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
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.
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
GRIFFIN CRAFTS, Webmaster Extraordinaire!
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.
YOU NEED WEBSITES DESIGNED, BUILT, or MAINTAINED, please contact
this talented young man at email@example.com.
Griffin, our hats are off to you! You the man!
From Paul Baxter, July 15,
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. Well 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.
July 16, 2002
From the edge of the Suguta River, in the Great Rift
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 dont 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, Were 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 doesnt 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 Orions
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. Hes 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. Im 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 wasnt 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 dont 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 dont 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
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, Theyre 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.
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 devils 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 dont know the age of these sites. Winnie
found a very large feather from a Clarks 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. Id like to see the bird. A Thompsons 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 wuzunguus.
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 couldnt 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
I decided to walk around and get some highlights
from some of the walkers, so heres one from Dave Brooks. His highlight
of the day was discovering the lion tracks so close to the camp. That
was pretty high on everybodys list. And Steve Clarks 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 Leathermans 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. Winnies 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. Id
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
didnt hold me. The last few miles across perfect desert pavement
sort of wilted me. The others were in better shape but they werent
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. Im being
quiet and hes decided to stay, although Im being carefully
observed. I think I have another companion as well, but I havent
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.
Ive 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
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. Thats
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 havent 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 Ive 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 Im sitting on has a little
trench about six feet long some little half moon depressions at the
waters edge. I may have spent my time here in the crocodiles
parlor. The stork may have been watching for more than I thought.
Michaels highlight of the day was finishing
the walk and getting into the river. It was a hard day, but everybodys
pretty upbeat. Were getting up at 5 in the morning and starting
earlier so we can quit earlier because its getting hot. Leeann
is doing great, peddling along. Winnie is fine too.
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 couldnt 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
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 Ill just
let them nibble my toes.
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 nights camp and this one. The fact is we
dont 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. Its 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 cant 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 wont
get into trouble.
We are strangers here. We dont 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 didnt
have us to hold them back, they would be at the lake by now. Im
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 hes pretty crippled up. Hes riding all day
which is demanding in a different way than walking, and I think just
as hard. 78 years old, hes 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. Winnies mosquito net
blew away during the night and she had to chase it down. I missed it
July 22, 2002
We arose, not too refreshed for most. I felt pretty
good. I didnt 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
werent 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 couldnt 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 suns 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 couldnt get to it. There is a hot springs pouring water
out, really running all around the base of the rock. We couldnt
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
havent 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.
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. Were
just going to the next water hole, where well stop until night.
Were going across country, no trail or road, following a compass
bearing towards the trees.
Im 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. Hes
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 arent convinced, but he keeps at it, and then he says,
Ive 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.
Weve 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 its 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, Itll
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, its
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 youre a lot further off the groundits
like 10 feet in the air when youre on one of those suckers!]
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. Id 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
Now Ive ridden horses--not with a
horsepersons concentrated effort, but Ive put time in
on their back. And Ive 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, Ive 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. Its a kind of A-frame affair that
is far more complex than its crude fashioning from forked sticks
and burlap bags would suggest. Thats 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
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 Jaspers
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 Ive 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 nights 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
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. Its Paul, Mom, calling
from the back of a camel in the middle of the night somewhere in the
Suguta Valley of Kenya. Ill try again later. There is
something really strange about this.
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 dont 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 havent drunk for
a day or two, yet they turn away from a bucket of water. Amazing.
I called in yesterdays 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
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 cant 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
dont 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. Were helping to load and unload as
well, but as tourists, nothing more. Bara Bara grew up with his
father as one of Jaspers men, and hes 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. Its 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 laughedhundreds 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 Talekeis 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 devils 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 didnt survive our attention. I personally
feel very bad about Waltzing Matilda, which we attempted
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 herders 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.
We may have celebrated and stayed up late, but we
were up by 5:00 the next morning anyway. The camels didnt 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
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 Dont
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 Im 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, cant
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 hadnt, 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,
wed still be wandering Im 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 weve ever tasted a bottle of
ice cold water. We laughed at each others 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 doesnt matter. It was
hot, dangerous and exhausting. It was beautiful, surprising and harsh.
It was rugged and peaceful, boring and exhilarating, it was
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 wasnt really feeling like it. Thanks for being
a very real part of this, and thanks for helping our kids.