“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a cash advance.” – Bumper sticker.
The Lake Turkana route is as near as dammit to a thousand miles and yes it did cost us in cash again!
Today we were headed to South Horr via Baragoi. We had been thoroughly briefed on this leg and were well prepared for the difficulties ahead and were really looking forward to the first proper encounter with the former Northern Frontier Territory and all the travel legends built up around it. We expected a leg of about 6 (or more) hours on the 150km road and an average speed of under 30km/hr with the testing road conditions. Hopefully the possibility of bandits on the route was as remote as all had promised.
Soon after passing the again defunct Maralal Lodge, one begins with a long and steep climb up the mountains around Maralal. There was some boulder hopping up this climb but the worst sections were concreted, presumably for the rains. One drives through fairly thick Podocarpus forest in places, completely different from the dry plains below. After about 15km we turned left to World’s End Viewpoint which came highly recommended and justly so. Do make the time for this short 20km (there and back), 1 hour detour. The road is very good and I think part of this road (the best part branches left, off our route to the viewpoint) represents part of the improved roads for the wind farms/oil explorations we kept hearing about. One soon passes through the village of Lesiolo. On top of the hills there is a totally different landscape with cultivation and even fields of wheat. There is a gate signposted Malasso Conservancy, Lesiolo Viewpoint. Here we had to pay KSh400 each to enter. It turns out that one can also camp here, right at the viewpoint and had we known this would certainly have done this rather than camping in Maralal. The view is absolutely out of this world and the campsite is right at the view site. It is set on grass and facilities are simple as becomes a community camp. There are pit latrines and cold showers but the site would be rather exposed if bad weather set in. If I recall correctly camping was KSh500 pppn (US$5). I strongly suggest anyone with a sense of adventure and a love of wilder places, tries this campsite!
The view down into the Sugutu Valley 2,000m below, is truly worth the detour. I do not think the photos do it justice. The Sugutu Valley is extremely hot and very sparsely populated. Many centuries ago Lake Turkana used to fill this valley. Now it is where cattle rustlers take refuge with their booty. One has an awe-inspiring view down into this deep and desolate valley fringed in the distance by its own mountain ranges. Do it!
The main road descending from the heights showed some improvements and was better than we had expected, but this was not to last with some suspension shattering holes, boulder steps and wash aways. Again there were lovely views including the rather stress producing ones of sporadic Samburu herdsmen armed with AK47s, some of them barely in their teens. The road again became very stony with slow going on the long descent into the village of Marti, short areas again concreted. This was the area where armed holdups previously occurred. Like much of the route thus far it was the terrible corrugations that took their toll. Despite the presence of many automatic rifles we did not appear to be under threat, although it is not easy to have to slowly drive past a hitch hiking warrior and his Ak47 automatic rifle. My military backgroung had indicated that these specific firearms belonged to the enemy. The landscape was now very dry with acacia scrubland. Approaching Marti we were thrilled to see our first vulturine guinea fowl ever. We saw regular small and very dainty Gunther’s dik dik along the way.
Wayne had been asked to lead the way, as he was a far more patient driver than I and really nursed his vehicle over the rough terrain. Worse than the bumps and the rocky sections, were areas with incessant corrugations. About 80km into the day’s journey there was a sudden clanging from my driver’s side front suspension. My new (Toyota original part) front shock absorber was broken. The plunger had pulled completely out of its sleeve. We had genuinely been taking things slowly and not once had there been a hard knock. Personally I think that the most monstrous enemy of overland driving, overloading was to blame. I hope others learn from this experience of ours. Load as little as you possibly can. All those modifications done to “strengthen” your vehicle only serve to add to the weight problem. All those 4x4 outfitters should be forced by law to comply with weight-carrying regulations or at least warn of overloading problems caused by modifications. In my next life…………
Luckily despite the clanging, we were able to limp into Baragoi, 42km away. Here my extreme good luck continued. There is now a new single formal filling station in Baragoi named the Star Filling Station. It is on the main road at N01 46,993 E36 47,255. This is the last fuel for more than 800km, the next being at Jinka in Ethiopia (other than unreliable, expensive and possibly contaminated or diluted black market fuel along the way). The attendant assured me they never run out of fuel, but I am not so sure, so I would still fill up Maralal and then top up in Baragoi. In any case the Star Filling Station price is a bit high at KSh120/L, compared to KSh100/L in Maralal. Here I received directions to a motor repair facility, more or less pavement standard but they had a brand new Toyota original front shock absorber. The passenger side shock was leaking and on removal it was also shot, luckily once again they were able to help me with a second hand shock which seemed fine. The total cost for these repairs was KSh 11,500, call it US$115. Even more important, these repairs took only 45min as we still had the difficult road to South Horr ahead. The wear and tear of African rural roads on vehicles carrying heavy loads and travelling long distances is unbelievable. I would suggest every independent self-driver allow for this in their planning both with expected time on the road and with the costs of repairs, mine were mounting. Be sure to leave earlier than needed as a time cushion is a great comfort when trouble and delays strike. Also do not be too ambitious when planning your daily distances, hurrying along or travelling in the dark can only compound the almost inevitable problems. In planning your budget be very generous with the allowances for vehicle emergency repairs.
Obviously the drive to South Horr was now much more relaxed and we were more inclined to enjoy the archetypical African scenery. The massing cumulus clouds, towering mountains, scattered acacia trees, brown grassland and orange soil with a corrugated dirt road stretching ahead, were exactly what we had expected to experience. In fact other than that along the lake, this section between Baragoi and South Horr is the most scenic. One was now seeing huge flat plains stretching ahead with the road having passed through the valleys, hills and mountains. One also passes through magnificent tall acacia woodlands along the dry luggas and crossing them intermittently. They are sandy but really not too bad but would obviously come into play with rain and the flash floods which occur. The Samburu women with their massive multi-layered necklaces were quite a sight to behold. Closer to South Horr one begins to encounter people of the Turkana tribes, as South Horr more or less is the boundary between these 2 groups. The flimsy huts of the Turkana are what one expects of migratory pastoralists and reminded me of the Himba people of northern Namibia.
We arrived at our recommended overnight camping spot, the well-known and oddly named Samburu Sports Club (they do in fact have a basketball facility) in the rural village of South Horr after 9 hours on the road. However if one takes into consideration the diversion to World’s End, the stop for the shock absorber and the stop for the repair, our rolling time was about 6-7 hours. Many generations of travelers doing the east Turkana have used many of the same stopovers as there is not really much choice and the campsites in fact determine how many overnight stopovers are needed for this route. Once again I would like to warn against biting off too long a distance per day. Unfortunately wild camping is probably not that safe for much of the route as the population density and the possession of automatic rifles have increased. When one stops people appear out of the bush as if from nowhere. The Samburu Sports Club is a perfectly adequate overnight camping spot. There are rustic bandas but no restaurant. The flush toilets and cold showers are rustic but fine, because of the heat you will not need warm showers. The camping spots are under shady trees on sand, but the fence is very close to some huts of the community and the children staring at you are a little disconcerting. Wood and charcoal were provided at no charge and the staff were friendly and helpful. The generator for electricity was a little intrusive for part of the night. South Horr is a very basic rural village and has no ATMs, no cellphone reception or fuel and only the most basic of supplies.
CAMPING COST: 600KSh pppn (US$6)
Main. The view from World’s End.
Thumbs. 1, 2 and 3. Further pics from World’s End.
4. The stony, steep ascent from Maralal.
5, 6 and 7. The road between Baragoi and South Horr.
8. Campsite at Samburu Sports Club.