Mountains and plains – the Ndoto range in northern Kenya – Copyright Maya Mangat

Published Nation newspaper 21 January 2017

Reticulated giraffe in northern Kenya
Reticulated giraffe in northern Kenya Copyright: Maya Mangat

A Reticulated giraffe stands alone in the midst of the green thorn scrub past the iconic Ololokwe mountain – the loaf-shaped of the northern drylands. It’s a giraffe listed in December 2016 as ‘Vulnerable’ on the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) and therefore threatened with extinction. Fewer than 100,000 exist on the planet with the Reticulated even more endangered than the other species.  Understandably, we stop on the side of the newly tarmacked road that stretches all the way from Nanyuki via Isiolo past Samburu to Moyale on the Kenya-Ethiopia border.

The giraffe takes a few seconds to look down its long neck and then saunters away into the wilderness.

The mountains of the north are stunning. Past Ololokwe is the long range of the Mathews. With the new tarmac the journey is faster at a top speed of 50 kilometers per hour. Posted on the road are signs to drive carefully because of the rare giraffes, Grevy’s zebra, elephants and other wildlife crossing the road.

Sand glistens on the wide berth of the dry lugga that is the Merille River. Within an hour, we’re past Laisamis and a new sign points left to South Horr via Ngurunit on a new murram road. The tarmac meantime continues to Marsabit and Moyale. Having done the journey on rough road from Isiolo until so recent, l feel like l’m flying in space.

The murram road runs through sun-bleached white soil with sparse acacias dotted on the flat land surrounded by the massifs of the Ndoto mountains.  In the heat of the day, few people dare out. A pair of Somali ostrich – both male – strut the plains. Then suddenly we’re at a tiny village where a man is crouched by a camel on the ground by his boma in deep concentration. He is helping the camel in child birth. The foal emerges and the Samburu man drags it in front of the mother. He then unties the foreleg of the female, she stands and brings her face to the newly born in a tender moment.

Camel given birth with foal by her near Ngurunit in Ndoto Mountains
Camel given birth with foal by her near Ngurunit in Ndoto Mountains Copyright Maya Mangat

The herdsman realizes he’s in company. He takes a few quick strides to us. The road will get us to Ngurunit. His only request is for ‘maji’ –  drinking water.

In the early evening, we reach the Lemunyete household on the foothill of the iconic Poi the bare-faced rock mountain that looms over Ngurunit.  Samburu maidens decked in colourful beaded necklaces herd the goats and sheep home. Wooden bells on the camels’ necks fill the air. In the darkest of nights with just a sliver of moon, the sky is ablaze with a zillion stars and shooting stars popping off it.

At the crack of dawn, we’re up to walk through the mountains and scale the rocky cliffs before the sun becomes unbearably hot.

We pass the sacred gorge where the bigger rocks harbour smaller rocks placed by ancestors in times gone. One version of the Samburu legend is that it was a ‘fora’ – Samburu for boma – until the drought wiped out everything. People passing through placed a pebble on the big rocks to remember those departed.

The sun lights the gorgeous red of the commiphora flowers. The plains open and we’re on a high rocky insel. The flat plains shows signs of an ancient sea that stretched from Lake Turkana. In the crevices on the surrounding mountains our Samburu guides point to where the leopards live.

Morning walk surrounded by Ndoto muntains Copyright Maya Mangat
Morning walk surrounded by Ndoto muntains Copyright Maya Mangat

A honey guide sings. “If l follow it, it will show me the honey,” tells my Samburu guide. He follows the bird accompanied by the youngsters. They return a few minutes later, holding the honey comb from a hole in a tree – without getting stung. But it’s got no honey because there’s no rain for anything to flower.

It’s a challenging climb up a rocky insel. In the distance we see the Milgis and it reminds me of the epic camel trek we did in 2004 – and almost died of thirst. The Milgis is the Nile to the pastoral people. It flows from the Kirisia Hills near Maralal, winding its way between the Ndoto mountains and the Mathews Range and through to the Kaisut Desert.

In our explorative mood, Laura Lemunyete decides on a different route back that seems shorter. The sun blazes and trees stand far apart, we pass Samburu homsteads with the women and children wondering why we’re walking in the intense heat. Six hours later we make it back and lie lifeless till it’s time to toast the New Year to the sound of the Rendille blowing spiralled horns of the Greater kudu to announce the new moon as they have done since the time of the ancestors.

Explore the North

Past Samburu National Reserve, Ngurunit is 233km north of Archer’s Post. Camp at Salato Women’s campsite –

Explore the mountain chutes, and climb the mountains including Mt Poi (6,700ft), a technical climber’s dream – with its sheer 2,600ft face. Continue to Lake Turkana via Ilaut and South Horr.

Nanyuki – super budget hotel: Family Comfort