Lake Jipe

This was actually my second time to visit this lake. The first time I wrote about it here and that was more of a group trip.

This second time, proximity to Lake Jipe and Lake Chala is what made me actually choose to stay at Saltlick. But I had one major concern. As much as the car we had was a four wheel drive, it is a small car. Not an off road vehicle. And the last time I went to Lake Jipe, we got to it through the Tsavo West National Park. Specifically the Maktau Gate. And it was at least over 20 kilometers through the park.

So we googled and got two routes. One was through the park, a route I was avoiding because it’s not really advisable to take a non-off road vehicle to a park with their roads that are usually not so good. And the second route was through Tanzania. Given Kenya’s icy relationship with Tanzania, we didn’t want to take the chance of being at the border with no papers.

So we did what we should have done in the first place. Asked around. And as luck had it, there is actually another route to Lake Jipe, through a small town called Cessi. That was how we decided to get to the lake.

I should mention that I had quite the trouble convincing my partner to go to Lake Jipe. Lake Chala is the highlight of lakes in Kenya if you ask me, and it’s a few kilometers from the Taveta highway, but I shall talk about this in the next post. But for now, my partner couldn’t get why we couldn’t just head to lake Chala. Why visit lake Jipe?

For me I think it was because lake Jipe itself isn’t the prettiest. But the background to it is so damn amazing. Like I remember seeing it and instantly recognizing it as the place Nyashinski shot his song ‘now you know’. It’s the kind of lake that once you see it, you won’t forget the mountain behind it and the environment around it.

For starters on the Kenyan side, the place looks like a desert. Completely dry. But on Tanzania’s side, the place looks green, forested and hilly. It’s like a contrast of sorts. And Kenya got the hot side, Tanzania got the habitable side. 

But it does make one question about our colonial geography. The way two foreigners came and started dividing natural resources among themselves. And when they got to Lake Jipe and Chala, one imagines that they squabbled amongst themselves and got no headway and just decided to divide the lakes among them. So half of both lakes is in Kenya and the other half in Tanzania. 

On this particular day of visiting Lake Jipe, we woke up a bit early. The sun in those sides can be unforgiving so we didn’t want to be caught up at noon still trying to find our way. Our itinerary for the day was to drive to both lakes, starting with Lake Jipe. 

On the road to Cessi, where we were to take our turn to the lake, we encountered the patch of Tsavo that had been burnt. A while ago hundreds of hectares of Tsavo Park were on fire for days. And it’s effects could be seen months later. The grass had not grown back yet and the wild animals could be seen trying to find something on the sides of the road. 

You know those signs on the road that tell you to drive carefully because there could be gazelles or kudus crossing? I don’t ever remember seeing as many wild animals after such a sign, as we saw on this particular day. As much as we were happy to see wild animals, it was quite sad to think that they are on the road because their habitat burnt down. 

But Voi-Taveta road is the smoothest and with amazing views to boot. Like it makes up for the journey. From pretty mountains on the side to the amazing views ahead of you, like it’s the kind of road one can drive on for hours on end and not feel tired. 

We got to Cessi that was approximately 70 kilometers from Saltlick and branched to an untarmacked road for around 20 something kilometers. 

This part of the journey was quite stressful. The soils on this sides are the fine ones that sink when stepped on, so the authorities had put a rougher volcanic soil filled with stones on top, to make it easier for vehicles and motorbikes. And it seemed like they had just placed the top layer as there were barely any vehicle marks on top on some stretches. . 

So adding the unbearable heat and a bad road, I would say that this was the toughest part of our day. I really do hope that in future they’ll tarmac such roads but in the meantime, do get yourself an off road vehicle if planning to visit Lake Jipe. 

So we did get to the lake after about an hour of the off road, and we got a very pleasant surprise at the entrance. You see, Lake Jipe is under the Kenya Wildlife Management. It’s the reason one can access it through the Tsavo Park. 

And as we entered into their gate, we were met by a herd of elephants. It was the most pleasant surprise. Like we weren’t even expecting it. We had had a rough time to get there and simply wanted to see the lake when infront of us materialized these huge black things in such a huge herd. 

To say that we were amazed would be an understatement. We were in awe! 

Anyway, after our initial shock, we drove for a few meters and packed the vehicle somewhere outside the KWS settlement that is there. 

The place does look a bit run down. Considering that this is the only access point for the lake from the Kenyan side, I would say that KWS can do better. But they have really good grounds for camping and each time I’ve been there, I’ve found some people camping. They provide a toilet, bathroom and kitchen. And for those who would want a room, they do have around 3, that go for around KSH 3000 each.

One of the rooms at the KWS site at Lake Jipe

Anyway, we were welcomed by a very enthusiastic staff who had been preparing his lunch and he directed us to a KWS official who told us stories concerning the lake. 

So turns out that the lake is divided equally between the two sides. On the Tanzanian side, people live, farm and fish. On the Kenyan side, only a really small segment is open to the public. This has led to friction as Kenyans try to fish on their small quarter side but sometimes end up in the KWS protected area of the lake and thus are arrested and taken to Taveta Courts for trespassing and fishing in a protected area. I found that quite unfortunate for our Kenyans there. I’m a believer that natural heritages belong first and foremost to the people around it, who should be involved in how it’s going to be utilized, be it as a protection area and thus maybe monetize that through tourism or through economic activities such as fishing. 

There are various communities in the Kenyan side. Starting with the Luo and Luhya community that migrated there to the Taitas and Taveta, to Kambas and Kikuyus. And Maasai who come to graze their animals there and are also a large group of the arrested culprits. But not because of fishing but because of grazing in Tsavo. 

From an outsider’s perspective, the people of those areas don’t seem too developed. But one is amazed to see large areas of land under various politicians. From Kenyatta to Ruto that have thousands of acres under irrigation. Of course they are gated. And as one imagines, the locals don’t have title deeds to their land or as much development. Quite a sad reality of the Kenyan land problem. 

Anyway, we opted not to take the boat ride that was going for Ksh 1200 per person.  It was around 11.30am, and the sun was out with a fury. A boat ride would take an hour or more. We figured that by the time we got out of it, we would be so toasted that going to chase after lake Chala, would seem futile. And yet, the highlight of my day was ensuring that I take my partner to see one of the most beautiful sights I’ve ever had the opportunity of laying my eyes on. 

And so we bid our hosts. And started the journey back to the main road. So that we could go to chase Lake Chala that will be the topic of the next post. Do watch out for that.

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