ON THE ROAD TO TURKANA
This month we rev up a Land Cruiser 4x4 and hit the road to the northwesterntip of Kenya, a rough and rugged terrain that’s not for the fainthearted.
hile there is an airport right in the middle of Lodwar town, when I got a call from the Kenya Tourism Board asking if I would be keen to hit the road with them for up to a week aboard a Land Cruiser 4x4, I simply could not pass up the chance. An avid thrillseeker, Turkana for me encompasses the very essence of adventure travel, one of the few parts of Kenya I was yet to explore. On the first day we covered about 400 km from Nairobi to Kitale with a brief stop in Eldoret for lunch. Early the next morning we set off for Lodwar, making a stop at Kapenguria Museum which is set at the prison where the Kapenguria Six- prominent leaders of the Kenyan independence movement- were held in 1952. We then drove through West Pokot via a scenic and well-tarmacked road which has certainly made this part of the country more accessible. We passed roadside vendors selling sweet, ripe yellow mangoes and herdsmen ushering their goats further afield. The car peacefully wended its way past rolling hills, patches of rocky outcrop, green
trees and a rushing river before getting to the border into Turkana where good roads came to an abrupt halt a little after the police checkpoint. Security has long been a concern for travelers keen to explore this region, and this has largely been due to tribal clashes, cattle rustling and raids on vehicles. The policemen at the border advised us to get one of them to escort us through a 50 km stretch of sparsely populated land once notorious for raids. After some brief negotiations, we ended up paying Ksh 1,500 per vehicle for our two Land Cruisers. Truth is, there haven’t really been any recent cases of attacks in this area. I actually spotted a couple of cars driving past without police escort but the notion that there is insecurity here still prevails. The decision to pay for security as a precaution is therefore entirely up to you... The terrain from the checkpoint into Lodwar is so rocky and rugged that our car broke down. Car trouble while exploring Turkana is inevitable. One time, for instance, after what had been a rather idyllic day cruising down the waters of Lake Turkana and marvelling at the beauty of the volcanic crater lake in its Central Island, our car kept
getting stuck in the sand dunes requiring team effort to dig and manoeuvre it out. A one hour journey took almost three hours that night. The distances between tourist attraction sites are also rather long and on rugged roads so take that into account when preparing for your trip as it will directly affect your itinerary. Being the cradle of mankind, one key attraction here is for instance the site where the skeleton of the 1.6 million year old Turkana Boy was discovered. The drive there from Lodwar almost took a whole day. We drove on for so long, rattling along past scattered manyattas with houses made of mud, grass and sticks, and at some point after we had run out of water I was all but convinced that we had actually gotten into Ethiopia! If following this particular route into Turkana, at least five days are needed and even that may not be enough to explore all that this county has to offer. From Lake Turkana with its activities, islands and array of fishhumongous Nile crocodiles notwithstanding- to the tropical sandy beaches with towering palm trees in Eliye Springs that will momentarily have you thinking you’re on the Kenyan coast, this region is just begging to be explored.