Discovering Kenya’s Far North

Lake Turkana is the world’s largest permanent desert lake. Its shore is longer than Kenya’s coast at the Indian Ocean. Surrounded by hundreds of kilometres of deserts and arid lands, Lake Turkana is inhabited by a mixture of peoples that often still hold to ancestral traditions and settle around magic oasis. It is a hard, remote and fascinating place. This photo-essay summarizes the roadtrip done with a couple of friends in October 2020.

On the road from Nairobi to Marsabit. Some time after leaving behind the Mount Kenya the landscape starts changing. The farmland turns into arid terrain and the number of vehicles and people seen on the way decreases sharply.

Marsabit is the last big town when approaching Kenya’s Far North. Just outside Marsabit town, there is a beautiful crater, like many others along the Rift Valley.

On the way to North Horr, herds of camels become habitual. This one, composed by 100, is being looked after by the 20-year old shepherd Adam. Camels can walk around 25 kilometres a day. Their meat and milk is widely consumed among some communities in Kenya. A female camel can cost around 60,000 Kenyan shillings (470 Euro) in the market, while the male maybe a third less this price.

The landscape on the way to North Horr, through the Chalbi desert, changes constantly. Sometimes you find millions of volcanic stones, as if someone had thrown them from the sky. Other times the soil is full of cracks, the typical image associated to a drought.

When we visited the area we were unable to cross Chalbi entirely as strong torrential rains had flooded it at some points.

At the edge of the Chalbi desert, we found a herd of around 300 camels, just in the outskirsts of the oasis of Kalacha. Camels are marked on their bodies in different ways in order to be recognized and also after they have been sold and have to be delivered to the new owner.

Kalacha is a very small town with just a couple of thousand inhabitants. The houses are mostly huts made of fabric, straw and wooden sticks. But the church is a pretty consistent building.

Shops in the Far North often dont have many fresh vegetables as they are not grown in the area. In the bigger towns trucks arrive from time to time with such products from central Kenya.

Outskirts of North Horr.

When there is water underground, suddenly there is an eruption of vegetation in the middle of these arid lands and an oasis with palm trees appears.

Typical funny picture that you need to take in the desert.

(© Irene Escudero)

At the peak of the sand dune.

Apart from camels, donkeys and goats are the most predominant animals seen in the region.

On the way from North Horr to Sibiloi the view turns into a Martian landscape. Stones, sand, hills and little vegetation. Often you can see dry bushes in the most strange positions.

Sibiloi National Park is the most remote park for wildlife in Kenya. We were the first visitors in a week. A few zebras welcomed us when we entered.

Sibiloi is located at the central-eastern shore of Lake Turkana, a salty lake with a huge amount of crocodriles. We managed to see some small ones during the night, with their eyes reflecting when pointed at with a torch light. However, it is much easier to spot birds.

(Second picture: © Baruch Lubinksy)

We camped a couple of days at Alia Bay (Sibiloi).

One day we visited Central Island, possibly the most iconic place of Lake Turkana with its three extinct volcanoes and plenty of animal life in its inner lakes. It takes more than an hour by speedboat to reach Central Island from Alia Bay if the water is calm.

One of the crater lakes of Central Island hosts thousands of flamingos.

Flamingos like moving all at once. They fly away in waves.

Another crater lake in Central Island hosts supposedly many crocs, which we didnt see.

There are many kinds of antelopes in Sibiloi, including the topi, but also gerenuks and gazelles. Some gazelles started running in parallel to our car and they kept the pace for a couple of minutes while we were driving at around 70 kilometres per hour.

A few kilometres away from Alia Bay you can find the socalled petrified forest, with amazing fossilized trunks of wood. The trunks are quite big, meaning the trees in this area were enormous millions of years ago.

Sibiloi is known as well as the craddle of mankind as bones from our ancestors such as the Homo Habilis and Homo Erectus have been found in its lands.

On the way from Sibiloi to Loiyangalani, the landscape is again very arid. Stones, stones and from time to time an acacia and maybe a crow. During four hours we didnt cross any other car. Sometimes a person would run towards us from a very long distance hoping for a ride or to get some water.

From Loiyangalani, South Island can be seen very well.

For many inhabitants around Lake Turkana, fishing is a source of income, but due to the lack of cold chain, the fish that is not sold during the same day in the local market is meant to be dried. Suprinsingly, dry fish is exported widely to Kisumu, the third most populated city in Kenya and located by the Lake Victoria in the western side of the country.

A woman builds a hut that will serve to host a kitchen to cook in the village of Layeni which has a mixture of Turkana, Samburu and El Molo people.

Patricia is a Turkana woman in the village of Layeni. Both Turkana and Samburu tribespeople, particulary women, wear plenty of colourful necklaces although they are slightly different.

View of Layeni village and the Lake Turkana. The lake takes here the amazing green color that leads to name it commonly as the Jade Sea. However, Lake Turkana can be very different in other spots.

Africa’s largest eolic park is located close to Lake Turkana. The windmill farm was inaugurated last year.

The winds in the southern shore of Lake Turkana can be very strong. We were told that waves can easily reach there up to 2 metres of height. That’s why it is not a bad idea to put a windmill farm in the area.

This project has been a bet of the Kenyan government, which has invested millions of dollars. However, it is surprising to see that the nearest town in the region, Loiyangalani, barely has electricity.

After Loiyangalani, we moved to the Ndoto mountains, dotted with magnificent ridges and bluffs. We camped in the village of Ngurunit by a sand river. Below the sand there was pleny of water that children and adults fetched with plastic drums.

Also donkeys and goats approached the sand river to drink water.

The bird life in the Ndoto Mountains is fascinating. A white-belly Go-away-bird and a hornbill are seen in the pictures.

After Ndoto and towards Maralal, the county of Samburu becomes quite irregular and hilly but also very stunning.

On the way back to Nairobi we stopped for lunch at Naivasha. The water level at the lake there, as it happens currently in many other lakes in Kenya, is very high and has affected some touristic resorts. Changes in the climate patterns, such as stronger rains or rains when they are not supposed to happen, are widely impacting the East Africa region.

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