A Travellerspoint blog

Entries about northhorr

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.

large_Adventure_is_simply_1.jpg

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.

large_Wilmaaa.jpg

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!

large_Chestnut_B..andgrouse_3.jpg

large_Chestnut_B..andgrouse_7.jpg

large_Chestnut_B..ndgrouse_11.jpg

large_Chestnut_B..ndgrouse_15.jpg

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.

large_Mandazi.jpg

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!

large_Camels_at_..orth_Horr_1.jpg

large_Camels_at_..orth_Horr_7.jpg

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

large_North_Horr..e_Turkana_5.jpg

large_North_Horr..e_Turkana_6.jpg

large_North_Horr..e_Turkana_7.jpg

large_North_Horr..e_Turkana_8.jpg

large_North_Horr..e_Turkana_9.jpg

large_North_Horr.._Turkana_10.jpg

large_North_Horr.._Turkana_11.jpg

large_North_Horr.._Turkana_12.jpg

large_North_Horr.._Turkana_14.jpg

large_North_Horr.._Turkana_15.jpg

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.

large_Village_Called_Gas_1.jpg

large_Village_Called_Gas_3.jpg

large_Village_Called_Gas_5.jpg

large_Village_Called_Gas_8.jpg

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.

large_Village_Called_Gas_4A.jpg

'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.

large__Pocket_Tree__3.jpg

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.

large__Pocket_Tree__1.jpg

large__Pocket_Tree__4.jpg

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

large_Donkeys_53.jpg

large_North_Horr.._Turkana_20.jpg

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.

large_Young_Turk..rder_Girl_4.jpg

large_Young_Turk..rder_Girl_3.jpg

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

large_North_Horr.._Turkana_36.jpg

large_North_Horr.._Turkana_37.jpg

large_North_Horr.._Turkana_25.jpg

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

large_North_Horr.._Turkana_32.jpg

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.

large_North_Horr..Off_Piste_1.jpg

large_North_Horr..Off_Piste_2.jpg

large_North_Horr..Off_Piste_4.jpg

We see camels in the distance and head that way.

large_North_Horr..__Camels__1.jpg

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.

large_North_Horr..Off_Piste_7.jpg

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!

large_North_Horr..ng_Wheels_2.jpg

large_North_Horr..ng_Wheels_1.jpg

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.

large_North_Horr.._Turkana_43.jpg

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.

large_Lake_Turkana_5.jpg

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.

large_El_Molo_Bay_1.jpg

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.

large_Lake_Turkana_10.jpg

Loiyangalani

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

large_North_Horr.._Turkana_59.jpg

large_North_Horr.._Turkana_60.jpg

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.

large_Journey_4.jpg

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

large_El_Molo_Bay_3.jpg

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".

large_North_Horr..ff_Piste_10.jpg

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!

large_Palm_Shade_Camp_1.jpg

large_Palm_Shade_Camp_13.jpg

large_Palm_Shade_Camp_10.jpg

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!

large_Palm_Shade_Camp_2.jpg

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!

large_Palm_Shade_Camp_4.jpg

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

large_Palm_Shade_Camp_6.jpg

large_Palm_Shade_Camp_7.jpg

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

large_Palm_Shade_Camp_11.jpg

large_Palm_Shade_Camp_12.jpg

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.

large_Palm_Shade_Camp_8.jpg

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.

large_Andrea_1.jpg

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

large_Stars_over..a_Smaller_9.jpg

large_Stars_over..a_Smaller_7.jpg

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.

large_Captain_an..e_Turkana_1.jpg

large_Captain_an..e_Turkana_2.jpg

large_Reasons_wh..rink_No_246.jpg

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 Comments (1)

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.

large_Adventure_Begins_2.jpg

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!

large_Mist_over_Marsabit_1.jpg

large_Mist_over_Marsabit_3.jpg

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.

large_Buffalo_62.jpg

large_Egyptian_Geese_61.jpg
Egyptian Geese

large_Bateleur_Eagle_1.jpg
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.

large_Mist_over_Marsabit_4.jpg

large_Mist_over_Marsabit_5.jpg

large_Black_Headed_Heron_61.jpg
Black Headed Heron

large_Buffalo_63.jpg
Buffalo

large_Rufous_Chatterer_22.jpg
Rufous Chatterer

large_Sparrow__Parrot_Billed_1.jpg
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!

large_33D223B4D012A17AB956D730E6B33734.jpg

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

large_Breakfast_2.jpg

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

large_Breakfast_3.jpg
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.

large_Goodbye_Marsabit.jpg
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.

large_3A68E56208A13D6C03E0E70ABFCF1587.jpg

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.

large_Plastic_Bag_Graveyard_1.jpg
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.

large_The_Road_to_the_Desert_2.jpg

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.

large_The_Road_to_the_Desert_1.jpg

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

large_Truck_with..ake_Turkana.jpg

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.

large_The_Road_t..bi_Desert_4.jpg

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.

large_The_Road_t..bi_Desert_3.jpg

large_The_Road_t..bi_Desert_5.jpg

large_The_Road_t..i_Desert_12.jpg

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

large_The_Road_t..bi_Desert_7.jpg

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'!

large_The_Road_t..i_Desert_14.jpg

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!

large_The_Road_t..i_Desert_17.jpg

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?”

large_The_Road_t..i_Desert_18.jpg

large_The_Road_t..i_Desert_19.jpg

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.

large_The_Road_t..i_Desert_21.jpg

large_Rocky_Road_3.jpg

The stones give way to compacted sand.

large_The_Road_t..i_Desert_26.jpg

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.

large_The_Road_t..i_Desert_24.jpg

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

large_The_Road_t..i_Desert_30.jpg

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.

large_The_Road_t..i_Desert_34.jpg

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

large_The_Road_t..i_Desert_36.jpg

large_The_Road_t..i_Desert_31.jpg

large_Somali_Ostriches_71.jpg

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

large_The_Road_t..i_Desert_33.jpg

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

large_The_Road_t..i_Desert_37.jpg

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.

large_Livestock_Carcass_5.jpg

large_Livestock_Carcass_1.jpg

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.

large_Mirage_1.jpg

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.

large_Maikona_Village_2.jpg

large_Goats_in_the_Desert_2.jpg

large_Camels_nea..a_Village_1.jpg

large_Maikona_Village_3.jpg

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'.

large_Maikona_Village_5.jpg

large_Maikona_Village_9.jpg

large_Maikona_Village_10.jpg

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.

large_The_Road_t..i_Desert_44.jpg

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.

large_Oasis_1.jpg

large_Oasis_2.jpg

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.

large_Ostriches_..for_Oasis_1.jpg

large_Ostriches_..for_Oasis_2.jpg

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.

large_Mirage_2.jpg

large_Mirage_3.jpg

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.

large_Chalbi_Desert_101.jpg

large_Chalbi_Desert_104.jpg

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!

large_Chalbi_Desert_103.jpg

large_Chalbi_Desert_106.jpg

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.

large_Chalbi_Desert_107.jpg

large_Hot_2_.jpg

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.

large_D435BD3ED77479E799FBE520E0E7AB25.jpg

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.

large_Cattle_Goi..Waterhole_1.jpg

*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.

large_Water_.jpg

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.

large_Salt_Crust_1.jpg

large_Salt_Crust_2.jpg

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.

large_Chalbi_Desert_109.jpg

large_Breakdown_..bi_Desert_1.jpg
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.

large_Mirage_12.jpg

large_Chalbi_Desert_115.jpg

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.

large_Desert_Dunes_2.jpg

large_Abdi_and_Grete_1.jpg
Abdi and Grete

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

large_Oasis_3.jpg

large_Oasis_4.jpg

large_Camels_at_Oasis_22.jpg

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

large_Mirage_7.jpg

large_Mirage_8.jpg

large_Mirage_9.jpg

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.

large_Kalacha_Dida_1.jpg

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.

large_Kalacha_Dida_3.jpg

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.

large_Impala_at_Kalacha_Dida_1.jpg

large_Impala_at_Kalacha_Dida_2.jpg

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!

large_Camels_at_Kalacha_Dida_2.jpg

large_Kalacha_Dida_4.jpg

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

large_Camels_at_Kalacha_Dida_6.jpg

large_Camels_at_Kalacha_Dida_7.jpg

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.

large_Camels_at_Kalacha_Dida_12.jpg

large_Camels_at_Kalacha_Dida_16.jpg

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.

large_Chalbi_Desert_118.jpg

large_Chalbi_Desert_122.jpg

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.

large_Chalbi_Desert_128.jpg

large_Chalbi_Desert_129.jpg

large_Chalbi_Desert_120.jpg

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!

large_Chalbi_Desert_131.jpg

large_Chalbi_Desert_132.jpg

large_Mirage_13.jpg

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.

large_North_Horr_2.jpg

large_North_Horr_3.jpg

large_North_Horr_6.jpg

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

large_North_Horr_8.jpg

large_North_Horr_10.jpg

large_North_Horr_11.jpg

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!”

large_North_Horr_12.jpg

large_North_Horr_13.jpg

large_North_Horr_17.jpg

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.

large_Catholic_M..orth_Horr_1.jpg

large_Key_to_our..orth_Horr_1.jpg
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.

large_Catholic_M..orth_Horr_3.jpg

large_40_C.jpg

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.

large_Cold_Tuske..orth_Horr_1.jpg

large_D083D9D6BC9F38B78855AE285D1644EA.jpg

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

large_House_Sparrow_1.jpg
House Sparrow

large_Common_Bulbul_71.jpg
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.

large_Lunch_in_North_Hor.jpg

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.

large_Heading_to..or_Sunset_1.jpg

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

large_Heading_to..or_Sunset_2.jpg

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.

large_Heading_to..or_Sunset_3.jpg

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

large_Ruso_Sand_Dune_1.jpg

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

large_Ruso_Sand_Dune_3.jpg

large_Ruso_Sand_Dune_50.jpg

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.

large_Ruso_Sand_Dune_2.jpg

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.

large_Ruso_Sand_Dune_5.jpg

large_Ruso_Sand_Dune_9.jpg

large_Ruso_Sand_Dune_12.jpg

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.

large_Ruso_Sand_Dune_14.jpg

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!

large_Ruso_Sand_Dune_26.jpg

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.

large_Ruso_Sand_Dune_18.jpg

large_Ruso_Sand_Dune_22.jpg

large_Ruso_Sand_Dune_25.jpg

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

large_Ruso_Sand_Dune_15.jpg

large_Ruso_Sand_Dune_16A.jpg

large_Ruso_Sand_Dune_21.jpg

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

large_Ruso_Sand_Dune_12_B_W.jpg

large_Ruso_Sand_Dune_27_B_W.jpg

large_Ruso_Sand_Dune_44_B_W.jpg

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.

large_Ruso_Sand_Dune_49.jpg

large_Sunset_near_North_Horr_2.jpg

large_Sunset_near_North_Horr_6.jpg

large_Sunset_near_North_Horr_3.jpg

large_Sunset_near_North_Horr_8.jpg

large_Catholic_M..rth_Horr_71.jpg

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!

large_Starry_Sky__North_Horr_1.jpg

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!

large_Catholic_M..egetables_1.jpg

large_Catholic_M..courtyard_1.jpg

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

large_Catholic_M..courtyard_2.jpg

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.

large_Captain_an.._North_Horr.jpg

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)

(Entries 1 - 2 of 2) Page [1]