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North Horr - Loiyangalani

It is good to have an end to journey towards but in the end it is the journey that matters

sunny 40 °C
View The Journey to the Jade Sea - Northern Kenya 2015 on Grete Howard's travel map.

Day five of our Journey to the Jade Sea with Undiscovered Destinations.

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Finding it hard to sleep at 38 °C, I wake several times in the night. From outside the room I can hear loud meowing and moreover the sound of buzzing around the mosquito net: both hoping to get inside. As with elsewhere in North Kenya on this trip, it is totally, utterly pitch black. Eventually my bladder wins the battle of wills, and I get up to use the loo, swinging my legs over the side of the bed as I grab my torch from the bedside table. There is something soft against my legs! I gasp audibly and switch the torch on. In the beam I can see a pair of eyes staring back me. I gasp once more, and my heart begins to beat faster – until I realise the cat has somehow managed to get into the room during the night. We have another cuddle for a while, before the kitty is once again shown the door.

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Managing to catch a few more hours of sleep, I get up early to see the sand grouse which fly over North Horr every morning just after sunrise on their way from the local waterhole. For the best part of half an hour, the sky is filled with birds: there must be thousands of them! What an amazing sight!

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When we've just finished eating a hearty breakfast of beans, tomatoes, onions and bread, Sister Annicia brings us freshly made mandazi, a very common local food, not dissimilar to a doughnut. They are popular in this part of East Africa, as they can be eaten in accompaniment with many things. They are usually made in the morning or the night before, eaten with breakfast, then re-heated in the evening for dinner.

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We pick up Abdi who has spent the night with his family in town, and almost immediately drop him off again at the other end of the town as he needs to go and check on his mother-in-law. She was bitten by a scorpion yesterday, and despite suffering badly, she is too afraid to take any 'modern medicine', relying instead on natural remedies. Abdi worries for her.

North Horr is built around a waterhole, as are all the towns and villages in this area. Again we find literally hundreds of camels waiting to be watered. I had no idea there were so many camels in Kenya, it is not an animal I associate with this country!

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Compared with yesterday, today's journey is fairly short, but again with changing road surfaces and a vast emptiness of bare but beautiful scenery.

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Gas

We pass through a village called Gas, a stark reminder to appreciate what we've got back home: homes with temperature regulators, electricity with lights during the hours of darkness, comfortable beds, refrigerators with cool drinks, taps with clean water, supermarkets with a huge variety of food, telephones, television, internet, washing machine, cooker, shower, access to doctors, dentists and medicines but to mention a few of the necessities we take for granted. None of those are afforded to the inhabitants of this village. I cannot even begin to fathom how people live under these conditions.

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With the help of EU money, public latrines have been installed in this and many other settlements in the region. A small but very important comfort which helps keep diseases at bay as well as assisting privacy, modesty and safety.

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'Pocket Tree'

Affectionately known locally as the 'Pocket Tree', the mutually beneficial relationship between the acacia tree and ants is what you might call symbiosis: an affiliation between two parties which is advantageous to both.

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The tree provides food for the ants in the form of nectar as well as hollow thorns which they use as nests. The ants return this favour by protecting the plants against being eaten by much larger animals.

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I am constantly left with the question: “What do the animals find to eat in this area?”

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Turkana Herders

She is nine or ten years old and is never likely to know any other life. Her home is the dry boulder-strewn semi-desert of the Turkana region and she spends her days watching her family's animals, 'protecting' them from cattle rustlers and wild animals such as the hyena. Her older brother carries a home made spear. For 100 Ksh (around US$1) she is willing to forget about the 'evil eye' of the camera, and let me photograph her.

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This is her 'workplace'. Day in, day out. At temperatures around 40 °C most days. What a life!

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Just contemplating the simple act of walking on these boulders brings my ankles out in a nervous quiver.

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From chatting to her brother, Abdi establishes approximately where their village is, and John goes 'off piste' to search it out, making tracks where no tracks existed before.

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We see camels in the distance and head that way.

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The village remains elusive, but from a viewpoint on a ridge, we spot a number of Gabbra digging a well. Abdi goes to talk with them to see if they will let me take pictures. From where we are sitting, still inside the car, discussions do not appear to be going well, things get a little heated, negotiations break down and we make a hasty departure. Photography didn't happen this time (boohoo), but here is an explanation of the famous Gabbra Singling Wells:

Singing wells

It's not the wells themselves that sing, of course, it's the people tending to them. In an age-old tradition local Gabbra herders bring their animals to drink and to fetch water for themselves and their cattle. The wells are deep, with crude steps cut into the walls: each ledge holds a young boy, part of a human chain to haul up precious water from the depths of the earth. Rudimentary tin cans and leaky leather buckets hoisted by long frayed ropes are passed from person to person, hand to hand, one by one. It's a laborious task. And all the while they sing. From each well comes a distinctive, simple song, each family's ballad being different to the next one.

It is undoubtedly a joyful way of making the drudgery seem less of a tiresome slog, with the tempo of the music defining the rhythm of the action much in the same way as we would rock along to music in the gym back home. Except this is not a first world artificially-constructed exercise machine, this is a way of life, a daily slog and an absolute necessity for survival.

The singing also has another, more important, purpose: with so many animals and their handlers in one place, confusion is the order of the day, cattle mingling aimlessly here and there. However, over time the animals have learned to recognise 'their' song and subsequently head to the correct well to be watered. Now that is a great connection between man and beast!

This Youtube clip gives you an idea of the wells.

In our rush to get away from the uncomfortably hostile atmosphere at the Gabbra wells and back to the 'main road', we follow a well trodden footpath. As you do.

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After getting a little stuck in some soft sand, John locks the front wheels to engage the four wheel drive. I am surprised that this is the first time he has felt the need to use the car as a 4x4. Impressive!

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Lake Turkana

As we reach the crest of the ridge, the jade waters of Turkana opens up before our eyes, the iridescent colours of the lake dramatically counterbalancing the black and almost lifeless surrounds. Like a resplendent jewel, the glistening waters are almost bewitching with their vivid shades of turquoise and blue.

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After days of monochrome landscapes seeing the sparkling lake, twinkling like little fairy lights at Christmas; we can be forgiven for thinking we have stumbled upon a mirage.

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At a length of 300 km in North-South direction and a width of 50 km, Lake Turkana is the largest alkaline lake in the world, the worlds largest permanent desert lake and the largest lake in Kenya. It has a longer shoreline than Kenya's entire Indian Ocean coast and is also the most northerly of the Great Rift Valley lakes.

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Larger than Warwickshire, about the same size as the US state of Delaware, and just slightly smaller than Luxembourg; standing on the sandy shore of Lake Turkana and looking out across the water it is hard to believe this is not an ocean. In fact, talking about size, and putting it all into perspective, Lake Turkana is 38 times as large as Samburu National Park which we visited a few days ago.

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Loiyangalani

On a journey that can be best described a punishing, this is probably the toughest stretch of 'road' we have encountered so far.

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Of course we could have just flown in and saved ourselves the last few backbreaking, bone-rattling, bum-bruising, spine-jarrings days; but the saying “getting there is half the fun” has never been more appropriate. The overland journey to reach Lake Turkana has been an ambitious, adventurous and arduous expedition, challenging and demanding at times, punishing and exhausting, but that is all part of the allure. It has been a compelling, engaging and thought-provoking odyssey through what can only be described as a 'living ethnological museum'; to a remote, exotic and far flung destination well off the beaten path - and it's by no means over yet.

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Although not exactly 'undiscovered', this region is certainly an extraordinary, intriguing and rarely-visited corner of the world.

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Some things are always better retrospectively, however, as someone once said: "An adventure is never an adventure when it's happening. Challenging experiences need time to ferment, and an adventure is simply physical and emotional discomfort recollected in tranquillity".

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Palm Shade Camp

The camp consists of a cluster of mud huts with straw roofs, all shaded by doum palms in this delightfully green oasis of calm and serenity. I love it!

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Having devoured what little information I could find on line prior to leaving home, I had read good reviews about this camp's clean but shared long drop toilets so I get a huge surprise when I enter our little cottage: we have a more classic style brick building with our own western style en suite bathroom! Yay!

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Our room is next to the bar, and as soon as we've checked in, John arranges for a couple of chairs and a table to be brought to our terrace followed by ice cold drinks. Bonus!

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Again we are the only ones staying here, and the service is exceptional. Nothing is too much trouble.

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The camp is beautifully natural, with an unpretentious, laid back feel to it, including hammocks (although this one appears a little too high...?)

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Today the heat has finally got to me: I have zero energy. I collapse for the rest of the day under the mosquito net in the room like a lazy lion (one of John's favourite sayings). The temperature is still in the high 30s (centigrade) and I have a restless sleep with many odd dreams.

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By the time I wake up and brave the outside world, an overland truck has turned up. We are no longer alone, but they are camping and self catering, so our paths never actually cross.

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After dinner we sit outside gazing at the stars for a while, which is about the extent of the night-life here. Suits me!

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Purely for medicinal reasons: to give me much needed energy (believe that and you believe anything), I pour myself a Captain and Coke before bed. What more could a girl want? Stars, rum and a head torch. Life is good.

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In order to relieve the stifling heat inside the room, we lift all the curtains away from the windows, exposing the net-covered grills to let the wind pass through the cottage during the night. And boy is it windy!

Wind

This region is well known for its turbulent air which is caused by the fact that the lake heats and cools slower than the surrounding landmass. This creates extremely strong on- and off-shore winds, with sudden, violent storms making frequent appearances.

Initially we both agreed the breeze permanently rustling through the palms was a charming feature, cooling the air and giving us some respite from the searing heat. However, what starts as an inviting breath of fresh air, soon turns into an unparalleled wildness with ferocious gusts lashing through the camp, thrashing anything not secured, hurling it in every direction like an electric whisk in a furnace.

The wind is unrelenting.

Posted by Grete Howard 08:42 Archived in Kenya Tagged africa kenya roadtrip turkana northhorr laketurkana loiyangalani

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I'm so pleased that young herder agreed to let you take her photo - so beautiful!

by Sarah Wilkie

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