It is said that the Turkana people don’t bury casualties of war. They leave them in the open fields, to be devoured by animals and birds.
In May 2011, bandits from Ethiopia, armed with AK 47 assault rifles assaulted a group of Kenyan traders who had gone into Ethiopia to buy food. This happened at a time when there was lots of barter trade across the border between the Turkana of Kenya and the Daasanach of Ethiopia, despite incidents of cattle rustling. This attack is said to have been a retaliation, but I have found it difficult to know who started it all where. This brutality, and the resulting counter-attacks left at least 42 Turkana people dead. Casualties of war. The ones not to be buried.
The Tondonyang Catholic Parish laid these casualties of war in a mass grave, that today remains a stark reminder of the savagery of war. A giant tombstone crowned with a simple cross sticks out into the clear blue skies like a sore thumb against the expansive plain landscape.
This mass grave is the furthest north Akoth and I went on our January 2022 adventure ride to Northern Kenya. And it is the furthest north I have ever gone.
In January last year, I did a solo motorcycle trip to Turkana and Marsabit counties. You can read that whole story here. On my way up, I did not want to use the usual Kapenguria to Kainuk to Lokichar to Lodwar tarmac road. I scouted for a new route and found a scenic and enjoyable road that goes through Kacheliba and Lorengippi, places I had never been to before.
I wanted a similar experience again: To get to Lodwar using a road I have never used before. Poring over maps revealed a road from Turkwel Dam to Turkwel town, via Naipa. It was difficult to get information on this route, but I happened to consult someone on Facebook who said that indeed it is a passable road. And safe.
The plan solidified.
Having slaved over work through the December holidays, I decided to up and go immediately I wrap up some projects mid-January. I was ready. My bike was ready.
I informed a small group of bikers of my plans and asked if anyone was willing to jump onboard, we go suffer together. It’s difficult for people to make time off work in January. But Akoth could, and this brave soul stepped up.
And that’s how I ended up doing this trip with Akoth Manu, a toughasnutsKenyanGermanlady. My space bar works fine. You will understand as you read the story…
I was anxious and apprehensive about doing the trip with her. I have had bad experiences with riding buddies in the past, and the last thing I wanted was to wish I did the trip solo. My solo trips have been heaven. But I decided to just go for it and see what happens. We had a little chat online, and I could see that she was anxious too. There was an unspoken understanding in the air that if we find out we can’t get along we shall amicably part ways. We left it open, it could work, or things could go south.
I knew she has done several tough trips north, including one solo trip to Kakuma and back, and she knew I too have done the same. The knowledge that none will be babysitting the other was kinda comforting to both of us.
And so, a couple of days before the trip, we were both studying maps, talking to people, and getting as much information as we could. We also met once and came up with a loose trip plan. Loose, because there were just too many unknowns to make any solid plans around.
But what is an adventure without unknowns, ey?
The grand plan was to make a loop around Lake Turkana. Go north along its west, nip into Ethiopia at the top through Omorate (after possibly visiting someone in Kibish), and come down south along the lake’s east side, through Illeret.
Well, the actual trip did not go that way, for reasons you will find out as you read along. So many things did not go in any way we planned. Every day’s plan turned into a whirlwind of chaotic adventure and unknowns.
So, dear reader, welcome to chaos.
Not complete chaos, though. Somehow, things worked out. Akoth and I worked well together… Kinda… And we met good people along the way who were kind to us, who made our travel possible and gave us lots of useful information.
I have tried to pen the events as accurately as I can remember them, and to put as many photos as possible. I aim to genuinely share my awesome experience with you. I hope, in the end, to make you feel like you were on this trip with us! My work will be done well if you slump into a hangover after you are done!
Before we begin, here is a rough outlay of how the trip actually went (for me), in terms of days and destinations:
Day 1: Nairobi to Kainuk [463 km, about 107km off-road]
Day 2: Kainuk to Lodwar, via Turkwel Dam, Kapelbok, Naipa, Turkwel [224km, about 175km off-road]
Day 3: Lodwar to ECD School [100km, about 70km off-road]
Day 4: ECD School to Tondonyang [188km all off-road]
Day 5: Tondonyang to Lokitaung, via Lowarengak-Lokitaung gorge road [57km off-road]
Day 6: Lokitaung to Illeret, via boat across lake [149kms, 56km on tarmac, 40km on boat]
Day 7: Rest Day, a visit to Turkana Basin Institute
Day 8: Illeret to Koobi Fora [102km off-road]
Day 9: Koobi Fora to Nowhere [151km off-road]
Day 10: Nowhere to Loiyangalani, via Gas [69km off-road]
Day 11: Loiyangalani to Maralal [235km off-road]
Day 12: Maralal to Nairobi, via Nyahururu, Njabini [343km, 20km off-road]
And here are a few tasty bites from the upcoming banquet:
Alright, enough of that. Let’s start properly from the beginning, shall we? Sit down, and let me tell you about my trip north with Akoth.
Day 1: Friday 21st January, 2022 | Nairobi to Kainuk
Today is a longer day for me than it is for Akoth, who left yesterday and spent the night in Nakuru. We agree that she can keep going, and we can catch up at Marigat. I need to move quickly, because the last 100km of our trip will be off-road, and we don’t want to be caught up by darkness.
First stop at Kabarak. It’s getting warm, some clothes have to come off. I give Akoth a call, and she tells me she is already at Marigat. She will do a work call as she waits for me.
I get to Marigat, roll into a petrol station, and there she is. She just got here too, after wrapping up her work call.
We fuel and catch up. We need a plan. Akoth has another work call to be done before end of day. We are not sure we will reach Kainuk before nightfall. She may have to do it somewhere along the way. We decide to have lunch at Chemolingot and think it over some more.
Akoth leaves Marigat town and goes ahead, while I go to nearby shops to shop for sandals.
We arrive at Chemolingot, and have lunch at Mama Juniour’s.
We also discuss Akoth’s meeting and decide that she can do it at 7 pm. We estimate that we will be at Lomut by then. A chat with some security people had informed us not to go into Marakwet County. At Kolowa we will hang right to stay in Baringo County, and get into West Pokot county, avoiding the route through Tot.
After lunch, we hit the road. A few hills later, the tarmac road ends. It’s 1543hrs, and we have 100km of off-roading to do!
We are doing quite well. Akoth can have her meeting at Marich or Kainuk, instead of Lomut.
We reach this bridge near Marich, and I can’t believe my eyes! It’s now a proper bridge!
Last time I passed here, this bridge was a twisted mess below:
We agree that Akoth will make her call at Marich.
I message and chat with guys on my phone, and take dusk photos as I wait for her to be done. The network here is terrible.
Once she is done, we leave. The plan is to spend the night at a place called Calabash, some 17km away. I have already spoken with Winnie of Calabash about our arrival. Winnie has also been very helpful in getting me information on security in the area, and on the condition of the road we intend to use tomorrow to Lodwar.
I have been to Calabash several times before, and I know they have signboards starting a few kilometres away. I’m in front, looking out for them. I see one signboard, approach it, but I just can’t read it. Akoth can read it. We reach another signboard, and again I can’t read it, but Akoth can.
Suddenly it occurs to me what is wrong! I bring my hand up and touch my face… I don’t have my glasses! I removed them and placed them on the bike at Marich while wearing my balaclava. Then I put on my helmet, got on the bike and rode off. I have no idea where I might have dropped them!
I inform Akoth of my predicament, and together we search for them on the bike, hopelessly hoping to find them hanging in there somewhere.
Just about two kilometres from Calabash, we turn around and start riding back, searching for my glasses. We scour the road hoping to find them lying somewhere, unsmashed. Strange thing is, my vision seemed to have been pretty good before I realised I did not have my glasses. Now I can’t see shit! We ride up to our previous Marich stop and look around.
After a while, I have to accept the loss. We leave again, tried, aching for a rest, and head towards Calabash. I’m pretty sure I packed a spare pair in my bags. It’s not my latest prescription, but it’s better than nothing.
We arrive at Calabash and park our bikes next to the sitting area. I get some bags off my bike for the night. I packed stuff so I can leave some bags undisturbed when not camping out. But there’s no food. In the spectacle of the spectacles, I forgot to call ahead and ask them to prepare food for us. The cook has gone away for the night. Ruth, the lady in charge, tells us that we can get some rice. That works. We will have some rice with a can of githeri I carried. Another lady is nice enough to make the food for us in the kitchen, as we get shown our accommodation.
They have nice little huts, clean and well ventilated. The bathrooms and toilets are outside. We are the only guests. The huts are a little distance from the reception area, and we take our bags down. Some containers of water are brought down for our use.
After we have our simple dinner, we go down to rest our weary bodies. We are sweaty and dusty, though, a shower is mandatory.
Sorry.. A bath.
After settling in, I step out without warning. Akoth shouts at me. She is not using the bathrooms, but is bathing from a bench outside the hut.
“Don’t come this way, I’m taking a bath out here!”…