As far back as I can remember,
Africa wove her spell over my heart.
 

African Adventure Atlas

African Adventure Atlas

Our comprehensive atlas features detailed history, maps, photos & highlights of each region, & chapters on adventure activities & tours.


It wasn’t the pictures of far off lands as shown so beautifully in National Geographic. It wasn’t stories preached at church of starving refugees that needed help.  It was far more immediate than those.  I was three weeks old when my parents walked off the plane holding my brother and me. And just like a duck I was imprinted with Africa.  Her sights became my reference for beauty.  Her animals became my playmates. Her sounds and smells taught me of daily life.  Her people became my reference for family and friends.  Her triumphs were mine as I watched her growing alongside me.  Her wounds were mine too.  And although I never bled as so many of her people have my heart shed tears as I watched the agonies they suffered.

I never thought I would leave. Funny that; most of my contemporaries did and despite every good intention, most did not return. I thought I was different.  How could I not come back?  Africa was as necessary to me as breathing. My heart beat to her rhythms, her songs rocked me to sleep.  Her people were my brothers and sisters, my mothers and fathers. She was my home. And you always go home.

Twenty-five years later. The pull of Africa did not recede, but the pull of everyday life interfered and overwhelmed.  Somehow there was time or money but never both at once. I was reduced to memories and to telling the stories to my children, imprinting them with the same love.  One day inspiration struck. We found a big glass jar and painted a picture of Africa on it and started saving money. We started to learn Swahili.  Jambo — hello; Asante — thank you; Wapi choo — Where’s the bathroom?  We determined a time frame, summer of 2006.  That would be the year I would show my children their roots and the place of my heart.

March 30, 2004 the phone rang.  It was my father.  “Can Lisa (my 14-year-old daughter) leave for Kenya in two weeks?  We’ll probably be gone for about a month.”  Calmly I replied that I would have to check with her father and the school.  Then I hung up the phone and started jumping up and down screaming.  One of us was going to Africa . NOW.

Lisa reacted the same way when I picked her up early from school that day. The many details loomed but somehow, all the necessary items were crammed into her suitcase.  Then the big day arrived and we saw her off at the airport.  Her little sister was sobbing and clinging to her.  I pulled her aside, and with my head turned so she couldn’t see my own tears, I reminded her that we needed to send sissy off with a smile.  Bravely we managed until the plane took off, then we both cried. Samantha for missing her sister, me because I was left behind.




African traffic jam. . . !

A week later the phone rang.  There was a bit of an echo, then I heard a familiar voice. “Hello.  This is Africa calling.”  The voice of my father reached across the miles. The floodgates of time opened.  Memories washed over me and I shivered with the intensity. 

“Where are you?”  I managed.

“We are at Seremino.”  For a moment I felt disoriented. Seremino is a dry riverbed in Northern Kenya, a place with a few acacia trees, a good place for stopping to avoid the heat of the day in the Northern Frontier desert. There has never been any sort of outpost there and emphatically no telephone. 




Making afternoon Chai.

“What are you doing there?” I asked, visions of a breakdown, or more unusual, a flood passing through my head.  “Just making chai (tea) and having a rest,” was the reply.  They may have been traveling in greater comfort and with far more gadgets than we ever did but some things stay the same.  Sitting under a thorn tree with heat waves shimmering the air, the smell of dust mixed with old goat droppings and the sweetly pungent tea simmering over the fire, is a common experience for people in Africa.  But most of the wayfarers don’t have a satellite phone to chat on while they rest. 

I couldn’t help wondering what the locals might feel if they came upon this sight. Some of them have rarely seen white people much less technology.There are those who call them primitive.  I prefer to see them as people who have learned to live off the land without need of all the trappings of so-called civilizations.  Could we make our homes out of thorn trees, our fires out of twigs or dung and feed our families on less food than my pets have to eat?

I asked my daughter how things were.  “Fine” she said, the stock answer of teenagers everywhere.  I got off the phone as quickly as possible knowing the fortune being spent just to tell me she was fine. I would get my news when she returned. 


Their final destination was an outpost on the shores of Lake Turkana several hours further on.  This lake was “discovered” by a German Count in 1888.  Most people would expect the lakeshore of a large freshwater lake to be lush with foliage and cool from the breezes that blow over its waters.  Not so this lake.  It is surrounded by viciously sharp, black volcanic rock, vomited from the throat of a distant volcano eons ago.  The sparse vegetation is mostly thorny acacia trees blown sideways by the fierce gusts of winds that blow when the sun goes down. Dry desert surrounds Lake Turkana, hostile to man and beast. Hot blasts of heat mock dry riverbeds while sucking moisture from the air. Daytime temperatures of 120 degrees are common. It is amazing that any life survives.  Just when you are certain the world has ended leaving you alone on a dead planet, a herd of goats will meander over a rise followed by a silent black figure.

About the time you think you must go mad from the vicious heat, swirling dust and back jarring bumps, your vehicle crests a slight rise and you lose your breath. Before you is an immense lake, shimmering like a mirage. Viewed from a distance the lake this day is gray/blue, mysterious.  Other days it is a deep green, colored by algae blooms that prompted early travelers to name it the Jade Sea . The road, a mere track, approaches the lake through the lava fields then turns northward.  The traveler wonders where this road leads, if anywhere.  There is no visible end, just mile upon mile of dusty dirt track. 




The Place of Trees.


Eventually, the road winds into the desert outpost of Loyangalani — the place of the trees.  This is a town whose reason for being is water. Life giving, oases making, body cleaning, refreshing water. HOT WATER! The water that sustains life here comes from hot springs originating on Mount Kulal seen to the east.  It feeds a village of assorted tribes; Turkana, Rendille, Gabbra, Samburu and El Molo, plus Catholic and Protestant missions, along with a couple of campgrounds and the Oasis Lodge. 

The Oasis Lodge is the most comfortable place to stay in Loyangalani.  There is a bar where the best (and only) cold beer in the area can be found and the restaurant food is very good. After days of trekking overland or eating land rover dust there is nothing better. At dusk, when the wind picks up and the air cools, you ease your aching body into the heated water of the pool beer in hand and look up at the stars. The stars against the black night give you a glimpse into eternity and you finally realize you are glad you came.

Other places to stay here are the El Molo campground, which is very basic but has a pool, or the women’s campground provided by local ladies. At these places you will need to bring all of your food and necessities. This should not be a problem since doing these trips already requires one to bring all of your supplies. 

If you are feeling a need for more than physical rest, the AIC mission on the outskirts of town is an oasis for souls and the people are welcoming.  This Mission was begun in the mid 1990s by a man, Jim Teasdale, brother of the author, who was raised on nearby Mt. Kulal . Their early years where all the families lived in metal shipping containers make a fascinating story.  Hard work and humble hearts have gone a long way to make them a valued part of this community. This is also the place my daughter and my father were to spend the next 3 weeks.




The Northern Frontier of Kenya.

Half a days travel North of Loyangalani lies Sibiloi National Park.  The park and its surrounds are among the hidden treasures of the world, difficult to get to, yet well worth the effort. You can find a wealth of information about this area at Sibiloi.com 

But other than the barren desert and the Lake there is nothing much to see, right?  Wrong.  Like deserts worldwide there are tremendous varieties of creatures plus the nearby lake sustains even more.  Flamingo’s pelicans, ibis, spoonbills, fish eagles, and waterfowl are some of the more than 300 species of birds here.  Lake Rudolf is an ornithologists’ dream.


Fishing has long been a source of food for many around the lake. It has also been a great place for sports fishing.  Nile perch ranging form 15-pound “babies” to 200-pound monsters have been taken from these waters. Tiger fishing is reputed to be among the best in the world and tilapia, once a fish few had heard of is now common in grocery stores.  The local El Molo traditionally used spears to fish until nets were introduced. Other tribes did not traditionally fish or eat fish but since the building of a fishery at Ferguson ’s Gulf across the lake and at Loyangalani this easy and inexpensive source of protein has become popular.

Tropical gear Here
In years past this area was home to vast numbers of animals. Just a few of the animals that were seen in large quantity were Burchells’ and Grevy zebra, Reisa oryx, topi, rhino, ostrich, cheetah, lion, hyena, leopards, elephant, reticulated giraffe, and numerous gazelle species. In the early morning before the heat rises, many animals are down at the lake drinking. Sadly, after a hunting ban was initiated in the 1970s, poaching increased dramatically. With no hunters and wardens around to keep an eye out, and with no economic reason to protect the wildlife most of the animals were slaughtered. The bigger game especially took a hit. As more tourists come for the beauty of these remote places there is once again a reason for the protection of the animals. With time, perhaps, some of the herds can be restored.

No desert would be complete without its snakes and certainly they are not lacking here. Puff adders, scaled viper, and spitting cobra are some that lurk among the rocks and can cause serious, often fatal harm. Travelers should walk carefully, and at night carry a torch. Crocodiles are plentiful and often very large.  They have been known to kill humans and are quite capable of coming into very shallow waters and lying in wait for their prey. This writer was swimming with a friend years ago and had a croc encounter but was fortunate that the croc was either very slow, very stupid, or we were just bloody lucky.




The pastoral life in the desert.

The desert looks barren, but springs to life after rains as carpets of wild flowers and the wonderful pink or white desert roses bloom in impossible places delighting the unsuspecting traveler. For the rock hound there is an abundance of geodes, meteorites, amethyst, and garnets to be found.   

World famous for its archeological significance, Koobi Fora, the research project started and lovingly tended by the Leakey family and others is home to a treasure trove of fossils. To date more than 10,000 fossil specimens have been found here. Interested scientists and supporters can visit the camp and learn more about the unique archeological and fossil records being studied here.  The camp is located inside the Sibiloi National Park and can be reached via the same web site.

Ismail is one gentleman who leads hiking safaris through this desolate area. His web site is turkanasafaris.com.  These safaris will challenge you, if they don’t kill you.  Far from civilization and comfort you will taste in the dust and heat the essential Africa.  You will encounter people who have survived in a harsh land and they will welcome you. On the other hand, you could meet warriors on a raiding party with a less than pleasurable outcome!




Adventure tour operators take
you into the bush in style.

Other groups that do walking, camel, landrover or flying safaris through this area include: wanderingnomads.com, savannahcamps.com, africanmeccasafaris.com, ninianlowis.com and jadeseajourneys.com

 Long-time family friends of the author, John and Amanda Perrett run Bobong and Ol Maisor Camels.  They do walking camel safaris through much of the North Country. You may reach them by e-mail at olmaisor@africaonline.co.ke A brother, Simon Evans, runs a spectacular lodge called Sabuk not too far away in the Laikipia area. Various safaris are available there as well, but the lodge provides a comfortable rest from the rigors of the other travels mentioned. Reach Simon at sabuk@africaonline.co.ke. No doubt there are many others as travelers find their fill of the beaten path and choose to risk more in finding adventure.

If you are looking for a comfortable vacation, you took a wrong turn.  Travel to Turkana land is for those wanting a glimpse of life seen by the early explorers. Those who are spiritual heirs of them for whom the raw heart of Africa beckoned.  Travelers who have read or followed in the paths of Livingstone, of Thesiger, of Osa Johnson, and the great hunter Frederick Selous, may wish to visit.




New Friends.

But what of my daughter. Did she return home safely with her own African memories?  Oh yes, and a new torch was lit. She spent three weeks in this desolate place. She helped her cousins, made new friends, and took lots of pictures — mostly of the Mission dogs. She ran pell mell over a large thorn bush and ripped deep gashes into her legs. She rode on the back of a four-wheeler several hours through the desert to Mt. Kulal to see the place her mother grew up. She fell in love with the children, the heat, the dirt, the faces, the places — all the unsung beauty that Africa brings to her visitors and natives alike. 

Her path will take her back, that is a certainty.  For she heard her own song of Africa calling.

By Bobbi Buchanan, Arkansas Correspondent.

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