As I left Nairobi, I knew not how to get to Loiyangalani but only knew that it would be my last stop on this Backpacking Northern Kenya trip as explained https://wangechigitahi.co.ke/2014/09/16/backpacking-northern-kenya/ . Little did I know that would arrive atop a lorry. Once we arrived in Baragoi and asked around, we were again faced with bottlenecks of people sharing information on how we could progress to Loiyangalani. However, I believe after the relentless questioning on the way forward, we were informed that a lorry (truck), would normally pass that route heading into Loiyangalani. The frequency could not be assured but it would be our best bet and we would have to hitch hike. I had always told myself that hitch hiking was a no no, it was a deal breaker on my trips but in this case , it would be the only option or I would have to return back home. It took me five days to make peace with the idea and it coincided with the arrival of the lorry. Since many people knew of our intention, one early morning, we had an urgent knock at our door.
The individual proceeded to inform us that the lorry had arrived and we needed to hurry if we wanted to get a ride. All fear was overcome with the thrill of traveling onward and soon there I was negotiating with the driver. He agreed but there was a catch, we would have to seat at the top (railings and toolbox area) of the lorry since its back was full of luggage and material it was transporting. I did not hesitate, if this is how it would have to happen, then that is how we would travel. I had reached that point where if I had even been given walking as the only option, I would have taken it.
The ride was quite eventful. First, being atop of the lorry allowed us aerial view of the changing landscape. Two, the scorching sun was unrelenting in shining down on us for practically the whole distance. Three, we were covered in dust everywhere including our lungs I believe. It was however engaging and interesting as fellow hitch hikers engaged us in conversations regarding our “madness” of wanting to travel yet the area was not our home area. We got to get a better insight of the area, the region, its people, its cultures and an in-depth class on the clashes that occur in the region.
We passed several villages and the extent of hardships faced will break your heart. The area as mentioned is barren, the sun on a rampage to show off, and the landscape moving from soil to hard volcanic rock that seemed to also reflect the heat.
We went for kilometers upon kilometers of nothing, nothing, nothing then found several homesteads with people living there. Again, I honestly do not understand how the people survive here.
This town is a wonder. After kilometers and kilometers of bareness, you start seeing several bushes in the yonder. As we came closer, we were met by yellow flowers, mango trees and water actually flowing in this area. This looked like a miracle and I still cannot comprehend how.
This would be our stop over for lunch and a well-deserved rest. We however ended up staying for longer than expected as we waited for the heat to recede otherwise it would make the tires to explode. After a couple of hours, we proceeded onward and after a few minutes of leaving the town, we again went back to the norm-barren landscape.
Finally after almost 10hours, we finally got a glimpse of Lake Turkana in the yonder. The sun was setting and its reflection shimmering on the waters. The sight I tell you is beautiful I could hardly blink. I truly appreciated the aerial view and planned to have a date swimming in it soon. The ride started being a bit scary as it seemed like we were descending which isn’t a great feeling when you are atop a lorry.
However, after 12hours on the road, 580km covered, having engaged with several communities en-route to having sighted beautiful scenery like the landscape and the famous Mount Kulal, driven through part of Chalbi desert( that’s what we were told), we finally arrived in Loiyangalani.
Things to do in Loiyangalani:
a) Explore and enjoy Lake Turkana
It is the worlds largest permanent desert lake and the worlds largest alkaline lake . The lake is quite an amazing place to not only look at but to enjoy. It is a welcome “cool” place to shelter from the scorching heat in the area. The surrounding area of the lake is covered in volcanic rock and you may end up staying for hours here like I did.
Kindly note, the Lake in itself is crocodile infested so seek guidance from the locals on where is safe to swim.The lake is also used for transportation and thus you will see the boats loaded with luggage, the business pushing the boat deeper and the reason I didnt take a ride-they were scooping water from it as it floated on the lake.
I was amused and rattled with the fact that I only saw men swimming or enjoying the water. The women would only draw water to take home and immediately move away even though I beckoned them to join in. I chose a spot a small distance from where the men were and started to enjoy my swim. People eyed me suspiciously but that wasn’t going to stop me-I had traveled too far to swim in this lake. Eventually, one lady finally seemed to garner enough courage and moved beyond the edge facing me. She seemed scared, she seemed terrified yet she had that twinkle in her eye, that twinkle of excitement, curiosity and fear all bunched together.
I could not comprehend her fear if indeed it was of drowning. The women in this region are tall, like really tall. So I started to beckon her some more and slowly she kept moving deeper and deeper ( in this case, the water was mid-calf.) When I noted her fear, I started standing and sitting, standing and sitting to reassure her that it was safe, if I could comfortably sit and have my body still above water, she would definitely not be submerged. Soon, she started to do the same and it was fun watching her giggle and there after laugh loudly seeming to have discovered something new. I will never forget that. After a few minutes, she remembered the reason for coming to the lake, waved at me, filled her water bucket and walked away, smiling .
I didn’t get much time to interact with the locals due to both time constraints and language barrier. I however pulled a “rabbit in the hat” trick and managed to talk to the young men in the area. On the last night at the hotel, I went and sat at a table set in the middle of the lounge area. Soon, a few guys joined me and luckily one spoke Swahili and was a local thus making him my translator. They gave me tales of their travels when looking for “pasture”, to life as a Moran, marriage, their culture and their lifestyle. I was really elated as I had finally gotten to hear the men’s version. It was however also sad to hear tales of “child brides” and the practice of “FGM” in the region even though the practice is illegal in Kenya. Dear government of Kenya, I urge you to put more boots on ground to protect the little girls getting abused in parts of this region.
As we arrived, we didn’t even know where we would stay, but reckoned there must be at least a guest house in the region. We had decided if worst came to worst, we would just go to the chiefs camp and seek refuge. Fortunately, we were given a contact of a hotel owner in the region and he was gracious enough to come pick us from the home of the cargo owner. That is how we ended up at Malabo Resort which totally impressed me.
First, its rooms are spacious, clean and it has running water. The area is also very green it actually has trees and flowers and the staff are very friendly. They have the option of camping, hotel rooms and manyattas. The owners are also really nice and offered me a ride back with them to Nanyuki from where I could then get my transport to Nairobi. I still cannot believe such a beautiful place exists way up there and would recommend it to everyone.
There is no public transportation from Baragoi to Loiyangalani . One can fly to Loyangalani via helicopter or chartered flights. However, if you are adventurous like me, feel free to backpack and hitch a ride from a lorry. An alternative route that I later discovered would be to progress from Nairobi to Marsabit by bus, which is picked in Eastleigh. From Marsabit, there are buses heading to Loiyangalani.
Thank you Loiyangalani for proving that indeed, there is always light at the end of the tunnel. After hours and hours of dry bare land, we met with you, a magestic lake that is truly a gem. I will have to return to get more time to explore you. However, I am greatful that upon arrival, having successfully backpacked Nairobi to Loiyangalani, covered over 1300km overland, experienced life in Suguta Marmar, Maralal, Baragoi and Loiyangalani,engaged and learnt about the Samburu and Turkana communities, I could smile having made a dream come true. I could also officially, honestly and authoritatively respond to Lee and all others who may have wondered that Yes, it is safe for a lady to travel solo in Kenya.