Backpacking in itself is not for the faint hearted-Fact. Travelling to Northern Kenya is not the Norm-fact. Now, when you join those two to make -Backpacking Northern Kenya , you have officially treaded on a journey that is not for the faint hearted as well as placing you in the “out of normal” bracket.
Northern Kenya is one of those places you only always hear about the negative.The region is hot, very hot that people sometimes joke about it being home to the sun. Due to its heat, most of the land is bare,dry, stony, thorny and all round harsh terrain.
The area is also notorious for severe drought, banditry, cattle rustling, inter community clashes,the Baragoi massacre of 2013 among others. However, what we fail to hear is the good stories about the region (every coin has two sides-right?).
The newsmakers fail to tell us about the amazing people of the dominantly 14 tribes that reside there namely: Turkana, Samburu , Pokot, Borana, Gabbra , Rendile , El Molo , Somali, Burji ,Konso, Sakuye ,Waata, Garee, and Dassanatch who are dominantly pastoral and have managed to uphold their rich and diverse cultures.
They fail to tell us that the area is referred to as the “Cradle of mankind” due to having the largest collection and record of human and animal fossils in the world and home of the “Turkana Boy “which is the only almost complete skeleton of a human fossil ever found in the world.
They fail to tell us that this region is home to the Lake Tukana National Park which is a World Heritage site and the Lake is the worlds largest permanent desert lake and the worlds largest alkaline lake-interesting right? From a young age I had always wanted to visit the area, to see it for myself and to experience it for myself. One day I told myself-One day.
Fast forward to 2014 and I received a query from a fellow solo female traveller on a travel forum on whether it was safe for a female to travel solo in Kenya.” As I was about to immediately respond to her “Definitely Yes,” I realized that I couldn’t honestly say that from an experience point of view.
I realized for the first time that I had never actually traveled solo in Kenya even though I had done it internationally for several years. Being home, I would always travel with my friends, family or tours and had never actually backpacked in Kenya. I decided since my blog is all about honest personal experiences, I would only respond once I had actually traveled solo in Kenya.
The adventurous me came up with the idea that, “if I were to backpack solo to one of the supposed no-go-zones in Kenya, and succeeded, it would definitely be a bench mark for the rest of Kenya. It is at this point that I remembered Northern Kenya and the yearning I had always had to travel there-it would be the best option. I thus decided to travel from Nairobi to Northern Kenya and specifically Nairobi to Lake Turkana in Loiyangalani-backpacking overland which eventually covered over 1300km.
I couldn’t afford a flight or the tour companies fees for those that traversed that route at the time and two, the lack of knowledge/information on how one could travel there on their own challenged me to want to discover and solve this mystery on my own.
The only information I had was how to get a matatu (minivan) from Nairobi to Nyahururu and another to Maralal town and then -Nothing, no more information. I like challenges and thus decided I would do it and gather the intel myself from the locals there , surely I thought to myself, there must be a way the locals there get to Lake Turkana, right?
Suffice to say, that trip was very scary, thrilling, exciting as I not only managed to interact and intensely learn the cultures of the Samburu community in Suguta Marmar and the Turkana community in Baragoi, I hitch-hiked for the first time in my life (something I had said I would never do) and hitch hiked a lorry for that matter for about 12hours to actually seeing and swimming in the Lake Turkana.
This officially falls under my most daring travel yet and I was able to afficially honestly respond to Lee and anyone else who may be wondering that “Yes, it is safe for a female to travel solo in Kenya” whilst also following the same precautions they would anywhere in the world.
You must read https://wangechigitahi.wordpress.com/2014/09/15/samburu-county/ for an indepth story of Suguta Marmar area and the Samburu Culture, https://wangechigitahi.wordpress.com/2014/09/15/baragoi/ for an indepth story of Baragoi area and the Turkana tribe, https://wangechigitahi.wordpress.com/2014/09/16/loiyangalani/ for the indepth story of Loiyangalani home to Lake Turkana and https://wangechigitahi.wordpress.com/2014/09/25/challenges-of-backpacking-northern-kenya/ for the challenges faced.