Into Loiyangalani and life by the ‘Jade Sea’

Sights on a journey to Loiyangalani.

I did not need a wake-up call from Ndotto Camp in Ngurunit. Having learnt my lesson the previous morning in Nairobi, I was slowly getting used to the rhythm. Here, bird song wakes you up way before dawn. And in a region where temperatures can soar to 40C, it helps to do as much as you can before the sun gets high in the sky. 

First, we needed a heavy breakfast to last us the next four hours, or the time it would take to drive the 161 kilometres between Ngurunit and Loiyangalani. The team at the camp was up to the task, working hard to prepare the essentials—tea, coffee, sausages, arrow roots and some vegetables.

I was not in a hurry to leave the tented camp with all the modern conveniences, knowing too well this would perhaps be the last version of a five-star treatment in this part of Kenya. But the journey further north beckoned.

We bid Ngurunit goodbye just after nine for the second leg of the trip. The route to Loiyangalani cuts through the edge of two counties; Samburu and Marsabit.

It is an area where tribal conflicts are commonplace, where cattle rustlers with high calibre weapons smuggled from neighbouring countries carry out raids on adjacent communities. Retaliatory raids follow with more loss of life. With the volatile Baragoi to the South, life here is always on the edge. 

But even in this bleak landscape, stories of endurance abound. At Illaut, the only main human settlement and urban centre between Ngurunit and Loiyangalani, men and women braved the heat to buy and sell livestock at the local market.

They were mostly from the Samburu community, as evidenced by their colourful attire that included resplendent beadwork around their necks.

Young men, in their equally bright attire, rode donkeys laden with water containers down the dusty road while others led livestock to a nearby water trough. It is a resilient spirit that defies the odds stacked against them.

Egged on by such determination, we drove on, eager to reach the famed Jade Sea and the so-called cradle of mankind.

Like the rest of Samburu, the drive towards Lake Turkana is punctuated by short shrubs, rocky outcrops and breathtaking open spaces. And on this seemingly inhospitable land, wildlife thrives too.

On several occasions, scores of gerenuks sprinted across the road in true antelope fashion.  Gerenuks, are among northern Kenya’s ‘Big Five’, the others being the Grevy zebra, Somali ostrich, reticulated giraffe and the Beisa oryx.

The gerenuk is characterised by a long neck that allows it to browse higher up the shrubs. 

The sun was overhead when we got to Sarima, another dry outpost in Marsabit County. Here, in the middle of a desert, a consortium of shareholders got together and invested Sh70 billion to tap on the power of the strong winds in a bid to generate clean energy.

This is Lake Turkana Wind Power, Africa’s largest single wind farm and probably the largest private sector investment in northern Kenya.

Sights on a journey to Loiyangalani.

Lying between Mount Kulal and the lake, LTWP relies on fast wind speeds from the Indian Ocean to turn the 365 turbines and generate power that now forms 17 per cent of the country’s power mix.

Power generated here is transmitted to Suswa in Narok via a 438-kilometre line and onto the national grid.

The fast winds provided some relief from the heatwave, albeit temporarily. Satisfied the country is on the right path to attaining a 100 per cent clean power, we moved on toward the lake.

The road skirts the edge of the lake and past deep geological gulleys that give the place a ghostly appearance.

Scores of Turkana settlements dot the shoreline as fishermen, eager to provide for their families, staked it out on the blue-green waters despite the presence of ferocious Nile crocodiles.

A tight cluster of traditional huts marked our entry into Loiyangalani. The ‘town’ is as basic as it can be. No fancy specialist shops or eateries. No spas or massage parlours.

And despite the town being on the edge of the wind farm, there is no mains electricity here with diesel-powered generators roaring all day. 

Our pit stop for the day was Tilamari Village Inn, a serene establishment by a spring of freshwater.

Despite the dust that hung on our skins, the first order of the afternoon was to indulge in the ‘catch of the day’—fresh Tilapia and ugali. A cold drink (emphasis on cold) was the lure we all needed to take a well-deserved rest.

By late afternoon, the gang made it to the shores of Lake Turkana for a quick dip.

Lake Turkana is perhaps Africa’s most alkaline lake. It stretches 265 kilometres downwards from Ethiopia and provides a lifeline for several fishing communities including the Turkana, Samburu, Dasanach and the El Molo.

A metal bench several metres into the lake became the makeshift studio where anyone wishing to have the lake’s memorabilia sat.

“Every guest I bring here must sit on this bench for a Lake Turkana sunset photo,” declared Sarah. “Where else in Kenya do you have a bench in a lake?”

As darkness set in, we headed back to Tilamari where another meal (including more fish of course) awaited.

Then it was each one to his or her hut, to fight the darkness and the occasional mosquito. And to listen to the last sounds of Loiyangalani—the diesel generators—before everything goes quiet. Tomorrow will be another day in the desert.