For a long time I had heard of people heading to the North for adventures but I had never envisioned having it in a place like Marsabit. Life here always seems unbearable not where someone could have a great time. Well, not until I heard of that Safiri Nasi was taking people for a desert safari in the area, a growing trend amongst the adventures Kenyans. I had always thought of it as something that I would engage in if I ever found myself in Dubai but having an opportunity to do it in Kenya was not something that I wanted to miss.
On the day of travel, it rained profusely that I was tempted to cancel the entire trip and just spend indoors but I had committed to do it and set off early in the morning at dusk for the 8-hour journey.
Situated in the northern part of Kenya, bordering Wajir on the North east and Ethiopia to the north, County number 10 is 532 km from Nairobi with a fully tarmacked road where one can enjoy beautiful vistas along the way like the snowcapped peak of Mt. Kenya, Mt. Ololokwe and the majestic mountains of Marsabit.
Packed in the overlander were our tents, mattresses as well as the food and utensils we would use during our 2-day stay. We arrived at around 4 in the afternoon and were scheduled to have a game drive at Marsabit National park.
The small park is situated on the upper slopes of Mount Marsabit and though we didn’t see any animal, it’s said to have buffaloes, leopards as well as elephants with some of the huge tusks. The late Ahmed who made this area be his habitat was one of the huge tuskers who resided in the park. His 200-300 kg tusks -long were long enough to touch the ground. The fact that there was poaching made president Kenyatta issue a decree that ordered the rhinos to be safeguarded by an armed ranger during the night and day. Annoyingly, the land cruiser which was supposed to take us there was late and even though we managed to reach the park on time and do a one-hour game drive, our driver lost track of the way and we couldn’t reach Lake paradise.
However, we turned the negativity into positivity by having a sundowner in the park and taking lots of photos of the beautiful scenery. The curious I, on the other hand, spent some time with the friendly Rendille young men who were busy taking care of livestock in the park. They had their manyattas with them accompanied by their dogs to keep them company.
Afterwards, we headed to the Marsabit KWS camp, where we were to spend the night camping as we prepared for the next day’s trip. There are other accommodation options available in Marsabit, only that we opted for camping. This was my third time doing this and I had gotten used to the idea of cold nights and making your tent from scratch. The only thing that was a nightmare was having to take the cold shower late at night, with the sounds of hyenas and buffaloes from a distant. We went to shower two by two together with one of the KWS guards and afterward, we would spend the night sharing our life experiences. One of us ignored the guards’ warden’s warning of not carrying food to our tents and the whole night hyenas kept on roaming around his dwelling.
In the morning, we would end up laughing at the incident, jokingly calling him team mafisi. The heavy downpour did not stop us from getting into the land cruisers and travelling 94 km further up to North Horr for the desert experience.
“For so long, Marsabit has been known for conflict and insecurity but I want people to come here for adventure. To know that there’s so much more to this place than just the negative,” explains Eliud Ndungu, the CEO of Safiri Nasi as we drove along the muddy paths of this cradle of mankind
He tells me that the boredom of always taking people to the coast and Mara inspired him to one day take a step of faith and chat a new path in the north, especially at Chalbi desert. As we drive along, we passed white land cruisers driving speedily along the muddy paths, which is more or less like their matatu. We passed women carrying heavy firewood on their backs, passed the Rendille men grazing their livestock on the green pastures brought about by the sudden rain.
“Regardless of whether a Rendille man is educated or not, they must build a manyatta house,” says Mohammed Huka, our driver as he points towards the mud structures huddled together along the road.
He was born and raised in this region renowned for its 20 beautiful hills and for a while a train of thoughts flooded my mind on how unbearable life would have been if I was born and raised in this region that was in the middle of nowhere. But as I watched surprisingly, life in this place continues, people still multiply and die, eat and sleep.
Our cruiser got stack just as we were about to get to the desert and it was an opportune moment for us to relieve ourselves and take photos of the area. We were lucky to have an older driver who assisted us in unstacking the vehicle.
The land cruiser traversed the desert road until we reached the windy village in North Horr. We were all ecstatic and we changed into hats, sunglasses, sandals and comfy clothings that would look stunning with photos. The view was spectacular, the sand dunes were numerous. It seemed like we were in another part of the world and not in Kenya.
We relaxed for about an hour before traversing the same route again heading to our camps.
The other place for a desert safari is the Chalbi Desert. It means salt in Gabbra and the area which was once a lake is now covered in a thin layer of salt. The desert has stunning views as well for those who desire to have a true desert experience. In addition, Marsabit has Sibiloi National park- one of the few parks on the edge of Lake Turkana with a rich cultural heritage from the Gabbra, Rendille, Turkana, Borana as well as Samburu. It is said that the area is also a favorite viewpoint for star gazing as well as the solar eclipse which attracts a lot of travelers in the region.
Point to note when traveling in a group:
- Carry some board games, music or a book to keep you busy throughout the journey.
- Socialize, be part of the group to make it fun.
- Always listen to instructions.
- Carry a warm blanket and clothing especially if it’s camping. Also, take with you some extra snacks.
Published in the Peoples Daily newspaper