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Marsabit - Chalbi - North Horr

♪♫♪ I've been through the desert in a truck with no name...♫♪♫

sunny 50 °C
View The Journey to the Jade Sea - Northern Kenya 2015 on Grete Howard's travel map.

Day four of our Journey to the Jade Sea with Undiscovered Destination.

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Some time during the night, I wake up to use the toilet - boy is it dark! There are a lot of wilderness noises, although I can't make out what any of them are. I try peeking through the curtains to see if there are any elephants on our balcony, but no such luck.

The alarm is set for 06:00 so that I can watch the sunrise over the lake. It is still not light when I get up, and certainly no sunrise: the crater is swathed in a thick atmospheric mist!

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For a while I sit outside and listen as the jungle wakes up. From the eerie stillness of pre-dawn, to the air coming alive with sound: birds chirping, eagles screeching, baboons barking and buffalo squelching through the boggy grass. With no human sound whatsoever, I feel at one with nature.

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Egyptian Geese

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Bateleur Eagle

As day takes over from night the mist descends further into the crater and for a while I can barely see the lake. A few birds flit around the bushes and buffalo graze by the lake. But no elephants.

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Black Headed Heron

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Buffalo

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Rufous Chatterer

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Parrot Billed Sparrow

The breakfast waiter tells us there are elephant footprints and droppings in the grounds from a nocturnal visit, but the elephant has gone. Hmph!

I order one sausage and a Spanish omelette. David asks for omelette, two sausages and beans. I get two sausages, David gets one sausage. No beans. With so many people staying it must be hard to get the orders right. Ha!

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When we are half way through the meal, David's beans arrive. Note the luminous ketchup on David's omelette!

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Filled up with sausages, beans and chapatis (!), we are ready for another adventure-packed day.

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David looks fed up as well as filled up!

As he takes our money for last night's drinks, the manager insists: “You need security for North Horr. Many bandits. You need gun.” Sigh. Here we go again... How to make foreign visitors feel safe. Not.

John, having spent the night in town, arrives with the car and we bid farewell to Marsabit National Park and the cool air, with our fleeces firmly packed in the bottom of our bags. All the staff turn out on the front porch of the lodge to wave us off. Such lovely people.

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Goodbye Marsabit!

In Marsabit Town we pick up our (non-armed) guard. The instantly likeable Abdi is a quiet man of slight build and gentle nature who is going to be our facilitator and translator on the journey across the desert to Loyiangalani.

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The jumbled nondescript town of Marsabit, with a population of around 5,000, is a dishevelled outpost of urban civilisation in the vast surrounding desert.

Urban civilisation African style, that is.

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Old plastic bags never die, they just hang around in the 'Marsabit Plastic Bag Cemetery'.

As soon as we exit the town, we leave the sealed highway and relative civilisation behind, for quite a while this time.

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Initially the surroundings are dreary and uninspiring as we head for Chalbi Desert on empty gravel tracks. This is the main road to Lake Turkana.

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After many miles we meet our first vehicle: a truck carrying dried fish from Lake Turkana. We can smell it before we see it!

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Despite the rocky track, John manages to get quite some speed up on these roads while I try to hang out of the window to take photos of the surroundings. After three bumps on my head from the window frame and the second bash on my cheek by the camera, I give that idea up and just hold the camera out of window, point it in the general direction and press the shutter button, hoping for the best. While not exactly artistic, it gives me a few record shots from today's long journey.

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Throughout the morning, the under-wheel surface changes from almost-smooth concrete sections, to shifting soft sand, to hard compacted dirt rutted into a bone-rattling washboard effect.

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We hit traffic congestion, Chalbi-style: we follow another vehicle for a while and eat their dust!

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While there is a (sort of) cooling breeze created by having all the car windows open, the relentless sun is inflating the already smouldering heat of the desert making it 'somewhat warm'!

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After about an hour David pipes up: “Are we nearly there yet?” The saying obviously doesn't translate well, and the joke falls on stony ground. Well, there's plenty of that here!

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This is a sea of red hot lava rocks: large boulders everywhere, fiery rocks of death. Apparently a previous tourist asked John: “who put all these stones here?”

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Uneven doesn't even begin to describe the surface. We bounce and bump along in this cocktail shaker they call a Landcruiser, crumbling and crunching on the ridged and jerky track. This is not the 'Rocky Road of my dreams.

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The stones give way to compacted sand.

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Here in the desert wilderness there are no road marking, no street signs, no landmarks. You have to know your way. Do we turn left or right at this 'junction'? Having driven this route more times than he cares to remember, John fortunately knows the way.

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Ahead of us lies a vast expanse of ... nothing.

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The sinister ocean of volcanic sand and lava rocks commands respect and yet seduces with its own brand of beauty and harmony. It is a seemingly extraterrestrial landscape where only the toughest species survive. Looking carefully we see that far from being devoid of all life, the flat and far reaching desert floor is in fact home to a rich habitat with an abundance of plants that have adapted to the harsh environment here, overcoming a life of thirst and deprivation.

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Amazingly, herds of impala, baboons and ostriches make their home in this forbidding environment.

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More traffic! It is now over an hour since the last vehicle we met on this road.

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For a while we waltz our way along in the soft sand, sliding around like little ballerinas on ice.

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We come across a number of livestock carcasses scattered by the side of the road as a result of an accident a couple of weeks ago. The driver, travelling at night from Lake Turkana, fell asleep. At least 70 animals and one person died in the carnage. Not much is left of the dead animals now: vultures and other carrion-eaters will no doubt have had a feast, and maybe even local nomads.

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Mirage
I get extremely excited when we spot our very first mirage. A naturally occurring optical phenomenon caused by light rays bending to produce a displaced image of distant objects, desert mirages are often mistaken for water reflections implying the presence of an oasis.

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Here comes the technical stuff, pay attention now!

Cold air is denser than warm air and, therefore, has a greater refractive index. As light travels at a shallow angle along a boundary between air of different temperature, the light rays bend towards the colder air. If the air near the ground is warmer than that higher up, the light ray bends upward, effectively being totally reflected just above the ground.

Once the rays reach the viewer’s eye, the visual cortex interprets it as if it traces back along a perfectly straight "line of sight". However, this line is at a tangent to the path the ray takes at the point it reaches the eye. The result is that an "inferior image" of the sky above appears on the ground. The viewer may incorrectly interpret this sight as water that is reflecting the sky, which is, to the brain, a more reasonable and common occurrence.

Thank you Wikipedia

Maikona Village

As we near the village of Maikona, the only settlement we've seen this morning, the scenery changes and the vegetation becomes more abundant. Straw huts appear on the horizon, goats graze on whatever little food they can find and camels are kept in thorny enclosures.

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The local Gabbra people believe that being photographed will take their blood away, so I merely snap a few photos from a safe distance inside the car, hiding my lens from their sight. The scenes are so photogenic and I am itching to walk around with my camera at the well with all those camels, goats, people and cattle. But I believe in respecting the local culture as much as I can so I shall just have to keep the images on the 'memory card in my mind'.

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For miles and miles and miles and miles (you get the picture?), the track and surrounding terrain is just loose sand. The car acts as a whisk and the sand gets everywhere. I eat dust, I breathe dust, I feel dust, I blink dust, I hear dust. I am dust.

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After a while we pass another small oasis, complete with goats. Some of these people walk for days from their village to get to a well, and can often been seen carrying water in bright yellow jerry-cans on the back of donkeys.

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Ostriches wait in the wings for their turn at the waterhole. There is a distinct pecking order at the wells, and not just for animals: many a tribal dispute has started over watering rights and escalated into violent clashes.

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Chalbi Desert

A huge area of virtually flat desert, Chalbi is an endless wasteland of clay and white salt, where the horizon dissolves into a mirage.

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The name 'Chalbi' comes from the local Gabbra language, and means 'bare and salty'. This is one of the hottest and most arid regions in Kenya, a barren salty pan surrounded by volcanic craters and lava flows. Long ago this was in fact part of a lake and even now, during periods of particularly heavy rainfall, large areas flood. Being such a flat area, expansive shallows of standing water and mud form, causing the desert crossing to become impossible. Today, however, the pan is an immense spread of salty, cracked earth.

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The desert is restless and unpredictable, nothing is constant. Even the road is transitional: when John came this way three weeks ago, the track took a different route across the desert to where it is today, making for challenging navigation!

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The temperature in the car is stifling. Having the windows open is akin to being assaulted by an industrial strength fan heater with a sandblaster attachment. Keeping the windows closed is not an option.

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Having read horror stories on the internet before we left home about how the temperatures regularly reach a blistering 60 °C here, I am grateful the thermometer shows 'only' 51 °C ! It is feverishly hot with the brutal sun relentlessly blazing down on the already scorched and bleak ground, cremating it further to a despairing sizzle.

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In the midst of this dystopia*, a young boy herds his cattle to the waterhole, which is likely to be at least a day's walk away.

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*dystopia (dis-toh-PEE-ah) — an imaginary place or state in which the condition of life is extremely bad, as from deprivation, oppression, or terror. The opposite of utopia.

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The top layer of the salty earth is caked to a crusty skin, much like you'd find on snow after rain, making a delightful crunch as you step on it! Gabbras nomads collect salt here, which they then sell in Marsabit.

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Dual carriageway! Because...? There is so little traffic here that if you are unlucky enough to break down, you may end up having to spend the night here as it could be a day or two before help, in the shape of the next vehicle, comes along.

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Thankfully we didn't break down. John, David and Abdi are just having a bit of fun.

Today we actually do meet another vehicle during the crossing of the desert! The truck initially appears as an unrecognisable mirage on the dusty horizon.

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The stark and austere beauty about this bare and desolate landscape captivates me, despite not being at all like the romantic images conjured up by common (mis)conceptions of what a desert should look like.

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Abdi and Grete

Another oasis, more camels. I don't think we have ever seen so many camels together in one place.

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Followed by another mirage. Or is it a fata morgana?

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Kalacha Dida
These goats are not a mirage, but signal the start of civilisation. We are now on the edge of Kalacha Dida, an oasis surrounded by doum palms offering a shady haven from the hot and intense sun. This is a true oasis with a natural spring. Herders bring their camels, cattle, donkeys and goats from all around – often several days' walk - to water their livestock here.

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This region is one of the poorest in the country, with the poverty level measured at 92%. The main causes of the poverty are: low agricultural production due to harsh climatic conditions, frequent and severe droughts, inadequate water supplies, lack of reliable and lucrative market for livestock products, few employment opportunities, over dependency on relief food and livestock economy, underutilised resources, illiteracy, poor infrastructures that are hardly maintained, insecurity and conflicts, which of course include ethnic clashes and cattle rustling. There is not much going for the region then.

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The presence of a permanent water source attracts wild animals too, such as these impala. Following a prolonged drought this year, most shallow wells (which are the main water source in the area), have dried up, and the few that have remained cannot cope with the increased demand.

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Although our itinerary states that we are spending the night here, in a camp overlooking the Kalacha Oasis, we will be continuing for another hour to North Horr. Previous clients found the facilities at this camp less than adequate, so John sourced alternative accommodation elsewhere. In this region there isn't a great deal of choice, so I am sure that was quite a challenge!

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The camels look bemused as we drive by, briefly suspending their grazing to stare at the passing mzungu (white foreigners).

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Camels
Called the 'ships of the desert', camels are a sign of wealth and status and a must-have animal in this region - they help the nomadic peoples move, transport goods and fetch water. A camel can be loaned or given to other Gabbra families in this, a reciprocal society, with future favours being expected. Camels also provide most of the meat the Gabbra eat, as well as milk during the dry season. The camel has an almost sacred status for the Gabbra, and selling camels or their by-products to outsiders is taboo.

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This region of Northern Kenya is the most barren and desolate area we have ever been to, which is quite a claim to fame considering all the travel we have done and the places we've been over the years.

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The track beyond Kalacha initially traverses glaringly white salt pans before hitting soft dunes of shifting sand and continuing amidst clumps of lifeless palm trees pretending that they hide a refreshing oasis.

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Adorned with 50 shades of brown, and its severe and sombre beauty, Chalbi Desert is spellbinding in a bleak and dismal way. An absolute highlight of this trip for sure!

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North Horr

Built around a natural oasis, 'town' is a gross exaggeration for this vague agglomeration of grass- or mud-huts and tin shacks; sprinkled with a few permanent concrete structures. With the smaller, outlying settlements, North Horr number around 5,000 inhabitants.

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The streets appear deserted: we see very few people out and about in the searing heat of the day. And who can blame them?

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Looking at these dwellings as we make our way through town, I reflect on the fact that inside each and every one of those homes there is one or more person(s) whose life revolves around them in the same way as my life revolves around me. The enormity of this extraordinary perception is overwhelming: fantastic, mystifying, scary and magical, all at the same time. Or as some youngsters of today might say: “That's mental!”

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Catholic Mission
Our home for the night is the Catholic Mission in North Horr where we are greeted warmly by Father John. Aimed at visiting missionaries, rather than foreign tourists, the room is nevertheless comfortable with an en suite bathroom.

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The key to our room

Skin caked with dirt and grime; hair matted into a knotted, twisted tangle by grit and dust whipped up by the prevailing wind; I take my filthy self straight to the bathroom. Having a shower has never felt so good! Although the temptation to stand under the deliciously cool water for hours is almost overwhelming, I am mindful of the fact that water is a scarce commodity around here. My modest effort at preserving water by turning it off while soaping / shampooing and back on again for rinsing, makes me feel a little less guilty about the fact that this is a luxury that most of the local population may never experience.

With the temperature nudging 40 °C, we find a spot in the shade, with a cooling breeze, while John goes off to hire a local woman to cook the food we brought with us from Samburu.

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Father John returns and his next sentence comes as a huge surprise: “Would you like a beer?” Resisting the temptation to answer: “Is the Pope Catholic?”, we are even more delighted when the drinks arrive cold! The situation strikes us as rather surreal: sitting in a Catholic Mission in an oasis in the middle of a desert in Africa, drinking cold beer.

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We amuse ourselves watching the birds come to drink from the outside tap while we wait for the food.

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House Sparrow

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Common Bulbul

A young lad comes over and introduces himself and his two sisters, suggesting that we go with him to the hospital across the road, where we can photograph his sick brother (really?) and of course give a donation. We decline, but he is pretty insistent. When father John re-appears, the three youngsters scamper. “What did he want?” he asks suspiciously. “No, no, no” says Father John when I tell him, “Don't go with him, he is a bit risky”.

The food arrives, and very nice it is too – a mixture of potatoes, carrots, cabbage and corned beef, served with spaghetti. Known to his mates as 'Chilli Boy', John has brought his own bottle of chilli sauce to liven up the dish. He is delighted when we both concur that we too like our food spicy.

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Time for a siesta, although sleeping at 40 °C is proving a little tricky.

Ruso Sand Dune

The people of North Horr are very proud of their one and only sand dune, and 'everyone' from Father John, Sister Annicia and indeed our very own guide Abdi (whose home-town this is) insist that we must see it at sunset, so after our 'refreshing' siesta, we head out into the desert.

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Surprisingly, the scenery here is vastly different to that of the Chalbi Desert.

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I love the way the low sun casts magical shadows over the tiny 'dunes' formed behind tufts of grass by the shifting sand and wind. At first glance the grass looks like trees and the whole image could almost have been one taken from a high vantage point overlooking a large area of desert. It is not.

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Then we see it, looming ahead. The 'famous' Ruso Sand Dune.

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This is a traditional, classic sand dune: a crescent shaped, ridged mound created by the wind.

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Rising from the otherwise course, flat desert floor, it almost looks out of place: like someone has taken a huge bag of fine sand and tipped it out here, waiting for the wind to sculpt it.

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Ruso is longer and less steep on the windward side where the sand is pushed up the dune, and the boys climb to the top, leaving their footprints on the otherwise pristine slope.

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This is a favourite spot to take the village children for a day out, so I am surprised to find we are the only ones here. Then the realisation hits me that 99.99% of the people in the village do not have access to any sort of motorised transport, and as the dune is around 12km outside town, an outing would have to be planned carefully.

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Ever-shifting sand dunes often have a negative impact on humans when they encroach on settlements. Movement occurs when small sand particles skip along the ground like a bouncing ball, colliding with others, in a knock-on effect known as creeping. Dunes move at different speeds depending on the strength of the winds. In a major dust storm, it may move tens of metres at a time!

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I leave my own footprints as a wander around the lowers lopes of the dune, walking further and further away in an effort to try and get a picture without my shadow in it.

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Like an over-excited kid, Abdi jumps off the 'slip-face', the shorter and steeper side in lee of the wind.

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The low sun makes for long shadows, with the ridged dunes creating beautiful patterns in nature.

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Not wanting to be driving through the desert after dark, we make our way back to North Horr and the Catholic Mission just as the sun is setting.

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As we sit under the starry sky, drinking cold Tusker beer and eating delicious spicy lentils, we have to pinch ourselves to make sure this is real. What an amazing adventure we are having!

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After dinner sister Annicia invites us to see their home, which is relatively luxurious, with a huge courtyard in which they grow their own vegetables, plus well-furnished living quarters. As my flash gun blew up a couple of days ago, I only have my mobile phone to take pictures, so I apologise for the poor quality!

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We play with the cats for a while, then say goodnight to Sister Annica and Sister Maggie.

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Purely for medicinal reasons: to help me sleep in this heat (believe that and you believe anything), I pour myself a Captain and Coke before bed. John placed our Diet Cokes in the Mission's fridge when we arrived, so they are lovely and cold now.

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Cheers and welcome to North Horr.

large_Reasons_wh..rink_No_245.jpgAs soon as we open the door to our room, the cat slips in. We play and cuddle for a while, until it is time for bed, when I let it out into the courtyard of the mission.

As the temperature is still 35 °C, we leave the curtains open to let some breeze through the iron grills, and fall asleep to the sound of Midnight Mass in the church.

Posted by Grete Howard 09:27 Archived in Kenya Tagged desert church kenya catholic marsabit northhorr chalbi catholicmission Comments (1)

Samburu - Marsabit

Cool!

sunny 25 °C
View The Journey to the Jade Sea - Northern Kenya 2015 on Grete Howard's travel map.

Day three of our private Journey to the Jade Sea with Undiscovered Destinations. I can't believe it is only our third day here - we've had so many adventures already!

Another noisy night with the monkeys tap-dancing on the roof and the unmistakable warning barks of the baboons followed by the low growl of a leopard. Oh the joys of the bush! At least it was cooler in the night – the temperature dropped to 28 °C inside the cabin. Not exactly cool, but an improvement on the 33 °C the night before.

Breakfast is taken in the company of a troop of baboons, foraging through the grounds. The baboons are foraging, not us. The waiter makes small talk, asking us where we are heading to next. “Marsabit and then across the Chalbi Desert to North Horr and Lake Turkana” we explain. His face takes on a worried expression. “I hope you are taking an armed guard” he says forebodingly. We shrug and finish our eggs.

Checking out at Reception leads to the same question about our onward destination, followed by another sombre warning about having armed protection. Feeling a little unsettled, I ask John about it. He confirms that we are indeed taking an escort, but no, he won't be armed. “If you are attacked by bandits and they can see you are carrying guns, what's the first thing they will do?” John asks. “They will eliminate the armed guy” he reasons. Fair point.

As we load the car, John points out the elephant pug marks right next to the vehicle. So that's where he was in the night! Apparently he is still within the grounds, but we don't see hide nor hair of him as we say our final goodbye to Sentrim Samburu Safari Camp this morning.

To reach the main road we have to drive right the way through the national park, so we get a game drive thrown in too! What a bonus!

And what's the first animal we see? A gerenuk on its hind legs, the one remaining thing on my safari wish-list. Another bonus! There's been quite a few bonuses on this trip already – having stated to John that “my main interest in Samburu is to see the gerenuk, anything else is a bonus”.

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A dull 'thump', followed by a furious hissing sound suggests a puncture. Great – that's all we need now! A national park full of wild animals including all three big cats and the start of a long journey across the wild northern frontier of Kenya: this is not a good time for a flat tyre.

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While John assesses the damage and puts the spare wheel on, we keep a close eye out for predators as well as birds. Fortunately no man-eating animals were seen, just birds.

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Blue Naped Mousebird

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Augur Buzzard

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White Browed Sparrow Weaver

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Secretary Bird

You will be pleased to know that no hunting took place on our safari in Samburu and the only shooting I did was with a camera lens. No lions (named Cecil or otherwise) were hurt in the making of this blog.

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A Dik Dik and an elephant later, and we are out of the park and back on the paved roads again.

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For now.

While the lovely level surface of the sealed road may make for a smoother ride with less dust, it also means John can drive faster. And 'faster' means the audible speed-limit warning on the vehicle is activated. It starts as an intermittent 'beep' and ends up as an annoying high-pitched whine. John turns the music up to drown out the noise.

The road is so smooth in fact that both David and I drift straight off to sleep, having endured mostly sleepless nights so far on this trip. However, our new-found comfort doesn't last long and soon the tarmac gives way to gravel, sand and dust yet again.

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A new road is being constructed in this area: the proposal is that one day the entire stretch of the TransAfrica Highway between Nairobi and the border with Ethiopia at Moyale in the north will be paved. Until then we have to put up with road works, gravel tracks, diversions and heavy vehicles throwing up clouds of dust.

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Dirt tracks merge with pristine new surfaces, but how long will they stay in such immaculate condition with the heavy seasonal rains and huge trucks that ply this highway? Today traffic is minimal.

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The new road is not merely creating an improved transport infrastructure, it is also helping to reduce crime in the region in a roundabout sort of way. During the construction work, contractors are sinking bore holes along the side of the road to increase the number of available watering holes for animals and people, thus decreasing the struggle for water and the ensuing deadly conflicts.

John tells us how not so long ago you would see many, many herders along the side of the road carrying guns; whereas these days, unarmed young boys usually tend to the cattle, with the armed elders overlooking the scene from a nearby high point, ready to step in if necessary. A great leap forward, but cattle rustling is in the blood of these people, so it is unlikely to ever be completely abolished.

Cattle rustling
The pastorialist people here in the north place such a high value on cattle that they often raid other tribes to acquire more animals. This was traditionally not seen as theft, more like a cultural sport and is still considered a perfectly acceptable traditional custom. The difference today is that the raids are becoming increasingly militarised and more and more warriors rely on firearms, with devastating effects. After a prolonged drought, there are more people than ever with guns, ammunition and little else; as the newspaper clipping below shows.

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The journey to reach water can be long and arduous for both man and beast, and often animals (and even sometimes the people) don't make it. The circle of life means a dead donkey becomes a good food source for vultures and other carrion-eating carnivores.

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Once they reach a watering hole, their strife is not over. Often there are already many other people and animals waiting in line to fill their bellies and jerry-cans with clean water. In the picture immediately below you may just be able to make out the guns the men are carrying in order to protect their livestock and themselves from would-be bandits.

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The scenery is constantly changing the further north we travel, from the verdant vegetation around Ewaso Ng'iro River in Samburu, to the dusty edge of the Chalbi Desert near Marsabit. Dust devils, creating impressive mini-tornadoes. Stark barren scenery. The ever-present red sand that covers everything: the road, the plants, the car, us.....

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Especially if we don't remember to close the windows when we meet or overtake another vehicle.

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As the road starts to climb the lower slopes of Mount Marsabit, the air gradually becomes cooler and the vegetation more green and luxuriant. The roads, however, appear even worse if that's at all possible. Just outside the town of the same name, we pick up a rough track which takes us to Marsabit National Park and Ahmed Gate.

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Marsabit National park

Meaning 'place of cold', this surprisingly cool and green oasis soars refreshingly above the hot and inhospitable plains. A true desert oasis, the park encompasses three crater lakes that are the only permanent surface water in this otherwise desolate region. Further moisture is generated by mist forming on the hillsides as the rising hot desert air cools overnight, thus creating a micro-climate. Large tracts of indigenous forests have established as a result, accommodating a wide variety of wildlife. The downside to this is that the thick vegetation and heavy creeper-swathed jungle makes game viewing challenging.

Ahmed, The King of Marsabit
For over 50 years, Marsabit National Park was patrolled by a very famous elephant called Ahmed who was known as the 'King of Marsabit' because of the size of his tusks - the largest ever recorded. In 1970 Kenya's president issued a mandate to place the large elephant under 24-hour protection. Never before or since has this occurred in Kenya, making Ahmed the only elephant to be declared a living monument.

For four years the gentle giant was guarded against poachers day and night by two wardens, until 1974 when he died of natural causes aged 55. His body was found resting majestically on his famous tusks, half leaning against a tree. Ahmed is now honoured by a life-sized statue in the grounds of the National Museum of Kenya in Nairobi.

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I am hoping to catch a glimpse of one of Ahmed's descendants later.

A challenging road takes us up through the thick forest, past the lodge where we are staying tonight. All the staff are out on the front porch, happily expecting us to drive in. When we don't, their expressions turn to that of puzzlement, and they wave at us frantically! We merely wave back and continue on our way.

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Matsabit Lodge

Gof Sokorte Guda – Lake Paradise
We head ever higher, bouncing our way on rudimentary tracks through the dense forest, until we reach a viewing area overlooking an extinct volcano.

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Marsabit National park has a number of volcanic craters known locally as gofs. At the bottom of the one of the largest of these crater, Gof Sokorte Guda, lies Lake Paradise.

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Bordered by scenic forest, the area around the lake is famous for its range of birds and diversity of butterfly species. The lake, which forms a natural amphitheatre measuring more than 1 km across, is also a refuge for the rare Lammergeier Vulture, one of 52 different birds of prey found here. Today we only see a few zebra, a number of sacred ibis and a hamerkop.

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Sacred Ibis

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Grévy's Zebra

Marsabit is also something of a snake sanctuary, said to be home to some very large cobras. Unfortunately (some may say fortunately), we don't see any snakes either. And there are no elephants, large-tusked or otherwise, up here. Maybe later.

It's the surface of the lake that captivates me, however, with its artist's palette of surreal colours and outer-worldly patterns of nature. It's like I have entered different world and am looking down on another dimension.

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Beyond the leafy slopes of Mount Marsabit and the lush crater of Gof Sokorte Guda we see the flat and arid Chalbi Desert which we will be crossing as part of tomorrow's adventure.

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Making our way back down to the lodge again, we hear a worrying knocking sound coming from the car. Not more problems?

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Marsabit Lodge
One of Kenya’s older game lodges, dating back to 1974, Marsabit Lodge is set on the the inner slopes of another volcanic crater, Gof Sokorte Dika. After being mostly closed for years, the lodge has apparently had a facelift and now provides rudimentary comfort and excellent service.

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View of the crater lake from the lodge

On arrival we are greeted by smiling staff with a welcome drink and a cool, damp towel. What a pleasing sight that is! My face is covered in red dust and I warn them that the cloth will get dirty. Very dirty. “No problem, that's what it is for” is their reassuring reply.

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Yep, I was certainly one filthy girl and that is just from my face!

We go to the room to freshen up further before lunch. We are the only guests here at Marsabit Lodge, and there are at least a dozen staff serving us in one way or another.

Lunch is chicken, spinach, potatoes and rice with a mutton stew served inexplicably in a separate bowl. It may be simple fare, but the grilled chicken is one of the tastiest I have ever had!

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Rono, the lodge's facilities manager, informs us that the “generator is sick and has gone to town for repair. We don't know when it will be back”. OK. Of course no generator means no shower. Oh well, what does it matter if we are dirty for a few more hours? This is a holiday after all!

John goes off to Marsabit Town to get the tyre repaired and the knocking noise checked out, leaving us with another unexpected afternoon at leisure. We ask at the lodge if there are any walks available, but are told that “it is too dangerous in the national park”, so we spend the afternoon on the terrace drinking coffee (and beer), watching the birds and animals who come to drink at the waterhole and feast on the fresh grass surrounding it.

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Baboons, buffalo and bushbuck

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Black Headed Heron

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Common Fiscal Shrike

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Buffalo

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Reichenow's Weaver (female)

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Rufous Chatterers

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Baboons

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Common Bulbul

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Bushbuck

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African Harrier Hawk

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Juvenile Common Fiscal Shrike

But no elephants. Maybe later. “They come at 6 o'clock” the waiter informs us.

As soon as Rono lets us know the generator is back, we go to the room to take a shower. Afterwards we sit on our private balcony which also overlooks the gof.

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Buffalo at the lake

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Common Fiscal Shrike feasting on a banana

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Black headed heron

No elephants here either.

Half an hour later the lodge's security guard just 'happens' to walk by to tell us not to go out on the balcony after dark as often the buffalo and elephants come right up to the lodge at night; raising my hopes of seeing the famous long-tusked elephants later.

When he asks where we are going from here, my heart sinks a little. “You have security with you? With gun?” he asks. “We have an escort” we reply diplomatically. “With gun?” he persists. We try to sidestep the question: “Our driver is arranging it all.....” Thankfully he changes the subject and enquires if we would like a drink. Good man.

This is the life: comfy chairs, camera/binoculars in one hand and a Tusker in the other while watching the birds and animals. We even seem to have room service - no need to move from the verandah.

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A bushbuck strolls by.

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A couple of Tawny Eagles soar overhead.

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A lone buffalo.

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But no elephants.

“Is spaghetti, chapati and beef OK for dinner?” asks the waiter as he swings by to ensure we are OK for drinks. I muse about what would happen if we said “no”, as I expect that is all they have available in the kitchen.

A large flock of Egyptian Geese take off and skim the surface of the water for a few moments before returning to the same place they just left.

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6 o'clock comes and goes, with no sign of the famous elephants. “Maybe later” says the waiter who brings our third beer (or is that the fourth?) “After dinner”.

As the light fades, more bushbuck appear, the geese settle down for the night and the lake glistens with a wonderful golden glow despite there being no sunset to speak of. As the sun goes down, the air is beginning to feel refreshingly cooler. We are delighted to have to dig out our fleeces and layer up as the temperature plummets. If only we could harness and bottle up this night-time chill for the coming days in the desert.

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Time for spaghetti, chapati and beef methinks.

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Spaghetti, chapati and beef. Beef? It looks like chicken to me...

An unusual combination, but certainly not unpleasant. We get the feeling they really struggled to put something together for us. The chicken on the plate confuses me initially; until the beef arrives in a separate bowl.

The security guard catches us as we leave the table to take coffee on the terrace: “You must take guard to North Horr. I come with you. I have gun” We suggest he talks with John in the morning; and go outside to look for those elephants.

No elephants. It must have been their night off. Oh well.

The stars are out in force this evening though, with the Milky Way looking particularly radiant.

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The glow in the bottom left hand corner is the bright lights of Marsabit!

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Milky Way

The romance of standing under a star lit sky with the man I love is totally wasted on us: while I fiddle with ISO settings, adjust the shutter speeds, change the aperture on my camera and count down the seconds for the timer; David enjoys a drink in the comfort of the bar. Sigh. The loneliness of the long exposure photographer.

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So that we will not be attacked by those pesky elephants (what elephants?), the security guard walks us back to the room. As he bids us goodnight, he asks what time we would like the generator on until. Now that is really personal service.

The bed feels nice and cosy, with a light fluffy quilt and no mosquito net to get tangled up in.

Purely for medicinal reasons: to keep me warm at this cold altitude (believe that and you believe anything), I pour myself a Captain and Coke before bed despite the large sign in reception stating: "No food and drink allowed other than that bought in the lodge". What a rebel I am!

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Cheers and welcome to Marsabit

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Posted by Grete Howard 02:35 Archived in Kenya Tagged animals birds elephants safari kenya roadtrip dust marsabit transafricanhighway Comments (0)

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