture – a massive thorn piercing the ultra-heavy duty tube. 

We leave around noon, but luckily it’s only a fast 90 km ride towards Loyangalani through white sand and black volcanic rocks. 

Arriving at the lake is pretty spectacular, but in the blazing afternoon sun, its reputedly turquoise aspect is invisible. 

We meet some proud and beautifully adorned Turkana women, but they don’t speak a single word of English. It creates a huge distance and leaves us wonder how different their daily life must be from ours. 

The lakeside town of Loyangalani is basically a collection of tents and huts from several tribes, including the nomadic Turkana, Samburu, Rendile and Gavras, who have been driven away from their homeland by years of drought and overpopulation, and sedentary Elmolo fishermen who’ve been making their living at the lakeshore for centuries. 

For more pics see album "The Turkana Route"

We spend a windy night under the palm trees of the oasis and prepare ourselves for the more difficult part of the Turkana route: the journey to Ethiopia.

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