Published: Nation newspaper-Satmag magazine 10 December 2022
The flight to Wajir in Kenya’s far-flung arid north-eastern side is fascinating. Lifting off from Nairobi’s Wilson Airport we’re 20,000 feet high above the clouds when Kilimanjaro pops through and a few minutes later we see Mount Kenya.
As we approach Wajir, the urban town in the midst of a semi-desert, we’re uncertain what to expect. Our first priority is to get ourselves a hotel and then map out the weekend exploring a part of Kenya unknown to us. The impetus for this journey is the Global Big Day when birders all over the world log as many species as they see on the e-Bird app.
Hussein Abdi of Renegade approaches the only two non-Somali visitors on the flight. The cheerful young attendant suggests the Grand Oasis Hotel in the heart of town, a modern hotel – from where we have an eagle’s eye view of the urban town.
After a delicious lunch of chicken curry in the green garden, we’re off to explore the sights and sounds of Wajir. The Wajir of my school-girl history books is where battles were fought during the Second World War between the Italians and the Allies.
High on the list is to see are the bunkers and underground tunnels constructed by both the British and Italians soldiers at Orahey grounds (Orahey meaning a place with a lot of sun). It’s easy to see them from my hotel room.
We do a quick ‘city-tour’ and shop at the well-stocked supermarkets and local dukas before we venture out ‘of town’.
“Our Somali giraffes even come to town,” tells Abdi. And he’s not joking. Driving to Lake Yahud a few minutes away, there really are the giraffes – a few herds of the handsome Reticulated giraffes with a smattering of gerenuks (also called the ‘giraffe antelope’ because of its long neck) with their white bellies showing while standing on the hind legs to browse on the acacias, Grant’s gazelles and Somali ostrich.
“Somalis are tall because we’re always looking up at giraffes and camels,” jokes Abdullahi Maalim from the county government. Even the county coat of arms is the giraffe and the camel.
In the eventide, the lake is busy with the locals coming to relax while Mustafa Adamjee, a keen birder circles the water body logging in the pelicans and other birds on his e-Bird app, putting Wajir on the digital bird space hereto empty.
The following day we awake to the muezzin calling the faithful to prayer. Our mission is to drive two hundred kilometres north towards Moyale on the Kenya-Ethiopia border. Adamjee is on a mission to log as many birds on the e-Bird app and the mammals on the Makenya app, giving Abdi and Adan Salat of the tourism department crash courses on how to use the apps.
The drive north takes us past the infamous site of the Wagalla massacre of 1984 when Somali men of the Degodia clan were rounded up by the army on 10th February and held at the local airstrip for four days without water and food and then shot – accused of being Shifta sympathisers.
The road continues past the pastoral Somali homesteads of thatched dome-shaped huts scattered along the rough road. Wajir is in the midst of one of the worst droughts with no rain in four years.
The landscape is a tapestry of bare desert, thorn bush and sparse forest along the shallow streams with few urban towns like Eldas where we stop for lunch – the Somali speciality of spaghetti (a relic of the Italian invasion) eaten a-la-Somali with the long spaghetti strands wrapped around the fingers – dipped in goat stew.
The land now shows rocky hills and straw-coloured dry grass plains. It’s late evening on reaching Korondile, 70 kilometres short of Moyale on the Kenyan-Ethiopian border. Everyone is at the watering pans with their herds of camels and the ubiquitous yellow debes. The chief appears with a white turban wrapped around his head, dressed in a loose shirt and sarong while the women in the traditional flowing dresses watch us with keen interest.
“The lions killed three camels last night,” tells the elder. It’s hard to image lions here but looking on the positive side, the wildlife is opening another chapter in Wajir – that of establishing wildlife conservancies belonging to the communities living alongside them.
Driving back in the darkness, the men stop to pray by the dry lugga and entering Wajir town, an aardvark runs across the road, the nocturnal barrel-shaped termite eater with a snout for a nose. “They are everywhere around town,” quips Abdi. It’s one more reason to spend a weekend in Wajir if you have never seen an aardvark.
Way to Wajir
The road journey on rough roads 700 kilometres north east of Nairobi can take at least two days. Renegade Air flies daily in the morning – an hour’s flight.
Check in at Grand Oasis Hotel ‘where you can live the summer all year long’ – they can assist with sight-seeing and transport.
It’s the way to discover a once-hard-to-get-to place.
Or contact me for any safari bookings on firstname.lastname@example.org