To really get a good feel for the country you will need time, patience, and unfortunately, if you do not live there, some deep pockets. Kenya is an expensive country for travelers, and getting around it is often difficult. However, I highly recommend making the effort, and advise taking your Kenya road trip to these six major areas around Kenya.
So instead of being two hours from the border, we are actually a minimum of two days away. It is a mental punch to the face. Our gas, water and patience are starting to run low. We drive hard all day. The road to Juba was paved once, but we mostly drive next to it, as the potholes are so bad it appears to have been shelled in a great war. At Nachok town we veer east on a dirt track, and do not see any other vehicles besides a military transport until long after we cross the Ethiopian border a day later.
Gnats swarm around us so thickly that swatting in front of our face feels like running a hand through a bucket of rice. We have to turn-off our headlamps to keep them away, but that leaves a gnawing feeling in our stomachs as it means we cannot see approaching crocodile eyes on the water. It is estimated that there are over 10,000 crocodiles in Lake Turkana, and Central Island National Park is their breeding ground.
Staying on Samatian island feels like the world has melted away around you and have somehow found the last haven of civilization. Samatian Island is the only development on its own island in the middle of Lake Baringo, so staying at the camp means you have the whole island to yourself.
The elephants wake-up early, and the day starts with a visit to their enclosure where they can sleep safely through the night. If the wild herds of elephants visited the night before, they can be quite rambunctious, crashing through the trees, and trumpeting to the wild giants, but the wild elephants are still suspicious of them, and not ready to accommodate them in their herds.
Hundreds of thousands of hooves beat down on the soil, and huge clouds of dust rise-up over the savannah. The dust veils the herds, and animals leap out from it, as ghosts from crossings past, suspended in mid-air before splashing into the muddy waters below. The crocodiles inch forward through the ripples, patient, observing, carefully choosing a target among the masses.
The Great Migration in the Serengeti plains is an intricate system of weather cycles, circuits of motion, and circles of life, which is fascinating to understand, amazing to see, and at risk of losing the balance it needs.
The long grasses hang heavy with dew drops, but the skies are clear, and the rising sun reveals the silhouette of Mount Kilimanjaro 120 kilometers to the west. The dew twinkles in the sunlight as it evaporates, the grass lifts its seed ladened stems upright like a peacock spreading its plumage, and the whole savannah turns a lavender pink.
The cabins themselves do feel as if they are from a fairy tale, guarded by the spirits of the fish eagles that stand like sentinels around the lakes, surrounded by little white everlastings flowers, giant cabbage-like tree groundsels, and heathers reminiscent of the Scottish moorlands.
The thundering vibrations from wildebeest hooves pulse through your body like the drum beats of an approaching army. It’s a dull and distant rumble, but it is visceral and it makes you feel vulnerable and connected. You suddenly feel not much taller than the swaying blades of savannah grass, and imagine how helpless you would be if the thousands of migrating animals veered and trampled through the camp.
Shela has morphed from the humble fishing village it was into a secluded haven for travelers who want to locate themselves off the map and on the beach for a while. Some may lament this, however, it does seem like those who modernized it, did so with respect to the timeless Swahili style that has always given Shela its character.
The large Mkanda channel sweeps the sand slowly out to sea along the southern shore of Manda, separating it from Lamu Island. Fishermen with weathered hand woven dhow sails tack to and fro across the channel, and the channel itself branches off, slithering silently through the heart of the island until it is slowly strangled by a mangled maze of mangroves.
Having an opinion on policies is a luxury, not afforded by many slum dwellers. So when roads are not built, electricity grids are not extended, and sewage continues to run raw through clusters of corrugated metal where people crouch through life, nobody is surprised. This is slum democracy, and those who live it, understand exactly how it works.