The Great Rift Valley Walk is a project of the Makindu Children's Program

 

Walking Peace

Peace is the walk.
Happiness is the walk.
Walk for yourself.
and you walk for everyone.

Thich Nhat Hanh, The Long Road Turns To Joy

 

Welcome.

This is the story of our walk through the Suguta Valley in Northwest Kenya. But of course it wasn't just a hike, it was organized and accomplished by a volunteer, Michael Farley, (Click on Michael's name for background on how and why the walk came to happen, and on Michael) to celebrate his 25th anniversary of working in Africa. He chose to raise money for MCP, and to raise awareness of the plight of Africa due to the AIDS pandemic. And the walk has been, and continues to be, very successful. We have raised a lot of money, and people continue to give. We thank you all. That money is doing great things for terrific people who really need help. But further than that, the walk has touched many people and awakened them to the needs of Africans who live amazing lives on an astonishing continent, and once awakened, people want to help even more. Witness Michael's amazing on-going efforts.

I want to thank you for your help and interest, and explain that the following was a journal I sent back via daily satellite phone calls to my wife, Diane Baxter. She recorded the calls, transcribed them and emailed them to another volunteer, Griffin Krafts, who posted them to the web. Diane and Griffin and many, many other people walked this journey with us. I thought about you everyday as I walked along, trying to pay attention so that I could write about the incredible experience. The walk was over 100 miles long, through the savannah, desert and volcanic landscape of the Suguta Valley to the Jade Sea, Lake Turkana - seven Americans, seven Kenyans and 19 camels. I have added photographs and will continue to work on this journal page as time goes by so that those interested will be able to see what we saw, and understand what we felt, without the walking and the sweating. It was an unforgettable experience, made more so for me by your interest and support. I sincerely thank you for that.

Paul Baxter


Journal Entries
Click on a date below to jump to the latest update, or scroll through for the entire adventure, day-by-day.

July 26, 2002
July 25, 2002
July 24, 2002
July 23, 2002
July 22, 2002
July 21, 2002
July 20, 2002
July 19, 2002
July 18, 2002

July 17, 2002
July 16, 2002
July 15, 2002

There is a hidden star behind our website postings for this trek. Please join me in a rousing round of applause and a standing ovation for ..... drum roll....

GRIFFIN CRAFTS, Webmaster Extraordinaire!

Griffin stepped in on a moment's notice when our plans to have a friend at WOU were halted when she got very sick. Griffin not only posted everything immediately, he did it cheerfully, professionally and with great style. It's beautiful, and the kids are watching every step of the way.

IF YOU NEED WEBSITES DESIGNED, BUILT, or MAINTAINED, please contact this talented young man at griffincrafts@hotmail.com.

So Griffin, our hats are off to you! You the man!


From Paul Baxter, July 15, 2002

Hi,
We're off into the unknown, well sort of. We're in Nairobi for supplies, and Winnie and I are still a little fuzzy on details, like last names, departure points and so on. We should be in Lake Baringo tonight and following camels by tomorrow sometime. The plan is to be off the trail by the 27th and in Nairobi again by the 30th. But this is Kenya and time is relative. Anything could shift this schedule, so we shall see.

Mike, LeeAnn, Steve, Jeff and Dave [other walkers] arrived at the center yesterday to great celebration. The kids put on the donated tee shirts, chose up sides and had a festive soccer game. The red shirts are more desirable so of course the older boys wound up with those. The white ones are about twice as numerous, so it was about 12 bigger players to 30 smaller ones, so it evened up. After about an hour Mike and his crew had to go off to dinner at one of his numerous friend's houses where they had nyama chama, roast goat. At the end the honored men were brought the roasted head. They managed to eat some tongue. Hey, being honored isn't always so wonderful.

Winnie and I went home and tried to pack everything we might need for ten days. We’ll see if we were successful. Then we had a good bye dinner at Dianah Nzomo's where we just chatted as good friends do over dinner. This morning we arose and were sent off with many hugs and much waving. And then, like in A Child's Christmas in Wales, “by God we were gone”. It is always strange for me to leave Makindu. It is such a nowhere place, and yet we have all come to love it. Dust like the Sahara, litter everywhere, goats chewing on anything green, people coming and going at all times, privacy a hard won commodity, trouble and need everywhere, and yet we all feel welcome and at home. It is a strange and wonderful place.

I will update you by satellite phone on a regular basis. Talk to you soon.

Thanks for walking with us through the web site.

Paul


July 16, 2002

From the edge of the Suguta River, in the Great Rift Valley, Kenya.

We started at Nakaru, our last shower for a while. We are driving two Land Cruisers to Lake Baringo where we are to meet Jasper Evans who is running this trek. The drive north was fairly uneventful, although the rainstorm last night cleaned the air and left a crystal clear blue sky. We are in favored land with water and there are lots of productive farms. We passed a sisal farm that stretched about 5 km along the highway. At Lake Baringo we met Jasper and his helpers, related I think, but from Australia, Louise and Ted. They are young and enthusiastic. We drove north to meet Paddy with the camels. They have been driving them west from Rumuruti for a week to meet us near Lemolo. The country is dry now and Samburu peoples stare and wave as we drive past their goat herds. The women wear a large flat disc-like collar, 18” to 2 feet in diameter. The men carry long sticks and hand carved seats, although I saw a few with spears and bows and arrows.

The county looks very much like Nevada, except the sage brush is replaced by short thorn trees. It is very rugged. Volcanic stone litters the ground and frequent creek beds speak of flash floods. We are on a dirt trace looking for the camp. We seem to have misplaced it. Ted and Louise are studying the tracks while Jasper eyes the horizon. Jasper is close to 80 and speaks with a distinct British accent. He is a native Kenyan, native to that generation of colonials that were immortalized in books and movies, the contemporaries of his parents. He comes back to the milling Americans and says, “I think what we had better do is go back a bit, and then go to the river. It runs just there.” We did and drove straight to the camp. Our camp is beneath a grove of dhoum palm and acacias, right on the Suguta River.
The river is ankle-deep and runs red-brown. Ted says to watch for crocs and I don’t know if he is kidding. There are strange prints in the bank, a small cat of some kind and baboons. The camels are grazing just east of camp, with the river running to the south. In addition to the hikers and Jasper we have Roger, another colonial, and perhaps five Kenyans to load and herd the camels. When we arrived we had a “bit of a tea”, which consisted of a roasted goat leg, cheese, fresh-baked bread and pickled zebra meat, which reminded me of sushi. It was great. We had hot tea of course and I said to Roger, “We’re all going to have to learn to drink from tin cups” and he said, “You put it on the ground and wait.” We all laughed.

Apparently we are two camels short, the first was killed by a lion and the second was blinded by flies. They can heal the second one, but left it with a missionary. We have spent the day chatting and sweating. It is hot. My tiny REI thermometer says about 100 degrees and we all know it will be a hard walk, but we are all excited. Camping at an oasis with camels in the background and genuine outbackers leading the way, it doesn’t get any more exotic.

Tomorrow we start walking.


July 17, 2002

We arose at six, light enough to see but before sunrise. The predawn light lent an air of expectation to the camp, or maybe that was just me. We picked up our mosquito nets and pads and went to eat a bit of breakfast. The night was warm, our sheets being plenty until about 4 a.m. when it cooled a bit. A breeze rustled the fronds on the palm trees, fooling more than one of us into thinking it was raining. The stars were brilliant and I saw more than one shooting star. They are, for the most part, unfamiliar to me, but Louise pointed out Orion’s Belt, which Australians call The Sauce Pan. All of us were awake last night more than we slept. We had each set up our sleeping area out away from the camp fire along the river, stretching perhaps 200 feet or so. Then the guys brought all the camels right into the camp and hobbled them so that we were walking in and around nineteen camels that eyeballed us and gurgled in comment. When Michael said “If they have to bring the camels into the camp at night, why do they let us stretch out so far away from camp?” We thought about it for a while, then I pointed out that they OWN the camels.

We said goodbye to Land Cruisers, driven by Christopher, Selah, Zachary, Louise and Ted, and to Paddy, who had fallen prey to dehydration. He’s fine, but we have a great picture of him getting IV fluids with the drip hanging from a spear. A herder loaded our camels, an interesting yet amazingly peaceful endeavor, though the hobbled camels gurgled, grunted and roared. Our gear was packed onto one or two camels with all the others carrying water, food, camp gear, etc., and two remained unloaded but with saddles for riding. I’m hoping for a chance at riding during this trip. It should be fun.

Then we were off walking alongside these giant, oddly graceful beasts, superbly evolved for the terrain, they are tied in strings, lead rope tied to the tail and so on down the line, the whole being led by a herder. We were walking across some of the loops of the Suguta River, passing over the old lake bottom of the pleistocene Lake Turkana. Jasper wasn’t exactly sure of the date, but a volcanic eruption perhaps as recent as 10,000 years ago had cut off this part of the lake and kept Lake Turkana to the north. The ground is covered with volcanic stones as well as flood gravel. The acacias are small and the plain grass is yellow. People don’t live here because of tribal politics, but the signs of their presence are there to be seen. Within ten minutes I found a piece of pottery. One hundred, one thousand, three thousand years old? I don’t know. Later we passed some graves, marked by piles of stone. Roger found a blue bead and I another.

The terrain is very flat, but it is getter hotter. We walked along the river looking across the plain and saw two groups of gazelles as we walked, but game is scarce, apparently poached out. We were searching for a place to cross the river and finally came to our first lava flow, marked by a grave. The lava caused a set of rapids and kept the banks from being steep. The camels crossed easily. We followed, boots around our necks, soft feet gingerly finding flat places. The water was cool and refreshing. We crossed over and then camped at about 1:30. We had come about 10 miles and we were glad to stop. It was 100 degrees.

We are camped at the river again, the palm trees providing shade. We cleared the dead palms back and found a Night Adder, a small one. Jasper said, “They’re not good.” We killed it. Suddenly we realized we are not at a wildlife safari. And then when I went exploring I found clear crocodile scoot marks and prints. One of the herders said “Yes, it is there.” The lava is black of course, like Oregon lava, but it is almost iridescent in the sun. My camp, thoughtfully cleared of dead palm fronds, lies beneath a tree containing a Loggernaut nest, also called a Hammerhead Stork. The nest is about five feet tall.

Tomorrow we go to what Jasper calls the Collared Lakes, although they are unnamed on the map. We are tired and ready to make camp, but still excited and in awe of this place.

More tomorrow.


July 18, 2002

Once again we are camped, as Steve says, hard by the Suguta River, but further north than yesterday by several miles. We walked for six hours today and traveled by my GPS some 12.3 miles, but not in a straight line north. We walked northeast for five miles to see the Colored Lakes, but this is a drought and they were dry. They are volcanic “lakes”,ponds really, in a devil’s playground of lava flows, splatter cones, and collapsed tubes-- rugged, rugged country with struggling vegetation clinging to life in the cracks. But then there would be a so-called desert rose, a white barked tree with a baobab like trunk, except much smaller, with twiggy short limbs sparsely supporting small green leaves and the most beautiful pink flowers. You can imagine the scene: iridescent black lava puddled across an open space, blocks and cinders thrown about on all sides, small splatter cones standing perhaps 12-15 feet in the air, and in the midst of all that is a small white tree with beautiful pink blossoms. Amazing! No one was too disappointed at the lack of lakes, cameras were prominent and I saw a number of rocks, albeit small ones, being collected as souvenirs.

We started early today, getting up at 5:30, most of us awake before that. The camels brought into camp and hobbled as usual began to grumble some time before that and the two askari, the watchmen, were talking. I thought nothing of it until, as we were walking away from camp, one of the herders pointed down and said “Simba”, and sure enough there were big cat tracks walking toward camp. Apparently sometime before 5:00a.m., a lion had come in to look at the camels, but the herders had scared it off. Interesting.

After we had seen, or not seen actually, the Colored Lakes, we headed north sort of. Our intention was to go north, but we had to go around a stream, and then a long ridge and eventually find a way across the river. We walked along for miles, over mud flats created by flash flooding. The heat reflected up off the black surface roasted us. It said 100 degree F, but it was twice as hot as yesterday.

We walked past stone circles, foundations for habitations, and some circular stone structures, about three feet across and two feet high, probably storage. All were just dry-laid, no mortar. Flakes and stone tool-making were present, but sparse, and a piece or two of broken pottery. Again, I don’t know the age of these sites. Winnie found a very large feather from a Clark’s Busterd, the largest flying bird in the world, according to Jasper. I believe him. It is 2 feet long with a quill 1/2 inch thick. It is black and white, striped and broad. I’d like to see the bird. A Thompson’s Gazelle bounded out from our front, pronged out about 100 yards, stopped, turned and stared at us. It may have been confused by the camels, or the wuzungu—us.

By this time we had been walking for perhaps five hours or more. We were all very tired, the heat having baked us unremittingly, although an occasional breeze held out hope for the river. We finally got to the river marked by the palms, but the sides were too steep. We couldn’t cross with the camels so we continued walking up the river looking for a ford. Near the river it became very humid and we began to drip sweat. Finally we found a place where we will cross in the morning.

A camel, completely unfazed by the walk or the heat, suddenly spooked and broke loose, running away from the herd. The herders quickly got it back. But the wuzungu were left wondering about snakes or lions or whatever, when in fact Jasper had just suddenly appeared from the bush and the camel, probably daydreaming about an oasis or something, jerked its lead free and was off. Or perhaps it had planned it all day. By the way, camels are magnificent beasts, able to carry ¼ their weight for very long distances, go without water forever and so on, and further they seem all in all to have a pretty decent disposition. But their breath is beyond belief. We have all independently confirmed this.

I decided to walk around and get some highlights from some of the walkers, so here’s one from Dave Brooks. His highlight of the day was discovering the lion tracks so close to the camp. That was pretty high on everybody’s list. And Steve Clark’s lowlight of the day, he stepped on a thorn at the lake which drove clear through the sole of his Montreal hiking shoes into his foot. Ten minutes of work with Leatherman’s pliers got it out of the shoe. His foot is fine. Jeff James’ lowlight of the day was having to surrender his pack to be carried by a camel. His pack contains cameras and gear worth several middle class homes. Winnie’s would-be highlight of the day was pulling a thorn out of my behind, which I had sat on. But I managed without the doktari. However she agrees that the mysterious desert rose was really special.


July 19, 2002

I am at ease by the river. Our camp is perhaps ¼ to ½ mile from here, our first dry camp. The Turkana who leads the camels and who can find a reasonable trail through anything, decided there were no good shade trees at the river and halted the camels in a grove of acacia. Staggering to a stop, I was fine with it, but the possibility of disagreeing with it did arise. My day was hard. I’d missed dinner last night, due to an upset stomach, something to do with pickled zebra meat, and my breakfast of a chocolate bar and an orange didn’t hold me. The last few miles across perfect desert pavement sort of wilted me. The others were in better shape but they weren’t arguing over stopping either. We hauled the kitchen boxes over to the acacia grove that will serve as the center of our camp. Jasper and Roger had hacked down the thorny underbrush and we all kicked stones out of the way to make a decent floor. Then, it being a British sort of expedition, we all had tea. Now this is odd, or at least we Americans thought so, that after walking all day in 100 degree F heat, drinking as much water as possible, that a cup of hot tea would taste good. But it does. It jolly well does.

I am sitting alone by the river, having started out after the others and failed to find them. I am enjoying the solitude. I say alone, but in fact there is a very large stork of some kind that is at the other end of the bend, perhaps 100 feet away. I’m being quiet and he’s decided to stay, although I’m being carefully observed. I think I have another companion as well, but I haven’t seen him. There is a cascade which I was sitting in when I heard a splash in the pool at the bottom. I suspect a crocodile, but I have seen nothing. I’ve avoided the pool, staying in the moving, shallow water where I am safe, or at least so it seems. But this is Africa. Everything bites or scratches.

I walked for a time this morning with Jasper, our guide. He is 78 years old and has just finished a 1200 mile trek through Nigeria up to Libya on camels. They were following an old slave route. He said, in fact, much of it was rather boring, being nothing but desert, but the archaeology was interesting. He is a fascinating man. He knows the Latin name for all of the plants and how to use them. “That’s caster. We chop up the leaves and make a soup and feed it to the camels for mange”, he said. He absolutely loves his camels and it is clear that the Turkana, Pokot, and Samburu men who work for him, deeply respect him. Today two of them came and got him to ride for a while. We all appreciate this very quiet man. We are in good hands.

The countryside is stunning, with desert pavement shading into a floor strewn with volcanic cobbles and blocks. Green acacias and various thorn trees and grey thorn bushes and yellow tufted grass, with an occasional desert rose or small cactus, provide visual relief from the unrelenting geology. In the distance are basalt cliffs and beyond, cinder cones stretching to the blue shadows. On the river there are occasional palm trees, but the Turk was right. There are few. We are heading north, which is downstream, and we are losing altitude, even though we climbed a number of hills today. Tomorrow we move away from the river, up into the hills I think, although I haven’t asked Jasper, or even the Turk. My shady relief here is in under a basalt cliff, more properly a heavily eroded pyroclastic flow with large volcanic boulders welded together. It is a wonderful bend in this little river that will stay with me and may be just where I’ve gone to in those long committee meetings which are in my future. I have been writing and watching the pond in front of me. I see bubbles every once in a while but those might be fish. The beach I’m sitting on has a little trench about six feet long some little half moon depressions at the water’s edge. I may have spent my time here in the crocodile’s parlor. The stork may have been watching for more than I thought.

Michael’s highlight of the day was finishing the walk and getting into the river. It was a hard day, but everybody’s pretty upbeat. We’re getting up at 5 in the morning and starting earlier so we can quit earlier because it’s getting hot. Leeann is doing great, peddling along. Winnie is fine too.

More tomorrow.


July 20, 2002

It is hard to know what exactly to say about today. It was hard, very hard. We arose very early in order to get off in the cool of the morning. We will go earlier tomorrow. But in fact, none of us slept well last night and all were awakened by 3 a.m., when the men started packing the camels. We laid there until 5 a.m., then ate a small breakfast, packed our personal gear and were off. We were following a track and it was fairly easy walking, though we climbed some hills, but by 10 a.m. it was getting hot and never retreated from that all day. We passed through volcanic terrain with rust of ash and lava, cones with ash on top that looked like snow. There were fossils lying about, if one had a quick eye. The vistas were magnificent and we walked on, the ground covered with a desert pavement, that special light to dark tan varnish that covers everything that lies in the desert for long. We passed through a very harsh landscape.

At the moment, I am lying on my sleeping pad, looking at the Sugutu River. The camels have come to my section of the bank to eat grass. They are standing in the river bed and staring at me as they chew, at eye level. These are one-humped camels, whatever that name is, and are not always pleasant. I was standing in the shade of one this morning when another one kicked me, a glancing blow off my calf. It startled an adjective or two out of me, but did no harm.

We laid in the river today when we got here, but it was hotter than bath water from flowing over the solar heated rocks. The pay-off was to get wet and stand up, letting the slightly slimy water evaporate in the wind. It is and has been blowing, which is cool and keeps the insects away. The water seems to have soda in it, precipitated out of the rocks in the area. There is even some foam.

But it was a hard day. We are footsore and overheated and today became too much for LeeAnn and Steve. We called for a helicopter and gave them our exact GPS location and a chopper arrived one hour later, within 20 feet of our site. We were all amazed, particularly the herders who couldn’t suppress excited giggles. I showed them the GPS and how it talks to satellites and they were fascinated. LeeAnn and Steve passed on their hats and some other items to the herders, so they will still be somewhat visible to us. Both of them had really bad blisters, and it is just really hot and hard out here. It was over 100 degrees today and we were on that desert pavement. They were exhausted and ready to stop. We are glad to know that we are only a phone call away from help if we need it.

Our meals are British Army ready-to-eat meals. They are all in boiling pouches and we just heat them up. They are pretty good, although their dumplings need work. We are drinking coffee and tea as well as hot beer, an acquired taste for sure. Our water is all treated river water now, which we are filtering. I have had at least 5 liters today and will drink more tonight. We saw 8 gazelle today. They were caught between us and the river and dashed across our front about three times before making their escape. The only other sighting today was of gigantic lion prints that we crossed on our trek. We never saw the lion.

We are sorry to have lost two of our group. It was sad to see them just fly away, but it IS hard out here. The rest of us are still excited and will push on.

But Africa is so wonderful. I am listening to one of the Turkana herders, Bara Bara, whistling to the camels. Bara Bara means road. His mother was trying to get to the clinic when she had him.

My highlight of the day was having little fish nibble my toes while lying in the river. Jasper says they are small and no good to eat, but you can boil them into a soup. I think I’ll just let them nibble my toes.

More tomorrow.


July 21, 2002

Just a short note about this day. We made about 15 statute miles across flash flood deposits and sand dunes, but of course that was between last night’s camp and this one. The fact is we don’t walk in a straight line. In fact, Ekudor, the Turkanan who leads the lead camel, may be culturally predisposed to zigzag around. We guesstimate that we walked closer to 20 miles. The last bit was exceptionally trying because we were trying to find the river to camp on, but there were a series of dry river beds marked with palm trees that we had to cross to find it. Each was anticipated for a mile or more, and then disappointment. But finally the river, a fairly wide stretch perhaps 6-8 inches deep, running fairly strong but dark brown, the color of a mud puddle that had just been driven through. We walked to the edge to take our boots off, and then flopped down in it. It’s lukewarm to hot, but the trick is to sit up and evaporate. Better than Disneyland!

We got together after a lie-down to figure out exactly where we are and where we are going. We filled all the sixteen jerry cans because water is a little “iffy” after this. We are going to a water hole marked on the map, but one can’t be sure. The jerry cans should be enough for all of us for four days. By then we should be at Lake Turkana. Remember we have the telephone, so we won’t get into trouble.

We are strangers here. We don’t really belong, soft pink creatures. As we were going along one of the herders realized he had forgotten his pair of very old binoculars. He handed his lead rope to another fellow and trotted back a couple of miles, got them, then jogged back to join us. He conceded that it was hot. We flop into the shade. Often they just stand with the camels. If they didn’t have us to hold them back, they would be at the lake by now. I’m sure of it.

And Jasper got kicked by a camel in the knee. At first he thought it was okay, but now it seems it may have re-damaged a tendon and he’s pretty crippled up. He’s riding all day which is demanding in a different way than walking, and I think just as hard. 78 years old, he’s just amazing.

Last night we all laid on sleeping pads out in the shady nooks and crannies of the palm tree patches, carefully checked for previous tenants. We put up our free-standing mosquito nets and crawled in them for the night. The wind picked up and kept picking up, until we had a windstorm, pretty much all night. Lying on the sand, we were blasted all night. Hats and shirts had to be secured. Everyone but I had a totally miserable night with very little sleep. I was exhausted and just pulled my sheet up around my head and slept through it all, a feat I appreciated but no one else did. Winnie’s mosquito net blew away during the night and she had to chase it down. I missed it all.

More tomorrow.


July 22, 2002

We arose, not too refreshed for most. I felt pretty good. I didn’t share that news too much. We got up in the dark at 5 a.m., the herders already loading the gear. It takes time and we weren’t off until 6:45 or so. The sun was up, but not hot yet, and we were heading across some pretty forbidding land, [at this point in the call, Paul tried to hold the phone up so I could hear a jackal howling in the background. I couldn’t hear it, darn it.] miles of flash flood deposits with small saltbrush thorn bushes, and then larger breaks of taller bushes that are more difficult to make our way through. Ekudor wiggles through with the camels following. We make our way as we each decide, some on our own, some in file with the camels. Michael and Dave are using two poles like cross-country skiers. They are very tired but are making good time. Jeff is also tired but is taking pictures of everything. Winnie is carrying all our medical supplies and I am just trying to stay caught up.

The volcanics here are astounding. Small craters and volcanoes are all about. Lava flows spill out of them, trying to bar our path. We walk around them through the area called The Gap. One area was marked by a fiery-red twisted and broken rock, and spilling out was a jet black flow with dragon-backed phalanges jutting up as it rolled out across the plains toward us. I pointed it out to Roger and he said, “Oh, Angry Rock”, and I had to agree, but beautiful angry rock, nonetheless.

Through The Gap we passed into an area of salt flats moving towards Keiamonolanyang Water Hole. It is flat as a saucer, with occasional arroyos from floods. We are walking at a pretty good clip, but it is baking hot with the white crystals of the flat reflecting back a huge portion of the sun’s heat. We are moving towards a rock formation called The Crescent, but only as a marker for the more distant water hole, trees in the distance. We arrived at The Crescent, the sun high in the sky, the only shade at the base of The Crescent, but we couldn’t get to it. There is a hot springs pouring water out, really running all around the base of the rock. We couldn’t get across the mud. The water is clear and tinkles over little waterfalls, but it is probably 150 degrees and Roger says it is very salty. We sit in the sun savoring the gusts of wind that come through, top off our liters from our jerry cans, and move on, slipping and sliding on the mucky ground. And then we encounter a stream, 8 feet across, a foot deep, from another hot springs. We have to wade across through 150 degree water and sit in the razor grass to put our shoes back on. The camels hate it as well, and their herders scream with the heat of it.

Hot springs and undrinkable water and now the sand again. Walking is hard. I make it to the first tree and lay down exhausted. They come with a camel to haul me into camp, but it is only another couple of hundred yards. Everyone is exhausted and after a cup of tea, we lay down for a time and sleep. Our camp is at a water hole, but we haven’t located the water. Tomorrow we move to another water hole where the map shows a track onto the ridge of lava that cuts off this valley from Lake Turkana. We will unpack at the water hole, spend the day there, then move on tomorrow evening by the full moon.

I know this sounds very tough, and it is. This is not easy, but we are all in very good spirits, and I think exactly where we want to be. This is an experience we will all deeply remember.

More tomorrow.


July 23, 2002

We spent a night under the full moon trying to get some rest that we all needed. Some were more successful than others. We packed the camels and were off by 3:30 a.m. We’re just going to the next water hole, where we’ll stop until night. We’re going across country, no trail or road, following a compass bearing towards the trees.

I’m exhausted and riding a camel. Michael is not doing well either. The heat and lack of sleep are catching up with us. Finally, almost to the trees, Mike had to get on a camel. He’s fought it for days. We get to the trees, but there is no water. We leave part of the group and go on to the next clump of trees, no water. But Roger sees where someone was digging and he starts digging there as well. We aren’t convinced, but he keeps at it, and then he says, “I’ve got water!” “Madji”,in Swahili, “madji”. We have water, but SEEING water is important. I look down in the hole and there is a little spring running clear. Nonuu tastes it and says, “100% fresh!” with a huge smile. Roger drinks a cup of it. We decline until later and after filtering, we taste it. It is good. We’ve been drinking soda water, very salty. We fill our empty jerry cans and then grab a sleeping pad and find a piece of shade. It is 100 degrees F, and it’s only 10:30.

I have slept all day and feel much better. Mike too. It is blowing, which cools your evaporated sweat, but the wind is hot. It is 3:30 and we are eating now. Dave tells me not to hurry, “It’ll stay warm,” he says.

We will walk north tonight until midnight. Tomorrow we climb the barrier, a volcanic dam that ends the valley and keeps Lake Turkana out. From there we walk to the truck, two and a half days. We are battered and tired, but we all want to finish this, and we are very much in control here. We can get a chopper within an hour.

My Swahili note for the day: we came across what looked like an odd motorcycle track. Jasper said “No, it’s a large puff adder.” In Swahili, puff adder is “booboo”. I said to Nonuu, who speaks English reasonably well, that in America a “booboo” is a scraped knee. He laughed.

[Note from Diane: Paul said he feels better than he has in 2-3 days. Riding a camel is a lot like riding a horse, according to him, except that you’re a lot further off the ground—“it’s like 10 feet in the air when you’re on one of those suckers!”]


July 24, 2002

I am writing this beneath the flap-flapping shade of a black plastic ground sheet tied between two dhoum palms. Winnie and I, with the help of Jasper, created and share this little haven from the intense heat of the fiercest section of the Suguta Valley. In the distance, perhaps 2-3 miles, is Lake Logipi, the salt pan where the Suguta River dies. We can see a pink band around the sheen of the lake, thousands of flamingoes. I’d like to see that, but not bad enough apparently. We laid like this yesterday, and then at dusk loaded camels and were off across the flat. Michael, Jasper and I were on camels, although the sleep had brought me back to normal.

Now I’ve ridden horses--not with a horseperson’s concentrated effort, but I’ve put time in on their back. And I’ve never thought that horses were comfortable, but with the exception of a small, gray, Navajo pony that had a gait like a car passing over a railroad track, I’ve always come to some negotiated compromise. None of that happened last night. My southern portions never learned to speak camel. First the saddle has to fit over the hump. It’s a kind of A-frame affair that is far more complex than its crude fashioning from forked sticks and burlap bags would suggest. That’s tied on with flat sisal rope that fits under the camel like a girth and is cinched up tight. Then if you want, you hang baggage on the forked sticks, or put on a pad and hang riders instead. We all developed a system of moving around and bracing so that we shared the ride evenly, or as evenly as possible.

We passed across a dead flat plain, an occasional tuft of grass the only vegetation, and that not often. We walked to a full moon, which caused the random rocks on the sand to appear as a mysterious black shape. We were silent for the most part, intent, watchful, the valley edge gray to bluish-gray in the distance. We passed through small lunette dunes, but then back into flash flood deposits. We are following a compass bearing of 20 degrees north, but are guiding on a notch in the horizon. We should hit another water hole at about midnight. We begin to see palm trees, dark shapes here and there on the plain. We investigate them, but no water. We have come about 10 miles. I am walking as Jasper’s saddle broke down and his leg needs the ride. Michael needs to ride and I was riding mostly to avoid arguments from the others. Actually, since I slept I’ve been fine.

Finally we stopped at a sad little bunch of palms that showed no inclination to host us for the night. We barged in anyway, threw out our pads and slept. Well, after we unloaded 19 camels, we slept.

It is now about 2:20 in the afternoon. Several of the staff, the camel guys, walked over to the base of the hills this morning and found the track we want to go up the divide on, as well as the water hole. We will pack our gear and start over there in a couple hours, stop at the water hole, refill bottles, etc., then up the ridge tonight. We are all ready for it. Last night’s walk was difficult for Dave, Winnie and Jeff, who have walked the entire distance. We are all tired and are anticipating the end of the trek, but we are now rested and ready for this last big push.

A Suguta Valley moment: last night on the camel with nothing but my butt on my mind, I decided to call my mom. I picked the satellite phone out of the pack, turned it on and got her answering machine. “It’s Paul, Mom, calling from the back of a camel in the middle of the night somewhere in the Suguta Valley of Kenya. I’ll try again later.” There is something really strange about this.

More tomorrow.


July 25, 2002

We walked across the rest of the bottom and found the water hole. Well, actually the staff found it. It is an area of palms and acacia trees with a sandy flood deposit surface. Into that surface at locations I don’t understand, people have dug holes, six to eight feet across and perhaps five to six feet deep. At the bottom of that hole one digs a small depression which fills with muddy water. You then dip that out to fill your water containers. There is a hollowed out palm tree trunk lying by the one we are using. It is a watering trough for cattle and goats. Our camels show no interest. They haven’t drunk for a day or two, yet they turn away from a bucket of water. Amazing.

I called in yesterday’s or at least the previous journal entry. Time is getting confused by walking nights and sleeping days, and now we are off up towards the end of the valley. We are at the lower end of the valley which was sealed off from Lake Turkana by volcanic eruptions. We must pass over this divide to get to our destination and an airstrip by the lake. This sounds easy enough, but we have no trail, or at least none as Americans might know one. Bara Bara and Nunoo have found a track, perhaps the one Jasper knows exists, but there are many such tracks and it matters which one we follow. We are ascending a moderate pitch by moonlight.

Behind us we can see Lake Logipi, gleaming in the moonlight. Earlier we had seen a huge band of pink and a smaller one of white surrounding it. These were the Greater and Lesser Flamingoes that feed on the algae of the dead lake. About 3 hours into the ascent, we suddenly come to the edge of a huge gorge some 200 feet deep that cuts off our progress. We must turn around and look for a way across.

Some of us worry that we must go back to the bottom, but after about 20 minutes word came that a track to the left had been found and we move again.

I have been walking alone, ahead or to the side of the camels. They are obscure shapes in the dark. An occasional word, English, Swahili, I can’t tell, drifts to me. I am enjoying the solitude, or at least aloneness. The camels have to climb up through the rocks, how, none of us know. But they feel with their feet and keep moving, the herders keeping them moving with sharp intakes of their breath, or words or even a smack with a stick. The camels are usually stoic, but recognize that we wuzungu don’t know about them, and will growl and make as to bite us when we come near. We have learned to ignore them and will grab a lead and pull down and say “chut, chut, chut” until it deigns to kneel down. We’re helping to load and unload as well, but as tourists, nothing more. Bara Bara grew up with his father as one of Jasper’s men, and he’s worked these camels for seven years.

The track is letting us move up, but slowly. We come into a bowl-shaped area with cliffs on the upper end and an abandoned Turkana house and boma in the shadows. There are some large acacias and we decide to settle in for the night. It is 1 a.m and we are all exhausted. I roll out my sleeping pad and start setting up my net. I look down and about three inches from my knee is a small scorpion defending a dead cricket. It’s about 1½ inches long. I note it, then stand and squish it with my heel, too tired to even tell the others. They are apparently deadly. I crawl in, pull up my sheet around me and sleep. I awoke once in the night and had to think why. I was cold and actually pulled out my sleeping bag, then fell asleep again, the acacia above, the one David said looked like a leopard tree, black against the full moon.

In the morning we awoke about 5 a.m. and got moving again, up and to the east trying to find a track to follow. We began well, but then as we moved up the camels came to a wall. We had been scrambling up on our own over the volcanic scree and cliff outcrops. We looked back and the camels were moving away from us. We continued up and watched them climb up over walls and so on. We, Winnie and I, were on one finger, Jeff, Dave and Mike on another, and the camel train on yet a third, and they were getting further away as we ascended. Eventually we were perhaps ¾ mile apart, but we were all heading towards the ridge and hoped to meet again.

Meanwhile, Winnie and I came to the top of the ridge and suddenly Lake Turkana was stretching out before us. It was startling and breathtaking. We stood and stared at the beauty, and behind it was Lake Logipi, also stunning, an amazing place to be on the earth! We sat down and absorbed the scene, the volcanic red, black, brown stone, with pale yellow grass tufts, gray-green acacia, and then the Mediterranean blue of the lake. The wind coming up off the lake was cool and our steps became easier as we moved both up and west and eventually rejoined the camels on a well-worn northern track. I asked Nonuu how old the track was and he just laughed—hundreds of years if not thousands.

Our relief was welcome but short-lived. Jasper was certain that we could not follow the beach around the lake. There are cinder cones and north-south trending gorges to cross as we moved east and we must find a way for the camels.

The herders are amazing. They are professionals. They move along with little notice of the things that try our patience. Walking in rubber tire sandals, carrying a small water bottle and usually a stick, perhaps a spear or maybe a machete, they keep us and the camels moving. The scenery was stunning. We were walking across an arid volcanic landscape, but you could discern different events, layered and dissected. The path was cinder-covered and lined with stones, though the happenstance of geology, use and time, not that of the Park Service.

We passed through a grove of trees. Jasper named them. They were all cut and dripping pitch. Roger said “Pick some off and smell it.” I did. It was frankincense. In the middle of almost nowhere, I could sniff a tree, close my eyes, and be a little boy listening to and smelling Benediction.

We moved on, camels doing things that I would never have guessed they could do, climbing up what seemed impassable barriers. Finally we came to Talekei’s Volcano, not much of one really, but it was erupting when he saw it, or I think it was, and named Lake Rudolph for his German king. Eventually they changed the name to Lake Turkana after the people whose land it is. It is small, but it pumped out a devil’s landscape of lava, pouring it down towards the lake in long rivers. Puddled toes of the pahoihoi lava stretched out everywhere and the Turks had cleared a trail over it. But still it is hard on the camels and the rest of the afternoon is very hard on the camels and us. The heat of the afternoon radiates down and up and roasts us all. But then we pass off the black lava onto fields of older, eroded red lava. We are all getting very tired. Finally we make camp, just off the lava field in a small grove of acacia at the base of blocks forming a cliff at the edge of the red lava. We are all extremely tired, but in good moods.

Tomorrow we will reach the lake, the trucks, we will have done it! Jasper breaks out the Tusker beer, the scotch, the bourbon, all very hot. We all have a little something and Michael breaks out his harmonica and we even sing a few things that might have once been songs, but didn’t survive our attention. I personally feel very bad about “Waltzing Matilda”, which we attempted for Roger.

We have seen no people this trip. We have seen a few tracks, but no people. As we are sitting there, two Turkana walk into camp and sit down at the herder’s fire. I am amazed. One of them has four goats and Jasper arranges for our guys to buy one, and we barbecue the haunches over coals. The herders have the rest. After ten days of British Army ready-to-eat meals, nyama chama (roasted meat) is really wonderful. Jasper tells stories, we all listen and comment, we are festive but exhausted, and finally we go off to bed.

More tomorrow.

July 26, 2002

We may have celebrated and stayed up late, but we were up by 5:00 the next morning anyway. The camels didn’t celebrate, so they got up. Our last day on the trail should be a short one, punctuated with a swim in the lake. We were all pretty excited about it.

Dave, Mike and Jeff had formed the habit of sleeping all in a bunch, while Winnie and I were scattered away. Dave says to me, “We wanted to sleep next to the rock face, but there are a couple holes over there that have just gotta be home to somebody.” The next morning they had packed up and were having tea, and I was just snapping my sleeping pad onto my pack when I heard a rustling over were they had slept. There was a lizard, at least 4 to 5 feet long, walking into one of the holes.

For the first time on the trek, we walked out of camp before the camels, with Roger leading. We were picking our way along the edge of the flow, struggling really, on the basalt cobbles, blocks and cinders that rolled under our feet, when we all just turned at the same time and climbed up onto the flow. And there, stretching out ahead of us for a quarter to a half mile was an absolutely flat road. It looked like asphalt, except that occasionally it buckled a bit and at the end it thinned down and folded back on itself, exactly like some wedding cake icings. Eventually all good things come to an end, and we had to climb down and move on, but by then it was not far to the lake. We crossed the remaining ground, not running or anything, but not dragging our heels either. To our left was a small lake, a pond really, that was bluish green and beautiful, with white flamingoes rimming one end. But we wanted nothing less than Lake Turkana, the Jade Sea.

We passed up between a small cinder cone on the left, and a large rocky bluff on the right and suddenly we were standing on perhaps the prettiest beaches I have ever seen. Red cinder sand sloped gently down to the blue green water. An acacia provided a shady spot about half way down. We walked down to the water, took off our boots and dove in. Roger, always a beacon of caution, comes up and says “Don’t go out too far, crocs.” We agreed, and all kept safely between Roger and the beach. We submerged our heads and rinsed and cooled and simply luxuriated in the water. It was a small, but hard won prize, not to be denied by the mere possibility of crocodiles. After a time, we left the water, and I’m afraid, perhaps a ring on the beach, but it was time to get out and explore a bit.

We pulled on our boots and walked east along the rocky shoreline around the large bluff, and then up on to a cliff that overlooked a long fjord of which we had been unaware. There about 100 feet below us, surfacing, cruising and submerging were crocs, 10 – 20 feet long. Our perfect beach was perhaps ¼ mile away.

Across the fjord were the camels and we turned back to rejoin them. We retraced our steps and there on our perfect beach were six Turks sitting under the acacia boiling tea in a large silver can that said – USA. We waved, but it was time to go, can’t stand a crowded beach.

We walked around the bluff and then along the cliff face of the crocodile fjord. I counted 16 crocs sunning themselves on the opposite side, and a lot more in the water. We also saw turtles, some quite large, surfacing and submerging, and everywhere large splashes from fish. It was rich, but dangerous place. We rejoined the camels, but were still trying to find a track to get to the airstrip. I called it an airfield once, but Jasper corrected me. I was not to think that there was anything there. I hadn’t, it was a slip of the tongue. Still, there were people now and the signs of their presence all around. The stone circles that were the foundation of a kind of woven thatch hut,a large basket really, and everywhere the stone piles which marked graves, and which bore testimony to their tenure and to the harshness of this land.

We found a track eventually, well the staff did, we’d still be wandering I’m sure, and began to move more determinedly across the landscape. The track moved up and down the cliffs in a manner easy enough that goats, cattle and sheep, and, more to the point, camels could cross. Our short last day turned into hour upon hour of trudging, but then about 6 o'clock we came out onto a flat that had evenly spaced white rocks stretching off into the distance. It was a clearly marked airstrip. We all looked at each other and sat down. The camels came up and the guys started unloading them. We got up and helped. And five minutes later, really, five minutes, the trucks arrived and out tumbled about 15 people or so, including about 6 or 8 teenagers – talking, shouting, laughing, back-slapping, hand-shaking, beer drinking…. It was shocking and I was stunned. It was like stepping out of solitary confinement into Las Vegas. We found ourselves on the fringes of the mayhem, watching, happy, but
not guite a part of it. Still walking perhaps. Later they fed us a magnificent meal of fried zebra pepper steaks and potatoes and so on, and on… It was very good.

LeeAnn had come with the trucks and handed each of us perhaps the best drink we’ve ever tasted – a bottle of ice cold water. We laughed at each other’s headaches.

We had walked the Suguta Valley, supposedly one of the most desolate, hottest and most inhospitable parts of Kenya. We had gone a linear distance of over 100 miles, but with our doubling around, back-tracking and switchbacks, we had probably walked 150 miles. We will never really know that number, it doesn’t matter. It was hot, dangerous and exhausting. It was beautiful, surprising and harsh. It was rugged and peaceful, boring and exhilarating, it was… well I guess you had to be there.

Thanks to everyone who has been reading along on the daily journals. Knowing you were out there made me pay attention, perhaps when I wasn’t really feeling like it. Thanks for being a very real part of this, and thanks for helping our kids.

With gratitude,
Paul Baxter

 

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