Monday, 21 January 2013

Crossing into Kenya

How best to get between Kenya and Ethiopia is a subject of constant debate amongst overlanders.  The traditional route has been via Moyale and Marsabit in north eastern Kenya.  The main advantage is that it’s a proper border, an actual road and is pretty direct.  The disadvantages include a horrendous corrugated road surface and bandits – potentially needing to take an armed escort isn’t exactly a draw.  The other option is to continue south from Omo alongside Lake Turkana (world’s largest desert lake and more shoreline than Kenya’s coast).  The route seems to be safer and while it’s often tracks rather than roads they don’t quite have the bone jarring qualities of a heavily corrugated highway.  Disadvantages include no fuel for nearly 1,000 miles and your mother reading the Wikipedia entry.  “Nile crocodiles are found in great abundance on the flats. The rocky shores are home to scorpions and carpet vipers.”  Still, off-road seemed preferable to bandits, and James wanted to feel rugged, so Turkana it was.  We joined up with a couple of other cars (South African/English and Dutch) as if we got stuck or broke down or ran out of fuel, some back up was going to be pretty essential.  This was demonstrated nicely on the first day when a muddy riverbank separated our wheel arch from the rest of the car and it ended up on Karen and Marcello’s car roof for the rest of the journey.

Ready to go
Grrrr - James feels manly
These guys are pretty nuts trying to do it on a bike - but good beard
 We got stamped out of Omorate in Ethiopia and then headed for the border – stopping at what were definitely the most naked checkpoints we’ve come across so far.  

Not your standard passport control

The road was just a track, winding through the bush and past the odd tiny village, but we were really lucky with the weather and didn’t end up in any mud traps or difficult river crossings.  Apart from the lost wheel arch we were all intact as we rolled out of Ethiopia...

Last Ethiopian flag

...and into Kenya.  At least the GPS told us it was Kenya – we’d have had no idea otherwise!

It's the border into Kenya - you'll have to trust us

There wasn’t really any noticeable difference between the two countries so far north, as I think the tribes are pretty much the same.  We made a quick stop to register with some jolly policemen and one handcuffed miscreant in the small town of Illeret and then made for the lake.
It didn’t really seem to be living up to its ‘Jade Sea’ nickname that evening, being a very clear shade of blue, but we found a lovely spot to camp and the only visitors we had were lots of birds and some of the local kids and fishermen – no crocodiles or vipers.  We all had a good stare at each other and admired the cars (them) and the feathered headdresses (us).  I think they were Daasanach people because of the hairstyle that some of the guys had (lots of little curls making a hairband shape) but not sure.  The Daasanach live right up in the north of Turkana but have lost a lot of land and suffered badly from droughts.  Things are only likely to get worse if the Ethiopian government starts using the Omo River that feeds the lake to irrigate the growing sugar cane plantations in the south east of the country.  According to some guys we met there is a risk the lake could be pretty much drained in 20 years.

Lake Turkana is famous for:
  1. Being very big
  2. Being green
  3. Being windy
  4. Being incredibly remote
  5. Cool tribes
  6. Being one of the contenders for the cradle of humanity – it’s where Richard Leakey (of anti-poaching / Kenya Wildlife Service fame) found a 2 million year old skull

Can’t really vouch for number 6 but in the the three days it took us to drive down in through Sibiloi National Park the first 5 were very much in evidence.

Really not much around!
Amazing bush camps

Mainly camels for company

And our first zebras
Definitely jade coloured...

...but seriously, would you live here?  The wind gets up to 60 kph on a regular basis.  This is an El Molo tribe fisherman's hunt - there's only about 250 of them left as it turns out eating mainly fish and crocodiles isn't really a balanced diet.

On the plus side, the wind means that there is huge potential for wind power.  Near South Horr we met a couple of guys in the middle of setting up a wind farm - apparently it would be the biggest in sub-Saharan Africa.

Finally, after our days in the wilderness and some tough driving over lava fields we reached Loyangalani – our first real Kenyan town.  The area around is dominated by Turkana people.  The women wear hundreds of beaded necklaces and the men wear blood red cloaks and funky hats.  Quite a few of them came over to where we were camping to say hello and have a look at our cars but chats were pretty limited given we had zero Turkana and they had zero English.

Turkana ladies (thanks to Flores-Jan for the photo)

We said goodbye to the Jade Sea there and headed inland.  The countryside suddenly became much wetter and more green as we headed towards South Horr, into Samburu country.
Actual rain and clouds and mountains!

The Samburu women still wear loads of necklaces but low on their shoulders instead of on their necks.

The men's headgear was amazing, but we don't have any very good photos I'm afraid.  These guys were out cattle herding and came to have some lunch with us.  Because they're working they have all their braids up in a brown hairnet, but the young men in town had hairbands with feathers on and huge silver jangly headresses.

The final stretch took us east to the main North/South road (the one we’d avoided further north).  Our first 20km on it were probably the worst of the whole journey as the surface was so bad, and we were so glad we hadn’t taken it all the way.  But then – bliss – absolutely perfect tar with lines and even metal barriers.  And then – even better – our first elephants right by the roadside!

Our final campsite in Isiolo made a pretty surreal end to such a wild journey.  It’s just at the start of the fertile central highlands and pretty much felt like we’d arrived in England.  Not quite what we were expecting, having spent most of the day driving past herds of camels!

950km after the last fuel station - we finally made it

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