One of the things that the planners of this Turkana Odyssey had insisted on before we embarked on the trip was a mosquito repellent. He had literally said that you can forget everything else, but not the mosquito repellent,to be used especially at Central Island whose mosquitoes are known for their sting.
This would be our third night in this journey. I talked about our first night at Saiwa National Park in Kitale here , our visit to Kapenguria Museum here , our journey through the scenic west Pokot here and the part one of our very eventful third day that was spent at Central Island here . ( This part two won’t make sense if you haven’t read part one of our visit to Central Island, Lake Turkana)
After the sunset we all went back to the shed to find that the local guides that we had gotten from Turkana had prepared for us our sleeping camps. But this weren’t like any other sleeping camps I had ever seen. It was simply a mosquito net put over some metals to hold it in position and a mkeka or mat in english. The kind of mats local communities use for sitting.
And the romantic star lover in me was blown away. By now I have accepted that I am a hopeless romantic and lover of such kind of stuff such as star gazing and here I was, in the middle of Lake Turkana, a place I had always wanted to visit as far as I could remember, sleeping in an open space with a full moon above me in all its glory, and the sky and stars mine for the taking, at the end of the year 2020. What more could I ask the universe for? I was home.
But someone asked a question I personally assumed, ” what if it rains?”. Our travel host told us that for the four times he had been there and camped, it had never rained. While Fimbo, the Turkana guide we had with his men who were camping a few meters from us, confirmed the same and said that the last time it rained was in May and either way, we weren’t there in a rainy season, so it wouldn’t rain.
Whoever had asked that had looked at the weather forecast from her phone and it had indicated that there was a 20% chance of precipitation.
All the same, we ate our supper and afterwards some people continued playing games while I and a few others chose our ‘tents’ at the back, away from the noise and settled in for the night. The plan was to sleep looking at the stars and moon above us, then wake up early for a 5.30 am hike that would allow us to catch the sun as it rose and also take us to the highest point of the island from where we would be able to see the 3 famous lakes in Central Island. That is the Crocodile lake that we had seen a bit of during the previous day, Flamingo lake and Fish lake.
I felt so lucky to have such an experience. Sleeping while looking at the stars. They say that in Kenya the two most ideal places to watch the stars are Turkana and lake Magadi. Those are paradise locations for astrologers .
So I listened to music while thinking. Going to this trip at the end of the year had been quite strategic on my part. I had just come from a year that had changed me immensely and clarified a lot of things concerning the direction my life would take, while I was also at the precipe of a new year that would require me to take the first and actual steps towards that new life that I had envisioned and that 2020 had prepared me for. So lying there beneath the moon, having ticked off one of my most treasured bucket lists, I had an opportune moment to cast my worries away and realise that my dreams indeed always come true. That if this was me, sleeping in the middle of this lake that I had coveted for years, then I shouldn’t be so afraid to dream and work towards my goals. They are not only valid, but at the right time, they will come true.
It was while listening to music and on this trail of thought that the first few drops hit. Rain!. Hadn’t they said it wouldn’t rain? But we had no time to ask that question. Instead we gathered our bags and the mat and ran to the shelter. Some people were there but we all managed to huddle in there for a few minutes as it rained.
After it stopped, it was a little windy and with clear signs that it would rain again. So we were asked if we all wanted to put down a few mats in the shed and huddle together for the night or if we wanted to go back to our individual sleeping arrangements and when it rains run back again. Some chose to sleep in the shed, while a few others with me included chose to go back and brave the elements.
And so we went back. This was around 11.40pm. Sleep didn’t come easy for me. I would say it was the same case with my neighbor. And the clouds had covered our stars. But given how tired we were, at some point we all must have fallen asleep.
It was such a unique experience. Sleeping in the open. I had never slept in the open until then. It felt like being naked, for lack of better words. Like you raise your head and see how everyone is sleeping. Either facing up or sideways. Plus given how thin the mats were, the uneven ground beneath didn’t help matters.
When I woke up again, I thought I was having a nightmare. The wind was flying past us making so much noise. I woke up with a jolt, and my first thought was that someone had carried away everyone else and left me in the middle of a wilderness where it was just me and a strong wind that wanted to carry me as well.
Turns out that I wasn’t dreaming. The wind was blowing with a vengeance. As if it had been sent. While the clouds had become heavier and darker. But seeing the lady in the next ‘tent’, awake and turning really comforted me. They say misery loves company. But when they said that no one can survive an island alone, it wasn’t even the survival aspect of looking for food or water that they meant, I now understood, that human company, even in silence, is a priceless thing.
Again, we eventually slept, just to wake up at around 4.30am, because it was raining, yet again. We ran back to the shelter and waited for morning. What a long night it had been! The kind that you once tell your grandchildren about when they ask you how you spent your youth. In some island with crocodiles sleeping in the open.
But as time went by and the rain didn’t stop, we started asking ourselves if we would see the sunrise as we had anticipated, along with the 3 lakes. You see, if you don’t hike early in the morning or late in the evening while at Central Island, you just can’t hike during the day. One can die hiking in that sun- literally.
And so when 5.30am came along, our travel host told us that he wouldn’t bring people all the way from Nairobi City, the City in the Sun, to Lake Turkana, the beauty in the North, and have them battle the elements at night, for them not to see the 3 lakes from up there. People fly for thousands of miles to see Lake Turkana from Central Island, it would be a shame if we went back without having seen what they usually see. So he would hike. With anyone interested. In the rain. Who was in?
Around 10 of us immediately wore our shoes and started the journey in the windy rain and darkness. Remember it’s 5.30 in the cloudy morning. I was around number 5 in the line. And walking we did.
We passed around the spot we had first seen the crocodile lake in a few minutes. By then the Maasai shuka I had carried was soaked wet from the rain. When we started hiking the first peak, the ladies infront of me who were following our host and another lady with the headlamp told me to pass them since they couldn’t see. To be honest, neither did I, but I passed them and started following the leaders.
The thing with hikes is that I prefer doing them when I’m fit. I totally love hiking. And being fit allows me to enjoy the benefits of working out and the scenery. But hiking while unfit means I focus on my body, on making it move just one more painful step and then another and then another. It is a torturous affair to say the least.
And in this hike, I was the most unfit that I think I have ever been. 2020 saw me stay in the house for months where I gained weight and didn’t work out as I had planned at the beginning of the year. It saw me not continue to go to the gym and put my plans to hike Mount Kenya in jeopardy.
Yet here I was with my unfit self trudging through the rain, through at least 3 steep summits. But luckily my mental resilience comes in handy during these times. It’s not the first time I have hiked while unfit and still made it to the top. So I knew that I could rely on my inner strength to push my body.
And weirdly enough, the rain, wind and darkness helped. It ensured that my focus would be on my next step. Like there was no scenery I was missing out in the darkness and rain. All of us, whether fit or unfit just had one job to do. That is to put one foot in front of the other..and that is what I did. I wish we had pictures of this moment, but we don’t for obvious reasons. I guess some of these experiences we shall carry them in our memories only.
At some point while on the way to the Flamingo lake, the sun rose. A pinkish hue with a tinge of orange. It was pretty, plus you only have our words to trust since it was raining, even those who had carried cameras in water proof bags couldn’t take pictures.
We continued ahead to Flamingo lake. Luckily by now there was light. Enough to enjoy seeing hundreds if not thousands of pink birds down below at the edge of their lake. They say that these birds fly out of this lake to lake Bogoria at around 6.45 am and by 8.30am they are there. Every single day. So when you go to Bogoria early in the morning hoping to see the flamingos, you are told to wait for them as they come from Flamingo lake in Lake Turkana. And they fly back in the evening. Some during the day and others at 11pm. To continue the same cycle the next day. Truly, the wonders of the world shall never cease.
From there we continued hiking in silence towards the peak, that would allow us a view of the Fish lake. I would say that the best part of hiking for me is the nothingness that it allows the mind. Where at that moment and for the thousands steps awaiting me up hill and downhill, I shall think of nothing. I don’t know how to explain it because they say the mind can’t be blank. Just something in the mind that isn’t anything. I love that. After a hike, there is an inner part of me that usually feels so rejuvenated by that process.
Anyway, so the last peak was extremely hard for me. So hard that I remember telling my body that we can’t have struggled that hard, to be defeated at the last junction. And so we pushed on. It took the last bit of inner strength for me to finish that peak.
Just to get on top and the ladies behind me comment that the lady with the headlamp ahead and I,must be so fit because we did the hike effortlessly. And it reminded me that people outside here never know how much work or struggle one puts in a thing, they only see the product of it. The journey is yours alone.
And getting to the peak, of course we were all grateful that we chose to come. The views make up for it. Lake Turkana is the kind of lake that repays every single penny, effort and sweat that you have paid to come see it. Your soul sighs in pleasure just seeing the kind of views that had you even been shown in pictures, you wouldn’t believe are real. You have to see it to believe.
We goofed around at the top. I was so damn happy that I had made it. I felt as if my heart was now content. I had not only seen Lake Turkana, but I had experienced it as well, and I had acquired an awe for it. It’s the kind of place that you accept is one of its kind.
Plus which other place in the world will I ever hike in a flowery dress, braless and with soaked hiking shoes? Some Experiences come only once. And later you wonder if that really happened.
But we weren’t done with the lake just yet. We were to leave Central Island and visit the famous Eliye Springs for a relaxing day, before starting our journey back.
We thus descended, people a little more talkative. Those with cameras could now take pictures. And of course the journey downwards is always a little better than the one upwards. I say a little because of how much falling loves me. Descending mountains for me usually include a fall or two, or more than 5 as happened the first time I hiked mount Longonot. I fell so much during that hike that a friend recorded me just as I was about to fall, it was that predictable.
But this time I didn’t fall. My soul was feeling so happy and refreshed.
We found breakfast waiting for us at the camp. But given that it had rained unexpectedly at night, the lake was extremely rough and the tides high for a morning. So our local guides told us that we would stay at Central Island until the waters became calmer. Be it in a few hours or days.
Luckily for us it only took a few hours. The previous night some tourists had come from Eliye Springs to visit Central Island and then go back, but the waters had gotten so rough so they had had to spend the night some few metres from where we were camping. So we wouldn’t be the first people to be stranded by the waters. We left them there as we left for the shore so that we could take our overland truck to take us to Eliye Springs.
Turns out that in the years before, people used to take boats from Central Island to Eliye Springs directly, no need to go via mainland. But with the unpredictable weather, it would be safer to go via land.
Our boat ride back was less eventful than the one we had had the previous day. And our boats more cooperative. Seeing our overland truck on shore felt like such a relief. People were reunited with their items and off we went to Eliye.
And if we thought that the lake had relaxed, we were in for a rude shock. I talk about our stay at Eliye Springs here