Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Northern Kenya

Lake Turkana and Sibiloi National Park

The region around Lake Turkana has become famous as one of the great sources of evidence of modern man’s earliest existence. It attracts the adventurous and the inquiring, for many have heard of its fearsome terrain. Windswept and very hot the lake lies in desert or semi-desert about 650 km, by road, north of Nairobi. Just a fraction under 300 km long and 60 km across at its widest point, this desert ocean has become known as the Jade Sea.

Named Lake Rudolf by the first Europeans who set eyes on it – Count Teleki and Lieut yon Hohnel – who reached its shores in 1888, it was renamed Lake Turkana in 1975. The eastern shore is reached from Maralal along a road requiring time, patience and skill to negotiate. In places not much more than a track and in places a lava field this road is strictly for the adventurous and for four wheel drive vehicles. 225 km after leaving Maralal you reach Loiyangalani, the only settlement of any size along the eastern shore.

A welcome sight is Oasis Lodge, a simple place but seemingly the height of luxury in its austere surroundings. The first sight of the vast expanse of the Jade Sea is certainly awesome. A lake in a desert is itself amazing but this one with its dramatic scenery even more so. Less than 30 km east of Loiyangalani Mount Kulal towers almost precipitously to 2164 m from the lake level of 370 m. Kulal is one of the three international Biosphere Reserves in Kenya.

The location is always windy but from time to time sudden gales whip down from Kulal to the lake turning its placid waters into a tempest in minutes. The track passes Loiyangalani and leads to the headquarters of Kenya’s most remote national park, Sibiloi, at Alia Bay. Though extremely windblown and arid the park has a surprising variety of wildlife including Grevy’s Zebra, Ostrich, gerenuk, oryx and a unique sub-race of topi called the Tiang.

The park boundaries extend a kilometre into the lake so encompassing many of Turkana’s crocodile population, which numbers around 12,000 is the largest single surviving community. Within the park is a petrified forest, surviving to tell the tale that 7 million years ago was lush and densely forested. A little further north is Koobi Fora, a sand spit and the headquarters, since 1969, of a small fossil hunting group started by Dr. Richard Leaky.

There is a small museum here dedicated to the finds of this team and especially to Bernard Ngeneo whose discovery of a fragment of a fossilised skull led to “1470” (its laboratory catalogue number) being labelled as belonging to the genus Homo a member of our direct ancestors who lived and died close to the lake shore about two million years ago. Koobi Fora, is, of course more easily reached by light aircraft which can land at a nearby strip.

There are three islands in the lake, prosaically named North, Central and South Islands. Central Island is a separate national park and is so designated as it is the main breeding place of the Nile crocodile. Big game fishing is a spectacular sport on the lake and nile perch have been landed exceeding 100 kilos. Sport fishing for the ferocious tiger fish is also available and a quieter time can be had fishing on tilapia, the best fish for eating in Kenya.