Sunday, June 15, 2008

African Adventure: Helping two Samburu warriors find their cows, a beautiful bushcamp, and reaching Lake Turkana (May 27-28)

Current Location: Lake Turkana, Kenya
Highlights: A really interaction with two Samburu warriors, some real "buntu-bashing" offroad, a perfect place to bushcamp, and finally reaching Lake Turkana.
Upcoming: Visiting with nomadic Turkana and El Molo people, crossing the Chalbi desert, searching for water, and then Ethiopia (with the :stick-up by the guy with the AK47).

After leaving the flamingos and Lake Bogoria we continued our drive north into the dry and remote Lake Turkana region in NE Kenya. As it started to get dark, we turned off the road into the acacia trees and found a nice spot to bushcamp. Both tired, we put up the rooftop tent and crashed! As the sun started to rise the next morning we were woken up by two local men herding their goats. They curiously peered into the truck, asked for some things with gestures, and they went on their way. So we packed up and we also went on our way en route for the town of Maralal which is really like the last outpost of civilization where you can buy fuel and supplies.

Maralal was an odd little town, nice in some ways but not so nice in others. It has become a gathering and settling place for what are usually nomadic people that inhabit this area, completely changing their culture. More on this is a while. We changed money at the bank which took about 1 hr, then went to a small restaurant to eat and write an earlier diary entry. Then three dirty dusty white people on motorbikes came into the restaurant, one German guy and a Swiss woman and man.

I walked around the town of Maralal and took some pictures paying 20 KSH for each picture of the tribes people that now congregate around Maralal. There is a mission in town that hands out food for free so the nomadic people flock to town to pick up the free food. They have become dependent and reliant on these handouts and many no longer make provisions to feed themselves as its much easier to receive the handouts. I watched over a period of an hour as more people gathered outside the mission in anticipation of when the doors were opened at 3 o'clock. It was actually sad to see as they pushed and shoved each other, both old and young people, some people were drunk, as they barged through the doors.

We continued to drive north and the terrain started to get drier with fewer trees and fewer people but had a unique beauty all of its own. In the early evening we found an incredible place to bushcamp just off the road among sparse acacia trees. That night we made a fire, the first bushcamp fire we had made since Botswana believe it or not. It was a perfect night, no people, certainly no cars, just out in the African bush under a perfectly clear sky.

The next day we watched the sun rise which seemed to energize us both and again we pressed on driving further north. As we journeyed, the terrain got drier and sandier, fewer people still and fewer signs of life of any kind. After the picturesque town of South Horr, we came across two Samburu warriors who signaled for a ride. Curious as to where they were going as there was very little out here, I stopped. Amazingly one of them spoke some English and he said they wanted a lift about 30 km up the road to find their cattle. So we all squeezed into the front seat and off we drove. It turns out that they needed to find the cattle as they had been walking for a long time and had no food or water. The Samburu, like many tribes, don't really need food or water when they are with their cows as they survive by drinking the milk and the blood of the cows. We reached the spot where they needed to get out and walk into the bush to where they thought the cows were. Excited at the prospect of seeing our new friends drink blood, we asked if we could join them, so off we went into the bush too. This was some real buntu-bashing as we just turned off the sand track and into the bush just following one of the warriors who was on foot tracking his cows. There were no tracks so we just drove through and over whatever was in front of us and in some cases had to get out and clear a path with the machete or back-up and find an alternate route round an impassable obstacle. After several kilometers we came to a basic corral where the cows should have been, but they were no where in sight! Our warrior friends were worried now as they said they were weak and needed to eat and were very concerned for the whereabouts of the cows. They started to look around, at the age of the dung left, and where the sand had been disturbed and found tracks they could follow. It looked like the cows, about 180 in total, had left the area and walked in the direction in which we had just come, so we turned round and drove back through the bush. As we hit a high area, I decided to stop and see if I could see the cows by standing on the bonnet and scanning the horizon with our Steiner Safari binoculars. Our Samburu friends just loved this and immediately jumped up into the Landy bonnet to take their turn using the binoculars. Alas we could not find the cows.

Once we got back to the road, we said goodbye to our friends. We gave then some Polaroid pictures of themselves and with us, some food and well wishes. Looking back, I really wish we could have seen this "story" to its end. I would have loved to have spent the night with them in the bush and helped look for the cows the next day as it so rare that you get to interact with people like this not as a tourist or as someone from which they want something, but as a friend on equal terms which is how our interaction was. These were two kind and gentle men who were as fascinated with us as we were with them. But time is in desperately short supply now and we had to push on.

We pushed further north. As we drove the roads got worse, vegetation started to become even more sparse, and the sand turned into rocks and stones. At last we found Lake Turkana, a huge lake that looked more like a sea, so we drove off the track down to its backs and set up the tent. That night we both hardly slept at all. At about 8 pm it started to get windy and within an hour it was blowing like a gale. The tent remained standing and intact, but the whole night we were battered by the wind and the loud noise of the tent thrashing around. The morning light did not come fast enough, although putting down the tent was not easy in the strong winds. Once packed up we again headed north en route for the small lakeside town of Loiyangalani.

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