The desert town on the south-eastern shores of the Jade Sea aka Lake Turkana
Above: South Island on Lake Turkana whe riving in to Loiyangalani. Copyright Rupi Mangat
Published: The East African magazine Nation media 4-10 September 2021
When you make it to Loiyangalani by road, it’s time to celebrate for it’s no mean achievement. Here are ten ways to enjoy your desert abode. You need at least two full days to do justice to a 700-km long drive on the A2 (the most direct from Nairobi) that can take up to 12 hours if you drive non-stop.
The best place to stay is at Palm Shade Resort https://www.palmshaderesort.co.ke/ Benedict Orbora of Palm Shade is a local Rendille who is a great host and will arrange guides. The rooms are en suite and the garden well-kept. It has a camp ground. The food is good home cooked, mostly fish from the lake with fruits and vegetables in season. DO NOT go swimming on your own in the lake as there are crocodiles. It’s best to have a guide with you.
Two Roads to Loiyangalani
- Take the A2 via Samburu, Ndoto Mountains, South Horr – 9 day safari on tarmac save for the last 100 kilometres past Laisamis.
- Do a round trip via North Horr, Chalbi Desert, Kalacha, Marsabit, Samburu – add at least four days.
- Swim in the world’s largest permanent lake in a desert.
It’s also the world’s largest alkaline lake. The water in the jade-blue lake is clean and so warm that you never have to think about getting cold. It’s safe to swim from the Desert Museum, El Molo village of Layani and the sacred island of Lorian and South Island. While you’re at it, try drifting around on the doum-palm rafts that are unique to the Turkana and El Molo tribes. Once you’ve found your balance, you are the master of your raft.
- Rock your way up to the ancient art galleries
At Marti Rock Art site, hike up the volcanic rubble of bare stones and boulders to find the ‘canvases’ that our ancestors sketched on dating 2,000 years ago, giving us a glimpse of their world. It’s of wildlife found around like camels – and even giraffes. Don’t be deceived that there is no more wildlife in this bare-scape. You could unwittingly surprise a nocturnal striped hyena in its den.
Closer town near the polytechnic is a single boulder at Namusungui Rock Art, again from millennia – it has a string of camels etched on it. However, it’s a little defaced with graffiti. Rock art must not be touched or tampered with. You are liable to persecution.
- The Desert Museum
Drop in at the museum on high ground shaped like Mt. Por, the sacred mountain of the El Molo. It’s small but a minefield of information about the desert people, sites, flora and fauna. You can even stay here in the newly built en suite bandas (booking via National Museums of Kenya). It has a kitchen and even a swimming pool. In any case, stroll down to the lake for a refreshing swim.
- Visit the El Molo, one of the world’s smallest tribes
Ten kilometers north of Loyiangalani in the tiny village of Layeni on the shores of Turkana. Traditionally the El Molo men were the lake’s ‘hunters’ who fished and hunted crocodile and hippo. Using harpoons while standing astride on the doum-palm raft, the men speared their quarry. Today, few possess that skill. It’s an interesting visit for urbanites who could never imagine surviving in the desert, solely dependent on the lake.
- Sail to the sacred island of Lorian
Hire a boat at Layeni to sail to the sacred island of the El Molo with its four shrines representing the four clans of the El Molo. It’s bare volcanic rubble. Fishermen repair their nets to set sail in the afternoon. The nets are left overnight in the water and retrieved in the morning. Fish like catfish, tilapia and Nile Perch are dried in the sun before being transported to urban centres like Kisumu.
Depending on your level of fitness you can hike around the island and plunge into the lake to cool down.
- Sail to South Island
Like the smaller Lorian, South Island is a volcanic rubble boasting the largest concentration of crocodiles. Enjoy a hot, windy hike. If you plan on staying, carry your camping gear. At night parts of it is illuminated by vents. The Hungarian Count Samuel Teleki von Szek and Lieutenant Ludwig von Hoehnel were the first outsiders to document the lake after a gruelling 13-month journey between 1887 and 1888, the first to describe the El Molo, and the first to report of an eruption on the island. Hire a boat from the Kenya Wildlife Service.
- Swim in the pool fed by a hot water spring at Oasis Lodge
Loiyangalani’s first luxury lodge from the 1970s, the pool is fed by a hot water spring and refreshing after a stroll through the one-street town that’s a melting pot for the desert tribes like the Turkana, Samburu, Rendille, Gabbra and Somali.
- A Day’s excursion to Mt. Kulal
The 7,500-feet high lava mountain is a biosphere reserve with a moisture-fed sky forest that is a vital water tower. Until 1975, it boasted elephants and black rhino that have been poached out. Although 23 kilometres east of Loiyangalani, the road is not tarmac. It can take a few hours to reach the Samburu village of Getab and hike into the forest for a few hours. Or camp. Be warned: It’s very cold at night.
- Drive up north to Sibiloi National Park
Add at least three extra nights to drive 145 kilometres through exciting desert landscape to the national park with a fossilised forest and creatures and the prehistoric site, Koobi Fora. The park also boasts wildlife. It’s possible to hire a boat to Central Island with its fresh and alkaline lakes and spend a night on the uninhabited island. You can camp or stay at the Kenya Wildlife Service guest house. It’s self-catering.
- Surreal Sundowners
Finally head to a volcanic ridge for a sundowner to watch the sun slink into the 4.3 million year old lake as the fishermen sail on their doum-palm rafts to lay their nets for the night. The wind will blow like it does every day but wait for the sky to light up with the Milky Way. Nothing can be more elemental than that.