Exploring ideas of where to go, Simon Marsh decides that a road trip up North, well beyond the usual tourist trail, might be a fun and unique way to spend a couple of weeks with his family and friends.
Our trip was to take us from Nairobi up to Shaba National Reserve, which is contiguous with the considerably more famous Samburu and Buffalo Springs National Reserves, before heading off to the eastern side of Lake Turkana and crossing over into the Chalbi desert, all while revelling in the places in between.
We had spent a lot of time seeking out individuals with knowledge of the more remote areas and bombarding them with questions. The given answers provided more questions than answers; we would need to carry between one and sixty litres of spare fuel, might get no punctures or upwards of twenty, water might be available or we might need to filter our own…the only certainty was that there were many uncertainties.
Our first stop was Shaba, previously home to Joy Adamson. Shaba has a tropical feel to it thanks to the Ewaso Nyiro river dissecting it. We pitched camp at the Funan campsite. As expected, there were no facilities but it did offer shade under sprawling Acacia trees, with plenty of water from the spring and a small stream. The kids and I mucked in with a will and soon a small hamlet emerged. With the long drop dug and the mess tent set up, the priority was to get the fire prepared. At any African camp the fire is both the oven and the social hub and will generally be kept going all the time. With plenty of firewood, this was relatively easy and the next priority was to open the fridge for cold drinks all round.
The next couple of days were spent pottering around, watching elephants and gerenuk, looking for crocodiles in the swiftly flowing river water and paying a visit to the Save the Elephant Research Camp in neighbouring Samburu reserve to learn about their critical work before cooling off in the refreshing natural spring pool in Buffalo Springs. The children also discovered the delights of wallowing in the marsh and seeing how much mud it was possible to accumulate upon themselves.
Soon it was time to completely leave the tarmac so we stopped to squeeze a bit more fuel into the tanks then hit the dust. There was very little traffic now, a sporadic truck or two and the occasional motorbike taxi, but not much else. After about three hours we arrived in the sprawling village of Ngurunit which mainly consists of the Samburu style rondavel type houses. We had tentatively booked in at the campsite at the edge of the village but decided we would prefer something slightly more detached. Together with Mbeko, our local liaison, we set off a short way along the very rocky road until we identified a nice shaded spot by the river
Ngurunit has a little known secret which is the river that comes down from the Ndoto Mountains and forms a number of crystal clear pools and some really awesome natural waterslides. Just a 20 minute saunter away, we had little in the way of expectations but it took the two children all of thirty seconds to work out the dynamics before hurling themselves fearlessly over the edge, followed pretty swiftly by the adults. We spent the rest of the evening trying to find new ways to hurl ourselves down the rocks with the aim being to catch the mighty take off and land neatly in the pool at the bottom.
The next day after breaking camp and cleaning up the site it was time to head up to Turkana, something we were all excited about. Stopping in South Horr, we managed to find the well hidden petrol station and headed through the dramatic mountain scenery. Once again, our plans upon arriving in Loiyangalani were vague… we found a local guide and headed off somewhere about 15km along the lake and found a nice shaded spot overlooking the jade sea and in view of Poi, then set ourselves up. The more intrepid decided that tents were an unnecessary addition and decided to sleep under the stars braving the scorpions and legendary Turkana gales.
There was little on the way to the desert other than camels and the occasional village until we turned into the sand, and then there was nothing at all. Chalbi desert was once upon a time a lake and the fossils of fish are still to be found along with frequent salt deposits. These deposits doubled as car traps and so avoiding them, we pitched camp alongside a sand ridge in the middle with views of nothing in every direction. Throughout the journey the lack of light pollution had provided the most incredible night sky but the desert stole the show; a star gazer’s dream come true!
In this part of Kenya, time has largely stood still, a landscape devoid of habitation in a world with so many people, being outdoors all day, no electric gadgets to distract us and relying on good old fashioned principles of conversation, fresh air, excellent food and more than a couple of cold beers for the adults.