“To those devoid of imagination a blank place on the map is a useless waste; to others, the most valuable part.”
We had been supplied with the details of a route north and west that would mean that we would not need to travel any of the same roads when we returned south via the Moyale-Marsabit route. I don’t think this particular route is used much, especially by self-drivers. It was really great, thanks to you-know-who for the directions. Others should look at this route going either north or south. Most seem to take the roundabout route via Isiola and Archer’s Post which we will do on returning. Full details are in the next post for Geeks.
In outline, from Nayuki you head west and later north-west. The initial tar road quickly becomes dirt and as to be expected the road is not fantastic and needs to be taken fairly slowly. However this road is not by a long shot the worst we have encountered and leads you through a lovely isolated part of Kenya. Initially this public road passes through an area of successive game ranches, including next to the well-known El Kharama. Be sure to stay on the public road and do not venture onto private game viewing tracks. The flat plains and dry acacia savannah were a foretaste of what lay ahead we thought. There were Samburu folk in tribal dress quite soon and many of the game ranches are not fenced from the road. We saw plenty of elephant herds, impala, Grant’s gazelle, Guenther’s dik dik and then side by side both Burchell’s and Grevy’s zebra. And this was all free and gratis, no park fees at all, unique in our East African experience. There were no signs of recent rain but there were plenty of clouds about. Later, after turning north, we entered an area that appeared to be communal farming land with herds of cattle, sheep and goats. Most of the Samburu people were dressed in traditional attire with beads and blankets, creating a very colourful spectacle. Unfortunately, when monitoring the pressure in my air-helper suspension, I noticed a complete loss of pressure on the passenger side again. Again there was a hole in the rubber air bag. However now I was able to determine the cause. To avoid contact with the heat of the exhaust, on this side the air bag is mounted more laterally. Here it was coming into contact with the nipple of the brake fluid pipe on flexing and thus a hole was being bored into it. Losing the air suspension was not the end of the world but extremely irritating after all the trouble and expense of couriering replacement bags. I have 3 spare bags and will have it fixed once I find someone I trust. For this Turkana route I have asked Wayne to drive in front. He drives very slowly and carefully on rough roads in his trusty Mitsubushi Pajero sort-wheel-base since losing both front shocks on the road into Serengeti. It proved to be an amazingly resiliant vehicle although later Wayne would be glad he was not on his own when a problem with dirty fuel clipped his wings somewhat.
In parts the road was pretty corrugated, bumpy and rocky and our speed was varying from 20 – 50km/hr. As one approaches Maralal the terrain becomes more hilly. We thoroughly enjoyed this scenic, off the beaten track drive and our introduction to the dry north of Kenya. It is a country of such contrasts. It took us 5hr 10min to cover the 164km leg, as we really took it easy to spare the vehicles for the tough sections ahead. This was a really refreshing drive, especially for us after feeling so cooped up. Just before the turnoff to our camp there is a billboard concerning the renowned annual Maralal Camel Derby. Unfortunately this had already been held mid-August. Apparently this attracts thousands of people from the region and is a very colourful spectacle that should not be missed if in the vicinity. Next year’s event will be in mid-August as well.
The campsite at Yare Camel Club is on grass, a scarce resource here, albeit browning and a little sparse at present. It is typical of a community type campsite with fairly sparse facilities, so please do not expect too much. Once again the only people in camp! Unfortunately, as the rains were late they were out of water for the showers and toilets and only provided a large bucket-full for washing, no matter we are equipped for this. There is some shade and wooden tables and benches, but little else. That being said, it was perfectly adequate for our purposes. They have 15 bandas which appeared OK from the outside and a restaurant if you order well in advance, which did not appear very sophisticated. The turnoff appeared poorly signposted but it is on T4A. The turnoff is just after the Camel Derby billboard, just before Maralal town, at N01 03.555 E36 42,607.
CAMPING COSTS: are about US$10 pppn.
Maralal Lodge was reopened a few years ago by a British overlander. We met him at JJ’s in Nairobi where he had taken refuge after having been thrown out of the lodge which he had refurbished. Herein lies a very strange tale and it was difficult to establish exactly what happened. It appears that he was evicted from the lodge by a combination of disgruntled locals and some fairly senior government officials. All the background was related to us by the unfortunate Humperdink (Jack) Jackman, the owner/lessee of the lodge, but it is best if I refrain from further comment as all is hearsay. He is not prepared to go back to the lodge as he no longer trusts the locals and is seeking compensation from the Kenyan government. A very strange business indeed.
The tough part of the route, and of course the most scenic, begins tomorrow. We had arrived early at Maralal but we have planned each leg of this route so that we do not feel rushed and could take it easy, both to spare the vehicles and have time to appreciate this unique piece of Africa. But in fact each leg is based on where to stay next, there not being much choice in this seldom-traveIed area. We checked with the elderly camp supervisor, as advised, about the safety of this next leg. He felt that all was safe at present with no recent incidents at all. In the past there have been incidents of armed robbery, especially on the section around Marti and the steep mountain pass there. Even last year a police escort was advised. He gave the interesting, if not necessarily true explanation, that only once it had rained so disputes arise between tribes about grazing rights as there is plenty of water about and the herds disperse. In the dry season grazing is confined close to defined water sources, where rights are long established. In the dry, arms tend to be packed away. His evaluation of the current situation confirms what we have been hearing from others that had recently done the route.
Tomorrow is really something to look forward to. I have been promised that this upcoming section will epitomize the reason why people love this route so much.
MAIN. Young Samburu woman.
1. The road through the land of the Samburu.
2. Camel derby billboard.
3. The campsite at Yare Camel Club.
4 and 5. Of course, the camels at Yare Camel Club Campsite.