A travel narrative for Matador Network here.
My road trip partner termed our road trip through northern Kenya an adventure of “logical chaos”. It was a beautiful collection of stunning landscapes, huge smiles, and emphatic two-handed waves, hours of being lost, and friends of friends of friends in obscure locations who somehow knew we were coming, and could provide us with one bit of information to keep us on track, as Google Maps isn’t very trustworthy outside of Nairobi.
The road to Loiyangalani (“a place of many trees” in Samburu), a small town on the southeastern coast of Lake Turkana, is of volcanic rock – a striking landscape against the bright turquoise waters. Turkana is the largest desert lake in the world, and a huge breeding ground for Nile crocodiles. Loiyangalani is home to many tribes, including El Molo, the smallest tribe in Kenya. Most residents live in manyattas, homes made of sticks, cow dung, ash and earth. Manyattas were traditionally created for semi-nomadic tribes like the Samburu to be able to build quickly, and pack up and leave when necessary.
The Samburu tribe inhabits Kenya’s northern plains and is traditionally made up of nomadic pastoralists. Our trip was full of giggling children – from the four naked young boys who scrambled out of a swimming hole as we approached to the kids who followed us for ten minutes at a safe distance before realizing we could be friends and then suddenly were at our side, pulling on our arms eagerly.
The village of Ngurunit, surrounded by panoramic views of the Ndoto mountain range, is a gorgeous area of Samburu land. From the first few moments we drove into the town, I was enthralled, and the area never seemed to lose its magic light. James, our guide, is a Samburu moran (warrior), whose traditional duty is to defend his community and livestock. In the morning, we met him and our other guide David early to begin our full day of trekking up one of the nearby mountains, Laldira. There are no set trails, instead we whacked our way through spiky bushes and climbed up nearly vertical rock face for five hours.
A shopkeeper in Ngurunit town who sold an assortment of goods, from coconut oil to cigarettes. We stopped by his shop to stock up on extra water bottles (you can really never have enough) before hitting the road again, earning this friendly portrait of him.
Before climbing Mt. Ololokwe, we camped in Sabache Camp, a gorgeous and almost eerily empty campsite at the bottom of the mountain. With no signage on the main road, we passed the turnoff multiple times, arriving just as the sun set over the golden trees and safari tents. Daniel, pictured here, greeted us eagerly, and from him we learned that there had only been one other visiting group in the past two months. Unconcerned by this, he and the other Samburu men taking care of the camp sat around, enjoying loose tobacco leaves and jokes near our tent until late. We marveled at how many incredible sites like this there must be in Kenya that no one goes to, and why it felt like such a secret.
The 450-meter-long lush tree canopy in Ngare Ndare forest is the site’s main attraction. Before walking across it, though, we got woken up in our tent at 7 a.m. “Do you want to see some lions?” Obviously, we did. We jumped in our car with our guide Jaspert (pictured here) and went on our own private safari to a family of six near our campsite. After staring at us intently for 15 minutes, the family slowly walked back into the forest and we were left in our usual awe at seeing such big animals in the wild.