"The open road is a beckoning, a strangeness, where a man can loose himself".
Once again this was a lovely drive above the shores of Lake Turkana with magnificent views. The road was rather rocky and pebbly in places but not too bad. A warning light came on in Wayne’s vehicle with some loss of power and smoky exhaust emissions. We felt this was perhaps due to dirty fuel as he had filled from a jerry can earlier that morning. This was to prove a headache later. At the very north of the lake we saw a small flock of flamingos, the first we had seen since Kenya.
There is no manned northern gate to the park, just a signboard directing travelers entering from the north to report to the park HQ for permits and payment. The northern border of the park appears to be at N04 13,325 E36 15,395. Obviously this means that there is no formal check on how long you have been in the park, but I gather random checks are made. Here we saw our first 3 (tourist guide) vehicles since entering the park. The volume of traffic along this eastern Lake Turkana route is exceedingly low. If you suffer a breakdown it is very likely to be at least 3 or 4 days before another vehicle arrives, perhaps even a week and one should be prepared to have to sit it out for up to 10 days. In this hot and harsh environment make sure you are carrying enough food and especially water. Even more preferable, try to travel with another vehicle and carry a satellite phone at hand with emergency numbers, such as the nearest local police or game ranger posts.
We were rightly concerned about the route from the park further northwards as the roads became less distinct towards and after the Ethiopian border and there may be confusion as to which track to take. We were also not sure how accurate T4A and the GPS would be. There was no need for concern as it was spot on, thanks to those who had forwarded their tracks to T4A in the past. Ileret, the last town on the Kenyan side was reached after 1Hr 45min and about 30km. The road to this point had been quite a major route, complete with corrugations. Illeret is a simple rural village with no facilities whatsoever and specifically no fuel or banks. Here was has to complete the formality of reporting to the police station and having your particulars noted in the incident book. They do check that you have completed immigration and customs formalities in Nairobi as there are none on the Kenyan side of the border. The police station is right next to the road, flying the Kenyan flag, at N04 18,741 E36 13,652. Mr Charles the former station commander has been transferred and we dealt with the deputy station commander Mr Albert Barongo who was most friendly. His phone number was +254 (0)723366524.
As we left Illeret we had mixed feelings. We were leaving Kenya, a country we had enjoyed so much and also this was the end of the Lake Turkana visit, which we had found to be so unique and rewarding. Fortunately we still had some areas to explore in Kenya on our southbound route. Kenya had already proved to be such a wonderfully diverse country. It was also with some trepidation that we approached Ethiopia as we have received mixed reports. We need not have worried too much. The tracks were very indistinct and with various alternatives, we on 2 occasions took the wrong track and had to turn back. T4A was surprisingly accurate, but not absolutely so as the tracks change from season to season. The road conditions were not too bad if taken fairly slowly. We stopped for brunch on the unmarked border indicated only on our GPS. I surrendered to the clichéd photograph of the border I marked out with stones and camel dung in the road. Along the road we came upon 2 rope barriers across the road but were let through with no ado.
In Ethiopia we travelled through flat and featureless acacia scrubland on reasonable enough dirt tracks. Again there were a multitude of tracks to choose from but T4A was accurate enough to keep us pointed in the correct direction. We encountered occasional tribespeople with a mix of western and traditional dress. As we neared the Omo area of Ethiopia traditional dress became more apparent and many of the children were buck naked. The countryside became more attractive as we neared the regional center of Omerate driving through tall acacia woodlands and many substantial dry river beds. This was not a route to drive in the wet and as we proceeded northwest dark purple storm clouds were brewing. The rain began pelting down as we struck the first tar after 6 days and 739km of tough dirt roads, our good fortune was continuing. This was at GPS points of N04 45,544 E36 10,023 and about 6hr and 105km from our last camp. This was the fairly newly tarred road between Omerate and Turmi and you travel about 16km down it to the west before reaching Omerate.
At Omerate there is a brand new bridge over the large Omo River onto dirt to the west. When crossing this bridge you reach the western route along the western shore of Lake Turkana, leading to western Kenya. Before this turn left (south) on the last road before the bridge to reach Ethiopian Immigration and customs in a poorly signposted building to the left, a little off the road a couple of hundred meters further on. This was exactly where indicated by T4A. We spent a total of 1hr 15min there despite being the only people there. The officials were friendly enough but the process is fairly laborious. First immigration is done, no questions were asked about the delay between being stamped out in Nairobi and our arrival. It seems as if they are used to this. In Wayne’s case this delay was 3 weeks. At customs the officer was happy to stamp my typed list of dutiable items but we had been pre-warned about fixed exit points and tried to persuade him to give us 2 options for the border exit point from Ethiopia. For some reason they enter this into your vehicle Temporary Import Permit and if for instance you change your mind and decide to head for home before Sudan, you will be sent back to Addis Ababa to have the exit point authorized and changed from the Moyale border post because your given exit point would have been at Metema in the north. Unfortunately despite every effort on my part the officer said he was unable to fill in both options. Fortunately we are unlikely to not go via Metema into Sudan. It is important to remember that should you change your mind, to have your TIP changed at customs in Addis.
The processes at Omerate were as follows:
• Fill in the register, name, passport no, vehicle registration etc.
• Fill in immigration form.
• Passports and Ethiopian visas checked carefully.
• Fill in carnet and tear out and retain lowest stub. Fortunately this official was familiar with carnets and did not have to be too carefully supervised.
• Fill in TIP for vehicle.
• Stamp our typed form of dutiable items.
• Checked the engine and chassis numbers of the vehicles, best if you know where these are.
We then had to backtrack back on the tar before proceeding further east on this tarred road to Turmi 70km away. The heavy rain had stopped but the surroundings were somewhat flooded, thank goodness for the new tar. Mango Campsite is through the town of Turmi, in the center of town take the right hand turn down the first major road. It is exactly where indicated by T4A and is signposted Mango Hamer Traditional Tourist Campsite, it is on the seasonal Kasse River and in some quarters is referred to as the Kasse River Campsite. Wayne’s vehicle problems with what appeared to be dirty fuel continued and we limped very slowly into Mango Camp. We can count ourselves extremely fortunate that this problem had not appeared earlier on the Lake Turkana leg, luck was still very much on our side, long might it remain so!
This is a community run campsite on the Kasse River and we were very happy here. There were 1 or 2 others camping here during our stay but the campground is large and in a grove of substantial shady trees with plenty of privacy. There are flush toilets (flush using water from large drum provided) and cold showers. They do sell drinks that are more or less cold. Electrical power is from a generator run for a few hours at night. Fresh, probably potable water, is obtained from a pump and borehole on the bank of the river. They do have bandas and what appeared to be a simple restaurant but we did not use it. The staff were friendly and helpful and there are a couple of resident guides at the camp for visits to see the Hamer tribespeople. This proved to be one of the very best community camp sites thus far on our entire trip.
Camping 100Birr (US$5) per tent per night.
I have tried to estimate exactly how much fuel we used from Baragoi to the first fuel pump supply in Ethiopia in Jinka. I still had about a quarter of a tank left in my 185l long-range tank. The fuel gauge is not absolutely accurate since the conversion, but after filling up in Jinka, I appear to have used 120l. There is emergency black market fuel available in many of the villages along the route, but the prices are high and the fuel is apparently not always clean and in some instances is reputed to be doctored somewhat.
1. The approaching storm entering Ethiopia.
2. Mango Campsite Turmi.