My experience at Central Island, Lake Turkana (part 1)

Lake Turkana has been the most consistent place in my bucket list. Each year as I wrote my new year resolutions, it was always there. So when I saw that Safiri Nasi together with Xtyrm Adventures had a planned trip there, I started salivating. It’s the once in a lifetime kind of opportunity that I grabbed. 

But Turkana is hundreds of kilometers away from Nairobi, so we started our journey on Monday, and had various stops along the way. I’ve written about our first stop and camp at the smallest national park in Kenya here , and our visit to Kapenguria Museum here , and West Pokot’s beautiful landscape here

We got to Lodwar on the second day in the evening, made camp at Cradle Camp Lodwar, which is one of the best hotels that Turkana County has. One of my highlights there was swimming at night. I have always had a thing for swimming at night. And this was made more special by a colourful swimming pool that had underwater lights and a beautiful moon and night sky above us. I live for such simple and magical moments. 

The next day we left and headed to Kalkol, a major fishing town, from where a few kilometers from there we would get into boats to take us to Central Island. Seeing Turkana homesteads along the way made the journey more pleasant. I am obsessed with African cultures and experiencing one instead of reading about it, made my heart so full.

Getting to our boats and the sun was scorching hot. We had been advised to wear the shortest and lightest clothes we have. Turkana’s sun is unforgiving. Thus a good sunscreen comes in handy.

As has been of concern to many Kenyans, the water levels in most Rift Valley Lakes have been rising unexpectedly. Previously, it was expected that when it rains, lakes have more water while when its a dry season they lose water, with lakes such as Lake Nakuru almost disappearing at some point some years back. Now it’s the reverse, these lakes’ water levels are rising even when there is no rain. Some like Baringo have spread out for several kilometers and sunk in villages, roads and anything that was a few kilometers from it’s shore. All under water. And the strange thing is that scientists don’t seem to have an agreeable reason as to what is happening. No one seems to know. 

Lake Turkana has not been spared either. The water has crept in hundreds of meters such that where we were taking our boats, used to be dry land a few years back. And one can see hundreds of trees submerged in water. 

We had been advised to get to the shore of the lake early because from the afternoon onwards the tides are high making a boat ride extremely rough if not downright impossible. And given that Central Island is over an hour away via a fast boat, it was important that we spare ourselves a rough ride. 

I would say that this was the first boat ride I was on, that wasn’t purely for fun. By this I mean that when I got to a dhow in Lamu for the sunset cruise, it was purely for my pleasure. Here in Turkana this was a means of transport. You could have fun while in it, but that’s not the main purpose if you want to get to Central Island. 

And it turned out to be the roughest ride on water I’ve been on. We did get the tides. And the boat either way had to go at it’s speed if we were to get there in time. And so for the next hour we got soaked in water as each time we hit a tide it splashed water on us. Two of our three boats got some technical problems so we had to pull in one and the other one had to stall for an hour waiting for us to get to Central Island so that one boat could come for it. 

Central Island

But the good thing about being soaked wet in Turkana is that within minutes the sun does it’s thing and our clothes dried. Remember we had not carried a change of clothes, if anything we had been told to carry sunscreen, swimming costumes hiking shoes and cameras. Only. Reason being that Central Island is excessively hot, even at night, so we wouldn’t need a shawl or something to cover ourselves at those high temperatures. Which made sense. Plus had we carried all our bags, the boats would struggle with all that weight.

And because of this, the island has no human settlement. Not even the KWS officials. It boasts of a small shed, a latrine and a structure next to it that was supposed to be a bathroom I presume. And that is all. Later we discovered a hut some distance away but it seems like it hasn’t been used for sometime given the dense bush around it. 

But getting to Central Island, we understood why. Central island is a Kenya Wildlife Service managed site. It has 3 lakes that are of interest that I shall talk about later. 

And so it’s like visiting an island that has no humans. And it barely has any trees. It has this rustic beautiful look that captivates one though. The kind of thing that makes you think that it defies humans. It has this look that tells you that there are some things that do not bend to the mortal human, that are not understood and shall remain so for hundreds of years. It’s the kind of place one wishes to know what happened. Was it a volcanic activity in the middle of the lake? Otherwise why all those crater lakes? 

And it has a black beach of all things. Pure black. Like it’s the kind of place that mesmerizes you. That makes you forget the Kenya that you know and admit that each place in this country is indeed unique and has its own tale to tell. It reminds you that there are things that are mysterious. Strange. Weird. Beautiful. It just is. 

No sooner had we gotten there than we discovered that the shed was too small for us, all 20 of us couldn’t fit in there. Plus our chef wanted to prepare lunch. So we left our small luggages and went to swim. It is the only logical thing to do during the day when at Central island. 

Surprisingly the water was cool. Like the sweet kind of cool. Almost cold. Which was such a welcome relief from the scorching sun. This should be the only time I’ve swam for hours in something else rather than the ocean. And weirdly enough we kept calling it the ocean instead of a lake. It gives those vibes of the ocean.

As I had mentioned, the rising lake water has taken a large chunk of the shallow areas where people could swim. But I imagine that it must have been interesting having a larger black beach. As anyone can tell, I was excessively enamored by the blackness, given the rave that international tourists make of our white beaches down at the coast, I would never have imagined that the opposite does exist in this same country of ours. 

After hours of swimming and beating stories, we took lunch and prepared to go for a small hike to see the nearest lake to where we were and see the sunset from an elevated view. Due to the sun’s heat, we had to wait for 6pm to start walking. 

Central island is filled with the sounds of birds. Given that this is an undisturbed island, birds thrive here. Huge birds that I couldn’t particularly name since I’m not too familiar with birds’ names. I will work on that though. But it’s like every single huge tree was serving as a nest and standing ground for tens of those pretty creatures.

Someone seeing us spot the first lake would register faces blown away by beauty. It’s the kind of thing no one can prepare you for. At all. We came from this rough looking cream-brown exterior of the island to this gorgeous pristine water hidden just there. Like it was so surreal. I totally love crater lakes because they are the most unusual lakes. From Lake Chala’s blueness and pristineness that I wrote about here to the unnamed crater lake ( it’s just called crater lake ) in Naivasha that we found with muddy water, to this clear lake in Central Island known as the Crocodile lake. 

As the name suggests, crocodile lake has many crocodiles that have lived here from time immemorial. Everyone kept asking what they eat but from the many fishing birds in this area, the lake seems full of fish. My unsubstantiated opinion would be that it’s the reason human beings didn’t occupy this island. I can’t think of a more dangerous thing that occupying an island with a lake full of Crocodiles and when they attack you, the only way out is through the bigger lake, another comfortable home for the crocodile chasing you. It’s simply impossible to outdo these beings in their home environment. 

Crocodile lake seemed the largest of the 3 lakes we saw during our stay there. Our guide informed us that we would need to move quickly if we are to capture the sunset. And still on the lake, even this one, found in the middle of an island that doesn’t rain even when the rest of the county does, has its waters rising by tens of meters as well. The sign that was written ” Do not Step Beyond this point” is like 10 meters inside the water. Two or three years ago, that sign was on land and far away from the water itself. Now it’s part and parcel of the lake. Whatever is happening in Rift Valley is serious. 

Anyway to wind up our day’s activities, we hiked a small summit and went up there to find an even more gorgeous site. The other side of crocodile lake, with the background of some other small islands in the lake and a land barrier in between them. No words can describe this. I’ll let pictures do the honours. 

I have seen sunsets, but I am not sure I have ever seen anything like the Turkana sunset as seen from Central Island. The whole ball of sun dips down from the sky into the hills beyond. It was the most clearest sun setting image I have ever had the honour of watching. As usual, I will let pictures do the honours. 

We descended down in silence, after a really full day. All we wanted was to eat, sleep and wake up in this beautiful island yet again. What we didn’t know, is that we would have the strangest night ever. As they say, we plan, God laughs. Read part 2 of my stay at Central Island here

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