Sunday, June 15, 2008

African Adventure: Drving into "nowhere", seeing a cow bled, camels milked (May 29-June 1)

Current Location: Loyangalani (on Lake Turkana), Kenya
Highlights: Watching a cow being bled, a camel milked, and fishing for HUGE Nile perch.
Upcoming: A stick-up by the guy with the AK47, entering Ethiopia and driving up to Addis Ababa, working on the Landy before we leave to south again to visit the different tribes (including the tribe with the lip plates).

We were glad to move from the camping spot with the gale force winds and drove north a short way towards the small town of Loyangalani. This was a fascinating place where several of Kenya's northern tribes all live together, amazingly in peace. These tribes include the Turkana and Samburu people who in other parts fight and steal cattle from each other, and the El Molo which is Kenya's smallest tribe and only lives here on the lake shore.

Their dwellings are traditional small dome shaped stick and grass huts with some people adopting a less traditional mud and stick architecture. As with most villages in Kenya, even the ones way out in the sticks, there is always someone who wants to be your guide and we were approached by a local who claimed to be a guide. I have mixed feelings about the guides. On the one hand they facilitate an interaction with the local people which is often otherwise difficult and they speak the local language, but on the other hand you are then railroaded into only one type of interaction, that of a tourist from whom money is extracted for meeting with these people. This is in stark contrast to the two Samburu warriors we met by chance a few days earlier where our interaction was very different.

We wanted to spend some time out in the bush with some moran (warriors) and their cattle to see our they live in such a harsh environment living mostly on blood and milk form the cattle, as well as to visit the villages of the different tribes. The guide who approached us eagerly said that this was all possible and quite easy to arrange so we negotiated a price and set off in the Landy to find the moran he said were in the bush with their cattle.

After about 30 mins driving we came across one moran and no cattle. Apparently the rest of the moran were either far away, or in the village and that it was not possible to spend some time in the bush. In addition, they were not bleeding the cows at the moment as he said most of the cattle were too weak because it had been so dry and there was little for them to eat.

However, he did say he could bleed a cow if we wanted to see how it was done for a "special fee". So we agreed, and got to see how they bleed a cow which went like this: They selected a strong calf. One person held the animal by the head and wrapped a cord gently around its neck so the jugular vein stood out. Then another fellow took out a bow and arrow. The arrowhead was wrapped in cloth a short distance back from its point which acted as a "stop" so when the arrow was fired into the vein, it would only penetrate enough to puncture the vein not fly into the animals neck. He then took aim and fired, as he did blood squirted form the wound which he quickly captured in a small container made from leather. After a few seconds they closed the wound by rubbing mud over the skin surface and by applying pressure with their hand. One of them then drank the small amount of warn blood straight down! This was pretty amazing to see as it was really a mixture of basic surgery, accurate archery skills, and meal preparation all in one. The rest of the day we spent with a group of school kids in a mission built school house. They were fascinated by us, and were blown away when we showed them the Edventure video on the laptop as this was the first computer they had ever seen.

That night we found another spot by the lake and bushcamped. Before long local people passing by came up to us, some because they were curious, and others because they wanted something. The first two people were two Turkana girls, or women. I am not sure which term to use as they were in their mid-teens and in the USA I might call them girls, but these two both had children and did not act like a typical 14 year old. One women was just curious and the other wanted some something to eat or drink as she had been walking for several days so I made some tea which is very popular, especially if you can offer limitless amounts of sugar to go with it. A bit later three guys from the El Molo tribe passed by and stopped to talk. They all spoke very good English which they had learned in school. We asked many questions about how they live and the local area and before long we had arranged with them to go fishing for Nile Perch and to visit some Turkana tribes people in a distant part of the lake where tourists seldom venture.

In fact this came about because I pointed at a hill in the distance which appeared to be on the other side of the lake and asked what was there. They said that Turkana people live there and that it was not on the other side of the lake but on a peninsular about 20 km north of where we were. So lets go I said so we agreed to meet the next day! By this time it was dark and the wind had whipped up again. We decided to sleep on the ground using the Land's wheels as a wind break. Although it was incredibly windy again, we slept much better.

The three guys from the El Molo tribe showed up on time at 6.30 the next morning and we all squeezed in the Landy, 4 on the front seat and one sat on the front wing and we set off for the hill in the distance. The drive around the lake which was along sand tracks which at times were hard to follow as the only other vehicles that use these tracks were Egos who scouted the area to determine if aid relief was required. After about 20 km, we reached the Turkana village, and a small Island which the El Molo used as a fishing base and where we were going to fish for Nile Perch. We drove the Landy about as far as we could right down to the lake edge with the Island in front. There were two groups of El Molo people one on the Island and another close to where we parked the Landy who had set up fishing camps. They would use little more than a few large tree branches as a boat and go out with nets. Each time they would bring back nets filled with fish, remove the fish, take out the guts being careful to set aside several of the fish organs which could be boiled down to make oil, then cut the fish along the center and leave them to dry in the sun. I am not sure how many days they had been there, but they already had hundreds of dried fish which they would sell. The fishing was obviously fantastic and there was no shortage of fish in this part of the lake. Our goal was to catch a Nile Perk. Apparently Nile Perch can easily grow 8 foot long and are typically huge fish, just take a look at the picture below of some of the bones from a Nile Perch we found by the fisherman. They might look like the back bones from a cow, but no, these are from a monster sized fish! We were both really excited at the prospect of catching one. Our El Molo guides signaled for the guys on the island to fetch us in the boat and we went to a calm side of the island where they used a large lure to fish for the perch.

After about 1 hr we had no bites and the fisherman needed to go back to the mainland so we had to leave disappointed that we didn't bring in a monster size fish. Even something simple like the boat ride back to the mainland was an education. They used a small bucket to bail out water from the boat, then rinsed the bucket in the lake, and half filled it with lake water and drank right from the bucket. They must be immune from the fish smell that permeated from everything. We bought three of the large fish they caught called salmon fish for 20 KSh each (that's about 25 UScents).

Once on the mainland again, we headed back to the Turkana village and met with the village elders. They were happy to let us take pictures and watch them milk the camels in return for some sugar, tobacco, and tea. The elders were very friendly and curious about us. They see few white people but said that they were happy to see white people because they usually make their problems go away. This means that most of the white people they see are relief and aid workers who bring them food which is becoming scarce in the area because of drought. The younger people were quite shy and even frightened of the cameras, but became less shy over time especially when they saw the Polaroid pictures we gave to the elders. Just as the sun was setting we said our good-byes and left the area to head north towards the border with Ethiopia. The tracks were quite hard to find especially in the diminishing light, but with our GPS and QuoVadis Software we were soon on the right track and drove off into the night. The terrain here was barren and bleak, black and gray rocks with the odd acacia tree. After a while we pulled off into a dried up river bed and set up bushcamp under a large flat crowned acacias tree. We decided again to sleep on the ground, this time on
large rocks, to escape from the wind that had already whipped up.

The next morning we were able to see where we camped. It was in a very desolate area, but clearly had signs that people had been there at some point. There were rock structures, animals dung (both camel and goat), and some curious small dome shape rock structures. We had a cup of tea and headed off. Our goal was to reach the northern part of the Sibiloi Park, just before the Ethiopian border. This really was desolate country with virtually no people and roads that were often difficult to follow and certainly no road signs (except two for the park!), so GPS coordinates that we had were worth their weight in gold. All we saw were the odd nomad with a small herd of goats or camels. There was no water for miles so I assume they survived off the blood and milk of the animals. Just before the park we ran into another vehicle, a Dutch couple who had picked up a Swiss guy who was riding his bike down but could not ride this part because there was no water. We exchanged travel info, had a nice chat, then said goodbye.

The rest of the day was just driving through the park through some fairly rough country over sand, rocks, steep banks, and unevenly rutted tracks. We decided to bushcamp just before sunset as we had reached the other side of the park. That night Aaron grilled one of the fish we bought (delicious), and we settled down to what was to be our last windy nights sleep.

We got up early the next day, and continued north to Ethiopia. The last town in Kenya was called Iloret. We stopped off at the Police Station and found probably the most friendly policemen in all of Africa who even shared a beer with us without asking for anything! Since they had water from a well, we got rid of the brackish "soda" water we filled up with in Loyangalani, with this sweet well water and took off for Ethiopia. This really is "out there" Africa where the tracks just go across and into the bush.

To find out what happened later this day, read the RED ALERT diary posting (week 26 I think) and see how we dealt with the guy with the AK47 who got in the Landy and told us to drive!

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