We have always read about how remote and difficult this route is. As usual, I think I will say, we find that this is quite exaggerated. Turkana is of course not a good place to have a break down, but there are other vehicles using the road. At least a couple of times per day. As long as you have water and food for a few days it should not be a problem. Even better would be to have the necessary equipment to help yourself or a satellite phone to call for assistance. Ruta de Lagunas in Bolivia is at least as remote as Turkana, and possibly also as beautiful. Maybe. For one thing is certain, this drive is probably the best we’ve had in all of Africa. That it is rainy season just add to the experience as what is mostly desert in the rest of the year, is now full of flowers and colors. The terrain changes over every hill, and visual impressions from these landscapes keep out doing each other. Lake Turkana is truly a jewel for all Africa overland travelers!
The roads haven’t been as bad as expected. Not even close. A factor in our favor (in addition to our trusty Patrol) was that it hadn’t rained in a couple of days. From Baringo to Maralal the road was mostly dry, and there were only a couple of sections with smaller mud holes from the last rain. We could, however, see clearly the tracks from big trucks that had been stuck in the mud a few days earlier.
We spent the night in Maralal at the Yare Camel (!) Club, and topped up with fuel the next morning before heading off north towards Turkana. The road going north from Maralal is built in a more hilly terrain, and this eliminates most of the mud problem. The surface was mostly dry and firm all the way to Turkana. The landscape is stunningly beautiful, and the pictures aren’t really showing the grandeur of this area. Starting on a plateau about 2000 meters above sea level, the road takes you over the edge and down to about 400 meters as you get closer to Lake Turkana.
A few hours north of Maralal we drive through the village Baragoi, and a few hours after that the feeling of the remoteness of this area starts to sink in. Some kilometers before Baragoi we drove past a group of six – seven young men with Kalashnikov machine guns, but they didn’t seem to be interested in us at all. At a police check point in the village we asked if it was normal to see groups with weapons, and were told that it was. “Not a problem”. Ooo-kay….
Along the road that so many has described as dusty and desert like, it was now green and full of flowers. The rainy season has its advantages.
Late in the second day of driving north we got the first glimpse of the lake, and the landscape slowly gets drier. A few kilometers up on the east side of the lake is the village of Loiyangalani, our planned destination for the day. In the middle of town is an oasis where you can camp!
Some has perhaps noticed that we don’t post too many pictures of people in our blog. In many places people don’t mind being taken pictures of, and even encourage it. In other places it is frowned upon. Where this is the case, we do of course try to respect that. Some places in Africa, especially where there has been lots of tourists, we have found that it is accepted that we take pictures as long as we pay for it. This has unfortunately a sad consequence that we don’t like much. The result of this is that as soon as the locals see a tourist with a camera, we’ll be chased down the street by people that want us to take their picture for money. And in many of these cultures they do not take “no” for an answer. This situation can be quite unpleasant, and sometimes we find it better to just leave the camera in the car. This was also the case in Loiyangalani, possibly one of the most colorful and diverse areas in the whole of East Africa when it comes to tribes, people, language and culture. Many people we talked with in the village spoke four or five languages. It is really sad that we can’t take and show pictures of these fantastic people, but sometimes we feel it is better not to.
We asked and asked about the road going even further north, but the information seemed unreliable, and in any case not really valid for more than a short drive from Loiyangalani. We found a vehicle that had come from North Horr, about a third of the way out to Marsabit on the “main” road to Ethiopia. Behind that we didn’t have any info. Most of the people we talked to in Loiyangalani recommended us to take a more southerly route to Marsabit. After North Horr starts Chalbi Desert, and this area floods in the rainy season and becomes a swamp. Not a good place to get stuck in other words. The only way to get accurate info seemed to be to drive up there and look for ourselves. The road there is more desert like and a lot drier than by Lake Turkana, but again we see that deserts are incredibly beautiful after rain.
In North Horr we are told that the road through Chalbi really is flooded. Duh…. “But you could drive the wet season road going north of the desert”. Really? This isn’t in any of our maps, neither digital nor in the paper maps, but it sounded like an excellent plan. A guy in a Landcruiser pick-up tells us that he came in on this road two days earlier, and that the road was okay. The only difficult part was a river crossing, and he didn’t know how much water there would be now. Well, we’ll find that out soon enough. We get the necessary road descriptions and we drive out on another beautiful leg.
A bit before we get to the river crossing we find a Land Rover Defender elegantly parked in the middle of the road with a broken transmission. After making sure everything is okay and that help is on its way, we ask about the river crossing. The day before when he came across, it was only about half a meter of water. When we arrived there a few kilometers later the river had gone down even more, and we crossed in maybe a foot of water. Almost a little disappointing after having worried about this for several hours.
Our plan was to spend the night at another oasis where we had heard that it was okay to camp. Unfortunately, the place had closed down and the alternatives weren’t really that many. Bush camping here would probably be okay, but as we still had a few hours of day light we decided to press on and make it to Marsabit before dark.
The road was more or less okay, the wet areas were behind us, and after four hours of violent shaking we pulled in to Henry’s Camp in Marsabit just after sunset. Crew and gear survived, and everything went well. Now, the only thing separating us from the good roads in Ethiopia, is the infamous Marsabit - Moyale Road.