Lake Turkana, and beyond: a Northern Kenya adventure

October 22 2018


Earlier this year, we were contacted by a gentleman who was longing to visit Lake Turkana in Kenya, East Africa. This is a rarely visited part of Kenya located in the far Northern Frontier. It is remote and wild, but those who make the journey are well rewarded with a memorable experience encompassing so much more than just a safari. So, we set the wheels in motion and with the help of our trusted suppliers in Kenya, put together an itinerary and made it happen. Here is the wonderful account of his adventure. Enjoy.

Lake Turkana, and beyond by Charles T, Jersey.  

"I first heard of Lake Turkana 40 years ago, as something of a legend among white Kenyans – a sort of El Dorado or Shangri-La – everyone knew it was up there somewhere, but no one would actually think of going. It was just a crazy idea that lurked at the back of my mind. Then decades later, wandering about the internet one day, by happy chance I came across DD Kingscote of Outposts Travel Africa, who hooked me up with Steve and Annabelle Carey of Laikipia Wilderness Camp,  and a couple of feisty ladies looking for adventure (the news of whom prompted my wife not to let me out of her sight)…. and suddenly there were four of us – with a combined age of 277 years – heading off to the top end of the lake, to Sibiloi National Park, close to the Ethiopian border. I could write a small book about the next 11 days, but here are just a few highlights.

We were collected from (and delivered back to) the door of our Nairobi hotel. Fast travel on the few tarmac roads was in closed vehicles for our comfort, and we transferred to open trucks for the slower gravel roads and cross-country tracks. (This is just one example of the Careys' meticulous planning.)

Laikipia Wilderness is a singularly unpretentious traditional safari camp: enormous tents with comfortable beds, en-suite facilities and hot water available at any time, excellent food and plentiful drink served at a communal dining-table, and game-drives and game-walks with enthusiastic and knowledgeable guides. If you want cocktail bars and infinity pools, go to Florida; but if you want to see real Kenya in the old style, this could be your place.

We set out in two trucks: Steve, his assistant Mimi, we four clients, and four staff – Mugambe, Santeria, John and Emrir – an efficient and friendly crew who treated us like royalty.  They set up and broke camp without a murmur, produced fantastic meals along the way, and we never picked up anything heavier than a teacup.  We only had one puncture, and got bogged once in soft sand, but they soon had us going again. 

At Sabache lodge, breakfast was interrupted by the sighting of two leopards on the distant hillside. 

Camping by the lakeside at Porr we watched the fishermen pulling in their nets under the full moon,

and in the morning they came to watch us having breakfast: we must have looked very odd, like Martians landing on their beach. 

We went to the village, and Steve delivered some eye ointment to Edward the local Turkana chief. 

After many hours crossing the desert,

we arrived at the Rocodoni campsite in Sibiloi National Park, where the staff set up camp under the shade of some magnificent trees by the side of a dry river-bed.  We had pop-up tents with deep comfy bed-rolls, bucket showers, thunderboxes and handbasins: total luxury.  As far as we could tell, there was no one else anywhere in the whole 400,000-acre park. 

We dined royally off steak and casseroles carried in a mobile fridge, and the most delicious tilapia and perch caught from the lake near Crocodile Corner.  Somehow John cooked fresh bread every day in a tin box over a wood fire, and surpassed himself with a spectacular chocolate cake for tea. 

There was a fair selection of game – Grevy's zebra, spotted and striped hyenas, golden jackals, topi and gazelles, plenty of crocodiles and hippos – although not in the numbers or variety that you will find in the main game parks further south.  But the point was to make the journey, and to see the land. 

We left the park and turned for home, going the long way round. At the oasis of Kalacha we camped near the spring, where warm water gushes endlessly from the ground. We waited until all the animals had gone to bed, and bathed in the camel trough. 

 

Heading across the wilderness again, we came across an old man with a herd of goats, seemingly miles from any water. He spoke not a word of English, or Swahili, Kikuyu, Turkana or Samburu, and no one could guess what tribe he came from. Eventually he waved his hand dismissively at our attempts at communication, indicating that he found his goats far more interesting than our pantomime, and wandered off into the trackless wasteland that is his home. It seemed unlikely that anyone could survive out there, but he had obviously been doing it for a long time.

And so to our last night out in the wilds, at Paradise Lake on Marsabit Mountain, sharing the lakeside with 80 buffalo, an elephant, unseen hyenas, possibly a leopard, and innumerable (very noisy) baboons. 

A cold night and a misty morning, and we found some huge elephant bones, possibly from an old bull.  His ivory was long gone. 

On the last stretch of the journey we passed a young girl – she looked about 16 – with four children begging for water at the roadside.  We stopped and filled their containers, and gave them bread.  They looked improbably healthy and happy. 

Finally coming up the drive of Laikipia Wilderness Camp, we spotted a cheetah on a hillside, and veered off-road to track it through thick bush.  By the time we found her, she had just killed a small impala.  We edged to within 20 feet of her, and watched for over an hour as she guarded her kill, and then settled down to eat it like a cat with a rabbit, crunching through the vertebrae and other bones.  A striped hyena arrived on the scene and began circling, wary of the presence of the vehicle and the smell of man.  At last it could not stand it any longer and rushed in, grabbing the remaining quarter of the kill.  The cheetah hissed and spat furiously, but she did not dare to risk a fight and had to concede. 

The next day a last game walk saw us scuttling down a river-bank to avoid a family of elephants. 

I would not recommend this trip to anyone.  For me, it was a dream come true.  It went way beyond my own expectations in every respect, and I can say with confidence that we four all loved it; but it would not suit everyone.  You have to do your research, make your own decision and take the consequences. 

If you like the concept but might prefer less driving and more game to see, you could try one of their custom-made fly-camping trips to Meru National Park (famous for Joy and George Adamson and Elsa the Lioness). 

But if you simply have to take a long bumpy road into the middle of nowhere, and go beyond, then you need a guide who knows the land, the trails, the language and the people.  Steve Carey is one of the few people in Kenya – possibly even the only one – who can take you there in safety and comfort." ~ Charles T, Jersey.  

 

We'd also like to share the feedback from the other wonderful Travel Africa clients who travelled on this adventure.

Mrs Georgie S, New Zealand:

"What an exceptional time we had with Steve and his crew both at Laikipia Wilderness camp and the return trip to Lake Turkana. It certainly was an adventure but above all we were SO fortunate in that we could not have asked for a more compatible couple to have shared it with. We will all treasure our memories of an incredible ten days together.

One puncture, one land cruiser stuck in the sand, two snakes, one scorpion, bathing in a camel trough in an oasis at Kalache, to name a few highlights. Yes, the last two days l couldn’t put a comb through my hair due to the dust! Returning to wilderness camp, and only an  hour away from it we were fortunate enough to see a cheetah eat her kill and watch an hyena hovering around her. An extraordinary finish to our ten day Lake Turkana adventure.

For me it was my first time to Kenya and the thrill of seeing that first wild animal in the wild I will never forget. I now want to bring my family to Kenya and to Laikipia wilderness camp next year or the year after. Maybe not back to Lake Turkana but somewhere else in Kenya. I will definitely be in touch with you about it. Thank you for arranging such a memorable trip. Both yours and Steve’s organisational skills were exceptional." 

Mrs Jenny B, London:

"I feel that Charles and my sister have given you such a good feedback there is little I can add! I endorse everything they have said. I would gladly have swapped all of my previous 8 visits to Kenya just to have had this last one!!! We were privileged and fortunate to have had Steve as our guide (it was knowing that to be the case that had me signing up in the beginning).  He is his 'own man' and a 'law unto himself' which makes for the success of such an adventure. His love and knowledge of Africa, and ALL things African is infectious." 

 

At Outposts Travel Africa, we specialise in tailor-made holidays to East and Southern Africa. If you are contemplating your own trip to Kenya or another destination in Africa, be it alone or with friends or family, please don't hesitate to contact us.

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