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With one of our passenger stuffed in the back we set off early to Marsabit on one of the worst roads on offer in Africa. True to form the radiator gives trouble. Our spirits plummet to one of the lowest point of the whole journey. The landscape is desolate to the point of being intimidating. Every stop is agonising while we wait for the engine to cool. (Top TIP: It is best to leave you engine running when cooling down an overheated engine. It allows the engine to cool quicker and at an even temperature.)
The heat of the day is so intense that our crammed in passenger in the back opt on several occasions between stops to hang on to Williwaw by standing on the door footplate. We arrive after nine hours of driving looking like a group of people about to take part in some science fiction move. The only visible features through the layers of dust are our eyes.
Marsabit surrounded by a dust bowel has three hotels with a large extinct volcano on its outskirts that stick out like a sore thumb. Covered in dense forest it is totally out of kilter with the surrounding landscape. The town itself without difficulty could pass as an out post. A Wild West frontier town except for that large extinct volcano covered in trees to its south. All esquires as to the possibilities of a convoy up to the Ethiopian border fall on def ears. With quite a few shady blokes giving Williwaw the eye we have no option but to stay the night in the hotel. Not the most congenial joint.
I place Williwaw under guard for the night with the strict orders that if I find either of my guards asleep on the job there will be no pay in the morning. Visiting her at two am I deliver a kick to the arses of each guard ensure they both stay awake for the rest of the night.
Awaking to yet another a blistering hot day we discover that our two passengers have arranged a lift in a truck. After a miserable breakfast we fuel Williwaw ensuring that the fuel is put through a filter from a large drum. (Top TIP: Fueling in remote places can be a disaster. The last thing one wants it to have to bleed the system. So never let the last few inches of a fuelling drum be pumped into you tank or Jerry cans. It will have sediment and water. When topping up you fuel in hot dry climate always earth your Jerry can and the vehicle. Static electricity is one of major causes of fire especially if it’s a petrol vehicle.)
Eventually with a sigh of relief we get going. We are relieved to be leaving Marsabit convey or not. Anywhere will do but we are not expecting paradise. Consulting our bible it describes a campsite in the Marsabit national park & Reserve, which apparently is the extinct volcano we saw on the way into Marsabit as the Kenyan camping site of camping site. Hidden on the floor of the volcano is a small lake named Lake Paradise. We decide to have a look.
An empty hotel at the entrance to the Paradise does not inspires much optimism. The bible states that to camp in the park one must be accompanied by a ranger so before lifting the barrier we have a look for Saint Peter. We find a cat that gives Florence a smack for imitating the call of a lion cub.
Eventually we unearth the cat owner the only living humanoid. He is just as surprised to see us, as we are to have found him. We discover that we are the first people to visit this year and it takes a large quantity of control when the park attendant demands a 100US$ a day. I am tempted to tell him to stuff his campsite up his dark hole. Over a drink I cool off haggling the outrageous fee down to a reasonable amount. Assured that we could look after ourselves the invisible ranger requirement is also dispensed with. The gate is unlocked.
We commence a slow tricky climb to the volcano summit. Emerging out of the trees onto the core edge the bible for once has got it right. Below us captured in the reflection waters of a small lake is the complete core duplicated in faultless detail. A further twenty minutes of bouncing and lurching from one side to the other we arrive on the lakes shore disturbing twenty odd Coots sending them dashing like scud missiles in every direction.
Pitch No111 is truly in seventh heaven. We park on a high bank in amongst trees with large dangling vines. Our choice of site commands a clear view of the whole lake. There is utter and absolute silence with an eerie feeling that some thing will either roar or crash out of the woods at any moment. On the other hand if one of us were to break wind the spell of the place would be shattered. The sun is dipping fast with it becomes surprisingly cool quickly. A hot puff of air ruffles the lake waters making the surrounding reeds and tall grasses whisper. A bird call sounds the alarm announcing the arrival of our first thirsty visitors. Two elephants appear on the lakeshore opposites us. A blacksmith plover is going mental at the uninvited intrusion. We are riveted to our binoculars. It is as if our souls are in communication with the natural tempo of life. Devoid of any other human interference and cocooned from the surrounding desert the countless documentaries that we had watched over the years come to life in one of the most beautiful and strange places. This is our very own private safari.
With the excitement over I get a larger than usual campfire going while Florence practices some Tarzan moves on one of the large hanging vines. Dinner, a few whiskeys and the sound of the girls snoring bring an out of this world day to a close.
I awake early to bird sounds as clear as an alarm. The air is still and has a crisp chill to it so I poke the amber of our fire to life. . The lake removes it misty cover slowly and is in its full sky blue by the time the girl’s surface. A hearty breakfast is interrupted with a snatch for the glasses. The early morning bathers have arrived. A herd of Buffalo emerge from where we had spotted the elephants. In no time the lake is full of swimming buffalo. Their massive horns float like Viking ships each with yellow-billed Oxpecker’s manning the deck.
We spend the day sitting under our plate form in the shade sketching, reading, and sweeping the lakeshore with our glasses. The bird book takes another bashing. Fly time comes and goes. A troop of jumpy baboon entertains us with their sympathetic nervous systems on approach the water edge. A spooked gazelle gives us a scare. Late in the afternoon with a ware eye on the now grazing buffalo I venture down on to the lakeshore. The tall grass makes visibility untrustworthy and it not long before I feel uncomfortable and exposed. Better to be safe than sorry so I give up any hope of walking around the lake.
As much as we want to stay it’s time to packed up and make ready to leave. I make on last visit to the lake with a bucket. Our campfire needs a dousing to ensure that it is well extinguished. (Top TIP: Campfires might look out, but in very dry area the ground its self-will catch fire. It is good practice to ensure that every last ember has no life.)
Climbing out of the core Williwaw engine booms like a roaring dragon emerging from its den. On the way in we had not notices it due to the beauty of Paradise but now we could be heard in hell. Cresting the lip of the core the surrounding desert bellows out before us looking far from welcoming. Arriving back at the gate we stop for a drink “You know that our famous attraction Mohammed died some time ago.” “Mohammed was one of the best known elephants in Kenya.” “He had tusks that every poacher would have died for.”
“Over a 100 lbs each side.”
Our destination is Lake Turkana 250 km long and 40 km wide to our west. Like Lake Nakuru, Lake Bogoda, Lake Baringo, Lake Turkana is a fast shrinking lake. Once connected to the White Nile when it was over a hundred meters higher it is still the largest permanent desert lake in the world. When it was considerably larger and long before white man laid his exploration eyes on its waters it was known as Lake Zambura or by its local name Basso Narok (Great Water). Since then in time–honour practice Count Samuel Teleki von Szek renamed the Lake Rudolf in honour of the Crown prince of Austro- Hungarian. It remained so named for quite some time till acquiring other names such as the Jade Sea the cradle of mankind till in 1975 it reverted to Lake Turkana.
While we bump our way over rusty sun-baked rocks we also feel obliged to rename it.
Considering it is evaporating at a phenomenal rate each year and in honour Richard Eskine Fere Leakey we rename it. Lake Leakey. Quite appropriate in such a harsh part of the world where a cloud or a raindrop is a rare as any Turkana Boy skeleton a mere 1.6 million years old.
The lake very existence is an amazing glitch in its self. Back then it must have been quite a different place. Looking around now nothing appears to survive except the hardiest acacia and the odd tuff of wiregrass. Survival is very much the key anxiety of any day-to-day life. This is the land of the Turkana Kenyan’s third largest tribe related to the Maasai. With no towns or roads to speak of the Turkana are detached to this day from any modernisation. Described as one of Kenyan’s most confrontational and belligerent people we look forward to our first encounter.
In a country that is basically overrun with the need to cash in on the Tourist frantic search for time compressed experiences in the virtual reality of exotic locations we once more skirt Marsabit with a great feeling of privileged to have had Paradise all to ourselves.
With the benefits of Paradise long forgotten in searing heat with a heartless hot wind that blows continuously we labour on over kilometre after kilometre of unrelentingly brutal landscape. Eventually the windswept vastness of the lake appears. In the land of droughts an utterly new world spread itself out before our eyes. Reaping the rewards of deforestation, topsoil erosion the polished surface of the soda-dense water stretching away beyond what the eye can see. In this land of drought the lake is one of nature’s wicked tricks for there is not a drop to drink. We arrive at Lyangalai and settle into sunset strip campsite for the night Pitch No 112.
Although we are just north of the hottest region in Kenya the Suguta it is once more surprisingly fresh. With no wood to be had for miles a fire is out of the question. It’s a night for the sleeping bags.
Morning divulge a land of violent volcanic upheaval. Black sand, rocky hinterland and extinct volcanic cores dot the shoreline. Our Camping host tells us that a mere two million or so year ago the lake used to stretch 160 kilometres further south beyond the Elephants Stomach (an Extinct Volcano).
Preferring to try my hand at catching a Nile perch, a Tiger fish, or for that matter anything we turn down an offer to visit south Island by boat. “Watch out for the crocs” gives me plenty of confidence. Several hours later having tried every lure in my box, and resisting the temptation of sticking my toe in the drink I return empty-handed.
That evening we listen to a story that encapsulates what can and does go wrong with an Aid programme. During the course of our travels, all the projects we saw that worked well were small and sustainable, built with the full participation of the locals, and combined local environmental and social knowledge. More importantly they gave dignity, not aid for the sake of aid. .
You would think that the west would by now have coped on. After years of ploughing aid into projects that had no convincing overall concept other than they look good on paper, rely on expensive western expertise and costly hi-tech input it is obvious to us that such aid is futile. Africa black hole has received over the last decade $294 billion in loans. It’s good to see at long last that the donor interests are now being put on the back burner with more responsible Aid. However the IMF, the African Development Bank and World Bank still continue to judge countries by the scale to which they embrace privatisation and liberalisation when they would be better off to support loans on the basis of accountability policies of the participating countries and the bodies involved.
The west nevertheless continues to thinks that money is the solution to the entire African problem with plenty-abandoned projects bearing baring witness. > Groundnuts in Tanzania, Bottled Milk in Sudan, Canned Mangoes in Ghana, Grain Storage in Senegal, Wheat growing in Tanzanian, Lemons in Kenya, Eucalyptus trees in Uganda and Water in the Sahara.
Sausages and beans in cans to predominantly Muslim areas where there was and still is great famine.
But all of these don’t quite live up to the story we are now listening to. Back in 1980 Norway attempted to set up a fish processing plant at Kalokol on Lake Turkana.
IT IS NOW A SHRINE TO AID MONSTROSITIES a blot on the landscape and a gravestone of sheer folly.
We all know that the Norwegians love fish. But why grow them in Africa.
Without asking the locals, and with little or no prior study of the lake (that is subject to wild fluctuations depending on the rains in the Ethiopian highlands) or the environment it was decided to turn the nomadic cattle loving Turkanas into fishermen. Millions were invested in setting up a plant in a scorching hot region where there were no roads; no fuel no fishing boats and where fishing was considered as an unworthy occupation.
Then apparently along came someone who dumped a few Nile perch from a helicopter into the lake. They promptly went about eating every other fish scale companion fish. (Nile Perch with the assistance of another well thought out programme had already cleaned out Lake Victoria to the extent that they are turning cannibalistic.)
It is no wonder that we are becoming more and more sceptical of government aid when it is disappearing down dark holes in the creation of show case projects that have little relevance to everyday living. We all know that there is no easy fix for a continent where over 300 million people survive on less than a dollar a day > Where sickness in the form of a wave floods over it every day > Where corruption, greed, and illogical use of power is widespread > Where over 600 million people live in rural isolation > Where as a whole they are unaware of the IMF, World Bank, Television, and Electricity> Where all over the place lies donor aid rusting in the noonday sun, bearing witness to the lost cause of technology.
There is great talk these days of the developed world removing its protective subsidies on food and trade barriers in order to help the third world, make poverty history. Africa countries however must be still sheltered by trade barriers to allow them build up their industries before entering the free market otherwise fair trade will destroy them.
In the mean time it is not the job of the IMF, the World Bank, to place countries in hock for the sake of a few dollars rather it’s their job to maintain the diversity of African cultures and to let Africa have space to borrow from the western influences so they can adapt them to their own beliefs.
Most people on the continent lived in societies that define both self and others by ties of blood or power. The cruellest gift of colonialist days is the persistent inferiority complex, a befuddled sense of identity. Considering all that the continent has endured from slavery to colonialism most Africans display a racial tolerance, which is short of miraculous. We all know that in the final shout that it is only the people’s of Africa that will resolve their tragic dilemma but one way or the other. We all belong ultimately to Africa.
The days of thinking that Africa cultures and the societies of Sub Sahara Africa form a single continuum, reflecting an underlying racial unity, which articulate itself in the “savage rhythms” of African music, the “sensuality” of African dance, the “primitive vigour” of sculpture and masks, from which was once called the “Dark Continent” are not yet totally over.
Just walk into any AFRICAN ART EXPOSITION and you will see.
Objects are still labelled with not the name of the maker but with the name of a “tribe” or some ethnic group. The legacy of the old European way of thinking what unites Africa is that it is the home of the Negro.
There can be little doubt that resolving the problem of trading barriers will do a lot to balance the haves and have-nots but one of the great dangers is that developing countries are fast becoming the information deserts of the underclass’s. There is a need too to prevent technology from encroaching on a nation’s people freedom of opportunities or intelligence. The United Nations should be addressing this problem as urgent perhaps by insisting that all microchips should be able to talk to each other.
Today’s Africa’s life (as it did long before it was subject to Colonisation, to slavery, to aid programmes that painted it with the one colour) remains in its diversity. It is still far too simple when speaking of a continent of hundreds of millions of people to lob the whole continent into a singular, coherent, African nature. Just look at the recent European Union problems.
All aspirations and diversity of cultures must be at the core of any assistance to gain any respect. Unfortunately to today’s technologies have a life of their own no longer subordinate to larger social goals. Globally Mobil capital of the world has only profit as it goal. Our journey bear’s out that most the developing trajectories that most African countries are on have little to do with the real needs of their people.
The G8th pontificating can’t pacify the vested interests of large multinational corporations bottom line.
As I have already said the only hope for a fairer world, for fairer trade, for an end to poverty is to harness the might of the world’s Stock Markets.
By morning we are having second thoughts about running parallel with the lake up to the Ethiopian border. Considering the condition of the dirt road and potholes it is a daunting journey of 250 kilometres. Prudence triumphs so we give the petrified forest of Sibiloi a UNESCO world heritage site a miss and double back to North Horr crossing into Ethiopia at Moyale.
(To be continued)
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