With a couple of weeks in a relatively remote South Omo Valley in Ethiopia warming us up for the 4-day stretch in a truly remote west Turkana in Kenya we learned what water insecurity means, how nearest power lines 100 km away affect the quality of life, what sand does to your buggers, and what daily 40 degrees Celsius in a shade feels like. As an add on, common things we are used to seeing morphed into new shapes and meanings.
The stretch of Omo Valley up to Omorate was just an introduction to the realities of the Turkana. There are a few things in abundance here: sun, sand, salty water and goats. The latter race the sandy wind whirs screaming into the arid savanah until someone echoes from the distance. The black beards shaking as their “maaa” pierce the air. They come in a rainbow variety of prints and colors. As I pedal the bike in the scorching heat, in silence, or listening to Tomas’ cursing, goats with the most intricate coats transform into rustic wood cabin seats, cushions, drum tables… But not the screeching beard shaking black goats. They reign this flaming savanah as the true devils from hell. All the images of Lithuanian folklore surfaced in my mind – the masks, devil shaped pipes, legends and fairytails… they all have one character in common. Goat. And now I get to witness the folklore tails’ embodiment of devil, somewhere in the middle of nowhere, next to the magnificent Lake Turkana, in this hot as hell region where alongside the devil goats, people still lead their daily lives.
Delusions, illusions and dreams
“Tomas, look at all the kattle running to the water hole! I don’t see a lake marked on the map though…” I share soon after crossing the border. We keep going and I point my finger again to the far right – there’s a huge lake in Sudan! Should we go check it out? We don’t have an offline map of South Sudan… We keep going. The road begins curving towards that lake and it becomes evident that it’s actually in Kenya! However, it’s not a lake but a mirage. The type of delusion/illusion you see exhausted hero experiencing in the movies when crossing the desert on foot. Well, it’s damn real when you are looking at it, and your beloved sharp minded human next to you confirms he is seeing it too. It’s an absolutely fascinating experience when you still have about 15 liters of fresh drinking water on your bike and have just entered the desert. Although for the exhausted hero it’s a cruel mind trick!
Talking about exhausted heros… Come day 2.5 and our conversations turn so very simple and infantile. “If you had a magic wand, where would you want to be right now?”, “What thing would you want the most now?”, etc. I thought I wanted to lie on the beach in Zanzibar, but then immediately changed my mind, cause the sand and heat I had enough of. I want somewhere cool where there are cold watermelons and strawberries. Tomas starts dreaming of an expat inviting us to his villa and showing us to a mini fridge stuffed with cold soda – “please, drink anything you like, it’s all for you, I understand what you are going through”. Later on we come up with a business plan. We’ll be producing soda (pop) called “Turkanade” which will be made out of the salty Lake Turkana water and get praised because of its unique sweet & salty refreshing taste. Oh, we love soda so much, especially Coke. Cold Coke works like magic – few sips and you are restored! But no one has a fridge here. And then we are almost out of shillings, so can’t buy it even if there was a fridge… It’s almost over, we’re couple hours away from Lodwar – a regional capital!
“Landing” in Lodwar was like entering Walmart. There’s everything one has ever wanted! Chocolate, yogurt, pineapples, watermelon, tomatoes, fresh passion fruit juice, and most importantly, cold Coke. Everything is quite expensive, but we expected that since all the travelers we met in Ethiopia said it would be. However, the locals say, everything we see in Lodwar comes from Kitale, and there it’s cheaper and more of it. So, we go to Kitale!
Really, it was planned. We didn’t go to Kitale because of all the goods we were ppromised but because of the family waiting us there. As distatantly as we are related, we were accepted as brothers and sisters in the kind homes of Jane, my cousin’s wife’s sister, and her brother Ken, and Biketi, and Best!
Truly the best hospitality one could experience. We learned about Kenyan culture and ways of life first hand, enjoyed meaningful discussions and delicious home cooked Kenyan meals. Jane is a fabulous cook!
The night of arrival we were invited for dinner at Biketi’s newly opened upscale restaurant Martin’s Lounge, serving worldly cuisine as well as much loved Kenyan staples. Once I saw a menu, I started pointing at every dish with an increasing flood wave forming in my mouth – pizza, curries, Indian delicacies, burgers, milkshakes… It’s located at the rooftop of one of the most modern buildings in town – One Tanna. At the ground floor there’s a supermarket, and mind me, it’s a real SUPER market. A little detour – on the way to Bale Mountains, we were told in Dodola there’s a super market in the village center. We kept walking and asking people where is the supermarket, and everyone kept pointing us to different directions, until we realized that a supermarket is a kiosk of which there are plenty of, and each kiosk carries essentially same items with a very limited selection. At Kitale’s supermarket (one of several of such kind) there was ice cream, chocolate croissants, cookies, wafers, Mars, Bounty (Mounds), honey and other more essential items to most, but we were sooo starved of all those sugary goods! It’s a real store, with good selection and an atmosphere similar to Mariano’s. Before we took off to Kakamega, we loaded up on all the dream food, spending $35, our whole daily budget. Now we are ready to go back to Turkana!
No supermarkets with rich isles here, but the thick isles of tropical forest were present. Monkeys jumping in the treetops, swinging on lyanas – Red-tailed, Blue and Black and White Colobus. A gazillion of bird songs, the bodies well disguised by the lushness of the trees, and only a geeky birding guide shows you the bird in the book, and then you find it on your East African Birds app to confirm the correct song attribution. Tomas calls it the bird radio. Once this program ends, we go to the waterfall and take a nap on the river bank. The guide told us earlier that it’s safe to swim here, so we go through the rocks and Tomas ventures into the water first. Careful as he is in water, he decides that washing up is enough since the rocks are slippery and who knows what is deeper down there. Great decision! Minutes later, I start calling him, but he can’t hear me through the noise of the waterfall. The third time I shout, he speeds out of the water. Two – three meters behind him a snake was crossing the river. Nearly at the other end of the bank, it lifted the head and puffed out a little. Cobra! Every time Tomas tells this story, the snake keeps getting bigger and bigger. We can no longer tell the true size, but it was real and I no longer wanted to swim in the refreshing waterfall in the tropical forest.
Before I move on to Kisumu, I just have to tell you to Google Colobus monkey call. It’s hilarious!
It’s vacation time! I’ll let the images speak for themselves. Only one thing to say – it’s got even more of everything that Kitale! And the streets smell like honey I was telling Tomas, if I was a bee I’d live here. We can only imagine what awaits going forward. Tomorrow we start the journey to Samburu lands to search for elephants 🐘