North Kenya – landscapes

Wednesday, 22 May 2024

My recent African travels started in Nairobi, visiting Wawira Njiru’s amazing Food4Education project and reacquainting myself with the Thorn Tree Café, the inspiration for Lonely Planet’s long running and much missed Thorn Tree Travel Forum.

Then I headed north for Lake Turkana – the Jade Sea – where Kenya meets South Sudan (where I would be heading to next) and Ethiopia. For most visitors to Kenya the south is the big attraction – the national parks, the wildlife, the opportunity to spot the African ‘big five’ – lion, leopard, rhinoceros, elephant and buffalo. My first visit to Kenya (and Africa for that matter) indeed went in that direction.

You will certainly see some interesting wildlife in north Kenya, but the rewards for the far fewer visitors who head in this directions are rather different – it’s the landscapes and scenery and the amazingly colourful tribes which are the big attractions. Including the Rift Valley, that 6000km long division which spears from north-east to south-west and includes the Dead Sea between Israel and Jordan, the Red Sea separating Africa from Asia and, in Kenya, Lake Turkana. My Lake Turkana travels started north of Nairobi and Nanyuki and then used Koros Camp off the south-east corner of Lake Turkana as a jumping off point for further travels.

▲ The Painted Valley

Having left Nanyuki we travelled north up the Rift Valley with stretches of comparatively recent volcanic activity. Then following the Sugata River in the Sugata Valley – lots of crocodiles and flocks of flamingos before the river narrowed into a stretch of hudus, ‘giant granite rocks perched atop eroded volcanic ash stacks.’ The valley narrows into a brilliantly-coloured stretch known as the Painted Valley.

▲ Then for a change it was classic sand dune territory.

◄ scorpion

Before we turned east to Amory and Karina’s classic – and comfortable – and the food was very good – Koros Camp. ‘Don’t go barefoot around the camp,’ we were warned, ‘there are lots of scorpions around.’ For some reason they show up wonderfully clearly under ultraviolet light.

▲ Andrews Volcano

Shallow Lake Logipi with its landmark Cathedral Rock is separated from Lake Turkana by The Barrier and the Barrier Volcano. Andrews Volcano stands between Lake Logipi and The Barrier. The last eruption was just over 100 years ago.

▲ Nabuyatom Volcano

North of The Barrier and right on the south shore of Lake Turkana is the perfectly circular cone of the Nabuyatom Volcano, also known as the Elephant’s Stomach.

◄  A curiously muddy sand dune – the stretch of sand dunes further south fitted the classic sand dune description, but this arrow-straight dune was another story. Unlike normally shifting sand dunes this one is fixed, probably (I felt) because it’s more a mud dune than a sand one, my shoes were caked in clogging clay after I’d climbed to the top.

▲ Lake Turkana Wind Power Project

Just off the south-east corner of the lake are the 365 wind turbines of this wind power project, the biggest in Africa. It was hooked up to the national grid in 2019 and although, by modern international standards, the fans aren’t that big, it does make a major contribution to Kenya’s power needs. It’s an interesting contrast with the power situation in South Africa which suffers from regular blackouts due to its hopelessly inefficient power generation program.

◄  Following a luggar – creek – eastward from the shores of Lake Turkana. One of the creeks running into the lake features a collection of rock art, etched into the walls of the gorge.

▲ Despite their enthusiasm for cattle the tribes around the lake also herd camels, like this group heading to a watering

◄  East of the lake – it’s not all desert and rock, there’s also dense forest around Lake Turkana.