The Red, Red Dirt of Home

Kennedy Range NP

If you travel in outback Australia the red dirt, which blankets much of the interior of this country, invades your vehicle and, no matter how well you clean your car, you will still be finding pockets of red tucked into crevices and hinges for years to come. The red dirt settles into the blood and soul of some people and I’m happy to be one of them. 

For many years I relished city and urban life then grew to love living surrounded by bush or near the ocean. I still love the bush and the beach and the occasional visit to the big smoke but if I’m away from the red dirt for too long I get a yearning to return.

Winter is the easiest time to travel in the outback when temperatures are more comfortable. Our last few winters have been spent either overseas or on the east coast so as covid restrictions eased and we were allowed to travel within Western Australia my first request was to head inland, camp in the bush and enjoy a good campfire, and see some of that red, red dirt.

Kennedy Range National Park is a couple of hundred kilometres inland of Carnarvon on the west coast of Australia. Rather than follow the highway up from Geraldton where we had spent the covid lockdown period we drove inland and travelled for two days along mainly dirt roads through the tiny settlements of Murchison and Gascoyne Junction. Traffic was scarce and it was great to be out of town and away from civilisation.

We found a pleasant overnight spot to camp at Bilung Pool. It’s a permanent water hole which was used by the early settlers and before that by generations of Aboriginals. Paul enjoyed catching the late afternoon and early morning light on the magnificent white gums at the edge of the pool.

We reached Kennedy Range by the middle of the next day and found several other groups in the Temple Gorge camp ground. The range is an eroded plateau and the camp and most walks are at the base of spectacular cliffs that rise 100m above the plains. The best way to appreciate the range is from the air and Paul flew the drone early in the morning, well away from camp, and captured some of the beauty.

Some walks enter the gorges and you pick your way through the rocks and admire the formations and patterns in the gorge walls. Others take you along the face of the escarpment and past huge rocks which have fallen in years past. A Wedge Tail Eagle rode the thermal currents above us.

There are no individual fire pits at the campsites but a large communal fire was a great place to cook dinner and to sit and chat with other campers each evening. After months of travel restrictions everyone was happy to be back in the bush and the conversations, as always, turned to previous adventures and experiences and future plans. 

Ethiopia Part 4, The Danakil Depression

Sulphur Springs, Danakil Depression, Ethiopia 2018

Sulphur Springs, Danakil Depression, Ethiopia 2018

The Danakil Depression, a place you read about in magazines on a plane going somewhere else, or in brochures in an air-conditioned travel agency. The hottest place on earth and one of the lowest at over one hundred metres below sea level. Weird landscapes that have been transported from a different planet. A place where foreign interlopers are viewed at the same time with disdain, indifference and suspicion. Not just by the people but by the country itself. Not somewhere you are going to go out of your way to visit. A place that sounds like hell on earth.

Active volcanoes with the oldest permanent lava lake on earth with hundreds of thousands of acres of blackened lava beds that are hard on shoes and even harder on car tyres. Bubbling sulphur springs and pools of acid set in an alien, technicolour landscape of bright yellows, lime greens, and gaudy oranges. Dried lake beds of white salt stretching over the horizon, too bright to look at under the noon day sun but, at sunset in the middle of this vastness, a wondrous place to watch the reflected blues, pinks and purples and the yellowing rays of the sun. A sun that, day after day, bakes the earth and everything else around until every bit of moisture has evaporated leaving nothing but salt or desiccated husks.

The Danakil Depression is located at one end of the largest rupture in the surface of all the continents on this planet, the Great Rift Valley. A rupture that will one day, thankfully in the distant future, split the biggest continent in two and the Danakil Depression will disappear under the sea.

Temperatures here regularly reach 50 degrees Centigrade and the average, year round temperature is over 34 degrees. Nothing grows here, nothing! There are enormous, very shallow and very salty lakes but you cannot drink the water. The Danakil stretches west from the Red Sea in neighbouring Eritrea until it runs up against a barren range of mountains over 2,000 metres high. Every pebble, rock and gigantic fold on the eastern side of these mountains is exposed to the desert winds and sun. On the other side of the mountains sits a very different world of farms, villages and towns amongst valleys and mountain ranges that seem to rise and fall for ever into the distant blue haze.

The hills are getting drier as we head toward the Danakil Depression, Ethiopia 2018

The Danakil, a desert of salt lakes, hot sulphur springs and volcanoes, is home to the Afar, a warrior people whose lives have changed very little in thousands of years. They live in small, rounded huts with rough walls of rocks covered over with thin sticks and fabrics. The rock walls fit loosely together leaving numerous gaps designed to let any little breeze through. There are no doors. 

Afar Village, Erta Ale Volcano, Danakil Depression, Ethiopia 2018

Most of the Afar live in small villages around the edge of the Danakil where there is some water and sparse desert grasses to feed their herds of camels, donkeys, goats and sheep.

These days they carry semi-automatic rifles and there is still a sense of tension although the long-running war between Ethiopia and Eritrea has now ended. There are one or two small towns where there are basic markets and some rough accommodation for travellers, typically a mattress on the floor of a large communal room.

Village, Afar Region, Ethiopia 2018

This is the place we have come to see and it turns out to be one of the highlights of our time in Ethiopia. With some trepidation we decide we want to go there in our own car but no private travellers are permitted in the Danakil. Village chiefs must be paid and armed escorts are compulsory. We eventually settle on World Sun, a tour company in Mekele, who are willing for us to tag along with one of their groups for less than half the price quoted on the web sites.

We leave Mekele just after 9am in convoy with one other vehicle which is carrying our terrific guide, Gere, Joachim from Germany, plus two other support staff. We will be meeting up with another vehicle in the small town of Abala situated below the mountains at the western edge of the Danakil. It looks like it will be a very small group which is great! It takes us a couple of hours to reach Abala and we arrive before the others so we sit and have a coffee in a roadside stall as is the custom in Ethiopia.

The car we are waiting to meet is carrying three tourists so it is a group of six including us, plus Gere, the cook and the drivers. 

We are back on the road before long and we have been given a radio so that we can communicate with the others. The country changes as we move from the foothills east where it levels out and stunted thorn bushes grow. We see the odd herd of goats and camels early on but after a while they are very few and far between.

Old Volcano, Danakil Depression, Ethiopia 2018

After another couple of hours of driving on the tar road which leads to Eritrea we turn north onto a sandy track which takes us to a village where our guide stops to find the local chief. We take the opportunity to let some air out of our tyres now that we are off the tar road.

Afar Village, Erta Ale Volcano, Danakil Depression, Ethiopia 2018

It isn’t long before we are moving again and we are driving across a sandy plain. Plumes of dust rise high in the air behind each car and the tracks fan out so we each end up driving on different tracks keeping an eye on each others dust. Our vehicle is carrying more weight so we are a bit slower, especially when we hit softer patches of sand. We are in four-wheel drive so we make it across these patches quite easily.

Desert Driving, Erta Ale Volcano, Danakil Depression, Ethiopia 2018

After about half an hour of this easy driving across the desert, the tracks converge and we come to the first of the lava fields we have to cross.

The remaining distance is quite short and we can see Erta Ale, the volcano we are here to see, but we are now moving at a much slower pace, between 5 and 10km per hour. The track is easily visible since the tour companies come out here nearly every day but the rocks are still rough and I begin to wonder whether we should have bought new tyres. We will definitely need them after this. After another hour and a half of driving we finally arrive at a roughly made village which seems to exist purely as a place to bring tourists to have dinner and prepare for the trek to the volcano. It is about 4pm when we arrive. We can see clouds of smoke coming from the top of the volcano in the distance.

Erta Ale Volcano, Danakil Depression, Ethiopia 2018

Old Lava, Erta Ale Volcano, Danakil Depression, Ethiopia 2018

We rest in the shade until the day starts to cool a little and then I am up and about taking photos. There are several convoys of vehicles parked around the place and groups of tourists sorting our their gear ready for the walk to Erta Ale. In amongst all of this are lots of camels which will carry mattresses and extra water.

Around sunset we have our evening meal and soon after that we are ready to leave. We are each given two bottle of water for the walk to the volcano. We will need them for the 14km walk! The sun has set but there is still plenty of light for the moment. The first part of the walk is through a sandy gully and across a plain. The sand is a little soft but it is easy going.

Erta Ale Volcano, Danakil Depression, Ethiopia 2018

Maybe I shouldn’t have eaten so much food though! It isn’t long before the path rises a little as we cross a lava plain. Our pace slows a little and I am starting to feel the heat. Even though the sun has well and truly set it is still over thirty degrees and the air is extremely dry. We take small swallows of water and try to conserve it for later on.

The sky is now completely dark and we are using torches to pick our way across the lava fields which are getting higher. We are using a little water to wet some ‘special ‘cloths we carry so that we can cool our heads and drape around our necks. Gere is terrific and he starts to make the rest stops a little more frequent. I certainly need them. The rest of our group is much younger than us and they are very patient. Eventually Gere tells us that we are now starting to climb the volcano. Funny, I thought we were nearly there! I am really feeling the heat and I need more rests as we climb. The temperature doesn’t seem to have changed at all. We are wearing the good walking shoes we bought in Tasmania and we certainly need them on these rough and sharp volcanic rocks. It is the first time I have worn shoes in well over a year and my feet are not liking the confinement at all. My socks are soaked in sweat.

We reach the camp at the top of the volcano around 10:30pm and we are exhausted. Gere shows us where we will be sleeping and says that we can rest for a short while before we go down to the edge of the inner crater to see the molten lava which is another 10-15 minutes walk after climbing down some steep steps in the rocks. Julie decides to rest for longer and wait until the early hours of the morning. I’m afraid that if I don’t go now I won’t make it at all. Julie beds down on her mattress inside an enclosure surrounded by a low wall of rocks. 

I grab my tripod which came up on the back of a camel and the rest of us make our way down to the inner caldera and, on strict instructions, we follow in Gere’s footsteps across the brittle lava. Some of it is less than a year old and still brittle and honey-combed with hollow channels which wouldn’t bear our weight. It is fairly slow going but before long we reach the edge of the inner crater. The breeze is variable and every so often we have to cover our nose and mouth as the smoke comes over us. It is very dark and there is no moon so the only light comes from inside the volcano or from the distant stars. Gere peers over the edge and decides we should move around the lip a short distance which we do.

As I sit on a rock and rest I start to visualise some compositions which I can photograph. I love the red colour of the clouds reflecting the light from below. I take these shots at about 11:30pm. I’m glad I brought my tripod!

Erta Ale Volcano, Danakil Depression, Ethiopia 2018

We wait for a short while but we don’t manage to see any trails of molten lava below us and we are all tired so we head back up to our camp. Gere says that he will wake us at 4:30am to try again to see the lava. I’m totally exhausted when we reach our camp and I bed down as quickly as I can. I need some sleep and I decide to forego the early rise which Julie makes with the others and guess what … they manage to see some of the molten lava. I have a good rest and I take some photos of the group walking back across the brittle lava of the inner caldera.

We start walking back down just before sunrise and our legs are getting more and more wobbly. Well mine are for sure. The walk up took us nearly four and a half hours. It will be a little less going down and we will only need one bottle of water. Nevertheless, we get back to the village a little after 9am and have some breakfast after a rest. 

Now it’s time to drive back to Abala for one night. I have had enough walking for a while. My feet are in a bad way and one toe nail is bruised and I lose another two toe nails a few weeks later. We repeat the slow drive back across the lava fields and then we reach the sandy plain. We have some fun with the three vehicles driving abreast across the sand with the dust billowing behind us. We reach the tar road and turn east towards Eritrea. It is not far to some hot springs and a salt lake where we get out and wade in the lake. In this temperature we are not really interested in the hot springs. After a bit we head back out to the road and we make it to Abala by early evening. We are in the trailing vehicle and we note how the other drivers are very careful when passing the herds of goats along the way. We wonder why the local people have to graze their animals so close to the road.

Back in Abala we find our lodging for the night and Julie and I decide to use our roof top tent. It will get any breeze there is and it is mosquito proof so we should get a better sleep than we might in a window-less communal room. Our group is down to three as the other vehicle has headed back to Mekele but before dark another group arrives that are on their way to Erta Ale. They all hail from Israel and we have a good chat about our travels. One of them is after a Coca Cola which isn’t available in town but I fetch one from our fridge for him. In the morning they return the favour and make us some Israeli coffee. Pretty good!

During the evening there are several people coming and going and we understand that the woman who owns the property is an elder and influential in the town. At some stage a policeman arrives in the compound and we realise that there are some serious discussions going on. I wander across to find out what is happening and Gere tells me that we have been accused of running over a goat on our way back to town. I immediately invite the policeman to inspect our car but he wants us to take it to the police station where it will be impounded. We have already set up our roof top tent and we intend going to bed fairly soon so we are not really interested in this. Eventually the policeman agrees that we can visit the police station in the morning to clear the matter up. We ask Gere what the price of a goat is and he tells us the (obviously inflated) price of a goat and a camel. Over a hundred dollars for a goat and over a thousand for a camel. Hah!

After breakfast the next morning we drive around to the police station with our host and Gere. We park in the street and get out and chat to a few of the policemen around about. We aren’t included in the discussions but we gather that another tour company was originally accused of running over the goat and they denied it and fingered us as the ‘ferengi’ that hit the goat. The discussions continue across the road at a nearby coffee shop. Nobody is bothering to look at the two vehicles that were allegedly involved. The owner of the dead goat is demanding justice. We decide that we need another coffee as well so we sit down across from another group of policemen and we start talking. Eventually they take some phones out and start taking selfies with us but we aren’t allowed to take any … so no photos, sorry.

We have to hand it to Gere. After about an hour the discussions are wrapped up and the two tour companies agree to pay half each for the ‘dead goat’ and we are grateful that, not only were we not involved in the discussions, but we haven’t been forced to pay either. 

We are now free to leave town and we head north along the base of the mountain range west of the Danakil on the road to Dalol where the sulphur springs and salt works are located. The drive through the foothills of the mountains is spectacular and we take some photos en-route.

Mountain Range, Danakil Depression, Ethiopia 2018

We stop briefly in a village for lunch and continue towards our new camp which is a short distance from Dalol. 

After a quick stop there we move on out onto the salt pans which seem to be endless. Our first visit is to some sacred rocks which are about the only thing that rise out of the flats. They are brown and made of ancient salt. The local Afar people eat pieces of the rock when they are sick and apparently it helps with stomach problems.

Nearby is another small hot spring which a few people from another group take a dip in.

Our next stop is for a sunset view beside a salt lake which disappears over the horizon. We drive as close as possible before the salt becomes to wet and before the cars start sinking. We set up tables and chairs and get out the cold drinks and nibbles from our fridge which we are very glad to have with us! The colours are amazing and I have a lot of fun with my tripod, wading out into the shallow lake to get the reflections. 

Our small group is very relaxed and we take some photos of the group before we leave.

We drive back to camp for dinner, arriving a little after dark. It is still very hot and there is a strong wind blowing. The landscape is desolate with rocks covering low undulations and very little grass. We find some shelter behind one of the huts. Our cook is inside with the fire and that’s the last thing we want to get close to. After supper we make ourselves comfortable on some rough beds up against the shack.

Bed under the stars, Danakil Depression, Ethiopia 2018

We are protected from most of the wind but we get just enough to keep us relatively cool. Even so we only need a sheet and it isn’t long before we fall asleep gazing at the myriad of stars.

The next morning is another early one. we leave at 6am to get out to the sulphur springs before the other tour group which is much larger and tends to take over when they arrive anywhere. It isn’t far and it is only 10 minutes walk from the cars. This is the lowest point in the Danakil at around 140 metres below sea level.

What a sight! I’ll let the photos speak for themselves. 

I also get the drone out and take some shots which I am quite pleased with. Some of these have been posted on Whitefella Walkabout Photography on Facebook

Gere has warned us about the slippery rocks and we take care. One of the young women who who was also at Erta Ale, the volcano, slipped and her feet went into one of the pools and they were badly burned by the acid. She had both feet bandaged and couldn’t walk without help, but she made it up to the volcano on the back of a camel. 

We start heading back to the cars just as other people start arriving. We are glad we made it out so early. It is already over 40 degrees when we reach the cars at about 9am. We really want to get our of the sun now and drink some water!

We stop a short way away for breakfast in a small, muddy canyon where the salt encrusted walls provide some much needed shade.

Our next visit is to the salt works which the Afar people have been working for over a thousand years. It is hot, horrible work in temperatures around 50 degrees. The crust of the dry bed of the ancient salt lake is cracked using pieces of wood as levers and then salt blocks of 5kg are shaped by hand using primitive tools and tied into bundles to be loaded onto camels.

Camel caravans still carry the salt to distant markets taking two weeks to get to places like Lalibela.

A 5kg block of salt is worth about 9 Birr here. In Lalibela it sells for about 200 Birr. The salt miners are very loth to change their traditional methods though. They refuse to allow trucks to carry the salt away and refuse to change their mining methods as they fear losing control of the salt and their livelihood.

It is finally time to go and it is good to get back into an air-conditioned car for the drive back to Mekele. We stop again as we drive through the foothills to take some more photos.

Camel Caravan

After that the road starts climbing until we are at about 2,400m above seal level and it is much cooler. What a contrast from the sulphur springs about 2.5km below us and less than 100km away.

We cruise back into Mekele and say goodbye swapping contact details and expressing our gratitude for the care and professionalism of our guide and the tour company. We are very glad we made it there and back. Now if only our tyres will hold out until we get back to Kenya.

Northern Kenya, “No More Stuckings”

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Low Hills surrounding Lake Turkana

Northern Kenya is remote and rugged and we are looking forward to the scenery and the different tribes and having some adventures in the bush. Together with Jared and Jen we’ve planned a loop across the top of Lake Baringo to Maralal then up to Lake Turkana, across the Chalbi Desert and down to Marsabit, then further south to the northern side of Mt Kenya. Well that’s our plan anyway, we’ll just have to see how it unfolds.

The road across the top of Lake Baringo is generally in good condition with some rough patches and a few muddy spots, and lots of great scenery. As we get some elevation above the lake we can appreciate how big it is. Our boat trip covered just a tiny fraction of the western shoreline. The hills are covered in green trees and shrubs after the rainy season and we spot a few duikers, zebra and eland. There are a few villages along the way but it’s relatively sparsely populated.

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North of Lake Baringo

After a few hours we reach Maralal where we hope to find a supermarket but we have to settle for a few vegetables and some eggs and some diesel. We fill our fuel tanks as well as our jerry cans because we may not find reliable fuel for quite a while.

It’s mid afternoon and we’re planning to stop at a community camp in the mountains north of Maralal which has fantastic views. We need to travel 23km up the main road towards Lake Turkana then 10km on a side road. We start climbing into the hills almost as soon as we leave town and we are still on the main road when we encounter our first section of thick soft mud. It looks tricky but both vehicles manage to make it through although the Toyota tyres slide more than we’d like.

We reach the turn to the community camp and ask about the road conditions. No problems with our 4WD vehicles we are told so we head toward the camp. It’s not long before we strike a tricky patch with a narrow section on top of a ridge and holes on either side of the road. Jared gets through with no problems but our tyres let us down and the left rear of the Toyota slides into a deep hole and we are left hanging with our front right tyre about a metre above the road. For a moment I think we are about to tip but it felt worse than it actually was. This is a bit more adventure than I appreciate!

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Oops – now we have to get out of this hole

Travelling in convoy pays off as it proves to be reasonably simple to hook our winch to Jared and Jen’s vehicle and haul ourselves out. We continue down the road and see a long stretch of mud down the hill from us. Time to give up the idea of the community camp, now the tricky bit is for Jared to turn the Jeep and trailer around. The Jeep ends up sideways across the road and the trailer at a sharp angle after one of the trailer wheels slid down a slope and with no room to manoeuvre to straighten up. Some digging and the use of Maxtrax and shuffling back and forth finally gets it sorted and we can get moving again. Once again we are impressed with the capabilities of “Snort” as Jen and Jared call their heavily modified Jeep.

By now it is getting late in the afternoon and we have no idea where we are going to stay for the night. One of the Samburu men who has been watching us approaches Jen and introduces himself and offers us a ‘special camp site’ not far away. After chatting for a short while Jared brings Jack over to us. The special camp is actually on a stretch of grass in front of the boma (compound) where he and his wife and daughters, his brother and family and his father, Alexander, live. We accept the offer and Jack rides with Jared and Jen to show us the way.

Back on the main road we continue for a couple of kilometres and are then confronted with another stretch of mud with a truck stuck in the middle and what turns out to be seven trucks backed up on the road behind them. Luckily there is a narrow and only slightly muddy track off to one side that we can use to get past the stuck truck and then we weave between other trucks to reach a patch of grass on the other side of the road which is to be our camp site for the night.

We level up our vehicles and set up our camp under the watchful eyes of Jack, his father and brother and assorted other family members and also several of the armed guards, carrying assorted semi-automatic weapons, who are providing security for the stranded trucks and their cargoes. This used to be a fairly quiet stretch of road but a wind farm has been built in the north near Lake Turkana and the Chinese are presently constructing the power line through this area to carry the power to Nairobi. A fire is lit for us, at this altitude it is decidedly chilly, and we sit around and share drinks with Jack and Alexander. Other family members and the guards also wander in and out of the area and we feel uncomfortable about bringing out food for just us and don’t have enough to share around so we settle for making a snack at bed time and having a picnic in bed. Its been a long day.

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Sunrise from Jack’s Place

In the morning a tractor trundles down the road and pulls the stuck truck out and the remainder of the trucks follow. Most build up their momentum and get through the muddy patch without incident but one can’t make it and they get pushed out by a grader. Jen and Paul go with Jack to meet his grandfather who is reportedly 117 years old and to take some family photos. Finally we are ready to continue our journey. We ask about the road ahead of us and are told that there is an easy drive with no more muddy patches and we should have “no more stuckings”.

We are driving to Lake Turkana today and it is a great drive with ever-changing scenery. We start on the top of the Loroghi Plateau with views to the valleys on either side of us then begin our descent. We start to see odd groups of camels as well as the usual cattle and goats. A bus thunders toward us with some of the passengers on top of the bus, we figure the driver wants most of the road so we pull over to let him pass.

The views at the top of the final descent to the plains cause us to pause and enjoy the broad vistas below.

As we cross the plain we see tree-studded grasslands which eventually turn drier and the vegetation turns from green to brown. Camel herds increase and the numbers of cattle decrease as the country becomes drier. The drive, with several stops to take photos of the scenery, is interrupted by a short lunch stop on the side of the road. We pass over dry riverbeds and through a couple of towns, Baragoi and the interesting South Horr, as well as several dusty villages.

Finally we start to see the blades of the new windmills emerging above the low hills. A report I read said there were to be 365 turbines which we initially doubt but as we drive further we wonder whether the number is in fact higher. When the power line is completed this energy will provide one third of Kenya’s power needs. As we leave the area with the wind farms Lake Turkana spreads before us. It is huge and glistening in the afternoon sun. Islands are dotted around and we can’t see the other shore.

We slowly descend to the lake on a very rocky road, here the country is covered in roundish rocks, mostly red but some patches are black. If we could wait here until the sun was lower in the sky the colours would be amazing but we have another half an hour or so to reach our destination for the night so we need to keep going.

We are starting to see some of the local people by now. There are several tribes living in this area, Turkana and Samburu, Gabbra, Rendille and El Molo, and the huts we see are round, igloo shaped dwellings made from branches and grasses and what ever other materials can be found. Goats and camels are grazing on the very little feed available and often people stand on the side of the road asking for fresh water. There is no shortage of water with the lake close by but although it is technically safe to drink it is extremely unpalatable due to the high concentration of minerals in it.

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Huts on the edge of Lake Turkana

The road travels along the edge of the lake and we travel up a crest and a large number of the round huts are spread before us, we have reached the town of Loyangalani. It is the main town on the lake, in fact it is the only town with just a few villages scattered in other places. Many of the buildings are the round huts and there are some cement buildings with a few places to stay.

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Loyangalani

We’ve planned to stay at a ‘resort’ in town but we follow a bus inside the grounds and it disgorges more than 40 people who are going to be staying here. It appears as though they are here for a conference or something else although the trip seems to have been too much for one young guy as he appears to be passed out on the side of the entrance road. Its crowded and noisy and the camping area doesn’t appeal so we search for alternatives.

Malabo Resort is a kilometre or so north of the town and while the accommodation is mainly in round huts (bandas) they also offer some camping. The camping area is OK but for only a little more, after Paul completes his negotiations, we can stay in the bandas (with ensuite) and still do our own catering or we can use the restaurant/bar which is perched up the hillside with a cooling breeze in the evening and views of the lake. Easy choice especially as this is can be a very windy place with 60km/h winds very common.

The road to Lake Turkana, while not the roughest road we have been on, has taken its toll. One end of our awning parted with our vehicle and it is now strapped to the roof rack on the Jeep and we already had one latch on the canopy break and a couple more have now failed. Jared and Jen’s trailer has had serious issues with the suspension and brakes and some of the rivets have given way causing dust problems inside. Jared is able to do some repairs over the next couple of days and we can repair one catch and shift some of the catches to minimise our problems but other repairs will have to wait until we reach a much bigger town, probably Nairobi.

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Snort and pet at Malabo Resort

We spend three nights at Malabo Resort and loved the friendliness of all of the people there. We ate in the restaurant on two nights and, because it is hot, they water down the dirt to cut the dust and we have a special couch out in the open for pre-dinner drinks while the sun sets and a table nearby for our meal. The meals aren’t always exactly what we ordered but they are delicious, and cheap.

We had planned to travel across the Chalbi desert from here to Marsabit, a sizeable town which sits on the main road between Nairobi and Ethiopia, but the road crossing the Chalbi is flooded. What is it about us and deserts? They are frequently very wet when Paul and I are in the area. Instead we need to travel around the north of the main part of the desert through the towns of North Horr and Kalacha which turns out to be a great leg to our trip.

Some people could conceivably find this type of country flat and boring but we are all delighted with the variety we see and the huge open vistas. Mirages shimmer and tease with the appearance of water.

Camels were common south of Loyangalani but now they are in far greater numbers. As we approach North Horr we reach a palm fringed oasis with hundreds of camels at the water. They take fright when they hear and see us and charge away but are settled by their herders so we can pass. Its an extremely photogenic spot but they don’t appreciate photography so we have to settle for a couple of surreptitious snaps as we pass.

We’re stopping in Kalacha for the night and have the name of a promising sounding camp just south of the town on the edge of an oasis. We follow the track through the town to the oasis where we check with some locals. When we are told it is closed we ask about alternatives and are told we can stay at the Catholic church in the town. Once we are there we have the option of camping if we really want to or staying in rooms for the same price. We’re grateful for the welcome and the rooms in this heat and find shady spots to shelter for the rest of the afternoon.

In the morning we take a tour of the church. Its an Orthodox Ethiopian Church and really worth a visit. As well as the building there is an outdoor area where it appears most services are held. Trees and branches provide shade for the simple wooden benches and pulpit and a low wall sets the boundaries without impeding any cool breeze. Inside the church the walls have comic book like paintings illustrating scenes from the bible. Guess its something to look at if you get bored with the service.

Another great drive the next day takes us across the plains and up into the hills. Along the way we see the flat depression which is the heart of the Chalbi Desert. Its easy to see that any rain in the area would settle there and any more than the average rainfall could take a while to drain away or evaporate. In contrast the country we travel through between the oases is a dry and desolate land. Camels and possibly goats  are probably the only livestock able to survive out here.

Finally the road starts to climb and we reach the town of Marsabit. It is typical of country towns, tiny side streets and people everywhere. Once again the supermarket shown on our maps can’t be found but there are plenty of stalls and some ATMs. Just past the town we take a side road to Henry’s camp. Its far enough from the highway to shield us from the traffic noise and is a good overnight stop.

From Marsabit it is only 250km to the border with Ethiopia and more than twice that to Nairobi. Big cities are not our favourite place but we have more Kenyan exploration to do and we need to complete our repairs so Nairobi it has to be. The start of the journey provides more stunning vistas as we look down onto the plains we have been travelling across and we pass ranges with fascinating rocky formations. Tribal people dressed in traditional clothing still appear in the dusty towns we pass through.

The road goes past or through several nature reserves or conservancies but by then the land is greener and the vegetation much thicker so we don’t spot any wildlife as we pass. By the time we have passed Archer’s Post and reached Isiolo we are leaving the northern parts of the country behind. Time for new adventures.