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The Turkana Bus – Journeys to the Jade Sea (I should mention that this is a composite report that covers my time driving the Turkana Bus rather than a TR of one specific trip) Early in 1981, I was in Nairobi after completing an overland journey across Africa. I decided that Kenya was a country I'd like to explore a bit more and so I approached one of the local safari operators for a job. Lake Turkana was one of the places I'd long wanted to visit, ever since reading John Hillaby's 'Journey to the Jade Sea', the story of his 1,000 mile walk with camels across Northern Kenya to Lake Turkana. At the time the local operators were only too keen to employ ex-overland drivers. They had a familiarity with the same Bedford trucks that the local companies were using and, for the most part, they had demonstrated an ability to keep the show on the road in trying conditions. At that time, there was no problem with the fact that we were foreign and did not have work permits. Even though we were stopped at police checkpoints every day and had to present all our papers, our status was never an issue. Even when I moved on from the Turkana run and started leading groups on wildlife safaris into Maasai Mara and other National Parks it was never an issue. The way things worked was that all the foreign drivers working at SCS – there were 3 or 4 of us at any one time – would live in a rondavel in the garden of our employer's house at Langata, a suburb of Nairobi. We were paid the grand sum of £25 a week. It didn't matter, most of us would have done it for nothing. When we were not on the road we joined the family for meals. If we ever got a week off it was spent in the workshops, fixing trucks or Land Cruisers. The roughest bus ride in the world this is a postcard of an artist's impression of the Turkana Bus Billed as 'the roughest bus ride in the world', the Turkana Bus was in fact one or more Bedford trucks (exactly how many depended on how many bookings there were). That would collect passengers every Saturday morning in Nairobi and set off on a journey to Lake Turkana and back. Our route Leaving Nairobi we'd climb the escarpment overlooking the Rift Valley and drive to Gil Gil before turning north east to pass through Nyahururu and Rumuruti before reaching Maralal. From Maralal we'd continue through Baragoi to South Horr. After a night at South Horr we'd continue up through the Chalbi desert to Loiyangalani on the shores of Lake Turkana. Our return route took us back down as far as Baragoi before turning south east to go through Barsaloi and Wamba on our way to Archers Post and Buffalo Springs game reserve. After 2 nights in Buffalo Springs/Samburu we'd leave the park and drive south to Nairobi, arriving back in town on Friday afternoon. A slap up meal and a good night's sleep, then back into Nairobi on Saturday morning to do it all over again. The Turkana Bus was very special. Even though the trip was about as basic as it could be it attracted an amazing diversity of people; not just budget travellers at all. We used to get Kenyan residents, UN workers, foreign executives posted in Kenya and international travellers. The great appeal of the Turkana Bus was that it took people to a place they were unlikely to visit by themselves. The rough terrain and the lawlessness of the Northern Frontier District, with very little accommodation to be found meant that even those who would happily self drive into the game parks were wary of visiting the NFD. Sometimes I'd do the route in just one truck, with a cook for company. Other weeks, there could be 2 or even 3 vehicles travelling together. The trip was, consistently, incredibly popular. SCS was one of 2 companies that ran regular trips to Lake Turkana, and by far the most established at it. So much so that in addition to our regular departures I took private groups from San Diego zoo and also from Marlboro Adventure Travel. Although the Marlboro groups only drove in one direction then flew from Loiyangalani to Lamu. Now that was a cool trip. In terms of interest, the trip really got going once we'd passed through Rumuruti and left the tar roads behind. We'd generally stop in Maralal for drinks (tea, cola etc) in the late afternoon then leave town and look for a place to spend the night. We'd literally scour the roadsides for a suitable spot where we could leave the road and drive 50 metres or so into the bush. Then we'd unload the gear and people would set up their tents while the cooks set about preparing dinner. Collecting wood was a ritual that began as soon as we left Maralal. All meals were cooked on open fires and it was impossible to have too much wood. We would collect huge piles which we'd then stack on top of the trucks and carry with us. It was not so much for the roadside camps as for our time in South Horr and Loiyangalani where firewood was harder to find.
Good Morning, fellow Safaritalkers. I hope you're all well. I'm working on building an itinerary for the ultimate Northern Kenya experience. This will be a long trip, led by myself, exploring far Northern Kenya's wildlife, scenery, cultures, history, and environmental issues. I'd like to gauge everyone's interest here in such a trip to find out if there's enough demand for it. Some basics about the trip: - Accommodation throughout the trip will be in dome tents, cottages/bandas, and occasionally out in the open. - Simple, but hearty, food will be provided by a chef accompanying the trip. - Transport will be in Land Cruisers with trailers for luggage and equipment The potential to have 1 or 2 specialized experts along on the trip also exists (potentially a L. Turkana hydrology expert and/or a paleontology expert from the National Museum) depending on traveler's budgets. This trip would focus on, but would not be limited to: - Lake Turkana - history and environmental factors - The Nilotes and the Cushites: Several lesser-known people groups continue to practice their traditional ways of life (much more so than the famous Maasai and Samburu) in Northern Kenya. The El Molo (the world's most 'endangered' people group), the Turkana, the Gabbra, the Rendille, the Borana, the Ilmusei, etc. - Geology and paleontology: Koobi Fora (Sibiloi National Park) and Loyiangalani are famous for their paleontological findings. The history of the findings is as interesting as the findings themselves. Kalacha and Loyiangalani are also home to some interesting millenia-old rock art which is not very well known to many people. The whole of Northern Kenya is also very volcanic, with craters and fissures dotting the landscape, there's much to be explored. We'll also spend time criss-crossing the Chalbi Desert, a fascinating place of stark, harsh beauty. - Wildlife: While the harsh, arid desert-scapes of the North aren't known for an abundance of wildlife, they nevertheless support a huge amount of biodiversity, from Top and Beisa Oryx to White Crowned Starlings and Masked Larks, from rare Euphorbias to undescribed insects and desert Cheetah. We'll most likely end the trip with a tad bit of luxury and relaxation at a lodge/camp in Samburu/Shaba/B.S. National Reserve. I'm very open to suggestions at this stage and will certainly tailor the trip specifically towards the individual interests/desires of anyone who signs up for it. I'm excited to run this trip - extreme Northern Kenya is an enchanting area. That part of the country is just so unique and captures the imagination so strongly.
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