"Ex Africa semper aliquid novi", quoth Pliny the Elder. There is some debate about what he really meant, but most likely he meant trouble. In this sense has the phrase been used most often since but I hope to reverse the trend and on these pages bring you the exciting, novel and curious out of Africa.

And wherever I am I hope to remain,
Ex Africa Semper Yours,

Thursday, 3 September 2015

Leakey's - Loruk

Day 1, Wednesday 26th August

Start: 3.00 pm
End: 6.30 pm
Distance: 15km
Route: Leakey's - Loruk

As my spontaneous decision to circumnavigate the lake was taken on Saturday and I wanted to return to Baringo on Wednesday, there was no time to plan much. I decided to wing it. Packed my faithful Toyota Starlet with what I thought was going to be useful and set off armed only with google maps printouts of the lake shore (useless) and the address of my friend Tanya's family, Jonathan Leakey and his wife Dena, who live by the lakeshore (v useful).

Warned as they had been about my arrival, they were oblivious to the purpose of my trip, and there was no mistaking the expression on their faces when I did tell them. It was doubt and disbelief. Sceptical as they must have been, they were also extremely kind. They showered me with helpful advice and a very much appreciated lunch. Truly, it was the last homely house West of the Lake, to paraphrase the Hobbit. The last thing I heard Dena say was: "Remember there is no shame in turning back and there is a soft bed and a warm meal waiting for you if you do." And just like the hobbit, I would dream of it many times in the days to come.

As I was to discover soon, 3pm was far too early to set off for the afternoon part of the walk. The heat was oppressive and the sun still blinding. Still, I was fresh and enthusiastic so the journey went fast.

There is a road that goes from Kampi ya Samaki (Fish Camp) - the undisputed centre of commercial and tourist activity on the Lake - to Loruk - a tiny hole of which no one has heard of - but I have decided to avoid it for as long as possible. From Leakey's gate, therefore, I tried to walk to compass, with mixed success. What looked flat and accessible on google maps turned out to be criss-crossed by little ridges and ravines, tangly bush and lone, thorn-fenced manyattas.

First hill, first view
Luckily the area was densely populated enough to have a maze of tracks which I tried to follow in the right direction. More often than not they would end up in somebody's home but at that time of day everyone seemed to be asleep anyway so I tiptoed away and I hardly met anyone.

To my astonishment and satisfaction, I was not followed by throngs of children wherever I went. Only right at the beginning did a small group of them attempt to follow, shouting for sweets and pesa, but they got soon bored and left me alone. For a little while I was accompanied by Sharon, a girl of 16, who kept insisting I should use the main road. She finally gave up and asked me for money. Not once after, until I returned to the environs of the Kampi three days later, has anyone asked me that again. That's civilisation for you.

I rejoined the main road after some 5 miles of hiking through the bush and it was much easier going, even if the frequency of human encounters increased dramatically. The sun was setting and the road was quite busy, with groups of people coming back from a day's business in 'town'. Some would stop and stare, most would shout out 'jambos' and 'nenda wapis'. The cool groups of youth, as they are everywhere, tried to look uninterested and unimpressed, only nodding in reply to my 'jambos'.

Clearly a bustling metropolis
I was pretty hot when I reached the town and so I slumped down by the first little kiosk I saw. I bought a litre of water which I drunk on the spot and then another, which I savoured as I spoke to the men lounging about in the shade of the shop. I asked them to tell me about Loruk. They said there was nothing much to say. There is a school and a clinic. And there are many churches. 
The Loruk Junction
Late as it was, I decided to push through back to the Lake shore which was some 3 more clicks away. I followed the road to the crossroads, and took a right towards Churo. I left it soon after, picking at random a path that seemed to be going in the right direction. A man caught up with me and hailed me down. That always makes me feel uneasy but I didn't have a choice really so I stopped and waited for him. He asked if I were going to the station. What station? Police station. There was one just ahead.

Not quite sure why, probably because I didn't want to seem like I'm aimlessly wandering, I said that, yes, as a matter of fact I was going to the station. Abdi, for that was the name of my pursuer, said he was going to lead me there then. He was a policeman, 34 years old, from Mandera, posted here a year ago with his unit, currently on a clandestine mission to get some vegetables for dinner. I tried to break ice by speaking my rudimentary Somali to him but that seemed to get him even more wary of me. Still, he offered to ask the commander if I could stay at the station for the night.

We entered the police station through a hole in the fence. Abdi stepped daintily, carefully picking his way through lose stones. Mines, I joked? No, snakes, he replied. We reached the barracks in time for the evening assembly. Discipline does not seem like the strong suite of that particular unit. A dozen of half-dressed men in flip-flops were casually leaning against each other, in a symbolic rather than actual line in front of their commander. He was explaining something to them in a monotonous voice and they would hesitantly murmur consent. Every once in a while, one of them would hastily leave the file to rush off to the hut to stir his dinner burbling on the stove.

I introduced myself to a bewildered commander and asked permission to put my tent up somewhere on the compound. He seemed a bit shell-shocked and he only asked me if I needed any food. When I said I didn't he seemed satisfied and gave his consent. Before he could change his mind - and before the sun set completely - I rushed off to find a good spot for my mozzie dome.

Still fresh and hopeful
As I was about to put down my load, a big mountain of a man came out of nowhere and in booming voice demanded to know who I was and what the hell I was doing there. Indignant, I replied I had the commanders permission to camp here. He was the commander, he interjected and I felt very confused and suddenly very weary. Unlike commander no.1, who was soft spoken and docile-looking, this one looked like trouble. Some kind of kikuyu political officer by the looks of it. Still, I mustered my courage and resolve and decided to play the dumb prattling tourist. I said I had no idea about rank but that's all very interesting and it's lovely to meet him and if he is the commander then I'm sure he wouldn't object, given that it's dark and insecure outside, if I stayed for the night, and I would be gone the next day and isn't it lovely that there is a police station, so well run and so secure, and where does he think the best place for the tent was, maybe here? This seemed to confuse and soften him somewhat, enough to suggest that the place I chose was too close to the fence, which has many holes through which hippo and hyena can come in and suggested I settle next to a little herd of goats instead.

I put my tent up while the soldiers looked on, making a point of ostentatiously pulling out my panga and putting it next to my pillow. At ease as I tried to appear I was not entirely convinced that was a good idea to settle for the night in a compound full of Kenyan policemen. Still, not that I had much of a choice and they seemed nice. Abdi brought me a whole jerry can of water to wash and a basin, and bid me goodnight. All seemed well, until the commander returned and announced that he reckons it's too dangerous for me to continue north-east on my own and I will not be allowed to go on. My heart sunk but I cheerfully suggested we discuss it in the morning as I was very tired. Was my trip really going to be jeopardised by an officious oaf?

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