Lake Turkana Route PART 2 – North into the Never Never

Blog 44 by Mick: Lake Turkana Route PART 2 – North into the Never Never

We hit the road after a big breakfast from the campsite and headed north. Our plan was to camp that evening in the Siliboi National Park about 180km north, meaning our relaxed start that morning wasn’t of too much concern. The track north of Loiyangalani was free of the sharp basalt rocks we had ridden on into town the afternoon previous and in decent enough condition for easy gravel riding.


The road north that morning, nice gravel and nice views


Tan waving at some herders, and some road works in action… not sure what the go was here but it seemed strange, we hadn’t seen any roadworks since the windfarm construction camp well south of Loiyangalani, so why here? I wander if they are preparing for some construction…


A kid from the Turkana tribe


About an hour north of town we came across an old guy on the side of the road who waved us down. It was tough, desolate country and pretty hot, even for mid morning, so we stopped to see if he was ok. He asked us for a ride into the next town which we had to politely decline; the bikes were already quite heavy with fuel and water and the riding was getting more and more technical, so we weren’t comfortable with the idea of another 70kg on the back of a bike. He seemed to understand.




Wide open spaces


Rocks and rocks and little else out here


He had obviously been walking for a long way as when he pointed to his foot, we saw a significant open wound where his plastic sandals had rubbed through his heal. He had been trying to cover it with a black plastic bag, but it was still dirty and inflamed, and looked pretty damn sore. I didn’t blame him for waving us down and asking for a ride. Tan whipped out our first aid kit and cleaned it up with some betadine and covered it with a good sized bandaid to help with the rubbing of his plastic sandals. We filled up his water bottle which was empty, gave him some peanuts to snack on, left him with some XL bandaids and betadine cleaning wipes and bid him farewell. He seemed pretty happy in the end and wandered off into the desert taking a short cut walking trail to the next town.


I cant quite remember what I was doing under Tans bike – whatever it was it was worth a look anyway…


North of Gusi village, road was starting to get rougher


There were a few dry river beds to cross


We rode on and up a small rocky climb onto a plain and a kilometer or 2 onwards when I realised we had missed a turn to the north. I noticed a small village on the GPS a kilometer ahead which we decided to go and see. We had left that morning with enough water for the day and some extra for camping, and after giving away a litre and a bit we were wanting to replenish our stores. There was a shop on the GPS in the upcoming village and even black market fuel apparently.


Fun riding here. Was a little tricker than what it could have been as our pressures were still very high for the rocks.


DSCF2554Bluey on the basalt plains. The heat coming off the rocks was astounding.


Tan using our cheap umbrella on a snack stop. We had been told there was no shade on the route and the sun exposure can be extreme, which it certainly is. So we got a cheap umbrella in Nairobi as mobile shade.


The village was a tiny and dusty affair, and the shop was little more than a handful of cans of pilchards and bully beef stacked in the corner of a hut. There was no bottled water, although there was a bore we could have used but decided against as Tan can get quite sensitive to the minerals in ground water. Out of interest I had a quick look and asked if there was fuel available as suggested, which there wasn’t; take that onboard any potential Turkana riders out there – there could well be fuel on the route but get current info before you go. Don’t implicitly trust T4A, and people does not necessarily equal fuel.


Unfortunately the wind made its use problematic!


Rocks, as far as you can see.


At one stage, I started riding the stock/walking trails s they were less rocky, but we got separated.   I ended up in the valley while tan stayed on the road and ended up on the ridge. We could still talk on our intercom but the separation seemed like an unnecessary risk, so I rode up to meet her.


We back tracked the 3km to the missed turn and headed north. It was obvious the trail saw little traffic and even less maintenance. We crossed a few dry riverbeds and ended up back on more of the basalt lava fields we had seen for the first time yesterday as we got to the edge of the lake. It was pretty easy riding but for the weather; on the open plains we were exposed to the elements. With the sun blaring down, heat reflecting of the rocks and the dry wind we were hot and drinking a lot.


Was easy riding thankfully, just hold some momentum and miss the big rocks and all is well


Getting closer to Siliboi NP.


The gate where wallets are broken and tears flow free!


After 3 hours of 40kph riding in the midday heat, we got to the Siliboi NP gate in the early afternoon. The rangers at the gate were friendly and excited to see someone other than their workmates, but it was like a slap to the face when we saw the prices. For the two of us to enter the park with our bikes and camp for the night was going to cost USD97! Pretty astronomical, especially for such a remote and rarely visited park… why is some stuff in Africa so expensive? We considered turning back and going around the park but with our water consumption for the day being so high, we were now down to about two litres each. We wouldn’t make it north to Omorate without a top up. Plus the idea of a shower was nice…


The NP is famous for paleontologists and is the site of the earliest hominid fossils in the world.


Sitting down after a day in the saddle.


Camping in the NP. We found a spot to ourselves. Being Lake Turkana, there are plenty of those. You’ve got the entire place to yourself!


So we closed our eyes and with considerable pain we opened our wallet, and entered the park. At park HQ we were able to get a warm Fanta (only Fanta, nothing else, just Fanta. Must be the least favourite amongst the park rangers) from the canteen and top up our water from a rain water tank. We spoke to the rangers and were pretty shocked to hear the campgrounds have no facilities at all, which simultaneously destroyed our dreams of a cool shower and burnt that hole in my wallet just a little deeper. So instead of riding the 15-20km to the campground and back, I asked if we could just camp on the lakeside near HQ at a place called Crocodile Corner? Sure they said, just be careful of the hippos and crocodiles… oh and it gets windy… real windy.


Sunset at Crocodile Corner


A flamingo trying its gangly best to take flight


Views from our camp. Despite the cost we really enjoyed the solitude and uniqueness of camping with all the wildlife around us.


We set up camp with zebra, gazelle and hartabeest on the plains behind us, and flamingos in the water in front of us. The hippo warning wasn’t just bluster either; when the sun started setting we heard the hippos belching in the water 50m from us. We went to bed shortly after sundown in sweltering stillness and a few hours later we were woken when the wind tried to rip the tent from the ground and throw us in the lake. I got out, after being warned about lions and hyenas and crocodiles and hippos and everything else, and set up the bikes as wind breaks which helped a little but not enough to avoid another restless night’s sleep.


Camp the next morning after moving the windbreaks a bit. Zebra and Gazelle in the background.


Rocky riding the next day… the rocks were very loose making these little ascents trickier than they look


Tan managed fine though


We woke the next morning covered in sand carried in by the wind, and after a coffee and a small breakfast of salami and crackers we were riding again out past park HQ and heading north. It was going to be a really tough and long day on the bike, travelling about 210km in proper off road conditions and border formalities to boot. Soon we were riding very rocky trails in the park before hitting sand where we had the first stack of the trip. Tan got caught in some deep ruts in hot and soft sand. The riding was tricky in places but most of it was manageable, however I could definitely feel the extra weight as I was carrying more fuel, more water and a tyre.


Drink stop. It was hot riding.


First signs of any humanity in quite a while – some cows


Into a rock garden


Further north we ended up on a ridge which afforded some great views of the lake. The rocky decent that followed wasn’t so great though. We could see it from the top of the ridge and it stretched to near the lake edge, and was fist sized rocks and bigger most of the way. Tan managed the decent after a few nerve racking moments, but with more weight on my bike on the steepest section I got knocked off the trail dropped it and managed to break my clutch lever. At the very least it gave us the chance to use our cheap $4 umbrella that we brought exactly for situations like this.


Tan was a bit too tentative and dropped it


Another dry river crossing. It was close to midday by now and hot and the sand was soft and loose.


You might have noticed the roost in the previous photo… well this is the result.


At the northern border of the park we saw people for the first time that day, some pastoralists walking with their cattle. We rode onwards with the rocks getting less and less frequent and the sand getting deeper. We made it into Illeret, the last settlement before the border, where I had thoughts of changing Tanya’s rear tyre. We had heard that the trails north of here get sandier, and Tanya was worried on her very worn K60 rear tyre.


Getting the bike out took a bit of a push


Views of the lake from the ridge line. Descent to come…


Lots of decent sized loose rocks made for a tricky descent


But that didn’t happen, as Illeret, as our diary entry for the day graphically notes, is “quite the miserable shit hole”. When looking for the road through town we mistakenly rode into a compound and were set upon by some rather drunk and poorly dressed men. Bear in mind it was about 11:40am. One in particular was so hammered he was struggling to speak, yet he still demanded to see our passports and was quite forceful with his questioning and finger pointing.


Coming in to Illeret. Not too sure why this photo has done this, looks like its exported with an error… shame. Oh well it is uploaded now.


“Where are you going?!” he slurred.
“Banyafort then Omorate, Ethiopia”
“You cannot! there is no borderpost! You must go to Moyale!” he shouted.
“No we don’t, we can cross here, we spoke to immigration in Nairobi and we know we can cross here”
“Give me your passport!” he demanded.
“Fuck off! Who the fuck are you?”

That may not have been the wisest move in retrospect, but by this stage in our travels we had been in Africa for nearly a year, and we get asked to show our passports to all sorts of people. Many of these people have no idea at all what they are looking at, and it is difficult to determine who has the authority to ask for these things and who is just curious/demanding/showing off to their friends. And this guy was so drunk, unkept and demanding he pushed a few of my buttons.

“I am Police!”
“Well then show me your fucking identification! You say you’re police? Prove it!”

Which he then did. This wasn’t going particularly well for me; in fact, fair to say this was going rather poorly.

“Now give me your passport!”
“I’ll show it to you, but I am not giving it to you”

I showed him our passports, including our visa for Ethiopia and our exit stamp from Nairobi Immigration, but I held them firmly in both hands and would not let him take them when he tried. The fella was so drunk he couldn’t walk straight, there was no way I was giving him the passports. He asked us to get off the bikes, which I said we would not, and then he said he would get his boss.

“Good, go and get your boss”

Thankfully his boss was reasonable, and very importantly, he was also sober. I showed him we had the correct visas and exit stamps and that we were going to Omorate. He looked at our passports, explained that he needed to record our passage out of Kenya in his register, which we then signed. I apologised for him needing to come from his office but said if his men hadn’t been so aggressive it wouldn’t have been a problem. He understood and bid us farewell. It was a 5 minute formality that had turned into a 15 minute confrontation, all due to booze and pride.


Stopping for lunch on the border


This Daasenech man and his 3 daughters walked up. He didn’t beg or anything but gratefully accepted some tuna and crackers when we offered. We like to share food in these sort of situations. It is such a basic human interaction and genuine way to have contact with people you cant communicate with.


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He proudly showed us this ritual scarring on his belly which amazed us. We later learned what it means which also amazed us. This smiling man here, father of these 3 smiling and friendly daughters, is a murderer. The scarring is done during the celebration after killing someone from an opposing tribe. Doesn’t matter if it’s an old man or woman or an infant, just that they are from an opposing tribe and they are dead. Did we mention this is tough and wild country out here?


We left town and forgot all about the tyre change. Thankfully it was hardly an issue, it did get sandier north of Illeret but it was fine. After a trailside lunch of fish and crackers under a tree not far from the physical border as marked on our GPS, we rolled through the Ethiopian Police border checkpoint. He only wanted to check we had a valid visa and motioned that we need to get stamped in Omorate, and let us through. We had entered country number 13.


One of his daughters.


Mr Friendly… unless your from an opposing tribe.


Tan and one of the young girls.


Another portrait. This girl was very keen on having her photo taken.


North of the border, the tracks split and joined as they went to various little settlements here and there. It was difficult to ride and keep a track of our direction on the GPS and at one point we had to backtrack slightly to get back on point. In retrospect it probably would have ended up in Omorate anyway but we followed the known route nonetheless. And then, for the first time in nearly 700km, there was tar. Perfect, brand new, Chinese tar.


Standing around the only decent shade in ages.


His elder daughter.


Tan riding in Ethiopia


We were relieved and aggrieved at the same time. It was now just a 15km blat into town. The new road ended as we got to the outskirts of Omorate and we were now riding on a diversion next to the new road which was still under construction. The diversion dumped us in town and looking at a new bridge over the Omo River, which we rode up to only to be greeted by a shirtless man with an M16. He waved his gun around menacingly and pointed down the river. We had been warned about this guy from a fellow overlander in Nairobi, who theorised that the new bridge had destroyed the ferry business of a local businessman so he put an armed bully on the bridge to force foreigners who didn’t know better onto the old barge at silly prices. We were expecting this guy, but with such a firearm he was pretty persuasive. Its hard to argue with a guy with an M16.


Photo op!


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Tan monstering some river sand


On the gas… on a bald tyre…


I realised we still needed to head to Immigration and Customs anyway but Mr Angry-M16 was a hell of a problem, as we needed to cross the river to get to the house of Dick and Donna’s, the parents of Caleb who Tanya had met in Nairobi. 50m back in the middle of the roadworks, the main street of town headed south and parallel with the river, and after a minute on the bikes we were soon at Immigration. Tanya fatigued from another physical day in the sun, so went to do the formalities.


Next time Tan complains about riding sand just send her these 3 photos…


The immigration bloke was obviously pretty upset with his posting to the most inaccessible and primitive corner of Ethiopia, which Omorate certainly is, and takes his frustration out on whoever enters his office. He was quite rude, to his staff as well as us, and proved an unknown and uncared for point to no-one in particular by putting our ages down as 25, rather than 33 (I have just been reminded that, for the record, Tanya was 32 at the time). You see, Ethiopia is the only country in the world operating on the Julian calendar and it’s a bit over 7 years behind the Gregorian. This guy would have certainly known this, and even after I explained that our passports were Gregorian and it is 2015, not 2007, he still put us down as 25. Whatever man, you win. Tanya would be rapt.


Last of the off-road and about to arrive on the new tar.


Thankfully the Customs guy was friendly and after an hour we were on our way, after getting multiple confirmations that the bridge was open to everyone, including foreigners, and that Mr Angry-M16 wasn’t police or immigration or anyone and certainly wouldn’t shoot us. We decided to go for it and coordinated on our intercoms. We turned out of the roadworks side by side and gunned it the 50m to the start of the bridge. Mr Angry-M16 was still down in his hut and wasn’t able to get up onto the bridge and block us in time. And luckily he didn’t shoot us either, obviously.


There was no real road, but at one stage we ended up amongst an irrigation project where tractors had churned up lots of bulldust. Here the locals are directing Tan onto the cheat line.


There was no road on the other side of the river, just motorcycle and donkey trails going all over the place. I got Tanya to double and then triple check the co-ordinates we had been given, first the numbers then the format, as it seemed strange to be living on the unpopulated side of the river away from town. But it all seemed correct so we pressed on through some massive bulldust holes. It was the most challenging riding of the entire day. At one point the trail entered a field of freshly planted sorghum and we were directed by the farmer around to the new trail.


Bulldust ahoy!!!!


It wasn’t the only dodging of the day, when riding through some low scrub Tan nearly hit a guy who was sleeping on the ground in the middle of nowhere. We later saw this reasonably commonly, especially in the late afternoon, when the men come home drunk from the taverns. Apparently the local Daasenech men had recently petitioned the local road building crew to fill in a particularly troublesome hole “because we fall in it when we walk home drunk”.


Arrived!!! Dirty and dusty and hot and thankful!!!!


We found a proper trail of sorts on the other side of an irrigation project, and spotted a few impressive looking windmills here and there which seemed quite out of the ordinary. Then 10km onwards I saw a compound on the horizon with lush vegetation with many windmills. That just had to be them. We rolled up to the gate and entered what must be the only part of middle America in Ethiopia. We were met with wide smiles, warm greetings, hearty home cooked food and plenty of unfathomable stories of years spent in the Omo Valley. And the cold shower was amazing.

4 Comments on “Lake Turkana Route PART 2 – North into the Never Never

  1. WOW, business practices that include M16’s is a bit rough and $96US and no shower is definitely a rip off. But everything else, priceless…

  2. Awesome read – well done to you both. With my (limited) bike experience and just having driven this route, you both did incredibly well to get through without too many troubles. Especially over the other side of the Omorate river in the deep sand and dust – hell, it was tough there in the Hilux!! Take care.

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