If you have been an avid reader of this segment, then you took the trip with us to Marsabit County (formerly in Eastern Province of Kenya), which lies east of Lake Turkana, on our mission to unveil the cradle of mankind.
Marsabit however, shares the tag 'cradle of mankind' with Turkana County (formerly in Rift Valley Province of Kenya) lying west of the lake. While Marsabit plays host to Koobi Fora, a region rich in paleoanthropological sites, Turkana (Nariokotome village) claims bragging rights as the exact region where fossil hunter Kamoya Kimeu excavated the nearly complete skeleton of a Homo erectus boy, which has been termed as the missing link between apes and humans.
Sadly, for most of the world, the name Turkana is synonymous with armed conflict mostly over pasture, searing heat, hunger, famine and bare-chested women. It is the host of Kakuma, one of Africa's largest refugee camps. That was the impression this writer carried while landing at Lodwar airport.
Flights run by three airlines are regular and average Sh12, 000 in price for a return journey, which is welcome relief for those not brave enough for the 678km road journey from the capital. But should you prefer the exploratory road trip, then good cheer and decent tires on a 4x4 auto should suffice for a self-drive. Those opting for public transport can board Kitale Sacco or North-Rift Sacco shuttles, both 11- seater vehicles found along Mfangano Lane, Nairobi, or the Easy Coach buses destined for Kitale whose fares average Sh1,000. While there are buses that ply the Kitale-Lodwar route, I highly recommend that travellers opt for 4x4 double-cab pick-up taxis that charge Sh2,500 for an overnight journey. Be warned, while the first part of the journey is stress-free, the latter part – all 300km of it - is the toughest due to a pitiable road especially between Marich Pass and Kainuk.
Lodwar, as you might know is the Turkana capital and by far the biggest settlement in the county. It traces its roots to Shah Mohamed, a trader who put up a trading centre along the banks of the Turkwell River. In the past five years, the fortunes of the town have seemingly changed for the better. Pundits attribute this to the discovery of the Lotikipi Basin Aquifer System holding some 250 billion cubic metres of water, sinking of oil wells in Lokichar some 88kms away, odd gold finds, and the implementation of devolution.
Just like a Christ the Redeemer statue dominates the Rio de Janeiro skyline, a similar 30-metre statue on the tallest hill in Turkana is a sight to behold. It was put up by Catholic missionaries. Accommodation has also greatly improved. This writer put up at Cradle Luxury Tented Camp, the lead resort in Lodwar. You might remember the stir caused by the dramatic convoy of Ugandan commandos accompanying the First Lady of Uganda, Hon. Janet Museveni, during last year's Turkana Festival. Well her choice of accommodation, as well as that Raila Odinga, Ali Kiba, Diamond, and other visiting dignitaries, was the newly constructed camp.
Set on 16 acres, it is an easy choice being the only public facility with a green lawn and a swimming pool. The ensuite, canvas rooms are up to snuff complete with a minibar, satellite television and air-conditioning. This is also be the only spot in the town that serves prawns and pizza away from the town's staple of goat, fish and fruit which has to be flown in daily.
After a day dipping in the camp's pool, the evening's cool called for a tipple and the recommended spots were Homeland and Marble clubs, where we found that Turkana doesn't really like to party until very late at night and we were early. Maybe next time!
DID YOU KNOW
Marsabit County is said to have been named after a Burji farmer called Marsa who was brought to Marsabit from Ethiopia by colonialists to teach the locals how to grow crops. While Cushitic tribes make up most of Marsabit's populace, Nilotic speakers make up most of Turkana's.