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Kenya, LAKE TURKANA ROUTE: DAY 5. Sibiloi National Park, Lake Turkana, Koobi Fora Campsite. Friday 16 October. Week 24, day 180.

 

"If you stay close to nature, to its simplicity, to the small things hardly noticeble, those things can unexpectedly become great and immeasurable". Rainer Maria Rilke.

 

Finally after skirting and flirting with the lake we were going it experience it up-close. Entering Sibiloi NP was not in itself going to be a big deal as there are very few in the way of wild animals there. However to get close to the lake one had to pay the requisite park fees and in the past many had done their best to avoid these fees by passing to the east of the park boundaries, far from the lake. However these boundaries have now been extended further east and it is difficult to find a reliable way around the park merely to avoid these costs. After all the travail of the route I really would advise all to bite the bullet, pay the fees and spend the next couple of days on the lakeside, getting to appreciate this unique setting even more. It seems such a pity not to do so! You can avoid the park camping (but not entry) fees by camping at Koobi Fora, which is far cheaper and falls under the Kenyan National Museums. There is also a little ruse which we worked, enabling us to wild camp on the far north of the lake for our last night. This has been used by others but I am by no means advising the avoidance of park fees, just that you might be able to avoid paying them when in fact the parks people think you are camping at Koobi Fora. Wild camping is in fact not allowed in the park, we were told it was for security reasons. The people at Koobi Fora do not issue receipts so there is no easy way of checking up on how many nights you actually camped there. There was in fact also no check point at the exit in the north of the park, but I suppose you might be stopped and checked by a passing park’s vehicle.

After a rather disturbed night from the wind flapping our tent and roaring through the palms, we filled up with the excellent water from the well at Palm Shade and once again made a reasonably early start to our third last leg through Lake Turkana. We had wanted to take our time over this taxing but extremely rewarding route both to spare our vehicles as far as possible, but also to make the most of a once in a lifetime experience. One can do it in less but this would either entail covering one or other of our legs in a single day, which would be taxing on the driver and the vehicle, or would mean wild camping which was deemed not so safe these days and we can confirm that camping places without locals are hard to come by outside the park. Others may prefer to take an alternate route via Nanyuki, Isiolo, Samburu NP, Archer’s Post, Laisamis and South Horr. However we would be covering some of these sections on our southbound trip via the Moyale and Marsabit border crossing. Our route from Nairobi to Turmi in Ethiopia would take us 7 very rewarding nights. I have only ever come close to experiencing this sort of isolation and hostile beauty in the Koakoveld in the north of Namibia. As it turned out we were only to see 2 other vehicles in 7 days and that was on exiting the park. We were in fact the only tourists in the park, a group of 3 vehicles having passed north about a week before. As one of the motorcyclists in Nairobi said to me after completing this leg, “it’s so damn isolated you could end up dying out there if the s..t hits the fan”. The maximum temperature on the road yesterday was 42C.

There are signs indicating the road to North Horr, which the locals can show you too, it is the main road through the village. This day’s drive is not along the lakeshore. One first heads northeast towards North Horr but turn left (northwest) after 39km at N03 03,766 E36 47,882 towards the Karsa Gate of Sibiloi NP. This section of the road was good. The next waypoint is the Karsa Gate of Sibiloi NP at N03 40,769 E36 17,597. One now drives along flat featureless plains. The road is flat and a little sandy interspersed with areas of volcanic boulder hopping. At least there are no corrugations. Here we met a French biker on a cheap Chinese Boxer motorbike. We had a fairly long chat, after Turkana he is heading for South Sudan, we did not think he was a full box of chocolates!

This is a very lonely part of the world, especially near and within Sibiloi NP. You don’t see a living creature for many a mile and the locals are very few and far between. I do not know if I would be comfortable doing this trip in one vehicle, even with a satellite phone. This harsh environment is very unforgiving with little margin for error, in hostile conditions complications escalate rapidly. We had to work hard at keeping ourselves well hydrated in the heat, even with the minimum of physical exertion it is easy to dehydrate. However with water, food and other supplies to last a week or two it is almost inconceivable that no-one at all would happen along within that week on the main routes. Others have and will continue to travel routes like this on their own and this is what we would have done had it not been for Wayne. I have no doubt that the cushion of 2 vehicles enabled us to relax and enjoy this expedition far more.

There are signposts along the way indicating the direction and distance to Sibiloi. I had been concerned that it might be difficult to discern the correct track, but there are virtually no confusing side tracks and T4A is dead accurate. The roads, although rough in places are incomparably better than those around Maralal and South Horr where corrugations are the main killer. Further west the terrain becomes quite hilly again with many luggas to cross, rains would rapidly maroon one. The last section before the gate is particularly scenic as it twists through valleys and across sandy luggas. It would not be wise to stop in some of this sand for a photo. Later, one drives on lava pebbles ranging from the size of tennis balls to smaller. Actually not a bad surface to drive on. I had been thinking of our friends that also love the road less travelled or the “scenic route”. Wish you were here!

We arrived at Karsa Gate in the early afternoon having covered the 149km in 6hr 40min. Here we engaged in an interesting conversation with the park rangers. As mentioned we first established that wild camping is not allowed because of their security concerns, real or not. Please use discretion if you do plan to wild camp as carelessness could spoil it for others in the future. In the north of the park you are very isolated and I gather here is where many have wild camped in the past, discretely well away from the main roads. I asked about Old Kukai Camp (here we planned to spend our last night) and established that it was abandoned staff accommodation and that camping was not allowed there. Speaking to the chief ranger at Karsa Gate it appeared that he was prepared to look the other way if we did camp there but preferred not to “know” about our plans. Please be discreet and pay the park entry fees for each day or otherwise it could be difficult for other self-drivers in the future.

PARK FEES:

• Entrance fees, US$25 pppd.

• Camping in official park campsites, US$20 pppn. (Camping at Koobi Fora falls under the Kenyan National Museums and cost us only KSh500 pppn).

• Vehicle entry fees, US$ KSh350/day.

• Fishing license KSh600 pppd. (If you want to hire a boat and guide, can be arranged at Allia Bay park HQ).

We managed to establish that there were official campsites at Camp Turkana and Crocodile Corner on the lake, also at Karsa Gate and Rocco Doni (not on the lake). We did not visit these sites but were informed they have pit latrines but no water or showers.

On the way to Koobi Fora we took the 3km diversion to see the petrified forest. It is on T4A but the turnoff is at N3 41,483 E36 18,531. We had previously seen a similarly impressive petrified forest in Namibia, but suggest a quick visit here is worthwhile. These massive petrified tree trunks are apparently 7 million years old from a time when the area was densely forested. Koobi Fora itself is about 2-3 hours and 60km away from the gate. This is the research station for the important fossil and other excavations in the area. Richard Leakey did much of the original work here. Many contend that this area deserves the accolade the “cradle of mankind” just as much as the other important sites at the Danakil Depression in Ethiopia (where Lucy was found), or Olduvai Gorge near Serengeti in Tanzania. In Siboloi an important find of the so-called missing link between ape and man was found, namely Homo Habilis, the evolutionary stage before Homo Sapiens. (I hope I have this correct). Also many precursor fossils of the ancestors of present day animals, such as giant hyenas, giraffe with horns and huge cats, were found. It is well worth visiting the simple nearby museum if you desire more information. This will cost you KSh 500pp and you take a guide from the Koobi Fora HQ, where you camp. There is another museum about 30km away that we did not visit and do not have too much info on.

Camping at Koobi Fora is rather informal. We camped in front of the office facilities on a sandy, level patch in front of the office buildings. It is about 150m from the lakeshore with a decent view. One uses the rather neglected flush toilets and cold showers serving the bandas that are mainly used by the researchers (there were none present at the time). After a bit of a bollocking the camp attendant cleaned these up. The camp supervisor arrived the following day by boat, he had been for a short break to Illeret and things looked up considerably with his presence. I suspect the attendant had tried to overcharge us for camping but this was put right. Facilities were certainly much better than appeared to be the case at the official park campsites. In the heat there is no need for hot showers. We parked the vehicles so as to act as a wind break for the inevitable wind that springs up each evening and had a great night braaing our supper. Once again we were the only tourists here, the last being a group of Italian self-drivers that had passed through the previous week.

That evening and also the following morning I put in a number of hours fishing for my prized trophy of a Nile perch, but was unsuccessful. There was a sand spit with quite a deep drop-off in its lee. I used Rapala lures and also dropshot for those interested, but with no success. I obtained some small fish to fillet from the camp attendants and floated out the bait using a latex rubber condom inflated and tied loosely to the line. The prevailing wind out over the lake very quickly carries the bait far out to the desired depths. This had been suggested by Tony W. but I must add that at our age we do not normally carry such contraptions. The source of this very useful devise to float the bait out deep into the lake, shall remain anonymous! On the lake shore there was multi-hook longline equipment and many carcasses of huge Nile perch that had been filleted. I gather (but was not able to confirm) that the staff at Koobi Fora use their motorboat to fish for the perch. I think that those with the serious intent of catching a Nile perch would be best served by hiring a boat and guide from the Allia Bay park HQ. There appear to be plenty of them about.

PHOTOGRAPHS.

Main. Trying Tony, trying.

Thumbs. 1 – 5. The incredible roadside scenery on the way to Sibiloi NP.

6. These stone cairns are Turkana burial places.

7. A lonely white camel approaching Sibiloi.

8. A typical stretch of stone pebble road

9. Landscape near the park entrance.

10. Sibiloi.

11. Petrified forest

12. The campsite on the lakeshore at Koobi Fora.

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