Kenya and The Chalbi Desert, April 2005

Well I have just returned from my latest safari and it was a different type of adventure from the ones before!  I joined two British girls and an American girl, along with our driver and cook for the 8 day trip.  We headed to Northern Kenya – our first stop Samburu National Reserve, where we spent a day doing game drives to see animals that are a little different from their southern cousins because of their proximity to the desert – different patterned zebras and giraffes, along with other varied antelopes – oh and of course elephants, lions, cheetahs etc.  Although I’m getting used to the sound of lions and leopards roaring in the night nearby, I was a bit nervous this time about having to dodge the scorpions in our camp every night!

The next day saw us travel further north – in the morning we had to join an armed truck convoy to avoid bandits along the road who, the night before, had shot at and robbed a truck.  In the afternoon we had engine troubles – blocked fuel line and filter from a tank of contaminated fuel we’d picked up the day before.  Our trek then took us skirting around the northern aspect of The Great Chalbi Desert.  We got caught in rain squalls that eventuated into the most significant rainfall this region of Kenya has had in the last 5 years!  But the desert had set a sodden trap for us and we spent 8 hours bogged.  The all-girl crew got down and dirty – a tedious process of repeatedly digging out the mud and sand and using thorny acacia branches (the only wood in the desert!) under the wheels to inch our way to firmer ground.

That night we took refuge in a local tribal village of the Gabbra people – a real highlight of the trip.  One of the big reasons for doing this sort of safari was to come into contact with some of the fiercely traditional tribes of the north, who continue to lead their lives as they have done for centuries living in wooden huts in the desert, herding their camels and goats. (But they have progressed to using automatic weapons for the odd bit of road banditry and cattle rustling!)  They put us up in their local school building and treated us to a show of their singing and dancing in the evening.

The following day we continued on – only to get bogged again for another 5 hours, but this time we sheared all the studs off one of the wheel hubs and had to be towed back to the village by a catholic mission truck!  With some quick repairs we pressed on.. But our quest ended at the edge of a usually dry creek bed, which had now become a swollen river worthy of white water rafting, complete with trees surfing in its turbulent wash!  We were less than one hour’s drive from Lake Turkana – but alas we would never set eyes on the great inland “jade sea”!

We were able to retrace our steps (not a certainty given the continued rains behind us) back to Nairobi, although we were told that it is possible to be stranded for days or weeks in this region during the rain!

The trip took us through some of the most arid and harsh terrain I have ever seen – all with a raw and rugged beauty to be appreciated.  We also travelled some of the worst “roads” I have ever seen – taking its toll on our Landcruiser.  Not only did we destroy a wheel hub and have fuel problems, but we also cracked the diff, loosened break pads, had an electrical fire and 2 flat tyres during the trip!

So now all that remains is to discover what diseases we all contract from plunging around in knee-deep African mud and acacia thorns for 8 hours! One of the girls had to dig insect eggs out of her foot during the trip – she’s still not sure how they got there.

Well I think I am all safaried out now – today I am catching a flight to an ancient Swahili island “Lamu” off the coast of northern Kenya. The only means of transport on Lamu are dhows (Arabic sailing boats) or donkeys.  So unless I manage to get a donkey bogged I think I will be taking things very quietly for the next few days.  I have only 10 days left of my trip now, so from Lamu I will be making my way back down the Kenyan coast to Tanzania to finish at the old spice island of Zanzibar – should be a slower pace as I wind down for the finish.

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